La Tête Haute

985137be-abf7-4ff5-9952-825b22acfa48I recently watched La Tête Haute (lah tet ote), on Netflix, starring Catherine Deneuve. Deneuve plays the role of a judge who becomes involved in the life of a young boy whose mother is incapable of properly caring for him. Malony (Rod Paradot) bounces in and out of the judge’s chambers through his late teen years, getting into increasingly serious trouble, despite the genuine care shown by both the judge and his social worker, played by Benoît Magimel. The film does have an optimistic ending, which actually troubled me. It almost felt as though they were suggesting that teenage fatherhood was going to turn this young man around, instead of perpetuate the cycle.

a54834a0-3bee-4896-b134-2f3606929501This film brought so many pieces of my life to mind. I used to work for a judge who heard cases of abuse and neglect of children. I also served on a juvenile justice committee and was briefly a foster parent to a troubled teenager. Certainly, the sense of people being locked in a cycle of violence and neglect was present. My judge had been seeing some of the people who appeared before her for years before my clerkship and no doubt still saw them long after I had moved into private practice. It was interesting to see the informal way cases involving children were presented in chambers in France rather than with robes and a high bench. Some parts of the film were highly realistic portrayals of juvenile justice cases but others not so much. For instance, social workers who assault their clients don’t just get a reprachful look from the judge!

aff9abdc-a542-4d1e-bf4c-b411a7b665d3The movie did well at the César awards in 2016, winning two of the top prizes for the male leads and being nominated for an additional six categories. In English, the title is given as “Standing Tall,” but a more literal translation would be something like “Head Held High.” I didn’t love the film, but it sure made me appreciate my own parents and reminded me of why I left law!

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L’Est rencontre l’Ouest


We just got back from visiting our daughter in San Francisco. While we were there, we saw a terrific exhibit at the lovely small museum, the Legion of HonorEast meets West: Jewels of the Maharajas from the Al Thani collection. In French, the title would be L’Est rencontre l’Ouest (lest rohn-kon-truh luhwest).

b2b96999-8070-4ea9-a86c-ea7341989256The exhibit had stunning jewels, to be sure, but I learned a lot as well. For example, the Maharajas adored emeralds – the larger the better. In the West, we worry about perfection and avoiding inclusions, so the emeralds get cut down to chips, losing all their glorious impact. Then, I learned that it was men who wore the fabulous ropes of pearls and diamonds, not women. They were symbols of power, not pretty baubles.

As they were passed down through the generations or found new owners, many were re-styled by the top jewelers in Paris and London, in particular Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels. The exhibit is on until February 24, 2019; if you get the opportunity to see it, I highly recommend that you take it all the beauty of these magnificent jewels.

fded119b-33c8-45b4-8a7e-83207b144bd1East Meets West: Royal Jewels from the Al Thani Collection

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Le Luxe

B0AB5BB1-B838-43DE-A973-1CB45F042F28My latest francophile read is The Hotel on Place Vendôme, by Tilar J. Mazzeo. It’s the historical account of life at the Ritz and the people who lived there before the war, during the occupation, and the liberation of Paris.

The chapters are quite short and generally tell one self-contained story. Each chapter is devoted to a different person, from American socialite Laura Mae Corrigan, to brash Ernest Hemingway. During the occupation, the Nazis, resistants, collaborators, and those who remained neutral all shared the same roof. Even the famous Valkerie plot to kill Hitler was hatched here. 

The word “ritz” in English is translated as le luxe (luh lux). It’s interesting that the English word that symbolizes all that is luxury was inspired by a French hotel. And if you’re putting on the ritz to celebrate New Year’s Eve, I hope you get to do it in a place that is as mythically beautiful as the famous hotel on the Place Vendôme.

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Lately I’ve been reading a police detective novel written by Georges Simenon, the Belgian writer of the Commissaire Maigret series. I’ve always enjoyed mysteries and they are generally accessible reading for the high intermediate foreign-language reader. Simenon was incredibly prolific with almost 500 novels to his credit, 550,000,000 of which were sold to his avid fans. Apparently, he could crank out at least 60 pages of new text a day. The 75-volume Maigret series spanned 1930 to 1972. It was extremely popular on television, where it has been serialized three different times in Britain, once in Italy, and twice in France.

Simenon, however, was not exactly the most admirable of fellows. He moved to France as a young man and, during the war, came under suspicision both by the Gestapo and as a collaborator. Apparently, the Germans erroneously thought he was Jewish and the French weren’t impressed that he’d sold movie rights for Maigret to the Germans. His unpopularity in France caused him to move to Switzerland and then the United States. He also had more lovers than novels – and I mean that literally – he estimated that he had 10,000 amantes!

80F4C4C8-9D87-43E4-AB48-283D20DEE473The novel I’ve been reading is Maigret et l’inspecteur malgracieux, first published in 1947. Malgracieux (mal-grass-ee-uh) is not a word that you will find in Wordreference. I think the best translation, based on the behavior of the character, would be “ungracious.” The book is actually a collection of four novellas, each generally of three chapters. The stories present a Paris where working-class people are just getting by in the post-war era, not the glittering center of chic that we normally think of. Maigret solves the crimes with the help of smoking his pipe and a devoted team. He seems to be about as unlike his creator as it is possible to be, with the exception of the ever-present pipe. 

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E89D6D6E-BC71-4BF1-9B8B-5A12F5579034.jpegI recently watched L’Avenir (Things to Come), starring Isabelle Huppert, on Netflix. The 2016 French film was the nominee or winner of multiple awards for best foreign film and best actress. In a nutshell, Huppert is a high school philosophy teacher and author who loses, in quick succession, her marriage, her mother, and her publisher. Like many French films, the tone is matter of fact, rather than maudlin. The message might be summarised as: Life is like this, but you just have to get on with things.

0C55793E-824D-4891-9CEA-0D1B194D2010There’s a naturalness to Huppert’s acting – you feel as though you are truly watching her life. L’avenir (lav-en-eer) literally means “the future,” and the viewer is left with the belief that the future is quietly optimistic for Huppert’s character. There are English subtitles, but the dialogue is generally slow and clear enough for a high intermediate student of French to understand. The final scene is a family Christmas dinner, so it’s even seasonally appropriate.


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Un surclassement

2919B638-C4D0-4FC7-B134-6B4B73AE3145.pngEveryone seems to have a gift guide, so it got me thinking about what I would recommend. I thought about things that I had particularly appreciated this year, either in my travels or my day-to-day life. Some are quite expensive, others are more in the stocking stuffer category. All of them are little luxuries that are an upgrade, or un surclassement (uhn sir-class-mehn) on things I use regularly.

Filt net bag – I talked about how much I like my tri-color net bag on the blog a few weeks ago. Apparently, Ikea now has a less expensive, version and there are some on Amazon, not by Filt, of course. You can get the real thing at Anthropologie, however.

Bagnet – This is a super-strong magnet, encased in leather, that keeps my purse or tote off dirty floors. They have some holiday specials on their site right now, so I might buy another one for me and one to gift.

ID card holder – Like many other people, I need an ID card  to open exterior doors where I work. A standard lanyard just wasn’t cutting it for me. I finally sprang for one at Brighton and it definitely lifts a daily object to a higher plane.


Cashmere socks – Last year, my daughter asked for cashmere socks for Christmas, praising their luxurious coziness. After I finished buying for her, I discovered a couple of pairs I’d bought on sale at Brooks Brothers and tucked in a drawer. Oh my. Simply delightful.

A happy umbrella – When it rains, it’s sufficiently dreary without everyone carrying a black umbrella. I asked for “a happy umbrella” for my birthday. I wanted a full-sized one, rather than a collapsable model, which made the search more complex, but I eventually found one that makes me smile in the rain.

Breakfast-in-bed tray My husband brings me breakfast in bed every single day (except if he’s traveling, but then the cat lets me down). He was using a small tray, but I saw a nice one with folding legs and ordered it “for him.” It makes my favorite morning ritual even better. I noticed a similar one at Barnes and Noble last week. You could be just as popular at your home, or maybe someone will serve you.

E242D795-8210-41B2-8E66-9C5BDCD1863AMembership to The Trustees of Reservations  – This spring, I visited Fruitlands, a former Transcendentalist community in Massachusetts. I learned that this is just one of many properties maintained and protected by The Trustees. I bought a membership for the year that allowed my husband and I to enjoy so many of their properties. If you’re not in or near Massachusetts, maybe you’ll be lucky enough to have a similar organisation that you can support with a membership.

Waterford silk throw I love a cuddly throw. Last year, I upgraded the ones in our livingroom to pure brushed silk. They are super warm and soft as well as very elegant. In addition, our cat loves them. Drape one over your legs and you’re a cat magnet. I got mine on, the flash-sale website, at a substantial discount.

Bose sound cancelling headphones This is the splurge recommendation. As much as I love traveling, I loathe the experience of being in a plane. The engine drone drives me nuts, not to mention all of the other noises. These headphones put me in my own bubble. I sleep so much better and am much more able to function when I land.

Joyeux Fêtes!

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Une baladodiffusion

D7B9E3C5-8C72-49AD-85E3-A71EB5CA5C98.pngFrench podcasts are a great way to develop listening comprehension and learn from interesting people. I use the Apple podcast app on my iPad to listen to them as I get ready for work. Here are my favorites, for the high intermediate to advanced listener, roughly rated in order of degree of difficulty, from easiest to the most challenging:

1. Change ma vie: outils pour la vie, by Clotilde Dusolier – I met Dusolier when she came as a guest speaker at the summer program I work at in Paris. She was a cookbook author and blogger of Chocolate and Zucchini. In this podcast, however, she talks about a different passion, living a life that is full and happy. A new episode comes out every Thursday and lasts about twenty minutes. Dusolier’s diction is very clear and easy to understand.

2. Dans la tête des femmes, by My Little Paris – This was a short series of five episides  produced by a great resource for all sorts of francophile finds. Each is about the important relationships in women’s lives.

3. Indépendente: conseils pour entrepreneuses en ligne, by Eleonore Bridge – I follow Bridge’s eponymous blog. Her podcast, as the title suggests, is about common challenges facing female entrepreneurs. She’s only published four so far.

4. Rives de Seine, by Ville de Paris – This group of twelve episodes is quite delightful and under ten minutes long. The idea is simple; someone strolls up to people who are passing time on the banks of the Seine and initiates a conversation.

5. Transfert, by – I love this one; every two weeks someone tells a story of something unusual that happened to them. Each story is about half an hour long and they’re so engaging that I often end up sharing them with my husband.

6. La Poudre, by Nouvelles Écoutes – This one definitely has the most challenging level of French. The host, Lauren Bastide, interviews guests about issues relevant to  women, such as the first female mayor of Paris, the #metoo movement in France, and the rights of handicapped women. The weekly episodes are about an hour long.

Une baladodiffusion (oon bal-ad-o-dif-ew-zee-ohn) is the Québecois word for un podcast. It’s from balader, to stroll, and diffusion, to circulate or to disperse. I’m glad that’s the one that caught on – much easier to say and spell.

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