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 Ruelala.com, 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 Slate.fr – 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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Ce n’est pas la peine


Usually, I like to recommend francophile resources that I think you may enjoy. Recently, however, I read two books that aren’t worth the time I gave to them, so I wanted to warn you before you might be tempted to make the same choice.

The first was actually an audio book, French Exit, by Patrick deWitt. Slap the word “French” on a book and you’ve got my attention. I use my library’s OverDrive system for oodles of free audiobooks and I requested that the library acquire this one. I felt honor bound to listen to the whole drivelly thing. The (thin) plot is that a formerly rich widow and her co-dependent adult son move to Paris where they live in a friend’s apartment with a cat that apparently houses the soul of her dead husband. Not a single character has the tiniest redeeming value. Skip this one, please, even if you did ask someone to buy it for you.

The second book was another one that I asked for when my husband was looking for a gift idea: Une Femme française : The Seductive Power of French Women, by French fashion designer Catherine Malandrino. Malandrino, who splits her time between Paris and New York seemed like a reliable source. The book didn’t propose any particularly novel ideas about how to develop a healthy dose of je ne sais quoi, but it did reveal Maladrino’s interest in S&M clubs. Not really my kind of source after all.

Ce n’est pas la peine (seh nay pah lah pen) means “it’s not worth it.” Save your time and money and read or listen to something other than these two duds. How about you? Read a lousy book lately?


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Dix pour cent

BF0A4CFA-5A95-4181-A16D-D2E44A86A05AI’m always looking for ways to practice French between visits to Paris. I found a Netflix series, originally broadcast in France, called Dix pour cent, referred to as Call My Agent! in English. The story revolves around a Parisian talent agency that is trying to stay afloat after the sudden death of the senior agent. The title refers to the fact that agents typically receive ten per cent of their clients’ earnings.

B13A3A1D-6763-4E3A-8F80-A4E42A6BA178There is a returning cast of characters with the same type of personal and professional issues that we all can relate to, plus a cluster of more unusual problems that make for an entertaining show. In addition, each episode features at least one French star playing him or herself and appearing as clients of the agency. Some of the big names who appear include Cécile de France, Nathalie Baye, and Juliette Binoche. They look like they’re having fun.

There are subtitles in several languages, if you want a backup to the audio. French shows don’t shy away from exploring topics that might be considered too naughty for North American TV, so if that would offend you, consider selecting another show. So far, there are two seasons, but a third is about to be released on French TV. Hopefully, it won’t be long until it is available on Netflix.


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Neuf et nouveau

7DC45A0B-9268-438F-8D1E-DA3D5E1ADC13I recently had a French mystery explained for me, the difference between neuf and nouveau, both of which mean “new.” I’ve been reading Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, where all was explained. Apparently, in the 18th century, only the very wealthiest people, like the king and queen, could afford completely new clothes. Everyone else wore hand-me-downs. The queen gave her old gowns to her ladies-in-waiting, they gave their gowns to their servants, and the servants sold their old gowns in the market. The queen’s new gown was neuf , but once she passed it on, it was nouveau to the lady-in-waiting, new to her, but not brand-spanking new, if you see what I mean. It’s also where we get the words novel and novelty, something that’s new to us, but not objectifiably new. Mystery solved. It all makes so much sense. These days, the distinction is not observed: nouveau is far more frequently used than neuf.

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Ce que j’ai lu

I’ve enjoyed some good reads lately that were either in French or that had a francophile angle. Each was a book that I’ve owned for a while. I’m commited to finishing  all my backlog of books before I buy any new ones. So far I’m ahead of schedule on my goal of reading one book a momth.

405E9F55-08CC-4C57-9900-B15104BC50EBMeurtre à Blackness Road, by Minette Walters: I picked this novella up in France because I have enjoyed many of this British writer’s psychological thrillers over the years. This fascinating story was based on an actual crime from 1924.

C5006899-368D-48E6-A310-987E0CD3B1EEVigée Le Brun: This beautiful book was published to accompany an exhibit in Paris, New York and Ottawa about one  of my favorite artists, one of the first professional female portraitists. I saw the show in New York, but some of the paintings from Le Brun’s years in Russia were not included due to diplomatic concerns. This book dedicated a full page to a color reproduction of each painting, including the missing Russian ones, as well as information about the subject and the circumstances surrounding it.

6FD76852-DE3C-43BC-BE4C-BA0D0436469EEmpty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune, by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.:  When my husband read this book when it was first released, he kept reading me snippets. This drives me nuts. I promised to read it myself to get him to stop. Admittedly, it took me several years to keep my promise. While I read it, I returned the favor, reading him snippets of the incredible story of Huguette Clark, born in Paris, raised in luxury, who willingly spent the last twenty years of her long life in a dreary hospital room. Fortunately, my husband is more patient with snippet sharing than I am. It’s quite a story.

4B7FCE98-1179-4D1E-ABCB-B1684BB11599.jpegFashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell : This is a scholarly, yet fascinating read, that featured a number of the same people represented in the Vigée Le Brun book. The thesis is that, contrary to the received wusdom that Marie-Antoinette’s excesses led to the French Revolution, it was actually her decision to embrace simplicity that hastened the end of the Bourbon monarchy.

Ce que j’ai lu (suh kuh shjay loo) means “what I read.” What have you read lately that  you have enjoyed?

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Un Filet

DA2FAD77-0916-4666-96DD-FC136ADE8397I got a new handbag when I was in Paris. What kind, you ask. Hermès? Chanel? No, I am now the proud carrier of un filet Filt in the patriotic tricolor bleu, blanc, rouge.

The Filt company has been making nets for all sorts of purposes, from fishing nets to baby slings, since 1860 in Normandy in the north-east of France. Their factory in Caen was completely destroyed in Workd War II, but they rebuilt and came back strongly. Since 2010, they have won several prizes for innovation.

0F53CC38-6023-49BD-A48B-6A4DC4BA367EMy Filt bag is so light that I can slip it inside a larger bag in case I go shopping, but it’s surprisingly roomy. I can fit everything I need for the day inside, including my full-size camera! While Filt bags do come in classic natural cotton, they are also available in a wide variety of colors, in solids as well as stripes.

706FAB6C-647B-420B-A78C-04E0A699E426They also have large bags, fit for a load of groceries, so you can be stylish while you save the environment, one plastic bag at a time. Filt does ship all over the world from their website, but the shipping costs can be pretty steep. Since I came home, I’ve seen them in a few shops in the States and I found them online at a reasonable price here.

Un filet (uhn feel-ay) means “a net” or “a string bag” so the filet Filt is perfectly named. And everytime I use my string bag, I’m reminded of summertime in Paris.

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