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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Poudre des Bulgares

47F65B38-A332-4CB3-9EE5-2A6152665533Between visits to Paris, I keep a running list of places I want to go or products I want to try. Sometimes I can’t remember the original source of the notation. This year, I had a particularly ambiguous note: Poudre des Bulgares – sprinkle on top of yogurt.

Being a fan of yogurt as part of my breakfast, I decided to look for this product at the grocery store, but I wasn’t sure where to find it. What was “Poudre des Bulgares”? Was it a spice? Would I find it stocked near the yogurt for convenience? Was it like granola since it was a good topper? I wandered fruitlessly up and down aisles. I asked grocery store employees, but they just gave me gallic shrugs.  I asked my French friends, but they had never heard of such a product. More gallic shrugs.

EE572DF5-394C-478C-B927-3AEA826D1E4ANow I had a bee in my bonnet. I had to find Poudre des Bulgares. The next step was one that I might have taken first, the internet. I searched for “Poudre des Bulgares” and found it listed as a product by a company called Épices Rœllinger. I discovered that the owner, Olivier Rœllinger, is a chef from Brittany, with a group of restaurants, who also purveys the highest quality spices.

Now that I had the bit between my teeth, to add another metaphor, the next step was to head off to the shop at 51 bis rue Sainte-Anne in the 2nd Arrondissement. Armed with a bubble tea, I ventured forth. I found far more than Poudre des Bulgares. I found Ali Babba’s cave. Épices Rœllinger is dark, fragrant, and stocked to the rafters with exotic herbs and spices. There were about fifteen different types of vanilla beans alone. And there it was – Poudre des Bulgares, with the added subtext “Pour parfumer votre yaourt,” which means “To flavor your yogurt.”In addition, Ali Babba’s assistant recommended it as a topper for ice cream.

C04E0B9F-84B0-46F6-909B-52C96CB29F66I bought a jar of Poudre des Bulgares as yet untried and sprinkled some on my fromage blanc the next morning. And the verdict? Delicious and unlike any other taste. Its primary ingredients are palm sap (who knew that was a thing?), toasted sesame seeds., roasted flax-seed, a little sugar from the French island of Maurice, a blend of vanillas from Madagascar and French Polynesia, and a touch of cardamom, saffron, ginger, orange peel and one perfect dried rose bud. Now that I’ve found it, I’ll definitely be back for more. My quest was both successful and memorable.

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115E39F2-CE55-4947-B9AA-24025002F19CI just saw the film Colette, about the prolific French woman writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. She was born in the French countryside in 1873, but moved to Paris after her marriage to the worldly-wise Henry Gauthier Villars, better known by his nom de plume of “Willy.” Colette became one of the ghost-writers who produced the works that bolstered Willy’s ego and paid for his extravagances.

I won’t go into details, but Colette is non-traditional in every way that you can imagine and eventually wrests her freedom from everything and everyone that tried to limit her. The main roles are played by Keira Knightley and Dominic West and they both should be looking at award nominations for this one. The director, Wash Westmoreland, included lots of true little details about Colette, such as her passion for collecting paper weights.  It’s in fairly limited release, but I’d recommend it if you get a chance to see it.

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