La Tour Eiffel to have the Mona Lisa treatment

By the end of next year, the area immediately under and around the legendary Tour Eiffel will have changed a little…. It won’t be quite as we currently know it anymore. The reason for that is the ever present terrorist threat / la menace terroriste in the capital, especially around very populous sites, and this motivated the Conseil de Paris to begin works on a bullet-proof glass / un mur pare-balles wall to be erected on two sides of the building. The other two sides will be protected by metal gates with check points / points de contrôle. On the square / la place itself and approaching roads, bollards / des bornes and surveillance cameras / des caméras de surveillance will also be put in place, in order to prevent a car ploughing through the crowd / une voiture bélier (ram car).

The decision is not making everyone happy, not only because the famous landmark might appear less attractive this way (see link for an artist impression), but also because the estimated cost reaches 20 million euros.

Paris officials in the Town Hall / la Mairie de Paris, however, claim this measure will be both more efficient and more esthetically pleasing than the existing protection around the monument.

We shall see….. On va voir!

Histoire de legumes….

Histoire de légumes!

There was a fun question in a game / un jeu, yesterday on the French radio ; the contestants/ les participants had to recall three idiomatic expressions/ idiomes with the name of a vegetable or a fruit/ un légume ou un fruit. They easily won of course, the French language has so many! And it got me thinking….. and remembering…. Old ones that my Dad (a true Parisian) often uses but that are not that frequent anymore in today’s parlance, as wells as current ones which never fail to bring a smile to my lips / un sourire sur mes lèvres……


So here are some, for your pleasure and edification. Enjoy!  

  • Funny how money and money matters are often talked about in a roundabout way : “avoir de l’avoine” (to have oats) and “avoir du blé” both mean “to have money/dough/dosh”. “Avoir de l’oseille” (sorrel) too. Having a new source of income when you are struggling “ça met du beurre dans les épinards” (it puts butter in your spinach) ; in other words it improves on your ordinary income. But if you say “je gagne des cacahuètes”, you really earn peanuts and are not very rich!


  • Being like a pear spells bad news, so does having your face compared to an apple : If someone “est une bonne poire” (a good pear) he is too kind and regularly taken advantage of ; and if your are told “c’est bien fait pour ta pomme!”, your partner is not very kind and thinks “it serves you right!”


  • “Faire le poireau” (to do the leek) means to wait for someone for far too long and often in vain. When “les carottes sont cuites” (carrots are cooked) you know you have lost and nothing can change that and when “c’est la fin des haricots” (the end of the beans) it’s rather bad news, not what you were hoping for, and there again you are powerless!



  • When a friend or family member is too nosy, you can tell him/her to mind their own business (or their own onions) : “occupe-toi de tes oignons!” They might turn bright red with embarrassment “être rouge comme une tomate”.


  • “Se prendre une prune” (to take a plum) is luckily quite rare and means to get shot, whereas “se prendre un pruneau” (to take a prune) is to get a fine.



  • Getting old has its own idioms : “sucrer les fraises” (to sweeten the strawberries) is to have shaky hands or even lose your marbles, and someone who “mange les pissenlits par la racine” (eats dandelions by the root) is dead!


There are more of course, with other food groups, but that will be the subject of a later post!

Le marathon de Paris

The 41st Marathon de Paris is happening tomorrow, Sunday 9th of April. This year, more than 60 000 runners /coureurs are expected to take up the challenge / relever le défi on a course that will take them through the centre of the capital / la capitale, starting from Les Champs Elysées and finishing in Avenue Foch.

There is one change this year though ….. initiated by the Salon du Running, held at Porte de Versailles on the 7th and 8th April for the participants to pick up their number / dossard and for the public to discover the latest in running equipement and gadgets…. : From now on the French won’t say “faire du jogging” anymore, it is so uncool/ringard !…. they will say “faire du running“! I know! ….another English word!…. but you see “courir” is just walking very fast and “faire la course” is to run a race, so we needed another word, a different word, one that signifies a purpose and a cool activity : le running!

Besides, this word “course” is already overused….

faire la course : to run a race / une course à pied, une course à cheval, etc….

payer la course : to pay the taxi fare

aller faire une course : to run an errand 

faire les courses : do the food shopping


Le premier eTree de France est dans ma ville!

Nevers, in Burgundy, is my home town/ ma ville natale ; this is also where all my family still lives, and so I still visit a few times a year and of course never miss an opportunity to take its pulse…. when something is published in the press!

Today an article from Le Journal du Centre -where I started my career-  attracted my attention…. : my little town (40 000 inhabitants/ habitants) is to be the first one in France to host an eTree!

What is it? / Qu’est-ce que c’est? : well, it does look a bit like a tree, but with branches / les branches that bear photovoltaic tablets instead of leaves / les feuilles!

And what is it for ? / C’est pour quoi faire ? To recharge / recharger your mobile phone, your ipad or even your electric bike ; to connect / se connecter to the Internet and communicate / communiquer with similar trees all over the world. In order for people to truely benefit from the technology, the eTree has been placed on the main square of the town –la Place Carnot– where youngsters and business people alike often gather for a drink on one of the main cafes, or simply cross on their way to the train station or the shops.

The Franco-Israeli company Sol-Logic had demonstrated the uses of its eTree during the COP21 summit on environment / le sommet sur l’environnement in Paris in 2015, where the invention was awarded a prize for its ecological innovation. It immediately appealed to the mairie de Nevers / townhall. Today, there are similar trees in Israel, Dubai and New York…. and perhaps many more to come.

I am so pleased Nevers is the first French town to get one and I cannot wait to go back and try it! I’ll take a picture for you!

My babies and me, March 2015 on the Place Carnot, almost on the very spot where the eTree now stands.


C’est la chandeleur!

La chandeleur is the festival of chandelles / candles ; it falls on the 2nd of February each year (40 days after Christmas) and that is when we, French people, eat pancakes. The tradition is a little strange and tirée par les cheveux / far fetched -as we say- as it apparently dates from the Middle Ages and the pagan rites associated with days becoming longer and lighter. The pancake/ la crêpe, as a little golden circle, is believed to represent the sun. 

I remember well tossing pancakes/ faire sauter les crêpes when I was a little girl, with the pan/ la poelle in one hand and a coin / une pièce in the other. I remember the tradition was -some families still do it-  to hold a golden coin, a golden Louis, to bring good luck to the household. The batter, a simple affair with milk, flour, eggs and sugar, would invariably be flavoured with Grand-Marnier…. and it was de-li-cious!! At home, we tended to eat les crêpes with sugar / du sucre, or maybe jam / de la confiture. The English sugar and lemon / sucre et citron favorite is virtually unseen in France. Today, it seems (see the link below) that cheese and ham / fromage et jambon for savoury pancakes and Nutella for the sweet ones, are the new family favourites.

Another custom often associated with pancake-eating for la chandeleur is cider/ le cidre, for that is how les Bretons / people from Britanny,  enjoy their crêpes! And they drink it in little bowls, and call the whole experience la bolée. Pancakes are nearly considered a special regional dish over there. In fact, les Bretons  have developed pancake-making into a culinary affair and crêperies / pancake eateries can be seen everywhere in Haute and Basse-Bretagne. Menus usually put you in appetite with savoury crêpes, made from buckwheat / sarrasin, as well as sweet ones, simply made from wheat / froment. All equally delicious!

Let’s not forget the crêpe suzette of course, prepared with an orange, lemon and Grand-Marnier butter….. then flambée! This one is reknown the world over.  Its’ invention is sometimes attributed to the illustrious chef Auguste Escoffier (late 19th century), at other times to a simple waiter, Henri Charpentier, who had the important job of serving the British monarch, Edward VII in a restaurant of Monte-Carlo, one day in the late 19th century. But who was Suzette (a diminutive of Suzanne) ? No-one is quite sure either…..

Strangely, the British have adopted another date for eating pancakes…… It falls at the end of February, or in March and is determined by when Easter is. It is called  Shrove Tuesday / Mardi Gras and that is when, in past times, people would eat up all their eggs and fat before the next day, Ash Wednesday / le Mercredi des Cendres, when a period of repentance, Lent / le Carême,  would start. In France, Mardi Gras is not associated with pancakes but rather with dressing up and partying, it is le Carnaval / Carnival.


A little bit of background on the pancake tradition :

A beautiful demonstration of crêpe suzette preparation at the Ritz :



















Il gele!

Oui! Il gèle! It is freezing outside. Every morning! And every morning I scrape off mon pare-brise/windscreen with un grattoir/scraper! That’s because I read this article (below) a while back on the dangers of pouring excessively hot water on it, with une fissure/crack as a possible consequence.

According to the article, boosting le chauffage/heating and hoping for the best is not the best solution either, as it increases the risk of un choc thermiqueLes produits dégivrants/de-icing products leave a greasy mark, even though they work a treat when you are in a hurry, so what are we to do?

Well, one easy truc/trick is to cover the windscreen with a large piece of carton/cardboard the night before…..but sometimes it sticks a little ; another one is to be patient….and to set le chauffage on medium, scrape a little, and wait, and wait….

Personally, I am done with scraping every day, getting my hands frozen and my sleeves all wet! There is apparently nothing wrong with just a liiiiitle bit of warm water doucement/ gently poured over the pare-brise….. It works incredibly fast and leaves no trace of buée/mist inside either! Magique!


“Les bons gestes de la conduite hivernale (d’après un article du Figaro)

En matière de véhicule gelé, il y a des comportements qui sauvent, et même si la France ne subit que rarement des températures extrêmes, selon une étude OpinionWay, 47 % des automobilistes français laissent en effet coucher dehors leurs véhicules. 82 % d’entre eux méconnaissent également les bons gestes à adopter lors d’une conduite hivernale.

Le pare-brise peut être la première victime de cette ignorance. Le principal risque est de transformer un impact en fissure lors de son dégivrage. A ce jeu, le danger numéro un n’est pas le froid… mais la chaleur. La technique de la casserole d’eau bouillante (35 % des automobilistes en seraient des adeptes) est la pire de toute. Le chauffage poussé au maximum (86 % d’amateurs) n’est guère mieux. Dans les deux cas, on provoque une différence de température entre les deux faces du pare-brise. La face extérieure se dilate, à l’inverse de la face intérieure, qui se contracte, créant ainsi un choc thermique. «Une variation brutale de température supérieure à 30°, entre l’intérieur et l’extérieur du véhicule, suffit pour qu’un impact se transforme en fissure. En hiver, lorsqu’il fait -10° à l’extérieur et que le système de chauffage souffle de l’air à environ 60° au niveau du pare-brise, les conditions de choc thermique sont réunies pour qu’un impact génère une fissure» explique Franck Turcato, le directeur de la qualité du spécialiste de la réparation et du remplacement de vitrage automobile Carglass.

Le coup de grattoir un peu trop vigoureux constitue également une autre menace. Près de 30 % des conducteurs ont systématiquement recours à cet instrument pour enlever le givre de leur pare-brise. Cependant, il est nécessaire de procéder en douceur et en prenant son temps pour que le pare-brise retrouve son indispensable transparence. Il faut tout d’abord démarrer le véhicule un bon quart d’heure avant de partir et positionner ensuite le chauffage sur  modéré, afin de minimiser les conditions d’un choc thermique.

Si vous ne disposez pas de parking couvert, une bâche, ou un simple morceau de carton éviteront d’avoir un pare-brise gelé. Seuls 12 % des automobilistes auraient ce réflexe en cas de baisse des températures. Autre geste utile: vérifier ses balais d’essuie-glace et verser un liquide antigel dans le réservoir du lave-glace. Être équipé de pneus neige (en bon état, et à la bonne pression) est également nécessaire. Disposer dans un coin du coffre d’une paire de chaînes faciles à installer, si on se rend dans une zone de montagne, n’est pas non plus une chose inutile. Enfin, une fois sur la route, abstenez-vous de suivre de trop près le véhicule qui vous précède, afin d’éviter de recevoir des projections, tant liquides que solides. Et après une bonne route hivernale, en général salée, pensez à nettoyer le bas de caisse de votre voiture ainsi que son dessous, en sélectionnant tout simplement le dernier programme du lavage automatique.”

*Comment dit-on ?

frozen / to de-ice / a crack / the windscreen / windscreen wipers / to leave the car outside / gently / energetic / scraper /  to start the car / anti-freeze / canvas sheet /

*Questions :

Tous ces conseils vous semblent-ils sensés? Est-ce que vous les suivez, généralement ? Prenez-vous un soin tout particulier de votre voiture en période hivernale ? Avez-vous eu des problèmes par le passé ?

Coutumes de fin d’année….

Here is a little text for you to practise your French. This is about our end-of-year celebrations and customs. From exchanging calendars for money, in early December, to the buche for Christmas and the yummy Galette des rois in January.

Fin décembre, le facteur et les pompiers passent pour apporter, l’un le nouveau calendrier des Postes, l’autre celui des services de secours. Les Français ont généralement de bonnes relations avec eux, et puis ils apprécient leurs calendriers qui les informent sur les dates des vacances de l’année à venir, pour les différentes zones, ainsi que sur les numéros utiles à appeler en cas d’urgence. Sans oublier les photos en couleurs des camions de pompiers, qui font toujours plaisir aux amateurs, petits et grands ! Les calendriers s’échangent  traditionnellement contre un petit don d’argent.

Si vous habitez dans un immeuble, la concierge passera aussi pour recevoir ses étrennes. Gare à vous si vous n’êtes pas généreux ou n’avez pas de monnaie sur vous !

img_1270En général les Français n’envoient pas beaucoup de cartes de Noël ; ils envoient plutôt leurs vœux de bonne année par écrit à ceux qu’ils ne vont pas voir avant longtemps. Mais attention, pas de carte après la fin janvier, car il est alors trop tard ! Si vous rendez visite à la famille ou à des amis en janvier, il est normal de les embrasser en disant : « Bonne année et bonne santé ! ».


Alors que la majorité du territoire français célèbre Noël avec un bon repas et des cadeaux le 25 décembre, le nord et le nord-est (l’Alsace, la Lorraine), tout comme la Belgique et l’Allemagne, marquent plutôt la fête de Saint Nicolas, le 6 décembre.  Saint Nicolas distribue des friandises et des cadeaux aux enfants dans les rues et les écoles ce jour-là, tandis que le Père Fouettard, son compagnon, donne aux enfants indisciplinés un morceau de charbon !

img_1164Le réveillon de Noël se passe généralement en famille, alors que celui de la Saint-Sylvestre s’apprécie avec des amis, souvent au restaurant. Et que mange-t-on ? Des mets réservés aux fêtes, comme le homard, les escargots ou le foie gras, mais aussi de la dinde avec des marrons pour le repas de Noël, ainsi qu’une bûche pour le dessert…. le tout arrosé de Champagne bien sûr !


Le 6 janvier, la plupart des familles célèbrent l’Epiphanie, ou « La fête des rois ». Ils achètent une galette chez le pâtissier –ou maintenant au supermarché-  un gâteau rond sec, ou fourré à la frangipane (de la pâte d’amandes), qui contient une fève en porcelaine ou en plastimg_1267ique. Cette fève était à l’origine un vrai haricot ; elle représente maintenant le plus souvent un personnage de la nativité. A la table on coupe la galette en parts égales et le plus jeune de la famille se met sous la table pour décider de qui aura telle ou telle part, sans tricher. Celui qui croque dans la fève devient le roi ou la reine du jour et il reçoit une couronne dorée. S’il y a deux couronnes, le roi ou la reine peut se choisir un compagnon ou une compagne pour « régner » aussi ce jour-là ! Théoriquement, l’heureux croqueur doit aussi payer pour la prochaine galette….et c’est pourquoi on les trouve dans le commerce jusqu’à la fin février ! Vive le roi !

Joyeux Noël ! / Bonnes fêtes de Noël /

Bonne année et bonne santé ! / Bonne et heureuse année !

Le Musée de la Boissellerie, dans le Haut-Jura

One of the most fascinating and quaint little museums I have visited this year is Le Musée de la Boissellerie (traditional wooden box industry) in Bois d’Amont, in the Haut-Jura. Housed in an old disused sawmill / une scierie, with walls charged with history, this large museum is situated in a small village, surrounded by magnificent forests of tall spruce trees. In fact, for many centuries these forests, along with the local dairy farms / fromageries, were the main source of income in the valley. Today, these have largerly been replaced by les sports d’hiver, especially by way of popular ski resorts / stations de ski and a stunning golf course / terrain de golf in the neighbouring town of Les Rousses.

La Boissellerie was mostly active in the 19th century, with the confection of pretty but practical wooden boxes/ boîtes de bois destined to contain shoe polish, medecine, or even cheese. The museum houses a large collection of these amazing little boxes, as a whole area is dedicated to the very first machines invented for curling thin strips of wood before glueing them by hand. The activity was usually conducted at the mill during the day time and carried on at home, each night, by women and children.

Each room contains equipment (hydraulic and steam / à vapeur) that has been brought back to life –after laying dormant, or broken, for many years after the factory had closed- by a local group of passionates. For years the team gathered funding and collected first-hand information on how to use each machine, as well as artifacts, photos, anecdotes, etc…. and all these are carefully exhibited in themed rooms and commented on by extremely engaging and knowledgeable guides. The visit is educational, fun and as interactive as can be, with little quizzes and demos along the way.

Other rooms show how the invention of further machines enabled the sawmill to diversify into ski making and –another local specialty- the tavaillon (wooden shingles).

The timg_0754availlon (photo), usually positionned on the south side of buildings and farms here –to protect from both rain and wind- can be traced back to 850 BC, in neighbouring Switzerland. It’s presence here makes sense, partly because it is said to last at least 100 years, despite the harsh weather conditions –much longer than any other coating- but also due to the abondance of spruce trees all around, which would have made the use and transport of tiles or other covering materials less convenient and more costly. This was true at least until the 19th century, when a change in use of farm buildings (housing grain as well as animals) meant the material was deemed too flammable and was thus partially abandonned. Today, it is slowly making a comeback –although very costly- but many beautiful, old examples, can still be admired throughout the valley.

If your skiing, golfing or hiking holidays ever take you to that beautiful, unspoilt area of France, make time to visit this lovely little museum!

For the discerning francophile….


There are those among you –lovers and users of the French language- who are very happy when you can finally reach conversational level and be understood and understand enough in France to have a good time with friends, neighbours, etc… or even to deal with the plumber. For you, spelling is not really an issue, but idioms and slang might be.

There are those among you who need to send and respond to emails in French, write reports, etc… and for you, the correct use of grammar becomes more important.

There are those among you who like to devour the French press, read French books, enjoy magazines, etc… and for you a handy dictionary is a must ; or one online which holds off-the-beaten-track expressions.

And then there are those among you who revel in the art and pleasure of speaking perfectly, who read in French and listen to programmes everyday, who love a bit of translation, who in fact won’t put the book down until they have found the exact translation. You know who you are….

For all of you, dear lovers of my language, there are brilliant online sites, ready to answer all of your questions ; from the right word to use, to its more vernacular alternative ; form the correct past participle agreement, to the difficult or irregular conjugation ; and even the proper punctuation or a bit of “argot” (slang)! These sites are both fun and useful, easy and quick to use. Enjoy!

Dijon, wealthy, magnificent capital of the Dukes of Burgundy


IMG_0675Impossible to tour Burgundy and miss out on its jewel : Dijon. Like a good tourist I walked the cobbled streets ; admired the imposing old medieval houses ; crossed the clean squares lined with gastro-restaurants,IMG_0666 the handsome Palais des Ducs de Bourgogne and the Musée des Beaux-Arts ; bought my lunch in Les Halles (gigantic indoor market) ; shopped in the two renowned Maisons de la moutarde (Maille and Fallot) and even stroked la chouette (the howl) for good luck! (2)

IMG_0681Apart from accompanying most meat dishes, mustard is said to help digestion…. and became a very fashionable item at the French table in the Middle-Ages. In the Dijon region it evolved with a twist when le verjus (verjuice/ the juice of green grapes, plentyful in the Bourgogne vineyards!) was used instead of plain vinegar, giving it a smoother taste. Today most sénevé seeds (wild mustard) come from abroad, but le verjus is still a key ingredient, and two ancient manufactures remain in town : Maille and Fallot. In their beautiful flagship shops, one can sample mustards with variations on aromas and even refill previously bought pots with a pump. Or buy a pretty new one!


Incidentally, I visited last year the pretty Maison Maille shop in central London (Piccadilly Arcade), small but still smart version of the Dijon one.


IMG_0706With my tum full of good mustard and yummy Burgundy cheeses from the market – l’Époisses, le Soumaintrain, le Brillat-Savarin – I had a little drive along the Route des Grands Crus, which goes from Dijon to Santenay ; around 60 kms of vineyards, as far as the eye can see, peppered with the odd demeures (domains) and quaint, as well as impeccably maintained, old villages. I might have had a little dégustation (wine tasting) or two along the way…..,2563,9638.html