Friday, November 21, 2014

Flirting with French makes New York Times bestseller list!

I'll get back to French and France in a moment, but first I want to share the exciting news that Flirting with French, written by the same idiot who authors this blog, has debuted on the New York Times bestseller list for Travel books at #11. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that I've stopped promoting it entirely. Buy your holiday gift copies now, and maybe we can nudge it up to #10, so I get the listing with the capsule description, instead of just the title in the Sunday Times Book Review! Let me help you out.

Click here to buy.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Oeil of the tiger

We take a break this morning from my French language and culture discussions to report on a breaking news story from France: what was first reported to be a tiger is stalking the outskirts of Paris -- and no one knows where it came from.

Sighted first near Disneyland Paris, sending cat bait Mickey and Minnie scurrying for cover, Inspector Clouseau has been tracking it westward, meaning that by the time you read this, it could be climbing the Eiffel Tower.

The BBC is now saying it's not a tiger at all, but some other grand chat, although Le Monde is still calling it un tigre, perhaps to avoid using the unfortunate phrase grande chatte. (And if I have to explain that to not to ask.)

In any event, it's a welcome diversion from France's other problems: the re-emergence of Sarkozy, crippling unemployment, and the ability of the dough-faced president to attract glamorous women. Bonne chance avec votre tigre, mes amis!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Win a copy of "Flirting with French"

The French Word-a-Day website is offering a free copy of Flirting with French to the reader who wins the "name your favorite food" contest. In that spirit, I'm repeating my recipe for Pommes Anna, a fantastic and easy potato dish, which deserves to be better known (and more widely eaten) in this country:

Pommes Anna

4 medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes (approx 1-1/2 pounds or slightly less)
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, clarified*
Salt (coarse Kosher or sea) and freshly ground pepper to taste (about ¾ teas salt and ½ teas pepper in all)

1.     Preheat oven to 450 F and start the clarified butter, as below.
2.     Peel potatoes and slice thinly (the thinner the better – no more than 1/16 inch) on a mandolin or V-slicer.
3.     Spray the bottom of a 6-inch, nonstick sauté pan with cooking spray, then spoon in 2 teaspoons of the clarified butter, and swirl to coat.
4.     Place a layer of potatoes slices in the pan, overlapping the edges by a third to a half, so that no pan surface is showing. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle on about a teaspoon of the butter.
5.     Repeat building layers in the same manner until you’ve run out of potatoes, then drizzle with any remaining butter.
6.     Cover pan tightly with foil, sear on high heat (that’s on an electric burner; for gas you may need to dial it back a notch) for 90 seconds. No more, no less.
7.     Place in center of oven, and bake for 35 minutes.
8.     Remove foil, reduce oven temperature to 400, and bake about another 15 minutes. The potatoes are done when pierced easily with a knife, and edges are brown and pulling away from the pan.
9.     Remove from oven and invert onto a platter (like an upside-down cake)
10.  Allow to cool 10 minutes before serving. (Do not omit this step – the flavors develop and the texture improves as it sits).
11.  Cut into wedges, like a pie, and serve.

* To clarify butter, melt in smallest saucepan you have, and allow to simmer gently for a couple of minutes until white solids form on surface. Remove from heat, let sit for a few minutes, then, using a teaspoon, skim off and discard the solids.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

French non-Cultural minister outdoes Palin

If you haven't heard, France is abuzz over this past weekend's admission by the French Minister of Culture, one Fleur Pellerin, that she hasn't read a book in two years. What's more, she seemed totally unfamiliar with Patrick Modiano, the French author who recently won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

"Barbarism is here," declared one French writer, joining a chorus of voices for her resignation.

My thoughts immediately went (unfortunately) to Sarah Palin, who was similarly caught with her pantalons down, so to speak, when she couldn't name, well, anything, including the name of a newspaper she reads. At least Pellerin didn't try to deflect the embarrassment with charges of "gotcha journalism." (Hmm, how do you say that in French?)

It's temping to poke fun at the French for this indignation, but the real point is that the bumbling President Holland has named a mere bureaucrat who has risen through the ranks of French bureaucracy (starting with university)  to  an office charged with the nation's culture. Judging by the photo above, perhaps Ministry of Fashion would've been a better fit.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

90+ ways to know you're becoming French

A reader from France, Lisa Vanden Bos, recently sent me a copy of small, illustrated book (and by small, I mean 3 inches square) titled 90+ Ways to Know You're Becoming French.  A couple of my favorites:
  • Start a series by counting with your thumb (as opposed to your index figure)
  • Find nothing wrong with saying in English, "I am here since three years."
  • Know where the "first floor" really is
(Hint on the "first floor": You might want to take the elevator.)

Fun stuff. You can learn more about the book here . The authors operate a website that serves the expat community in France,  You know how I know that they're becoming French? The website ends in ".fr".

Bonne lecture!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Innocents Abroad

As you might imagine, I've been getting some e-mail from people of a certain age who also have attempted to learn French and have had similar experiences to mine. One such correspondent, Greg Curtis, even enrolled at the Sorbonne -- and lived to tell about it.

Here's his entertaining story, which appeared in Alcalde, the official publication of the University of Texas.

Bonne lecture !

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

"Would you prefer I spoke English?"

Okay, so I'm no Orson Welles, and I have this New York-ish accent...but if you want to get a goût gratuite (or is that a "dégustation gratuite" -- who the heck knows; it's French!) of Flirting with French you can hear me read a minute and fifty seconds, courtesy of the New York Times.

Of course, in doing this for the Times I've certainly killed any chance of being asked to record my own audio book, but I like this clip because it's the type of thing that happened to me often in France.

To set it up, my wife and I have arrived in the town of Dinard after several long days of bicycling in the rain, and an hour earlier, I had struggled mightily trying to understand where the hotel clerk wanted us to store the bikes. Now, I have to deal with her again...and I'm not looking forward to it.

Je lis...

Saturday, October 4, 2014

NY Times Book Review reviews "Flirting with French"

 This Sunday's New York Times Book Review has a colorful (and nice) review of my book, "Flirting with French," under the headline "Old Dog, New Trick." Some excerpts:

In his new book, “Flirting With French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me and Nearly Broke My Heart,” he deals with a lot of pangs, yearnings and fears that readers, especially those around his age — 57 when he set out to learn French — can identify with. How old is too old to learn something new? Is there anything to be done about a memory that’s beginning to sputter?
Bon courage, mes amis. As Alexander discovers, French is the least of it when you’ve reached late middle age.
He throws himself into learning to speak French with Gérard Depardieu-like gusto in a George ­Plimpton-like stunt, toiling over Rosetta Stone, enrolling in immersion classes, joining a conversational group, writing to a pen pal, papering his kitchen with vocabulary-boosting Post-it notes.
But he never gives up. He hurls himself at French again and again almost like a cartoon character who, smacking up against a slammed door, slides to the floor in a puddle of humiliation. His wife, meanwhile, a doctor who has never studied French, turns out to be a natural, able to navigate serenely through brief encounters on the vacation they take in Normandy and Provence.
I did feel a bit like Wile E. Coyote during much of the time I was studying French...

See the full review here

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Paris around the clock

How to tell if you're a francophile: If this slideshow from the New York Times doesn't make you want to jump on a plane to Paris right're not!

Friday, September 26, 2014

The French stomp out cigarettes!?

Legendary singer Serge Gainsbourg with his ever-present cigaratte
The French have almost lost their ability to shock: doughnut-faced presidents have affairs with hot actresses via motor scooter; Metro ads features half-naked models, and farmers plow over McDonalds. But this latest news caught me by surprise: As reported in today's New York Times, the French government has announced a plan to curb smoking that would introduce plain packaging for cigarettes (no more cute camels!), ban smoking on playgrounds and -- get this -- even ban e-cigarettes in some public places, putting them ahead of the US in combating the growing use of e-cigarettes!

This from the country that has always celebrated the cigarette. Thank goodness they banned smoking in restaurants a few years ago -- I remember going to the famous Cafe de Flore, where Sartre and Camus once hung out and and the stink of their Gauloises still hung in the air -- I could barely breathe (or taste my food).

So, kudos to the French. Better late than never!