October 31, 2011

A Way Out of the Woods

The beauty and poetry of the French language includes the strange and creative world of French idioms.

Today’s featured idiom is:

 Ne pas être sorti de l’auberge =  We’re not out of the woods yet/There’s still more work to do.

In old French argot/slang, the word auberge means jail. To get out of jail, you had to be patient or brave a thousand dangers. So, the idiom is interpreted to mean that, to get out of a situation like jail (or any unpleasant or burdensome situation), there is work to do.

(Thank you to Caroline Hautcoeur for this post. For more practice at the art of French idioms, we invite you to our French/English conversation group on Tuesday and Friday afternoons. For more information, click here.)

October 24, 2011

The Gangster Dance

Wild. Violent. Acrobatic. Passionate. The Apache dance came from the Paris underworld of the early 20th century and gained international fame primarily in films like Can-Can, Charlie Chan in Paris, Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights, and even an episode of I Love Lucy. The dance was named after Les Apaches, a gangster underworld subculture especially active in Belleville, La Villette, Montmartre, and la Bastille.

The dance is sometimes said to re-enact a violent “discussion” between man and woman, including mock slaps and punches and the man throwing or dragging the woman while she struggles.

Dances in the open-air cafés were not always this dramatic. The guinguettes were also places for a lively waltz, a good meal, and inexpensive drinking, often just outside the taxman’s reach. A poor man’s ball.

To see an Apache dance, visit this site. 

To learn more about Parisian culture after the French Revolution and before the First World War, join the WICE guided visit “Open-air Cafés to Barricades (1814-1914) in the Musée Carnavalet on November 4th. For more information, click here.  

(Thank you to Veronique Kurtz for the information in this post.)  

October 20, 2011

Celebrating Indian Art

Embroidered Panel

You’re invited! Enchanting India  will be on display in an exhibition of 170 hand embroidered panels made by a women’s cooperative in Pondichéry, India.  Founded more than 40 years ago by French diplomats, the cooperative began with 30 embroiderers and now employs more than 265 women, who through the dedication of the French association, are able to earn a living for their families. 

In France, the association arranges to have their works displayed and sold. A new exhibition of their embroidery opens today and offers a great opportunity to see high quality handiwork. The panels represent ancestral and contemporary India as well as birds, gardens, and flowers.  Entrance is free, and all of the works on display are for sale.

The exhibit runs from Thursday October 20 through Thursday October 27 (except Sunday) from 10 am to 7 pm at the Town Hall of the 13th arrondissement, 1 place d’Italie, Paris 13th, Metro Place d’Italie.

We hope you’ll have time to visit this stunning show.

(Thank you, Lee Hubert, for this information.)

October 16, 2011

A Famous Back Door

Photo by Lee Hubert
Hidden away in the 16th arrondissement near the end of the rue Raynouard, there is a charming house with faded green shutters in the middle of a garden.  This perfect Passy hideaway was where the prolific writer Honoré Balzac took refuge for seven years (under a pseudonym).  In spite of his constant writing, he was always in debt. In this house he could sequester himself away from the hustle and bustle of central Paris … and escape his creditors through a back exit into the provincial rue Berton! 

Author of realist and psychological novels in the first half of the 19th century, he is especially known for his archetype characters like Rastignac, Father Goriot and Vautrin.  In Passy, he corrected and finished The Human Comedy, his attempt to describe the habits and morals of every level of society. 

He described his work day in a letter to the Countess Hanska: “Working means getting up at midnight every evening, writing until eight o’clock, having lunch in a quarter of an hour, working to five o’clock, having dinner, going to bed, and starting over again the next day.”   And all the while he drank pots and pots of coffee which contributed to his early death at just 51.

Balzac Reflections:

"The more one judges, the less one loves."

"Reading brings us unknown friends."

"Solitude is fine, but you need someone to tell you solitude is fine."

If you're interested in seeing this house and other interesting places in the 16th, join Lee Hubert on Tuesday, October 18th at 10:30 for her Paris by Arrondissement walk. For more information click here.

October 13, 2011

Warm Dishes for Cool Weather

When temperatures start to drop, it is the perfect time to prepare hearty dishes like the French family classic, pot-au-feu.   

400 grams top rib of beef
400 grams top leg of beef or a lean part of the shoulder
1 bone with marrow
4 carrots
4 turnips
1 leek
1 celery stalk
1 onion
1 bouquet garni (parsley, thyme and bayleaf)
Salt and pepper

Tell your butcher you need the meat and a large marrow bone to prepare a pot-au-feu.

Place the meat in a large pot.  Add 2 liters of cold water.  Bring the water to a boil.  Let it boil for 15 minutes.  Skim the water regularly and remove the brown foam released by the meat until the brown foam is gone.  The goal is to produce a clear broth.

Wash, peel and chop all the vegetables. 

Add the bouquet garni, fresh garlic, chopped vegetables, and marrow bone to the pot.  You can stick the cloves in the onion so they are easier to remove at the end of cooking.

Bring the pot back to a boil and then turn the heat down to simmer on low heat for about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

The pot-au-feu can be served two ways.  First, serve the clear broth as a soup with toasted bread.  Next, serve the meat and vegetables along with mustard, cornichons (pickles), and rock salt.  Spread the bone marrow on toast and season with salt and pepper.  Be sure to prepare enough meat in your pot-au-feu so you can also serve the meat cold in a salad or prepare meatballs the next day.

Join the WICE cooking group, led by our gracious (and easy-to-follow) instructor Françoise Meunier, on Wednesday, October 19 to make a delicious Chicken a la Normande (with farm-raised chicken) and, of course, a classic apple tart to finish the Normandy autumn meal in perfect style. For more information click here.

The class learns ... and then eats!

October 10, 2011

Picture Perfect: The Canal Saint-Martin

Jeanne Macinnes
The first week of October still felt like summer. Hot and relentlessly sunny … so unParisian. The “Exploring Paris” photography class walked the length of the Canal Saint-Martin looking for light, texture, form, and personalities (and shade under the tree-lined quais!) What exactly was the essence of this canal, with its nine locks, two swinging bridges, and eight arched footbridges?

The history lays the groundwork. Napoleon ordered the construction of the canal in 1802 to link with the Canal de l’Ourq to supply fresh water to the city. The canals also served as a transportation system for food, building materials, and other goods; and factories and warehouses were built along the quais. 

Sheila Clementson
The wide-open water of the Bassin de la Villette connects the two canals and now provides a place for boaters of all ilk … canoes, kayaks, and crew boats. (You can reserve a boat for free if you’re a Paris resident; just take your trusty EDF bill to show your place of residence). 

Petra Nass
The Rotonde de la Villette commands the south end of the Bassin. It was built as part of the wall around Paris to prevent people from importing goods into the city without paying taxes. The building housed the tax administrators and guards. 

Now, this area is a plaza for people of all trades who just want to find a peaceful place to perch. The fountains are especially tempting … for those who want to sit near and feel the cool water … and those who want to dive right in.

Wanne Sinterniklaas
Special Note: WICE Photography enthusiast Sophia Pagan opens her "Silent City" exhibit this Thursday, October 13. Please join in celebrating her success at the vernissage beginning at 19h30. Bel' Air Café Bar, 6 rue Germain Pilon, 75018 Montmartre. 

October 6, 2011

Beans Forever

The beauty and poetry of the French language includes the strange and creative world of French idioms.

Today’s featured idiom is:

 C'est la fin des haricots  =  a disastrous situation ... the end of everything.

The expression comes from the practice in the last century to give beans to boarding school students when there was no other choice (at this time, beans were a staple for the poor). When the beans ran out, it was the end of everything. 

Join the WICE French/English Conversation Group to introduce more idioms into your daily French conversations.

October 1, 2011

Discovering Hidden Montmartre

View from The Butte by Petra Nass

Montmartre brings many images to mind. It is the bohemian village of the late 1800s and early 1900s that was home to some of the most creative artists of the time … Picasso, Modigliani, Mondrian, Dali, van Gogh, Renoir, Valadon, Utrillo, Matisse and Toulouse-Lautrec. It is the countryside just outside of Paris that welcomed cheap cafés, brothels, vineyards, quarries, and windmills. 
Didier by Lorena Coletta
Now, it is an “attraction” that has taken on a different kind of life. The Place de Tertre and Sacré Coeur area is almost always a zoo, especially on sunny week-ends. Bumper-to-bumper tourists. Sketch artists that appear out of nowhere to hawk their talent. And the most expensive cafés around for people watching.

The intrepid adventurers of the “Exploring Paris through the Lens” class embraced Montmartre last week and traveled the winding narrow streets that still speak of the past. They found the hidden treasures, the local characters, and a fresh new way to look at scenes trampled by thousands of tourist footsteps.

A less-traveled path by Sheila Clementson
It is the photographer’s mission to really discover the world around, to find subjects and textures and lines and form and light that others might pass by. It is the photographer’s challenge to express ordinary or clichéd places in a way that makes them unique. It is the photographer’s gift to create an image with a part of their heart attached. We invite you to take a look.

After the Expedition

Jeanne makes it to the red carpet!
If you’d like to join the “Exploring Paris through the Lens” course, you can sign up for any of the Monday adventures. On October 3, we’ll be going to the Canal St Martin. On October 10, we’ll be going to Belleville. On October 17, we’ll be going to the Marais. Also upcoming is the night photography class (October 5). Sunsets and glittering night lights are difficult to capture, but we'll conquer the challenge. Call the WICE office for more information, or email the instructor at meredithmullins@earthlink.net.