Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A new holiday (with crêpes!)

I don’t know how I missed this, but, in a conversation about traditions a friend said that, every year, she makes crêpes for Chandeleur.

Intrigued, I asked about the holiday.  They told me it is not religious,  happens ‘sometime in February’ and involves crêpes.  The story I got was that they cook and eat crêpes and always play a special game while cooking them.  Each member of the family (including children) holds a crêpe pan in one hand and some money in the other hand.  Then, they have to perfectly flip the crêpe over in the air.  If it lands on the pan they will be fortunate for the next year.  If not, poverty awaits.  (That’s a lot of pressure for an inexperienced crêpe maker such as myself or a child, dontcha think?).

Wow!  I thought this was it!  The French, non secular holiday everyone can embrace – kind of like Halloween?

That was, of course, until I started researching.  There is good news and bad news about Chandeleur.  The good news is that it is celebrated on February 2nd.  Not only is this Groundhog Day – it is my very own birthday.  A new tradition of crêpes on my birthday doesn’t sound like a bad idea.  The bad news is that it, in fact, is a tradition coming from Christianity, known in English as Candlemas.  (I don’t know why the French seem to think all these holiday have nothing to do with religion!)

“The Catholic holiday of Candlemas, on 2 February, is a feast to commemorate the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of baby Jesus. In France, this holiday is called la Chandeleur, Fête de la Lumière,* or jour des crêpes.”

If you, over there in America, don’t have a crêpe pan, never fear!  You too, can celebrate Chandeleur.  Just make a stack of crêpes and toss them at plates for a catch.  It’s like permission for a food fight.  No, I’m not kidding, full details here.

So, how did the “custom of lighting candles at midnight as a symbol of purification”, turn into a crêpe tossing contest?   Turns out that “Pope Gelasius distributed crêpes to the pilgrims who came to Rome.” (That would be a good idea to win the hearts and minds of the people, right?)  Another theory is “that the crêpes, by their round shape and golden color, recall the solar disc, referring to the return of spring after the winter dark and cold.”  Of course, that is going back to the pagan roots of this holiday – when it was used to celebrate the beginning of the days getting longer again – the returning of the sun to the earth.

Wikipedia also claims, besides the tossing of the crêpes with money in your hand, it is a tradition to: “keep the first made crêpe in the top of an armoire to ensure the next harvest will be abundant.”  Seems that as long as that crêpe does not rot away – you will not face deprivation.  Sounds kind of gross, if you ask me.

Happy Belated Chandeleur, everyone!  I’m looking forward to celebrating next year.  (Hmm… that gives me about 9 months to practice my flipping)

Monday, April 26, 2010

French Word Girl Returns!

You may have thought I abandoned my superhero adventures in France, but, in reality, these daring efforts never stop.

I have a whole slew of new idioms and word usage to share, if you are ready. I know a list like this is probably boring – but I just need to write them all down….


We say:  Out of sight, out of mind

They say: Far from the eyes, far from the earth (Loin des yeux loin de la terre)

We say: It drives me crazy! or It’s too much!

They say: It’s too much! (C’est trop!) or I can’t have anymore of it. (Je n’en pouvait plus)

We say: Letting someone down

They say: Letting the world collapse (Laisser tout le monde tombe)

We say: There are lots of fish in the sea

They say: Lose one, find 10 (Perdre un, trouver dix)

We say: 15 minutes of fame

They say: One moment of glory (Un moment de gloire)

We say: I wouldn’t want to live in the spotlight.

They say: A happy life, is a hidden life. (Pour vivre heureux, vivant cachée)

We say:  I’m out of cash

They say: J’ai pas du fric

We say: Life is good

They say: It’s a wonderful world, isn’t it? (C’est du beau monde, hein?)

We say: This is awesome!

They say: This is crazy good! (C’est un bien fou)

We say: I’ll be right back or In a jiffy

They say: Tout suite or En moins de deux

We say: I can’t be bothered.

They say: I don’t have the courage. (Je n’ai pas le courage.)

We say: 5’o-clock shadow

They say: 3-day beard (Barbe a trois jours)

We say: Caught red-handed.

They say: Flagrantly illicit (En flagrance d’elicit) 

We say: Everyday concerns

They say: Worry quota (soucis quotite)

We refer to the first 10 years of this millennium as: ???? (No consensus that I know of)

They say: The years 20 hundred (Les anees vente cent)

We say: Can of worms

They say: Pandora’s box (Boite de Pandora)

When someone is being stupid about something (say dating) we say: That’s like, Dating 101!

They say:  That’s like B.A.B!  (C’est comme le B.A.B)  Apparently, that is supposed to mean it is as easy as saying the alphabet, but, of course, the alphabet would be ABC – not BAB – so maybe I’m still missing something.

We say: The plane is taxiing

They say: Its rolling down the strip (Il roule dans la piste)

We say: Sick and Tired

They say: Ras le bol

A Play on words: (these are tough for me)

If someone says: Qu’alors y faire?  to you the perfect response is “Calorifiere” 

What should I do?  Burn some calories (i.e. work harder)


We say: Bucks

They say: Tune

We say: Goosebumps (Brits say Gooseflesh)

They say: Chicken skin (Chair de poule)

We say: Affair

They say: Story of love (histoire d’amour)

We say: chicks and guys

They say: nanas and mecs

We say: Snack

They say: Bouffe

We say: Freckles

They say: Red stains (Tache dans rousseur)

We say: Tune up

They say: Revise (Une revision)

We say: half a pound or quarter pound

They say: une livre (500 g) or une demi-livre (250 grams)

At the end of a letter we say: Love, Best wishes, Sincerely or xoxo

They say: Amities, Bisous, Cordialement, Affecteuesement

We say: Snap

They say: Break the fingers (Casser les doigts)

We say: Kneel

They say: Fall on your knees (Tomber a genoux)

And my personal favorite:

We say: 6-pack abs

They say: bar of chocolate abs (tablet du chocolat) 

I like this one since neither a 6 pack nor a bar of chocolate is going to be a good way to get you to those abs of steel!

I hope you are enlightened and once again, more prepared to understand French slang.  Of course, I copied most of these down in class and my French spelling may be off – please forgive and comment to correct!

There is a new one everyday – so I’m sure there will be more to come.  Until then, French word girl is signing off…….

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Papillottes and Patriarchy

I have been wanting, since Christmas, to write a little blog about Papillotes.  Papillotes are a traditional French Christmas candy (originating in Lyon) and, kind of like our candy canes, are only available in December. 

They are wonderful treats.  It is a small, usually metallic or sparkling paper that covers a chocolate filled with fruit cream, or other yummy filling.  Between the outer wrapper and the candy is a white paper with a quote or a joke.  The best kind also has a small ‘snapper’ type firecracker in it that makes a spark.  They are great fun. When Santa visits the children around here, he always has a basket of papillotes.

“Legend has it that papillotes were born in Lyon at the end of the eighteenth century.  It seems that the young clerk who worked in the candy store candy came up with the idea in order to charm his love.  She worked in the floor above the shop.   He sent her little words of love wrapped around pieces of candy from the store. His boss, Mr. Papillote, caught him at it and was going to fire him but then found his idea to be very interesting.  He decided, instead, to put it to good use: and the papillote was born.”

Papillote literally means, “little package” and, in fact is also used to describe any French dish where you wrap the food inside parchment paper or foil to bake.  But, I’m not really interested in that type of papillote, it doesn’t involve chocolate, racism or sexism, some of my favorite topics.

Sexism and racism in chocolate?  Yes folks, that’s right – there is a place where females and multiculturals have yet to break in, and that’s the inside of the papillote!  I probably ate dozens of these delicacies before the insidious truth started to sink in. I realized that the words of wisdom, written within, were all attributed to men, who, by the way, are all white, and dead for at least 100 years.  And this is the candy of the children?

Of course, I haven’t done exhaustive investigative research on this, but the circumstantial evidence is damning.  Here are just a few of the quotes I collected. (In French and then, for your convenience, translated to English.)

S’il fallait tolérer aux autres ce que l’on se permet a soi-meme, la vie ne serait plus tenable – Georges Courteline

If others subjected us to what we allow to happen to ourselves, life would not be worth living.

La sagesse, c’est d’avoir des reves suffisamment grands pour ne pas les perdre de vue lorsqu’on les poursuit – Oscar Wilde

Wisdom is to have dreams that are big enough you don’t lose sight of them while pursuing them.

Une idée qui n’est pas dangereuse ne mérite pas d’etre apellée une idée- Oscar Wilde

An idea that is not dangerous does not deserve to be called an idea.

La critique est une chose bien commode: on attaque avec un mot, il faut des pages pour se défendre. – JJ Rousseau

Criticism is something very convenient: you attack with a word, it takes pages for the defense.

Les hommes de génie sont des météores destines a bruler pour éclairer leur siecle. – Napoléon Bonaparte

Men of genius are meteors, destined to be burned for illuminating their century.

Aux ames bien nées, la valeur n’attend point le nombre des années. – Cornielle

For well-born souls, value does not await age.

OK – there were three that didn’t fit the old white man stereotype:

Proverbs (but very old):

Pour fair taire autrui, commence par te taire – Séneque

To get others to shut up, start by shutting up yourself.

Il vous faut 2 ans pour apprendre à parler, et le reste de votre vie pour apprendre à se taire - Proverbe chinois

It takes you 2 years to learn how to talk, and the rest of your life to learn how to shut up.  (I actually really like this one)

I also have to include this one.  I love how supercala is changed, ever so slightly, in the French Mary Poppins.  “deliliciuex” instead of “docious”.  Linguistic scholars everywhere are burning with curiosity.

Quelle nurse anglaise, volant grace a son parapluie, prononce ce mot maquique: “Supercalifragilisticexpialidelilicieux”?

Which English nurse, flying with an umbrella, says the magic word: “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocius”?

At least she came about in the 1900’s – written in 1934 and famous movie from 1964.  She’s female and magical as well – a modern day witch.  Here’s a role model I can applaud, to some degree or another.  But she still seems dated.  Are these really the words of wisdom that should be used to form the minds of the French populace each holiday season?

Someone needs to speak up, to put a stop to the dictatorship that dead white men have over this candy.  It deserves better.  I guess I’m just the blogger to do it.  Of course, it won’t change a thing, but it still feels good to put it out there.

Foret de Chailluz

I guess this was the week of field trips or something, since I went along with Zander’s class to Chailluz this Friday.  It was just me, the teacher and the kids.  If I hadn’t offered to come along, I think she would have been flying solo.  Since most of the parents work or have very small babies, coming along on field trips is not usually an option.  I find it strange that, in the land of 5 week vacations, more parents don’t take a day to go on a field trip – but I guess it is just the culture.

It was a gorgeous day, and we had a wonderful time.  I have now tagged along with this class quite a few times and the kids know me.   We met up with Sandra, the maitresse de la foret, and headed out for adventure.  The kids were so excited to be in a place where they were free to run around and I loved watching them at play.


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The kids are all 7 and 8 years old and are such a great mixture of maturity and innocence.  They truly love each other Resized_HPIM6008and you see them hugging and hanging out together with heads close and noses practically touching. The photo at right is of Benjamin, Zander’s good friend, with a bouquet for the teacher.  On the other hand, they are ruthless in their teasing, are starting to test authority by not listening to the adults and enjoy ‘being sneaky’.  They hide behind trees while the group moves on, make little noises during class, etc…. I confiscated a bag of candy from one of them and it was great to see how creative he got in coming up with methods to get me to give it back.  “I promise not to eat it.” “I will feed it to the deer”  “I will feed it to the pigs.”  “I will tell my mother and she’ll be mad at you.” “I will tell my father and he’s a cop, NO, an FBI agent!”   Since there’s no FBI in France, I wasn’t moved.  I ignored everything, completely wordless, but he was very persistent and kept coming up with them.  His friends joined in as well.  It was definitely not as easy as taking candy from a baby. (If you were wondering, I did give it back at the end of the trip).  Another thing I thought was funny was how, half the time they seemed to be a cohesive, integrated team and other times it was boys vs. girls and they clearly were bitter rivals.  We learned about plants and animals and played fun games with blindfolds.  Sandra is quite brilliant at her job.

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One of the neat games was when she asked them to sit alone and map where they heard bird sounds. I loved how serious they all were while listening (for about the first 3 minutes anyway).

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After a picnic lunch, Sandra left us and Madame Faivre and I took them into the forest to find the animals.  It took about half an hour of walking before we found what we had been seeking.  Active, hungry for dry bread, deer and boars.

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Bread tossed, we headed back towards Le Petite Ecole dans la foret.   The kids were playing around Resized_DSC00042 – you can see  the train they were creating at right! When we arrived and had a drink, we realized there was still over an hour until time for the bus to arrive.  Well,if you are in the woods with time to kill, there is only one thing to do.  Build a cabine (fort).  Growing up with a forest in my back yard, being a girl scout for 12 years and attending years of camp have given me some experience in this area. I was happy to help the kids who eagerly worked as a team to go into what they were calling “Le Foret Noir” (The Black Forest), which was a group of pine trees down in a hollow nearby where we were making the cabine.

I was staying near the construction site, showing the kids how to choose the right branches and wedge them into place for security when I heard a faint sound of “Heave, HO!  Heave, HO!” coming from the woods.  It grew louder each minute and, sure enough, an entire fallen tree made its way out of the wood, carried by at least 6 fiercely proud classmates.  It was far too big to be used for any wall of our fort, so the teacher and I worked together to make it the main supporting beam of a heretofore non-existent roof.    It was so big it still stuck out about 2 feet on either side!

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Here are a couple shots of the completed cabine which was fully big enough to hold the whole class. They did a great job.

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We headed back to school, exhausted!  I was really glad I had a chance to go along.  This should be a required field trip for kids everywhere, every spring!

Fields of Gold/Joy….


For whatever reason, the dandelions are absolutely taking over Besancon this April.  They coat every patch of grass weResized_HPIM5910 spy and they are just amazingly beautiful.  I am loving every minute of it.  Dandelions are tough, but also gorgeous.  They remind us to  bloom where we are planted, even if other people call us weeds.

I’ve had this song in my head for days, one I listened to with my friends Jessica and Jonna in high school… “Let’s wander slowly through the fields…. slowly, slowly through the fields…. I  touch the leaves that touch the sky, just you and I…. through fields of gold.  Our trouble slowly fades away, slowly slowly fades away.  I hold your hand inside mResized_HPIM5875y hand, across the land… through fields of gold…” 

I wanted to blog to honor the season and especially to thank the golden dandelions.  When I started doing the research, I found my mistake.  It turns out that “Fields of Gold” is quite a good Sting song and not at all the same as the one I was misremembering! That was actually Lenny Kravitz’s “Fields of Joy”.   Well, whatever, the memory is not always a reliable beast, I suppose.  But it is still an awesome song, and properly captures the mixture of peace and excitement I feel at this time of year.

So anyway, here is Fields of Joy for your listening pleasure – and some fabulous dandelion-filled fields for your viewing pleasure…. can’t compare to the real thing, of course.


May you get a chance to wander through such fields with the people who bring you joy. 

The 400 Gouts

I went along with Griffin on Tuesday for a museum trip.  The trip was to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Montbeliard and the point was to introduce the kids to their senses (taste especially).  I was glad to go along to protect Griffin from wheat – since just the week before his teacher gave him some cake.

It was fun – here are shots of the kids tasting sugar, coconut and chocolate – yum!

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I knew my status in the French world had risen since I was given charge of 4 whole children!  Griffin, Wassim, Noa and Valentine.  The only problem is that I was having an issue with pronouncing Wassim and Valentine correctly.  Waseem and Valenteen – not Wazeem and Valentan!!!  All day they kept correcting me – how frustrating and embarrassing.

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In the afternoon we had lunch and spent time in a lovely park. There was a giant ant statue and lots of ducks.

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Then we all played in the park – though the French teachers and other moms were too afraid to let the kids climb to the top of the structures.  Griffin had to be talked down!  He was afraid to do the slide and ended up going down with Marilene – his beloved art teacher.

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Fun times!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Transhumance (i.e. March of the GOATS)

So, it turns out that the goats of the Franche Comté have an annual migration.  In mid-sResized_HPIM5818pring, they journey from their winter barn to the top of a nearby mountain.  This pilgrimage is called The Transhumance and we were there to see it.

That’s right.  It's open to the public.  You are welcome to come along and join in on all that goat-following fun!  When I read about this event in the BVV, I knew we had to be there.  I was a bit concerned because the walk was to be 11km (about 7 miles) but we are all Resized_HPIM5801in pretty good shape so I figured we could make it without too much problem, right?

When we arrived, I was shocked at the crowds.  This is, by far, the best attended free event I have ever been to in Besancon.  It was almost a circus-like atmosphere.  There were people of all ages from babes in arms to grey-haired elders.  There were TV reporters and other journalists.  People with giant packs and fiberglass walking sticks, kids on bikes, others with rollerblades, two on horseback, a couple adults with accordions – you name it!   There were a few goats wandering around outside the barn that we got to pat, including some adorable babies.

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After about half an hour of hanging around, it was finally time to let the goats (and it turns out 2 sheep as well) out of the barn and into the nearby field.  They were so happy to get out and run around!  The reporters were catching every minute of it.  All the goats had brightly colored pompons on their horns and cheerfully clanging bells as well.  After about 15 minutes of grazing time (I guess they needed to carb load for their big walk) the procession finally took off.  We formed part of a human wall to keep them all together.  Check out the video!

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The line was led byResized_HPIM5829 the horseback riders and some volunteers with reflective vests and traffic control signs.  Then came a solid line of farmers holding the goats back.  Lastly came all the (hundred or so?) walkers.  Of course, the kids (and us) really, really wanted to be in front of the pack, near the goats but who knew they traveled so very fast?  Some of the goats weren’t even able to keep up with the herd and were wandering, kind of lost, amongst the walkers.  I wasn’t sure what to do about that – herd them along????   Zander took off immediately and we didn’t even have him in our sights.  The rest of us literally had to run as fast as we could to catch up to the front – and it took about 5 minutes of hard running since we had to keep stopping for people in front of us.  Passing the caleche (horse-drawn carriage) towards the rear was the hardest part since we didn’t want to scare the horses.  I couldn’t believe how much energy Griffin had for this!

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Once we caught up, we stayed near the back of the pack and discoResized_HPIM5835vered Zander was running interference on the right side, I saw him urging wayward goats back into the herd several times.  He was absolutely in his glory!

We continued on for about 2 kilometers, at a trotting pace to reach our own  neighborhood.  It was amazing to walk with goats right past our own apartment complex, and soon afterwards, we even passed the kids’ school!  Lots of people lined the route, enjoying the scene and taking photos.  I find it fun to think that several random photos of my son are surely going to make it into photo albums across the Franche Comté.

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Soon afterwards we had to herd the goats into a tunnel that runs under the highway.  The goats did not like it and poor Zander nearly gotResized_HPIM5848 knocked down.  The caleche had to go around and the group waited at the end of the tunnel.  I waited up above to see them come out, while André stayed in the tunnel with the kids (of both the human and goat variety).

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We soldiered onward towards the train station, but though the spirit continued to be willing, the flesh was weak.  Zander wanted to go on but Griffin and Callie were pooping out. André and I had carried each of them for spells, but I couldn’t keep up the pace with a kid on my shoulders and there was no way André (who also had our packed lunch) could carry both of them (especially since we were only about 1/3 of the way).  It was sad, but we had to watch as the goats went onward, towards the mountain.

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We still wanted to see the end of the amazing journey so André ran back to get the car while the kids and I played around the park, enjoying the spring flowers and a small playground.

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I am so grateful to have a fit husband.  He got back with the car in less than 30 minutes!  We drove over to the foResized_HPIM5882ot of Mount Planoise and, sure enough, made it in time to see the (greatly enlarged) group arriving for the final push.  The back of the caleche was now full of baby goats that had tuckered out (see, we weren’t the only ones).  The line of people had grown exponentially – I think people must have joined as they got closer to the mountain, and we couldn’t barely even see the goats there were so many walkers!

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We joined in for the last kilometer or so up the mountain side.  This is where the bikes and roller bladers must have had to change plans since it was up, up, up, up a rocky narrow dirt path for over half an hour.  We weren’t able to keep right next to the goats (although Zander did) since the crowds were so tight.

Finally, we made it to the top of the mountain, found Zander, and got to see the goats settled in their new quarters.  The cameras were still rolling, I’m sure this event must have made the evening news!


We ate our picnic lunch and rested for a few minutes.  On the way up, we had seen Zander’s theatre teacher and she said they were going to do a spectacle on the hillside around 1pm.  Since that was a whole half an hour away, André took the opportunity to explore a new path.  Besides getting a great view and some additional exercise, he passed tons of bunkers along the way – definitely a place we’ll have to return to someday, with flashlights! Since he had run that morning, done the walk with us,  and run to get the car, he traversed about 24km in one day.  The rest of us wimps probably only did about 7 or 8.  We lazily rested while he went off exploring.

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Then it was time for the spectacle. With the exception of Shakespeare in the Park, this was the first time I’d seen live theatre performed out of doors.  There were only 2 players, and, perhaps predictably, they were falling in love.  It was almost a musical there were so many gorgeous songs.  I think, maybe, if it had been in English, I would have thought the song lyrics were cheesy. (I met a little bird.  She taught me how to love.  She taught me how to cry….) But in French, they just sounded beautiful and romantic.  I love live music.  Take a listen if you’d like.

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We finally headed back down the mountain for home, appreciating the natural beauty growing along the path. Unfortunately, Zander fell and twisted his ankle, making the return journey a bit onerous for him.  He is just getting so big, we can’t really carry him any more!

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I hope the goats are happy up there in their new digs.  We were very happy to be able to escort them, at least part of the way.

This is one of those things that makes me feel so grateful to be in France.  What an experience…..


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