Missing urban presences — Paris, Brussels, Bordeaux

Ria (l.) and Suzanne, two from my Brussels charmed circle

Ria suggested in an email that Paris, in tandem with her city, Brussels, are like my part-time lover. Maybe, she added, that’s why you’re so in love. Ria is one of a Brussels circle of long-time special friends whose welcome charmed the city for me. The part-time lover idea appealed; after all, part-time is known to keep feelings potent, n’est-ce pas?

Place Royale in handsome Brussels

My first Brussels belle, Nicole, took this photo of the Musée Magritte, newest lure of the Royal Art Museum complex in the Place Royale

When I thanked Ria for the insight, she replied in an even deeper vein: In life, she wrote, rather than keep on missing — one feels better sustained by desire.* The better I get to know my friends’ handsome city, the more Brussels complements ethereal Paris. Two capitals after my own heart. And city missing may attack with no warning. . . .

On New York’s extreme east side — genteel but remote turf well north of midtown Manhattan — on a day when I’d skipped lunch, where could I go to fend off late-afternoon starvation? Just one more block east, said an informant, at a place named something like Pinocchio’s –? The array of sweets at first had my full attention in Beanocchio’s, but then as I Continue reading

A dozen French presences, past or present

The time came in my vie francofolle (French-crazy life) when trying to distract U.S. Customs officers’ attention from my edible souvenirs began to seem less rewarding. Goat cheese (among others) began to be more commonly exported from France to sophisticated U.S. cities. No question I still was delighted to be able to savor at my own New York table, cheeses personally imported by moi — for instance Ossau Iraty, made from sheep’s milk — but maybe I wasn’t so thrilled to share that uniquely piquant semi-soft delicacy with any nose-y New Yorker who happened to sniff out on her own this Bearnais specialty at a Broadway groceries mecca. I also craved gourmet exclusivity; I must confess that my francofolie can have a curdled side.

TWO! French Cheese Board NYC presence -- a wall of witty photos by Thomas Laisné and plenty of imported fromage to feed my francofolle cravings

ONE of 12! French Cheese Board NYC presence — a wall of witty photos by Thomas Laisné and plenty of imported fromage to feed my francofolle cravings

In my defense, I couldn’t wait to share with fellow New Yorkers the new presence in my Gotham hometown of the French Cheese Board (fall, 2014 debut). So maybe my francofolie was smoothing out. Like, well, like fromage blanc aka fromage frais, a smooth fresh cheese with a texture akin to that of yogurt but a cheese that really does not travel, at least not from France, and has not to my knowledge been attempted by U.S. artisanal cheese makers. If I’m wrong, tell me, please! I can’t wait to get my spoon back into a tub of the seductively tangy (just mildly tangy) stuff. Even if it’s made (to a high standard) in the U.S.A.

Petite Creme 5_3oz LF Plain Front (logo)

TWO! New 2014 presence on the U.S. market, a fromage blanc version by Stonyfield

No sooner had I described my nostalgia for the fromage blanc I’d consumed in Paris throughout the warmer months of 2014 than my email archives unearthed a publicity missive about a new product from a well known New Hampshire organic dairy. Since ‘fromage blanc’ would mean little to most consumers hereabouts, Stonyfield had chosen a more accessible Frenchie name: Petite Crème. Even so, advertising copy had some explaining to do about what the product is not (not yogurt, not Greek, etc.) Anyway, we can’t wait to locate and taste this news. REPORT: Petite Crème located at upscale supermarket and does not disappoint. As dessert with fresh Continue reading

Defining ‘francofolie’ – Sarah’s turn

Sarah, from francophile to francofolle

Sarah, from francophile to francofolle

You’re about to read that Sarah, a Brit undergrad at Columbia University, has a real feel for French language. An element of francofolie may indeed be an affinity for the language.  Where did you learn French? I’m asked. Why do you speak well? When I speak well, which is far from always (a glass or so of wine really can boost my fluency), I explain it’s because I make an ongoing effort — je fais un effort. (But when I say, I learned on the pillow — sur l’oreiller — that gets a smile, too.)

As for the effort, when not in France, I go for one French course per semester at FIAF (French Institute Alliance Francaise), where teachers assign riveting French reading, and students discuss. This fall, I also joined a dozen charming francofolles in a conversation group led by longtime tutor, ex-pat Luc Georges. Also vital — I take a heavy dose of French movies — some included, gratis, in FIAF membership.

Jean Gabin in Le Jour se leve at Film Forum, 14-27 November

But FIAF movies are just a start. I’m a devotee, too, of the Film Forum, in Greenwich Village,  where New Yorkers can see the best of new French films — and classics. You just missed the new acting tour de force by two top male stars, Diplomacy, but if you’re reading this soon after my writing, you can catch the next gem, uncut: the complete version of Le Jour se leve (1939). “Another Sunrise” (my title translation effort) unseen in 75 years, notes the Forum, now is in a new 4K restoration. So you needn’t even start out francofolle/fou to enjoy a French Thanksgiving with famed actor Jean Gabin — 14-27 November at Film Forum. Gabin is a surefire way to elicit latent francofolie.


Merci, French cultural counselor Antonin Baudry, for Albertine bookstore

I empathize with your feeling, emailed Sarah from her catbird seat at Columbia, of missing French culture (or, to put it in the French grammar form which I find more poetic, to have Paris ‘missing from you’); even though I am not French in the slightest and only lived in Paris for two months in the summer, during that time I became a helpless francophile and now feel something lacking in my New York experience. I find myself thinking back almost daily to the independent bookstores. . . in the Latin Quarter, the relaxed café culture and the patisseries which I would make regular pilgrimages to during my short time there.

Clearly, Sarah is well on her way from francophile to francofolie.  As for indie French bookstores. . .  in New York, where we’ve been deprived of same for about 15 years, at last we have a new, beautiful and well-stocked one. Albertine, housed Continue reading

30 ways to francofolie (follow me!)

National Blog Post Month. Thirty posts in 30 days as incentive (for me) to write daily, and try to post without tech help, daily, so I can learn to be more self-sufficient on GallicFever.  How do you say NaBloPoMo in French? Not to worry, the French wouldn’t name a shack NaBleauPoMeaux, let alone hang that handle on a chateau. But along with over a thousand of other WordPress writers — I mean, bloggers — I’m doin’ it. And like everyone else, I begin on 1 November, Day 1. But trust me, 30 ways are far too few to explore all the objects of my French passion. My francofolie. . . .

Francofolie artifacts, gifted by treasured Frenchie friends

Francofolie artifacts, gifted by treasured Frenchie friends

I could start by celebrating eleven or so of my treasured Frenchies, the best friends anywhere. The pair of parisiennes with whom I drank tea in Agadir, Morocco, sooo many years ago, and the French-Belgian couple I skied with almost that long ago in Zinal, Switerland.  But also the neighbors whose neighborliness warmed up a chilly Paris 1BR exchange apartment in the 19th arrondissement in 2012, and are putting up with me still.

Thanks to my ventures as a twenty-something to those Moroccan and Swiss Club Med’s, as well as to my forays over just the past few years into exchanging my NY apartment for various homes in Paris and Bordeaux, I pooh pooh that stuff about — oh, the French won’t invite you to their homes. They will, if you will.

Could bonding begin more easily away from everyone’s home base — over mint tea in Morocco or waist deep in thick, Swiss powder? That’s reasonable. But there are moments, too, on the fourth floor landing of your building that’s six or seven metro stops away from where the tourists swarm, when a neighbor will surprise you with more than a standard bonjour. . . and soon, it’s your turn to say come by for an American breakfast. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to parler francais. But don’t be surprised, either, at how often someone is thrilled to practice their English on you.

Belatedly, but in time for the New Year 2015, I figured out a better way to accomplish daily posts. At least on the many dates when I indulge in a French Culture rendez-vous. Often, I go to French film screenings, literary lectures, art shows, even concerts of French music (NB: you’ll find more affordable concerts in Paris than in NYC ). Now, just click on the dates you’ll find on the calendar atop this page — any GallicFever page — and I’ll take you with me! See you soon . . . .