French Friday #56: Much “adieu” about nothing

The internet is great for all kinds of things. You can play games, you can learn stuff, you can talk to friends. The internet is also great for exposing all kinds of ignorance. Don’t worry; I’m here to make you smarter today. See, I’ve noticed that there is rampant confusion about the two words “adieu” and “ado.” Let’s get this straightened out shall we?

First off, “ado” is an English word. It means “busy activity,” “a fuss,” “hubbub.” Shakespeare used it in the title of his play “Much Ado About Nothing” to mean people were unnecessarily making a big deal about something. In other words, making a mountain out of a molehill. We also use it in the phrase, “without further ado,” usually in the context of introducing someone or something to a group. The idea here is, “we’re going to truncate this ceremony and get right down to the good stuff.” No more hubbub. No more fuss. No more ado.

Adieu” is a French word. It is the literal French counterpart to the Spanish “adiós.” Literally, they both mean “to God;” in common use, they mean goodbye. The idea is, upon parting, you are committing the person into God’s care. Now, in Spanish, “adiós” is a benign farewell. You can use it anytime and it doesn’t mean anything other than “goodbye.” Not so for the French adieu. There are many, many other ways to say goodbye in French that sound much more modern than the archaic adieu. In addition to sounding rather old-fashioned, adieu is imbued with overtones of finality. This is what you say when you’re on your death bed, or moving to the other side of the world with the knowledge that you’ll never return, or about to board the Titanic. Adieu is a dramatic word. “This is it, we will never see each other again!” One hand flung to the forehead with the other at your chest to still those heart palpitations. Marie-Antoinette signed her last letter to her children with “adieu” before being escorted to the scaffold. This is not a word for casual conversation, although my French students impishly enjoy using it just to be snots.

A fountain at the site where the guillotine once stood in Place de la Concorde.

A fountain at the site where the guillotine once stood in Place de la Concorde.

Aside from the difference in definition of ado and adieu, they aren’t even pronounced the same. Ado = a-doo
Adieu = a-dyuh
These aren’t interchangeable.

See? Whaditellya? The internet is good for lots of things. Go and spread the knowledge.

French Friday #55: La Poste

The past two weeks in my French lessons, I regaled my students with tales of the French post office, complete with all the appropriate vocabulary they would need to navigate the perils of La Poste (well, not all the vocabulary they’d need; I still haven’t taught them any cuss words yet). I’ve told you all a little of our own experiences in French Friday #33.  Every country mocks its own postal system, but it’s something else to experience another one altogether. The phrase “going postal” entered the American vernacular after a spate of shootings in the 90s were perpetrated by uncontrollably angry postal workers and now describes anyone overcome by a fit of rage. In France, it would have to mean someone who was overcome by an uncontrollable bout of apathy. Will your mail reach its destination? Peut-être. Do they care? Non.

Entering La Poste was an exercise in self-control. Don’t plan on it being a quick trip. Don’t plan on successfully accomplishing what you came in to do. Then, if one or the other does happen, you’ll be pleasantly surprised and leave with a song in your heart and a spring in your step. Ok, that might be pushing it a little bit. One of the more frustrating things about conducting your business in La Poste was that it also functions as a bank (Why would you want to entrust your money to a place that is notorious for losing things?). But instead of having a separate line for banking transactions the poor saps waiting in line to pick up packages and buy stamps have to cool their heels behind the guy who wants to make a deposit into savings and withdraw this much from checking and then have a money order printed out. Then, oh yeah, by the way, he also wants to mail this box to Singapore. So you, as one of those poor saps in line, learn to go zen. Time ceases to matter in La Poste. They will not break me.

Main post office in Rueil. At least the building is cool.

Main post office in Rueil. At least the building is cool.

We do have to give credit to La Poste for their brilliant combination of lassitude and efficiency. On a wall outside of most post offices, you will find a bank of mail slots, each meticulously labeled. The first slot will be for that particular town. The second will be for a couple of nearby towns. The third will be for the rest of the département (similar to a county). The fourth will be for elsewhere in France. The fifth for the rest of Europe and the sixth for further abroad. It’s pretty handy, but you see what they did there, don’t you? You’re sorting the mail for them. And you don’t even get paid! Tricky. Little corner mailboxes have similarly labeled slots, but only three at most.

Pictured below is a French mail truck. This one happened to be delivering mail in the hamlet at Versailles. If you are in the centre ville of any town, though, you are more likely to see young people in their 20s on yellow bicycles weighed down with mail saddlebags. Much easier to maneuver through narrow streets and lean up against a building to deliver mail to separate apartment buildings.


I do want to add that not all French postal workers act like they have better things to do than interact with you needy package-sending people. I hated going to the main post office in Rueil, but the little office up the hill on Mont Valérien was much better. The employees were more accommodating and the line was usually shorter. But if all you need are some stamps, skip La Poste altogether and find a local tabac ; they’ll sell any that you need, plus a bus ticket to get you home.

French Friday #54: You get what you get

Yesterday was Thanksgiving here in the ol’ U.S. of A. Today Mr. Gren was all about getting the Christmas tree up and this evening we’ve been invited over to some friends’ house for a second Thanksgiving dinner. You may have guessed by now that writing a blog post isn’t high on my priority list for the day. But I didn’t want to leave you all bereft and weeping for lack of something fabulous and French. So, I submit to you this photo of a Paris metro sign that Mr. Gren took. There aren’t too many of these Art Nouveau signs left around the city, so it’s worth getting a picture of one. This one is on Montmartre near Sacré Coeur.

You also get some bonus birds.

Have a great Friday!

French Friday #53: Meeting of minds


Oh, the things Molière and Hugo could talk about…
I always liked this corner in downtown Grenoble. I first saw it when I did my study abroad in Grenoble in 1999. Later, I went back to visit with Mr. Gren and baby Rana in 2006 and made sure to get a picture. There’s not much to it, but something about seeing those two names together… It’s like the convergence of history and possibilities…

French Friday #52: Joyeux Anniversaire to meeee!

Today is my birthday! (Thank you, thank you) This is my first birthday in the cabin. Maybe we’ll catch Mouse #40 tonight for a present.

I spent three birthdays in France. The first one is definitely one of my most memorable birthdays ever. Mr. Gren was the youth pastor at an English-speaking church just outside of Paris (Emmanuel International Church) and that first year my birthday happened to fall on a weekend perfect for a youth event. And this was an EVENT. Progressive dinner. Through Paris. On bicycles. Mr. Gren had the route all planned out, criss-crossing through the Western side of Paris from Fat Tire Bikes to our three stops — the apartments of three church families who would be providing our meal. We had nine kids from 13-16 years old and two other adults to help us corral them. It was a diverse group: American twins who had just moved from Colorado; an American brother and sister who had grown up in Scotland; a Dutch-German girl who had recently arrived from South Africa; a boy from Iceland whose name sounds like a bird chirp; a Swiss-American girl who had grown up in France; and our other two leaders were from China and England. Such is the nature of an international church!

Can you find me?

It was daylight when we started out, but, being autumn in Paris, night fell pretty quickly. Now we were corralling nine kids on bikes in Paris in the dark . If you have never been to Paris, it should be noted that Paris is not a bicycle-friendly city. Cars are king and, although half the population drives vehicles that could fit in the bed of an American pickup truck, Parisians all fancy themselves race car drivers. Or maybe rally sport drivers would be more accurate. Speed AND recklessness! They may never admit it, but I’m positive that’s what they all dream about at night.

This is what Paris looks like when you don’t adjust the night settings on your camera.

One of Mr. Gren’s favorite places in Paris is the Étoile — the massive roundabout that encircles the Arc de Triomphe. Twelve streets converging into one writhing mass of cars, weaving, dodging, honking and cursing. It’s a perfect place to take kids! Anyone with half a brain and a will to live knows better than to actually try and bike through the Étoile. Instead, we went around via crosswalk at the head of each street, which was still plenty treacherous. We only had to make it about half way around before turning off on a side street to head to our next stop.

Aux Champs-Élysées!

And not a moment too soon! Bike chains were dropping like flies and the four of us adults were frequently pulling kids and disabled bikes off to the side of the street for quick repairs all while trying not to lose the rest of the group. I was bringing up the rear with stragglers, daydreamers, and other slow-pokes. All of a sudden, the Icelandic kid in front of me was launched over the handlebars of his bike as the gears locked up, nearly causing me to run right over the top of him. Betrayed by the chain again! Hjortur was a tough little kid and was game to keep on going after a quick examination of his scrapes. Not that there’s much choice when you’re in the middle of the road in Paris!

It’s blurry ’cause we’re just that fast. Or something.

Somehow, Hjortur’s unscheduled meeting with the pavement was the only casualty of the whole trip. We arrived at all our destinations, ate good food, had a lot of laughs. I was even surprised with a birthday gift at one apartment and a cake at the final stop! How can you top a birthday like that? Probably never going to happen, but today is shaping up to be pretty good. Mr. Gren surprised me with baguette and French goat cheese, Lindt chocolates, and a beautiful bouquet of red roses. Happy birthday to me!

Parisian dreams.

French Friday #51: L’Automne

La rivière s’écoule avec lenteur. Ses eaux
Murmurent, près du bord, aux souches des vieux aulnes
Qui se teignent de sang ; de hauts peupliers jaunes
Sèment leurs feuilles d’or parmi les blonds roseaux.

Le vent léger, qui croise en mobiles réseaux
Ses rides d’argent clair, laisse de sombres zones
Où les arbres, plongeant leurs dômes et leurs cônes,
Tremblent, comme agités par des milliers d’oiseaux.

Par instants se répète un cri grêle de grive,
Et, lancé brusquement des herbes de la rive,
Étincelle un joyau dans l’air limpide et bleu ;

Un chant aigu prolonge une note stridente ;
C’est le martin-pêcheur qui fuit d’une aile ardente
Dans un furtif rayon d’émeraude et de feu.

Jules Breton

The river flows slowly by. Its waters
Murmur, near the bank, to the old alder stumps
Stained with blood; tall yellow poplars
Sow their golden leaves among the blond reeds.

The gentle wind swirls across
Its clear silver ripples, leaving dark areas
Where the trees, dipping their canopies and cones,
Tremble, as though shaken by thousands of birds.

Here and there repeats the shrill cry of the thrush
And, launched briskly from the river grass,
A jewel-like shimmer in the clear blue air;

A piercing song holds a strident note;
It’s the king fisher which flies on an earnest wing
In a fleeting ray of emerald and fire.

To be fair, these pictures are from my river, this morning; not France. But they fit the poem so well!

French Friday #50: Wistful

Once upon a time, I used to live in France. And just like Charles Dickens said, It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. But, despite the “worst of times,” not a day has gone by in the 6 years and 6 weeks since we left that I don’t think about being back there. For someone like me, who lived and breathed all things French since her sophomore year of high school, getting to actually live in France was a dream come true. Apparently my enthusiasm was contagious enough to infect my non-francophone husband. When the opportunity to move there came up one and a half years into our marriage, we were both excited about it and ready to go!

And for the past 6 years and 6 weeks, we’ve been trying to figure out how to get back. We haven’t even been able to go back for a visit. And the farther removed you are from something, the foggier the memories become, the more things change without you being able to witness the change firsthand. Thanks to Google Earth, we’ve found that our bakery, our favorite creperie, and the little craft shop I used to go to have all changed hands and all become something different. Maybe the neighborhood needed something different, but it’s hard not to feel a little pang of wistfulness knowing that it’s not the same. I guess, you always hope that people or places left behind will somehow freeze in time, ready to pick back up when you return. Kind of like when the Pevensie kids return to England from Narnia in the Chronicles of Narnia books. I suppose that creates its own set of problems.

I hate that international travel is so far out of our reach right now. Heck, we haven’t even been able to travel a few hours south to visit my grandparents. Our passports have expired and we can’t justify the money to renew them right now. Guess there won’t be any spur-of-the-moment trips overseas should we be the recipients of some fabulous windfall.

Since the likelihood of us getting back seems to diminish with each passing year, we do our best to bring little bits of France into our lives here. Even here in the cabin which is decidedly un-French. Sometimes I make French meals, especially if we can share it with friends. During the school year I tutored some junior high/high school students in French and I hope that will pick up again this year. Even if they can’t answer me, at least it gives me a reason to speak French. The screen saver on my computer is a slideshow of all the photos we took while we lived there; sometimes it’s the best reason to have the computer on — just to sit and watch all of those beautiful places go by. The kids like to ask about the pictures, too, which gives us a chance to tell stories, to help them understand.

Mr. Gren and I watched “Midnight in Paris” a couple of weeks ago and were pleasantly surprised. It captures that same wistful longing that we feel. The main character, Gil wants to remain in Paris and wishes to go back in time. Paris kind of does that to you. What was it like when _______? As far as I’m concerned, the answer is always the same: magical. Oh sure, time has smoothed over some of the bumps in the road from our time there, but we still remember the severely painful personal events, the frustrations of being a foreigner, the terror of the Prefecture (expats will know what I’m talking about on that one)… And yet… some of those things could have happened anywhere, and some of those things made our experience uniquely French. All of those things made us wiser.

And none of those things dulled the beauty of our time there.

French Friday #48: Merry-go-round

Before our first daughter, Rana, was born, we decided to decorate her room with a carousel theme. We found carousel crib bedding that also came with a matching diaper hanger and wall hanging. To finish off the decor, we took pictures of carousels whenever we found them. Most French cities of any size have at least one beautifully carved and gilded carousel. And there are plenty of people, young and old, who still enjoy them! Enjoy some of the photos that we took of these lovely works of art!

Pretty little carousel in Grenoble.

Mr. Gren and Baby Rana checking out the carousel at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris.

Large display horse with the Seine and Trocadero in the background.

Top of the carousel at the Eiffel Tower

I love the hot air balloon on this one.

Fantasy horse!

Some funny and beat-up animals on a tiny and well-loved carousel at a park in Paris.

Double decker beauty at Montmartre with Sacré Coeur in the background.

Stunning! On the Montmartre carousel.

Rana still loves carousels. Since we moved to the cabin, we’ve had to pack away all of her pretty carousel figures and pictures. She does still get to use her carousel horse sheets and any time we go to the zoo, the day is not complete without a ride on the carousel!



French Friday #47: My favorite dessert

I’ve gone through most of the day thinking it was Thursday. You were this close to having another Saturday in Spain. I actually thought I was working ahead. I really need to find out where all the days are going…

You’d think I’d remember the day I first tasted my favorite dessert. But I don’t. I could probably narrow it down to a reasonable conjecture, but the very possibility that it were inaccurate would bug me too much to print it. I may have had it when I took my first trip to France with my high school French class. Or it could have been when I went back to do my study abroad in Grenoble. Either way, it was definitely before I moved to Paris for three years because I already had a burning desire to get reacquainted with the most perfect culinary creations known to man.

Not my picture. I rarely brought my camera with me to eat out.

Profiteroles. Tiny cream puffs, about the size of a golf ball, split and filled with vanilla ice cream and then drizzled with chocolate sauce. Really, they’re so simple, but they’re just so perfect. Anything else added to them would be a gastronomic example of the law of diminishing returns. You can’t improve perfection. Now, that’s not to say that all profiteroles are created equal. I did buy some frozen ones once and they definitely did not live up to expectations. Any time we went out to eat in France, I’d peruse the dessert menu, thinking it was probably time to branch out. But the siren call of profiteroles always lured me back. A serving consists of only three or four, so I did my best to make them last as long as possible. Mmm, profiteroles.

I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to try and make some while I’ve been house-sitting and had access to an oven. Alas, I will have to wait for that magical moment because we are returning to the cabin tomorrow. In the meanwhile, check out this great recipe and maybe give it a try! And then tell me how good they are.