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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Season's Greetings

No automatic alt text available. 

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year
Feliz Navidad y Feliz Año Nuevo 
Feliz Natal e Feliz Ano Novo Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année
Buon Natale e Auguri

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Rock It with Raclette

On Sunday we had a traditional French dish of the Alpine mountains called raclette, and it was delightful, fun, and historic.

The term "raclette" is derived from the French word, racler, which means "to scrape," a reference to the fact that the melted cheese is scraped onto boiled red potatoes. 

The electric table-top grill is heated. On the bottom layer (see below) is the place for the little pans called coupelleswhich melt the cheese. Our grill also had a stone for keeping the potatoes warm.

Our grill had space for 8 coupelles. 

The cheese had already been cut so that it could be placed into the coupelles and heated.

It takes the cheese about 5 minutes to melt. 

You can prepare your potatoes by peeling them or, if you don't want to wait to put more cheese on more potatoes, just leave on the skin. 

Once the cheese is melted, you just slide the cheese onto the potatoes. A little wooden stick helps this process, although our coupelles were teflon-coated so they slid off easily.

Raclette is served with ham, salami, gherkins, pickled onions, and white wine like Savoie, Riesling, or Pinot Gris. We had a Savoie wine.

Raclette cheese is a semi-hard cheese made from cow's milk that has been aged for 3-6 months and fashioned into a wheel about 13 pounds (6 kg). 

History of Raclette
Raclette is originally a Swiss dish eaten by peasants in the mountainous Alpine regions of Valais (Switzerland) and the Savoie and Haute-Savoie (France). It was mentioned in medieval texts dating back to 1291. Cow herders used to take the cheese with them when they were moving cows through the mountains, melt the cheese in their evening campfires, and scrape it on bread. Other peasants used potatoes.  

Melted cheese in France is called "fondue" and like the fondue parties of the 1980s, raclette dining is a leisurely sociable affair of eating and drinking. Restaurants are also known to provide raclette parties for their clientele.

Monday, November 20, 2017

More Goofs and Gaffes with French

There are three meanings to this word and that only through the conversation will you know what someone is talking about:

-- housework 
-- the household
-- marriage

If there's one thing I'm learning about the French language, it is that it is highly contextual!

Bisous -- bison
There is definitely a difference between kisses (pronounced BE-sue) and bison (pronounced BE-zone).

Ready to wear or ready to live?

habiller = to wear
habiter = to live 

Dodo -- dos-d'âne

There's a big difference between getting an infant or small child to sleep (pronounced:  dō DŌ) and getting over a speed bump (pronounced:  dō DAHN). The second refers to the back of a donkey.

lever -- laver -- lever -- élever -- réveiller

Which way is up???  Again, it depends on how you say it.

lever (le-vay) = get up
laver (la-vay) = wash up
lever (leu-vay) = raise up
élever (A-leu-vay) = elevate up
réveiller (ray-vay-yay) = wake up

pluie -- il pleut -- il pleure

Keeping these words straight is the ultimate challenge (défi).

          pluie (plu-ee) = rain
          il pleut (eel ploo) = it's raining
          il pleure (eel pler) he's crying 

recto verso -- reversible

There is a big difference between copying on both sides (recto verso) of a piece of paper and wearing a reversible (reversible) coat or jacket.

desert -- dessert
Just as in English, these two words mean different things through their pronunciation.

dE-zer is the place of sand and a lack of water

dess-ER is what you eat at the end of a meal

seulement -- saumon

It was at the end of my meal at a restaurant and I asked "only for tea." However, what came out was my asking for salmon because of my mispronunciation of the word for "only." After my hosts realized my mistake, they directed the confused waiter to give me the tea I wanted. I had left the le out of seulement

Seulement is pronounced se-le-mont.
Saumon is pronounced sa-mon

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Montgolfieres Are Here!

The Montgolfieres were seen flying everywhere in the Le Puy-en-Velay area last weekend. 

Montgolfiere is French for hot-air balloon. It was named after the French brothers who invented it.

The annual hot-air balloon festival was held November 10-12. This year there were 50 pilots from 21 different countries. One balloonist even came from England via air to participate. Prior to the weekend local residents could see several balloons launched over the city (see above).  

The French seem to be crazy about hot-air balloons and Le Puy is just one of several festivals that take place annually. This year there were about 1,000 balloons were piloted by 3,000 people, many of them (70%) coming from outside the country. 

A Short History of Ballooning
Hot air balloon in 1783

According to, on September 19, 1783, Pilatre De Rozier, a scientist, launched the first hot air balloon called 'Aerostat Reveillon'. They demonstrated their invention for King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette at the French court in Paris. The passengers were a sheep, a duck and a rooster and the balloon stayed in the air for a grand total of 15 minutes before crashing back to the ground.

The first manned attempt came about 2 months later on  October 15, 1783 with a balloon made by 2 French brothers, Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier. Jacques made a solo flight. The balloon was launched from the centre of Paris and flew for a period of 20 minutes. This was the birth of hot air ballooning!!! 
The balloon was attached to the ground by a rope. The first free flight, without being attached to the ground, was a few weeks later, on 21 November 1783. It carried Marquis François d'Arlandes and Pilatre de Rozier. Memes.

In 1978, the Double Eagle II became the first balloon to cross the Atlantic, another major benchmark in the History of Ballooning.

The first Pacific crossing was achieved 3 years later in 1981. The Double Eagle V launched from Japan on November 10th and landed 84 hours later in Mendocino National Forest, California. 

Finally, in 1999 the first around the world flight was completed by Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones. Leaving from Switzerland and landing in Africa, they smashed all previous distance records, flying for 19 days, 21 hours and 55 minutes.

Around the World in Eighty Days

Le Tour du Monde en Quatre-vingts Jours is a classic adventure novel by the French writer, JulesVerne that features a hot-air balloon. It was  published in 1873. In the story, Phileas Fogg of London and his newly employed French valet Passepartout attempt to circumnavigate the world in 80 days on a £20,000 wager (the approximate equivalent of £2 million in 2016) set by his friends at the Reform Club. It is one of Verne's most acclaimed works.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Armistice Day in Le Puy

It was a gray day today. Not too cold but no wind. At 10:30 a.m. people gathered in Place du Martouret to commemorate the dead of two world wars that devastated this country and two generations of its people. Today is Armistice Day.

Military officers, gendarmes, city officials, police, and fire fighters joined local citizens in forming a circle in the square in between the city hall and the Memorial Tree. This tree was planted as a war memorial after World War I. Different representatives placed wreaths of blue-white-red flowers before it.

Veterans proudly held flags representing their various military associations.

There were speeches of remembrance by various military and local leaders. They talked about the bravery and courage of the soldiers and the need to remember them and their sacrifice for the freedom of the people.

It was moving to see the size of the crowd that attended the ceremony. It was also moving to witness the presence of young people who participated as readers, scouts, and Red Cross volunteers. Below they are carrying one of the flower wreaths and accompanied by the mayor and other dignitaries of the town.

Most towns have a war memorial in the center square. In fact, 36,000 memorials were erected in France between 1920-25 with the inscription "à nos morts" (to our dead). You can also see war memorial plaques in churches with the same inscription. Every year on the morning of November 11, mayors, local authorities and military officials pay tribute to the fallen of both world wars. 

In Paris, Armistice Day ceremonies take place at the Arc de Triomph. The President lays a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at 11 a.m. followed by two minutes of silence: the first minute is for soldiers and civilians who died and the second is for the bereaved families left behind. The eternal Flame of Remembrance is rekindled by the President as it is every evening at 6:30 p.m. by associations of war veterans throughout the year. Below is a video of President Macron and his participation in the Armistice ceremonies in Paris.

La Der Des Der

The warring parties agreed to a ceasefire to come into effect at 11 am on 11 November 1918: “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”.

World War I was originally called The World War or The Great War because it was believed to have been the war to end all wars—right up until World War II began. In French, this belief was immortalized in the expression "la der des der," a double apocope of la dernière (guerre) des derrières (guerres), meaning "the war to end all wars."

While the sentiment and will were heartfelt and serious, somehow the world has been unable to keep its commitment. WWI ended in 1918 and WWII began in 1939. Scores of wars all over the world have also broken out ever since--and people continue to hold memorial services for their dead. 

Soldiers of the 353rd Infantry near a church at Stenay, Meuse in France.
Soldiers of the 353rd Infantry near a church at Stenay, Meuse in France, wait for the end of hostilities.  This photo was taken at 10:58 a.m., on November 11, 1918, two minutes before the armistice ending World War I went into effect.

Veterans Day in the USA

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day in 1919 with the following: 

"To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…"
 The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m.

May the service of all those who fought in the wars--both the living and the dead--be remembered. And, may we continue to try to keep the peace so that the sacrifices these brave men and women made will not be in vain.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Fair Day in Le Puy

Hot roasted chestnuts were one of many attractions at Fair Day, and Eluiza and I took full advantage of them.

Chestnuts are quite popular in France. They are used to make a condiment that can be spread on bread. They are also used in soup.

Chestnut trees are in parks and the nuts fall to the ground available for anyone to pick them up. **

French chestnuts tend to be bigger than those I've seen in Michigan. 

CORRECTION FROM A FRENCH FRIEND:  the variety of chestnut you find in public parks is called horse chestnut (in French marron d’Inde) and it’s not edible! It’s usually picked by children to fight in playgrounds and often teachers and school nurses have a hard time when such fruit cover the ground ! The variety we eat comes from l’Ardèche (south of Le Puy) and is cultivated; anyhow along the roads, in that part of our country, you may pick some fruit when they have fallen out of the private field.

Every year on November 2, the fair comes to town. It involves dozens of vendors who sell clothes, shoes, outerwear, underwear, kitchenware--even cars--as well as cheeses, deli meats, vegetables and fruits. 

The fair is held in one of the main parking lots of the city off the main road. It only lasts one day, but it was well worth the visit.

Farmers also brought their cows to sell. These beauties produce the healthy milk and 365  delicious cheeses of France. God bless them!! 

For more info on the cows of France, click here.

One farmer from Provence (southeast France) brought nougats with him. They are made of honey and almonds. Très cher, mais très bon!! It was worth the cost, however, just to watch him cut the huge wheel of nougat.

Life in France is good!! Life in Le Puy is interesting. There's always something going on.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Toussaint -- All Saints Day in France

Today is All Saints Day, known in France as Toussaint.  

Toussaint is a holiday in France and businesses are closed--except for flower shops. The flower shops remain open because people bring flowers to the graves of their loved ones in the cemeteries. (They don't do it on All Souls Day, November 2, a Catholic holiday.) According to the website, French Moments

"Members of a family usually gather to go to the cemetery together. They put chrysanthemum flowers on the grave and light candles to symbolise happiness in the afterlife. They can also attend special church services."

It is also interesting to note that for the past couple weeks, school kids have been off. It is part of the Toussaint period, which historically came at the same time as the potato harvest when most people were farmers. Kids worked the fields and didn't go to school, so "potato holidays" were declared between October 22 and November 3. They were later known as "Toussaint holidays." 

November 1 is also the Centre's first day off since last March. We said good-bye to our last group of the season on Tuesday. Now it's time for program planning, vacations, and a little down time. 

We spent our morning by sleeping in and going to 10 o'clock Mass. The church was so packed that the pastor said he might have a second Mass in the morning next year.

 After Mass, I had a taste for cinnamon roll, so we went to the bakery to see what we could find. As much as the French have adopted North African food, they don't care that much for cinnamon. Instead, we bought Jesuites (left), a cream-filled layered dessert and a chaussure pomme (literally "apple shoe" but what Americans call an apple turnover). Both were delicious, of course, and we ate them for dessert. However, I'll need to learn how to make cinnamon rolls! Any good recipes out there?

We had a nice lunch of "restant" (leftovers) that included pasta as well as rosette (salami) and a salad of carrots, olives, grapes. 

Anita, Eluiza and I sat down to a quiet, leisurely meal.


Check out Eluiza's new hairstyle!

 I don't often get into the picture but here I am--with my new haircut--and color (shhh).

At 2 p.m. we went to the fair in town. This fair is not unlike ours in the USA, but I think it has been here for the "Toussaint holidays." People have been coming for a couple weeks now and today was a mild and beautiful for fair-going.

We didn't go on any rides but instead wandered around to see all the people and all the rides. 

Most of the rides' names were familiar to our fairs--and their names were in English. Good thing the French are learning our language!

Before we left the fair we stopped for croustillons. A croustillon is like a New Orleans beignet, only it is a small, round ball with a lot more grease and coated with granular sugar instead of powdered sugar. 

Long lines form in front of the croustillon counters, but the servers work fast, the wait is not long, and the croustillons are hot. 

Upon returning home, we watched a couple quiz shows, including my favorite, "N'Oubliez Pas Le Paroles" (more on this later), ate leftover mushroom/tortellini soup, and slept through the news. It was an early retirement to bed also.

All Saints Day was a good day for all of us!


The Ferris Wheel was invented by George Washington Gale Ferris, a 33-year-old engineer from Pittsburgh. It was the Chicago's answer to the Eiffel Tower, which was constructed for the 1889 World's Fair in Paris. The Columbian Exposition of 1893 was held in Chicago, and it ostensibly commemorated the 400th anniversary of Columbus' landing in the Americas. However, psychologically, the fair was Chicago's comeback and rebuilding after the 1871 fire that burned down 3.3 square miles of the city, killed 300 people, and left more than 100,000 residents homeless. The Exposition, under eminent architect Daniel Burnham's charge. "Make no little plans," said Burnham to his all-star team of designers--and voilà, among the many world-dazzling showpieces that mushroomed in Chicago was the Ferris wheel.