Posts from the “france” Category

Paris in the 1920s

Posted on August 25, 2014

I’ve been sifting through old letters, old songs, old video footage in preparation for the class I’ll be teaching in just a few weeks time. One of the gems I’ve come across is this vintage footage of Paris in the 1920s, a period which serves as the backdrop for a lot of the history and personalities I’ll cover.

The next time I go in front of my students, I’ll be armed with a microphone. As hard as I may have tried to project my voice in the first class I taught this spring, I just never seemed to project it enough. This time, I want to be sure they don’t miss one scintillating bit of my Francodorkery (she says with her tongue firmly planted in her cheek), even the little surprise I’m cooking up for them.

(Tap tap): Is this thing on?

Better yet, is this instructor on?

We’ll find out on September 15…

Gerald and Sara — Many Fetes

Posted on July 23, 2014


 Photo:  © Estate of Honoria Murphy Donnelly/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

I’ve been preparing a new class for LSU Continuing Education that I’ll teach this fall about the Lost Generation. Although it will discuss how World War I impacted the mindset of people in this time and influenced creative disciplines from writing to painting and dance to theater, it will also look at some of the personalities that became so famous — and infamous — during this era.

Obviously, my class will hear about Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. But it will also learn about Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, the Ballets Russes and many others that were pushing the creative envelope in one of the world’s greatest cities — Paris, France. And it will also learn about some lesser-known, but no less influential folks, like the dancing couple up above. They’re Gerald and Sara Murphy, they were American and well-to-do and they mingled with pretty much everyone who was anyone creatively during this period. Ever heard the saying “Living Well Is The Best Revenge”? Well, Gerald Murphy coined it, and anyone in the Murphys’ orbit knew that few lived better and more interesting lives than that particular duo. Random facts about them: They were perhaps the first people in France to own a waffle iron, they had one of the best private collections of African-American spiritual music (which they sang in perfect two-part harmony at their cocktail parties), and they used to enlist Man Ray to shoot their family portraits.

Here is a 1962 profile written about the couple in The New Yorker.

The bottom line is that these were people you really needed to know. And I can’t wait to introduce them to my class in September.

One of the reasons why I can’t wait to talk about the Murphys is because you don’t really hear about the them a lot, unless you read very deeply about the Roaring Twenties. But you might have come across them (sort of) and not realized it, if you’ve ever read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1934 novel Tender Is The Night.

Many scholars agree that Fitzgerald modeled Dick and Nicole Diver after the Murphys for about the first half of the book, recreating their very charmed life in Paris and on the French Riviera for his readership. In the second half of the book, the Divers seem to become an entirely different couple and I’ll be talking about who that couple was and why scholars seem to think Scott seemed to have no qualms about such a mashup in his manuscript. He dedicated his book to the Murphys, but when they first read it, they felt betrayed.

One year after Tender’s publication, the Murphys were undergoing a terrible family tragedy. At that time, Gerald wrote Scott, saying “I know now that what you said in Tender in the Night is true. Only the invented part of our life — the unreal part — has had any scheme any beauty. Life itself has stepped in now and blundered, scarred and destroyed. In my heart I dreaded the moment when our youth and invention would be attacked in our only vulnerable spot…”

The Murphys have a wonderful and ultimately tragic story that I look forward to telling in about a month and a half from now, one that provides an interesting framework for a time and a people who may have felt likewise blundered, scarred and destroyed. If you’re in the Baton Rouge area, I hope you’ll consider taking the class to find out more about them. If not, please stay tuned here as I share anecdotes, pictures, videos and music that I’ll be featuring in the class.

And if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask away in comments.

Monday Reader: Bastille Day Edition

Posted on July 14, 2014



Today is Bastille Day, the French equivalent of our July 4. Here are a few interesting reads and things about it from around the web:

From Deceptive Cadence, NPR Classical’s blog, here’s a quiz about the French national anthem, known as ‘La Marseillaise.’ I scored six out of six on it. But then again, I am just the type of person whose ears perk up and eyes get misty every time this tune is played.  For a wonderful old recording of the song, visit, the web site of the Bibliotheque Nationale, for this treat from 1908.

From USA Today, an explainer about why Americans should care about France’s fete nationale.

From, an interview with Christophe Bertonneau, the mastermind of this year’s breathtaking fireworks display, which was fired straight from the Eiffel Tower. If you can get your hands on YouTube video of this spectacle, which commemorated the 100th anniversary of World War I, you won’t regret it.

From The New Yorker’s News Desk, an item about this annual military display and the struggle to acknowledge contributions from colonial troops from countries like AlgeriaThe Christian Science Monitor reports that for the first time ever, three Algerian vets were invited to take part in the parade. But it also gives a good primer on the complicated relationship between the two countries, which has existed since the early nineteenth century.

From, a slideshow about the celebration.

From The New York Times’ T Magazine Blog, a timely ode to le grand aioli complete with a recipe.

Did you read anything about Bastille Day that you found interesting? If so, what was it? And if you have any questions about Paris, Bastille Day, or France in general, please don’t hesitate to ask me in comments.



Monday Reader: 5/19/2014

Posted on May 19, 2014

I hadn’t been to Miami in a good, long while. This past weekend made me need to visit it more. More on my South Florida sojourn at some other point this week. For now, let’s check out a few interesting, eclectic and/or engaging reads:

There aren’t many people who’d want to cling to a stained cotton night shirt that has been in their family for centuries. Then again, there aren’t many people who have the last nightshirt that Napoleon I, emperor of France, ever wore. The NYT’s Elaine Sciolino tells the story about how the descendants of the diminuitive emperor’s servant — Achille Archambault — are at odds about whether to auction off the relic or keep it in the family forevermore. As Sciolino writes: “The stakes – and potential profits – are significant. In the last several years, objects linked to Napoleon have attracted global interest and exorbitant prices at auction. In 2007, a gold-encrusted sword Napoleon wore into the battle of Marengo in Italy was sold for more than $6.4 million, quadruple its estimated value, by the Osenat auction house. That same year, a letter written by Napoleon to his then-lover Josephine (later the Empress of France) sold at Christie’s in London for $556,000, five times more than had been estimated.” In a year when Napoleon-mania is as strong as ever (it’s the 200th anniversary of his exile to the island of Elba), the nightshirt would likely command top dollar. It will be interesting to see how the fight between Archambault’s descendants plays out, and whether this storied shirt remains with one branch of their family, or with an entirely different owner.

We’re a couple of weeks away from the 70th anniversary of the D-Day assault, where American troops stormed the beaches of Normandy to liberate France from the Germans. Vanity Fair’s Marie Brenner writes about war photographer Robert Capa’s iconic images of the assault. Meanwhile, France 24 writes about how American veterans are angry that France won’t be flying them over for a commemoration of the event. France never promised these vets anything of the sort, one unnamed source said. It just said the vets would be welcome to come…at their own expense. Meanwhile, this week the Hotel Lutetia, which was known for housing Nazi officers during World War II, will be putting almost everything inside of it on the auction block this week. The historic Left Bank property will be closed for the next few years as it undergoes an extensive renovation. More than 3,000 objects are up for grabs, from sculptures and wine, to the reception counter and cream pitchers. More than 10,000 visitors have already filed through the hotel in search of treasures worth their bid.

Falling Upwards

Posted on May 7, 2014


For years, my mother was fixated on taking this luxury hot air balloon trip with a group that promised private luncheons with real-life countesses and afternoons of drifting over Burgundy’s vineyards and medieval castles. When she spoke of it, all dreamy-eyed, it inspired that sort of feeling in me that many eager-to-please oldest children get, the one that screams “Someday, when I’m able to afford it, I will make this dream come true for my mother. Someday I will give her this bird’s eye view of France.”

Years after the fact, I realize that it might behoove me to make a slightly different dream come true for her, because neither of us is so great with heights, let’s just say. But I think we are both understandably swoony about the idea of the idea of a hot air balloon voyage. There’s a certain romance to seeing the world from a different perspective and, well,  drifting aimlessly over verdant pastures with a glass of champagne in hand. There’s also a certain adventurous spirit to getting into a balloon and not knowing just exactly where you’ll land.

fallingupwardsHistorian Richard Holmes captures these sentiments in Falling Upwards: How We Took To The Aira deliciously quirky account of flight before the age of airplanes. He writes:

Throughout history, dreamlike stories and romantic adventures have always attached themselves to balloons. Some are factual, some are pure fantasy, many (the most interesting) are a provoking mixture of the two. But some kind of narrative basket always seems to come tantalisingly suspended beneath them.

Here’s the narrative basket in Holmes’ book: Balloons have not only been important to our understanding of the world, but crucial to shaping our ideas about what the future could — and should — be.  Some of the more obvious ways balloons have been instrumental to this understanding is by offering us new views of our planet, allowing us to study and forecast the weather, and enabling us to spy on enemies during wartime. But balloons have also been useful propaganda tools and muses for the new (at the time) genre of science fiction. And yet, there was still some early sense that balloons could only take us so far, that we would need to develop some sort of mechanized bird of sorts if we truly wanted to soar. Even the writer Victor Hugo declared that “the future lay with the bird, not the cloud.”

The Wright Brothers get all the press for developing the bird in question, but it is only after reading Holmes’ book that we recognize how much the Wrights owe to these early — and largely unknown — pioneers of flight. Holmes’ narrative teems with all sorts of strange characters who took to the air in the spirit of education and entertainment alike. One of my favorite stories is about Sophie Blanchard, a woman who overcame blancharddebilitating anxiety to become Napoleon’s Aeronaute des Fetes Officielles. She was renowned for standing in a silver gondola and drifting high above Paris in a white, low-cut dress and a hat full of colored feathers. Over time, Blanchard’s aerial shows became more daring, involving fireworks, colored smoke and rockets that flew from her delicate rig. Her daring cost her her life on July 6, 1819, when her silk balloon caught fire and sent her falling to her death. The stunned crowd originally cheered because they thought that the flames were all part of the show.

One eyewitness wrote:

In a few seconds, the poor creature, enveloped and entangled in the netting of her machine, fell with a frightful crash upon the slanting roof of a house, and thence onto the street, and Madame Blanchard was taken up a shattered corpse!

Although Blanchard was one of ballooning’s first casualties, she was a trailblazer, and filmmaker Jen Sachs is currently turning her life story into a beautiful animated film that is scheduled for release next year. But there were some near-absent trailblazers in this otherwise delightful book: The Montgolfier Brothers, who invented the hot air balloons that started all the fuss. I would have liked to have read more about them here, but Holmes is such a good raconteur…that it’s okay. Really. Drifting through these tales of a really rich and overlooked period in history was a fun ride.



Monday Reader: 5/5/2014

Posted on May 5, 2014

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

My husband sent me to Paris for my 40th birthday. When I tell people about it, they say “Oh that must have been so romantic for you two.” They look either disappointed or surprised when I say “Oh, I went alone. And it was really beyond perfect.” And that’s nothing against him, because my husband is beyond perfect. But because of his perfection, he understands that I really like going to Paris by myself. There’s nothing better than setting your own schedule, following your own interests, getting lost — and then found — in that beautiful city.

I posted the above picture because it reminded me of the last full day of this particular trip. I had spent the day walking through the rain, stopping here and there to pick up a few things I could bring back home with me to the States. I ducked into this cafe at the end of my walk to dry off and have a drink. But as I sat there and really settled in, I lost myself in watching all the people walk through or past this front door. It was pretty fun, holding court at that spot and (I’ll admit) eavesdropping on the people around me and watching them come and go. When I asked for the bill, the waiter brought me newspapers and another drink. I told him he misunderstood me. He said that no, he really didn’t. “You look like you’re enjoying yourself. Stay longer,” he told me.

He was right. So I did.

And that afternoon was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given, right up there with my daughter, this wonderful birthday jaunt and so much more.

That’s why I enjoyed Stephanie Rosenbloom’s “Solo in Paris” article in yesterday’s Sunday New York Times Travel section. My husband likes to joke about the way I take a lot of pictures of the green park chairs in the Jardin du Luxembourg (“You really like those chairs, don’t you?” he smirks), so it was nice to see that Rosenbloom’s story featured them too. And there were great touches throughout the piece about lingering over cold, briny oysters and white wine, and spending a luxe evening at the Palais Garnier. More than anything, she captured the feeling you get after staying in Paris for an extended period of time:

Could I bring back with me the feeling that I had cultivated here?

At my feet, two men with a wheelbarrow were tending to the tulips. I saw a shadow of myself on the dirt path, and of the buds on delicate branches above me, on the verge of opening. I looked down at my oxfords, covered in a fine layer of dust.

Whether it’s dust on your shoes or (for me) yellowed chestnut tree leaves tucked into the pages of a journal, it’s the little things that make a solo trip to the City of Light a must and why I’ll book another one the first chance I get.

I’ll end on this note, another one of those special Paris moments I’ve had while wandering around last year:

Not-So-Deep, Dark Secrets

Posted on April 23, 2014

I had a long-overdue lunch with my former academic advisor last week. Our conversations tend to be pretty free-flowing, covering everything from Jimmy Buffet lyrics to cheetahs and my maybe not-so-deep, dark secret. My maybe not-so-deep, dark secret is that I want to have my own restaurant someday. My neighbors in Decatur, Ga. knew it. My journalism colleagues have known it at various points in time. One of my graduate school classmates knows it all too well (and we’ve even discussed a Donald Trump-esque plan to develop an entire city block in New Orleans around business ideas like this that we’ve cooked up). My husband also suffers through my occasional fits of resto-reverie. He instantly (I imagine) regretted sending me to Paris for my 40th birthday after I returned to the States, told him I met a restaurant investor during a Paris By Mouth walking tour and felt that it was a sign that I needed to open a restaurant — the one I’ve wanted for as long I’ve been carrying on about it — in the City of Light.

His reply: “Why can’t you just have a food truck…here.”

My reply: “Because I want people to sit. At tables. In Paris, France.”

He sighed.

So, as I was saying, I was talking about this not-so-deep, dark secret with my former academic advisor, who has a long history of suffering through my weird ideas as well. He said I would be good at it, this running-a-restaurant thing.  But being the doom-and-gloom type, he also told me all the challenges I’d face and things that could or would go wrong. All of what he said was legit and came from a place of…let’s just call it…informed hyper-concern. That is precisely why I told him my next plan: The concept, as I envisioned it, would be best tested out in the privacy of my own home. He tried to hide his horror and said “What about health inspectors?” I told him I ran a clean kitchen and that “these things totally work, especially in Havana. There’s a huge underground restaurant scene in Havana.”

He, too, sighed, which must mean I’m on to something.




When I think about my restaurant, I envision something similar in feel (though not identical, of course) to Jody Williams’ renowned gastrotheque Buvette, which is located in New York and now (ahem) Paris. Williams authored a cookbook of Buvette recipes that came out yesterday and I’ve spent the past 24 hours trying to figure out which simple-but-sophisticated dish to try first. I chose Lentils with Kale and Shallots, mainly because I had lentils on hand (and love them) and plenty of fresh kale growing in my backyard. I substituted onions for shallots though, and it still turned out fine.

To make this, you’ll need:

1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil

3 diced shallots

5 garlic cloves

1 tsp. red chili flakes (more, if you’re from South Louisiana)

1 bunch of kale, finely chopped

1 cup of lentils (be sure they’re the green French lentils called Lentils du Puy because they are yummy)

coarse salt

4 cups of water

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

Here’s what you do:

1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat, add the garlic, shallots (or onions, if you’re me), chili flakes and kale and cook until tender, stirring constantly for about five minutes.

2. Add the lentils, salt and water to the pot, bring to a boil and reduce the heat. Simmer for an hour or two, splashing with water if the liquid dries up too quickly. You want the final product to be soft, but not too brothy. Season with nutmeg and more salt just before serving. It should look something like this:







Monday Reader: 4/21/14

Posted on April 21, 2014



There are a lot of goofy quizzes on the Internet. Among other things you can find out which 1970s music star you are (I got Olivia Newton John) and where you’re really supposed to live (I got Paris, bien sur). My recent favorite is “How French Are You?” which features some of the worst stereotypes about the people, from how much you strike, to how much you complain or cut in line. Of the 90 questions on the quiz, I clicked 65, which apparently makes me:

as French as Jean Dujardin eating camembert on the Canal Saint Martin. You’re pretty French. You know good food and good wine and although you’re a pessimist who complains a lot, you always know how to enjoy life.

I can’t argue with this.

Some reads:

France Marks 70 Years of Women’s Voting Rights (France24.comToday marks the 70th anniversary of women’s suffrage in France, a measure signed into law by General Charles de Gaulle, who headed the provisional government at that time. Women cast their first ballots a year later, during the country’s first elections after German occupation. There’s a great video on the France 24 website of women casting those first votes, and a roundup of Western countries where women were already voting before les femmes joined the fray. The role of women in French politics has grown slowly. In 1993, only 5.7 percent of seats in France’s Parliament were occupied by women – barely more than that after the end of World War II. The lack of women in politics prompted France to pass a law in 2000 requiring political parties to present an equal number of men and women on voting lists, making it the first country to do so. But men still heavily dominate French politics. Seventy-three percent of the National Assembly is comprised of men, while the Senate is 78 percent men.

France’s Silent Tea Revolution (BBC NewsWhen I worked in Washington, D.C., I had a French roommate. When her mother came to visit, we used to make sure we were well-equipped with Lapsang Souchong tea, her morning drink of choice. Up until this particular point in time, I thought the French were more of a coffee-oriented people, but I learned that wasn’t the case. Ever-resourceful, my roommate would brew mint leaves from our backyard for a mid-afternoon restorative. And, we’d go tea-shopping in Chinatown even when her mother wasn’t coming to town. So I enjoyed this story about how tea culture is strengthening in the hexagon, between the delicate and refined French blends and wonderful tea salons that dot the City of Light. What you find is that tea has been in France longer than it has been in Great Britain. The reason why more people associate it with Brits is because it was a popular drink instead of a drink for a wealthy few, as it was in France. News that coffee was bad for you changed all that, and more of the French began looking for a replacement. They rediscovered tea and, as you might figure, began putting their own Gallic twist on it, pairing it with cheeses, among other things.

Paris’s Haut Marais: From Shabby to Chic (WSJ.comWhen I was in Paris finishing my thesis research a couple of years ago, I rented an apartment in the Marais. My first favorite memory of staying in that neighborhood was walking to picture-perfect Jacques Genin, buying a finger-sized eclair and almost weeping when I sunk my teeth into that first, perfectly creamy bite. My second favorite memory: Discovering the Repetto store on Rue des Francs Bourgeois. The Wall Street Journal looks at how real estate prices are skyrocketing in this part of town, once ground zero for the French nobility. “Five years ago nobody wanted to be here,” says Nicolas Wibaux, a Marais-based agent for Paris real-estate firm Daniel Féau. “Now everybody wants to be here.” In the past five years, the average Paris apartment has increased by about 25%, to $1,056 a square foot. In prime areas of Haut Marais, prices in the same period jumped by 35.2% to 41.2%, reaching as high as $1,535 a square foot.

French Village Fights for Right to Use Its Name (rfi.frThe Laguiole council is appealing to France’s 36,000 local councils to come to its aid, claiming that it is the victim of a “supernatural catastrophe” following a Paris court’s refusal to uphold its case against Gilbert Szajner, who lives in the Val de Marne département just outside Paris. Szajner patented the Laguiole brand in 1993 for 38 different types of products, among them knives, tableclothes and cigarette lighters. But Szajner has had his wares made in China and Pakistan, while the town itself has been making its own distinctively designed knife since 1829. In 1997 local officials took Szajner to court, accusing him of dishonest trading practices and carrying out “harming its name, its image and its reputation”. After a long legal wrangle, the court threw out the case a few weeks ago and ordered the village to pay 100,000 euros in costs to Szajner.


Things The French Do Right: Part One

Posted on April 10, 2014

Photo: The Guardian via Sipa Press/Rex Features

Photo: The Guardian via Sipa Press/Rex Features

I’m as guilty as the next person of sending work emails after hours so I can get one thing off of the following day’s to-do list. To wit: The email I sent LSU about the class I’d like to teach in Fall 2014 left my inbox at 9:20 p.m. Monday night. Yes, it probably could have waited until Tuesday morning, but I console myself thinking about how my husband was up far later than I was sending emails that probably could have waited too.

This sets up my latest argument for why our family needs to pack up and move to France.

Yesterday, French employers’ federations and labor unions signed a new, legally binding agreement that requires staffers to turn off their work phones after 6 p.m. The deal affects one million workers in the technology and consultancy sectors, and aims to keep workers from feeling pressured to look at or respond to job-related requests after hours. When I saw this story, I thought “Well, how about that? That’s more proof that the French have some shred of good sense about work-life balance. Vive la France! Let’s move!”

So I took this tale to the mister who said that it sounded really nice (in an exhausted sort of “Oh boy, here we go again. Another argument for moving to France.” way). But he added that he actually didn’t feel the pressure to respond to after-hours emails. He only felt the pressure to send the missives that happen to be the root of the problem. And before I could exclaim, “but we could move to France and reform ourselves (after we bang our heads on the wall sorting through all the requisite residency paperwork),” he actually found a way of tying up all his work-related loose ends by 6 p.m.

Husband: 1, Paige: 0

But the battle rages on…


Blogger, cookbook author and former Chez Panisse pastry chef David Lebovitz has a new book of stories and recipes out called My Paris KitchenWhat I love about the book is that it puts a culinary twist on this centuries-old question the French like to ask themselves: What does it mean to be French? Lebovitz answers this in his own inimitable way, illustrating how global influences from India to North Africa and even his native United States have shaped classic French cuisine. Plus, you get a tantalizing taste of what he might serve with cocktails or for dinner on a given day.

And that’s what makes it so difficult to decide what to cook first. It all looks so good and, better yet, accessible for the average home cook.

Last night I chose to make his chicken with mustard sauce recipe, the dish featured on the cover. It was a tricky choice because my husband and daughter are not big fans of mustard and if I ever want to use it in a dish, I have to sneak it in and refuse to answer them if they ask me what’s in the chicken. When my daughter asked me what I was making last night, I replied “Chicken in Awesome Sauce” because by then I had dipped my spoon into the skillet enough to know that the sauce was, indeed, beyond awesome.

Sometimes I feel like this is my theme song when it comes to tricking those two into eating things that I like:

Anyway, yeah.

Here’s what you need to make this:

1/2 cup and 3 TBS of Dijon mustard

1/4 tsp. of smoked paprika

4 chicken legs and 4 chicken thighs

1 cup diced bacon

1 diced small onion

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

1 cup of white wine

1 TBS mustard seeds

2-3 TBS heavy cream

chopped fresh parsley to finish


1. In a bowl, mix 1/2 cup of the mustard with paprika, pepper and salt. Put the chicken pieces in the mixture and cover them with it, rubbing some of the sauce underneath the skin.

2. Heat a skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the bacon, cooking it until brown. Remove the bacon and drain it.



3. Leave 1 TBS bacon fat in the pan, then add onion and cook for five minutes until translucent. Stir in thyme, cook for another few minutes and scrape into a bowl big enough to fit the chicken.

4. Put chicken in the pan (adding olive oil, if necessary) and brown it well on both sides on medium-high heat. As Lebovitz advises, good brown color makes for a great tasting sauce.



Here’s the chicken when it first went into the pan. Please don’t deduct points because I used leg/thigh pieces.

5. When the chicken is well-browned, remove it from the pan and put it in the bowl with the onions. Then add wine to the hot pan and scrape up the fond (a.k.a. really tasty bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan).


Scraping up the fond. Loving the smell. Mmm…sauce.

6. Put the chicken, bacon and onions back into the pan, cover and cook on low to medium heat until the chicken is cooked through. This should take about 15 minutes.

7. Then, remove the pan from the stove, stir in the remaining Dijon mustard, mustard seeds and cream. Top with parsley and serve with linguine noodles (you gotta sop up that awesome sauce with something) and haricots verts.finalplatechickenmustardsauce

Et voila!

The husband usually hates mustard, but liked this tremendously. The child was a little less convinced (but she is a work in progress; I tend to take a Karen Le Billon approach to her eating habits, anyway…trying, trying, trying again). Me? I loved this and will absolutely make it again.

And so, the new score:

Husband: 1, Paige: 1

We shall see what the next inning brings…


Lebovitz had a great behind-the-scenes post this week about what went into making his recent book. Aside from all the gorgeous photography and anecdotes about rose wine consumed, I really appreciated the look at the often-agonizing process of seeing a book into print. Few people know that the proposal stage alone can take almost a year in some cases, sometimes requiring total overhauls and reshapings along the way. He writes:

Writing a book is an all-consuming process, at least for me. My Paris Kitchen started out as a non-cookbook proposal that took me nearly eight months to write. People who want to write a book are always astonished when I tell them that it takes that long (at least it takes me that long), to write a proposal. But it’s the most important part of the cookbook process. It’s where you clarify and distill your ideas, and create your vision of the book. And in turn, it allows the publisher to grasp your idea of your book, who you are, and the intended audience…

After I sent the publisher at Ten Speed Press the proposal I had slaved over, he sent me a message: “You should do a book of recipes about how you cook. What is your Paris cooking?”

Grrr, eight months down the drain. But as a writer, sometimes you write and write and write for hours, thinking you came up with something brilliant. Then you go back and reread it the next day, and delete the whole thing. And start all over again.

But the point is, he persevered and has a really gorgeous book to show for it. His account is inspiring to me at a time when I’ve just finished a total overhaul of my own book proposal. So he gave me faith…and great chicken. And sometimes that’s all a girl can ask for.

Merci, Daveed.


Monday Reader: 4/7/2014

Posted on April 7, 2014

Photo: The New York Times

Photo: The New York Times

Today marks the first Monday morning in a couple of months that I haven’t been teaching. I had gotten into the ritual of beginning each class with little weird and interesting tidbits about contemporary France, stories about everything from the decline of the noble snail to an experiment with social media among a select group of homeless Frenchmen. I found that these little tidbits got everyone (especially me) loosened up and ready to sit for a deeper dive into a topic like, oh, I don’t know…the French Second Empire. I also realized that by structuring the class this way, I was sort of thinking like a magazine geek — short departments in the front, long reads in the middle, a punchy closing note that set up for the next issue, er, I mean, class.

So I wanted to take a similar approach with my web site, at least for now. My picks won’t necessarily be France-related all the time, but there will be a decent diet of Franco-reads. You’ll also get a taste of the eclectic lifestyle pieces and features that tend to catch my eye. Here’s hoping they give you something fun or interesting to read while you sit with your morning cup of coffee or take a lunch break.

Here we go…

Rwanda: The Art of Remembering and Forgetting ( This is the third story in a series about the Rwandan genocide, which happened 20 years ago today. About 1 million people were murdered by their neighbors over the course of 100 days, an outrage that the international community has struggled to process and respond to even today. Now, “Rwanda bears few obvious scars of its cataclysm. Its rapidly modernizing capital, Kigali, is one of the jewel cities of Africa. A lacework of tree-lined boulevards and greenswards rises and falls over a cradle of verdant hills and valleys. New construction is transforming the city center, with upscale hotels, a grand shopping mall, and a state-of-the-art convention center. The airport bustles with tour operators picking up clients arriving to visit Rwanda’s national parks, which hold the nation’s famous mountain gorillas. Add to that Rwanda’s rising standard of living, steady economic growth, and low incidence of corruption, and you have a country that in many ways is the envy of the continent.” Still, there are the less obvious scars. Rwanda has laid some of the blame for the massacre with France, which, in turn, scaled back its presence at the ceremonies today. And yet there is the French governmental agency which was formed to find perpetrators of the massacre living within France. “Since this group was created, things are moving much faster,” Rwandan activist Dafroza Gauthier told NPR. “They’re moving really quickly. And there’s a judge who is dedicated solely to the cases of the Rwandan genocide. … Prior to this there was no money, there were no resources to focus on this and now there are.”

The Found Art of Thank-You Notes ( I used to hate writing thank you notes when I was a little kid, but my family stressed the importance of showing gratitude for gifts both large and small. Now I find that I’m trying to fight the ease of dashing off an email or text to show thanks, and instead buying nice stationery so I can stick with this old school — and much more personal — art. The New York Times published a feature recently about thank you notes, saying that “the boring stuff your parents made you do never actually goes out of fashion and that also inadvertently supports recent scientific findings linking gratitude to increased optimism, stress reduction and a better night’s sleep. Few who sit down to write a bread-and-butter note are likely to be aware that by doing so they are not only on trend but also on their way to becoming happier and more sociable people. Apparently, what Emily Post termed good manners (science prefers “gratitude intervention”) has all kinds of unexpected benefits. And as it happens, the handwritten gratitude intervention seems to be experiencing a moment of vogue.” Taking the time to find the special papers, and the right pen and best words shows “gives material evidence that the person really did appreciate something.” Are you a thank you note writer? If so, why do you choose this old school approach? If not, why do you think it’s fuddy-duddy? Do you prefer your thank yous digitally or by snail mail?

Some Thoughts on French Cuisine ( Lebovitz has a new cookbook that hits bookstores tomorrow. In the meantime, here are his thoughts on this talk about whether French cuisine is losing its je ne sais quoi. His view is neither gloom-and-doom, nor pie-in-the-sky. Rather it’s smart and even-handed, acknowledging globalization’s impact on the present-day attitudes and habits of French chefs and eaters. And yet, he writes “people in France are still making Coq au vin, omelets, crêpes, gratins, mousse au chocolat,tartes Tatin, and eating French cheeses. I think everyone can agree that those are, indeed, examples of French cuisine, with deep roots in the soul of the country. And while many restaurants have dropped the ball on some of those items, and you don’t find them very often on menus nowadays, quite a few people still prepare all those things at home and they’re still popular. There are a number of French restaurants whose food could certainly use rescuing, but no one could argue, after a walk through Paris, that the pastry shops, bakeries, butchers and charcuteries, aren’t doing a pretty good job upholding the standards of la cuisine française. Yes, the single-subject restaurants serving everything from grilled cheese sandwiches to meatballs are un peu trop (a little too much), but they are signaling a new way for a younger generation of cooks to present foods at a lower costs, as it’s cheaper to do one thing and do it well. True, many of these places were started by Americans or Australians, then adopted by the French, but if the result is better “fast” food than fast-food outlets, and better coffee, I’m for them.”

How To Dress Like a French It Girl ( Merci, Elle Magazine for breaking down French style for the rest of us. The magazine takes 11 icons, breaks down their style, piece by piece (and price by price), ultimately giving you an accessible way to look tres magnifique. Some of my favorite looks: Jean Seberg, Ines de la Fressange, Farida Kelfa and Lou Doillon.

Will Ortiz’s Selfie Be Obama’s Last ( Where to begin about the Red Sox? After the Orioles (my Orioles) beat them on Opening Day last week, the Bosox emerged true to form and began making mincemeat of the Birds’ pitching staff. In the midst of all this, they took the standard post-championship trip the White House and presented President Obama with a Red Sox jersey. Designated hitter David Ortiz took a selfie with the president, but that caused a stir because Ortiz is on Samsung’s payroll as a “social media insider.” Said White House senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer: “In general, whenever someone tries to use the president’s likeness to promote a product, that’s a problem with the White House Counsel.” Ortiz said the picture had nothing to do with any deals. He was just caught up in the moment and wanted to take a shot while he had the chance.

Paul Stanley dishes on KISS feuds and painful secrets ( KISS guitarist Paul Stanley has a new memoir out and I think I need to get it for my hair band-loving sister. His band just got into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, which he feels is more of a slap in the face than an honor. “The Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame is fluff,” he told CBS. “It’s a farce. It’s like an Addams Family bar mitzvah. I’m gonna go, but let’s not kid ourselves, you know. That’s not the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame is walking the streets…We are the bitter pill that they ultimately had to swallow. Because they don’t like us. And the only reason they’re inducting us is because they begin to look foolish at some point for not having us in.” Rock on, man. And read on, y’all.