Posts from the “History” Category

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: 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.


Friday Interview: Julie Galle Baggenstoss, Flamenco Performer and Educator

Posted on April 11, 2014

Photo: Julie Galle Baggenstoss

Photo: Julie Galle Baggenstoss


Julie Galle Baggenstoss worked as a journalist before she took the plunge and followed her passion. Now she’s bringing flamenco to a wide variety of audiences in the United States. She has performed and choreographed Flamenco with the Atlanta Opera, Georgia State University’s School of Music, The Latin American Association, Coves Darden P.R.E., and at universities and museums from the Southeast to the Midwest. She also teaches flamenco for Emory University’s dance program and for organizations such as the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, the Foreign Language Association of Georgia, and Georgia Public Libraries. She spoke with me recently about her work, flamenco’s rich history and about following your passion. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

How do you explain flamenco – real flamenco – to a general audience?

I tell people that Flamenco is an improvised art form based on poetry that was most likely first composed extemporaneously during a gathering of family and friends during late-night hours.  That usually stops people in their tracks and gives them pause, because they normally envision a wild-haired woman in a low-cut, polka-dotted dress doing this animal-like dance with castanets.  The setting straight goes on from there with a quick history lesson about how immigrating Gypsies covered the old Spanish ‘romances’ (sung poems) to begin forming a musical expression in Andalucía that eventually gave way to Flamenco.  Along the way, the Gypsies as a group faced discrimination, prejudice, persecution, and this gave them much to sing about.  When their lifestyle was finally embraced during the period of romanticism in the 1800s, poets and impresarios brought Flamenco to the limelight to be celebrated in literate and on stages around the world.  What we have seen on stage since then is the expression of those same poems through song, music, and dance.  Sometimes the expression veers far from its original form, such as a line of topless men clicking their feet in unison.  Sometimes the expression is very much in line, when we see a solo singer, a solo guitarist, and a solo dancer conversing non-verbally while the people around them clap their hands rhythmically and shout cheers of encouragement.  That is the expression that brings the goose bumps, and that is when you know you are seeing the real thing.

In what ways has your background in journalism aided you in your ability to share flamenco’s story with a variety of audiences?

My journalism background helps in three ways.  First, I am fortunate to know how to conduct research, including interviews.  I primarily work as a teaching artist, meaning I use Flamenco as a vehicle to teach toward curriculum goals, such as Spanish language, geography, history, team building, problem solving, and communication.  My shows are based on literature and real people who became legends in Flamenco.  I routinely dig way beyond the stage to get information that reveals the Gypsy culture and Spanish history that makes Flamenco what it is and has been.

My role as television and Web producer gave me experience in coordinating live bodies, production equipment, managers and talent. The same rules apply to live theater production, except there are no live signals to route – yet!

Finally, years in the newsroom taught me what matters to the media.  I know how to write a press release, because I know which ones I ignored when I was on the receiving end of them.  I know how to build a database of qualified contacts for public relations, publicity, promotion, and sales, and I know the difference between those roles.

Why did you make the leap from journalism to flamenco and what were the biggest challenges you faced in making that leap? How did you overcome those challenges?

I leapt at a time when work as a freelance writer was not fulfilling and the phone was ringing off the hook for a Flamenco dancer.  The jobs for Flamenco were exciting, and I began to work with interesting musicians. I thought I would cross the two pursuits. That eventually happened, but not as I expected.  And, that was frustrating at first.  I thought I would sell stories about the back roads of Spain or the unknown treasures of the big Spanish cities to which I traveled to study Flamenco.  At first it was a setback that I was not selling work this way.  But, later I realized that I could tell stories about Flamenco, Spain, and the wonderful real-life characters whom I encountered.  And, with this, I became a teaching artist going to work in schools, lecture halls, and universities.  I kept up the dance training to stay employed in the typical dance setting, as well.

A major challenge was figuring out the markets for Flamenco, because at the time that I began working, there was not much shape to Flamenco arts where I lived in Atlanta. There was not much precedent for programming, pricing, market segmentation, quality, etc., specific to Flamenco, because so few people had taken the path previously.  I received guidance from some professional musicians, dancers, and talent agents, and then applied the rules of their industries to Flamenco.  I shaped the market for myself and just didn’t look back.  I created a number of products to leverage Flamenco to serve markets, such as schools and social organizations, rather than the traditional American Flamenco employers, such as restaurants in need of live entertainment.

In what ways has your life as a flamenco teacher and performer changed since you first began?

I am now deeply interested in the history and cultural significance of Flamenco and how the past influences the present.  I came into Flamenco as a dancer, wanting to learn to move in a new form. Along the way, I took classes from a teacher who taught me about the music.  I discovered how  the dancers are musicians, right along with the guitarists and singers.  I traveled to Spain to study, where I met some of the icons, descendants of legends, authors whose work I had studied, artists whom I adored on stage.  Their support through friendship and teaching, led me to want to explain the human stories that created – and today sustain – Flamenco. So, that is part of the work that I do in education and performance.

Also, as a business owner, I have learned to be headstrong and well-prepared in pursuits that seem like unreachable dreams.  Business strategies aside, I have learned to look up, because that is direction of faith and success.

How have you built a community of people and groups that are as interested in and passionate about flamenco as you are?

I formed a grass-roots marketing company called jaleolé in 2004, with a partner and a team of very dedicated, passionate volunteers.  Now that I look back, I will boast that we shaped the Flamenco scene in Atlanta for nearly 10 years. The company promoted Flamenco events to Flamenco aficionados, as well as the general public.  We motivated some big players  to talk about and present Flamenco in Atlanta.  As a result, there are now teachers and performers in Atlanta working on the base that we put in place.  I lectured, wrote, published, produced,  placed performers in all kinds of performances from sidewalks to theater stages, and put students on stage annually as part of my role as co-founder of the company.  The energy of that work is still circulating, and the evidence is everywhere.

Since 2009, I have facilitated a ‘cuadro’ class that provides education and a weekly jam session for students of Flamenco guitar, singing, and dance.  Prior to this concept, Atlanta was a city of dancers without accompanists.  To know Flamenco is to know that dancers and guitarists exist in the art form to accompany the singing. So, a silo of dancers – without live music – was unfulfilling.  Five years after the first workshop, the students of the program are playing guitar and singing in classes and performances in groups across Atlanta. It is satisfying to know that Flamenco is taking shape in such a holistic way.

How have you engaged Spanish artists in your mission to build interest in flamenco? What have you learned from them in your efforts to teach, perform and lecture about the art?

The answer to this question is unending.

I have presented some of the top Flamenco artists in Spain in performance and education.  I have asked them to lecture and spend time in fiestas with local aficionados to break the wall of artist and fan.  These gracious artists  have created electricity, tears, inspiration, awe.  But the best moments have been when they have interacted one-on-one with local aficionados, in a casual manner, to shed light on what it means to be a Flamenco, rather than a super star.

I believe Flamenco is like coffee.  If you can get it in Spain, or from Spanish Flamenco artists, then it’s a shot of espresso.  Outside of that, it’s café au lait: tastes great, but it’s just coffee with chicory and steamed milk.  And, chicory as my grandfather used to tell me in New Orleans, is ersatz.  The audiences and the students know the difference.

The more I learn about the art of Flamenco, the less I want to teach, perform, or lecture about it.  Instead, I just want to put the Spanish artists out there to do it.  I am continually humbled by the people whom I meet through research and study.  They are incredible artists, but that’s not what stops me.  It is that their families created this, and they carry with them the spirits of the generations before them, a cultural legacy that includes oppression, perseverance, pride, creativity, innovation, controversy, and misunderstandings of all sorts.  The more I know, the more I want to tell these stories, accurately.

What’s a typical day for you like?

My schedule is completely random. At the moment, it looks a little like a jack-o-lantern. Three days a week, I rehearse in the mornings before heading to teach at Emory University, where I instruct students who are earning credit for their dance degrees or to fulfill an elective requirement.  Right after class, I crack my latest Flamenco read for about an hour.  Then, I am off to class where I am a student of Spanish culture and literature, a base for a graduate degree down the road.  I pick up my kids from school; we tackle their homework; we play a game or craft a bit; we cook and eat dinner; I run out the door. Evening classes or rehearsals last about 2 hours in a dance studio, and then it is home for some creative time: a novel, a favorite blog, on a rare occasion a movie.  On the other two days (of a 5-day workweek), I am in the studio for 4-6 hours working on technique and repertoire, and I take about 2 hours to handle the “business of Flamenco” for myself.  I update my website. order flyers, book shows, write contracts, follow-up with potential clients, apologize for late responses, and of course put out dramatic  fires of all kinds.  Saturdays and Sundays often turn into workdays, as well, depending on bookings.  Several times a month, this schedule is interrupted by arts-in-education performances.  I leave home for those at 6:30 a.m., after loading my car with sound and stage equipment.  I drive for 30-90 minutes to a school, and then I set up my show.  I perform for 1-2 hours, break down, and then return to my neighborhood just in time to pick up my lovely children from school. More than once, I have walked through my children’s after-school scene in full Flamenco regalia because my commute butted up against carpool.  My kids just are not aware of it anymore.  It’s always a juggling act with the schedule.

I remember one time, I had to do a performance during the last 30 minutes of one of those Spanish culture classes at the university, where I attend class as a student.  I walked into the class with all of the stage make-up, hair in a bun, huge earrings, and a ruffled shirt.  When the moment struck, I stood up and walked out of the class in the middle of the lecture.  I closed the door, and in the hallway swapped my street skirt for my performance skirt.  I glided down the stairwell and got into a waiting car outside of the building. The driver took me around the corner while I changed into my Flamenco dance shoes.  I got on stage 15 minutes later inside the ballroom at the Georgia Aquarium and performed for a dazzling (I hope) 5 minutes.

Unfortunately, I spend a lot less time on my art that I would like, and I am working the phone and e-mail a lot more than I would like!

What sort of plans do you have for 2014?

I am reaching into markets outside of Atlanta.  I am taking my arts-in-ed on the road in Louisiana, Florida, and Alabama.  I hope to also perform for adult audiences in those markets, with strong Spanish and U.S.-based Flamenco artists on stage with me.

I am forming participants of my cuadro class into a semi-professional performing group.  There’s a very dedicated and talented core of aficionados who are playing guitar, singing, and dancing well.  They are ready to go on stage in excellent, very exciting venues.

I will spend more time researching a few interesting characters in Flamenco, including a dancer who caught the eye of Thomas Edison, a homeless man-turned Grammy winner, and the neighborhood of Triana in Seville.

As someone who has pursued her passion for one of the most passionate dance forms there is, what advice do you have for people grappling with whether to pursue their own passions?

A life built on passion is much different than a life built on someone else’s passion.  Living for your passion can lead to funny decisions.  To that end, I advise the following.  Get a good business plan and revise it often.  Get a network of honest critics from a variety of backgrounds, and remember that your loved ones should not be part of that because they will always only be positive.  Hire an accountant, and realize that $30 in the bank is not $0 or -$30 in the bank. Balance your worlds: work, personal, ambition, family, romance, health.   Balance is important.  It is difficult to be the navigator and the pilot in the giant ship of entrepreneurship.  One feels like everything has to be done now.  To address that, create a project management plan, phase product releases, and schedule time for breaks.  Take a walk to solve a problem.  Have a beer at lunch.  Take a day off! Most of all, you must believe always in what you are doing.  If you lose your mojo, then you are done.

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.


A Spring Update

Posted on April 2, 2014

I just finished teaching a six-week class about the French for LSU’s Continuing Education. As a lifelong introvert, I knew it would be challenging (and exhausting) for me to stand in front of a group of people for a couple of hours each week, even though I’d be telling them stories about a topic that I’ve loved for as long as I can remember. But as I’ve said before, I really wanted to get better and less fearful about speaking to groups this year, no matter how bumpy and ugly that road to “better and less fearful” was. And I can honestly say that I couldn’t have asked for a better and kinder group of people a. to teach and b. to learn from as I figured out how to get my sea legs in a classroom setting. Two weeks into the class, I seriously considered bidding teaching adieu after this class was done. Now, I know I’ll give it another shot in the fall. I am pretty excited about that and will be submitting a new class description to the curriculum committee in the coming weeks.

What does all of that have to do with a picture of green beans and a trellis? Well, I had to plant the seed in my head that teaching was something I could do, in whatever imperfect way. Now that I have done that, and haven’t managed to kill anything (or, heaven forbid, anyone) the next step is to encourage this little plant to go forth and prosper in whatever way it knows how. Right now, my teaching and writing seem to cross-pollinate each other nicely, so I don’t want to mess with what seems to be a good thing.

Knock wood.

After my last class on Monday morning, I finished revising a major project, before turning my attention to the vegetable garden I started a month and a half ago. That’s where you can find the above haricots verts, as well as some potatoes and kale, eggplant, wild garlic, asparagus, Vidalia onions, radishes, carrots, tomatoes, lettuce and strawberries, among other things. We’ve had to fence off the space so Murray the rapidly growing office dog doesn’t dig it all up. And as I got to thinking about it, I started hatching some evil plans to add some fruit bushes and other things along the inside of the fence to maximize my gardening haul. My friend Karen told me recently that gardening is such a hopeful activity. I had never really looked at it that way due to my long history of killing plants. But now that I’ve had a couple of years of successes with a vegetable plot of some sort (not to mention some successes in other areas of my life), I suppose I’m willing to see how, yes, it is hopeful, and I am hopeful too. I have good reason to be.

So I’ll be sharing news and views from my garden in the coming weeks, as well as pictures of what I do with this stuff once it’s picked.

But tomorrow? I’ll put a decadent twist on a popular French snack cake.

Questions? Comments? Story suggestions? Don’t hesitate to let me know what’s on your mind in comments, or by shooting me a message on my contact page.





A Place in the Pantheon

Posted on February 26, 2014

Photo: JR Artist

The Pantheon in Paris is a 224-year-old mausoleum that contains the remains of 73 great Frenchmen, among them Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Louis Braille and Emile Zola. Marie Curie is the sole woman to be interred in this building on her own merit (Sophie Berthelot was buried at Pierre Curie’s request). Now that’s due to change, as France announced this past week that it will be adding two female resistance fighters to the illustrious mix.

The Pantheon has been a pretty exclusive place since its inception, and late last year the Center for National Monuments released a report about how to make the grand old building more reflective of the country’s republican beliefs. Yesterday, the CMN announced it was partnering with street artist JR on a project called “Au Pantheon!” JR, known for his large-scale photographic works, will be collecting portraits of all sorts for the next month across the country and via a dedicated website. He’ll use the photographs to paper the tarp that now covers the Pantheon’s dome, which is currently under renovation. It’s the first time that the country has used art instead of a large, lucrative advertisement to cover a public building in the throes of a touch up. The project should last about two years and could include thousands of headshots and other ridiculous selfies taken by ordinary folks like me. It’s a really interesting project in the country of liberte, egalite and fraternite. Watch it unfold on Twitter by following the hashtag #AuPantheon, or join the fun by uploading a headshot to this website by March 29. The end result will be unveiled on April 22.

Palais Garnier: Fifth Most-Visited Paris Monument

Posted on February 7, 2014

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

A recent report in the French newspaper Les Echos said that the Palais Garnier was the fifth most-visited monument in Paris during 2013. There has been a 44 percent increase in visits to the building since 2010, in part because of its increasing number of events and exhibits. Known as the backdrop for the novel and Broadway musical The Phantom of the Opera, the Opera Garnier still stages operas and ballets as well as concerts with the occasional pop star like George Michael. But it also has one of the most rich and remarkable archives I’ve ever seen, the contents of which serve as an endless source of wonder for nerds like me and as the basis for many excellent exhibitions.

Here is a photo from a recent costume exhibit it had:

2013-10-17 19.19.18

Have you ever been to the Palais Garnier? If so, what did you think of it? If not, you should definitely put this building on your must-see list if you ever plan a trip to Paris.

Monuments Men

Posted on February 6, 2014



I’ve been working on an item about art restitution that’s tied to the recent release of “The Monuments Men,” the real-life story of international art experts sent to recover and return artworks stolen by the Nazis during World War II. The piece is also tied to the recent sale of Camille Pissarro’s impressionist masterpiece, Boulevard Montmartre, matinee de printemps (pictured above). Impressionist paintings have an enduring allure, but this one sold yesterday for $32.1 million in London in part because of its restitution backstory. It was once owned by Max Silberberg, a Jewish industrialist who was forced by the Nazis to sell his collection of 19th and 20th century art. Silberberg later died in the Holocaust and it took his family decades to find his prized Pissarro.

Governments are among the organizations dedicated to unearthing pilfered pieces such as these. Auction houses such as Sotheby’s also have their own restitution groups dedicated to researching all works consigned to them that were created prior to 1945 and working with a variety of interest groups to broker deals on this art.

Often there are really two victims: the person from whom it was stolen and the institution or person who bought it in good faith,” Sotheby’s specialist Philip Hook told The Wall Street Journal recently.

I’m looking forward to seeing Monuments Men soon. What about you?


For more on this topic:

*Here’s a feature about why restitution had such cinematic appeal.

*Here’s a story about how Robert Edsel, author of The Monuments Men, turned his obsession into a movie.

*Here’s TIME Magazine’s review of that movie.

*Here’s an item a recent auction involving sales of restituted artwork unearthed by the actual Monuments Men.

*Here’s an interesting read about how a slice of Edward, Prince of Wales and Wallis Simpson’s wedding cake was auctioned off for $29,000.