I’d like to introduce you to my friend Annette Charlton, part-time Frenchwoman and the author of a delightful new book, A French Life.
Some years ago, Annette and her husband bought a house in a small village in Brittany. This, you might think, is not particularly unusual. But they bought the house on their first-ever trip to France. And they live in Australia. All right, you think, this is not your run-of-the-mill couple.
Annette is the publisher of A French Collection, where she writes about all things French. And she occasionally writes funny stories about her life in France. She has now collected these blog posts into a slim volume that I very much enjoyed reading.
Annette begins with a straightforward question—how do you buy a house on your first trip to a country? While others might choose a different path, preferring to visit a few times first, the method she lays out will profit anyone thinking of buying a home abroad.
Then Annette starts telling funny stories about the life that she, her husband, and their three kids live in France. She describes an unusual French specialty, chocolate sausage. She tells how she once accidentally invited an elderly priest for a visit, then had to entertain him when neither spoke the other’s language. And she asks the vital question, what is the proper French etiquette when someone’s hair catches on fire?
Whether you buy this book, read the stories on her blog, or just dip into A French Collection from time to time, I guarantee you’ll enjoy getting to know Annette and her family.
You can purchase A French Life here.
What do you do with a giant cavern?
That was the question that vexed the Provençal village of Les Baux-de-Provence. For centuries, giant blocks of white limestone had been extracted from a nearby mountain to build the town and its towering château. But by 1935, competition had forced the limestone quarry to close, leaving behind a massive, ghostly chamber. There it sat for decades, cold and silent, waiting for someone to restore it to glory.
That someone was Albert Plécy, a photographer and filmmaker, who arrived in 1975 with the idea of a “total image.” He installed a few giant projectors that flooded the cavern with color, projecting images that he coordinated with music. For viewers inside the cavern, it was a kind of total immersion that he called the Cathedral d’Images–the Cathedral of Images.
From this modest beginning, the program has slowly become more sophisticated and today it uses hundreds of cutting-edge projectors and complex computer control. Now called the Carrières de Lumières (Quarries of Light), the site is run by Culturespaces, France’s leading private manager of museums and art centers. Carrières de Lumières has become one of Provence’s leading tourist attractions and has led to the creation of “siblings” in Paris, Bordeaux, and South Korea.
Read about these magical siblings in France Today!
Dominique Crenn is one of the world’s greatest chefs, and her flagship restaurant in San Francisco has been awarded three Michelin stars. Known for her creative cuisine, Crenn has recently published her autobiography Rebel Chef: In Search of What Matters. It’s a fascinating look at a fascinating person.
Crenn’s has been an unusual journey, and she is not your usual chef. As an infant she was adopted by a couple in Brittany, her father a Resistance hero and a friend of Charles de Gaulle. Despite being raised by a traditional French family, Crenn never quite fit into the conservative France of the 1960s. One reason was her looks—part of her heritage is North African. Plus she was a tomboy with a crush on Olivia Newton-John. And then there was the matter of cooking. Crenn longed to be a great chef, and why not? “But the top restaurants are for men!” she was told. “Women cook at home.”
Read all about this rebel chef in France Today!
Paris has long attracted filmmakers and why not? The beauty of Paris makes any movie better! And when you add in glamorous movie stars like Audrey Hepburn and Alain Delon back in the 1960s or Tom Cruise and Audrey Tautou today, what you get is visually stunning. Paris is one of the stars, and so beautiful you can’t look away from it.
An American in Paris? The Da Vinci Code? Mission Impossible? The list of movies set in Paris is long. Let’s take a look at 10 favorites, plus a longer list for you to browse.
Read all about it in France Today!
French is a beautiful language with a rich literary history. And unless you are one of those rare people with a gift for languages, it’s challenging to learn.
But in spite of the effort involved, it is sooooo worth it. Even if your French isn’t perfect, French people really appreciate it when you make the effort to speak their language. They’ll chat with you, ask you questions about yourself and where you come from, and offer their opinions on anything and everything. Such fun! Being able to break through the language barrier opens up a new world with new perspectives.
There are plenty of ways to learn French, from classroom work to apps like Duolingo, and Rosetta Stone. Those are great for giving you the basics, but what if you want to progress to a real conversational level, or read something beyond a few simple paragraphs? Let me share with you some helpful ideas on how to accelerate your progress and have fun doing so. And you might enjoy the intriguing question I ask at the end.
Read all about it in My French Life!
We can all use a few laughs these days, so let me introduce you to French prankster Rémi Gaillard.
Gaillard makes videos that are short, funny, and very popular—they’ve been viewed over 2 billion times. Their style is a bit like the U.S. television program Candid Camera or the U.K.’s Trigger Happy TV.
Gaillard first gained fame in 2002 when he pretended to be a player at the final match of the Coupe de France soccer tournament. Not only did he manage to join the team’s victory lap, he also shook hands with French president Jacques Chirac…who congratulated him on his fine play!
Gaillard loves to do things like commandeer an elevator and create ridiculous scenes inside it—a disco or a living room or a climber scaling Mount Everest. Or he’ll recreate a scene from Star Wars. The unsuspecting person waiting for the elevator is definitely surprised when the doors open!
Gaillard once entered the Mr. Universe bodybuilding championship, flexing his (modest) muscles along with the other contestants. It’s a good thing he could run faster than those hulks once his ruse was discovered.
Read all about it in France Today!
“C’est la sardine qui a bouché le port de Marseille!” (A sardine blocked Marseille’s port!)
This local saying is famous throughout France. Another that is less well-known is “Chercher Molinari” (look for Molinari). Both expressions, curiously, come from the same famous disaster that took place in the 18th century.
Can a little bitty sardine really block a great big port? Yes! Well, kind of.
Read all about it in Perfectly Provence!
Fontvieille is a charming Provençal village in the south of France, close to Arles and Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
This quaint town has a lovely old lavoir (wash house), a shady central square, and a bustling open-air market on Monday mornings. It is a delightful place to spend a few pleasant hours and is also the perfect base for exploring three outstanding nearby sites.
First is the windmill immortalized by Alphonse Daudet in his beloved classic Letters from my Windmill. Then there is the ancient Montmajour Abbey, a favorite of Vincent Van Gogh. Finally there are the remains of the Romans’ Barbegal aqueduct and mills, part of the system that brought water to the city of Arles. They were so vast that they could mill enough grain for 12,000 people a day and have been called, “the greatest concentration of mechanical power in the ancient world.”
That is quite a lot to see! It makes for a lovely day trip.
Read all about it in The Good Life France!
Monaco is a small country with a big reputation. Surrounded by France, it sits just a few miles from Nice on the French Riviera. Monaco is famous for its Monte Carlo Casino, its annual Formula One race, and the elegance of the late Princess Grace. The principality’s stunning beauty has attracted filmmakers for decades, who have used it as the backdrop for films starring a long list of Hollywood legends.
Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, and Yves Montand are just a few of the stars who have been filmed in Monaco. And let’s not forget James Bond, who seems to have a special affinity for the place, whether he’s being played by Sean Connery or Pierce Brosnan.
Read all about Monaco’s Hollywood legacy and watch some film clips at Perfectly Provence!
Summer is here! From Paris Plages to sunny sidewalk terrasses, Paris is particularly magical in the summer months, the late sunsets drawing locals to the riverbank and canal quays to revel in the ambiance.
The wonderful website Bonjour Paris asked its contributors (I’m one) for their favorite spot in Paris during the warm summer months. Want to escape to a secret island? Swim in an Art Deco pool? Enjoy a coffee in a royal garden? Then check out this article…and discover my own insider tip.
Read all about it in Bonjour Paris!