Monday, January 25, 2010

The Mighty Loing

I've been working like mad in the evenings after the kids have "fais dodo" to rebuild my iPhoto library. One not-too-smooth drag and drop months ago sent the entire photo library into a tail spin. It's tedious work and all the while I'm thinking how precarious the record of our memories is - they seem just a hard-drive crash away (one of the reasons I remain a fan of Polaroid instant film).

Yet this exercise has given me a chance to revisit many fond memories, and as it happens, especially of my early days in France when I was still reeling from the culture shock of living in a new country and being a new mother. I knew when I took this photo of the town where we first lived - the town where my daughter spent her first 5 months- that I'd look back in disbelief that I lived in such a beautiful place. The town is called Moret-sur-Loing, and is about an hour train ride outside Paris. It's has fewer then 5,000 people and sits on the "mighty Loing" as I called it, a river that feels little more than a creek. Still, it was buh-yooo-tiful, and I spent many happy days pushing my baby girl around its cobblestone streets while conjugating verbs in my head.

Impressionist and Englishman Alfred Sisley lived and worked in Moret and documented the town and its surroundings well. His home was just down the hill from our place. See Franck below searching for a bit of inspiration while standing in front of Sisley's studio.

Moret-sur-Loing, Alfred Sisley, 1888

"If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name in a Swiss bank" (Woody Allen)
LVM (le vieux moulin, no relation to LVMH): The Old Mill (INSEAD students lived there and held a weekly party on Thursdays)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Don't stand so close to me (s'il vous plait)

So. Americans have a reputation for being loud and obnoxious, and easily spotted as the ones wearing sneakers. To quote fellow ex-pat David Sedaris from a line in Me Talk Pretty One Day, "comfort has its place but its rude to show up in a country looking like you're ready to mow its lawn."

Despite our inability to use "indoor voices," we have Great Expectations when it comes to our non-verbal communications, namely: our body space. As Americans, we demand a lot more of it than the French do.

I simply can not get used to how closely the French stand to me. It's a cultural thing, I know. Perhaps one of my mom's oft-quoted clichés sums it up well, "You give them an inch, and they'll take a yard." And so while the French were the first to adopt the metric system around 1790 (indeed some argue they invented it, no wonder you can't find a foot-long sub here), there is little point in nudging forward to give the Frenchie behind you a little more room, because they'll take that near meter (i.e., 1 yard = 0.9144 meter) and more. No exaggeration. I'm forever getting bumped in the bum, and seldom is it accompanied with an "excusez-moi." Harrumph.

Hence, the American "in your face" culture, in fact, isn't so in-your-face after all. Seinfeld captured the discomfort of standing-too-close brilliantly in his "close talker" episode (the close talker character played by Judge Reinhold must have picked up his technique on the visit to France he references).

photo courtesy: ShockMD

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Frangipane is a yummy almond filling, not unlike marzipan, and you find it a lot in these parts this time of year as part of a celebration of La Fête des Rois, or the Epiphany (when, among other things, the three wise men made their way to Bethlehem to meet baby Jesus bearing gifts.)  In purely secular fashion, one celebrates by eating la Galette des Rois (or King Cake), a flat, flaky, buttery, round cake filled with frangipane.

The official holiday is on January 6th, but you can find galettes featured in French bakeries immediately after Christmas and throughout January. Inside the cake is hidden a porcelain or plastic figurine, or la fève, that can do some serious dental damage to unsuspecting choppers. Whoever gets the fève is king, or queen, for the day, crown included.  Originally the fève was a bean, but today it can be anything from the very random to the very topical (e.g., we got an Avatar action figure in our first galette of the season).

We shared our 3rd galette with French neighbors today.

Not only am I big fan of the cake, but I have a little soft spot for the holiday: my husband and I met at a champagne and galette party he held nearly 10 years ago in NYC, so it's touching to see our daughter Camille's "coronation" years later.