April 15, 2022
Dear Frenchly Readers,
In France, Easter chocolates are delivered to small children by enchanted bells, not cottontails. The bells will have spent the evening flying off to Rome where they’ve cavorted with some dodgy Italian bells, then beat it home, picking up some chocolates along the way to sprinkle about for the children. And then, while hoping that no one missed them during their nocturnal absence, they will reinstate themselves in belfries all over France in time to ring out Easter morning.
Many children will spend the later part of their mornings gathering eggs in their gardens or neighborhoods. But some children will be lucky enough to romp about the grounds of various châteaux that, all over France, will open their doors for La Pâques; the children will go off into dizzying topiary mazes to hunt for still more chocolates. Eventually, children in France (and everywhere that Easter is celebrated) are chocolate smeared, exhausted and petulant. It’s time they got home to eat a nice Easter Quiche Lorraine and then take a nap.
In our house, we will spend Saturday morning down by the marsh gathering soft, dried grasses and pieces of lichen that flew off trees in the winter, perhaps a fern or two, and then lining two baskets. We will then dye eggs. By Easter morning, a bunny will have come, left jelly beans, chocolates and perhaps a small cadeau or two, then hidden the dyed hard-boiled eggs in our boots, coat pockets and under chairs before hightailing it back into the woods. Like in France, our children will then be treated to still more chocolate when Dan and I do our annual Easter egg hunt all the way down to the our tidal river, and then around the bend to the banks of the fresh water stream that feeds it. By noon, we will surely have one over-sugared child, and another practicing self-control in order to lord his candy consumption over the other all the next week and, at least, Dan and I will need naps.
Every year, I do two things that drive my children crazy: I suggest that this is the year to leave a sign for the Easter Bunny to bring anything but candy. I like the idea of signs that read, “Hop on by!” Or, “We’re good with candy!” My youngest particularly hates this joke, even though they both know full well I am bluffing. The idea of not having candy on Easter he cannot abide. I also pipe up that maybe we should go to church. This idea is also not met with a ton of enthusiasm, to put it mildly. My older son, a dyed-in- the wool traditionalist, loves our holiday just the way it is—a celebration of magic and love for each other and the coming, Pagan, spring.
Dan and I consider it a failing that our children are as irreligious as they are. It’s not that we are Bible beaters or God Bless America types—far from it. But we both cotton to the religious stories and tropes and how they have influenced countless artists throughout the ages. How can you admire Caravaggio’s paintings, for instance, if you don’t know the stories he’s depicting? Or read Joan of Arc, if you don’t understand her religious convictions?
Around this time of year, I find myself humming this one hymn, “Ride on Ride On In Majesty,” which is often played on Palm Sunday. I find the idea of Christ bravely riding on to die—as a story, a piece of literature—very moving. Of course, we don’t have to think very hard to recognize current events that demonstrate that same kind of courage: I can’t get out of my head the story I recently read of a Ukrainian mother in Mariupol, as I remember it, telling her children that there is no dishonor in dying. Where are they now, I wonder?
What I want is for my kids to see the human connection.
But, if I were French, I might not be so fussy. At least 52% of French do not believe in God, most modern French people have no interest in church altogether, and there is a long, and important tradition of Laїcité, or secularism, and a complete isolation and separation of religious spheres from public spheres. For instance, you’re never going to hear Emmanuel Macron say, “God bless our troops.” And, indeed, this article in the Atlantic posits that many French actually see religion as a threat to their national identity. (This is one area where the far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen gets her scary footing, by actually promoting a fear of religion, more specifically Islam and immigrants in general, which takes the French concern that religion will taint their notions of égalité out of context and uses it against them.)
Maybe my children are just more French than I am. That certainly would be evident from their impeccable accents and the way they both sponge up languages.
So, this Easter Sunday, as is our custom, we will make like the French (without the enchanted bells): chocolates will abound, an asparagus and cheese quiche in the late morning, and then….a Pissaladière for an early dinner, because after reading Kate Christensen’s new recipe in her monthly column for Frenchly, called Bouffe, I can’t resist: Give me a slice of that, those briny anchovies and salty olives to cleanse my palate from all those sweets, some lovely greens in the dressing she suggests, maybe a generous pour of one of these newfangled French nonalcoholic wines, and it may just end up being the perfect day, one I’ll be glad to have enjoyed just as my kids like it.
Cook, watch & read ce weekend (Cuisinier, Regarder et Lire):
The big news at Frenchly this week is that Andrea Meyer actually beat the New York Times to the punch with her review of the new film, Paris 13th District, which she called, “dazzling.” Her review doesn’t give anything away and is such fun to read—so check it out.
As I said earlier, Kate has written us a new recipe for Pissaladière and it looks amazing. She wrote me last night that, “Tian is next. I’m having so much fun in Provence!” We are so lucky to have her writing about her life and sharing her recipes for Frenchly every month!
Also, if you want to add some asparagus to your meal, here’s a new piece just published today by Angelika Pokovba about an asparagus farm in France. And here’s a recipe of Melissa Clark’s in the Times for asparagus with a Dijon mustard sauce.
I hope you get some time this weekend to sit in a warm spot and dig into our new book club pick, The Anomaly. Date and guests TBD. I am juggling that and a novel by one of our writers, Peter Nichols, whose book The Rocks starts out so funny, I was reading it out loud to Dan last night and we were both cracking up.
And, if you missed it this week on Frenchly, we’ve got this article by our staff writer Catherine Rickman about of how the French are celebrating Molière’s 400th birthday; a wonderful piece, also by Catherine, about an exhibit of 1920s women artists in France; a piece by Keith Van Sickle about the infamous LePen family and their Shakespearean drama and a contest for the best baguette in NYC. Most fittingly for the weekend, our staff writer Sophie Dodd has written us a guide for a how to celebrate Easter in Paris (or give your Easter here some French flair).
Get outside. Eat some chocolate. Be more or less French, depending on your world view. Sing to a blue bird and eat some asparagus. Because, of course, spring only comes around once a year. Why not make like a lamb and bleat its arrival?
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