April 8, 2022
Dear Frenchly Readers,
The other day I told a French colleague that my family and I are going to France this summer and that we plan to spend the better part of a week at the beach in the town of Collioure, on the Spanish border, where Karen and Jerrod live. Karen is a novelist and all around awesome person whom I met through my friend, Barbara Jones, who edited my 2011 book, Made for You and Me. Karen now writes the fun, smart and witty “Rue du Soleil” column for Frenchly, about moving to Collioure from Portland Oregon, in 2019.
When I told my colleague about our itinerary, she gave me a totally blank look. I had pronounced Collioure something like, COH-LOO-AH, even though my friend Andrea had already warned me that that town Karen lives in is impossible to pronounce and I’d be better off not trying, at least in front of anyone who was actually French. Smugly, I thought I had it and, so far, no one had corrected me. My colleague pulled out her phone to Google the place I was talking about, which seemed perfectly normal. I mean, I live in Maine and I don’t expect everyone to know where Amarillo, Texas is. “Oh,” she said. “You mean, COO-LOUIE-ERR?” Or something like that. “Yes, that one,” I smiled graciously. But now I realized that this was The-Town-That- Must-Not-Be-Named.
This reminded me of the time my family of origin and I went to Spain for the summer. By the end, my Dad had mastered, “Una limonada por favor y gracias.” Someone might have said, “Good afternoon,” to my Dad, or even, “Hombre, do you want to smoke some hashish?” and his answer was, always, “A lemonade, please and thank you.” Or when my brother came to Paris to stay with me when I was living there on a gap year between high school and college. He said, “Mercy,” to anyone and everyone, no matter what they had just said. At least he had manners.
This morning, I went out for a walk in the rain—I mean pouring rain. It was so dark and rainy that I actually put Dan’s headlamp on my head. Despite being a girl from Maine, I am stupidly afraid of the dark. This makes all my males laugh. But I remind them that our late dog, Hopper, who was a big German Shepherd/ Rottweiler mix (who looked a lot like Henry Fonda) was also afraid of the dark and wouldn’t even get off the porch at night to pee.
Anyway, on my walk, a robin alighted on the branch of an apple tree next to me. It went “bup bup bup” to me and shook its tail. I responded, “bup bup bup.” It then threw in another “bup,” making a pattern of four. I responded. It shook its tail and then spoke to me again. We went back and forth, the robin and I, for a good five minutes in the driving rain, speaking Robinaise. I was beaming like a fool as rain poured off my nose. But I like to think that the robin was glad I was at least trying to speak its language. Though it did occur to me that, with my terrible accent, I might have been relaying all kinds of falsehoods, like “Over there, in that tree, there, you’ll find it’s not raining and underneath there’s a buffet of worms I’ve already unearthed for you. But watch out for that fisher!”
Karen has been sending me photos of The-Town-That- Must-Not-Be-Named and is getting us really excited. We responded the other day with a voice recording of all of us trying to pronounce that darn word. It’s my seven-year-old, who is unusually gifted with languages, who is now trying to teach the rest of us how to say it. Every night before bed I say, “How do you say it again?” And he patiently explains. Thoughtfully, Karen and Jerrod sent back their own voice recording with tips on how to give it a little extra “uh” at the end, because “it’s the South. And that’s what they do,” she said. At dinner we all gathered round and tried again, which left us all in peals of laughter and only the children were able to make their mouths create the right sounds. Hopefully, by the time we fly back to Boston, Dan and I will have also nailed The-Town-That- Must-Not-Be-Named.
In the meantime, until then, Karen’s got a new and laugh out loud HILARIOUS “Rue du Soleil” just published today. In it, there’s some of that word silliness and cultural confusion….If you need a laugh today, this is your ticket. It kept me giggling until bedtime last night.
Cook, watch & read ce weekend (Cuisinier, Regarder et Lire):
If, like me, you are realizing that the second season of Bridgerton is completely boring without that Zimbabwean-actor-with-a-French-name-but-a-decidedly British accent, Regé-Jean Page, we have a review from a new contributor, Joanna Scutts, who has written for The Washington Post, The New York Times, The New Yorker and lots of other places, about the new HBO Max show about Julia Child, called Julia.Although the show sounds like it takes a liberal approach to history, I can’t wait to dive into the sumptuous-sounding sets and food parler-ing tonight if I’m lucky!
To read this weekend: We have so many good things on Frenchly this week, including a piece about the nascent frontier of non-alcoholic French wines, and how to find one in time for Easter or Passover; an election update (the first round of presidential elections is this Sunday, April 10th, in France); a wonderful piece about a show at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris that showcases the surprising decorative arts, like ceramics and fans, that some of the most famous impressionist painters made as their bread and butter; a profile of a woman who runs tours in the Gascony region of France, also known as the “Tuscany of France;” a lesson in the difference between Armagnac and Cognac; and two French women who won Grammy Awards for classical music last Sunday.
This Sunday, my older son is going mountain biking with a friend up an actual mountain, which might take a little while, and my younger one has a play date. I plan to use the time to bake, which I haven’t been doing enough of lately. I want to make this Chocolate and Almond Tiger Cake from Dorie Greenspan (whom we know well at Frenchly, thanks to this piece by Philip Ruskin last fall about how she came to live part-time in France).
What drew me to this recipe, actually, speaking of cultural/word mix-ups and the happy accidents that are the results, was the story she wrote in the Times. Dorie writes that, “This almond cake is based on financiers, the small, usually ingot-shaped cakes first made in Paris in the late 1880s. The pastry chef Lasne created and named them for his stockbroker clients, keeping them easy and neat to eat on the run — no fuss, no muss. Made with egg whites, ground nuts and a lot of melted butter, the recipe is invitingly riffable. My favorite take is the tigré, a round, chocolate-speckled cake topped with a dab of ganache. Years ago, I misread the name, and I’ve called them tiger cakes ever since.” What Greenspan does not explain there, but I will, is that tigré, with the accent, means “spotted; piebald.” A tigre, no accent, is a tiger.
Par hasard, in the Dominican Republic, when you call someone tigre, like a tiger, you’re calling them super chouette, or cool (chouette also means “owl” in French…and so it goes.)
I hope you have a tigre–et-chouette weekend.
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