Ode to Madame Pipi

220px-Madame_PipiIn honor of World Toilet Day, I am dedicating this post to that beloved institution of French life, Madame Pipi. Also known as la dame pipi, it is a mystery as to why this job is invariably held by a woman.

Public toilets, especially clean ones, are much sought after in France, nowhere more so than in cities like Paris. And certainly by no one more than yours truly. Given my distrust of la Sanisette, I have only the greatest appreciation for the important job of the toilet attendant. Unfortunately, she is a dying breed as automation increasingly takes over.

Ode to Madame Pipi

Madame Pipi is always there

Behind the door, below the stair

Always faithful to her post

You’ll find her where you need her most

Her job’s to see that you do yours

While staying safe and clean, of course!

She mops the floors and puts out paper

Sprays the air with fragrant vapor

She takes your coin, and in you go

Do your business, water flows

You wash your hands, prepare to leave

As Dame Pipi rolls up her sleeves

She scrubs the toilet with her brush

Makes sure that none forgot to flush

If you need supplies, she’ll help you out

Hygienically yours, that dame’s got clout!

So next time you have an urgent need

Remember, she’s a dying breed

Be sure to thank her as you go:

Merci, Madame Pipi, bravo!

 

Go ahead, take the plunge – leave a comment!

Very Inspiring Blogger Award

vib-awardThe king of hugs and one of my favorite fellow bloggers, Lord David Prosser, nominated me for this award. I have no award-free principles, so I am delighted to accept the honor.

As with many awards this one has a few “rules”. As a rule, I dislike rules and try to break them wherever possible. However, I also believe you shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth (whatever that means!). So, here goes…

First, the rules:

  • Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
  • List the rules and display the award.
  • Share seven facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 15 other blogs you enjoy, then comment on their posts to let them know that you have nominated them.

Let me begin by thanking David, who keeps us all in merriment on Sunday mornings with his weekly epistles of daily life on The Barsetshire Diaries, along with those of a rather fishy cast of characters including his pal, Mike, and Big Al, the leader of the tank. (Apologies to Mike, I couldn’t resist!)

Now, 7 fascinating facts about moi:

1) Although I live in France, I hate to travel and never bothered to learn any foreign languages before meeting my husband. Who, you guessed it, is French!

2) I eat breakfast in bed. Every. Single. Day. (Except when we’re traveling, which is probably why I hate it!)

3) We have two grown children, who shall remain nameless on this blog, and two substitute children: our Frenchies, Higgins and Humphrey. Oh, and two vile lodgers who think they own the joint: the cats, Bianca and Leo.

4) I am a professional writer. Shh! Don’t tell my clients, they pay me to do what I do for free here.

5) In another life, I used to sing.

6) Unrelated fact: I am deaf in one ear.

7) I curse like a sailor and spit like a man. In two languages!

So, now to the real business. Here are 15 blogs that I follow with pleasure and can recommend you do the same.

A Crooked Mile: Another blogger who shares sometimes mixed feelings about France.

Au Pair Gal: I am very much enjoying this new blog chronicling life as an Au Pair.

As Told by Dana: Great stories from the trenches of life in France.

A Year in Perigord: A Francophile with a very British sense of humor.

Food, Photography and France: A food photographer who can make anything look magical.

Multifarious Meanderings: A funny take on just about anything.

Osyth: A funny and inspired writer who lives in the remote region of Cantal

Suzanne and Pierre in Paris: A bilingual photo blog documenting this couple’s travels (unfortunately ending soon!)

Forty c’est Fantastique: Souvenirs of past and future trips to France.

Long View Hill: One woman’s challenges in living a balanced life.

Big Body Beautiful: An inspirational blog about finding beauty in all body sizes.

Cogito Ergo Mom: Thoughts on parenting, emphasis on the thoughts.

Colin Bissett: Travel, architecture and more from an adopted Aussie.

The Cheergerm and the Silly Yak: I enjoy reading this blog almost as much as drooling over the gluten-free recipes!

Wandering Cows: Bits and bobs from the travels of wandering Aussies.

Happy reading and bonne semaine!

Get lost

Paris directional signsMy phone died today. That is, it ran out of juice. Hardly surprising as it’s an iPhone – you know, the really expensive ones with the crap batteries? Cursing Steve Jobs’ name, I left it behind as I set out to run my errands across the border in Geneva. Flying without a net, as it were. Turned out it was the best thing that could’ve happened.

Traffic in town can be difficult so I decided to park the car by the lake and walk.

At first I felt lost without my usual electronic crutches: Google maps, email, contacts and various other apps. Then I noticed how much lighter I felt. I took a deep breath and inhaled the scent of wet trees in the park. Enjoyed the view of the sailboats bobbing on the lake without worrying about taking a picture.

First stop: dentist appointment. It was just a checkup so I was actually hurrying to get there rather than dragging my feet. I have a tendency to over-optimize my time management, i.e. arrive late. Assuming I knew where it was I had plenty of time, but my memory of the exact location proved, well, inexact. Probably because the last time I went there I had my nose stuck to my iPhone for directions.

There’s nothing like getting lost to help you get to know a place. I’ve lived in this area for a few years now but never seem to be able to map anything. Geneva is not big, but like many cities in these mountainous parts it’s built on multiple levels. Also, there are no right-degree angles. Each intersection has multiple roads shooting off in various directions.

I took a couple of wrong turns and became increasingly disoriented. The two streets that I thought should intersect didn’t seem to, so I had to make an executive decision. Left or right? Always follow your instincts, I thought, and headed left. A few minutes later I had massive doubts, so I did something unprecedented. I asked a nice looking fellow for directions.

Excusez-moi? Do you happen to know how to get to Rue de la Terrassière?

That way, he said, pointing in the opposite direction. Sometimes my instincts kind of suck.

I got there just a few minutes late. My dentist was waiting for me. “Just a checkup?” she asked, sounding disappointed. The last time I’d seen her she’d shot me so full of Novocain I’d looked like a stroke victim the entire day.

The experience made me wonder: How did we manage before? Or were we perhaps smarter without our ‘smart’ phones?

When I first came to France back in the pre-internet days, there was nothing for it but to get out there and get lost. I became quite good at it. Even though I always carried a map, it was so much work stopping, unfolding it and trying to figure out where exactly I was, I usually just kept walking. It was trial and error, and a lot of wear on the feet, but you always reached your destination sooner or later.

After the dentist, I had an hour free so I wandered down to the main shopping area and stopped for a coffee. As I didn’t have my phone, I wasn’t tempted to check for messages. Instead, I sipped my latté by the window and watched the people going by on the street. Came up with the idea for this post and scribbled down a few thoughts.

Then I stopped at the optical store to get my sunglasses adjusted, picked up some things at the pharmacy and went to meet my lunch date. My friend was waiting for me at a café in Eaux-Vives, and we spent a pleasant hour or so catching up over moules-frites.

All in all, I was without my phone for about three hours. Nothing earth shattering happened. No urgent emails or phone calls came in that couldn’t wait until I got home.

I did get lost but I found my way. And I’m pretty sure I’ll remember it next time.

What about you? When was the last time you got lost?

100 things to enjoy in France

Le champagne

For my 100th post on this blog about life in France, I’ve decided to share 100 things to eat, drink and simply enjoy in my adopted land. Some are personal favorites, others classics of French cuisine that everyone should try at least once.

Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Le pain au chocolat. Don’t be misled by the name – there is no bread, just delightfully dark squishy chocolate tucked into a croissant-style bun.
  2. Le pain aux raisins. Still no bread, but a twist: the pastry spirals around in a circle interlaced with custard and raisins, sometimes sprinkled with sugar.
  3. Le croissant au beurre. Be sure you get the kind ‘au beurre’ if you want the 100% butter kind (rather than other fat). Wonderful with…
  4. La confiture. Jam. Nothing like a bit of Bonne Maman on your croissant.
  5. Le beurre. Doux (unsalted) or demi-sel (lightly salted). They don’t often serve it with bread in France, but sometimes eat it with cheese to soften the too-strong taste.
  6. Un petit noir. An espresso. Also known here as ‘un express’.
  7. Le chocolat. Perfect accompaniment to le petit noir. The French are not chocolate snobs as long as it’s dark.
  8. La baguette. The classic, crusty staple of French life (which changed mine)
  9. Le pain au levain. Sourdough. My favorite bread.
  10. Les profiteroles. Choux pastry filled with ice cream, topped with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Holds a special place in my heart as it was my late mom’s favorite dessert.
  11. Les macarons. These double-decker meringue sandwiches have become so trendy you can get them everywhere. Ladurée is the most famous.
  12. La tarte au citron. A tangy dessert favorite of mine. With or sans méringue.
  13. La méringue. Okay, so it’s nothing but egg whites and sugar. These chewy clouds make a wonderful base for a fruity dessert.
  14. Le saucisson sec. A dry cured or smoked sausage, of which there are hundreds of kinds in this country. I like it with peppercorns or pistachio. Sliced on a wooden board and served with your favorite apéro.
  15. Le foie gras. You’re free to give this a miss if you can’t abide the idea of force feeding geese but France is the place to sample goose or duck liver pâté. Wonderful with brioche bread, onion chutney and a sweeter white wine.
  16. Le pâté. A nice slab of pâté (my favorite is la crème forestière) with pickles on a good bread makes a great sandwich.
  17. La saucisse de Toulouse. A thick pork sausage named for the southern city from which it originates and traditionally used in cassoulet.
  18. Le steak frites. The classic French bistro dish. Make sure you order your steak ‘bleu’ if you want it very rare and ‘à point’ if you prefer medium rare. Lovely with…
  19. La moutarde de Dijon. Smooth or grainy. Is there any other kind?
  20. La choucroute. An excellent dish from the German-influenced Alsace region featuring sauerkraut, potatoes and multiple cuts of fresh and smoked pork.
  21. Une andouillette. A sausage made of tripe. Not for the faint of heart. My husband loves this dish, but for me the sauce is the best part.
  22. Un MacDo. Just because you can have a beer with your burger while people-watching on Les Champs Elysées.
  23. Le sandwich. Because baguette. ‘Nuff said.
  24. Un pan bagnat. Basically a Niçoise salad on a round bun (tuna, eggs, tomatoes, lettuce). One of the healthier items to take out at the bakery.
  25. Une crêpe. To be eaten at the buvette in the park on a chilly fall afternoon. Dripping with chocolate sauce.
  26. Un beignet. Oddly, I’ve only ever seen the French eat sugar donuts at the beach.
  27. Une tarte tatin. An upside-down tarte of caramelized apples. Enjoy warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
  28. Un demi. My standard order of draft beer (25 cl). Unless I’m thirsty, in which case it’s une pression (half a liter).
  29. Le gigot d’agneau. French leg of lamb. Studded with garlic cloves, sprinkled with coarse salt and rosemary, roasted for Sunday lunch.
  30. Les cornichons. Pickles. Thick or thin but never sweet.
  31. Le camembert. The stinkiest of French cheeses. The most authentic has the ‘AOP’ label, is made from raw milk, ‘moulé à la louche’ and from Normandie.
  32. La vache qui rit. Okay, it’s processed cheese but the laughing cow has the fun factor. It was a favorite of my daughter’s and a staple of our household when the kids were small.
  33. Le Boursin. Le pain, le vin, le Boursin. With pepper please.
  34. La cervelle de canuts. A Lyonnaise spreadable specialty of creamy cheese, garlic and chives, served with slabs of pain de campagne (country bread).
  35. Le Saint Félicien. A delicate cow’s milk cheese from the Rhône-Alpes region that runs off the plate and lands on your bread like magic.
  36. Le Saint Marcellin. The St. Felicien’s feisty little brother.
  37. Le Saint Agur. My favorite French blue. Creamier than roquefort but with just enough tang.
  38. Le jambon de Paris. Your basic cooked ham. The foundation meat for many a sandwich, croque, quiche, etc.
  39. Le jambon de Bayonne. An air-dried salted ham that takes its name from the city in southwest France.
  40. La tartiflette. A potato gratin made with Reblochon cheese and lardons. Loaded with calories to fill you up if you’re skiing – and even if you’re not!
  41. Un vin chaud. Mulled or hot wine, spicy and red. Not my absolute favorite thing but pretty damn good in the cold.
  42. La pizza. Who said pizza was Italian? Thin-crusted and richly topped, often with an egg, and available just about everywhere in France (but don’t expect delivery unless you’re in a big city).
  43. Le rouge. The only beverage that perfectly accompanies every meal (except breakfast.)
  44. Les rattes. Tiny, firm-fleshed potatoes with papery skin. Amazing with butter, parsley and garlic (but what isn’t?)
  45. Les blettes. Also known as bettes. Apologies but we had to talk green vegetables at some point. Similar to Swiss chard, the white ‘cotes’ are lovely and nutty and often enjoyed au gratin in France.
  46. Les cardons. Another odd veggie considered as something of a delicacy. Looks like celery, tastes like artichoke and often eaten in white sauce around Christmas.
  47. Les salsifis. The weirdest vegetable I have ever eaten. A white root served in a white sauce. Must confess I just don’t get what all the fuss is about!
  48. Les champignons. So many mushrooms, so little time: button mushrooms or champignons de Paris, cepes, morilles
  49. Les pralines. Sugar-coated nuts. What’s not to like?
  50. La mousse au chocolat. So good. Only 3 ingredients!
  51. L’île flottante. A.k.a oeufs à la neige (eggs in snow). An island of egg whites floating on a lake of custard. There’s a poem in there somewhere…
  52. Le croque monsieur / madame. Or the Dead Guy as my brother calls it. The classic melt. Madame has an egg on top.
  53. La soupe au choux. Cabbage soup. Also the name of a popular detox diet and a comedy classic film with Louis de Funès.
  54. La crême brulée. My all-time favorite dessert (next to cheesecake, which is decidedly not French). Thick vanilla custard with a burnt sugar top.
  55. La crême caramel. The classic custard dessert with a soft caramel top.
  56. La crème de marron. A sweet chestnut purée topping or ingredient for desserts. Lovely with yogurt or fromage blanc.
  57. Les marrons glacés. Iced chestnuts. My son loves these. You need a sweet tooth.
  58. Une glace. The best place to enjoy an ice cream in France? At the cinema, bien sûr!
  59. La buche de Noël. The traditional Yule log, with a great many gourmet twists – glacé, café, chataigne….
  60. Le trou Normand. A pause in the middle of a meal to relax and enjoy with a drop of…
  61. Le Calvados. Apple brandy, the Normandy digestif par excellence.
  62. La barbe à papa. My husband hates this stuff. Candy floss, spun sugar, white or pink. Transforms your children into sticky monsters at the park.
  63. Un oeuf en gelée. Why not? They look so pretty in that gelatin, and the egg will be cooked to ‘mollet’ perfection (the yoke a tad runny)
  64. Une omelette. Ain’t eggs wonderful? Especially when cooked to perfection on an omelet pan with globs of runny cheese inside.
  65. Des épinards à la crème. Talk about a spoon full of sugar! The French can add cream to anything and it will be delicious. Personally, I prefer my spinach with a knob of butter, salt, shallots and pine nuts.
  66. Un citron pressé. Freshly squeezed lemon juice, served in a tall glass with plenty of ice and sugar. Surely the healthiest option while sitting on a café terrace watching the world go by?
  67. Un flan. Imagine a slice of sweet, crustless egg pie. So good it’s trembling. The perfect treat for…
  68. Le goûter. A.k.a le quatre heures. The after-school snack is very important in French culture because the evening meal is never served before 8 pm, and the kids have very long school days. I know many fully grown French men and women who have never outgrown their goûter.
  69. Une quiche. Okay we all know Lorraine, but what about it’s variants? With goat’s cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, or spinach and ricotta.
  70. L’apéro. Cocktail hour à la française. Drink, eat, be merry!
  71. Le caramel au beurre salé. This is a drug to me. No translation required.
  72. Le pied de porc. Pig’s trotters. It’s said that nothing in the pig goes to waste. Here’s proof.
  73. Le lapin. Eat Peter Rabbit, you say? Forget the Easter bunny. If you like white meat, you’ll love it.
  74. Le magret de canard. Duck breast, a dark meat readily available in most French supermarkets and easy to prepare (although you need a fan). Makes a nice change from beef.
  75. La tête de veau. Calf’s brain. Okay, I have to confess I’ve never eaten this one. But it is a classic of French cuisine, and your butcher will debone and roll it for you. Go ahead, I dare you! Often eaten with Gribiche, a sauce of hard-cooked eggs, mustard and pickles, as is…
  76. Le tablier des sapeurs. Another tripe specialty from Lyon. Basically they throw nothing away.
  77. Une salade Lyonnaise. A safe option in Lyon for the less adventurous. Bacon and eggs on a salad.
  78. Une salade Niçoise. Tuna, hard boiled eggs, green beans, tomatoes, potatoes. Anchovies optional. Oh, and a few salad leaves if you insist!
  79. Une salade au chevre chaud. Melt goat’s cheese on toast under the broiler and serve on salad leaves. Presto!
  80. Le petit salé. Salted pork. Often served with…
  81. Les lentilles à la crème. Sure, add bacon and cream to anything and it’ll taste good!
  82. Les asperges blanches. The French prefer the big fat white asparagus, which they often eat Luke warm with a cream sauce like Gribiche.
  83. La pissaladière. A pizza variant from Nice. Onions, olives, garlic, anchovies.
  84. La tarte au myrtilles. You cannot get fresh blueberries easily in France. They’re expensive and often moldy. The best bet is preserves, which are wonderful served in a buttery pie shell.
  85. Un kébab. The kebab is popular French street food, although most of the meat comes from Germany.
  86. Un couscous. Given the large North African population in France, it’s not surprising that this dish has a lot of fans. Traditionally prepared with merguez (spicy beef sausages), lamb, chicken, steamed veg, chick peas and mounds of soft semolina. Gorgeous.
  87. Un verre de blanc. You see people at the markets and food halls sipping white wine quite early in the morning. Why wait for l’apéro?
  88. La poule de Bresse. The chicken with a pedigree from Bresse, in eastern France. The ‘artistocrat of modern poultry’, it has blue legs, if not blue blood.
  89. Une tisane / infusion. A herbal tea traditionally consumed in the evening, on a cold day or anytime one feels the need for a healthy infusion. Chamomile for relaxation, verbena, mint and fennel for digestion, red vine for circulation – whatever ails you, there’s a tisane for it. Medicinal herbs also sold in pharmacies.
  90. Un gratin de courge. Let’s face it – anything mixed with cheese and broiled is good. For some reason, the French are big fans of squash done this way. The secret ingredient: nutmeg.
  91. Les moules frites. Another French bistro classic. I do love mussels, especially the garlicky broth – but they are rather a lot of work to eat.
  92. Les huitres. Okay, this another cheat as I don’t eat these either (how many have you counted so far?). But those who love oysters swear by them. With lemon, shallots and a glass of white wine.
  93. La tartare de boeuf. One of my husband’s favorite dishes. Only to be ordered in restaurants where you can be absolutely sure of the freshness of the meat. They put a raw egg on top, just in case you weren’t already worried about salmonella.
  94. La blanquette de veau. As its name suggests, a white dish with a fine sauce. Neither the veal nor the onions are browned. Served with rice.
  95. La raie au beurre noire. Skate fish in a black butter sauce with capers. I love the texture of this fish.
  96. Les cuisses de grenouille. My final cheat. Everyone who’s eaten them swears by frogs’ legs, and they are readily available in Lyon by the banks of the Saône river. One of these days…
  97. Les quenelles. Another specialty of Lyon, la quenelle is a sort of dumpling made of eggs and fish, poached in white sauce until it swells, then browned under the broiler.
  98. Un kir. My default aperitif when neither beer nor champagne are on offer. White wine blushed with any kind of crême liqueur – cassis, mûre, raspberry, peach. Don’t waste good wine on it. Unless you have it with champagne, in which case it is a kir royale.
  99. Une flute. A salty, sometimes cheesy snack stick to go with…
  100. Le champagne. There are no rules with champagne in France – you can drink it before, during or after. A fitting conclusion to a special meal – and this list. Santé!

I’ve probably missed a few…what are your favorite French treats?

La Fête des Morts

IMG_2582‘La Toussaint’ or All Saints’ Day, often referred to in France as ‘La fête des morts’, is a public holiday held on November 1st in commemoration of the dead.

Strange, the cultural differences around this day. ‘Fêter’ means to celebrate but there’s not much festivity in the air. The month of November tends to be gloomy in France and chrysanthemums add about the only color at the cemetery. November really is about honoring, or at least remembering, the dead (followed by Remembrance Day on Nov. 11).

In English-speaking countries, Hallowe’en is the main event: an irreverent but fun-loving ghoul-fest. It is a death-defying, joke-ridden time for everyone from teens to tots to dress up, gorge on candy and shout “Trick or treat, smell my feet, I want something good to eat.”

I’m disappointed that Hallowe’en has never really taken off in France. I like the idea of a special day to honor our dearly departed, but I wish it could happen in a joyful way. To put, as one of my most beloved television comedy characters* once said, the ‘fun’ into funeral.

Remembering those we have lost should be a happy time of shared memories and jokes, of laughter with tears. It doesn’t mean we’re not sad that they’re gone. It means that life is for the living, and deserving of celebration. That those very people we are honouring would probably have wished for us to remember them with a smile.

And at this time of year especially, I could use a jack-o-lantern jolt of brightness and fun. November is my least favorite month of the year. My hypochondriac anxieties tend to rear their ugly head and I become convinced of my impending demise. Perhaps it’s the looming winter that gets me down, as the days grow shorter and darkness falls early. Whatever it is, Hallowe’en has always worked to cheer me up and banish the evil spirits.

DSC00241When my kids were small, we decorated the house, carved a pumpkin or two, loaded up on candy and went trick-or-treating around the neighborhood. There were quite a few families with young children in our village near Lyon, and for awhile it felt like the event was catching on.

But it seems to have fizzled out lately, at least in our parts. The French look upon Hallowe’en as an American import, not really belonging to their culture. Fun for the wee ones, perhaps, but badly timed: it falls in the middle of the Toussaint school holidays when many people go away.

Whether you’re commemorating your dearly departed at the cemetery or warding off the evil spirits in full ghost and goblins regalia, may it be with joy. Wherever you are, and whoever you have lost, may this day bring you fond remembrance.

What about you? How do you celebrate Hallowe’en or All Saints’ Day? Party or bouquet of flowers?

Liz Smith as Nana*Nana, played by the excellent Liz Smith in The Royle Family