Faire mouche

Faire moucheThe heat of summer is upon us and with it, the hordes of unwanted guests. I’m not talking about visitors who’ve flown in from foreign parts, although we’ve had our share of them this year. Family is always welcome, at least for the first week.

No, I’m talking about the winged creatures of the Muscidae family, or common housefly, who set up camp chez nous each summer. Who soil my windows by day and shorten my nights with their blasphemous buzzing.

There are two schools: either you are someone who is not particularly bothered by such things, casually shooing when they get too familiar; or you turn into a veritable Kamikaze fighter when anything flies in your face.

I have two Frenchies (bulldogs, that is). One will look lazily at les mouches and simply twitch his ears. The other jumps to attention then tries to bite the intruder, repeatedly and unsuccessfully. It’s a personality thing.

My husband, when prompted to action, usually by me, is a fairly ineffectual swatter. Either he doesn’t have the killer instinct or his aim is off. Bref, his swat inevitably misses its target. Leaving us with a fly that’s on the alert and several marks on the walls or furniture.

I, on the other hand, will not be so easily foiled. I have perfected my fly-swatting technique to an art. If the little f—r is on a delicate surface that I don’t want dirtied, I perform a downward slash, then move in for the kill when he’s down. If he’s on the kitchen counter or another wipeable surface, I simply come down swift and hard. Always followed by an apology, of course: ‘Sorry, fly.’ In true Canadian style.

Despite these efforts, a seemingly endless troupe of understudies is waiting in the wings, as it were. As soon as one is down, another magically appears. The fly is actually quite an amazing little creature, as I discovered in this TED talk.

Every summer, I lament the fact that French houses don’t have screens. Yet, when we had a new house built two years ago, we didn’t put them in. Guess I’ve grown accustomed to the freedom of French windows, and the indoor-outdoor living that just wouldn’t work with screens. The fly swatter continues to be an essential part of my French summer survival kit.

‘Faire mouche’ means to attain a target, or achieve a goal. Mine is to make my home a no fly zone.

A votre tour: What’s your pet peeve about summer?

 

Cocorico!

Coq_French flagThat’s French for cock-a-doodle-doo.

And because July 14th is Bastille Day in France, I thought you’d enjoy this symbol of national pride.

We’re taking a day off and will join our compatriots for food, drink and fireworks tonight.

Ever wonder why the Gallic rooster is the emblem of the Gauls? Check out last year’s post on Le Coq Gaulois.

Happy Bastille Day!

Bon voyage!

The French travel rather well.The French tend to holiday in their home country, especially during ‘les grandes vacances’ of summer. After all, why go anywhere else when you have so much to enjoy at home? Between the invigorating coasts of Normandy and Brittany, the beauty of the Alps and the sunny beaches of the south, there is something for everyone.

But since the low-cost airlines opened up the skies of Europe, it’s just a hop, skip and jump to discover the world beyond our borders. Living in France, we enjoy taking off for the weekend to neighbouring capitals like London, Lisbon, Barcelona or Berlin. And when we do, lo and behold, we find them. Sitting at the next table or right beside us on the bus. The very people we thought we’d left behind.

Les Français. They’re easy enough to spot when they’re not at home: the quiet ones who tend to keep to themselves. Who mutter in French to each other, usually things like: ‘Rien compris’ (I didn’t understand). Who clutch a French guidebook, usually le Routard or Lonely Planet. And who always look a little hungry.

As a native speaker, I am instantly at home in any English-speaking country and can travel to most parts of the world with the confidence of knowing that someone will speak my language. This gives me an unfair advantage over my compatriots, one that I shamelessly exploit. When abroad, I enjoy going undercover and observing the French as they struggle to adapt to my world. It’s payback time.

I watch them studying the menu board outside a restaurant so intently, trying to determine whether the food will be remotely edible. Queuing politely to buy tickets and timidly trying out their English. Putting their best foot forward in every way.

They’re like fish out of water. But the fact is, the French are great travelers. They’re well-read, knowledgeable about their destination and prepared to walk its streets. They explore, adapt to local customs, try the special foods. They’re budget-savvy and know how to find the best deals without dropping needless cash on bells and whistles.

In fact, when they’re not at home the French are much more endearing than they are in France. (Unlike certain other nationalities who shall remain nameless on this blog – I’ve already offended enough sensibilities.) I guess that’s because when they’re not on home turf, they don’t have that certain je ne sais quoi – no, actually I do: arrogance. Yes, folks, the French can be humble. And it is a lovely thing to see.

Last week we were in Scotland visiting our wee lass and there were a great many French-speaking tourists in our midst. The combination of the Scottish brogue and the French r-r-r’s made for some challenging communications. But overall, I was quite impressed at how well everybody managed to understand each other.

Seems a little humility goes a long way.

So, where are you going this summer? Home or away?

L’apéro: Favorite summer sips

Pastis on the deckL’apéro, short for apéritif, is not a drink, it’s a happening. In fact, it’s something of a sport in France: around here they call it ‘apérobic’. It can be performed at least daily, anywhere and at any time, individually, in small or large groups.

I’m not much of a one for cocktails or fancy mixed drinks. Mostly I eschew the sweet in favor of the dry, the bitter and the acidic. Thankfully there are always several of those options at hand in France. And summer is the perfect time to enjoy a nice cool one by the beach, at the bar or here on my own deck.

Pastis – de Marseille, bien sûr – is not for everyone. But it is the summer drink par excellence of the south of France. If you’re up for its liquorish flavor, here’s how to enjoy it:

Pour a small amount (according to your taste – I like the equivalent of a couple of shots) over lots of ice. Watch it turn from clear yellow to milky white. Sweat a moment or two along with the glass. Then add water, very cold, to make a refreshing long drink. Enjoy with salted nuts of your choice. Santé!

I enjoy the one but cannot drink two. It’s just too rich. And the aniseed flavor is a novelty that (for me) wears thin all too quickly. Oddly enough, pastis has the reputation in France of being the hard-core drinker’s drink. The one that the men guzzle in all those hole-in-the-wall bars that we women hardly dare to enter.

Citron pressé

Citron pressé

If I should occasionally feel the need to whet my whistle while resting my liver, I might order a citron pressé. This is, quite literally, a fresh squeezed lemon juice (not to be confused with ‘limonade’, a soft drink). It will be served in a tall glass with lots of ice, several packets of sugar on the side and a long spoon for stirring. I don’t mind it straight but a bit of sugar helps the citrusy medicine go down even better.

I remember when I first discovered rosé wine in France. It was a revelation: a wine between red and white that offered a little of each. Then I went back to Canada and tried to find it there. Those were the days when Mateus was the only rosé anybody had ever heard of – sweet, sickly lighter fluid. People believed that rosé was blended from white and red (which does sometimes happen but is not allowed in France).

Rosé-Cotes_de_Provence_

Rosé, Côtes de Provence

Now, of course, all that has changed. Rosé has become the summer wine of choice and is available just about everywhere. There are hundreds of choices and this recent article gives a good overview. The latest trend is palest-of-pale rosé, a grey-orange-pink in color. Personally I still prefer the fuller bodied rosés, the Tavels and the Costières de Nîmes.

The French drink rosé all year long but especially in the summer, when it goes so well with just about everything enjoyed outdoors.

Let’s not forget my favorite summer brew. La bière. I would not be a Canadian if I didn’t enjoy beer in the summer. Also in the spring, fall and winter. French beers may not be the world’s best but most bars have them on tap.

Bière, of Corse!

Bière, of Corse!

To order a draft beer or ‘une pression’ in France, you ask for ‘un demi’ (half a pint). Draft beer on a summer day. Does it get any better than this?

How about you? What’s your favorite summer drink?

La zique: The changing face of French music

La musique or ‘zique’ as it’s called in slang is celebrated all over France each year on June 21stLa Fête de la Musique. This popular French music festival kicks off the summer on the longest day of the year and inspires me to share a few of my favorite French artists.

No matter how well you know France, I’ll bet you’ve never heard of its most famous rock star: Johnny Hallyday. Johnny, as he’s universally known to tous les français, came to fame in the early days of rock ‘n roll with French versions of songs like the above cover of ‘If Black is Black’. Although he officially hung up his guitar a few years ago, he’s still an icon here.

Unlike its wine, food and fashion, French music doesn’t tend to export well. Which isn’t to say it’s not hugely influential. Jacques Brel, Edith Piaf, Serge Gainsbourg…French* music greats have inspired talents near and far.

The tradition of la chanson française or chanson à parole is lyric-based music or sung poetry. Les paroles – the words – are the dominant feature. Which means you have to speak French to really appreciate it. And being of a nature to enjoy music that is more melodic, I was never much of a fan of the spoken-word style of song.

But understanding the words makes a difference. I’ve come to appreciate the quality of writing that goes into the lyrics of many French singer-songwriters. Like Stromae, a hugely original and talented Franco-Belgian singer who came to fame recently with the song ‘Alors on danse’. This new clip, ‘Papaoutai’ tells the story of a boy in search of his father.

Zaz is the name of a fresh French female singer who shook things up with this song, ‘Je veux’ (I want). Love the kazoo.

Franco-Moroccan singer Hindi Zahra relased an album called ‘Handmade’ a few years ago. Here she is singing the hit song, Beautiful Tango:

It’s a little bleak but I quite like this song, also in English, ICU, by singer-songwriter Lou Doillon. She’s the daughter of singer and activist Jane Birkin, who, by the way, is popular royalty in France for her marriage to the late Serge Gainsbourg and her other daughter, Charlotte Gainsbourg.

The fact is, more and more French artists are recording in English these days. I suppose it only makes sense from a commercial point of view but seems a shame for the chanson française.

I’m also a fan of starlet-harlot Vanessa Paradis. Since her split with Johnny Depp she’s looking and sounding better than ever. She’s rumoured to be in a relationship with French musician (also one of her band) Benjamin Biolay. Here she is with him performing a soothing chanson at this year’s Victoires de la Musique (French Grammys):

I love electronic music and there’s a lot of it in France. One of my favorite groups is Daft Punk. The French duo set the world on fire this year with Get Lucky but have been doing their thing together for several years now (never a word of French!)

I discovered Henri Salvador shortly before his death when he released what became a hit album. The king of the bossa nova still had it going on at 90. Here he is in a live performance of Jardin d’hiver with French-Canadian singer Linda Lemay.

And here’s one in memory of my dear mom. She adored Charles Aznavour, who’s not only the French crooner to have sold the most records worldwide but at 90 is still its doyen:

*Note that when I say French, I mean Francophone. A lot of French music stars are Belgian, including Stromae.

How about you? Who’s your favorite French artist?