French Friday: A Voice that Gave me a Chance

People leave their mark in many different ways. Sometimes it’s a voice calling you to offer you a chance.

Years ago, when my family had settled in the California foothills, I looked for local writers and soon met women who would become critique partners and friends too. One of them, old enough to be my mother, had been a journalist and was a very skilled writer. One day, upon reading one of my short stories, written for adults, she told me it was a great fit for Valley Writers Read, a program aired on Valley Public Radio, NPR in Central California. Valley Writers Read showcased readings by local authors, both professionals and amateurs. There was an impressive array of authors and I was certain they would decline my story. However, I followed my mentor’s advice and when she found my latest draft ready, I submitted my manuscript.

Months later, my phone rang. When I picked up the call I heard an unknown, deep warm voice.

“I am Franz Weinschenk,” the man said. “The host of Valley Writers Read. I’m calling you to let you know that your story has been selected for the program.”

“Oh, thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

“Thank you. Now, you’ll have to make arrangements with the studio to record your story.”

“Oh, no! I cannot do that. I mean…you know…my accent…would be distracting…no, really, I can’t read…”

“I could suggest someone who would read for you,” Mr. Weinschenk started. “But I think you’re making a mistake. It would make much more sense if you read your story yourself.”

He had a point since the main character was a French woman. So we made a deal: I would read  passages written from the French character’s point of view and someone else would read the narrative. This is what I wrote about my initial experience.

Over the following years, I drove down to Valley Public Radio three more times to record some of my stories. The second time, although I had already considered recording my own voice, Franz Weinschenk laughed and said he could not possibly find anyone to read my essay I Am an American. Thanks to the warm welcome at the recording studio, I came to look forward to the experience and didn’t even suggest a reader for my third story.


A longtime Valley educator, author, and radio host Franz Weinschenk has just passed away at the age of 92.

No longer in production, Valley Writers Read is still available through the radio’s archives. I could not find The Mug Quest, my first story, but I easily retrieved my two latest recordings.

Here is I Am an American, an essay about the meaning of becoming an American for a French-born woman.

Here is Welcome Home, a fiction story based in the California foothills.

Valley Writers Read gave me the chance to be in the company of well-known and award-winning authors such as Mark Arax, Davis Mas Masumoto, Bonnie Hearn Hill, or still my friend/mentor Flora Beach Burlingame. What an honor.

Meeting with the men and women at Valley Public Radio has been such a pleasant and enriching experience.

And Frantz Weinschenk’s unforgettable voice will always ring good luck to me.


If you have a little bit of time, whether you live in California or want to discover a different huge area of the Golden State, often so little known, I encourage you to listen to Max Arax reading from his book The King of California and his piece The Big Valley.  He’s the best journalist and writer when it comes to the valley. Also look for The Perfect Peach, David Mas Masumoto’s yummy family cookbook. Bonnie’s fast-pace writing guarantees page-turner stories and Flora’s novel, based on her great grandfather’s experience as he taught the freedmen in Texas is historically and humanly very enriching.

P.S. The photos that I chose to illustrate this post have been taken aboard Eagle 2, a sheriff helicopter, that my son and I were fortunate to ride once, in 2014. The chopper took us above sprawling Fresno and parts of the Madera county. This area of California produces most of the veggies, fruits, and nuts Americans find in their supermarkets. It is also the gateway to Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks.

French Friday: In French and English, Stories and Songs For Our Times



In this first part of the 21st century, immigration is politicians’ main focus, whether in the U.S. or across Europe. It is also on most citizens’ mind, regardless of their political opinions.

I’m not an expert on immigration reform, but it is clear that unlike the immigration of the 1990s, for example, global conflicts, armed or not, are now the #1 reason for people to flee their native land.

The social and economic roots of gang culture in Central America or the wars in Africa and the Middle East are far too complex to allow me the right to write anything about them.

Like you, I am only a witness of their consequences.

Our children are, too.

And since they witness other children in distress they ask questions and deserve, if not lengthy answers, at least some explanation.

Children can be sometimes self-centered, but they are also instinctively and immensely compassionate.

Over the last weeks, as I kept thinking of all the children, directly affected by immigration policies or disturbed by the current news reports, I wrote down a list of books that address the topics of exile and immigration and have been written just for kids. I only list them, linking to the authors and illustrators’ websites, whenever available.



The Journey Written and Illustrated by Francesca Sanna

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey (in English and Arabic) Written by Margriet Ruurs, Translated by Fallah Raheem and Ilustrated by Nizar Ali Badr

Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation Written by Edwidge Anticat and Illustrated by Leslie Staub

Refugee by Alan Gratz

This is a novel for older readers. A must read that I discovered after Librariahn reviewed it on her blog.

Refugees and Migrants (Children in Our World) Written by Ceri Roberts and Illustrated by Hanane Kai

Global Conflict (Children in Our World) by Louise Spilsbury

This book is a good start for children who want to understand why people leave their native land for a foreign country. And it’s great for their parents too.

Strictly No Elephants Written by Lisa Mantchev and Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo

This Picture Book is much lighter in tone and is the only book in this short selection that’s not addressing immigration per se. It is, however, a wonderful story that tackles differences. Differences often scare people and convince some to keep anyone looking, living, or speaking differently at bay. There is a happy ending to this charming and yet meaningful book designed for young children.


Yesterday night I decided to add a list of French songs to these books. I was really lucky to find an article that includes some of my favorite songs about immigrants, refugees, or simply foreigners.

The song Mercy, inspired by the birth of a baby girl aboard the humanitarian ship Aquarius in the Mediterranean Sea in 2017, represented France this year at the Eurovision, a singing competition. Mercy’s mother had fled her native Nigeria to escape violence and prison. The child’s father was already jailed in Lybia. The song didn’t win the competition but gave a face to the 21st century’s human migration stories.

Here is a version with English subtitles and the real baby Mercy.

A year after her birth, she and her mother are two of thousands in one the largest refugee camps, based in Sicilia.




P.S. About the flowers that illustrate this post.

Last week my husband picked a bouquet of lilies at Trader Joe’s because it was our anniversary. The cashier asked him about his plans for the day. Learning that we would celebrate our anniversary, he announced that the flowers were on Trader Joe’s. We still don’t know if it’s a store policy or if the cashier took the initiative.

The lilies have bloomed a day at a time, releasing an exquisite fragrance that filters through the house. I love flowers of all kinds, but this bouquet has been particularly gorgeous. Each flower has opened, slowly and perfectly. Well chosen bouquet to start with, for sure 🙂

But I also believe that it carries a random act of kindness. The smallest are often the ones that matter most, particularly during hardship and heartbreaking moments. On my side, I just try to return each one.

I wish you all a beautiful weekend and also a safe and meaningful Fourth of July!





French Friday: A Woman. A Jacket. Their Future.

Now that I’ve been away from France for so many years, strange things happen to me. Once in a while, here in the U.S., I doubt of myself when I read words written in my native language.

Like when I spotted joi de vivre. Is joie spelled without an E at the end?

Or when I saw Tina Fey wearing a T-shirt that read ‘La Femme Est Le Future.’ Is futur spelled with an E at the end?

For all things French I ask my husband rather than Google Translator, like my son always suggests me to do. Years abroad have neither affected my husband’s grammar nor spelling skills. His oral and written French are as impeccable as they were when we lived in Paris. He even kept his French accent 🙂

“Of course joie is spelled with an E and futur is spelled without,” he confirmed while checking his email. He also excels at multi tasking.

French spelling has never been an issue for me either. But when French words are misspelled in otherwise extraordinary books or on clothes worn by celebrities, it’s natural to hesitate.

Since the T-shirt ‘La Femme Est Le Future’ is quite popular now, in case you’d like to purchase one I’ll suggest staying away from French Connection. Despite its name, French Connection is a UK-based retailer of fashion clothing which didn’t ace the French class.

I found some T-shirts with the proper spelling here. In case you wonder, ‘La Femme Est Le Futur’ means ‘Women Are the Future.’ Interesting to note that in French the singular still implies all women, while the plural is necessary in English.

As I go on with this post I realize that I have the opportunity to elaborate just a bit about the French noun and adjective ‘futur.’

The adjective futur and the adverbial locution à venir are often synonyms. For example: le futur gouvernement or le gouvernement à venir. Both mean: the future government. Or still dans les années futures or dans les années à venir. Both mean: in the future years, in the years to come.

On the other hand, the nouns le futur and l’avenir, which both mean the future, are not synonyms.

Avenir designates a period of time that people who are alive now will know, while futur hints to a more distant future that belongs to future generations.

For the former meaning, using futur instead of avenir borrows from the English language.

In his book Le Fou d’Elsa, French poet Louis Aragon wrote: “L’avenir de l’homme est la femme” or

Women are men’s future.

That Aragon chose l’avenir instead of le futur shows his optimism regarding the upcoming important role of women in the world.

I want to be as positive as the poet, so I definitely prefer the T-shirt that proclaims ‘l’avenir est féminin’ (the future is female) to ‘la femme est le futur.’

However, I don’t really plan to buy any of these T-shirts.

Many moons ago I owned clothes printed with American words that either I didn’t understand or proved to make no sense.

UCLA, for example, didn’t ring a bell when I wore the university sweatshirt through my last year of high school, and I had no clue that the jacket I wore during my first winter in California advertised a fake New York sport team.



The UCLA sweatshirt ended its life somewhere in France, but the jacket is stored in a bin, here in the U.S., since it carries many of my early immigration memories.

I’ve always believed the man who told me cheerfully that this Brooklyn-based team my jacket promoted didn’t exist. I’m from Brooklyn, he told me. By the way I also always believed he spoke of a baseball team, until I noticed the sticks and puck when I took the picture for this blog post:)

It’s not like my future depends on it, but my avenir is not as long as it was when I wore this jacket, twenty-seven years ago.

So hockey fans, it’s your turn…



















A few weeks ago I had coffee with three friends. One of them came with her 100% adorable and smart four-year-old son. Knowing I was from France he announced that he was his grandma’s chouchou. I asked him how his brother felt not being his grandma’s favorite.

“I’m not her favorite!” he exclaimed. “She loves my brother too!”

I was relieved that it was the case. “Then,” I said. “You are your grandma’s chou.”

“Okay,” he said.

Now that I had made him half of a chou, I had to elaborate. In this context, chou is sweetie in English.

Being the chouchou, however, is not really a compliment. At school, the chouchou is the teacher’s pet. At home, it’s the darling, the child who’s preferred to any other.

“Anyway,” I told the little boy. “You are an adorable bout de chou.”

“A bout de chou,” he repeated in perfect French. “What is it, already?”

“A bout de chou is a child.”

“So I am a chou and a bout de chou?”


A few days later, I saw one of my three friends. She ran over me, announcing that she had recently explained to a French teacher the difference between a chou and a chouchou.

“But,” she said. “The teacher insisted that a chou is a cabbage. Is that true?” asked my friend, clearly surprised that I would have let the boy’s grandma call him a cabbage.

“Well,” I started, “not only. It’s complicated.”

“French is really a weird language,” she concluded.

“You can say that,” I admitted.

If only she knew the many ways a word as simple as chou is used in French! I thought. Ça me prend le chou! It drives me crazy.


So the word du jour is CHOU!


Yes, a chou is a cabbage but also a puff pastry. La pâte à chou (x) is the pastry dough used to make profiteroles. Chou can also mean “head.”

Just a few of the many expressions used with the word CHOU :

Être bête comme chou: To be dumm as a cabbage. Describes someone who’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

C’est bête comme chou: It’s dumm as a cabbage. Describes an easy, simple task.

Avoir des oreilles en feuille de chou: To have ears shaped as a cabbage’s leaves. To have big ears.

Chouchou: the darling, the teacher’s pet.

Être dans les choux: To be in the cabbages. To be in a bad situation.

Être un chou: To be a puff pastry. To be adorable, kind.

Faire chou blanc: To do white cabbage. To fail, to miss, to not be successful, also used when looking for a specific thing and not finding it.

Rentrer dans le chou: To enter the cabbage. Describes a frontal attack, both literally and figuratively.

Un bout de chou: A piece of cabbage. A small kid.

Une feuille de chou: A cabbage’s leaf. A poor-quality newspaper.

If you want to hear the differents expressions in French:


But the selection of books below is not a feuille de chou. I wrote it to honor every dad, daddy, pop, papa, baba…

Since each one is different these books are different too. So if you are still looking for a small gift to celebrate a father or even a grandfather in your life, I hope you’ll find a book that will fit the day.

Hammers and Nails written by Josh Bledsoe and illustrated by Jessica Warrick

When a little girl and her father must unexpectedly spend the day together things get complicated. But, when they decide to step outside their comfort zones, well, things get simpler and really cool.

Now a classic with a twist and a modern story:

I Love Dad With the Very Hungry Caterpillar written and illustrated by the one and only Eric Carle

Dad By My Side written and illustrated by Soosh who posted series of images of a larger-than-life father and his adorable daughter on Instagram. Over 2 million views made her an instant sensation.

Made for Me written by Zack Bush and illustrated by Gregorio de Lauretis

The refrain, “You are the one made just for me” reinforces the unique ties between a father and his child, from the second he was born to future moments.

Many grandfathers take care of their grandkids, whether during weekends or vacations or on a daily basis, so they should be celebrated too. Three of my favorites Picture Books:

Being Frank written by Donna W. Earnhardt and illustrated by Andrea Castellani

When Frank is too frank with his friends, his grandfather helps him learn that the truth is best when served with diplomacy. Laugh-out-loud humor depicts a grandpa as a role model for tact.

How to Babysit a Grandpa written by Jean Reagan and illustrated by Lee Wildish

From the popular Series How To…

This is a step-by-step book on how to babysit grandpa. From what to eat to what to do on a walk or still how to entertain gandpa, this is funny and heartwarming.

Grandfather’s Wrinkles by Kathryn England and Richard McFarland

There are stories behind wrinkles. Grandpa certainly knows how to tell them. This is sweet and funny and a really lovely book to share between a grandfather and his grandkid.

The Night Before Father’s Day written by Natasha Wing and illustrated by Amy Wummer

Part of the Series The Night Before…

It’s the night before Father’s Day, and Mom and the kids plan a surprise for Dad. When he goes for a bike ride, everyone gets to work. Dad wakes up the next day to find his garage well organized and his car squeeky-clean. Dad celebrates by taking everyone for a ride.

Pizza Day written and illustrated by Melissa Iwai

A young boy and his dad assemble the ingredients to make their own pizza. There is even the recipe!

I love this one because my husband and my son love to cook together. It’s quite funny since my son started first to bake with me when my husband was too busy with his career to ever cook. Then, with more time my husband became quite a chef. Now, when our son is home the two of them enjoy preparing dinner. Totally fine with me 🙂

Too Much Glue written by Jason Lefebvre and illustrated by Zac Retz

Matty loves glue. Dad loves glue almost as much as Matty. At home, they make tons of things with glue. But in school, Matty goes overboard, creating a mess, but with unconditional love, Dad declares Matty project a masterpiece.

That Cat Can’t Stay written by Thad Krasnesky and illustrated by David Parkins

When Mom brings home a stray cat one day, Dad decides against. Dad doesn’t want a cat, and certainly not two or three or four. When stray cat number five arrives, Dad, however, takes a surprising stand.

Holly Bloom’s Garden written by Sarah Ashman and Nancy Parent and illustrated by Lori Mitchell

It’s not easy to be a gardener when everyone in your family has a green thumb. But Holly’s artistic dad is smart and keeps telling up that she just needs to find the right tools. And sure enough Holly finds her own way to create flowers in her father’s studio.


These books are really trop chou! These books are really too cute!















French Friday: Everything You Wanted to Know About French Kisses. Yes, Even That One.

A few days ago I finished a novel by Margaret Peterson Haddix, who was one of my children’s favorite authors. They loved her Series The Shadow Children. Her most recent book is a standalone novel for teens. The Summer of Broken Things is set in Madrid, and although there is much more to the story than the foreign Spanish setting, Madrid plays a big role. I smiled when I read what surprises the two American girls as they wander through their summer neighborhood. They notice that an American third-floor is not a European third-floor, that most American favorite food is not easy to find. And they notice couples kissing in the street.

Like I noticed that American couples didn’t kiss in the street. Or when they did, it was not how French couples kissed in the streets.

I returned my book to the library and went to yoga. As I entered the studio I bumped into a friend, leaving one of those heated classes that reminds me of a sauna.

“I don’t hug you,” my friend said. “I’m so-o-o sweaty. By the way, how do you say, “hug” in French?”

“Uh,” I started. “There is not really a word.”

“Really? How come?”

I tried to come up with something. But I was quickly rattling on. So I shrugged apologetically.

Then, there was Joey‘s comment on my last post. “Yes, we’re huggers,” she wrote about Americans. “We are. Kisses are for dear friends. Handshakes are for strangers. Everyone else is a hug.”

Okay, I thought as I unrolled my mat. I guess I’m not done with the topic of hugs and kisses.

So today I’ll try to give you the basics about these infamous French kisses. In case you’re planning a trip, it can be helpful. As you know the most simple, ordinary gestures symbolize a culture and sometimes result in involuntary mistakes from the newcomer. Believe me, I know. Mistakes, anyway, remain the best way to learn and embrace our differences. Worst case scenario you’ll make people smile. Been there, done that 🙂




How do French people greet each other?

They shake hands or kiss on both cheeks.

When do you shake?

It’s quite obvious that you never kiss in professional and business related situations. French handshakes are then the norm. They must be firm and eyes are supposed to meet too, whether you’re a man or a woman.

When do you kiss?

Girls and women always kiss when they meet their friends or friends of friends, whether these friends are girls or boys, women or men. Back in France, I kissed people I had never met, only because friends introduced them to me. However, older men and women will more often be greeted with a handshake. You still follow me? 🙂

Faire la bise describes this action, literally to do the kiss.

On se fait la bise means we’re going to kiss each other (on the cheeks).

This is NOT a kiss between lovers. La bise is a quick, light kiss where lips don’t linger on the cheek. In fact, lips don’t have to touch the cheek, even though the cheeks meet. What MUST be there, though, is the sound that resembles this: The song Big Bisous which is from the mid 70s is interesting for the sound of the kisses too.

This is why la bise is also called un smack.

Careful: a French smack is NOT an American smack.

No French is going to slap you in the face if he/she says: Allez, on se fait la bise (Come on, let’s kiss).

A very common equivalent to la bise is le bisou. Le bisou is one of the first words taught to babies in fact. And all little French kids know how to blow a kiss at a very young age. My French-born daughter delighted Californian passersby with her bisous. Un bisou can be petit or gros, small or big.

A phone call between friends or relatives will often end with, “Bisous.”

How many kisses?

There is no rule, since the number varies per region. Most often it’s one kiss on each cheek, sometimes two, and sometimes more. In my natal Normandy people tend to favor two alternative kisses on each cheek. Since there is also no rule about which cheek to kiss first, there are occasional odd situations where people hesitate (right or left cheek?) and accidently brush their lips too close to the mouth. So-o-o embarrassing.

Above, I mentioned that older people are greeted with a handshake. However, when family members introduce their own friends, even when they are older, it’s expected to kiss them.

I will always remember my born-American children’s reluctance to meet their grandparents’ friends but also neighbors and merely acquaintances when they grew up. They knew they would be kissed, something that they quickly found strange and uncomfortable.

For full disclosure, I feel the same way now. Some French cultural aspects are not as natural as they were when I lived there. Emigrating create some inevitable distance. It’s not bad, just different.

And yes, the first American hug I ever received left me as embarrassed as my kids with their first French kisses. It felt so odd to feel another body pressed against my chest and belly.

Do men kiss in France?

When they know each other well and see each other regularly, or are young, men will kiss, even though they often shake hands. Sometimes they kiss while shaking hands.

Do the French hug?

Kind of. Not really. No.

In my early months and even years in the U.S., I was often surprised, a little embarrassed, but also moved when a total stranger hugged someone in obvious pain or despair. Like it was the most normal thing to offer another human who needed comfort. Although I’m unable to be so spontaneous, I think it’s kind and very American.

No big bear hug in France, even during hard times. People will vaguely squeeze your shoulder, but never hold you against their body. Sometimes, men who are good friends, regardless of age, will pat each other’s shoulder in a quick move that has nothing in common with an American hug, since there is no other body part in contact besides the hand on the shoulder. Parents and lovers are the only people who provide something close to a hug to their kids or significant other. But le câlin is the American cuddle, not really a hug.

There are always exceptions in France, as this video clip illustrates. The French songwriter and singer Renaud sings J’ai embrassé un flic (I Kissed a Cop). The clip shows the singer with a sign that reads Câlins Gratuits or free hugs. Notice the “hugs.” Some are really close to an American hug. Again, this is a song. Most French people don’t hug as spontaneously and with the same strength as American people.

The absence of hug in France seems odd when one considers how French people kiss so much in public. Including the infamous French kiss.

You were probably still reading to finally know how the French call the French kiss.

Le baiser français? Non.

Only Americans say French fries, French doors, French manucure, or still French drain. Nobody say French kiss in France either. We kiss, that’s all.

In order to avoid major embarrassement:

Un baiser is a kiss in French.

But baiser does NOT mean to kiss. Baiser is slang to say making love. The F word is the exact American translation. So careful here 🙂

This song from one of my favorite French contemporary songwriters and singers is about this kind of baiser. It is actually a beautiful song, with gorgeous lyrics.

Embrasser is the only verb that means to kiss.

An American embrace is une étreinte, which is rarely used alone. The kind of étreinte will be described for clarification purposes. For example: une étreinte amoureuse, between lovers.

To embrace is étreindre. For lovers the best verb is enlacer.

Embrasser can, however, also be used for ideas or causes that are embraced.


If you aren’t a hugger, France is a great place for you.

As long as you don’t mind learning a few rules about these French kisses, kissing lots of people, and being kissed in return.

When current and former French presidents demonstrate the art of the French greeting kiss.

Embed from Getty Images


Embed from Getty Images


French Friday: I’m American. I Hug.

As soon as I started the Cours Préparatoire or CP, which is the equivalent of the American Kindergarten, I fell in love with history. I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the stories our teacher read out loud and the ones I started to decipher on my own, likely because I understood that history tells of a people’s stories. Likely also, because I lived in a village with one single elementary school divided between the lower and upper grades. While the first year in the lower grade completed easy additions or copied the alphabet, our teacher taught history to the first and second graders. And I listened.

Now that I think about the woman who taught me my first three years of elementary school I’m sure she was more rebellious than she looked. With her severe chignon, in her classic knee-length skirt, silky blouse worn underneath a lab coat, and her strict orders she definitely reigned above us. And yet I knew that she disliked anything royal. I could feel it. She was a public school teacher after all and worked in a country where the Revolution triggers strong opinions, still in 2018.


“It’s a protest? No, your majesty, it’s a revolution.” The infamous quote is the answer that the duke de la Rochefoucauld-Liancourt gave to Louis XVI, on July 14, 1789. Used now by the French railroad workers’ union to announce their strike with French President Emmanuel Macron as the king.

At home, my mother and my father put the principle of equality above liberty and fraternity. They were old enough to know that true liberty and fraternity could not be be achieved without equality.

As a kid I disliked the color bleu roi or royal blue, because of its name. Queens and princesses did not enchant me. I never dressed up as one, never pretended to be one, and certainly never wanted to be one. Real or not, I kept my distance from princesses.

One thing I loved about the U.S. when I moved there was the certitude that the country didn’t want to have anything to do with royalty either. I still applaud Americans for kicking those British tea trunks in the Boston Harbor, paving the way to the Revolution.

Last weekend, though, it was hard and almost impossible to entirely avoid royalty.

I managed to skip Harry and Meghan’s wedding on TV and everywhere else. I wish them the best, of course, as I would wish the best to any couple embarking the marriage boat. Which is equally hard to steer, for royalty and the rest of us.

That said there is ONE thing in common between Meghan and me.

When she started to visit Kensington Palace she greeted the palace guards with hugs, threatening centuries of protocol and shaking the entire kingdom (queendom since a while, in fact).

When scolded, Meghan replied, “I’m American. I hug.”

When I started to explore the countless playgrounds in my new American neighborhood I greeted mothers with solid handshakes.

No one scolded me, thanks to the infamous American acceptance. Yet, based on the quick surprised look I caught in their eyes, I should have felt compelled to explain, “I’m French. I shake hands. Or I kiss on both cheeks.”

I’m always glad that I didn’t go for the kiss. A bisou or a smack, like the French nowadays call the very light kiss (es) that only natives truly master, would have triggered some real shock, particularly in the early 1990s.

Phew. I’m so relieved for Meghan. At least she isn’t French.

Secretly, although I don’t care about what’s going on one way or another at the palace across the Chanel, I hope Meghan will stick to her good old American hugs and defend them.

When instinctively I lean toward French people to embrace them and meet their resistance I also say, “I’m American. I hug.”




French Friday: Not du Pipi de Chat

In a country that is becoming more and more dog friendly, I belong to a smaller segment of the population: the people who favor cats.

Dutch cats that my daughter met in Amsterdam last week

A lot goes back to childhood, so it’s not really my fault if I’m still quite afraid of dogs. For five consecutive years, a dog barked at all the kids on their way to the elementary school. I never saw more than his bared teeth behind the wrought iron fence. That was plenty enough. In addition, one of my uncles was a hunter and kept several dogs that jumped on people to welcome them. I’m likely my uncle’s only niece who stayed in the car until his dogs were locked in their pen. They never hurt me or anyone else, but they scared me so much. As I grew up I learned that most dogs are friendly, but I remained cautious around them, even though many years later, I insisted to keep the female Lab that showed up one day at our door. Unlike me, my kids instinctively loved her.

Today I still prefer cats. I like their independent attitude, their nimbleness, their soul-digging stare, and their soft coat too.

Over my early morning or late afternoon walks I often cross the path of neighboring cats.

The two cats featured below are my daughter’s. She invited me to share Tuck and Aly with you.

This is Tuck, one of two rescued sisters from a large litter found in rural Pennsylvania

And this is Aly. Both she and Tuck were so tiny that my daughter fed them with a bottle for a while. They’re no longer kittens, even though we still call them babies.

Really, people, who, but cats, would have the imagination to consider a radiator a chaise lounge?

The current pro dog trend is visible through literature. Some amazing books have been written with dogs as protagonists. I’ve read and adored The Art of Racing in the Rain and A Dog’s Purpose.

Whether for adults or kids there is indeed more often a dog in the story than a cat, and when there is a cat, it’s often a mean one 😦

Surprinsingly, I’ve done it myself in my middle grade novel that features a beloved dog and a snob cat. In my upcoming YA novel, an old Lab plays a role too. Finally, I spontaneously included two cats in the novel I’m working on now.

However, there are cat heroes in many picture books.

Aly, exhausted after working at the computer. My own cat used to type on my keyboard and would check the screen aftwerwards.

Everybody knows Dr. Seuss’s iconic Cat With the Hat, but maybe less contemporary Pete the Cat.

Splat is the feline hero in the cattish Series Splat the Cat.

One the most popular children’s books’ character of the early 2000s is Skippyjon Jones. The Siamese cat believes he’s a Chihuahua because he doesn’t look like his mother and sisters. New titles have been added over the years.

The graphic novel Series Catstronauts features an elite group of cat astronauts that elementary kids will adore.

My all-time favorite remains Rotten Ralph, the very nasty cat who gets in big trouble and seems to regret his errors until…next time.

I easily found two copies on the shelf where I keep my children’s favorite books.

Dogs may be the #1 choice for a pet, cats still matter to their loving owners.

For the last few days, I’ve seen a Missing Cat flyer posted in my neighborhood. It makes me sad, since I know that missing cats are rarely found. Although naturally cautious in their familiar habitat, they are easy preys in the wild.

My daughter’s cats would be devastated if anything separated them and she would too, of course.

Cats played a crucial role in ancient civilizations, and not only in Egypt. They must have marked the French collective too, considering the number of popular expressions that involve a cat.

I already introduced a couple of them in the past, through my yearly series of French expressions. I’m also using a few in my upcoming novel where a French chef likes to translate French expressions literally. A few more that demonstrate that cats matter as much as dogs 🙂

Spoiled but oh, so adorable

Avoir un chat dans la gorge: To have a cat in the throat.

How would I have known that the Americans have a frog and not a cat in the throat when they have a cold?

Donner sa langue au chat: To give one’s tongue to the cat.

Expression used in situations when you cannot guess the answer or solution. You give up and say, “Je donne ma langue au chat.”

Quand le chat n’est pas là, les souris dansent: When the cat is away, the mice dance. Without supervision people act up.

Appeler un chat un chat: To call a cat a cat means saying things the way they are. The English equivalent is to call a spade a spade.

Il n’y a pas un chat: There is not a single cat is used when no one, or less people than expected, show up at a meeting or a party, for example.

C’est du pipi de chat: It’s cat pee means it’s not important.


Cats love windows, watching through the window, or simply resting on the windowsill, like Aly.


Finding missing cats, however, is not du pipi de chat and au contraire very important to the people who love them.

So these French sayings are for the missing “black and white fat cat” to wish him a safe way home.



French Friday: En Mai, Fais Ce Qu’il Te Plait


In April, don’t take off a single thread (of your clothes); in May, do as you please

In plain English: the weather being finicky in April, it’s unwise to wear light clothes since you could get a cold, but in May you can wear what you want.

No panic, the  A to Z Challenge is NOT starting again 🙂

But I could not resist to use one of the French expressions used to depict the month of May. The other one compares May to a piece of Gruyere, due to the copious amount of holidays (Labor Day, End of WWII, Ascension Day, and Pentecost).

This month of May is quite special since it marks the fiftieth anniversary of May 1968.

Sadly May 1, 2018 was marked by violence in Paris. About 1200 Black Blocs, coming from anarchist and libertarian movements, infiltrated the peaceful march, destroyed shop windows, restaurants, bus shelters, and burned cars.

Embed from Getty Images


Embed from Getty Images


Even though violence also happened in May 1968, the ultimate goal of the French back then was Change. Political, economical, and social reasons ultimately converged and France was indeed forever changed.

I would change too!

If you don’t read French I recommend this article published in the New York Times since it recapitulates an intense French period of time. The photos are also excellent. In fact, they reminded me that France was a country mostly run by men back then.

My very own mini Mai 68 rushed to my mind when I read:

“It is hard to find any Frenchman or woman born before 1960 who does not have a vivid and personal recollection of that month.”

I was seven that spring and my sister six. School was closed. For kids, it meant an extra month of vacation. What’s wrong with that? The weather was gorgeous, even warm for the season, and our maman let us play outside even more than usual. Playdates, at least in my village, were inexistent. Impromptu ruled. I could either be totally alone on the backroads where I was allowed to bike or bump into classmates. That spring, I suppose that parents were tired to see their kids home all the time since they were homebound too, now that the country had almost stopped. With kids outside, so were bikes and plenty of energy.

Even though women are clearly absent from most photos and reportages from that time, girls my age had no doubt they were as good as boys. We only had to demonstrate it, again and again. Although I was limber my sister was more daring than I was. Racing ran through her DNA. So over this long, unexpected estival month, while in Paris students and factory workers united, built barricades, and threw cobblestones to oppose the police and SWAT teams, elementary school kids in rural France had a blast.

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All was good on our front, until my sister braked with her left brake and was ejected from her bike. She landed on a rock and blood immediately gushed. Her eyelids turned red and I thought she had lost her eyesight. She had not lost her good common sense, though, since she urged me to check on her bike and to take it home with us. Our parents weren’t as strict as others, but we didn’t swim in money. My sister knew as well as I did that she wouldn’t get a new bike if she had wrecked this one.

The boys who had been racing against us only minutes ago had vanished. Thanks for not helping us. So I pulled my bike and my sister’s while talking to her the whole time as we made our way home. I had read that it was crucial to keep an injured person alert until receiving treatment. I was 100% that my sister needed treatement. Maman was hanging the laundry in our backyard when we showed up. She dropped the sheet she was holding and our goat trotted over, excited at the perspective to eat something fresh. She was a sucker for laundry. Like me, Maman believed that my sister had hurt her eyes. But when she washed her face we both gaped at the sight of the deep gash on my sister’s forehead. My diagnosis had been pretty accurate.

In May 1968, I had never seen my father home that much. Papa must have felt weird too since he still drove with his Solex to the “office” where he met his colleagues at the truck company that employed them.

Courtesy Solex

My father allowed me to drive his Solex when I turned fifteen. He was right about the instability, but had not said anything about the feeling of freedom I would feel riding it.

Now that I’m an adult and know more about strikes I imagine my father and colleagues worrying about money, wondering when they would sit behind the wheel again, and bring a paycheck home. But I also detected hope for change when I overheared conversations.

In any case, Papa wasn’t home that afternoon and had exceptionally taken the Dauphine.

Courtesy Wikipedia

Our Dauphine was blue too, but much lighter

Our nextdoor neighbor informed Maman that he hadn’t been able to refill his car at the gas station. Deliveries of all kinds were sporadic in May 1968.

Maman decided to hitchhike to town, only four kilometers away. Ironically a taxi driver stopped and drove the frantic trio to the doctor. Family legend says that he refused to be paid. I think it’s true.

Our family doctor was not on strike and quickly closed my sister’s wound with staples. He was a charismatic man, very well dressed, a father of seven, and a smoker of blonde tobacco that floated through his wood-floored and high-ceiling office. To this day, even if I don’t smoke and know that smoking is a bad health choice, the distinct smell still conveys an image of elegance, confidence, and comfort.

Our doctor owned several cats that wandered in and out and he strongly encouraged the outdoors and even rough games for kids. That day, he only reminded my sister to use her right brake when she biked. Later, Papa would echo the advice.

If my parents worried during this strange month of May they never shared it with their kids. We didn’t have TV at that time, but I read well and tried to understand what was going on, based on the newspapers’ headlines.

Maybe this is when I understood that Paris was the place to be. Clearly May 68 was different there. More than words, photos leave their mark on young minds.

These photos were intense. Even though I would have liked to see with my own eyes I also wondered if this could be the End of the World that the priest described at Catechism.

Embed from Getty Images

In May 68, students and young people who had not known WWII were hungry for a different France. In May 68, the working class was fed up with inequality. In a unique moment in French history, the needs of these two radically different groups of people met.

Years later, when I moved to Paris and studied at the Sorbonne, I thought of them, gathered in the heart of the Latin Quarter, and once in a while envied them.

Soon I grew more grateful than envious. Things would never be the same in France from now on. I had no idea that one day I would write in English a novel set in France in the direct aftermaths of May 68.

At that time, a raw, palpable feeling of change infused the air. Even a seven-year-old could breathe it. The reader I was noticed an expression that took its true meaning only much later.

Sous les pavés… la plage.

Under the cobblestones… the beach.


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Courtesy Le Nouvel Observateur














Reflections Post 2018 A to Z Challenge


The 2018 A to Z is over!

Whoever writes every day knows that it’s not an easy task. Posting for 26 days, following the alphabetical order, can be quite a challenge. What do you say about the last letters of the alphabet, people?

It’s now time to wrap up the 2018 A to Z Challenge and to highlight a few of the bloggers who not only finished the challenge but went far beyond most others, either through unique themes, outstanding research, or gorgeous photos. Often, all of the above.

Here they are.

In alphabetical order, of course:


This year Claire featured Literary Maps in Children’s Books. She shared classics as well as outstanding atlases and books that help children gain a spatial understanding of the world. As a traveler who has trusted maps more than her phone far longer than the majority I loved Claire’s theme. Her research is impeccable and her selection of books pretty awesome. Don’t miss this unique journey through the land of maps.

Through poetry and fiction, Mona’s blog Life Between the Sheets (of Paper) reflects her Mexican heritage. For this 2018 A to Z Challenge she blogged about all things Latino, specifically culture, language, music, food, in her Mexican American heritage. She specifies that her writing reflects her family, not the entire Mexican American or Chicano or Latino experience. Don’t miss Mona’s A to Z Series filled with stories, gorgeous photos and food. Oh the food…


I was meant to find Stepheny’s challenge. For a month she wrote about bookshops located in the States and occasionally abroad. The research behind her theme is quite phenomenal. Her photos made me want to browse through each and every shop she described. In fact, Stepheny’s challenge triggered a new challenge idea for me 🙂

Though I will likely return, at least for another year, to the French expressions I love so much and sometimes think I’ve forgotten. In fact, as soon as I start writing them down, more pop up, just waiting in the deep layers of my memory.

Susanna lives on Martha Vineyard where she works as an editor and also writes fiction. This is the reason why she keeps two blogs. For the 2018 challenge she combined the theme of her blog From the Seasonally Occupied Territories (Life on Martha’s Vineyard) with the theme of Write Through It (writing and editing): How living on Martha’s Vineyard has affected her writing. And that was a pretty cool challenge to follow.

In addition, Susanna blogs sporadically about the license plates spotted on the island. It’s a year round project with the goal to complete the map of the United States. Along my road trips through the USA I play the game too 🙂


As a final note:

When I wrote about the French singer and composer Jacques Higelin’s death, Sabra commented that she enjoyed listening to the song Pars but wondered what Higelin sang about. Unfortunately I’m only Evelyne and not Higelin, so the translation is what it is: a translation.


PARS by Jacques Higelin

Pars, surtout ne te retourne pas

Leave, but please don’t turn around

Pars, fais ce que tu dois faire sans moi

Leave, do what you must do without me

Quoi qu’il arrive je serai toujours avec toi

Whatever happens I will always be with you

Alors pars et surtout ne te retourne pas

So leave, but please don’t look back

Oh pars,

Oh, leave,

mais l’enfant…

but the child…

L’enfant? Mais il est là

The child? But he’s here

Il est avec moi

He’s with me

C’est drôle quand il joue

It’s strange, when he plays

Il est comme toi, impatient

He’s like you, impatient

Il a du cœur, il aime la vie

He has a good heart, he loves life

Et la mort ne lui fait pas peur

And death doesn’t scare him

Alors pars

So, leave

Surtout ne te retourne pas

But please don’t look back

Oh pars

Oh, go on, leave

Mais qu’est ce que t’as?

But what’s wrong?

Oh pars, et surtout reviens-moi vite

Oh leave, but please come back to me soon


From A to Z, Twenty-Six Funny, Weird, Vivid French Expressions




Embed from Getty Images


Literally: the ball at zero

Best equivalent: shaved head


In popular French la boule designates the head. Maybe soccer fans remember the French soccer star Zidane’s infamous “coup de boule” that earned him a red card.

Back to the expression du jour: A shaved  head with no hair left can be described as having la boule à zéro.


While doing this 2018 challenge I gathered so many expressions that I can already promise to be back next year for another round of 26 funny, weird, vivid French expressions.


Meanwhile I want to thank each and every one of you SO, SO MUCH for sticking with me as I plowed my way from A to Z through the alphabet!

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