French Friday: So Many Trains. So Many Places. Season 1.

Among the possible topics for this French Friday Series I had considered writing about trains since they have been important at different stages in my life. I had drafted a post, but it was way too long and I wasn’t sure how to handle the issue. Then I read Dan Anton’s post on Wednesday night. And his short anedocte related to his experience on AMTRAK put me right on track.

 

Office du Tourisme Paris

 

In 2006 my daughter spent a month with her French grandparents in Champagne. She was young, so I flew with her. I wasn’t overexcited to rent a car and decided instead to take a train from Paris to Champagne.

As anywhere in the world, summer is the season for road construction. For train stations, too, as I could attest when our taxi dropped us Gare de l’Est from Roissy Airport.

Courtesy Office du Tourisme Paris

 

The train station was under remodeling and portables replaced the regular ticket booths. We had online reservations and had to get physical tickets before boarding.

“You can’t use this terminal to get your tickets,” an employee informed me as I tried desperately to print our set of tickets. “You don’t have the right credit card.”

“I used it to purchase them,” I said.

“This isn’t a French credit card,” he insisted. “It won’t work.”

A younger friendlier employee pointed at a woman. “She’ll print your tickets.” There was a line, but he reassured me, “It won’t be long.”

Only two windows were opened for about twenty customers, but we had more than two hours in front of us, so there was no need to panic.

“Try to stay awake,” I reminded my daughter who had followed a non-stop movie diet on the plane. “You’ll sleep on the train.”

“Will it be a nice train?” she asked with a yawn.

“Very nice. And it will be on time. French trains are never late. Except of course when the SNCF is on strike.” I punctuated my statement with a cheerful laugh.

“SNCF?”

“Like AMTRAK. Only better.”

Finally we got our tickets for the 11:15 a.m. train to Epernay.

“See?” I told my daughter, pointing at the departure board. “Our train is on time. We’ll know the track number soon. Meanwhile, let’s have breakfast.”

I adopted a fast Parisian pace and walked decisively toward a familar café. But like the train station the café was under reconstruction, too. Adieu, café crème, croissants, and cozy leather seats. We ended up eating on a small makeshift indoor terrace facing the railroad tracks. Food was served from a booth, which bore no resemblance to a café either. Yet the croissants, pains au chocolat, and coffee smelled and tasted so good! My disappointment at the sight of the closed café vanished, and I relaxed.

No, there was no Starbucks Coffee back then Courtesy SNCF

Our train was still announced to be on time but the track number wasn’t yet displayed. I didn’t want to worry my daughter but decided to find out more. Dozens of travelers massed around the SNCF booth. Not so long ago, I knew my way among my fellow compatriots. Today I couldn’t elbow the men and women crowding around me, yet many pressed into my back. I gave up, lost in this sea of people. The temperature climbed, both outside and inside the train station. I remembered that “air conditioning” isn’t a French word. Knowing that my in-laws waited for us, I called them.

“We won’t arrive as early as I thought,” I announced.

“A strike?” my mother in-law asked.

“I don’t think so, since other trains are running on time.”

“Then, an accident.” And she started listing the latest deadly train collisions.

“No idea. But we won’t make it for lunch. Don’t wait for us.”

“Thank you for calling,” she said. “Good luck.”

Our suitcases made excellent seats, so my daughter and I sat, facing the large board, hypnotized by the numbers and letters that switched constantly. Nobody around us talked to each other. Many people read. Many more spoke on their phones. Strangely, nobody looked upset. It’s funny, I noted, how the French, who have a hard time waiting in line, don’t complain when a public service doesn’t function. My daughter mentioned that in the States everyone would already be talking to everyone.

Three hours later, our train pulled into the station. People, rightly edgy and impatient, stamped on each other’s feet without any apology or smile.

“We’ve got reservations,” I told my daughter. “No need to rush.”

We boarded last. Tags with our names above two seats confirmed our reservation, yet two women sat there. All other seats were occupied.

“Excusez moi,” I said in my most polite voice. “I believe these are our seats.” I wasn’t sure the women heard me as they proceeded with the opening of a picnic basket. I cleared my voice. “I think there is a mistake.”
They glanced at me holding their baguette sandwiches. “I don’t think so,” one of them said. They didn’t move but started eating, commenting on the food.

My daughter had wanted to rent a car, but I had insisted on the French train experience. Now, she was so pale-looking that I knew she had to sit down. After I asked, again in a polite voice, the two women packed and left, shaking their heads in disbelief. My daughter fell asleep within seconds.

An hour later, we pulled into the train station of Epernay.

Courtesy Wikipedia

“Madame, madame!” A man was calling from the train and I looked up. “Can you watch after my friend?” he said when he met my stare. “He’s a little…” He drew circles on his temple with his index finger. I noticed a young man, walking with indecision along the quay. “Just make sure he finds the exit,” the man added.

Of all people, why did he ask me? But then I saw how the passengers were vanishing, swallowed by underground hallways. My daughter and I moved slowly, our bulgy American suitcases two boulders at the end of our arms. I nodded oui and the man smiled a merci. I smiled back, more to myself than to him. I was French again. I could talk without words and I remembered how, when I first moved to California, people had commented on the way I used my hands and facial expressions to tell a story.

“It could have been worse,” my mother-in-law said when we finally met. “With a strike, you could have been stuck for days.”

“The SNCF is not what it used to be,” my father in-law concluded.

We never found out what happened exactly, but it was likely an accident.

******

As I kissed and hugged my daughter goodbye at the train station the following afternoon, I considered taking her with me to Paris for a couple of days. Yet as the train left for the capital, I knew I had to return alone, for the first time since I left France, to the city I loved so much.

Of course, my reserved seat on the train was occupied and it made me laugh out loud. This time a businessman had opened his briefcase on my seat. He had spread enough paperwork to discourage an American citizen from reclaiming her territory.

“Umm, umm,” I said. “I think you are seated in my seat. Probably by mistake.”

“Vraiment?” he said, bunching his eyebrows together.

“Really,” I said and I showed him my ticket.

“This is annoying.” The man motioned to the pile of papers, his cell phone, his computer, and planner. “I’m working, you see.” He sighed as he browsed through the mess of his paperwork.

Another man, clad in a similar business suit, tie included, joined in the conversation. “The seat next to mine is free. You can have it,” he told me.

“Perfect,” the first man said. “Plus,” he added with a charming smile. “It’s a window seat.”

I mumbled, “Merci,” as if I were indeed grateful. On my way to the “free window seat,” I spotted two more available seats.

“I’ll stay here,” I told the man who offered the seat next to his.

He nodded. “You’ll have more privacy.” He readjusted his tie and sat down.

I searched my bag for my book, relishing the pleasure to read until Paris. My book was still unopened on my lap when a loud voice boomed right behind me. The first businessman was on the phone describing in great detail his day spent in Reims and the work he had accomplished.  The conversation went on with a lengthy description of his lunch in which it appeared that the fries could have been crispier. I closed my book.

When the man hung up he leaned over my seat. “Work,” he mumbled with a disarming one-shoulder shrug.

The train reached Paris late afternoon. As soon as I stepped out, people, then cars and buses surrounded me. I would have to take the metro or more likely catch a cab to go to my hotel. But for now I stood on the sidewalk. The quick fingers of the breeze played in my hair and on my skin. I felt the luckiest woman on earth.

A train had taken me to Paris.

 

Courtesy Office du tourisme Paris

 

Courtesy Office du tourisme Paris

 

 

 

So Many Trains. So Many Places. Season 2 next Friday.

Meanwhile, I wish you all a great weekend.

Monday Miam-Miam: Chez Donna’s in Charm City

One of the most pleasurable aspects in my life now that my kids are no longer kids is to meet them on their turf.

Especially when they are making their lives on unknown territories, away from familiar states.

One of our daughters is currently a PhD candidate at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

When she chose the university over other offers on both coasts of the country, a difficult history and mixed reputation preceded the city nicknamed Charm City in an effort to counter its challenging image.

We had passed through Baltimore once in the early 2000s and the six of us had lunch at the now closed Legal Seafood in the Inner Harbor. So the city being totally new to our daughter teh parental unit offered to accompany her to Baltimore for orientation day and housing matters. I wrote a French post about these unique forty-eight hours.

We spent one night in Annapolis, home to the United States Naval Academy, and strolled under a steady rain through the compact lovely downtown.

The following day, while our daughter was at the university, my husband and I toured Baltimore and explored the areas that she had selected as potential housing options. Charles Village was one of her picks. The two of us voted unanimously in favor.

With the university’s undergrad campus rolling on one side, including the Baltimore Museum of Art and its lovely restaurant Gertrude’s, rows of grey and brick buildings and gorgeous Victorian houses, Charles Village felt like a good fit for a young woman pursuing higher education in the city.

And of course when the parents spotted the small restaurant, right across the building our daughter had also put on her priority list, they were sold.

With its black awning, sidewalk terrace, white-clothed tables, Donna’s restaurant would have been home in Paris. Minus the American trademark fire escape. So this is where my husband and I had lunch, surrounded by a mix of grad students, young professionals, a few professors, and locals while dreaming out loud about our daughter’s future 🙂

Photo courtesy of Charles Village

The food at Donna’s was fresh, light, perfect for lunch. A mix of meal-salads and burgers and small dessert plates. Espressos were served with a lemon twist. The décor was a great balance between urban and comfy. Moreover the service was impeccable, quick, low-key yet attentive. I noticed some people who just stepped in for a cup of coffee and spotted when I left the small bakery counter in the entrance corner. Perfect for a morning coffee/pastry to go.

When we met our daughter later that day she had no doubt about her decision: she would leave Berkeley and her home state for Baltimore, Maryland.

Still donning the infamous Cal’s colors through Baltimore

The following day she signed a lease for the apartment across Donna’s.

I envisioned lunches when we would listen to our daughter’s exciting new life. Possibly dinner too.

Alas Donna’s closed its doors. Like Doreen from Baltimore, I was crushed.

 

Lonely bench in waiting 

 

Late spring, I spent a lovely extended weekend in Baltimore, right after a brief but significant winter storm swept across the city.

My daughter took me to small cafés and even bars – a rare thing for me- tucked in pockets neighborhoods. I discovered Baltimore through the eyes of a young woman now closer to be a professional than a student. Over the recent years, the city has worked hard at bettering its image. Baltimore has even stepped onto the foodie scene. Quietly but decidedly, new restaurants have opened in former industrial buildings. Farm to fork food is fairly easy to serve in Baltimore, thanks to the proximity of the coast but also to rural Maryland and Virginia.

Sunday Brunch

Now that our daughter has moved from her first apartment to one of Baltimore typical row houses, steps away from the medical school, near the sought-after Patterson Park, a galore of eating options are available to us when we visit.

But Donna’s with its easy-going yet classy setting that reminded me so much of Paris neighborhood restaurants, my all-time favorites in the city, remained on my mind. Like local resident Doreen, many lamented the closing of the café restaurant. Don’t know if tears poured over the closing of the old Donna’s helped, but a new Donna’s reopened in town.

Over one of his recent trips my husband met our daughter for dinner there. I couldn’t join him, so for once I break the rule that I would only write about restaurants where we ate together.

But we were a duo at Donna’s Charles Village, so here is Donna’s Cafe at Cross Keys. Sans moi.

The covered terrace (Donna’s website)

J’adore le pain! (Donna’s website)

Coffee at Donna’s (Donna’s website)

My husband told me that the restaurant is located in The Village of Cross Keys. It’s a complex made of luxury condos, high end shops and nice restaurants. Very different from the urban Donna’s in Charles Village.

Outdoor terrace (Donna’s website)

Supposedly Oprah Winfrey has lived there for a few years. I think I would have known if she had shared dinner with my husband and daughter. Which according to him was good but somehow lacked the feel we had both enjoyed so much over lunch. Now I wonder if our memories of food and ambiance can be altered by our mood. Of course, they are.  That day, we were both happy for our daughter, enthusiastic for her, so eager for her. In this café-like setting we were once again young and full of dreams too.

So this is what they ate together at the new Donna’s.

 

Tuna Tartare: avocado, scallions, jalapeno, apricots, butternut squash, lime juice, curry oil, cripsy tortillas.

Pan Seared Trout with Kale Salad, Raisins, Olives, Feta, Pine nuts, Tomatoes

Now food for the mind:

Thanks to Johns Hopkins University, bookstores abound in Baltimore. The Barnes and Noble near the university is a mix between a regular Barnes and Noble, a university gift shop, and a bookshop that highlights local writers and the work of alumni. Located in the Inner Harbor, the other Barnes and Noble store is worth a visit. With three levels packed with books and a large café at the top overlooking the bustling area, it’s a bookshop with a view. I found an excellent selection of children and young adult’s literature and bought a couple of books.

But I always favor independent over big business, so I bought two more books for my husband and my San Diego daughter at Trohv on the lively artsy W. 36th.   This is not a bookstore but a place to find artful objects and gorgeous stationery, one of my weaknesses. In fact, the store is open to artists’ submissions. Which is found a great unusual initiative.

Since our very first trip to Baltimore, the city has clearly developed a more sophisticated vibe. You could argue (I do, too) that a city needs much more than lovely shops, vibrant bars, and a hip food scene to be an inclusive, affordable, and safe city for all.

Yet I feel a palpable desire for change over my visits. Our daughter is now at home in Baltimore. Unlike some strikingly beautiful California cities Baltimore hides behind layers of tough history and sadly too many tragic brutal deaths.

But as I rode the university shuttles with my daughter and countless students coming from all over the country and the world hope for Baltimore never left my mind.

That and the plan to share dinner with her next time. At Donna’s or not.

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Father’s Day! Bonne Fête des Pères!

Unlike moms and mamans, dads and papas are celebrated on the same day in the US and France.

So I wish you all a Happy Father’s Day and une Bonne Fête des Pères.

Enjoy your special day! You deserve it.

 

 

Two Picture Books for the occasion:

Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales

I Don’t Want to Be a Frog by Dev Petty, illustrated by Mike Boldt

A young boy and a young frog’s quests for uniqueness and their struggle as they want to become someone distinct from their father.

Both books celebrate the loving, super important and challenging role fathers have in the lives of their sons 🙂

 

And flowers for each Dad and Papa!

 

 

 

French Friday: Driving in the USA

Travel guides should mention that driving is one of the best ways to catch a genuine glimpse of what a country really is.

In the early 1990s, I found driving in the San Francisco Bay Area an extraordinary lesson.

“Look!” my husband exclaimed whenever we drove on highway One-O-One or Two- Eighty.

For a man who loved cars he was spoiled. No French Renault, Citroen or Peugeot but lots of BMWs, Mercedes. We had not seen as many in Europe, except in Germany. And of course lots of mythic American cars. They had filled my husband’s imagination when he was a little boy growing up in the Parisian suburbs. These cars, however fancier, shinier and faster than most French vehicles, ambled along highways.

“Why do they stay in the same lanes?” I asked when I noticed that the drivers kept the same speed, oblivious of fast and slow lanes. In comparison to French roads, American roads were in poor condition. Could it explain why the vast majority of people drove within the speed limit, which was lower than it was in France?

“I cannot believe it,” my husband said, as he passed once a red Corvette from the right lane, something forbidden in France but apparently okay in California.

“Your hands on the wheel!” I said, glancing at the Corvette still inching its way in the fast lane. A woman in her fifties was applying mascara while holding a mug. “Unbelievable” I added, caught between disbelief and awe.

“You know,” my husband said, a smile growing on his lips. “It’s cool here! Honestly I was tired of the morning race on the périph.”

“Agree, the beltway was crazy, but I don’t think it’s cool to see them putting on makeup while driving.”

He shrugged one shoulder. “Like it or not, you are going to learn how to drive here, remember?”

No, I would not be able to bail out. We were lucky to live downtown Palo Alto, but I knew that I would have to get my driver’s license to live a true American life.

I really got a perfect score on my driving written test.

My husband had a point: Driving in the USA was more relaxing than in France but the rules were strange.

People waited patiently at stop signs, respecting the first-come-first-served-American-principle like a Bible commandment – no, it would never work in France. Unlike the French who never spoke to strangers in the street but cursed at each other from their cars, the Americans talked a lot everywhere except when they drove. Behind the wheel, they seemed blind and deaf. Most of the time, they didn’t use their blinker and they hogged the passing lane, while eating, drinking, or even reading the paper. No wonder the American drove cars with automatic gearshifts. In France, drivers needed their two hands and two feet.

 

We drove a similar car in our early years in California.

Even more than cars themselves, their customized license plates puzzled us when we first arrived. In France, at that time, all cars were registered in the driver’s département of residence –similar to an American state, only much, much smaller.

Map of France with the départements. I’ve lived in the 61, 14 and 75.

When we drove in California, plates such as: BCHDYZ, ZUUUMZM, BZ OMA, or ET 4 EVR triggered our immediate interest. We spent lots of time deciphering them. It was satisfying when we understood they actually meant something and amusing when we could read them as well as natives. Well, what we understood didn’t mean that we exactly got the meaning. Customized license plates are similar to jokes. The best ones don’t easily translate and some customized American plates sometimes fall flat when read by a French person. Years later when our children could read they would sometimes laugh at some license plates that their parents didn’t find especially funny.

Besides license plates, their frames fascinated me. They hinted at many interesting American character traits. This country, I discovered with amazement, is full of alumni, sports fans, bragging dogs’ owners, proud parents, even prouder grandparents, bigheaded guys, people who’d rather do something else (preferably something expensive or gutsy), be somewhere else (preferably a posh location), and lots of people with strong beliefs.

Years later, “I’d rather be” makes more sense than in the 1990s. After all, a country that pursues a permanent quest toward eternal youth and a shinier future can only wish to be somewhere else or to do something else.

More than two decades have passed since these early discoveries. All over the country people drive much faster than they did when I first drive in the US. Yet American drivers remain much more courteous than anywhere in the world. And yes, their cars are still their second homes where they phone and text rather than read the paper. Applying makeup, shaving and brushing teeth still occur.

And what about those bumper stickers that triggered my curiosity and my father’s remarks when he visited us in our early days in the US?

Like me, he immediately observed that American cars voiced political views. His surprise came from the fact that no one seemed to mind, even when people passed each other and shared drastically different beliefs.

Personne ne klaxonne et ne fait de queue de poisson, my father said.

He was right: Nobody honked or cut somebody up. It wouldn’t work in France, my father concluded.

What he meant is that it would have triggered heated debate, something that I sometimes missed in California where everyone respected everyone so much that people preferred to agree rather than starting an argument. On the other side, the French openly voiced their political opinions but wouldn’t display them on bumper stickers, respecting the infamous French privacy but perhaps (I started to wonder) fearing possible confrontation.

During the last presidential campaign I quickly noticed the relative absence of bumper stickers throughout the United States. Clearly the most unpleasant campaign since my arrival in the US, I wondered if we had reached the moment where we feared our fellow citizens’ opinions so much that we were no longer able to agree to disagree.

Then I spotted aggressive statements. Which could only make any reasonable person’s blood pressure skyrocket and much worse deepen the divide between us. Maybe, I thought, it would be better to go sans bumper stickers.

In the 1990s I missed the meaning of some statements, something that I can no longer pretend. Soon I will be driving through our big country again. So I’ve decided to simply ignore the mean and ugly and pay attention to the heartfelt.

Peace messages have made a huge comeback. Yeah, they hint to another era, but peace is never old-fashioned, right?  Earth and environment stickers are also a big hit. Animals make great bumper stickers. Whether tamed or wild, they remind us that we are companions on this one planet.

And of course there is always the So-Many-Sticker-Car we always pass at some point on one these road trips.

This kind of car suggests a country that remains so unselfconscious it can be funny.

 

Monday Miam-Miam: The Big Easy

When I met my now-husband he had already been to the US several times. In fact, he had stayed in New York City long enough to know that he would love to return to the US. One day. For longer.

Whenever we spoke about his sojourn there he was over enthusiastic about every state, every city, every site he had visited. Except New Orleans.

“It was so hot in La Nouvelle Orléans,” he said. “It smelled horrible. I was miserable.”

My husband never speaks in italics.

So, as much as I wanted to visit New Orleans, we didn’t go there until 2014.

Although our first visit happened eight years after Katrina the city was still under reconstruction.

Perhaps due to the devastating signature the hurricane left on New Orleans, both physically and in the American collective memory, the famously crowded French Quarter was fairly quiet.

We easily found a table at The Court of Two Sisters. The host led us inside the dining room since it had rained right before we arrived. The dining room opened on a magnificent courtyard where I imagined the heady fragrance of the gardenias. Many moons ago, our waiter had worked in France. I’m sure he spoke some French, but we conversed in English in this state that the French Emperor Napoleon sold to the Americans. Our waiter’s weathered face matched his adventurous life, whether spent in France or in the States, and he regaled us with vivid anecdotes.

At some point a cat crawled along the large expanse of the windows separating the indoor dining room from the courtyard. If we had been eating outside I would have felt the softness of his sand-colored coat against my bare legs.

“It’s a Katrina cat,” said the waiter. “We adopted it after…” His sentence lingered in the air.

His gaze wavered as he followed the cat swallowed by the night. The animal returned shortly, though, accompanied by a fellow feline. Both brushed against the wrought-ironed legs of the garden tables, sniffing the ground for some crumbs, perhaps a bite of fish.

“It’s a good sign to see the cats coming back,” said the waiter. “It’s the proof of a good house.”

If you want to read the French version of this post, you can find it here. Si vous voulez lire la version francaise de ce billet, vous le trouverez ici.

Last year we got another chance to visit New Orleans, this time off-season. The weather was gorgeous. A breeze carried the smell of Confederate jasmine through the peaceful back alleys. Fully bloomed geraniums bled in the window boxes hung at the balconies. A young couple was getting married on a public square. Musicians gave impromptu concerts throughout the French Quarter. Alcohol still flew more freely and more generously than anywhere else in the country.

 

Love the palette of colors used in New Orleans

Even my husband could only fall under the charm of the Big Easy.

I could live here

He booked us a table for dinner at Arnaud’s rue Bienville.Opened since 1918 the restaurant offers Creole cuisine.

When French and South meet

If I never resist shrimp I can go without escargots. But the French man loves them.

So we each pick our favorites: Shrimp a la Arnaud with a Creole remoulade (for the French readers, nothing to do with our céleri rémoulade) and Escargots en Casserole.

Then we went for the Trout Amandine for him and the Crab Cakes for moi.

Crab Cakes that I usually only eat in Maryland, like lobster in Maine

At Arnaud’s, vegetables weren’t included to the entrees. I ordered Wild Mushrooms (another weakness of mine) and my husband went for, went for…

Facing his obvious hate relationship with anything green, our waiter suggested an order of Soufflé Potatoes.

“In the kitchen we call them Pillows of Love,” he said with a wink.

So. What could we do? We agreed, of course.

The infamous Pillows of Love

Lots of French words float around in Louisiana and New Orleans in particular. Some don’t necessary match their French counterpart. Soufflé is one of them. The Soufflé Potatoes are the French Pommes Dauphine. Now I can be very partial to France and anything French. But I found the Soufflé Potatoes superior to any potato dish I ever ate. French or not.

The waiter was right: the small rectangular potato soufflés fell like pillows on our stomachs. I skipped the Béarnaise since I’m not a sauce fan. The Pillows of Love didn’t need anything to compliment their perfection, anyway.

My husband was enchanted too. Despite the fact that they were technically his, he happily share his Pillows of Love with me.

Beat the French Pommes Dauphine

For dessert? Oh man, what a dilemma. Looks like Bananas Fosters are a New Orleans signature dish. I eat banana on the go and before a hike when I wake up very early. Otherwise? Not so much.

And after the Pillows of Love we felt satiated. So we ordered two scoops of ice cream that we shared: Pistachio (that’s a favorite since childhood) and Praline, of course. Although French and Louisianan pralines have little in common.

A French praline is a candy (bonbon in French) made with an almond covered with cooked sugar. In Louisiana the almond is replaced by pecan, the sugar by brown sugar, and butter and cream and maybe more fat are added to the preparation.

I never drink coffee at night, but the Café Brûlot was very tempting. Another time. In the winter, aw…

A huge bonus when you eat in New Orleans: music.

At Arnaud’s music is on the menu on any single night. That day the Gumbo Trio played.

The band setting up

 

The Gumbo Trio’s CD

I’m a sucker for music. My kids will confirm that I sing out loud as often as I can. Badly? OK. Heartily? Always. Even though I don’t consider myself a jazz fan and even less an expert, I find jazz a great pairing with a dinner and with after-dinner drinks. I used to go to jazz clubs in Paris and loved the ambiance of the underground joints where small and renowned bands alike played late at night. Always for a very reasonable price you could enjoy a drink, great music and good company. We call these clubs caves for cellars in France.

The CD we bought from The Gumbo Trio is now spliting its life between my car and my husband’s.

From my glove compartment to his

Dining at Arnaud’s is a dive in the past. The cuisine is Creole with a distinct French classic note.  My husband and I favor light innovative cooking. But some places and moments call for tradition. New Orleans and a trip to a land where France left its imprint is one of them.

You can read more about the history of the restaurant Arnaud’s here. Including Prohibition and ghosts stories. And also about a lovers’ lookout, now a mezzanine. Since we ate in the main dining room, I cannot comment.

The balconies in New Orleans, aw…

In the afternoon we visited Faulkner House Books where I bought Girls by Emma Cline (one of the best novels of the last decade, BTW). Knowing that the Faulkner had lived within these walls gave me the goosebumps. Easy in New Orleans. I didn’t take any picture inside the bookstore, though. It’s an intimate setting and the bookseller was helping other customers. Just found an article about the store, its history and its owners.

 

The Big Easy where we should Laisser les Bons Temps Rouler will never leave a French-native indifferent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

French Friday: Spelling French Word in English

A sixth-grade girl won the 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Not only Ananya Vinay is from Fresno, a central California city located near three National Parks (Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon), she is also the daughter of immigrants.

And the word that gave her the hard-won victory is French.

Ananya’s parents are very proud of their twelve-year-old daughter’s achievement. As a mother and an immigrant I understand their pride. When I listen to my children’s impeccable English it is easy to forget that they spent years of their lives with two parents who always spoke (speak) French to each other and addressed (address) their children in French too.

This month, my youngest daughter is graduating from the university and will own a Master in English. No surprise. English has been her favorite subject from day one.

In fact, starting in elementary school, her spelling skills gave her the possibility to participate to local Spelling Bee events. I had been an excellent speller in France, too. But only bad spellers made headlines in my French schools. Being a good student was expected.

Now, praising my young daughter’s good spelling made me proud like an American, but pushing her to practice words I didn’t pronounce perfectly well wasn’t fair to her. We found our own ways. If I was sure she knew the word in French I would say it in French, and she would spell it in English. Immigrants are crafty survivors. Our tactic worked, since my daughter won the first competition.

“Maman,” she told me afterwards. “You can come to the Spelling Bee, but please don’t cry. It’s really embarrassing.”

She could only remember me as a relatively decent English speaker. She would not have understood that her success meant a lot to a woman who had hoped to improve her English with evening classes at a California high school.

My daughter won several Spelling Bees, until ironically she tripped once on “homage. ”

Which she spelled “hommage,” the French way.

Ananya didn’t hesitate when she spelled marocain.”

So what does this French word mean?

In French, “Marocain” (Moroccan) is an adjective that designates people or anything from Maroc (Morocco).

In English, the noun describes a kind of dress fabric made of ribbed crepe. It can be used alone.

In French, we specify “crêpe marocain” to distinguish this particular crêpe from the other kinds (Georgette or mousseline for example). My mother was a seamstress 🙂

Also you don’t want to mix this crêpe with the other crêpe.

By the way, a crêpe marocaine, nicknamed crêpe aux mille trous (with thousands holes), is another kind of crêpe, made with couscous semolina in addition to flour.

Among some of the words successfully spelled by Ananya, I found three other French words that the Fresno-based newspaper the Fresno Bee listed and explained:

Acharnement: French word meaning ferocity

Cuivre: French word used as a direction in music

Gargouillade: catlike forward leap in ballet

 

The Oxford Dictionary characterizes the noun “acharnement” as being archaic.

In France, though, this is a common word.

You can work with acharnement, for example, if you want to obtain a crucial result.

A particularly mean person can also show some acharnement to destroy someone.

Nowadays acharnement is often used in a medical context. The “archarnement médical or thérapeutique” describes the heavy measures established to keep terminally ill patients alive, despite the fact that no amelioration of their health condition is possible.

“Cuivre” (singular) means: “copper.”

“Cuivres” (plural) designates the brass section in a music ensemble.

“Gargouillade” is one of the many French words used in the dance field, particularly in ballet.

Definition of “Gargouillade” in English: a saut de chat (quite similar to a grand jete) preceded and followed by a rond de jambe.

 

If only words from the ballet lexicon were selected, maybe I could have a chance to win the Spelling Bee, too.

Monday Miam-Miam: A Trip to India Without Leaving Berkeley

The legendary downtown of Berkeley, a few short blocks that circle the internationally renowned university, is still a place where you can buy incense sticks, patchouli oil, Indian clothes, find any music from the 60s and 70s at Rasputin, meet a striking blend of nerdy students, activists, and homeless people, and bump into an impromptu protest. Downtown, however, is only one of several neighborhoods in the most unique city east of San Francisco.

My daughter studied for six years at the University of California in Berkeley.

Over time she introduced her family to the staples of her student’s life in the Bear territory. Away from Ramen and Cheerios, she mostly ate Thai and Indian, authentic and yet affordable food. Now that she works on her PhD, miles away from California, she still evocates her favorite restaurants with nostalgia and always arranges a visit when she returns to Berkeley.

As much as her dad enjoyed sharing lunch or dinner with his daughter in the most popular students’ holes, he was soon on the lookout for a more sophisticated restaurant where we would celebrate her upcoming graduations but also other family events.

This is thus within the cozy walls of Ajanta that we started to gather mid May to celebrate our family combo: graduation/birthday/Mother’s Day.

Photo credit: Solanoshop.com

Ajanta is located on Solano Avenue, less than three miles from the university and yet a world apart. Higher on the hill, less rambunctious, and more bourgeois than her loud colorful sibling Telegraph Avenue, Solano Avenue straddles the cities of Berkeley and Albany. Solano is home to many shops and several distinct restaurants, the most interesting being Ajanta, an Indian restaurant that opened in the 1990s.

Until I moved to California my best experiences with Indian food had happened in London. In fact, I still remain partial to London when it comes to Indian restaurants. Yet Ajanta matches the ambiance and quality I like so much there. The Berkeley-based restaurant is named after the Ajanta Caves, famous for their paintings and rock-cut sculptures from ancient India. Art inspired from this area is in fact displayed throughout the restaurant, adding to the authenticity and warmth of the place.

From the second you push the heavy wood door you leave California to step in India.

Photo credit: Open Table

The smells of ground Indian spices spiral around you. In fact you can order the Shanti’s Box of Spices from Ajanta restaurant. Bliss and peace assured.

 

Photo credit: Ajanta

But we all know that it is a welcoming smile that makes us feel home. The host walks gracioulsy each guest or party to a table covered with a white tablecloth. I don’t know for you, but I favor real tableclothes and napkins to paper ones. They add the perfect sophisticated touch, although nothing is stiff at Ajanta. It remains Berkeley after all, and the guests in the room are indeed a mix of university professors, old time locals, and families with students, all casually dressed and comfortable in a diverse and often international setting.

 

Photo credit: Ajanta

Food at Ajanta represents all of India. The menu changes every month, some dishes are discontinued to make room for new ones, and specifies the region of origin for each appetizer and entree.

As a family we always arrive for lunch. We like to mix and match our orders so we can sample different dishes. The slices of eggplant pan-fried, perfectly spiced and served topped with a thick yogurt sauce remain a family all time favorite. One single order is enough and everybody can taste.

Photo credit: Ajanta

French are renowned for their high quality bread. I confirm that French bread is indeed exceptional, yet I’ve been unfaithful to my native land many times in the States, mostly because of Naan. Naan at Ajanta always exceeds my expectations. My favorite remains their Paneer Naan, which is stuffed with paneer cheese and mint. My son being very partial to naan too, we often end up ordering an assortment. Just for the two of us.

Photo credit: Ajanta

With my husband we only go to Ajanta for dinner. We either order a la carte or opt for the chef tasting menu for two, which comes in a vegetarian or non-vegetarian version. You are offered three appetizers and four main dishes, smaller portions than a la carte, and a choice of one dessert among the four possibilities.

My favorite meal in an Indian restaurant includes lamb. At Ajanta, lamb is offered as a curry, as kabobs or still as rib chops.

Photo credit: Ajanta

This month, one of the featured new dishes, is Sufed Maas, a classic lamb dish from Rajasthan, the state where Lachu, the executive chef, is from. This is in his words the description of the dish:

“Sufed Maas derives its name from the white color (“sufed” in Hindi) of the sauce. All of the ingredients used in the sauce are white: onions, ginger, coconut milk, white poppy seeds, white pepper powder, blanched ground almonds, yogurt, cream, and cardamom powder. The boneless, defatted, cubed leg of lamb is sautéed and then simmered in the sauce until tender. Generally made for royalty, this is a rich, tasty and satisfying dish.”

Made for royalty? No excuse for not ordering  🙂

Ajanta is one of the very few restaurants where my husband and I never share dessert. Most likely we will trade a spoon of our pic, though. My two favorites desserts at Ajanta are the Kulfi (a frozen dessert made with thick milk, pistachios, flavored with cardamom ) and the saffron pistachio ice cream.

At Ajanta I never order wine. Beer or tea are better choices with Indian food. I don’t drink beer but love Masala Chai, which goes really well with any Indian dish.

All dishes at Ajanta are cooked with great attention to the  ingredients, the flavors, and the presentation. Whether you are vegetarian or an omnivore, a vegan or gluten sensitive or simply a fan of Indian spiced cuisine there is something for you at Ajanta.

Photo credit: Ajanta

Photo credit: Ajanta

Most of all, 100% attention dedicated to your satisfaction.

If you happen to be in Berkeley between June 9 and June 15, don’t miss Ajanta! Stop by to wish them Happy 24th anniversary. You will be greeted in return with a free glass of wine or beer. And a smile, too.

Photo credit: Solanoshop.com

 

 

Before or after dinner, stop at Pegasus Books, also on Solano Avenue, almost directly across Ajanta. This is one of two Pegasus bookstores in Berkeley. I’m more familiar with Pegasus Downtown on Shattuck Avenue, walking distance from the university, from my favorite movie theater, and other places I like in this part of town.

Lesson learned:

After my last visit at Pegasus, I realized that I must adopt Ajanta’s strategy: put away some older books to make room for new.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

French Friday: Friday Fish

When my son was a newborn and his oldest sister six I became friend with a woman who had also four young children. Our husbands worked long hours and traveled for business, sometimes even abroad. We both shared happy crazy busy shifts with babies in diapers, toddlers in preschool for a few meager weekly hours, and kindergartners alternating between morning and afternoon sessions.

On my side of the neighborhood, I was hungry for anything that could help me unload my plate. Including feeding my family.

Any ideas to skip a few trips to Market Basket? Any tip to bring healthy food to the table between playground time and bathtime? Proofless quick recipes, anyone?

Bring them on!

I thought I had won the jackpot when I noticed the From Monday to Sunday Menu posted on my friend’s fridge.

Bingo!

What a relief to know ahead of time when and what to feed a family! Now, let’s see if this clever plan could work at home…

Monday Hot Dog, Tuesday Pizza, Wednesday Macaroni and Cheese, Thursday Hamburgers, Friday Tuna Casserole, Saturday Chicken Wings, Sunday Church Potluck.

My husband favored merguez to hot dogs, but I could save the idea for when he wasn’t home. Pizza was always a hit with my kids. Even the baby drooled, when I opened the Bertucci’s box. I already served pasta and chicken pretty much every day. Hamburgers were fine as long as I wasn’t asked to order one on my own. I had learned that casseroles, despite their name, weren’t French at all. Definitely I would have to find something for Sunday. But that was a start.

No need to learn my friend’s From Monday to Sunday Menu by heart or make a copy. Needless to say I would take liberties with her staples. And I would never have her discipline.

Steak Haché would be served once a week, not necessary on Thursday. Crepes would land on the table when I felt like it. Pizza would remain a favorite for years with these school night talent shows, concerts, and plays. Chez les Holingues Pasta in many forms would be Special du Jour until their newborn son left for college and switched to Ramen. And then there was Evelyne’s husband who decided to explore the American BBQ terrain whenever he was home. Which excluded casseroles once and for all. With less business trips taking him away from the kitchen, he even turned into a creative chef and I stopped agonizing about menu ideas. Phew. That will be for a future post on Monday Miam-Miam 🙂

On that night, however, when I considered mimicking my friend’s menu, it occurred to me that she never served fish. Unless you counted the weekly Friday tuna casserole.

Which happened to be also the only predictable day in my maman’s French kitchen.

Friday was Fish Day.

Fish from Maine.

 

At my catholic school cantine, cantoche in French school parlance, too. Food there was below mediocre French standards, yet we had to clean our plates before going to recess. No wonder so many of us questioned religious faith while studying there.

Even as a young child I was an adventurous eater. Besides I was hungry all the time when I was in middle and high school. So even if the food at the cantine sucked, I sucked it up. I ate everything. Including the bloody beets, the watery pasta, and the pebble-like lentils. On any given day.

Friday was an exception. That day we were neither presented my mother’s baked sole nor slightly battered cod, or still these tiny, briny French shrimps. No real fish arrived on our plates.

 

Our religion is fish and release.

 

But bâtonnets de poisson panés surgelés or frozen breaded fish sticks in plain American English.

The fresh-fish fed teen knew her turf. No way this chewy tasteless thing had been a swimming fish in its past life.

Evelyne’s Husband’s Catch of the Day.

Even worst was the rice. Unlike Chinese fried rice, Japanese sushi rice, and Thai sticky rice my school served glue rice. Preferably unsalted.

Although I suffered the humiliation to stay behind more than a few times to finir mon assiette, I couldn’t see the bottom of my Friday plate. The fish sticks and the rice formed such a tight, dry ball I was sure the combo would strangle me.

A nun was dispatched to my table to make sure I could be released. Millions of people would do anything to eat, she said. Think of the poor hungry children in the world! Exactly. Maybe I didn’t need to eat so much when so many had so little.

Naturally I never met the cook, like we meet a chef in a restaurant. That cook knew better and never showed up, fishing for compliments.

I knew early on why we ate fish on Friday. Jesus died for our sins on a Friday. That day we remembered him and ate fish, leaner than meat. Honestly? I found Jesus extraordinary and with the typical idealism of my young age I even dreamed to meet him. I had tons of questions to ask. For example, I would have liked to know his real opinion about Friday Fish. Did he like to be remembered with bâtonnets de poisson panés surgelés?

Not a bâtonnet de poisson pané surgelé.

Years later I discovered the American expression “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” What happens in school cafeterias, however, rarely stay there. Even decades later and thousands of miles between my school cantine and me, I’ve never eaten frozen breaded fish sticks again.

Never served them to my kids either.

Friday or not Friday.

 

One of my son’s favorite books when he was a child.

 

Now, your turn. Do you eat a certain food on a certain day? What about Friday Fish?

 

 

 

 

Monday Miam-Miam on Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day in the United States of America.

Memorial Day started to honor Union and Confederate soldiers who had died during the American Civil War. After World War I, it was extended to include all American men and women who died in any war or military action.

Originally known as Decoration Day, the actual name for this event did not come into use until after World War II. Since 1971, Memorial Day holiday has been officially observed on the last Monday in May.

For the last four years, I’ve always written a post on Memorial Day. But since Monday is also the day I post about food, I am only linking to two former posts:  A Hike to Remember ( a Memorial Day hike in Yosemite with my  son) and In Memory (about my eternal gratitude towards the Americans who liberated France from the German occupation). My sentiments haven’t changed regarding the holiday, so if you are one of my new readers, you may like to read these posts. Especially if you live in France and wonder about this special American federal holiday.

Although for most Americans Memorial Day means a three-day weekend, a BBQ or a beach party with friends and family, first and foremost it is a day of remembrance.

Today is also Monday Miam-Miam and I’m taking you to Solo Bistro in Bath, Maine.

Forty minutes from Portland, Bath is home to the Iron Works shipbuilders and is proud to be known as the City of Ships. With streets filled with gorgeous Federal, Italianate, and Greek Revival houses, amazing water views of the Kennebec River, and a walkable downtown, Bath also brands itself as the small cool city in Maine.

Like so many American towns and cities in the early 2000s, this little corner of Maine evolved from a local town to a more sophisticated destination. These changes that brought more independent shops, cafés, and restaurants transformed the food scene. Just in Maine, younger chefs and more innovative restaurant owners started to explore the limitless potential of fresh local food. Soon, in addition to the typical Maine fare – lobsters of course, but also clam chowder that my son called clam sugar when he was a kid, and classic surf and turf – foodies were offered imaginative farm to table cuisine, combining flavors to exquisite presentation. The look of these new restaurants was changing too. More natural light pouring in, small votives for ambiance on the tables, gorgeous china, handsome utensils and glasses, sleek modern furniture.

Bath, once only industrial shipbuilding city, was also riding the wave. Although Solo Bistro opened in 2005 we didn’t eat there right away, mainly because our kids were still young and we knew that the setting was not the best for a rambunctious party of six people.

In the summer, on my way home from Popham Beach with the kids I would often stop in Bath to buy pizzas. While waiting for our orders we would walk through the compact downtown lined with small shops of all kinds. Including the infamous Renys, nicknamed Maine Department Store.

While the kids begged me to buy them the new noodles and surf boards displayed on the sidewalk I watched the people sipping cool white wine and sampling appetizers at the new Solo Bistro’s terrace.

One day, I thought.

The kids have grown and when my husband and I stop in Bath we no longer notice the beach gear. Instead, we sometimes get a cup of coffee and maybe a biscotti at the lovely Café Crème or buy kitchen tools at Now You’re Cooking.

Or still eat dinner at Solo Bistro.

 

When we pushed the door the first time I thought I had traveled back in time and had landed in Sweden or Denmark, two countries that my husband and I visited a few times when we lived in Paris. It made perfect sense when I found out that the co-owner is a native of Denmark. The tables are made of a blonde colored wood and the chairs have a Scandinavian Design air. The contrast of the rugs on the brick walls is both warm and elegant. Simplicity is in fact the word that comes to mind in this décor.

Although I reluctantly allow my husband to ask for two dessertspoons I’m always in favor of a shared appetizer. Lately when we ate at Solo Bistro the night was rainy and cool for the season. Some weather begs for comfort food. I don’t like fried food much, but once in a while I crave great fries. Besides I think that finger food is best when shared. That night was the perfect excuse for the delicious truffle sea salt fries served with chipotle mayo. Miam-miam.

Since I was in the mood for finger food I ordered the fisherman dish prepared with mussels, lobster meat, and clams. The toasted still warm piece of baguette was perfect to soak the tomato based broth.

 

My husband chose the miso roasted salmon, which was more elegant looking and also less messy to eat 🙂

It’s very much unlike me to skip vegetables and fruit for an entire meal. But again, a cool rainy day when it should be dry and warm…

So I went full speed and agreed to share a chocolate pot de crème with Chantilly. Unlike me my husband is a chocolate lover, so for once I let him use the two dessertspoons while I polished the last sip of the French Côtes du Rhône he had ordered from the extensive wine and beer list.

Three extra bravos for Solo Bistro:

  • Whenever possible, the owners and chef strive to use local, fresh, and organic products, including for their coffee.
  • Considering the excellent food, presentation, service, and ambiance the prices are very honest.
  • Their Wednesday special: Three courses for $19.99. Which change every week. If you plan to visit Bath, pick a Wednesday!

 

If you arrive in Bath before dinner you can pay a visit to The Mustard Seed Bookstore, located on Front Street, only a quick walk from Solo Bistro.

 

See you on Monday for another Monday Miam-Miam!

 

 

French Friday: a Cultural Dive Through French TV Series

 

This post was a tough call for me. I always have at least a couple of drafts ahead of my postings. Usually I write them at night, a few days before hitting the Publish button.

Last month during the A to Z Challenge, I introduced several contemporary French authors who write crime fiction and thrillers. As a reader it has never been my favorite genre, but I like a good TV crime drama. My partner from the other side of the Atlantic sent me links to some movies extracts, based on these crime fiction novels. Which conjured the idea of a new post that I drafted then and completed early this week.

Yesterday night I was home late and alone since my husband was away, so I tackled last week thick Sunday edition of the New York Times. In the Style Magazine I found an article about foreign TV series. Which immediately caught my eye since the article and my blog post approach a similar topic. The author of the article writes about foreign series at large and not specifically about French ones. However, she mentions my current favorite French crime fiction show.

I was first hesitant but ultimately decided to go ahead and publish my French Friday post in the version I finished on Monday.

My parents didn’t own a TV set until I was in high school, so I didn’t get to watch much TV when I grew up. My paternal grandparents had one, though. This is at their home that I could catch up with Le Commissaire Moulin, a nice-looking good cop that I followed with fervor while he and his team solved crimes. Most crime fiction TV series in the 1980s were American. We had Starsky and Hutch and also Miami Vice, but I was never hooked as much as when I tagged along Columbo. Still inimitable.

While we had never watched TV much in Paris, my husband decided to buy a TV set as soon as we moved to California. Like me, he had big hopes that normal things would transform us into Americans and that watching TV would make us fluent. Another topic for another day.

At night my husband followed a few favorites shows. Among them, the series Cops. He has told me numerous times that he would have loved to be a police detective. And I have told him numerous times that we would never have met. So while I didn’t enjoy watching graphic videos showing cops in action during patrols, I still remember the catchy theme song.

“Bad boys, bad boys, watcha gonna do?”

That’s when I wondered why I had been taught to say, “What are you going to do?”

In a funny way, the baby I expected then is quite fond of the expression “Gotcha.”

Most Wanted was also a show my husband watched. Thanks but no thanks. The mugshots pinned at the post office already gave me the goosebumps.

But I liked NYPD Blue. As I watched the team of detectives from the 15th Precinct I got more than a glimpse of the streets of New York City. I discovered the American justice system, with its similarities but also differences with the French system.

There were also the occasional slang words that I would add to my growing list of new words. The F word was new to me, and I can now attest that it wasn’t yet all the rage. It felt reserved to special occasions.

Above all, there were the personal stories entwined with the police’s daily work. Facebook would say, “It was complicated.”

Through them I discovered, even if the situations were dramatized, the way American people communicated and lived together. Everything felt both progressive and backwards. Women had more prominent careers and there was less blatant sexism than in France. But hairspray was more widely used and people didn’t dress that well. Coffee was left on the burner all day long and food was an afterthought.

This is why I think that foreign TV series can be real windows on other cultures.

Until recently it was hard to watch French movies and even more TV series in the States. It still remains a challenge since France is a watchdog when it comes to exporting its culture. But when a series is noticed and gets the industry’s recognition then it’s possible to enjoy a good show from the comfort of your American home.

This is how I discovered the French series Spiral, so far my favorite. Its French title is Engrenage.

Engrenage has two different meanings in French. It’s the gear in your car but also an unstoppable trap. For example l’engrenage du jeu would be the nasty circle of gambling.

Spirale is only a noun in French, with the same English meaning.

Americanization is global, so the cultural shock is not as great in this series in comparison to the shows from the 80s or 90s, particularly since many American English words are now part of French people’s daily lives. The dialogues are infused with them.

Yet some things never change.

First, it’s refreshing to see actors and actresses who look pretty much like you and me. Okay, Peter Falk in his rumpled trench coat and at least one detective in NYPD Blue weren’t exactly top models.

But the actors and actresses in our new American TV shows have never missed an appointment with their orthodontist and their hairstylist. They got waxed and manicured on a monthly basis. Superior beauty products or more drastic interventions take care of their wrinkles, puffy eyes, and dark circles. Of course, they don’t smoke.

My favorite character in Spiral is Capitaine Laure Berthaud. What woman wouldn’t like her? Berthaud is in charge of a small team of detectives. Besides an occasional young female trainee, the team is exclusively masculine. Perfect to empower the young Capitaine. Although her closest partners are loyal and pretty good guys, she’s a woman. So she hears her share of sexist remarks about getting her periods and comments on her private life. When she arrives with a new outfit, something very rare, as she seems to wear the same pants and boots episode after episode, the men notice and imply that she must have a man in her life. It doesn’t take long to notice that unlike American actresses who play similar roles Laure Berthaud is unkempt, almost dirty. Her hair is rarely combed and often messily bunched as if she had just woken up on a Sunday morning after a rough Saturday night. In fact, every day seems like a post rough night and it probably is if you are a young woman cop dealing with little support from your hierarchy but determined to make your little corner of the world safer.

The men aren’t looking any better. Even the young impulsive Théo forgets to shower. If he lives in a pretty cool apartment, at least at the beginning of the series, I’m not sure there’s a bathroom. He certainly never learned how to shave and he chain smokes. Exercising is a foreign word to all of them. When they undress they don’t exhibit shoulders that could lift the Eiffel Tower and six-packs where you could safely set your glass of Bordeaux. Yet women kiss them full-mouth and would do anything for them. Which must be very reassuring to French men.

Back to my beloved Capitaine Berthaud. Alone, she’s able to track really, really bad boys along the seediest streets of the Parisian suburbs and handcuffs them without using her gun. Gotcha! Yet she remains genuinely vulnerable and sensitive when she bumps into a tough case involving kids and teen girls. And when she falls in love.

Speaking of guns, these French detectives agonize whether or not using them. When a cop shoots in France it’s breaking news. The sanctions are severe. Including in TV series. It’s a shocking contrast with American TV series and sadly with our reality.

Yes these French TV series are very much like American ones, with graphic scenes and scenarios that  sometimes feel a little too dramatized. However, they are worth sampling if you want to dive in a small country, still quite different from these big USA.

Do you watch French TV shows?

 

%d bloggers like this: