Monthly Archives: July 2011

Hard at work…

Howdy, from the Wild West! As you can see, I’m “on assignment” this week, snapping away among some of the most beautiful backdrops in America.

Next week I’ll be doing some American wine investigation in California — educational purposes only? — and gallivanting around wine country with Aunt Linds.

I’ll be in touch as soon as possible…

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Life in Images: Scenes from around the farm

{EmilyintheGlass at Homearama}{Old jump standards get a fresh coat + A pretty pink face}{Potato buds and a still-green tomato}{King of the Garden}{After the rain}{Humidity rules, but work continues} Summer in Kentucky is a sauna.
A scrapbook of Julys passed.
The humid smells of childhood, of vegetables, of cut flowers.
It’s walking the hose across the yard
And filling the troughs.
Spraying the horses to cool them off.
It’s tomatoes and mozzarella
And pilfering basil and cilantro from the neighbors.
Summer in Kentucky is heat: heavy, oppressive heat.
Swimming through the day, coming up for breath in the nearest air-conditioning.
A cold beer
Yes — Kentucky is a cold beer, or the necessity thereof.
It’s frozen yogurt and frozen fruit and quickly melting ice cubes.
It’s waking up early and going to bed late and napping in between.
Summer in Kentucky is conducive to weeds
But not to weeding.
To bare feet that burn on the sidewalk.
To waiting to walk — or run — after dark.
Summer in Kentucky is not refreshing: not in the morning or at night
And most certainly not at noon.
It’s not encouraging of public transportation, be it bike or bus:
Anything without air.
Summer in Kentucky is not easy like a Sunday morning.
At least not this year.

Summer in Kentucky is not for the faint of heart.

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What’s stopping you? (If not an overbooked flight to Minneapolis?)

After two days, two trips to the airport, two storms in Chicago, and two futile flights, I returned home tonight having missed Nina and Matt’s wedding in Minneapolis.  You win some, you lose some when your mom’s a flight attendant and unfortunately today’s final verdict was a great loss to me.  I had a new dress and new dancing shoes and was filled with the hopeful anticipation of sharing such an important moment with friends. Sitting at the gate envisioning the evening unfolding elsewhere, I held back tears as the monitor flashed “delayed.”  Even the flight that would take me back to Louisville was late.

Hardly in a mood to chat, I barely noticed the guy sitting next to me when I claimed my seat in the tiny commuter plane.  Maybe I didn’t even say hello.  He offered me a piece of gum, motioning toward his ears and mentioning that they were wont to pop, but I refused it – politely – and opened my book.

That’s when I overheard the valley-girl behind me.  I swear I don’t usually judge people for holding a happy conversation on a plane, but the girl repeated the word “yes” six times in a row, each time rising in volume, to indicate agreement.  Six times.  Go ahead, try stringing that many yeses together and see if you can even take yourself seriously. I looked up from my book, unintentionally manifesting my amazement.

“I know, now we don’t have to watch the movie, right?  I was going to rent that tonight.”

I’m sorry, what?  I looked at my neighbor for the first time, trying to grasp his reference.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, catching my confusion.  “You were reading. I was eavesdropping.  They’re giving away the end of a movie.”

“Which one?” I asked, still a bit confused.

“I don’t know,” he said, shrugging.

“But…you were going to rent it?”

Oh.  It was a joke.  I smiled, laughing at myself more than anything.  “Are you from Louisville?” I asked.

From Lexington, lived in Louisville, now in Brooklyn.”

As if the word “Brooklyn” poured a spotlight on the man, new details jumped out at me.  Brown square glasses, a red plaid shirt, and, resonating from bright blue eyes, something of a creative aura.

“So you’re an artist,” I said, without thinking.

“Yes, but we aren’t all artists in Brooklyn.”

“Let me guess what kind.”

“Okay.”

I said “comic book artist.”  He said, “Do I know you?”


Turns out he’s a freelance illustrator named Jason whose day job pays the bills and whose creativity comes alive in the after-hours, when he draws, performs his own stand-up comedy routine, and DJ’s.  He came to New York on a shoestring and hunted down jobs – any jobs – until he had enough financial security (and peace of mind) to start building a portfolio and selling his comic-style illustrations.  “Creativity is killed by stress,” he said.  “So I have to have the day job to keep me from worrying about making rent.”

When the subject turned to my interests, he surprised me with a diverse knowledge of French culture.  French DJ’s are what’s keeping the tradition alive, he said, before listing his favorite new wave film directors, from Godard to Truffaut, and going on about Woody Allen’s new Midnight in Paris.

“And, I found the best French café in Brooklyn,” he said, tapping my arm with the back of his knuckles as if we were old friends.  “The guy makes the best Americanos.”

I wasn’t sure he had caught the irony of his own statement, so I said, “best Americanos, huh?  That would be a cool one-liner for your comedy routine.”

He approved of the joke, which gave me quite a bit of satisfaction for having almost come up with it myself.

Then I told him about missing Nina’s wedding.  At first he thought I was kidding until I insisted that I actually had flown to Chicago, walked from gate to gate all day, and then gotten on this flight home. But he wouldn’t let me beat myself up about it.

“Que sera sera,” he said.  “Everything happens for a reason.”

I still couldn’t see anything reasonable about this day unless it was to learn something from the present conversation, so that’s what I told him.  His response?  An altruistic commitment to pack the last fifteen minutes of the flight with a punch.

He made me smile.

He also made me feel comfortable to tell him I had been having certain fatalistic worries about the future, despite years of preaching optimism to everyone I know.

“Everyone is in that place some time,” he said.  “But suffering strengthens.”

He didn’t say “don’t be discouraged,” or “don’t let yourself feel that way.”  He just sympathized for a moment.

Then he smiled and, with the same energy that had carried this conversation the length of the flight, said, “Tom Petty says ‘most things I worry about don’t happen anyway.’  There is fear involved with every big decision, but things only really go wrong when you search for them to go wrong — when you say ‘I knew that was going to happen.’  Sure you did! You knew it was going to happen because you made it happen.”

Amen, brother.  I vowed to walk the walk of optimism.

“How long have you been in New York?” I asked.

“Seven years.  Imagine what you can do with seven years.”

Seriously!  “I’ve got be more patient,” I sighed.

“Just do at least one thing every day that will help you get to your goal.  And, do something drastic if you have to – something scary.  You’ll see it’s not such a big deal in the end.”

As we approached Louisville, the awareness that I was landing in the wrong place, four hours too late continued to trouble me.  But I also felt a weird sense of gratitude.  Jason shook my hand and wished me luck and I sort of awkwardly told him about this blog.  He promised to check it out.

When we exited the plane, I lined up with the other passengers to wait on the jet bridge for our gate-checked luggage.  A few steps behind me, Jason walked through the middle of the aisle like Moses parting the Red Sea.  His arms were open triumphantly as he held up his bag, which he had apparently smuggled on instead of checking.

“I got rid of the red [gate-check] ticket,” he called over his shoulder to me as he walked away.

“That’s not against the rules or anything!” I shouted.

I suppose, after all, that was his point.

All image credits: Weheartit.com

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Learn French at dinner time: Quelle bonne idée

Yesterday I sat in on a French class hosted by Los Monitos Language Center at the restaurant, Ghyslain.  More on that later.  For now, here’s a little taste of my favorite part of the lesson.

“We know the formula for ordering un plat,” Madame says, opening her arms as if inviting her students to burst out in choral performance.  Then, raising one finger emphatically, she lowers her voice.  On cue, her students lean in to hear what they’re sure will be an important detail.

“Remember the most important part of the formula,” she hints.

S’il vous plaît!” comes the chorus.

Madame nods, pleased, then makes her way around the room soliciting the sentence, “Je voudrais du poisson, s’il vous plaît.”

The students repeat, with varying degrees of success, and a few accidental orders of poison.  Madame smiles encouragingly at each of them, her ear trained to pick up the positive notes among the choppy, timid sentences.  Still, when she reaches the last student, she throws a curveball.

“What if your server responds, ‘je suis désolée, mais…’ ?

She hunches her shoulders dramatically to emphasize the meaning of this new vocabulary.

For the first time tonight, her audience falls silent.

“Je suis désolée, Monsieur, mais nous n’avons pas de poisson aujourd’hui,” she says, throwing her hands in the air and shaking her head no.

The students just don’t get it. Their lifelong training in body language fails them as they struggle to make sense of the words.

Madame tries again.

“What would you say,” she asks the man at the end of the table, “if I came to you and said, ‘je suis désolée’ ? Her words are slow and sad, as if she is really, very, sorry.

The older gentleman looks up at her and fidgets with his bottle of beer.  He searches her face for a clue.  He blushes a little, but smiles.  Then, when the ten seconds of silence have become an unbearable eternity, he opens his mouth and — shrugging — asks, “Parlez-vous anglais?”

“Très bien!” Madame exclaims amidst the chorus of goodhearted laughter.  It’s not the response she was expecting, but it would certainly work in a pinch.

“Good answer,” she says. Then, with an almost American flair, “I love it!”

TRADUCTION A LA MELIE:

Apprendre le Français au dîner : quelle bonne idée

Hier, j’ai participé à un cours de Français organisé par le Los Monitos Language Center au restaurant Ghyslain. Je vous en dirai un peu plus plus tard. Pour l’instant, voici un petit avant-goût de ma partie préférée du cours.

« Nous savons comment commander un plat, » déclare Madame, ouvrant les bras comme si elle invitait ses élèves à entonner en chœur. Puis dressant le doigt énergiquement, elle baisse la voix. Simultanément, ses élèves se renversent sur leur siège pour écouter ce qui sera, ils en sont sûrs, un détail important.

« Rappelez-vous de la partie la plus importante de l’expression » conseille-t-elle.

« S’il vous plaît ! » clame le chœur.

Madame acquiesce, contente, puis tourne autour de la pièce sollicitant la phrase « Je voudrais du poisson s’il vous plaît. »

Les élèves répètent, avec différents degrés de succès, et certains commandent accidentellement du poison. Madame sourit, encourageant chacun, son oreille traînant pour attraper les notes positives dans l’océan de phrases timides. Puis, en atteignant le dernier élève, elle le prend par surprise.

« Et si votre serveuse répond : je suis désolée, mais … ? »

Elle courbe ses épaules théâtralement pour accentuer le sens de ce nouveau vocabulaire.

Pour la première fois de la soirée, son audience se tait.

“Je suis désolée, Monsieur, mais nous n’avons pas de poisson aujourd’hui,” dit-elle, agitant les mains en l’air et faisant non de la tête.

Les élèves ne saisissent pas. Leur expérience innée du langage corporel leur fait défaut alors qu’ils luttent pour donner un sens à ces mots.

Madame essaie à nouveau.

« Que diriez-vous, » demande-t-elle à l’homme assis au bout de la table, « si je venais vers vous et que je vous disais je suis désolée ? » Elle parle lentement et tristement, comme si elle était vraiment, vraiment désolée.

L’homme d’un certain âge lève la tête vers elle et agite sa bouteille de bière. Il cherche un indice sur son visage. Il rougit un peu mais sourit. Puis alors que les dix secondes de silence se transforment en une éternité insoutenable, il ouvre la bouche et haussant les épaules demande « Parlez-vous anglais ? »

« Très bien ! » s’exclame Madame au milieu du fou-rire général. Ce n’est pas la réponse qu’elle attendait, mais à la rigueur, ça pourrait marcher.

« Bonne réponse, » dit-elle. Puis, dans un style quasiment Américain, « I love it ! (j’adore NDLT) »

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A strange stillness

Out of the mist, a pretty face.

It’s been really hot lately.  I think my French friends would be shocked to know that the temperatures have been over one hundred degrees Fahrenheit (around 38 degrees Celsius) in Louisville.

With the humidity it feels hotter.

When it rains, it’s almost tropical.

But when the rain stops and I catch the regard of a pretty little Thoroughbred heading my way, her wet forelock hanging limp between her kind eyes, I escape for a moment from the heat and humidity and bask in the beauty of what both have left behind.

A strange stillness dwells
In the eye of the horse,
A composure that appears
To regard the world from
A measured distance….
It is a gaze from the depths
Of a dream…
— Hans-Heinrich Isenbart

TRADUCTION A LA MELIE:

Une étrange tranquillité

Sortant de la brume, une jolie tête.

Il a fait très chaud ces derniers temps. Je pense que mes amis Français seraient surpris d’apprendre que la température a dépassé les 100 degrés Fahrenheit (environ 38 degrés Celsius) à Louisville.

Avec l’humidité on a l’impression qu’il fait encore plus chaud.

Quand il pleut, c’est presque tropical.

Mais quand la pluie s’arrête et que je prête attention à un joli petit pur-sang venant vers moi, son toupet trempé retombant entre ses yeux tendres, je m’évade un moment de la chaleur et de l’humidité et je jouis de la beauté de ce que tous les deux ont laissé derrière.

Une étrange tranquillité repose
Dans l’œil du cheval,
Un calme qui semble
Observer le monde
A distance mesurée …
C’est un regard depuis les profondeurs
D’’un rêve …

–Hans Heinrich Isenbart

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Sacré Bleu! The French don’t laugh like that?

This one’s just for laughs, everyone.

Baguettes and berets, cigarettes and scooters, fast trains and smelly metros.  Annoying as it may be for the French to be reminded of these stereotypical views of their culture, they have to admit they’re true.  Any foreigner who’s been to France has seen the little old beret-clad man riding his bike with a baguette in the handlebars.  Or the fourteen-year-old high-schooler (in his striped shirt) lighting a cigarette as he exits the local lycée.  In Paris, we’ve seen the scooter riders take their lives in their hands as they zip into the infamous circle of doom at the Arc de Triomphe.  As for the less-than-gourmet scents of public transportation,well, I’ll leave well enough alone.

But one stereotype that doesn’t ring a bell with most French people is the one that gets tacked onto the end of a sentence that is performed — with varying degrees of success — in the French accent.  (“Ze Fhhrench speak like zees,” for example.)  If the accent is over-the-top, or just oh-ree-bluh, most Americans will add a “hon, hon, hon,” at the end for good measure.  You’ve heard it.  The French Laugh

The funny thing is, this laugh seems to be indigenous to America.  I’ve never heard it in France.  When I’ve performed it abroad I’ve received blank stares.  (Blank stares and “Dumb American” looks.)  Some people have asked me where in the world we got the idea that they laughed like that.

After much intense internet research, I have come to the conclusion that Maurice Chevalier might on one occasion have — perhaps while choking on an escargot? — uttered a sound that was unjustly mistaken for a laugh.  Later, when paired with his accent in English, this sound must have become known as Maurice Chevalier’s French laugh and, as stereotypes go, soon it was simply the French laugh.

According to tvtropes.org, the “enormously popular” French accent appears in western comedies to the point of “overkill.”  French people always appear speaking “like Maurice Chevalier, usually complete with a ‘hon, hon, hon’ laugh.”

Great example: The Little Mermaid.  Watch this clip of “Chef Louis,” and listen closely to the beginning, when he actually mentions Chevalier (after mumbling something in franglais about “cuisine”) and then bursts into song about fish.  Thirty seconds into it, Chef Louis lets out a nice string of hee-hees and hon-hons.

It’s no laughing matter that this was my favorite movie as a child…enjoy!

Credits: Google images, YouTube

TRADUCTION A LA MELIE:

Sacré Bleu ! Les Français ne rient pas comme ça ?

C’est juste pour rire, tout le monde.

Les baguettes et les bérets, les cigarettes et les scooters, les trains à grande vitesse et les métros malodorants. Même si cela ennuie les Français qu’on leur rappelle ces stéréotypes de leur culture, ils doivent bien admettre qu’ils sont vrais. Tout étranger s’étant rendu en France a vu un petit vieux coiffé d’un béret enfourcher son vélo, une baguette sur le guidon. Ou cet élève de 14 ans (en t-shirt rayé) allumer une cigarette à la sortie du lycée du quartier. A Paris, nous avons vu les conducteurs de scooters jouer avec leur vie en se précipitant dans l’ignoble roue du destin de l’Arc de Triomphe. Et je ne parlerai pas de l’odeur moins qu’engageante des transports publics.

Mais un stéréotype qui n’évoque rien à la plupart des Français est celui qu’on ajoute à la fin d’une phrase prononcée – avec plus ou moins de succès – avec l’accent français (“Ze Fhhrench speak like zees,” par exemple – les Français parlent comme ça – NDLT). Si l’accent est à son summum, ou juste au-ri-bleu, la plupart des Américains vont ajouter un « hon-hon-hon » à la fin, pour faire bonne mesure. Vous l’avez déjà entendu. Le Rire Français.

Le côté amusant est que ce rire semble être propre à l’Amérique. Je ne l’ai jamais entendu en France. Quand je l’ai essayé à l’étranger, je n’ai rencontré que des regards vides (regards vides et regards « y sont fous ces ricains »). Certains m’ont demandé où sur la planète nous avions pêché l’idée qu’ils riaient ainsi.

Après de très intenses recherches sur internet, j’en suis venue à la conclusion que Maurice Chevalier aurait à une occasion – peut-être en s’étranglant avec un escargot ? – émis un son qu’on aurait pris à tort pour un rire. Plus tard, associé à son accent en anglais, ce son a du devenir le rire français de Maurice Chevalier, et ainsi vont les stéréotypes, il est bientôt devenu LE rire Français.

Selon tvtropes.org, le “très populaire” accent français apparaît dans les comédies occidentales de façon “exagérée ”. Les Français apparaissent toujours parlant “comme Maurice Chevalier, ajoutant en général un rire “hon hon hon”.

Bel exemple : La Petite Sirène. Regardez cette vidéo du « Chef Louis » et écoutez attentivement le début, quand il mentionne réellement Chevalier (après avoir marmonné quelque chose en franglais à propos de « cuisine ») et se lance dans une chanson à propos de poisson. Après 30 secondes, le Chef Louis laisse éclater un chapelet de hee-hee et hon-hon.

N’y a-t-il pas de quoi rire ? ce film était mon préféré lorsque j’étais petite ….profitez !

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Françoise’s Thrice Green Salad, or: Why we name recipes after people

When I asked Nico’s mom Françoise if she had invented the recipe for her delicious salée-sucrée salad (“salty” means “savory” in this sense, and refers to the avocado and cucumber, which complement the sugary third ingredient: kiwi) she modestly admitted to reading about it in a magazine.

Sitting under the picnic tree at Froidvent, Nicolas and I were enjoying a Sunday apéritif after mass with his parents and our American friends, Nina and Matt.

It was a perfect spring day and this was a perfect spring salad: refreshing as the warm breeze that we’d longed for all winter.

Now, thinking of that day I realize why we name recipes after people, even if they have come from magazines or cookbooks.  It’s because when we taste something good we associate it with the good that is the person who made it.  In addition to the glorious spring weather, I remember the warmth of Françoise’s understated smile, the experienced motion of her hands as she cut the fruit on her husband’s wooden board.  I see her untying her blue denim apron and passing from chef to hostess in one graceful turn.

As many times as I make this salad — and as you can see, I’ve made it at home with my own Mama — I’ll never lay claim to it.  In my mind it will always be Françoise’s Thrice Green Salad. Here’s the recipe…

  • 2 medium cucumbers
  • 2 Hass avocados
  • 2-3 kiwis

For the dressing:

  • 1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard
  • 2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
  • A smidgen of honey (my addition)
  • Pinch of Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper

Dice cucumbers, avocados, and kiwis into small cubes and place in mixing bowl.  Set aside.  In a small jar or cup (the French prefer a Bonne Maman-type jam jar) mix Dijon mustard and olive oil with a fork ’til smooth.  Then, slowly add the balsamic vinegar, stirring until the dressing turns caramel in color.  I added a bit of honey last time I made it — not more than a baby teaspoon!  Finally, a pinch of salt and as much freshly ground pepper as you like.

Drizzle the sauce over the salad and gently toss to integrate.  Add more pepper if necessary.

Scoop individual servings into verrines for the apéro, or serve in a big bowl with dinner.  Garnish with a slice of tomato if you have one handy and serve immediately.  This salad does not keep, so don’t leave any at the bottom of the bowl!

Bon appétit!

TRADUCTION A LA MELIE:

Salade Trois Fois Verte de Françoise, ou : pourquoi les recettes portent le nom des personnes.

Lorsque j’ai demandé à Françoise, la maman de Nico si elle avait inventé la recette de sa délicieuse salade salée-sucrée (ici, salé signifie non-sucré, et se rapporte à l’avocat et au concombre, qui accompagnent le troisième ingrédient, sucré : le kiwi), elle a modestement avoué qu’elle l’avait lue dans un magazine.

Assis sous l’arbre des pique-niques à Froidvent, Nicolas et moi profitions d’un apéritif du dimanche, après la messe, avec ses parents et nos amis américains, Nina et Matt.

C’était un jour printanier parfait et c’était une salade parfaitement printanière : réconfortante comme cette chaude brise que nous avions attendue impatiemment tout l’hiver.

Maintenant, en repensant à cette journée, je réalise pourquoi nous nommons les recettes d’après les personnes, même si elles viennent de magazines ou de livres de recettes. C’est parce que lorsque nous goutons quelque chose de bon, nous l’associons au bien que nous rappelle la personne qui l’a confectionné. En plus de cette splendide salade de printemps, je me souviens de la chaleur du sourire discret de Françoise, du mouvement expérimenté de ses mains tandis qu’elle coupait le fruit sur la planche en bois de son mari. Je la vois détacher son tablier bleu jean et passer en un geste gracieux du chef à l’hôtesse.

A chaque fois que je fais cette salade – et comme vous pouvez le voir, je l’ai faite à la maison avec ma Maman – jamais je n’en revendique la propriété. Dans mon esprit ce sera toujours la Salade Trois Fois Verte de Françoise. Voici la recette …

–         deux concombres moyens
–         2 avocats Hass
–         2 ou 3 kiwi

Pour la sauce :

–         une cuillère à soupe de Moutarde de Dijon
–         deux cuillères à soupe d’huile d’olive extra vierge
–         une cuillère à soupe de vinaigre balsamique
–         un peu de miel (mon plus à moi)
–         une pincée de sel
–         poivre moulu

Détaillez les concombres, les avocats et les kiwis en petits cubes et placez les dans un saladier. Réservez. Dans un petit bocal ou une tasse (les Français préfèrent un bocal à confiture du genre Bonne Maman) mélangez la moutarde de Dijon et l’huile d’olive à la fourchette jusqu’à émulsion. Puis, ajoutez lentement le vinaigre balsamique, en remuant jusqu’à ce que la sauce prenne une couleur caramel. J’ai ajouté un peu de miel la dernière fois que je l’ai faite – pas plus qu’une cuillère de bébé ! Pour finir, une pincée de sel et du poivre fraîchement moulu selon le goût de chacun.

Répartissez la sauce sur la salade et mélangez doucement pour l’intégrer. Ajoutez du poivre si nécessaire.

Garnissez des verrines individuelles pour l’apéro, ou servez dans un grand saladier pour le dîner. Décorez d’une rondelle de tomate si vous en avez sous la main et servez immédiatement. Cette salade ne se garde pas, alors n’en laissez pas au fond du saladier !

Bon appétit !

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