Truffles!

Today was the truffle market at Moussoulens, just northwest of Carcassonne. The beauty above is the one that came home with me, ringing in at 25€ (the going price is 800€ per kilogram). It will perfume my meals for a week, and that includes a truffled risotto dinner I plan to have with a few friends.

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Winter Style

Here’s a little look at some stylish people I’ve noticed lately. It’s more of a challenge in winter, when being warm and waterproof are an integral part of looking good. As always, my eye goes to colors, shape and flair, regardless of the particularities of the body wearing the clothes. Lots of coats, because it’s winter and we’re mostly sitting at outdoor cafés or shopping at outdoor markets and Christmas markets.

For example, this woman wasn’t young, but I thought she looked great. Her coat swung dramatically in the breeze. She had a cool scarf, which I didn’t get in the shot. With her bad-ass boots, she walked like she was on her way to chair a meeting of the Board to Run the World.

Quite another bad-ass. Partly shaved head, and the longer bit is dyed a pastel rainbow. Tartan shawl flapping long out of the coat. Jeans tucked into boots. Not my look, but she gets points for having A Look, call it My Little Punk Pony. Life would be boring if everybody wore classic, dark suits.

More classic, more typically French. The big paisley shawl adds a lot to an otherwise undaring look. How easy is that? Toss a shawl around your shoulders, and voilà! Instant flair. It’s attainable.

This one is interesting. Classic haircut and business suit meet patterned tights and combat boots. I haven’t found any combat boots that fit my wide feet, but they LOOK comfortable. They certainly change the attitude on an outfit. I bet her co-workers answer “how high?” when she says “jump.” Good for her.

More boots. Zebra print with leather jacket to move beyond your usual black-and-white outfit.

I think this is the same woman–red coat, hat. Both times she has red footwear–boots at the top and escarpins (pumps) at the bottom. And why not–with a pretty red coat, why not continue with a red accessory–but just one, not too many. She could have gone too far with a red hat, red bag, etc.

Speaking of colorful coats, I was at a café when a woman left wearing a canary-yellow single-breasted reefer coat. Around her neck, she had a multicolored silk scarf that had a hint of yellow in the design. White jeans with a frayed hem, and camel boots. I told her she looked great. I saw her again a few days later–hard to forget the yellow coat–and she was wearing it with black trousers and trainers. Looked great. Sorry I didn’t get her photo.

A few photos of what the younger ones are wearing. Monochrome is popular. Big shoulders are back! Also the kids seem to be dressing up–fewer ripped jeans, or, if they wear them, it’s with something “fancy.” High/low combos.

Buffalo check coats are everywhere, not just in these colors but also lots of black and white and even other colors. Notice: a French woman wearing a beret. They really do! She’s pretty monochrome, too–cream beret, cross-body bag and shoes, and the coat is in neutral tones.

I thought these two were cute, too. The flowing skirt with trainers, and the fuchsia sweater. The classic camel coat with trainers. There seems to be a shift toward wool coats and away from duvet or puffer jackets. You still see them–sometimes I count a dozen within a block–and they are undeniably practical, not weighing a ton yet being warm. But they fall down in the looks department.

As for me, my two main coats are each decades (yes, plural) old. And they still look good. In fact, I got compliments just last week on my 25-year-old long, gray Russian-style coat with frog closures and black “fur” trim at the cuffs and the stand-up collar. It could be vintage, except I’ve had it since it was new. One of the best cost-per-wear purchases I’ve ever made.

How do you style up your coat game? What trends are you seeing?

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!

The Merry Month of Frimaire

Change is constant; if you think we’re in turbulent times now, then you haven’t paid attention to what’s gone down before. One day you say “thee” and “ye” and the next it’s “you”–for singular and plural alike! How would anybody communicate amid such confusion!

It has just come to my attention that for 14 years between 1792 and 1805, France changed its calendar from the gregorian calendar to the republican calendar, aka the French revolutionary calendar. Here are the months: vendémiaire, brumaire, frimaire, nivôse, pluviôse, ventôse, germinal, floréal, prairial, messidor, thermidor and fructidor. Napoléon Bonaparte was proclaimed emperor on the 28th of floréal of year XII.

From just a couple of weeks ago, in brumaire, at Place Carnot, the heart of Carcassonne.

Vendémiaire was the first month of the year, starting with the autumn equinox around Sept. 22, and referring to the vendange, or wine harvest–so appropriate to kick off a French calendar that way! When I first moved here, the weekly gym class in the village (as much social hour as workout, which was fine, too) didn’t start until after the vendange, a practice that continued well after the uprooting of vast expanses of vineyards in a European Union effort to reduce the “glut” of wine and shore up prices. Within just a few years, only one member of the gym class was still actually harvesting grapes. But we stuck to our own version of vendémiaire anyway.

A machine à vendanger–very big, very loud, with scary teeth.

Upheaval seems to be a theme at the moment, judging from some recent podcasts. I listen to them while I’m doing exceedingly unpleasant tasks that I undertake only because to ignore them would be even worse than the experience of doing them (exercise and housework). I like current events/news, culture, history and economics, and it’s amazing how those topics can overlap.

My running route: century-old platanes, which are babies compared with the stone wall.

“The Allusionist” (about words) presented the the introduction of zero, which completely blew people’s minds when Leonardo Bonacci, aka Fibonacci, introduced the Hindu-Arabic concept to Europe in 1202. I now peg all history according to that of Carcassonne, which in 1202 was a rocking town, full of Catholics and Cathars living peacefully side by side, a good seven years before the last crusade was launched to eliminate the Cathars. More on that later.

0? or is it 8? Either way, you can still tie up your horse here.

Zero was invented in India and came to Europe via the Arabs, who gave us algebra and calculus. That much I knew, but I didn’t realize it was so recent! Well, the Mayans had a zero, but the Europeans didn’t find out about that until much later, and we know that nothing existed until a European found it (example: the Western Hemisphere). And in “The Year 1000” (see below), I learned that Europeans considered the abacus to be black magic at first.

Interesting sculpture in the riverbed. The river has gotten much higher lately, after some big rains.

I also enjoy “The History of English” not only for learning the origins of some common sayings but there’s a ton of overlap with French. Bilingual bonus! I got onto some older episodes, about a time when some people made plurals–in English–by adding -ru or -en instead of -s. Most people were illiterate, so think how slowly the changes would have spread–you hear something said a new way and you think, “what a nut case.” Then you hear it again and you think “huh! I guess that’s cool now.” But in between, there was no way to, say, google it or look it up in a book to see whether what you heard was a mistake or something to adopt. In fact, remember when you used “google” as a verb for the first time? TikTok and Instagram and YouTube are accelerating these language changes further, as with something “be like,” a structure I cannot imagine uttering, any more than saying “the interwebs.” Fuddy-duddy? Absolutely. And I judge people who mistake its/it’s or your/you’re.

The medieval times saw new technologies, too, especially around textiles, and new jobs for those who operated the new machines. There was a time when clothing was so laborious to make, people had only a single set of clothes. Then it became easier and cheaper, with new materials made with new machines, until today Europeans (bad but there are worse offenders) toss out 11 kilos (24 pounds) of clothing per person each year, the EU says.

This brings us to another podcast, “Planet Money,” on the Luddites–who were mad about new, labor-saving (or job-killing, depending on your point of view) machinery in the textile industry and who would break into factories to smash it.

And so here we are, wringing hands about people announcing their pronouns and about having to shift to new technology like renewable energy and electric vehicles. I listened to a French newscast, “C’est Dans l’Air,” on angst about iel (sounds kind of like yell or ee-yell), which is a combination of il (he) and elle (she), intended for situations where the one’s gender either isn’t binary or shouldn’t be relevant to the conversation. Even the New York Times had an article about it, which noted that it was a big deal mostly among older people while the younger generation thinks it’s logical/about time. The more you learn about history, the more it’s clear that change is going to happen and lots of people aren’t going to like it.

The shutters and door could use some change in the form of fresh paint, but isn’t that little sprig cute?

What are you reading? I’ve had a bad run in the literary department. Two recent books on my nightstand are acclaimed, but I don’t like either one. “Un Aller Simple,” by Didier van Cauwelaert, won the Prix Goncourt, but I find it abominable. The premise is a young delinquent who is adopted as an infant by Roma in Marseille after a car theft goes bad and kills his French parents. Because he was orphaned as a pre-verbal baby, nobody knows his real name. So they call him after the car model, Ami 6, which over time gets mistaken for Aziz, so he is assumed to be Arab. As a young adult, he gets swept up in a crackdown on illegal immigrants and shipped off to Morocco. So far, it’s dreadful, but maybe it’s just that clichés about gangs and the hood have gotten stale since the book came out in 1994. Which doesn’t seem long ago at all, and yet, how many attitudes have changed since then!

Great door in Toulouse.

Another book is “Tender Is the Night,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, master of the unlikeable central character. I loved “The Great Gatsby” and read it more than once, even though Gatsby and Daisy and Tom and even Nick are spoiled and selfish. I even listened to it, read by the staff of aforementioned “Planet Money” as their way of celebrating this ode to capitalism when its copyright ran out and it entered the public domain (they do a fantastic job, too!). And I loved the movie. Why was “Tender” such a chore? You know when you pick up a book published in 1934, the way you knew when you walked into a bar pre-smoking bans, that it’s going to have a certain stench. Fitzgerald uses a subplot with the murder of an innocent Black man as nothing more than a plot device to cause a mentally fragile white character to relapse (although she had an episode shortly before the murder without any clear trigger, so why the gratuitously racist catalyst?), and then we’re off to flashbacks about how the central couple met. The murder itself remains a loose thread, too unimportant to tie up. Even the European setting backfires because the characters are also expats behaving badly, not just to each other but toward entire cultures. ARGH.

Planters with grape vines as a terrace divider.

But the worst book, by far, was “Labyrinth,” by Kate Mosse, a sometimes-resident of Carcassonne, where this monstrosity is set. If you like clichés, a predictable plot, silly magical-religious powers, and easily identifiable good guys and bad guys (the villain is a well-toned, well-dressed, icy blonde with a penchant for younger men; the heroine is kind of a mess, too trusting yet strong-willed), then this is for you. If I had to compare this book to a food, it would be Cheetohs–artificial flavor, no nutritional (or in the book’s case, intellectual) value, terrible color (for the book that color would be a putrid purple for the prose). I don’t think it went through an editor–we’re told three times in two pages that the villain has “sculptural shoulders.” Many murders happen (why? to raise the stakes of how evil the bad guys are?) but nobody seems to be investigating the body count. It time-travels between the present and the moment of the Albigensian Crusade in 1209, and tiens, tiens, the contemporary names align with their medieval counterparts! Get it? So Pelletier and Tanner are paired up, for example. How clever!

Rue du Verdun…most of the buildings look like this, with the exception of a couple of Art Deco structures–hardly modern, certainly not glass.

I also was annoyed by the geographic errors. If you’re going to name real-life streets, at least do it right. Rue du Verdun runs east-west, not north-south, and there isn’t a single modern glass building on it.

I had been meaning to read “Labyrinth” for years because it’s set in my adopted hometown, but just never got around to it. Now I regret it–I can’t get those hours of my life back (luckily, despite being depressingly long, it’s a fast read because it isn’t slowed down by substance). It was a hit, too–it came out at the same time as “The Da Vinci Code,” and is very similar, but not nearly as well-written. (Ouch.) It even was turned into a miniseries. Mosse has written a bunch of other books, including turning “Labyrinth” into a trilogy. My head hurts just thinking of it. They were bestsellers. So are Cheetohs.

Just around the corner from the previous photo.

As a cleanser, I read “The Year 1000,” by Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger. Really interesting. It’s been on my shelf for a long time–it came out in 1999–and the Y2K references haven’t aged well. But the historical stuff is downright fascinating. Right now, I’m deep in some well-written office politics in the guise of international intrigue: “Our Kind of Traitor,” by John Le Carré. He leans hard into the trope of the incredibly beautiful woman who is with a brilliant but unattractive man, but he’s such a great wordsmith that it’s worth it anyway. It was only when he died about a year ago, that I realized I’d never read any of his work. I’ve enjoyed a couple of his books now.

The ceiling in the movie theater, le Colisée.
And there’s a balcony!

On the watching front, I saw “The French Dispatch,” which was a lot of fun. It’s full of Easter eggs–probably worth a second viewing to catch more. I was nervous about going to the theater, but the audience numbered under a dozen, and all respected the mask mandate. I also went to “Carmen” for a really great live performance.

Dressed for “Carmen.”

Sorry for the long absence. I’ll try to come back soon with some French Christmas cheer and some French street style. Share with us what you’re reading, watching, cooking…recommendations are always welcome!

Cheese soufflé, so good. Recipe here.

Dream Home?

If you’ve ever dreamt about owning a gorgeous French apartment, I know of one for sale. Built in the 1600s, with four-meter (13-foot) ceilings, fabulous decorations above the marble fireplaces, balconies, a lovely shared interior courtyard….all renovated according to the strict rules of the historical authorities, Bâtiments de France.

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Hello Again

I sit in in the glorious gloom of a summer thunderstorm. Minutes ago, the skies and the church around the corner competed loudly for which could produce the loudest peals. The church won, working through the four plus ten chimes of the hour, then moving on to 23 (!!!) uninterrupted minutes of random ringing, interspersed with some very pretty hymns (I recognized one but couldn’t recall the title; another was Bach’s “Ode to Joy”), then some more raucous ringing. Thunder clapped and rumbled, but the bells dominated.

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Monolithic

Driving around the French countryside, one often spots little signs pointing out local objects of pride. The ones for menhirs especially intrigued me, but I always was rushed, especially when passing a certain sign, and when I did have time, I wasn’t on that road–out of sight out of mind–I didn’t have a checklist of “when have 20 free minutes, go check out this stuff,” with menhir at the top of the list.

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People Who Need People

It is heartbreaking to see what the pandemic is doing to French culture. Yes, the deaths and long-term suffering are far more important than complaints about culture. I hope the changes don’t take hold, either. It seems the major method of transmission is in family/friends settings, and so life has largely returned to normal with the exception that we have a 6 p.m. curfew in order to rule out get-togethers after work. Restaurants and bars are closed, and I see more and more of them dropping their flimsy lifelines of lunch takeout and “for sale” or “for rent” signs appearing in their windows. I think the survivors will be mobbed when they are allowed to reopen. It’s all everybody wants to do–go out, have a meal or drinks with friends. We crave company.

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Steps to Sophistication

I started this post a while ago, after I saw “Emily in Paris,” the social-media-drenched, Gen-Z version of “Sex in the City,” transported across the Atlantic. It’s a confection as substantial as a Ladurée macaron and equally delicious. The City of Light even outshines the series’ gorgeous star, Lilly Collins.

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