Une part de flan

I've always loved to eat flan. As a language assistant, walking a couple of kilometres to school each morning, I would stop to buy une part de flan. A sweet, onctious breakfast that had it not been for the walk would have added several kilos over the year in Vierzon. Old habits die hard and so a stay in France is not complete without a trip to a patisserie to remind the taste buds of a tried and tested treat.
The patissier looked on as I was served one of the few remaining portions of his creation. He seemed pleased at my appreciation as I took it to a table outside. It is said that one eats first with one's eyes, so I took a while to survey and savour. It was a generous portion, one and half centimetres deep with a lovely amber glaze on top of a golden yellow custard, dusted at the rim with icing sugar. Perfectly set, firm yet yielding to the touch of fingers that would soon break the portion into smaller parts. And in the mouth, as so many times over the past 40 years, the Proustian involuntary memory conjures up a time past and I am once again a young assistant stopping for a breakfast treat in a pastry shop in Vierzon. There is a little fountain nearby; the very spot to rinse fingers and continue my journey. A stroll now, a slower pace than all those years ago. To stroll. The French have a nice word for that: Flâner.

Tell no one. Ne le dis à personne

Although I have quite a large collection of French films on video and DVD I thought it would be interesting to check out the capabilities of my new iPad and download a film from iTunes. Ne le dis à personne is a 2006 thriller from director Guillaume Canet and it certainly lived up to the promise of its accompanying notes. It got a César award for best director and had a further two nominations. Adapted from a novel by US author Harlan Coben, it follows a series of twists and turns when Dr Alexandre Beck receives an email from his wife, Margot, who he believes was murdered 8 years earlier. I’ll not spoil the plot but it was 5 star and gripping from start to finish. You can check out the bande annonce (trailer) at AlloCiné here.

Something I noticed early on was that both the camera work and dialogue were “bright”. This made the whole film very easy to follow. Although there were subtitles these too were clear and unlike some films didn’t get in the way of enjoyment. The film was fast-paced and supported by an excellent soundtrack. It was story telling at its best, creating an expectation that despite the suspense everything would come good in the end.

So a stylish film that I felt I had to recommend and tell everyone!

Wallace Fountains: Changing colour

Wallace Fountan at Hertford House, London
Yesterday's le Parisien carried an interesting article about the decision to change the colour of the city's Wallace Fountains. My initial reaction was one of shock - How could they?!
The fountains are a symbol of Paris and an earlier time. I would really like to preserve them as they are. On the other hand, in repainting them they can be restored and maintained for future generations.
Sometimes we take our patrimoine for granted and our cultural heritage in the form of statues and monuments can be passed by - unnoticed. A bit like the painted bears of Berlin, the cows of Geneva and the bulls of Barcelona, the loud colours of the repainted Wallace Fountains call for our attention. The fountains have their own diaspora and can be found all over the world - there are two in La Rambla in Barcelona and we have two in nearby Lisburn. While the yellow or pink might not be to everyone's taste, I would be sure that local people would see them and look at them more closely.
Sir Richard Wallace was a colourful character himself and took quite a hand in the original design. I wonder if he would have approved?
Click on the link to read the article in leParisien: 
Paris : les fontaines Wallace changent de couleur ! Qu'en pensez-vous ? - 06/05/2011 - leParisien.fr

To crown it all - Galette des rois

There is a lovely custom that takes place all over France, throughout January. La fête des rois on 6 of the month commemorates Epiphany when the three kings or magi came to pay their respects to the infant Jesus.
In many homes and offices, family and friends get together to enjoy a "galette des rois", helped down with a glass or two of fizz, white wine or sometimes cider. The galette is a type of cake made up of leaves of puff pastry with a filling of almond paste. A "fève", literally a bean but more often a tiny ceramic object, is baked inside and the cake is presented with a golden paper crown.  Portions are disributed with a warning to eat carefully and the lucky person who finds the "fève" claims the crown and is honoured as king or queen of the occasion.
Earlier this month, the Cercle Français de Belfast gathered in the Dark Horse Coffee House in Belfast's Hill Street to celebrate La Fête des Rois. 50 of us munched our way through four large galettes and we crowned "3 reines et 1 roi". No "fèves" were swallowed, no teeth broken and a great night was had by all.
Galettes are almost impossible to find locally.  A French restaurant owner, in nearby Holywood , supplied the ones for our evening.  Maybe those large companies that specialise in baking and distributing French bread could add galettes to their product line next year. It would be a great custom to start here; bringing people together in friendship and sharing - now that would crown it all!