Méthode de français

The course and workbooks for Hachette's Alter Ego C1 - C2 Méthode de français have arrived and the New Year resolution to restore and perfect my French has started in earnest and a month ahead of time. I feel like a student again, flicking through the pages, gauging the extent of the task but of course this time there is no end exam, unless I want one. Instead there is the pleasant prospect of engaging with some really interesting dossiers on topics that are right up to date. I've already tried some of the exercises and the results are encouraging.

I opted for the Hachette programme because of the wealth of material it includes. There's a student book with MP3 CD, a cahier de perfectionnement with answers and a free downloadable teaching guide. Of course, there are plenty of other courses to choose and Internet radio has made it so easy to tune in to broadcast material in French. Online resources characterise today's learning environments and many are brilliant. I'll be using them all. Will they help in this quest for perfectionnement?

On verra!



Tarte Tatin at Saphyre restaurant, Belfast

A beautifully presented Tarte Tatin to round off an excellent meal at Saphyre restaurant, Belfast. Given that the original was created by accident this one in comparison was meticulously crafted. In fact everything about the restaurant shows that attention to detail and we'll be back soon.

FRANCE magazine gets new look !

FRANCE magazine has a brand new look, introduces new sections and columnists and still keeps those in-depth articles that make past issues such useful points of reference. I like it !

As a print and digital subscriber, I've been enjoying the new format for some days now and it's been hard to stay tight-lipped about the changes. The folks @Francemagazine on Twitter have been keeping the new look under wraps until today's official launch date and I wasn't keen to spoil the surprise.

Now that it has hit the shelves, I thought it might be of interest to share what I notice and like about the changes.

What strikes me most is the light, friendly, typeface supplemented in parts by a stylish, cursive font. There's an example of this on the front cover - a sense of adventure. All of the things that I liked about the previous format are still there but revamped and there is a lot of new stuff. This is immediately apparent from the double page contents spread. I much prefer the new look at-a-glance layout with some of the sections headed in French: Joie de Vivre, Bon Appétit and La Culture.

Among the new columnists are Sir Terry Wogan, who writes bi-monthly, starting this issue with a piece from his holiday home in the Gers and Clotilde Dusoulier of the food blog chocolateandzucchini who gives advice on cooking the foodstuffs we bring back from our visits to France.

One of my favourite columns was Carole Drinkwater's Postcard from Provence; it too gets a new look as a series of Vignettes, starting this month with Bruno the goat farmer - Carole's text is illustrated by newspaper cartoonist, Richard Cole.

Another of my favourite sections is Actualités, brilliant for keeping up to speed with what's happening in France. Just comparing the layout and style of the Actualités sections in the September and October issues really shows how much the look has changed. Same goes for a comparison of the Language sections where the new format sees Language and Language Games featuring under La Culture.

There is so much more that could be said.... that the new style seems to allow even more information to be included than before and that the format also transfers very well to the digital edition.... but get your copy and check it out for yourself.

Congratulations to editor, Carolyn Boyd and the editorial team - brilliant, the new look is great

and I'm glad to see we still have the escargot to endpoint the articles.



CFB programme 2014-15 out now

The Cercle francais de Belfast has launched its new programme d'activites and we hope that there is plenty to interest you.

The programme has been produced as a trifold booklet and we aim to circulate it widely.

The membership push is on so do spread the word and we'll look forward to seeing you at as many events as possible....

And if you haven't yet seen what's in store why not head over now to www.cerclefrancaisdebelfast.org and check it out?

A bientot !

La Maison - a taste of France in Dublin

It was a pleasant Friday evening at the start of a long weekend as we set off to Castlemarket Street in Dublin to dine at La Maison. Knowing that we appreciated French food and wine some friends had recommended the place to us and had talked expansively about their own choices. So with table easily booked online and with some advance checking of the menus we were full of expectation.
The street was packed with scores of people - after-office party goers; young; young-at-heart and visitors like ourselves. We moved through a covered terrace and were shown to a ground floor table near the door. Our warm welcome was soon supplemented by a tray of breads and a pâté of pureed gherkins, onions and shallots - délicieux ! To get further into the mood we settled back with a pastis and took in the surroundings: the most obvious thing about the décor was the crispness of it all - sparkling glassware, white paint and linen, posters and black and white photographs.
Friendly and professional staff took our orders and it wasn't long before we got tucked in to a trio of scallops:

and a side by side dish of escargots and cuisses de grenouille:

This was an impressive start and augered well for the mains to follow. But not quite yet for our waiter arrived with a little something to freshen the mouth between courses. Don't you just love it when that happens?
Then on to the mains: Turbot with a herby pea purée and foam for my other half:

and a substantial, classical cassoulet for me:

both of which were delightfully presented, tasted delicious and were washed down to perfection by a lovely wine, Lombeline - a vin de pays du Gard.

I didn't need it, as the meal was already substantial, but still ordered a side dish of ratatouille. It's not everyday that you are in a restaurant of this quality and it is a dish I don't often get so........ maybe I was a little more gourmand than gourmet!
Remember those friends who had recommended the place? I had quite forgotten their key piece of advice about leaving room for dessert. We hadn't! They had shared a crêpe suzette on their visit and said that we should go for it! Not this time though, that's a pleasure that will await our next visit.
Instead we opted for a couple of digestifs - deux cafés cognac s'il vous plaît - and relaxed over them for a while longer before joining the thinned but still substantial crowd of party goers.
Thanks to Breton chef Olivier QUENET and his team for a most memorable visit and this taste of France right in the heart of Dublin.
We'll be back.

Les Grandes Galettes de la Mère Poulard

The box of galettes is now empty. It took a while for these are not biscuits to be rushed but savoured. The tin contained 10 sachets with three biscuits in each and a good part of the enjoyment was sharing collective memories of that distinctive taste. Recollections also came to mind of several visits to the renowned UNESCO World Heritage site of Le Mont Saint-Michel where La Mère Poulard's restaurant has been delighting pilgrims and visitors since 1888. The restaurant's reputation was founded on its deep omelette speciality cooked over a fire on long-handled beaten copper pans.

Opening a sachet to remove a biscuit, now made in a factory, you nonetheless sense the care that has gone into its preparation. Provenance is immediately apparent for there centrally positioned in light yellow relief is a stylised Mont Saint-Michel. The surround is a deeper gold, giving way to a thin rim of brown biscuit.
A scent of sugary, yolky, vanilla caramel rises and the galette breaks with a comforting snap as tiny crumbs fall to be collected later with a moistened finger...
In the mouth it is crunchy, sandy almost, and deliciously melts away with those flavours of vanilla and caramel. It is an evocative memory of a French pâtisserie.

Moreish and satisfying you don't even have to go to France to get them. The whole experience is repeatable thanks to Marks and Spencers where they are on sale.



Parisianer pic framed

The PARISIANER picture, as explained in a previous post, arrived as promised and was soon off to be framed. Here it is in its new home and a lovely talking point it is too. Nice to have been associated with this project. Do check out the previous links for more information.


Annecy: News to take your breath away

The beautiful Alpine town of Annecy, near the border of France and Switzerland has been in the news recently as a result of poor air quality. Apparently the cold air from the mountains keeps pollutants closer to ground level and causes a build-up of nasty micro-particles.  This is paradoxical in a way because the famous lake at Annecy is one of the cleanest in the world.

Low-cost flights to Geneva make it easy to get to Annecy and that's what we did a few year's ago. We're thinking of going back because it was one of the most relaxing (and we think healthiest) holidays we ever had.

Here is how Le Dauphine newspaper treated the story.

It uses the term coup de grisou which admittedly I had to look up. It means "firedamp", a miner's name for a methane explosion that occurs when the gas comes into contact with air.  Sounds about right.

That got me to thinking though ... what's being done about it?

The town is certainly taking it seriously and according to another report this month, while acknowledging that there are still some instances of pics de pollution, it looks as if there is an improving trend.
Check here for current details.

It does seem that France takes its air quality seriously.  I wondered in all this talk about Annecy being the 2nd most air polluted town in France how our own local air quality compares. At first click, it is not that obvious.  Check this online map to locate your town.

Find it?  What do you think?
Did you notice that the map has details of more towns in France being surveyed than most other EU countries?
Details are given for approximately 70 towns in France, Austria: 4, Belgium:1, Germany 6 and UK: 10 - Belfast not among them.

In fact, air quality in Northern Ireland is widely measured and there is some monitoring equipment near where I live.  It is reassuring to find that pollution at time of writing is low.
Still that way? Check here.

Even so, I think I'd still rather be in Annecy.

Parisian style lovelocks on bridge in Belfast

Having heard about the lovelocks appearing on the Lagan footbridge I took a stroll to see for myself. There may not be as many as on the bridges of Paris where several years worth have been fastened to the metal grilles and the key thrown into the Seine but there are certainly enough to show that the trend has taken hold.

Will they be allowed to stay?
Campaigners in Paris have been urging city officials to remove them arguing that they spoil the view of some of the most beautiful parts of the city. So far, as reported earlier on this blog , no action has been taken. Just last week however a section of railing fell off raising further concerns about the safety of the bridges. Check out this piece on BBC for more on that and a hyperlink to a comment piece on whether locks on bridges are romantic or a menace.
Will they be allowed to remain in Belfast? Should they be allowed? Is there a middle way? An alternative?


Saving wine bottle corks

A friend's post on social media directed me to this article  focussing on cork growers and why cork has such a positive effect on the environment.  The challenge is that recycling of cork is a work in progress and much more needs to be done to avoid it ending up in landfill sites.
So from now on I'm saving wine corks like this one from a recently enjoyed Moulin A Vent -  after all what goes around comes around.

Cadenas: No plans to remove Paris padlocks

When workmen were seen taking away a padlock festooned section of balustrade on the Pont des Arts in Paris last week it sparked off some concerns that the "love locks" - cadenas - would be removed from other bridges too. The Libération newspaper reports here that there are no plans to do this however it also pointed out that not everyone is in favour of them and would like them removed.
A no love locks campaign has been set up and has organised a petition. Check it out here. Since they first appeared about 6 years ago the locks have multiplied to approximately 700,000 and on the Pont des Arts alone are estimated to weigh about 40 tonnes.
The locks above were pictured on the much smaller Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor, formerly known as Passerelle Solférino and don't look as if they would cause too much trouble. But how to remove them should that be necessary? By replacing the balustrade. There are no keys as having locked their love couples throw them into the Seine.
The locks are good publicity to those promoting Romantic Paris and if they have to be removed it will no doubt be with a heavy heart.

CFB explores French connections

The origins of this talk by Hélène GUILLET and Philip McGRORY date back to an idea of then French President, Nicolas Sarkozy to mark Ireland's chairmanship of the European Union. He had the idea of an exhibition charting connections between the two countries.

The exhibition was set out in a series of panels with commentaries in English, French and Irish. We were therefore honoured that the person tasked with providing the French translation was none other than our speaker, Hélène.

Our speakers explained the origins of the Collège des Irlandais in Paris on the rue des Irlandais near the Sorbonne. Hélène showed us a picture of a wedding ceremony being performed in the famous cultural centre. It was her wedding from two and a half years ago in which she married Cairan who also worked on the President's commemorative project mentioned above.

Next, Philip brought us closer to home and into Lisburn. He shared a little known fact that Lisburn was the only town in Ulster to have a French church, in which the minister conducted and the congregation followed services in French.

Did you know that there were relatively few prisoners in the Bastille when it was stormed in 1789? And that one of them was Irish? And that there were Bastille day celebrations in Belfast in 1791 and '92? We learnt that.

Sir Richard Wallace was Conservative and Unionist MP for Lisburn in the period 1873 to 1885. He spent a lot of his time at his home, the Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne. Clicking on the following link to the Bagatelle reveals an interesting connection with Marie Antoinette.

Detail on fountain at Wallace Park, Lisburn
Philip and Hélène's talk covered military connections especially in the 20th century - we heard about Redmond, Messines and Samuel Beckett's resistance role in World War 2 and they shared a recent photograph showing troops from both sides of the border working with their French peers to train soldiers in Mali.

There was still plenty to connect... we looked at the French background of local, familiar faces - former Taoiseach Sean Lemass, previous Unionist leader, James Molyneaux, Field Marshall Montgomery and to the Irish background of the familiar General Charles de Gaulle whose maternal connections include the McCartan's of County Down. In fact there were so many connections that Philip tested our knowledge with a picture quiz of 20 people with Franco-Irish connections. These included artist Sir John Lavery, engineer Peter Rice, and designer and architect, Eileen Grey.

Our speakers were bringing their fascinating talk to a close but there was still something to explain. Notice for the talk had referred to a sea-going snail, what was that about? At the foot of several of their slides we had noticed a picture of a snail. They hadn't referred to it but all was about to be revealed.

It turns out that one of the earliest Franco-Irish connections is embodied in a snail, the Irish cepaea nemoralis. Apparently this genus is found only in Ireland and the Pyrenees area. How did it get from there to here?

Hélène and Philip left that to their appreciative audience.


It was a talk that we had wanted to do for a long time at our French Circle, le Cercle français de Belfast.  And so it was that around twenty of us braved the inclement February weather and settled in the warmth of the Dark Horse Coffee House as Claudine McKeown presented her personal look at the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area of Paris, home to many renowned artists and writers and as we were to hear to Claudine herself in her student days

Claudine, ably assisted by husband Seamus in managing the technology, explained that her talk would be in French, supported by PowerPoint slides in English.  This approach found favour with many present.

She started by locating the area geographically in Paris, highlighting some of the key landmarks of the 6th arrondissement. Claudine then focussed on the construction of the Abbey church in some fields outside the not yet then expanded Paris. The abbey and the fields explain the name.  The church, she told us, reinforcing the point with a slide, is also the final resting place of René Descartes, philosopher, writer and mathematician.

On to history, and we were treated to pictures of and comments on various places that make up the patrimoine of the area.  Here was the church of Sainte Sulpice, here La Sorbonne where Claudine as a student met up with her future husband and here the Luxembourg. Bright, sunny images a welcome counterpoint to the weather outside!

Sitting in a café, it was especially interesting to note how the talk progressed to café culture at its best by including brief, personal accounts of four famous cafés in the area: Le ProcopeBrasserie LippCafé de Flore and Les Deux Magots and the writers and artists who frequented them.  We had spent a lovely week in the area a few years ago and revisited a while back to enjoy a lunch on the terrasse of Les Deux Magots. That's me over on the right deciding what to order and just below is the decision, a delicious selection of cheese.

Back to the talk in which Claudine shared a memoir of a once exasperated owner of the Cafe Flore and later friend of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. The cafe owner recounted how the couple had developed the habit of coming to the café and sitting all day over a single cup of coffee.  Warmer than their nearby flat, the café became the meeting place for discussions with their many friends and followers and for countless others who have since then made the literary/philosphical journey to the quarter.  Nice that the couple are remembered by the naming of a square after them.

Music was next on the tour and with the help of a series of posters and short videos we learnt how the area had danced through the post-war years.  Music was our final stop and what better tribute to end on than Juliette Gréco's rendition of Claudine and Seamus's favourite (mine too) French song, Guy Béart's Il n'y a plus d'après ( À Saint-Germain-des-Prés).

Vieux Vierzon

One of the things I really enjoy is browsing French newspapers online. It was therefore a lovely surprise to see a photo in Le Berry républicain, of a gentleman I first met over 40 years ago.  There he is, in a group celebrating the heritage of old Vierzon in the Cher département.
That's the same Vierzon as in the Jacques BREL song, Vesoul. now over 40 years old itself and incorporating those much quoted phrases:
"T'as voulu voir Vierzon, Et on a vu Vierzon."
The Brel song did plenty to confirm Vierzon's position on the map, right in the centre of the Région Centre.  There is an interesting article, also from Le Berry républicain, posted by another blogger here and relating the relationship between the song and the town.
A few minutes more, and a little bit more digging, revealed that the old Vierzon group has an online presence and there was a postal address.
I'll be writing soon to renew the contact. Technology is great, but a greeting card seems more appropriate.


Chers amis,

La première réunion du caféfrancophilo, au Cercle français de Belfast, aura lieu le 26 février 2014 au Dark Horse Coffee House, Belfast à partir de 19h.30.
Notre conférencier sera Jim Holland et notre thème: Traduire, c'est trahir?
Nous discuterons le poème, Quand vous serez bien vieille de Pierre de Ronsard et la version de William Butler Yeats.
L’entrée sera libre.
En espérant vous voir nombreux!

The PARISIANER has arrived

Brilliant! The PARISIANER is here and well worth the wait. As explained in a previous post the project was to create a series of covers for an imaginary magazine about Paris. 100 artists were invited to take part and the result is first class. Affectionate; amusing; ascerbic; it is difficult to choose a favourite from the collection. Good then that as part of the crowd funded initiative my subscription included not just the book of covers but a print of one of them. That'll be framed before long. As for the crowd funding itself it surpassed its target. A great idea! Where next?


Saint-Germain-des-Prés: mercredi 12 février

The next talk in the Cercle's programme will take place this Wednesday when Claudine McKeown presents her personal look at the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area of Paris, home to many renowned artists and writers. And of course, the famous church that gives the area its name.
We'll meet up at the Dark Horse Coffee House at 7.30pm in Belfast's own bohemian and artistic Cathedral quarter.
See you then?!

Fête des rois. Gavottes and galettes in Belfast

Last month's réunion of the Cercle français was a colourful and festive occasion. The tables of the Dark Horse Coffee House had been moved to the perimeter to leave plenty of space for dancing and the walls were draped in bleu, blanc, rouge bunting. Musicians from BalFeirste played Breton music on a variety of instruments including the bombarde. The atmosphere at this early stage of the evening was full of buzz and chat.

Philip McGrory lived up to the MC in his name and soon had us organised for the evening. First up, he explained was a demonstration of a gavotte. Vanessa and Fergus took to the floor, others of the troupe joined in and our evening got into its rhythm.

Following a spell of more music and chat, we were called back to order for a couple of magic tricks. Magic, Magi and the fête des rois. In a nice touch, one of the magician's tricks involved participants who were all French. He supplied them all with menus from the restaurants of famous French chefs and somehow managed to get them all to select dishes from the various menus, the cost of which added up to an amount he had previously written on an enveloped card.

Then on to the galettes, prepared by Amélie. They were délicieuses! And substantial. Each baked with a fève inside. Warned beforehand to be careful when eating, it was soon established that 4 femmes and 2 hommes were in the running to be selected queen and king for the evening. This was decided by ballot. Vive la révolution! More music and la reine and le roi took to the floor in a celebration dance.

Vanessa then distributed copies of a song and got the whole audience to sing-a-long. That finished, it was back to the floor for a demonstration of and a joining in a chapelloise. Cameras and phones flashed all around as people captured the festive fun.

It was a great evening. Thanks to all who joined in and made it possible.