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Nothing happens in this clip from You Tube because this song was never made into a video, but this is one of my favourite renditions of Les Yeux Ouverts. If the tune sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same as ‘Dream a little dream of me’. Same dog, different words!

If you feel like reading more about Enzo Enzo, click here, but be warned – it’s the French wikipedia entry.

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This is a photo of a horse-butcher’s shop in Fontenay-le-Comte. I simply had to take a photo. Monsieur didn’t get it, but he didn’t grow up in a country where eating horse would be like eating the family dog. Kiwis just wouldn’t ever consider it. Because of that, for me, seeing horse butchers is half novelty and half horror. Thank heavens I can’t eat red meat. Now I’ll never have to consider eating Black Beauty’s cousins.

At our Christmas party last year, an Italian colleague explained to us what horse meat tastes like. She thoroughly enjoys eating horse and waxed lyrical about her favourite horse preparation methods. Meanwhile, a strictly ethical vegetarian colleague gagged and had to excuse herself.

If you think eating horse is bad, I suggest you pop across to Epicurienne, where I’m currently discussing the more bizarre items to be found on a Vietnamese menu. Monsieur and I are in Vietnam right now, studiously avoiding the consumption of anything involving monkey, dog or snake meat. Wish us luck! The Vietnamese motto is “if you can catch it,  you can eat it!” Does that include me?

If you’re a weekend Telegraph reader, you’ve probably come across Michael Wright. He’s one of the many Brits who’ve up-sticks and crossed the Channel in search of a better life, subsiding his new farm-country existence by writing a weekly column called C’est La Folie. The column is the inspiration for one of the most entertaining books about the transition to French life that I’ve come across so far, also named C’est La Folie.

The book starts out with entertaining anecdotes explaining why MW decides to leave London and his job as a theatre critic. We don’t need much convincing that he’s right to leave sunny Dulwich for a ramshackle house in need of his love and attention. La Folie, as it’s called, is suitably close to an aerodrome, so MW might be able to take his plane (if there’s ever an opening on the waiting list, that is), and there’s plenty of room for his beloved feline companion, with all the mouse-hunting opportunities that a country house provides.

C’est La Folie follows MW’s assimilation into the community of ‘Jolibois’, a false name for a real place, created in the interests of privacy. His quest for love pops up from time to time, we meet his neighbours, his visitors and the local pharmacist, who helps him with a sensitive medical issue concerning hens. An unexpectedly  important part is played by MW’s sheep. Dwarf-like with wool likened to Rastafarian dreadlocks, their personalities are as individual and vibrant as the people described in these pages. If you’re an animal person, you’ll be laughing one minute and close to crying the next as you work your way through this tale.

When I turned the last page of C’est La Folie, I immediately wanted to read the next instalment. For that, we’ll have to wait, but any curiosity regarding MW’s progress in France can be assuaged by tuning into his column. This is a self-deprecating character who has worked hard to fit into a very different lifestyle from the one he left behind in London. Unlike some other writers in the same vein, he is refreshingly un-snobbish about it. That’s what makes this book even more fun to read. Highly recommended.

Monsieur introduced me to the music and whacky videos of Mylene Farmer. Here’s one of my favourites, although if you get freaked out by ventriloquists’ puppets because of the Chucky films, this one may not be for you…

Petit Nicolas

The first proper French book I ever read was a little orange paperback of Petit Nicolas stories. I was twelve or thirteen at the time, but to this day I love dipping into the tales of this lovable little rogue, who talks about ‘heaps and heaps’ (‘des tas et des tas’) of things, frequently escalates his crying when his parents vex him, and has friends with such wonderful names as Eudes, Clotaire and Alceste.

A couple of years ago, Monsieur’s Maman (MM) gave me the second volume of the Histoires Inédites du Petit Nicolas. She knew I adored the stories so when the Histoires Inédites came out, that was it. She immediately knew what to buy me for Christmas and, in my eyes, she had found the perfect present. Later, when I finally got to grips with ordering books from Amazon.fr, I bought the first volume so now Monsieur and I have all those funny little tales on our bookshelf.

Petit Nicolas first appeared in 1959, the brainchild of René Goscinny, the French comic writer responsible for Astérix. The simple black and white illustrations are the work of Jean-Jacques Sempé and their naïvety matches the story-telling style. Everything is seen from Nicolas’s perspective: the formation of a gang with secret passwords, the mysteries of adult behaviour, the frustration of not being able to take all of his ‘heaps and heaps’ of toys with him on holiday and the school-yard pranks that little boys are so prone to performing. When Nicolas likes something, it’s always ‘chouette’ (great). His vocabulary hasn’t yet stretched to more specific adjectives.

On checking the net today, I’ve found out a few interesting things. Le Petit Nicolas has been translated into English, although a few things have changed. Those wonderful French names have been switched for English equivalents:

Alceste = Alec, Clotaire = Matthew (what? how on earth did they work that one out?), Eudes = Eddie and Geoffroy becomes Geoffrey (quelle surprise!). Nicolas is anglicised into Nicholas, and his school crush, Marie-Edwige becomes Mary-Jane. For a full list, click here.

It’s also hardly surprising that the name of Petit Nicolas has been used to refer to Nicolas Sarkozy, prompting political cartoonists to portray the President in typically Nicolas scenarios:

We can also look forward to a Petit Nicolas feature film, scheduled for release in September 2009. Laurent Tirard (Molière) is directing and Valérie Lemercier of Fauteuils d’Orchestre fame. Here’s the trailer for that film:

Lemercier will play Nicolas’s maman. Can’t wait.

Back to the subject of the French President and his Petit Nicolas sobriquet, you may be interested to read the following quote from the 2005 edition of The Armchair Diplomat on Europe, by Melissa Rossi. (You have to bear in mind that this was before Sarko became Prez-o.)

New head of Chirac’s Popular Majority Party, the conservative (Sarkozy) who dated Chirac’s daughter, is no longer chummy with the Chiracs, since he made his ambitions known. Chirac’s daughter has said Sarkozy is too short to be the leader of France – apparently forgetting about Napoleon.

Now that’s what I call a quote and a half.

Whenever I see a sunflower, I think of Vincent Van Gogh, that mad (not in a good way) Dutch painter whose dauby impressionist works depicting vases of these yellow flowers have a habit of giving the auction world a nervous twitch whenever one comes up for sale. Van Gogh painted the sunflower series when he was living in The Yellow House in Arles, a place he shared for a while with Gauguin, until his obsession with the fellow painter led him to cut off part of his ear and give it to a prostitute for safe-keeping.

The French word for sunflower is ‘tournesol’, which, if you break it down into parts means ‘turn’ (tourne) and ‘sun’ (sol, abbreviated from le soleil). Suddenly I have an image of a field full of sunflowers leaning towards the sun as it moves through the sky.

Until recently, I’ve never had the luck to be in France when the sunflowers are at their best, swaying seas of gold blanketing the French countryside. When Monsieur and I visited the Vendée region recently, there they were: field upon field of sunflowers, in the flesh. Not on a postcard, not in a coffee table book. In. The. Flesh.

Being the odd one in this relationship, I asked Monsieur to drive me to a field of sunflowers so I could take some photos. Being the patient one in the relationship, he obliged. There I was, jumping around in the midst of flowers taller than me, trying to get a picture postcard shot. I didn’t think Monsieur was paying much attention, accustomed as he is to my Unusual Photo Opportunities, but how wrong I was.

When I’d shot my fill of yellow tournesols, Monsieur showed my a photo he’d taken of me in the field. There is my face, sure enough, surrounded by the sunflowers, but the plants shield my body so in fact it looks like I AM a sunflower! That picture is definitely being printed off and sent around, once Monsieur gives me access to it. In the meantime, here is some sunshine to brighten up what is otherwise a grey summer’s day in Londinium.

It was grey and drizzly that day in Vendée, too, but the flowers bravely weathered the weather.

They certainly keep the bees busy. This little drone is nibbling away at that tasty pollen at the centre of the flower. Yumalicious. Let’s make some honey, Honey!

Some of the fleurs look a bit tatty, but their colour glows on.

DID YOU KNOW….

That in Tintin, le Professeur Tournesol in the French language editions is our much loved eccentric Professor Calculus in English? I think we don’t need to be told why they changed the name. Just imagine being called ‘Professor Sunflower’. No one would take your theories seriously.

Frenchified women

There’s a popular stereotype about French women that conjures images of slim, elegant pouty beauties who grace sidewalk cafés as they puff sexily on cigarettes and sip espressos. These women go everywhere in a garter belt and stockings, never chip a nail and wouldn’t be seen dead in a pair of trainers. It’s a beautiful image to have but in my experience it lacks accuracy, especially if you go to a French suburban shopping centre, where there are reassuringly normal-looking women, not just French goddesses. Yet various writers world-wide are trying to convince us that we are inferior to the French dream woman, so we non-French gals find ourselves forking out a fortune to buy books that will transform us into  garter-belt goddesses who can eat foie gras and camembert on a daily basis without gaining an ounce.

Helena Frith-Powell and other Anglo-Saxones who now live in France do indeed testify to the fact that the habits of the French do contribute to weight-loss. I know for certain that the English lifestyle has seen me gain unwanted pounds which are difficult to shift and in the States the rate of obesity in adult women (and men and children, for that matter) is alarming. I’m certain that if I still lived in sporty New Zealand, this would not have happened, but for the moment home is in London so it’s time to get rid of the weight. Will these guides help? Is their advice going to be wise or ridiculous? I don’t know, but it’s time to take the books off the shelf, blow off the dust and see what they recommend.

First up for analysis will be Mireille Guiliano, author of bestselling French Women Don’t Get Fat and sequel, French Women for All Seasons. (out of interest others immediately jumped on Guiliano’s bandwagon to write about the weight-loss secrets of their own cultures: Mediterranean Women Stay Slim, Too by Melissa Kelly and Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat by Naomi Moriyama are two such examples).

After analysing whether or not Guiliano’s advice is practical enough to incorporate into a busy working life, I’ll look at Entre Nous – A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl, by Debra Ollivier.

Then I’ll assess the Chic and Slim series by Anne Barone.

Keep checking the posts because I have a funny feeling there’ll be a lot to say, both for and against these guides.