A couple of very cool language tools

A good friend, Chris, told me about a very interesting language app/website called Duolingo (www.duolingo.com). It’s free, and the idea of it is that you work your way through various practice drills to increase your vocabulary in a particular language. They have French, Spanish, Italian, German, Danish, Irish, Portuguese, and Dutch. As you get through the various levels, you can “win” lingots to use in their store for things (I haven’t gotten far enough yet to see what you can “buy”). Chris said it was created by someone who wanted to get documents and articles translated and found that if they created a “game” out of it, people would go online and do the translations to improve their own skills, and in doing so, would provide free translation as well! I have opened an account and am going to try both Spanish and French to see how I do! It is a fun combination of you translating their sentences, you listening to them speak a sentence and translating, or them giving you a sentence in English to translate back to the language.

Chris told me that she improved her vocabular enormously by using it, and my quick look at it has convinced me that it’s a fun way to learn. I’ve now downloaded the app onto my phone as well so I can play when I’m on the subway, or have a spare 30 minutes somewhere.On the phone app version, it also has you listen to a sentence and repeat it back.

You can also “share” your results with friends through Facebook and compete against them. I think I will wait to see how I do in both languages before I “invite” anyone, but it’s a very fun idea!

The other, very useful, app for your phone when you travel is Google Translate. Again, it’s an app you can download on your phone and is a great quick reference for single words or phrases. You can type the word or phrase  or you can use the microphone feature and speak into the phone. We tested it a variety of ways, with different languages, and it seems very good at figuring out what you have said. It is easy to choose the two languages you are translating from and to, and it’s easy to switch back and forth between them. This app was enormously helpful at a restaurant, and in a taxi for giving the address, for instance, because the app has great pronunciation!

Enjoy!!

A Writing Update

I haven’t given any updates here recently on my writing so here goes! I finished the first draft of my second novel (working title is “Reunion”) and sent it off to Nellie, my wonderful editor. She, of course, sent it back with LOTS of changes so I have spent the last month making revisions and am now going to send her Draft #2 to see if she likes the changes. It’s a story about a 25-year college reunion trip set in Paris and Burgundy and centers around five women friends and four men friends who are all on the trip, getting to know each other again, as well as sharing stories of their lives. I hope to have a published version before the end of the year. That will, in part, depend upon whether Nellie and I decide that I should self-publish again, or find an agent this time. Time will tell, but I will write updates more often on that.

This one flowed much more quickly for me (I started it last July), and I think it’s a good story. We’ll see if Nellie agrees!

Fun Museums in Paris

I always like finding smaller museums to explore in Paris. Here are two that have beautiful buildings as well as exhibits. On the recommendation of my friend Natalie, I visited the Musee Marmottan (marmottan.fr) in the 16th Arrondissement. One of its big collections, works by Claude Monet, was under renovation so it was not available to see, but we were able to visit a collection of Illuminated Manuscripts that was amazing. The nearest métro stop is La Muette and is on the number 9 subway.  IMG_1341 IMG_1345IMG_1348

Another one I love is the Musee Jacquemart-Andre at 158 Boulevard Haussman (musee-jacquemart-andre.com) which was the private home of  Edouard Andre built in 1869.

Musee-Jacquemart-AndreYou can see that the building itself is amazing. We have seen two great exhibits there: the first comparing two Venetian painters, Canaletto and Guardi in 2012; and the second a Caillebotte exhibit in 2011 that compared the two Caillebotte brothers, one of whom was a photographer and the other a painter.

Both exhibits were very well presented, but it’s worth noting that the exhibit area for temporary exhibits is small, so it’s best to go early or late in the day to avoid crowds. You can get there on either the 9 or 13 subway lines, at the stops Saint-Augustin Miromesnil or Saint-Philippe du Roule.

Be sure to check the listings for both museums before you go to see what special exhibits may be showing there. Enjoy!

Maxime Le Forestier

When I lived in Paris as a student, Maxime le Forestier was one of two singers that kept me company. Veronique Sanson was the other one. Both were, and still are, French icons.

So you can imagine my excitement when I found out that Maxime was going to be performing at the Olympia Theater on May 13th. (www.olympiahall.com). I had been to the Olympia once before to see Norah Jones in 2012 (described in a previous blog post).

IMG_2185Maxime Le Forestier was born in February of 1949 so he was thirty when I was listening to his records as a student. I can tell you that at sixty-five, he is still going strong. The Olympia was sold out and it was obvious that he is still much loved. We were told that the performance was being filmed, so I’m hopeful that at some point this year there will be a CD available. He played all of his old favorites, including several from his first album, “San Francisco”, “Comme un Arbre” and Education Sentimentale.” IMG_2196IMG_2190This is a view of the room. It’s a little hard to see, but hopefully you can see that it’s a relatively small venue– about 1800 seats. Built in 1889, it served as a music hall for much of its history, though there were several times when it became a move theater during years of decline. In 1993, there was talk of tearing it down, so the then Minister of Culture stepped in and had it renovated, including bringing back its signature red interior. It has been home to many French stars, including Edith Piaf, Gilbert Becaud, Charles Trenet and Jacques Brel.

International stars have included the Grateful Dead, Madonna, Celine Dion, Diana Ross & the Supremes, among many others.

I am happy to say I will be returning again in February next year to hear my other favorite, Veronique Sanson. Like Maxime, she was born in 1949. A fun fact that I just read about her is that she was married to Stephen Stills in 1973 and spent time in the U.S., producing several albums while here. She and Stephen Stills had a son, Chris Stills, who is also a musician.

She has performed at the Olympia many times, and this time is scheduled for four nights, so they are obviously assuming that her popularity is still going strong! I can’t wait!

 

Paris 1900, La Ville Spectacle

1900 was an amazing year in Paris and the exhibit at the Petit Palais right now (through August 17th), called “Paris 1900- La Ville Spectacle” gives you a great feel for all that was happening then. The Universal Exposition opened in April of 1900 and it was the biggest event of its kind ever, covering over 277 acres. Both the Petit Palais, which houses the exhibit, and the Grand Palais, across the street, were built for this Universal Exposition. One of the first lines of the metro was also being built, as well as The Alexander III bridge and two mainline rail stations, the Gare des Invalides and the Gare D’Orsay. The exposition attracted 50 million visitors– imagine that in 1900!

Another thing that was introduced at this time was electricity. Imagine what a difference that would have made in a city like Paris, that has always been filled with people wanting to dine and socialize into the evening. Suddenly, moving around at night was much easier and safer.

The exhibit is made up of various paintings, posters, sculpture, and clothing, all giving us a wonderful glimpse of the people and the places of the time.  There were many paintings by artists that I didn’t know at all so I now have names to watch for in future exhibits.

There is an app that you can download for free that gives you snippets of information on various items in the exhibit through iTunes (and I think there is an Android version as well) and, of course, you can find out more at www.petitpalais.paris.fr as well.

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There’s a new bakery in the neighborhood

IMG_2059IMG_2058One of the best things about Paris is going each morning to the bakery to get breakfast. Baguettes, and pain au chocolat are our favorites, though occasionally we go wild and get other types of croissants and a variety of brioches and pastries. There are LOTS of bakeries in our neighborhood– I can think of six without even trying– and now we have a wonderful new addition. Maison Ganachaud just opened up on Rue Oberkampf. The Ganachaud family has been baking bread and had bakeries in Paris, according to the sign, since 1938 but this is new location for them. I had a great discussion with the man selling me my bread the first day, and he said that Maison Ganachaud prides itself on the fact that ALL of its baguettes (those called “tradition” and those that are the “regular” baguette) are put through a double rising process, which he says is what gives the baguettes their wonderful airy quality and “holey” interiors. IMG_2063

Another great thing about this bakery is that the chef making the baguettes is working in an area next to where you buy your bread, behind a glass window, so you can look in and watch the creative process! I’m looking forward to trying the wide variety of breads and pastries on display!

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Traveling to Paris, at least in my mind

I can’t physically be in Paris nearly as often as I’d like, so I love it when I find things that give me that “warm and fuzzy” feeling of being there, even when I’m still sitting at home. Sharon O’Connor has done that for me with her packet of French Cafe music and recipes:

IMG_1977  This was given to me as a gift and it is a boxed set of simple recipes, each from a specific cafe in Paris. They are generally very simple, reflecting the more traditional meals that you can get at most corner cafes. For example, there is one for an Omelette with Fresh Herbs, one for Sole with Lemon Brown Butter and Creamy Mashed Potatoes, and one for a Nicoise Salad. Each recipe is from a particular cafe that she has visited and each card not only describes the recipe, in simple detail that is easy to follow, but also a description of the Cafe it came from. My husband and I made the omelettes using the recipe the other night, and truly, they were delicious! It comes with a CD of cafe music as well, very upbeat and totally French.

We enjoyed that so much that we bought a second collection from her, this time of her Bistro music and recipes:

IMG_1976These recipes are in an actual cookbook, rather than on individual cards, but they look just as easy to follow. I’m looking forward to trying the Steak Frites recipe, for example!. This time the music is instrumental rather than the fun vocals from the first one, so I admit I didn’t care for the music quite as much, but I still found it fun to listen to, especially because they often feature accordion which always reminds me of Paris and the buskers in the metro. I strongly recommend them both!

Enjoy!!!

 

Brocantes, Flea Markets, and other “bargain hunting”

One of my favorite things to do in Paris is to visit the small temporary flea markets that pop up around Paris. You never know what you’ll find– I’ve gotten some fun glassware and fun dishes. I’ve talked about them before, but I’m reminded again how much fun they are by David Lebovitz’s blog post today http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2014/03/paris-flea-markets-and-thrift-stores/  He has a great description of all of the various choices for doing some bargain hunting. One thing we love to use, which he talks about, is the app “Brocabrac” which you can use when you are there (it only shows the events coming in the immediate future). “75” is the prefix for any of the Parisian areas so you just put that in and it will tell you what’s happening…..

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Puligny Montrachet- wine, anyone?

IMG_0353Hotel Le Montrachet is located in the tiny village of Puligny Montrachet in Burgundy. It’s about 8.5 miles from the small town of Beaune, “wine central” in my mind, in Burgundy. The house was built in the beginning of the 19th century. There are a total of 30 rooms, spread through a main building and an “annex” building next door, and a there is also a wonderful restaurant. I was there in the fall of 2011, doing some wine tasting with my husband and some friends, and we used it as our base of operations, doing day trips to vineyards around the area, including a wonderful tour at Louis Jadot. I wrote about that in a previous blog post so I won’t go into detail on Louis Jadot, but will say that I highly recommend the tour and their wine. See http://www.le-montrachet.com for more details on the hotel and www.louisjadot.com for the wine.

The reason that this hotel is back in my thoughts is that I am working on my second novel and this hotel will be in it! Let me start by saying this story is NOT a sequel to the first novel, though I’ve now had several requests for that, so that may have to be next. This story is about a college reunion, 25 years after graduation. It is a seven day trip, with five of those days in Paris and two days in Burgundy for a quick wine tasting. The group has twenty-five people so I have decided to have them stay at this hotel.

The story is centered around five women who are reconnecting. For various reasons, none of their husbands come on the trip and it’s a chance for these women to get to know each other again as well as reconnect with the various other members of the group. The way it’s shaping up, there are four of the men in the group, in particular, who are part of the story. Could there be some romance? We’ll see. Maybe some drama when personalities collide? Possibly….

I hope to get a rough first draft to my wonderful friend and editor, Nellie Sabin, by late spring so I’ll let you all know how things progress this next few months.

In the meantime, if you have ANY chance to try the white wine from Puligny Montrachet, it’s minerally and fresh, with a hint of citrus. It is DELICIOUS!

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Cafe Gourmand

If you’re like me, you like a “little something sweet” after a meal. We were recently eating at one of our favorite local restaurants, La Cote D’Or (www.lacotedorcafe.com) and got into a discussion with Raymond, the owner. I wanted something for dessert, but felt like any of the tempting offerings would be “too much.” His solution is a dessert called “Cafe Gourmand” and he told us that it is a common dessert in France as well. He said that in France, restaurants were finding that people were not ordering dessert and thought that one reason might be the same hesitation that I was having, that it would be “too much.” To solve that, they created the “Cafe Gourmand” which was to make three, small, “tasting” portions of dessert, as well as a cup of espresso.

Raymond was right. His “Cafe Gourmand” is delicious and I’m sorry that I don’t have a picture of it to share here with you– I will be sure to take one next time we’re there. His dessert includes a small helping of Chocolate Mousse, a small creme brulee, and a scoop of coffee ice cream.

I have decided to make it my mission to try the offerings for Cafe Gourmand at other restaurants, here in the US and in France and I’ve included pictures of two from recent forays.

The first is in a wonderful restaurant called Matchbox (www.matchboxmerrifield.com)  here in the US and it includes three scoops of sorbet, a brownie sundae, and homemade doughnuts (as well as coffee). May I point out that, as delicious as this dessert was, it is definitely the “American” version– all three desserts were big enough to stand alone (in my opinion). Again, I’m not complaining- it was absolutely delicious, but I will say that my husband and I shared it and we STILL couldn’t finish it all.

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The second one is one from a French cafe called Bar Au Metre. This one includes creme brulee, tiramisu, and an apple turnover (as well as the espresso). Again, all were delicious, and the portions were definitely smaller than its American cousin.

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Aaaahhh, both experiences lead me to believe that I will have to continue this particular form of research….