Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Potpourri’ Category

what does it tell you, the setting?

“Place connects characters to a collective and personal past, and so place is the emotional center of story. And by place, I don’t simply mean location. A location is a dot on the map, a set of coordinates. Place is location with narrative, with memory and imagination, with history. We transform a location into a place by telling its stories.”–John Dufresne, The Lie That Tells a Truth

Some years ago in another life, I taught writing and literature in a high school. Students at that level continue to learn about plot, setting, character, theme, the fundamentals of a story, in other words.

I liked teaching setting and how it could reflect a character. In other words, put a person in a room and tell me who she is from the description of it? What can you tell me about her?

My students, who were living in an upper middle class, suburban neighborhood, would have different perceptions and options than those students living in a big city, such as New York City.

A cautious person satisfied with her situation wouldn’t think of heading into the unknown. The surroundings for her in the story would reflect that. The setting reveals the person.

In one exercise I brought to the classroom a box of objects and spread them on a table. I asked the students to examine them. I asked, “Can you imagine a person from these objects?” (The objects came from my living room coffee table.)

I like mysteries. Whodunnits. I like trying to figure out who the villain is. I look for clues in the story much like a detective who takes out his magnifying glass à la Sherlock Holmes and begins painstakingly examining the scene of the crime. Surely from the setting of the crime one could find a link to the villain.

(Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.) But wait, there’s more!

dessert anyone?? ou, as-tu une ceinture abdominale !?

“Sometimes, it’s just easier to say yes to that extra snack or dessert, because frankly, it is exhausting to keep saying no. It’s exhausting to plead with our kids to eat just one more bite of vegetables.” —Michelle Obama

“If you are not feeling well, if you have not slept, chocolate will revive you. But you have no chocolate! I think of that again and again! My dear, how will you ever manage?” ―Marie de Rabutin-Chantal de Sévigné, 1626-1696

“I have never made a mistake when I asked for  a dessert.” —Michael Groves

The pâtisserie, or pastry store, is as prevalent in France as is the boulangerie, or bread store. One thinks of the Frenchman with a baguette under his arm as iconic.

I would argue that the French like desserts more than Americans. That is, the French are more inclined to order a dessert during lunch or dinner than Americans.

Many Americans will ‘grab-and-go” a lunch, and desserts do not fit well into that pattern of behavior. They might eat a slice of pizza or a hamburger for lunch, and what dessert would follow?

“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.” –Erma Bombeck

The French sit down to eat lunch and dinner and order one to three courses, one of which might be the dessert. The typical French meal consists of l’entrée and le plat principal or le plat principal and le dessert or one can order all three.

Typically, in France I order the former, l’entrée et le plat principal. I have noticed though that many French will choose the dessert, that is, they will order le plat principal et le dessert. They are more sensible.

(Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.) But wait, there’s more!

where will i eat today? or choosing a restaurant while visiting france

Eating well in France is important to me. Sometimes I organize my day around eating in a specific restaurant.

I live in France six months during the year, three months in Antibes, two months in Paris, and one month in Marseille. During those six months, I will eat lunch in a restaurant every day. Most of the time I will not repeat a restaurant. One can do the math. I eat in French restaurants 180 times each year.

If I am going to fly to France twice a year and spend between $1,000 and $1,500 for each ticket, I do not want to eat sandwiches or pizza or other fast foods while I am there. When I leave the apartment or hotel room in the morning, I do not want to carry a sack lunch nor do I want to eat “grab and go” meals. I want a good hot meal and I want to drink some wine. I will not become French when I am in France, but I can certainly pretend.

How does a visitor to France pick a restaurant? After all, eating in France should be an experience in itself. I suspect that most tourists choose a restaurant on the spur of the moment. If they are at Notre Dame, they will look around and choose one nearby, or select one that offers a menu that they understand, or pick a place that seems inviting or does not appear threatening.

That is a mistake. But, what should one do?

What do I NOT do?

Rarely will I rely on Yelp or TripAdvisor. (In fact I have blocked TripAdvisor on the my browser.) I am in France. Why would I take the advice of English speaking tourists, mostly Americans, when choosing a French restaurant in France?

I do sometimes make an exception. On the advice of Annie Sargent from The Join Us in France Travel Podcast, I have begun looking at Yelp reviews written in French by the French. That means typing into the search engines yelp.fr instead of yelp.com. But wait, there’s more!

holding two worlds apart, or living in a flying buttress

The streets in medieval villages are narrow, and in some villages, such as Grasse, France, one can stretch out the arms and touch the walls to each side.

Often the walls are tall, denying access to the light, except for parts of day when it manages to cut across the shadows and illuminates briefly patches of the bulwark and warms an otherwise gray day.

These tall walls, when built, needed support that the stone and construction could not provide.

Flying buttresses were devised to support walls from outside of a building. These structures projected perpendicularly from the face of a wall and served either to strengthen it or to resist the side thrust created by the load on an arch or a roof of the building. Notre-Dame de Paris in Paris is a good example.

While not considered flying buttresses per se, medieval buildings in France do rely on buttresses of another kind to prevent the walls of two adjacent buildings from collapsing into each other.

Projecting supports were built between the walls of two buildings and serves the same purpose as flying buttresses: they maintain the stability of the two walls and thus the entire building.

Besides the practical architectural reasons for putting these supports into place, they became passages for walking between the buildings. Some were built large enough to serve as small residences.

For obvious reasons these supports were built in the middle of passages between outlying streets. They are not portals per se or gates or doorways, although they do provide access to other public areas. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)