Monthly Archives: September 2008

Authentic France Travel Tip #4 : Eat Your Meals at the Same Time as the French

Authentic France travel Tip #4: Eat Your Meals at the Same Time as the French

Some of the guests at our vacation rentals are frankly befuddled by restaurants here in France. They go in at 3:00pm, desperately hungry for something to eat, and the waiter looks at them strangely and informs them that the kitchen staff has left for the afternoon.

Given that restaurants are generally open in North America all day, every day to serve victuals, this confusion is eminently understandable.

However, I strongly believe that one of the keys to having an authentic experience in France is eschewing the North American concept of flexible meal times and instead eating when the French eat.

Here’s how it works in France;

Breakfast (or “petit déjeuner“): This is taken on getting up, and generally no later than 10:00am

Lunch (or “déjeuner“): The French sit down for lunch between 12:00 and 12:30, and it usually lasts until 1:30 to 2:00pm.

Afternoon snack (or “goûter“): This is taken between 4:00 and 5:00 pm, and is a wonderful time to treat yourself to something yummy from a Patisserie. This is the only meal that the French see as optional, and at times miss.

Supper (ordîner“): The French sit down to supper no earlier than 7:00pm, and often as late as 9:00pm. People in Paris and the South of France tend to eat a bit later (due to traffic and heat considerations I suppose).

Lunch tends to be the biggest meal of the day and is almost always a sit down affair with wine and baguette and a minimum of three courses. The exception to this is if the French are having supper with friends or going out to a restaurant. You will find that no restaurant will take dinner reservations before 7:00pm.

By eating like the French, I believe you will receive not only better service and better food, but may even develop a deep appreciation of the ritualized manner in which the French enjoy their meals.

*”Authentic France Travel Tips” are posted every Tuesday and give ideas for travellers who want to experience the authentic side of France.

I’ve Lost My Dots

Now that I’ve hopped off my high horse since Friday’s post-come-diatribe, I have to take care of a little technical housekeeping.

You may have noticed that my little “ClusterMap” (the checking of which is one of my secret, shameful addictions) on the right hand side of my blog is looking less red than usual. This is because the people at ClusterMap archive the maps once a year, and mine started again afresh on September 25th.

However, if you want to look at the old map, you just need to go here;

http://www3.clustrmaps.com/stats/history/grapejournal.blogspot.com-2007-09-25_to_2008-09-26.jpg

I had 11,126 visits to my blog last year . This gives me warm fuzzies in my tummy.

Also Blogger has added a new gadget where people can sign up as “followers” of The Grape Journal. Right now I only have one official follower, and this is a bit sad. I expect my two sisters and my mother to sign up at least…

To do it you just click on the “Follow This Blog” link on the right hand toolbar. Only caveat is that you have to have a Google account – but who doesn’t have one of those these days?

Frenchitude Lesson #4: Stop Watching Other People’s Weight

Frenchitude Lesson #4: Stop Watching Other People’s Weight

Of the many things that gave me culture shock when I was back in Canada this summer, the most striking was the obsession that North Americans seem to have with watching and commenting on each other’s weight.

At least six times during my stay in Canada, I would be having a conversation with a friend or acquaintance when the subject of somebody we both knew would come up.

“She’s looking great these days,” my fellow conversationalist would say with forced enthusiasm.

And then I would wait one second, and then another…waiting for it…

And then it came. “She’s really lost some weight.”

In Canada, EVERY SINGLE time a person’s attractiveness was evoked, so was their weight, or rather their weight loss.

Worse still was the reverent tone used when evoking the weight loss winner, as though the accomplishment of losing ten pounds was right up there with winning the Nobel Peace Prize. A tad worthier, perhaps.

I was discussing this phenomenon with a Canadian friend of mine, and she told me of a harrowing afternoon she had recently spent at a Victoria beach with a friend who spent the entire time critiquing the bodies of the other women frolicking in the sand. My friend finally had to inform her beach companion that she didn’t want to waste a gloriously sunny afternoon picking apart other women’s figures.

In France weight, like money and reasonable behaviour , is generally considered to be a boring topic of conversation. Moreover, in France, as Yoda would put it, the Perfect Body Mass Index does not an attractive person make.

Rather, attractiveness is seen here as a unique alchemy of style, charm, intellect, and being comfortable within yourself and your life. In France, many people who have far from the “perfect” body are considered extremely attractive. Just take a moment to ponder Gérard Depardieu’s status as a sex symbol for goodness sake.

The goal for both men and women is to feel “bien dans sa peau” or to feel “good in your skin”. Health goes hand and hand with pleasure, and there is little of the self-flagellation that is the by-product of this North American obsession – and no I don’t think that’s too strong a word – with weight loss.

When you think about it, even a substantial weight loss is not going to change the huge majority of us into someone we are not – i.e. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. The French wouldn’t be able to understand this North American thirst for self-transformation. Why would anyone want to look like somebody else rather than being authentically themselves? It’s pointless. Besides, attractiveness isn’t a matter of competition, but of individual expression.

So then why do so many North Americans, in contrast, constantly monitor each other’s weight?

My hunch is that weight loss is held up as such a holy grail in North American society – the key to immortality and everlasting nirvana if you were to believe North American TV and magazines – that most people either feel bad because they don’t measure up to the unrealistic ideal, or annoyingly self-satisfied because they do.

As for the self-satisfied group, their status is by definition short-lived. Just as there is always someone richer, there is always someone with a “better” body. The media make people feel as though they never look the “right” way, and what do people in a competitive society do when they feel insecure? They measure themselves constantly against others, seeking reassurance (but never finding it) that they are doing OK.

The upshot is that the weight loss madness only serves to make everyone unhappy.

And the most tragic aspect of the whole thing is that North Americans are blessed with an exuberant energy and imagination that I find is lacking in Old World countries such as France.

It’s tragic that instead of harnessing this energy to find a cure for cancer or develop an environmentally friendly fuel, it is being squandered obsessing about the fact that a colleague at the next desk has lost five pounds.

So go ahead and adopt Frenchitude in regards to weight loss; don’t allow it to occupy a disproportionate amount of space in that wonderful brain of yours.

Life is short, and there are so many good books and good meals and good conversations to be had instead.

* Frenchitude Fridays (French + Attitude = Frenchitude) give ideas for how to inject a bit of frenchness into your life, whether you live in Montreal or Mombasa.

Worried I Would Find out About The Mistress…

I just received a strange phone call. The woman on the other end asks for Franck in elegant French.

“He’s not here right now, but this is Madame Germain. Can I give him a message?”

Non, non. I will call back later.”

This is all very mysterious. “Can I ask who’s calling please?”

“There is no problem. I will call back.”

“But I can give him a message.’

Non, non…”

I am fed up with this cloak and dagger stuff. “Who is this?” I demand.

The woman hesitates, but must tell from my steely tone that I am not putting up with any nonsense. “It is La Ciboulette restaurant,” she admits. “It is to confirm a reservation made by Monsieur Germain.”

“Oh that’s right, he called to book it for a client of ours.”

The woman sounds patently relieved. “Ah, Ah…bien sûr…well, you can tell him it is confirmed.”

It is only when I hang up that it dawns on me she was worried Monsieur Germain had made the reservation for himself and his mistress, and that I would find out.

Ah France…

Authentic France Travel Tip #3

Authentic France Travel Tip #3: Buy a French Market Bag at the Beginning of Your Trip, Fill Repeatedly, Then Pack it in Your Suitcase to Take Home

There is nothing that makes you feel quite as authentically French as filling up one of these traditional French market bags with luscious produce, smelly cheeses, and crusty baguettes at one of France’s fabulous local markets.

I bought my own French market bag at the Saturday morning market in Beaune (a not to miss event if you are in the area) and they only cost between 10 and 20 Euros. My market bag and I have passed many a beautiful moment together, not the least of which was the photo shoot on my front lawn five minutes ago!

I leave lists of local markets at all four of our vacation rentals in Burgundy, and there is more than one going on every day of the week. In my mind there is no better way to discover village life in France than exploring as many markets as you can during your stay.

I use my market bag for many other things besides going to the actual market. I use it as my grocery bag, to pack the girls’ kimonos and after-school “goûter” to Monday evening judo classes, as a beach bag, and a picnic basket.

These sacs are not only environmentally friendly, but they also bestow on their owners a certain effortless French chic. Remember those black and white photos of Brigitte Bardot in Saint-Tropez before she went off the deep end? Often she was only accessorized by her tattered French market bag, but it was enough.

In my mind French market bags make perfect souvenirs to take home; they pack flat, don’t break, are completely inoffensive to customs officers and sniffer dogs (and sadly one can’t say the same for an Epoisses). They also give you a nice jolt of frenchitude every time you sling those leather straps over your shoulder, just like these French mesdames pictured below.

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*”Authentic France Travel Tips” are posted every Tuesday and give ideas for travellers who want to experience the authentic side of France.

The 2008 Harvest Begins…

The Grape Harvest (les vendanges) started yesterday (Saturday) here in Burgundy, so I thought it would be a good time to post my photos of the soon-to-picked grapes that I took during one of my daily walks around the Mont Saint Victor a few days ago.

The 2008 vintage is apparently going to be a tricky one. Lots of rain and not enough heat means there are 2 major issues; mildew and low sugar content in the grapes. However, if the current sun holds out during the harvest the winemakers seem to think it may turn out to be a half-decent haul after all.

Here is a row of vineyards, as you can see some of the leaves are slowly beginning to turn crimson.

And here is a luscious bunch of Pinot Noir grapes, the only kind of grape with which that wine makers of the Côte D’Or are allowed to make red wine. I have my doubts about the low sugar content problem, they look pretty yummy to me..

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And then here’s a delectable looking bunch of white grapes – I’m not sure if these are Aligoté or Chardonnay. In any case, this is looking like a pretty decent year for Burgundy whites.

And here’s a lovely bunch of…oh wait, that’s no grape, it’s Clémentine Agathe Germain! She’s our 2008 vintage, and turning out very nicely if I do say so myself.

Frenchitude Lesson #3: Grow Some Fruit or Vegetables, or Be Very Nice to Someone Who Does

*Frenchitude Lesson#3: Grow Some Fruit or Vegetables, or Be Very Nice to Someone Who Does

The French, especially the many who live in rural villages like Villers-la-Faye, are rather fanatical about growing as much of their own fruit and vegetables as they possibly can.

Almost everybody I know here has at least a cherry tree and a nut tree, as well as a little plot for tomatoes and zucchini.

Last year Franck’s sister Stephanie, who lives in MagnylesVillers, had such a year of abundance with her fruit trees that we were able to pick kilos upon kilos of fresh cherries (both sweet and tart) and plums that we have frozen to make our own jam.

Then there are people like our next-door neighbour Victor who transform the simple concept of a vegetable garden into a thing of high art. I often spend a few minutes of my day gazing over our veranda wall to the orderly bean stalks and luscious tomatoes in his garden.

Thankfully for us, Franck’s father André is of this persuasion. Three years ago he decided to cultivate a large plot of land that has been passed down in the family for..well, as far back as anyone can remember, just beside the vineyards on the way out of Villers-la-Faye. He planted all different sorts of vegetables and an orchard of fruit trees.

And now look…

Luckily for us, he brings us boxes like this on a regular basis during growing season. Like the French, I consider this among the best gifts anyone could receive.

It goes without saying that all of the home grown fruit and vegetables are just about as organic as you can get, but this is not the main reason why the French value them. Sure, it’s a nice bonus that they’re good for us, but this comes a distant second to the fact that they just taste so much better than their store bought equivalent.

With so much of life here in France, the whole point is pleasure; pleasure in sinking your hands into the dirt, pleasure in watching your vegetables grow, pleasure in hearing the thanks when you share them, pleasure in sniffing their heavenly smell, and above all, pleasure in eating them.

So that’s why when we start to landscape our front yard here at La Maison des Chaumes, I’m gunning for a fruit tree.

* Frenchtitude (French + Attitude = Frenchitude) Fridays give ideas for how to inject a bit of frenchness into your life, whether you life in Tasmania or Timbuktu.

These Friday posts were originally called “Un Petit Peu French Fridays” but have been renamed “Frenchitude Fridays” by popular vote…ok, actually the opinions of 5 fans…ok actually four friends and one sister…

"Un Petit Peu French" vs. "Frenchitude"

I’m having a bit of a crisis and I need your input.

When I first developed the concept of “Un Petit Peu French Fridays” I thought that name was quite cool; a bit of French, a bit of English, with a sprinkling of alliteration to make it roll off the tongue in a tasty fashion.

As my motto going through life seems to be Ready – Shoot – Aim I bequeathed it that name with no further soul-searching. However, since then I have also been seduced by another name for my Friday posts. The contender is a term I have coined “Frenchitude”, as in:

“French” + “Attitude” = “Frenchitude”

Am I deluded, or does “Frenchitude Fridays” have a nice ring to it?

So could anyone that has an opinion or a favorite please make it known? S’il te plait? I vow that if you do I’ll put you in the “acknowledgements” when this is all spun into a book.

Zut, there goes that Ready-Shoot-Aim thing again…

Authentic France Travel Tip #2 : Search for the Best Baguette

Salut! That’s right, it’s Tuesday here in Burgundy, so time again for another Authentic France Travel Tip*.

Authentic France Travel Tip #2 : Search for the Best Baguette

Besides petanque, which really must be the perfect athletic endeavour because you can play it with one hand whilst holding your drink in the other, France’s other national sport is finding the best baguette.

Most French people I know buy at least one or more fresh baguettes a day to eat along with their three main meals, and the task of finding the best possible baguette is taken very seriously.

Our favorites evolve with the movement of certain boulangers out of one boulangerie and into another – akin to groupies following their favorite rock star – but right now our favorite baguettes come from the boulangerie in the nearby village of Comblanchien and the one just steps from our apartment in Beaune, Le Relais du Vieux Beaune.

With friends, family, and even complete strangers here in Burgundy, conversation often veers in the direction of our favorite boulangerie of the moment. As people’s taste in bread varies – some like it hard and crunchy, other like it soft and doughy – the issue of best baguette can also, like so many things here in France, rapidly become a matter of heated debate. I have been witness to dinners where fistfights have almost broken out over the subject.

So next time you’re in France ask a local where you might find a really good baguette. Chances are an interesting conversation full of edifying opinions and a sublime bread experience will be the result.

*”Authentic France Travel Tips” are posted every Tuesday and give ideas for travellers who want to experience the authentic side of France.

Jacky’s Has Sold!


Hooray! News Flash! Jacky’s store has finally sold! Shortly after we got back from Canada we noticed that the “For Sale” signs had all been taken down. We put out our gossip antennae and have learned the mystery person who bought it is planning on opening a business of some ilk in the spot. However the identity of the mystery person still remains well…a mystery.

Of course, all of us villagers are dearly hoping it will be a cafe / bistro / grocery store like Jacky’s. This would be especially fitting as they’ve done up the square in front of it so nicely with lovely benches and trees, making it a great place to stop and chat after buying a baguette or enjoying an espresso (or, in keeping with the tradition of Jacky’s, un petit blanc).

I will post any new Jacky’s related gossip here, so watch this space!