Sunday, September 27, 2009


It's touching and worth visiting at least once: the animal version of the famous Père-Lachaise cemetery.

Located on a charming reattached island in the Seine at Asnières, a Paris suburb, it's one of the world's first pet cemeteries in modern times. Like Père-Lachaise, which is a veritable outdoor museum of 19th century mausoleums,  le cimetière animalier d'Asnières is filled with extravagantly sculpted tombs and effigies of loved ones. Except here the loved ones are pets of every kind, including a lion and a race horse. 

The most famous animal buried here is the original Rin-Tin-Tin, which brings to mind Oscar Wilde's quip that "when good Americans die, they go to Paris. . ."

Established in 1899 at the insistence of feminist, journalist and animal lover Marguerite Durand, the cemetery, classified as a historic monument, has a magnificent Art Nouveau entry designed by the celebrated architect Eugène Petit.

Don't miss the cats: a local association tends to the care and feeding of a sizable population of stray cats that have taken up residence in the cemetery. A shelter has been built just for them.

4 pont de Clichy
92600 Asnièress-sur-Seine

Hours: Closed Mondays. March 16 thru Oct 15,  10 a.m. - 6 p.m.;
Oct 16 thru March 15, 10 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Restaurant recommendation of trusted friends: Le Van Gogh.  Named in homage to the artist and opened the year of his death, the restaurant is situated on the banks of the Seine, at one of  Van Gogh's favorite vantage points for painting landscapes. Fresh fish and seafood. Port Van Gogh at Pont de Clichy.

Text & photos ©2009 P.B. Lecron

Friday, September 25, 2009


When I first set up house with my new French husband in the north of France years ago, I told him we needed a microwave oven. Being neither chauvinist nor particularly epicurean, he agreed. 

But in a home appliance store where we went to purchase one, along with a new video camera, the salesman talked my husband out of it. At the time microwaves were relatively new on the French market. "You don't want one of those," he said. "My wife has one and never uses it." Then he lead Jacques off to the camera department.

We did buy a microwave the following week, but in different store where the salesman was less personable...

To microwave artichokes: 

I had always boiled artichokes, but discovered how wonderful they are microwaved. Quick and easy, microwaving artichokes gives them a fool-proof perfect and savory texture.

Cut off stems and top third of the artichokes. Pull off small lower leaves around base. Trim leave points with kitchen scissors.  Rub artichokes well with a lemon half; place in a microwave dish having about an inch and a half of water. Squeeze the rest of the lemon juice into the water and cover with plastic wrap. Cook from 5 to 10 minutes depending on the strength of the microwave and number of artichokes. Artichokes are done when leaves can be pulled out easily and bottoms are tender.

After cooking, remove artichokes from water. If desired, scoop out the prickly choke before serving by first pulling out tender center cone of leaves, then scrape the choke out with a spoon. May be served hot, warm or cold with a sauce, be it simple and sinful melted butter, a vinaigrette or Hollandaise sauce.

Text & photo ©2009 P.B. Lecron

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Thursday, September 24, 2009


Saint-Omer, the first pretty city after port-entry to France via Calais, is a training ground for freshly arrived tourists from England who haven't yet mastered the art of crossing French streets.

We used to live near Saint-Omer, where I did most of my shopping, and I couldn't count the number of times I rescued English people stranded at pedestrian crosswalks. 

They would stand expectantly on the edge of the sidewalk waiting for each passing car to stop, then look confused and bewildered as indifferent drivers whizzed by. Their challenge was not simply breaking the English habit of looking right, left, then right again before crossing (the rest of the world looks left, right, left), but learning how the French traverse their rues.

French driving laws require cars to stop for pedestrians once they are "regularly engaged" in crossing the street. What that means is  not explicitly set out in the French code, but my driving instructor  explained to me that in general drivers here don't stop for a pedestrian until after he has placed a foot onto the street, and not before. If a pedestrian remains standing on the curb or sidewalk, even at a marked crosswalk, then drivers are neither obliged to stop to allow him to cross, nor likely to.

A caveat: The French Code also requires that pedestrians take into account the distance and speed of vehicles before crossing a street, and not to dart out into traffic, even if drivers are obliged to yield to pedestrians "regularly engaged" in crossing. Mind your toes.

Text & photo ©2009 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Toutou--French for doggie--conjures up familiarity, fluff and affection.    

What do 8.6 million French toutous really want?  Probably what any other dog does: food, water, affection and to be on the other side of the door.

Back in 2005 when the craze for buying luxury goods for dogs was peaking in France,  I wrote a humorous magazine article about it saying that "dogs here have always enjoyed conspicuous pampering--especially in restaurants, where it really counts." The other day when I mentioned that favorite line to my friend, a kicky Parisian architect and man-about-town, he remarked he had been seeing fewer and fewer dogs going out for dinner.

Wondering exactly what the French legislation is on dogs in restaurants, we consulted a highly reliable source, the Fondation 30 Million Amis. The bottom line is that a restaurant owner has complete discretion in deciding whether to admit dogs, and he is not required to post any sign prohibiting them. (This leaves plenty of room for exception-making.) Dogs in a café or restaurant, however, must be securely held on a leash, and if they cause any damage, the dog owner is responsible.

 Le Littré, the authoritative classic of French dictionaries, says parenthetically that toutou is onomatopoetic, and in the language of children, dog. What do you think? Does toutou imitate the sound of that which it signifies?

The above text contains excerpts from an article I wrote, Dressing Médor,  originally published in France Today Magazine, Nov 2005.
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Text & photos ©2009  P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


My favorite French word, bigoudi, is a very likely sounding name for a hair roller. (The i's are pronounced like long e's.)

I even know a French family who nicknamed its grandmother  Bigoudette because she spent so much time with her hair in a mise en plis, or set in curlers.

At home, too, we called our own tender-headed and tantrum-throwing toddler who would hardly let us touch his hair, Le Bigoudi I was dumb-founded at the check-out stand in a French supermarket one day when a young clerk admiring my little boy's anglaises or boucles  (curly locks), naively asked me if I rolled his hair. "No," I said, and glibly gave her my down-pat, all-purpose explanation,"He's French."

Dictum:  Cheveux frisés, aimé. Curly hair, well-loved.

Text & photos ©2009 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Why have a bread machine in France when you can buy fresh bread on nearly every corner?

The bread machine I bought years ago from a French TV shopping program has been sitting idle and taking up cabinet space for so long that I think of it more as a disabled and mopey R2D2 than a kitchen appliance.  I was on the verge of giving it to a charity until I visited a French friend who had just bought one.

My friend, a Hildegarde von Bingen-nick, was not only making her own bread, but growing her own cereal grain to have milled for flour. On her country property she had planted a field of épeautre, or spelt wheat, an ancient grain strongly recommended by Hildegarde, a 12th century German benedictine abbess, a sort of a wise and spiritual Martha Stewart of the Middle Ages.

A hardy and nourishing favorite of the Gauls, épeautre was eventually abandoned because its thick and heavy husk made hulling and whitening more expensive than modern wheat.

But times are changing and people are rediscovering this naturally disease resistant cereal that tolerates arid and poor soils, cold weather, and never needs fertilizers or pesticides. It's high in carbohydrates and has proteins, but low in gluten and more easily tolerated by those with wheat allergies. It makes a pale, coarse, nutty- and slightly sweet-tasting bread. Queen of health food cereals,  farine d'épeautre (spelt wheat flour)  is increasingly available in French supermarkets.

For an environmentally sustainable & correct loaf of fresh bread from your kitchen:      

Pour into your bread machine the following ingredients, at room temperature, in this order:
250 g (1 cup) water
1 teaspoon of natural sea salt
450 g (3 cups) épeautre (spelt wheat) flour
1 1/2  teaspoon active dried yeast

Program for whole bread and select medium crust. After baking, remove and let cool one hour before slicing.

Who was Hildegarde?
Hildegarde von Bingen (1098-1179), although never canonized, is often referred to as a saint. Besides being a mystic, composer, herbalist, author, philosopher, naturalist, linguist and abbess, she wrote recipes and gave advice on how to eat and live well.

Text & photos ©2009 P.B. Lecron

Friday, September 18, 2009



It was intermission at the New York Met where French opera singer Natalie Dessay had just been belting out her best in the comic opera, La Fille du Régiment. Adages like "it's a small world," "birds of a feather flock together," and "you can never get enough of a good thing" really hit home when I realized that standing behind us in the cocktail line was a couple who, like myself, had just returned from a hotel barging trip in France. On my trip I had been invited as a guest journalist, so I was keen on knowing what they had to say about barging. Instead, they were the ones who pumped me for information-- they were so eager to go on another cruise-- and I found myself scribbling the Go Barging fleet address on their program.

Just to step aboard a vintage 1930's Dutch cargo barge like the one I cruised on, the Impressionniste, refurbished and converted to a hotel barge in 1995, is a thrill.  Living on one of them for a week while gliding through the easy-to-fall-in-love with French countryside is near nirvana.

It's definitely not "roughing it." Candlelight dinners, healthy breakfasts and mouth-watering noontime buffets punctuate the days filled with morning visits to towns and villages, then afternoon river and canal cruising. These quaint, floating four-star boutique hotels with well-trained bi-lingual crews who never miss a cue, cater typically to English-speaking tourists. They feature every convenience and then some, not to mention a perpetually changing nec plus ultra: calming sights and sounds of French country water living.  As I wrote in a France Today Magazine article, this kind of barging can never be more taxing than deciding which shoes to wear, the comfortable ones or the not-so-comfortable ones.

Travel log

By the second day of the Impressionniste cruise through the Carmargue rice lands along the Rhône we began to lose track of time. The morning spent strolling Pézenas streets and studying the city's noble 17th century architecture, then devouring the plump world-famous Bouzigues oysters on the half-shell we had had for lunch while crossing the Basin de Thau, a large salt water lagoon with immense oyster and mussel farms, seemed ions away-- though only the day before.
Our itinerary was relaxed and at the same time full. We roamed around historic sites like the Tour de Constance, a 13th century lighthouse that had once guided Crusaders into port at Aigue Mortes and admired the expanse of pastel tiled rooftops from the town's ramparts. We moored along a thin strip of bank parallel to the Mediterranean, and walked over to collect seashells and driftwood on a wild beach, a contrast to the hustle and bustle of the colorful port of Sète we had just left behind.

 We pet circus animals before their early evening performance in an old-world basket weaving village where we sipped our afternoon coffee. In Arles, we window-shopped to our hearts' content while exploring Van Gogh's old haunts, and stood reverent before the town's Roman ruins and arena. We trooped through the pope's palace in Avignon and combed the city known as the "Other Rome" before we headed back to the barge for the cook's bouquet final, the Captain's dinner. And after that feast, the first mate stupefied us with a card trick we're still trying to figure out.

With choice sight-seeing activities, ever-changing countryside and all the comfy places to stretch out on the barge inside and out, there was never a sense of confinement or crowding. Many wonder about how interpersonal relations are among the passengers on a hotel barge. They can matter in the decision to go on a cruise. Some want to "know before they go" and reserve the entire barge with friends or family, to eliminate the element of surprise of whose company they'll keep during the voyage.  Others count on making new and interesting friends, and just go. Either way, it's a safe bet for an enchanting voyage like no other.

The Impressionniste is now cruising the Burgundy Canal.
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Text & photos ©2009 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, September 17, 2009


We shared our landing with a French lawyer, or avocat, which incidentally, in French is the same word for avocado. One day when I was startled by a noise, my four-year old said, "Don't worry, maman, it's only the artichoke next door."

What do the French mean when they say someone has a coeur d'artichaut or artichoke heart?

My best sources tell me that a person with a coeur d'artichaut is someone who falls easily and often in love,  just as one pulls off leaves of an artichoke as one eats it. The expression comes from a 19th century proverb, "Coeur d'artichaut, une feuille pour tout le monde." He who has the heart of an artichoke has a leaf for everyone. 

photo & text ©2009 P.B.Lecron