Monday, March 27, 2006

Pardon my French...

From this weekend’s International Herald Tribune (“In English? Chirac won't hear of it” by Dan Bilefsky)
“A European Union summit meeting already overshadowed by concerns over economic nationalism turned into a linguistic battlefield when President Jacques Chirac of France, "deeply shocked" by the sight of a fellow Frenchman speaking English, stormed out of the room. Chirac defiantly admitted Friday that he had bolted from the meeting the night before because Ernest-Antoine Seillière, the French head of the European business lobby Unice, was using the language of Shakespeare rather than the language of Voltaire. When Seillière began addressing the EU's 25 leaders in English, Chirac interrupted him and asked why he was not using his mother tongue. "I'm going to speak in English because that is the language of business," Seillière replied. With that, Chirac, 73, stood up and left the room, flanked by his finance minister, Thierry Breton, and foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, officials present at the meeting said. "I was deeply shocked to see a Frenchman express himself at the council table in English, that's why we left - so as not to have to listen to that," Chirac said as the meeting ended Friday. Chirac, who studied in the United States and speaks English, said France had fought long and hard to promote the French language and to ensure it was spoken from the Olympics to the United Nations and the European Union. "It is not just national interest, it is in the interest of culture and the dialogue of cultures," he said Friday. "You cannot build the world of the future on just one language and, hence, one culture."

Chirac’s temper tantrum, while ostensibly puerile, manifests the ongoing battle between Gallic pride and the globalization of business and politics. The French have a reputation for being a proud people. From the Vikings to Charles de Gaulle’s franco-centric sentiments– “France cannot be France without greatness” – the French have traditionally considered themselves to be superior to the rest of the world. And, aren’t they? Their cuisine is arguably the best in the world (I challenge you to find me a better pastry on planet earth), their women are effortlessly and breathtakingly gorgeous, their capital city is a cultural Mecca, and their mother tongue is truly “the language of love.” Yet France’s cultural offerings have been threatened in recent years by a powerful globalization – bordering on Americanization – that seeks to unify international business, politics and culture. English-language menus are becoming more and more ubiquitous in Paris restaurants, Hollywood films continue to flood French cinemas, and English is becoming an obligatory course-requirements in schools all over the country. It has become nearly impossible to succeed in business without a general mastery of the English tongue. My job requires me to interact with film companies from all over the world and our common language is always English.
So was Chirac wrong to flee the scene when Seillière began speaking English? Or was Seillière betraying his fatherland by speaking in the language of Paris Hilton instead of the language of Paris, France? Both men raise convincing arguments. “I'm going to speak in English because that is the language of business,” said Seillière. He’s right, it is. Despite efforts to create a new, universal language called ????, English has become the lingo of the world. Even if we don’t necessarily agree with the monopoly of America’s arguably hegemonic culture, it’s a fact: English is the language of business, no matter what your longitude and latitude coordinates.
Chirac also has a point: “You cannot build the world of the future on just one language and, hence, one culture.” By first starting to speak the same language, will globalization eventually destroy the uniqueness of each culture? Yet how are we supposed to communicate with one another if we don’t speak the same language?

Chirac’s recent outburst is not the first time the French president has employed linguistic protectionism. When he met with President Bush last year, Chirac insisted on speaking French the whole time, forcing an interpreter to attend the dinner. At a UN meeting where translation services were not provided, Chirac allegedly pretended not to understand questions in English and demanded that Prime Minister Tony Blair act as his interpreter. Oh, the unmitigated Gaul of him!
I’ve very torn over this issue. On the one hand, I find it much easier to conduct business when clients speak English, and travel is also facilitated. However, one of the reasons that I came to Paris is because I absolutely adore the French language and culture and I hate to see such a beautiful language be replaced by our not-so-beautiful mother tongue. In the meantime, I leave you with a quote from fellow Francophile Mark Twain: “In Paris they just simply opened their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French! We never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language.”

Quote of the Day:
China is a big country, inhabited by many Chinese.
–the incredibly perceptive Charles de Gaulle

French idiom of the Day:

Oh, the Cow! (Good God!)

French Dessert of the Day :

« Clafoutis (pronounced kla-foo-TEE) is a French country dessert hailing from the Limousin region. Clafoutis comes from the word 'clafir' which means 'to fill'. Traditionally made with the first sweet cherries of the season and are left unpitted (kernels are said to add extra flavor while baking). An earthenware dish is buttered and then covered with a layer of stemmed cherries. A batter of eggs, flour, milk, and sugar (sometimes butter, flavorings, liqueur are also added) is then poured over the cherries. The consistency of the batter can be thin (like a pancake batter) to thick (cake-like). The assembled dish is then baked in the oven until the batter is puffed, set and nicely browned. Confectioner's (powdered or icing) sugar is sprinkled over the top and it can be served with vanilla ice cream or softly whipped cream. It is best served warm. » Clafoutis are traditionally made with cherries, but many different varieties are served all over France. My personal favorites include a plum clafoutis and an apricot clafoutis.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Dying Gauls

The Dying Gaul

"No one goes to the movies to have a bad time or to learn anything." (Jeffrey, in Craig Lucas' The Dying Gaul)

Yet, at a screening of the film, in competition at the first annual Paris Festival of Independent American Cinema, I both had a bad time and learned something. Patricia Clarkson, Campbell Scott and Peter Sarsgaard all deliver disturbingly sincere performances that contribute to an extremely depressing and uncomfortable mise-en-scène, but encourage deep philosophical thought and questioning of Hollywood's quotidian realities.

It was especially interesting - if not ironic - seeing the film following the success of Brokeback Mountain. In one of the incipient scenes, Jeffrey tells Robert: "Most Americans hate gay people... If they hear the movie is about gay people, they won't go." Oh really? I think the Academy would beg to differ.

In the film, a grief-stricken screenwriter (Sarsgaard) who has recently lost a lover, unknowingly enters a three-way relationship with a woman (Clarkson) and her film executive husband (Scott) - to chilling results. The film is not only a satiric look at the Hollywood studio system, but also a psychologically twisted penetration into the lives of its characters. This was not the best choice for a Friday night movie, but the performances are breathtaking, and the subject is very timely.

Les Aiguilles Rouges

Yesterday, I attended the closing ceremony of the American Independent Film Festival in Paris. Elsa Zylberstein ( famous French actress, you might recognize her from "Modigliani" opposite Andy Garcia), head of the jury, addressed the audience, saying: "It's a shame no one came to the screenings, I feel bad for the directors." She then left the theater before the next screening began.

Jean-François Davy's "Les Aiguilles Rouges" (English translation: "The Red Needles") takes place in September of 1960 and follows a group of young eagle scouts on a hiking trip in the Chamonix Valley. After getting into trouble at their summer camp, the boys, all between 12 and 16 years old, are sent off on a hike, led by Patrick, the oldest of the group. The eight boys all come from very different backgrounds, but are thrown together in the wilderness and must learn to get along. The film might be described as "Les Choristes go camping" (Les Choristes being, of course, Christophe Barratier's hit French film of 2005) and, like Les Choristes, was clichéd and cheesy at times, but also a very moving, well-acted film made with breathtaking cinematography of the French Alps region. Two of the boys who star in Les Aiguilles Rouges came to present the film which was an added bonus.

Quote of the Day:
"I grew up in Europe, where the history comes from."
-Eddie Izzard

Word of the Day:
(adj.) Used to describe anything of questionable masculinity.
Believed to have originated from the 2005 motion picture Brokeback Mountain."It's NOT a purse, it's a man-bag! It's very manly!"
"I don't know man, it looks kinda brokeback to me." -Boondocks

Pastry of the Day:
The Saint Honoré
St Honorius was a bishop of Amiens in the sixth century and was the patron saint of pastry cooks. At some point further on in time they honoured him by creating the Gateau St Honoré, a pastry circle topped with a ring of choux buns and filled with whipped cream. Sometimes fruit is included and the whole thing finished with spun sugar. I adore the La Durée version (below). If you think it looks too good to devour or are on a - gasp! - diet, just tell yourself that you are participating in a religious sacrifice to the patron saint of pastry. Amen.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Paris Pandemonium

Street protests? In Paris? Never! I mean I don’t know why Americans are so shocked by the recent activity in Paris – there is some kind of “manifestation” nearly every day in this country. You don’t think you’re paid enough? Riot! You feel discriminated against because of your religion/race/economic status? Storm the streets! You didn’t like the tie Jacques Chirac sported for his last press conference? Revolt! Your foie gras was too salty? Down with the government! Though the American media has, once again, exacerbated the situation here, the recent outrage and subsequent violence in central Paris worries me.
In fact, the last night’s violent protests – cars set fire, firebombs thrown, tear gas released by police – took place right down the street from where I live. I, fortunately, wasn’t directly affected, but seeing images of rioters right at the Place St Michel (which is literally a one-minute walk from my apartment) sent chills through my spine. As of today, more than 160 people have been arrested and at least 17 demonstrators and seven police officers injured.
Yet what is incredible to me is the response of France’s youth to the situation. Young people here really care what happens in government, whereas I think most American youth are for the most part, apathetic. Over 300,000-600,000 university and high school students took part in last Thursday's action and 1.5 million demonstrators have taken part in more than 150 rallies across the country.
I personally can’t imagine ever having stormed the streets of NY in High School for a law affecting labor contracts. Yet French youth are raised to believe that if they’re not happy, they have the right – and the obligation – to make some noise about it. Frankly, I should be out there protesting – the new law, if passed, will directly affect me. In case you all are confused by the hundreds of contradictory articles in the esoteric US press – NY Times, etc. – basically, all of the commotion is a response to the CPE, or Contrat Premier Embauche (First Employment Contract) which will allow employers to end job contracts for workers under the age of 26 at any time during a two-year probationary period without having to offer an explanation or give prior warning. So basically, for the next two and a half years – yes, I turned 23.5 last Monday, I am sure you all were celebrating in my honor from whatever cities you currently inhabit, thank you – I can just be fired for no apparent reason. Here, I’ve spent the last year and a half of my life jumping through fire and making deals with the devil (disguised as a 40 year old French woman heading up the DDTEFP in Nanterre) in order to have the right to work in this country, and, just days after I finally sign my contract, Villepin decides to chime in with this nonsensical new law.
Yet although this law affects me, I have not been storming the streets and setting fire to cars. However, I apparently look like I have. On Thursday, I was standing on the quai of the metro watching a group of young ruffians wearing “CPE” (Contrat Premier Embauche, the name of the new contracts Villepin is attempting to establish, which is the cause of such pandemonium) and yelling lots of French words that were rendered almost inaudible amid the cacophony, but that basically spelled out - and I translate in the kindest way possible – “Fuck Villepin and his new law.” I was then insulted by an ostensibly kind older couple who instructed me that the Place d’Italie was the other way on the metro line. I said “yes I know, so?” They responded “Oh you looked like you were heading to the protests.” So here I am, spending every waking – and sleeping, I do dream en français these days – minute trying to look like a sophisticated French woman, and these people take me for a rebellious student. Hélas…

Monday, March 13, 2006

IHT March 9, 2006

This just in: I have a letter printed in the International Herald Tribune.

The beauty of baseball, Anti-Semitism in France


Regarding the article "Enticing the world to game of lulls" by John Vinocur (Vantage Point, March 7): Robert Eenhoorn, the manager of the Netherlands' baseball team, got it right: Everyone has a place in baseball.

Perhaps this is why we still play baseball as adults (even though it's often as softball), while dropping other sports once we finish school.

Baseball is blessed because it's not controlled by time. In other sports, you wonder things like "can the team still pull it off with only two minutes left?" In baseball, however, you just have to ask yourself, "Can they do it?" because if they can, time will let them, it won't try to rein them in.

In our fast moving, time-conscious lives, baseball allows us to stop looking at our watches for an afternoon, whether we are on the field or sitting in the stands. That is the beauty of baseball.

Robert Dynan Mörfelden-Walldorf, Germany

Anti-Semitism in France

I am a 23-year-old American Jew living in Paris. Though the death of Ilan Halimi has indeed deepened my fears of anti-Semitic sentiment growing more ubiquitous in France ("Brutal killing stokes French fears," March 6) the response of both the Parisian Jewish community and the media has made me hopeful for change.

Signs outside of bookstores expressing sorrow for the death of "notre enfant" ("our child") are surrounded by candles, representing an expression of mourning from community members and passers-by.

After news of the murder was made public, candles were lighted in Jewish and non-Jewish homes all over the country and special ceremonies of mourning and protest of such hate crimes have been organized in towns throughout France. Many have invaded the streets of Paris to condemn the killings and the rise of anti-Semitism in France.

Halimi's death was unfortunate and unnerving - he was 23 years old, like me, and he did nothing to provoke such malicious violence. Who is to say that something similar won't happen to me or to one of my peers?

We must keep the dialogue going and continue to show solidarity, because, as Halimi's death proves, the barbarians are still among us and history continues to repeat itself in France.

Rebecca Leffler, Paris

Bush's India deal

It's no surprise that India gave President George W. Bush a fine reception ("Bush finds more respect in India than at home," by Elisabeth Bumiller, White House Letter, March 6).

Bush gave away the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and, by his silence, the Muslims of Kashmir. He certainly seemed to give approval to the Indian objective of restoring New Delhi as the capital of the subcontinent.

In return, Bush appears to have gotten nothing. We can only hope (somewhat against the odds) that India (and China) will be smart enough to know that an Asia-wide military-political game will do little to solve the problems of the hundreds of millions of very poor citizens.

Philip D. Sherman, Singapore

Although the United States is the sole superpower, it cannot police the whole world. It needs to delegate responsibility to regional powers within a U.S. sphere of influence.

India has been a responsible nuclear nation, trading partner and an ally against terrorism. It has demonstrated multi-ethnic, democratic values over the years.

President George W. Bush should cement the new-found friendly relationship by securing Congressional approval of the nuclear agreement. The pact would go a long way in strengthening future ties between the United States and India.

Mandhata Chauhan, Northridge, California

Friday, March 10, 2006


What if Michael Jackson had never become a hit pop star? Imagine what the world would be like if Madonna had remained a virgin? If Britney Spears was just a girl and not yet a famous woman? If Elvis Presley had never checked into Heartbreak Hotel? This is the premise behind the new French film, “Jean-Philippe.” I attended the press screening of the film on Wednesday night after a co-worker requested that I provide an “American perspective” of the film. He neglected to consider the fact that, although I was born and raised in Les Etats-Unis, I probably have a more extensive knowledge of French pop culture than the average Gallic native.
Before I describe the film, you’ll need some background knowledge. Johnny Hallyday is perhaps THE most famous French singer (and recently actor) in the collective history of France. Often referred to as the “Elvis Presley of France,” he has had a 40-year career in the music industry and is one of France's biggest stars. He has sold 80 million records, made 400 tours, had 18 platinum albums and performed in front of 15 million people. With the exception of those who may have chosen to live under a rock between the 1950s and the present, everyone in France knows who Johnny Hallyday is. To most, he’s simply known as “Johnny.”
The story: “Fabrice (Fabrice Lucchini) is Johnny Hallyday’s biggest fan. One day, he wakes up in a world where Johnny does not exist. In despair, he goes looking for Jean-Philippe Smet and finds him running a bowling alley in a Paris suburb. There, Fabrice tries to convince Jean-Philippe to ‘become’ Johnny.”
To be honest, I was expecting a one and a half hour advertisement for Johnny Hallyday and his music, but I was actually pleasantly surprised by how well-made the film is. Most of the – very French – humor comes from “inside jokes” requiring a basic knowledge of French pop culture; for example, the bowling alley where Jean-Philippe works is called l’Olympia, which is one of France’s largest concert venues. However, the concept of the film is exportable, and Fabric Lucchini’s performance is hysterical. I even laughed out loud a few times, a rarity, especially in screenings of commercial French comedies. Most of the humor, again, is very subtle and based on the singer’s real-life; Fabrice names his daughter Laura (after Laura Smet, Johnny Hallday’s real-life daughter with French actress Nathalie Baye), in one Karaoke scene, a pretty girl smiles at Johnny (the girl happens to be Laeticia, Johnny’s current real-life wife), and Benoît Poelvoorde (one of France’s famous actors) makes a cameo as a wanna-be rock star who is given advice to “give acting a go.” Hallyday proves himself as an actor, delivering an emotional, moving performance as a pop star whose dreams are shattered when a motorcycle accident prevents him from attending hit TV series “Top of the Pops” and consequently from being discovered by a talent agent.
Alas, it is unlikely that this film will make it across the Atlantic, but it should perform well at the French box office when it opens here in a few weeks. In fact, Johnny’s fans are ready to go; the phones here at Le Film Français haven’t stopped ringing as ladies from all over the country have been calling for copies of last week’s issues featuring an ad for the film on the cover. But alas, I must reply: Johnny has left the building.

Pastry of the Day :
La Religieuse
(Pronounced: lah / ruh lee zhugz)

An eclair-based dessert, this cake can take many forms. Originally called "la réligieuse" because it was said to resemble a nun in her habit, in miniature form it is made with a filled cream puff that is topped by a filled profiterole. It may also be made with as a pyramid of profiterole or made with elongated éclairs that have been formed into a pyramid and filled with creme Saint-Honoré. La Durée's version is absolutely divine, almost too pretty too eat. (I stress the ALMOST =)

Quote of the Day :
"Last week I stated that this woman was the ugliest woman I had ever seen. I have since been visited by her sister and now wish to withdraw that statement. "
-Mark Twain

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Hollywood Prom 2006

I’m going to say something right now that those of you who know me may find more shocking than two gay cowboys reading “In Cold Blood” in a burning car headed for the CBS studios to avenge the deaths of nine Israeli athletes. Are you sitting down? I, Rebecca Lynn Leffler, did not watch the Oscars last night. I know, next thing you know I’ll be telling you that I love chocolate and loathe tall, handsome men. But this travesty was no fault of my own, I must add. The telecast in France was limited to a midnight showing on Canal+, the “HBO of France” if you will, of which I, clearly not thinking ahead (or rather just trying to save 18 euros per month in cable fees) am not a subscriber. Thus, my transatlantic Oscar experience was limited to the five and a half hour e! Oscar pre-show. As if watching Isaac Mizrahi make a mockery of fashion on the red carpet or hearing Giuliana Depandi embarrasingly confess her love for George Clooney yet again wasn’t bad enough, I was forced to endure the broadcast in poorly translated French juxtaposed with the original English telecast, making for a cacophony of sounds that resembled Ozzy Osborne-speak and was barely comprehensible, but then again, who the hell cares because who really listens to what anyone is saying anyway, right? While the e! channel has been satiating my appetite for American popular culture abroad, their awards ceremony coverage is lacking both in language – why the dubbing? Contrary to popular belief, the French are indeed capable of reading subtitles – and substance – Ryan Seacrest has proven himself to be an idiot in any language.
However, I was pleased with the results of the Awards Ceremony itself. I’m thrilled that Crash won for best picture – it was a wonderful ensemble comedy that has unfortunately been overshadowed by the cowboy craze this season. An important film which deals with real issues without trying too hard to be political, Crash’s different storylines neatly come together to create a coherent, entertaining cinematic experience. I’m also quite pleased with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s win for Capote, not only because of our “moment” just a few weeks ago in Berlin, but also because he is one of America’s greatest contemporary actors and gave a perfect performance in a role ostensibly created just for him. I’m also happy about Reese Witherspoon winning for Walk the Line – she was able to shed her Legally Blonde image and become a very believable June Carter. What is it with this girl? Could her life be more perfect? She just won an Oscar, she’s officially the highest paid actress in Hollywood (she’s reportedly getting $29 million for her next film, more than Julia Roberts receives), she’s married to Ryan Philippe and has two of the most beautiful, angelic children I’ve ever seen, not to mention the fact that she’s a natural blond. In fact, I’ll take Ryan and the paycheck, you can have the rest dear. I’m glad Clooney won, mostly because he’s been overlooked at pretty much every other awards ceremony this season and has made cinema history by re-introducing political films to mainstream audiences. While he was terrific in Syriana (I had nightmares about the fingernail removing scene for weeks), I think Paul Giamatti’s performance in Cinderella Man has not been given nearly enough praise, not to mention that the film was pretty much forgotten this awards season though it remains, in my opinion, one of the top films of the year. Again, happy about Rachel Weisz’ win for The Constant Gardener, another one of my favorite films of the year. Though I’m not at all surprised that, in this, the year of the Gay Cowboy, Ang Lee walked away with the award for Best Director, though I must say I am disappointed. I think Munich was an incredible feat, and Spielberg’s work has gone virtually unrecognized this year both at the US box office and by the Academy. The fact that Eric Bana wasn’t nominated for Best Actor is outrageous. I’m pleased with Crash for Best Original Screenplay and Brokeback Mountain for Best Adapted Screenplay as well. And, bien sur, props to those crazy penguins for giving France something to celebrate as The March of the Penguins picked up Best Documentary.
As for the fashion, in sum, I think that Michelle Williams looked like she got attacked by a canary, Charlize Theron clearly forgot to change out of her Aeon Flux costume, Rachel Weisz was tastefully stunning, Jennifer Aniston looked sullen as usual in a boring black number, Diane Kruger, beautiful enough to have worn a paper bag and still have been stunning, was wearing my pick for favorite dress at the ceremony, Felicity Huffman was audacious, but still classy (unlike Teri Hatcher’s attempt to be 25 again at the SAG awards), Reese Witherspoon not only found her dress in Paris, but she actually bought it – yes, paid money for it and now owns it, what an unfamiliar concept in Hollywood these days – so I am, in turn, a fan, Kiera Knightley looked like a mermaid, a pretty mermaid, but still, I vaguely recall the Oscars being presented on land this year, Dolly Parton looked like – well, what really can I say here? I think the woman answers for herself, I loved Uma Thurman’s dress (and her performance in Prime by the way, which I just saw yesterday, what an underrated film), I thought Nicole Kidman looked a little stiff, but still divine, and Naomi Watts looked like she got attacked by King Kong’s less aggressive cousin on the way over, and I loved both Jessica Alba’s gold number and Salma Hayek’s striking teal dress.

Word of the Day: tar·ra·did·dle also tar·a·did·dle (tr-ddl)
1. A petty falsehood; a fib.
2. Silly pretentious speech or writing; twaddle.

Quote of the Day: "The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder."
Alfred Hitchcock.

Pastry of the Day: Baba au Rhum

“According to many sources, Polish Prince Stanislas Leczinski, King Louis XV's father-in-law, introduced this cake while he was in exile and living in Nancy. Popular legend says that the Prince found the cake too dry and so he doused it with some of the rum he had been drinking. It was so good, he gave the command that he would only have his cake this way and he christened it Ali-Baba, in honor of his favorite hero from the Arabian Nights. The baba was introduced in Paris in the 1800's by a pastry cook, named Sthorer. He developed the practice of making his babas in advance and then brushing them with rum as they were sold. They quickly became the rage in Paris and Sthorer's fortune was made. He later developed the method of immersing the babas in a rum syrup.” The Baba au Rhum at Allard is particularly delicious, resembling a large French doughnut doused in rum – can you imagine anything more healthy?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

How funky is your French chicken?

How funky is your chicken?

Very funky, according to the mass hysteria sweeping through Gaul these days. France may not have come home with myriad gold medals at this year’s Olympic Games, but that country has the esteemed international honor of being the first European country to suffer an outbreak of the A(H5N1) strain of avian influenza among its poultry.
According to President Jacques Chirac, “a completely unjustified sort of total panic” is sweeping the country. That’s so … American of them, isn’t it? Honestly, “panic” is not usually a noun associated with French culture. The average Frenchman thrown before a large bus traveling at 60 km/hr carrying fierce guerrilla soldiers with machetti guns blowing nuclear gas into the air would certainly wait to finish his cigarette, sip his espresso and engage in a political debate before moving out of the way. Yet France’s feathers have been ruffled and even the most ostensibly calm of the Gallic clan are worried.
My co-worker has been planning an already-paid-for trip to La Réunion for a long time now, and has decided to go despite the threat of the bird flu in that region. This has inspired incessant whispering around the office “Did you hear Marjorie is headed to –gasp! – La Réunion?” They think it’s crazier than peanut butter. President Jacques Chirac, however, doesn’t seem the least bit alarmed and has been dining on all forms of the national bird nearly every day to prove to the French people that there is no danger in eating poultry. According to our jolly Jacques, there is “absolutely no danger in eating poultry and eggs.” However, direct contact with infected chickens can cause human contagion. Giving further proof of the dangers of that old wives tale warning: “don’t play with your food.”
The French government has taken precautionary measures and has ordered its birds confined to pens in addition to quarantining the areas where infected poultry have been found to ensure no “fowl play.” I’ve also personally received a great deal of mail from the Paris Mairie telling me that, after I recycle my bottles according to national separating standards – I knew I shouldn’t have thrown my syringes in the can with the white lid! – I am encouraged to enjoy a well-cooked Coq-au-vin and a glass of Bordeaux as I place a Beret over my head and chant the Marseillaise. No, wait, stop! Who am I kidding? That’s crazy talk! Poultry is to be eaten accompanied by white wine.
While the deaths associated with this outbreak of the virus are, bien sur!, no laughing matter, the avian jokes that the scare has inspired are almost too easy. Q: Why did the French chicken cross the road? R: It didn’t. It’s dead.
Knock Knock. Who’s there? French chicken. French chicken who? Exactly.
And just the other day, I witnessed young French schoolchildren playing an innocent game of: “Duck, Duck, Duck, Duck… Oh merde!” Good thing Mary had a little lamb is all I have to say.
And, sorry Disney, the sky isn’t falling anymore, Chicken Little; you are.
So cock-a-doodle don’t be playing with any nearby chicks for the time being until we’re sure that the avian influenza threat has passed. Until then, abide by old French proverb, “When life gives you dead ducks, make foie gras.”

Où Commence l'Antisémitisme?

Last night, I sat in on a popular French radio program called Le Téléphone Sonne (“the telephone is ringing”) on national frequency France Inter. The topic at hand was “Où commence l’Anti-Sémitisme?” (“Where does anti-Semitism begin?”), a response to the recent death of 23-year old French Jew Ilan Halimi, left for dead, bound and naked, beside railroad tracks near Paris on Feb. 13 by a multiethnic gang known as the Barbarians. Show host Alain Bédouet was joined by Nicolas Weil, an editor of Le Monde and author of myriad articles and books on anti-Semitisme, André Kaspi, a historian (who I, in fact, quoted in my senior year honors thesis) and another quasi-historian whose name I couldn’t seem to catch. The show consisted of a round-table discussion with intermittent phone calls from listeners. To prepare, Bédouet read some of the emails he’d received from listeners, and went over some of the issues he wanted the participants to address. While waiting for the red light to flash signaling the start of the program, the participants were laughing amongst themselves and talking about the bird flu (a topic on everyone’s mind here in France these days). Bédouet was horrified that his cat had brought home a dead bird the day before.
The program opened with a question from a listener who asked what distinguishes racism from anti-Semitism. Are Jews different from other victims of Racism? he wondered. Weil responded that “parfois l’un et l’autre se croisent” (“sometimes the two overlap”) but added that anti-Semitism and Racism don’t have the same history and are thus not identical. Caroll added that “we should be shocked by all forms of discrimination, no matter who the target is.” He went on to give statistics proving that, in fact, Arabs and Muslims are actually more discriminated against in France than the Jews. Kaspi cited the etymologic origins of anti-Semitism and, like Weil, emphasized the unique history of anti-Semitism, and its specificity as a form of racism directed at the Jewish people. “Anti-Semitisme designates a particular hostility towards the Jews,” he explained. “Racism is a more general concept, anti-Semitism has its own history and specificity,” he argued, making a reference to the Protocols of Zion.
Later, Nicolas Weil brought up the subject of the “surmédiatisation” of the Israeli-Palestianian conflict in the press, in other words this idea that the press tends to exacerbate certain situations by exaggerating their grandeur. Kaspi then went on to distinguish between anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism, again citing anti-Semitism’s etymological origins and stressing the fact that anti-Judaicism has existed since the origins of Christianity and is based on more religious prejudices. According to Kaspi, “anti-Semitism begins when prejudices from former centuries resurface.” He also added that modern anti-Semitism is based less on religious than on social issues, pointing out that “Jews represent an integration into French culture that is quite remarkable considering French history.”
Kaspi also talked about ignorance as an excuse for anti-Semitism, and argued that, while those living in France from 1940-1944 could claim a certain degree of ignorance about the activity of the Vichy government, in this day and age, “quand on veut savoir, on peut savoir.” (“when we want to know, we can know.”) In his opinion, historians do their job better today than in the past.
Nicolas Weil then addressed the importance of word choice when discussing anti-Semitism. In his opinion, “Malnommer les choses, c’est là où commence les malheurs du monde.” (“misnaming things, that’s where all of the misfortunes of the world begin.”) All of the participants agreed that a great deal of effort must be made on the part of French society, especially in educational establishments, to designate appropriate wording to different situations.
Kaspi continued: “Jewish identity is not just a religion, it’s a collective history. One can be Jewish and not religious. Modern prejudices are directed towards anyone Jewish – “the Jews killed Christ”, “Jews have all the money and the power”, etc. – even those that are not even tied to the religion, which makes things complicated.” Weil concluded by adding that anti-Semitism isn’t just limited to certain parts of the city or the world, that it is found everywhere.
The question of anti-Semitism is an interesting one, from my perspective as a Jewish American living in France. Whenever I tell people that I live in Paris, they all warn me that the French are all anti-American and anti-Semitic. While it is true, based on national statistics, that anti-American and anti-Semitic sentiment does exist in France, I personally haven't encountered any myself, but then again I don't, as many of my friends have pointed out, wear a big Jewish star around my neck and a tallis around my neck and chant Hebrew hymns through the streets of Paris. Halimi's death is unfortunate and unnerving - he is 23 years old, the same age as me, and did nothing to provoke such malicious violence. Who is to say that something similar won't happen to me or one of my peers? What is even more disgusting is the following excerpt from yesterday's New York Times: "Dressed in a sweat suit, with a female companion at his side, Mr. Fofana, 25, dined on a meal spread out on a wooden chair, smiling frequently for a television camera and calmly responding to questions about the grisly killing of the salesman, 23-year-old Ilan Halimi." The French response has been at least somewhat reassuring. Last week, Chirac and other government officials attended Halimi's memorial service, and last Sunday, tens of thousands of people invaded the streets of Paris to protest the killings and the rise of anti-Semitism in France. The idea that the killers targeted Halimi because, in the words of political scientist Jean-Yves Camus, "According to them, all Jews are merchants and all Jewish merchants are rich," is frightening indeed.

After the program ended, I had dinner at l’Epi Dupin, my new favorite neighborhood bistro, right by Bon Marché. The three-course 31-Euro menu is forced upon you, but it’s well worth it. The place is always packed – we reserved ahead of time and, despite the fact that it was a snowy Tuesday night in the middle of February, there wasn’t even enough room for us to wait inside for our table. Despite the noisy crowd and extreme lack of elbow room, I must note that l’Epi Dupin is NON-SMOKING (a concept that hasn’t quite reached ubiquity here in this city of lighting up) which did make for a wonderful evening of fresh air dining. I started with a green salad, then followed with sauteed scallops on a bed of “fondu de blettes”, I still haven’t figured out what the English equivalent of a blette is, it’s some kind of leek-like vegetable, but it didn’t matter because the blettes were overpowered by a rich, creamy, flavorful fondue. I wiped my plate clean with some fresh bread – crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, as all bread should be. For dessert, I had a “feuillantine de pommes” which was a combination of my two favorite French desserts of all time: the tarte tatin and the millefeuille. Crispy layers of French pastry were filled with warm, caramelized apples, and the dish was complemented with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and caramel oozing over the plate. It was nothing short of a saccharine orgasm.

Word of the day: Tarantism
tar·an·tism (trn-tzm)
A disorder characterized by an uncontrollable urge to dance, especially prevalent in southern Italy from the 15th to the 17th century and popularly attributed to the bite of a tarantula.

[New Latin tarantismus, after Taranto.]

Quote of the Day: "I must confess, I was born at a very early age." - Groucho Marx

Pastry of the Day: The Millefeuille
You may know it as a Napoleon. The Millefeuille, one of my favorite French pastries - after the Tarte Tatin bien sur - consists of layers of puff pastry interspersed with pastry cream. There are many different varieties of the millefeuille. Some choose to ruin a perfectly good dessert by filling the pastry layers with chocolate cream, while others are more creative and add fresh fruits to the vanilla cream filling or top with confectioner's sugar or caramel.
It is believed to have been developed in France during the latter part of the 19th century. The Danish people have been told for generations that a Danish royal pastry chef invented the dessert way back in the 1800s on the occasion of a state visit between the Emperor Napoleon and the King of Denmark, in Copenhagen. Some sources believe that the chocolate lines on the pastry appear to form the letter "N" for Napoleon. Another myth claim that the dessert was really a French invention after all, and that it was Napoleon's favorite pastry. It is said that he ate so many of them on the eve of Waterloo that he lost the battle. So THAT's the true meaning of a "Napoleon complex" ...