Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Of the uplifting power of movies; and blue-eyed, French-speaking leading men...

The magical screen

Une année merdique. A sh-$%&#@ year. From the look of things, this is what 2013 is shaping up to be. Wherever you turn, sick, tired, depressed people. Bad news in the media. Bad news all around. January in Seattle. 'Nuff said. 

Au secours. Help. Beam me up Scotty! Take me to a fun, happy place. I know: Take me to the movies. 

Before I even set a foot in a movie theater, as I watched old American western movies or comedies on TV with my family on rainy Sunday afternoons, Le cinéma has always been by my side, my oldest and most faithful friend. My readers know I love movies. And as I like to remind people, I have seen A LOT of them.

A few weeks ago, several friends mentioned a good movie I had to go see, but struggled to describe it to me. "Well, it sort of is a romantic comedy; but not really; well... at least not until the end... It's funny. And sad. It's hard to explain. Great actors. Oh and... [added as an afterthought] Bradley Cooper is the lead actor!

Well... Why didn't you say so? 

J'aime bien Bradley. I like Bradley. He would have deserved a better name, but I like Bradley. 

He is a decent actor and is not afraid to tackle challenging and diverse roles. Ok. Let's be honest. Bradley also has looks. The eyes. The smile. 

The body.

Mostly, I like Bradley because he seems like a nice guy. He is kind to his fans. He is a devoted son.

Lucky fan...

Bradley et Maman

Bradley's best friend is his dog, Charlotte. He never goes anywhere without her. 

Bradley and "his girl"
Charlotte, the Chow mix, a rescue
Traveling the world with Char'

Always there for his girl...

Oh, and let's not forget one of the most interesting things about Bradley: He speaks fluent French. Quite impressive in an industry where so many of his colleagues barely speak English when they go off script, don't you think? 

When Bradley toured Europe a couple of years ago to promote the Hangover II, and was interviewed - en français - on French TV, journalists - and women around the world - swooned. Yep. That's right, kids. Six months spent in a foreign country as an exchange student (Aix-en-Provence in Bradley's case,) will expand your horizons and enrich your resume...

Bradley en France
(if you need to be cheered up, scroll down to the end of the post for the video clip) 

Oui, les amis, sounding smart, articulate, funny, and interesting in a foreign language is no small feat. Respect. 

But I digress. This post was also about that movie my friends wanted me to see. By now, everyone and heard of "the little movie that could..."

Silver Linings Playbook has attracted a lot of attention, and is the first movie in 31 years to be nominated in all categories for the upcoming Academy Awards. The high caliber cast has been recognized, of course: Best Actor nomination (Bradley Cooper,) Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence,) Best Supporting Actor (Robert de Niro,) Best Supporting Actress (Jacki Weaver.) Impressive.

In France, the movie has been renamed Happiness Therapy. Don't ask.

Watch out. Spoilers headed your way. 
Scroll down to the video clip at the end of the post if you have not seen the movie yet.

When I stepped into the theater to watch Silver Linings Playbook, on that rainy Seattle morning, I did not know what to expect. I had not read much about it. I knew it was about a bi-polar guy, who had problems with anger management; and a troubled girl, who was vaguely nymphomaniac. It was a romantic comedy... or maybe it wasn't. You've got to give me credit, les amis: I don't get scared easily. 

La chance sourit aux audacieux. Fortune rewards the bold: What a gem of a movie that was!

My friends did not get it right. Silver Linings Playbook is a romantic comedy, right from the start. It is just so sharp, so unconventional, and served by such a talented cast, that audiences are challenged, and destabilized, ten minutes into the movie.

Imagine that. An edgy, off-beat comedy, where lead actors actually have chemistry. A movie that is never predictable; entertains; makes you laugh (or cry) in the same scene. A movie that avoids traditional Rom-Com clichés, and shows grit and emotion. Utterly believable, and yet so dysfunctional... a bi-polar movie. 

Jennifer and Bradley:
These kids have INSANE chemistry-- Let the rumor mill spin!

The jogging scenes: my favorites
(and who, other than Bradley, can look good wearing a GARBAGE BAG?!)

The director, David O. Russel, cast his actors well. I loved all the actors' performances, large or small. 

Bradley and Robert: Father and son.

Is Silver Linings Playbook perfect then?

Non. I was disappointed when during the last ten minutes, things took a turn for... the predictable. It was as if, after challenging audiences for two hours and treating them like smart people, the screenplay writer and the director had decided all of a sudden to let them regroup and had thrown at them a satisfying, but all too easy Hollywood ending. Pass the popcorn. Make that a large one. 

Dommage. Too bad.

Still, do not hesitate. Run and see Silver Linings Playbook. It does what movies are supposed to do: It challenges you; makes you think; entertains; and you will leave happy and (mostly) satisfied. 

Chapeau! Hats off!

I am going to need a lot more like you, Silver Linings Playbook, if I am to survive the winter of 2013. Cinéma, mon ami, I am counting on you.

A bientôt.

Need to smile? Skip the "Happy Pills:" Bradley parle Français ici...

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Monday, January 21, 2013

France and le Am-Ba-Ga (Hamburger)

A few days ago, an article on the French site of the Huffington Post caught my eye: "Burger King opens in Marseilles with a roar..." The fast foot power house had left France in 1997, defeated by its two main competitors, McDonald's and Quick. According to the article, Burger King's new restaurant, located in a food court inside the Marseilles-Marignane airport, has drawn huge crowds since its inauguration last month. Locals flock to the come back kid, driving 45 minutes out of the city, and lining up for up to two hours, to get their hamburger fix. 

Quoi??? Say what???

A happy French customer gets his Whopper!

I can't say I am that surprised. Rumors have been floating for months about France's new craze: Le Ham-bur-ger, or "Am-Ba-Ga," when pronounced by some French people (since the letter "H" is silent at the beginning of French words.)

According to American expat/renowned pastry chef/writer/blogger/food connaisseur extraordinaire David Leibovitz, even hard to please Parisians have caved in; dropped forks and knives; rolled up their fancy sleeves; and grabbed American-style hamburgers wherever they can find them in the French capital-- benefiting a slew of enterprising expats who are dealing their pricy - but, oh, so tasty - wares around town out of... their food trucks! Très romantique. Read the details here.

le Am-Ba-Ga has nothing on you,
steak haché-frites of my youth!

Homesick American expats are thrilled ("Good hamburgers! In Paris! Score!") Parisians feel as cool as... les New Yorkais. The media can't get enough of the new fad. Vive la France... Land of the Am-Ba-Ga!

Of course, this is hardly news to McDonald's, unchallenged king of the Burger world.

McDonald's (affectionately nicknamed "McDo" by my countrymen,) launched their most excellent French adventure some thirty years ago. There are over 1200 McDo restaurants in France today. Not only have les Français welcomed McDonald's with open arms, they also love the McDrive concept! Quoi?! The French are eating in their cars? Sacrilège

France is McDonald's second most profitable market after the United States. McDo loves the French right back!

What's next? The Moon? Mars?

You can't go very far in l'Hexagone (France)
 without bumping into a McDo!

French youth flocks to McDo. French youth have always been fond of American brands and are quick to adopt what they perceive as the American lifestyle. But not all of McDo's French customers are young. What gives?

A visit to McDo's French website helps clarify things. McDonald's has always succeeded where other foreign corporations have failed (remember the Eurodisney debacle in Paris in the early 1990s?) Their success can be summarized in a few words: In-depth knowledge of the local market's culture. Willingness to adapt their products (call it Am-Ba-Ga localization.) Kick-ass marketing and lobbying teams.

McDo's successful "Come as you are" campaign, featuring the beloved Tintin 

What Frenchman would not patronize a restaurant
where Gallic heroes Asterix and Obelix are regulars?

Things have not always been easy for McDonald's in France. Years ago, some of the chain's restaurants were ransacked by local activists to protest the company that came to symbolize American imperialism and - even worse - "la malbouffe," (bad eating, bad food.) 

In 1993, the Paris city hall defeated McDo's plans to open a restaurant on the banks of the Seine river, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. McDo did not give up and inaugurated a location inside the prestigious Carrousel du Louvre (the mall adjacent to the Louvre museum) in 2009. There was uproar in the media. French intellectuals and the American expat community (for whom not all Am-Ba-Ga's are created equal) were outraged. But when the dust settled, the French public did not really seem to care that much, and shrugged. 

Where are these tacky Golden Arches?
McDo at the Louvre: not as showy as one might expect!
Oh, dear!

The French are pragmatists. McDo creates jobs and mostly uses locally sourced food. French cattle is grass-fed and hormone-free. This is the meat used to prepare the famous "Royal Cheese.

Upon closer inspection, the McDo menu has been designed to appeal to French senses...

Sandwiches made with French baguette

Breakfast " à la française..."

And for le goûter (late afternoon snack) or dessert...

Christmas 2012 selection

Some French people may enjoy the occasional drive-through service, but most of my countrymen still prefer to sit down and relax while socializing and eating... McDo gets it; offers comfortable and even plush surroundings, free WiFi, and a high-tech environment where meals can be ordered from a cell phone or purchased from a terminal to save time! 

Food for thought, certainement... 

I would love to know what you think. 

France's love story with le Am-Ba-Ga?

France's lasting affair with McDo?

When fast-food is concerned, are you Royal Cheese; fancy American Hamburger à la Parisian food truck; Jambon-Beurre, or Croque-Monsieur/salade verte?

Oh, and do check out McDo's gutsy French commercial for the 2010 Come as you Are campaign, below. 

A bientôt.

Additional Materials:

Tutorial for the perfect [French] pronunciation of the word "hamburger:"

Pulp Fiction. The movie. The French and the Royal Cheese:

McDo's "gay" commercial. "Come as you are" campaign. France, 2010

1/23/2013 update. Just found this online and had to add it:

Watch a nice American tourist trying to order food for his cranky toddler at the McDo drive-through in France... Oh, la, la... Not that easy, eh?

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

French icon series: La Concierge

note to readers: 
The results of the 2-year blog-anniversary Giveway are at the end of this post.

La concierge aux lunettes - The concierge with glasses
Robert Doisneau, 1945

Last week, my Parisian mother-in-law Mutti sent me a little note to thank me once again for her Seattle vacation during the Holidays. The message was written on a postcard, and when I looked at it, I started smiling at the stern-looking lady who was glaring at me through her glasses... 

Mutti has already shared stories and childhood memories with my readers. You may remember the moving letter she sent to her grand-son about her experience as a young child during the German Occupation of Paris.

When I thanked her for the great postcard of the iconic French concierge, Mutti spontaneously replied with an email where she remembers a Parisian concierge she once knew. 

To most Americans, the word concierge conjures up the image of an elegant man, or woman, standing behind a counter, in a fancy hotel. Invariably polite, flexible, accommodating and resourceful, the concierge is trained to answer guests' requests.

Michael J. Fox: Concierge
For  Love of Money (1993)

To French people, the word has a very different meaning... Why don't I let Mutti tell us more about the iconic Parisian concierge?

The great Josiane Balasko
The Hedgehog (The Elegance of the Hedgehog, 2009)

"Ma chère Véronique (my dearest Véronique,)

In ancient times (the years of my childhood,) and until the 1960s-1970s, a woman ruled the life of most Parisian buildings: la Concierge, nicknamed "la bignole" (*) by most tenants. Employed by the landlord - mockingly referred to as "le Proprio" (**) - la concierge ruled the building with an iron fist. She was in charge of collecting rent, a very important mission!

Her job was to ensure security; maintain the stairwell and the rest of the property; collect and distribute mail twice a day (there were two deliveries a day back then.) 

She lived in a small apartment located on the ground floor of the building, by the main entrance, "la loge." From that vintage point, she could watch the comings and goings. Nothing escaped her. "La loge" was modest: Often, there was only one room, and the concierge used an outhouse located in the building courtyard (just like in the Middle Ages!) 

Concierge rue du Dragon,
Robert Doisneau, 1945

She kept a close eye on the children; little devils who tracked dirt inside the building with their muddy shoes and did not always say: "Bonjour Madame" when they entered the hallway.

My sister and I were often the targets of terse remarks (always repeated to our parents,) when we did not comply with her iron rule. We often sneaked in without a word and forgot to wipe our feet on the big doormat in the hallway... only to get reprimanded later.

Before WWII, late night visitors had to ask the concierge to unlock the front door to enter the building. This was called "demander le cordon.(***) As they walked past "la loge," they were expected to identify themselves. The place was secure!

Our concierge had a horrible little dog named "Bijou" (Jewel) a nasty mongrel. He wore a bell-adorned collar; barked incessantly; jumped at my ankles and terrified me as a child. Many other Parisian concierges lived with cats. 

Le Chat de la concierge (the Doorkeeper's cat)
Willy Ronis, 1947

When came the time to distribute the mail, she would hand out each envelope to the tenant while announcing in a stern voice: "You have a letter from..." 

Truth be told, she was not a bad person, and I will eternally be grateful to her for not disclosing our new address when my family left Paris during the German Occupation to hide in Dourdan (a small town outside of Paris.) The Germans were actively looking for my father then. He had escaped their labor camps. 

Our family owes la concierge a lot, to this day. This is a debt we can't repay (...) 

-- Mutti."

Robert Doisneau, 1945

Merci, Mutti, for enriching le Blog with another heartfelt, true story. 

Dear reader, should you spot one of these signs on an old Parisian façade during a leisurely stroll, step inside the courtyard. La concierge is long gone, and has likely been replaced by a digicode (digital access panel.) But you may still get to peak inside her old "loge" (apartment.) Wipe off your feet before stepping in... just in case! 

A bientôt.

"The concierge is in the courtyard..."
(photographer unknown...) 
"The concierge is in the stairwell..."
(photographer unknown) 


(*) La bignole. French slang. The concierge. 
(**) Le Proprio. French slang. Le propriétaire. The landlord.
(***) Demander le cordon. Literally: to request the cord or string. The concierge pulled on a string from her apartment. The string released the front door lock so visitors could come in. 

For additional information: Iconic photographer Robert Doisneau (1912-1994) captured Parisian concierges at the end of WWII. Look them up here

+=+=+= 2nd blog anniversary Giveaway results +=+=+=

Thank you for participating, and for all the feedback, comments and encouragement!

I had three books to give. We have three winners.

Félicitations to my fellow bloggers and friends:

Liene, of Femme au Foyer, won Paris by Color!

Sarah, of Hyacinths for the Soul, won Paris versus New York!

Heather, of Lost in Arles, won Parisian Chic!

Mesdames, please send me your postal address via email so I can ship your gifts... Merci!

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Thursday, January 3, 2013

A busy year in review... and the 2nd blog anniversary giveaway!

Au revoir, 2012!
(photographer unknown)

First post of 2013. Thanks to the ubiquitous social media, I have been reading about other people's New Year's resolutions for days. 

Resolution: Noun. f. {Ambitious} promises made to oneself likely to end up in life's poubelle (trashcan) sooner or later. Source: Webster's. French Girl in Seattle.

It seems a big trend in the blogosphere right now is to summarize all of one's hopes/expectations/plans in one word. One single word. Hope. Love. Explore. Learn. You get the picture. 

Even though I have a big birthday coming up in 2013, (they tell me I am supposed to have reached a certain degree of self-awareness; wisdom; and/or contentment at this point in my life,) I still find it difficult to encapsulate the lot in one word. 

So I had an idea. I looked back at 2012 through all the stories I wrote for the blog over the last 12 months. Most of these stories pop up in my head one morning, inspired by something I read; heard at a party; or remembered. There are not the result of careful planning. These stories, I thought, can help me determine what has been learned or achieved this year, and where I want to go from here. 

Several points were established once and for all in 2012:

Fact #1:  I am a city girl. Always have been. Always will always be. I may lead the life of a suburbanite somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, but all I can think about is plotting my next escape to the nearest urban environment, small or large. What I gladly leave behind: Living in my car; running errands on giant parking lots or strip malls that vaguely qualify as a "downtown;" watching sports on TV on Sunday afternoons or attending kids' athletic events every single weekend (favorite past times in my neck of the woods;) fighting a losing battle against weeds in giant suburban backyards. None of these local classics are my idea of fun, or excitement. To each his own. Give me glorious architecture, restaurants, museums, boutiques, sidewalks, cafés terraces, city parks and benches. Give me la ville! The City! 

Bagatelle Gardens, Paris, France
The rose garden

In 2012, I paid tribute to several great cities I was lucky to visit. Portland, OR, the big little city, in January. Colorful and lively Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in February. Snohomish, WA, a local town offering historical buildings, antique shopping, and photo opportunities galore. Thank you, Snohomish, for being there when I need to be cheered up. Paris, France. This year, I dedicated several stories to Paris, and the much-reviled Parisians (does anyone actually believe there would be a Paris without them?) inspired one of my most popular posts. I was also reunited with my long-lost friend, New York city, in November. The year would not have been complete without a week-long stay in my favorite French city, beautiful, cheerful Nice. I find it so easy to talk and write about the shining star of the French Riviera, and it inspired a multi-episode travelogue... "What about Seattle?" you ask. The Emerald City was not forgotten. Several outings across Lake Washington were chronicled on the blog. A popular one was a visit to Pike Place Market in August. 

Fact #2: I do not like living under grey skies eight months of the year. I did not like it in Paris twenty years ago, and I like it even less here. It is not so much the rain, but more the lack of light. I am not a mole, or a vampire, but in the Pacific Northwest, you either learn to live in the dark, with wet feet, or you don't live at all. Two main reasons for living here: You love boating. You love the mountains and winter sports. Well, I guess one out of two isn't bad (and no, my pick does not involve snow...) I know with absolute certainty that there is a sunny locale in my future, at least part of the year.

Favorite Pacific Northwest sightings: 1. Blue skies 2. Big Foot.
An all too familiar sighting...

There is only so much you can write about the lousy Pacific Northwest weather. I decided  a long time ago to stop discussing it, since I had no way of influencing the forecast. Still, a couple of stories made the blog and illustrate essential survival skills in the Wild, Wild, West: When the white stuff hits the fan was one of them.

Fact #3: I love my friends, and I love dogs. Without them... I can't even bear to finish that thought, actually. So many stories I wrote in 2012 mentioned one or the other... One personal goal in 2013 is to surround myself with as many of my good friends as I can; and to continue stepping outside, day in and day out, with my favorite canine. These have proved smart moves for my morale, and my derrière... 

Mavis, canine ambassador at the Fairmont Vancouver, Vancouver, BC

Friends were all over my stories in 2012, and that is a good thing. Friends and dogs [aka "Furry Friends"] helped celebrate my birthday in March. Friends were by my side again when I met King Tut in Seattle... 

This year, I was reminded of one of blogging's greatest perks: the many international friendships created along the way. Lucky me: I met three fellow bloggers during my travels. M-T and her husband in New York City. Malyss and Jilly on the French Riviera. I am planning to meet a lot more of my "friends" over the new few months, in the United States or in Europe. 

Santé, Jilly!

Fact #4: The years have gone by. Le Husband and I have made a life in the United States. Still, I miss Europe. I miss France. I miss the people I left behind. Need I say more?

Many stories on the blog reflect nostalgia for the life that once was. Annual trips to Old Europe are not enough to fill the void, even if they help. So I write stories, to remember what it was like; and to share memories with readers. The funny thing is, the more I avoid stereotypes about the French way of life, the more I drift back towards them. It seems my life and the moments I shared with friends and family were... very French after all. This has inspired many good stories on the blog. A Sunday in the country was a favorite in 2012. A couple of weeks ago, I reminisced about Memories of Parisian Christmas past. Last June, to celebrate the anniversary of D-Day, I published an email my mother-in-law, Mutti, wrote to my son, about her experience as a young French girl during the German Occupation. All three met with great response from readers. 

Many may disagree with some of these statements. I do not claim to speak for anyone but myself. Editorial privilege. 

So, what of these New Year's resolutions? Can they even be summarized in a single word?

Let's keep it simple, shall we?

In 2013, I wish for more. More travel to fabulous cities, wherever they may be. More time spent with family and friends, old, new and furry. More good stories to tell. More Followers. More feedback from faithful readers. More sun. More. Vaste programme (ambitious program,) I realize.

Thank you, Blog, for helping me sort things out. You, too, have been a good friend this year. In December, you celebrated your second anniversary; an average of 13,000 monthly pageviews since September 2012; 273 faithful followers; 150 Facebook followers; and 133 published posts to date.

Let's celebrate the big event with a Giveaway. 

Dear readers, are you ready? First, our prizes.

Le gagnant/la gagnante (the winner) gets to choose one of the following:

Interested in fashion? Pick this classic. Inès de la Fressange reveals the secret of Parisian style in Parisian Chic...

Do you like Paris? You will love this refreshing take on the City of Light: Paris in Color...

Paris vs. New York is a favorite of mine. I reviewed it here. If you love cities, Paris, and New York, look no further!

To enter, you must:

1. Start following this blog on Blogger, and/or on Facebook (French Girl in Seattle page.)

2. Tell me what you prefer reading on the blog: Stories about France and French culture, (such as the French icons series;) travelogues with a French twist; stories about the life of a French expat in the Pacific Northwest...

3. Would you be interested in reading more stories in French? In what format: Short stories (paragraphs) at the end of an English language post? Entire post written in French?  Stories in English including many French words and expressions (translated?)

Finally, do not forget to tell me what book you prefer if you are the lucky winner. I am in  a generous mood and may even throw in some French stationery I found recently in Vancouver BC. You're welcome.

The winner will be announced next week. Bonne chance!

Voilà. It is time to wrap up.

As always, thank you for staying with me until the end. Thank you for your support, and comments. I can't pretend I would enjoy blogging half as much if I did not hear from you each week!

Je vous souhaite une excellente année 2013. Best wishes for a wonderful 2013!

A bientôt.

All photos unless otherwise noted by French Girl in Seattle.
Please do not use, re-post, or Pin without permission.
-- French Girl in Seattle 
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