Why should I learn French?

Today, one of my adult students, Robin, brought to class a French pastry that she had baked. I guess her love of French food is one of the reasons she’s learning French – and it’s a good reason, if you ask me!

In fact, people often ask me if they should learn French. Well, they’re asking a French native who loves her language and culture, so in my opinion, YES –– EVERYONE should!

The truth is, learning a language is a deeply personal experience, and only you can answer that question yourself. But there are some very easy questions to help you figure it out:

·      Do you enjoy French cuisine, like Robin does?
·      Do you watch French films?
·      Do you dream someday of going to a French speaking place, such as Paris, Montreal, Guadeloupe or the Ivory Coast?
·      Do you simply like the way French sounds?

Of course there are many more aspects of French culture, but if you answered “yes” to any of these, then you may want to take an introductory class to see if it might be for you. And who knows – you might get lucky, and one of your fellow students will bring in some home-baked French treats (thanks again, Robin – it was delicious!)   

So – have you ever considered learning French? And if so, is there anything specific keeping you back? I may be able to help!  

The Guadeloupe Carnaval

Carnaval is a major cultural event in Guadeloupe, the Caribbean archipelago/French department where I grew up. Festivities are loosely tied to the Christian calendar, roughly lasting from Epiphanie (January 6, the proverbial “12th day of Christmas”) and ending on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. It’s a wild season of celebration full of music, costumes, and — of course — lots of great food, including beignets. I miss home even more during Carnaval as there is nothing similar to it in Lansing.

It actually starts on January 1 with a parade of the “groupes à peau,” who bring offerings to the sea. This tradition, called “ben demaré,” symbolizes leaving behind issues from the past year and asking for better luck for the coming year. Then over the subsequent weeks leading up to Mardi Gras (which falls between mid-February and early March), there are parades in cities around the island. Some of these parades are expected, others are impromptu.

Carnaval reaches fever pitch with three spectacular parades between Shrove Sunday (the Sunday before Lent) and Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Lent). The Carnaval groups showcase the results of weeks of hard work with elaborate floats and intricate dance numbers. Each year there is a new theme, and groups fight to get the first prize.

On Shrove Sunday, Carnaval parades compete in the afternoon in Pointe-à-Pitre, the largest city in Guadeloupe. The next evening, the parade is held in Basse-Terre, the island’s capital, with costumes and floats designed to light up at night. Then on Tuesday — the big day, Mardi Gras — it’s another afternoon affair, with another parade in Basse-Terre. The festivities end on Ash Wednesday, and an effigy of Vaval, the King of Carnival, is burned.

The uniqueness of Guadeloupe is seen on Ash Wednesday as the streets are filled with revelers dressed up in black and white. Contrary to the previous days, everybody is invited to be part of this parade. It’s not a contest — the only rule is to be dressed in black and white; most people just use whatever they already have in their closets. Everybody has another chance to perform without being part of a group on Tuesday during a pajama parade in multiple cities of Guadeloupe early in the morning.

Then, with one exception, everything gets subdued on the island until Easter. There are no real celebrations of any kind but there is a built-in release day: Mid-Lent Thursday. Falling exactly halfway between Ash Wednesday and Easter, it allows everyone who’s been “good for Lents” to revive the Carnaval mood for one day only, albeit with a mischievous twist. Celebrants dress up in red and black costumes, depicting themselves as devils.

Carnaval in Guadeloupe is a rich celebration based on more than a century of tradition. It would be impossible to try to recreate that in Lansing, but hopefully by sharing details about it — and sharing beignets with all my classes — I can inspire an appreciation for this special aspect of French culture here in mid-Michigan.

Stranger in Paradise

After being featured in The New York Times in its Jan. 22 Travel Section, Guadeloupe was also the setting for a recent edition of the podcast, Radiolab. “Stranger in Paradise” covered the interesting history of raccoons on my island, getting into issues of how science can affect cultural paradigms. But the best part for me was getting to hear the sounds of home: in the podcast, you can hear the frogs chirping at night, the birds chittering during the day, and the distinct Guadeloupe dialect in the people who were interviewed. It’s a great listen!

New York Times loves Guadeloupe!

As you might know, although I was born in a suburb of Paris, I grew up in Guadeloupe, a French island in the Caribbean. It’s where I made my most treasured childhood and teenage memories, and it’s where my heart calls “home.”

So imagine my thrill this week to see that The New York Times featured Guadeloupe in its Travel section (“A Return to Guadeloupe: Tropical Life, French-Style”). It’s a lenghty piece, going into great depths about how the writer and her husband relished the island’s cuisine, delighted in its clime, and reveled in its culture. They truly immersed themselves in Guadeloupe, and by doing so she was able to present what I see as an authentic vision of the island — of my home. It’s a good read, and an excellent primer for anyone thinking of visiting. Which, of course, I highly recommend you do.

And when you do, make sure to stop by the rum cave/spice boutique named Le Comptoir du Nouveau Monde (The New World Counter). It’s not featured in the story, but it will become one of your favorites!

To France and back!

Last month, I took my Michigan family to France for two weeks to attend a wedding in my family. It was such a fulfilling trip, but it went by way too fast — of course, I always feel like that. But I came back with a lot of great ideas for Aux Petits Soins, as well as some new books, music and toys. (Some of the things I brought back will be for sale — ask me about them if you’re interested.)

It was an emotional experience being able to introduce my sons to the city I was born in. I know they won’t remember this trip, but being immersed in the French language for two straight weeks and watching their little eyes light up again and again seeing these historical cultural icons — the Eiffel Tower, the Paris Opera, Notre Dame, the Louvre — I know something much deeper than memory was sinking in. They were absorbing my culture.

It’s always so nourishing being able to spend that much time with my extended family. I don’t get to see them often enough, but what person living halfway around the world from her parents and sisters wouldn’t say that? Their unconditional love and support is the reason why I know I can live anywhere in the world.

And that’s my goal with Aux Petits Soins — to be able to give all the students “cultural passports” to another country where they’ll feel confident of their own success, knowing they have a strong support system back here in Lansing.

Recette de la galette des rois

Depuis que je me suis installée aux Etats-Unis, il a fallu que je me mette aux fourneaux! Je n’avais jamais fait une galette des rois et après avoir essayé plusieurs recettes, j’ai finalement trouvé la perle rare sur le site marmiton.org (lien)… une recette facile et rapide.

Temps de préparation : 15 minutes – Temps de cuisson : 40 minutes

Galette des rois

Ingrédients (pour 6 personnes)

  • 2 pâtes feuilletées
  • 200 g de poudre d’amandes
  • 150 g de sucre semoule
  • 2 œufs
  • 100 g de beurre mou
  • quelques gouttes d’extrait d’amande amère
  • 1 jaune d’œuf pour dorer
  • 1 fève !

Préparation de la recette

  • Disposer une pâte dans un moule à tarte, la piquer avec 1 fourchette.
  • Mélanger dans un saladier tous les ingrédients (poudre d’amandes, sucre, œuf, beurre mou et extrait d’amande amère).
  • Etaler la préparation sur la pâte, y mettre la fève (sur un bord, pour minimiser les chances de tomber dessus en coupant la galette!).
  • Refermer la galette avec la seconde pâte et bien souder les bords.
  • A l’aide d’un couteau, décorer la pâte en y traçant des dessins et dorer au jaune d’œuf (dilué dans un peu d’eau).
  • Percer le dessus de petits trous pour laisser l’air s’échapper, sinon elle risque de gonfler et de se dessécher.
  • Enfourner à 210°C (thermostat 7) pendant 30 minutes environ (surveiller la cuisson dès 25 minutes, mais ne pas hésiter à laisser jusqu’à 40 minutes si nécessaire).