31 January 2011

Driving to Preuilly, and maybe a local McDo

We had a good drive down Susan and Simon's house in Preuilly-sur-Claise yesterday. We left home at 9:30 in the morning. It was cold, just below freezing, but the roads were clear and dry. The drive is about 75 km (45 miles) and we didn't pass more than 10 cars all along the way. It took almost exactly an hour to get there.

We drove straight south from Saint-Aignan through Nouans-les-Fontaines, Villedômain, and Châtillon-sur-Indre (châtillon is another word for château or castle and there's a very big old stone tower there, which is what's left of a medieval castle built by Henri II Plantagenêt). South of Châtillon, you come to Azay-le-Ferron and that's where you turn right to get to Preuilly.

An old door and window in one of the villages we drove through

As we drove through woods between Azay and Preuilly, we noticed that there was still snow on the ground along the sides of the road. We haven't had any snow in Saint-Aignan for a while now, but they must have gotten some snowfall more recently down near Preuilly.

Another shuttered window

There were 20 or more people at Susan and Simon's house for the belated New Year's party. Most were English expats. There were two American women, both of whom live near Preuilly but in different directions, and there was an Australian woman who lives with her Indonesian husband down south of Preuilly in the Poitou region. There were two Frenchmen at the party that I talked to. Some of the English people in attendance are also bloggers.

Cold, gray, and foggy in the vineyard this morning

Susan gave me and Simon gave Walt, at different times, a tour of the house so that we could see the state of their renovations and improvements. They are making a lot of progress but, as they'll tell you, they still have a lot of work to do. We stayed at the party — featuring sparkling Touraine wine with a nice buffet of finger foods — for a couple of hours but then we needed to get back to Saint-Aignan. We were sorry to have to leave early.

A restaurant in Châtillon-sur-Indre that is not a McDonald's

I forgot to mention one piece of news from the Saturday afternoon gathering chez one of our neighbors. There is a proposal to build a McDonald's hamburger restaurant across the river from our village in the town of Noyers-sur-Cher. It would be near the Intermarché supermarket.

The proposal has not been approved yet, and may not be approved, for zoning reasons. I hope it won't be built. But you can't stop progress. Many French children and young people love McDonald's. One of our neighbors, a teacher, says the children in her school are very excited by the idea of having a « McDo « (pronounced [mac-doh]) nearby. Right now, the closest ones to Saint-Aignan are in Amboise, Romorantin, and Blois, all about 25 miles distant.

30 January 2011

Hair-raising views of village life

We found out why there are always three or four cars parked in the driveway three houses down from us on our road. We wondered how many people lived there. The people who rented that house before this current crowd were a couple in their nineties, and both of them passed away not too long ago.

It turns out the house with all the cars out front is occupied by some young people who work at the zoo in Saint-Aignan. They have fixed-length contracts with the zoo, so we don't know how long they'll be living here. Our other neighbor told us there is a housing crisis here in the Saint-Aignan area, and when an employer like the zoo brings in workers for short-term assignments, they often are young people who have to double or triple up if they want to find a place to live and meet expenses.

Sunrise yesterday morning while I was out with the dog

People in the hamlet had started wondering whether there might be drug-dealing going on there, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Everyone has noticed all the cars and the constant comings and goings, that's for sure. There's only been one party since the young people moved in — last summer. It was not a problem.

One of the people in the house is the late-20s or early 30s woman who rang our front bell aweek ago and asked us if we had seen a black kitten wandering around the hamlet. No, we said, we hadn't. But we'd keep an eye out. And by the way, we told her, we have a black cat but he's not a kitten. She said she had seen Bert. She also said there are three other cats living in her house, and we already knew that she and the others also keep chickens in a pen and house in the back yard. We hear the rooster crow most mornings.

Patterns in the ice covering a puddle on the road

The woman said her black kitten escaped one day when there was a cat fight in her front yard. She opened the door to try to stop it, and the black kitten took off and disappeared. I asked her if our black cat, Bertie, was one of the ones fighting. She said no, there was no black cat involved. That was a relief.

A real relief, I mean, because Bertie came home injured again about 10 days ago. One of his eyes was swollen shut, and when I pulled it open to examine it I could see what looked like a hole in the inner eyelid that could have been made by another animal's claw. Bertie had crusty blood behind one ear, and a wound on his cheek too. He recovered from all that very quickly, though.

A frosty view out the back gate yesterday morning

What he has not recovered from is terrorizing the other neighbor's cats. She has three of them, and she says two of them refuse to go outdoors now, because they are afraid of being attacked. The woman who keeps the cats is the one who says Bertie attacked her a few months ago when she turned her back on him. She says the scratches on her leg were very painful and she still has scars.

This woman lives with her 88-year-old mother, and her 25-year-old daughter visits frequently, driving down from Paris. Both of the older and younger woman seemed yesterday to be downplaying the whole situation when we talked about it, but the one who got scratched is still pretty upset about it. Luckily, she likes cats, and when I mention that the only solution I can think of is to take Bertie to the local humane society to see if a new home can be found for him, always says « non, non, non, ce serait dommage » — it would be a shame to take such a beautiful cat over there.

Callie waiting to be let in after our walk

Meanwhile, we learned from the neighbors that there is an older woman down the hill from us — the cat-keeping neighbor calls her la sorcière, the witch, because of her long stringy hair — who really is not able to take care of herself any more but who refuses to move out of the big house that she rents. We only see the older woman once in a while, when we're driving by at bread-delivery time. She comes out to get bread. She's a tiny thing but with long stringy hair and dingy clothes.

The neighbor says the woman is 90 years old now. Her husband died a few years ago, and the woman lives in squalid conditions in a big two-strory house. She still has « bon pied, bon œil » — "good feet and good eyes," meaning she is still in good physical and mental health — but she spends nearly all of her monthly pension on rent and has little or no money left over with which to buy clothes or even food.

She does get bread four times a week, however, according to the bread lady. The woman never opens her shutters, however, and lives mostly in her kitchen, which is the only room in the house that is liveable, the neighbor said. Our neighbor said nobody wants to go inside the woman's house because of the bad odor and general mess, but the woman herself adamantly refuses to move into a smaller place.

Sunrise over rows of vines in winter

A few weeks ago Walt and I were driving up the hill after a trip to the supermarket and we saw a couple of gendarme vehicles and a sapeurs-pompiers van (the fire department does rescue squad work) parked in the old woman's driveway, lights flashing. The neighbor said the woman had fallen down the stairs in the house. She had been able to crawl to the telephone and call the French equivalent of 911.

The rescue squad took her to the hospital in Blois, where she was kept for a few days. But then somebody in charge decided that the woman was in good enough condition to come home, so they brought her back here. The neighbor said they left her in the cold, dark house, where she had no food in the fridge or cabinets and no way to get any. She was dressed only in a thin hospital nightgown and some slippers that were too small for her.

It was scandaleux, the neighbor said. The village authorities came to the house and managed to get the heat going, get the woman dressed in some warm clothing, and bring in some food for her. Still, she refuses to see reason and move into a smaller place down in the village center, where she wouldn't be alone — stranded, with no car — and where the rent wouldn't take nearly all of her monthly income.

That's where the situation stands for now. The woman is in good health for her age, so the local social services won't provide for her or insist that she must move out of the big house. She has no family at all since her husband died, so there is nobody to help her make decisions or make them for her.

It's so nice to see the sun early in the morning these days.

After we had exhausted that subject, somebody started in on a story about something that happened 25 or 30 years ago in the same little neighborhood down the hill. A couple living in a big house down there had a grown son living in with them. He was depressed and mentally unstable, and was becoming reclusive, apparently. The parents called in a doctor for advice. The son was taken in for psychiatric examination and treatment, but after a few days he was released.

What did he do? He went to the doctor's house, hid in the hedges, and when the doctor came home he jumped out and attacked him. He actually murdered the doctor.

I could tell a couple of other stories we heard yesterday at our little neighborhood gathering, but I'll stop here. Tales of drinking, child neglect, indigence, and drug-dealing.... And we thought we had retired to enjoy peaceful, serene country living. Ha! It makes you realize that ignorance of what is going on all around you, what your neighbors are up to and how they live, really is bliss. Good fences and all that...

And it makes you realize that territorial disputes involving neighborhood cats are not such a big deal.

29 January 2011

A pousse-café and a flood party

Busy weekend. Some neighbors have invited us over this afternoon (Saturday) for dessert, café, and un petit pousse-café. Other neighbors will be there too, I think, including the one who has had her run-ins with Bertie. I haven't see her in a while so it will be interesting to hear her take on the situation now.

Do you know what a pousse-café is? It's an after-dinner drink, either an eau de vie (brandy) or a liqueur. That kind of drink is also called un digestif — the alcohol supposedly helps your digestive system deal with all the food you ate at lunch.

Tomorrow we are going to drive down to Preuilly-sur-Claise, an hour south of Saint-Aignan, to attend an Australian flood party chez Susan and Simon of Days on the Claise. They are going to pop open a bottle of sparkling Vouvray, the local bubbly wine, to celebrate the end of the flooding in Queensland, where they used to live, near Brisbane.

The party starts at 9:00 in the morning! If you read Susan and Simon's blog, you know about it, but I'll tell you anyway. Last year, an Australian family came to visit Saint-Aignan, Preuilly, and the Loire Valley. They are a couple with grown children, and two of the children were traveling with them.

The daughter is Kirstie (her blog is Thirsty Kirstie — she works as a sommelier) and her partner is Michael (he's a cook). They live west of Brisbane too, and they suffered significant damage and the fright of their lives during the recent floods down there. Kirstie has declared the month of January null and void, and is having a Happy New Year party in Australia tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. Queensland time.

So you see, that's 9:00 a.m. in France. Susan and Simon have organized a simultaneous party in Preuilly-sur-Claise. I'm not sure how many people will be there, but it should be fun. (All our best to Kirstie and Michael.)

The weather is pretty cold — below freezing this morning — but there's no snow or ice that I've heard of. The bread lady said the roads are dry. It's actually supposed to be sunny in Saint-Aignan for the next few days.

28 January 2011

English vs. French nasal vowels

So you know how many nasal vowels there are in French?

But first, do you understand what a nasal vowel is? The American Heritage Dictionary defines the linguistic term “nasal” as meaning:
“Articulated by lowering the soft palate so that air resonates in the nasal cavities and passes out the nose, as in the pronunciation of the nasal consonants [m], [n], and [ng] or the nasalized vowel of French bon.”
English is full of nasal vowels. Every vowel that occurs in the same syllable with a nasal consonant — [m], [n], and [ng], as the AHD says — ends up being nasalized. It's the nature of English phonetics. The nasalization of the vowel is “conditioned” by its phonetic position — in other words, it's automatic.

In English, nasalization is not meaningul, because you have no option. You can't say “ran” without using a nasal A vowel. How do I know that? Well, hold your nose — pinch your nostrils together — and pronounce the word “rat”. No problem, right. Sounds fine. Now pinch your nostrils together and try to pronounce “ran”. It's not the same, is it?

No other word in English is pronounced exactly the same as “ran” except for the nasal vowel. In other words, there is no word like “ran” where the A is not nasalized. The nasalized A is real and required, but it's not linguistically meaningful.

Many other words, however, are pronounced exactly like “ran” except for the first consonant — the words “ran”, “pan”, “fan”, and “tan”, for example. In linguistics, that proves that the R, P, F, and T sounds are meaningful. The meaning of a word ending in “-an” changes when you change the initial consonant.

The final N is also significant, because if you replace it with a T, an M, a P, or a Z, you get a different set of words, with different meanings. Words like “ran” and “rat” are called “minimal pairs” because a single sound, be it a vowel or a consonant, differentiates them and gives each word its particular meaning.

Will you be surprised when I tell you that French is just the opposite of English when it comes to nasal vowels? In French, nasalization is significant and meaningful. You probably know that intuitively, if you have learned some French. There are pairs (of words) that are distinguished solely by the presence or absence of a nasal vowel. I'm talking about pronunciation, not spelling.

Here's a minimal pair in French: beau and bon. If you say [bo] without nasalizing the vowel, it's beau (beautiful). If you say [bö], using a nasal vowel, it's bon (good). Notice that the N of bon is not pronounced at all. I'm using [ö] to represent the nasalized O.

In southern France, sometimes it sounds as if there is a hard G sound, pronounced very slightly, at the end of a word like bon. It's almost “bong”. But that G is not a meaningful sound. It's automatic. There is no minimal pair where the word pronounced without that hard G would be a different word from one pronounced with the G.

That's easy, right? Here's the kicker. In French, the vowel immediately preceding a nasal consonant — [n] or [m] — is never nasalized. So the pronunciation of the feminine form of bon is bonne, and it does not included a nasalized O. It sounds almost like “bun” in English, but the vowel is not nasal. All the nasalization is in the N, and the O is not “contaminated.”

I know, that's getting a little abstract. It takes some practice if English is your native language. And gives you an accent if you pronounce it wrong. Maybe it's impossible for a native speaker of English to pronounce it perfectly.

So how many nasal vowels are there in French? Some might say there are four, but really, there are just three that are meaningful in contemporary French (as spoken in France). One, the nasalized U of un has merged with another, the nasalized vowel of, for example, the prefix in-. Un père (a father) and impair (meaning odd, not even) are pronounced pretty much the same — [ëper]. There is no nasalized I vowel in the French spoken in France.

The meaningful nasal vowels in French French are [ë] as in bain (bath), [ä] as in banc (bench), and [ö] as in bon (good). You have to be able to distinguish those three sounds from each other when you listen to or speak French. Bon and banc are a minimal pair. So are bain and banc, and bon and bain.

Here are some other sets of words that can make minimal pairs:
  • thym [të] — temps [tä] — ton [tö]
  • pain [pë] — paon [pä] — pont [pö]
  • lin [lë] — lent [lä] — long [lö]
  • saint [së] — sans [sä] — sont [sö]
  • vin [vë] — vent [vä] —vont [vö]
A good expression for practicing the pronunciation of the three different nasal vowels is « un bon vin blanc ». That would be pronounced [ë-bö-vë-blä]. Over my shoulder, I just heard a woman say « un bon vin » on TV (the French cooking channel is on), and she definitely said un with the same nasal vowel, [ë], that you hear in pain, vin, and thym.

A lot of the time, context will make the difference in meaning between two different words clear, even if the vowels are not differentiated distinctly. You probably wouldn't mix up pain (bread), paon (peacock), and pont (bridge) in a given context. Or mix up anybody listening to you if you pronounced one of them wrong.

But you might have trouble with lent (slow) and long (long) if you weren't careful. Is the train [lä] or [lö]? Are you talking about [të], [tä], or [tö] — thyme, time, or color? You wouldn't want to confuse wine [vë] with wind [vä], would you?

27 January 2011

King Henri IV's early childhood

I'm just starting to read French centrist politician François Bayrou's book about the French king Henri IV, who reigned from 1589 until 1610. In that year, he was assassinated in Paris by an apparently unbalanced religious fanatic. Bayrou's book is called Henri IV, le roi libre and was published in 1994.

François Bayrou was a presidential candidate in France in 2007. He has an advanced degree, the agrégation, in classical literature from the Université de Bordeaux and was a teacher until he was named Ministre de l'Education Nationale in 1993 and went into politics.

King Henri IV de France was the Protestant figure who was famous, according to legend, for saying « Paris vaut bien une messe » — Paris is well worth a mass — when he decided, for political reasons, to embrace Catholicism as king. Henri was by heredity the king of Navarre, a small, contested territory straddling the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain.

Henri de Navarre was formally recognized as the legitimate king of France in 1589 by heirless French King Henri III, his brother-in-law and cousin, who was on his deathbed after suffering wounds inflicted upon him by a fanatical assassin. The new king had to convince the majority Catholics to give him their allegiance, so he renounced Protestantism.

He came to the throne at the end of the religious wars between French Catholics and Protestants. In 1598 Henri signed the Edict of Nantes, giving Protestants the legal right to practice their religion in France. He was also the king who said, again according to legend, that his goal was to make sure that every French family had « une poule au pot » — a “chicken in the pot,” or a stewed chicken — for dinner every Sunday.

Henri IV was born in the city of Pau in the Pyrenees on December 13, 1553. According to Bayrou, little Henri had a typical early childhood for the times. That involved being tied up and strapped into his cradle for the first year or more of his life.

Here's what François Bayrou writes, in my translation:
In the late 1500s, newborn babies were wrapped, strapped, and bound, almost like mummies, because parents thought that was good for the baby. Immobilizing babies in that way was common practice for at least two centuries, and in the Pyrenees countryside it was the accepted practice as late as the 19th century. It was the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his book Emile, ou de l'Education [1762] that first got people to theorizing about the benefits of allowing their newborn babies' limbs to move around freely.

Until then, people thought that for a baby to grow up straight, tall, and well-proportioned, it was best to “shape” its body by binding its legs together and strapping its arms to the sides of its torso with cloth bandages. No limb movement was permitted during the child's first year, and for added security the baby was strapped into its cradle.

Wrapping the baby up like a little mummy in this way took considerable time and effort, so babies were not frequently changed — usually just once a day. People believed that the body's natural filth was protective, and that urine had its beneficial effects. It was also not recommended to clean the scabs that formed on the baby's skull, because the soft spot (the fontanel) might be damaged.

And to make sure the baby's nails grew strong, it was recommended that they not be cut before the age of 18 months or even two years. If the baby got lice, people were careful to make sure a few stayed on the baby's body after delousing, because lice were believed to "eat bad blood."
I had no idea that those were the prevailing child-rearing practices at the end of the French Renaissance. Did you? Here's the passage in French:

By the way, the pronunciation of François Bayrou's family name is the subject of controversy in France. Many journalists and politicians pronounce it as [bay-ROO], more or less the way it is spelled. Bayrou himself doesn't appear to like that pronunciation. I've seen him correct people during interviews on television, instructing them to pronounce his name this way: [by-ROO].

And again by the way, the name of the southwestern French port city of Bayonne is pronounced as [by-YUN] in France, not [bay-own] as in New Jersey.

26 January 2011

Comment prononce-t-on ce mot-là ?

A few days ago, after I posted my long explanation about the pronunciation of the word « grenouille » — “frog” in French — a friend named Carolyn sent me a link to a site where you can hear the pronunciation of words and expressions in many different languages. Carolyn leaves comments on this blog and on others I read, and she and her husband have visited us here in Saint-Aignan a couple of times.

Here's a link to www.forvo.com that takes you to the pronunciation of the term « la grenouille » in French. In the search box, you can type in any word or expression you want and see if somebody has contributed a pronunciation. Click on the little blue arrow to hear the recording.

I've listened to quite a few of them and the pronunciations sound good to my ear. Some recordings are better than others, with less hum or buzz or static. I especially like the recordings of French words done by the contributor called spl0uf, who seems also to be an editor on the Forvo site.

Here's a link to the Forvo pronunciations for the term
« bouilloire », which means “kettle” and for which English speakers might need pronunciation help. It's just an example. The contributor I like, and who is a native speaker from France, pronounces it as I know it, and a contributor from the United Kingdom gives a passable pronunciation too.

Here's another example, for the pronunciation of the town named Loches, which I have blogged about before. Loches is a nice town about 20 miles southeast of Saint-Aignan — we go there regularly on shopping expeditions.

Another friend, Cheryl, asked me why I didn't just post an audio pronunciation of words like grenouille, nouille, douille, fouille, mouille, houille, ouille, and so forth, on my blog. There are two reasons: first, Blogger doesn't host audio files. It will take video files, but the process of preparing them for posting is pretty time-consuming, in my experience. Maybe I don't have the right software or understand the process entirely.

The second reason is the fact that I'm not a native speaker. My pronunciation is good, but it's better to base your pronunciation on samples recorded by native speakers of French. In my experience, there's nothing like having an intuitive understanding of a language, having grown up with it and learned it from your mother and father.

Also, pay attention to the country the speaker comes from. I just listened to a pronunciation of the adjective « grenobloise » — “of Grenoble” (the French city) — and it doesn't sound like the pronunciation I hear in France. The E vowel is wrong, to my ear, but the pronunciation is certainly understandable.

Take a look, or a listen, on www.forvo.com (this one takes you to the town named Reims) when you want to be sure how a word is pronounced, in French or other languages.

25 January 2011

A rooster bell

We got a new bell. No, it doesn't cluck or crow. It just clangs. Walt put it up yesterday.

Cocorico !

I found it in a shop across the river in Noyers-sur Cher that sells about everything you can think of. It only cost 16 euros. The rooster (cockerel, coq) model was the only one they had.

Walt put the new bell up on the gate post.

The old bell was a cat. Walt had painted it black so it looked like Bertie. Unfortunately, when we got a delivery of firewood in December, the guy driving the tractor sheared off the cat bell with his trailer as he was trying to back into the driveway. There was no easy and obvious way to repair it.

24 January 2011

Choux-fleurs et feuilles de choux-fleurs

The chou-fleur (“cabbage flower”) or cauliflower is a variety of the standard cabbage, Brassica oleracea, that has undergone centuries of careful selection by growers to produce the plant and vegetable we know today. The cauliflower is harvested immature, before the flowers actually open.

A very fresh cauliflower from Brittany

Typically, only the underdeveloped flowers or "meristems" of the cabbage are eaten. But the fact is that the leaves that envelope the cauliflower are edible too. It's just a cabbage, after all. Those leaves need to be fresh, of course.

A little while back I bought a beautiful chou-fleur at the supermarket in Loches. It was perfectly fresh, judging from the green leaves that had been left around the flower — to protect it from bruising and drying out, I imagine. I'm not sure how often cauliflower is sold this way in the U.S. I hope it's sold with its leaves all the time.

The Larousse Gastronomique food and cooking encyclopedia says that the chou-fleur has "oriental origins" and is an « aliment très délicat, qui doit toujours être acheté avec ses feuilles vertes (d'ailleurs comestibles)... » — a very delicate food product that should always be purchased with its green leaves (which are edible, by the way) intact.

Brittany and the southeast area of France produce a lot of cauliflower, so it is available year-round. I usually buy it during the winter, when the Brittany crop comes in and prices go down. It's good to eat cooked or raw. If it's not overcooked, it doesn't develop the unpleasant odors and taste that many people associate with cooked cauliflower. The same is true of broccoli.

Un gratin de choux-fleurs comme je les aime...

One of the best ways to cook cauliflower is to blanch it or steam it briefly and then finish cooking it in a cheese sauce in the oven. Sprinkle some extra grated cheese over the top of the casserole dish and it will brown nicely. You can mix some chopped ham or smoked pork lardons into the cheese sauce (c'est une sauce Mornay) to turn the cauliflower au gratin into a complete main dish.

I've posted before about making un gratin de choux-fleurs, here and here, with the recipe. That's what I did with the cauliflower I bought in Loches recently. And here is another recipe for finely chopped cauliflower incorporated into the cheese sauce served with pasta. It's something I made a few years ago, trying to reproduce a dish I had in a good restaurant in Half Moon Bay in California in the 1990s.

So the other day, when making another gratin de chou-fleur, I decided I needed to cook the green cauliflower leaves too. I trimmed them up, washed them well, and cooked them separately with water, salt and pepper, and some duck broth and duck fat for seasoning. I also trimmed and chopped the "core" of the cauliflower after I had cut off the florets, diced it up, and added it to the pot with the greens.

Cauliflower leaves and trimmings cooked as greens
with a little duck fat for seasoning

Both the gratin and the greens were delicious. We ate the greens with some pulled pork "barbecue" — eastern North Carolina style — that I made last week. I bought two boneless pork shoulder roasts and steam cooked them in the pressure cooker the same way I had earlier cooked a pork loin roast. The shoulder made better barbecue, and since I cooked five pounds (2.3 kg) of pork we have plenty of it in the freezer. Pork barbecue made this way freezes really well.

23 January 2011

Hiking past the trees in winter

There was supposed to be a randonnée pédestre this morning, we thought. I'm not sure how to translate randonnée. A hike? A walk? The Robert dictionary defines the term as a « Promenade longue et ininterrompue. » I guess. It's an organized event. People participate by going out and hiking or walking around on the local dirt roads and paths through vineyards and woods, at their own pace.

Of course we do that every day with the dog. Once in the morning, once in the afternoon.

The woods in January, just down the hill from our back gate

Two or three times a year, crews (or maybe just individuals) come through and paint arrows on the ground and pavement at different strategic points, showing people which way to turn or not turn if they want to stay on the hiking path. They did that over the past few days. They also put up little signs at critical junctures, with little arrows on them. They'll come and take all those down tomorrow, probably.

Trunks of pine trees on the east side of the vineyard

This time, the path comes down the gravel road through the vineyard toward La Renaudière, our hamlet. Right behind our house, beside the communal pond, it turns downhill past our back gate and into the woods where we usually walk with Callie in the afternoon. In the morning, these days, we walk out into the vineyard. That pattern changes with the seasons.

Clumps of mistletoe in a stand of trees down by the river

This morning I took the dog out into the vineyard, fully expecting to run into groups of hikers along the road. But there were none at all. I just looked out the window and there still is no sign of anybody hiking. Maybe it's just too cold for people. There are also no hunters — I suppose the Sunday hunt was called off because hikers were supposed to be out among the vines. It would be dangerous.

Apple trees in our back yard in January

Callie of course didn't know there were supposed to be hikers, so she wasn't disappointed. If she had seen hikers, she would have run up to them to greet them excitedly. She probably would have tried to jump up on some of the people and kiss them. It depends on the person, though. Some she won't approach, and some she treats like long-lost friends, or saviors. I don't know how she decides.

Trees and the bay laurel hedge around our yard a day or two ago

I'll keep an eye out. Maybe the hike starts at noon, or at 2:00 p.m. it could be an afternoon event. Or maybe the cold weather has kept anybody from participating. People don't all walk together in a big herd, but in smaller groups, at their own speed. Usually, at the end of the hike there will be refreshments, offered up by the mayor or one of the associations in the village. I hope they get some participants today.

The pictures here are just some recent photos of the local trees in wintertime.

P.S. At 11:00 a.m. we have seen maybe as many as 25 hikers come through the vineyard, in little groups. So the event is not a washout. Actually, it's a beautiful day outside, though chilly.

The people in this picture are hiking
with a little black dog.

22 January 2011

Pronunciation of -ouille

A lot of English speakers have a hard time with the French pronunciation of the string of letters in the title above. The word that I've heard mentioned recently as a pronunciation conundrum is « grenouille » — that's “frog” in English. Other examples are nouille, rouille, and douille (noodle, rust, and socket in English).

There are a lot of French words that include the -ouille string, and it's always pronounced the same way. There is no -ee- sound in it. There is, however, an -oo- sound. If you break -ouille down, you'll find out it is actually pronounced as -oo- with the ending -ille [yuh]. And as you know, in French, the Ls of -ille are not usually pronounced as Ls, but as an unstressed [yuh] sound — a semi-vowel. If you can pronounce the French word fille correctly as [FEE-yuh], you know what I mean.

Exceptions to the pronunciation -ille as [yuh] are pretty rare in French. One handy trick for remembering them is this little ditty: « Gilles, Lille, et mille villes tranquilles ». In those words, -ille is pronounced more or less like [eel]. It's also pronounced as [eel] in a lot of words borrowed from other language, and in scientific terms, but never mind about those.

In virtually all the other French words ending in -ille — fille, gentille, bille, grille, brindille, Bastille, for example — -ille is pronounced as [EE-yuh]. This little [yuh] sound after a vowel is called a "wet L" in French — un L mouillé. (Mouillé is pronounced [moo-YAY].)

The "wet L" is represented in phonetic symbols as [j]. The phonetic transcription of the word fille, then, is [fij]. Bastille is [bastij]. I hope that makes sense.

And now back to the pronunciation of -ouille. In the international phonetic alphabet, the sound we write in English as -oo- is represented as [u]. For example, the French word fou is pronounced as [fu]. Bout is [bu]. Cou is [ku]. Tout is [tu]. (Don't be surprised that the word tu is represented as [ty] in the phonetic alphabet — that's a different vowel, as you know.)

So here is how the Larousse Dictionnaire de la Prononciation shows the pronunciation of the word grenouille. It shows the vowel as [u] followed by the semi-vowel [j].

The upside-down E in the transcription is the schwa or
"mute E" of French. It's an indeterminate vowel [uh],
like the initial A of about or above in English.

The syllable represented as [uj] in phonetic transcription is the equivalent of what I would write as [OO-yuh] to help English-speakers understand how to pronounce French -ouille. The [yuh] is just a quick glide attached to the end of the main vowel. In fille, the main vowel is [i] or, as I write it [EE]. If it really followed the rules, the word would be spelled as fiille, where the first -i- is the main vowel and the [yuh] ending is -ille.

The mistake most English-speakers are tempted to make is to pronounce -ouille as [WEE-yuh]. That's not right. The main vowel is [OO], not [EE]. It's not like the word oui, where the main vowel is [i] or [EE] and the ou- is pronounced as [w], a semi-vowel. It's the opposite — not [WEE] but [OO-yuh].

Compare grenouille to the French word bouteille. That one is easy: it's [butej] or [boo-TAY-yuh]. N'est-ce pas ? Or the verb in je travaille — [travaj] or, in my version, [trah-VAH-yuh]. The principle is the same: -ille is the [yuh] ending, and the main vowel is the one that comes ahead of it.

But wait. There are harder words than grenouille to pronounce. The word feuille, for example. In that one, the main vowel is [œ] or, in my version, [uh]. It's the vowel of the word peur [pœr]. So feuille is [fœj] or [FUH-yuh]. Apply that to these two place names: the town called Preuilly [prœji], for example, and the village called Mareuil [marœj]. Thats [pruh-YEE] and [mah-RUH-yuh] in my version for Anglophones.

21 January 2011


Well, that worked. Thanks to Simon, I now have a lot more space on the Blogger servers to store the photos posted here. I'm plural now. There are two of me, and each of me gets a gigabyte of free photo storage from Blogger and Picasa. I hope I don't start seeing double. Maybe one of me should post in French and the other in English.

The Renaudière vineyard, near Saint-Aignan

Alors, je recommence mon blog, peut-être avec un nouvel élan. Espérons. C'est « ckb » qui vous parle. Pour le stockage des photos, Blogger me donne 1 Go d'espace sur ses serveurs par identité.

The Cher River Valley near Mareuil

En tant que moi — l'ancien moi — j'avais presque rempli le premier Go qui m'était accordé pour les photos. Il y en a des milliers.
Maintenant que je suis le nouveau moi, il y en aura encore. C'est un peu comme les cheveux d'Eléonore.


Il fait de nouveau très froid à Saint-Aignan. Hier matin, on a eu droit à un paysage entièrement blanc. Pourtant il n'avait pas neigé. Dehors, toutes les surfaces étaient couvertes de gelée blanche, grâce à un épais brouillard givrant.

Callie on our path through the woods

Avant midi, cependant, le brouillard s'est levé et nous avons eu un brillant soleil pendant tout l'après-midi. Le froid ne s'est pas dissipé pour autant, et ce matin nous sommes encore une fois en dessous de zéro.

January sky at sunset near Saint-Aignan

Ken here. Should I let this ckb guy continue? Or should I take my blog back? As ckb, I'm uploading a few photos that I took on yesterday afternoon's walk with Callie, just to see how this new identity thing works. They show wintertime landscapes around Saint-Aignan and our hamlet, La Renaudière.

20 January 2011

Broccoli, or « des brocolis »

A few days ago I cooked some broccoli that I had bought at the supermarket. In American English, we pronounce that [BROCK-uh-lee], or sometimes in two syllables as [BROCK-lee]. I noticed recently that some speakers of English (not American) might pronounce it as [BROCK-uh-LYE].

In English, it's "broccoli" with two Cs. In French, it's brocoli with one C. That's confusing, at least to me. And in French it's often used in the plural, with an S: ce sont des brocolis.

I remember back in the 1970s, when I lived in Paris and Normandy, that there was no broccoli available at all. I missed it. I guess I started cooking and eating broccoli when I was in college and grad school, because I don't think we ate it at home in North Carolina when I was growing up. We ate turnip, mustard, and collard greens instead. And cabbage of course.

The only broccoli-like vegetable I could ever find in Paris all those years ago was broccoli rabe, which is not really the same thing. It was sold by Portuguese vendors in the farmers' markets, and I read now that rabe is much prized in Portugal and Galicia (northwestern Spain) as well as in Italy. It's called brocoli-rave in French but I never see it here in the Loire Valley. It's much used in China too and some call it Chinese turnip or Chinese cabbage. It's more bitter than the other broccoli, I think. It's good sauteed with garlic, apparently.

One French web site I've found says that broccoli was not much consumed in France until about 20 years ago, which would confirm my souvenir of the situation. A few years ago, I mentioned to an old French friend — a good home cook that I learned a lot from — that there was no broccoli in the markets in France back in the 1970s, but she was surprised and said she didn't really remember. I only remember because I remember missing it.

The Larousse Gastronomique food and cooking encyclopedia mentions broccoli, which it calls chou brocoli or "broccoli cabbage," but the author gives no recipes or cooking instructions. All it says is that you substitute broccoli in any recipe that calls for cauliflower. Cauliflower is abundant, delicious, and inexpensive in France. A lot of it is grown in Brittany, where the climate is mild and damp.

None of my other favorite old French cookbooks has any recipes for brocoli or even a mention of it, with one exception. Tante Marie, whose book La Véritable Cuisine de famille dates back to the 1920, does refer to « brocolis », calling it « choux d'Italie » (Italian cabbage), as a sort of afterthought appended to her collection of cauliflower recipes. She says to cook it in boiling water and serve it with a white sauce.

By the way, we had broccoli with the steak and kidney pudding that Susan and Simon of Days on the Claise brought over for lunch a few days ago. The steak and kidney pudding was very good, I thought, with it's suet "crust" — Susan described the dish as a big steamed dumpling filled with chunks of steak and beef kidney. Broccoli was good with it. I wish I had taken a picture.

And again by the way, I've now used up 98% of my photo allowance on Blogger. I have to figure out how to get more space on the server so I can continue posting pictures. I figure you probably know what broccoli looks like...

19 January 2011

La Mairie

When we need anything administrative or official done, we go to the mairie in our village. It's pronounced [may-REE] and it's a feminine word: la mairie. It's where the mayor — le maire — has his or her office. In bigger towns, the same building is often called « l'hôtel de ville » — that's what it's called in Saint-Aignan, for example, and in Paris.

I guess in English it's the village hall, the town hall, or city hall.

I had to go to the mairie a couple of days ago because I got a letter from the tax authorities in Blois asking me whether the work on our house had been finished and whether we had filed a declaration saying as much. We had, actually. I thought the mayor's office, where we filed the papers, would have notified the tax people. I guess they hadn't, but they said they will do so now.

Often the mairie in little towns is in the same building that houses the elementary school. That's the case in our village. You'll see Ecole de Filles — Girls' School — and Ecole de Garçons — Boys' School — engraved in the stone on either end of the building. Nowadays, there's a more modern classroom building located behind the mairie.

You'll also see, in front of the main entrance, a monument dedicated to the memory of those who died in past wars. For such a small (but very old) village, the mairie is quite a grand building.

18 January 2011

White or brown?

All the eggs you find in France are brown. I've seen white eggs only once in the past 7½ years. They were being sold by a farmer at the market in Loches. I don't think he was selling anything but eggs, and he didn't have an awful lot of them. So I assume he kept chickens and the eggs were the product of his hens.

According to French Wikipedia, French chickens used to lay mainly white eggs. But French chickens were cross-bred with Asian breeds starting in about 1850, and now all the eggs are brown (called œufs rosés in French).

Twenty-four eggs laid by free-range chickens.

English Wikipedia says that, in general, "chicken breeds with white ear lobes lay white eggs, whereas chickens with red ear lobes lay brown eggs." Ear lobes? I guess I'm not very familiar with chicken anatomy, because I didn't know that chickens had visible external ears.

French eggs are always brown.

Different cultures have their preferences when it comes to eggshell color, but chicken eggs of one color are not inherently better that chicken eggs of other colors. In the U.S., at least where I lived, brown eggs used to be considered to be "better" than white eggs, but that is evidently not the case. One French friend told me she assumed that brown eggshells are not as fragile as white eggshells, and that's why egg merchants prefer them: less breakage. I don't know if that's true.

In France, the eggs are brown and they are often sold in cartons of 10, not 12. They are also sold by the half-dozen. The ones I bought in Loches a few days ago came in a pack of 24. Oh, and in the supermarkets they are not kept in refrigerated cases. They're just out on the shelves like the bags of flour and sugar.

17 January 2011


Like a butterfly coming out of its cocoon. Well, that might be the wrong image. Like an old bear coming out of its den to see if winter is over. That's a better image. I'm talking about myself.

Yesterday before lunch I went out to cut some sprigs of rosemary, thyme, and green onion for a Thai coconut-milk soup I was making. A couple of people about my age came walking down the road from the direction of the vineyard.

Two views of sunset on 16 January 2011 at La Renaudière
I called out « bonjour »to them and said: « Il fait beau, n'est-ce pas ? » In fact the sun was downright warm on my shoulders, and it was a fine morning. I felt almost mild enough to have lunch outdoors on the terrace.

« Oui, on revoit enfin le soleil », the woman said. « C'est tellement agréable. » Finally we're getting to see the sun again. It is so very pleasant.

Out in the yard near sunset yesterday

I didn't take any pictures in the morning, but I did take some on the afternoon walk with Callie. The organized deer hunt had moved on to other areas by afternoon, so the vineyard was no longer a no man's land. I don't know if the hunters actually shot any deer, but we did hear some loud gunshots early in the day, before the dozen or so cars parked out by the maison de vigneron drove away.

Not only did we get to see the sun yesterday,
but a daytime moon was shining as well.

Okay, it's supposed to rain this afternoon, and the weather woman on TéléMatin just told me it's going to get cold again starting Wednesday. But there's no doubt about it now: the sun is still there in the sky, just waiting for a chance to shine again.

P.S.: Nine a.m. I just saw one of the most gorgeous sunrises that I've seen in a long long time. It was all wispy and puffy clouds in pastel pinks and purples on a pale blue background. It lasted for 45 minutes, the whole time I was out walking. It was other-worldly — the kind of scene that makes you wonder whether you are really still on Earth, or if you've been transported to a distant, more spectacular planet. You'll have to take my word for it, though. I neglected to put my camera in my pocket when I headed out the door.

16 January 2011

Better weather

We seem to be having a few days of clear weather right now. By clear, I mean not raining, with a few rays of sunshine in the afternoon. In fact, it's sunny this Sunday morning, but there's a layer of fog right at ground level.

Gray skies over the Renaudière vineyard yesterday morning —
our house and hamlet are in the far distance.

Yesterday morning there was some blue sky too, so I took my camera out with me on the walk with Callie. As soon as I got a few hundred meters from the house out on the gravel road through the vineyard, a thick layer of gray clouds rolled in and completely blocked out the sun.

Sunrise over the vines, 15 January 2011

I cut the walk short because there was a chilly wind blowing and it felt like it might start raining at any moment. It didn't rain, however, and the sun came out in the afternoon. A friend came over for apéros in the evening and we went outside with her dog and Callie. We marveled at how mild it was for a mid-January evening.

A closer view of the hamelt called La Renaudière,
near Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher in the Loire Valley region

Walt just came back from the walk this morning and reported that there are about a dozen hunters out in the vineyard. They are having what is called une battue — an organized hunt. They "beat the bushes" to flush out the game. The hunters are after roe deer — the small European deer called chevreuils (Capreolus capreolus) in French. There are a lot of them around here, and it's a reality that the populations need to be kept under control. Chevreuil meat — venison, or venaison de chevreuil — is also good to eat.

Moles, unlike gophers (which we don't have in France), eat
only grubs, bugs, and worms, not the roots of plants.

Now that the weather is nicer, I'm going to have to force myself to go outdoors and do some cleanup work around the yard. There are leaves to rake, bushes to trim, and mole hills to tamp down. The moles have been having a field day in one particular section of the yard. The landscape out there resembles a range of mini-volcanoes. There are more mole hills every day.

15 January 2011

Père et fils, a comedy with Philippe Noiret

The title Père et fils is ambiguous in French. It can mean "father and son," or "father and sons." Un fils (singular) or des fils (plural). In the case of this film title, it's the second meaning. There is one father, Léo, who is played by the late great French actor Philippe Noiret, and there are three sons, including one played by Charles Berling.

Berling's character and one of the other two sons are not on speaking terms. They had a falling-out years ago, and Noiret as their father, Léo, is trying to get them back together as he approaches old age. He invites them both to a birthday dinner, but doesn't tell either that the other is invited. When they both show up, it gets tense.

A few days later, Léo suffers a malaise — he collapses on the stairs in his apartment building one day. He winds up in the hospital, where his brother is his doctor. The doctor-brother declares that Léo in in fine health. But Léo decides to tell his three sons that he doesn't have long to live. He asks the three of them to take a trip to Quebec with him to see the whales there. He had seen the whales in a documentary on TV while he was hospitalized.

Here Philippe Noiret talks about the genesis of the film
Père et fils, its theme, and a little about what it was like
to act in it. It's a pleasure to listen to his French.

No matter that it isn't whale-viewing season, which one of his sons helpfully points out. He just wants to spend time with his three sons. The adventures of these four Frenchmen in Canada are the substance of the movie. And of course Léo's more or less clumsy attempts to reconcile the two feuding sons. In addition, the four of them somehow meet a French Canadian woman who is a kind of faith-healer, and they spend time with her and her daughter at a house far out in the Quebec countryside. Toward the end of the film, look for the great scene with the whale...

I think this is a very funny movie and the language-listening is great. Phillipe Noiret (1930-2006) was, and Charles Berling still is, among the very best of French film actors. Noiret acted in more than 100 films from the late 1940s until his death, including L'Horloger de Saint-Paul (1974), Coup de torchon (1981), Les Ripoux (1984), J'embrasse pas (1991)... to name just a very few. And Berling, who is in his early 50s, is still going strong, after appearing in at least 50 films, including Nelly et Monsieur Arnaud (1995),
Ridicule (1996), and Ceux qui m'aiment prendront le train (1998).

The director of Père et fils (2003) is Michel Boujenah, who is a successful comic actor as well — in Trois Hommes et un couffin (1985), for example.

14 January 2011

Les Choses de la vie, a film by Claude Sautet

Yesterday I re-watched, for the first time in a while, the very first movie — or should that be film? — that I ever saw in France. It was 1970, and I had arrived in Aix-en-Provence with a group of American students a few weeks earlier.

Some of the teachers who worked for the study abroad program organized the outing. I'm sure I had never been inside a movie theater in France before that. The film was called Les Choses de la vie, and it was directed by Claude Sautet (Paris 1924-2000). Its release seemed to be a big event in France, or at least in Aix. The movie theater was packed.

The only French movie I remember seeing before my first trip to France was Un Homme et une femme, Claude Lelouche's movie with Jean-Louis Trintignant and Anouk Aimée. I saw that one in a little movie theater in Raleigh, North Carolina, when I was still in high school. I thought it was intriguing — the language, the scenery in Paris and Normandy, all of it. It just made me want to come to France as soon as I could figure out how.

The actors in Sautet's 1970 film were Michel Piccoli (born in Paris in 1925) and Romy Schneider (born in 1938 in Vienna). In the story, they are a couple but he has been, or is still maybe, married earlier to Catherine (Léa Massari, born in 1933 in Rome). Piccoli decides to end his relationship with Schneider and writes her a letter to tell her. He is driving back from Brittany to Paris when he changes his mind.

This is what they call the « bande annonce » for Les Choses de la vie (1970).

He calls and leaves her a message with her answering service, asking her to meet him in Rennes (Brittany) at a hotel. He has the "Dear John" letter in his pocket. Then he has a terrible automobile accident along the road. He is lying, bloody, seemingly unconscious, in a field, as police and medical personnel arrive.

He isn't unconscious, though. His brain is functioning. And he keeps thinking: I have to destroy that letter. Then an ambulance arrives and takes him to the hospital. His wife (or ex-wife) Catherine arrives there first. Romy Schneider is on her way...

I'll stop there. I don't want to spoil the ending.

Claude Sautet's films are some of my favorite French movies. Several feature Schneider, and one of the best is called Une Histoire simple (1978). It also features Claude Brasseur and, especially, Bruno Crémer, an actor who died last year.

Another good Sautet film is Un Cœur en hiver (1992), with Daniel Auteuil, André Dussolier, and Emmanuelle Béart. (I'll say this for Evelyn: the two main characters are luthiers, in other words violin-makers. Evelyn will know why I'm telling her this.) Un Cœur simple is what is called in French un drame psychologique, and it's a story of a fairly mysterious love triangle.

One more Sautet film is up high on my list, and it's called Nelly & Monsieur Arnaud (1995). I first saw it on an airplane back then, and afterward Walt and I went to see it in a movie theater in Avignon. Its stars are the late, great actor named Michel Serrault, who is best known for his outlandish performance in La Cage aux folles. In Nelly, he is another character completely.

Here's the bande annonce for Nelly et Monsieur Arnaud.

Nelly in the film is again played by Emmanuelle Béart. She is a young woman whose marriage has not worked out and who goes to work for M. Arnaud (Serrault), a friend of a friend. Her job is to transcribe a book he is writing — his memoirs. He of course falls in love with her, but there is no romance involved. There are several other good characters involved in the plot, one of whom is played by the Anglo-French actor Michael Lonsdale, another by Jean-Hugues Anglade, and Nelly's estranged husband by Charles Berling. Nelly et Monsieur Arnaud is a quintessentially Parisian film, and it was Sautet's last.

Sautet made other great films: César et Rosalie (1972), for example, with Yves Montand, again Romy Schneider, Samy Frey, Isabelle Huppert, and others. A lot of it takes place on the island of Noirmoutier, on the French Atlantic coast. There was also Vincent, François, Paul... et les autres (1974), with Montand, Serge Reggiani, and again Michel Piccoli, as well as Stéphane Audran (one of the finest French actresses) and Gérard Depardieu (then a very young man). Most of Sautet's films deal with the middle class, and the working people in them tend to be managers or business owners.

Finally, Un Mauvais Fils (1980), with the late Patrick Dewaere alongside Yves Robert and Brigitte Fossey, is the story of a young man who comes back from the U.S., where he had drug problems and did prison time. He tries to rebuild his relationship with his widowed father. He ends up working in a factory and meeting a woman who is also a recovering addict. Un Mauvais Fils was a departure for Sautet, dealing with grittier, working-class issues and characters, and a younger generation.
Here are some scenes from Un Mauvais Fils, with analysis by a couple of French film critics.

These are not action films. Except for the car accident in Les Choses de la vie, there are few spectacular events. If you let yourself get drawn in, however, you can get the feeling you are living life alongside Sautet's characters. If you watch these movies, remember that French films seldom have what the French call le happy end that you get in American movies.

If you want to get a feel for French life between 1970 (or earlier) and the mid-1990s, and see what it looked like for the middle class in Paris and in the provinces in those days, watch Claude Sautet's movies. I put the DVDs on over and over again.

There was a lot of competition in movies back in 1970 — M*A*S*H, Woodstock, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, Fellini's Satyricon, The Boys in the Band, ... just to name a few. But for me, the most memorable one was Sautet's Les Choses de la vie. I wonder if you can get that one and the others from Netflix.

13 January 2011

Souvenirs en noir et blanc

I have to walk the dog this morning (in the rain) and then we are going to try to leave early to drive over to Loches to do some shopping. So I'm posting something short.

Last night I was looking around in my photo archives — on the computer, of course — to see what kinds of pictures I took in Januaries past. Instead, in a folder dated January 2003, I found this picture of me from 1977:

That's the caption that appeared with the photo. Somebody facetiously called me "professor" the other day, but let me say I never actually became one. I was a teacher for a dozen years, however, in Illinois and in France. I loved it but gave it up to move to Washington DC, where I ended up working as an editor, translator, and writer. What I never gave up was France. Or plaid shirts!

Notice that fancy word processor on my desk. The AATF was and is the American Association of Teachers of French. I worked in the association's offices in Champaign, Illinois, for three years. I was in my late 20s, and I left there to return to France in 1979 at the age of 30.

11 January 2011

Loir-et-Cher, the song by Michel Delpech

The singer and songwriter Jean-Michel Delpech was born in Courbevoie, in the well-to-do westside Paris suburbs, in 1946. He chose Michel Delpech as his stage name and starting performing in the 1960s. He was the opening act (la vedette américaine in French) for Jacques Brel, for example, when Brel gave his final concert at the Olympia theater in Paris in 1966.

Michel Delpech continued his career with a string of hit songs in the late 1960s and into the 1970s. I came to France in 1970 for six months, and then returned to spend the 1972-73 school year in Rouen (Normandy). Delpech's songs were on the radio all the time. Some of his biggest titles were:
  • Pour un flirt (1971) — I remember this one because it was kind of racy for the times and it taught me that the English word flirt got a different meaning when it was imported into the French language. In French, « un flirt » is what is also called « une aventure » — what the dictionary calls "a brief romance." It's an old-fashioned term now, and might already have been back then.
  • Les Divorcés (1973) was about a man whose wife is leaving him for another. He's getting a divorce and has accepted the situation, even though his lawyer says he has to testify against his wife. « La vie continue, malgré tout », he sings. Divorce by mutual consent was not yet possible in France then, unless I'm mistaken.
  • Que Marianne était jolie (also 1973) is one I remember for the music and the style. It's a song about the symbol of the French Republic — the New Regime, after abolition of the monarchy in the 1790s. I was always a little mystified by the subject and words, but Delpech's refrain « Dieu ! mais que Marianne était jolie ! » was catchy and memorable. It's a song about Paris and the revolutionary spirit. Here's a live version from a couple of decades ago.
And finally, there was the song called Le Loir-et-Cher, in 1977. Now Walt and I live in the Loir-et-Cher, which is the territory around the old royal town of Blois. It straddles the Loir River in the north and the Cher River in the south — both are tributaries of the major local river, the Loire. Here's the song on YouTube:

These are the lyrics in French:
Le Loir-et-Cher

Ma famille habite dans le Loir-et-Cher,
Ces gens-là ne font pas de manières.
Ils passent tout l'automne à creuser des sillons,
A retourner des hectares de terre.
Je n’ai jamais eu grand chose à leur dire
Mais je les aime depuis toujours.
De temps en temps, je vais les voir.
Je passe le dimanche dans le Loir-et-Cher.

{Refrain:} Ils me disent, ils me disent :
« Tu vis sans jamais voir un cheval, un hibou. »
Ils me disent :
« Tu ne viens plus, même pour pêcher un poisson.
Tu ne penses plus à nous.
On dirait que ça te gêne de marcher dans la boue,
On dirait que ça te gêne de dîner avec nous.
On dirait que ça te gêne de marcher dans la boue,
On dirait que ça te gêne de dîner avec nous. »

Chaque fois que je m’arrête dans le Loir-et-Cher,
Ils ne me laissent plus partir de chez eux.
Je leur dis qu’il faut que je rentre sur Paris,
Que je ne fais pas toujours ce que je veux
Et qu’il faut que je trouve encore un poste d'essence,
Que je n'ai pas le temps de finir ma bière
Et que je reviendrai un de ces dimanches
Passer la nuit dans le Loir-et-Cher.

And here's my loose translation:
The Loir-et-Cher

My family lives in the Loir-et-Cher,
They're the kind of people who don't put on airs.
They spend the whole autumn working the fields,
Plowing up acres and acres of soil.
I've never had much to talk to them about
But they've always been dear to me.
Once in a while I go to see them.
I spend a Sunday in the Loir-et-Cher.

And they'll say to me, they'll say:
"You live your life without ever seeing a horse or an owl."
And they'll say:
"You don't come see us any more, not even to go fishing.
It's like you've forgotten all about us.
It's as if you're afraid you might get mud on your shoes.
As if you don't really care about sharing a meal with us.
It's as if you're afraid you might get mud on your shoes.
As if you don't really care about sharing a meal with us."

Every time I stop off in the Loir-et-Cher,
They don't want to let me leave again.
I tell them that I have to get back to Paris,
That I can't always do exactly as I please.
And that I need to find one more place to fuel up my car,
So I don't have time to finish that last beer
And I'll be sure to come back some Sunday soon
To spend another night in the Loir-et-Cher.

Here's a much more recent live performance by an older Michel Delpech:

I'm a true believer when it comes to songs like these as a way to learn French pronunciation and expressions. They can teach you the music of the language. They are full of historical and cultural references. And they're fun, at least to me.