French language and culture commentary from the U.S. capital

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Scents and Scensibility: A short history of French perfume

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Smell is often taken for granted. Like all our senses, smell acts as an alert system for the body: Smoke indicates a nearby fire, a sour odor means the milk has gone bad, and a whiff of bad egg lets you know there’s sulfur in the tap water. On the other hand, it also serves as much more than a biological warning sign, triggering positive associations that enhance taste, stimulate mood, recall memories,… Read More

Bandol: the perfect end of summer red

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Getting stuck in a wine rut is easy in summer, especially in Washington. The heat and humidity make classic seasonal food and wine pairings difficult to shake: Oysters? Muscadet. Dover sole? Sancerre. Lamb? Light burgundy. New vintages and vintners preserve a measure of novelty, but even there it can be tough to escape the ordinary. Dans ce cadre, consider Bandol, a French commune at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea and the most serious wine in sunny, coastal Provence. Bandol is known… Read More

Diving into Parisian Legend at Piscine Molitor

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It may be the city’s busiest season, but at several hours’ drive from any beach, summer weather in the French capital is far from ideal: Alternating waves of heat and rain descend over the city, elements which, interspersed with thick clouds of smog and pollution, can make life in Paris pretty unbearable at times. A decade ago, just after the Millenium, former Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe fought the meteorological oppression and brought a trace of the seaside… Read More

Navigating French Liaisons

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If you sometimes feel like your French doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like you think it should, then take note, because mastering the liaison is one of the crucial keys to polishing your French accent. Grammatically speaking, a liaison is the change in pronunciation of a word where a normally silent consonant at the end of the word is articulated in pairing with the first letter of the next word. In French, this… Read More

Let the good times roll: A pétanque primer

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If you take a leisurely stroll through any town in the South of France during the summer months, there are a few guarantees: you will be serenaded by a chirping choir of cigales (cicadas), you will pass by bustling cafés with tables piled high with colorful glasses of rosé, monacos, demi-pêches, and menthe à l’eau, and you will happen upon a carré pétanque (pétanque court) — teams stooped over, carefully studying the boules gleaming under the midsummer… Read More

Rewinding the 2014 Avignon Festival

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Every July, the southern city of Avignon — best known for its namesake childhood nursery rhyme Sur le pont d’Avignon (“On the Avignon Bridge”) and its 14th century Palais des Papes (Papal Palace) — transforms into an enormous theater, becoming home to the world’s largest theater festival. Initiated in 1947, the Festival d’Avignon has always consisted of a mainstream festival and the Off fringe festival, both complemented by street performances, art exhibitions, and film presentations. This year,… Read More

A Francophile’s Guide to Online Streaming

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Surely angels sang in the hearts of every French student and Francophile when Amélie became available for instant streaming on Netflix. But as much as we love watching Audrey Tautou in character, skipping stones along Canal St. Martin or cracking the top of a crème brûlée, we have to remember that the French movie canon is full of other classics worthy of a share of our endless supply of zealous Francophilia. Lucky for… Read More

Fromage Faux Pas: How to Slice and Eat Cheese

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The well known gastronome Brillat-Savarin once said, “A meal without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.” Dramatic, to be sure, but so is the characteristically French love of fromage. In fact, many French people will excitedly be able to tell you that France has over 365 varieties of cheese. Enough varieties of one food that you could eat a different type every day for a year and still not get… Read More

Five Places to Practice French Online

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We’ve all heard it before: Full immersion into French – or any language - is the best way to learn. And while many of us would love to just pack our bags and move to la belle France to do so, in most cases our other commitments, the expense, and the time sadly make it nearly impossible. Fortunately, there are plenty of other ways to get French outside of the classroom, including a host… Read More

Artist’s-Eye-View: Côte d’Azur and Provence

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As we reach the height of the summer months, France prepares to take what might be considered its national summer vacation — also known as the month of August. On rigole. In reality, thanks to French vacation regulations for employees, many families take two to three weeks of vacation in July and August, heading off for destinations in France and abroad. For those who choose a sojourn at the beach, perhaps the most popular of these… Read More

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