French Friday: #motdièse

It was nearly five months ago when I wrote about the Forum mondial de la langue française – a gathering of great French-speaking leaders and thinkers to discuss the influx of foreign (read: English) words being used to describe technology and the internet. Public enemy number one on their list seemed to be Twitter and all of the unusual vocabulary it created. You can’t just tweet in French, they said. You have to gazouille (gazouiller = to chirp or babble).

Well, it took them awhile, but the Commission Générale de Terminologie et de Néologisme has finally come up with a more “French” alternative to the hashtag. From now on, they insist, French speakers should say mot-dièse. It’s basically a literal translation. Mot = word and dièse = sharp (as in, the symbol to raise a pitch in musical notation).

There’s already been a lot of controversy over this new recommendation. For starters, many complain that the word dièse is not correct, it should be croisillon. There’s dièse –>  ♯  and then there’s croisillon –> #. It’s a subtle difference, but typographically, it’s significant. Dièse – the real dièse – is used exclusively in music. The horizontal parallel lines are actually drawn on a slant so as not to blend in with the lines on a musical staff. The lines on a croisillon are straight. But in general usage, the word dièse is much more common. You’ll often hear touche dièse (press pound) on a telephone voicemail menu. It’s never touche croisillon. At least, I’ve never heard it that way.

But perhaps the thing that makes mot-dièse most controversial is that the French people, the gazouilleurs themselves, don’t want to change. They’ve been saying hashtag (or more likely “ash-tag”) for six years already! Who wants to reinvent the wheel now? If changing the vocabulary of the internet was so important, maybe the language police should have gotten on top of this a little sooner?

I predict in five years from now they start insisting everyone call it “Livre de visage.”

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Concert Review: Nolwenn Leroy at Drom NYC

Last Tuesday I had the pleasure of seeing Nolwenn Leroy in her American debut, performing at Drom in New York City. Drom is an odd little basement club on Avenue A in the East Village. It’s small, but the acoustics are nice, the food is decent and reasonably priced, and the atmosphere is appropriately moody and mysterious. I wasn’t able to convince any of my New York area friends to join me at the show, so I was prepared to go alone. But unfortunately, Drom is a confusing place with very poor customer service. They have tables at certain events, and you need to make a reservation for a table separately from simply buying a ticket. When I called to reserve a table, I was told that they didn’t take reservations for one. The woman on the phone told me that the place would be set up with all tables so I’d have to stand in the back at the bar. I was pretty upset about the prospect of taking a 4.5-hour bus ride to New York to have to “stand in the back at the bar.” So I set about to finding myself someone to sit with. I reached out to this girl, Brittany, who happened to tweet at Nolwenn that she was excited about the show, and she agreed to add me to her table reservation.

So I met Brittany and her friend Howard at Drom. Our seats were awesome, dead center, right in front of the stage. It turns out that most of the venue was actually standing room, not tables. Had I not Twitter-stalked Brittany and gotten a seat at her table, I still could have been close to the stage. But in the end, I’m glad I got to sit, plus I made new friends, so what could be better?

This show in New York was basically a record release party for Nolwenn’s new self-titled album, her first album available in the US. In 2010, she released Bretonne an homage to the French province of Brittany where she was born. It was mostly covers of French, English, and Breton folk songs. The next year, she released a deluxe edition with even more English-language songs. I was kind of bummed at the time because a.) I had already bought the regular edition and b.) I had already left France and didn’t want to pay the import price for an album I already half-owned. So I was actually pretty delighted when she decided to release Nolwenn in America. This album is all of the additional English songs from the deluxe edition plus a few of the Breton songs. Noticeably absent from the American album? Any and all French. Apparently for an American audience, it’s more acceptable to sing in Breton – pretty much a dead language – than it is to sing in French. ~le sigh~

It was definitely surreal to see Nolwenn walk out on stage. I’ve wanted to see her perform live for a long time but didn’t think I ever would. If I never made it while I was living in France, I was sure it wasn’t going to happen now that I’m back Stateside.

Nolwenn was very emotional after the first couple of songs, when she paused to greet and thank the crowd. She dabbed at the corners of her eyes as she proclaimed (three times!) how great it felt to say “Good evening New York.” I guess her being in the US was as surreal for her as it was for me!

Nolwenn and her band (keyboard, two guitars, and that-guy-who-played-all-the-weird-celtic-instruments) put on a very entertaining show. Channeling Stevie Nicks in a long, beaded, green dress and black, lace shawl, she had an air of comfort and ease on stage. She was playful and gracious with the crowd, telling stories – in perfect English – as though she knew us all personally. Judging from the number of her actual friends and family in the audience, that’s not so far off. They played nearly every song on the “new” album, from the first single – “Moonlight Shadow” – to “Amazing Grace” to “Whiskey in the Jar.” They even did a bunch of the Breton language songs, ending with a “Tri Martolod” sing-a-long (well, just the “tra la la la” part…)

In the middle of the set, she taught us all how to do the jig. I was already pretty familiar. 🙂 It was cool to see so much of the crowd get into it. Tons of people actually linked pinkies and formed a giant conga-esque line and jigged their way all around the tiny venue. Brittany, Howard, and I invented the “seated jig.” It was less strenuous than it would have been if we were standing, but the instrumental interlude the band played while we all jigged went on for a LONG time. My arms are totally not in good enough shape for that!

There was a family with two little kids sitting at the table next to us. Towards the middle of the evening, one of the kids called out, “S’il vous plait, La Jument de Michao.” It was adorable, but I don’t think Nolwenn heard. “La Jument de Michao” is one of the songs (the best song, in my opinion) on Bretonne, but apparently she was determined not to sing in French in New York. She sang one song in French, “Rentrer en Bretagne” (Return to Brittany), and that’s it. The little kid sitting next to me wasn’t the only one disappointed. When the set was over and the crowd starting yelling “Un autre!” (Another!), Brittany, Howard, the kids next to us, and I chanted “Mi-chao, Mi-chao!” Whether there were other people chanting it too, or we were just the loudest ones right up front, I’m not sure, but Nolwenn responded by saying that she and the band weren’t “prepared to sing in French” that night. So they encored (literally, they had already played it once during the set) with “Suite Sudarmoricaine,” another song in Breton that we all “la la”-ed along to.

The audience participation was a lot of fun, and the whole show was super entertaining, but there is definitely a little part of me that wishes she had performed at least a couple of things from her older albums. I’ve been a big fan since 2003, back when she first won Star Academy. The music of her first few albums is TOTALLY different from the most recent ones, but I like them all (Well, except Le Cheshire Cat et Moi. That album is kind of weird…) I suppose it’s true that the different genres of music don’t really go together and would make for a very disjointed set. My suggestion (Are you listening, Nolwenn?!) is to do a show in two parts. Part one: the older, pop-ier stuff. Part two: the newer celtic folk stuff. Everyone’s happy. Ok, maybe just I’m happy. And the little kid sitting next to me at the show will probably be happy. Who cares about anybody else?

After the show, Nolwenn very graciously signed autographs and took photos with fans for nearly TWO HOURS! My new friends and I hung back until close to the end which meant we had to wait for a long time. It turns out that I really picked the right person to stalk on Twitter. In a case of “it’s a very small world” it turns out that Brittany’s brother is the city manager of the town in Ohio where Nolwenn was an exchange student in high school. While we waited in line, Brittany texted her brother to try to get him to agree to host a “Nolwenn’s Return” concert in that town. He said yes, so Brittany told Nolwenn about it. We were all pretty excited about the prospect. I hope it actually happens. I told Brittany I want VIP seats. 🙂

Nolwenn autograph

I tweeted at Nolwenn with one of the photos I took at the concert, and she used it on her website and facebook pages which is pretty cool. It would be nice if they gave me credit for the photo, but oh well.

Nolwenn at Drom - copyright Nicole Egidio

This is my photo. Mine!!

Also, the French news was there filming and because my new friends and I were sitting up front (and enthusiastically doing the seated jig) we were featured in the report a TON. Check it out! I’m (not really) famous!

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Reviewing the new Les Miserables movie

I saw Les Miserables the other day. I still have it on my bucket list to read the entire novel, en francais, but I was unable to complete the quest before the movie came out. You can’t really blame me. I started too late (well, you *can* blame me for that, I guess) and it’s a pretty slow-going kind of book. Victor Hugo was clearly the Dickens of France. He sure did love descriptive detail. The first 62 pages of the novel are dedicated to expounding on the Bishop’s personal character. It’s pertinent information, you could say, because it leads us to better understand his actions when he pardons Jean Valjean for stealing from him. We get it. He’s a very pious man, living the way of Jesus and all that. But do we really need 62 pages to explain that? In really small type?

The movie is, of course, based on the musical version of the story. It is too bad that I never finished the book, because I’ve heard that the major differences between the stage production and the movie are rooted in elements of the original story. But I can’t speak to that. I can only tell you about the book Bishop, and he actually plays a very small part in the movie version which is unfortunate because he’s played by Colm Wilkinson, original London and Broadway portrayer of Jean Valjean. He’s arguably the most qualified and credible guy on the screen, and he only gets a bit part.

Then again, Hugh Jackman is pretty credible too. He won a Tony award after all. And I’m an X-Men fan. So I expected better things from him. Maybe my expectations were too high, but overall I thought Jackman just wasn’t right for the role. He sings well, but his vocals are too weak and, frankly, too pretty (let’s reexamine the performance that won him that Tony, shall we?) And while I know life expectancies in the early 1800s weren’t particularly high, there’s something incongruous about watching 44-year-old Jackman singing about being old and willing to die in battle to save a younger man. For curiosity’s sake, I hit Wikipedia and discovered that Colm Wilkinson was actually a year younger than Jackman at the time that he played Valjean on Broadway, but he clearly wore his young-man-pretending-to-be-an-old-man status more authentically.

Jean Valjean

The other two actors in the movie that posed a serious problem for me were Amanda Seyfriend and Russell Crowe. Poor, poor Russell Crowe. I should be fair and reword that. They’re the other two singers that posed a problem. The acting was alright. But the singing was terrible. Crowe was just downright boring. I’ll admit, Javert’s soliliquoys have never appealed to me much but never before to the point where his suicide song left me hoping he’d hurry up and jump off the bridge.  Seyfried wasn’t exactly boring as much as distracting. Her voice is excessively high and shrill with a warbling, amateurish vibrato that makes her sound like a cartoon character. Disney princess, sure. Cossette, no.

There were a few hits among the misses. Anne Hathaway is amazing, and Aaron Tveit, who plays Enjolras, was a standout in his small role (but he’s a ringer).

One of the notable stylistic choices of director Tom Hooper was recording all of the audio live on set instead of pre-recording it in a studio and then filming the visual action with lip-syncing. He wanted to add more of an authenticity to the emotion in the moment. I understand why he did it, but I’m not sure I agree with the decision. You can always tell when people are lip-syncing. It looks off – fake – and you can never lip-sync to a song you recorded months ago and have your face look the way you looked the first time.  But to have the actors sing while they act will inevitably lead to a less than perfect sound. Hathaway claims she sang “I Dreamed a Dream” at least 20 times on camera and was ultimately never satisfied with her performance. But she’s crying and convulsing while she’s singing because it’s supposed to be a highly emotional moment. It’s intimate and real, but vocally not perfect. And that’s alright… for a movie.

Most of the other actors – Eddie Redmayne as Marius, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenardiers – were decent, but forgettable. I expected better from Baron Cohen and Bonham Carter, but I think their parts suffered most from the live recording aspect. “Master of the House” is a comedy song. Live on stage it’s understandably hard to catch all the words and jokes. The movie version could have benefited from a clear, enunciated recording. Instead a lot of the funny lines are buried because they’re too busy acting (and putting on silly accents – why is Baron Cohen the only one with a French accent?) to sing clearly.

My biggest complaint is with the audio mix. I saw this movie at an old, analog movie theatre, so at first I thought the poor sound was in house. But I bought the soundtrack (it was on sale at Amazon) and was disappointed to discover more of the same. Solo or duet songs aren’t so bad, but ensemble numbers, like my favorite “One Day more,” are flat. Rather than weaving together harmoniously, the different parts obliterate one another as if everyone were just trying to sing the loudest. The Original London Cast recording, which I’ve enjoyed for many years, is in stereo. Certain parts are on the left, others on the right. It helps to distinguish the voices. The movie soundtrack is mono. Everything is everywhere, overwhelming itself and the listener.

I’m sure it sounds like I hated Les Miserables, the movie, and that’s not entirely true. It’s beautifully shot. The slums and sewers of Paris look very realistic. And as I said, the acting is generally very good. But Les Miserables is a musical that is entirely sung. There is no dialogue. Just singing. So to focus exclusively on the quality of the acting, at the expense of the audio production, is an injustice to the source material. This didn’t have to be a musical, but it is. Do you hear the people sing? Unfortunately, yes.

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French Friday: No, souper doesn’t mean “to eat soup”

One of the first subjects covered in most language classes is food. When and where and what do you eat? So the French words for breakfast, lunch, and dinner were pretty well ingrained in my head. Petit dejeuner, dejeuner, et dîner.  So I was a little taken aback on my last trip to French-Canada when I suddenly realized that these meals were all backwards and different. There is no petit dejeuner in Quebec. You have dejeuner in the morning. Dîner actually comes at noontime. And in the evening, les Quebecois souper.

Of course, they’ll know what you want if you ask for petit dejeuner and they’ll probably understand if you want to dîner at night – but they’ll also probably know you’re clearly not a local.

At first I thought this was another one of those strange Quebecois language idiosyncracies. Then I started reading Les Misérables in French (a grand, and likely foolish, undertaking I’ll probably talk about in another post). Wouldn’t you know, there were people souper-ing all over the place. Right there in France!

It turns out, back in the 18th century, everyone who spoke French used souper to speak of the evening meal. Everyone ate dîner at midday, and dejeuner – in the morning – was never petit.

At some point in the 19th century, the language split, and many different French speaking regions began to talk of their meals with different words. You’ll rarely hear someone use souper in Paris anymore, but it’s still common in rural France. And obviously, it’s still the norm in Quebec.

Eating shouldn’t be so complicated!

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French Friday: Tu Tweet or Not Tu Tweet

There was a really fascinating article on the BBC website this week about how the French communicate on Twitter and other social media networks and whether or not those standards might be changing the language altogether. Apparently, French speakers are no longer using the pronoun vous online.
Tu Vous
As in many other European languages, there are two ways to say “you” in French. If you’re talking to a close friend, family member, or a little kid, you’d use the informal tu. If you’re talking to a group of people, your boss, the president, a cop, your grandmother, or anyone else who deserves your respect, you’d use the formal vous. In French society, these people who deserve your respect include everyone you don’t know very well. Like strangers you’d talk to you on the internet. Most of your Twitter followers probably fit this bill.

Here’s the catch: maybe you don’t know all of your Twitter followers – you’re not hanging out with them on the weekends, they’re not sending you birthday cards – but you probably “know” more about them than you know about some of your closest friends. Think about your friends who aren’t on Twitter. Do you know what they had for lunch? Or what song they just listened to? Now think of all the celebrities and random people you follow. You probably know more about them than you need to!

The term “friend” gets thrown around pretty casually on the internet. It only makes sense that we’d address each other casually, like friends. Does that mean the language we use when we’re offline should change? No. Will it change? Maybe, but I can’t imagine a whole lot of people will suddenly tutoyer (use the tu form of “you”) cops, bosses, and presidents. Grandma, perhaps. I’ve always been iffy about that one, myself.

As a French-learner who has struggled for years to understand the complexities of tu and vous, I can’t say that I’d be upset if vous suddenly disappeared. It would certainly give me one less thing to worry about when I try to practice my French with strangers.

The smaller the world gets – largely thanks to the internet – the more and more English takes over. Other languages do have to struggle to keep themselves alive. Maybe this is what French has to do to stay relevant.

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Tasty Tuesday: Restaurant Week at Gaslight

The past two weeks have been Restaurant Week(s) in Boston again. As much as I love Brasserie Jo, their menu this time around didn’t inspire me, so I opted to go to Gaslight, Brasserie du Coin, instead. I went with my parents who were excited to try someplace new. We don’t typically dine in Boston as a family because we live in the suburbs, and travelling into town has become more and more of a hassle over the years due to traffic and a lack of parking. One of the highlights of Gaslight, however, is that they have complimentary self-parking in a large lot next door.

I expected the restaurant to be crowded on a Friday during Restaurant Week, but we had an early reservation and much of the place to ourselves. Gaslight also has a large outdoor terrace, but we opted to stay indoors. The decor is very typical of a Parisian bistro, white tiles, lots of mirrors, linen napkins. I read a review on Yelp that called it a “cross between a bathroom and a Metro station.” That may not sound attractive, but it’s fairly accurate.

The one blaring incongruity was our waiter, who was as helpful and personable as a waiter could be. Very un-French. He actually recommended the Restaurant Week menu, stressing what a great deal it was.

Gaslight really is a great deal because even when it’s not Restaurant Week, they have an early bird, three-course menu. They also offer a free glass of wine with your meal. You can substitute beer or soda if you prefer. I was disappointed with the bread. It was hot and crispy on the outside, but it was too dense and I actually got the impression that the crustiness was due to being toasted rather than baked right.

Gaslight offered three options for each course. For appetizers there were two salads – field greens with fried brie or arugula and peaches – and crêpes with spicy lamb sausage. My dad doesn’t like anything too spicy, but the waiter reassured him that the crêpes were good – and that if they were too spicy, he’d get my dad something else. I tried a bit, too. They were delicious. I almost wish I had gotten them myself. Of course, I got the arugula salad. It wasn’t spicy either. I still don’t know what the secret to restaurant arugula is.

Peach and arugula salad, Gaslight Brasserie du Coin

The three options of main course were trout, a thinly sliced steak with vegetables, and homemade tagliatelle with corn and pork belly. My parents both got the steak. I tried a bite. It was tasty, but nothing spectacular. I ordered the tagliatelle. The best tagliatelle I’ve ever had was actually at a restaurant in France, so I had high hopes. This was… interesting. It wasn’t really tagliatelle. It was thin, more like linguine, and the sauce was also kind of thin and runny. I had an incredibly difficult time getting the pasta to keep from slipping off my fork. The corn and pork added a nice, unusual flavor though. I ate all of it, so it’s not like it was bad. Just different.

Peach and arugula salad, Gaslight Brasserie du Coin

For dessert, the three options were flourless chocolate cake, strawberry layer cake, and a hazelnut torte with whipped marscarpone and espresso ganache. Typically there would be no contest in that choice, for me. But I had just had flourless chocolate cake at the Capital Grill earlier that week (also a Restaurant Week excursion). They make an awesome flourless chocolate cake, so I wanted to try something different at Gaslight. My dad got the strawberry layer cake, and my mom and I both tried the hazelnut torte. It wasn’t quite what we expected but it was still yummy. It was a small, round cake with a dollop of marscarpone cream on top. That was my favorite part, sweet but tangy at the same time. I was a little disappointed with the ganache. I’m a big fan of coffee things, but this was more like a decoration swirled on the plate and didn’t really have a strong flavor.

Peach and arugula salad, Gaslight Brasserie du Coin

My overall impression of Gaslight: I liked it enough to want to go back… and order something else!

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Music Monday: The Super Deluxe Edition

I’m going to write this blog post here on WordPress. Then I’m going to go to another blogging site and write the exact same post. Well, it will be mostly the same post. I’ll tack on a little bit of “bonus information” at the end of it. That stuff won’t be here. It will just be on the other site. But before you wander away – I mean, why would you be reading it here if it’s going to have more stuff somewhere else? – let me warn you: there’s bonus stuff here, too. It’s just different bonus stuff. You’ll have to read both blog posts to get it all!

I’m just kidding, but this is what’s happening in the music industry right now, and I don’t like it. Lately, artists have been releasing all sorts of bonus tracks and deluxe editions and who-knows-what when they release an album. But it’s not like a blog where all the content is free. Remember all those new albums I was excited about this fall? They’re starting to drop, one by one, and I want them – but I don’t know where to buy anything!

Take Matchbox Twenty, for example. Their new album, North, came out last Tuesday. You could buy it on iTunes and get two bonus tracks that were only available on iTunes. You could buy it at Target and get two bonus tracks that were only available at Target. Or you could buy it somewhere else with no bonus tracks. Both bonus track versions were the same price which was, in turn, the same price as the versions elsewhere without bonus tracks. I wonder why anyone would choose to go the “elsewhere” route. In the end, I opted for Target because the iTunes bonus tracks are also on Spotify.

Of course, one could question why anyone would bother buying an album at all when Spotify exists, but I still like having my own copy of an album, particularly one from an artist I really enjoy. But the bonus track game is getting me down. I understand and appreciate the idea behind releasing a “normal” album and a deluxe edition that’s longer and more expensive. Sell a shorter, but complete, idea for the casual listener, and save the bonus tracks for the super fans who are willing to shell out a little more. That makes sense. (I also take issue with the artists who “re-release” a popular album a few months later with additional material. Way to stick it to the people who were already fans six months ago.)

I just don’t understand the economics or the politics behind releasing multiple versions of nearly the same record. What does the band get out of it? I know what iTunes gets. I know what Target gets. But I wonder if anyone cares what the fans get?

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Capture the Colour Contest: It is easy being green!

Today is the last day to enter’s Capture the Colour Contest. The contest has been going on for months. Leave it to me to wait until the last day to enter, right? Wrong. I’ve been working on my entry for a long time, but I’ve never been satisfied with it. The problem is that to enter the contest fully, you need to post a blog entry with five different photos representing five different colors: blue, green, yellow, white, and red. I’ve spent hours pouring through my files looking for photos to represent all of those colors. Some of my options are promising, but some of them just don’t meet my standards. I have nothing yellow (does gold count?) My whites are ho-hum. Even my blue and red entries weren’t making me jump out of my seat. That’s why I’ve been procrastinating. I don’t want to enter if I don’t even think I deserve to win.

That’s why I finally quit trying to enter the full contest and wrote this post. You can still win individual color categories if you don’t submit all the colors. So I’m submitting my one great color: green!

I have four great green photos to enter. The strange thing is, I don’t even really like green. I certainly don’t think about the color green when I think of France which is where all of my photos were taken. But green it is.

Green Seine

I’ve never seen the Chicago River on St. Patrick’s Day, when they artificially dye the water green, but I imagine this is what it would look like. Except this isn’t artificial. This is what the Seine looks like at the right angle, in blazing sunlight. It’s not pretty. It’s not romantic. It’s hardly what you imagine when you picture Paris. But this is the other side of Paris. It’s gritty, it’s dirty, and a highly polluted river runs through it. But it’s the contradiction of those two ideas that draws me to the city even more.

Non authorized lawnHere’s another example of the less romantic side of Paris. This is a beautiful, grassy area right by the Eiffel Tour. There’s a quiet little pond filled with swans and ducks. It’s a lovely green space to enjoy in the densely packed city. But as the sign says, this lawn is “unauthorized.” You can’t sit or walk on it. You can just look at it from behind an ugly chain-link fence. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? It might as well be a concrete parking lot if it can’t be enjoyed by the people.

Cute Parisian dog

Not far from the Eiffel Tower, I found the opposite of an “unauthorized lawn,” with this puppy frolicking and playing as if the tiny grass strip were his own private jungle. There’s really not a ton of green space in Paris, especially when they start blocking off chunks of it as off-limits, but even Parisian dogs know how to make the best use of what they’ve got!

Kids Mardi Gras parade in Nice

It doesn’t rain a lot in the south of France. In fact, the tourism board of Nice brags that they only receive about 20 days without sunshine every year. Of course, that’s why when I went to Nice for Carnaval it rained on my parade. I planned the entire trip around being there on Mardi Gras. There were plenty of other activities to enjoy throughout the Carnaval celebrations, but Mardi Gras itself – when they set fire to the parade floats and send them out to sea – was the pièce de résistance. Even though the rain stopped, it was too windy for pyrotechnics, so they cancelled Mardi Gras.  (Actually they moved it to Thursday, two days after I left, but they might as well have cancelled it.) I was super disappointed about missing the big party, and it was about to ruin the end of my trip. Suddenly, as I was enjoying a gelato in Old Town, I heard drumming and cheering coming from a few streets over. I ran to see what all the fuss was about and stumbled upon this impromptu parade of local school children. They were all dressed up in homemade costumes and throwing confetti at the crowd that formed to watch them. A simple parade – what it lacked in pizzazz, it made up for in spirit. It was just the pick-me-up I needed. A reminder that we don’t need fireworks and expensive floats to throw a party. All we need is a green trash bag, a newspaper hat, and a day off from school!

One of the contest rules says I have to nominate fellow bloggers to participate. Considering it’s the last day of the contest, it’s a little late for that. So I’ll just link to a few of my favorite blogs for great travel photography. And if they want to enter the contest last-minute, good luck!
C’est Christine (she already entered the contest – that’s where I heard about it!)
Little Brown Pen
Twenty-something Travel
Where My Heart Resides

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Music Monday: My Top Five Male Francophone Singers

As a follow-up to last week’s post, I bring you my top five male francophone singers (in no particular order):

Bruno Pelletier
The artist that started my francophone music obsession. I still can’t believe that it’s been 15 years. There are a fair number of anglophones that know of Bruno Pelletier, but nearly all of them know him because of Notre Dame de Paris, a really bizarre French musical based on the Victor Hugo novel. I really never liked NDdP, so I tend to be a little snobby when it comes to my Bruno fandom. Listen to “Le Temps des Cathedrales” (his big NDdP solo) if you’re curious, but there are plenty of better songs. He’s made ten albums in twenty years, and they cover a broad range of styles. His early work is very hair band, and his recent stuff is adult contemporary. In the middle he’s had a Christmas album, a jazz album, and another weird musical (Dracula!). A new album comes out this fall and I have tickets to see him in Sherbrooke again next March. Yay!

Songs to check out: Ailleurs C’est Comme Ici, Aime, Je m’voyais plus

Patrick Fiori
If there’s one reason why I wrote “in no particular order” at the beginning of this post, it’s because I truly can’t decide if I have begun to love Patrick Fiori more than Bruno Pelletier. I noticed it one day when I had to make two mix cds of all my favorite Bruno songs and all my favorite Patrick songs. I struggled to fill a disc with Bruno songs, and I struggled to fit a disc with Patrick songs. Coincidentally, Patrick Fiori was also in Notre Dame de Paris, but somehow he never gained the same worldwide following. Try asking about him in a Quebecois record store and you’ll get blank stares. A few of my favorite songs he’s done aren’t even in French (“Aurora” and “My Way” with Chico and the Gypsies are both in Spanish) which proves you don’t have to undertand the lyrics to enjoy a song. Well, it proves that I don’t have to understand the lyrics to enjoy a song. I’m still trying to get the rest of America to agree with me.

Songs to check out: Que Tu Reviennes, L’Instinct Masculin, Marseille

Marc-Andre Fortin
As much as I raved about the contestants on season one of Star Academie, the winner of season three, Marc-Andre Fortin, is probably the most talented. His voice is super powerful, but it’s also just so pretty. It has to be only a matter of time before he records a massively successful album of lullabies. In 2010 he had a scary battle with tongue cancer that actually required surgery, but thankfully his voice doesn’t seem to have suffered any.

Songs to check out: Toi sur le moi du monde, Bien entendu, Meme si tu m’oublies

Marc Dupré
Celine Dion’s son-in-law is a relatively new musical discovery of mine (he’s married to Rene Angelil’s daughter, Anne Marie). A part of me feels like I shouldn’t put him in my top five when I only own one of his three albums (Entre Deux Mondes), but I really love that one album! And while I don’t own any other music where he’s actually singing, his work is all over my cd collection. It turns out that he’s written or produced songs and albums for several of my other favorite artists. Both his voice and style of music totally sound like Bryan Adams which is funny because I never liked Bryan Adams as much as I like Marc Dupré. Maybe Bryan Adams needs to sing in French. Oh wait, he does!

Songs to check out: Pour Qu’on Se Garde, Mille Raisons, Comme Des Sauveurs

Garou completes the Notre Dame de Paris trifecta on this list. At 6’2″, he was perfectly typecast as the hulking Quasimodo. The deep, gravelly baritone that made him so right for the role was also the reason I never really cared for him. It’s a unique sound, and you have to get used to it. It wasn’t until his third, self-titled album came out that I finally came around. The songs on it are so catchy that I fell in love with them despite the harshness of his voice. Album number four, his first English attempt, was a major flop, and album number five, a cover album, had several missteps (really unfortunate versions of U2’s “New Year’s Day” and Madonna’s “Sorry”). Album number six was a return to form, and a new album is on the horizon this September.

Songs to check out: Gitan, Sous le Vent, anything off of Garou

Honorable Mention: Ben l’Oncle Soul, Christophe Mae, Florent Pagny, Maxime Landry,  Wilfred LeBouthillier

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Off-off the beaten path in Rouen, France

Rouen, is not exactly the first French town that springs to most tourists’ minds. It may not even be third or fourth or tenth. You could say it’s already off the beaten path. But writing about Le Gros Horloge last week got me feeling a little nostalgic, going through some old pictures, so I’m inclined to write about a few of my favorite spots that are “off-off” the beaten path in Rouen, France.

Notre Dame de Bonsecours

Monument to Joan of Arc, BonsecoursIn la ville aux cent clochers (the city of one hundred steeples) one of the most impressive churches is actually outside the city limits in the suburban town of Bonsecours. A lone tower on the east hill above Rouen, Notre Dame de Bonsecours is like a mysterious beacon off in the distance. The church itself is certainly worth exploring. It’s a well-known spot for pilgrimages, and the statue of the Virgin Mary inside is known for being “miraculous.”The lambs of Rouen look over the city

But the crown jewel of Bonsecours is actually a massive monument in front of the church, dedicated to Joan of Arc. Perched right on the edge of the hill, this huge statue is covered by a large stone cupola and a crowning bronze sculpture of Saint Michael slaying the dragon. Around the central monument is a granite plaza and a half-dozen stone lambs (the symbol of Rouen) looking out over a spectacular view of the entire city.

Le Trianon Transatlantique

Rouen is split in half by the river Seine, and basically everything a tourist would want to see and do is located rive droite (on the right side of the river). This is probably why, in general, the people who live on that side of the river have a really snobby attitude toward anything and anyone located rive gauche (on the left). Personally, I think it’s because they’re jealous that most of the city’s best music venues are on the left side. My favorite is the Trianon Transatlantique. From the outside, particularly in daylight, the Trianon is an eyesore – a concrete bunker with bars over the windows. But at night, the club’s logo lights up the block in a wash of pink and turquoise neon. Inside, it holds fewer than 500 people, but it actually attracts big name French artists once in a while. Last year Ben l’Oncle Soul and Zaz play two sold out shows.

Rue Eau de Robec

There are plenty of pedestrian only streets in central Rouen that are teeming with tourists, but just a little further north – running between the Abbey Saint Ouen and Saint Vivien church – you’ll find this charming hidden walkway where the locals hang out.

Rue Eau de RobecJust one-sixth of a mile long, rue Eau de Robec is packed with restaurants and shops. There’s a small stream that runs in a channel dug into the sidewalk. The more it rains, the more it flows – and it rains a lot in Rouen!

At the center of the street you’ll also find a large court for playing pétanque, the old French lawn game. But this ain’t your grandfather’s pétanque court. It belongs to a popular bar next door!

Monumental Cemetery

If you’re looking for Jim Morrison, you have to go to Père LaChaise in Paris, but if you just want to explore the gorgeous architecture and landscaping of a typical French cemetery, Rouen will do the trick. The grave of Gustave FlaubertAs its name suggests, Monumental Cemetery is filled with large, uniquely designed mausoleums and tombs. There are hundreds of statues and plenty of serene paths among the trees and gardens. Rouen’s famous sons are buried here, including Gustave Flaubert (author of Madame Bovary) and Marcel Duchamp (abstract artist).

The cemetery is still in use which means there are shiny, new tombs right next to old, crumbling ones. It’s a spooky place, especially on a typically overcast day in Rouen. Watch out for the black cats who wander aimlessly among the graves!

Monumental Cemetery Rouen

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