Oh la la, it’s been a full month since my last post. A blogger faux pas – I know, and even more unacceptable to apologize for it according another blogger handbook. I’ll dig myself deeper and try to justify – it has been a month de folie! The redeeming starts now though, promis!
July seems to bring even the most fervent patriots out to wave the other red, white and blue and fete the infamous Bastille Day, which, as my good friend at Si Pres Si Loin likes to remind me, would more accurately be referred to as le 14 Juillet. I’ll be missing this year’s festivities to celebrate a friend’s nuptials in the windy city – where I’m sure I’ll be able to find a few pockets of French patriotism. But for all you New Yorkers, just a glimpse of what the city has to offer this month.
Summer in New York is bursting with Francophile fun – so much of it that it’s hard to even keep track of. In my own effort to get organized, I found myself putting together a list of the events where I’ll be prowling for a French fix this month. Which I figured it would be only fair to share (read: coerce others to come with me). Let me know what must-do event is missing, and hope to see you at one of these!
1. A Friday Night Flick and Fresh Air: Films on the Green, the annual outdoor festival of French films in New York, has just kicked off. From June to September, catch free classic and recent cinematic works in your favorite NYC parks. Just remember to sneak in a bottle of Rose!
June 8: The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Washington Square Park
June 15: War of the Buttons, Washington Square Park
June 22: The Axe, Tompkins Square Park
June 29: Donkey Skin, Tompkins Square Park
July 6: Tell No One, Riverside Park – Pier I (at 70th St)
July 13: Persepolis, Riverside Park – Pier I (at 70th St)
Sept 6: Jules and Jim, Columbia University – Low Library Steps
2. Bouillabaisse Festival (June 6 – 15): Stop by one of the nine restaurants in the Tour de France group for a taste of this iconic seafood dish the second week of June. And this is no ordinary bouillabaisse. Each restaurant is offering a customized menu with creative takes ranging from a Moroccan bouillabaisse at French Roast to a Bouillabaisse-inspired ice cream trio at Pigalle.
3. Sweet, Sour, Savory: Talk with Eric Ripert & Christina Tosi (June 13): If you like food, and have been in NY for more than a month, you’ve likely heard about both the untouchable position of Le Bernardin near the top of the French restaurant list, and the ridiculously tasty treats produced by Momofuku Milk Bar (need I say Crack Pie?). For a very reasonable $25, the Alliance Francaise of NY is offering a brush with foodie fame. Eric Ripert, executive chef and partner of Le Bernardin, and Christina Tosi, pastry chef and owner of Momofuku Milk Bar, will host a discussion on how they explore new flavors with classic ingredients. Grab a signature on their books on the way out and consider yourself an automatic NYC culinary insider. FIAF, Florence Gould Hall, Part of FIAF’s Art de Vivre series Fabulous Flavors
4. Fete de la Musique (June 21): This all day music festival that takes over entire French cities at the end of June is quite possibly my favorite French tradition. Mini concerts fill the streets, musicians camp out on the sidewalk and bars and restaurants swing open their doors to allow the revelry to continue into the wee hours of the morning. The US translation isn’t as spirited in my mind, but it’s a rare occasion to enjoy live music from every corner on the world. Keep an eye on Make Music NY and the French Embassy Cultural Services website for specific French artists, or catch tunes from your favorite culture.
5. Monet Gardens (through August 31): My first trip to France included a stop at Giverny to see the gorgeous gardens that inspired the famous French impressionist Claude Monet. This summer, the New York Botanical Gardens will feature a tribute to his passion for gardening by recreating the lush greenery he painted. Adult All-Garden Pass tickets start at $20. Or go on Saturday, June 16 to enjoy “Monet Evenings Featuring Water Lily Concerts” – a cocktail and live music on the Conservatory lawn. Saturday, June 16; at 7:30 p.m.
If you’ve spent some time in France, you may have heard of Pétanque, a traditional summer vacation game and national pastime in the “boule” family of sports. For the unacquainted, it’s a cousin of the more familiar Bocce you might play at family barbecues (or at least at mine).
I’d long heard about the tribe of Pétanque enthusiasts camped out at Bryant Park (Time Out NY routinely lists in their “100 things to do” compilations), and two girlfriends in town and a gorgeous Memorial Day Monday created the perfect excuse to go take a peek.
We got far more than a peek. We got a full schooling in the sport and spent a few hours honing our newly acquired skills playing side by side with professionals. The local Pétanque club – La Boule New Yorkaise – is part of the international consortium of Pétanque clubs and has a standing presence at the northwest corner of Bryant Park (42nd and 6th). Stop by from 11-6 Monday – Friday for a free lesson on the rules and to take on fellow New Yorkers in a few games free of charge. Sounds like the perfect half-day summer Friday activity to me.
The roots of Pétanque can be traced back to ancient Greece. The sport became a favorite of French society in the 17th century, and has since spread to Francophone and non-Francophone countries alike. At Bryant Park, our club member hosts Tristram and Bruce showed us the basics:
New York may be the capital of takeout, but alternating nights of Chinese and pizza after late nights at work can start to crush both your soul and your summer diet plan. Most supermarkets offer prepared foods that are meant to make you feel like you’ve whipped up a home-cooked dinner. But unless you have a Whole Foods nearby, the quality is disappointing more often than not.
When I lived in Paris, my paltry intern salary mostly meant pasta on a nightly basis, but every now and then Frenchie and I would splurge on treats from the local traiteurs and epiceries, or gourmet take-out shops. For one Christmas dinner en amoureux, rather than cook or eat out, we headed over to the market at Galeries Lafayette, and indulged in a feast of Moroccan tagines, veggies, couscous and more that we heated up at home.
Gastronomie 491 on the Upper West Side, recently opened by a neighborhood foodie, makes fine dining at home easier for harried New Yorkers. Though there’s no shortage of specialty food shops in this part of town, Gastronomie 491 offers a twist with a European-style market/cafe atmosphere where an espresso sipped at the counter is not only allowed, but encouraged. In addition to prepared foods ranging from a cauliflower gratin to colorful Mediterranean salads, the cafe boasts a thoughtful cheese selection, cured meats, bread from all the star bakers in Gotham (including bagels from Montreal!), and shelves stocked with spices, olive oils, teas and more imported from all corners of Europe.
It’s Election Day in France today. The frogs will choose to either usher in a new President, who promises an era of change but doesn’t inspire much confidence, or give a second chance to the current Chef d’Etat, who offered a more open, more economically nimble France in 2007, and has largely disappointed his populace.
Sound vaguely familiar? I was lucky enough to be in France in 2007 to witness the French rally around Sarkozy’s dynamism and fresh vision, and then back here to see Obama elected in 2008. Looking back, and forward to November, I know how they feel.
In either scenario, and the more dangerous one seems imminent as I write this, the outlook for the French economy appears bleak. Frenchie is convinced that France – as it presumably becomes an even less welcome place for ambitious, entrepreneurial, globally-minded young professionals – isn’t the ideal destination for the career-driven. Although I may disagree, that’s a battle I won’t win for now.
So without the prospect of a return to Paris in the foreseeable future, and as France heads down whatever path it chooses, I’ll have to content myself with reminders of what made la Republique so alluring in the first place – rich culture, an appreciation for life, and culinary excellence, among other things. One of my favorite ways to do that will always be getting lost in a French film, where images of Paris streets and lilting French dialogue transport me back to la vie francaise for a few hours.
Keeping a pulse on what French films are the topic du jour and when they’ll finally cross the Atlantic is far too tedious. So in the NYT summer movie review section, I was thrilled to see a number of French or French-influenced films arriving this summer. Below are the ones that piqued my interest (click on links to check out the trailers!):
Anyone else feeling lost in a sea of impersonal, exclusive, limited-time-offer deals? There used to be a brief moment of excitement when I saw a new LivingSocial or Groupon email pop up in my inbox. I wondered whether I’d discover a new idea for a weekend adventure or if there would finally be a coupon for the pricey restaurant that lingered on my list. Nowadays, I’m stuck somewhere between the dread of having to delete upwards of 20 unopened emails I don’t have time to peruse and having la flemme (being too lazy) to actually unsubscribe or adjust my settings. And with nontraditional coupon-providers like Daily Candy jumping on the flash sale bandwagon, there’s no end in sight.
But if a flash sale site happened to know how much I dig French wine, food and other experiences that feed my insatiable nostalgia, I might make an exception. French Expat Christel Morin realized that in a city bursting with Euro expats and Europhiles, there was perhaps a better way to do things and started BunchOP.
About a month ago, Frenchie and I realized that we had fallen victim to that monster lurking around every New York street corner. We’d been so caught up in New York minutes that we hadn’t seen the last month go by.
We needed to get away, recharge, se retrouver (to reconnect). Luckily, two friends from France were on a tour of Canada and proposed that we meet them in Montreal. Within 24 hours, we’d put a four-day, work-free jaunt on the books (FOUR days! it felt almost illegal).
The trip was delightful, once I’d gotten over the devastation that ensued when we realized Frenchie had accidentally booked our return flight for the wrong day, clipping a day off our getaway – his second travel planning offense of this nature. Needless to say, he is banned from all future trip preparations.
Anyway, I had planned to spend the weekend soaking up old world culture and French-inspired cuisine. Instead, the trip was more educational than I expected. Almost upon arrival, it was clear that this was not exactly an outpost of France, and the most obvious sign was how the language itself was used.