Sunday, July 31, 2011

McDonald's French Revolution

They don't like to admit it, of course, but the French are the #2 consumers of McDonald's in the world. And now McDo, as it's known, plans to start serving just-baked baguettes. 

Rest assured: we'll be hearing a lot about McDough in the months to come!

A new line of French breakfast items (baguettes, butter, jam, etc.) will be rolled out across France next month in the chain's 130 McCafés (separate counters offering coffee, pastries and buns); baguette sandwiches will follow next year. 

The arrival of the baguette, the company says, is just another step in its efforts to cater more successfully to French food habits but also to boost breakfast sales, which now account for just 1% of McDonald's sales in France. 

Le Figaro reports McDo will work with local producers: The baguettes will be baked on the spot, with dough from the French company Groupe Holder, which already provides the pastries for McCafé. The butter will come from the French cooperative of Isigny and the jam from "a traditional producer in the Pyrenees." 

The French still eat nine times more sandwiches than hamburgers and 60% of these sandwiches are made on baguettes. The favorite baguette sandwich remains the traditional ham and butter. 

"The French love the baguette. We are just progressively responding to a natural demand," says the senior VP of McDonald's for France and Southern Europe.  

France is, of course, land of the famed maître boulanger, home to the world-renowned bakers at Paul and Poilâne and LeNôtre. It’s a country where the once- and often twice-a-day stroll to the neighborhood boulangerie, to buy bread just minutes from the oven, is a cherished tradition. The French are passionate about their breads and it’s not unusual for a family to buy its baguettes from one shop, its sourdough or pain de mie from another, its tarte tatin from yet a third.

Supermarkets now sell packaged breads of all sorts, of course, and many large grocery chains have full bakeries within them. Yet the French make a strong distinction between breads baked the traditional or artisanal way and those that come from “industrial” or “commercial” bakeries. To call itself a boulangerie, a shop must sell only breads made from dough crafted on the premises. Stores that sell bread baked from prepared doughs--or breads baked in large production kitchens, for example--must call themselves depots de pain.

In food circles worldwide, there’s been a lot of talk lately about a crisis in French cuisine. France is letting go of too many of its grand culinary traditions, they say, and, as a result, has lost its status as the global gastronomic leader. People blame the government and high taxes, culinary globalization, the demise of the small family-owned farm, the two-career family and, of course, the spread of fast-food chains.

Read the original baguette article in English in Time Magazine here or in French, in Le Figaro, here.

Photo: "Le Petit Parisien" by Willy Ronis, Paris, 1952.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Giveaway: Another Fine Book About France!

Emma Bovary—one of literature's greatest dreamers and worst mothers—has been discussed and debated for centuries. But overlooked and often forgotten is her unloved, neglected and orphaned daughter. Now, in an epic tale of pluck and perseverance, a new novel released this week picks up at the end of Flaubert’s classic and asks, What happened to Emma Bovary's only daughter?

One year after her mother’s suicide and one day after her father dies of a broken heart, 12-year-old Berthe Bovary is sent to live on her grandmother’s impoverished farm. But fate--and determination--take her from the French countryside to the dangerous cotton mills of Lille to the glitz and glamour of Paris. There, as an apprentice to a renowned fashion designer, Berthe is ushered into the high society of which she once only dreamed. And yet she still yearns for the one thing her mother never had: the love of someone she loves in return.

I haven’t read the book yet. But here’s what the publisher tells me: “A beguiling coming-of-age story and fascinating portrait of France in the mid-1800s, the book re-imagines Flaubert’s fictional creations through Berthe’s eyes and offers a new way of thinking about one of the greatest heroines of all time.”

Booklist calls it “a lavishly textured sequel to a timeless literary Masterpiece.”  Publisher’s Weekly says it’s “an entertaining romance for readers of historical fiction.”

Madame Bovary’s Daughter is Linda Urbach’s third book and it took her five years to write. Here's the back story, in her words:

“After graduating from college I knew I wanted to be a writer. (What else would I do with a degree in English Lit?) I thought the best place to do this was Paris. And the best way to do it was to find a garret and live the life of a starving artiste. I found a garret, or rather a furnished room without a bathroom on the Left Bank, and proceeded to starve which seemed to take up all my writing time. What little time I had left over I spent trying to earn a few francs. I got a job teaching English-- I could barely speak French-- at Berlitz for five francs an hour. I lived this way for a year.

“Even though on the surface it seemed like a wonderful adventure for a 22 year old, it was pretty depressing.  No one would talk to me so I did what I’ve always loved to do: I read.  This was when I read Madame Bovary for the first time. And I remember thinking ‘poor Emma, poor Madame Bovary!’  She was trapped in a loveless marriage, in love with another man (make that two men), her husband was a bore, she craved another life, one which she could never afford and finally, tragically she committed suicide. It took her almost a week of agony to finally die from the poison she ingested.

“But 25 years later and as the adoptive mother of a very-cherished daughter, I re-read Madame Bovary. And now I had a different take away: What was this woman thinking?  What kind of woman would continually cheat on her husband, ignore her only daughter, spend all her family’s money on a lavish wardrobe for herself and gifts for her man of the moment? What kind of mother was she? She barely acknowledged her child’s existence.  How did Berthe manage to survive? Which is why is why I wrote this book. I wanted to make damn sure she not only survived but triumphed. I guess you could say I adopted Berthe Bovary as a sort of second child.”

Today Urbach lives in Connecticut, where she’s at work on her fourth book. When asked what she thinks Flaubert would say about her sequel, here’s what she had to say: “He was a craftsman. Every word was edged in gold. His Madame Bovary is often considered one of the two greatest novels ever written, second only to Anna Karenina. As a writer, I’m humbled by Flaubert’s genius. Honestly, I think he would hate it!”

To order Madame Bovary’s Daughter on Amazon, click here. For more info, including photos, events and reading group guides, click here

But wait! The lovely folks at Ballantine Bantam Dell (an imprint of Random House) are offering three copies to the readers of Provence Post. Simply leave a comment at the end of this post and we'll pick the winners next week. Do be sure to include an email address so we can reach you; signing in with your website or blog address is not enough. Bonne Chance! 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Tickets for Rigoletto Still Available

This weekend ushers in the finale of the Chorégies d’Orange at the Theatre Antique in Orange. Opera lovers will be blessed with what some say are the best acoustics in the world and a fabulous setting in the Roman Amphitheater, for a tour de force production of Rigoletto starring Leo Nucci as Rigoletto, Patrizia Ciofi in the role of Gilda and Vittorio Grigolo as the Duke of Mantova. With only two performances, Saturday July 30 and Tuesday August 2, this is one of the hottest tickets of the summer opera series. The curtain goes up at 9:30 p.m., finishing after midnight. Seasoned Chorégies-goers know the weather can be tricky so be sure to bring a sweater; you’ll also want to bring a seat cushion. The town center is closed to traffic after 4 p.m., with parking available nearby.  So it’s best to go early, take your time and enjoy a nice dinner al fresco at one of Orange’s many restaurants and bistros. Du TheatreLa Crémaillère and La Cantine are all good, reasonably priced options--but since all three are just across the street from the theater they're bound to be quite full. Wherever you choose to eat, reserve your table in advance to avoid a long wait. Tickets for Rigoletto range from 25 to 240.  For ticket info: 04-90-34-24-24, or go to the website by clicking here and then choose the link “Book Online.”

Photo: Mozart's Requiem, 2006, Roman Amphitheater, Orange.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Into the Woods

Fancy sleeping in a teepee or a log cabin in Provence for a few nights? Who wouldn't?  For all the info, click here. For other glamorous camping (they call it "glamping"--don't ya love it?), options in France and around the world, go here.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Welcome To Our Newest Advertiser

Pam Siddiqui’s love affair with all things French blossomed many years ago--on that first trip to Paris after college. “It was love at first sight,” she says, “and smell, taste and language!” Since then, she has traveled extensively throughout the country, always on the prowl for new experiences and beautiful things.

“I’ve been lucky to have visited my grand-père's birthplace in the Haute-Saone region and my great aunt's homeland,” she says. “With my family, I’ve traveled to Paris, the Pyrenees and back to the Alpes-Maritimes on many fabulous holidays. We've stayed along the Cote d'Azur many times, visiting the glass blowers of Biot and the potters of Vallauris. We've played in the sand on the Mediterranean Sea.”

Back home in the U.S., Pam’s friends always admired the beauty and workmanship of the things she brought home from France. Eventually she decided to open a retail shop in Acton, Massachusetts and it thrived. But wanting more time for travel she decided to close it in 2009 and transition to mail-order only. She also realized that a mail-order business would allow her to reach a much wider audience. And indeed it has: since 2004, has been shipping a wide range of beautiful European and French-made products worldwide. “We’ve shipped to Australia and England,” Pam reports. “We even did 20 gift baskets for a gentleman in Paris!”

Today on Pam’s site you’ll find everything for the home, table and body, from hand-embroidered guest towels to the famous Savon de Marseille to Souleo Provencal-style pottery, hand-painted ceramic La Pintade Guinea Hens, traditional French market baskets and much, much more.

Pam and her family now have a home in Provence where they spend as much of their spare time as possible. They live in the Alpilles, the small mountain range immortalized by Van Gogh, with the charming Provençal villages of St. Remy, Maussane, Paradou and Fontvieille nestled at its base. It’s a perfect location, Pam says, from which to make her frequent sourcing and buying jaunts, always on the look out for authentic, finely made goods.

“We pride ourselves in offering quality French or French-inspired products, excellent prices and superb customer service,” she adds. “Most are direct imports from France and I only buy what I love. Our goal is to make you feel, while on our shopping pages, that you’re experiencing the very best that the wonderful local markets of Provence have to offer.”

Olive and Branch for the Home
Toll-free (from the U.S.): 1-855-6FRANCE 

Pictured: Pam, her logo and two of her best-selling items.

Friday, July 15, 2011

What's Up This Weekend in Provence?

Classical Music in Eygalieres
American flutist  Julie Scolnik, who spends her summers in Eygalieres, will give her fifth annual recital in the local church, Eglise St Laurent, this Sunday, July 17, at 7  p.m. Julie offers a free concert for the village every summer "as a way of giving back to this most beautiful corner of the world, my home away from home." Julie and Parisian pianist Aurelien Pontier will play works by Bach, Czerny, Doppler, Elgar...and the formidable Franck Violin Sonata in a beautiful transcription for flute. For more info: or 04 37 40 61 86. See you in church!

Jazz Under the Stars in St. Remy
As a prelude to the St. Remy Jazz Festival (September 15 to 18), a concert called Jazz Under the Stars (Jazz sous les Etoiles) will be held tonite, Friday July 15 at 8:30 p.m. in the gardens of the Hotel de Sade. Food will be served from 8 p.m. onwards. For all the info, click here or email ( or call 04-90-94-68-35.  Tickets are 16€ per person or 13€ for subscribers.

Organ Recital in St. Remy
The St. Remy Organ Festival (Festival Organa 2011) continues with a recital on Saturday July 16 at 6:30 p.m. Pascal Marsault, professor at CRR Toulon Provence Mediterranee, will perform on the church's massive organ built in 1923, with three keyboards and 62 stops. All Organ Festival concerts are at the Collégiale Saint-Martin (the big church) in St. Remy and this concert is free but donations will be accepted. For info, click here.

A Party to Celebrate APaRT at the Gorgeous Dalmeran

As part of the ongoing multi-village international contemporary art festival called APaRT, there will be a reception  Sunday July 17  to celebrate the group show at Domaine de Dalmeran in St.-Etienne-du-Gres. The artists are Corine Ferté, Fred Gautron, Tony Soulie, Barbara Segal and Claude Viallat.  The event begins at 7 p.m. and all are welcome.  Another large ApArt event, called Nuit de la Performance, will be held Thursday, July 21st in Tarascon. Think of it as a big pub crawl through many venues (including the castle, two chapels and the Musee Souleiado), with performance art, film projections and more. It begins at 5:30 p.m. and runs until just before midnight. APaRT began July 7 and runs through August 17. For more events, shows and info, click here. (Above: APaRT poster and Cervus Elaphus © Corine Ferté, 2011).

Modern Dance in Vaison
The 16th annual international festival of dance called Vaison Danses runs until July 26. On Saturday July 16, Sylvie Guillem and Akram Khan will perform "Sacred Monsters." Sylvie is a Paris-bron prima ballerina known for immense strength and lyricism while the London-based Akram "dazzles with astonishing speed, precision and power." Sacred Monsters explores the boundaries between ballet and kathak, with a live music ensemble featuring cirtuoso cellist Philip Sheppard. All performances held in the Theatre Antique in Vaison-la-Romaine. For tickets and complete festival info, click here or call 04-90-28-74-74.

Following the Arman Trail...and a Bear Show!

If you haven't seen Arman at Les Baux, this would be a great weekend to do it. Until October 16, Les Baux is shining the spotlight on the French artist Armand Fernandez, better known as Arman. He was born in Nice in 1928 and died in New York in 2005. In fall 2010, the Centre Pompidou staged a major show of his work, which then traveled to the Tinguely (Basel). For this show in Les Baux, the atmosphere of Arman's home and workplace are reinterpreted in various locations, displaying how the artist lived and worked. In the evening, his work is projected onto the walls of the medieval village (until October 16). Passes to the Arman trail are 7€ adults; 5€ age 7 to 17; under 7 free. For info: call 04-90-54-34-39 or or click hereThis weekend in addition to the Arman trail, there's a special "medieval animation" at the Chateau of Les Baux. Called The Bear Trainer, the show tells the story of the special relationship between a man and two bears: a  brown bear weighing 250 kg and Valentin, a black bear. The show runs until July 17 and there's a combined ticket for the Arman trail and chateau entrance. For more info, click here. Every Friday evening until August 15, the Musée Yves Brayer, the Fondation Louis Jou and the castle will be open untill 10 p.m. 

British and American Blues in Antibes
On Saturday night July 16th in Antibes, enjoy an evening of British and American Blues with John Phil Wayne, who plays guitar, bass and accompaniment. A former band member for Memphis Slim, John Lee Hooker, David Bowie and others, John will be joined by the U.S bluesman Benny Ross (who has played with Miles Davis, Luther Allison, Marcus Miller and Dizzy Gillespie) on vocals and sax. Doors open at 8.30 p.m.; concert runs from 9:30 to 11 p.m.  Entry is €17 and includes one drink. Parking is free in the yard. After the show, there will be a DJ and dancing until 2:30 a.m. The venue is the Top Ten Concert Club, 2047, Route De Nice, Antibes, 04 93 74 78 14.


The Festival d'Aix until July 25...
The Festival d'Avignon until July 26...
The OFF Festival of Avignon until July 31st...
The Jazz a Juan Festival from July 14 to 24...
The Festival de Lacoste (music and theater) July 15 to Aug 5...
The National Ballet of Marseille through July 25...
The Festival de Nimes through July 23...
The Choregies d'Orange Opera season runs through August 2...
The Rencontres d'Arles Photo Festival through September 18th.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Kinder, Gentler Way to Book Flights

Planning any travel? Then check out Hipmunk. It's a huge improvement over the other popular travel booking sites--a much quicker and more-organized experience. "Our goal is to build the best travel site on the Internet," Hipmunk co-founder Adam Goldstein said in a recent article in Fast Company. "And by 'best' I mean the site that helps people find what they're looking for with a minimum of agony." Unlike other sites, Hipmunk has tabs to let you compare multiple searches at the same time. It hides flights "that no intelligent person would take." Plus, they just added a little WiFi indicator directly onto flight search results so you can see easily who offers internet up in the sky. Thank you, Hipmunk! Hip, hip, hooray!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Another Fine French Book Giveaway

I love to read about France, my adopted country, and particularly the South. And I especially love books by and about expats in Provence, for all the obvious reasons. So when I received an advance copy of The House in France, I shoved all the other books and magazines aside and dug in right away. I knew the author Gully Wells was an editor at Conde Nast Traveler in New York and I knew, from bits of things I’d read, that she leads a big, interesting, literary life. Beyond that, I had no clue what to expect. But I was pretty sure it was going to be fun.

Turns out, The House in France is really only peripherally about the Wells’ family home and life in Provence--but I loved it anyway. The book provides a wonderful glimpse into a world I knew nothing about: the liberal, intellectual, literary world of London of the 1960s. The ramshackle farmhouse, which Gully’s mom bought on impulse in 1963, was meant as a vacation home but in many ways, it became home base. It’s where everyone in Gully’s clan retreats to rest and regroup and reconnect.

Gully was born in Paris, brought up in London, educated at Oxford, and moved to New York in 1979. Her memoir globetrots as she does but it’s set mainly in Provence, London, and New York. It chronicles three generations of her fairly eccentric family, most notably her mother Dee Wells (a glamorous, rebellious American journalist and TV commentator, a self-described “wild savage” who “found nice people dull”) and her stepfather A.J. Ayer, a celebrated Oxford philosopher and prodigious womanizer who everyone called Freddie.

Along the way, we also meet Gully’s “enormously attractive” father, who had “an enviable talent for extracting a huge amount of pleasure from every moment in the day.” Of her childhood, she writes: “It struck me as perfectly normal that I should live with my mother in London and then be sent off each vacation—like an airmail package—from Heathrow, with a label pinned to my lapel, to stay with my father wherever he happened to be.”

Her father, a diplomat who lived mainly in Germany, took Gully skiing in winter and to Italy in summer in his snappy white Mercedes convertible. (Now we know where her love of travel came from.) Freddie, on the other hand, “lived in London, took me to French restaurants, fed me my first snail and didn’t know how to drive.”

“They could not have been less alike, she writes, and I loved them both.”

We also get to meet Gully’s adored half-brother Nick, her various boyfriends (such as Martin Amis, her first love), and finally, her husband Peter (a BBC producer) and kids Rebecca and Alexander. Orbiting this core group are a whole universe of luminaries such as Alan Bennett, Isaiah Berlin, Iris Murdoch, Bertrand Russell, Jonathan Miller, Christopher Hitchens, Vanessa Lawson (Nigella’s mom), Anna Wintour and many more. Even Robert Kennedy, New York Mayor John Lindsay and Mike Tyson made cameos in Gully World.

It was the author’s relationship with her mother, however, that forms the backbone of the book—and that’s where the house in France comes in. Called La Migoua, it’s perched on a hill between Toulon and Marseilles. Here the family enjoyed languid meals under the lime tree, nosy but loving neighbors popping round with slobbering dogs and bottles of homemade vin d’orange. There were hot summer days at Bikini Beach, mountain hikes, fresh local food toted home from nearby markets and all the other things we associate with summertime in Provence. If you’ve spent any time at all in these parts (or seen Provence in countless movies), you can picture the house perfectly: the thick stone walls, the clackety beads in the doorway, the old baskets and dusty herbs hanging from the beams, the marble topped dining table with rush-seated wooden chairs (“like the one in van Gogh’s painting of his bedroom in Arles”), the enormous blackened fireplace. After her mother dies, in 2003, it’s six years before Gully feels ready to return, so closely tied in her mind were her mother and the house. And yes, Gully still has the house.

My only gripe about The House in France was that it had no photos. I wanted to see what all these colorful people looked like…and, of course, I wanted to see the house. Well now I see that the finished hardcover, released a couple weeks ago, has 16 pages of photos--which makes the story even more compelling.

Want the book? The fine folks at Knopf Publishing have offered me two copies to give away. Simply leave a comment below and two will be chosen next week. Make sure you leave us your email address, somewhere within your comment.  And if you don’t win a copy, you can buy it on Amazon by clicking here. The Kindle edition is here.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Rencontres Begins July 4 in Arles

The annual international photo festival in Arles known as the Rencontres begins tomorrow, July 4. This is one of the major events on the summer arts calendar in Provence. The Rencontres encompasses gallery exhibits, slideshows, seminars, workshops, lectures, visits with curators, evening events and much more. There are an enormous number of things to choose from, particularly during opening week, so spend some time with the program in English here before making your plans. And because I live to please you, I've posted the full opening-week day-by-day schedule, in English, under the tab "Recontres Schedule in English"  just above. To get back to Provence Post after the schedule, click the tomatoes.