Monday, August 6, 2012

Francois Vatel

Long time no blog. Good to be back. It's been a long and strange journey these last months....

François Vatel
(1631 - 1671)

François Vatel was a maître d'hôtel. A title not to be taken lightly, he was solely responsible for the menu and food preparation, the waiting staff, guests, table assignments, ensuring the satisfaction of each guest and, more importantly, the satisfaction and reputation of the person throwing the fête. 

In 1661, François Vatel was the maître d'hôtel, at the spectacular inauguration fête for the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. 

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte was purchased by Nicolas Fouquet (see my blog), the superintendent of finances for King Louis XIV, and turned into a lavish palace and grounds. On August 17, 1661, Fouquet inaugurated his masterpiece of a château with a fête to end all fêtes. He hired Molière to perform his play Les Fâcheux for the first time (see my blog), and hired Vatel to oversee the meal. 

This magnificent fête went down in history as  King Louis XIV was not content to see his own palaces and lavish fêtes outdone: he arrested Fouquet the night of the fête for embezzlement, had Fouquet imprisoned for life and his wife and son exiled. 

François Vatel went on to serve prince Louis II de Bourbon-Condé, cousin to the king of France and a great general. 

In April 1671, Louis II de Bourbon-Condé held an extravagant banquet for 2,000 people in honor of his kinsman, King Louis XIV, at the Chateau de Chantilly.

King Louis XIV The Sun King
(Love his attire and sassy attitude...too much!)

Chateau de Chantilly
(Recently visited this château and have a few juicy ghost stories to recount...stay tuned!)

At the Château de Chantilly, Vatel is credited to have invented crème Chantilly, or whipped cream flavored with vanilla. 

The Marquise de Sévigné, an aristocrat remembered for her letter writing (more on her soon), tells us that, on the night of the fête, François Vatel was so distraught at the lateness of the seafood delivery that he committed suicide by running himself  through with a sword. His body was discovered when someone came to announce the arrival of the seafood. 

In 2000, director Roland Joffé made a film based upon the life of François Vatel, aptly named "Vatel", starring Gérard Depardieu (bien sur), Uma Thurman and Tim Roth.

Donc, voilà un petit anecdote sur Monsieur Vatel!

Groses bisous et a bientôt.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Rémi Gaillard - n'import qui

Rémi Gaillard

I can't believe I haven't blogged about this guy yet! I've been watching and laughing hysterically at his videos for years.

A French humorist who has his own website and uploads videos onto YouTube, Rémi has been doing his own unique Candid Camera-style videos since he lost his job in a shoe store in 1999.

Rémi Gaillard gets over 1.3 billion views on his videos, each one averaging 1 million views. His most popular video has over 57 million views. Wow!

Here are some of my favorite videos--easy to enjoy no matter what language you speak! This guy is in top physical shape and can kick a soccer ball like a pro!

Foot (soccer) elevator

Rocky Rémi

Disco Elevator


and... Foot (meaning soccer) 2009

Bonne rigolade!!

Love, Charley

Monday, May 7, 2012

Lek Ban Thaï Relaxation

One of the things I absolutely adore about France are Thaï massages. I am accustomed to a good strong massage that really digs in deep to release and relax the muscles and, unfortunately, traditional French massages just don't fit the bill. Just as the French don't like spicy food, they don't like strong massages; their version is a feather-like brushing of the fingers along the body, point final, leaving the recipient more frustrated than anything else!

Needless to say, I was thrilled to discover Thaï massage, and more specifically to discover Lek Ban Thaï Relaxation.

  Located in Saint Genis Laval, a mere 10 minutes from downtown Lyon, Lek Ban Thaï Relaxation is a little slice of paradise where, for an hour and a half, you part en voyage, leaving France behind for exotic Thailand. 

Greeted by the charming and warm Lek herself, one is immediately enveloped by smooth odors of exotic flowers and spices, and a hand-constructed decor of materials imported directly from Thailand. Nous sommes directement plonger dans l'ambiance!


First off, Lek baths your feet in warm water, salts and perfumes.

Slipping your feet into Thai sandals, you are directed into the changing room where you don a loose Thai shirt and trousers for traditional Thai massage...

... or a Thai pareo for the more relaxing oil massage.

Ahh, la vie est belle!

Best of all, you can make an appointment for two and go with your other half -- a relaxing afternoon à deux

So next time you feel the stress growing, take a break and have a Thai massage. I more than highly recommend it!

30 Bis Avenue des Belges
69230 Saint Genis Laval
06 66 22 25 27

Gros bisous de massage Thaï et à bientôt!

Love, Charley

Friday, May 4, 2012

Le Manoir du Diable by Georges Méliès -- first ever horror film 1896

The 1896 three-minute-long film Le Manoir du Diable (The Haunted Castle) was directed by Georges Méliès, and is considered by most to be he first horror film as well the first vampire film.

It was released on Christmas Eve in 1896 at the Théâtre Robert Houdin in Paris. Originally meant to amuse people, it ended up frightening them--thus was born the horror genre of cinema.

Referred to as the first "Cinemagician", illusionist and filmmaker Méliès became famous for inventing technical and narrative developments and special effects: multiple exposure, time-lapse photography, dissolves, hand-painted color, and he accidentally discovered stop trick in 1896.

An early pioneer of horror films, Méliès was also known to create some of the important early science fiction films: A Trip to The Moon (1902) and The Impossible Voyage (1904). (Somewhat in the style of Jules Verne.)

Méliès directed 531 films between 1896 and 1913, ranging from 1 to 40 minutes in length. 

In 1910, Méliès made a deal with Charles Pathé (Pathé cinema still exists today as one of France's biggest chain of cinemas), a deal where he accepted a large amount of money by mortgaging his home and studio to Pathé. In 1912 Méliès broke his contract with Pathé, and his brother (and business partner) frittered away all his money. Méliès was bankrupt and, by the mid-1920s was a candy and toy salesman at the Montparnasse station in Paris. 

By the late 1920s, journalists began to research his life and work. A retrospective of his work was held in 1929, and in 1931 Méliès was awarded the Légion d'honneur, presented to him by one of the Lumière brothers. In 1932 the Cinema Society arranged for him to live at La Maison du Retrait du Cinéma, the film industry's retirement home. In 1938, Méliès died of cancer, and is buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetary in Paris. 

Bon, Gros bisous de cinéma d'horreur!!!


Sunday, March 25, 2012

An eclectic Sunday mix of French music!

1978  Charles Trenet - Le Soleil a rende-vous avec la lune 1939

1978 French funk: Aimer d'Amour - Boule Noire (The Quebecois Stevie Wonder)

And...the best, Chagrin d'amour - Chacun fait (c'qui lui plait)!!! I remember this one from my first visit to France in 1982. Dans les boites avec un gin fizz....

Le plastique c'est fantastique!

A random quirky little tune that will surely put a smile on your Sunday face!! Don't forget to sing along, Am Stram Gram, ha!

And the belle, the magnifique, Dalida singing, "C'est fini la comédie": a hauntingly beautiful melody.

Joyeux dimanche musicale!!


Friday, March 2, 2012

"Le Peau de Chagrin" by Honoré de Balzac

Honoré de Balzac (1799 - 1850)

French novelist and playwright extraordinaire, Balzac was one of the pioneers of Realism in European literature. His magnum opus, La Comédie Humaine (The Human Comedy), is a collection of interconnected novels portraying French society during the Restoration and July Monarchy. 

As you can see, not for the weak of heart to plunge in and read such an opus!

Balzac inspired novelists such as Marcel Proust, Émile Zola, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allen Poe, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustave Flaubert, Marie Corelle, Henry James, William Faulkner and Jack Kerouac.

An aside: just read Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs' And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks, a brilliant forerunner to the Beat Movement, which consequently led me to devour more of William S. Burroughs' works (already have read much Kerouac). Je me regale! 

Bon, I digress! 

As Balzac was an early pioneer of Realism, he had a sharp eye for detail and gave readers an unfiltered representation of society. Balzac sought to present his characters as real people, neither fully good nor fully evil, but fully human. 

Balzac lived in a time of great political and sociological change, a time when brilliant authors were penning great epics, a time when magic and creativity were prevalent. (See the film Impromptu for an eye candy visual of cette époque.)

One of my favorite novels by Honoré de Balzac is Le Peau de Chagrin or The Magic Skin

One year prior to commencing his magnum opus, La Comédie Humaine, Balzac wrote Le Peau de Chagrin using fantastic elements to create a realistic portrayal of the excesses of bourgeois materialism. The central theme of the novel is the conflict between desire and longevity, the magic skin represents the owner's life-force. 

The novel consists of three sections: Le Talisman (The Talisman), La Femme sans cœur (The Woman without a Heart) and L'Agonie (The Agony). 

In the first section, The Talisman, a young man named Raphaël de Valentin wagers his last bit of money, loses and goes towards the River Seine to drown himself. On his way, he is drawn into a curiosities shop. 

The shopkeeper shows him a piece of shagreen, or rawhide, inscribed with what the old man calls Sanskrit, but what is really imprecise Arabic. The skin promises to fulfill any wish by the owner, shrinking each time a wish is fulfilled. 

The shopkeeper offers the skin to Valentin at no charge, while at the same time urging him not to accept the offer. Valentin takes the skin, ignoring the warnings and immediately wishes for a royal banquet filled with wine, women and friends. He is greeted by friends in the street who invite him to such a banquet. 

The second section, The Woman without a Heart, is a flashback to his life prior to receiving the magic skin. He tells a friend of his early days as a poor scholar, living with an elderly landlady and her daughter, Pauline. Valentin is blind to Pauline's affections, and tries fruitlessly to win the heart of a beautiful and aloof woman named Foedora. His tutor encourages him to immerse himself into the world of high society as a means to win Foedora's heart. Valentin succeeds in maneuvering into her social circle, only to be unable to gain her affection. He becomes the miserable and desperate man found at the beginning of section one. 

In the third section, The Agony, Valentin has used the magic skin to achieve a large income, but we find both his health and the skin dwindling. He panics. He is terrified that more wishes will hasten the end of his life. 

To avoid making any further wishes, he arranges for his home and his life to want for nothing. Yet events beyond his control oblige him to wish for various things, and the skin continues to shrink. 

Pauline, daughter of the elderly landlady from Valentin's life as a poor scholar, comes to visit him. She expresses her love for him. When she learns the truth about the magic skin and her role in Valentin's demise, she is horrified. Valentin cannot control his desire for her and she rushes into an adjoining room to escape him and so save his life. He pounds on the door and declares both his love and his desire to die in her arms. She, meanwhile, is trying to kill herself to free him from his desire. He breaks down the door, they consummate their love in a fiery moment of passion, and he dies.


Reading Balzac's The Magic Skin is a journey into another time. I sometimes found it to be dense and difficult, but with patience, I came to love and adore his writing and the story. 

An aside: George Sand was one of the first people to read this novel, prior to publishing it. I adore this  French female author, you can learn more about her in my blog entry.)

Bon, happy reading et bon weekend à tous!


Friday, February 10, 2012

Marthe Richard

Marthe Richard (1889 - 1982), prostitute, spy during both World Wars, author of erotic fiction and politician. 

"De la petite à la grande vertu": from a woman of easy virtue to a woman of great virtue. 

In Nancy, in 1903, at the age of fourteen, Marthe Richard became an apprentice to a tailor. By the age of sixteen, she was registered as a prostitute. A soldier accused her of giving him syphilis, and she fled to Paris. There, she married wealthy industrialist, Henry Richer, in 1907.

In 1912, Henry bought her a plane. In 1913, flying the plane herself, she claimed to have broken the female record for the Le Crotoy-Zurich trip. The reality was that she only flew the plane to Burgundy, and had it shipped to the country outside Zurich, where she then flew it into the city of Zurich, but the record stayed intact.  

Marthe's husband, Henry Richer, died during World War I, in 1916. 

(Still from the 1937 film, "Marthe Richard au service de la France")

Shorlty after her husband's death, she became a spy under Captain Georges Ladoux, thanks to her lover, a young Russian Anarchist. Part of her duties as a spy were to become mistress to Von Krohn, head of the German Navy in Madrid. Upon her return to France, Marthe discovered that Captain Ladoux was a double agent and he was placed under arrest. 

In 1926, she married Thomas Crompton, financial director for the Rockefeller Foundation, and patron of restoration for Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon. He died unexpectedly in 1928.

She published the best seller, "My Life As A Spy In The French Service", which, in 1937 was turned into a film,  Marthe Richard espionne au service de la France, starring Erich von Stroheim and Edwidge Feillere, directed by Raymond Bernard. 

Her lover at the time, French Prime Minister Édouard Herriot, gave her the Légion d'honneur for Foreign Affairs. 

(Still from the 1937 film, "Marthe Richard au service de la France")

During World War II, Marthe again became a spy, revered in France and detested in Germany. She became close to several members of the Gestapo, including François Spirito.

By 1945, Marthe was a famous French heroine of two wars, and was elected to the Municipal Court of the IVeme arrondissement in Popular Republican Movement party.

A brothel

In that same year, she presented her plan for the closing of all brothels in her district. Her will was done in the short space of three months, and Marthe proceeded with a campaign to close brothels in all of France. 

In 1946, a bill was passed entitled La loi Marthe Richard (The Law of Marthe Richard) with the help of The Christian Democrat MRP and the Communist Party. On April 13, 1946, 1,400 brothels were closed. (Many of these brothels were converted into hotels, where prostitutes continued to do business.) 

To clarify: prostitution was still legal, but several acts surrounding it were illegal.

In 1948, she was accused of involvement with organized crime, smuggling jewels and of covering up crimes. In 1954, these accusations were pronounced false, her reputation was saved.

From these processes came the nickname La Veuve Qui Clôt (The Widow who closes the deal), a pun on the premium champagne Veuve Cliquot

In her later years, Marthe wrote erotic fiction, and gave seminars about her time as a spy. 

Marthe Richard died in 1982 at the ripe old age of 92.

Bon weekend et groses bisous des femmes... intéressantes. 

Love, Charley

Monday, January 30, 2012

Mylène Farmer

Mylène Farmer, French singer, songwriter, actress and author.

Some say she is France's Lady Gaga, bien sur, before the latter was even born. Others say she is a sort of Madonna with more substance, imagination and artistry (la French touch), some compare her to Michael Jackson as, like Thriller, her music videos changed the way music clips were being made. What is certain is that Miss Farmer is a mega-star.

Mylène Farmer has sold more than 30 million records, is one of the most successful recording artists of all time in France and holds the record for the most #1 hits in the French charts with 12 to date, 8 of which were consecutive. She is the only French singer to have a #1 hit throughout four consecutive decades.

Pretty impressive.

Born in Quebec in 1961 to French parents, she moved to France when she was 8. At 17, she discovered acting and changed her surname name to Farmer in tribute to her idol, actress Frances Farmer. In 1984, she met 17-year-old film student, Laurent Boutonnat, after responding to an ad for an actress in a small film he was working on. They became friends, writing and producing music together, with Boutonnat being the force behind Mylène's music videos--a collaboration that still survives today.

It was with the release of the single "Libertine" on her 1986 album, "Cendres de Lune" that the tone for Mylène's musical style was set, the lyrics  are sensual and romantic, inspired by 19th century literature. Boutonnat, who directed and produced the video, was inspired by Stanley Kubricks film "Barry Lyndon" and the novels of the Marquis de Sade. It is the very first video in which a French female singer appears full frontal naked. 

Here is part one of two of Mylène's richly decorous erotic epics set in 18th century France. They are certainly more films than music videos, carrying the watcher back to another époque


Her second album, "Ainsi soit je" (a play on the French expression "ainsi soit-il", or "so be it"), has a much darker ambiance, and is more sexually ambiguous than her previous album. Its songs are inspired by Mylène's favorite authors, including French romantic poet Charles Baudelaire and American horror writer Edgar Allen Poe. 

The first #1 hit of her career from her second album, "Pourvu qu'elles soient douces"is the suite to "Libertine". 

Pourvu Qu'elles Soient Douces

Mylène Farmer notoriously shied away from the public eye, and hesitated to tour in concert. Finally she agreed in 1989 to a full scale 52-date tour in Europe; her costumes were designed by Thierry Mugler.

The release of her 3rd album in 1991, "L'Autre..." made her an icon with its single "Désenchantée" (the best selling French single of all time according the Guinness Book of World Records). Unfortunately, a man who had been stalking her entered Polydor Records in Paris and held employees at gunpoint demanding to speak with Miss Farmer. He murdered the receptionist. Mylène fled to Los Angeles to live for a short while. 


In 1992, her album "Dance Remixes" was releases which included a new song, "Que mon cœur lâche", a song dealing with AIDS and sexual relations, and directed by the amazing French director, Luc Besson (I will blog about this director soon as his films are absolute masterpieces).

During her time in California, she wrote her forth studio album, Anamorphosée, again, a huge success.

In 1999, her fifth studio album, Innamoramento, was released, and later that year she toured, the Mylenium Tour, which set the record for the highest grossing tour by a non-English speaking artist.

In 2001, her first greatest hits collection came out, "Les Mots", whose title track and single, a duet with Seal, became a huge hit.

After a long period of silence, in December 2004, Mylène held a press conference to announce her new album "Avant que l'ombre" with her new single "Fuck Them All". The album went multi-platinum. This was followed by a 13-night concert engagement in Paris in 2006. There was little to no promotion, marking a new level of reclusively for the icon (to date, nothing is known about her personal life). This show was designed by Mark Fisher, and featured two stages connected by a mobile bridge and a curtain of words written with water.

She recorded a duet with Moby entitled "Slipping Away", to which she translated the lyrics into French.

Mylène then worked on Luc Besson's film "Aurther and the Minimoys", doing the voice of Selenia whose character was voiced by Madonna in the international version.

2008 marked the release of her electro-driven album "Point de Suture". Mylène Farmer beat her own record of having more #1 hits in France than any other artist with 5 singles from the album at #1.

"Bleu Noir" was released in 2010, produced by Farmer, RedOne, Moby and Archive with collaborations with Line Renaud and Ben Harper.

Her single "Oui mais... non" was produced by RedOne who co-produced "Poker Face", "Bad Romance" and "LoveGame" and who has worked not only with Lady Gaga, but with Jennifer Lopez, Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull.

Mylène Farmer performed this last Saturday at France's NRJ (pronounced energy) Music Awards.

So, my big question is... what is she going to surprise and astound us with next? En tout cas, well done, Miss Farmer, chapeau (hats off)....

Groses bisous de musique original et a bientôt.

Love, Charley

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

History of the French language - part two

La suite.

A quick recap from my last blog, History of the French language, and on to the rest (la suite). 

France was first inhabited by the Celts, an Indo-European and ethno-linguistically diverse group of tribal societies in the Iron Age and Roman-era Europe who spoke Celtic languages. This Celtic culture had expanded over a large area to the British Isles (Insular Celts), France (Gauls), Central Europe, the Iberian Peninsula, northern Italy and the Balkans. By the first millennium CE, following the Roman invasions and the Great Migrations, the Celtic culture became restricted to Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Cornwall, the Isle of Man and to northern France (Brittany).

Expansion of the Celtic culture, BCE.

Roman invaders

Then the Romans invaded, and Vulgar Latin quickly took hold among the urban aristocracy for mercantile, official and educational reasons, but did not prevail in the countryside until some four or five centuries later.

The Franks

The Franks: From the 3rd century on, Western Europe was invaded by Germanic tribes from the north and east, and some of these groups settled in Gaul.  

Scandinavian Vikings

Scandinavian Vikings invaded France from the 9th century on, which threw a few Old Norse words in the mix such as: mouette, crique, hauban and hune.

Arabic scholars

About the same time, many words from the Arabic language came into the mix primarily via Medieval Latin, Italian and Spanish. Words such as: élixir, orange, safran, alcool, bougie, coton, alchimie, hasard, algèbre and algorithme.

An aside: beginning in the 7th century, Arabic became what Greek had been to the Hellenistic world, a common language to the Islamic world. The language created an international network of letters, science, philosophy and medicine. Islamic people practiced religious tolerance, cultural tolerance, excelled in trade and were a curious people who quickly became experts in philosophy, astronomy, geography, mathematics, chemistry and medicine. Hence the words above. (For more, take a look at this series of films: The Byzantine Empire Parts four and five.)

So, where does all this leave us? With a mix of Celtic Gaulish and Vulgar Latin, sprinkled with German, Scandinavian, Old Norse and Arabic.

Old French was the Romance dialect continuum spoken in northern France, modern Belgium and Switzerland from the 9th to the 14th century. Old French is broken down into two principal types: langue d'oïl in the north, and langue d'oc, the Occitan language spoken in Provence. 

Medieval French Scholar

In the third Council of Tours in 813, priests were ordered to preach either Romance or Germanic since the common people could no longer understand formal Latin. 



Old French became a literary language with the chansons de geste which told tales of the paladins of Charlemagne and the heroes of the Crusades. 

And, in 1539, by the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts, King Francis I made French the official language of administration and court proceedings, ousting the Latin that had been used up until then. 

This French is called Middle French (moyen français).

Académie française

In the 17th and 18th centuries, following a period of unification, regulation and purification, the language developed into what we call Classical French. The foundation of the Académie française in 1634 by Cardinal Richelieu created an official body whose goal has been the purification and preservation of the French language.

.A total aside: (The Cardinal is played by Charlton Heston in  a film based upon Alexandre Dumas père's The Three Musketeers, or read a little Alexandre Dumas père or fils.) 

During The Age of Enlightenment, from the 17th to the 19th centuries, French became the lingua franca of educated Europe especially in regards to arts, literature and diplomacy.

Weimar's "Courtyard of the Muses"

An interesting side note: According to historian Eric Hobsbawm, "in 1789, 50% of the French people didn't speak French at all, and only 12 to 13% spoke it 'fairly'" as there were many local dialects or "patois". " the north as in the south of France, almost nobody spoke French."

In the last century, there has been a great influence of English in the French language (Franglais), especially in regards to international business, the sciences and popular culture. 

Recently, there has been pressure from some regions of France for recognition and support for their regional languages (remember all those "patois" dialects above?).

Today, the Académie française continues to preserve the French language.

Whew, that was fun and interesting!!

Groses kisses et see you bientôt.

Love, Charley