Diving into French

So, I'm sitting down to write about how a French immersion course in France might be your perfect holiday gift, when I'm alerted that France magazine mentions such a course offered in Villefranche-sur-Mer. I attended that course the September before last! Incredible, n'est-ce pas? This course is offered at L'Institut de Français, situated about a half-hour taxi ride east from the Nice airport, in Villefranche-sur-Mer. The school occupies an attractive villa, with a walled, terraced garden in which one can stand under a bougainvillea-draped arbor and look out over the shimmering Mediterranean sea and the green, terra-cotta-roofs dotted Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. Quite a beautiful, historic surrounding. But the French immersion school experience comes down to adapting to one's new environment and learning to converse in French. And that's where one can feel underwater at times.

The view from my balcony at dusk. L'Institut is across the street.

The view from my balcony at dusk. L'Institut is across the street.

One wouldn't think immediately about how the differences in energy policy between the US and France would affect one's stay, but a common subject of conversation (en Français, of course) was how uncomfortably hot our apartments were. No air-conditioning in most of them. Worse, because of theft concerns, we were encouraged to keep our window-encompassing metal shutters closed while sleeping. It was each of us and our little oscillating fan. Energy costs are high in France; the resulting discomfort was an adjustment. 

The month-long, 5-day week classes were challenging and effective. Progress was made, even though we cheated at times, especially in the evenings, when we gathered for an apéritif or dinner and spoke English together. According to an Australian friend there, who has several years of experience with French immersion courses, one progresses faster if one doesn't indulge in that way! To that end she plans next to attend a two-week, relatively small (20 or so students), live-in language school in the Dordogne, where one is expected to speak French day and evening. She also said her favorite French immersion course so far is CREA-Langues, a valuable recommendation, I thought. We all agreed, however, that the very best part of our time at L'Institut de Français was meeting each other. A cliché, I know, but we did get along swimmingly.

Friends from Spain, Australia, Brazil, Turkey, Jamaica, the UK and the US.

Friends from Spain, Australia, Brazil, Turkey, Jamaica, the UK and the US.

Contributed by Ellen VanderMey

Alliance Française de Grand Rapids - Exploring the Many Facets of France.


Winter French Class Scheduled

Yes, the Refresh Your French class is being offered this winter! Class commences Tuesday, January 9. No, the Converse in French class (formerly known as Intermediate French) is not being offered this winter; however, it will be offered in the spring, beginning Thursday, March 15, as will the Refresh class, beginning March 13.  Intermediate level students are most welcome to join the winter Refresh class. For more details, please go to our website www.afgrandrapids.org and click on "French Classes". Hope to see you there.

English French Book Club

For the January meeting we're reading Paris in the Present Tense, by Mark Helprin. This new novel by a best-selling author is set in present-day Paris. With a 5-star rating from Amazon books, it promises to be an interesting and exciting selection. Join with other AFdeGR members to discuss the book on Tuesday, January 23, 5:30 at Schuler Books Café, 2660 28th Street, SE, Grand Rapids. 

Noël, Noël, Joyeux Noël: A Celebration of French Music for the Holiday Season

This Monday evening, December 4, 7:30 p.m., at Fountain Street Church, Grand Valley State University presents music from France, with a large symphony orchestra and choir performing selections including Guillaume Du Fay's "Magnificat", Francis Poulenc's "Gloria" and beloved French holiday carols. Not to be missed.

Alliance Française de Grand Rapids - Exploring the Many Facets of France


Two Americans in Paris: Loië Fuller and Isadora Duncan

American dancing sensation Loïe Fuller was the toast of the Folies Bergères at the turn of the 20th century and an inspiration for Toulouse-Lautrec and the Lumière Brothers. The film revolves around her complicated relationship with protégé and rival Isadora Duncan.

In theatres December 1.  Check out the trailer for the film. In the meantime, here's a clip:

The places in France you'd never thought to visit (but really should)

This week's story is a recent article from The Telegraph

"It’s as delightful as it is surprising," says Anthony Peregrine. "At first sight, Barcelonnette is such an archetypal spot in the southern French Alps that you’d expect it to yodel. Come festival time (August), it is not yodeling you hear, but mariachi music. It’s as close as you can get to Mexico without leaving Europe, as in the 19th century, locals fled the valley to make their fortunes in Mexico, then returned, full of Latin ideas and cash." Read the full story

For photos from the AFGR dinner at Nonna's visit our Flickr page.

Paris falafel war and a French butter shortage

From Los Angeles TimesIn Paris falafel war, it's neighbor vs. neighbor in the city's changing Jewish quarter.

They line up like pilgrims at a sacred site and cradle the famous offering in their hands, swaddled in paper and napkins that soon prove Read the full story

And from the The New York TimesFrance, Land of Croissants, Finds Butter Vanishing From Shelves

A price spike has led to sporadic shortages in one of the world’s most butter-loving countries, prompting both mock panic and real anxiety. Read the full story

CNN calls it a "croissant crisis,"  and French chefs and home cooks are not taking France's butter shortage lightly. CNN's Jim Bittermann reports. Read the full story

Beaujolais Nouveau Fête

 Remember to call The University Club to make reservations for this Thursday's dinner. 616-456-8623.

More "The Dinner at Nonna's" photos

To see all the photos Joel took that Sunday evening at Nonna's, go to our website www.afgrandrapids.org, locate the Flikr icon (round gray dot with two white dots inside) on the upper right side of our Home Page (above the image of the Seine), and click on it. You can see photos from all our events by then clicking on "Photostream", or just specific events by clicking on "Albums". Thanks, Joel, for preserving the evening in photos.




Renting an apartment in Paris

Scroll down for more AFGR news!

Over our years of traveling to Paris we've almost always relied on renting apartments as opposed to hotel rooms. The reason is simple: an apartment gives you the flexibility of cooking at home, especially if you're staying for a week or longer. It also has the added benefit of (usually) being the less expensive way to spend your money on lodging, especially in Paris.

My first inclination when looking for accommodations this past winer for our trip in September was to turn to the latest craze: Air BnB. While their website certainly offered plenty of options, in all price ranges, the one thing that put me off was they required all the rental charges to be paid up front. Yet the owner would only get their money once we actually showed up. Sooooo, Air BnB would be able to play with our money for five months. And I can just imagine the hassle of canceling. . . That nasty airline business model rearing it's head. No thank you.

Beginning in 2006 and until the end of 2010 we rented from the same person, both when we were living in Paris as well as when we returned for extended stays (such as two or three months at a time). We found her through the excellent local resource FUSAC (French USA Connection) and appreciated being able to meet with the owner in person. Unfortunately, that changed in 2013 and we found ourselves looking elsewhere. Friends from Providence, Rhode Island, had been very happy using the Parissharing website and so in 2013 we followed their lead. When we returned earlier this year to perhaps use the site again, we learned that prices had gone way UP so we thought to look elsewhere.

I recalled in years past a wonderful set of accommodation guides by Alistair Sawday called Special Places To Stay in France (or Ireland or Italy, etc.). I went to their website and before long had found just the place. It was very reasonably priced, quite spacious and a 10-minute walk to Père-Lachaise Cemetery in the 20th arrondissement! We were sold. I emailed the owner, she called me, I called her back and we shook hands on it, in a manner of speaking.

As it turned out our hostess was a lovely British woman who had spent the better part of her adult life in France. After we arrived in Paris and made our way through the Metro to the 20th arr. we quickly found the apartment. Anne was waiting for us when we arrived at the apartment and this was one instance of when first impressions -- even those made by internet and phone -- proved spot on. She was charming, engaging and full of life.

The apartment was nearly perfect with a 10-minute walk to the nearest Metro stop, a grocery store (Franprix) right up the street, an open-air market just 10 minutes away by foot and the neighborhood quiet. We spent 11 wonderful days in Anne's home.

The October Wine Dinner at Nonna's.

Good food, good wine and excellent company--that's what we had at the AFdeGR Dinner at Nonna's Trattoria in Ada. Thank you to all who attended, to Joel Boland for organizing this event and to Ron Cook and his wife for creating the charming ambiance that is Nonna's.

See what I mean about excellent company? 

See what I mean about excellent company? 

Let's plan another gathering like this!

Let's plan another gathering like this!

Victor Hugo Sightings in West Michigan

Victor Hugo's character "Triboulet" on whom the character of Rigoletto is based.

Victor Hugo's character "Triboulet" on whom the character of Rigoletto is based.

Yes, twice the spirit of this magisterial French author has been with us recently.

The first time was in a television clip assigned to us by our AFdeGR French prof, Rita Selles, where, during the tour of the French Sénat, the seat in which Victor Hugo sat when a member in the mid-1800s was highlighted.

The second time was when I learned that Verdi based his play "Rigoletto" on Victor Hugo’s play L’roi s’amuse, a play which had been censored because of perceived criticism of the ruling government. After seeing the opera, with its scenes of a debauched and corrupt court, I had to find out what fiend of the Les-Liaison-Dangereuses type ruled during Hugo’s lifetime! The ruler proved to be Louis Philippe I, not a king notorious for leading a decadent court. Why was the play censored, then? Not because Victor Hugo was denouncing Louis Philippe for womanizing and encouraging womanizing, as François I did, in whose court the play was set, but because he was critical of Louise Philippe’s authoritarian and conservative tendencies.

Ah, well, Victor Hugo’s life has ended, but the controversies never have, have they.

By Ellen VanderMey

New Newsletter Format
For several weeks now, we’ve been sending a “Posts from News-Alliance Française de Grand Rapids” to your email address, usually on a Sunday. This replaces our traditional newsletter. In this weekly blog, edited by Steve Soper, you’ll find news about our chapter’s programs and events, as well as bits and pieces of interest about French culture and language.  Merci beaucoup to all those who contributed to and edited the newsletter over the years! We hope the weekly Posts, too, will contribute to the enjoyment and edification of life with a French accent!

French Conversation Date
Let your French conversation skills blossom.  Linda FitzGerald will lead a French conversation group Tuesday, Nov. 7, from 7:00 to 8:15 pm at the Meijer Gardens Cafeteria. (entrance to the cafeteria is free). All members of all French language skill levels are cordially invited.  Hope to see you there!

A little taste of Paris in Grand Haven


Looking for a slice of Paris in the middle of west Michigan? Visit Patricia’s Chocolate at 126 Washington Avenue in downtown Grand Haven. The décor, the ambience, the packaging, and, of course, the chocolates are très French! From the tinkle of the bell when you open the door to the smell of chocolate wafting through the air, it’s a wonderful place to spend a little time.

Patty Christopher is a chocolatier extraordinaire creating exquisite preservative free, ganache-centered chocolates in the French style. Using local ingredients whenever possible, offering flavors like bleu cheese/roasted fig, mandarin ginger, raspberry Chambord, peaches and cream and fresh mint leaf, chocolate samples allow you to savor the goodness and help you decide which flavors you find most enticing.

Don’t hesitate to engage Patty, Paul or any of the staff in the shop in conversation about the origins of chocolate, how the goods are made and where they source the ingredients. You’ll learn a lot!

Patty and I first met on Mother’s Day weekend of 2015 at Art of the Table on Wealthy Street in Grand Rapids when Steve and I paid our first visit to that establishment. In the back corner I spied someone wearing a white chef’s jacket (hmmm, now who could that be?), so we headed back and struck up a conversation with Patty and her husband Paul.

We soon discovered our mutual love of France, Paris, pastries and chocolates and our friendship was launched. And the fact that they had both been school psychologists before going full tilt into the chocolate business was almost eerie as I recalled my own transition from emergency medicine to pastry. Wow – small world!  

So if you find yourself with a free afternoon, head out to Grand Haven for a taste of Paris. You’ll be glad you did.

Disclaimer: The French Tarte’s all butter shortbread cookies are baked and sold at Patricia’s Chocolate.

À bientôt!

Posted by Susan VandenBerg, pâtissière
The French Tarte


 Alliance Franҫaise de Grand Rapids Wine Dinner 

 A quick reminder about the upcoming AF dinner:

6:00 p.m.Sunday, October 22, 2017
NONNA’S The Trattoria
584 Ada Drive, Ada, Michigan 

We have reserved the entire restaurant for our dinner. Dinner seating will be at 6:00 p.m., but the doors will open at 5:30 p.m. for those who wish to enjoy a cocktail or aperitif at the bar prior to their dinner. Dinner includes:

Pâté de foie de Volatite au Cognac

Your choice of

Freshly grilled salmon topped with roasted cherry tomatoes, 
shallots, garlic and thyme. Served with a white wine butter sauce
and grilled asparagus


Thinly pounded veal tenderloin, sage and prosciutto, sautéed in a white wine sauce. 
Served with sautéed haricots verts

Your choice of a Floriage Côtes du Rhône from Visan and a Guilham Blanc
from the Languedoc region will be served during dinner

NONNA’S special Chocolate Mousse
Coffee as desired

The cost for the wine dinner is $70.00 per person, complete with tax and gratuity. The cost does not include drinks prior to the dinner, or any other bar service.. Please call NONNA’s directly at 616-920-7028 to make your reservation since seating is limited to 40 guests. The absolute deadline for reservations is Wednesday, October 18th. You will need to give them your name and the names of any others in your party and your entrée selection. You will also need to give them your credit card information. 

AFGR Book Club latest selection

The AF de GR book club met this past Tuesday to discuss Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran.

We had a lively discussion about the life and activities of Anna Maria Grosholtz ( the future Madame Tussaud) during the 5 years around the time of the French Revolution.

This historical novel gave us a better understanding of how wax figures and their setting were used as a source of news on fashion, gossip and even politics for the common people as well as the King and Queen. Anna Maria had a glimpse of life at the court by teaching Princess Elizabeth, but also the revolutionary events by being forced to cast wax models of recently decapitated acquaintances during the Revolution. Caught in the middle between the court and the outside world, how these events affected Anna Maria's loyalties presented an interesting topic of discussion.

For those interested in a more personal view of the French Revolution, I would highly recommend this fascinating story.

Marijke Wiersema, book club moderator

French Film Series at Calvin

The French Department of Calvin College is pleased to announce its 13th annual French Film Festival September 20-21 and 27-28, 2017. This year’s festival theme is “Fils et Filles”:

Sept. 20 - Fatima: Story about an immigrant mother (Fatima) and two daughters. Fatima is divorced; father appears on the scene from time to time. Older daughter is in medical school, under pressure to succeed. Younger daughter is in high school, rebelling, feels neglected, failing school. Fatima does maid work to support daughters. Fatima’s speaks French with difficulty. She tries to do the best for her daughters, and finally quits working as a maid to spend more time with daughters. Film ends well. Cultural portrait of immigrant experience in France. Language: mainly in French (Fatima speaks to her daughters in Arabic and they respond in French). 

Sept 21 - Hope:  Young Nigerian woman (Hope) and young Camerounais man (Léonard) meet up in the Sahara desert and make their way to Morocco together. Very well done to show the vulnerability of the refugees, violence against men and women, the great risks they have to take as they flee. They eventually make it across the strait to Spain, but Léonard dies of knife wounds in the boat, and Hope is left to keep going on her own, pregnant (unknown father—rape & prostitution have occurred during the film). For a mature audience willing to engage with emotionally difficult film portraying the reality of the refugee experience in West Africa. Languages: French, English and some Arabic spoken (Hope speaks English; Léonard speaks French).

Sept 27 - Good Luck, Algeria: Samir (Sami) and Stéphane make elite cross-country skis but their business is about to go under. Sami is half-Algerian by his father, but has no emotional ties to Algeria and speaks no Arabic. His mother is blond, French. Sami is married to a French woman who is pregnant with their second child. Stéphane comes up with the bright idea to save their business by having Sami become an Olympian star. Sami works hard to qualify for the Olympics as an Algerian and makes one quick trip to Algeria to seek funding from the Algerian government. Some comic moments, cultural insights. Filmed mostly in the area around Grenoble. Fun film showing a 2nd generation immigrant experience. Language: French.

Sept 28 - Rosalie Blum: Based on a comic book series by the same name. Rather eccentric characters in a creative story line. The film repeats the first sequence of events from several characters’ points of view, and plays with the viewer by not making that clear at first. The film then goes on to a happy (though not entirely predictable) finish. Fun quirky artistic film. Language: French.

All films are subtitled in English and are free and open to the public. Please see Calvin’s website for more details.

One Book One Federation selection for 2017


As a way of encouraging French literacy around the world, the Fédération des Alliances offers a program that suggests one French-language book for all Alliance members around the world to read, enjoy and have in common. 

This year’s selection is a roman policier (crime story) and comes with a twist: the Police Chief is a woman! La Commissaire n’aime point les vers by George Flipo

Police Chief Viviane Lancier isn’t exactly the poetry-loving type, but here she finds herself embroiled in a murderous affair with poetry at its heart. . . .

A homeless man who looks exactly like Victor Hugo is found assassinated in front of the l’Académie française; an erotic sonnet by Baudelaire becomes the calling card of a serial killer . . . as if she didn’t have enough problems on her hands, what with an ex who pesters her and her constant diets that drive her insane, and now she has to deal with literature to boot! Help comes in the person of Augustin Monot, her new lieutenant. He may be as bumbling as he is suave and well-read, but he manages to lend an appreciated hand to the Chief in this piquant investigation.

The plot of this engaging novel is full of action, intrigue, unexpected turns and a dry sense of humor. The characters are appealing and you will be rooting for them all along. The book was selected for its simple style, straightforward vocabulary and plot line, and will, as such, reach a wide audience of Alliance Française members. The French is accessible and suitable for B1 and B2 language students. This novel can be used in a book club setting or as the basis for a course around the “roman noir” and French crime fiction.

A complete study guide is available here and on the the One Book One Federation Facebook page . It includes a synopsis, biographical material, discussion questions and vocabulary lists.

Purchase the book online at MEP/Schoenhof’s Books .

Oh, and French classes begin next week. "Refresh Your French" begins Tuesday, September 19 and "Converse in French" begins Thursday, September 21. Registration info available on our website.

Petanque Tournament 2017

In temperate weather, surrounded by Nancy's and Bill's bright and flourishing gardens, 16 of us played in the 2017 Alliance Française de Grand Rapids Pétanque Tournament. 

We all played well, except when the ground rose to meet our boule! 

Linda and PJ FitzGerald and Ellen and Dan VanderMey made it to the final round and who won? 

The FitzGeralds - congratulations! 

People brought all manner of chips and salsas, as well as cookies, which we enjoyed with that fabled accompaniment to a game of pétanque, pastis, an aperitif enjoyed by many. 

Hope to see you at next year's Pétanque Tournament!

Adam Roberts' latest guide to the curiosities of Paris

I’ve been following Adam Roberts and his Invisible Paris blog for some years now and have never been disappointed. His research is exhaustive, his style engaging with stories that always broaden, deepen and enlighten my grasp of that most incredible bit of geography we call Paris, France.

And twice I’ve taken him up on his challenge to see if he could shed light onto a mystery (a sculpture in a sidewalk near Boulevard Saint-Germain and a large sculpture in Père-Lachaise Cemetery that disappeared years ago) and sure enough he did!

So, when I first heard that he was planning on publishing a collection of his insights into the city I was thrilled.

After several months I received my copy and can say straightaway that, like his blog, the book does not disappoint either. His writing is breezy but by no means slight, his narrative is thorough and each chapter is pleasure to read.

The book is broken into two sections, the longer of the the two is devoted to a history of Paris and is spot on. But for me it’s the second portion that focuses on “The City today” that reminds me so much of why I have always enjoyed the Invisible Paris blog. I especially liked his essays on the “The City of Immigration, “The New Belly of Paris,” “Paris by Night” and “Passages through Time” (the latter makes me want to revisit them again with his book in hand now). These are glimpses into a Paris that fascinate and enlighten at the same time, glimpses that you probably won’t find in any other “guide” to the city.

Interspersed throughout are one-page sidebars of curiosities that would only come from the pen of the Invisible Paris author, such as “The City that Lost its Head” (about the suburb of Saint Denis) and “The Writing on the Wall” (1971 graffiti paying homage to the Commune of 1871).

While this is by no means your typical guidebook (no hours or admittance fee information is provided) he does have a fine list at the back of the book of some of the more important stops for any traveler as well as a few suggestions for lodging, bars, cafes, shops, entertainment and restaurants.

I have to say that it is also a fine armchair guide for anyone who dreams of going to Paris for the first time or for the old hand who longs to return.

Oh, and the book fits nicely into a jacket pocket so having it handy is a snap.

If you'd like to learn more visit your local bookstore or go to Amazon.com (nope I don't get a penny for the link thank you very much).

Thanks, Adam.