Monday, April 06, 2009


Received wisdom would have it that American baseball was imported to France during World War I by the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), which landed at the French port of Saint-Nazaire in 1917 under the command of John J. 'Blackjack' Pershing. Numerous eyewitness accounts of those times state that behind the front lines, from the beginning and all the way up to the Armistice with Germany on November 11, 1918, American troops devoted themselves to their national pastime. After pacing out diamonds as best they could on flinty dirt fields and erecting perfunctory but readable scoreboards, they joined in with wild enthusiasm at the umpire's shout of 'Play ball !' Histories of the American participation in WWI asserting that the first organized AEF baseball game in history was held at Aix-les-Bains in March, 1918, help perpetrate the urban legend that American doughboys 'introduced' the French to baseball.

Yet the first baseball game organized on French soil actually took place on March 8, 1889 during the Universal Exhibition. Promoter Albert Spalding (yes, he of sporting goods fame) and two American baseball teams traveled around the world to put on baseball exhibitions; one of the French games took place near the Eiffel Tower in Paris. One might say, then, that the doughboys, both white and black, enabled baseball to be appreciated -- along with jazz ! -- on a far wider scale by the French public than before. Nevertheless, previous to the AEF there were at least two French baseball players in the Majors: Ed Gagnier, born in 1882 in Paris, who apparently played shortstop in 1914 and 1915, and Claude Gouzzie, who had one at-bat for the 1903 St. Louis Browns.

The first French team, the chicly named 'Ranelagh Baseball Club', was founded in 1913 in Paris, while the French Fédération de Baseball was founded in 1924 - the year that the Olympic Games were held in Paris. A league was even established in 1926 - the mandatory step to officialize a sport under the French system. (By the way, the reader might want to know more about the reason(s) baseball has now been eliminated from the Summer Olympics, at least for 2012. A contingent of Major League Baseball and international officials are reportedly lobbying the International Olympic Committee hard for a return in 2016.)

Of course, interest in baseball grew substantially after World War II, when troops (and their children !) on the many American military bases throughout France would gather for serious jousts on Saturdays and Sundays. Mme Amerloque recalls going to a base near Chateauroux in central France in the '50s and staring with a small child's wonder at les américains playing a strange game, governed by almost incomprehensible rules, which required a bizarre baton and oversize, misshapen gloves.

There were two ways for the American expatriate in France during the 1960s through much of the 1980s to follow the US Major League Baseball season - and all American professional sports, for that matter.

The first was to consult the sports pages of the International Herald Tribune. If one didn't have enough centimes to hand, one could hustle over to the IHT building on the rue de Berri, just off the Champs-Elysees, and read the pages displayed two by two in purpose-built windows. The second was to stay up very late, and, if the atmospheric conditions were suitable, tune into medium wave and locate an Armed Forces Network (also called the AFRTS) station broadcasting from a SHAPE base in Belgium - or, more usually, from a frontline base beyond the Rhine, in what was then West Germany.

Baseball blasted off here in France during the 1980s. For example, Japanese teams, playing in well-organized leagues, took over the Bagatelle playing field in the Bois de Boulogne on Sunday afternoons from April to October. Officials from the Consulate would come out to open the season with due ceremony; after all, each team's uniforms (and sometimes a goodly part of its sporting equipment) was heavily subsidized by one or another Japanese organization, from local restaurant to international keiretsu. French players organized leagues throughout France; somewhere along the line the slumbering Fédération de Baseball morphed into the Fédération Française de Baseball et Softball. In 1992 Sports Illustrated published a comprehensive article detailing the impressive growth of baseball in France.

Satellite and cable TV in the latter part of the 1990s made it easier to watch US football and baseball. Canal+, the first cable subscription channel, showed summaries of World Series games. More recently the Sports+ channel – available on cable – has shown important games such as the All-Star Game and the World Series.

In the autumn of 2007 a new TV station called NASN (short for North American Sports Network) became available through several cable and satellite providers. From April through October, the network broadcasts American League and National League games as well as the playoffs and World Series games – in their entirety!

Recently the NASN became ESPN America, with basically the same coverage - and sports reporters - as NASN. Last month Amerloque was quite pleased to follow the World Baseball Classic, which saw the victory of the Japanese team - their second win in a row, the first having come in the WBC inaugural event in 2006.

Philosophically speaking, of course, Japan's back-to-back victories come as little surprise to Amerloque. The vast majority of field and indoor team sports currently played involve moving a ball, or other marker such as a puck, into some sort of goal. The team is focused on moving the marker to the scoring area, whether goalpost, net, or cage. In baseball, however, the team is focused on moving an individual - not an inanimate object but a real live human being - to score. For countries such as Japan and South Korea, which pride themselves on group harmony, baseball (introduced by the American military) is a game which reflects the values of their society. It is a logical extension of their cultures, in which individual wants and needs are sacrificed somewhat for the benefit of the group at large.

Amerloque has attended baseball games in France from time to time. Not only are there French players, but Venezuelans, Cubans, Koreans, Dominicans, Canadians, Panamanians, Japanese, Americans and, of course, Italians. The game is particularly well developed in Italy: apparently American soldiers working in burial details at the cemetery in Anzio, after the battles in 1944, would recruit local youths to help out - and taught them to play baseball on their breaks.

What's missing, of course, from every game played on French soil, is the players' chatter, crowd background noise and organ music. There is no seventh inning stretch, either. Finally, real hot dogs - especially footlong chili dogs - are unfortunately absent as well. Mme Amerloque usually prepares a few hotdogs and some fixins' ahead of time: real buns can be found in Paris if one looks hard enough, but genuine Oscar Mayer franks are unavailable here, to Amerloque's knowledge. The Amerloque family uses a small blue Camping Gaz device to bring water to a boil and cook the wieners and heat the chili on the spot.

No longer does the Parisian-American find Dick Roraback's unforgettable opus 'Crack of a Bat' published in the IHT on opening day of the US baseball season, as it was for many, many years. The New York Times has swallowed the old IHT hook, line, and sinker, and its masthead makes no bones about it ('The Global Edition of the New York Times') - in spite of management's pious bleating to the contrary immediately after the heavy-handed takeover several years ago.

Dick Roraback, who passed away in 1998, was Sports Editor of the International Herald Tribune in Paris from 1957 to 1972. He reportedly penned his poem when seated at the storied Café de la Paix, over near the American Express office on the rue Scribe, near the Palais Garnier which houses the Opéra de Paris.

Dick Roraback

Away on this side of the ocean
When the chestnuts are hinting of green
And the first of the café commandos
Are moving outside for a fine
And the sound of spring beats a bolero
As Paree sheds her coat and her hat
The sound that is missed more than any
Is the sound of the crack of a bat.

There’s an animal kind of feeling
There’s a stirring down at Vincennes Zoo
And the kid down the hall’s getting restless
Taking stairs like a young kangaroo
Now the dandy is walking his poodle
And the concierge sunning her cat
But the heart’s with the Cubs and the Tigers
And the sound of the crack of a bat.

In the park on the corner run schoolboys
With a couple of cartons for props
Kicking goals à la Fontaine or Kopa
While a little guy chikies for cops
“Goal for us,” “No it’s not,” “You’re a liar,”
Then the classical shrieks of a spat
But it’s not like a rhubarb at home plate
Or the sound of the crack of a bat.

Here the stadia thrill to the scrumdowns
And the soccer fans flock to the games
And the chic punt the nags out at Longchamp
Where the women are dames and not dames
But it’s different at Forbes and at Griffith
The homes of the Buc and the Nat
Where the hotdog and peanut share laurels
With the sound of the crack of a bat.

No, a Yank can’t describe to a Frenchman
The rasp of an umpire’s call
The continuing charms of statistics
Changing hist’ry with each strike and ball
Nor the self-conscious jog of the slugger
Rounding third with the tip of his hat
Nor the half-smothered grace of a hook slide
Nor the sound of the crack of a bat.

Now, the golfer is buffing his niblick
And the tennis buff’s tightening his strings
And the fisherman’s flexing his flyrod
Like a thousand and one other springs
Oh, the sports on both sides of the ocean
Have a great deal in common, at that
But the thing that’s not HERE
At this time of the year
Is the sound of the crack of a bat.

Today is opening day in the USA, and readers of these lines can bank on several things this year: after reading 'Crack of a Bat' to a few close American and French friends invited over for the occasion, Amerloque will invite them to watch a game on ESPN America on TV. During the seventh inning stretch, Mme Amerloque will bring out and serve her astoundingly tasty hotdogs. Ice-cold root beer and Dr Pepper will be offered as well, but in all these years Amerloque has never seen a French person drink more than a (very) few polite sips. Yet more testimony to cultural differences !


Text © Copyright 2009 by L'Amerloque
Images © Copyright reserved to copyright holders, including Amerloque

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


The Paris Mayor, Bertrand Delanoe, backed by the increasingly powerful warmist/ecofascist lobby, has unveiled his plan for a new and improved Eiffel Tower in 2012, just in time for the Presidential election.

One wonders if visitors to the City of Light will be impressed if his project comes to fruition.


Text © Copyright 2009 by L'Amerloque

Images © Copyright reserved to copyright holders, including Amerloque

Saturday, March 21, 2009

La Primavera II

It's the first day of Spring today: Saturday, March 21, 2009.

Today, with the running of the 100th Primavera, the annual Milan-San Remo bicycle race, "Official" Spring is here once more. Another Winter has passed.

Four years ago, on the first day of Spring in 2005, Amerloque began this blog to share his experiences, correct exaggerations and misunderstandings, and inform his readers about France and its differences from the USA. Things were going fairly well, blog wise, although pounding out a weekly entry soon came to resemble ‘work’, rather than being the ‘fun’ he expected. Too, Amerloque participated frequently in selected blogs and discussion groups about France which interested him, which took up a lot of time. Yet Amerloque continued ...

However, in the middle of a frigid, rainy night in February, 2008, seated in his living room, Amerloque had trouble breathing. Serious trouble, so serious that Mme Amerloque called the pompiers. It should be noted that when such problems occur, calling the fire department is a well-honed reflex in France. Far better than SOS Médecins, in Amerloque's view. A squad was dispatched to the scene and arrived in seven minutes (so Mme Amerloque attests), ready to administer immediate first aid and take the measure of the situation. The accompanying trained medic decided that an ambulance was required, and the SAMU (Service d’Aide Médicale Urgente) arrived forthwith. The living room was crowded: Mr and Mme Amerloque, one adult child, five burly members of the pompiers (well, OK, the medic was female and far less, er, burly that her teammates), and five members of the SAMU.

The SAMU doctor (in general they are considered to be among the best in France) examined Amerloque and said: “It’s three thirty in the morning, Monsieur. If you remain here like this, you’ll be dead by seven. Off you go, Monsieur !”. The attentive reader will correctly assume that such a statement focused Amerloque’s attention immediately - and irrevocably !

So Amerloque was unceremoniously bundled onto a stretcher and equally as unceremoniously trundled down several flights of stairs in no uncertain manner. He was then quickly gurneyed into the SAMU ambulance parked in the middle of the street, blocking traffic – where he remained for an hour and a half, while he was stabilisé. This is standard French emergency medical procedure, by the way: these SAMU vehicles are wonderfully equipped and designed for treating the patient immediately. Only after the stabilisation phase does the vehicle wend its way with blaring three-toned horn and flashing blue gyrophare to the hospital which offers the most specialized care … and has an empty bed. Not the nearest hospital, necessarily – the one offering the best chances for the patient.

The diagnosis of Amerloque’s illness finally turned out to be - well, not particularly joyful, as the French say. It’s the kind of illness that can be treated, but not cured. M and Mme Amerloque’s lives have been radically changed: what with physiotherapists, daily medications and nebulizer sessions, doctors' visits ... the lot. Bouncing from clinique to maison de repos (rest home), with, fortunately, significant periods at his own home, Amerloque found himself somewhat cut off from the world that he had constructed for himself. Today, walking is difficult, for example; only in June of 2008 was Amerloque able drive a car, as a matter of fact. His visits to the country became few and far between, alas, and are only now resuming with any kind of regularity.

Amerloque's internet access and participation were also substantially affected, alas, becoming sporadic and ephemeral: not too many French medical establishments offer links to internet for their patients ! Not too many even offer facilities as basic as cable TV. Amerloque was exposed for days and weeks on end - far, far too long, to his way of thinking - to the standard French media: TV, radio, newspapers, periodicals. In some venues, the food was excellent - copious four-star !- while in others it was less good: say two- or three-star, but no less copious. Nowhere was it unacceptable or tasteless.

Finding himself in a world totally unknown to him - the French medical system - Amerloque spent an enormous amount of time conversing with those around him: hospital personnel, therapists, other patients (and not all were French). Always with a smile on his face and in his eyes, too, since in a hospital or clinique, no matter where in the world, a patient is fully at the mercy of the staff. Always. Amerloque must confess that playing a role became somewhat wearing at times, especially when le petit personnel, generally non-French, explained gleefully to Amerloque how many supposed brothers and sisters and children they had brought to France to take advantage of the social system and collect unemployment insurance. Since Amerloque was not French, they assumed - quite incorrectly, of course - that Amerloque would be of like mind and was prepared to suck everything he could from the French social system.

Amerloque had a relapse during Thanksgiving week, 2008; he was hospitalized in réanimation ( i.e., in the ICU) for several weeks. He missed participating in his usual Christmas activities in Paris, although one of his children went to many of them and described them to him during visits. Mme Amerloque visited him every day. He can also state that spending Christmas in the hospital is no fun at all ! Fortunately the family was able to smuggle in smoked salmon, oysters, goose with stuffing, and the inevitable buche de Noel, as well as the mandatory Christmas gifts !

Be it said in passing that the French social safety net is indeed well developed. Amerloque's medical expenses - 100% - are taken care of by the state. Since he is on a congé longue maladie , his full salary - yes, 100% - has been and will continue to be paid to him for three years. Naturally Amerloque has been paying his fair share into the system for nigh on forty years, so Amerloque is pleased to see that what goes around, comes around.

Amerloque rarely frequented the web (including blogs about Paris). He did, however, do a lot of reading and thinking during his forced sojourns in various hôpitaux and cliniques. During the past year, Amerloque found himself rubbing his eyes in disbelief many times, but three instances stand out.

The first is M Bertrand Delanoe's re-election to the Paris mayoralty. He is a committed leftwinger and internationalist with ambitions for the Presidency of France. The Delanoe administration has devoted itself to making Paris a venue for the politically correct, almost unlivable for productive businesses, business people and people who think for themselves, while driving out investment and significant taxpayers and speeding the day when Paris will be nothing more than a museum for tourists and bobos.

The second is the great global warming scam. Amazingly, the media has managed to convince the gullible populace in France - and around the world, apparently - that global warming is man made (so-called 'AGW') and that the human race can do something about it, notwithstanding scientists' flawed and dishonest computer models and skewed or bowdlerized data. With the whole AGW scare - and the attendant upcoming 'water shortage' - the politicians' and their fellow travelers' intentions are clear: tax and control. Over in the United Kingdom the concept of the 'envirocrime' is alive and well. Amerloque was flabbergasted to learn that the new water laws voted upon and coming into effect here in France mean that, after filling out the proper form at the local city hall, Amerloque will pay an annual tax on the pipes and barrels that have been used for several centuries to harvest rainwater from the roof of his country house. (Fat chance of any declaration to the Mayor, states Mme Amerloque.)

The third is the nomination and election to the US Presidency of an arrogant, incompetent, inexperienced, fast-tracked-affirmative-action, smooth talking nostrum salesman from Chicago's South Side and its Cesspool Politics. Did America voters even glance at the man's suicidal program, almost guaranteed if completely implemented to reduce the status of the USA to that of the Third World ? Do Americans understand just how much they stand to lose ? In his own mind Amerloque called the man 'Chrysologus' from the very beginning and thought him a man of many words but very little substance; his only asset during the campaign, after all, was that he wasn't George Bush. Amerloque remembers that old saying "Salute the office, not the man" and hopes that the wheel will turn - as rapidly as possible.

Nothing he has seen since January 20th has caused Amerloque to change his mind. Alas, it even looks like the realities of the upcoming catastrophe will be far worse than feared, what with the man's about-faces and blatant backtracking, and politics-as-usual. As Shakespeare would have it:

"...the spring, the summer,
The chilling autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries; and the mazed world
By their increase, now knows not which is which ...”

For readers of an even more classical bent, Plutarch was clear enough, too:

The real destroyer of the liberties of any people is he who spreads among them bounties, donations, and largesses."


Text © Copyright 2009 by L'Amerloque
Images © Copyright reserved to copyright holders, including Amerloque

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Return II

After very, very serious health problems, Amerloque is on his way back, but at a very reduced pace …

Not having kept up with anything on the internet (since there wasn’t any), Amerloque will be speaking in the near future to what he found in the traditional press and on TV, and plans a gradual return online ...

Amerloque is back … (smile)


Monday, December 10, 2007


France is nominally a Christian country. Although separation of Church and State is enshrined both in French law and in daily practice, some national holidays – as well as school vacations - are based on the traditional Roman Catholic Church calendar: for example, Easter Monday, Whitmonday (lundi de Pentecôte), the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin (le 15 aout - Assomption), and All Saints' Day (Toussaint) spring immediately to mind.

Known in French as les fêtes de fin d'année, the holiday season at the end of the year encompasses both Christmas and New Year's and can be considered to extend to Epiphany on January 6th (yes, the Twelve Days of Christmas !). Upon arrival, the American expatriate here is surprised – even dismayed, sometimes dumbfounded - to find that some facets of the traditional American Christmas and New Year's are simply not reproduced here. The French celebrate in other ways and, of course, over the years a winnowing process takes place: just what will the expatriate keep for her/himself from the American festivities, and which French holiday traditions might s/he adopt ?

The short answer to the first question is that one preserves the holiday traditions that one is comfortable with. Frequently some modification takes place, due to local circumstances.

Take caroling, for example: the French are not prone to gathering in groups and moving from house to house while lustily belting out "We wish you a Merry Christmas !", "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen !" … or even Petit Papa Noel. On the weekends before Christmas, homesick Americans can find Carol services and gatherings at American churches (American Cathedral and American Church of Paris) and well as at least one English house of worship (Saint George's Anglican). There are also Christmas arts, crafts and bake sales at these institutions – and others, including the American Wives of Europeans Annual Holiday Bazaar - during the weeks preceding Christmas. For several years now the Choral Society at American Cathedral has put on a wonderful Handel's Messiah Singalong at the beginning of December. Clearly Americans looking for traditional Christmas activities can find them relatively easily and quickly, if they so desire. One need not remain isolated.

Sending Christmas cards to all and sundry is also a tradition unknown here. One will not find a huge selection in the shops, no matter how hard one tries. However, the French do traditionally send greeting cards (Bonne Année or Meilleurs Voeux only) during the month of January. By the way, here it is considered unlucky - as well as excruciatingly bad form - to wish someone a "Happy New Year" before the New Year has, in fact, rung in. However, one can extend one's New Year's greetings throughout the entire month of January – as long as they arrive before January 31st, that's OK. The French certainly know how to take the stress out of such things. In Amerloque's experience, American expats are quick to seize the advantages of the French system, even going so far as to send French New Year's cards back to the family in the States, much to the receiving family's disapproval.

Long term expat Americans en mal du pays equip themselves expeditiously with recipes for Christmas cookies (and appropriate traditional cookie cutters !), wassail and eggnog, all of which are absent from the French tradition … and the shops.

Ah, the shops, and the shopping ...

There is no Thanksgiving here, so there is no kickoff day to open the Christmas shopping season, such as Black Friday in the USA. Sometime in November, generally after Toussaint but before Armistice Day (le 11 novembre, a national holiday), department stores and shops begin unpacking, installing and unveiling their Christmas decorations and products. The increased commercialization of Christmas seen in America, the United Kingdom and other Western countries over the past few decades has been mirrored here. Hence the media is filled with items about best-selling gifts (le palmarès des ventes), dangerous toys (les produits non-conformes), addresses of the "best" places to shop, and other information designed to separate the consumer from her/his euros without too much pain. Shopping is very much an individual affair, and an expat can do in France exactly what he or she would do in the USA.

As in America, along with the shopping come the open-air Christmas decorations, of which there are many to be seen and appreciated, from simple Christmas trees (les sapins de Noel), with artificial snow and presents, to city-sponsored outdoor Christmas lights on lampposts and buildings. Some of the designs and colors are uniquely, inimitably French; in Paris the lights on the Champs-Elysées are always worth a visit. Nativity Scenes (les creches) and the associated figurines (les santons) are usually fairly elaborate. It's always enjoyable to view the decorations at the major Parisian department stores ... just like in New York, Chicago or LA !

Now, the second question: which French holiday traditions might an American expat adopt ?

In the USA, Thanksgiving is a time when families come together, while, in France, Christmas is that time. Hence the Christmas Eve dinner (le reveillon de Noel) is a special moment when all the members of the family gather 'round the table – perhaps after having attended a Midnight Mass or other service – to feast on traditional French dishes, ending up with the Yule log cake (la bûche de Noël). After opening the gifts found under the tree on Christmas morning, the family shares the Christmas Day luncheon / dinner, which nowadays usually includes turkey. New Year's, on the other hand, is an occasion to make merry with one's friends. New Year's Eve festivities (le reveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre) are generally devoted to eating, drinking and partying well into the morning hours. Many restaurants have special menus for both the Christmas and New Year's reveillons and it is not unusual for childless French couples (or emptynesters !) to simply dress to the hilt and go out for a great meal and celebration at a nice establishment – sometimes at considerable expense.

Given the vast variety and top quality of French foods, the American expat rapidly discovers - depending on the region and the weather - that traditional fare such as smoked salmon, caviar and foie gras can be amply complemented by simple boudin (blood sausage) or boudin blanc (white pudding), escargots (snails) and specialties such as cornues, springerle, Winachtsbredele and fougasse (one of the thirteen traditional Provençal desserts).

In Amerloque's experience, the expat adopts the partying and the food with nary a qualm – and why not ?

The cornucopia of French foods is huge and takes more than one lifetime to discover. A French food tradition worthy of note – and adoption if one wants to be part of French life forever - is the inordinate attention paid to the price of the truffle (la truffe), an essential ingredient in many a holiday dish. Weeks before Christmas, the media begins speculating on the quality of the truffle in the current year … Was there enough rain ? Was it not too dry this year - almost droughtlike – for a bumper crop ? Are there fewer truffes this season, or will it be a bounty year ? The focus then shifts to the local farmer and his truffle-sniffing animal, traditionally a pig. More and more dogs are being trained as truffle hounds, and the media is always ready to run a report on a local rustic (usually down Sarlat way) who has switched from pig to canine. Then come the inevitable reports about "foreign" truffles, from China, Italy or an unnamed "Eastern European" country, and their perceived – or real - lack of quality. The culmination of the truffle saga, every year, is inevitably the first day of the truffle market in the Perigord at the beginning of December: a secretive business run on words and handshakes among those in the know, virtually closed to outsiders – but one which the media penetrate so that the price per kilo can be triumphantly announced to the waiting world. Knowing the (usually astronomical) price of the bit of truffle one is eating adds a decided fillip to the Christmas boudin and paté.

Not yet a nationwide tradition – but rapidly becoming one – is the Christmas Market. Based on the German Christkindlmarkt with its Saint Nicolas, glühwein, gingerbreads, wooden market stalls, Black Forest-like Christmas decorations and inimitable folksy atmosphere, the marché de Noel is particularly well developed in Alsace and Lorraine, in the east of France – for obvious historical reasons. The attentive marketgoer can find glassblown ornaments, holiday handcrafts (including puppets and nutcrackers and cuckoo clocks), jewelry and, naturally, a staggering assortment of cookies, cakes, muffins, strudels, nuts, crepes, chocolates and beverages. In the past decade or so, millions of tourists have been drawn to Alsace to visit the numerous Christmas Markets in season; in recent years, municipalities and organizations throughout the France have jumped on the Christkindlmarkt bandwagon. Instead of lasting weeks, though, local markets might last an afternoon, a day or a weekend. They vary widely in quality and commercialism and, while most cannot but weakly rival the "real" markets in Eastern France and Germany, they offer a uniquely French and European experience for American expats who wish to deviate slightly from the beaten track. Sometimes one will even find that any profits from a city-organized marché de Noel are used to help the less fortunate: solidarity in action.

Finally, the French economy takes a significant breather during the Christmas season. Moreover, school holidays usually begin on the weekend before Christmas and generally end several working days after New Year's. In America, members of a given family might arrange to "be home for Christmas" for a few days. Here, with five weeks paid vacation the general rule, many families arrange things so that members can take the entire Christmas week off together, perhaps on a skiing holiday, ... or simply at the country house (la résidence secondaire). Amerloque, among other expats, has wholeheartedly adopted this French tradition.

Of course, each American expat has her own story, his way of celebrating Christmas, depending on factors such as job, current financial circumstances, family ties, location in France, interest in Christmas and time spent in both the USA and France. More or less emphasis is placed on American and French traditions, local and national - choices are much more personal and relevant, when two cultures coalesce in celebration. Amerloque has found that binational families try to combine the best of both worlds and develop unique traditions, so that each Christmas past - and each holiday season - can be remembered with happiness as each member grows older.

Joyeux Noël ! Merry Christmas !


This is an updated repost of Amerloque's 2005 Christmas entry.
He is currently overwhelmed.
Text © Copyright 2005/2007 by L'Amerloque
Images © Copyright reserved to copyright holders, including Amerloque

Monday, November 12, 2007


As every year, November 11 is the commemoration of the Armistice which put an end to World War I, that most terrible of conflicts. Not too much appeared in the French media in June and July of this year, which was the 90th anniversary of the arrival of American troops in France to fight at the side of the French to save civilization. A genuine oversight, or perhaps a reaction against the media presence of Sarko l'Américain ?

Of course before the arrival in France of General "Black Jack" Pershing and the vanguard of his army at Boulogne-sur-Mer on June 13, 1917 (Lafayette, nous voila !) there were Americans in France fighting and dying at the side of French troops and civilians. Probably the first American organization to help the French was the American Field Service, a group dedicated to supplying ambulances and other humanitarian vehicles. Originally created as an ambulance arm for the American Hospital of Paris, the AFS severed its connection with the hospital to become a volunteer organization providing ambulance and transport services to the Allied forces. Over the duration, the American Field Service had more than eight hundred volunteer ambulance drivers and a number of transport sections. It actively recruited its drivers from the campuses of American colleges and universities, with individual ambulance units made up exclusively of drivers from particular universities. American Ambulance vehicles were invariably in the front lines of the fighting, picking up the wounded and taking them back to the field hospitals in the rear. There were 151 drivers with the AFS who were killed - and a number of others earned the Croix de Guerre and the Legion d'Honneur for their selfless actions.

Another civilian organization coming to the aid of French troops was Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps, a smaller unit. The Corps was created through the merger of the Harjes Formation of the American Red Cross and the American Volunteer Motor Ambulance Corps organized in 1914 by Richard Norton, son of Harvard's Charles Eliot Norton. Harjes was A. Herman Harjes, a French banker. (Norton-Harjes reported no fatalities among its drivers). Some alumni of the various ambulancier organizations in France were soon to become famous individuals: Louis Bromfield, Malcolm Cowley, Harry Crosby, E. E. Cummings, John Dos Passos, Dashiell Hammett and Robert W. Service spring to mind. It should be noted that Ernest Hemingway was an American Red Cross volunteer in Italy, not in France.

There were also American volunteers in French fighting units, including the French Foreign Legion. One very special group of American fighters has come to signify bravery, commitment, and gallantry. When pronounced, its name alone is enough to make American expatriates in France stand a bit straighter - all the while asking themselves whether they, too, would have been able to demonstrate such courage and mettle when faced with such a war.

The Lafayette Escadrille (L'Escadrille Lafayette) was the name of this group of men, formed in April, 1916. The original name, which prompted German diplomatic protests, was L'Escadrille Américaine. The members of the Escadrille were fighter aircraft pilots, trained and equipped by the French to fly against the Germans, including their feared pilots Max Immelmann, Oswald Boelcke, Ernst Udet, and the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen (known in Germany as Der Rote Kampfflieger, i.e., the red fighter pilot). In 1917, the USA entered the war, and the Lafayette Escadrille was eventually absorbed in February, 1918, into the U.S. forces as the 103rd Pursuit Squadron. Many Americans flew with other French units; in general, these volunteers were called the Lafayette Flying Corps.

When Amerloque was growing up in the early 1950s, the vast majority of stories and anecdotes dealing with World War II had yet to be written. Certainly their wartime experiences were fresh in the minds of those who had been there, in the European and Pacific theaters of operations, but only major stories from the period 1939 through 1945 had really been treated in any depth by the media. Memoirs had yet to be written; legends had yet to be spun. One of the most famous films about World War II, From Here to Eternity, was only made in 1953, while the film The Caine Mutiny, from the eponymous 1951 novel, made it to the Hollywood screen in 1954. Furthermore, television was but a nascent medium; only major American cities, such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, had more than two or three TV channels. The weekly warzone sitcom had yet to become popular. What war literature, legends and anecdotes for young boys that did exist dealt primarily with World War I, not World War II.

Thus it was that Amerloque grew up conversant with stories about Sergeant York, the Argonne Forest, the Saint-Mihiel salient, Belleau Wood … and the Lafayette Escadrille, which to Amerloque's way of thinking has always perfectly symbolized one facet of the special relationship that links France and the United States.

Several films have been made about American Lafayette Escadrille pilots in World War I. The earliest was Wings, a silent opus made in 1927 by the legendary director William Wellman. In point of fact, it was the very first film to win an Academy Award ("Oscar") for Best Picture. Until the 1960s, Amerloque had never seen it, but had only heard about it. An opportunity to see this mythical opus finally presented itself while he was attending a University on the eastern side of San Francisco Bay. On October 25, 1965, Amerloque unhesitatingly took an "F" bus across the Bay Bridge to attend a special event at the San Francisco Film Festival: the American Director Interview, which was basically a panel discussion followed by a screening of a feature film. Wings was the film scheduled that day. To Amerloque's vast astonishment, the auditorium was virtually empty; there couldn't have been more than ten or twelve people in attendance. When the time came for questions from the audience, such as it was, Amerloque didn't hesitate one minute ! Ever gracious, William Wellman - who had himself served in the Lafayette Escadrille –delivered a lengthy, detailed answer to Amerloque's query about "what it was really like being in an aircraft in France back then, during the war". A question which was only tangential to the topic of filmmaking !

Over three decades later, William Wellman made another film about his beloved group of flyers: his black-and-white Lafayette Escadrille, starring Tab Hunter - with Clint Eastwood in a minor role - came out in 1958. Although the film is ridden with clichés, there are some marvelous shots from the air. Of interest to American expats, too, is the fact that the film opens and closes with views of the Memorial to the Lafayette Escadrille, located in Marnes-la-Coquette just outside Paris, where every year on November 11th American and French organizations and individuals lay wreaths to commemorate the ultimate sacrifices made. Along with many other pilots, Raoul Lufbery, a commander of the Escadrille, is buried there, in the crypt under the Memorial itself, which is a triumphal arch inscribed with the names of the sixty-eight members of the Lafayette Escadrille and the Lafayette Flying Corps who were killed during World War I.

More recently, a third film based on the Escadrille came out: Flyboys. Amerloque must confess that he was quite prepared not to like it – from all the reviews he had read, it sounded as though it were a simple Hollywoodian hagiographic effort destined to glorify the American heroes in the air at the expense of the poor benighted French infantry on the ground. Yet when Amerloque fired up the DVD in the original American version, he was quite pleasantly surprised. The producer and director make no bones about it: the film is fiction. They state that the characters were inspired by the American Flying Corps and the Lafayette Escadrille. The scenario is straightforward and hews to the generally accepted histories and memoirs of American pilots participating in the War To End All Wars. An admirable inclusion is the role of Eugene Skinner, based on real life Eugene Bullard, the "Black Swallow of Death”, who was the first African-American military pilot. There are some clichés, of course; there always seem to be, in films about France made by foreigners. A couple of technical glitches crept into the film concerning the German aircraft, most notably the portrayal of an entire German jagdstaffel of Fokker triplanes as being painted red ! A full squadron of Red Barons is hardly designed to increase that suspension of disbelief so necessary when watching a historical opus ! However, the aerial combat scenes are excellently filmed and it is quite difficult to determine how many of them use the twenty-five or so aircraft constructed by the producers and how many rely exclusively on digital imaging technology. By the way, Amerloque was particularly impressed by the performance of New Zealander Martin Henderson, who played the role of squadron commander, loosely based on the real-life Lufbery. Henderson's performance as Darcy in Bollywood's Bride and Prejudice, a remake of the Jane Austen story, was one highlight of the film. It is reassuring to see that Henderson has apparently chosen at least two of his roles carefully - and is able to deliver credible interpretations on screen. One could do worse than to see Flyboys, if one is interested in World War I and what a handful of Americans did in France.

Every November 11th Amerloque thinks about how American pilots left hearth and home to join the Lafayette Escadrille in France. It's surprising how many expats Amerloque runs into in Paris have never even heard of it.


Text © Copyright 2007 by L'Amerloque
Images © Copyright reserved to copyright holders, including Amerloque

Monday, October 29, 2007


October is undoubtedly Amerloque's favorite month of the year. It contains quite a few milestones, and among them are family anniversaries, birthdays - and a traditional daylong family endeavor, one which is dear to Amerloque.

Twice a year – in the spring and in the autumn – the Amerloque family reserves an entire day for the making of traditional Eastern European sausage. Certainly one could go to almost any boucherie or charcuterie and purchase splendid French sausages, but these sausages are a very special kind. They are called kielbasa: traditional Eastern European sausages from Poland, Lithuania, Bielorussia and the Ukraine.

Every spring and every autumn during Amerloque's childhood, his Grandma would prepare her kitchen for sausage making. From under the sink she would pull out her old newspaper-wrapped meat grinder, the one that she had bought in 1917, just after her marriage. She would affix it firmly to a corner of the scarred wooden worktable in her kitchen. She would then produce cutting boards of various sizes, all reserved for the ceremony of sausagemaking, and place them carefully on the work surface. The appropriate cutlery was taken from a special drawer. Grandma's brother - that is, Amerloque's great uncle, a blacksmith in the old country before he came to the USA in the late 1920s - would handle the various knife- and blade-sharpening chores. When all the equipment was to her satisfaction, Grandma would remove serious quantities of fresh meat from the refrigerator and the cooling boxes behind her house: pounds and pounds of pork as well as bits of beef and veal.

After cutting the meat into pieces and adding various seasonings, including onions, Grandma would - as she always did - delegate young Amerloque to turn the handle on the sausage machine, while she or her brother fed the cut meats into the top of the grinder. Of course, it seemed a chore and rapidly became boring after the first hour or so. Why so long? Two passages of the meat through the machine were required: the first to grind the cut meat and the second to stuff the well-washed sausage casings with the seasoned meat, after the appropriate sausage horn had been attached to the grinder. At the end of the day, the sixty or so pounds of finished sausage, in links ranging from one to three feet, were hung for a couple of days to dry out in an old cupboard converted by her brother. As Amerloque grew older, he began to appreciate Grandma's sausagemaking sessions more and more, as she spoke nostalgically and volubly in her native language of the past and of the family both in the old country and her country of adoption. Of course, eating the sausage which had just been made that very day was always a special treat, well worth the hours of handle turning, while at Thanksgivings and Christmases the autumn sausage was always a big hit with family and guests.

When Amerloque had children, he decided to uphold the tradition passed down by his grandmother. Certainly it would have been easy enough back at the beginning of the 1980s to purchase an electric grinder, so as to save valuable time and to produce impressive quantities of kielbasa. Yet both Mme Amerloque and Amerloque, not for the first time, were immediately of one mind: a traditional hand grinder would be purchased and used, not a modern, efficient, electric machine. The point of the entire activity wasn't solely to make sausages; it was also to spend quality time together with other family members - talking, laughing, communicating - while one of the children turned the handle and the other fed meats into the top of the machine and tied off the casing ends. With that in mind, Mr. and Mrs. Amerloque marched down to the Samaritaine department store (closed down some time ago) on the Right Bank and purchased the best sausage machine they could find: a Spong, which has been in regular use down to today.

As the years went by, making sausages from scratch in March and October became an Amerloque family activity, one eagerly looked forward to and planned for by all. Many have been the problems solved, the decisions taken, the experiences shared, and the laughs echoed, around the sausage machine. This October's production is particularly tasty; Amerloque's children came back from university to cut meats, turn handles - and celebrate the family. Where travel is concerned, Amerloque has always felt that the voyage is as important as the destination itself, and so it is in the realm of sausage making. The sausage for Thanksgiving and Christmas is ready.

One peculiarly American event taking place in the autumn– one which Amerloque never really replaced by any other sports entertainment in his French expatriate life - is the Major League Baseball World Series. In spite of its somewhat pretentious name, of course, the best of seven series always pits one North American team against another, to the delight of those Americans and Canadians who have patiently followed the season since its beginnings in April. October, too , has always been the month of
US style football (not soccer !), with both professional and college seasons reaching their cruising speeds, after an exciting month of September during which each team harbored dreams of postseason Bowls (Rose, Cotton, Orange ! ) and fine-tuned their various offenses and defenses. Of course, there was no BCS (Bowl Championship Series) when Amerloque came to France. Moreover, state universities and colleges recruited players almost exclusively from their own states and population basins, rather than shopping for the best players throughout the country, as is done nowadays. Out West, for example, there were indeed serious differences in the levels of USC, Cal and UCLA compared to teams such as Boise State, Arizona State, and San Jose State. The latter three weren't even deemed fit to tread the football fields of the first three. When the Midwest champion from the Big 10 met the PAC 8 (now PAC 10) laureate in the storied Rose Bowl on January 1st, it was more than a simple meeting of teams: it was an encounter between two football philosophies, two ways of seeing the world, two discrete parts of the United States.

Before the 1990s, it was impossible here in France to watch a baseball game or football game in anything like real time unless one lived near the Belgian or German borders, where the Armed Forces Network (also called the AFRTS) TV broadcasts could be picked up, if one were lucky. Radio broadcasts, however, were another story entirely: after sundown, one could turn on a short wave radio (SW), or a decent medium wave set (MW), and pick up US armed services programs from the occupying forces beyond the Rhine. Frequently the programs from the military bases were static ridden, choppy, and fading in and out – but they were there. That was the most important thing for Amerloque.

Amerloque remembers staying up quite late one blustery October evening to listen to a crucial World Series game, he and a few other expats polishing off a hearty meal of filets d'hareng, filet mignon de porc, pommes de terre and cheese, all washed down with a bottle of allegedly down-market Préfontaine table wine. Few expats are really aware of the urban legend (?) that the wine in the Préfontaine bottles was not necessarily undrinkable plonk, but was generally a bordeaux déclassé ! For the French, by the way, filet mignon in the vast majority of cases refers to pork and not to a tender but tasteless cut of beef. One most assuredly wouldn't enter a French butcher shop - even today - and expect to receive beef if one requested a filet mignon ! One can be grateful for some limits to Americanization and globalization.

With the advent of satellite and cable TV in the latter part of the 1990s it became easier to watch US football and baseball. The French subscription channel Canal+ introduced football to France on a regular weekly basis, and even went as far as to show summaries of World Series games. In the past two or three years, the French Sports+ channel – available on cable – has been showing one NFL and one NCAA game per week in season, as well as a selection of bowl games at the beginning of January: one per week through the end of February, as a matter of fact. Sport+ broadcasts are not live: they are simple two-hour resumés, using French reporters who generally have more enthusiasm than knowledge. Alas, Sports+ has one big drawback: it is unable to keep to its posted programming times. A broadcast set for 22h00 might start at 21h30 – or 22h25 – or not at all ! This lack of reliability is hardly a manner of building customer loyalty, but it is guaranteed to engender deep frustration chez les téléspectateurs américains expatriés. One tremendously positive aspect, though, is that there is virtually no advertising in the two-hour programs. Each game is broadcast as a continuous thread from the opening kickoff to the final whistle, with only a quick break between quarters and at halftimes.

A major event this autumn in France is the arrival of a brand new TV station called NASN, which is short for North American Sports Network. It is available through many cable and satellite providers. Amerloque first heard about this station in September, when his cable provider offered a three-week trial period, at the conclusion of which he signed up immediately. This September and October Amerloque was able to watch all the American League and National League playoffs and all the World Series games – in their entirety ! For the final World Series game, he invited a couple of other expats over … for a 2 a.m. dinner of filets d'hareng, filet mignon de porc, pommes de terre and a variety of cheeses. Préfontaine having gone to that Brand Graveyard in the Sky, it was replaced by a very nice 2002 Côte de Nuits-Villages.

Traditional French life continues to fade into memory. This October has seen the disappearance of many courts (tribunaux d'instance) and commercial courts (tribunaux de commerce) throughout France, under a reorganization scheme being put into effect by the Minister of Justice, Rachida Dati. The plan calls for more than 10% of the courts to be merged or simply eliminated. One is treated on the TV evening news to the rare spectacle of lawyers in their formal robes demonstrating in the streets and in the courthouses - and sometimes being earnestly manhandled by the French riot police, as the Minister of proceeds on her tour of France, making announcements as she goes.

In recent years, many (thousands) of municipalities in France have lost their a) train stations (no more train services, period !) , b) post offices, c) schools and d) tax offices. City and town centers are being gutted, as local and national services pull out and shops close for good. Yet successive administrations in Paris – both on the left and right - have promised that government would be "closer to the people" and "more modern".

Will traditional French life – with all its strengths and weaknesses - have to be destroyed in order to be saved ? Or will only one of the best parts of French life – the proximity and responsiveness of its public services - be bowdlerized, expurgated, or downright eliminated so as to reach some ignorant European bureaucrat's idea of the lowest common denominator ?


Text © Copyright 2007 by L'Amerloque
Images © Copyright reserved to copyright holders, including Amerloque