Monday, November 27, 2006


Frequently Advent begins on the Sunday immediately following Thanksgiving. This year there are ten days between Thanksgiving (November 23rd) and the first Sunday in Advent (December 3rd), the traditional beginning to the four-week runup to Christmas.

The end of the Amerloque family's Thanksgiving weekend usually means locating the boxes and crates of Christmas decorations, feverishly unpacking them, and putting various treasured items of Christmas cheer on display: wreaths: garlands, elves, reindeer. With a ten-day interlude until Advent ths year, there is far less hustle and bustle. Turkey leftovers usually figure prominently in the weekend table fare, as unpacking the boxes with a semblance of order is fiendishly hard work. There was a change this time around; though, given the leisurely pace. Last year the family had settled on a jambon de Prague to accompany the traditional turkey on The Day, given the supposed looming risks of avian flu. The ham turned out so well and was such a hit with everyone that it was decided this year to cook and serve a Prague ham for Sunday lunch to close out the Thanksgiving weekend. It was excellent, with a nice Burgundy (Cote de Nuits-Villages 2002) to accompany it.

The meal was followed, in the very late afternoon, by the first eggnog of the 2006 Christmas season.

One hears frequently that "l'eggnog est Anglo-Saxon - il n'y en a pas en France". Amerloque thought for a long, long time that eggnog was utterly unknown in France, until one day, when browsing in a somewhat run-down bookstore in a provincial French spa town, he came across a volume which now occupies pride of place in Amerloque's library. It's the Petite Encyclopédie du Restaurateur originally penned by one P. Dagouret in 1900. It is a fascinating compendium of information; collected from a wide variety of sources, providing the names and recipes of many dishes native to France - and from selected countries throughout the world. Just the names of the soupes are enough to make one's head spin: a selection from the letter "B" is typical of the author's thoroughness: Bagration, Balvais, Balzac, Batwinia, Bergère, Bière, Bisque(s), Bloum, Bohémienne, Bonne femme, Bortsch, Botzaris, Bouchère, Bouquetière, Brésilien, Britania, Brunoise,and Buséga. There are even recipes for bear (Cuissot Cumberland, François-Joseph, Grand Veneur and Venaison) and gazelle (marinée et piquée), if one is so inclined in this Year of Grace 2006.

On page 231 the list of "Nogs" begins. There are five in all , including the "French Egg Nog" ! Proof positive that "Egg Nog" was known in France a good one hundred years ago !

Needless to say, down through the years Amerloque has tried all the nogs given so willingly by Monsieur Dagouret . The "French Egg Nog" is actually not bad at all - if the eggs are freshly-laid. Given that the title of the recipe is in English, of course, it would be a rash commentator indeed who would assert that the eggnog is firmly rooted in French tradition: if it were, wouldn't its name be in French ?

If one is searching for a suitable beverage to accompany one's forthcoming Christmas meals, one can do far, far worse nowadays than settling for a good Australian wine. The varieties and vintages currently available are as good as any coming from any of the other so-called "New World producers", in Amerloque's view: California, Chile, and South Africa spring to mind. Apparently one hundred years ago, however, Australian wine was not very good, according to Monsieur Dagouret, who devotes a slew of pages to French wines and digresses but summarily into Austro-Hungarian, Mexican, Italian and Spanish wines. His comment about wines from down under is edifying:


Supplies a large quantity of very mediocre wines, but which have been christened with pretentious names such as: Burgondy or Burgoyne for Bourgogne, Claret for Clairet de Bordeaux, Hock for the wines of the Rhine, etc.

It is a good idea to beware of these wines and to refuse them mercilessly when dishonest or ignorant shopkeepers try to pawn them off in place of the genuine product."

One wonders indeed about the Australian wines available to Monsieur Dagouret in Paris in 1900 – perhaps at the Exposition Universelle ?

The Christmas season in Paris – and throughout France - is marvelous: Amerloque wrote about it at length last year, but he didn't address the issue of étrennes. In Amerloque's neighborhood, the week to come is the time when the doorbell rings in the evening (before dinner, of course !) … one opens the door to find a postperson, a fireman, or simply one's concierge, passing smilingly by to pick up his or her étrennes, that is, end-of-the-year gratuity. The postmen and postwomen, as well as the fireman, are usually selling calendars. They purchase these wholesale with their own money and are allowed by law to pocket the sums collected in exchange for the calendars. It a legal and honorable French tradition: one that the expatriate would do well to honor, in Amerloque's view.

If one doesn't want to give money for some reason, one is in good company, indeed: in 1847, did not Eugène Labiche come out with a one-act vaudeville play called L'Art de ne pas donner d'étrennes ?

The Amerloque family always dispenses étrennes, since the sale of calendars helps the sellers and the sellers' families, given the relative pittances they earn. It is also an annual gesture of appreciation to people working for the society – sometimes at quite a bit of personal risk, in the case of firemen - whom the Amerloque family sees every day. It should be noted, too, that the étrennes are generally considered to be part and parcel of a concierge's salary. A concièrge is not a gardien, by the way, and the terms should never be used interchangeably, since the work contracts, rights and duties are most definitely not the same. A genuine concierge expects a sum approximately equivalent to 10% of one's monthly rent. If one makes heavy use of one's concierge, one should give considerably more, especially if one requests the concierge to walk the dog, or water the flowers. or run errands to the pharmacie, or open the apartment and whip up a quick gouter when the kids come back from school on a drizzly afternoon.

There is some question as to whether or nor the éboueurs (trash collectors) are legally entitled to solicit étrennes. A prefectoral decree in 1936 apparently prohibits municipal employees from collecting étrennes. However, some case law has allegedly stated – if the newspapers are to be believed - that if the city has subcontracted out its trash collection to a private company, then those working for the private firm can collect étrennes. Certainly the system is subject to abuse: the homeowner should be careful when it comes to éboueurs, who should be able to present valid ID on request, even though they may be wearing a uniform.

"Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat !" Amerloque located and unpacked his collection of Christmas CDs (several hundred !) after the eggnog and jambon de Prague. He is now looking forward to weeks of traditional carols and classical music. Alvin and the Chipmunks (Christmas Don't Be Late), although quite memorable, are certainly not for him.

Now to the business of unpacking the other Christmas boxes and visitng the various upcoming American holiday activities in Paris ! A bientôt !


Text © Copyright 2006 by L'Amerloque
Images © Copyright 2006 by L'Amerloque

Monday, November 13, 2006


In a Road to Damascus moment some years ago, Amerloque realized that he had become an expatriate, forever. This is to his liking – although it certainly may not be every Parisian-American's cup of tea.

The very essence of expatriation, naturally, is planting roots in one's adopted country, building bridges to people and institutions, accepting the surrounding culture, learning, experiencing, living. Property ownership is one surefire way to learn the ropes: working, marrying a French spouse and having children are others, each with its own fascinating web of arcana, pitfalls and rewards.

Nowadays there seems to be a least one trade show for every imaginable product and service – and even expatriates apparently have one ! Amerloque was reminded of this recently when he received a flyer inviting him "to register" to attend an "expatriate show" called the "Welcome to France Fair", organized by a website aimed at expatriates. The event was held at the Carrousel du Louvre on an October Sunday. Amerloque remembers when expatriation meant packing up one's treasured belongings in a figurative or literal "old kit bag" and hopping an airplane – or even a cargo ship – to a new country. Now one apparently can go to a day-long affair and be allegedly spared many of the vicissitudes, both agreeable and distasteful, inherent to establishing oneself sustainably in a new venue. One might be tempted to wonder, just a bit, about the real benefits of such "progress", since one learns by experience, which only very rarely can be short-circuited in one day.

On that Sunday, however, Amerloque the Parisian Expatriate was out at his Normandy farm, joyfully and carefully harvesting the last apples of the season. There are basically two kinds of Normandy apples: pommes à cidre, for making the delicious Norman cider renowned throughout the world, and pommes à couteau, for cooking (pommes à cuire) and/or eating. Many years ago Amerloque planted young apple trees of varieties traditional to Normandy, apples maturing at various times from August to November. He planted only pommes à couteau, preferring to leave cidermaking to others more enthusiastic and better equipped, such as local farmers. Every year around Hallow'een time Amerloque completes his recolte, carefully gathering and sorting the apples, weeding out the bad ones and shining up the good ones.

How evocative the varietal names are, echoing Normandy and the French douceur de vivre that Amerloque appreciates. Amerloque particularly likes - and recommends to those thinking of planting a few trees - the claque-pépin, the court pendu gris, the calville rouge tardif, and the marvellous calville rouge coeur de bœuf. Not to be overlooked by any means are the benedictin de Jumièges, the rambour d'hiver, the pigeonnet de Jérusalem and the drap d'or chailleux. These are all real apples, with genuine taste and consistency: a far cry from the industrial, insipid "Granny Smiths" and "Goldens" available in super- and hypermarkets. Certainly the industrial apples look better, to attract the gullible consumer …but they cannot hold a candle to heirloom fruit when it comes to taste.

Using these Normandy apples, from his own farm, in carefully prepared Thanksgiving and Christmas dishes is an immense pleasure in Amerloque's life, one that he would not willingly forego.

November is a time when American expatriates in Paris remember those who fell in that War To End All Wars, la Der des Der … World War I, from 1914 to 1918. It is a time, too, when Americans prepare for Thanksgiving, that most American of holidays along with the Fourth of July. It is also a time when Christmas events for the American community in Paris are being scheduled. Each American expat has her own story, his fashion of celebrating Christmas: 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. American traditions are alive and well in Paris (click here for Amerloque's list): every year Amerloque tries to attend as many of these as possible, since both sorts of "Americans in Paris" attend and there are always new faces.

In Amerloque's view, there are indeed two kinds of "Americans in Paris": the permanent Parisian-Americans, and the transient Parisian-Americans. (Note that SuperFrenchie, a French expat in Washington D.C., recently invented the appellation "Parisian-American".)

In the former case (the permanent Parisian-Americans), one can include those persons who have lived here a number of years and who have integrated themselves successfully into French life. These individuals have the proper papers (residence and work) and many of the characteristics of a stable and rewarding expatriate life: a local career, a spouse/companion who is a French national, natural or adopted children in local public or private schools, local home ownership, local payment of income taxes, overall acceptance of local customs and traditions, and near or complete fluency in the French language. Almost all permanent Parisian-Americans have burned a certain number of bridges: they have chosen to make their lives here, and, in some cases, even taken French nationality. Moreover, they have adopted and embraced the normality of the French society around them. These are the ones who organize the annual events for the American community.

These Americans are both in and of Paris.

An American reading this might immediately ask: "Hey, Amerloque, what does 'a number of years' mean ?" Amerloque would answer: "Perhaps eight to ten, at a bare minimum"; he would then hasten to add that the time spent over here is not necessarily a cut-and-dried pointer to permanent Parisian-Americanism, since this category obviously would include an American woman who married a Frenchman in the USA, say, and accompanied him to France. This is where a significant "bridgeburning" quotient comes to the fore !

In Amerloque's opinion, Americans in Paris who do not fit the definition of permanent Parisian-Americans fall into the other category, i.e., the transient Parisian-Americans. This would include, for example, students studying in Paris for one or several years (whether at the Cours de Civilisation at the Sorbonne, a degree program in one or another French university or the American University of Paris; researchers finishing up their Masters or PhDs at a French educational or government institution; instructors and professors and executives who are taking some sort of sabbatical in Paris; individuals whose companies have assigned them to Paris for a two-, three- or four-year stint. One must also include those who have purchased real estate here - perhaps "an oh-so-cute-and-chic" pied-à-terre in Montparnasse or in Montmartre - and who spend three or four months a year "living in Paris", while renting the place out – or simply leaving it vacant ! – the rest of the time, relying on an increase in value to make a nice profit. (Might one simply call them "property speculators" ?) Many retired Americans might fall into this transient category, too. There are also those individuals living out their Parisian dreams in one fashion or another, perhaps attempting in a given period of time to experience a kind of "Lost Generation" literary or artistic epiphany (nothing wrong with that, of course: many of the permanent Parisian-Americans started off just like that).

While these transient Parisian-Americans might have limited residence or working papers of some sort, they might not be fiscally domiciled in France, nor will they have burned many bridges (if any at all !) to "live in France". Language fluency and adoption of local customs and traditions is not emphasized. French society – and its difference - is apt to be roundly criticized and/or unflinchingly ridiculed and/or gushingly or superficially commented upon, rather than seriously investigated for its advantages and drawbacks. French cultural parameters have not replaced their American cultural parameters.

Although these Americans may be in Paris, they are not of Paris … and therein lies the difference from the permanent expatriates, in Amerloque's view.

Amerloque is wondering if over at the New York Times and its International Herald Tribune there hasn't been some kind of rethink about the IHT, its raison d'être and, in a nutshell, its version of expatriation. Many observers, Amerloque, among them, feel that the current IHT is but a clone of the NYT, leading to the nickname "New York Times, Lite". Recently, however, there has been at least one change, and Amerloque, for one, will be watching closely to see if the news coverage is transformed as well.

Through Monday, October 16th, 2006, this was the IHT's masthead:

The paper was billed as "The World's Daily Newspaper". "Published by the New York Times", it was "Edited in Paris and Hong Kong" and "Printed in Paris".

To Amerloque's surprise, the next day, on October 17th, the masthead was simpler:

No longer is the expatriate's paper "Edited in Paris and Hong Kong" (luxury advertisers, who always associate Paris with luxury, might start wondering about this, eh ? Why bother to advertise in the Trib at all ?). It isn't even the "The World's Daily Newspaper" any more. It's simply "Published by the New York Times", as though that were enough.

Alas, the IHT is still the only game in town for a Parisian-American who wants a traditional newsprint paper alongside his coffee or her croissant: there is no other daily international paper in English publishing general news. (Sure, the Wall Street Journal offers news about money and the markets, but general coverage ? No way. USA Today is far too focused on America, tout de même and the British papers are too … British.) What rankles about the IHT is that many American expats are not from New York, and couldn't give a flying fig about news involving New York "cultural events", or Mayor Bloomberg, or real estate in Manhattan or New Jersey.

Since the NYT takeover of the IHT several years ago, the latter has simply paid lip service to its internationalism, in Amerloque's view: In essence, it simply pushes the parochial New York line. Certainly its coverage of France and Paris leaves more and more to be desired: one increasingly wonders just what the IHT is trying to accomplish, with its slanted, partisan coverage of events it understands shallowly and imperfectly.

Moreover, no longer does the Parisian-American find Dick Roraback's unforgettable "Crack of the Bat" published at the opening of the US baseball season in April, as it was for many, many years. In 2005, Art Buchwald's famous Merci Donnant column was reprinted for Thanksgiving, comme il se doit … but without the italics that imparted the flavor and, in some cases, easy understanding. Inadmissible, in Amerloque's opinion.

Amerloque assumes that the change in the IHT masthead - the elimination of any reference whatsoever to its international audience and Paris – is a harbinger of other, more deep-rooted shifts to come at the paper. Will the IHT soon be thrown into the dustbin of history ?


Text © Copyright 2006 by L'Amerloque
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