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Friday, February 1, 2013

The divine writer

As a your girl (which was, in fact, not that long ago )when I thought of a writer, the first image that came into my mind is a lone fellow with a week-old beard sitting by his desk in an ancient monastery-looking writing chamber lit by candlelight.He has a throbbing hangover, and his hand trembles as he reaches for a bottle of booze on his desk by a chaotic pile of yellowing papers. He lights the hundredth cigarette of the day, inhales deeply and takes his quill into a shaking hand. He takes a profoundly spiritual look toward the ceiling, and words start flowing onto paper as a divine inspiration, a call from God himself, quakes the very soul of this fragile entity. 

My image has slightly altered of late. That is, ever since I've been proud to claim the title "writer". Though my first novel has only been in bookstores for barely a month, proud I am, because I always wanted to be a writer. Secretly, of course. So secret was my ambition, that my editor was among the very first people who even knew I was writing. 

I had thought writing was some magical, mystical process that requires a long-suffering existence, a drug addiction and scarcely-clothed loose women laying around. Even though I wrote, this stereotype of a Real Writer haunted my brain. A Real Writer could recite hours of complex poetry from memory. He would walk into a room full of people, who would instantly be silenced by his intellect and his piercing eyes. A Real Writer's whole existence would be marked by his painful yet intriguing path. 

I couldn't see myself in that picture.

And yet, I was writing. Or more likely, I couldn't stop writing if I tried. I scorned my sinful writing-habit as just "scribbling" and "a little hobby" and laughed it off, until one day, the novel was finished.


What was I to do now? Add it to the pile of hidden manuscripts in my drawers and start another one? 

Or dare let someone else read it?

Maybe even an editor?

Six months later, I got the call that changed my life. And altered my image of a writer.

A writer is a woman, in her late thirties. She has two children, both under four, and she hardly ever has a hangover. She has also quit smoking (for the moment). She cooks healthy, wholesome meals, takes brisk walks and leads a generally happy life. Although her work space is in fact, by some strange coincidence, an ancient monastery writing chamber, her house is filled with toys, diapers and cooking pots like any house with kids in it. There are no booze bottles or quills laying around -piles of paper though, oh goodness, yes- and the woman hardly ever waits for a call from God or other divine intervention inspiration. She sits down and starts writing. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Liberté, égalité, maternité - or Baby Bleus

After announcing the Big News, the first words that I heard from my immediate family were: "My God, you're not thinking of giving birth there?" I could just hear their organized Nordic minds going a hundred miles per hour. "It's just not hygienic." "Are you sure they have the newest equipment?" "Are their doctors qualified?" "Do they have ultra-sound machines?" All great concerns. I couldn't answer to any of them, because it was going to be my first time in attempting to reproduce on French soil.
At the time, we lived in the city of Ivry-sur Seine that starts where south-western Paris ends. Getting out of my house and in two minutes, I was in Parisian China-town, the 13th arrondissement. And as much as I had feared the great big Parisian hospitals, I caught a lucky break - my birthing clinic was a small maternity ward, just 50 meters from our home. As close as this was to Paris, it was the suburbs, and I was their first ever Nordic patient. From my first visit on, the nurses and mid-wives and doctors had a bunch of questions to ask me on my native Finland. "Do they have the newest equipment, over there?" "Are their doctors qualified?" "Do they have ultra-sound machines?" All great concerns.
As I was soon to find out, they sure were a qualified bunch. I needn't worry about anything. Everything was taken care of. Me and my fetus were in good hands. Of course, being the Viking matron that I am, I got some remarks about my sizable frame, and their greatest concern was my possible weight gain. Never has a human being been weighted more often. A warning finger was wagged - do not succumb to gourmandise or you will be huge and a danger to your baby! How had Nordic women managed to give birth up until now without this precious advice! Little did they know that after my initial weight-gain burst during the first trimester, I actually hardly gained any weight at all. Problem solved.
A major concern of my fellow Finns had been - could I afford a pregnancy in France? How expensive would it be? But, no problem. Being a Finn, thus an European citizen, and having worked in France for more than three years, the French social security took the whole of my pregnancy expenses in charge. Just as they do in Finland. As my pregnancy advanced, I also got a hefty check in the mail. "Birthing bonus", they called it, and every French mom is entitled to one. For me, I had mostly feared the notoriously over-worked and mean Parisian medical staff. Again, no problem. Apart from one cranky ultra-sound doctor, I received good humor and smiles all the way. I was the cranky one, with a hormone cocktail that could have been described as explosive as a Molotov's cocktail. But hey, no problem! My clinic was staffed with mid-wives specializing in homeopathic remedies, herbal medicine and acupuncture, all taken in charge by social security. After a few relaxing and calming acupuncture sessions, my long-suffering husband hardly recognized me.
I did have some long discussions on the subject of having kept my maiden name in marriage. Also, my ex-husband's name lurked somewhere there in my files, and that raised some eyebrows as well. I noticed that the French were more traditional on the subject of the holy matrimony, and all that family name stuff. I had to go through fire and brimstone of paperwork and lengthy explanations to  make them understand that although I had my maiden name, I was married, and my baby would get my husband's family name after all. (Still, the day I gave birth, my daughter carried a label with my family name on it.)
When the happy day of birth arrived, it was actually night. We had since moved from our Ivry-sur-Seine home (with no running water and a mold problem) to a more family-friendly apartment in a mile radius. As Parisians, we didn't have a car, and when my waters broke, we had to take the taxi. The only issue was, taxis don't take birthing ladies in, for the fear of getting their car interior ruined and getting stuck in traffic and having to act as midwifes. So I put a big over-coat on and pretended I was just a big-boned gal, asking the driver to drop us off a few blocks from the clinic.
And off I went to this adventure where the outcome is uncertain. There was a Senegal mommy in the bed next to me, talking animatedly to a cell phone between contractions, and young French girl whimpering in agony while her mother-in-law shouted to the night-shift doctors. But I was, once again, in good hands. It took way longer that it should, so in the end my daughter came out surgically. But now, I have hardly a scar to show for it. And it turns out that my little girl was the first completely white-haired baby born in the Clinic Jean Rostand, ever.
Now as I'm preparing to take my second maternity leave, I'm no longer in Paris but in southern France. I am to give birth in a country hospital, where every room is a single one, and the sunflower fields can be seen from the labor room. My Finn family are happy with my decision to give birth in France. "Oh, they did such a wonderful job the first time!" My baby's happily kicking away in her bubble universe. All is fine in the animal kingdom.
However, I have yet to convince the medical staff to write my maiden name down in my medical files. It's got to be my husband's name. They shake their heads and make up all kinds of lame excuses: "You know, what if there was a mix-up? What if yours was confused with another baby with the same name?"
Honestly. How many babies can there be, in this southern French country hospital, with the same unpronounceable Finnish name?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Let's talk weather.

When I mention southern France, what comes to your mind? - I know what comes to mine, still, after all these years.

  1. Turquoise seawater
  2. Rocky or sandy beaches with olive trees gently swaying in a light breeze
  3. Light, sand-stone villas surrounded by lemon and olive groves
  4. Endless, fragrant lavender fields
  5. Endless, fragrant vineyards
  6. Soft, pink light
  7. Sun, not too hot but a pleasant sun that gives you an effortless biscuit tan
  8. A sleepy town square, closed shutters and ice-cold Pastis
  9. A warm, welcome mist of seasonal rain only a few days a year
  10. Leathery, bronzed farmers with fresh produce and a rotund but charming local accent
  11. ... and above all - balmy, embracing warmth that makes you forget about dreary north-European winters featuring sleet, snow and slippery roads.
Even now, knowing what I know, this is what comes to mind when I hear the words 'southern France'. This list comes to mind, to vanish immediately, replaced with other phenomena I've become accustomed to, recently. 

For example - those long, slim, sausage-like pillows of gaudy prints or dirty colors. Ever seen one of those? I used to wonder what they were used for. First thing that popped into my mind, having seen how the French often sleep on long, thick, sausage-like pillows was that these slim versions were just kiddy-versions of these truly uncomfortable bed accessories. But, to my surprise, I discovered these pillows are ingeniously used to block the mouse-size windy gaps under every front door when winter moves in on southern France. Oh yes. There is winter in southern France, and I've never been as cold in my native Finland as I've been here. Let me tell you how that is possible.

A really touching real-life story took place this very winter. We had just moved into a 13th-century-monastery-school of a house in the middle of a southern-French medieval village. Autumn had been fabulous; soft, sunny days gone by just picking figs and grapes straight off of branches, picnics and long walks. I hadn't bought a single woolen sweater, for what use could that have. Then came january, and with it the harshest winter weather 'in living memory', or so I was told by locals. A months worth of sub-zero temperatures, snow, permafrost and a hell of a north wind, bringing me its best wishes from Finland (that, incidentally, suffered under temperatures of -40° at the time). I had heard locals brag how 'nothing penetrates our meter-thick stone walls', but what else are stone walls but a safe haven for cellar-temperatures? These meter-thick walls guaranteed a permanent damp and moldy ten degrees within the house, no matter what. 

Don't we have heating? Well, yes we do. But not the kind of heating that was built for -15°c, let alone a month of frost. Our electricity snapped off every time we'd fire up all our radiators simultaneously, there simply wasn't enough power to keep them going. And the fireplace? Oh, yes, we have a wonderful, pre-Revolution stone fireplace! The problem was, we had just moved in, it hadn't been used for years, and was badly in need of a chimney sweep. And since this was the coldest winter in living memory, chimney men were having the busiest time of their lives. We were told one could stop by, say, in a month.

So, what did we do during that month? We managed to keep our bedrooms close to around +16°c and slept with extra blankets, no big deal. Our main issue was downstairs. That huge salon I had fallen in love with had to remain closed, its massive windows let the wind in through invisible gaps - I knew that could be arranged, I'd have to purchase those long slim pillows sooner or later. But we had to use our kitchen, didn't we. And the kitchen was the coldest place in the house. It was too low of a temperature to mature a good Roquefort cheese in our kitchen, for Roquefort requires a steady ten degrees to work its magic. Our kitchen, on the other hand, had the steady temperature of +4°c. To cook, I'd wear my dad's old wool sweater on top of another sweater, or on a lazier morning I'd just throw on my winter coat. 

My feet were getting the torture of a lifetime, though. A Finn like me knows sub-zero temperatures - you have to keep your feet warm at all cost. So I'd put on my thickest, grayest norwegian fisherman's wool socks and squeeze them into my felt slippers. By then, they were just too tightly packed and I couldn't feel my feet. So I had to choose, slippers or wool socks. I tried it both ways - my feet remained numb. I'd end up wearing leather boots in the house, leather boots were the thickest footwear I'd ever needed during my winters in southern France. In the end, I had to take those off and rub my feet because the cold was unbearable. As you may guess, this did not end well. As weeks rolled by and my feet started itching and swelling, I went to see the doctor, thinking that along with the cold I was punished with the worst case of toe fungus imaginable. He agreed with me and ordered some cream, what else was there to do. Except that the cream made my feet colder than ever, and when they swelled up some more and started turning a purplish shade of violet, I went to see the good man again. This time he got the point. My feet were frozen, he explained. Strangely enough, I believed the man. Although I had never frozen my feet during my winters in the northernmost corner of Europe, I had actually come to southern France to experience freezing my toes.

By mid-february, the temperatures started turning tolerable again. And, miraculously, the chimney man was finally free to fix our fireplace! By now, we had bought a wood stove that did the trick fast enough, we could use our medieval salon again. I slowly abandoned my winter coat. My feet, although blackened and shriveled, had regained feeling. Flowers and swallows returned to southern France. Life was beautiful again. 

Then, this week, a sudden drop to +6°c and a wicked north wind they call Mistral. Welcome to southern France.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Friends will be French

Things you should know about me, Part II: I'm a hermit. My idea of a good friend is a book that has more than a thousand pages. However, living abroad, one does feel the occasional need for human contact; we're only human after all. I thought life in France would be same as living everywhere - 'If you build it, they will come'. Friends, that is. How wrong I was.

A lot has been written about making friends with the French. Because they're ... special friends. The kind you spent a long time getting. My crusade to France started out with living in Paris with no friends at all, and as a few more years rolled by, I still had none. Eventually, we talked this over with my then-boyfriend-now-spouse. Maybe something was wrong with us? Maybe we had turned into disreputable characters while living in Paris. Maybe our stocky Finnish built was a social turn-off.

In the mean time, we did have friends of other nationalities. Swedish, a few fellow Finns. Brazilian. Those guys from Mali and Senegal, the occasional American. As you spend some time in Paris, you do notice it's easier to get acquainted with other foreigners. You commiserate about Paris, and a friendship takes off easily enough. It's like those old guys who met at wartime and became best friends. There's something about digging trenches and avoiding bullets - or parisian landlords and dog turds - that sticks humans together like crazy-glue.

On our third year in Paris, we got acquainted with a few French, though. There was this guy who called himself Funk-Gary (the name has been subtly changed) that we saw playing in every funk jam session to be found in Paris. He played the same song over and over again and was very fond of fancy drinks. As we seemed to run into him in every music bar we went to, my boyfriend eventually gave this ubiquitous Funk-Gary character his number. And he did call the following night, asking my boyfriend out to see some band or another. 'Great', my sweetheart said, 'you know, we're really starting to befriend these French!'

He came back later that night, and I heard him standing there in the dark, sighing depressingly. 'So, how did your evening go?', I asked, sleepily. 'Fine', he said. 'We went to see a band, then Funk-Gary invited me over for some drinks and declared his undying love for me.'

Another fellow Frenchman, called Bert, was very energetic. He had just give up alcohol and drugs and said he needed some fresh friends that were not a part of his old bar gang. Glad to finally know an  actual Frenchman, we hang around with him a few months over summer, at the end of which he even invited himself over to Finland with us. This was a big mistake, since Finland can easily have a badly alcoholic influence over any given human. He started drinking and became... different. Once drunk, he started talking about his past in various prisons of France, and simultaneously offered to produce my next album. Swiftly back in Paris, we did a little background checking on our new French friend (thank goodness for Internet) and found out his full name, while a rare-sounding one, did come up when googled. It's just that, well, according to Google, he had been dead a long time. Murdered some fifteen years ago. We didn't keep in touch.

And then there was of course our smooth-talking upstairs neighbor with big loudspeakers and a cocaine habit who kindly enough invited us over to his family's estate in the Vendée on our surfing trip, and once there, he pointed at his back yard and drawled: 'You can put your tent over there.' Finally, after six years in Paris, we gave up on it and moved to the country side. By this time, we were already OK with the idea that as foreigners, we may never have one single French friend.

However, this story has a happy ending. After a measly two years in our village, we have lots of good friends. To define friends, we meet socially on a weekly basis, sometimes make supper together, borrow each-others' CD's, babysit each-others' kids, party once in a blue moon. And believe it or not, these people are all French. As unbelievable as it may sound, we now have a 100% French social life. 

If this story has a lesson to offer, that is once more the same old song: Paris is not France. If you've given up hope to befriend a single Frenchman/woman, here's my tip. In fact, if there's one tip in general I have to offer about France, it would be this. Move to the countryside. Life is better there, and your friends will be French.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Parasite's Paradise

Anyone wanting to work in Paris, and especially on Montmartre, take heed. You need eye surgery. The kind where an extra pair of eyes is surgically attached on your back. I wish I would have figured this out on my own, without having half of Paris's crooks both having a laugh and gaining a living on my expense. As I'm older and wiser now - or just older- I feel I need to share my pitiful story.

As a starving artist paying almost an 800e/month rent, I needed a 'day job', and the one that I got was as a sales woman and later a store manager of a Balinese hippie goods store on Montmartre. Maybe you've seen it. It's yellow. The yellow store also featured jewelry. Those silver rings that are so cheap you can put one on every single one of your fingers and toes and not go bankrupt. There were two glass cases with four boxes of these silver rings each, and since Paris is, besides being the city of Light and Romance and dog poop, a shoplifter's paradise, I had to watch out on a daily basis. 

I had worked for almost three years in the yellow store and had my share of  the parasites that are shoplifters. One gorgeously handsome guy shamelessly flirted with me and before breaking into a run, winked and waved to me with the bunch of hats he was about to steal. I waved back, lost in his black eyes, and by the time I noticed what he had taken, he was probably already in the metro picking stupid tourist women's pockets.  There were regulars, of course; one very chic middle-aged lady that smelled of expensive perfume couldn't leave the store without at least attempting to steal balinese baggy trousers of which the monetary value probably represented 0,000000001% of her daily income. Another one, an old woman with a face that had caved in as a result of lengthy drug-abuse, immediately steered towards the last row of clothes where she figured I couldn't see her stuff goods inside her overcoat. And then there was that incident when my ow handbag was stolen from the employees' toilet (how it was done, I never figured out. As a result, every lock in the store, plus the ones of my home, had to be changed on a sunday night). But anyhow, that day as I was approaching the end of my employment in the yellow hippie goods store, I was icing a bottle of Deutz champagne - no more shoplifters for me, I was going to be a bona fide singer-songwriter without a day job!

It was a busy afternoon, and the little corner store was swarming with tourists and locals. All the dressing booths were full and needed supervision; every square inch of the place had someone requiring my attention. In three years, I was accustomed to this, and wasn't at all worried. 

An american lady called me over and asked to see the silver rings from the glass case. All right, I said, I would be right with her; I just had to go check the dressing booths first, but if she wanted, she could pick the one she wanted to try from the case and I would give it to her upon my return. 'OK', she smiled, 'I'd love to do that, but could you bring me the rings?' Silence. 'Bring?' I enquired, with a benign smile. 'What ever can you mean?' 'Oh, just that the nice man who just took the rings said you'd have some more to show me.' I looked inside the glass case that normally had four filled boxes of silver rings. Empty. 'The man said he was taking the rings to be cleaned', said the lady, still smiling. My smile on the other hand had turned into a rictus grin, as I slowly realized that someone had just stolen four boxes of rings from a closed glass case, right under my unfailing eyes.

This story has an appendix ending - if not a happy one, a funny one. One night, me and the spouse were heading into the giant movie theatre on Boulevard des Italiens. It was a nippy winter's night, and the street vendors were jumping on the spot, clapping their hands and calling out for customers. There was one guy who captured my full attention. 'Silver rings!' he shouted, 'Silver rings, just ten euros! A special price for you, my friend!' We walked over to the guy, and amusingly enough, I recognized the rings. Hell, I even recognized the serial number tags, painstakingly handwritten on little tags hanging on every single ring. 'Genuine silver, Madame', the guy smiled, 'real silver! Check it out if you want! It's all on the tags!' I looked at him, slowly, smiling mysteriously like an Indian deity. 'I should know, sir', I told him. 'I wrote those damn tags myself.'

Thursday, December 8, 2011

On finding your inner Frenchman

It took me five years not to constantly try to change the population of France into behaving and thinking like me. During those five years, it almost drove me insane. Sometimes I'd be so angry at an entire nation I'd just shake and leer from morning 'till night. Pitiful, isn't it, considering I simultaneously loved living here. 

I've conducted my own empirical research about any given expat's first years in France, and basically everyone goes through this same phase. It's the phase I like to call  'I love France but dislike the French' -phase. It's interesting, because it just might be the only time in your life that you experience passionate love and teeth-clenching hate at the same time (besides that time when your first True Love told you he 'needs more space' when you knew perfectly well he has his eyes and other body parts on the girl next dorm). 

But then one beautiful morning - the hate is gone. You wake up and notice it's been replaced by a benign, benevolent understanding and acceptance, not unlike the one you feel for your dog when finding its excrement in your new hat. You've entered a brand new period, the one I like to call the 'Finding your inner Frenchman'-phase. I know all about it, because am wrestling with it at this very moment.

A few hot tips for your research of that beret-headed, Pastis-smelling, explosive, mustachioed Frenchman inside yourself.

  1. It's a lot like high-school acting classes. You've been given a role you're not really comfortable with (like that time they asked you to identify with a cannibalistic vegetarian samurai) but which is interesting nonetheless, and you give it all you've got.
  2. Your role has everything to do with your sex, and from now on, you need to attempt to behave accordingly. (This was the hardest part for me, being a man-of-the-house Nordic woman.)
  3. You need to look for the right questions, not necessarily the right answers. I've found a few such questions, very dear to all Frenchmen. What's for dinner? And what wine goes with that dinner? What's the perfect cheese to top it all? What if I can't find a local cheese that goes with the wine that goes with the dinner? 
  4. File everything. 'La paperasse', paperwork, is your friend, and as such should be profoundly understood and cherished. There may be a day when you get a letter enquiring after the exact amount of your water bill of 1982, and you'd better have the old water bill handy, or the enquiries will swallow your whole existence.
  5. OK, so this is as far as I've gotten.

I have, on occasion, caught a glimpse of my inner Frenchman. Once when tasting a fully mature cider with a fully mature Camembert. Another time when attending an old lady's funeral and being asked to play the organ next to her coffin. Another time when getting fresh bread on a foggy morning in my medieval village, and smelling some villager's fireplace being lit. This morning when my child started screaming in the supermarket and the French ladies around me didn't tut or shake their heads but smiled patiently. It's a peaceful feeling, finding that inner Mr Dupont. Because for so many years, when he would have been so helpful in various hellish Parisian situations, he was nowhere to be found. Instead, I found him lurking in this tiny picturesque Southern French village, drinking a Ricard by the counter of Café des Voyageurs. And having found the elusive Mr Frenchman, there's no way I'm letting him get away.
Eh non, Monsieur. I'm here to stay, and so are you.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Liberté, Egalité, Je Sais Cuisiner

This blog was first written for the fabulous web magazine that is My French Life. 

Being an arduous lover of all things gourmet, it's no wonder I decided to settle in France. How can you not love a country where everything you do seems to revolve around one question: 'What's for dinner?' This was a revolutionary way of life for me, at first. After all, my fellow countryman the Finn settles his stomach with any given portion as long as it's large, without giving another thought to his taste buds. The poor things can remain comatose for all of their life span. (The Finn's taste buds, not the Finn. The Finn is comatose only at winter, but that's another story.)

Upon my first arrival in France, I remember staring in wonder at the French time-honored institution that is 'Menu Ouvrier', the working man's menu. In any given village café, ruddy-complexioned, large-handed men eat a lunch of three or four-courses, gulping it down with a carafe of local red wine. And the menus are good. Wholesome, delicious country cooking, smelly and runny cheeses, crunchy and unctuous desserts and a dainty but strong café express. After my childhood summers spent in the Sancerrois countryside, I had to move back to Finland and then to the USA, but I somehow just knew my stomach would find its way back to the paradise it had once found – the French table.

But after settling permanently in the French countryside, I found myself willing to prove myself worthy of having a French kitchen of my own. And what could have been more helpful to a blundering novice of a Finn that I was than the Frenchman's culinary bible: 'Je Sais Cuisiner'.

A book of very little charm it is, judging by its cover. I was struck by its lack of the usual French subtle but tasteful design. It's a thick, lurid yellow slab of a book with an unlikely cover illustration portraying a woman stirring a salad while intensely looking at her cook book as if she indeed needed instruction in performing her meager task. The kitchen in which she stands is a boring, white and brown plywood booth with a -gasp- microwave oven lurking on the counter. I mean, even the name of the book is straight out of my childhood cooking lessons. 'I know how to cook.' The woman on the cover sure doesn't look like she does. The layout of the epos is boring beyond a yawn. But do not be fooled by its meek appearance! For the recipes are the stuff France is made of. Pure culinary genius.

In fact, I don't think I'll ever have to open another French history book if I have this one in my home library. The history of France is luxuriously laid out on the pages of this apparently tiresome volume. 'Crème Pompadour'. One imagines the king's lover nibbling away at her tri-colored cream mousse with a subtle coffee flavor. 'Crème Dubarry'. Another royal mistress, but this time it's a surprising recipe of a sumptuous cauliflower soup. There are numerous recipes 'à la Reine'; I am particularly in awe when imagining the taste of 'Riz à la Reine', a masterpiece of quenelles and cream.

Contrasting with these creamy, queenly, feminine dishes are some testosterone-packed sauces destined to drown steaks or game. 'Sauce Châteaubriand', a deep, dark, mushroomy sauce fit for a state dinner. 'Sauce Cardinal', a strangely orange anchovy-and-lobster sauce for a clergyman's pass-over fish supper. To finish a manly and historic dining experience, our book recommends 'Sorbet Armagnac'.

The French do eat everything that moves, and 'Je Sais Cuisiner' is full of intriguing recipes for abats, the edible offal. There is a variety of recipes for preparing a lamb's brain or it's feet. There is actually something called 'Hoof salad', a dish that sounds as delicious as 'Veal-head doughnuts' or 'Chopped head cheese'. The traditional delicacies, tripe and roasted tongue, are not forgotten either, but I pass on to recipes that are more useful in my own kitchen.

The humble egg gets an entire section. Eggs of all nationalities are represented. This is like egg United Nations: Eggs New York, Eggs Milanese and Napolitaine, Turkish and Turban eggs, Russian Tsar eggs, Swedish, Belgian, Italian eggs, Parisian eggs, and even something that is called 'omelette Allemande', German omelette. There are other foods with nationalities, many of them. And a very colonial dessert called 'Négre en Chemise', the negro in a shirt.

I'm fascinated by the multitude of professions that have their own dish. 'Macaroni Financière.' 'Truite Diplomate'. 'Moules Marinière'. Sauce Maître d'Hôtel'. And some odd courses like 'gardener's tongue' and 'baker's shoulder'. For equality's sake, 'Castle owner's cabbage' and 'Poor man's sauce' are found side by side, as are 'Sauce Cardinal' and 'Sauce Diable'.

And the French do think of everything, for at the end of this respectable culinary opus there is ample advice for those that suffer of constipation. One advice mystifies me, though. It states that a person that needs to lighten up his food in order to relieve his constipation needs to make a slight change while whipping up the buttery French classic 'sauce Béchamel'. In the diet version, water in the sauce is to be replaced with milk.

For what it's worth, I have become a better cook and a better person because of the jewel that is 'Je Sais Cuisiner'. I can wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who wishes to enter, even briefly, the Frenchman's ésprit. And yes, this fabulous book does contain the original recipe for French Fries. After a long search, I found it under the poetic yet historic title 'Pommes de Terre Pont-Neuf'.