Category Archives: fun

Poisson d’avril

The origins of April Fools’ Day are uncertain, but one theory is that it began in 1852, when France adopted the Gregorian calendar. Before this time, New Year’s Day fell on March 25 rather than January 1. Those who continued to celebrate the old New Year at the beginning of April were called “fools” by their early adopting contemporaries.

Even before this transition, the New Year had long been associated with the term “fool.” In medieval France, the Feast of Fools fell on January 1. At this popular festival hijinks abounded: Christian ritual was burlesquely imitated, a fake pope was elected, and high and low officials swapped jobs for a day. Feast of Fools was likely modeled after the similarly themed pagan festival Saturnalia.

As this French tradition died out during the 16th century, a new one sprung up in the form of April Fools’ Day, or All Fools’ Day. In France, the fooled party is called the poisson d’avril, which literally means “April fish.” The customary prank involves pinning a paper fish, also called the poisson d’avril, to a friend’s back.

~ from the Dictionary.com Blog

Phrases to know for le premier avril:

  • I’m joking. = Je plaisante.
  • We are having a lot of fun. = Nous nous amusons beaucoup.
  • That’s funny. = C’est drôle.
  • You got me! = Touché!
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Mardi Gras

Happy Fat Tuesday, mes amis.

As we get ready to give up our delicacies tomorrow for forty days of Lent, it’s only fitting that today should be a day of debauchery and pigging out. In Nice, they’re celebrating the end of a days-long festival called Carnaval de Roi de la Gastronomie (King of Gastronomy Carnival). So yeah, it’s about food.

Mardi Gras in Nice, France.

Mardi Gras celebration in Nice, France. So much color!

In the US, the festivities happen way down in La Nouvelle-Orléans, Louisiana, our most French city, and nothing much happens around us. Apparently we live in Polish country — the big splurge here is paczkis.

So we do our own thing here at Maison Chat, making a plat mijoté from the lovely Bonne Femme Cookbook by Wini Moranville. It’s a beef stew flavored with l’orange et le vinaigre balsamique. The sauce calls for en peu de vin rouge (red wine), jus d’orange (orange juice) and Grand Marnier liqueur. So naturally, we made drinks.

And hopefully for dessert, cafe au lait et beignets. Because after all that rich beef and wine, we’ll need to settle our stomachs with coffee and fried dough.

Bon appetit, fêtards!

Essential French

If I woke up this morning fluent in one foreign language, it would be French.

But then that would take away all the fun of learning, and I love the process of acquiring the language as much as the idea of being fluent someday. There is beauty in the becoming as much as in the achieving, just as there is beauty in the rosebud before it fully blooms.

Instant proficiency would also take away a lot of fun for my fluent friends when I use the wrong word. And I wouldn’t trade giving them that experience for anything. Like the time I wanted to say I felt embarrassed in Spanish and accidentally announced I was pregnant. (Then I really needed the word for embarrassed!)

essential_french_dictionary

Here’s today’s lundi livre.

Usborne books have long been favorites at our house, ever since I got my first copy of First Thousand Words in Spanish. Right now I’m loving the French Dictionary. It’s tiny, but packs a lot of usefulness into a small space. (Fits in my bag and even some pockets.)

It’s got helpful guides to basics like counting and a few must-have phrases (Les toilettes, s’il vous plaît?); sections for looking up English words to find the French equivalent and vice versa; and a handy little two page spread called “Getting By in French” that is worth the price of admission all on its own. (It covers the bottom line on verb conjugation; how to ask questions; when/how to shorten je, de, and ne; and tips on pronunciation.)

It’s in the children’s section of our local shop. They don’t currently carry First Thousand Words in French, but I’ll be on the lookout.

Usborne Essential French Dictionary, 64 pages, £5.99.

Very excited about today’s Daily Prompt: Take That, Rosetta. I hope to find other Francophiles to follow!

Le chat noir

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The black cat.

Le Chat Noir was a popular Parisian cabaret frequented by many famous artists in the late 1800s, the period known as La Belle Époque.

We know the cat in the poster is male by the spelling of the word chat. A female kitty would be la chatte. A black female cat = la chatte noire.

In french, adjectives usually follow nouns. So the literal translation here is “the cat black.”

There are exceptions. For example, “the small cat” would be le petit chat, or la petite chatte.

Why? Are there rules or clues for knowing when to put the noun first?

Je ne sais pas. I don’t know!

Only a few adjectives precede nouns: good and bad, big and small, young and old. A couple of others. The list is relatively short, so we can memorize it. The rest all come after the noun, so when in doubt, remember “the cat black.”

Merci, chat noir!