Paris Fashion Week


Paris Fashion Week starts today!

Some of my favorite looks come from French designers— Dior, Hermés, Chanel. Paris is a global fashion capital, second only to New York for ready to wear (prêt à porter) and holding the top spot for high fashion (haute couture).

In addition to stunning and sometimes crazy fashions, French women are also known around the world as having a knack for putting together amazing looks, seemingly effortlessly, with very few articles of clothing. I’ve heard that later in life, Coco Chanel had only three outfits. Trois!


This concept is elusive to most American fashionistas. It is referred to with almost reverential awe as a “capsule wardrobe,” “five piece wardrobe” or “ten item closet.” The idea being that a handful of quality, tailored basics can combine in myriad ways to serve as a backdrop for striking one-of-a-kind accessoires to make dressing easy and classy.

This basic wardrobe has long been my style, even before I knew its affiliation with French women. Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong country.

A few must-haves I’m on the lookout for this week:

le sac à main parfait… the perfect handbag

un foulard de soie… a silk scarf

une nouvelle robe noire… a new black dress

un collier bleu… a blue necklace

Need more fashion? Check out Mode á Paris‘s listings of upcoming ready-to-wear shows by your favorite designers.

J’aime la mode!


The Caterpillar… Makes Holes?

La Chenille

The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle, is a superstar of children’s literature. Right up there with Goodnight, Moon. It has it all: a cute main character, brilliant transformation, the days of the week, lots of food.

Naturally it’s been translated into many languages so all the children of the world can enjoy it.

Let’s be honest. This translation is a bit holey. I’m reading a book for 4 year olds because that’s the level my French is at, so I need, and was hoping for, a faithful translation. But the title has nothing to do with hunger. It has to do with making holes.

Why? Why not say the caterpillar is hungry ~ “La chenille a faim”? Some things are always going to get lost in translation. Why make holes where a faithful alternative exists?

Confession: I read the title, La Chenille qui fait des trous, and stupidly (arrogantly?) just assumed it meant “hungry.” But then I started to read, and it didn’t make sense. Right there in the text was the word faim, and I knew that had to mean hungry. (Like famished.) It was only then that I looked up the meaning of trous. 


Eric Carle’s amazing artwork and understated writing deserve to be exported all over the globe, but this heavy-handed translation puts holes in a classic. However, it is one of only a dozen French language books available in our local library, so I’m thankful for it even if it’s not wholly satisfying.

I intend to eat it up, holes and all.


The infinitive form of a verb is its basic unconjugated form. In English, the full infinitive includes the word “to” before the verb. To run. To chase. To pet.

Aimer, c’est vivre.

“To love is to live.” Two French infinitives at work.

There are three main groups of French infinitives, distinguished by their endings: -er, -ir, -re.

The -er group is the biggest, so it’s the first group our French textbook teaches us to conjugate. Parler (to speak), aimer (to like), and aller (to go) are some common -er verbs.

Je parle = I speak
Tu parles = you speak (familiar, singular you)
Vous parlez = you speak (formal, plural you)
Nous parlons = we speak
Il/elle parle = he/she speaks
Ils/elles parlent = they speak

The same conjugations for present tense apply to present progressive. So “Je parle” also means “I am speaking.” Exciting news for cats who conjugate like dogs.

A “split infinitive” has an adverb in between “to” and the verb.

infinitive: to meow
split infinitive: to loudly meow

(Some English teachers’ claws come out if your habit is to unnecessarily split infinitives.)

Question for French speakers: Getting way ahead of myself here, but is there such a thing as a split infinitive in French? Est-il possible?

Most adjectives come after the nouns they modify. But where do adverbs go?

Jour de neige

Snow day!

After yesterday’s balmy weather, we got a surprise today.

Snow (neige), hail (grêle), sleet (neige fondue), rain (pluie), wind (vent), fog (brouillard).

Neige fondue! (Melted snow.) So edible! If we had such a nice English name for sleet, I might not mind it so much. Regardless of what you call it, it is a cold and ugly day… which means the weather is perfect for staying in and sipping chocolat chaud.

Here is a lovely (and timely) picture book by Komako Sakaï called Jour de neige (Snow Day).


That night, a lot of snow fell… and the school bus is stuck.


We even made snow creatures.

Neige is pronounced nehzh. Another (near) Spanish cognado – nieve.

The Spanish of sleet is aguanieve. “Water-snow.” Again, perfectly descriptive, although maybe not quite as tempting as neige fondue.

I think some melted cheese would go nicely with this chocolat…

Tempting temps

Today was very spring-like. The French word for spring is printemps, the charming prince of temperatures.

I’ve seen the word temps a few times in my studies, sometimes referring to the weather:

Quel temps fait-il au printemps? What’s the weather like in spring?

Il fait beau temps. The weather is fine.

L'Air du Temps by Nina Ricci

L’Air du Temps by Nina Ricci

L’Air du Temps. The prevailing atmosphere.

And sometimes referring to time:

Je suis pressé par le temps. I’m pressed for time.

de temps en temps … from time to time

juste à temps … in the nick of time (just in time!)

When both are used together, the resulting rhyme is quite poetic:

“C’est le printemps
L’printemps tout l’temps avec toi”
— Richard Petit, “Le Printemps”

~ It’s spring / spring all the time with you. ~

A springy playlist of French music: Enfin le Printemps! at


Words with feline friends

L’Académie française is one of five academies of L’Institut français. It’s 40 members, known as Les Immortels (The Immortals!), act as “official guardians of the french language,” deciding which words stay, which words go, and which foreign words should be blacklisted and replaced by french equivalents.

It’s pretty impressive they go to all this trouble to protect their heritage and language, and I for one am glad, because how disappointing would it be to finally get to France, only to hear everyone speaking English?

But apparently a majority of french people pay little or no attention to the recommendations. It was kind of a joke when they tried to replace the twitter “hashtag” with “mot-dièse.

I wonder if anybody checks their courriel instead of email.

Hashtag French

My cat makes me happy. You, not so much. Mort de rire!

A sad exemple de mots supprimés (example of deleted words) from Le Dictionnaire de L’Académie Française:

minon. m. Nom d’amitié que les enfants donnent aux chats.

“Name of the friendship that children give to cats.”

Pourquoi dans le monde
would they get rid of such a lovely mot?
I know not.

French app: Memrise

Memrise is an app designed to help learn all sorts of things. Languages, art, math, even standardized tests.

I’ve been checking out the French section, and it’s not bad.

Memrise uses mnemonics (memory aids) to help you remember words and phrases.

“Je voudrais du café, s’il vous plaît.”

is one of the first sentences you’ll encounter. Very helpful for coffee drinkers like myself, and I love the politeness of “I would like, please” as opposed to “I want.” However, this is for purchasing a quantity of coffee. If I’d like a cuppa, I’d be better off saying “Je voudrais un café.”

The mnemonic is “voodoo ray” for voudrais. While it helped stick the word in my mind, it is not even close to an accurate pronunciation. So that’s a downside. Pronunciation is not my strong suit, so I don’t need any help when it comes to Americanizing the sounds.

I might check out Memrise’s other courses. 20th century Modern Art looks promising.

A question for French friends
Memrise translates “Je parle français” as “I can speak French.” Is it correct? Or is there a better way to say “I can” (I thought this would be translated simply as “I speak french”)?