Does this make you want chocolate?


Just when you thought chocolate adverts in France couldn’t get any weirder (I’m thinking about the Kinder Maxi advert where a woman on a train offers a random kid some chocolate, while some lyrics “If we sleep together would it make it any better” play in the background), they did. Suchard chocolate have been doing their pre-Christmas marketing on television this week. They’ve tried to make chocolate sexy. It’s impossible to embed the latest advert, but an older one is very similar (minus the phallic scene, which you can watch with this link instead). Here’s the older version:

(People receiving this in their inbox will need to click on the link.)

Chocolate is my guilty pleasure. It’s childhood memories of Easter eggs and stealing a piece from the block while breaking it up for a dessert recipe. The advert says it’s “Chocolate for adults”, but I don’t want to think about bums and boobs while I’m chowing down on some chocolate. It puts me off buying this chocolate. The advert also says that giving this chocolate to someone is to “Offrez le plaisir” (“Offer pleasure”), but I’d be worried that the receiver might think I’m trying to give them a hint about my feelings for them.

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When things get busy…

<Photo of a gingerbread boat>
Hello after a month’s break! Apologies for the length between posts: I just haven’t had anything interesting to say, and life has been busy, with a new car purchase, trips away for special birthdays/celebrations, and lots of pre-winter work. In fact, this busy time formed a crescendo last weekend with an annual pre-season party, hosted at my place. This year’s theme was ‘Pirates of the Aravis’, allowing people the freedom to dress as traditional pirates or to incorporate a wintry, snowy theme.

After many years of making gingerbread houses, I decided to make a gingerbread pirate ship, based on the one pictured here. Isn’t it pretty? I went a size bigger. It was a mistake.

The initial construction went well, with a gingerbread mast, portholes and a length of gingerbread added to the deck for walking the plank. I wish I had taken a photo. However, with all the other cooking going on, my house was humid, and gingerbread is a bit of a sponge for humidity. My crispy gingerbread turned as soft as cake overnight. The mast fell over, then the back of the boat collapsed. A friend helped me turn the pirate ship into a pirate ship wreck, with a grassy rock tactfully placed to help hold up one side of the boat, and the mast placed into the sea, plus brown ‘rope’ dotted around. We also added a shark fin, some red around the shark, and a pink hand nearby. The result is below. What’s that saying? “Saw it on Pinterest: nailed it.” Yes, that.

<Photo of my gingerbread boat (wreck), copyright, Le Franco Phoney>

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‘Lac en Partage’ fun in Annecy

<Photo from a boat on Lake Annecy, France>

<Image of 'Lac en Partage' Annecy 2014 brochure>Cruising around Lake Annecy on a large boat has an air of glamour, especially if you’re watching from solid ground. Last weekend, I finally became glamorous, stepping onto one of the famed red and white boats to cruise the lake at a discount price of €5 for the entire day.

The special deal was part of an event called ‘Lac en Partage‘ (‘Shared Lake’) which combined the discounted boat service with free shuttles, hikes, plants, cake, brochures galore and local information stands at each port.

Although the event started early on Sunday morning, I arrived ‘fashionably late’ (I slept in) after midday at the Veyrier port and bought my ticket. Taking a boat across a beautiful lake on an unseasonably hot October afternoon was glamorous enough, and then it peaked when I was interviewed for a national radio station covering the event — in French.

<Photo inside one of Annecy's water plants>Uber-glamour quickly turned to economy on the freebie shuttle bus to Annecy’s newest water plant, not far from the lake. The tour of the plant was interesting, with more than €2m of microfilters inside the white barrels, pictured. The tour guide carried on for an extra half an hour to show us the layouts of every water reservoir in Annecy. There are lots. It was not interesting. Paint drying is more fun. The tour finished minutes before the last boat to St Jorioz — that I was supposed to be on — was due to depart. The bus driver said there’d be no chance of making it back in time.

Thankfully, the boat was running late too. A sprint from the bus to the port got me noticed, and the staff waited for the crazy running lady to board before closing the gate behind me. With just 10 minutes in St Jorioz before the last boat back to Veyrier, I raced around the information stands at the port. I learnt about the ancient submerged villages in Lake Annecy. Diving is forbidden, so the only way to view these protected sites is by looking at photos. On the upside, free plants were available, with gardeners on hand to help choose wisely.

Back in Veyrier, the mood was chilled in the late afternoon sun. Plant in one hand, drink in the other, next year, I’ll make sure I get up earlier. An afternoon was nowhere near long enough.

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Learning first aid in French


<Photo of Anne, the French CPR doll'>Meet Anne. She’s a very important mannequin: she saves lives. Anne was given to me at a short first aid course here in St Jean de Sixt after a friend talked me into going. As always, I was apprehensive about making some big faux pas in French and looking like a complete idiot.

The start of the course about heart attacks involved croissants, pains aux chocolate, juice and black coffee (hey, this isn’t a prevention course: let’s stuff our faces on fat!). This welcome should have made me less nervous, but watching the other participants walk in and greet everyone else with kisses, then a polite ‘bonjour’ for my friend and I made me wonder if we were the only two people in the room who the rest didn’t know personally.

Once seated, Anne the mannequin was given to each participant to keep. Immediately, I thought of fancy dress themes that I could use an extra head for and my nerves subsided. Anne comes with a fake mobile phone, a fake defibrillator, and a DVD of the course. She’s also boxed up with extra internal balloons in case of blow-outs. Anne’s face is modelled on a dead woman found in the Seine in the early 1900s. A suspected suicide, the body was never identified, and the authorities made a mask of her because of her striking beauty. Since then, romantic stories have been written about her, and, apparently, a first aid mannequin, which is slightly less romantic.

Three firemen (‘les pompiers‘) took the training course and were patient with all our questions, extending the course by fifteen minutes to cover everything. I was relieved when half the class was confused by which number to dial in an emergency in France. For the record, you can dial 15, 18 or 112 (15 and 18 are old French numbers and 112 is the European-wide number). All three go to the same switchboard. Being close to the border of Switzerland, we also learnt that the Swiss number is 118 (because Switzerland isn’t part of the European Union, so they have their own number).

With a serious voice, one fireman emphasised the need to respect the patient’s privacy and to prevent a crowd of people hovering around. When someone asked him how high up the chest to perform CPR, he said to look for the nipples and stay in line with them. “Unless they’re grandma boobs,” he said. “Then aim higher up.”

The 1.5-hour first aid course cost €12 (subsidised €10 by local authorities) and was well worth the pre-course nerves. If you live in France, check with your local council as these courses are running nationwide.

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And then suddenly, France seems logical!


<Photo of hire car parking in Sardinia'>France, I’m sorry. I’ve made light of you many too times and questioned why you do things in what seems to be the strangest of ways. I take it all back after visiting the Italian island of Sardinia. Looking for late summer sun, I took a road trip around the island. The first sign of oddness was the car hire man, who upgraded me from a Fiat 500 to — wait for it — a Fiat 500. Maybe the upgrade was the dusty finish, or the unnecessary bumper parking in the half-empty parking lot. Thankfully, the car exceeded its ‘Fix It Again Tomorrow’ label and I whizzed around without any mechanical hitches.

<Photo of an Australian flag hanging upside down in Europe'>On the southern coast, I spotted this Australian flag. Did someone have too much limoncello? I mean, it’s not like the flag consists of, say, three stripes that might be easy to hang upside down: there’s a union jack and the Southern Cross star constellation to guide you to the right way to hang it. What happened, Sardinia?

<Photo of fish in Sardinia being fed spaghetti'>On an island that makes mochas without milk and feeds pasta even to the fish (our skipper pointed out “They’re Italian fish: of course they eat pasta”), I wonder where Sardinians go when they feel like something other than pizza and pasta. Yes, that’s a photo of a frenzied fish attack on tomato, olive and prawn pasta. Okay, the food in Sardinia is delicious, but the locals must have to travel long distances for any cuisine that isn’t Italian.

<Photos of all roads leading to Bono in Sardinia'> Meanwhile, too much partying in the days before Sardinia led to a nasty case of tonsillitis. By Arbatax, I felt so bad that I followed the signs to the hospital. After establishing “nobody” spoke English or French, I tried “tonsillitis” in English and French. She shrugged, even though the Italian word is pretty similar. In broken English, she said the hospital was for scans only. And no, she couldn’t tell me where to find a doctor. Nobody around town seemed to know either. I wonder if the people waiting for scans at the hospital wrote their own scan requests.

Even in Italy, not all roads lead to Rome. Sardinia, being an island, has a different mecca. All roads lead to Bono. Who knew he lived there?

France, I’m happy to be back.

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When ‘forbidden’ doesn’t really mean it


<Photo of a public sign in France, saying 'Entry forbidden, with people entering>The sign in this photo translates roughly to “No public entry on work site”. Yes, on the left of the photo is a new building development. On the right is a picturesque view of the village of Les Plombieres les Bains in Les Vosges. Two members of the public are visible, and another four were standing in the unfinished building.

Despite the warning sign, the four people in the building were looking at plans for its completion. Normally, if you didn’t want people poking around your building site, you wouldn’t put up plans. You might even fence off the area.

But this is France, where the word “interdit“, which literally means “forbidden”, realistically means “just don’t break anything on your way through”.

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Vegie burgers hit La Clusaz!

France is many great things, but it is not known for its friendliness towards vegetarians. As a non-meat eater, I’ve been offered fish galore, and even chicken — “because it’s not meat”, (“Yes it is”), “No it’s not” (and so it went on).

In La Clusaz and the Aravis area, vegetarian options usually revolve around cheese, regardless of rennet content. Raclette and fondue is available for indulgent vegetarians, and goats cheese salad for those being healthy. Pizza and pasta are sometimes available, but they get boring after the first few years.

A change has been taking place in the past few years, with a vegie burger on the menu at Le Coin Gourmand in Le Grand Bornand (made with a potato patty instead of beef) and at Le Maz’ô in St Jean de Sixt (courgette and aubergine base, with a tasty home-made pesto sauce).

<Photo of a vegie burger at Le Chavinette, La Clusaz, France'>And finally, La Clusaz has given in. Although the burger isn’t yet listed on the blackboard menu, the owner of Le Chavinette told me last winter that demand was growing and he was thinking about making a vegie burger. When I walked in on the weekend, he offered up his latest creation. Pictured is the burger. He too has included a fried potato patty, but on top of that is a patty made of mixed vegetables, which he described as ratatouille. It’s actually far tastier, and with the fresh salad on top, it tastes pretty healthy for a burger.

The Brits around town affectionately call Le Chavinette ‘Chav Burger’, and now I feel guilty for joining in. If you happen to visit La Clusaz and you don’t eat meat, demand the vegie burger!

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You just don’t see this in the city


<Photo of a calf for sale in La Clusaz, France'>Some things are a bit different here in the countryside of France. For instance, how many cities offer a calf as a prize? Here in La Clusaz, it’s a regular thing. You might remember the raffle last year, and now, if you guess the right weight of this calf, she’s yours. She’s worth €200, and if more than one person guesses the weight, the winners share the prize. I’m not quite sure how you share a calf. I guess you take a share of the money instead. Or, as a French friend suggested, meat tray time!

Hang on, hang on. Don’t get too worried just yet. For a start, this is a dairy cow, so she will enjoy eating grass for many more years yet. Also, she was on offer at the Foire de la Croix in La Clusaz last weekend, which is basically a giant cow exchange. Think stock exchange, with moos and poos.

Rows of cows wait patiently before being walked around the showing area while local farmers appraise each cow on offer. Cows are sold for lots of reasons. It helps keep the gene pool healthy, and sometimes, cows just don’t get on with their herd, so a cow exchange is a popular event in farming areas like this. Most of the people at the fair were farmers and cheese makers. The few tourists were easy to spot as the ones patting the cows. I was one of them.

It’s great to see that the cows are given names. Take Urinette, for example (see photo below). While my French friend who wanted the meat tray prize told me it’s like saying ‘urination’ in English, I looked it up and discovered it’s actually a device women can use to pee standing up (like the She Pee). Why on earth is there a cow called Urinette? Cows stand up to pee, after all, so is it something else special she does? Apart from her name, the sign above her tells us that Urinette produced 6302 litres of milk over 305 days — around 20 litres of milk a day. Well done, Urinette, and I hope you’re happy in a new field with new cow friends tonight.

<Photo of a cow called Urinette in La Clusaz'>

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Notre Dame du Haut – a designer church


<Photo of designer church Notre Dame du Haut, in France'>

What you’re looking at is a chapel designed by Franco-Swiss designer Le Corbusier. Standing on a hill in Ronchamp, Notre Dame du Haut was finished in 1954, replacing a chapel that had been destroyed during the Second World War. The site has been religious for a very long time: the building before the destroyed chapel was a fourth-century chapel.

<Photo of interior windows at Notre Dame du Haut, in France'>The grounds have some old graves in one tiny corner of the land, and some old foundations of what was perhaps the old chapel are visible not far from the current chapel. The bells are on the outside, dangling from a metallic support further away on the same hill. The grounds are quiet and relaxing.

A large pyramid stands on the other side of the chapel — a memorial to those who lost their lives during the war, and it doubles as a high view point of the chapel. From the top of the pyramid, part of the roof (pictured on the right in the photo above) looks like the bottom of an ark.

The roof is slightly raised to allow a line of light inside the chapel. The many small windows provide a light that is far more spectacular in real life than any photo, and there are nooks within the chapel where natural light has been used in imaginative and impressive ways.

<Photo of stained glass at Notre Dame du Haut, in France'>I mistakenly went to this chapel with a designer friend. He was happy to finally see the church he had studied at design school. He was less happy when I picked on those windows. As glorious as the design is on both the exterior and the interior, there was something that let those windows down.

First of all, the primary colours reminded me of an old Studio Line advertisement.

I’m sorry! I know I’ve just offended a large population of the world by not agreeing that everything about this church is amazing. I just couldn’t help but hear that Studio Line jingle in my head when looking at these windows!

Interestingly, these windows are not stained glass: they’re hand-painted enamel. The world is also supposed to be in awe of these techniques, and I’m probably that one idiot who just doesn’t get it. I think they look like windows with cellophane on them, like you see in kindergartens. The hand-painted flowers and blobs were probably very difficult to get just right, but they just added to that kids’ painting feeling for me. Again, I’m sorry, designers (and I know one designer who might not be speaking to me after reading this!) and anyone else who is offended by my lack of appreciation.

Apart from those points, the windows are indeed impressive. They are of different thicknesses (like the close-up pictured), sizes and positioning so that the light reflects into the church in different ways. Unlike most religious monuments, the chapel and its grounds invoked in me a genuine tranquility. I hope that makes amends to all designers out there. After all, churches are supposed to be predominantly spiritual, aren’t they? Chapel win.

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Champagne bottle cap collection is a thing

<Champagne bottle cap swap advertisement in La clusaz>
This sign translates to ‘Swap meet for Champagne bottle caps’.

Yes, that’s apparently a thing.

Really? Champagne caps?

Forget stamp collecting or coin swapping; here in France, it’s all about the booze.

I’ve seen the caps at vide greniers and wondered if anyone ever buys them. Apparently, there is an interest! Who knew?

It’s apparently popular enough to warrant an advertisement on the welcome board at the entrance of La Clusaz. Yes, on the 5th of October, you too can swap all those champagne lids you’ve collected with fellow enthusiasts. I’ll see you there (no, I won’t).


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France Vegatarian - website for vegetarians and vegans in France

Website for vegetarians and vegans in France