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We met Dany Laferrière… Do you want to know all about it?

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A few weeks ago, on February 13, in conversation with our very own Director of Programs, Aimee Laberge, Dany Laferrière told us stories about his life.

When asked where he lives these days he responded whimsically that he lives in the vast space of writing. He also spends a fair amount of time in hotels due to the large amount of travelling he does. Some of the places he described travelling to included Italy (where two of his books are set) as well as Haiti, Madagascar, Algeria, Canada, China and France. He also confirmed that his books have been translated into a wide variety of languages.

Dany Lafèrriere at the Alliance Française de Chicago

He described some of his recent speaking engagements at various colleges and language schools. He also spoke about his experiences with author festivals and book fairs. He described the importance of the diversity that is brought out at such events where people with different origins can learn about many cultures and learn about each other’s favorite books.

He described his style when it comes to using the logic of language, comparing language to mathematics. He feels that simplicity is important in language because it allows clear communication. You don’t want your thoughts to be at odds with your writing.

He also talked about the way language is used in the modern world in a way that is less nuanced than it used to be. He talked about how people are inclined to use less complex verb tenses because, in general, everyone is in a bit more of a rush. He went on to describe language as a living thing as well as the importance of understanding the life of languages that might be less well known than the ones with the most speakers. Emphasis was put on the importance of not judging a language speaker on amount words or grammar complexity used but by the emotions behind the words.

Check out our other upcoming cultural events and classes!

Irène Jacob for a live jazz concert at the Alliance!

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Irène Jacob is a singer and an actress of stage and screen. She doesn’t seem to be one to shy away from any genre and her career so far is a rich tapestry woven with a little bit of everything, from dramatic TV shows to Shakespeare to French art-house films, all of which she shines in.

When reading interviews with her, she makes it clear that every project she engages in must speak to her or she won’t take part in it. Most recently she acted in an android-centric re-imagining of Kafka’s Metamorphosis and the Showtime series, The Affair. 

Irene and Francis Jacob

But as wonderful as her acting is, the reason we are lucky enough to welcome her and her brother Francis is for their musical talents. Francis plays the guitar while Irène sings. Their music is soothing and also engaging and thought provoking. They have released a number of albums, the most recent of which is “En bas de Chez Moi“, which was released in 2016. On her website they describe the album as having a lot to do with the geographical distance that there is between them with Irène living in Paris while Francis lives in New York. This is reflected in the style of the music as well as the lyrics.

If you want a taste of their music, check out this clip:

If you want to see them in action, join us for our Francophonie Launch and Fundraiser where they will give a concert. To get tickets, click here!




Cheesy cheesy melty food

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In the mid-west we are known for our casseroles and hot dishes. If you grew up here you might have memories of eating mounds of tater tot hot dish or green bean casserole. These recipes probably involved some variation of vegetables and/or tater tots swimming in a pool of condensed mushroom soup.

Green bean casserole that is not in an actual casserole dish.

The word casserole itself has french origins. “Casse” refers to the type of pan that casseroles are usually cooked in. This makes sense as the early casserole was created in 1866 by a French Canadian named Elmire Jolicoeur who immigrated to New Hampshire. In the 1950s, preparation of casseroles became very popular and this had a lot to do with an increase in availability of light-weight glass and metal pans as well as modern inventions such as canned and processed food becoming available. People could easily create a dinner with canned goods.

What many seem to agree on in casseroles is the importance of a variety of textures. No one wants a casserole that is all soft and mushy! To add a bit of crunch dried onions are often added to the top of a green bean casserole and tater tots make up the crust of a tater tot casserole. In France, the gratin is what adds a texture to what is usually a soft inside.

An example of a gratin.

Gratin refers to the brown crust of cheese and/or breadcrumbs a dish such as potatoes gratiné. Gratins can have a variety of ingredients such as vegetables, pasta, and seafood. Pretty much anything can be a gratin as long as it has that crunchy crust. 

Fun Fact: “Le gratin” is also an idiomatic phrase that refers to being “the upper crust” of society.

Learn how to make a perfect gratin in our next cooking class: Winter Gratins, and hurry up we are almost sold-out!




Turning sour grapes into Champagne

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If you clicked on this post, you probably have some idea of what champagne is. You might be able to recall the pleasant fizz of the bubbles or a particular sweet, light flavor. But do you know of the rich history and the unique details of production?

Region of Champagne is highlighted in red.

True champagne is produced only in the French region of Champagne in the Northeast. Since it is one of the north-most wine producing regions in france, the temperatures are often much lower than other wine-producing areas and so ripening of the grapes doesn’t occur as quickly and the grapes end up being a bit more acidic than their southern cousins. The wine-makers of history were not deterred by this challenge and simply made lemons into lemonade ( or, really, grapes into champagne.)

The metal muselet, used to keep the champagne from exploding.

The champagne we have today is a true result of centuries of collaboration, adjustment and refining. In 1662 Christopher Merrett discovered that adding sugar or molasses during a second fermentation could make it sparkling. Also in the mid-1600s glass-makers found a way to design bottles that could contain the pressure of the wine and the English found that using the traditional roman cork was more effective at holding in pressure than a cloth wrapped piece of wood that the French were using. In 1844 the muselet was invented to help contain the cork by Adolphe Jaquesson.

A portrait of Madame Clicquot and her grandchild.


In the early-1800s Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot made champagne a viable large-scale business possibility when she streamlined the process by inventing the riddling process and integrating it into the production process. She also was able to jump-start the marketing of her champagne when she managed to smuggle it to the Russian Court near the end of the Napoleanic wars when naval blockades were making commercial shipping almost impossible. Both her shrewd marketing and streamlining of the process caused the popularity of her product (and eventually all champagne) to sky-rocket.


Want a taste of what all that history has produced? Come to our Tastes and Toasts event at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, February 8! Tickets are $30 for members and $40 for non-members.

Read our interview with Sophie Loubière!

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Sophie Loubière



Sophie Loubière is a French journalist and writer who already published more than ten novels.
She is urrently working on a new one, Bloody Coffee and this one will be set in Chicago! Before listening to her next week, come read about her in our exclusive interview;

What got you interested in writing?

The unlimited power of the words, the infinite possibilities to tell a story, the unique parfume of liberty I can smell while I’m writing…

How do you choose what genre to write?

I don’t choose. The novel tells it on its own.

Where do you find inspiration?

In newspapers and in my own life, drawing my inspiration from what affects me intimately. A great source of ideas also comes from travels I’ve done, like the route 66 in 2011, and my visit to Chautauqua Institution, NY, in 2014. Nature and vestiges of the past moved me deeply.

How do you go about starting a novel?

I often start a novel from two new items I imbricate to make a story. Nothing is stronger than true stories.

What is the most difficult part about writing?

To stay concentrated on your work even if the world is collapsing around you – or the cat is jumping on the computer keyboard, erasing your chapter.

What is your favorite part about writing?

When a character escapes from me and starts to do things he’s not supposed to do, and when I’m done with my first chapter that I had rewritten about 100 times in two years.

What’s the first thing you do when you finish writing a novel?

With tears in my eyes, exhausted, I climb down the stairs, go to the living room to inform my husband and children about the good news. And they all ask what’s for dinner.

What is your favorite book to read?

(That’s a hard one!) The one I haven’t written yet.

Want to hear more from Sophie? Come to our free Avec L’Auteur event on Monday, February 6… in French!

Fun facts about Tales of Hoffmann

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Jaques Offenbach composed the opera The Tales of Hoffmann in the late 1870s. Before dying he apparently had a premonition that he would not survive to see his opera performed… He ended up being right as he died only four months before the opera was performed for the first time!
As a result, many different editions of his original score have been altered and this means that there are many different editions in existence. Recently there have been efforts to reinstate the opera to a close approximation of the original.

So, you want to know what this is about? Spoiler alert, it’s not exactly a fairy tale: the opera is made up of three stories of the loves of Hoffmann and each of these relationships are doomed to end in tragedy…

But before making any decision read what your host for the day, Executive Director of the Alliance Française de Chicago, Jack McCord, has to say about this opera: The Tales of Hoffmann…..an automaton who sings like a goddess, a lost love who sings too much, a beautiful Venetian courtesan who leaves Hoffmann hanging and then dies in his arms….VOILA some of the highlights of Tales of Hoffmann! Come see a stellar cast in this opéra fantastique for which its composer, Jacques Offenbach did not live to see the opening! Glorious music, all subtitled in English including the intermission feature.”

So… See what Offenbach couldn’t on Saturday, February 4!

When our Programs Director meets Dany Laferrière and tells us all about it!

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I met Dany Laferrière at the Salon du livre de Quebec in April 1986, where I was peddling my first publication, a collection of bad poems hesitating between French and English. I think it was called Turtleneck and Black Slacks. Nobody was showing much interest so I had plenty of time to walk around and check the competition.

Danny Laferrière was also promoting his first book, but he had a much better title: Comment faire l’amour à un nègre sans se fatiguer, or How to Make love to Negro Without Getting Tired. We talked and exchanged books. He signed a poster for me, showing him sitting barefoot on a park bench with his typewriter. His white high tops (pre-basketball star edition, just plain white canvas) are beside him on the bench. He looks pretty relaxed. Nez en l’air, you know what I mean? We saw each other again the next day and he told me he liked my poems, the ones in French, because he didn’t read English. I’ve just finished reading his first book again, and I still think what I thought then—that Quebec had never seen something like this before.

What hides behind the provocative title is a fast, funny and ferocious riff on sex, race, jazz, destroying all clichés and myths about young black men in its wake. Informed by Kerouac, Miller and Baldwin, Laferrière said he wrote Comment faire l’amour à un nègre sans se fatiguer in three weeks. It’s summer, it’s hot, and the narrator and his friend Bouba share an apartment on rue Saint-Denis in Montreal. The cross on top of Mont Royal shines through the night. Bouba lives on the sofa, quotes the Koran, and meditates to the sound of the Duke, Archie Shepp or Coltrane. Dinners of canned food and poulet créole are drowned with cheap wine, and the narrator’s effort to finish his novel are derailed by the successive visits of Miz Littérature, Miz Suicide, or Miz Carte du Ciel—to name a few.

Let’s be honest, this is a hard book to carry around in public, says a reader’s review.
Honest, brash, unhappy, new, says The Village Voice.

I saw Dany Laferrière for the second time in 2003 in Montreal. I had finished my transition to English and my first novel, Where the River Narrows, had just come out. I was a guest, like him, at the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival. He was sitting beside Maryse Condé, who was being honored. I did not have the courage to come up and say hello. Laferrière had published many books since we had first met, both in Quebec and in France. His novels had been made into films and he was also famous for his columns in the Montreal press. Although not barefoot this time, he still look relaxed; as demonstrated by the way he draped his arm over the top of the empty chair beside him. The way he watched the world go by.

I am about to meet Dany Laferrière again in Chicago. The little boy who spent his childhood speaking kreyol in the village of Petit-Goâve is now the first Haitian and the first Québécois to be named at the prestigious Académie française—an institution founded in the 1635 by Richelieu to safeguard the French language. He will be the first writer-in-residence at the Sofitel Magnificent Mile, where he will write about Chicago’s jazz scene. He will join us on Monday, February 13th at 6:30 p.m., here at the Alliance and he will tell us what he means when he says he is an écrivain américain —an American author.

I am looking forward to seeing him again…and I hope you are too!


Aimée Laberge


Pour en savoir plus: 25 repères lumineux sur le parcours d’un immortel.

French Loop to the rescue!

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What do you do if you want to learn French at the Alliance Française de Chicago but none of our classes fit your busy schedule or it’s an ordeal for you to visit us at 810 N Dearborn?

Never fear! The French Loop is here! We’ve designed this new addition to our family with busy professionals in mind. Now you can arrange a private or semi-private lesson at our convenient loop location at 53 W Jackson.

Join us when you can for our Grand Opening on Friday, January 27 between 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Enjoy a complimentary crêpe and beverage, meet your future French teacher and other students. You can also take a free placement and get a free one hour lesson upon sign up.

Due to space, confirmed registrations only. Please, register on our Facebook event by January 26th or call us at (312) 337-1070 !


Last days for the AF Holiday Market!

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The Alliance Française de Chicago team is very happy to host its first Marché de Noël ! Before, between or after your classes, shop and enjoy our very unique gifts…:

Erald & Julie sell their now famous Savons de Marseille, pillow spray and other beauty products as well as some pieces of arts handmade by Erald!

Heïdi, our crochet instructor has worked hard to offer you some amazing handmade accessories; hats, tops, scarfs… She has everything you need to be ready for a harsh winter at Elements of Heidi.

If you want to treat one of your friends or relatives with some handmade and elegant piece of jewelry, I am sure you will be pleased to meet Raphaëlle and her extensive variety of necklaces!

Marie, our French seamstress, will be happy to present you lots of unique accessories for your home or yourself ; from pouches to cushions and including wallets, hot packs and Christmas ornament… even if you don’t know what you are looking for, I am sure she has it.

And finally, we will be happy to welcome Renée and Aimée surrounded by books ! French books, books about France, kids books, books to learns French… you name it, they will find it!


December 7th and 8th between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.
No reservation needed. Just drop by!


Are you planning to shop for Christmas gifts at a holiday market?
What is the best French present you have ever received/given?

Let us treat you to a FREE French class!

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And no, that’s not a joke!

‘Tis holiday season after all so treat yourself or your friends and family by signing up for our Guest program.

Call us (312) 337-1070 to register as a GUEST and attend any French class for FREE!*

That’s it! Easy enough right? And… did we mention it was FREE?


Currently a student? That’s good too! Refer a GUEST and get a $25 discount on your next class.**
Your guest can come to class with you or they can attend a separate course if they have a different level. Ask us about your level, we will tell you which class is best.


*This offer is valid only once. No exception. Students who have attended classes within the last year cannot apply for this offer.
**Current students can only refer one person per session. The subsequent discount cannot be added to other existing offers.