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Francophone Fun

Reporting from the treetops of Madagascar

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So here we are, dear reader… on a new adventure. Why would we stop at La Martinique when another Francophone pocket of the world calls. Let’s trade shipwrecks and volcanoes for island deserts, tropical rain forests and big discoveries and head to Madagascar!

So, Madagascar… know anything about it? Given a second thought beyond the beloved children’s animated movie? I hadn’t either, but now I do! Let’s get down in the dirt and discover Madagascar together. Now, I don’t pretend to amuse the idea that an entire country can be discovered in one small blog post. HOWEVER, we can catch a glimpse into Madagascar’s rich ecological and environmental history and go from there.

“Why focus on the ecology and environment of Madagascar?” Good question. Well, Madagascar was once a part of the super continent Gondwana but later split off to form the island it is today. Hold on, this becomes relevant. The animal and plant species stuck on the island after it split became isolated and started to form their own adaptations and subspecies which are unique only to Madagascar. Think Galapagos islands and all of Darwin’s special discoveries of new species. It’s the same deal with Madagascar. If this doesn’t interest you, let me see if this helps: a photo of Madagascar’s national tree – the baobab.

Look at this tree, people. Is that not one of the most magnificent things you’ve ever seen? If you say no, then this is not the post for you because I am truly in love with this tree and am dedicating the rest of this article to it… This is the Adansonia grandidieri, one of the six species of Baobab trees on the island of Madagascar. There are more species of Baobab trees found in Australia, Arabia and Africa, but this specific species is unique to Madagascar. The Adansonia grandidieri was named after Alfred Grandidier, who apparently was a big shot scientist in France. He made many discoveries in Madagascar, discovering about 50 new species of amphibians and reptiles. Bravo les scientifiques

Okay, back to the trees. The Adansonia grandidieri can get up to 3 meters wide and 25 – 30 meters tall (this is the Alliance Française, we use the metric system). They produce vitamin-C rich seeds that are fresh or used for their oil. Just image a tree that large in your front yard…  food and climbing for days!

Researching and getting to know the Adansonia grandidieri isn’t all fun and games. Unfortunately, with the growing need for agricultural goods, agricultural lands are swallowing up the Adansonia grandidieri habitat. There were once forests full of Adansonia grandidieri, but now they are now dispersed over large agricultural fields. Consequently, they fall prey to fires, competition from weeds and seed predation, all of which hinder their ability to reproduce and for little baby trees to grow. And this specific species of baobab tree is the most exploited in Madagascar, due in part to it’s rich seed.

However, efforts are being made to protect and boost the survival of the Adansonia grandidieri. And thank goodness for that, because these are gentle giants and beauties to behold. If you are curious about more species unique to the island of Madagascar, check out this website and keep fuelling your curiosity!

A bientôt, mes amis!

Jane Eagleton





What lurks beneath the surface?

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Time to stop treating la France Hexagonale like it is the only part of France that matters. Let’s travel to Les Caraïbes and explore La Martinique.

Now, if your interest is sparked by the past and adventure, then you are like me and Martinique is the place for you. I don’t know about you all, but reading only cold hard facts about La Martinique sounds a little boring.  Although, it is important to know that La Martinique is very much a part of la République Française, is on the euro,  was known (economically and culturally) as the Paris of Les Caraïbes in its heyday,  and that the majority of people there speak Créole Martiniquais. No, I am looking for the spooky, and eerie… you know, in the wake of Halloween and all.

Now that you followed me all the way to Martinique, you might as well continue on my adventure to the city of St. Pierre, on May 8, 1902. Imagine a city filled with tourists, merchants, the people of St. Pierre of course, all happily going about their day. And then… BOOM! an earth-shattering and life-altering rumble from Mt. Pelée, the active volcano that looms over St. Pierre. Soon, fire fills the town and smoke surges through the city and reaches la bord de la mer, where many merchant and cargo ships were anchored. Not even the seafaring vessels were able to escape the fury unleashed by Mt. Pelée. Boats were being torn in half, pummeled by lava and debris. The cracking of wood and the cry of sailors were muddled only by the screeches of the volcano herself. However, the smoke finally cleared and revealed a once thriving city now demolished and left with few survivors. Close to 40,000 people died, according to The New York Times. One of the only survivors was a prisoner who was so well imprisoned that his cell protected him from the chaos of the volcano.

Okay, I get it, you’re thinking “Jane, what is this? I didn’t casually open up this blog to suddenly get so sad.” Well, dearest reader, out of all chaos and devastation must come something beautiful, right? To show you, let’s travel 115 years into the future, to Martinique aujourd’hui. Here, you find a town who never truly recovered from the catastrophe that was the eruption of Mt. Pelée. Even though St. Pierre never reverted back to being the “Paris of the Carribean”, it is now a quaint town known for history and the arts.

You could say that both history and art drew me to St. Pierre. Even after 115 years, evidence of the catastrophic volcanic eruption remains… in shipwrecks. Many many shipwrecks. Both haunting and inviting, these shipwrecks drew me in like fishermen lure in fish. I was hooked. More than 10 serene ships lie beneath the calm waters of St. Pierre teaming with wildlife and history. While you might have to look harder onshore to see the effects of Mt. Pelée’s eruption in 1902, its memory lives on in vivid beautiful blues and rusted reds below the waterline in a ship graveyard.

RAISINIER were all casualties of the eruption. They all lie right off the coast of St. Pierre as relics and reminders of what happened on May 8, 1902. They lie anywhere between 50 and 200 feet underwater. While they have all been scoured for treasure and swept for trinkets, they are still beauties to behold. Buried under the sea, these ships hold wonder and capture the attention of the adventurer and detective inside us all.

So, dearest lecteur and fellow adventurer, I will leave you with this task: pick up your scuba gear and don’t just read about this legendary ship graveyard. Go visit these shipwrecks for yourself. Swim with the wreckage, explore the vessels and then report back. I’ll be waiting.

À bientôt!

Jane Eagleton



Shipwrecks Of The French West Indies


Un café, s’il vous plaît!

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Bonjour tout le monde,

Your favorite Alliance intern here. If you are anything like me, you enjoy a good cup of coffee. I know some of you aren’t fans of coffee, and I get that… you’re just wrong. No disrespect, I just needed you to know who you’re talking to: an avid coffee drinker and lover. And as that coffee lover, I have come to encounter many cups and different types of coffee, including the famous French café.

As an American, ordering un café in France for the first time was both fun and confusing. Because what you get is a shot of espresso, and not a massive, diner sized cup of joe that we are all so fond of and used to. But hey, after a while I got used to my little espresso shot and actually began to enjoy it.

Now, there must be something in the air in France that allows people to have a shot of espresso 5+ times a day and still sleep through the night because it seemed to me that everyone would prend un café all the time. This quite impressive French tolerance and infatuation with coffee got me wondering… is there something special about French coffee?

Turns out, it isn’t the coffee necessarily that is so special, but it is the ritual of going to a café to order un café that is so special! You see, cafés (the place not the drink) since the 17th century have served as important meeting places for social, political and culinary innovation. In Paris particularly, going to a café was oftentimes more useful than reading a newspaper when it came to getting information, news, or gossip. The café turned into a place where you could eat, talk, drink, meet new people, share ideas and be a part of society. They were also a hub for artists and writers alike, such as Voltaire and Rousseau. No wonder they are si populaires and found on every corner in France!

“Ah ha!” I think. So it is the history and tradition of the café that fuel the French obsession with espresso shots at any hour of any day. Next time I find myself with a piping hot espresso, in a Parisian café, whether in my dreams or in reality,  I will be thinking of the centuries of café drinkers, socialites, inventors, artists and politicians that potentially sat in the very same seat, and I will smile.

Jane Eagleton

Francophones in the outfield!

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Does America’s pastime translate to the langue de Molière ? Mais oui! Learn les positions de baseball en français and meet some of the many big-name players have connections to France. Here’s a rundown of just a few.


Eric Gagné, lanceur de relève

For a time, the most dominant pitcher in the MLB was Eric Gagné, a crafty closer for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Most baseball fans know him for his trademark goggles and consecutive save streak. Francophone fans might also know him for his name*. Eric grew up in Quebec, knowing only French until he moved to the States. After retirement, he has spent time in France, including a stint as the national team’s manager in 2016.

*Gagné is the past-participle form of gagner, or to win. So, one can say that Eric a gagné 33 matches. An impressive career for  a stoppeur from Canada.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Claude Raymond, lanceur partant

Known by his teammates as “Frenchy”, Raymond was the first québecois player to named an
MLB All-Star. In 1969, Quebec gained its own MLB team, the Montréal Expos. Raymond pitched for the team from its inaugural season to his retirement. After his playing career, Raymond took on  an even bigger role  with his hometown franchise, broadcasting games in French for thirty seasons. Sadly, the Expos, now known as the Nationals, have since moved to a  non-francophone region: Washington D.C.


 Melissa Mayeux, arrêt-court

While Melissa has not yet stepped on an MLB field, she has already made history in the league. The shortstop became the first women eligible to sign for a team in 2015. As an arrêt-court, she is the most important defensive player on her team. Her unique combination of athleticism and intelligence has caught the eyes of scouts. Being added to the list is only the first step in many on a journey to the majors, but this young woman from Louviers has changed America’s pastime forever.





Extra innings… Les positions!

Pitcher = Lanceur
The French term is much more literal than ours: lancer means “to throw”, making lanceur “thrower”. A lanceur partant starts the game, and a lanceur de relève comes to help out of le bullpen (some words are the same in both languages).

Catcher = Receveur
Another literal interpretation, as recevoir means “to receive”.

First baseman / second baseman / third baseman = Joueur de première base / deuxième base / troisième base
While you might expect to see première basehomme as a match for our “first baseman”, such a thing does not exist. Instead, one adds joueur de in front of the noun.

Left fielder, center fielder, right fielder = Joueur de champ gauche / champ centre / champ droit
This follows the pattern used with the infield positions. You just add joueur de to the area of the field and you’re done.


Ethan Safron

FrogProv – Your time to shine?

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Theater buff? Improv fan? Don’t pass this by, this post is for YOU!
We recently learned about a fantastic project involving French AND English language… Forgprov!
Since this kind of mix is what we love best, we thought you would be interested too!


C’est quoi ?

Frogprov is a collective of Chicagoans who improvise in both English and French, sometimes at the same time! This family-friendly short-form improv show promises cross-cultural entertainment while breaking the performers’ tongues and brains.

C’est quand ?

Every Monday in August at 8:30 p.m.

C’est ou ?

Judy’s Beat Lounge, 230 W. North Ave., Chicago, IL 60610

C’est combien ?

  • $10 General / $8 Student / $5 TC Student

Pour plus d’informations

And great news ; if you want to go a bit deeper, in the Fall, the Alliance Française de Chicago will offer TWO different improv classes! Are you excited? We certainly are!

A bientôt

Fashion of the Belle Époque

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The Belle Époque period lasted from 1871 to 1914, the end of the Franco-Prussian war to the beginning of WWI. It is also known as the Edwardian era and the Gilded age. This period was known for luxury and excess for some people, and this was especially evident in the fashions of the time.

An example of mutton leg sleeves. 1896.

Some of the more extravagant components of previous dress were starting to be dropped in the interest of more functional clothing for women. After 1890 the bustle was no longer commonly worn and the silhouettes of dresses changed with giant “leg of mutton” sleeves and tiny waists coming into fashion. There were some different types of sleeves also during this period as designers experimented with different places to have tight or loose sleeve components.

Corsets were also evolving. While the hourglass figure had been all the rage in the Victorian era, changing times meant changing figures. S-bend corsets were worn so that the

October 1900 illustration from Ladies Home Journal showing The New Figure (aka the S-bend).

hips would be pushed back and the chest would be pushed forward, creating an S effect. The corset was worn along with a boned bodice.

Over this bodice there would be fabrics lighter than those worn during the Victorian era. Dresses frequently came in two pieces now : a blouse and a skirt. Over the Belle Époque period there were some variations in the skirts that were most popular. These ranged from hip-hugging skirts that flared at the hem, higher waistlines, lower waistlines, fuller skirts, and hobble skirts.

Meanwhile, the blouses paired with these skirts tended to be high necked during the day with a bit more variation in the evening with sweet heart, round and square necklines making an appearance.

Accessories were just as important as any other component of the outfit. Lace-up boots were the standard shoe of the time and could be made of a variety of materials depending on expense. Hats tended to be wide-brimmed and bedecked in feathers (and sometimes actual whole stuffed birds) – at least until women learned that the birds providing the feathers were becoming endangered as a result of hat demand.

Meanwhile, men’s fashion didn’t change very much at all during this period. There were some slight variations but nothing too extreme. In general, there were a lot of frock coats and three piece suits. Clothing was relatively standard and most of what men had to make sure of at this point was that they were wearing the right neutral jacket at the right time of day.

Eventually around the beginning of th

Designs by Paul Poiret, including a lampshade tunic.

e 1910s, the corset started to be

abandoned altogether in favor of utilizing “draping” to achieve the desired silhouette. This transition was spearheaded especially by French designer, Paul Poiret who also used Oriental influences to design the lampshade tunic, harem pants and hobble skirts. He also used a lot of beading and other embellishments that would take over the eventual post-war fashions.

When you attend our Belle Époque event on Tuesday, May 16 you don’t have to wear a corset or a bird on your head but we are excited to see you!











Indulge in some French comfort food

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Comfort food is an almost universally known concept. You have a hard day, you come home and you eat a gallon of mac and cheese and maybe you just feel a little bit better. Or maybe you had something a little more interesting to sate your hunger. If you identify with this, maybe it’s time you learned a little bit more about French comfort food!

A Croque Madame

The first documented mention of the croque monsieur was in the second volume of Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” 1918. The sandwich itself is a masterful combination of bread, cheese and ham. If you add a fried or poached egg on top, the sandwich becomes a croque madame. Due to the simplicity of the basic sandwich, there are almost endless possibilities when it comes to modifying the sandwich to suit different tastes. Some things people love to add are tomatoes, blue cheese, smoked salmon, sliced potatoes or even pineapple!



The origins of the special sandwich is unknown but there are quite a few popular legends that have circulated for some time. One is that a sandwich was left out in the heat and the cheese melted. Another is that a restaurateur had run out of baguettes and wanted a way to have crunchy bread.

Pain Perdu

Another comforting bread-based French food is pain perdu (also known as French toast). Funny enough, it has existed for so

long that we don’t really know the origins of the dish. It is known to be a decedent of the roman dish aliter dulcia (which translates to “Another Kind of Desert”)which is a cake-type item mostly made up of ground nuts with a custard.

In medieval Europe, the dish took on a form closer to what we consider pain perdue as a way to transform stale bread. This was when it became bread soaked in milk and/or egg existed in a variety of forms.

Today we have a variety of types of pain perdu that are eaten for breakfast, dessert or just as a snack. Since it is so versatile you can make it sweet or savory depending on your tastes. If you want to learn how to make croque monsieur and pain perdu hands-on, join us for our next cooking class! It will be this Saturday, April 29 at 11:15 a.m.




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.

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.

Apple of the earth

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The potato arrived in Europe at the end of the 16th century with very little fanfare, yet it soon found its way into the hearts and stomachs of many as a staple food.

This journey to fame was not without a bit of turmoil. The veggie was even illegal in France from 1748 to 1772 due to concerns about them being poisonous!

When Antoine-Augustin de Parmentier, a medical army officer, was forced to eat pommes de terre as a captive of the Prussians he found that potatoes were not only edible but might actually have great nutritional value and so he decided to study them. Parmentier’s researched them extensively and was eventually able to convince the Paris Faculty of Medicine to formally declare the potato edible in 1772.

Even after this declaration many people didn’t believe they were safe to eat so Parmentier made many efforts to change public opinions. To do this he got some very powerful friends to help; He gifted Marie Antoinette potato flowers and she and Louis XVI wore them as accessories. What a shame we don’t have any pictures!

Today, fear of potatoes is long gone and people have found countless ways to transform the seemingly humble root into countless amazing dishes. One such dish, hachis parmentier, is named after Parmentier himself!

Come to the Alliance Française on Saturday, January 21 from 11:15 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. to learn some amazing potato recipes with Chef Madelaine Bullwinkel.