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Francophone Fun

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.

 

2016, bonjour!

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Chers étudiants,

Au nom de toute l’équipe de l’Alliance Française de Chicago nous tenons à vous remercier pour cette belle année 2015. Ce fut un plaisir de la passer en votre compagnie et de travailler avec vous. C’est pourquoi nous sommes heureux d’entamer cette nouvelle année à vos côtés et vous souhaitons une très bonne année 2016 : santé, bonheur et réussite dans votre apprentissage du français !

Meilleurs vœux à tous !

 

Dear students,

On behalf of the entire Alliance Française de Chicago team, we want to thank you for a wonderful year. It was a pleasure to spend it in your company and to work with you. We are thrilled to start this New Year by your side and we wish you a fantastic 2016: health and happiness as well as success in your French studies!

Happy new year to all!