Dr. N.A.N.'s Blog

News, views, and how the world skews from San Antonio, Texas

Archive for France

Claude Françaix

Dr. NAN & Claude FrancaixLast time I was in Paris, I had the opportunity to meet one of the daughters of composer Jean Françaix. Claude Françaix lives in Orléans, but makes frequent visits to Paris to care for her ailing mother and her mother’s two pets.

We met over tea and ice cream (from Berthillion, where else?). She shared many funny stories about her father and gave me some insight into his way of thinking about music and life. Claude explained that her father loved ambiguity in all things. For instance, when she was born, Monsieur Françaix declared that she should be called Claude because of the ambiguity of the name itself. He wanted the world to wonder if she was a little boy or a little girl. When her sister was born, he tried the same thing but their mother would have nothing to do with it!

Claude also told me when Jean Françaix was a young man, he would occasionally accompany a choir that his mother conducted. He was appalled at the choir’s lack of intonation and noticed that the only person singing in tune was a young girl. He later claimed that he chose that young girl to be his wife because she sang in tune!

For most of the meeting, we spoke French. I had asked my parents to participate so that when I had difficulty with either comprehension or articulation, they could help with translation. Although they seemed interested at the beginning, somewhere in the middle of our conversation, I looked over to see my father with his head drooped, quietly napping. I then turned to my mother who was valiantly trying to stay awake! So I still wonder if I understood everything Claude was saying…

At one point, Claude described to me the apartment that her parents shared. She said that it is practically a museum filled with most of her father’s memorabilia. Can you imagine the treasure trove it must contain? Her mother continues to live in it but prefers not to have any visitors. What I would give to poke around in Jean Françaix’s home of many years!
We ended our meeting with a promise to stay in touch and for Claude to send me more stories about her father. She also gave me a CD that she and her father had recorded of his works for two pianos. The playing was lovely and the ensemble was very tight. And I know a little something about this, having recorded my share of two-piano CDs..

Talking to Claude felt like I was sitting across from history itself. Here was a woman who knew Jean Françaix intimately, had spent much of her life learning from him and had even made music with him. I look forward to meeting with Claude again, immersing myself in more of Jean Françaix and maybe even getting the chance to snoop around his old home.

Pièce Monter

Can’t very well do an entire post on the elusive dessert without showing a picture!

Piece Monter

Finger-Lickin’ Good!


More Songs About Buildings and Food

Berthillon PARIS — Today, I was able to spend some “me” time along the rue Saint Louis en l’Isle. This street is part of one of the islands in the Seine, sort of in the middle of the city. I came to know this street (and the island) when my family and I used to rent an apartment here. To me, this street has some of the most amazing shops in Paris. The best ice cream and sorbet can be found at Berthillon, whose primary location is on the island. Even in the middle of winter, you will find a line that circles around the block–people patiently waiting to buy some of their amazing confections. (Perhaps akin to the line outside of Target when Wiis became available.)La charlotteA little further down, there is a tea room called La Charlotte de l’Isle. The owner is a chocolate artist of the first order. When you walk in, you are greeted by the rich smell of dark chocolate. She makes all kinds of figurines, cakes, cookies, and other structures from chocolate. Occasionally, she’ll add in candied fruit or almonds. The reason for my visit today was to pick-up a pièce monter for a party. I learned that pièce monter means something that is built in stages. So, the creation was tall, with each “floor” made from almond cookie dough rolled thin, baked and then molded to form half cylinders. The occasional section was dipped in chocolate. (If I were faced with a “last meal”, a pièce monter would be my request!) Besides ordering a piece of pièce, we frequently will stop in for chocolat chaud. This hot chocolate is NOT made from Nestlés powder — instead, our hostess melts chunks of chocolate with cream or half and half, and then serves it with a side of water.Also along this street is my favorite jewelry store. Thelma isn’t a store where you would go to buy a diamond, but a lot of the jewelry is handmade with crystals and other semi-previous stones. Without fail, I visit the shop once per trip to Paris and inevitably I buy something.If you keep walking down the street, it opens up into a bridge that connects the two islands. Cross the bridge and you are at the back of Notre Dame. Today, the tour line was too long so I just stood outside and took some pictures. I did go into another church (much smaller and less ornate) along the same street to light a candle. Similar to visiting Thelma, I always try to visit one church to light a candle. Thought it’s gotten to be such an expensive habit that I no longer light a candle for everyone on my prayer list– one has to suffice.

Art on Everything

Paris Pastry ShopPARIS – Today we took a long walk in search of a particular patisserie that was recommended to us on Rue Monge. The day was picture-perfect. While crossing the Pont Sully, the backside of Notre Dame was visible, there were house boats on the river, pigeons everywhere, bicyclists (seems like everyone rides them now) and zillions of scooters. (Scooters have become a mild interest of mine because I have friends who both have Vespas.)

in Paris avec pereThe bakery was about 2 miles from our apartment, and since we hit it early afternoon, it was teeming with people. Some of their specialties include small rolls stuffed with bacon and smothered in parmesan cheese. They also offer a number of “escargot” pastries (snail-shaped) featuring chocolate or cinnamon. I was finally able to feast upon a sandwich au camenbert–yum. On our way home, we stopped at another bakery whose store window practically demanded we come in–the number of unique pastries and tartes and cakes were overwhelming.

And each one of them was a work of art in miniature. How do they make this stuff? My mother and I “discussed” various cooking techniques but couldn’t agree!

I ended up with a “chunk” of almond cake, a chocolate macaroon (for those of you who still think the traditional macaroon has coconut, think again) and some other heavenly confection exploding with more chocolate.

I really shouldn’t be eating with such abandon. I will pay for every calorie when I get home!

We also stopped at an Italian deli where we picked up some gnocchi stuffed with truffles, a mushroom (cepes) salad and a salad of fava beans, parsley and olive oil. (Anybody have any chianti?)

When will this gorging end? I can’t seem to stop and I am here for 8 more days. It’s as if I have been programmed to try everything within my grasp. And if it isn’t within my grasp, I just move a little closer….

Packing, Eating & Appreciating Art

sacre-coeur basilica

I hate to pack. So much so that I always wait until the last minute and than inevitably leave something at home.  (Ask me later about a passport incident in 2006).

I think the reason I don’t like to pack is because it means I’m leaving the comforts of my little hovel.  New bed, new shower, no kitties, waiting in line, smokers, limited email access–lots of things that can undo somebody without a lot of  fortitude.

I will admit that I was looking forward to going to Paris. My father is French and therefore has lots of relatives in France. My family and I go at least once a year to visit my relatives, many of whom are distant cousins….

Actually, very few distinct Narboni families exist. There might be 3 worldwide. So, even my extended family is very important to us all. We’re also here to celebrate my parents’ 45th wedding anniversary.  You can bet on a party filled with champagne and lots of good food!

I have several traditions that I must carry out every time I come to France.  Visit specific monuments, eat specific food and walk the streets. I must go to Notre Dame,  in part to light candles for all of the creatures I love; visit the Basicilica of Sacre Coeur for the view: eat a sandwich au brie ou gruyere and a crepe avec nutella, and do a lot of window shopping.

crepe nutella

Several years ago, someone came to UNL to lecture about art and the contemporary world. His message was that we should all strive to include art in everything we do. I guess that means everything from the way we set the table to the way we address an envelope or play and teach the piano. I think the French, in particular the Parisians, exemplify the “Art in Everything” concept. I have yet to see an ugly shop window. If I buy something, it is always beautifully wrapped (even a sandwich or une baguette comes in some lovely paper twisted with an attractive knot!)

I firmly believe that art keeps us from going over the savage precipice. I realize that this is NOT an original thought but I recognize the truth of this statement. Sometimes I struggle with my career choice only because I’m not sure if I’m making a difference in this world. Would I not have had a bigger impact on the human race if I had gone to medical school? Perhaps. But, I can’t imagine doing anything besides playing the piano.  Oh sure, lots of hobbies and passions but nothing touches my core like music.