The Francophile's Guide to Discovering the History of Versailles

This post was inspired by a number of things. First, my copy of Le grand livre-jeu de Versailles arrived in the mail today from Canada. Yes, the same book I purchased in Versailles proper, and which never made it into the bag, and thus, which the Estate of Versailles essentially made 10 Euros on and never refunded me or apologized or sent me a new one despite my repeated efforts to reach them, get the picture. So I spent CDN$30 + shipping additional to get the book from, since it is not sold in the US. All that rigamarole, I know, but it's a neat little book. I can see some definite classroom possibilities. Customer service aside, I had a great time when I went to Versailles in May. For the first time, I toured the gardens in an electric car, which allowed me to really soak in the experience. I ended up buying the CD of the music that they pipe in, called Les Grandes Eaux Musicales de Versailles (click the link to hear some of the music and watch a short video). For some reason, this particular visit to Versailles really made me appreciate the history more than before. I think it's really important for French students (and teachers of course) learn about the monarchs who passed through Versailles, as many were very influential in French history. So, I have compiled a list of fun online resources that I think are very helpful for students wanting to learn more about it and teachers looking for new ways to share it with their students.

Discover Versailles Through a Photographer's Eyes
As you may know, one of my big passions is photography (I have a blog about it, The Sassy Shutterbug), and just as much as I enjoy taking pictures and playing around with them in Photoshop, I love looking at other people's work to get an inspiration or to see things from a new perspective. When I want to look at photos from a specific location, I use a site called (click the map to view it in real time), which uses Flickr API to show geotagged photos on a map. You can zoom in closer to see more photos, and if you like what you see, you can view photos on their individual Flickr pages. This is a great way to take a visual tour of the grounds of Versailles and see exactly (provided they were accurately geotagged) where pictures were taken. Even if you've visited Versailles before, you'll most certainly discover something new!

Le roi soleil: A Musical Interpretation of the Sun KingWhat better way to learn about history than with some music? The French are known for their historical musicals, and Le roi soleil offers a chance at glimpsing into King Louis XIV's life with songs to get hooked on. Admittedly, I have not watched it in its entirety, but thanks to YouTube I have enjoyed a number of the musical selections. Here is a popular song called "Etre à la hauteur." You'll notice portions of it were filmed on the grounds of Versailles. Do a search for "Le roi soleil" and you'll find many more videos!

Grand Versailles Numérique
Grand Versailles Numérique, available in French or English, is a Flash-powered interactive website which allows you to view Versailles from different perspectives throughout its history: past, present and future. View 3D maps, pictures from past and present, and historical videos. This would be a great tool for the classroom.

More Versailles on YouTube
The Château's own YouTube Channel features a great variety of historical videos, akin to what you would see on the History Channel, except most of it is in French.

Avertissement: Eating Too Much Can Cause Weight Gain

I returned from my trip to Europe with plenty of French magazines to keep me up-to-date on the goings on in l'Hexagone. About a week ago, I was reading Marie France magazine, when I came across an ad for chocolate with a big warning, the type you see on ads for tobacco, at the bottom that eating too much is unhealthy, with a link for I visited the site and found out that it's a resource for staying healthy through eating right and exercising. Maybe they ought to be putting these warnings in American ads. I don't know if other countries have similar programs, [readers, please share!]. I'm glad I found this site though, because I think it's a great way to introduce French culture and vocabulary about health and wellness at the same time.

The French Corner in France

Hello, after a long hiatus! Lately my focus has been much more on photography than blogging, but I'm trying to keep up with my blogging the best I can. Recently I went to Europe, and spent some time in France, practicing the language and picking up some awesome educational materials! 

Getting the Authentic Educational Experience in French

I recently discovered a program which airs on France 3 in France called C'est pas sorcier. It's a wonderful series that teaches science, technology, and French culture and history in a not-tacky sort of way. If you don't have access to France 3, you can still watch the show. YouTube and Dailymotion have a plethora of videos from the show. If you're looking for higher quality, the site has a DVD store for educators (I believe they are region 2 though, so make sure they match your DVD player's specs). The store also has games and other things for sale that would be a great way to practice French or to use in the classroom. This video below talks about the allied invasion of Normandy. They use toy models, then they go to Omaha beach itself. The clip ends with some archived footage.

Update - The video I found has been removed, but there are plenty more on DailyMotion and on the show's site.

What I've Been Up to Lately...

Lately I have not had much time for posting, as I have been busy with schoolwork and with this project: designing a logo for my university's French program and working to create a website and social network for faculty and students to interact on. I even created a Twitter account for it! I thought this might be of interest to those of you who are teachers.

I know many of you already use these tools with your students, and I think they will work very well at the college level as well. When I am a high school teacher, I will surely do something very similar. Another project I am working on is Relay for Life. For those of you who aren't familiar, this is an event created by the American Cancer Society that takes place all over the United States. Organizations form teams and compete to raise the most money before and during the actual event. I am the co-captain of the Pi Delta Phi National French Honor Society team at this year's SUNY Oswego Relay for Life which will take place in April. Any donation you can make, even as small as $1 is greatly appreciated and goes towards cancer research! This semester I will be inducted into Pi Delta Phi, Theta Delta chapter.

A Thorough Guide to How to Use a Dictionary for French Students

by Tim Green is licensed under CC BY-2.0

All foreign language students turn to a dictionary from time to time, whether you're beginning learner or a fluent aficionado. Sadly though, so few students take the time to learn how a dictionary works and few teachers take the time to show their students. To some, it comes naturally, but to others, it's quite confusing. Using a dictionary correctly can vastly expand your vocabulary. Using one incorrectly can lead to some pretty embarrassing sentences! Here, I explain some of the most common mistakes students make when they turn to their faithful dico.

Know your parts of speech.  In all truthfulness, you really can't get much use out of a dictionary if you don't know your parts of speech. So many words mean one thing as a noun and another thing as a verb in both English and French. Some words you may look up in French may have an ambiguous meaning in English if you don't understand what the part of speech is. When you go to look up a word, you must know what part of speech it is. Some students loathe grammar and see no point in learning the parts of speech, but I believe that language acquisition comes much faster if you are aware of what you're hearing/reading/speaking/writing. At least know that a noun is a person/place/thing/idea, an adjective is what describes it, a verb denotes the action, and an adverb describes a verb or an adjective. If you have that down, you have a fighting chance at being able to use a dictionary. Knowing all the parts of speech is stronly advised though. If your grasp of parts of speech is still frail, read this lesson on English grammar, which is accompanied by quizzes.

Don't stop at the first word you see.  It should go without saying that you should not stop at the first word if it is not the part of speech you are looking for, but you must also read the examples, phrases, and sentences that often accompany words with many different meanings. These will give you an idea of what kind of context the word is used in. There will often be a word in parentheses describing in what sense the word is being translated. For instance, looking up "medicine" in WordReference, we have (field) médecine and (drug) médicament as two possible translations. These two words are not interchangeable, but in English the same word is used. The opposite can be true of a French word you are looking up.

Don't translate idiomatic expressions word for word
A good dictionary will have a list of idiomatic expressions that use the word you're looking up. Common verbs like "être," "avoir," "faire," and "aller" often come with an exhaustive list of idiomatic expressions. If you want to know what "avoir soif" means, you will find "soif" mean thirst, but looking under "avoir," you will probably see that "~ soif" means to be thirsty. If you look up two words separately and they don't sound good together in English, look up one of the words and read through the list of idiomatic expressions if there are any. It can be very difficult to recognize an idiomatic expression in English (or whatever your native language) because as a native speaker, it sounds natural to you. In this case, you must be on the lookout for idiomatic expressions whenever you look up a word or phrase. When you go to look up "thirsty" you will most likely find the idiomatic expression "to be ~" (avoir soif) as the first entry, since there really is no word in French that means "thirsty" (the closest is assoiffé which is closer to "parched" in English).

Know what the abbreviations meanMany students are familiar with the basic abbreviations (n=noun, adj=adjective, v=verb, adv=adverb). What is prep though? Prep stands for preposition, a word that indicates direction or location and always goes before a noun (to, from, over, under, etc.). Trans or intrans indicates if a verb is transitive (can take a direct object) or intransitive (cannot take a direct object). Some verbs have both a transitive and intransitive meaning, so knowing this can come in very handy! To put this in simpler terms, "to go" is an intransitive verb because you can't "go" something. "To do" is a transitive verb because you can "do" something. In French you will see an m or f next to the n on nouns, indicating its gender. "Le" or "la" are not used in dictionaries like they are on vocab sheets.


  • Word Reference is the only really good online dictionary. It is incredibly thorough, and where it has gaps, it has an excellent forum where you can post a question or read answers to others' questions. At the end of the word entry, it will link to all the forum posts that talk about the word. It even has a verb conjugator, as well as a very full list of idiomatic expressions accompanying many words. If you're a regular user, you should download their Firefox extension that lets you type your query right into the Firefox search engine bar.
  • Le nouveau Petit Robert de la langue francaise 2009is an all-French dictionary, perfect for advanced users. Get to know the French language better by reading the French definition rather than the English translation.
  • Franklin BFQ-450 Larousse French/English Dictionary, an electronic hand held dictionary, is no replacement for a hard copy of a dictionary, but it's nice and compact and perfect for when you're on the go and space is limited.

Photo by Beauty addict

All the Presidents' Pastries: Talking with Former White House Pastry Chef Dr. Roland Mesnier

Dr. Roland Mesnier has had an amazing career, working as a patissier in some of the finest establishments in the world, most notably, at the White House!  I recently finished reading one of his books, All the Presidents' Pastries, which chronicles his beginnings in France through his rise to the top, and shares some interesting insight about life working in the White House.

Dr. Mesnier was kind enough to take the time to talk to me about his career and what plans he has for the future.  I happened upon Dr. Mesnier's book when I passed by his book signing table at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC this past summer.  My family was delighted to meet him and buy the book, signed of course!  In All the Presidents' Pastries, he describes how he got his start as a patissier in France, and his journey through apprenticeship and his time working in Paris before moving on to various countries. Many people believe the French make the best food, especially the best pastries. I wondered what role he felt his formation in France played in making him the successful patissier he is today.  "In France they still teach a real foundation on how to go about doing things," he tells me. Too many people today eat "convenience food," where most of the ingredients are made somewhere else and chef assembles it at the restaurant.  "I learned to do everything from scratch."  This is a big plus in France and in Europe, he says.  I enjoyed reading about all the extensive research Mesnier did for each state dinner, and how beautifully he was able to incorporate the guest countries' cultures into his magnificent pastry dishes.  But did he ever find himself putting "French" touches on some of his desserts for the First Families?  "I would say 99% of my desserts were French foundation with an American twist, adapted to the American liking."  A recipe might call for a nut filling, but he would exchange it for a peanut butter base, something more appealing to the American palate.  When I read about how torn Mesnier felt when American-French relations were strained in 2003 with the onset of the war, I instantly remembered how I felt the same way, being a lover of French language and culture but also being an American citizen.  "...[I]n general it's always been good between France and America, strained a little bit during [beginning of] the American and Iraq War. I think the press made it a big to-do and it wasn't a big to-do. This sometimes upsets me. The press in America and the press in general are not reporting exactly what is taking place.  People would tease me in the White House, but it's not really a big deal. It was never in malice, and I never felt that they had bad feelings towards me as a Frenchman."

And now for the fun questions!

What are some terms an avid pastry connoisseur should know?
Mesnier explains that a pastry connoisseur should know the base of what they are eating, for example, genoise is a very typical cake.  They should know what butter cream is, they should know mousse, which is very popular today, and dacquoise, a meringue-base with ground nuts (sometimes almond, hazelnut, or pistachio) mixed in.

What are one or two of his favorite pastries to create?
Crème brûlee, and custard desserts, and of course blown and pulled sugar, which is his specialty.

What are one or two of his favorite pastries to eat? Does he eat his own?
"I do eat my own;" His favorites are pies.

What endeavors is he undertaking in the future?
Writing more books, doing speaking engagements, and demonstrations for the public. "I am still very involved."

Some of his favorite spots in France to visit:
Mesnier loves to visit Paris – there so many good places to eat!  He also enjoys the South of France and the Riviera,"especially in the winter time.  I also like the countryside and just driving along; most of the time I will come across a wonderful countryside restaurant that has great food. It's very different from America because in France you drive a few miles and the food changes with the countryside. In America when you travel you will find pretty much the same food everywhere you go, which I don't really care for. Out of nowhere in France you can come across some of the best restaurants which is something very special to me."

Some of hisr favorite spots in France to eat good pastries:
"I like to discover new places because there are a lot of terrific places that nobody knows about. You'll never see those places in any newspaper, in any magazine, those are really great places to go. You do not need to go to famous places to have great food."

If you would like to purchase one of Dr. Mesnier's books, click a cover!

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