The Return…La Rentrée

While we’re relishing the long Labor Day weekend (and school’s already been underway for weeks in my hometown of Nashville), it’s La Rentrée in France—the “return” to work, school and everyday life after the country’s long holidays in July and August. Shops re-open, tourists go home, and the Parisians return to Paris.

I’m imagining an entire nation of relaxed, renewed citizens sporting Mediterranean tans, along too-cute-for-words French children with shiny new school satchels. Everybody’s  getting re-acquainted, exchanging tales of les vacances, and making resolutions for the new season.

No doubt, I’m exaggerating the wonders of La Entrée—but even so, there’s just no comparison between four weeks of holiday and a puny three-day weekend.

“Text Is Simply Written For Persons Who Enjoy Cuisine”

In 1961, Craig Claiborne, the New York Times food editor (and the first man to hold such a post among American newspapers), reviewed a just-published volume from Alfred A. KnopfMastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck. Claiborne described the volume (priced at $10) as “probably the most comprehensive, laudable and monumental work on the subject” of French cuisine written in English.

He praised the the recipes (“glorious”), noted the six pages devoted to the preparation of a cassoulet (“not a wasted syllable”), and complimented the line drawings (“[they] supplement and speak more eloquently than words”). And he predicted that the book, almost a decade in the making, would “probably remain as the definitive work for nonprofessionals.”

And indeed, he was right.

Copyright ©The New York Times. Published October 18, 1961

A Seine swim? Oui or non?

Paris wouldn’t be Paris without the Seine.


The river’s no less than the city’s raison d’etre—it all started with a fishing village on what’s now the Île de la Cité in the middle of the Seine, established by the Parisii tribe around 250 BCE. The Seine literally bisects the city, and in modern Paris, it’s truly a “working river”—a busy thoroughfare of commercial barges carrying freight and bateaux-mouches carrying tourists. And along its banks, people walk, jog, picnic, kiss, and fish.

What people don’t do, however, is swim in the Seine. Paris à la Nage (Swim Paris) is aiming to change that. A month after the Olympics, on September 2, Paris à la Nage wants to resuscitate an event that was started in 1905 and last staged 70 years. Basically, it’s a race in the Seine.

But the French police have issued a loud resounding “non.” Paris à la Nage’s modern-day organizers (who include a former French Olympiad) have planned two race distances (2.5 km and 10 km) and have had 3,300 people register already. But the official word from Préfecture de Police de Paris is that the waters of the Seine are “of manifestly insufficient quality for swimming” and the event would cause an unacceptable interruption in the river’s commercial and tourist traffic.

The Paris à la Nage organizers haven’t given up. They’re appealing the decision. They’ve set up an online petition. And they’re stirring the waters in the media. I’m betting that, no matter what happens to their appeals, there’ll be some swimming in the Seine in just a few weeks.