Tag Archives: nyc

quickie: “projet”

projet (n.m.) : project

Dear franglophonians:

Every now and then, we find ourselves searching for weeks, months, maybe years – feeling out what we want to do next, what will be our nouveau projet.  The past few months, I’ve found my efforts scattered – learning Italian, pursuing freelance food writing, and starting a new job in the field of nutrition and wellness.

Oh the joys of Parisian market life…like the first time I ever tried “oursin” (sea urchin)…

And in this flurry of activity, I’ve been yearning to find a way to combine the lifestyle and perspective I gained in France with all my other interests.  So after much consideration, I’ve launched a new blog called “Comme au marché“, where my love for languages, food, lifestyle, and la vie quotidienne can be celebrated in all its myriad forms, without restricting the content to francophone/phile readers.

I hope many of you will migrate to check out comme au marché.  Without la vie franglophone and my time living in Paris, it is a projet that would have never come to be.

à très bientôt j’espère,

Carly

“Le véritable voyage de découverte ne consiste pas à chercher de nouveaux paysages, mais à avoir de nouveaux yeux. “
(The true voyage of discovery does not consist in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes)
-Marcel Proust

—vocabulaire—

nouveau > new

la vie quotidienne > daily life

marrant > funny

mot > word

typiquement français > typically french

à très bientôt j’espère > I’ll see you very soon I hope

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reality bites: “aventure”

aventure (n.f.) : adventure

Berthillon ice cream - beautiful and delicious. http://noregretscoyote.wordpress.com/category/paris-france/

On Friday, the temperature hit the 70s Fahrenheit in Manhattan.  Between the general beuverie for la Saint Patrick on Thursday and the irresistible pre-weekend weather, the tempatation to sécher le boulot proved too great for many New Yorkers, and the streets teemed with optimistic lunettes de soleil wearing, ice-cream eating delinquents.

I was among this motley crew of fairweather criminals.  The cold months after the holidays have always been the most deprimant for me, seemingly void of promise or an end in sight.  But my late-winter cafard isn’t based in some yearning for beach-side escapes or peau bronzée – what I hate most about winter is my friends’ (and my own) increasing disdain for the great dehors.  Otherwise stated – winter is the kryponite to all sense of aventure.

I’ve often been critiqued by other city-dwelling friends for my incessant preference for walking, biking (see: any form of visually/mentally stimulating transportation).  It’s the same as someone who prefers driving stick to automatic – I prefer to eliminate a zoned-out tendency towards auto-pilot from the transportation equation.  In January, I told my French co-worker that I was going to walk from our bureau on the Upper West Side to Times Square.  She laughed, “T’es folle” – which proved true, when we walked out into a massive, chilly windstorm.  Needless to say, even my over-zealous sense of adventure was out-done by the inclement temps.

These days, the second the sun peeks through the clouds, I leave my studio à pied.  I’ll defer l’heure de rendez-vous with beau mecs, forego invitations to the movies, and travel to bizarre coins of the city – all in efforts to invent reasons for a long walk or bike ride.

St. Joseph's Day sfinge at Veniero's

Even though the abnormally chaud weather didn’t last past Friday – I tried to keep the momentum going all weekend.  On Saturday, I persuaded a friend to join me in celebration of the Italian feast of St. Joseph (which, by the way, was suprisingly un-festive, even in Little Italy) – and namely, to hunt-down one of my all-time favorite patisseries – the sfinge/zeppole. Essentially, it’s a pâte de choux doughnut filled with custard or ricotta cream (I always go for ricotta myself).  I headed out on foot, meeting my friend an hour’s walk south of chez moi – where we hopped on the subway to Veniero’s, (which I was relieved hadn’t run out of these once-a-year treats when we arrived at 4 in the après-m).

Sunday was a similar story – I had heard of a mock “Minnesota State Fair” in Brooklyn, and despite my general aversion to deep-fried food (yes, I know that sfinge/zeppole are fried – but fried sweets don’t make me feel sick like fried savory food does), I decided to at least observe the butter-sculpting, anything-and-everything-deep-fried-on-a-stick affair.  However, on this day, my meandering led to our arriving just as the final fried item was being pushed onto a stick – so basically all we got to observe was the greasy, overpowering odeur of a Minnesota State Fair.  (I still suspect that the key to enjoying that deep-fried smell is dependant on not eating the food.  My nostrils were still holding onto the scent for a good half-hour after we stepped back outside).  However, all was not lost.  Heading north to a friend’s art studio, we missed our subway stop, and so found ourselves flânant through an orthodox-Jewish neighborhood.  Everyone was out on the streets celebrating Purim -which I know little to nothing about- but we were the happy witnesses to a mini-juif costume parade.

Easily the creepiest, most interesting apartment building in Paris (Yes, I snuck in to look around. The door was open.)

This unanticipated défilé brought me back to my days in Paris – where getting lost and wandering aimlessly were the be-all and end-all of my existence.  Whether falling upon a creepy vampire-esque bâtiment in the 18e, the most delicious meringue in all the city, or an impromptu marché de puces – I always found Paris to be best improvisé.  You can do all the research in the world – but falling upon (for example) the must-see Louvre des Antiquaires by accident is so much more interesting than heading there because you want to buy a centuries-old samurai sword.  And rare is the guide who will tell you to venture to the Barbès or Bassin de la Villette to truly experience contemporary Paris – but they are some of the most interesting quartiers I know.

I’m less and less surprised these days when I meet Manhattanites who have never left their borough, or who have never even been north of 100th Street.  Parisians can be the same, staying in their rive gauche cafés and shops, never pushing their own personal boundaries.  But even if you don’t leave your own neighborhood, I’ve found l’aventure is not about going far.  It’s an exercise in profondeur – of getting to know a neighborhood in detail, of learning to operate without a specific aim.

So when my friend with the outside-Williamsburg art studio turned to me this weekend and said, “Carly, you’ve got to work on your sense of adventure” – I have to say I was shocked.  Because for me, le plaisir is in all the simple but unexpected, quotidian details.  But perhaps, for others, that’s just not exciting enough.

—vocabulaire—

temperature > temperature

beuverie > drinking, drunken activity

la Saint Patrick > Saint Patrick’s Day

sécher le boulot > play hooky (from work, to skip class is “sécher les cours”)

lunettes de soleil > sunglasses

deprimant > depressing

cafard > blues

peau bronzée > tan skin

dehors > outside, outdoors

bureau > office

T’es folle > You’re crazy

temps > weather

à pied > on foot

l’heure de rendez-vous > “hour of meet-up”, time to meet someone

beau mecs > hot guys

coins > corners

chaud > hot

pâte de choux > choux paste

chez moi > at my house, my house

après-m > afternoon (slang abbreviation of “après-midi”)

odeur > scent, odor

flânant > wandering aimlessly, strolling

juif > Jewish

défilé > parade, procession

bâtiment > building

meringue > egg-white and sugar based pastry

marché de puces > flea market

improvisé > improvised

Barbès > a predominantly lower-class, African-immigrant neighborhood in northern Paris

Bassin de la Villette > a canal-side, less-stereotypically-chic neighborhood in North-western Paris

quartiers > neighborhoods

rive gauche > Left Bank

profondeur > depth

le plaisir > pleasure


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foodaphilia : “façon”

façon (n.f.) : way, manner

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about tradition, repetition, certain façons de faire that get handed down from generation to generation by diligent listeners who swear “this is the best way”.  A grandmother’s foie gras, an aunt’s tarte tatin, or even a mother’s mac n’ cheese – these food memories inscribe themselves on our soul – and rest largely unchanged…or so we claim.

Did your mother really use pre-shredded cheese?  Your grandmother, certified-organic liver? Your aunt, the same pommes?  Even for the most nostalgic among us, these recipes change with time, error, and necessity – for le mieux or le pire.  And yet, many cling to the idée of tradition like a rock in the culinary storm, a buoy to hold tight while trendy waves of culinary experimentation pass by.

Pourquoi pas? Presenting the brie and tabouleh sandwich.

Pourquoi pas? Presenting the brie and tabouleh sandwich.

I have to say, however, as a cook who hates to mesurer and follow recipes – change and modification is my whole gimmick.  I love opening a placard, grabbing the odds and ends inside, and attempting to make something delicious.

I’ll admit, my meals can tend towards the whimsical, make-shift, or odd.  Tonight, steamed broccoli rabe was tossed in leftover ricotta, olive oil, red chili flakes, and grey sea salt.  Delicious, healthy, and practical – like a pizza without the crust.  Snacks get weirder – combining savory and sweet.  Consider sirop de liège and cheddar cheese on wasa crisps or kettle corn dipped in labne.  The constants in my cupboard? Old-world grains, legumes, canned tuna or salmon, nuts/raisins/seeds, spices, 4 types of salt, 3 types of vinegar, and 5 different types of honey.  My refrigerator?  There’s always Maille whole-graine moutarde, garlic, and old white wine – with frozen herbs and leftover bones for stock in the freezer.  These are the props for my improv – a nightly show of sprucing up leftovers and using up of anything about to go bad (I’ve only had to throw out produce once in my life).

Paule's secret tart recipe in action.

Paule's no-longer secret tart recipe in action.

But I’m not the only kitchen scientist around.  In Paris, my friend Paule taught me to make tart crust by pre-heating all the ingredients (save the flour) in the oven, mixing it warm, and molding it into the tin before it cooled.  This seemingly painless, measure-by-eye method (at least once you get the hang of it) is perfect for a “half-baked” pâtissière like myself – though most traditionalists are scandalisé by its ease (and success).

In New York, I’ve met people who use coffee in their chili, red wine-in their stir-fry, curry in their pasta sauce – foodies that would rather be found behind a four than in a restaurant, curious outliers in a city that runs on take-out and delivery.  These food friends are my favorites.  Some of their best creations come out of late-night drunken rummaging through cupboards or camp-fire dearths of ingredients de base.  I’ve eaten impromptu vegan pancakes and butter-free cakes that would make even the most inflexible traditionalist drool.  Runny jaunes d’œufs added to… well, anything has become a favorite trick.  In Paris, this culinary inventiveness becomes a survival skill for anyone who woke up too late on Sunday to make it to the supermarché (let alone the normal marché).

What I love most about these edible adventures is that they are fun.  I believe in tasting the basics, so that you learn what it’s “supposed” to taste like.  But in adult lives already so bereft of creativity – having a little fun with what’s on our plat is one of the only simple pleasures we have.  And so I’ll take, anyday, a dish à ma/ta/sa façon, relevé with a bit of humor, risk, and wit.

—vocabulaire—

façons de faire > ways of doing, methods

foie gras > foie gras (fattened goose liver)

tarte tatin > upside-down apple tart

pommes > apples

le mieux > the better

le pire > the worse

idée > idea

mesurer > measure

placard > cabinet, closet

sirop de liège > a fruit-based spread from Liège, in Belgium (a personal favorite, hard-to-find item)

moutarde > mustard

pâtissière > baker

four > oven

de base > basic (from/of the base)

jaunes d’œufs > egg yolks

supermarché > supermarket

marché > market

à ma/ta/sa façon > in my/your/his/her way

relevé > highly seasoned


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typique : “colloque”

colloque (n.m.) : conference

I never thought I would say this, but I think there may be one instance in which the French are definitively plus bien organisé que their american counterparts: the academic colloque.

Je déconne pas.  In the US,  I’ve attended a number of academic conferences at a few univerisities.  While the venues are often fantastic, (see high-tech and high-ceiling’ed with tripped out all-in-one podiums), the start time, the transitions between presentations, the mic volume, the tech delays, even the behavior of the attendees – all leave something to be desired.

I remember the first time I attended a colloque in France.  It was in Paris, at Paris IV (one of the many branches of the Sorbonne) and it was about “Le restauration dans le monde“.  The two day conference passed without a single hitch.  From the exportation globale of the Irish pub, to the integration and the movement for the authentification of la cuisine japonaise in Paris, one presentation flowed into another without a technical mishap, major delay, or other general pandemonium.

This was strange – at least to me – for two reasons.

1) The conference was organized by a Ph.D. student.  For those of us who have ever dealt with the average American student finishing their doctorat – organization, promptness, and general reliability are not the words that came to mind.  I have collaborated with graduate students on things as simple as the organization of a Christmas party, and their ability to vanish from the face of the earth at the most inconvenient moment is really astounding.  (Toutes mes excuses à my grad student potes – I, of course, am not talking about vous – winkwink/nudgenudge).

2) The conference had a number of foreign presenters.  Let’s be clear, I love les étrangers – and especially intellectual ones.  Anyone who speaks multiple languages and travels extensively is my kind of person.  But let’s be clear.  My American collègues at their various universities could really do a better job to prepare ces pauvres for what lies ahead.  Microphone feedback, laptop connection mishaps,  and competitive, lengthy, incoherent intellectual jousting with other chercheurs in the room claiming to be asking “a question”.  I blame the American tendency towards politesse.  I think a stern hand at the helm of the colloque ship is what we need.  And by gosh, the French have it.


Entre parenthèses –
this seems like a good moment to acknowledge that the French do have some of their own cultural colloque issues.  The most important would be that they have yet to distinguish the difference between une question and un commentaire.  In a language where intonation is key, the point d’interrogation and its corresponding rise in the pitch of one’s voice somehow disappear at the colloque Q&A…

The final point I’d like to make is that the French seem to have learned one colloque secret that Americans have not.  They might provide coffee, tea, and the occasional muffin/bakery item – but they do not attempt to serve meals in-house.  All the intervenants and the members of the audience go on their merry way to the pay-ahead meal at a nearby restaurant or some other dining facility.  This plan has a number of benefits, but primarily two:

1) No tapeurs.  I organize a number of conferences myself, and it never ceases to amaze me how many people come just for the food.  These people take up space and have no sense of respect for presenters; they get up in the middle of talks to refill their plates with leftovers, and munch along loudly, to the disgust of anyone within ear or eyeshot (who have consequently just missed the last 10 minutes of the presentation, due to the distraction).

2) No extra clean-up.  This seems like a stupid comment, but people are really disgusting.  (That half eaten cookie? Oh, I’ll just leave it on the buffet table near all the other untouched ones…).  It is my experience that food can often bring out the worst in people – though this may, admittedly, be a very American problem that one doesn’t find in France.

In résumé: to my dear fellow Americans working at universities, a few words of advice.
– Learn to use the technology with which you have been provided.  OR – If you do not know how to use a touch-screen, all-in-one remote that controls everything from the overhead projector to the window shades, please do not install one.
– Stop feeding us, s’il vous plait.  Or if you must feed us, do it at a restaurant.  University catering is often less-than-palatable, and I really would rather not know about the unpleasant eating habits of people I (used to) respect.
– Be less accommodating.  Do not let the more bizarre members of the intellectual community take your conference captive.  The man who continues to make lengthy comments instead of asking questions should not be called upon again.  In fact, he is probably only here for the food, and this is his effort to prove he is not a tapeur and that he was really paying attention.

And a final note to all colloque attendees…
Lavez-vous.  Sitting in a cramped room with others necessitates bathing.  It’s a bit unfair for an American to claim that the French smell bad, if he shows up smelling rotten himself.

vocabulaire

plus bien organisé que > better organized than

Je déconne pas > I’m not kidding (slang)

Sorbonne > The historic Parisian university

Le restauration dans le monde > Restaurants (the culture, business of, etc.) in the world

exportation globale > global/world-wide export

authentification > verification, authentification

la cuisine japonaise > Japanese cuisine

doctorat > doctorate

Toutes mes excuses à > my apologies to

potes > friends (slang)

vous > you (plural or formal)

les étrangers > foreigners

collègues > colleagues

ces pauvres > these poor chaps

chercheurs > researchers

politesse > politeness

Entre parenthèses > an aside (literally, “in parentheses”)

une question > a question

un commentaire > a comment

point d’interrogation > question mark

intervenants > presenters

audience > audience, public

tapeurs > leeches, mooches (slang)

résumé > summary

s’il vous plait > please, if you please

Lavez-vous > Wash yourselves

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word on the street: “une teigne”

teigne (n.f.) : a pain in the ass, a “real piece of work” (an aggressive, nasty and/or mean person)

Your friends may call you many things.  Gorgeous, funny, awesome…annoying, selfish, flaky…”ringworm”….

"I insult in every language". I'm sure this is just as helpful as the "Point It" picture dictionary.

Wait, what?  Ouai, c’est ce que j’ai dit. If you really want to insult your “friends”, the French have just made it that much more exciting.  Forget those normal adjectifs that you’ve been stocking up for their worst days.  Really get to the coeur of the problem.  They’re just a skin infection you can’t wait to get rid of, that can cause anything from la perte des cheveux to des ampoules.

Seriously though – this is hysterical.  I was at a bar in Brooklyn with some French friends last night, when one of them said to me – “Carly, comment tu traduis “une teigne”?” (Carly how do you translate “une teigne”).  I’d never heard of the word before (luckily, that’s one medical condition I’ve never needed to discuss in French) – so I pulled out my smart phone and replied – um…”moth”?  Mais non.  Because, in addition to sounding incredibly insulting when referencing “ringworm”, teigne can also mean “mite” or “clothes moth”.  As if that were more complimentary.

The long story short is that, apparently, this lovely lady can sometimes be “une teigne“.  At least according to her friends back in France.  (I for one find her rather spectacular, if culottée, so I’m guessing that it must be a term laced with ironic affection?).

The whole back-and-forth about it really got me thinking though.  Tehy-gnuh.  There’s lots of good aggressive consonant action in there.  I can just see a marvelous break-up scene in a French film, where the mec turns (in the middle of a dark and cobble-stoned street of course) – fed up and crazed by the incessant nagging and insecurities of his other half – “T’es une TEIGNE!”. Or where an equally fed up woman, in a beautifully decorated Parisian apartment, climbs up to “put away” the good china – and turns slowly, only to lancer a stream of beautiful dinnerware at her unassuming brute of a husband – screaming “quelle TEIGNE”.

"Mr. Asshole" might know at little something about being "une teigne"...

Ok, perhaps I’m over-doing it.  But I feel like a movie scene where two amants (soon to be ex-amants) insult each other with a slew of different medically-inspired insults would be rather entertaining.  “You walking pneumonia!  I can’t believe I ever found your foot-fungus-of-a-personality to be attractive!  If only I had known you would become such a horrible case of “LA TEIGNE”!  Grey’s Anatomy, ER (and every other doctor drama that I don’t watch so I don’t know your name), I’m giving you this one for free.

And on that note, (dead horse beaten), I’ll just quietly await some unsuspecting nag of a person to use this lovely gritty insulte upon.
(Note: in the case of using said insult on a non-french speaker, it’s probably best to put a little extra grit in the GN)

—vocabulaire—

Ouai, c’est ce que j’ai dit > Yea, that’s what I said.

adjectifs > adjectives

coeur > heart

la perte des cheveux > balding, “the loss of hair” also known as la chute des cheveux

des ampoules > blisters

Mais non > But no

culottée > bold, sassy, cheeky (literally means “wearing underwear”…but I digress)

mec > guy

T’es une TEIGNE! > you’re a “case of ringworm”

lancer > hurl, throw

quelle TEIGNE > what a “case of ringworm”

amants > lovers

insulte > insult


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typique : tentation

tentation (n.f.) : temptation

Once upon a time (say, 3 years ago) I would have described myself as someone who rarely succumbs to tentation.  My classic line was “I wasn’t born with a rebel gene”.  The simple but bizarre truth was that all my experiences with contraband substances and questionable situations had left me with a mauvais goût in my mouth.  A trip to Prague left me feeling suffocated by l’odeur des cigarettes (Even my clothes that never made it out of ma valise smelled of the omnipresent smoke).  The anti-social tendences of my friends who were fumeurs de joints left me equally cold.  And at my university, it seemed easier to find someone over-doing it at the gym than binging on la glace.

My time in France brought this swiftly to an end.  Here was an entire society that seemed designed to appreciate the indiscretions of our feeble humanity.  Wine at lunch was always une bonne idée.  Replacing a healthy, balanced breakfast with un café and une clope was nothing to frown upon.  And to chopper with a boy on the first date had little effect on your chances of dating him afterward.  If you wanted to trangress, you transgressed.  The question was not ce que on fais, but rather, comment .  In fact, pulling off vice with class was a valued art.  Those tea-totalers who needed to say non to tout…well, they clearly had some issues.

One of my favorite French snacks / Tourteau de Chèvre

In particular, I loved watching mothers teach this art of indulgence.  Where an apple might be handed off as an afternoon snack in a well-to-do American family, les gosses de Paris would line up daily at their favorite boulangerie, where amongs the flaky pur-beurre pastry and pépites du chocolat, the only thing forbidden was a poorly-made dessert .  (A French professor once fixed me a butter and chocolate-bar sandwich on a baguette, telling me that her gangly children ate this daily after school).

And as children’s eyes grew from ogling chocolate to ogling each other, ces mères didn’t blink an eye.  Instead, young twenty somethings – still living chez leur parents – would not only bring home their fling of the night, but also seat him/her next to papa at breakfast.  Catch a French parent alone and they’ll readily admit this situation is a bit “awkward” – but then again, a true translation for “awkward” doesn’t exist in French.

After almost two years of observing this effortless acceptance of decadence –which I personally believe is a large part of the French “je ne sais quoi”  people struggle so hard to grasp– I too was indulging without honte.  The pursuit of moderate, daily desire made life worth living.  And so – after years of American black vs. white, feast vs. famine – in France, I learned the real meaning of the verb vouloir – and how to figure out what exactly I wanted.

Coming back to the ‘states has thus been a bit of a shocker.  While strict New York social norms are never clearly stated – they are partout.  Sure, it’s a city where bizarre behavior, clothing, and preferences are tolerated.  But for those who would rather fit in than stand out (a rather French notion of la société), New York can be a bit hard to navigate.  It’s a city of paradoxes.  Smoking is frowned upon, so New Yorkers criticize the “real smokers” (daytime smokers), but will fument like chimneys when they go out at night.  They preach from the pulpit of sexual liberty, but then bemoan that their flings never become something more.  People sweat like crazy in public gyms, but prefer to sneak sweets in private.  Even vegetarians I know will partake in meat-eating when no one is looking.

Why this urge to cacher our, well, urges?  In a city where everything is available, are we meant to be so ascetic?

My French friends used to tell me “Les américains, ils sont tellement puritains”. (The americans are so puritanical.)  I used to resent the implicit condescension, but now that I’m back, I get it.
For whatever reason, I can feel tentation pulsing in the air of America.  We can have anything, but judge ourselves for wanting – or worse – for having it.  At its worst, the tension of denied desire builds until l’ivresse, tristesse, or some other force pushes us towards excess – a constant battle between all and nothing.

On the other end of the spectrum, the French – while far from perfect and very judgmental in other ways- benefit from their general acceptance of human desire and weakness.  The “French paradox” (that fact French people can drink, smoke, and eat rich foods – seemingly without consequences) works because they indulge -but little and often.  When you’re raised in a culture that normalizes indulgence, you can almost get bored of it.

This isn’t a blog post about “portion control” or Plato.  The American hard-line has some benefits – I’ve stopped being tempted by hand-rolled cigarettes that smell of pain d’épices, for one.  However, I miss the easy French franchise of admitting what one wants without feeling guilty for it.  Luckily, I’ve had more success than failure in finding co-pilots for indulgent New York adventures.  It’s just best to spring the plan on them en route, before they have time to say non.

Ne dites pas non, vous avez souri. – Jacques Prévert (Don’t say no, you [already] smiled).

vocabulaire

mauvais goût > bad taste

l’odeur des cigarettes > the odor of cigarettes

ma valise > my suitcase

tendences > habits, tendencies

fumeurs de joints > joint-smokers (pot heads)

la glace > ice cream

une bonne idée > a good idea

un café > a coffee

une clope > a cigarette (slang)

chopper > to hook up

ce que on fais > that which one does

comment > how

non > no

tout > all, everything

les gosses de Paris > the kids of Paris

boulangerie > bakery

pur-beurre > pure butter

pépites du chocolat > chocolate chips

ces mères > these mothers

chez leur parents > at their parents’ house

je ne sais quoi > I don’t know what

honte > shame

vouloir > to want

partout > everywhere

la société > society

fument > smoke (conjugated from the verb “fumer”)

cacher > to hide

l’ivresse, tristesse > inebriation, sadness

pain d’épices > a French type of “gingerbread” that is a bit more intense/spicier, with a stronger flavor of cloves and anis

franchise > frankness

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