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The night the concept for The Heart of an Artichoke was born, I was preparing a dinner for friends in my Los Angeles home. Pots and pans were everywhere, the clock was ticking away, and I wasn’t sure how to cook the pile of fresh baby artichokes heaped on the counter. The last thing I should have been doing was trolling the website for the French Institute Alliance Française in New York City. The bright red background on my iPad screen was filled with expressions about love, all of which were familiar save one. What did avoir un cœur d’artichaut mean? Dinner preparation would have to wait. An emergency phone call for clarification to my French friend Claire Lerognon came first.

Interpretations abound about what it means to have an artichoke heart. Some native French speakers consider it to be one who falls in love easily. The British take a more critical view of things and label the owner of this heart fickle. TV5Monde offers a more generous sampling of possible definitions that range from a heart of gold to a person with many layers.

Claire and I have long swapped phone calls and kept our e-mail boxes full of quirky stuff that captured our imaginations and extended the learning experience we once shared in a very different venue. It didn’t take long before we were dropping the Salut! and getting right to content. The two of us became convinced that a tenderhearted légume was at the center of our enterprise and our figurative dialogue à deux continued to grow until it became what you see here — an unconventional alternative for those who want to keep their appetite for French alive, or for those willing to sample it for the first time. “Cœur d’artichaut, une feuille pour tout le monde.” Our approach to French language, literature, and life, embodies this 19th century maxim. Whether we’re smitten with a passage in a novel or grappling with a sticky colloquialism embedded in a pop lyric on YouTube, we think there’s something for everyone to sample, no matter what their tastes happen to be.

Who, exactly, is everyone? All of us, lovers of the French language and culture, yearning to hop on a plane for Paris every time we ’re hungry for the real deal. Sadly, that’s not possible for most, but genuine alternatives exist, like sharing an informal teacher-student exchange between friends. The two different voices you hear in the blog posts rekindle conversations Claire and I once had on a Brooklyn-bound subway car or crossing Central Park. Claire can find a creative teaching opportunity almost anywhere — think of her sections as chic, and often funny, Teaching Tidbits. I’m the élève perpétuelle. Give me a savory fait divers that teaches me something I didn’t know about French language, or raises a fresh question, and I’m all in. If we can illuminate a language issue you’re struggling with, so much the better, but we’re not making claims here about your mastering French once and for all. Our hope is that the pleasure we take in this experiment is contagious and will engage you in a fresh learning experience.

How did this all begin? Claire, a French teacher at the UN, stumbled upon an unlikely student when she met me, an American writer who had lived in France for nearly nine years and run from traditional methodology ever since. We’ve been chatting for over a decade and there doesn’t seem to be any chance of the talk letting up. We’re talking long-distance now that I live in Los Angeles and Claire is in Cobble Hill, the epicenter of all things françaises in New York City, but it hasn’t always been so. Our meetings began when a French group at The Carlyle brought us together years ago. Though our group no longer meets, our long-distance dialogue à deux continues. We invite you to listen in — and learn.

— Linda

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