Joyous cries of "Joyeux Noël," (merry Christmas); "Bonne Année (happy New Year); and "Bonnes fêtes" (happy holidays) could be heard as I made my way among a tempting selection of French goodies: tarte tatin (apple upside-down cake); buche de Noël (Christmas log) and marrons glaces (glazed chestnuts), to name but a few.

No, I wasn't spending the winter holidays in Paris, Provence or the French Riviera. I was simply enjoying the festive ambience of Le Marché de Noël (Christmas market), organized by the Alliance Française de Tucson on Dec. 11 at the Junior League, 2099 E. River Road.

In addition to the sweets, many of which were homemade by Alliance Française members, visitors could browse among a potpourri of other products with a French twist, such as soap from Marseille, lavender from Provence, vintage jewelry and even CDs of French songs recorded by a member of the Alliance.

Helping create the cozy, holiday atmosphere was a montage of Christmas scenes from a variety of French-speaking countries.

One of the highlights of the afternoon was a community chorale that performed a variety of well-known French songs. Members of the audience accepted with enthusiasm the invitation to join in a sing-along and add to the merriment.

The Alliance Française de Tucson was founded in 1973 by Alice Rufenacht, originally from le Havre in northern France. Perhaps she was inspired by the Alianza Francesa in Mexico, the first AF chapter founded outside of France.

The Alliance Française has been part of Tucson's cultural mosaic ever since. Today the Alliance has members from four continents, both French and English-only speakers, ranging in age from students to retirees.

Its mission includes encouraging knowledge of the language and cultures of France and French speakers throughout the world.

And encourage they do. The Alliance offers cultural programs throughout the year, most of which are free. Topics include art, history, literature and travel. In addition, there are volunteer-led interest groups, such as the cercle litteraire.

Le quatorze juillet (French independence day,) the annual presentation of the Nouveau Beaujolais (new French wine) as well as Noël (Christmas) are celebrated by the French organization.

Good news! The Alliance will soon have its first permanent home at 2130 N. Alvernon Way, set to open in late January or early February. A variety of classes, events and activities are planned to meet the needs of Francophones and Francophiles alike.

Have you always wanted to learn French, for that special trip coming up or just because it's considered one of the most beautiful languages in the world? Small-group conversation classes for both adults and children will be available.

Do you speak the language fluently, but are searching for a place to meet other French speakers? A new Café, Croissants et Conversation group is also planned, along with other events in la nouvelle maison (the new house.)

As a French teacher, I have been a member of the Alliance over the years. In addition to finding kindred souls who love la belle langue (the beautiful language), I can keep my French language skills sharpened for that next trip to one of Tucson's French restaurants, with perhaps a French movie afterward at the Loft Cinema or maybe the ultimate splurge: a trip to one of more than 50 countries where French is spoken.

Paulette Gootter, president of the Alliance, said, "We welcome new members, both French- and English-speaking, who will find a diverse community and stimulating cultural activities."

For more information on membership in the Alliance Française de Tucson, go to or call 303-7001.

À bientôt, see you soon!

Freelance writer Barbara Russek welcomes comments at