Built between 1969 and 1974 by Gérard Grandval, these ten round towers are fifteen stories high. In 2008, they were added to the list of “20th century Heritage” buildings. At the time, the towers were also called dahlias, corn cobs, or flower-houses, complete with their balcony “petals.”
But what about that problematic word, choux? The translation from French for the plural word choux is cabbage. But choux is used in many other words: choux-fleur (cauliflower), chou-rave (kohlrabi), and choux de Bruxelles, or Brussels sprouts. They’re all in the family of plants known as brassica.
Kah-LAY and Ragging Bool
Incidentally, it turns out that kale is also in the same family, and since kale is a recent import to France thanks to American Kristen Beddard, the French call it by different names: I’ve seen choux curly or even kalé, with an accent, and of course (bien sûr!) pronounced kah-LAY. Which reminds me of all the times French people have “corrected” my pronunciation of English-language words.
Once, at a cinema in the middle of France, I attended a special screening of that old chestnut, Raging Bull. When I pronounced the name of the movie I wanted to see, trying a French accent, the woman at the ticket counter stated the name in a pointedly didactic way: “Très bien, Mademoiselle: deux billets pour RAGGING BOOL
.” Okay, lady – I say raging, you say ragging.
The Cauliflowers of Créteil
After living here for a while, you learn to choose your battles. So on the odd occasion that I order a chocolate-chip cookie from the bakery, I just say now “ Une cookies, s’il vous plait” instead of trying to make anyone understand that it’s one cookie, two cookies.
And anyway, aren’t buildings that look like a member of the brassica family more interesting, after all? After reading this article about the towers, I realized that they are known as the “Cauliflowers of Créteil.”
Thing is, those towers look neither like cauliflower, nor like cabbage – at least not to me. When I first saw these space-age choux, they made me think of the Brussels sprout plant. It turns out that Gérard Grandval simply hated the cubes that most of us call home. “Too clean, without mystery” – his homes would be moving, vegetal forms, the anti-cube.
And even though Grandval called his creations “dahlia-buildings,” he didn’t mind anyone calling them cauliflowers. I guess any type of brassica sounded better to him than those “stupid and boring perpendicular masses” lest we forget the lyricism of “blurry, crazy, vegetal” shapes. I’ll be ruminating on that one as I chew my Brussels sprouts over the holidays.