Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Fruits And Nuts

My coiffeuse was the first one to encourage me to eat dried apricots for my hair.   She also claimed, as an extra added bonus, my fingernails would be healthy and strong.  True enough, although difficult to prove.

What's not to like about dried apricots, except they are slightly calorific so you can't eat a pound of them.  Four halves are plenty.

My nutritionist, Claire, says if one tends to be tired and cranky, eat some dried apricots for breakfast.

Here is the short list of apricot attributess: fiber, beta carotene, vitamins A and C, magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium and more.

For last minute, no-time-for-lunch shopping, slip a bag of almonds in your sac to avert a moment of folie when you might be tempted to succumb to cakes or cookies and eat the almonds instead. Almonds are the hot, hot topic this summer in Paris. Actresses are quoted as saying they tote a box or bag of them wherever they go. 

The claims are made by extremely svelte woman who say they are great appetite suppressors. Of course they are to be consumed like a Frenchwoman, about 12 or so, no where near as many as you really, really want to eat.

Apparently research has shown that although almonds are high in fat and calories -- like everything else in this life they must be eaten in moderation -- the equivalent number of calories from other fatty food makes us gain weight, while the almonds help us maintain weight. 

Don't ask me; I don't understand.  All I know is we're supposed to eat them with the "skins" still on them because it's some chemical thing-or-other that doesn't get digested; passes through; I don't know; just trust me.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Eau No

You've heard about it:  Repetition for emphasis.  Some people call it nagging, but au contraire I disagree.

Having lived in France for so many years I can assure you one cannot sufficiently emphasize the importance of water. No, not the liquid we drink, but the eau we mist on our faces to rinse off a cleansing lotion, "set" our makeup or just because it feels good.

Here's a new angle:  Unless you've had a wild night of passion (good for you); the air conditioner broke down or your hot flashes are out of control, most women of a certain age do not need to wash their faces in the morning.

Presumably all the high-tech cleansing, lubricating, rejuvenating rituals were properly performed before retiring.  By morning the magic promised by your plethora of products has worked its wonders and all you need to do is spritz your face with the pure waters from some pharmaceutical laboratory that puts water in a can with a nozzle and an exorbitant price tag.

I asked my pharmacist why not simply fill a plant atomizer with any old mineral water and redirect the mist toward my face.  Makes sense to me and my plants are abloom with radiant flowers and shiny leaves which seems a reasonable testament to my theory. 

She then explained with a withering sigh and a dramatic eye roll that though cheaper, they do not contain all the good stuff in the admittedly pricier, but infinitely more effective microscopic droplets emanating from the laboratories that give us water that works from the outside in.  (I was thinking along the lines Evian equals Evian, but I guess not.)

She suggests, as do two dermatologists I interviewed, the waters from Avene and La Roche-Posay are excellent external choices.  

From personal experience I can tell you, a little spitz will do you, and the cans last for months. Plus, if you're still tired when you wake up in the morning spraying your face is a shockingly effective way to welcome in the new day, particularly if you keep the can in the refrigerator.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Fa-la-la-la-la, La-la-la-la

Tired?  You betcha.  

(An aside:  I can't help but wonder whether this year's new words will include Sarah Palinisms. Once again our poor language would be enriched.)

OK, back on subject:  You're running all over the place; you haven't accomplished half of what you had planned to have under control by the 20th (!) of December; and you just saw your tired self in a reflective service.  Since you probably haven't scheduled a spa visit into your pre-holiday activities may I suggest the fabulous facility of facade?  

When there's no time for profound, I always say you can't beat superficial.

Forget about silver and gold points of light on eyelids or
inside corners of the eyes unless you're one of those inveterate holly-holiday kind of people.  Instead opt for what French women call "cache-misére" (hide the terrible/unattractive) products.  Leading the hit parade in this category are two great dark circle; crevice masking, puffy pacifying pump action, illuminating liquid brushes that sweep away all our cares.  Context, context. . .

The first and most famous of these little wonder wands is Touche Eclat from Yves Saint Laurent and the newest, which some women prefer because of the wider brush, is Touche Veloutée by Terry.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Oh, Baby. . .

The beauty products of great beauties are not always as complicated or as expensive as one might think.

Catherine Deneuve is supposed to be a huge fan of the simple, effective under 10 dollar body cream: Ultra-Hydratant Corps de Topicrem.  

The emulsion melts into the epidermis and in 24 hours skin feels baby soft.  In fact, it was originally formulated for a baby's fragile skin.  

It's non-greasy, hypoallergenic and for grown-ups only, to give the lotion a little adult sophistication you can add a few drops of essential oils:  Orange for energy, lavender to relax or rose to make you smile.
You must believe. . .

And of course if you're not crazy about the packaging, pour your individual concoction into some delightful decanter.  

Here's the bad news:  It appears Ultra-Hydratant Corps de Topicrem is not available in the States so you must remember to pick some up the next time you're here or ask a friend to bring back a few bottles. 

In up-coming posts I'll tell you about my lists, i.e.:  The ones my American friends give me with the products they want me to bring them from here and the ones my French friends give me with their favorite American products.  It works both ways.  Although I get lots of food related requests from the States, the only food I have ever been asked to smuggle into France was Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.  

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Shine On

After you've done that little winter brown spot intervention, ahem.  This is the product you will want to use for the rest of your life. (Please see December 15th post.) 

In an interview for my book, dermatologist Marie Serre told me this is the best sun block ever. I promise you it's true.

It's formulated for the face and the body and I've been using it for more than a year.  What I like most about Anthelios XL Lotion is that it's liquid (not glop), without fragrance, hydrates the skin and really and truly protects against UVA/UNB rays. 

Not to worry if you believe in an ounce of prevention and have no intention of getting involved in intervention.  No matter what, we must always put up the good fight  -- on all fronts. Remember, time and mother nature are conspiring against us.   

Apply 30 minutes before sun exposure, reapply every two hours and of course if you're swimming slather it on after every dip.  My advice:  Use it like hand lotion, especially if you drive.  Think of Anthelios XL as the gloves you could be wearing to protect your hands from the rays streaming in from the windshield.

I hate to nag or anything, but you know what you think when you look at someone else's hands, right?  Enough said.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Flower Power

"Innovation! One cannot be forever innovating.  I want to create classics."

Indeed.  Perhaps more than any other designer, Coco Chanel created classics of 
such timeless elegance and ease that women the 
world over long to own -- or appropriate -- objects reflecting her fashion aesthetic.

She made the white camellia her signature and masses of pearls her favorite accessory.  

And why was that?  Because no matter the color of a woman's skin or what she is wearing, the luminescence of pearls and camellias capture and reflect light onto the face.  Instantly we look less tired, younger and dare I say (?). . . radiant.

Pourquoi pas?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

How Sweet It Is

Assuming you have an inordinate amount of time to devote to your beauty and maintenance
routines in the next few days (doubtful I know unless you employ a personal shopper) I thought I would pass along a little recipe to restore your hair to a shine that may have people stopping you in the street to ask your secret.

Melange -- love that word -- one yogurt, one egg, a soup spoon of wheat germ and another of honey.  Smear it all over your hair, cover your head with a hot towel and do something productive -- wrap presents, for example -- for 20 minutes. Rinse, dry and revel in the brilliant results.

Another scenario:  You could ingest the concoction, the ingredients are full of all the good stuff we're supposed to eat for beautiful skin and hair from the inside out.  

I'll try this after the first of the year.  If you do it before I do I would love to hear how happy you are with the results.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Spot On, Spot Off

If you're going to do it; now's the time. 

 I'm talking about your liver spots, or age spots, or sunspots or anything else you like to call them since they've been with you so long they now have proper names.  

(I thought about showing you spotted hands, but decided this liver-spotted Dalmatian -- looking very serious about that or some other problem -- makes the point far more poignantly.  Funny how animals can be cute even with liver spots.)

You're probably too busy until after the first of the year to actually have your hands zapped -- or your whole body if you've decided a decision is a decision and you might as well go with it --but you do have a moment to pick up the phone and make an appointment with your dermatologist.  

Just think how exciting it would be to have a rendezvous on your spanking, new 2009 agenda:  "February 2nd: Laser my whole body  (with an extra couple of appointments for my hands) to its former youthful luster," for example.

'Tis the season because unless you live in Florida or some other tropical paradise the sun is at an all time low intensity.  Unfortunately the little faux freckles come back so you have to be vigilant and extra generous with the SPF 50/60 cream, on your hands in particular.  
After the "procedure," you could get all gussied up like this woman with her red nails -- and major jewelry -- to show-off your new look and as a reward for avoiding a lawsuit when you restrained yourself from slapping the doctor when she snaps your spots with the laser thingie.

(Pictures:  Dalmatian, Lance & Crowell and the Lady in Red from blossomagiqria.alteroista.com)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

All Tied Up


It's time to tie one on.  Bows are everywhere -- blouses, bags, shoes, dresses and the one place we can't; no must not even think about putting one, on our head.  (Exception, perhaps a limp one tied around a low ponytail for evening.)  

Don't you just love the feminine frou-frou white Proenza Schouler blouse with the slick slouchy black pants?   If that isn't the the epitome of refined, ageless, timeless elegance I don't know what is. 

 And remember one of the best things about great, big bows is they can be tied high and  
 full under the chin thus giving us that same hide-the-neck security of a turtleneck while offering a more festive approach to that pesky jiggly jaw juggernaut.
If you don't have a bowed blouse somewhere in the back of your closet, you can go shopping -- they're everywhere; buy some ribbon anywhere or find a soft, narrow, rectangular scarf and tie yourself up. 

(Pictured clockwise:  Three Proenza Schouler designs -- the first two to prove my point about bows all over, but not for us in those incarnations; a snappy ensemble from Dior; a sweet little wrist bag from Sonia Rykiel and a golden evening offering from Christian Lacroix. 

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bleuet Is Beautiful

I have a confession to make:  I spend an inordinate amount of time in my village pharmacy.

It's difficult to explain my fascination. There is an old world mystery and charm that never ceases to captivate. The mere idea that perhaps I can find a lotion or eau de toilette once used by the Empress Josephine, Marie-Antoinette or Madame Pompadour is absolutely enchanting -- even if the company that produces the products today adds a stabilizer or the potions don't deliver the high-performance, visible results we have come to expect and demand, I don't care. 

I want fantasy in my life, which I think we can all agree, is priceless.  When I need an anti-wrinkle cream I can always go out and buy one.

Eau Florale Bleuet is an ancient, delightful melange of fantasy and function. It is concocted from cornflowers and distilled water; comes in another one of those beautiful blue bottles and as promised reduces and relaxes puffy eyes.  Most versions come with a spray top, but it works best in compresses imbibed with the liquid and placed over the eyes for a few minutes.

It's particularly pleasant and effective when stored in the refrigerator.  I've tried it, it works.

A history lesson while we're on the subject:  Also known as Bachelor Buttons, the name cornflower comes from the fact the flowers grow wild in grain fields.  When Napoleon forced Queen Louise of Prussia from Berlin, she hid her children in a cornfield and entertained them by weaving wreaths of cornflowers.  

(Every large box of Crayolas has a cornflower blue crayon.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Friends In All the Right Places

French women have a cadre of enablers who keep them feeling well and looking splendid.  

Prominent among the battalion is their pharmacist.  It is at the pharmacy where they find a veritable treasure trove of lotions, potions, oils, creams, serums, effervescent tablets, diet aids and most precious of all: advice.

Women have a relationship with their pharmacist.  Often they are on a first name, air-kiss basis and believe me reaching that point takes time and confidence in France.  I have two pharmacists, Christine and Sophie.  We just recently started air-kissing.  (To be perfectly honest my husband started the kissing business, which he is wont to do, and they probably thought for the sake of their non-prescription business it wouldn't be a bad idea to give me a little buss as well.)

With Delphine, my last pharmacist who moved to Genoble, we were so close we reached the familiar address of tu instead of the formal vous. That's big time intimacy I can assure you, especially with a complete stranger --  albeit one who spent staggering amounts of 
Euros on everything from blue eye drops to relatively tasty powdered protein meals.

To stay on the blue theme (i.e. the lovely apothecary bottles pictured above from rubylane.com), Delphine introduced me to a charming, centuries-old product that is so pretty and smells so delicious you don't give one whit if it does nothing other than please the senses. 

It's called Eau de Roses and is reputed to be an astringent rafraichissante.  It's like a tender caress when applied to a cotton square and gently swiped across the face.  It's pure, natural and smells like a summer garden.  I would buy it solely for the pleasure I have seeing the sun shine through the sapphire blue bottle sitting on the windowsill in my bathroom.  

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Little Red Flag

Who doesn't want a whiter smile?  After all, what screams "I am no longer 30" more eloquently than beige teeth?  You're probably thinking:  "been there, done that".  I doubt it.  

It's not what you're thinking.  You are probably imagining wrestling with those slippery, slimy white strip thingies or pricey seances in the dentist's chair.  I'm talking about Email Diamant toothpaste, a ruby dentifrice that makes gums rosier so the contrast between teeth and gums makes teeth appear whiter.  Same principle as Les Gouttes Bleues -- please see previous post -- which make eyes seem brighter because the whites are whiter, as in blue-white.  

I always say, you can't beat artifice or perhaps in these cases trompe-l'oeil.  

To be fair I should tell you what the producers of Email Diamant Red Formula say about their product:  "[it] offers whiteness and brightness to your teeth while respecting the tooth enamel.  It has natural light reflectors and extra-gentle polishing agents that deliver an immediate whitening effect right after brushing and in just four weeks of use."

My dentist told me, after two of those pricey seances in his chair, "never use red toothpaste after bleaching your teeth."    The result would be that stunning red gums, pale pink teeth look we all so dearly desire. 

Ah, OK then.  Good advice.   (He's the one who told me about the contrast bit as well.  I didn't want you to think I made it up.)

Like the gouttes it is not meant to be an every day dentifrice, but once that sparkly enamel is back up protecting the hard surface of our smile, the optical illusion does seem to work.   

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Demain

Just to tell you I'm thinking of you, have so much to tell you and will do so tomorrow.  You won't want to miss the surprises I'm preparing for you.

See you then. . .  A demain.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Nailing Down the Culprits

You may or may not know this, but a French manicure is not French.   I have never seen one on a French woman of any age, ever.  Those of a certain age usually have immaculately natural nails or paint them in a pretty red or rose.  

Women in the fashion biz obviously play around with colors -- it's their job, they think it's fun and it sends out silent sonar signals to those lagging in the trends to run out and buy gold or black nail polish tout de suite.  BTW coming to a fashion magazine near you: gray is on the brink of being the new black. 

 Note the bizarre little fingernail that looks like a sugar-coated almond painted
 in a "reverse French" with a touch of gray.  With just the tips, dipped it seems like less of a commitment.

The reason the subject is even being addressed here nigh on to 34 years after its creation by a man named Jeff Pink (?) is to pose a question to certain -- and you know who you are -- 
women who have taken what can be a rather charmingly well-groomed
manicure like those on Victoria and Eva (never mind the manicure, how about that ring on Eva?) and turn it into a grotesque claw?

All, and one can never say this too many times, all fingernails should be shortish, rounded and never, never, never square. 

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Slight Equivocation

We have here a combination of my diatribe on black nail polish ever so cleverly coordinated with my paean to beaux bangles.   (See posts below please.)

I think the look is quite fresh and snappy. Notice cuticle area nuance on nails.  

Qualification:  I still think it's a one-off; just for fun; why not kind of ephemeral fashion statement.  

Friday, December 5, 2008

A Cure For Whatever Ails You

Invariably, at the end of a French dinner party the hostess says to her guests:  "Will you have a petit café or do you prefer a tisane?"

When is the last time you were offered a tisane after a meal?  I thought so. 

Many explain tisanes as a glorified name for herbal tea, but strictly speaking this isn't true since there are no tea leaves in the brew and by definition they have no caffeine.  Or, that's my understanding. . .  That's why hostesses offer them after dinner.  Herbal, yes; tea, no.

Tisanes are very big over here and are recommended as remedies for everything one can imagine and many things one cannot.  The plants and herbs are chosen for their combination of flavor -- though some taste revolting -- and their homeopathic properties.  They are prepared like loose tea steeped in bubbling, not boiling water.  Nuance.   I'm told one teaspoon of dried herbs equals one tablespoon of fresh.  

I buy my tisanes in little sachets hanging off strings that inevitably fall into the water leaving the little tag floating on the steaming brew.  When I have French guests I rip open the bags and empty them into the teapot as if I were making the real deal.

French women drink tisanes throughout the day not only for "medicinal" purposes, but also because hot liquids leave them with the impression they're not hungry. Of course of tried it. I'll try anything. It works rather well.

Here's what some tisanes are supposed to do:
  • Ease stress:  camomile, lavender, basil, dill and orange peel.
  • Stimulate:  rosemary, rosehip, lemon verbena and peppermint.
  • To soothe a sore throat and help unstuff a head cold:  elderberries, rosehips, peppermint, sage and cayenne (!)
  • Ease a cough:  thyme, rose petals, eucalyptus and anise.
  • Calm the tummy and help digestion:  ginger, mint and camomile.
  • Relieve a headache:  rosemary and peppermint.
My favorite, which sounds as impossible to make as the promise it makes, is purported to "lift the spirits" and "engender happiness."  To pull this off, you'll have to find: camomile flowers, vervain, peppermint, linden flowers, lavender flowers and lemon balm.  I suspect the preparation of this happiness potion will result in high stress levels so my recommendation is: Skip directly to the camomile with an orange peel.

One can find what is probably a genuine recipe for bliss on the Internet by way of a recipe for cannabis tea, but obviously I'm not going there.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

It's a Miracle

How often does one find a beauty product that does good and is good?  Exactly.

Argan oil is one of those rare, natural elixirs that is so pure one can eat it; spread it all over the body; nourish dry hair to a healthy shine and restore a rough, red face to baby softness.

Native to Morocco, the argan tree produces egg-shaped nuts from which a fine, edible oil is produced with valuable nutritional, medicinal and cosmetic properties.

A word of warning, if you drizzled your last drop of olive oil on last night's fish fillet, do not under any circumstances substitute cosmetic argan oil on this evening's salad.  You won't die, but you  probably have better things to do than spend the evening in your bathroom.

I don't know whether it "restores skin to a youthful appearance" but I can testify to the fact it
completely erased all traces of chapped skin on my face and body.  It also proved to be the best deep conditioner I have ever used on my chemically blonde, chlorine infused hair.  

Another "aha" use for argan oil:  drench your face with it before embarking on your next cross-Atlantic voyage and don't forget to slip on your little booties and color-coordinated (and lubricated) gloves.  Please refer to previous posts.  I think more women should think of air travel as a long-haul spa experience.  If you agree with this proposition, consider bringing your own food unless you're traveling first class.

Apart from the fact argan oil is a three-for-one product, which we all love, many cosmetic companies, like Kiehl's for example buy the oil from fair-trade cooperatives that benefit and empower the women who produce the oil.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Votes Are In & The Mieux Habillée Is. . .

Vanessa Paradis was voted the "mieux habillée," i.e. best dressed woman in France in a survey of 30,000 readers of Elle magazine.  She's a singer, actress, model and as you can see from that amazing accessory in her right hand, the significant other of Johnny Depp.

By rights I shouldn't mention her in this space since she will be a mere 36 years old on the 22nd of December -- in case you want to send her a card.  I rationalized the age thing because I have a friend more than twice Vanessa's age who's ga-ga over Johnny.   (The friend doesn't know I know her age.  Fortunately she doesn't own a computer so she'll never find out about my mentioning it here.)

Other women among the best dressed are more in line with the theme of this blog:  Sophie Marceau and Juliette Binoche.  They're only in their 40s, but still. . .

I didn't vote in this playoff,  but I noticed two women already appearing in previous posts by moi meme -- prior to the publication of this issue of Elle, I might add -- were on the list
of 25: Claire Chazal and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.

Just scroll on down.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

And The Winners Are. . .

French Elle named Catherine Deneuve, Ines de la Fressange and Charlotte Rampling this country's ultimate fashion icons.  

Everyone knows Deneuve.

Fressange, for those who may recognize her face, but not her name, was one of the greatest models of all time; once a muse for Karl Lagerfeld; a designer for a few years of her own line of ready-to-wear and today associated with Roger Vivier and those darling little shoes everyone craves (see November 12th post).
Rampling is described as "the most French of English actresses" for good reason.  She never stops working in French films.  

Ines was pictured earlier this year on the cover of Elle in celebration of her 50th birthday.  (No need to specify birth dates for the other two icons.)

All three love "le smoking" the sexy masculine/feminine ultra flattering tuxedo that women of every age can wear anywhere.  Voila.  I knew there was a fashion tip in here someplace. 

Monday, December 1, 2008

Promises, Promises. . .

OK, I'm sitting in front of the TV, blithely popping chocolate truffles into my mouth while watching "FBI: Portés Disparus" (I've never seen the program in English so I have no idea what it's called in real life; it's the one starring Anthony LaPaglia, Poppy Montgomery, et. al.) in other words another typical mindless calorie consuming Sunday evening.

Then, suddenly during the commercial break an ad appears exhorting the captive audience to say:  "Non, aux frustrations!  Oui au plaisir!"  At the time I was deriving enormous pleasure from my truffles and was experiencing zero frustration.   So much for a tranquil evening a la maison.

The ad was for a new product called Silhouette Active which tastes like skim milk or chocolate skim milk and contains among other ingredients: milk, oats (?), milk proteins, green tea and palm oil.  (According to my husband's cardiologist palm oil is poison. I chose boldface type because his doctor always raises his voice when talking about palm oil.)

Since palm oil is a trace 2.5 percent I'm not going to worry about it because of the promise that comes with the product: By drinking one or two of the tiny cartons each day the imbiber will eat 20 percent fewer calories per day.  Its "active vegetable complex naturally reduces the appetite" by releasing something-or-other in the intestine which in turn "provokes" a signal to the brian that we're no longer hungry.  

I had my first taste today -- obviously had I seen the ad before last night I could have averted the truffle incident -- so I can't report back on progress or efficacy.  I promise you'll hear more on the subject in the days and weeks to come.**

**I fear Silhouette Active is probably not available outside France, but if it doesn't work you won't care.
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