Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Top 10: The Things I Steal

The beauty of my thievery is not only the fact I'm not obliged to be armed and dangerous, but also I don't have to apply makeup or leave home to pull-off the heist.

The unpleasant part of the crime is I am sometimes caught in the act or prior to the robbery I ask permission to take something that doesn't belong to me. Big mistake. After many years of doing this, I've found stealth and subterfuge are the best methods.

Have a good alibi. Do any necessary explaining after the fact if you get caught. 

You may be a far better person than I and wouldn't dream of such undercover tactics, in that case, let me say right this minute: I admire you for your honesty, but honestly sometimes it wastes so much time whining and begging when you want instant gratification that you no longer want what you wanted. (Are you with me?)

I steal what I like from drawers and closets. Nuance: They are not my drawers or closets. I pilfer from My-Reason-for-Living-in-France. If he says something like: "Have you seen my navy blue cashmere V-neck sweater?" I will reply, "Just a second, let me look for it." Then I produce the sweater. (You see, I don't lie even though I steal.)

Here then is some of my favorite loot. . .

TOP 10: Things I Steal

Charvet cuff-links
1.) Cuff-links: The silk braided ones in a variety of colors from Charvet and a pair of Art Deco onyx and mother-of-pearl with a tiny diamond in the center -- love those. I'm actually considering coming right out and asking if I could please turn one of them into a pair of earrings -- both sides are onyx, mother-of-pearl and diamond. (Now you're asking yourself, what will he do with one cuff link? I need more time to think about this.)
2.) Silk pochettes: I put them in the pockets of my jackets and on occasion twist a couple together to make a scarf necklace.

3.) Neckties: Used as belts. He has 75,000 ties and wears only two of them so it's not as if this is a capital crime.

4.) Above mentioned V-neck sweaters.

5.) His watch. This I admit is verrrrry tricky and requires my highly developed persuasion skills. Even someone as clever as I cannot just rip-off a Cartier Tank watch. I confess I've failed on occasion.

6.) Chanel Monsieur cologne. Since I smell just like he does, it's hard for him to notice whether it's me or him. 
7.) A blue/gray cashmere scarf. It's the only one he owns, given to him by me before I knew he didn't wear scarves. He would give it to me if I asked.

8.) His pleated front tuxedo shirt. We have the same length arms -- 34 inches.

9.) Linen handkerchiefs. Love handkerchiefs period, but men's are the best.

10.) Burlington argyle socks. He has them in every imaginable color combo -- thanks to me, I might add -- which I sometimes wear with my moccasins in the winter.

Et voilà.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Great Snack Debate

In one of my recent English conversation courses I used horses and cows as virtual visual aids in an effort to explain what we mean when speaking about "grazing" as it applies to American eating habits. My students were appalled. 

They understood grazing, they understood snacking, but they most definitely did not understand how the two concepts intersected.

If snacking is part of a French woman's daily diet, which often it is not, it is reasonable, low calorie and almost always includes a cup of hot tea -- no milk -- to quell any hunger pangs that may occur between lunch and dinner at 8p.m.

As I believe I have mentioned before, even the healthiest of in-between-meal nibbling like yogurt, for example, when advertised on TV is accompanied by a small line running across the bottom of the screen cautioning viewers not to abuse non-meal associated eating. It's similar to, though not quite as menacing as, the warnings on alcohol and cigarette labels.

So here again is what my students and a few of my friends told me they eat at four or five o'clock in the afternoon. Out of the 24 women I questioned, five said, "nothing," three said "only hot tea" and you can read what the others said below. When I asked if they didn't get hungry from time to time they said yes, but they could wait for dinner. "Snacks in the afternoon are for children," one proclaimed. "Not for adults." (Again, my subjects are between the ages of 40 and 70.)

Edith: Tea and one piece of whole grain toast, no butter and a half-teaspoon of homemade jam.

Cristel:  A cappuccino and two squares of dark chocolate. (Remember a real cappuccino has no whipped cream, just low-fat milk steamed into a frothy mousse.)

Christine: A clementine or any other small, seasonal fruit like a plum for example.

Sophie: A cup of tea and two small cereal biscuits from the health food store. 

Claire: A small bowl of homemade applesauce, no sugar of course.

Anne-Françoise: A cup of tea and two slices of a pear or an apple -- no skin.

Danielle: In the winter occasionally a cup of hot chocolate.

Claudie: A café au lait and a yogurt.

Françoise: A hard boiled egg.

Ava:  An apple.

Chantal: A large glass of water and a cigarette. (Note: I considered not including this one, but thought it so stereotypically French I couldn't resist. Plus, I know it's true.)

Anne:  Cappuccino Minceur Natural Scientific. "I drank it between meals, for three months to help me lose four kilos I gained after a series of parties. It's miraculous and delicious," she said.

Caroline: A cup of tea and sometimes with my children I have one inch of a baguette with a little bit of Nutella -- but not often.                          

Marie-Christine: An espresso and two Thé cookies from LU, "they have the least number of calories and give me the impression I'm having a real treat."             

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Day In The Life. . .

Sunday we were invited to a luncheon in celebration of the hostess's 50 birthday  -- she looks 38, max and doesn't care one whit about moving into another decade. Her three daughters, ages 25, 22 and 16 were there as were her husband, two other couples and the two of us.

I thought it would be fun to share some of the conversation with you because it was so typically all-over-the-place French.

A soupcon of politics: What is the world coming to? Can the Euro be saved? Will our taxes be raised -- again?

A detour on the subject of sex: Who can possibly believe Dominique Strauss-Kahn was trapped in a conspiracy at the Sofitel Hotel in New York? And, even if it were the case -- which it wasn't -- he fell for it, didn't he? How much longer is his wife going to tolerate his public humiliation of her? Etc.

Pierre Hermé macarons.

Always food: One of the birthday gifts was a beautiful box of 50 bite-size macarons from Pierre Hermé which logically led to a heated conversation about who makes the best macarons in Paris. I was the only one who voted for Ladurée. With one exception, the large chocolate ones, and only the large chocolate ones, from Dalloyau, were deemed the best in that category. For the rest, all agreed, Pierre Hermé wins the competition.

Moving right along, shopping: After 10 years, Marks & Spencer has returned to Paris, and we are all ecstatic. You have no idea how much we have missed the smoked salmon, short bread cookies, shetland sweaters, corduroy trousers for men and on and on.

Next up, the girls were thrilled about the first ever Banana Republic store opening next month, right across the street from Abercrombie & Fitch where they and their friends are more than willing to line up for hours to find arguably the world's best T-shirts for example, particularly the débardeur.

One version of the famous débardeurs from Abercrombie & Fitch.
All three of the shops are on the Champs Elysées.

Ed. Note: My friend in the fun-filled world of Francophile -dom, Jennifer Scott, The Daily Connoisseur, has just written a book about her experiences and the lessons learned from her student days living in Paris. Click here and she will explain everything to you. If you haven't met, you'll see how absolutely charming she is.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Next Week Or La Semaine Prochaine

Mes trés, trés, trés, chers amis, next week will be something I have never done before. I shall explain.

First, I plan to gingerly, step into the 21st century. With my pal The Class Factotum, we will be (that's the editorial "we" as in, she leads, I follow) constructing a Real Live Facebook page(!!!) for me. It's not that I'm going into this adventure kicking and screaming, but I've been told I should get up to speed so to speak and I'm sort of reluctantly seeing the light.

If I ever start Tweeting, sign a petition and have me committed.

Second, I must finish up the loose ends of my big project. People are depending on me. Pressure, pressure, pressure.

Third, I will select some of my favorite (and I hope they are/will be yours) posts from the past to entertain you while I slog through my duties.

Fourth, Monday I shall do a "News & Views" because I have some fresh bits to tell you.

Fifth, as I believe I mentioned, Andrea and Will will be home for Christmas and I must -- absolutely must -- get my house in order. I'm being, unfortunately, completely literal here. Andrea is a Virgo (I've also mentioned this detail on several occasions) and you know how they are about "a place for everything and everything in its place."  I haven't seen her since last Christmas, so you can imagine how things have really piled up around here.

Sixth, I am now about to ask my darling, darling Marsi if she has the time and inclination to write a post for us this week.

Seventh, the week after next I shall catch-up on our Faces Through the Ages series. Wait until you see how interesting the 30-year-olds are, (as well as the rest of us of course).

I hope it's beautiful wherever you are. It's another crisp, sunny day chez nous.

And, once again, thank you for everything. Thank you for being there. Thank you for changing my life.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Weekend In The Country

A perfect white (winter) pansy.

After a recent discovery, I will be heading out today to buy 40 white pansy plants. I had no idea that, when slightly protected from the elements, on a front porch for example, they bloom throughout the winter. Did you know that?

A friend told me she always plants them in November and they take her through until spring. It's not that I didn't believe her exactly, but I had my doubts. (I've been honest in this space with you about my gardening skills.) I questioned several serious gardener friends who confirmed her story.

I plan on uprooting the pitiful looking straggles of lavender in the two large boxes on our front porch and replacing them with the white pansies -- 20 in each box. If the result meets my expectations, I'll take a picture and show you.

Delicious cepes.

Yesterday a friend gave me a large box of cepes she and her husband found in the Rambouillet forrest, so gently cleaning them is on my to-do list before preparing them with a tiny morsel of butter, a tablespoon of oil and garlic. I'll probably make an omelette with them tonight.

After that, off to market to buy vegetables for our weekly winter soup.

And, that's as glamourous as it gets chez nous.

I hope you are having and will have a lovely, happy weekend.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Unexpected Developments. . .

It wasn't on the calendar. But will I ever turn down an opportunity to slip into Paris?

No, never. Not even after all these years.

That's where I am and that's where I will be until late tonight. Had I planned ahead, this space would have a proper post. Tomorrow it will.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Merci Donnant & Happy Thanksgiving

The late, great Art Buchwald.
In 1952 while living in Paris and writing for the then New York Herald Tribune, the brilliant columnist, Art Buchwald, wrote this column explaining Thanksgiving to the French. 
It has been reprinted, I have no idea how many times, by the International Herald Tribune, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. Every time I read his "translation" of the quintessential, non-denominational North American holiday, I still laugh. I hope you will too. I also hope, having properly credited sources and the late author, I'm allowed to re-print it in this space.
Since I am running a non-profit organization here at A Femme d'Un Certain Age, maybe I'm OK.
For those of you celebrating, I hope you have a warm, wonderful, loving feast and Merci Donnant.
While we're on the subject of thankfulness, I cannot begin to tell you how thankful I am for all of you. You have changed my life. Merci, merci, merci.
This confidential column was leaked to me by a high government official in the Plymouth colony on the condition that I not reveal his name.
One of our most important holidays is Thanksgiving Day, known in France as le Jour de Merci Donnant .
Le Jour de Merci Donnant was first started by a group of Pilgrims ( Pelerins ) who fled from l'Angleterre before the McCarran Act to found a colony in the New World ( le Nouveau Monde ) where they could shoot Indians ( les Peaux-Rouges ) and eat turkey ( dinde ) to their hearts' content.
They landed at a place called Plymouth (now a famous voiture Americaine ) in a wooden sailing ship called the Mayflower (or Fleur de Mai ) in 1620. But while the Pelerins were killing the dindes, the Peaux-Rouges were killing the Pelerins, and there were several hard winters ahead for both of them. The only way the Peaux-Rouges helped the Pelerins was when they taught them to grow corn ( mais ). The reason they did this was because they liked corn with their Pelerins.
In 1623, after another harsh year, the Pelerins' crops were so good that they decided to have a celebration and give thanks because more mais was raised by the Pelerins than Pelerins were killed by Peaux-Rouges.
Every year on the Jour de Merci Donnant, parents tell their children an amusing story about the first celebration.
It concerns a brave capitaine named Miles Standish (known in France as Kilometres Deboutish) and a young, shy lieutenant named Jean Alden. Both of them were in love with a flower of Plymouth called Priscilla Mullens (no translation). The vieux capitaine said to the jeune lieutenant :
"Go to the damsel Priscilla ( allez tres vite chez Priscilla), the loveliest maiden of Plymouth ( la plus jolie demoiselle de Plymouth). Say that a blunt old captain, a man not of words but of action ( un vieux Fanfan la Tulipe ), offers his hand and his heart, the hand and heart of a soldier. Not in these words, you know, but this, in short, is my meaning.
"I am a maker of war ( je suis un fabricant de la guerre ) and not a maker of phrases. You, bred as a scholar ( vous, qui tes pain comme un etudiant ), can say it in elegant language, such as you read in your books of the pleadings and wooings of lovers, such as you think best adapted to win the heart of the maiden."
Although Jean was fit to be tied ( convenable tres emballe ), friendship prevailed over love and he went to his duty. But instead of using elegant language, he blurted out his mission. Priscilla was muted with amazement and sorrow ( rendue muette par l'tonnement et las tristesse ).
At length she exclaimed, interrupting the ominous silence: "If the great captain of Plymouth is so very eager to wed me, why does he not come himself and take the trouble to woo me?" ( Ou est-il, le vieux Kilometres? Pourquoi ne vient-il pas aupres de moi pour tenter sa chance ?)

Jean said that Kilometres Deboutish was very busy and didn't have time for those things. He staggered on, telling what a wonderful husband Kilometres would make. Finally Priscilla arched her eyebrows and said in a tremulous voice, "Why don't you speak for yourself, Jean?" ( Chacun a son gout. )
And so, on the fourth Thursday in November, American families sit down at a large table brimming with tasty dishes and, for the only time during the year, eat better than the French do.
No one can deny that le Jour de Merci Donnant is a grande fete and no matter how well fed American families are, they never forget to give thanks to Kilometres Deboutish, who made this great feast possible.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Irresistibly Delectable Eye Candy

Two words: Pure Glamour.

René Gruau, fashion illustrator extraodinaire, sometimes with intricate attention to detail, at other moments with a few broad strokes of his brush, captured post war glamour with its sizzle, sparkle, humor and sensuousness better than any other artist in the history of the métier.

Recently a friend and I were discussing fashion illustration and at the same instant both of us said, Gruau (!)

He collaborated with Givenchy, Balenciaga, Lanvin, Schiaparelli and Dior among other "brands" and fashion creators and left an indelible legacy that far surpassed an illustration designed to sell a product. He was an artist in the truest sense of the word. At the same time his flair captured the essence of the esprit, whimsey, desire and aspirations of women, and I would argue, continues to do so. Clearly, a glance at his paintings and you know he loved women.

His work is in some of the world's most important museums, including the Louvre, and many of his oeuvres have been sold at the finest auction houses, Christie's among them.

In his biography, explaining that his real name was Renato Zavagli Ricciardelli, born in Italy, February 4, 1909, to an Italian count and a French aristocrat, Maria Gruau, he is described as an artist who:  ". . .defines with glamour and sensuality a feminine universe made of luxury, frivolity, futility and narcissism as the most natural thing in the world."

I think frivolity has an irresistible charm, maybe we should have a little bit more in our lives. I think too narcissism is unfair. I think he painted divine women who loved to dress up, make up and get out there to have a good time. If that's narcissism, bring it on.

Enough words. Pictured here are some of my favorites by the late, great, brilliant René Gruau (Feb. 1909-March 2004).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Where Are All the Gentlemen?

James "Jimmy" Stewart*
Gentlemen. Are they an endangered species? And, if so, whose fault is it?

Perhaps it's another one of our oft heard laments about the end of good manners, the death of politesse, the e-mail over the handwritten note, the cell phone ringing in the middle of a funeral (yes, twice), the unreturned message, the lack of courtesy on every level. . . Some blame feminism, but I don't buy that excuse.

Or, is polished behavior mere veneer and not the real deal?

I'm not sure, what do you think? I am willing to compromise however, if I can't have the genuine model I'll take good manners with good grace.

I've known a few: My father, Philip Miller, Lawrence DeVine, Robert Olen Butler, Arnaud de Baillencourt, My-Reason-For-Living-In-France and my dear, dear friend, James, who agreed -- after much prodding -- to write today's post.

James is a true gentleman, courteous, honest, direct, kind and sometimes curmudgeon-y, which I think is a charming ingredient in the cocktail.

Gary Cooper*

Here is what James,  Man of the 50s , has to say:

I saw recently that two new shows will premier soon. They are similarly named "Last Man Standing" and "Man Up". "Man up" seems to be a popular catch phrase these days, though I find it a little ironic when a woman says it to another woman. 

Once I was involved in a high school prank. Details aren't necessary to this story,let us just say it was stupid. My father was deployed and I was turned over to the father of fellow prankster and my best friend for punishment. Major Wassel stared at us with his steely eyed glare (I often wondered if he practiced in front of a mirror) and told us, "It's time to saddle up and become gentlemen." Note not just men, but gentlemen.

So the age old question: What is a gentleman? Is it the way you look? I try to avoid generalities. They lead to stereotypes, and that leads to prejudices. Having said that, I generally follow the "if it looks like a duck,walks like a duck and quacks likes a duck, it's probably a duck". Now I've known men in three piece suits with gold watch chains who acted like the south end of a north bound horse. And before you blow a gasket, I know your cousin Killer, who dresses like a Mongolian war lord, is the finest gentleman you know. I think I met him at a biker bar outside of Dayton Ohio once. So, while most gentlemen I know tend to dress the part, that ain't it.

Cary Grant*
Good manners you say? OK it is a part to be sure. However most of the biggest phonies I know have had perfect manners. It's hard to be sure, but does it seem natural? Kinda like Cary Grant ya know. In a word: sincere. That is a huge part of being a gentleman. All the practiced charm means nothing if you have to force it. In my humble opinion the true test is if when he walks away you're thinking "that was nice" he was a gentleman. 

But as I always say, what do I know?

***Stewart, Cooper and Grant were reputedly bona fide gentlemen, on and off screen. By all means, if you can think of a contemporary who meets the high standard definition of gentleman, please share. Perhaps you can only site the men you know and not a "famous" name.
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