Saturday, September 13, 2014

Revue de Presse (Press Review)

Like everyone in France keeps reminding me, c'est la rentrée. Summer is all but over. Time to head back to school, to work, to life as we know it. In the care package I received from my parents yesterday, I found an issue of Elle magazine: La Rentrée is also the time of the Fall fashion review. Jackpot. 

"Unexpected Rentrée:" Elle France loves mixing cultures, and languages.

France is changing, slowly but surely. That ad in Elle magazine announces two weeks of special sales at several malls around Paris. (Every good francophile knows that les Soldes -sales - are government-regulated in France; they only happen twice a year, and never in the Fall.)

Why don't I share some of my observations? You may find these tips useful when you put together your Fall wardrobe. 

First, Travel and Leisure. I bought it because of the cover (see above) and the promise of some scoops about Paris...

There weren't that many scoops, but the article is a good read. I learned where I could find French cuisine classics for example - but was a bit surprised that T&L editors do not know how to spell Boeuf bourguignon (a common mistake in international publications, mostly annoying to French natives.) Repeat after me, kids: Boeuf is male. The adjective that follows is, therefore, masculine. Bourguignon (not bourguignonne.) Voilà. Facile, non?

There was a shout out to several Parisian Star Pâtisseries. Among them, Sébastien Gaudard, in So-Pi (South Pigalle, in case you were wondering...) 

I can still taste the éclair au café I picked up chez Monsieur Gaudard this summer and later enjoyed in the peaceful garden of the Musée de la Vie Romantique... Absolute perfection.

(Photo French Girl in Seattle) 

Travel and Leisure gave me a wonderful idea for a Christmas gift (unless I decide not to wait and order the book next week.) 

But the French Elle magazine was waiting, and I started flipping the pages, grateful to my parents who probably spent the cost of thirty fancy pastries chez Sébastien Gaudard, to ship that monster of an issue to the United States.

Last week, I shared an article about Parisian women with the French Girl in Seattle Facebook community. Hadley Freeman, the author, ticked off by the constant stream of books and articles on the theme "French-women-do-it-better," wrote an entertaining piece and - scoop! - revealed the secret to being a Parisian woman:

1. Move to Paris
2. Speak French

Nicely tried, Hadley. But in my humble opinion, Parisian women wannabes need more insights into the lives of real French women. 

Case in point: For years,  French women, urban French women in particular - looking at you, les Parisiennes! - have been described as ethereal creatures, always impeccably dressed, who never part with their elegant escarpins (pumps,) even on snow-covered sidewalks. Bien sûr, over the years, the rule has relaxed a bit: Fashion gurus like Inès de la Fressange have shared their love for cute, colorful, more relaxed footwear. Converse-clad women of all ages are a common sight on Parisian sidewalks. Well. Wait until you see what French women are going to wear this fall. Let's just say this news is going to delight suburban moms everywhere. You know how they always tell you white, clunky sneakers are a big "no-no" in Paris (and major French cities?) Well... They still are. 

But take heart, you may actually be able to visit France with the sneakers you wear to run errands around the mall. Illustration.

(These photos probably caused Coco Chanel to roll in her grave this month.)

The Chanel sneaker: The most "Pop" shoe of the week, according to Elle
And only 850 Euros

Picture this scene: A horrified Mademoiselle decides to return from the Dead to ask Karl Lagerfeld, her successor, what he has been smoking lately. 
Karl weasels his way out of his well-deserved punishment and produces the following photo. No fewer than nine designers and brands came up with *new* handbag models clearly inspired by the iconic Chanel 2-55. Enraged, Coco forgives Karl - for now - and focuses instead on suing the whole lot. No one messes with Coco. Not even Karl

Chanel-inspired hands-free bags

Karl could argue that la maison Chanel is not the only brand featuring sneakers in their Fall collection. He would be right. 

Escarpin (I think,) by Dior

You have been warned, Parisian women wannabes. Would you like to know more? Pas de problème. This French Girl did all the research for you. 

This Fall, French women will wear a lot of grey. Grey is the color of Parisian skies nine months of the year, so we should get many different shades of that lovely color (pun intended.) 

There will be print too, on everything. This outfit was clearly inspired by Angelina Jolie's wedding gown. Did her kids draw these too? 

You will need a beautiful handbag. All French women have one (or two, or three.) This season, stay away from the Longchamp Le Pliage nylon bag. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has one in their closet. Instead, discover the new Longchamp Le Pliage Leather Heritage collection. Pourquoi pas? (even Coco might approve.) 

Finally, if your budget is limited, you could always invest in this cute t-shirt. It would accessorize très bien with those bright red sneakers you already wear every day. Le Chic à la Française. It says what it is. And nobody will question that you've got it, if it is written on a T-shirt, right?

Fortunately, as Elle magazine reminds us in this informative and colorful issue, it's always a good idea to know your classics... A woman can't go wrong when following trend-setters such as Lauren Bacall, or B.B. (Brigitte Bardot,) who turns 80 this month. Joyeux anniversaire, Brigitte !

And even if France, and French women are changing, it is good to know some myths are alive and well, and still embraced by many: designers, advertising agencies, and the general public. Long live la Mode, (Fashion.) It will keep us all talking. 

A bientôt.

All photos unless otherwise noted,
by Travel and Leisure, September 2014, 
Elle Magazine Special Mode, August 29, 2014.

Further reading: the French woman

If you really, really want to know what makes a French woman so... French, read this  story I wrote last year. Let me know what you think! 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Why France has been my favorite travel destination for 20 years

Somewhere in Versailles, France

France was not always my favorite travel destination. First there was Spain, for a couple of weeks every summer. It was a family tradition. I always had fun there, on la Costa Brava, with my parents, my brother and our relatives. When that was over, we spent the rest of the summer with our grand-parents, in Southern France, and at home (wherever home was; we moved every few years.) Then, as a middle school student, I started learning English and became enamored with Great Britain, visiting with my family - Ah, that first ferry crossing on the English Channel, the tall white cliffs of Dover appearing in the distance! - then on school trips, and later as a tour director for a European company, leader in educational travel. Finally, when I started studying the United States during my senior year in high school, I *fell* into American culture, an experience that would take me across the pond, over and over again, until I settled in the Seattle area 19 years ago. So many trips, so many adventures, so many happy memories. 

France, I am almost embarrassed to admit, was never at the top of my list. I smiled when I heard that most French people spend their summer vacation in France, often staying with relatives and friends. "Why?" I wondered, looking longingly at the big wide world, waiting to be explored. 

Photo credit: Unknown

Fast forward 30, or 40 years. I have led the expatriate life for almost 20 years now. I know I've been lucky to fly back home often. When I arrived in Seattle, I decided that seeing my parents or my brother was a prerequisite, a necessity, an unalienable right.  My American-born son would know his French roots; speak French; and be able to function in Europe. For me, at least, there was never any question. And so we flew to France, to Paris, (since they all live in Paris,) with the occasional side trip to Spain, or England, when we could spare a few days. After a few years, a funny thing started to happen. I wanted more. Paris, and the family - the horror! - were not enough. I wanted to see France; go back to those cities where we had lived; explore new areas. And so, during each trip, I started stealing a few precious days away from family time, and traveled around la Belle France; cherished moments when I could be a tourist, looking at my homeland with a renewed sense of wonder, as first time visitors do. How much fun I have had, falling in love with France all over again! Every summer, my American friends travel to exotic locations, or take long trips across the United States. I enjoy listening to their travel stories, but I do not envy them. If you gave me an extra week off, and enough money to cover my airfare today, France is where I would go, in a heartbeat.

Enjoying a French breakfast in Nice last summer

It seems I am not the only one enjoying la Belle France. This summer, the French government announced that with over 84 million foreign visitors in 2013 alone, my homeland, remains, once again, the most visited country in the world, and by a pretty large margin. The international media enthusiastically embraced the story and tried to analyze the reasons for France's enduring popularity. I shared this article with the French Girl in Seattle Facebook community, and many attempted to answer the question: Why is France so popular? Opinions included: "Romance," "Art," "Gastronomy," "History," "Culture." Others gushed about "France's allure," and "the ephemeral feeling of Frenchness," palpable all over the country. Matt Long, the story's author, concluded: "France [Paris] fulfills the promise of Europe, even for Europeans." 

Fabulous French food: Le Café gourmand

I agreed with most of these comments. How could I not? So I went back to my favorite photo library, the place where I keep all these snapshots of favorite French experiences. And I came up with The Top Ten Reasons why France is my favorite travel destination.

1. Food, glorious French food.

Yes, it can be that good. I am not a foodie, but there are classics I crave all year, and happily indulge in as soon as I set a foot in my homeland. This won't come as a surprise if you read my last story

Escargots de Bourgogne... et baguette
(you need bread to soak up the delicious,  fragrant sauce.) 
Galette bretonne (savory crêpe) Cidre brut de Normandie 
Salade périgourdine 

2. France is a modern country, where one can get lost in time...

In the land of the T.G.V. (high speed train,) the soaring Millau Viaduct, and credit card chip technology, there is also a healthy respect for tradition. Often, the past re-appears in the blink of an eye. 

Gardeners, Versailles gardens Orangerie
Looking at life through the roof of an iconic Deuche (2CV) 
A rose named after a beloved author
Jardins de Bagatelle, Paris

3. Hanging out in a Renoir painting (just another day at the office.)

La Maison Fournaise, Presqu'Ile de Chatou
(My office was in one of these buildings across the Seine river.) 

Maison Fournaise:
The terrace, as pictured in Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party

4. It's all in the presentation

The French love of aesthetics is legendary. Everything in French life has to look/taste/sound just so, including the French language... An enduring (endearing?) quest for excellence, and elegance.

Jardin à la Française: Château de Bagatelle, Paris
Summer lunch, Gorbio, Côte d'Azur
Pâtisserie as art: Fraisier
Window displays in the nation of "lèche vitrine" (window shopping) 

5. France: Touristy, and real

Chers Français : How I love observing you as you go about your business; ignoring the crowds and commotion around you. 

Vieux Nice  (Nice's Old Town) 

Menton, le marché
Pétanque, Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Paris

6. Les Français : The people the world loves to emulate, but claims to hate... until they meet them

Argumentative. Critical. Feisty. Soulful.

Educated. Direct. Culture proud. Welcoming.

Don't change too much. You have your priorities right. 

Shop window:
"I am close by. Call if you need help." 

Spotted in a popular park:
"This area is reserved for strolling.
Joggers are tolerated as long as they don't bother strollers." 

Les Congés (summer vacation)
"In the summer, we take off.
We will re-open on Tuesday September 9"

7. Glorious outdoor markets

Every large neighborhood, every town has one. Food looks; smells; and tastes better when purchased at an outdoor French market. Don't buy your picnic supplies anywhere else!

8. The French pace 

Taking the time to smell the roses without feeling guilty; ignoring those who criticize you (Les pauvres, they don't understand;) feeling sorry for those who don't know how to slow down (that includes some Parisiens!) 

Eating; drinking; socializing...

9. French space: Small is beautiful

The French do grandeur like nobody else (Versailles? Loire valley castle anyone?) 
They also embrace the small, simple pleasures, and the quiet, reflective moments. 

A small room with a [gorgeous] view in Toulouse.
A visit to the local market, a small table, and a picnic...
Lingering at a café terrace and watching the world go by
(for the price of a cup of espresso)
Sipping refreshing, affordable wine.
Realizing how happy you are at that precise moment

10. Things I know I will always find in France... 

A chair, a table, and a terrace, even on a small sidewalk.

A warm croissant and a chausson aux pommes wrapped in a small paper bag. 

A fragrant baguette, with a delicious quignon I will chew off before I get home.

Wherever I travel - cities, villages, countryside - there will be beauty at every turn. 

Baie des Anges, Nice

La Belle France, the world's favorite travel destination for 20 years -- and mine.

A bientôt.

All photos unless otherwise noted by French Girl in Seattle
Do not reprint, use, or Pin without permission.
Thank you.