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Je vois la vie en rose: I see life in rosy hues

Gertrude Stein said, "America is my country and Paris is my hometown." Florence, Italy is my hometown but I love so many French things and the French way of life that I can relate to her quote. Oh to be around when Hemingway, Stein, and Picasso were living it up at Café deux Magots in Paris. I invite you to join me and Frenchify your life  through these tips and facts about all things French. I am a xenophile, Francophile, Europhile... How wonderful would it be if like Edith Piaf sang, we could see life in rosy hues? Perhaps through everyday little French details we can try.

There is such mystery rooted in the French culture; they seem to love secrets about beauty, weight loss, affairs... There's a touch of magic to these secrets being personal and unspoken; it makes them seem so seductive. La Fontaine said, Rien ne pèse tant que un secret (nothing weighs more than a secret). As an American I think telling a secret (my personal private thoughts) creates intimacy with those close to me. It doesn't seem to concede or threaten my relationships by being discreet like the French.

French women seem to have well kept secrets for beauty; they are ritualistic about caring for their skin. For the French, beauty is a tradition handed down from their mother's mother and secrets are not discussed outside the family. I like the perception that in France the older you get, the sexier you become. Americans worship the twenty something woman but the French are more attracted to the confidence and assurance of a seasoned man or woman. I think these beautiful French actresses are much more interesting and intelligent to admire: Fanny Ardant, Marion Cotillard , Juliette Binoche, Catherine Deneuve , and Leslie Caron (a few of my favorites).

The French don't seem to care about being liked like we do. I think it's that confidence that gives French women an edge. At the same time, that's why we strongly dislike them! It's that uppity superior attitude!

I can't help but think of Marie Antoinette; the French disliked her from the beginning because she was not French! She was an Austrian princess who threatened the French culture. It makes me very sad to think of how Marie was treated in France. She was très intelligent, loving, and witty! Wit is something the French highly respect. France is a bit like a sorority... It's very difficult to join without being a legacy or having several good recommendations!

Have you ever noticed how honesty and wit are so rarely combined in a person? The French movie Ridicule displays this perfectly. The movie is set during the reign of Louis XVI and a man must survive Versailles relying on his wit and smarts. It really shows you how much the French put on wit and clever conversation. Just as Marie Antoinette fought with her hobbies, gambling and fashion, she also read all the time. I can only imagine that is where she found her wit (that and her wunderbar Hapsburg genes).

Something else the Queen of France popularized was the croissant. It was her favorite treat from her homeland, Austria. The French love to claim things as their own! Another example is ballet; which did not originate in France either (Italy). I'm not fluent in French but I speak ballet! Marie Antoinette was a huge patron of the arts. Ballet spread through the French court courtesy of Catherine de' Medici where it was developed even further. In the 17th century at the time of Louis XIV, ballet was codified. Louis XIV was a noted and respectable dancer; his dances still survive today! My favorite French ballet is Giselle, the first of the great romantic ballets.

You've heard the National Motto of France, non? Well I've altered it slightly: Liberté, égalité, (scratch the fraternité because it's too hard to join) gastronomie!! The French worship their stomachs; their high priests are chefs and sommeliers. The French literally put their money where their mouth is, spending more money on food and wine than any other nation. In Dallas we have many French places to choose from: The French Room, Hotel St Germaine, Lavendou, Rise, The Cultured Cup (to name a few). Elizabeth New also offers her French Affairs including: travel, culture and language in Dallas.

Thank goodness for Julia Child who gave us The French Chef! So much French cooking was inspired in America because of her. American's now look at cheese, white asparagus, shallots, mushrooms, beets, leeks, and herbs (like herbs de Provence) as c'est normal!! One of my favorite simple French treats is the crepe. So much can be done to fill them. When I was little, my mom would make them for my brother and sister and I often. My favorite filling is apples with crème fraiche.

Ashley's Crepes: 1 C milk, 2 T melted butter, 2 eggs, 1 C flour, 1 t baking powder, ½ t salt, 1 t vanilla (omit if making a savory crepe) Put everything in the blender! Works best with a crepe pan.

Have you heard of Poilâne bread? It's a world renowned bread company run by the great granddaughter of Pierre Poilâne. They use the best of old techniques with the best of new techniques. You can get it shipped to the States from France. There's a Michelin saying, ca vant le voyage... It's worth the trip. Well it would be worth the shipping in this case!

Edith Piaf said, "All I've done all my life is disobey." Coming from a teacher who has always been a pretty good rule follower, I envy this statement! How nice to have the confidence and air that you can do as you please and not feel bad about it. Is it an American thing to carry a huge amount of guilt? I know it certainly comes with motherhood. I tell my dogs I'm sorry if I run into them!! I can't imagine having that French mindset, but I'm captivated by it and many times wish I could be that "snooty French girl" with the attitude.

We have so many rules in America, unlike the French who pretty much do as they please. I would like a mix of both our worlds. In America living can feel like responsibility after responsibility where in France they are more laissez-faire about life, c'est la vie! We have so many self-help books at our fingertips. I think the French see rules as a violation on their personal right to live as they like. I think of it as more living with your heart and doing what feels natural, not what others "think" is natural. The French women have a passionate sense of the shortness of time and the immediacy of pleasure. I think this is very healthy.

My husband and I went to Paris with a Parisian years ago and she seemed to have so much trouble expressing pleasantries and courtesies that we thought she was in a constant bad mood. I got fed up and stopped being friendly. Then the funniest thing happened, she started being nice when I was rude to her! Is that reverse psychology I tapped into? Another interesting thing about the French is that you can get different answers depending on how you bring up the subject. If you are ever asked, "What do you think of Pei's pyramid at the Louvre?" I have learned one should say, "I think he was very brave!" This way you don't set yourself up for ridicule. Any time I said I liked something in Paris my Parisian friend would say it's appalling! And if I didn't particularly like it, she would go off on me! I think you win if you stay neutral like Switzerland!!

My husband Derek and I recently celebrated our ten year anniversary at the same place we spent the night after our wedding; Hotel St. Germaine in Dallas. You can get your French fix here sipping on champagne and eating off Limoges! Originally a home built in 1906, it is now a seven room French hotel that is adorned with French antiques, gorgeous tapestries, and canopied beds (a bed you never want to leave). I read this is where Oscar de la Renta, Martha Stewart, and Prince Albert of Monaco stay when they come to Dallas bien sûr!

An avid mountain cyclist, Derek has had the Tour de France on our television for the past three weeks. It is his dream to someday go and travel city to city with the bikers but especially up the Pyrenées Mountains. If the scenery wasn't so gorgeous I wouldn't be interested, but there are so many beautiful little towns all over France, I can't help but watch. Marcel Proust said, "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." My eyes are "new" after watching the Tour de France. When the Tour de France is not on I love to watch H & G's House Hunters International; there are many episodes in France.

I've always thought it's the little details in small spaces that make a room special. What could be better than wallpapering your closet? I know it would make me smile every time I walk into my closet because it is one of my favorite rooms in the house. We often start and end our day in our dressing rooms, so why shouldn't it feel warm and intimate? I don't think any room is too small to have it adorned with style.

There's the old French proverb, the white wall is the fool's paper. How could color and patterns not make you happy? I think of Pierre Deux with its cozy and chic look full of color and warmth. The sunflowers, roosters, and layering new textiles with the old just feels right. Henri Matisse has been my favorite artist since I was a child. It's the colors; the Mediterranean sun coming through. I find him to be whimsical, happy, and not too serious. I love Matisse, he makes me happy!

Recently in the news you may have heard about a group of divers exploring a shipwreck in the Baltic Sea found what is thought to be the oldest drinkable champagne in the world, made in the late 18th century. The divers sampled a bottle of the Veuve Clicquot and said, "It was fantastic... it had a very sweet taste, you could taste oak and it had a very strong tobacco smell. And there were very small bubbles." This fascinated me after having read the Widow Clicquot and learning about how the champagne was sold mostly in Russia because during the 18th century France wasn't buying. Being the world's oldest champagne it would be thought to be priced around $68,000 a bottle. Thirsty?

When visiting New York one of my favorite places to go when I want to feel like a real New Yorker is The Paris Theatre. It's a classy old art house that you can't help but love! I have fond memories of seeing Merchant and Ivory films with my sister, especially (my favorite), Jet Lag. The Inwood, Angelica, and Magnolia theaters are all fantastic art houses in their own way, but the Paris being so old, small and quaint is très spécial. It's been around 62 years and exudes Parisian class.

You can't talk about France without mentioning the French women and their scarves. J'adore the movie Le Divorce. Glenn Close's character, Olivia Pace, says this about scarves:

French women are extraordinary.
All their customs and ceremonials.
l mean, their scarves alone...
an entire chapter.
Knotted in front, one end down,
other end thrown over the shoulder.
Or looped around double
and the ends tucked in.
Or around the shoulder,
over their coat like a shawl.
Or tied in the back.
l mean, châle, foulard, ècharpe.
Just think of all the words
they have for scarf.
And in a language which is
very sparse in vocabulary.

I take great pleasure in learning languages with my children. My four and two-year-olds love listening to Frere Jacques and Alouette in the car. My husband and I attempt some French bedtime reading including: Madeline, Le Petit Prince, Bonsoir Lune, This is Paris, Nicholas, Martin Pebble, and a few "I can read French" books. It's fun to learn together. After all, everything sounds better in French! Surely you agree! Bien sûr!

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