I have been desperately searching after my lost French culture recently. I grew up in Paris, and maintained my French language (and some culture) through French classes through high school and college, along with yearly week-long trips to Paris to visit old friends. Recently, however, rien. My busy life in journalism school, then working full time, have provided limited time for practicing my French, and it is truly insane (no matter how many times you hear it) how fast you can lose a language. Of course, it is possible to get it back (and mine is not totally lost.. I just have quite embarrassing, incoherent, fumbling-for-words moments), but not without some hard work.
Anywho, the most accessible trove of French culture in the city is, unsurprisingly, the Alliance Française. It is on the Upper East Side, and they have a delightfully modern, aesthetically-pleasing and organized website highlighting all of their weekly events and group activities, of which there are many. I have not become a member yet, mostly because I am too broke to even bear looking at my bank account at the moment (even though the membership is VERY affordable – don’t let this deter you). But I felt I could afford the $10 student ticket to a talk that took place last Wednesday. It was discussion and book signing with French fashion designer Catherine Malandrino, who just came out with a book called “Une Femme Française: The Seductive Style of French Women.” In it, from what I gathered (the talk was in English, but jumped around a bit), she discusses femininity, the very real distinctions between the French woman and the American one, and what it takes to cultivate a French, seductive lifestyle.
What touched me about this talk was the portion in which she talked about this French, seductive lifestyle. By seductive, she did not simply mean the woman’s art of seducing the man (the talk, certainly, still seemed to look at relationships, sexuality, and the gender spectrum in very black-and-white terms, by the way, which is perhaps a very French lens). She meant, also, feeling seduced by life itself: LETTING oneself be seduced by life itself, by the little things. She talked about the pleasures of waking up to sunlight in the morning, to making your own cup of coffee, to cooking, either by yourself or with a lover. She talked about buying fresh flowers just to make yourself feel special, to have something pretty to look at; about dressing slowly, paying attention to what you wear underneath your clothes, your armor for the day. I am sure there are so many other little things like this that she highlights, specifically, in her book. I can imagine them: your skincare routine, how you shower.. She emphasized that this doesn’t have to have anything to do with money, or how much money you have to spend on yourself; it is just about treating yourself in a certain way, and about looking at life in a certain way, with a certain romance. Looking for the little pleasures that make it romantic.
Stay tuned for a French book club – that is in the works (French books, French setting, friends who speak French, either French pastries or French wine depending on the time of day we settle on). I will certainly be talking about it here.