Breakfast in America

When we look out from our balcony we generally see this:

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Which is nice. But if we look down, we see this:

photo 9photo 20

Breakfast in America. They are lining up for an 11 Euro, American-style breakfast (about $17.00 for eggs and toast). Why would you do that when you could have this:

Medication for jetlag

Because it’s American, that’s why. The French love/hate relationship with the Americans is at least as strong as ours in Canada, but what makes it fun is that it manifests itself in different ways. And, it can take quite a long time for American trends to get here. For example, in all of the Marais, I was able to find only two of these:

photo 8 La Parisienne has yet to make the  weekly commitment required  to achieve a perfect professional manicure,  as  most New Yorkers, and many Montrealers have.  When I looked at the price list of this nail salon, I could see why.

photo 2photo 3

In fact, I haven’t seen nail polish on any of my friends here, or on their friends. Young women wear it, done at home I would imagine. But I bet that the trend is  coming.

Let’s move on to something else: our shoes and theirs. Men at home, look at your feet. Women, consider the feet of the men you know. Are these feet 7 or 8 times longer than they are wide? Would they, for example, fit into these shoes?

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These are typical French shoes for men and they are still very much present in the vitrines of Paris. I’m convinced that only the French can wear such long, stylish and elegant footwear and it must be an aspect of their genetics that they have such a narrow last. When we came to Paris in 2009, all the men were wearing them, even the young men. Adolescents and guys in their twenties were not wearing unlaced high tops and jeans so loose they were at risk of falling off altogether. And we liked that. Instead we were seeing young guys in tailored, ironed jeans, button down shirts with  foulards and  blazers or suit jackets on top. And they all sported expensive leather shoes.  But, a change was coming, and my daughter Charlotte tells me it was, in fact, starting back in 2009 with the rising French interest in hip-hop. Hip-hop guys do not wear pointy leather shoes. It was the beginning of running shoe culture – okay, sorry, the rise of the American sneaker.

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Now they are everywhere. Everyone is wearing what here are termed “baskets”. You seldom see a young man in the style that was de rigeur just six short years ago.

But I have a theory about what happens when the French adopt an American trend and we can see an example of what I mean in the way they do  graffiti. While it’s true that graffiti goes back to  ancient Rome, and earlier, if the youth-culture-tagging with-spray-paint-thing  has a homeland, it would be south of the 45th parallel. Here in Paris we do see a fair amount of deplorable tagging.

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But what we see even more is something like this:

photo 13 Now this little fox sitting down to dinner is kind of interesting. And in our local alleyways we see something that can only be called an art form.

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This is street art and it’s really cool and it’s everywhere.  I sometimes see murals and such in Montreal, but usually someone was hired to do them. So, the French have taken the night-bandit spray painting trend and transformed it into something French. Bravo.

Let’s get back to the shoes. “Baskets” are the shoe of the moment in Paris. But take a look at these:

photo  Aren’t these shoes awfully slender and tidy-looking? Perhaps a French “take” on sneakers?

And what about these?  photo 17  Is something new and French happening in the American domain of sneakers? Finding out is one more reason to come back next year.



Dames d’un Certain Age II

Don’t think I have ceased researching my soon- to-be best-seller on the beauty secrets of middle-aged Parisiennes. Au contraire.  I know that in this time of resurgent Cold War and financial uncertainty, when a SARS-like epidemic out of the Middle-East (coincidence?) is heading our way, the primary pressing concern of the average North American woman of a certain age is how to stave off the ravages of time, shed wrinkles and extra pounds,  and achieve the insouciant epitome of chic that is the natural state of women over here. I have dedicated myself to this research (a fact I particularly insist upon in the expectation that I can write off all of my expenses on this trip in my 2014 tax return). I cannot give away all the book’s secrets, but to whet your appetite I would like to begin with a general discussion of certain myths concerning the aging Parisienne.

#1. It is not true that all  Parisian women are young-looking and chic. Not at all. They often  show their age. Every one of those Gitanes they smoked as they mounted the barricades in May 68 is written on their faces in wrinkles as complex as the Paris metro map. They often wear nondescript outfits and sensible shoes. Their hair is in  a bun, and  not a chic messy-bun as seen in the advertizing for Aesop skin care products. Not at all.

#2. It is not true that the French don’t try to be beautiful. Believe me, they try. Take cellulite creams. In the pharmacies of Paris there is hardly room for any drugs because of the amount of shelf-space devoted to cellulite creams. And honestly, who would be naive enough to think that a cream would get rid of cellulite, anyway?

Imagined conversation:

Pharmacist:   “Desolez, Madame, but I cannot give you any antibiotics for your oozing sores to-day, because we ran out of room for them.”

Customer: “Zut, what shall I do?”

Pharmacist: “Perhaps try some cellulite cream? It’s very effective.”

#3. It is not true that Parisiennes do not use botox. At a dinner party I attended recently, a truly beautiful fellow guest was so botoxed that when she spoke, she sounded like she had no teeth. It was painful to see her try to form words, and discover that her upper lip just wasn’t going anywhere.

Exercise for those considering botox:

Go to a mirror. Stuff four cotton balls under your upper lip. Notice that those witchy lines do disappear, but also notice that  you look like Bugs Bunny. Now try to talk. Say words like: wonderful, please, and why would I want to look so ridiculous.

Enough myth-busting, although there is much more to be said. Time for stalking the chic Parisiennes we do admire. Let’s look at some photos and analyze.

A few weeks ago, at the Paris Art Fair, I noticed that I was surrounded by the subject types we are most interested in. Ah-ha, iphone 5C at the ready!

IMG_1299 Here’s the setting. The beautiful Grand Palais. Chic Parisiennes are everywhere, selling, buying, discussing, seeing and being seen.

IMG_1282   Our first subject shows that you need not be young nor happy to be chic. She has style, she matches the paintings, the grey hair was a good choice and she understands that if you are going to go grey you have to wear lipstick.

IMG_1276 Perfect. The figure on the right has orange everything – jacket, hair and hem. And it’s really working. She looks vibrant, chic – er than thou. Her friend has the most gorgeous coat. The purse and pants are right.

IMG_1241 Some art. Just to raise the tone of our discussion.

IMG_1245 Oh, the young Moms. Jeggings, leggings, great knee-length coat, large hand bag, white platform running shoes. Copy that.

IMG_1253 Running shoes again. Now this hurts a bit, because no running shoes unless at the gym, used be a central tenet of the Parisiennes’ creed. But things have changed and running shoe culture has come to Paris. Still, as your teenagers know, they have to wear the RIGHT running shoes. White or black lace-ups. Look like Keds. Could be platform if you want a little height.

IMG_1243 More art. Improve your mind.

IMG_1246 Yes. Camel and perfectly coiffed. Oxfords are another good shoe choice and they are everywhere here.

IMG_1295  Arty, shawled, dark tights. Take notes.

IMG_1277 Dashing about. She’s working but always coordinated in the great Paris non-colours that are a no-risk choice for the chic.

Okay, there you have it. More myths busted and more secrets revealed in “Aging Like A Parisienne”, by Christine Stonehewer. Advanced orders accepted.



Hunting and Gathering

It has been a good week for hunting and gathering. At Drouot, the auction house, there were 15  auctions taking place throughout Wednesday afternoon.  I was commissioned by a young friend to bid on a (Hermes) Kelly bag as two were on offer at the fashion auction. I don’t quite approve of the brand obsession attached to the Kelly,  but I was happy to go, catch the scene, and drop by another auction, this one devoted to antique textiles. Imagine. A roomful of people interested in dropping a thousand or more euros on a piece of Renaissance embroidery. Talk about specialized.  I love fabric and had to see these lovely pieces of textile art as they came out. This is close to the  way they looked: 8a4454c80b75d78c628d974e3276e1c977219ddbd6b9b552c6228fb150986cee Beautiful, no?

I also had a second motive. Remember that Kuba fabric from Zaire that I hankered for at the flea market? Here is a reminder:01bb5960f265b02868cb8fbce9b04e8e96231491fc  I had learned on-line that  there was a lot on offer containing three pieces. I sat expectantly and in due course the lot came up, described somewhat sniffily as “Du raffia”. What luck. In this crowd of high rollers no one was interested in “du raffia”, and so it was mine for 25 euros. How much did that flea market guy ask for one piece of the same? I think it was 75 euros. Here  are my trophies.

019aea9edbf14ae711240bf02d1f903f7428cb7afd  Here is what they will look like if I make them into pillows. What do you think? Should I frame them instead?

411fc990a6a17742c813846d1dbd8ab0  I have been reading about how the artisans weave these, husbands and wives sharing the tasks of collecting palm leaves, stripping and tufting the fibres. Quite interesting. But I could not rest on my laurels. There was fashion to be had.

Upstairs in the fashion auction, a roomful of women resembling Lee Radziwill were packed like proverbial sardines. It was easily as interesting watching them as the Chanels, St. Laurents and Givenchy’s coming off the racks.There were hundreds of items sold and the auctioneer handled the bidding from the crowded room as well as from a crowded table full of Drouot staff working the phones and computers. She was very amusing, full of patter, “Mais c’est ravissante!” , “C’est du Sonia” (Rykiel), “Jamais vous ne le regretterez”. There were many bargains, especially if you long for a little black dress, an impossibly chic black suit or two, or a fur. Personally, while I admire these items, they do not actually fit into my lifestyle. Perhaps I should change my lifestyle. The furs were going for A SONG – by which I mean 200-250 euros. For mink. In my view you shouldn’t have to feel guilty about the mink because you got it second-hand. Someone else was responsible for its death, there is no point throwing it in the garbage now.  Unfortunately for Sophie, the Kelly bags were not going for a song, unless that song is “Money, Money”. They brought 500 and 1000 euros respectively. I think that’s ridiculous but no doubt there are a couple of people out there convinced they got a bargain.

You might think that I would have had quite enough by now, but auction-going is not for the weak. The last hour is the crazy hour and I had spotted just the right kind of junky/garage-sale-esque auction going on in the basement. It was me and a bunch of guys named Salim as things got down to the wire. Amidst the pseudo-antiques there were some quite nice things and they were going for nothing. I mean it this time. A piano in good working condition went for 20 euros. I had spotted a stack of rugs and I was thinking that a couple of small ones would probably fit in my luggage. The rugs came on last. They brought out the small ones and slapped them down on the table. A cloud of dust rose up. They were selling all of the small ones (10? 12?) in one lot! What to do? How could I take all of them? I didn’t want all of them! But the auctioneer couldn’t even get 20 euros for them. The price came down to 15 euros. My mind was racing. And as it did so the lot sold. Rats!  No matter, Salim assured me. “You will find many things here.” No doubt. Tomorrow, Hunting and Gathering II.