My friend Carolyn writes from France where she is vacationing:
Paris was cool and rainy but ah, it's Paris. We are now in a lovely little town in the south. We're driving to Nice today (Pray for us.) and to Monaco on Saturday.
A tiny woman of impeccable taste, Carolyn is always at the right place at the right time: and I look forward to her full report on what French women are saying in the wake of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal.
Ah, yes, Paris is Paris in spite of rain, fog or the French. Whether haughty, arrogant or charming, French women, especially in Paris, still look more sophisticated and stylish than any other national group of women, with the possible exception of Italians. (The first time I went to Paris, I sat on the balcony of my hotel room on the Left Bank and just watched the women walk by.) Jamie Cat Callan (author of the marvelous French Women Don’t Sleep Alone) swears they also have the secrets to happiness. In her new book, Bonjour, Happiness! Secrets to Finding Your Joie de Vivre (Citadel/Kensington), she tells us how they age gracefully, achieve balance in their lives—for example, relishing food without over-eating and giving of themselves to family and friends while still finding time alone—and more.
I love this book as much as I do Jamie’s first one. She is a joyful, exuberant writer who makes wise and witty observations you wouldn’t expect from a happy person. Briefly, I wondered if the publication timing wasn’t good because French women are now beginning to admit that some of those French men who pride themselves on being “seducers” are really sexual harassers. Does that alter our view of the sexually free French? (Yes, somewhat.) Do we wonder why French women have silently accepted what seems to be rampant sexual harassment in the workplace. (Yes, we do.)
But do we still envy their ability to have extra-marital affairs without ending their marriages? To eat and stay thin? To be adored by their children and yet have time alone? To dress so beautifully, even on small budgets, that they are the envy of the rest of the world’s women?
Yes, we do!
In the politics of sex, French women are where American women were in the 1970s when feminists took on all manner of workplace abuses, from un-equal pay to sexual harassment. In typical American fashion, we over-corrected, losing the exciting sexual edge that made the 60s The Sexual Revolution. Why do you think we adore “Mad Men?” We want that back, minus the sexism. I am confident that French women, who turned the tying of a scarf into an art form, can make this happen in their land. Maybe Jamie’s next book will explain how they did.
Meanwhile, I encourage you to buy both of Jamie’s books. You will find easy ways to look and feel better—as well as a philosophy of life that will actually make the living of it easier. How good is that?
From the introduction to Bonjour, Happiness! (which perfectly expresses the differences between the French way of life and the American):
Looking for Happiness
In America, we are entitled to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
There is no such expression in France. In fact, in France, the equivalent expression is la recherche du bonbeur (looking for happiness.) On the surface, this might seem as if I am splitting hairs, but if you really examine the idea of ‘looking’ for happiness as opposed to ‘pursuing’ happiness, you’ll see there’s actually a big difference.
If we’re looking for something, it feels as if it’s there hiding in plain sight….all we have to do is be patient and…There it is!
On the other hand, pursuing implies a kind of chasing after something…
While I am into my French period—and I truly am, even having my new photos done in scarf, pearls and hat—I have to tell you about two other books—La Seduction: How The French Play The Game of Life (Times Books) by Elaine Sciolino and French Leave (Europa Editions) by Anna Gavalda.
In La Seduction, Sciolino reminds us that most French men are not Strauss-Kahn. They seduce by compliments and smiles, by paying careful attention to the lady and what she says and what she wants. Sciolino traveled throughout the country, interviewing men and women about seduction. I would love to do an equivalent book set in America. What do you think I would find?
French Leave is a great place to start if you haven’t discovered Europa Editions, a New York City small press devoted to literary translations. A best-seller in Europe and published in 26 languages, this slender book tells the story of four adult siblings in search of the happiness they knew as children. In keeping with today’s theme of happy authors writing smart, it is optimistic—and also beautifully written.
Three paperback books—affordable, easy to pack, the kind of books you might leave as serendipitous gifts to the next occupant of that beach house guest room—and one hardcover or ebook. Buy them. Get happier. It’s a bargain.
And, yes, French women are still the sexiest.
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