Love, Two Lipsticks and a Lover to be French!

My new habit of reading each morning and night has unlocked some delightful books in my bookshelf which have not been opened for years.

Two, in particularly – both outrageously Francophilic – have whetted my appetite for returning to France in future.

One is La Vie Parisienne by Australian journalist Janelle McCulloch, who once shared a stage with me at a literary event organised by the NSW Library. We both talked of our books, hers with its flippant sub-title “Looking for Love – and the Perfect Lingerie’’, and me with my memoir From France With Love and its sub-title, “A Love Story with Baggage.’’

I turned green with envy when she said her book had been launched in the UK a few months earlier in April 2008 and had sold 7000 copies.  Although my own book was a success – being the fifth national best seller for Penguin in the January of that year, the first print run was a mere 4000.

We exchanged our books and this week I finally read Janelle’s take on living in Paris.

Hers is a delightful memoir (as is mine), the big difference being that mine is a love story with Olivier and Janelle tries hard to find a French fella without success. Instead, she falls in love with the “whole glorious lustre’’ of Paris.  Meanwhile, with my lovely Frenchman by my side at the wheel of our car, I fell in love with the whole of France!

Janelle begins each chapter with an evocative quote such as the one from Nina Berberova introducing Chapter 4 All Bar Vin.

“Paris. Paris. There is something silken and elegant about that word, something carefree, something made for a dance, something brilliant and festive, like Champagne.’’

Janelle lived in Paris for 12 months and writes about how she absorbed herself into French stylish culture so much so that she tried to re-invent herself and become Parisian.

However, the charm of La Vie Parisienne is how she captures the fabric of Paris,  its unique stylish atmosphere and architecture and the elegance of its people.

“What journalists failed to understand is that Paris is what it is because of the Parisians. Okay, so they have a penchant for posturing, and are known for their uncompromising opinions on style, sex and what to put on a plate, but there is still a wonderfully generous spirit lurking beneath all that attitude.’’

“Parisians have a phrase to describe such things, the little things they love most about living in their city. This phrase is petit tresors which means “the small treasures’ of life. It refers to the captivating signs and tucked-away stores, the fabulous open-air street markets, the beautiful bridges and serene backstreets and the unforgettable cul-de-sacs you discover…’’ she writes.

Then there are the subtleties of the city, the sounds of the streets, the conversations, the exuberance of café life and the rich scents. “If I close my eyes I can always smell something in Paris; heady Guerlain cologne, delicious offerings from busy patisseries, big cut bunches of white lilies at picturesque flower stalls and rich coffee beans being ground…’’

Janelle is clearly smitten by Paris because she has gone on to write another coffee table book on Paris including Paris Secrets: Architecture, Interiors, Quartiers, Corners.’’

Strangely, despite her sincere efforts,  the much-famed romance of the French male eludes here and Janelle failed to find a French lover in her 12-month sojourn in the City of lovers.

However, she finds l’art de vivre intoxicating and hands on her wisdom on French style and  she describes how to invite seduction by “always being ready’’ with intimate lingerie.

An entertaining, well-written primer on pretending to be Parisian, La Vie Parisienne, published by Murdoch Books, is available on the Internet.

Two Lipsticks and a Lover by Helena Frith Powell is a more advanced tome of knowledge on French life. However, it is written in a plainer style.  The difference is in the substance. Helena Frith Powell is a long-time Parisienne and she is the real deal. Her anecdotes of important Parisians are impressive. Powerhouses such as politician Segolene Royal and former Legerfeld muse Ines de la Fressange freely pass on their gems of wisdom on how to be a stylish, chic, elegant French woman and societl mores.

Here is a basic rule from Dorothee Werner, the social affairs writer for Elle in Paris:”The point is that the foundation of society in France is that men and women know they are different but feel equal. Therefore the whole relationship is more nature. The men are also less of a caricature than  in England, where you have the classic bloke in the pub,’’ says Dorothee.

Helen has a mysterious French man she names “B” and he has more to add to the sexual antics of the French male.

“What I am saying is that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way. No man can be friends with a woman he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her.’’

Helen capitalises on her access to the top women such as Sophie Sarkozy who describes French women’s indefineable flair.

“Just go to the avenue Montaigne and you will see I there,’’ says Sophie. “There is always, no mater what time of day or night, a girl there who epitomises what we think of as the classic Parisian.  She will be thin, perhaps not ultra elegant, but fasionable. And above all she will have an allure. It’s genetic and we French women have it, rather like the Balinese dancers; it’s not something you can learn.’’

Janelle’s book is a more entertaining, lyrical read, but Helena’s stuff forms a handy reference for anyone wanting to get a grip of French society although I doubt that you do need “two lipsticks and a lover’’.



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1 Comment to “Love, Two Lipsticks and a Lover to be French!”

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