Chasing Matisse: The Book
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April 26, 2003
Cicadas in Dresses
This is a bitchy remark, I realize. But I hate French women. They don't have big butts. This is most apparent in Paris, where you see the feminine set with the tiniest little hips and thighs parading down the streets. How have they managed throughout history to avoid this decidedly female trait? It's not that they're all petite (though many are not tall). To make a generalization (which I generally don't like to do and apologies to my French friends), they come in two sizes-tiny or round-but no big butts nonetheless.
This is what I was thinking in Paris, when I knew I'd lost some weight and was feeling very cheerful about it until I tried on a skirt that had been lying dormant in my suitcase. I'd imagined it almost falling off of me, but no, it wasn't even loose. We were sitting at Deux Magots drinking our morning coffee-we recognized the waiter, although he didn't recognize us yet-when I was subjected to this irritating observation yet again. Ooh la la, how do they eat the tantalizing cuisine and look like this? I don't know what this business is about how the French don't eat much. They eat all day long whether stopped at a café or restaurant or walking along the street munching a sandwich or pastry. I only wish I could do the same.
We stepped on the street and hailed a cab to carry us to Le Bon Marché. We normally would've ambled, but while I had been verging on my nervous breakdown the day before, Jim had been out visiting more museums and M. Matisse's art. He'd walked for so many rues he'd maimed his feet in his nice city shoes. (We were excited to have somewhere to go and be dressed up.) Le Bon Marché is where I would choose my birthday present early-a pair of sexy chasseurs. (I was tired of the pairs I'd been wearing for months and months. They were black and closed up and worn like I felt.) We searched the entire department, and I found a pretty pair of mules-pink with black piping and silky tassel, a bit of red and fuschia lined the insole. They accessorized perfectly with my tighter-than-I-wanted skirt.
I also chose a red leather change purse so my evasive money loose in my small purse would have a convenient home. Eventually I'd like to find a new tote or smart, small backpack (that all the French women wear above their tiny butts) or handbag, and there was a silk chartreuse nightshirt that would look exquisite with my hair. But I'd had birthday enough.
We lunched at Café Varenne, where a man who looked eerily like Robert DeNiro (who reportedly does like big butts) sat across from us. It was definitely another separated-at-birth sighting, but we finally decided it wasn't the talented actor. (What would I have done if it was?) Afterwards, we visited our favorite Musée Maillol to see the Raoul Dufy exhibit which we'd heard was very good. And as usual, it was our treat to be in the museum and see this show. We were having a drink with Olivier Lorquin, Dina Vierny's son (whose foundation started and funds the museum) for a drink. This was exciting, because we'd hoped to interview Ms. Vierny who is in her 80's and has been ill. Olivier was kind enough to meet us. He'd told us that he and M. Malvic, our Hotel Saint Germain's owner, had been friends for years.
Olivier arrived looking quite sophisticated yet Marlboro-manish in denim shirt and jeans with jacket, of course. He'd once worked in the movie business and Hollywood, was charming and good-looking with lots of dark hair. We opened a bottle of Veuve Cliquot and drank and talked of his mother, art and artists, and Chasing Matisse. Ms. Vierny had modeled for Matisse as well as Aristide Maillol and other artists. We would be able to see her in May, and Olivier gave us more contacts. Another Olivier we've met who knows everyone.
Afterwards, we were off to meet a dear friend of my brother, Brent. Ruth Layton had given us the pleasure of a dinner invitation, and her apartment was only a few blocks away and beautifully done up. We had drinks in her lovely space with her granddaughter Katie and her friend Hallie and met another American living in France. Judy has been in Paris 20 years. We discussed our love of France and feeling at home, art, life, and friends. The young women were fresh and poised, and our last evening in Paris was delightful.
The next day we made a visit to the English bookstore, W.H. Smith, to load up on the volumes we needed for the next segment of our research and trip. Every English-speaking person loves this hallowed hall that is huge and full of tomes that you can actually read and can't get anywhere else. We made a quick trip to see Alice at the Galerie Daniel Besseiche. She wouldn't be back in Auray until we had left for the light-filled South, so this was goodbye to our dear Alice for now. We hopped on the train and headed to Brittany. Funny, how good it felt to see our Peugeot, how wonderful to see our borrowed home when we arrived.
The next day was frightful trying to get work finished up and face cleaning the house and packing, and it was sad yet exhilarating to be leaving. We didn't get through until the following afternoon and lit out for Nantes at 4:00 p.m. on a Monday. We would stop there to see a Matisse exhibit in the Musée des Beaux Arts. With no reservations, we landed in a very nice Best Western with a view of Nantes's rooftops and cathedral spires, which was romantic and old-worldly. Visions of artists and their loves danced through our heads. (I have to say as we've been traveling through France we've noticed the Best Western group has bought many nice hotels in great locations. Something we will keep in mind.)
We went for drinks at a busy square and watched while an inebriated man stopped, teetered to and fro, fell back a couple of steps before he was able to move on. Our hotel clerk made a reservation for us at La Cigale which was an Art Nouveaux vision of blues, turquoise, gold, and greens and a funny cicada wearing a dress-a cicada in drag or a female? We tasted one of our most delicious dinners in France including oysters from Cancale which we'd been longing for our whole time here. I had a thick veal chop, while Jim had incredible duck. We both ordered crème brulées for dessert.
I've started reading Polly Platt's book French or Foe out loud to Jim. She educates her readers on the culture in France. She says there is a code, and if you understand it, you will fare better. Code number one is to not smile. Americans are trained to smile all the time. The French are not. Until there is a reason, they think it's weird. We started analyzing our own actions. Yes, it was true. We smiled at everyone upon seeing them. I didn't even know that I did it.
What other unconscious habits do we have-cultural mannerisms that feel true to us that someone else may not understand? Why does the cicada wear a dress? Purely the insect's sense of style, or is there a significance we don't know? Why do French women not have big butts?
posted by Beth on April 26, 2003 | View All Diary Entries
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