May 25th, 2011
by Hilary Price
I take a cooking class in Provence.
Welcome to the latest Charming-Yet-Infrequent Newsletter and Blog Post!
Here’s what you’ll find:
–A few pictures from France, where I took a family vacation with my mom, my sister, her husband and their 18 month old son for ten days.
— A call to action for folks in Seattle, as well as friends of folks in Seattle
— My little run-in with French fashion.
Part of a medieval cathedral entrance in Arles, France. This reminded me of the monsters in Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak.
The Roman coliseum in Arles. I am now very interested in the culture of Rome and how it fell.
Inside the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
The Seattle Times has been doing a test run of Rhymes With Orange this entire month of May, and they would love reader feedback before it ends next week. Please let your Seattle friends know to send their in comments asap! (Note: This is just for Seattle Times readers. Please don’t send a comment if you don’t live there.)
The e-mail is: [email protected]
Thank you so much!
(I will be reading a shortened version of this essay on the radio in the next couple of weeks. If there’s a link, I’ll send it along.)
I had been duly warned by my friend about the French, but had difficulty believing it.
“Everyone wears… scarves? Around their necks?” I said. “In May?”
I’d already checked the weather online for Paris. It was 75 degrees.
“Everyone,” she said.
“Men too? ” I said.
“Men too. Everyone. I can lend you one.”
My friend is unassumingly fashionable. And she and her husband and their daughter were just in France three weeks ago.
“No, thank you.” I said. Along with the rest of New England, I had already worn a scarf, a puffy down jacket, a knitted hat and wool socks every damn day from December through March. And on some freezing nights I wore it all to bed. I couldn’t see why I’d want a scarf now, in May, for any reason. My neck cried out for vitamin D.
“Okay, “she said, “You can always buy one when you are there.”
When my mother and I arrived at the Charles De Gaulle airport, it was just as my friend had described. Young French men… straight young French men… standing next to their French girlfriends … wearing nicely tailored T-shirts and dark jeans with a long cotton scarf draped tastefully around their necks. And of course the women had them as well. Everyone did. No berets. No pencil thin moustaches. No accordion music. There was a new mark of French citizenship. And to be honest, it looked kind of cool.
“Can you believe it?” my old college friend Carl said. He’d taken the train from Brussels, where he now lived, to meet me. He was staying with a former co-worker, who had already shown Carl his fine spring scarf collection.
And thus the hunt began. If you go to Texas, you want cowboy boots. You go to Disneyland, you want Mickey Mouse ears. At Grateful Dead shows, who doesn’t suddenly need a rainbow tie-dye? Humans are pack animals, and fashion is one of the ways we show our membership. I was sans-scarf, and that would have to change.
Paris has an amazing bike rental system where you can rent a bike right off the street and ride wherever you like, then return it at another station. Carl and I cruised the streets, saw the big square in front of the Louvre, the Eiffel tower, and finally the Boulevard St. Germain, known for it fine clothing boutiques.
The French phrase for window-shopping is lèche-vitrines, which translates to “window licking.” All clothing is expensive in France, and the scarves we saw in the windows had “45 E” written on their little white tags. Forty-five Euro translates to 65 American dollars, so that 36 inch piece of cloth we were coveting came to about twenty one bucks per foot.
“Never mind,” I said. “Forget it.” I am too frugal for fashion. We returned to our bikes, and it was then, across the boulevard, I saw a bright yellow piece of fabric in a shop window. “Carl! Look! ” We walked our bikes over, careful of the little Euro cars zipping past.
These scarves looked different from all the others we’d seen. Not translucent and billowy, but thicker, with bright Mediterranean colors like dark orange and yellow, and prints of olives or bouquets of lavender running down the sides. “Now this says French countryside,” I thought. This I could see wearing around my neck.
And only 15 Euro, the little tag said!
We walked into the store. “Bonjour Madam,” I said to the woman at the counter. This piece of French culture I had down. The guidebook said to always formally greet the shopkeeper as you enter a store.
I took in the beautiful patterns before me, and draped one around my neck. To my right were much larger versions of the same pattern hanging on wooden bars. Shawls, I figured.
I turned to find a mirror. That’s when I saw the wooden spoons… and then the whisks… and then the colanders. At which point my French fitting-in fantasy fell away. Those shawls weren’t shawls—they were tablecloths. And around my neck was… a dishtowel.
As Carl and I walked out, I waved to the shopkeeper.
“Merci, Madame. Bonjour.”
We stood squinting in the Paris sunshine. “Oh well,” I said to Carl.
“Yeah,” he said. And then, “Um, just so you know, “Bonjour” means just “Hello.”
So I had just told the lady, “Thank you, ma‘am. Hello!”
“Oui,” Carl said. “’ ‘Au Revoir’ is ‘Goodbye.’ ‘Bonjour’ is not like ‘Shalom’ or ‘Aloha.’”
“Oh,” I said. Clearly, fitting in with the French was going to take more than a scarf.
That’s everything, friends! Thanks for tuning in!
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