Saturday, July 30, 2011

Harem Pants, Je Vous Déteste

          Harem pants are dumb, and the silhouette looks awful. There is no simpler way to put it. Best case scenario, you come out looking like Aladdin. My friend Stefany, who has an eye for such things, (by which I mean 1) trends, and 2) people who should be relentlessly mocked) once described harem pants by saying that it looked like they pooped their pants. Ever since then, the idea was stuck in my head. For the rest of my time in France, when I'd see an otherwise-chic girl on the street with a cool attitude, I would see her harem pants and involuntarily envision that her diaper was getting a little too heavy and needed a change. It can really ruin a fashionista's mystique. 

Try imagining it! It makes street fashion pictures approximately 85.346% more amusing:

She knows what she did.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

My Top 10 Wine-Related Moments in France

A French Army Knife. (Get it? Get it?)
10) Getting enthusiastic and knowledgeable wine recommendations from total strangers in the supermarket. On a regular basis.

9) Drinking wine in a metro stop on Saint Patrick's Day with all my friends.

8) Trivia Tuesdays at The Smoking Dog, one of the best pubs in Vieux Lyon.

7) The Beaujolais Festival in Lyon.

Easily-thrown together picnic lunch of brie, baguette, muscat, fois gras, and Maille mustard from Dijon. 
6) Discovering the complimentary combination of fois gras and muscat, and then sharing it with all my visiting American friends. Highly recommended: fried fois gras with rock salt sprinkled on top. As if it really needed to get more unhealthy for you.

5) Two completely free, massive-scale wine exhibitions where I bought tons of wine for Christmas presents, sampled so many wines that I actually had to start spitting them all out, became ridiculously, pleasantly drunk anyway, and happily munched on all the gourmet free samples of snacks that one could wish for.

The vineyard we tasted at in Beaujolais
Stefany and I sampling some Beaujolais grapes because we were starving during the tour
The neighboring towwn of Beaujeu
4) Wine tasting in the Beaujolais area, one of the southern appellations of the Burgundy region of France. Only a 45 minute drive away from Lyon!

Chateau Villandry, famous for it's amazing (and extensive) gardens
3) Wine tasting in the Loire Valley with my tour group, between chateau tours.

My favorite champagne tasting at Mumm.
2) Champagne tasting in Reims, one of the most important cities of the Champagne region in France.

The oyster farms on the coast, right next to the restaurant
1) Fresh oysters with white wine in a tiny sea-side village outside of Bordeaux.

Individual posts about my top three coming soon!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Haute Couture in Paris

Alexis Mabille Fall 2011 Couture
Alexis Mabille Fall 2011 Collection
          One of the many reasons Paris is such a remarkable city and such an important cultural landmark is because it is the only city that has ever really mastered haute couture, the extravagant, luxurious fashion which is designed only by the best and fitted personally to each client. The only customers keeping couture in business, literally the only people who can afford it, are movie stars and Arabian royalty. New York, London and Milan each showcase ready-to-wear, which is couture's cheaper, more casual counterpart. Ready-to-wear is what is sold in designer boutiques in designated sizes like "normal" clothes. But Paris is the only place where couture is created and shown.

Alexander McQueen Met Exhibit
          "So what?" you may be asking. The idea of uber-fancy dresses for uber-rich people probably has no bearing on your daily life. And why should it? Isn't it just a shameless indulgence participated in by the kinds of  people who dye their dogs to match their outfits? 

           To me, this would be viewing couture in the wrong light, in a way which cheats both it and you. Couture isn't about being bought. In fact, it's so labor intensive that it rarely makes a profit and is created solely to celebrate the craft. Ready-to-wear is what sells. Couture is what inspires.

Alexander McQueen
          Don't view couture as a commodity. Rather, view it as art. Couture fashion shows are like trips to a museum, where you go to be touched, to feel awe, where things that you didn't know could be created are sewn and paraded down runways like dreams come to life. If you've ever stared in admiration at a painting or a sculpture, if a movie or a book has ever left you in a state of quiet introspection, if you've ever sat in nature or looked at an urban skyline at sunset and you've felt wonder, then you can appreciate couture as well. In it's purest form, it's a celebration of feminine beauty, meant to enrich the soul.

From the Alexander McQueen Exhibition at the Met
          Recently I read the book Almost French, by Sarah Turnbull, an Australian journalist who moved to Paris and for one magazine ended up covering her first couture show. She says, “...Every moment was spellbinding. I loved the thrill of seeing these mad, amazing clothes swish past my feet, the deliriously imaginative setting that made it seem like high theater rather than a fashion show. I adored the champagne, the extravagance.... The urge to touch is overwhelming. This is not fashion. This is fairyland. Inspiring. Moving. Magical.... A showcase for wild creativity and craftsmanship… I'm awed by the mastery of technique that underpins haute couture. Its importance goes far beyond providing Oscar-night outfits to Hollywood stars. Rather haute couture is about history and tradition, passion and beauty, art and inspiration--everything that makes France a measure of civilized life."

Alexander McQueen

Sunday, July 24, 2011

How to Dress in France, Part 2

A photo shoot on Ave Montaigne

          So maybe you think you know French fashion. You've heard about those couture shows, you have an idea of sleek, impeccably tailored models strutting down Avenue Montaigne in Paris, and you know your Coco Chanel from your Louis Vuitton. But I guarantee you, you can buy all the French brand names you want, but you won't look truly French until you know the one golden rule: 

Dress completely, batshit-insane in regards to what the weather looks like outside or what season it is. 

Trust me. You want to look French, don't you?

Typical French Person in Spring:

Typical French Person in Summer:

Typical French Person in Fall:

Typical French Person in Winter:

          Any French person will condescendingly tell you that shorts are for tourists, as they delicately shudder and try not to think of all the fanny packs  and socks-with-sandals they witnessed last year. Was that you wearing a tank top in summer? Putting away your scarves and unlayering your multiple cardigans? Oh you poor, ignorant bébé. Shame on you for not wanting to sweat, all day, everyday, and especially on the metro. Your duty as a faux-French citizen is to stick it out in wool leggings lest you develop some sort of tan. 

          What's that? Is it freezing in a snow storm in the dead of winter? And you want to wear a giant coat? Non, non, non! Your flimsy leather bomber jacket and a kerchief around your neck should do the trick. Your smugness in the knowledge that you look good will toast you right up! And just think about all the calories all that shivering will burn! 

Friday, July 22, 2011

How to Dress in France

If you want to look French, it helps to have a little fluffy dog. Bonus points if he knows how to play checkers.
           If you have ever lived abroad or spent some time in another country, then you've probably faced the rather dismaying experience of walking into a store, restaurant, or some such public forum, and then having someone speak to you in English, before you even open your mouth. Sometimes it may be to patronizingly offer directions (in your native tongue, which is intended to only deepen the burn), and other times it may be an attempt to be helpful so that the Poor Tourist doesn't have to slaughter the subtle French "r" sound, which sounds like instant sexiness when a French person does it, but rather like gurgling mouthwash when Americans try. Perhaps before you were greeted, you were about to start speaking in French. Perhaps you live in that town. Perhaps your French is even better than the heavily-accented English you were just assaulted with. Yet despite any linguistic skills you may possess, you cannot help but reach the conclusion that storekeepers and servers across the nation are still able to identify you instantly as Most Definitely Not French. 

           "How?!" you may be asking yourself. "Is it something about me? Is it how I look? How I dress?"

           Yes. Yes it is. 

American fashion.
French fashion.

How to Tell if You Are Dressed Appropriately in France: 
Answer  honestly to get an effective evaluation of your wardrobe.

1) Are you comfortable? The correct answer should be "no." End of quiz. 

          If the answer is "yes," try again. Put on some higher shoes, some tighter leather leggings, some more scarves to get tangled in your shoulder bag, and cinch that belt a few more notches around the small of your waist. If you are unable to breathe or walk, you probably look French. If you are unable to eat, this is considered an extreme bonus. Your thighs should be looking more French within the month. For bonus French cred, spritz some eau de cigarette smoke and try to look bored and faintly hostile towards other women.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What I've Learned from Living in France

  • Middle school students are demons who really like the soothing sounds of Usher and disobeying authority figures.
  • How to finally tell military time without first staring at the numbers for two minutes too long, like an idiot.
Yeah, I'll take it.
  • The Provence region and the South of France are incredibly charming and the perfect location for my fantasy dream cottage and/or château. Fantasy vineyard optional.
  • Fois gras is the best thing in the world.
  • Frog legs are not.
  • If you're not from New York, California, or Las Vegas, French people don't care where you're from.
  • If you're a size 8 in the US, you're a size 39 in European shoes.
  • 90% of the French population firmly believes Miami is in California. They will not believe you when you try to convince them otherwise.
  • Marseille is actually French for "anticlimactic." 
Me in front of Château Chenonceau
  • Which French monarchs built castles where
  • How to craft a lesson plan LIKE A BOSS
  • Jack Daniels is incredibly expensive, as if it were a fine brandy. Though equally disgusting to me, those of you who enjoy fine brandy may feel a little cheated at the cost of imported Jack.
  • How to duck awkward, cross-cultural advances
  • Trains are incredibly cheap for people with the "Under Age 25" card. Some stores even have under 25 discounts.
  • How to walk in heels in snow
Wine tasting in the Loire Valley
  • How to taste wine (Smell, swirl, smell again, and then taste first in the front of your mouth, swallow, the back of your mouth, swallow, and then in the back with your mouth slightly open to let the air hit it.)
  • How to say tampon in French
  • That I cannot survive without Mexican food. At all. For longer than 3 weeks. It was a pathetic show of endurance in the face of faux-hardship.
  • All the words to "Celui," by Colonel Reyel:

Monday, July 18, 2011

Midnight in Paris

          If you're enchanted by the idea of Paris, or if you've ever wished that you could party with some of the great Parisian artistic and literary circles of 1920's, Midnight in Paris is the film for you. After a lengthy opening sequence of the most picturesque spots in the city, you get to go on all sorts of decadent adventures through time with the main character, Gil, who is in modern day Paris with his fiancee by day and who somehow magically slips back in time at night to meet all the expats he idolizes. By catching a ride in an antique taxi at the stroke of midnight, he finds himself drinking with Hemingway, philosophizing with Dali, and conversing with the Fitzgeralds to the songs of Cole Porter. He's whisked to smokey  jazz bars, he's escorted into the home of Gertrude Stein, and he even feels himself drawn to Picasso's mistress as they stroll through parks full of horse-drawn carriages, covered with incandescent, white Christmas lights. Brought back to reality by the light of day, Gil becomes increasingly torn between living in the present to which he's accustomed, or the far more glamorous past. It soon becomes necessary for him to figure out how much of nostalgia is truth and how much is fantasy, and to which world he belongs. 

Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald
          I loved this movie not only for the premise, but for the characters. Everyone was cast exactly right, playing their roles precisely as how you'd imagine the infamous personalities to have been. The only drawback is that if you're not familiar with any of these celebrities of the past or a few of their works, there are no clues to help you, and you'll miss out on the jokes. I loved Adrien Brody as Dali, obsessed with rhinoceroses and pronouncing his own name. But my all-time favorite was Corey Stoll as Hemingway, who gave long soliloquies full of quotes such as, "It was a good book because it was an honest book, and that's what war does to men. And there's nothing fine and noble about dying in the mud unless you die gracefully. And then it's noble but brave." It was of course delivered with the rough-edged, pompous minimalism that makes Hemingway's stories so great.

          Worst case scenario, if you hate the movie, you could at least benefit from some of Hemingway's ridiculously macho pick-up lines. Swaggering drunkenly, he approaches Picasso's mistress: 

          "Have you ever shot a charging lion in the face?" 


          "Would you like to know how that feels?"

Ah, Hemingway, you will forever rest tenderly in my heart as my favorite eloquent dickhead misogynist. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Why I Miss France: Reason #4

Oui, s'il vous plaît. 
          Missing France because of crepes is honestly just me being lazy.  While I was abroad, I learned how to make a mean crepe for breakfast, lunch, and sometimes dinner, so if the urge ever strikes me with, well... urgency, I can whip up a batch and find some Nutella and some bananas. But I also enjoy the easy availability of them being sold on every street corner, and the valiant crepe-vendor in Vieux Lyon who was always outside selling his wares, no matter if it was raining or snowing, or even midnight, which is drastically late hours for food in French culture. I miss jolly, mustached Frenchmen trying to guess if I want apricot preserves or something more drastic en flambé, with his predictions based on my outfit. (Apparently something about my scarf causes me to resemble an apricot kind of girl.)

A delicious but tragically over-priced crepe by a cafe outside Notre Dame in Paris.
          Although crepes can sometimes cost far more than they should, whether they're stuffed with ham and cheese or some fresh whipped chantilly, another wonderful thing about France is that if you go to a cafe and eat one by yourself, you're not the social leper you might be branded in America. In France, loners eat at cafes all the time, reading, thinking, or possibly even blogging. Rather than seeming solitary, they come off more as artistic, perhaps planning their next novel or composing a concerto, or at the very least brooding over some romance.  

          I wish I had a glass of Côtes du Rhône, a book, and a huge crepe on my plate, and a great view on the other side of my cafe window, where people could walk by and I could callously judge them based on their shoes. The caliber of people-watching here is just not the same. Perhaps that should be Why I Miss France #5?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Why I Miss France: Reason #3

One of the busy streets in the medieval part of town, Vieux Lyon.
          Although I didn't realize how much I treasured it at the time, I miss the French language. (Finally. Something on the list which is not food.) I studied French originally because I thought it was the prettiest language I'd ever heard, and living there only made me agree more. When I would walk down the crowded, urban streets of Lyon, I would be surrounded by all the French conversations around me, and I often shamelessly spent most of my commute eavesdropping on other people's conversations to practice my comprehension skills. Not only was my nosiness justified, I got to feel smarter just by keeping my ears open and my brain immersed. Although I have a hefty amount of French films on my Netflix queue now to fill the void, I'm afraid it's just not the same.

          But if you need any proof that the language is romantic, full of entrancing subtlety and sexiness, I offer you proof in the form of actor Bradley Cooper speaking French. Because oui, he speaks French, in addition to being well-dressed, handsome, and rich. What an overachiever. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Why I Miss France: Reason #2

          Granted, there are some things France is missing out on: Dino chicken nuggets, Target, 24 hour breakfast restaurants, decent return policies, and Annie's Organic Bunny Fruit Snacks, just to name a few. But if I had to name something that France got absolutely, 100% right, it would be pastries.

Nutella-stuff croissants. Only one of many good French, carb-themed inventions.

          Before France, I didn't know that eclairs could be filled with mousse so light and fluffy that it would make me want to cry in delight. I didn't know that macaroons could be soft, or that so many different pastries could come in pistachio flavor. I didn't even know what a praline was, much less how it could be cooked into a tart. (It's a nut covered in a sugary syrup, by the way.) And now that I know, I don't want to go back, though I do wish my waistline would recede a little.

A bakery in Lyon. On the far left, those would be raspberry-flavored macaroons stuffed with fresh raspberries.  SO GOOD.
A fruit tart from Lyon.
          That tart was from the bakery across the street from my apartment. You know, just the sort of run-of-the-mill patisserie that's on every street corner. The sort of thing you can take for granted when you live in the culinary capital of the world. Now, in California, I live next to a bunch of other houses, and a field. Nothing is within walking distance, and I cannot think of a single bakery closer than one an hour away in San Francisco.  

          Excuse me while I sigh wistfully and drool.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Why I Miss France: Reason #1

                The cheese. Oh god, the cheese.

          Not only were an extreme variety of high-quality cheeses inexpensive, they were easily found everywhere, whether at the rare grocery store or the much more common fromagerie. If you went to a French person's house, there was guaranteed to be a cheese course, which I always looked forward to with pleasure, even if I acted like a nonchalant asshole accustomed to luxurious cheese and said pretentious things like "Ah, this wine it makes a fine pairing." The American in me, used to Kraft-level, transfat-infested cheese was "teehee!"-ing like a three year old and fighting the temptation to stuff some in my fake Prada bag.

            There was the gruyere which covered the croque monsieurs, the emmental (actually from Switzerland, but shhhhh) grated into a big pile and thrown into scrambled eggs in the morning, or the heavenly chèvre chaud, or hot goat cheese, sometimes lightly fried, always heavenly, and completely unlike Greek or American feta cheese for reasons I'm powerless to describe as I salivate. 

A delicious chevre salad I had in Amboise, which I will never forget. :(
          I'm powerless to do anything but prowl the fine cheese aisles of Whole Foods in search of overpriced French import cheese to slake my proverbial cheese-thirst. (In retrospect, I could have just said hunger, to simply things, but for some reason I really felt a need for that metaphor.) Until I find my chèvre chaud substitute, I'll be dipping my strawberries in Nutella, pathetically longing for the food in my pictures, hoping that each crepe I cook and consume will banish some of my cheese-nostalgia away.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Things You Miss When You're in France

          When I first got back to the US at the end of April, I was excited, happy, and ready to be home. I had a really cute puppy on the way, friends, boyfriend, and family to see, Vegas plans to plan, an iPhone which I very much missed using, and the entire genre of Mexican food to be reacquainted with. As a matter of fact, when I had a layover in Washington DC, I ran to the nearest mediocre Tex Mex place that I could find for anything with beans and cheese and wrapped in a tortilla as soon as my passport was stamped.

A tender moment between my burrito and me.

          "Oh, you bad, bad boy," I told the burrito as I devoured it  ferociously. My dad, who had accompanied me on my voyage, clearly regretted his decision as he cleared his throat a lot and uncomfortably avoided looking at his crazy daughter, who was enthusiastically spilling salsa all over herself in the terminal with a slightly frenzied expression on her face, letting out blissful exclamations like "Oh, the guacamole... Sweet, sweet guacamole..."

             Being surrounded by English was warm, comforting, and so blessedly simple. No more having to figure out how to say what I wanted to say, or wondering if I should use the formal or the informal, the masculine or the feminine; I could just talk. I was also once again surrounded by fat, poorly dressed, loud people and felt slim and stylish in comparison, even in my baggy, airplane-riding ensemble. After so much being "shhhhhhh"-ed on buses for talking too loudly, being stared at for wearing shorts when it was hot (what do the French have against that, anyway?), I was finally in my element. With access to In-n-Out as a bonus.

               Within the first two minutes of touching down on the soil of my homeland, I swear to god, I saw an obese, mustached cop eating a donut, being propelled by one of the moving sidewalks. "Ah, America," I thought to myself. I'd have said it out loud, but my mouth was stuffed full of pico de gallo.