Thursday, March 31, 2011

Elegance is as Elegance Does

I love reading others report on "chic sightings" in their cities. In fact I spotting a truly glamorous femme d'un certain age this morning on my walk to work. She had forty years on me but she lacked in line-free skin she more than made up for in posture, comportment, understated accessorizing, and general easy style. I wish I had asked for her photo to post here. I didn't, so I will offer this:

. . .which came from this article.

On the other hand I generally don't enjoy reading other bloggers' assessments of the un-chic behavior of others. I figure, it's all a process. Some people prioritize looking good and being turned out well. Others don't. As long as no one is hurting anyone else I fail to see why it matters if someone is overweight, uses the wrong fork, or wears jeans inappropriately. We are all doing our best to whatever extent we can. I'm working on feeling better in my own skin, and while I wouldn't wear jeans to have cocktails at Maxfield's I have better things to worry about than if you do.

Politeness, on the other hand, counts. Politeness always counts. It dawned on me many years ago that though I am female I endeavor always to act the part of a gentleman. It's just ingrained in me: In conversation I position whomever I am talking to in his or her best light (by asking questions that lead them to speak well about themselves);  I say "good morning," and "please" and "thank you." I show up when I say I will. I give up my seat on the train to anyone who is older, more pregnant, more infirm than I am. This just isn't done where I live. A man in his 30's will sit with nose deep in his Blackberry avoiding the gaze of an older woman or a man on crutches. But if you are lovely and 20 and wearing heels too high for comfort there is a good chance his seat will be yours. 

I also hold doors open for people. Not so for Mr. Tweed Suit Older Man in my building. MTSOM let the door slam in my face this morning as I entered the lobby. With my self esteem issues, I of course chalked it up to my not being pretty enough. Ridiculous, right? But that's where I go. Someone's sheer oblivious rudeness translates to my somehow not being good enough.

I ask you, would Argentée (yes, I like silver, so lets name my IFG, shall we?) allow herself to feel less-than in the face of someone else's bad behavior? No, she would not. But it just goes to show how living in a culture in which men and women so completely disregard each other unless there is something to be gained from the exchange. . . well, it isn't a nice way to live, is it? It isn't fun and it may even encourage a fair bit of neurosis. Perhaps a bit more politeness, even a bit more regard for each other as women and men, might make everyone feel better all around. I have read (was it Jamie Cat Callan again?) that not flirting is considered disrespectful in France. Such an interesting idea to me, coming up as I did in radical politics and gender-neutral Northern California.

So I don't live in Paris. And I am surely not going to confront the man for behaving poorly (talk about pas chic). So I did what anyone would do: as we walked into the elevator (him first, of course!) I made sure to hold the door and wait for two others who were coming far behind us. They lagged with their bursting morning bags and briefcases, and as luck would have it they both chose lower floors than us. Let him wait. In my opinion Monsieur Tweed needs to learn to slow down a bit.

And then there was Day Three

Today, a more normal day of hustling the kiddo to and fro. Trips to the park, the school, the health food store. I put a great deal of thought and labor into business promotion today. It was a bland day, but sweet, and the balance felt right. I continue on my eating plan, one that I'm beginning to call Paleoh-la-la, steeped as it is in evolutionary principles as translated by a fledgling bonne vivante.

Par example, a celebratory dinner for two, with just my kid and me: pork roast (sustainable from our meat CSA) with raw sauerkraut and braised spinach and chard from our little container garden. This was after we went out for his special post-play rehearsal treat of ice cream at our little town's main see-and-eat-cream place. Despite his bossy three-year-old mandate that "I eat MANGO and YOU eat CHOCOLATE, mommy!" I had no such thing.

Not today. Not forever, just not today.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Little Bit of Life Cultivation

Yesterday, Day 2 of my experiment in self-cultivation, was a success. I dressed in grey lace camisol with an interesting cut, a cute black cardigan and a nice pair of dark wash jeans that are rapidly becoming too roomy for me. I put on sunblock, spent time on my makeup, styled my hair (the bangs I just cut myself based on Frederic Fekkai's advice in his lovely Year of Style), and I wore more "statement" jewelry than is usual for me. I spent the morning having (above-average) brow waxing and (more-painful-than-average) body waxing.

Brunch in my favorite, very old-style Euro cafe with my book of essays on Paris and another book, the light but sweet Bonjour Happiness, by Jamie Cat Callan. (That book, like so many blogs I enjoy, is the same idea as this blog project I am doing here. Again, cultivate the imaginary best inner self and then begin acting like her. Boom! C'est facile, non?)

So after prettifying, after lunch, the museum. I saw the Eadweard Muybridge exhibition at the MOMA. It was a quiet and strangely lonely way to spend an afternoon. Here are two of my favorite images from the exhibition. I am struck by how timeless is the one of the mother and child in particular. It's amazing to me how indistinguishable from our recent ancestors we human beings are when you take away our clothes.

After the museum I walked down Market Street to my dance class. On the way I stopped at a coffee stand I hadn't noticed before. I had a short, nice conversation with a Tunisian cafe owner who has set up shop near a place I go every week. I told him I was glad he was saving me from patronizing Starbucks and we talked about Turkish baths, massage, and why my coffee choice (black, no sugar) made me "healthy, like a French person." Why, merci beaucoup, monsieur. You do go on.

Next was my dance class, followed by dinner at a knock-out alleyway restaurant, Gitane on Claude Lane. Basically a perfect, slow, elegant day into night. I catch myself thinking, If only I were in love. I balance that with, Gratitude, always gratitude. So much to think about, always.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Becoming is a long process.

I wrote the following for the Yahoo French Chic/Je Ne Sais Quoi group in 2004. Seven years later, I am interested in exploring what has come to happen and what can still use work. Here is the essay, an exercise in manifesting my ideal inner self:

Who I am (becoming)

She has finally stopped calling herself a “girl.”  She hasn’t felt like a girl since she was in her teens, anyway; always assumed older because of her height, her throaty voice, her voluptuousness, and the fashion sense leaning toward the styles of her mother’s and grandmother’s generations. Now, entering her 30’s, she is finally coming into her own.

She organizes her life in the old fashion: She takes time with her possessions, gently tending to each lovingly chosen pair of shoes, each carefully ironed garment. After all, she buys new clothing exceedingly rarely, and only after careful consideration of what each piece will bring to her life.  Will it make her feel beautiful, confident, comfortable in her skin? or will it just end up taking up space in her tiny-small closet?  As a result of this careful consideration, her wardrobe is pared down to the basics: Two pairs of tailored, flat-front black trousers; a pair of good-fitting, dark denim jeans; two black skirts (one long and clingy, one sexy and retro-chic, reaching just below the knee, and black, like Marilyn Monroe’s on the poster from “Bus Stop”); a couple of light sweaters, in deep sapphire, black, and crystal blue; one soft, black angora turtleneck, perfect for foggy San Francisco summers; a long fitted coat in supple black leather; a fun black coat in kicky corduroy; a vintage black cocktail dress; a very small handful of scarves and silver jewelry; and a selection of fitted tees in black, grey and white. The tees take her from work to yoga to the gym, which may not be chic but is a necessary bi-weekly ritual to keep her from going from curvy to doughy—a real possibility, given her passion for good food.

Her cooking regimen is as simple as her wardrobe: Fast food, boxed food, and fake food never make it into her kitchen. She prepares her meals only from scratch, using the bounty of fresh ingredients from the little markets in her colorful city neighborhood: Deep, golden olive oil, creamy, whole-fat yogurt and fresh free-range eggs from the Greek market on the corner; fresh gorgonzola, stilton, and pungent black olives from the cheese-maker’s; a deep cabernet or a sweet Riesling from one of the million little vineyards represented in her cozy local wine seller’s shop; sweet plump berries, deep green spinach and fat red tomatoes on the vine from the Korean produce market.  Far superior to the other produce shops in the neighborhood, it is bit up a little hill and farther than other some of the others, but well worth the walk for benefit provided to her calf muscles, her wallet, and her palate. 

Once home with the ingredients of the night’s meal, she leaves her shoes on a rack by the front door and the woven straw bag on the entryway table as she changes into her house shoes (a chic, clean pair of black tapestry slippers brought back from a friend’s trip to Bali years ago.  They’ve never been worn outside; they are simply too delicious to set foot on a city sidewalk. And bien sur, the city streets are filthy in America; why let the outside in to her cozy and clean private abode?).  She admires the painting that hangs above the table: it is large, done in muted grey tones in a formidable wood frame.  She has been paying it off, in small monthly increments, for over a year.  The money helps her friend, the painter, and the piece brings a shock of joy to her every time she passes it. She considers this joy a good investment.

She pads across the honey-colored hardwood floor, over the cushy flokati rug and into the small, white-tiled kitchen. She unpacks the day’s wares onto the sparkling tiled counter.  She washes the vegetables and fruits one by one before storing them in pretty wire and ceramic bowls, ready for use in tonight’s dinner and tomorrow’s lunch.

She prepares the night’s repast.  For her: a lovely spinach salad with blue lake beans, sweet shredded carrots, and cold leftover organic chicken and garlic from last night’s meal, served with a little scoop of red lentils with diced cherry tomatoes on the side.  For him: all of the above, plus a scoop of wild rice with shallots and chanterelle mushrooms, another savory leftover.  They talk about the day, careful to not dwell too long on workaday things, sharing instead their impressions of the books they are reading, the coming election, the environmental action group to which they both give their time.  They linger a bit over a glass of wine before they pack the leftovers into containers to bring to work for lunch the next day.

After dinner, she pours herb-infused oils into a hot bath, which she has drawn for her nightly beauty ritual. She brings her Italian textbook with her to the claw foot tub, along with the language tapes she puts into the bathroom’s little portable stereo, tucked behind a stack of fresh, white folded towels, their tidy plush stacks reminding her of the northern spa she visits twice a year: once in the winter, just after Christmas, and once in the summer, on her birthday.

As she relaxes in the bath, conjugating verbs after the voice on the tape, the herbal mask dries on her face, plumping her skin with fresh organic ingredients that feel wonderful and smell divine. She soaks a bit longer, inhaling the relaxing scent of lavender and lemon balm, practicing the rolling r’s, the musicality of the language that comes more naturally to her—she must admit—than French ever has.  Still, like beauty, intelligence is also pain, and to learn is often to struggle; so she still practices her French, a bit every day.

After the bath, she attends to her face, dissolving the mask with cool water and finishing with a simple swipe of her homemade herb-infused apple cider vinegar.  It is good for her skin type, at a fraction of the cost of a commercial toner.  She flosses, she brushes.  She dabs a bit of sandalwood oil on her pulse points and heads off to bed in a vintage kimono from a flea market years ago.  Tomorrow night she will meet friends for dinner at an inexpensive little Vietnamese noodle place, followed by a band at a local club.  Tonight she is totally happy to be staying in. The bed is warm and covered with soft jersey sheets and a fluffy white eiderdown. She lights a candle and nestles in, grateful for the day.

More on Heartbreak a la Francaise

I'm reading a fabulous book of essays on living in Paris from writers of all disciplines. The book, Paris Was Ours, is curated by Penelope Rowlands and features a piece by a writer named Caroline Weber on love in the City of Light. She writes,

. . .the confusion that attends most affairs of the heart is generally, in Paris, taken to be as inexplicable and incontravertable as the weather. Indeed, it has always surprised me that the American TV series Sex and the City should enjoy such popularity among parisiennes, who are not given to the kind of anguished relationship dissection in which the show's lead female characters endlessly indulge. In real life, as in Sex and the City, a New Yorker asking, "Why hasn't he called me?" or, "How could he leave me?" is entitled to at least a few solid hours of thoughtful analysis (of the relationship's ups and downs), soothing complements (for herself), and righteous indignation (against the man in question) from her girlfriend. In Paris, such a response is as hard to come by as, well, fat people or fake butter. There, a woman's interlocutor will merely offer her a blasé   "C'est comme ça" -- accompanied by a slight shrug that says, "In the face of such existential absurdity, cherie, calm acceptance in the only way. Now let's hit the thalasso spa and see what we can do about your cellulite."

Let me tell you, this passage hit me like a ton of bricks. I have been going over the minutiae, the nuances, the astrological implications of my- and a girlfriend's borderline imaginary relationships not for a mere couple of hours but literally for months now. Every day, via text, via phone, via email. And for what? Something about this passage brought the message home to me: he loves you or he doesn't. What can you do about it? Not a lot. But you can and you should love yourself.

And that really is the basis of this month-long project I'm doing here.

On Heartbreak and Pretty Underwear

Monday, March 28, 2011

Day One

Day one of my little experiment in formalized self-improvment. It's been all right. For being entirely under-slept and over-committed I feel well and happy.

I ate a solid paleo diet today, with not too much coffee. I went to a therapy appointment and recognized that I've honestly made some breakthroughs this past week. And so much of that has stemmed from me remembering to use the tool of manifesting my ideal self as an "Inner French Girl."

For specific goal setting with regard to cultivating a more elegant life, a more chic manner and appearance, I've decided to select some random style tips and give them each a week to take shape.
More tomorrow, and more detail. For now I wanted to check in quickly before giving the apartment a post-dinner sweep - a new nightly goal to manifest a shiny wooden floor, beginning now.

What am I Doing Here?

Using this blog for goal-setting, it seems fitting to post now, the night before a "strict" month of evolutionary eating after this past week of St. Patrick's Day and Girl Scout cookie seasonal indulgences.

Right now this is feeling like the month will be something of an image makeover. I long for a simpler, more elegant, less child-and-couple-centered existence. I love my child and the couple I am in, but I've recently moved to a suburban community that is family-focused in the extreme. I miss my adult life, my single life, my grown-up hobbies and interests. My journey this month will include fun stuff like closet-culling, more visits to cultural events, looking less grubby as I schlep my little boy to and from preschool and the health food store.

The shorthand idea I always come back to for this project I am documenting here is represented in this idea of cultivating a more European lifestyle.

So what exactly does that mean? For me, an American of Irish, Italian and a small bit of Swedish descent, it's a fair bit of fantasy. I have a vision in mind of my ideal self and I am seeking here and now to act as she would act. It's a useful psychological tool-- not to "pretend to be French (or Italian or whomever is the chicest and least likely to get fat)" but to slow down and behave consciously, choosing only to bring into my life those things that make life beautiful and fun.

I've been pondering and trying cultivate a conscious and beautiful life for a long time. I've been a member of the Yahoo French Chic/Je Ne Sais Quois group for seven or eight years - since I was at university, since before I was married or had a child. My other interests are varied but they dovetail nicely. I'm a wellness and beauty professional, a life coach, an avid writer and voracious reader. I'm an "attached parent" trying within a suburban nuclear family framework to  build community a la the Continuum Concept. I'm a real food advocate - slow, organic, local, sustainable: all the good stuff that is the food zeitgeist right now.

Evolutionary eating makes me feel better, after years of dietary experimentation that ran the gamut from strict vegan to typical SAD, than anything else ever has. As I get back to it I notice I have more energy for doing the physical things I like to do.

I am only now learning to drive; I walk a lot. I love dance and I take a weekly belly dance class and a weekly floor barre class. Time permitting, I take a short jog a couple of nights a week. And I love, when I have time, to do Bar Method workouts at home.

My major priorities beyond my health are my family and figuring out my marriage. I have a good handle on the parenting most of the time, and I will likely not go into detail about the marriage, though the anonymity of having no readership at all makes it tempting to explore these issues here. For now the likelihood is that I will use this blog mostly to cultivate the rich inner life and fabulous outer appearance of my "Inner French Girl," expanded outward to include bits from any culture, any time period as they please me.

More detailed goals are forthcoming. Tonight I'll stick with a renewed enthusiasm for healthy food and more exercise.  One foot in front of the other, one step at a time.
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