1.31.2011

The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris- #1 Live a Passionate Life



And so we make our way to the end of the countdown. Some of you may have seen this coming- I’ve touched on it in almost every post I’ve written. There is no doubt about it- while living in Paris the most important and profound thing I learned was to live a passionate life.

Eckhart Tolle, the new age philosopher says, “What you do is secondary. How you do it is primary”. Now while Eckhart Tolle isn’t French, his philosophy here very much so is. The importance is, of course, doing what you are passionate about, but if you find yourself doing something mundane, still do it passionately.

Passion infuses into almost every aspect of French life. The French are available and ready in the present moment for all of the pleasures that life has to offer. They manage to get the biggest kicks out of the simplest things- a perfect slice of chocolate cake, a look across the room from a handsome stranger or a particularly well written verse of prose… They are intense individuals that jump in and really live their life- nothing is wasted.

That first day in Paris, standing on the doorstep of Famille Chic’s home, I had no idea what I was about to embark on. My young life, vibrating with a desire for change was about to go on the biggest adventure I’ve ever known. Thrust into a strange and beautiful land… living with a formal family like something out of an old fashioned novel- those decadent meals, their beautiful apartment- that inspiring space.

The people I met- Madame Bohemienne and her artistic friends- those passionate, wine fueled gatherings. Walking on a bridge over the river Seine in the icy cold. Feeling so completely content as a solitary figure riding the metro on the way to school or walking down the Champs Élysée observing all of the chic people…

…but again so grateful when a moment could be shared with someone else. Those bursts of feeling that came upon me when I heard the secret midnight quartet at the Louvre. When I first saw Manet’s Dejuener Sur L’Herbe at the Musee d’Orsay. Every night having a slice of camembert- the ‘roi du fromage’.

Now that I am 30 years old, with husband and daughter, I find myself the Madame Chic of my own family. I learned so much from her and from living in Paris. I want to share this wealth of knowledge with my daughter and it has to be said the one thing I want for her most is to live a life of passion- to fall in love with everyday life. That it doesn’t matter what she does- it can be something as mundane as going to the grocery store- but the important thing is how she does it. To be present and ready for whatever this funny life has in store for her.

Every now and then I close my eyes and imagine standing on the doorstep of Famille Chic, about to knock- the butterflies in my stomach going mad with the sheer possibility of life.

And then… the door opens.

I am pictured above, jumping with joy, in front of La Tour Eiffel in Paris, 2001

My book, Lessons from Madame Chic: The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris will be published by Simon & Schuster and re-released in the fall of 2012.

1.26.2011

*Repost* The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris- #2 Quality Above All



**Please note- this is a re-posting of Monday's blog. Many subscribers did not receive this post due to a technical error with Google. I apologize for any inconvenience and I look forward to seeing you next week for #1!**

Living with Famille Chic completely changed my mindset of living and leading a quality life. Quality with regards to tangible things like clothing, furniture and food, as well as quality of the intangible- quality of thoughts, of feelings, of intellect. So many things about the French lifestyle promotes quality.

Madame Chic and her family were great role models for this. Their clothes were quality, their appearances were quality, their home was quality, their food was quality, their discussions were quality, the time they spent together was quality time… they really lived fully realized lives.

It could have been their aristocratic state of mind but they believed they deserved to live well and they did indeed do just that. They were so comfortable in their skin- so genuinely content with their lives. Their living well had nothing to do with money and everything to do with attitude and discernment.

It was in Paris, really, where I became a daily connoisseur. If a connoisseur by definition is an expert able to appreciate a field (such as fine art, for example) then a daily connoisseur is someone who appreciates every aspect of daily life. Someone who seeks out the highest quality in whatever tickles their fancy.

Seeking out nothing but quality in your life is not about being snobby or pretentious- it’s about being selective and discerning, realizing that life is short and why not fill it with the best things and experiences you can manage.

Once you commit to living a life of quality, your discernment will infuse into every aspect of your life. You will be more selective of the foods you choose to eat, the fabrics of the clothes that you wear, the way you choose to spend your time

You are less likely to binge on fast food or snacks- to hastily purchase an inferior article of clothing just because it was on sale- or sit for hours in front of the TV while your life slips away…

Also…

You will start to cherish the space around you and are less likely to litter it with clutter.

You begin to reevaluate your relationships and only give your time and energy to the people most important to you.

You begin to respect yourself and trust your instincts by not overextending yourself- (You will become comfortable with saying no. Saying no is perfectly OK!)

You will speak with purpose and allow the words that come out of your mouth to be quality words. Your thoughts, quality thoughts and actions, quality actions.

And in turn, become the daily connoisseur of your own life…

I’m not sure whether Famille Chic was aware of their commitment to a life of quality- as far as they were concerned that was just their life and they knew no different. But I am very grateful for my observations on the subject and I’ve committed myself (and it is an ongoing process) to cherish quality above all...

I would love to know… what does a life of quality mean to you?



Won’t you stay tuned for #1?



A typical Parisian farmer’s market is pictured above where quality items abound…




The Daily Connoisseur is now available on Amazon Kindle

1.24.2011

The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris- #2 Quality Above All


Living with Famille Chic completely changed my mindset of living and leading a quality life. Quality with regards to tangible things like clothing, furniture and food, as well as quality of the intangible- quality of thoughts, of feelings, of intellect. So many things about the French lifestyle promotes quality.

Madame Chic and her family were great role models for this. Their clothes were quality, their appearances were quality, their home was quality, their food was quality, their discussions were quality, the time they spent together was quality time… they really lived fully realized lives.

It could have been their aristocratic state of mind but they believed they deserved to live well and they did indeed do just that. They were so comfortable in their skin- so genuinely content with their lives. Their living well had nothing to do with money and everything to do with attitude and discernment.

It was in Paris, really, where I became a daily connoisseur. If a connoisseur by definition is an expert able to appreciate a field (such as fine art, for example) then a daily connoisseur is someone who appreciates every aspect of daily life. Someone who seeks out the highest quality in whatever tickles their fancy.

Seeking out nothing but quality in your life is not about being snobby or pretentious- it’s about being selective and discerning, realizing that life is short and why not fill it with the best things and experiences you can manage.

Once you commit to living a life of quality, your discernment will infuse into every aspect of your life. You will be more selective of the foods you choose to eat, the fabrics of the clothes that you wear, the way you choose to spend your time

You are less likely to binge on fast food or snacks- to hastily purchase an inferior article of clothing just because it was on sale- or sit for hours in front of the TV while your life slips away…

Also…

You will start to cherish the space around you and are less likely to litter it with clutter.

You begin to reevaluate your relationships and only give your time and energy to the people most important to you.

You begin to respect yourself and trust your instincts by not overextending yourself- (You will become comfortable with saying no. Saying no is perfectly OK!)

You will speak with purpose and allow the words that come out of your mouth to be quality words. Your thoughts, quality thoughts and actions, quality actions.

And in turn, become the daily connoisseur of your own life…

I’m not sure whether Famille Chic was aware of their commitment to a life of quality- as far as they were concerned that was just their life and they knew no different. But I am very grateful for my observations on the subject and I’ve committed myself (and it is an ongoing process) to cherish quality above all...

I would love to know… what does a life of quality mean to you?


Won’t you stay tuned for #1?



A typical Parisian farmer’s market is pictured above where quality items abound…


My book, Lessons from Madame Chic: The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris will be published by Simon & Schuster and re-released in the fall of 2012.


The Daily Connoisseur is now available on Amazon Kindle

1.17.2011

The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris- #3 Simple Pleasures



Do you remember the film Amélie? At the beginning of the film, the narrator introduces the characters by the simple pleasures that they take part in every day. For Amélie herself it was plunging her hands into the sack of grain at the market, skipping stones at the Canal St. Martin and breaking the top of the crème brulée with her spoon. For her father it was cleaning out his tool box and stripping wallpaper. For her mother, cleaning out her handbag and scrubbing the floor with her slippers were her tiny pleasures. And while Jean Pierre Jeunet’s characters’ likes were slightly eccentric and whimsical, they are a perfect showcase for how the French take pleasure from the simplest things in life.

Lately in our society it seems we suffer from what I call “Real Housewife” syndrome. It takes an awful lot to impress anymore. Parties, houses, cars- everything has to be bigger, better and more expensive. This way of life might be temporarily exciting but unfortunately also leads to a whole slew of other issues- debt, clutter and a strong sense of emptiness are just three maladies that come to mind. While living in Paris, I found French people’s regalement in the simplest of things to be incredibly refreshing.

Like the characters in Amélie, Famille Chic took pleasure out of the seemingly smallest of things. Madame Chic enjoyed listening to the morning radio show as she prepared breakfast (which, by the way, was at 5am every weekday). She took immense pleasure out of getting the strawberries perfectly symmetrical on her tarte aux fraises. She relished the morning phone call to her girlfriend where they discussed the week’s gossip (Madame Chic did not have a cell phone, she would sit in the hall next to their old fashioned telephone when speaking to her friend- it was a ritual). Monsieur Chic loved his pipe, his nightly slice of camembert- the ‘Roi du fromage’. And for vacations? Their summer house in Brittany provided endless pleasure.

Not only were Famille Chic’s pleasures simple, but also repetitive. They somehow found a way to enjoy the repetition of the seemingly mundane things of their daily life. Madame Chic’s attitude could easily have been, “Here I go again, preparing breakfast for the family- every day the same thing!” Or Monsieur Chic could have thought, “Camembert again for the cheese course? Where is the variety?” But they didn’t have negative attitudes towards these small life details and as a result, they got along very harmoniously as a family.

Having a ‘simple pleasures’ mindset can really set you up for a happy life. If you slow down and take pleasure in simple things, you are less likely to overspend- less shopping trips for unnecessary clothes, less pressure for that dream vacation you can’t really afford, or that car that is just out of your budget. It is not to suggest you become complacent with your life but to inherently appreciate the things that you already have. To reject the new materialism we talked about prior in the countdown.

The simple pleasures mindset also helps one cope with the mundane nature of everyday life. Tasks that one normally abhors such as washing the dishes or making the bed can become pleasurable if you choose to make them so. After all, you will have to do these tasks for the rest of your life, why not enjoy them?

And as for repetition… have you heard the phrase ‘variety is the spice of life?’ Well that could be true, but French people really find what they like and stick with it- the camembert for the cheese course every night, comes to mind. Or the champagne cocktail that Madame Bohemienne served before every one of her dinner parties. Famille Chic and Bohemienne didn’t mind repetition when it came to their favorite things. Monsieur Chic was a connoisseur of camembert cheese. Madame Bohemienne had a good thing going with her champagne cocktail (trust me, it was yummy), so why change it?

Talking about taking pleasure in the moment, one of my fondest memories of Madame Bohemienne was when she came home one hot afternoon in spring with a bouquet of flowers in one arm- her other arm outstretched- and proclaimed, “We are the luckiest people in the world to live in Paris!”.

Indeed.

I would love to know… what are your simple pleasures?

A very Parisian courtyard is pictured above


Won't you stay tuned for #2?


My book, Lessons from Madame Chic: The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris will be published by Simon & Schuster and re-released in the fall of 2012.


The Daily Connoisseur is now available on the Kindle.

1.10.2011

The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris- #4 The Art of Femininity




Before I lived in Paris I was afraid of my femininity. Looking back, that is the only way I can put it. I wasn’t a tomboy- I liked feminine things, but I was afraid of what or who I could become if I unleashed my full potential. My posture was bad. I didn’t have a real haircut (my hair was too long- no layers), I covered my body with frumpy clothes. My tastes had not yet blossomed to those of the sophisticate. Mon Dieu, I was a wreck.

It was in France that I learned to claim my femininity and use it proudly. French femininity is very refreshing. They scoff other western interpretations of femininity such as breast implants, fake nails and hair extensions as being vulgar and instead encourage women to use what they’ve got and work it.

Having been lucky enough to observe first hand Madame Chic and Madame Bohemienne as well as the entire city of Parisian women for the time I lived there, I came to the conclusion- French women do feminine and they do it very well.

A few key points I noticed when observing them, and how I changed myself:

Posture

French women have great posture. It is not rigid, stiff and formal- but wonderfully fluid- an active posture that exudes confidence. They carry themselves with poise, shoulders back and down, chest out (not too far out- just not caved in) and carry themselves with a certain ease. Madame Chic had this- so did Madame Bohemienne. Sure there are some bohemian types (not Madame Bohemienne, mind you) who wear berets, slouch, smoke cigarettes and recite poetry- but even their slouch has an affectation to it- nevermind, we’re not talking about them. No, the first thing I noticed was that French women had really great posture. My posture was improved just being in their presence. Good posture is somewhat contagious.

Also it is quite difficult to sit in a beautiful and ornately appointed Parisian apartment (like Famille Chic’s) with hunched up shoulders. The formal atmosphere is enough to make you want to sit up straight. I find good posture to be extremely powerful. If you ever find yourself in a bad situation or one where you’re intimidated, fix your posture- it suggests you are a force to be reckoned with and makes a big difference.

Perfume

I would occasionally wear scent when in California before living in Paris, but it was usually the unsophisticated variety (Bath and Bodyworks freesia sprays- that sort of thing) but living in Paris I noticed that each woman seemed to have a bold signature scent. When you greet people over there, you generally forgo the handshake for the more familiar kiss on the cheek and this is where you really catch the scent. It is like a calling card. Most French woman have one or two signature scents and wear them religiously. Now I feel rather naked without a spritz of my favorite perfume. (I currently wear Stella but am going on the hunt for my new signature scent in the new year... more on that later).

Nails

Fake nails are considered vulgar in France. Most French women (Madame Chic and Bohemienne included) have short, manicured nails that are painted in a clear or neutral color. Essie’s Mademoiselle is perfect for this look. I try and have a manicure and pedicure once every two weeks to keep up my nails. This look is so easy though, having a professional manicure isn’t entirely necessary. All you need to do is cut and file your nails, and apply a base coat, color and then top coat. Once dry, moisturize and you are done! Neutral colors are also very easy to fill in if your color happens to chip away prematurely.

Hair

French hair lends itself to spontaneity. It is not the sort of hair that says “Stand back. Do not touch. If you do a serious meltdown might occur!”

Hair is a very feminine accessory in the French woman’s arsenal. Most French women have a really simple cut- usually erring on the short side rather than the long- Their hair is simply styled and not stiff. You would be really hard pressed to find someone with hair extensions, multi-colored hair (I'm talking about hot pink highlights), high maintenance, flat ironed hair or any other sort of pained look. French hair is very flirtatious- it suggests fun, spontaneity. It says that you could just jump in a pool at any given moment if you wanted to or have a man run his fingers through it- if you so desired.

When I arrived in France I didn’t have much of a hairstyle. I would love to say I ventured into a salon and got a chic short cut à la Sabrina- but I didn’t. I waited until I got back to America and now I visit my stylist every six weeks religiously. To me, good hair is très important aspect of my femininity.

Lingerie and Sleepwear

After Madame Chic called me out on my frumpy, holey pajama sweats, I marched promptly to Etam where I purchased two sets of sleepwear- one tailored cotton set in a pretty, luscious cream and one lingerie inspired one in orangey silk. These two purchases were a revelation for me. It was the first time I respected myself enough to realize I deserved to wear beautiful and feminine articles of clothing- at all times- not just out during the day or on special occasions.

French women value the importance of good lingerie. They wear silky chemises to bed and during the day wear matching bras and panties- whether someone will see them later or not. A tip for shopping for matching sets- buy one bra and three or four pairs of the matching panties. Store them together in pretty mesh bags in your lingerie drawer and you will always have a complete set on hand.


Clothing

Both Madame Chic and Madame Bohemienne’s clothing were tributes to femininity. I never saw Madame Chic in anything other than a skirt. She never wore jeans, skirts were just her thing. Madame Bohemienne wore skirts all the time too- the skirt is a very feminine tool in the Parisian woman’s arsenal- showcasing the legs and just subtly declaring that you are in fact different than a man- you are feminine. I never saw either woman in shapeless, baggy sweatpants or unflattering, ill-fitting clothing. Their clothes were orchestrated so to bring out their best features and hide their worst.


Of course there are many more aspects to cultivating ones’ femininity than what I’ve discussed in this post. And I could elaborate for days on each one of these subjects. One recurring theme that I find rather refreshing is how simple this all is. The French rules of femininity say work with what you’ve got. No need for anything fake. Subtly enhance your features with makeup. Keep your natural nails, just polish them and take care of them. Same with your hair- nothing too over the top, just healthy, gorgeous hair in a manageable cut. Pretty, feminine clothes. These tools are meant to encourage you to go out and live your life, not be bogged down by having to maintain a 'look'.

How refreshing.

I would love to know… how do you pay tribute to your femininity?


Hotel France et Chateaubriand is pictured above.


My book, Lessons from Madame Chic: The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris will be published by Simon & Schuster and re-released in the fall of 2012.

1.03.2011

The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris- #5 Cultivate Your Mind



Intellect is everything in France. People want to hear what you have to say- and what you have to say will preferably be relevant, interesting and witty.

Living and studying in Paris, I found myself, for the first time in my life, away from all of my favorite television shows, addictive gossip magazines and other mind numbing forms of entertainment. I found myself instead passing my time in museums, reading books, attending theatre and discussing life with my fellow ex-pats. The result felt like a detox for my soul and gave me a shot of culture through my veins that I sorely needed.

My fellow students experienced the same exhilaration as well. We were so busy going places, learning things and experiencing life… we found our new lifestyle affected our conversation. Rather than sitting together and gossiping about celebrities or reality TV shows, we actually had topics of substance to discuss.

I began to realize that our intellectual renaissance wasn’t just due to the fact that we were studying in school. We were students back home in California as well, but back home we had all of the temptations that television, gossip magazines and vapid popular culture had to offer. No, I began to see that it was also France. It certainly helped that Famille Chic didn’t watch TV… and that the gossip magazines were filled with people I didn’t know, but France is really a culture that encourages you to cultivate your mind.

Sure, good skin helps, but generally, being a pretty face is just not enough to get you by. In fact women who aren’t technically classical beauties but who are intellectually stimulating are highly regarded and come off as being more attractive in France than one who is say, not.

And whereas in America, you could easily be called ‘pretentious’ for discussing intellectual or artistic pursuits like philosophy, classical music or poetry, in France it is expected of you to be well versed in the subjects.

I remember many times at Madame Bohemienne’s dinner parties discussing such subjects with her guests. At her parties people were more likely to ask you what book you were reading before they asked you what you do and where you are from.

Back in America I admit to having slipped a little with regards to constantly cultivating my mind… there is so much trashy TV and shallow reading that just lures you in… but I do try to pull in the reigns when I get out of control.

Some tips for cultivating your mind (if nothing else but to be an interesting guest at the next dinner party you attend):

Read a lot. If you find you don’t have much time to read, but have a long commute each day, consider listening to books on tape instead of music. Keep a list in your head of interesting or favorite books you’ve read so the next time someone asks you if you’ve ‘read anything good lately’ you’ll have something to say.

Trade in a few Hollywood Blockbusters for independent and foreign films. Interesting films also make for great discussions at dinner and cocktail parties…

Subscribe to a newspaper.
I know I’ve mentioned this before. I used to scoff at newspapers and instead read my news for free online but my father urged me to subscribe to one- we picked The Financial Times (out of London) and I am never going back. I love having a paper delivered every day- not only does it have the news, but also scores of other thought-provoking articles that I never would have read if I continued to just look online for my news. (Plus reading the news online can lead you down a slippery path. You might start out with the best intentions of reading the headlines on CNN.com, but then somehow get sidetracked and find yourself on Popsugar reading about a teen hearthtrob’s latest breakup and as soon as you know it- an hour has passed and you are no more informed then when you started off.)

Keep au courant with your local museum’s latest art exhibition. I can’t tell you how many times I attended a dinner party in Paris where I was asked if I’d seen the latest exhibition at the Centre Pompidou. Familiarize yourself with the more obscure artists…

Subscribe to a word of the day.
I’ve mentioned this before too- I can’t tell you how much I love this internet feature. The word of the day is on my home page and it is the first thing I see every morning when I open my computer. It expands my vocabulary and also prevents me from saying ‘like’ too much (a terrible vice of mine, growing up in Southern California). Today’s word, for example, is: Estivate: To spend the summer, as at a specific place or in a certain activity. Who knew?

Acquaint yourself with a genre of music you are unfamiliar with. If you like classical music, for example, get specific and familiarize yourself with nocturnes. Or pick up a biography on your favorite composer (mine is Chopin) so that you might better appreciate their work.

Learn another language.
Or if you must watch TV, watch a foreign language channel. I love (can you guess?) TV5 Monde. They have very good documentaries and films all in French. When I do have time to watch TV, this is my channel of choice.

Incidentally I received an Amazon Kindle for Christmas… which I am loving (and, by the way, The Daily Connoisseur is now available on the Kindle for your downloading pleasure... hurrah!). I will give you a more detailed review in the future, but the Kindle is a wonderful resource for information- books, newspapers, magazines and blogs. A portable and stylish tool for cultivating one’s mind…

And finally… Look for a future post on The Daily Connoisseur regarding the merits of less (or no) TV

I would love to know… how do you cultivate your mind?

Won’t you stay tuned for #4?

A detail of the side of Notre Dame is featured... such a beautiful and dramatic building.


My book, Lessons from Madame Chic: The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris will be published by Simon & Schuster and re-released in the fall of 2012.
 
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