30 July 2012

La Belle France



IN March a hiring manager from the Department of Justice phoned seeing if was interested in an investigative position with them. I mentioned I lived in France and that Boston was a bit far away for an interview. He remarked, “if only I could be paid to go interview you. French cheese, wine...if I were you I might never come back.”
Indeed, an allure like none other. French wine--instant class. French couture--instant sophistication. Following in the foot steps of Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Hemmingway, and T.S. Eliot I moved to France. Six months of language-study and I can only now begin to consider myself immersed in the culture.
There is perhaps no journey so cliched as this: American in France. And like so many Americans before me I came to discover the land of Louis XIV, Marie Antoinette, Voltaire, Rousseau, Monet, and Charles de Gaule. History, philosophes, artists. La haute culture. Fromage, joie de vie, creme brûlet. Oui, la haute culture.
The importance of French culture to America is undeniable. While linguistically English is more similar to German it is French which is easier to learn. Our language is replete with French influence. Résumé, à propros, quotidian. Or l let us discuss art: trompe l'oeil, oeuvre, maestro.
So in such a cliched journey what magic is there to discover? A huge slection of French wine for under $4 per bottle. I'm hardly drinking away the options. Cheese? I've never been a big fan of the strong stuff. But there is still much to discover in the famed French regional cuisine, organized by Appellation Origine Contrôlée. Piment from Espelette, Jambon from Bayonne, mild cheeses from the Basque countryside. Despite these many options, my diet has hardly changed. In California I buy a range of products from Trader Joe's and here I buy products from another grocery store. While I suplement my largly vegetarian diet with a range of local specialties, much is the same. Nevertheless, at least in my mind, I'm living French food culture.
On the otherhand, I'm yet to find the French couture in my Southwest cornerexcept for the John Galliano trousers I purchased for myself while living in New York. And my other favorite French designer Jean Paul Gaultier I'm yet to see anyone sporting. So I'm not in the fashion capital.
And the girls, while French, if viewed objectively, aren't anything particular. But they're French and I still can't deny them a certain mystique--even if I'm yet to find it.
So essentially I'm yet to find the French n'importa quoi. Despite this, the dreams lives on.
And while I overlook that, I have found an unpredicted friendliness. I have many friends, associates, and people who say bonjour to me. I've run a bit and won a few races. When I arrive at a competition there's non-stop greetings and kissing of people I may or not recognize. I lacked such celeberty status when I lived in Texas and won every race. Perhaps it's my Americanness here, being a foreigner that makes me more approachable. Yet I've only recently been able to hold a conversation. Though people for six months have chatted with me.
So as I depart France at the moment on my way to Spain and later the US, I find a moment (in a car-share!) to reflect. What is the essence of France, what is the allure? I realize while the allure grips my person and I plan to return in September, I'm still no closer to discovering the essence. Maybe it's only the fierce pride exhibited by the French. They're known for being jerks and there's truth to that. They're proud of their culture, their food, their language. And while it can be tiring at times there is an allure to someone who knows their identity and celebrates it. They have detractors but there is also respect. So France, while your boutique farming methods may be inefficient, your search for a famous contemporary French musician amusing (David Guetta is the best you've got, never heard of him) and your talk of how difficult French history is to master by virtue of being an older country, shortsighted, I still respect you. Indeed, you're formidable. À dieu mon ami. See you in September.

1 comment:

Spring said...

"And while it can be tiring at times there is an allure to someone who knows their identity and celebrates it." What are the characteristics of this identity (identities?)? How have you found people celebrating it? I am amused and intrigued by your observations, which of course resonate with me as someone in a new place and also as someone who feels so strongly FROM a place [insert New England joke here]. It's great to read your writing again, AG. It is also great to see your choice of photo, which feels entirely representative of your traveling ethos and strikes me as, well, in happy contrast with the French ... je ne sais quoi? I'm not sure I'm using that phrase correctly.

Keep 'em comin'!