Yes, the Parisienne often comes from somewhere else. She wasn’t born in Paris, but she’s reborn there
Marie Antoinette was Austrian. When she arrived in France to marry Louis XVI and become queen, she was just fourteen years old. A figure of frivolity, she was the first to spark our obsession with fashion. She fell in love with a man who wasn’t her husband, and she dreamed of taking to the stage, or of being a shepherdess. She invented her own life.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Josephine didn’t merely adopt French nationality she embraced the heart and soul of the country as well, and even joined the French Resistance during World War II. She became one of the biggest Parisian stars with her cabarets at the Folies Bergère, which took Paris by storm. Liberal and avant-garde, Baker exuded sensuality and intelligence; she became phenomenally successful thanks to her singing “I have two loves … my country and Paris.”
In Paris, the lead actress in Sissi—The Young Empress discovered the pleasures of sleepless nights, nonconformity, and insouciance. In the sixties and the seventies, this young woman from Vienna instantly captured the hearts of the French, who admired her charm, her kindness, and her air of fragility. She quickly became a model of femininity for all Parisiennes.
Jane Birkin, the British actress and singer who became the most Parisian of them all, sang the unforgettable 1969 song “Je t’aime … moi non plus” with Serge Gainsbourg, and among her many films were Blow-up and Don Juan(Or If Don Juan Were a Woman), with Brigitte Bardot. The French love her British accent, and she is now part of their national heritage. Her daughters, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Lou Doillon, have followed in her footsteps and continue to teach us lessons about a style that is timeless: used jeans, a trench, and sneakers.
1:00 P.M. First Date at the Café de Flore
She picks up the menu. Each time, the same thought crosses her mind: in her hands, this is more of a geographical map than a restaurant menu. It is an intimate, chaotic, and complicated path through the jungle of her culinary neuroses. And she can’t fight the looming idea that she will have to battle her way, keeping up appearances, without stumbling and, especially, without looking like she’s asking herself too many questions.
No, wrong choice. She’ll just end up using the salmon as a pretext for eating all the blinis and crème fraîche. Her greed could end up on her hips.
Does this man sitting across from her realize how difficult it is to be a woman in this city? Probably not. And she doesn’t want to judge him too quickly. She continues her stroll through the list of appetizers; she’s on home ground.
Haricots verts salad
The problem with a first date is that her every gesture will take on a particular meaning. He’s watching her as if he’s filming her, recording her movements forever: the way in which she loses her phone in her large handbag, and in turn loses herself while searching for it, and that message on her voice mail she can’t help listening to in front of him. He is analyzing her. Disorganized, a tad nervous, compulsively sociable. Maybe he senses the difficulty she is having making up her mind. But she doesn’t want to reveal too soon the war she is waging in silence. Perhaps one day, later on, he will find out that she weighs herself every morning, but for now, he must believe that her figure is simply nature’s gift. Better to choose a real dish, giving him the hackneyed image of a bon vivant and letting him believe that this is her approach to all the great pleasures of life.
Warm duck confit
Her finger, somewhat nervously, scrolls down several lines on this damned menu. She cannot find an honorable way out, and she’s mad at herself. For here, on the terrace, time is running out, passersby brush against her, the waiter is coming over, and she knows she will have to come to a decision. And so she figures she will brave the danger with an act of courage. She will choose something original:
“Welsh rarebit,” she says.
She is adventurous and proud to show it. She is drawing a clear distinction between herself and other girls. She feels she is showing a certain audacity, putting it on the table, as if it were a trophy. She reads out the foreign words so casually you’d think she’d done it a hundred times before. She hopes that the waiter will not pick up on her accent, betraying her little show. The man opposite her looks up, surprised, and she savors the effect it has on him. Of course, she has no idea what she’s just ordered. On the menu, in small print, it says: “a specialty made from cheddar, beer, and toast.” Inwardly she smiles: inedible. No matter, she will talk enough for him not to notice that she’s ignoring her plate. The waiter then turns to the man.
“I’ll have the same, please,” he says.
And in a flash, the whole scene crumbles. Oh no, a sheep, a follower, what a bore. Suddenly, her eyes are opened, and she realizes that his conversation has been peppered with banalities for the past half hour. She now knows she’ll eat two bites, then find a reason to leave before the hour is up. And she will never see him again. Adieu.