France’s leading women show the way

Feature, November 1997

Last month, L'Express did a cover story on France's most powerful women. Based on a recent publication titled "Femmes en Tête" (Flammarion, 534 pages, 139 F), the weekly news magazine's article focuses on "100 women who keep France on the move," ("100 femmes qui font bouger la France.")

Celebrating the achievements of French women in a wide range of fields that were once the unique preserve of men, its authors, Evelyne Pisier and Françoise Barret-Ducrocq, point to gains made in recent years, particularly in terms of access to education and job possibilities.

They start by reminding us what women were up against. Rita Levi-Montalcini, who was born in 1909, remembers a game she used to play in the school playground. The girls wore smocks that buttoned up at the back, and they used to flick the buttons and recite "mother, nun, whore… mother, nun, whore," like lovers pulling petals from a daisy. At the beginning of the century, girls didn't need to spend too much time in career counseling – they weren't exactly overwhelmed with choices. "If the game was still in fashion, schoolgirls would need an incredible number of buttons on their smocks" says Levi-Montalcini, who surprised her classmates by becoming a doctor and winning the Nobel prize for medicine.

Pisier and Barret-Ducrocq tell their story of emancipation through the portraits of 100 women. The subjects are not all famous or powerful, but they are all "emblematic." And many are pioneers in their field, hacking a new path through the career jungle. "By dint of hearing so many women say they were 'the first' to have occupied this or that exceptional post," they write, "we wanted to meet a few and ask them to tell us their personal adventure."

The list of firsts is certainly impressive. The Greek scholar Jacqueline de Romilly was the first woman to be given a chair in the College de France, and the second elected to the Académie francaise (after Marguerite Yourcenar, who died in 1987). Claudie André-Deshays was the first French women in space (though 30 non-French women got there before her). Françoise Cachin was the first curator of the Musée d'Orsay, and is now director of the Musées de France. Isabelle Bouillot was the first female budget director in the Finance Ministry and on it goes.

"To think that we didn't have the right to vote when I was born," exclaims the cardiac surgeon Francine Leca, the first woman to pass the prestigious aggrégation exam in medicine. She is 59; French women didn't get the vote until 1945, 27 years after their sisters across the Channel, and 25 after women in the US.

Many of the women interviewed tell tales of everyday misogyny at work. Anne Réocreux, a 34-year-old engineer, remembers a young colleague, male and cocksure, coming into her office and asking her to announce his arrival to Mr. Réocreux. "To him, I could only be a secretary… I put him in his place." But not too brutally; she is of the new generation. "Women bosses of 40 or 50 often play at being macho: they are bigmouths who impose their opinions on others. Like men." She prefers to prove that a woman can exercise her authority by competence alone. Joëlle Bourgois remembers a bad-tempered accountant who told her, "No woman is going to give me orders." "I happen to be the ambassador," Bourgois replied. "So get out, or behave properly." The first woman in the diplomatic corps and now France's ambassador in the disarmament talks in Geneva, her bright suits and joviality were a shock to her colleagues.

Surprisingly, many of the women talk about how important their fathers were in encouraging their ambitions. Col. Colette Giacometti, the first woman admitted to the French army's Aerial Warfare School, says it was her father, who supported her when she first talked of joining the army; her mother was "against war" and wanted her to do something more traditional. The best known woman in the book, a real star in France, is the journalist Anne Sinclair. The first time she was on the radio, her father, an industrialist in the cosmetic industry, invented a meeting every day between 5:00 and 5:05pm and locked himself in his office to listen.

Another journalist, Christine Ockrent, began her career working for CBS in Britain and the US, where she produced "Sixty Minutes." "I developed very bad habits," she explains. "I came back with the idea that I was free to work where I wanted. That cost me a lot in France, where we live in a society of clans in which networks are so important."

For Pisier and Barret-Ducrocq, access to education "is the key to independence, liberty, and power." Most of their chosen hundred got where they are by studying hard. The right to equal education was only acquired very recently – primary schools and lycées did not become coed until the 1960s, and those mythical grandes écoles, where so many of France's ruling elite are primed for power, were only fully opened to women in the early 1980s.

Historically, French feminism is characterized by high ideals but a slow pace of real change. The Revolution was a double-edged sword. Its lofty pronouncements inspired Olympe de Gouges' "Declaration of the Rights of Women and Citizens," but it also produced an all-male National Assembly. Under the ancien régime, women had wielded a certain power through noble birth; in the new meritocracy of the republic, all men were citizens, but women were just women. Liberty led the people, one breast bared, but "fraternité" did not extend to sisterhood.

In the corridors of power, men were terrified of what de Tocqueville called "the cauldron of immoderate democracy." The Concordat of 1801 gave the Catholic church complete control over girls' education, and the Code Napoléon of 1804 made wives legally subordinate to their husbands. It took a century and a half to roll back these laws; French women did not gain the legal right to work or open a bank account without their husbands' consent until 1965, and only become the legal owners of their possessions in 1966.

More and more French women work – they now make up 44.5 percent of the workforce (roughly the same percentage as in Britain and North America), compared to 34% thirty years ago. French women enjoy better, cheaper childcare than Americans or Brits, aided by the fact that school begins at the tender age of three. But like women everywhere, they tend to have low-paying, precarious jobs, and still do most of the vacuuming and diaper changing. Often access to work reinforces inequality, by legitimizing "the double workday."

We are still a long way from true equality of the sexes, what the authors call "the democratic ideal: to equal competence, an equal career, equal responsibility, equal power." So are women catching up, or is the glass ceiling (yes, the French call it "le plafond de verre") still intact? Should we agree with the rabid right-winger Charles Pasqua, who said that Edith Cresson's failure "will discredit women for a long time"?

Remember Cresson? She became France's first woman prime minister in 1991, and is best known to Anglos for her comment that 25 percent of English men were homosexual and "in some way a little maimed." She told The Observer newspaper, "I remember from strolling about in London… the men in the streets don't look at you!" "C'est pas normal!" Gaffes like this made her the least popular prime minister in history (a record soon beaten by Alain Juppé), and she had to resign after only 11 months in office.

Pisier and Barret-Ducrocq don't think that setbacks like this are permanent. It was more important that a symbolic barrier had been crossed. In one poll, 77% of French people said it was "very good" to have a woman prime minister. A president, well, that may take a little longer.

The present government, announced by Lionel Jospin in June, includes eight women ministers. One of them, Catherine Trautmann, Minister of Culture and Communication and interviewed in "Femmes en Tête," is almost mystical with optimism. "In every level of society, the same ground swell is at work; women are moving inexorably towards the conquest of independence in every domain. A first generation has invented other conceptions of love and the family; we won't go back."

All these high-achieving women have one thing in common – they had to struggle, and make it up as they went along. They had no models to follow – with few exceptions, their mothers were housewives. Their daughters will take it for granted that women have fulfilling careers. "They will be able to choose to be human beings, not women."

 

Parisian wine bar favorites

Food & Drink, November 1997

Following on the success of this year's Fête de la Musique, Paris' other great annual Festival, the arrival of the Beaujolais Nouveau, is also expected to be one of the biggest yet. Thanks to the dazzling sunshine of July and August, the 1997 vintage, to be released on November 20, should be surprisingly full-bodied with a velvety texture. Tim Johnston, the patron of Juveniles wine bar, confirms the optimism, predicting an exceptional year. "The growers are extremely happy this year. It'll be an exceptional, very healthy drop that won't give you a headache because the growers have not had to add sulphur to boost alcohol content." That seems as good an invitation as any to imbibe. Below is a guide to some of Paris' most appealing wine bars.

Juveniles

Opened 12 years ago by the Johnston-Williamson team that also runs Willi's wine bar just around the corner, Juveniles is an extremely friendly establishment with an elegant, warm decor and an inventive kitchen. It also puts on one of the best Beaujolais Nouveau parties in town and is an excellent wine bar if you want to try some of the superb wines from around the world, such as the 1995 Mount Langi Ghiran, a glorious Australian shiraz at 45F a glass or a 1995 Haza, an exceptional Spanish red from southwest of the Rioja region, for 34F a glass.

Juveniles, 47, rue de Richelieu, 1e, Mº Pyramides, tel: 01.42.97.46.49, closed Sun.

Au Sauvignon

This small but welcoming wine bar is also one of the busiest and most chic in Paris, thanks to its location in the heart of the Left Bank, nestled among small, branché designer boutiques and art galleries, just a stone's throw away from Au Bon Marché. The specialties of the establishment are its tartines, or open-faced sandwiches made from pain poilâne. Manned by friendly staff who never seem to be ruffled by the often-frantic conditions, it is best visited in the mid-afternoon or towards closing time if you want to avoid the crowds, and don't even think about coming here on Saturday afternoons. Prices for wines average around 18F a glass.

Au Sauvignon, 80, rue des Sts-Pères, 7e, Mº Sèvres-Babylone, tel: 01.45.48.49.02, closed Sun.

Le Relais Chablisien

In a little side street near the pet shops of the quai, this old relais with stone walls and huge beams offers the possibility of a quiet glass of wine at the red-tiled downstairs bar or the more leisurely enjoyment of a bottle with a meal upstairs. The bar has a good range of wines with a glass of Gigondas or Saint-Amour for 12F or a simple Saumur for 8.50F, Côte de Bourg for 9F, or 18F for the Irancy, a delicate Pinot noir from Burgundy. On a lovely but fairly chilly evening we decided to stay for dinner and went up to the third floor dining room, with its beautiful beamed roof so low it is literally impossible to stand upright perhaps a problem if you've had a glass too many. The superbly cooked veal kidneys were devoured by my husband while our friends appreciated the blanquette of lotte (monkfish), even if it was a shade small, and the generous helping of roast pork with apples. My coq au vin had been cooked in Irancy wine with plenty of potatoes and carrots and while our 1995 bottle of the same wine was a good choice for the various dishes, it was wildly overpriced at 180F.

Le Relais Chablisien, 4, rue Bertin Poirée, 1er, Mº Pont-Neuf, tel: 01.45.08.53.73, closed Sat and Sun.

Les Pipos & Bistrot de L'X

The steep Montagne Sainte Geneviève hides two wine bars among its many pubs and student cafés. Just down from the Panthéon is Les Pipos, a friendly neighborhood hangout that also attracts students and tourists with its red-check tablecloths and big selection of wines at all price ranges. A small daily menu offers cheap, hearty fare at affordable prices, such as leek salad for 25F, lamb stew for 59F and veal chops for 68F. Right across the road is the charming wedge-shaped Bistro de L'X. It possesses all the charm of an old Doisneau photo, with its marble-topped bar and tables, and walls decorated with the lids of wooden wine boxes. Bottles of wine range from a humble Gamay for 85F to 420F for a 1987 Vosnes Romanée. A well-priced 1993 Château Bel Air Lalande de Pomerol is 180F.  Food on offer includes a Muenster cheese tart and a salmon salad.

Bistrot Les Pipos 2, rue de l'Ecole Polytechnique, 5e, Mº Cardinal-Lemoine, tel: 01.43.54.11.40, closed Sun.

La Tartine

Its nicotine-colored walls, large mirrors, old fixtures and molded ceilings attract a pleasing mix of elderly regulars and branché students, giving La Tartine an enjoyable bohemian quality. Located in the center of the Marais, it's named after the open-faced sandwiches which start at a very reasonable 14F. The emphasis is on wines from the Beaujolais and Bordeaux regions. A glass of good Sancerre goes for 13F and a pleasant Morgan is only 11F.

La Tartine, 24, rue de Rivoli, 4e, Mº St-Paul, tel: 01.42.72.76.85. Open 9am to 10:30pm, closed Tue.

Le Baron Rouge

Just around the corner from the working class markets of the place d'Aligre, the decor of the Baron Rouge suggests the 1930s, although the spirit is much more in keeping with 1968. Large tapped kegs stand guard by the door, and you can fill your bottle from them or stand at the zinc bar and try a 10cl glass of Saint-Véran for 12F or Santenay for 18F. There are a series of assiettes with strong traditional flavors to accompany the wine, such as pork liver confit, very pungent andouille, or chitterling sausage, for 50F for a large portion or 20F for a small version, and chèvre cheese for 20F. It's very pleasant to pass a late Sunday morning here over a plate of freshly opened oysters.

Le Baron Rouge, 1, rue Théophile-Roussel, 12e, Mº Ledru-Rollin, tel: 01.43.43.14.32, closed Sunday afternoons and Mon.

Les Vins des Rues (Chez Chanrion)

This is the neighborhood wine bar par excellence, thanks to the inviting personality of its patron, Jean Chanrion. Winner of the "Coupe du Meilleur Pot" in 1989, the decor is more like a little place in the country then in Paris, happily occupying some space between atmosphere and neglect. All sorts of wine can be had, from a Coteaux Lyonnais for 9F, a Macon or Bourgogne Aligoté for 16F, and a Saint Véran for 20F or Saint-Amour for 22F. The kitchen has a reputation for simple, hearty fare.

Les Vins des Rues, 21, rue Boulard, 14e, Mº Denfert-Rochereau, tel: 01.43.22.19.78, closed Sund and Mon.

Caves Saint Vincent

Just one block away from Chez Chanrion is one of my favorite wines shops in Paris, the Caves Saint Vincent, a long-established store with an extraordinary range of wines at all prices. Apart from a strong selection of Burgundies and Champagne, it's an ideal place to pick up that obscure bottle from an unfamiliar region.

Caves Saint Vincent, 35, rue Daguerre, 14e, Mº Denfert-Rochereau, tel: 01.43.20.05.74.

Le Lutétia

Thanks to its view giving onto the river and the Hôtel de Ville, the terrace of this wine bar and bistrot is one of the most popular on the Ile-Saint-Louis, and was one of the first terraces in Paris to install big winter heaters, an idea that goes back to the old charcoal braziers of the 1920s.  There is a light three-course menu, offering such things as pâté or crudités as an entrée, soupe à l'oignon, spaghetti with basil, or an omelette for a main course, and dessert, for only 49F. Wines by the glass include a Saint-Emilion for 28F or a Muscadet Blanc for 21F or a bottle of Beaujolais Villages for 85F.

Le Lutétia, 33, quai de Bourbon, 4e, Mº Hôtel de Ville, tel: 01.43.54.11.71, closed Sunday evenings and Mon.

Le Moulin à Vins

This extremely attractive establishment is in one of the most bustling and least tourist-visited parts of Montmartre. The old bar is loaded with wine and atmosphere, and the dining room with its old-style furnishings recalls the Paris of the 1930s. Among the wines offered by Mme Bertin-Denis, mainly from the Southwest, Loire and Sancerrois, are an excellent Pacherenc blanc for 100F and  a Saint-Joseph for 24F a glass. Le Moulin à Vins has also built up a reputation over the last four years for its Thanksgiving dinners.

6, rue Burq, 18e, Mº Abbesses, tel: 01.42.52.81.27, closed Sunday & Mon.

Le Rubis

An institution in this neighborhood, Le Rubis is also the focus for some of the most exuberant, even rowdy, celebrations of Beaujolais Nouveau, and is best avoided by claustrophobes. Run by Albert Prat, the otherwise extremely civilized tiny corner establishment is perfect for a quiet, quick glass or a long evening lingering over a bottle of Cheverny for 80F and tray of cheese or plat du jour for 50F.  The wine list mainly features the Beaujolais and Loire region. Glasses of wine start for as little as 6F for an 8cl glass.

10, rue du Marché St-Honoré, 1er, Mº Tuileries, tel: 01.42.61.03.34, closed Saturday evening and Sun.

 

My wife complains about the French

Q&A Closeups, November 1997

Q:  We've been living in France since the beginning of our married life, and for more than 20 years my American wife has been complaining about my French compatriots. She criticizes just about everything: our habits, our culture, our behavior, etc. I actually sometimes agree with her comments, but her criticisms are continual and systematic, and I'm finding it more and more difficult to put up with them. What can I tell her to get her to change her attitude?

A:  Your letter really strikes home, as the phenomenon you describe is characteristic not only of my own marriage but of the relationships of many I have counseled, and I suspect that, in intercultural couples where one spouse has moved abroad through love for a person rather than for that person's country, a deep nostalgia for the culture and the people one has left behind fuels the criticism as much as or more so than any unwillingness to adapt to the new situation. So it's important that you leave plenty of space for your wife to be able to express her sadness over having left home, and that you make sure to demonstrate emphatic agreement when you find her comments well founded. Some of her negativity might be siphoned off that way.

Now take a minute to reflect on how you respond to her criticism.  Do you react defensively ("America's not so great, either")? Aggressively ("Oh, for God's sake, are you going to start that up again?")? Disgustedly (a contemptuous look and then walk out of the room)? Logically ("You have a nice house, a good husband, a car, so please stop complaining.")? All these reactions are justifiable, but do not demonstrate the personal feelings of hurt, fear or disappointment that might be beneath them. If she realizes that her comments might wound you in your love of your country, frighten you that (she might leave eventually if it gets bad enough), worry your children (her position is bound to create loyalty conflicts for them) or disappoint you in your efforts to create a happy environment for her, she might well become more aware of the deeper, more emotional effect of her criticism on you, and cut back on it.  But first you need to take the time to explore these feelings for yourself, and then to share them with her during a moment of calm. A few minutes' sharing of genuine feelings with the woman in your life will get you – and all men – a lot more mileage than hours of expertly conceived logical rebuttal.

On her end, your wife needs to take charge of her own aggressiveness toward the French and stop making you pay. There are ways to do that with professional help. Have her call or e-mail me for some ideas. By the way, using his sense of humor, my own husband found a very creative solution to this problem. When I get started, he labels the French "les Nains," (the dwarfs) and the Americans "les Géants" (the giants) in his responses. The ensuing laughter totally defuses the situation!

Follow-up: Thanks to Thomas Krischer for sharing with us his method for meeting French people: shortly after moving into his apartment, he and his wife invited everyone in the building for an aperitif.  Many accepted, laying the groundwork for further, more substantial exchanges.

Jill Bourdais is a psychotherapist practicing in Paris both privately and in a hospital setting. A specialist in couple/family problems, she also teaches PAIRS, a skills-building course in intimate relationships.

Fashion… puttin’ on the glitz

Paris Style, November 1997
Once upon a time, fashion week in Paris provided a sneak preview of the style trends for the upcoming season. However, after a blitz of frocks for the boudoir and creative ideas that never completely gelled as real clothing, many experts are currently pondering the purpose of fashion, or more specifically, the point of fashion shows. More than ever, it is apparent that there are clothes and there is fashion. Clothes are what we wear. Fashion is a whole 'nother animal.

Just as today's fashion magazines do more to promote the talents of  photographers and models rather than sell clothes, fashion shows have increasingly become gigantic advertising vehicles used to promote accessories, makeup, jewelry and models' careers…. almost everything but clothes. For many attending the spring-summer '98 prêt-à-porter collections, the most important trends revealed during fashion week were: 1) four-inch stiletto high heels that certainly will not be snapped by the teenybopper models who wobbled down the catwalks in them; 2) lingerie-inspired looks sure to be a big hit on rue St-Denis; 3) black as a major color for next summer; 4) the growing number of very young children present in the audience; and 5) that the most important element of a show is entertainment. That brings us to the first point, which I call "the Galliano factor."

That's Entertainment

Today, with the appointment of "wild and crazy" John Galliano at Christian Dior and Alexander MacQueen at Givenchy, two Brits given carte blanche to create a sensation rather than collections for the store, other designers are feeling the heat to "keep up" or fight back. Within a setting replicating a boudoir from an aristocratic chateau in the 1920s (which took four days to build in a room at the Carrousel du Louvre), Galliano showed a theatrical collection of roaring' 20s slip dresses worn with ropes of pearls, lace-topped, black silk stockings and Marcel-waved hair, jackets slipped over deeply slit skirts showing a generous flash of thigh and pearl-studded flapper dresses. Though everything was gorgeous, there was one very important thing missing… real clothes for women who work. Compatriot MacQueen left the impeccably cut suits and draped dresses he designed for his own signature collection back in London and showed Wild West fringed cowgirl dresses and jackets for the collection he designed for Givenchy. Despite rumors that his collections do not sell well and the unfavorable reviews in the press, the house recently announced its intention to renew MacQueen's contract for another three to five years. The message here is quite clear.

Fashion has become a spectator sport and the ones with command over the media are the ones in demand. Don't confuse fashion with real clothes for women with lives, lord forbid. Christian Lacroix, in fact, announced on his press kit that his junior "Bazar" line and jeans line would not be presented during his show, only the ready-to-wear collection. His collection provided an insight into his rich and colorful imagination: clashing patchworks running over dresses and jackets sometimes worn with crocheted tops, tapestry peddle pushers worn under ornately embroidered, fitted, hip-length jackets with fringed epaulets or with a mini 18th century strapless bustle dress. But again, where were the clothes?

Even Chanel is affected by the Galliano factor. In his intent to maintain his rule in the industry, Lagerfeld's collections have gone from being outrageous to sober. After all of Galliano's high-class brothel looks, this season, Lagerfeld presented a very quiet collection, drawing inspiration from six great periods in fashion, beginning with long and narrow, post-WWI, pared down silhouettes with high-belted waists and 1930s slouchy plaid jackets worn over wide pants or narrow long skirts, to an early 1960s cowl-neck "sack dress" like the one worn by Audrey Hepburn in "Breakfast at Tiffany's." It was a curious yet almost predictable collection in its diametrically opposed direction to that of Dior.

Zee Artistes

"I create therefore I am." After seasons of being accused of sacrificing creativity for sensationalism, Paris has cleaned up its act. Transparency still abounds, but the body is suggested instead of bared for the sake of nudity. There's a new breed of young designers, particularly among the Japanese, who are fascinating to watch as they make their own mark. They create their own fabrics, tell their own stories, play with silhouettes and textures. What they show are largely concepts (meaning there is still little to wear) but they breathe life into the industry by turning to new technology for inspiration.

At Atsuro Tayama, many of the garments had movement built right in. Necklines hugged the neck with folds on one side and slid off the shoulders on the other. The tops or skirts of dresses looked as though they had been twisted and frozen in place. Fred Sathal, who makes what looks like "young couture," experiments with fabrics, materials and complicated construction. The body is sculpted with wool lace for an off-the-shoulder top and a hip hugger skirt that dips down from mid-thigh to the opposite calf. A rough animal hide is worked into a one-shouldered knee-length dress with a neckline that rises up to the ear on one side. It all looks very interesting… if I could just figure out where to wear this.

We saw Margiela-style deconstructivism: raw seams, garments turned inside out and garments cut from lots of innovative fabrics at Oh? Ya! Outside of the men's styled slacks, there were few real clothes. However, we did enjoy the little sheer polyester puckered tops that look like sea foam and the tunics made from mohair spiderweb netting. We even imagined what it would be like to step out in one of Maurizio Galante's black art overcoats made entirely of spirals, horizontal slits, "millefeuille" petals or latticework. We herald all of this experimentation because somewhere down the road, it will inevitably turn into marvelous creative clothes like those presented by Koji Tatsuno. This London-based designer known at one time for sending out concept clothes put together backstage with a hope, a prayer and a glue gun, has become more sophisticated in his execution. Using the theme of exotic plants, the seams of a jacket diagonally swirl around the body towards one side of the neck like a giant lily. A silver leaf pattern glides down a silk dress with an asymmetrical hemline and two different lengths of sleeves. The successful use of burn-out patterns on velour, spiderweb tops, chemical puckering and intricate seaming are the results of years of experimenting.

Sweet Young Thing

In some cases the young designers do a better job of coming up with creative wearable clothes than the more established houses. Though you have to be 20 to understand or wear it, rising star Veronique Leroy showed a small hip collection of dresses cut from perforated vinyl, white crinkle polyester, fishnet and funky Barbès lamé in bright trashy colors with matte latex jackets tossed over the shoulders. Stephen Slowik was the only designer to show us how sheer lace dresses really will be worn… with solid-colored body dresses underneath!

Business As Usual

At the end of the day, not everyone is buying into the fashion show-as-caberet trend. No matter how many times we've seen it all before, for buyers and seasoned journalists it is still refreshing to find real clothes that might be in danger of actually being worn next spring. Clad in knit pastel tank dresses and bathing suits, wide palazzo pants or peddle pushers and fitted little jackets, Sonia Rykiel's models actually smiled wearing her signature looks as they pranced down the runway. Could this be the models actually enjoyed what they wore? When the models in Hervé Léger's show stepped out in rhinestone-studded bikinis and mid-thigh Grecian togas, photographers responded with good old-fashioned cat-calls and whistles. At Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, we chuckled at his "Windows '95" group: dresses, tops and three-piece cotton trouser suits bearing Microsoft's familiar clouds, as well as safari jackets over narrow skirts with building prints and shift dresses splashed with photo-realistic prints (including one of Bob Marley). Ungaro was the first show where I actually saw things I'd buy for myself: ultra-feminine looks with beige lace jackets and tops married with silk pastel paisley trousers and ocelot-spotted silk shawls dripping with fringe. Valentino went as far as to project a slide show in the back of the runway, pointing out clothing and accessory details he didn't want you to miss: short curvy jackets with narrow short pants, easy sweaters over knee-grazing lace skirts and skinny mid-calf coats, body-skimming knee-length cocktail dresses bouncing with spangles, or leopard spots worked in sequins and silk jersey evening gowns cut in simple lines pouring over the body like a cool drink of water.

Once again the question arises. Does fashion serve a purpose? "Fashion is something that moves, that evolves with each generation," insisted the journalist seated next to me at Ungaro. "Today, fashion has changed, which is altogether normal. Though the shows make no sense to me either, you have to admit, everyone enjoys leafing through magazines gazing at some outrageous show on TV and commenting about how ridiculous it all is. And maybe we won't buy the clothes,  but we'll end up buying a new pair of shoes, a watch or something which helps us feel like we're not completely out of sync with the times."

 

Jordan in Paris

Commentary, November 1997

This October is a curious month. Lots of Paris newcomers pile into the American Church on consecutive Tuesdays to get oriented at a program called Bloom Where You're Planted, sort of the local chapter of the welcome wagon. A lovely name too, except for one small detail: nothing in Paris blooms in October. There must be moments when, for many of these neophytes, the experience feels more like Stagnate Where You're Stuck or Freak Where You've Landed.

There's a rumble going around town as talk circulates on the proposed 35-hour work week for 39 hours of pay. How do American liberals feel about this anyway? Most socialist-minded expats I know work a lot more than 35 hours a week and get paid for, like, 20. One reminded me that the national slogan is "Egalité, Fraternité, You Pay." On the political spectrum, we don't know where we stand anymore. We are not even sure what our issues are. Instead of having a militant lobby group canvassing congress to get us overseas tax advantages (raise your hand if you make enough money to benefit from this), we need to get an expat elected to the Assemblée nationale. Aren't you just dying to be able to write to your député?

Some of the funkiest Bloomers this month in Paris include Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen. Yup, the Chicago Bulls are in town for some pre-season demo hoops at Bercy sponsored by that great driving force in American pop culture, McDonalds. (I recently read that McDonalds has surpassed Coke as the world's most readily recognized trademark and the chain feeds one percent of the world's population each day. Scary thought.)

Dennis, it has been rumored, signed up for the Bloom seminar on becoming a travailleur indépendant but dropped out when his request that the program be held at Les Bains Douches was denied. For the heck of it, Michael tried to open a bank account at the local Crédit Lyonnais in the 12th arrondissement, but despite his readiness to make an initial deposit of $11.3 million, was turned down flatly. "Désolée, Monsieur, but you don't live or work in this quartier," he was told politely. "Et, en plus, you need an appointment with one of our conseillers." "But I have CASH, Madame. That's French, right?" "Désolée, jeune homme. Ce n'est pas moi qui fais les règles, Monsieur."

Scottie went over to The Village Voice for a beer, only to learn that it was a bookshop. Aw, shucks. He offered to do a signing, which would have been a great idea if he had written a book. "I can sign my sneakers," he offered, looking down at his surrealistic, size 17 feet housed in the new Nike atrocity, "Pippen 4," which sells in Paris for a cool and cruel 999F.

Dennis bought the entire contents of the Benetton shop at Les Halles and then stopped for a friendly tattoo. "Cool place," he observed with growing excitement as a skinhead burned into his lower abdomen "Nique la Police." What could be better for a guy who abandoned the competition's overpriced, Indonesian-made shoes in favor of the more proletarian Converse.

Michael, it has been reported, loves the food in Paris. "I get some great macaroni over by the Arc of Triumph," he told reporters. "Not as good as my wife's, but not bad for France. On the other hand, why do you folks pay so much for lousy pizza? What's the matter with this town anyway. There's no Michael Jordan's Restaurant."

"What do you like best about Paris?" one reporter for Le Canard Enchaîné asked.

"I love the way they translate slam dunk." (smatch)

A reporter then managed to ask the world's greatest contemporary sports hero, "Mr. Jordan, do you think you could live in Paris?"

"Je ne crois pas, pal, that blooming TVA of yours would drive me up the wall."

Dennis rushed over and told Michael to chill out, and not be so negative. "I'm staying. I can always teach English."

 

Paris’ wine tradition

Paris Guide, November 1997

Parisians turn Dionysian the first weekend in October with Montmartre's annual Grape Harvest Festival. This year's Vendanges à Montmartre will see its queen, film star Sophie Marceau, christening this year's brew "Cuvée Dalida," after a beloved Egyptian-born singer, who before her death 10 years ago lived in Montmartre. Along with wine tastings and a parade, the festival will feature the inauguration of place Dalida (where rue de l'Abreuvoir crosses rue Girardon) by the mayor of Paris, Jean Tiberi.

Until recently, much of Paris was a collection of villages, fragments of which can still be detected by the sharp observer. Needless to say, their wine-loving inhabitants covered a substantial portion of their territory with vineyards…to everyone's joy.

Montmartre

According to legend, the area around Montmartre was in all likelihood the home of the most expert connoisseur of them all, the very god of wine, Dionysus. Since the dawn of time, the 18th arrondissement has been a place of pilgrimage. Hilltops and summits had always aroused the imaginations of people, who believed them to be the abode of divinities. The ancient Celts are believed to have attributed mystical powers to the hill of Montmartre and to have erected ritual megaliths on the sacred hill, under the guidance of the Druids.

This was also a place of worship for the Romans, who built temples here for the gods Mars, Mercury and perhaps Jupiter. But above all, it was the martyrdom of a Christian, Saint Denis, that put Montmartre on the map as a sacred place of pilgrimage (martyrium was a cemetery for persecuted Christians, hence Montmartre and rue des Martyrs).

Montmartre's artists' community in the '30s remembered the gods and the wine. Off to the left of rue Norvins is the rue des Saules, named after the willow trees that once grew on this watery spot. On the right is Montmartre's vineyard, a neat, bright-green patch cheerfully tilted downhill towards rue St-Vincent, but against all logic, exposed to the north! This is because it was planted in 1934 by Montmartre's merry yet incompetent intelligentsia to revive old traditions.

Their knowledge of wine growing was limited indeed, and unaware that grapes need four years before they can be pressed for wine, they went on to organize the first grape-picking ceremony the following year. […] The President of the Republic, Albert Lebrun, and the Minister of Agriculture, Henri Quenille, who were offered the first two bunches of grapes. The grape-picking ceremony has been repeated every October since, except during World War II. The wine is pressed in the cellar of the mairie and sold at auction in April. The labels of the bottles are painted by local artists and the money raised is used for charity, a tradition initiated by the artist Poulbot for the children of the hill immortalized in his paintings.

The Golden Drop

Another area in Paris' 18th arrondissement, the village of La Goutte d'Or, became renowned more than any other for the quality of its wine.

In the middle of this North African enclave, behind an iron gate at no. 42, is la Villa Poissonière, an incongruous countrified alleyway decked with the same romantic street lamps as those that decorate la Butte Montmartre. It seems to have been placed here by mistake. On either side stand charming old houses, some attractively embellished by ceramics, each with its exquisite, pocket-size garden filled with the twittering of birds.

The site is believed to have been the property of a wine-grower when this was open countryside, ideally situated on a sunny slope rolling gently to the south. Indeed, in the Middle Ages, the wine of La Goutte d'Or had attained such renown that during a European contest at the time of Saint Louis it shared third prize with the wines of Alicante and Laconia. The first prize went to Cyprus, the "Pope" of wines, and the second prize went to Malaga, the "Cardinal" of wines. The wine of La Goutte d'Or was crowned the "King" of wines, which also tells us something about the position of the royal authorities in the hierarchy of medieval Europe and their struggle to gain independence from Rome. It was customary at the time for the city of Paris to present the King with wine from La Goutte d'Or on his birthday.

Clos des Morillons

The vineyard of the Clos des Morillons in the Parc Georges Brassens in the 15th arrondissement is not quite so famous, but, here too, vendanges take place in September. Some 600-700 kilos of grapes are picked each year, accompanied by folk dancing and music as the harvest is loaded onto a brightly decked cart. The following summer, several hundreds of bottles of Clos des Morillons Pinot Noir – a fine vintage, according to connoisseurs – are sold for 50-60F each at 38, rue des Morillons. The proceeds go to charity.

The vineyard, with its 700 vines, was planted only in 1985, when the park was laid out. It was meant to rekindle old traditions, for before the Revolution, the vineyards of these sunny, southern slopes were the pride of the village of Vaugirard. Mention of its export to England dates back to 1453. An even earlier document, now kept at the National Archives, goes back to July 1230. This is a sales deed written on parchment, confirming that Milon Bergen and his wife Agnès sold one acre of vineyard to Etienne Poirier for the sum of 15F minted in Paris, paid in cash.

In 1717 as many as 27 of the 95 houses of Vaugirard were taverns, which meant they served wine. Parisians would come here on Sundays and holidays, especially after 1786, when the oppressive toll walls were built around Paris (in this arrondissement, on the site of the Vaugirard, Pasteur, Garibaldi and Grenelle boulevards). Beyond the walls, wine escaped taxation and entertainment was cheap. Louis-Sébastien Mercier recorded that "one drinks wine, one eats strawberries and peas. One dances to the sound of fiddles, musettes, and oboes." However, the prosperity did not last long; the profit-seeking wine growers of Vaugirard replaced their vines with a new stock that yielded much more wine, but of poorer quality. The demanding consumers would have none of it and by 1810 there were no vineyards left in Vaugirard.

Working-class Paris had to contend with cheap sour wine, known as "guinguet," that they drank on weekends in open-air taverns that were situated just outside the city toll gates and therefore sold their wine untaxed. The taverns came to be known as "guingettes." Today the Métro line Charles de Gaulle/Étoile-Nation follows the exact line of the toll walls of Paris, which were demolished by Haussmann in 1860. On much of the route the trains run on elevated rail tracks, which enables riders to visualize where the city boundaries lay until quite recently.

Lower-class Paris could not afford to be fussy about the quality of the wine it absorbed, but it surely absorbed a lot. On the eve of the French Revolution, there were 7,000 establishments in the capital selling cheap wine (five times the number of bakeries!) and Parisians drank a yearly average of 200 pints each. Under such circumstances, the savage brutality of the mob during the chaotic days of the Revolution is not surprising.

With so much wine flowing about, the banks of the foul river attracted the most wretched riffraff, who weild away the hours in unsavory dives along the river, drowning their misery in cheap alcohol, engaging in brawls and crime. It was among the embryonic working class of Faubourg St-Antoine (now in the 11th and 12th arrondissements) and among the rabble of the future 13th ("more wicked, more inflammable and more disposed to mutiny than could be found anywhere else in Paris," according to Louis-Sébastien Mercier), that the French Revolution recruited its zealous hordes of angry followers. Restif de la Bretonne, a contemporary of Mercier, described how on the eve of July 14 the bandits from the faubourg St-Marcel passed by his house on their way to join those of faubourg St-Antoine: "Tout cela formait une tourbe formidable" ("All this formed a formidable mob"). And it was the "Patriotes" of the faubourg St-Marcel who were the first to arrive at the Palais des Tuileries on August 10, 1792, and demand the abdication of the King.

Rue des Vignoles

Many street names of Paris still commemorate its ancient vineyards, notably, the rue des Vignoles in eastern Paris, in the 20th arrondissement, the backbone of a small enclave of narrow streets and crumbling houses, which have retained the exact layout of the vineyards they have regrettably replaced. Today this stretch bears such poetic names as passage Dieu and impasses Rançon, Souhaits and Satan! This is the area of the one-time wine-growing village of Charonne, whose vineyards Jean-Jacques Rousseau liked to ramble through, as he reported in "Reverie d'un promeneur solitaire."

Rue des Vignes

The villages west of Paris also had vineyards which climbed up the sunny hillside of what is now the privileged 16th arrondissement, as witness rue des Vignes and rue Vineuse. Many of them belonged to the religious order of the Minimes, whose convent was located at the foot of the hill of Chaillot, by the Seine. Higher up on the slope was the women's convent of the Visitation, an order of ladies of quality, founded by Henrietta Maria of France, the daughter of Henry IV and the widow of Charles I of England. A double wall separated the two institutions in order to prevent unnecessary temptations. However, it seems virtuous conduct was not always strictly observed there; in 1800, a 300-meter tunnel was discovered under the section of the toll walls that ran there, through which brandy had been smuggled into the convent. Today a wine museum, located in what was once part of the domain of the Minimes, is worth a visit. Musée du Vin-Caveau des Echansons, noon to 4pm, 5, sq Charles Dickens, rue des Eaux, 16e, Mº Passy, tel: 01.45.25.43.26.

Hills of Auteuil

Vineyards also grew on the sunny hills of Auteuil (the southern part of the 16th arrondissement). Back in the Middle Ages, the wine of Auteuil had gained a reputation that spread beyond the borders of France. A Danish bishop by the name of Roschild thanked the canons of Notre Dame for the excellent quality wine from Auteuil they had sent him as a gift: "Vino optimo Altolil." At the time of Pierre Abélard, students came to Auteuil to drink its wine and ever January 22 – the holy day of Saint Vincent, patron of the vineyards – was celebrated here with much rejoicing. But later the wines of Passy and Chaillot began to compete with it, eventually bringing about its decline.

Fire brigade water

Last but not least, and unknown to most Parisians, is the tiny vineyard on Rue Blanche, in the very congested center of the city, just north of the Gare St-Lazare. It belongs to the "pompiers" of the fire station at no. 28! The vineyard has six vines in all, nurtured by the fire brigade since 1904. The firemen produce an average of 30 bottles of wine a year. On the second Friday of October the picking of grapes is celebrated with great pomp. The names on the bottles may sound promising –  Pinot Noir and Chasselas – but the wine itself is almost undrinkable, although the labels are highly sought after by collectors.

Fête des Vendanges à Montmartre, Oct 4:  Art Festival Inauguration, rue Azais, at noon; two parades, one leaving from pl Blanche, the other from the corner of rue des Martyrs and rue des Abbesses, at 2:30pm; official ceremonies, 3-5pm. Evening: Local restaurants feature wine tastings and "Vendanges" theme menus. Montmartre artists open their studios that weekend to the public. Information, Mairie du XVIIIème, 1, pl Jules Joffrin, tel: 01.42.52.42.00.

This article is adapted from Tirza Vallois' book, "Around and About Paris – the 13th-20th arrondissements," (Iliad Books). Two other volumes spotlight the 1st-7th and 8th-12th arrondissements. All are available at most Paris bookshops specializing in English-language publications.

 

Welcome Back to the Third Continent

Paris commentary, September 1997

This time only expats are welcome here. So, if you're a tourist, even a groovy one, désolé, bug off; go order a cappuccino in some overpriced sidewalk café and write kitschy postcards to jealous co-workers and doubting lovers. I want to talk to my people, the Great Anglo-Masochistic Zealot Cult (GAMZC) that keeps coming back for more perennial abuse and cultural belittling.

So, what was it like over there where they no longer understand you, where you no longer understand yourself? Impressive, huh? I, too, ducked into Manhattan for a fast week and am still trying to deny the pleasure of the experience. The island was clean, safe, filled with public art and plastered with aesthetically sophisticated cheap places to eat exotic international food while wearing shorts and sneakers. Merde, it was really fun! Nike town was up there with the Guggenheim and what a treat to find 42nd Street converted into an offshoot of the Magic Kingdom. As long as they pay their entrance fees, let them eat cake, n'est-ce pas?

The first day back in Paris I get three lettres recommandées, one a friendly reminder from my local huissier, another from the parking ticket division of the Trésor Public in Nantes, and a third from URSSAF, my "buds" in France. Communing with my environs, I take a little drive around the circle at Nation, only to be pulled over by the Dragnet of the Month squad, who have decided that it'd be creative and lucrative to check pollution emissions of poor Parisians' automobiles. Face it, the government is broke and the only quick idea they can come up with to replenish the coffers is to fine people. Remember, 60% of your money, time, effort and productivity in France goes to the State. Nevertheless, as voters, Parisians are predictable as all hell. If they voted right last time, it'll be left next time. If it was left before, it'll be right now. So, tant pis. As long as no one takes away the five weeks of paid vacation, it doesn't matter who's at the helm. Ah, to be the Parisians that we so loyally are!

Anyway, you're back, and it feels gooood. The way the bateaux mouches' lights stroke the buildings along the Left Bank, that's worth everything, well, almost. Plus, it was weird over there, at a place once called Home. It was great, but I couldn't live there, you reconfirm. Yeah, but I can barely live here, either; and you realize that much of our existence gets its life from being caught between two mind-sets, a virtual place I tend to call the Third Continent.

Let's go back to those first moments of reentry to the national alma mater.

Ironically, there is nothing quite like being back home to remind you how French you've really become. The foreignness hits just as soon as you touch down at JFK or Logan or O'Hare or LAX. For a rich country, it has some pretty dingy airport corridors, you notice. You get ushered past the over sized official portrait of the president, welcoming us into his home. My, how Clinton has aged, you think. He wasn't gray when I saw him last. Come to think of it, the job turns every American president gray in no time flat – except for Reagan, who took extended naps and swam endless laps in the White House pool. Gore, on the other hand, is looking pretty healthy, clean-cut and boned up with that pre-presidential groom. "Hi guys," I toss in their direction. Hell, I voted for them; they kinda owe me one, non? There are signs saying NO SMOKING and THIS IS A NO TOLERANCE DRUG ZONE. At the end of the corridor is a chunky African-American woman stuffed into uniform-gray trousers with black stripes sewn on the sides, a white button-down shirt with American flags on each shoulder, and a plastic airport identification tag chained around her neck. In a loud baritone voice she wails like a broken mantra, "Foreign nationals to your right; American citizens straight ahead." A man speaking Urdu or Gujarati asks her something.  "Foreign nationals to your right, sir," she repeats and he wanders away. The crowd splits and files into distinct lines in a hall with 50 immigration booths marked WAIT YOUR TURN BEHIND THE RED LINE. You think of the Paris counterpart, with a mob coagulating sloppily around six guichets: two are always closed, two are marked for EU passport holders, and everyone is lighting up in your face.

You wait your turn at the red line and then scurry ahead to be greeted by a US immigration official, who begins with "How long have you been out of the United States?" "Ten years,"  you utter. "Oh, a wise guy, huh?" Last time back, the inspector asked, "So, what do you do, David?" I know my first name appears on my passport and he's reading about my life in that ubiquitous government database on his screen, but I didn't remember we were on a first-name basis. His name tag only says Tadusky, so I can't return the friendliness. "I write books," I answer. Here, the first conversation in America can go one of two ways. Either the cult of personality kicks in and the guy wants to know the titles of the books so he can tell his wife guess who came through my line today, Judith Krantz, Colin Powell, Tiger Woods… Or, you get that mild anti-intellectual contempt. Once, upon returning from my junior year abroad in South America, I transited through Miami with two duffel bags filled with reference books and anthologies. The customs inspector peeked into the bag and quipped: "What are you, one of those brains?" Which is paramount to nerd. Few people arrive in Miami from South America with a hundred pounds of books.

I get my passport back and Tadusky grins and says, "Have a good one." Odd, how casual these Americans are, the Parisian in me silently observes. Have a good what? Day? Life? Dinner? All of the above? You usher yourself to the baggage claim area where a guy who speaks Laotian with a few American cognates pasted in speeds up the luggage cart machine with one hand and grabs your dollar bill with the other. Big porters in white shirts with more iron-on American flags politely offer their services while US agricultural inspectors with specially marked government beagles sniff your backpack and Louis Vuitton knock-off. I know an American Parisian who was fined $50 for being caught with an undeclared apple as he came off the Continental flight to Newark. Frankly, Newark could use more apples.

You pass through a zone of customs inspectors who determine whether you have something to declare, and then you hand in your customs declaration card at the exit. Foreign nationals, of course, have signed sworn statements that they have not committed crimes against humanity and are not entering the US with the intention of perpetrating acts of terrorism. Nor are they here to sell nuclear arms, promote dangerous ideas, or work. Not to mention carrying $5,000 or more in cash or convertible instruments. I always wondered what those instruments looked like. (I couldn't get more than ten bucks for my harmonica.)

Voilà, you're home. First thing you see is a stand marked Au Bon Pain, selling pain au chocolat and French bread. It's summertime and everyone is wearing baggy shorts and surreal sneakers and carrying huge drink containers with orange straws.  

Ah, les Etats-Unis!

In any case, now you're back in Paris and you can sentimentalize about your trip, as you ease into la rentrée and settle in to your hybrid place on the Third Continent.

 

Focus on Peter Lindbergh

Photo Feature, September 1997

He is Tina Turner's favorite photographer. Donna Karan calls him "part of the family" and super model Nadja Auermann asserts that "he always makes you feel like you're the most beautiful woman in the world." Ever since Peter Lindbergh took up fashion photography in the late1970s, he has had an immense impact not only on the genre, but on fashion itself.

He has worked for all the top magazines, from Vogue and Marie Claire to Harper's Bazaar and Interview. He has shot ad campaigns for a plethora of leading designers, such as Giorgio Armani, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Jil Sander, and is even credited with giving Linda Evangelista's career a second breath of life by persuading her to cut her hair.

Now, a retrospective of his career is being published in the form of a book. The 280-page "Images of Women" is quite simply stunning and reveals every ounce of Lindbergh's genius. According to Comme des Garçons designer Rei Kawakubo, "What is strong about Peter's work is the humanity inherent in his photographs. What you notice is not just the models and the clothes, but the strength of the people themselves."

Realistic, grainy, black and white images are generally what spring to mind when Lindbergh's name is mentioned. Yet, Lindbergh disputes the idea that he has a signature style – though he does admit that, in his photos, "the woman is always more important than the clothes." He generally chooses bleak locations, insists that hair and makeup be unfussy and that his subjects look extremely natural. "He is a stylist's nightmare," claims Tina Turner. "He likes natural and simple clothes, and when stylists bring along racks and racks of high fashion clothes, he always asks if they have brought a white shirt and jeans."

The only photo of Turner in the book is one of her legs. There is also a wonderful photo of Nastassia Kinski's torso, and there are celebrity shots of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, Antonio Banderas and Joaquin Cortes. However, most of the images are of the handful of models from whom his career is indissociable: Amber Valletta as a Marlene Dietrich look-alike, Naomi Campbell clowning around as a modern-day Josephine Baker, Linda Evangelista flying through the air in a grimy Manhattan street. There are also perhaps his most famous images, taken on the beaches of northern France and in industrial locations, such as factories.

Both settings recall his childhood in Germany's Ruhr valley. He was born in 1944  in what would become East Germany, but was brought up in the west, on his uncle's sheep farm overlooking the industrial and mining town of Duisburg. Family holidays were spent on the windswept beaches of Holland. He claims the did not know what photography was as a child, and he did not pick up a camera until the age of 27. Then, he slipped into the profession more or less by accident. "A photographer's assistant place came up through a friend," he remembers. "If there had been another job, I would have become something else."

Within a few years Lindbergh was Germany's highest paid advertising photographer, and in 1978 he was asked to do his first fashion photos. In the early '80s, the Comme des Garçons campaigns he shot placed him firmly at the top of his profession. If he is still there, it is due not only to his talent but also in large part to his commitment and personality. Indeed, Lindbergh seems to have little time for anything but work. He says he goes to the cinema only about twice a year. When asked if he does any sports, he replies: "No. Nothing. I don't do anything."

If he ever did decide to take time out, he would most surely be sorely missed by those in the fashion world. "There is nobody, and I mean nobody, who is better to work with than Peter," says Donna Karan. "He's warm, he's caring, he's funny. He really loves people and he really loves what he does."

On meeting him, what is most striking is that he seems completely devoid of ego problems – a quality not generally associated with the fashion world. "He's very zen and balanced," asserts Nadja Auermann. "He's never angry, never nervous. He never speaks to anybody in a bad tone, even in a difficult situation."

Things are also made easy by Lindbergh's famous adaptability. For last year's Donna Karan shoot with Demi Moore and Bruce Willis, he had to work in three different locations – an airplane hangar in Los Angeles, the set of "G.I. Jane" in Florida and the Willis' garage in Idaho – on consecutive days. When Italian Vogue decided it could not afford to pay for a set-up he wanted to do involving a love story between a model and an extraterrestrial, Lindbergh put up the £5,000 to create the Martian suit himself.

The resulting pictures are Lindbergh's favorites, and he plans to include them in a book of his 10 best stories. As for his best pictures, however, he feels that they are still ahead of him. "I have no idea how they are going to look or however they are going to be," he says, "but you always feel that everything could be better." Looking at "Images of Women," you wonder just how!

 

We only have his salary and too many bills

Q&A Closeups

Q:  Our family recently returned from a very nice but costly vacation in Italy. Although I am grateful to my husband for giving us this opportunity, the trip was one more example of what I consider his constant overspending of our resources. Our children are young, and I can't work here, so we have only his salary and bills, bills, bills! Putting money aside for our kids' education, a down payment on a home, extra retirement income – to say nothing of possible unemployment one day – all that is a foreign language to him. He just laughs off my concerns as being premature or fuddy-duddy, and says we have plenty of time to worry about all that later. I toss and turn nightly with frustration and worry, wondering how to get him to face reality and get down to some serious financial planning.

A:  It sounds as though this is a bona fide "ant and grasshopper" situation, with you and your husband polarized around equally rigid attitudes about money. Generally such attitudes run very deep and often have to do with your family of origin. If your grandparents, say, were immigrants or suffered severely during the Depression, you could be living out a transgenerational anxiety, even though the circumstances are different. With the same background, your husband could be determined NOT to live with that kind of constriction and be throwing off this doom and gloom scenario now that he is master of his own funds. So one thing you could do is try to delve more deeply into your respective positions – without getting into a "You're a spendthrift!" "No, you're a miser" type of dynamic – to see if some greater mutual understanding will emerge.

Another way to try to break the impasse might be for you to try on his role for a few days. Start talking about your next trip, buying some antique furniture, or simply upping the ante on whatever new ideas for spending he introduces. He is probably programmed to hearing you put the kibosh on his projects, so it could be interesting to see whether he puts on his own brakes if he thinks you are off and running for a change.

Finally, ask calm, open-ended questions about his answers to some of your concerns. For example, the next time he shrugs off your worries about college tuition, avoid your usual rejoinder – especially if it is a put-down – and, following his line of reasoning, just ask questions. The point is to see how far he can continue to justify his position, and what, exactly, is behind that position – the hope of an inheritance, the idea that you will eventually get a job, a stellar career path – or nothing! If you do this skillfully, both of you will get more information than if you systematically cut off such a process by simply countering his position with a conflicting viewpoint.

Jill Bourdais is a psychotherapist practicing in Paris both privately and in a hospital setting. A specialist in couple/family problems, she also teaches PAIRS, a skills-building course in intimate relationships.  

Conversation with Henri Cartier-Bresson

Photo Feature, July 1997

Legendary photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson doesn't like giving interviews. In fact, he doesn't give them as such. If he does agree to meet you, it is on the condition that you don't tape the conversation, you don't make notes and you don't even fire questions at him. "I prefer to have conversations," he tells me. "Doing an interview is like being in front of a magistrate."

He doesn't like being photographed, either. Throughout his career, he has closely guarded his anonymity and portraits of him are few and far between. A few years ago, he agreed to participate in a television documentary as long as his face was not shown. "But the only people we film from behind are prostitutes and gangsters," said the astounded director. "Well, prostitutes and photographers do both earn their living on the streets," replied Cartier-Bresson.

Furthermore, he doesn't want to talk about photography, even in connection with his retrospective at the Maison Européenne de la Photo. Cartier-Bresson insists that "for me, painting has always been most important. Photography is simply a sideline." He gave up photojournalism at the beginning of the '70s ("Because I had said everything that I had to say") and has since mostly devoted himself to drawing. "It is contemplation and meditation. It gives me an inner peace and it's not important whether people like it or not," he says, before adding, "but Balthus, for example, thinks it's good." While he does still take out his camera to shoot the odd portrait or snap a landscape, he agreed to meet me only if we steered clear of the subject of photography. He was willing to talk about his life, the Europe of his youth and life in general.

His own life has been the story of huge professional success (he is generally considered the greatest photojournalist ever) and a series of privileged meetings. He was born into a bourgeois family near Paris in 1908 and originally studied painting. By his early 20s, he was hanging out with the Surrealists, being invited to Marie-Louise Bousquet's famous salon and befriending the likes of Max Jacob and Marcel Duchamp. He was also taken to the home of Gertrude Stein, who took one disparaging look at his painting and advised him to go into his father's business.

Instead, he became a photographer in the 1930s after seeing a picture by Martin Muncaszi of three Africans running into the sea. "I was startled. I said to myself,‘My God, you can do that with a camera.'" After the war, he co-founded the Magnum photo agency. He was the first western photographer admitted into the Soviet Union after Stalin's death. He was also present at Gandhi's funeral, witnessed the first civil rights sit-ins in Alabama and spent two weeks following US Attorney General Bobby Kennedy around.

Entitled "Des Européens" (On Europeans), the current show is a selection of shots from over 40 years of travels around Europe, and it clearly demonstrates Cartier-Bresson's genius. His wonderful sense of geometry is brought to the fore in photos of lines, benches and trees. He depicts his human subjects with great compassion and truth. Most of them are working-class – a family on a houseboat on the Seine, a group of women cutting hair in the streets of Spain. He also manages to capture amusing visual coincidences. As you look at the photo of two ducks swimming past a couple floating on their backs in a lake, you can't help breaking into a smile.

We meet in one of the exhibition rooms during a preview for a few of his friends. Cartier-Bresson is dressed in a pale green V-neck sweater with a bright red cravat. He walks with the aid of a stick, but while his body may be frail, he remains remarkably vibrant. His face is kindly, but rather nondescript apart from the piercing blue eyes. The crown of his head is bald, his remaining hair white and he wears hearing aids in both ears.

Our "discussion" gets off to a tricky start. As I compliment him on the exhibition – the finest the Maison Européenne de la Photo has held since its inauguration in 1995 – he scowls and raises both hands in front of his face as though to stop me. "It's nothing, it's nothing," he insists, waving his hands dismissively at the photos on the wall. Yet, while ostensibly not wanting to talk about photography, he does actually say quite a lot about his views on the medium. He mentions that he has never cropped his images, that photography is simply a means of "instantaneous drawing" and that its main importance is that it allows for the expression of the subconscious.

He is equally unforthcoming about other subjects. When I ask how he came to be in India at the time of Gandhi's death, he abruptly replies: "By chance." Similarly, he says he has known so many famous people simply because "I am so old." He is, however, more willing to talk about his depressing views on modern society ("We were much better off in the 5th century B.C."), Christianity and Buddhism, and literature (he is rereading Proust "for the last time … perhaps").

Indeed, when you get him out of the defensive mood photography seems to provoke, Cartier-Bresson is extremely likable. He displays great curiosity and intelligence, and there is a profound warmth between him and his friends. He also remains extremely down-to-earth. One reason he lay down his camera in the '70s was to shun the power fame might have given him, and he seems decidedly skeptical about the importance of success. "As Cocteau once said, ‘There is nothing which goes out of fashion as quickly as fashion,'" he declares. Nevertheless, it may be some time before his own image slips out of style.