The French have perfected the word “civilization.” The origin is Latin, of course: “The word civilization comes from the Latin civilis, meaning civil, related to the Latin civis, meaning citizen, and civitas, meaning city or city-state” (Wikipedia) But the French have taken it to its height in meaning. Last week, we encountered several perfect examples:
We spread our blanket in the northwest quadrant of the lawns of the Place des Vosges, laid out the picnic goodies on plastic plates using plastic knifes and forks, opened the bottles of wine and did what picnickers do, with the inflatable screen in the background, a set-up of chairs for a privileged few, and waited for the film “Les Diaboliques” to begin at sundown.
It was one of nine films presented during “Cinéma au Clair de Lune” sponsored by the Forum des Images on inflatable screens in outdoor settings appropriate to the film itself. They are showing through August 12th if you are lucky enough to catch one or two. (See Cinéma au Clair de Lune for more information.)
Not long after, two couples carried over two bench-style car seats, set them down behind us, and in a comfortable reclining position, prepared themselves for the film while picnicking all the same.
Very civilized indeed, but all of us were then outdone in spades. Just to one side of us, a group of about eight people set up a table, spread a white cloth, opened folding chairs, laid out dinnerware, silverware, wine and champagne glasses, placed bowls and casseroles of dishes, then uncorked their bottles and served it all ’round, in simply the most elegant of fashions. Now, that’s what I call “civilized.” I swear this is true.
If you haven’t seen this classic film with Simone Signoret from 1954, it’s about “the wife of a cruel headmaster and his mistress who conspire to kill him, but after the murder is committed, his body disappears, and strange events begin to plague the two women.” (Les Diaboliques) How civilized is that, in the typically French way!?
Having had a little too much rosé, I cracked-up laughing (no one else was) through the absurdity of the film and when they all get what they deserve (or don’t) reeled home to prepare for more of what the French consider civilized over the course of the weekend.
The second film we saw was set at the Trocadero, with the Eiffel Tower to our left and the Palais de Chaillot on our right. “The Perfect Furlough” with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh was a hilarious and preposterous story about how one of 104 sex-starved male soldiers building an Arctic radar base choose only one to have a “perfect furlough” as selected by the men: three weeks in…(yep, you guessed it) Paris with their favorite movie star, “Sandra Roca.” “Winner,” Paul Hodges (Tony Curtis), is a tireless Don Juan, particularly unstoppable with scenes of Paris as his backdrop.
The Eiffel Tower was ours as we watched the film, this time in the rain. Prepared with umbrellas (not for all of us), the movie-goers were not to be deterred, and neither were we. They opened them up and sat through the film without much concern. We headed home soaking wet, yet gleaming with civilized satisfaction.
At the southwestern corner of Le Jardin des Tuileries, Korean photographer Ahae’s body of work titled “Through My Window” is exhibited at the Bespoke Exhibition Pavilion (until August 26th). You don’t want to miss this one if you can help it. Henri Loyrette, President-Director of the Louvre, described the work this way: “There are times in our lives when serendipity accelerates events and the exceptional can occur. In September last year I sat next to the acclaimed designer Guy Oliver, who was the guest of a mutual friend, at a lunch in Malaysia. He told me about an artist who had created a grand experiment, taking one million photographs in two years. What is more remarkable than this unprecedented feat is that the photographs were taken, and continue to be taken, from a single window.”
What is particularly civilized, is while Ahae photographed the uncivilized flora and fauna outside his window, the French have presented it in a particularly civilized way, in large oval and rectangular spaces, in a way that transforms what he saw through his lens as larger-than-life and powerful in its infinite diversity. You will, no doubt, be impressed.
At the river’s edge is the “Plage” — the “Paris Plage.” If the Parisians can’t come to the beach, the beach can come to the Parisians. It’s a rather civilized idea, when you think about it, and the French have taken it to new heights. In spite of the rainy weather, die-hard Parisians (and visitors) have found a few moments to enjoy their time at the “the beach.”
On the sand, which was once the highway along the Seine, are lots of places to lounge, including oversized “transats” (deckchairs) fit for the likes of a Gulliver…or two normal people who just want to relax. The stretch of beach along the Seine shuts down August 19th, so don’t wait till it stops raining to have a lazy day there.
To top it all off, writer and instructor of “Writing from the Heart,” Janet Hulstrand, gave us some insight into her favorite region of France, Champagne, where wine produced in only this region has been civilized into something akin to royalty, having first gained world renown when associated with the French kings. No one doubts the civility of champagne, nor the beautiful region from which it comes, which also inspired artists such as Renoir.
Janet made the presentation to a group of networking-minded people at “Paris Soirées,” a very civilized event hosted by Patricia Laplante Collins for the past 15 or so years. The events take place most all Sunday nights, now held in a restaurant, where you can dine, network, make new friends and listen to a guest speaker. For more information and to be on the mailing list, email Patricia Laplante-Collins at [email protected].
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
(with Janet Hulstrand, Instructor of Writing from the Heart)
P.S. “Writing from the Heart” with Janet Hulstrand is a great way to relax in the same beautiful, inspiring village that nourished the creative genius of Pierre Auguste and Jean Renoir, among other artists; work on your writing (or begin to write for the first time) with others in a nonjudgmental, supportive, small-group workshop; enjoy fine French cuisine in a charming family-run hotel and explore a beautiful and relatively undiscovered part of France. The next session held in Essoyes, Champagne, will be October 23-29, 2012. Enrollment limited to 10. For additional information and to reserve your spot now, visit Parler Paris Conferences & Workshops