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French Kiss

There’s a whole lot of kissin’ goin’ on.

And Françoise Bornet doesn’t regret the kiss she gave Jacques Carteaud in front of the Hôtel de Ville in 1950, posing for Robert Doisneau’s camera. Much to her surprise, and everyone else’s, that kiss just won her (a record) 155,000 euros at an auction this past Monday.

Sunday, per synchronistic chance, I purchased the last copy on the shelf at the Bibliotèque Nationale bookstore of Doisneau photos with “Kiss at the Hôtel de Ville” on the cover. Little did I know we’d all be talking about it just the next day. You all know the image…it’s almost as famous as Mona Lisa’s smile, at least for us Francophiles.

It’s our dream to be kissed so passionately, isn’t it, by some beautiful man (or woman) right there in public in the heart of Paris? Isn’t that how dreams of life in France begin?…With a crisp baguette, a wool beret and a French kiss?

Doisneau was doing a photo spread for Life Magazine about lovers in Paris when he spotted the couple in a café and asked them to pose. Françoise came away with one print, never dreaming it would fund a business venture more than 50 years later.

A poster company purchased the rights and by 1992, 410,000 posters had been sold. Then, several couples stepped forward claiming to be the subjects of the photo, creating controversy over the image. Doisneau set the story straight and said in an interview at the time, “I would have never dared to photograph people like that. Lovers kissing in the street, those couples are rarely legitimate.”

Not to contradict Robert Doisneau, whose six decades of gleaning the instant moment, capturing the ‘ordinary gestures of ordinary people in ordinary situations’ have perpetuated our dreams of a romantic and fulfilled life, but he’s wrong. Lovers kissing in the street are MOSTLY legitimate. I see them all the time, and they’re not always so young, or so handsome.

In fact, public displays of affection are one of those cultural differences ABOVE the waterline that hides the rest of the cultural iceberg. It knows no age boundary, either. Kissing is for all to see in just about every place you care to look…the street, the Métro, the theater, the park…by teenagers, newlyweds, young parents and seniors…heterosexual couples and gay couples, alike.

There is also the everyday “bises” — which doesn’t involve the tongue or love, for that matter. Friends, family, and often colleagues “faire la bise” — men kissing women, women kissing women, men kissing men — cheek to cheek — always both cheeks, sometimes three and even four, depending on what part of France you’re from. Usually you start right-cheek-to-right-cheek, but it’s easy to get confused and you find yourself doing a little “cheek-to-cheek dance” with your partner. Nobody seems to care and shrugs off any little kissy mishap along the way.

I have no objections to such delightful affection. It reminds us that yes, thank goodness, there’s still a lot of lovin’ goin’ on…and that it’s really okay to be romantic…and certainly, not be afraid to show it!

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
[email protected]

P.S. Kiss your old life goodbye and say hello to Paris! Come to the Working and Living in France Conference just three weeks from now — May 20 – 22, 2005! Visit /frenchproperty/conference/WLIF_PARIS_2005/WLIF_PARIS_2005_home.html for more information and to register before it’s too late.

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