June 30, 2012

Paris is always a good idea!


Having just subscribed to Netflix for our  #frenchfilmchat on Twitter, I have also had the pleasure of revisiting the films of my favorite actress, Audrey Hepburn. Of course, I absolutely love Breakfast at Tiffany's and Roman Holiday, but I never realized how many of Audrey Hepburn's other movies were set (and filmed) in Paris - 9 to be exact!  Like Audrey, I love exploring Paris, though unfortunately, not swathed in Givenchy couture, sparkling in Cartier diamonds, or arm-in-arm with Carey Grant, Peter O'Toole, Fred Astaire, or Gary Cooper.

My first memory of Audrey in Paris was in Sabrina (1954). Sabrina Fairchild is the daughter of a chauffer catering to a wealthy New York family. Sabrina's unrequited love for David (William Holden), the younger of the Larrabee brothers, goes unnoticed until she returns from a two-years in Paris. The scenes depicting Sabrina's stay in Paris are clichéd, complete with romantic vistas and Piaf's La Vie en Rose, but none of the movie was actually filmed on location in Paris. Nonetheless, the film emphasizes the idea that Paris is transformative: "Paris isn't about changing planes; it's about changing your outlook!" Sabrina leaves Long Island the invisible daughter of the Larrabee driver and returns the object of not only David's affection, but of his frosty older brother, Linus (Humphrey Bogart), as well.  Who can forget Sabrina's/Audrey's affirmation that "Paris is always a good idea"?

My next visit to Paris with Audrey was in the 1957 film, Funny Face. This time, Audrey plays Jo Stockton, a Greenwich Village book shop clerk, whose beautiful yet intellectual look lands her a modeling job in Paris. Despite Jo's belief that modeling is "chichi and an unrealistic approach to self-impressions as well as economics," she accepts the offer to go to Paris to associate with her idol, Professor Flostre, founder of empathecialism (a funny, beatnik-era philosophy). Call me girly, but I love the make-over scenes and photo shoots, especially the scene in the Louvre with Audrey Hepburn juxtaposed against the Nike of Samothrace. I don't know which is more beautiful and graceful, the Winged Victory or Audrey, floating down the stairs in her red Givenchy gown! Don't you just love her dance moves, especially remixed to AC/DC's Back in Black for the 2007 Gap skinny black pants commercial? "Sometimes a girl wants to dance! It's nothing more than a form of expression, and I could certainly use a release!"

The next Audrey Hepburn film set in Paris was 1957's Love in the Afternoon, with Gary Cooper and Maurice Chevalier. Audrey plays Ariane, a young French cello student and daughter of detective Claude Chavasse.  Ariane becomes involved with an American libertine being investigated by her father for having an affair with a married woman. This is not my favorite Audrey Hepburn picture, but I did enjoy the charming Maurice Chevalier, the music including Charles Trenet's C'est Si Bon, and of course, the lovely scenes in Paris (the Ritz Hotel, the Palais Garner, the Château de Vitry)!

We return to Paris with Audrey and Cary Grant in 1962's Charade.  Audrey plays Regina Lampert, a recently widowed American in Paris. Reggie gets caught up in her husband's murder and an elaborate plot to find a "quarter of a million dollar treasure" (How much would that be worth today?!). She  is confused by her feelings for Peter/Alex/Adam/Brian (whatever his name is!), played by Cary Grant. Charade takes us on a fast-paced chase around Paris, including scenes along the Seine, in the gardens of the Champs-Elysées, on a bateau mouche, in the Métro, and in the Palais Royal.

The final Audrey in Paris film that I've seen is 1966's How to Steal a Million with Peter O'Toole. Audrey plays Nicole Bonnet, grand-daughter of a wealthy art collector/forger, forced to steal one of her grandfather's "masterpieces."  Again, my favorite aspects of this film are Audrey's wardrobe (M. Givenchy is even given a nod when Nicole is disguised in a scub woman's clothing: "Well for one thing, it gives Givenchy a night off!"), the cool 60's cars and fashions, and above all the scenes in the Paris streets, the Ritz Hotel, and the hotel particulier at 38, rue Parmentier, in Neuilly (16e arrondissement).

I have yet to see Paris When it Sizzles (1964), Two for the Road (1967), or Bloodline (1979), but they are definitely on my list. Audrey and Paris are always a good idea!
June 26, 2012

How does your garden grow?

Sea Foam Roses
Asiatic Lilies
Butterfly sipping from the Star Gazer Lilies
Shasta Daisies
Coral Bells

Sunny Day Lilies
White Bell Flowers
Big Blue Hosta Blossoms
Lovely Little Violas
The splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily
do not rob the violet of its scent
nor the daisy of its simple charm.
- St. Thérèse of Lisieux, "The Little Flower"

(all photos taken in my garden with iPhone)

June 10, 2012

Intouchables


Comme promis, j'ai vu Intouchables ce week-end. On a eu l'intention d'aller au cinéma hier soir, mais nos projets ont changé. Vendredi a été notre dernier jour à l'école avant les grandes vacances d'été et les élèves ont reçu leur diplômes. Normalement j'ai plusieurs invitations d'aller aux fêtes des nouveaux diplômés, mais cette année je n'en ai reçu qu'une seule.  Éric est un gentil garçon franco-américain. Né à Grenoble, il habite maintenant dans le Wisconsin.  Il a commencé ses études à Pewaukee il y six ans et a suivi tous mes cours de français.  On a été très touché quand sa famille nous a invités à sa célébration.  C'était une fête géniale avec du champagne et un beau repas français.  La maman à Éric est une excellente cuisinière! La plupart des invités ont parlé français donc je me suis régalée. Je me suis presque sentie comme si j'étais en France. En tout cas, on n'est pas allé au film comme prévu, mais Anne, notre hôtesse m'a prêté sa copie du film sur DVD.  C'est même meilleur qu'au ciné car c'est la version originale sans sous-titres.

Inspiré des faits réels, Intouchables c'est l'histoire de Philippe (joué par François Cluzet), un homme très riche, rendu tétraplégique à la suite d'un accident de parapente.  Il cherche un auxiliaire de vie qui pourrait lui aider avec tous ces besoins personnels. Driss (Omar Sy), un jeune homme sénégalais qui vient de sortir du prison, se présente comme candidat. Driss n'a pas d'expérience, mais Philippe aiment bien que Driss n'a aucun pitié pour lui. Au premier coup d'oeil, ils n'ont rien en commun. Philippe habite un hôtel particulier à Paris; Driss habite avec sa famille élargie en HLM à la banlieue. Philippe aiment bien l'opéra, et la musique classique; Driss préfère la musique d'Earth, Wind, & Fire et de Kool et le Gang....Malgré leurs vies tout-à-fait différentes, ils se développent une vraie amitié: "Les deux univers vont se télescoper, s'apprivoiser, pour donner naissance à une amitié aussi dingue, drôle, et forte qu'inattendue qui les rendra Intouchables." (allocine.fr)

Quand le film est sorti l'année dernière, il y avait des gens qui l'ont critiqué comme raciste.  Mais malgré ces opinions, Intouchables a eu un grand succès en France.  C'est un des films les plus populaires au box office français (le troisième après Titanic et Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis).  Omar Sy a gagné le prix César pour le meilleur acteur (au lieu de Jean Dujardin - The Artist). Moi, j'ai bien aimé le film. Je ne l'ai pas vu comme raciste ni insensible aux handicapés, surtout car c'est inspiré de l'amitié entre Philippe Pozzo di Borgo et de son aide de domicile, Abdell Yasmin Sellou. Leur amitié m'a fait rappeler de deux de mes anciens élèves, Corbin et Becca. Ils passent beaucoup de temps ensembles (aux cafés, au ciné, etc.). Corbin souffre de dystrophie musculaire, mais il accepte ses limitations avec du courage et un bon sens d'humeur. Becca s'occupe des besoins de Corbin avec une vraie affection, sans lui faire pitié. J'espère qu'ils iront voir ce film (Becca parle bien français et Corbin est francophile).  C'est un film drôle et touchant.

*

July 27, 2012:

Earlier this summer, I had the pleasure of seeing Intouchables, the story of a quadriplegic aristocrat who hires a young ex-con as his live-in caretaker. In my review of the film, I mentioned how the friendship between Philippe and Driss reminds me of two of my former students, Corbin and Becca. Best friends since middle school, they have not allowed Corbin's limitations to challenge their relationship. I encouraged them to see the film, knowing that they would both enjoy it.  Becca took French in Pewaukee for six years. She continued studying the language at the University of Wisconsin despite the rigorous requirements of her engineering major. Corbin chose to study Spanish in high school, but has become enamored with French culture. Since graduating from Pewaukee High School in 2009, Becca and Corbin have often invited me to meet for coffee or a drink. Afflicted with Duchenne muscular distrophy, Corbin chronicles his disability with eloquence and humor in his blog, Short Stories from the Short Bus. In his most recent post, he critiques Intouchables through the eyes of a disabled man. He also reflects on his high school world language experience and his appreciation for French cultural contributions. I am honored to feature Corbin's post on my blog: http://shortbusstories.tumblr.com/post/28070691767/the-intouchables

June 06, 2012

Remembering D-Day

A Comrade in Arms Known But to God
Today is June 6th, a day to remember the sacrifices of the courageous American, Canadian, and British patriots who fought so bravely on that fateful day 68 years ago. I have visited Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer three times. The first time was when I was a student in France in 1994. It was the 50th Anniversary of Operation Overlord, the D-Day maneuver that landed the Allies on the beaches of Normandy on that fateful morning in 1944. Most recently, I visited this sacred American soil on the coast of the French province of Normandy with my students last spring. It is at once a sobering and patriotic experience. The visit always begins at the WWII Memorial with its poignant message in French: "1941-1945: Les États-Unis d'Amérique, fiers des exploits de leurs fils, humbles devant leurs sacrifices, ont erigé ce monument en leur mémoire." - "The United States of America, proud of the actions of their sons, humbled by their sacrifices, have erected this monument in their memory." In the center of the colonnade is the bronze colossus, surrounded by the lyrics of The Battle Hymn of the Republic: "As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free...."  It always brings a tear to my eye, as do the Stars and Stripes flying proudly over the graves of nearly 10,000 American soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen buried beneath white marble crosses and Stars of David. My students were challenged to wander amid the markers, to find one that "spoke to them": maybe it was a soldier from Wisconsin or a sailor with the same last name. So may students were touched by the markers stating, "Here Rests a Comrade in Arms, Known But to God." I always make the treck down to the shores of Omaha Beach where the sand and sea are both beautiful and haunting. From that vantage point, no matter how graphic the movies have attempted to portray it, it is so difficult to image how those brave men were able to put their fears aside, to charge up the cliff and fight for freedom - freedom for their own countries, as well as freedom for France.  So many visiters, myself included, have taken time to write "thank yous" and "mercis" in the sand.  Maybe it's because I'm the daughter of a WWII veteran, or maybe it's because I love my country and I love France, but I always pause on June 6th to remember and give thanks.

The WWII Memorial above Omaha Beach, Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy
The Bronze Collossus
Omaha Beach 2011

June 04, 2012

A Bug's Life

iPhoto taken with Instagram in North Lake, WI - June 3, 2012

Yesterday, I was walking in the tiny town of North Lake when I spotted these lovely pale pink rose bushes.  I leaned in for a closer look and a whiff of their fragrance when I noticed this tiny bright green bug who was also enjoying the roses.  This image reminds me of a charming French quotation:

« L’amour a son instinct; il sait trouver le chemin du Cœur comme le plus faible insecte qui marche 
à sa fleur avec une irrésistible volonté qui ne s’épouvante de rien. »  – Honoré de Balzac

"Love has it's own instinct, finding the way to the heart, as the feeble insect finds the way to its flower, with a will which nothing can dismay nor turn aside." - Such a lovely sentiment!

June 02, 2012

Un pas de deux avec Repetto


Like most women, I'm addicted to shoes! Since I'm only 5'0" tall, I almost always wear heels. Yet once and a while, I feel like being more grounded. When I'm not perched precariously on pumps or wedges, my go-to flats are ballerinas.  Ballet-inspired slippers have existed since at least the 16th century. In medieval times, ballet flats were popular with both men and women.  Heels became popular at the court of Versailles, but quickly went out of fashion when Marie Antoinette wore them as she walked to the guillotine. In her book, The One Hundred: A Guide to the Pieces Every Stylish Woman Should Own, Nina Garcia, Marie Claire editor and Project Runway judge, ranks ballet flats as #5! She affirms that they are chic and timeless, simple and elegant.  

Although ballet flats are available in nearly every clothing and department store, my favorite ballerinas are the incomparable Repettos. Before she became an iconic film and fashion star, Brigitte Bardot was a trained ballerina. She always purchased her point shoes in a small shop at 22 rue de la Paix in Paris, just blocks from the Garnier Opera House, home of the Paris Ballet. When she was chosen to star in Roger Vadim's 1956 film, Et Dieu Créa la Femme, Bardot asked Rose Repetto to create a pair of ballet flats for her to wear in the film. She desired a slipper "qui dévoile la naissance des orteils" (to reveal her toe cleavage!). After ballet flats were worn by Bardot in And God Created Woman and by Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face (1957), ballerines became de rigeur.

I love the whole Repetto experience and I make it a regular stop on my strolls through Paris. The lovely little shop on the rue de la Paix is a treasure reminiscent of my little girl's jewelry box with its tiny pirouetting ballerina. The shop window, lined with theatre lights, is always beautifully adorn with delicate tutus or piles of pink toe shoes. As soon as I step inside, I feel the music and almost wish I'd continued the ballet lessons I began as a child. But then, I as I mentioned, at a diminutive 5'0", my dream of being a ballerina would never have been realized. Still, I revel at the blush-colored tulle and the satin bodices of the tutus hanging near an entire wall of cubby holes filled with every size of pale pink point shoes. Sometimes I am lucky enough to see ballet dancers or little girls trying on new shoes or costumes.

Under the crystal chandeliers on low round tables are the shoes that every woman can wear. Each shade of Repetto ballet flats is displayed in circles of complimentary hues. I'm always tempted to choose a different color. I've considered the pale pink that might make me feel just a bit like those lovely ballerinas...but then I worry that they'd be too delicate to wear on the dusty Paris cobblestones. What about red? I love what red accents add to a neutral outfit. I'm partial to navy and gray, yet despite numerous visits and hours of browsing, I always seem to choose classic black.

Everything about a new pair of Repettos is enchanting, starting with the beautiful black box, lined in wispy pink tissue. What is it about the combination of pink and black that feels so French? Inside the cover is the story of Rose Repetto's lovely shop and shoes. The final lines are a promise: "Vous venez d'acquérir une paire de Repetto, objet de tous les soins, garante de souplesse et de confort. Un pas de deux avec Repetto pour une promesse unique de grâce et de légèreté." ("You've come to acquire a pair of Repettos, object of all cares, guarantee of suppleness and comfort. A "pas de deux" dance with Repetto for a unique promise of grace and lightness." Repettos are indeed weightless. The lambskin leather is so soft, and the grosgrain ribbon trim and tiny bow allows the wearer to customize the fit for optimal comfort. Logically, I know that when I'm wearing my Repettos, I'm less than statuesque. Yet, I stand a bit taller and walk a bit lighter, channeling my inner ballerina.


On a practical note, if you decide to invest in a pair of Repetto ballet flats, purchase a size larger than your regular shoe size. The do run a bit small. You can buy Repettos at Saks Fifth Avenue and even online, but if you ever have the opportunity to visit this magical shop at 22 rue de la Paix, Paris 75002, enjoy the enchanting experience!