Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The French Gift for Prosaics

The Diligent Mother by Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin (1699-1799)

Donna's comment on Pocket Money 3 prompts me to post some of the sources for my thinking about the French gift for prosaics--or the attention to detail in the caring of people in everyday life. Thank you, Donna! She notes that the postings on Pocket Money reminded her of the article on Anna Karenina and Prosaics--me too and it was a wonderful surprise! The great painter Jean-Baptiste Chardin picked up where Dutch painters had left off to celebrate domestic life. While the entire country was undergoing Enlightenment and the strains that led to the French Revolution 10 years after his death, Chardin was portraying mostly middle-class life in the kitchen, the scullery, the nursery, the home school room--the home--and also showing the loving schooling of children in piety.

Then later it was the French who broke out of the academy and began creating the great works of Impressionism by Eduard Manet, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, and others.

Two Sisters by Auguste Renoir. Looking pretty.

I have not pursued any serious research on French living styles, but read some books from my library: On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town by Susan Hermann Loomis; The Cats and the Water Bottles and Other Mysteries of French Village Life by David Bouchier; and the aforementioned French Toast: An American in Paris Celebrates the Maddening Mysteries of the French by Harriet Welty Rochefort. I found Joie de Vivre: Simple French Style for Everyday Living by Robert Arbor and Katherine Whiteside, which I liked the best and which describes the rhythms of French daily life around mealtimes (he is a French chef with a restaurant in New York City). And everyone knows about Mireille Guiliano and her French Women Don't Get Fat and French Women for All Seasons.

I have been watching French movies lately, both because I enjoy them and also because I want to try to understand the language. I get these films from Netflix, which has an extensive library of French films. I loved the films of Marcel Pagnol's autobiography: My Father's Glory and My Mother's Castle especially for their celebration of family life (despite the father's atheism). I found these charming--although I have yet to figure out exactly what I mean by this word. I also liked Les Destinees, which involves a manufacturer of Limoges china and as a bonus shows how they actually make it. It is also a family story. I am going to be watching more movies by Francois Truffaut for a while although I know they will not be like Pocket Money. I have been reading Truffaut on Truffaut (from the library) a book of fragments from interviews with this director about his movies and his unusual life. I am impressed with Truffaut's humanity. He says that the only reason to ever film children is because you love them.

The great filmaker Jean Renoir with his nanny Gabrielle Renard, as painted by Jean's father Auguste Renoir. Truffaut idolized Jean Renoir as a director and traveled to New York to meet him before the older man's death.


wendybirde said...

These are beautiful Linda : )

Anonymous said...

You're welcome. :-) Thank you for your site.

What you said in your first post on Pocket Money about how carefully the women dress reminds me of my sister's visit to Italy, where they must be of the same mind. Even at one tourist site with many steps the women were climbing in high heels and dressy clothing.

Besides learning something of the culture, watching foreign language movies with English subtitles must be a pleasant way to become acquainted with a new language.

A friend visited Quebec and loved the French food. Your posts and her enthusiasm make me want to learn more.


Anonymous said...

I just saw a recent post on a book you liked - Joie de Vivre:

A refreshing summer drink

You will want to try this! Make yourself a menthe à l'eau (pronounced roughly MON-ta-low). It means literally "mint water."

We found it in the book Joie de Vivre by Robert Arbor & Katherine Whiteside (a thoroughly delightful book, subtitled "Simple French Style for Everyday Living").

The version we serve here at the Presbytère Hollywood is bubbly. But this drink has neither the "high fructose corn syrup" that is ubiquitous in American soft drinks, nor the chemicals (such as sucralose or aspartame) used in diet drinks. No indeed, this has real, honest, all natural sugar.

The recipe is so simple it will blow you away:

Mix one part mint syrup (such as Torani, which can be bought at World Market or from your local coffee bar) with five parts sparkling mineral water (we use the 365 brand that comes from Whole Foods). Stir. Add ice. Obviously, adjust the ratio if the drink is too strong or too weak for your tastes.

That's it!

It's bubbly like a Coke, but has the clean, cool, exhilarating flavor of mint. Perfect for hot summer days.

There are other Torani flavors you can experiment with if you want the eau without the menthe (the cherry is actually pretty good). But I think nothing delivers refreshment and unbridled joie de vivre like a crisp, cold menthe à l'eau.

You may never want to drink commercial soft drinks again.


Harriet Welty Rochefort said...

Thanks so much, Linda, for mentioning my book "French Toast" on your interesting site about women and their work. I hope you and your readers will enjoy my latest book, "Joie de Vivre: Secrets of Wining, Dining, and Romancing LIke the French" that will be published by St. Martin's Press in October.