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BEAUTY, TOO: Ma Vie de Femme Française

As many followers appreciated the previous post, What Beauty Feels Like (aka “Beauty”), I’m replicating its format and probing the subject of beauty, further. Simultaneously, this provides the chance to reveal selected sentiments from the 10 year period and beyond in which I shared my life on two sides of the Atlantic. Observers surmised that living in two disparate worlds, as a dual citizen –America and France- had extraordinary highlights and challenges. Precise! Here, in “Beauty, Too:  Ma Vie de Femme Française,” I illuminate certain personally transformative experiences and the fervent emotions that accompanied them.

Think back, scroll back and contemplate the affirmation confirmed in “Beauty:” Beauty is a consequence of emotion and, indeed, dangerously involving. It was, therefore, concluded to be a feeling of intrigue, captivation, longing, entrancement, euphoria or exhilaration. It’s bewitching, astonishing, gleeful and uncontrollable. Let’s delve deeper.  Here’s more testimony:

  • An afternoon in Le Jardin de Claude Monet à Giverny allowed full appreciation of the life and works of Impressionist Claude Monet. Precious nymphaeas (water lilies), wisteria, willows, bamboo, daisies, poppies, hollyhocks, climbing roses, and flowering fruit trees are planted in abundance and in such a visionary approach that it led the mastery exhibited in more than 250 oil paintings by Monet. At Giverny, each of the five senses was invoked as I:  Smelled the divine floral fusion; saw the kaleidoscopic presentation of flowers in divergent, yet, still complimentary gardens; heard the murmur of the streaming brook, just under the Japanese Bridge; touched the delicate and graceful petals; and imagined the taste of the haute cuisine once prepared by Gastonomist Monet, according to the recipes still preserved in the Giverny house kitchen.  The renowned Auberge Ravoux is just nearby in Auvers-sur-Oise.  A must-experience visit, along the route. As hours passed by throughout this afternoon, with heavenly delight, I simply fell in love!

  • Count Moise de Camondo, of wealthy Turkish and Jewish heritage, bequeathed his Parisian Parc Monceau residence to Musée des Artes Decoratifs, in honor of his father, Nissim de Camondo and his WWII, heroic son, of the same name. A tour of the 18th Century artistic residence became a moving experience while absorbing the intimacy of the Camondo way of life and the tragedies that befell this family of means.  Each room, embellished with antiques, rare vases and artistic objects, Aubussan tapestries, paintings and sculptures, reflected exceptional refinement. Venus and Cupid, inseparable in white marble, invited the guests to ascend the grandiose staircase to the Great Drawing Room where Jean-Antoines Houdon’s most famous bust, “Winter” gazed intently out from the mantle.  This concurrence of history and tragedy with exquisite art, passion and generosity yielded a poignant tale.

  • I felt at home in Musée d’Orsay, amongst the masterpieces of Monet, Degas, Van Gogh, Renior, Gaugin, Pissarro and Cezanne.  But, then again, I felt the same familiarity in L’Orangerie where the eight Monet wall murals of Giverny’s Nympheas are exposed throughout the day to natural light in dedicated oval galleries- it was mesmerizing.  Musée Jacquemart Andre was a most recent revelation, thanks to van de Velde matriarch, Perrine, where I marveled at the uniqueness of its contents and organization of 18th century paintings, furniture, sculptures and decorations in Louis XV and Louis XVI period rooms. Oh my, what about Les Musées Picasso, Marmottan Monet, Rodin, and Musée de la Vie Romantique…? I was, again, spellbound.

  • You just have to see it!  LVMH’s Louis Vuitton Foundation building, in the midst of Le Jardin D’Acclimatation in Le Bois de Boulogne.  The stage was set for the conspicuous ingenuity and imagination apparent in the museum’s architectural design.  Motivated by the curved glass structure of Le Grand Palais des Champs-Elysees, Pritzer Laureate Frank Gehry had dreamt of designing in Paris, “a magnificent vessel symbolizing the cultural calling of France.” He did it at a cost of $900 million, using precise glazing techniques to shape the glass and absolute fluidity in its design.  Like in a catamaran with inflated sails, I captured the sensation of sailing away. 

  • What do Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, James Baldwin, Simone de Beauvoir, Julia Child and Richard Wright have in common? In two, Saint-Germain de Prés coffee houses, Café de Flore and Café les Deux Magots, these literary geniuses, artists and philosophers deliberated and contemplated the world. "Cafes are for people who want to be alone but need company for it."  So said, biographer and historian Noel Riley Fitch. Thus, one can sit in either one of these Left-Bank literary places with an espresso and croissant, daydreaming, watching the passersby and, just being. You might even catch sight of Brigitte Bardot or Sophia Coppola!  

  • Speaking of Saint-Germain des Prés- that’s my absolute favorite Parisian neighborhood! Languid promenades take me through the beatific Luxembourg Jardins; haute couture shops along Boulevards Saint-Germain, Raspail and Rue de Bac; Maubert  Mutualite Market; past the Left Bank of the Seine and the Odéon-Theatre de l’ Europe; and, into the Musée Eugene Delacroix, Academies des Beaux Artes, and Musée Rhodin. There’s nothing like feeling leisurely. 

  • What a magnificent ride we had- Grégoire, Philippe, Frank, Noriko, Jennifer, Terry and Aiko!  Collectively, how many times were the oceans crossed? Our vehicle, Automotive Strategy, Corporation, took us across numerous countries and three continents, conducting international automotive benchmarking studies. GM, Ford, Chrysler, Fiat, Daimler (Mercedes Benz), BMW, Peugeot, Renault, Toyota, Nissan, Volvo… And, we explored the world along the way.  Definitively, it was enlightening for us all and I, for one, adopted a new and open-minded way of life as we followed unfamiliar paths through France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, England, and more.  We delivered!

  • That feeling of anticipation- it’s like, I just can’t wait! It describes the chance to be with good friends, whether catching up while enjoying the rituals of ordering tea and luscious macaroons at the Champs-Élysées’ La Duree; sharing a lunch at Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore’s Mariage Frères over exquisite tea from somewhere in the world; or, savoring a fabulous Bordeaux, accenting a meal, at Willie’s Wine Bar. Conversely, the prospect of spending a few quiet days with friends in Fontainebleau puts me in continually great spirits, while doing everyday things-shopping, cooking, conversing.

  • The decision to become a French citizen was a monumental step toward cementing my life as a "femme française". It was a treasured accomplishment, considering the preparation involved, yet, it did not diminish the pride in being an American citizen, first and foremost.   Immediately, I was completely self-satisfied, having achieved an extraordinary status-American-French, as an African American woman raised in Gary, Indiana. 

  • There were several places where we shared our lives, where significant memories originated and where the extended family convened: In Agnetz-Boulincourt (just North of Paris), my former husband, sons, and I experienced the daily life in a 200 year-old treasured farmhouse.  Right there, then mayor, Senateur Édouard Courtial surprisingly bestowed upon me the award of Honorary Citizen of Agnetz. In Paris, easy access to the “city of lights and romance” was provided by the apartment on Rue Corivsart. Next to Le Mans, the family home in Ponthibault, is where I spent my first, and several, French Christmases, being welcomed whole-heartedly as the new member of the van de Velde family.”  À côté de St. Tropez, we spent numerous occasions near the sea, grace à Cousines Carmen and Marie France van de Velde in the Ramatuelle “rainbow” villa, just down the hillside from, guess who? It was said, Tina Turner! In La Tour, in the Chamonix Valley, the kids became black diamond level skiers on Mont-Blanc, while I read voraciously and helped with the cuisine.  In so many ways, it was an idyllic period and life was blissful. 

  • Hedwidge Morris and Perrine van de Velde.  They are truly Parisian “Grande Dames”- elegant, prominent and wise. Through occasions with them, I’ve acquired much more cultivated perspectives and benefited from their keen perceptions, wisdom and experience. I grew.

  • French weddings have magical settings, stunning brides, radiant grooms and jubilant well-wishers.  From Chantilly and Fontainebleau Castles to Seine River cruises and Riviera views, I’ve been dazzled. Getting absorbed in the engaging matrimony process of town hall civil ceremonies, Cathedral religious services and, amazing soirées made me think I just might try it, again!

  • Paris is intoxicating.  Let me explain further with highlights of more exceptional experiences:  A ballet at the old opera, Palais Garnier.  Hot chocolate at Angelina’s, nearby the Louvre. A climb of 300 steps to the white-domed Basilica Sacre-Coeur for the most spectacular vantage point of Paris. A moment in front of the twinkling Eiffel Tower. Being witness to Musée des Artes Decoratif’s celebration of Christian LaCroix, as “designer of the moment.” Attendance at the spectacular, “Starmania,” the most famous French cyberpunk rock opera at Palais Congrès. A delightful afternoon above Maxim’s amongst Pierre Cardin’s Art Nouveau Collection of more than 550 objects from the Belle Epoque. The sensation of smelling the collection of 10,000 roses from around the world, with background chamber music emanating from the Parc Bagatelle Orangery.  A simple walk through the streets of Paris.  How I miss you!

Well, you’ve heard the widely accepted idiom that “all good things must come to an end?’ Rather, I believe life just cycles.   Something as simple as a chance meeting on a plane drastically changed the direction of my life, forever.  The beauty of it all is that ma vie de femme française has also been enlightening, amazing, intoxicating, idyllic, spellbinding, leisurely and self-satisfying.  I’ve grown and, at times, I’ve allowed myself to sail away. That’s Beauty, Too.

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