Lessons from Madame Chic
I relax in the upholstered living room armchair. The smell of tobacco lingers in the air. The grand windows are open, allowing the warm Parisian night breeze to flow through the room, and the exquisite tapestry drapes end in an elegant puddle on the floor. Classical music plays on the vintage record player. The dishes are nearly cleared away but the last coffee cups still remain on the dining room table, along with a few crumbs of that day’s fresh baguette, so eagerly consumed earlier with a slice of Camembert cheese—the roi du fromage.
Monsieur Chic sits smoking his pipe in tranquil contemplation while nodding his head slowly to the music as though conducting the orchestra in his imagination. His son paces by the open window, holding a glass of port. Madame Chic walks in, removing the apron that so efficiently protected her A-line skirt and silk blouse. She smiles contentedly, and I help her remove the final coffee cups from the table. It has been another satisfying day in Paris—where life is lived beautifully, passionately.
In January 2001 I went to live with a French family in Paris as a foreign exchange student. I left the casual comforts of Los Angeles, boarded a plane with my fellow students from the University of Southern California (with two very large, overstuffed suitcases), and embarked on an adventure that would alter the course of my life in the most profound ways.
But, of course, I didn’t know that then. All I knew was that I was going to spend the next six months in Paris. Paris! The most romantic city in the world! I confess my excitement was clouded by some concerns. When I left California, I had only taken three semesters of French—my command of the language was clumsy at best. Also, six months is a long time to be away from one’s family and country. What if I got homesick? What would my French host family be like? Would I like them? Would they like me?
So a few nights after I landed in Paris, when I found myself sitting in the formal and austere dining room of Famille Chic, partaking in a five-course dinner, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows and precious antiques, I was already in love with my new, fascinating family. This family who was beautifully dressed, eating a well-cooked homemade meal (in courses!) on their best china on a Wednesday evening. This family who took tremendous enjoyment from the small pleasures in life and who appeared to have mastered the art of living well. This family with their nightly rituals and immaculate customs, built on tradition.
How could this simple California girl, who was so accustomed to flip-flops and barbecues, have found herself living amongst the Parisian aristocracy?
Yes, Famille Chic (the name I will use to preserve their anonymity) were of an aristocratic heritage. Their tradition of fine living had been passed down to them from their illustrious ancestors, and generations upon generations of Famille Chic had practiced their art.
And who was this enigmatic Madame Chic? She was a mother and a wife. She worked part-time and volunteered. She was very traditional in her style; she never wore jeans. She was a brunette with a no-nonsense Parisian bob. She had very strong opinions. She was kind and nurturing and she could be bold and blunt (as you will see). She was a woman who knew what was important in life, and her family was the most important thing of all. She was the head of this household that lived so well. She made all of those delectable meals. She managed the intricacies of everyday life. She steered the ship.
In the beginning of my stay I thought all French families lived like Famille Chic—in a traditional and ceremonious manner. Then I had the pleasure of getting to know Famille Bohemienne (another host family in my study abroad program). Their household was run by Madame Bohemienne, a single mother with curly hair, a rosy outlook on life, and warmth and charm that illuminated her wild dinner parties. In contrast to Famille
Chic, the Bohemiennes were casual, relaxed, boisterous, and well, bohemian! Yes, the two families lived their lives very differently, but both families lived passionate lives and lived them very well. It was my pleasure and privilege to observe them both.
This book originated on my blog, The Daily Connoisseur, when I did a series called The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris. I received so much interest from readers, I decided to elaborate on the lessons I learned from Famille Chic and Famille Bohemienne and record them in this book.
Each chapter presents a lesson I learned while living in Paris. Many of these lessons were learned directly from Madame Chic, whom I had the pleasure of observing in her own home and who so kindly took me under her wing. I learned some of the lessons from Madame Bohemienne. Some lessons I learned from the City of Light itself.
As a young college student, I had many ideas about what I’d learn while living in Paris, but I didn’t expect to learn so much about how to live life. How to really live it. How not just to exist, but to thrive. Ah, but I am getting ahead of myself . . .
Lessons from Madame Chic
• Boost the quality of the meals you do have to reduce the craving for snack foods.
• Make dining well a priority.
• Decorate your home for not snacking. Go for aesthetics first and comfort second. (After all, if you feel like lying down, you can always go to bed.)
• When you do snack, pick only high-quality foods. Never settle.
• Never eat while walking, driving, or standing. Avoid eating on the go at all costs.
• Allow yourself to feel a little bit of hunger to build up a healthy appetite.
• Stay hydrated throughout the day with water.
• Always consult your doctor before starting any new eating routine and work out what is best for you.
• Make preparing balanced meals a priority in your life and keep your pantry stocked.
• And remember: mindless snacking is so not chic!