Yesterday was one of those crisp, sapphire-blue days that winter often offers to us here in Paris. I spent the afternoon at the Salon du Livre at the Mairie du 16ème. As you know, Paris is broken into 20 smaller towns (called arrondissements), each with their own city hall and local government. I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with 60+ French authors including the French translator of the Harry Potter series, Jean-François Ménard, which was an enlightening experience.
The French are a literary people. Reading and discussing are a part of their culture much like sports or cinema is a part of ours. I remember being taken aback when I first arrived in Paris by all the people reading on the metro or bus. The plethora of book shops dotting the streets was a warm reminder that I had entered a society of high-cultural, much like I felt as a young woman of 20 studying in Cambridge, Mass – something about that intellectual feel in the air, some unnamed sense of bookishness that enchanted me. I found it again here in Paris.
Even more than books, an intrinsic part of French culture is their wine, as we’ve discussed a great lengths on this blog. Last weekend, while I was in Angers, Paris hosted the Independent Wine Producers Salon. I always, save for this year, make a point of going to this event. It was one of the first dates my husband ever took me on, when he introduced me to the representatives of his family’s vineyard near Saint Emilion. I remember being a little overwhelmed sipping of a wine produced on the land of someone I knew, someone I’d just begun to date. That was the debut of my love for wine, more than love, really; admiration is a better word for how I feel about wine. I used to drink wine what my mom liked, or whatever someone else ordered at dinner. Since moving to France, you can hardly help not becoming an amateur connoisseur, especially living among the family I married into.
The Salon is great fun if you ever find yourself in Paris at the end of November. It is an expo of Independent Producers, which means those who do not belong to a winery group or enterprise, the traditional wine makers who, in many cases, have been producing their wine as a family for generations. You pay a small entrance fee and then you can taste, participer à une degustation, as many of the wines as you like. Remember to take a taxi or the metro, because it can get a little fuzzy if you don’t do as the pros and spit the wine out after tasting.
Last weekend also played host to the annual Bal des Débutantes in Paris. Last year, we saw Bruce Willis’ daughter Tallulah and Andy MacDowell’s youngest daughter parading in their haute couture gowns. This year, we had Sylvester Stallone’s daughter, Sophie, Rosanna Arquette’s daughter, Zoe, and Celine Bucken, the young actress from Spielberg’s film War Horses. For the last twenty years at the gilded venue of the Hotel Crillon, le Bal des débutantes has entertained a select group of daughters from the noble houses of Europe and Hollywood stars in a fashion we haven’t seen since the days of the 19th century’s Coming Out Balls. The young ladies learn how to make their entrance, dance and mingle with other young persons of note who this year included Brownen Carter, daughter of the editor in chief of Vanity Fair and Lily Rivikin, daughter of the current US Ambassador. The young ladies are escorted by handpicked young men of notable rank. It’s all very reminiscent of the Royal Presentation of British aristocrats’ daughters before Queen Elizabeth put a stop to the tradition in the 1960s. Interesting, it’s France, the one European monarchy that guillotined their King and Queen, that has kept up such a tradition. The organizer of the Ball, Ophélie Renouard, has recently announced she has plan to export her idea to Moscow and Beijing in the coming year.
So that’s a touch of Parisian life for the last two weeks. This past weekend ended for me with an afternoon tea (very British idea for France, really) to introduce the newest member of my French family, a baby boy named Joseph (two months today!).