by Patricia Laplante-Collins
The French have perfected the word “civilization.” The origin is Latin, of course: “The word civilization comes from the Latin civilis, meaning civil, related to the Latin civis, meaning citizen, and civitas, meaning city or city-state” (Wikipedia) But the French have taken it to its height in meaning. We encountered several perfect examples:
We spread our blanket in the northwest quadrant of the lawns of the Place des Vosges, laid out the picnic goodies on plastic plates using plastic knifes and forks, opened the bottles of wine and did what picnickers do, with the inflatable screen in the background, a set-up of chairs for a privileged few, and waited for the film “Les Diaboliques” to begin at sundown. Not long after, two couples carried over two bench-style car seats, set them down behind us, and in a comfortable reclining position, prepared themselves for the film while picnicking all the same.
Frenchmen are civilized and elegant – always
Very civilized indeed, but all of us were then outdone in spades. Just to one side of us, a group of about eight people set up a table, spread a white cloth, opened folding chairs, laid out dinnerware, silverware, wine and champagne glasses, placed bowls and casseroles of dishes, then uncorked their bottles and served it all ‘round, in simply the most elegant of fashions. Now, that’s what I call “civilized.” I swear this is true.
If you haven’t seen this classic film with Simone Signoret from 1954, it’s about “the wife of a cruel headmaster and his mistress who conspire to kill him, but after the murder is committed, his body disappears, and strange events begin to plague the two women.” (Les Diaboliques) How civilized is that, in the typically French way!?
Having had a little too much rosé, I cracked-up laughing (no one else was) through the absurdity of the film and when they all get what they deserve (or don’t) reeled home to prepare for more of what the French consider civilized over the course of the weekend.
The second film we saw was set at the Trocadero, with the Eiffel Tower to our left and the Palais de Chaillot on our right. “The Perfect Furlough” with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh was a hilarious and preposterous story about how one of 104 sex-starved male soldiers building an Arctic radar base choose only one to have a “perfect furlough” as selected by the men: three weeks in…(yep, you guessed it) Paris with their favorite movie star, “Sandra Roca.” “Winner,” Paul Hodges (Tony Curtis), is a tireless Don Juan, particularly unstoppable with scenes of Paris as his backdrop.
The French are flexible
The Eiffel Tower was ours as we watched the film, this time in the rain. Prepared with umbrellas (not for all of us), the movie-goers were not to be deterred, and neither were we. They opened them up and sat through the film without much concern. We headed home soaking wet, yet gleaming with civilized satisfaction.
At the river’s edge is the “Plage”. If the Parisians can’t come to the beach, the beach can come to the Parisians. It’s a rather civilized idea, when you think about it, and the French have taken it to new heights. In spite of the rainy weather, die-hard Parisians (and visitors) have found a few moments to enjoy their time at the “the beach.”
Savoir vivre – this is France
On the sand, which was once the highway along the Seine, are lots of places to lounge, including oversized “transats” (deckchairs) fit for the likes of a Gulliver…or two normal people who just want to relax. The stretch of beach along the Seine shuts down August 19th, so don’t wait till it stops raining to have a lazy day there.
To top it all off, writer and instructor of “Writing from the Heart,” Janet Hulstrand, gave us some insight into her favorite region of France, Champagne, where wine produced in only this region has been civilized into something akin to royalty, having first gained world renown when associated with the French kings. No one doubts the civility of champagne, nor the beautiful region from which it comes, which also inspired artists such as Renoir.