Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Keeping Warm with "Cashmere"

I never thought I’d say this but the best way to keep warm this winter is Cashmere. Sure, I blame the fact that thanks to the writer’s strikes there is absolutely NOTHING to watch on American TV this season aside from Donald Trump’s celebrified combover, Elisabeth Hasselbeck trying to sound remotely intelligent and your favorite episode of syndicated “Friends” (for the 565th time you’ve seen it.) But ABC’s “Cashmere Mafia” isn’t that bad. It’s completely implausible, utterly ridiculous and filled with so much product placement sometimes it’s hard to see the characters’ faces behind their human-sized Gucci bags, but network television’s answer to the tragic end of “Sex & the City” also has quite a few redeeming qualities.
While I am a confessed “Gossip Girl” addict (yes, I admit it’s a guilty pleasure), at least in “Cashmere,” these are adults who SHOULD be having sex, drinking alcoholic beverages and using esoteric vocabulary. When 17 year-olds are doing such things, while the entertainment factor may be high, the morality factor is at an all-time low. Plus, these women can at least fill out a b-cup and the men they sleep with actually have jobs, mortgages and don’t live with their parents.
Here we have sex, the city … and a few other things like children and careers in between. These women are intelligent, career-driven, highly motivated individuals who have better things to do than chase penises all around Manhattan. They do that too of course, but it’s not a priority.
These “working women” actually work! While Samantha may have had plenty of office sex, Charlotte rolled in and out of various gallery openings and Carrie had a love affair with her ibook typing away late at night, most fans of the show cared less about what these women did for a living then WHO they did in their free time. Lucy Liu’s character Mia’s plotline focuses mostly on her inter-office relationships and struggle to prov that “successful female” and “superbitch” are not indeed synonyms. Frances O’Connor’s Zoe works late into the night at the office, often having to miss dinner or miss her children’s activities.
And let’s face it. Most of the women watching this show can’t afford their own Gucci bags or Jimmy Choo shoes (cough cough) so where’s the harm in watching them parade around the small screen once a week? At least the clothes look better on these actresses than on lanky supermodels who haven’t eaten a carbohydrate in 13 years (or who may have only been alive for 13 years.) On this show, love means never having to wear the same thing twice.

I must say the first episode tried way too hard, but any good show takes a while to get into. Part of the reason a show is successful is because viewers relate to the characters, get to know them, want to welcome them into their homes week after week. “Brothers & Sisters” is perhaps one of the best shows on television today (or actually not on television today but hopefully SOON – WGA gett your asses in gear please!) but it took at least 4-5 episodes to understand why the hell such an all-star cast agreed to participate in the program. Give it time. TV critics see the first couple of episodes (in addition to around 100 other shows they have to review) and give their verdict. Had I given mine after the first couple episodes, it would have been the same. “Cashmere Mafia” will not go down in the history of television, but it’s entertaining and features an escape from our daily lives to a world where women rule, wear hot, expensive clothing and are surrounded by good-looking men between the age of 30 and 45 … what’s not to like?

Quote of the week: “Can’t kick away the ladder once you’ve climbed to the top.” –From “Cashmere Mafia”

Quote of the week deux (because Oscar Wilde was just too cool): “The only thing that sustains one through life is the consciousness of the immense inferiority of everybody else, and this is a feeling that I have always cultivated.
- Oscar Wilde

Event of the week:

Les Révélations 2008 Photo Expo at Chaumet

In America, it’s all about who wins. In France, it’s “it’s not who wins, it’s how you play the game.” Or rather how you LOOK when you’re playing said game. Every year, a special committee of France’s prestigious Cesar awards Academy pre-selects 32 “young hopefuls,” new male and female talents who made their mark on the big screen in the past year. Later, five will be selected in each category, but before Feb. 22 rolls around and the official winner is announced, all 32 young stars and starlets get to enjoy the spotlight. This year, photographer Stéphane Sednaoui created a series of portraits of the young talents, on display at Paris’ luxe Chaumet boutique at the Place Vendôme. On Monday, the talents, their agents, casting directors and a select few journalists were invited to a cocktail in celebration of the photo expo followed by a lavish dinner at the Hotel Meurice. All of the young talents – well almost all, I noticed “99 Francs” star Jocelyn Quivrin was not in attendance – came out for the occasion. Actors Andy Gillet and Fu’ad Ait Aattou provided delicious eye-candy, and actress Clémence Poésy was stunning (though a bit too slim if you ask moi) in a flowy white Chanel top and black skirt. Thomas Dumerchez, whose performance in Gael Morel’s “Après Lui” kept me teary-eyed for days after the screening, was quite charming and if Nicolas Cazalé was just a wee bit taller, I’d probably be planning our Franco-American wedding right about now. “La Graine et le Mulet”’s Hafsia Herzi was darling – apparently the 450 awards both she and the film have received and will continue to receive this season haven’t gone to her head. The meal was pretty much the same menu I seem to find at every Cesar-related dinner: a foie gras appetizer followed by some sort of fish followed by a chocolate dessert. The Meurice room was beautiful, the food delicious and the service impressive (do they have special training days for the staff to teach them to never let more than .0004 seconds go by between the time a guest finishes his/her bread roll to the time the waiter appears with a new replacement roll, I wonder?)

Celebrity look-a-likes of the week:
Clay Aiken and Kenneth the Page from “30 Rock.”

They talk the same, look the same and both share a questionable sexuality yet to be confirmed.

Clémence Poésy and the Olsen Twins

I found the third Olsen – separated at birth, but sure to cross paths during fashion week in Paris, are Clemency Poesy and her equally blond, emaciated long-lost sisters across the Atlantic. They all cause a pitterpatter in the hearts of children across the globe and the Harry “Pot”ter/”Weeds” parallel is just too easy.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Paris is no longer burning.

Dear Paris law-makers,
THANK YOU for the new no-smoking law.
My lungs

Ok, stop there. Yes, right where you are. Breathe in. Deep breath, that’s right. Notice anything special? (Other than the fact that the French guy standing next to you probably hasn’t showered since 1985?) Yes, it’s finally happened. The eem-poss-ee-bull. Paris is SMOKE-FREE! As of January 2, it is illegal to smoke in public places and, more importantly, restaurants and cafés. No longer will I be forced to involuntarily eat a “steak à la fumée” while the girl next to me in a restaurant blows smoke into my face. Gone are the days of returning home from a night out with my hair and clothes smelling like an ashtray, my voice hoarse and my eyes burning with smoke-induced pain. It’s revolutionary. Last night, I in fact had to walk INSIDE the Café de Flore to escape the smoke from my friends’ cigarettes while they were standing outside – in the rain mind you – smoking. Yes, I went INSIDE to escape the smoke from OUTSIDE – sacré bleu, it’s like the twilight zone. A Frenchman without a cigarette is like coffee without sugar – well actually, they like their coffee black in these parts so I’ll say it’s more like, say, a croissant with no butter, a baguette with no dough, foie that isn’t gras.. okay I think you get the idea. In sum, it’s WEIRD. This ostensibly inconsequential law has indeed many consequences on the entire social structure of French society. As of this month, Paris is NOT burning. And Rene Magritte would be shocked and appalled to learn that his famous “Ceci n’est pas un pipe” painting has been modernized to read “Ceci est en fait un pipe mais c’est interdit de le fumer, sorry dudes.” So what’s going down in the city of lights now that one can’t light up? Here’s a new tourist’s guide to how Paris has changed since the new non-smoking law set in.

1. Non-smokers – such as MOI, cough cough (actually I’ve been coughing much less since this new law kicked in I must say) – are forced to sit at restaurant tables all alone while their friends all go outside to smoke, thereby relegating said nonsmoker to an anti-social fate of sitting in restaurants alone and missing out on all of the jokes and goingson at the smoke-filled gala outside.

2. French men are now forced to learn new pickup lines while hitting on girls in nightclubs or bars (or restaurants…or the street…or the line at the movies or the boulangerie, yes those frogs seem to find a way to hit on female pretty much anywhere). “Avez-vous du feu?” (“Do you have a light?”) is no longer valid.
Thus, here are a few ideas to guide you in your cigarette-free quest for une femme, les mecs:
“Got a light? Wait – don’t answer that. You don’t need one, you already light up my life. Let’s go outside and smoke a cigarette?”
“Remember when we were allowed to smoke? That was cool. Hi, my name is François…”
“Hey, got a li—sorry, stick of nicorette?”
And so on and so forth…

3. I now have to walk down the street holding my breath. Apparently the no smoking INSIDE law has influenced smokers all over the city to capitalize on their walking from one location to another OUTSIDE by choosing said walk to smoke and inhale directly in front of me while I am walking on my merry way, causing me to nearly choke to death on many occasions and thus leaving me with no choice but to hold my breath until I arrive at my destination (or faint from lack of oxygen before arriving at said destination).

4. Many French people have, thus, quit smoking since it has become too difficult to nurse such a habit in the face of the new strict smoking ban. If you thought the French were rude before… Try getting a smile out of someone who just quit smoking, has gained about 10 kilos because he or she has just quit smoking (and perhaps indulged a bit too heavily in the foie gras and chocolate bounty of the holiday season) so is not only physically suffering but also losing self-confidence by the minute, not to mention hungry and ready to bite off your head. Look on the bright side, he or she is that much richer from not buying cigarettes every day and can take you out to dinner to apologize for his or her poor comportment.

5. I have nothing to complain about! “He’s blowing smoke in my face.” “My throat hurts.” “My eyes hurt.” “I kissed him and he tasted like an ashtray.” “It’s too smoky in there.” “Ew. My steak frites tastes like nicotine.” All done! What will I complain about now? Is Paris – dare I say it – PERFECT?

Star spottings of the Week:
DAVID SCHWIMMER at Café de Flore. Circa New Years Eve, sporting a scruffy non-beard, a backpack and an unidentified pretty brunette by his side.
THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA aka Ina Garten, walking out of Café de Flore (do you notice a theme here?). The former White House staffer-turned-speciality foods store owner- turned Food Network superstar was incredibly friendly and clearly has excellent taste in everything from la cuisine (her French-influenced cookbooks are wonderful) to les hommes (she married a Dartmouth alum). I admit that I watch her Food Network show regularly – Ina, je vous adore! Hope to see you on the streets of St. Germain sometime soon. You’re welcome to come and cook for me anytime you’d like of course. If you insist… =)
ANDRE DUSSOLIER, walking down the Boulevard St-Germain-des-Pres earlier today. Ok, I know he’s no Brangelina, but he’s an excellent actor!
VINCENT ELBAZ, sitting with who I think may have been his mother (awwwww) at Les Deux Magots, circa Christmas day.
FRANK DUBOSC, dining at the Hotel Costes, Christmas week. Perhaps on his way to a … “Disco”? (aka the title of his much-anticipated comedy set to hit French theaters later this year)
PPDA (Patrick Poivre d’Arvor) dining with CLAIRE CHAZAL at the Hotel Costes (yes, this was like two weeks ago but still intriguing, non?)
GILLES LELLOUCHE, inside this month’s PLAYBOY France (interviewed by yours truly of course) – GO BUY A COPY ON NEWSSTANDS NOW!

French expression of the Week: “Le mot n’est pas innocent.”
Figurative meaning: “Pun intended.”
Literal translation: “The word is not innocent.”
What can we conclude here? Yes, even in France, words – not just people – are corrupt.

Restaurant of the Week: L'Atelier de Maitre Albert

Don’t be chicken, head over to my old favorite, L’Atelier de Maitre Albert for the best roast chicken and mashed potatoes this side of the… Seine river. One of Guy Savoy’s “affordable” bistros (sister to “Les Bouquinistes,” “Chiberta” and “La Butte Chaillot”), L’Atelier (not to be confused with the Joel Robuchon similarly-titled counter-top spot in the 7th) is located right along the Seine near Notre Dame, by the place Maubert-Mutualité in the 5th arrondissement. The staff is friendly (I hadn’t been back in over a year and was recently greeted with kisses hello by the Maitre D. and nearly entire wait staff), the food delicious and the ambiance a great balance between traditional and modern, despite the mostly older crowd and often American tourists. The restaurant is famed for its rotisserie meats, especially the roast chicken, served with the lightest yet tastiest most succulent mashed potatoes. On the rare occasion that I have ordered a fish dish, it’s usually delicious and served with a piping hot side dish. I’m usually treated with an appetizer or dessert on the house – this week, it was a cream of carrot soup with a light pesto sauce and crouton. The bread is thick, doughy and delicious and the wines are well-priced and wonderful. Their chocolate terrine is the most popular dessert staple (I of course despise all members of the chocolate family, but it usually gets rave reviews from my co-diners), the grapefruit and tea terrine is a light, tangy way to end the meal or one can order the “jar of dessert trolley” (yes, the French to English translations on the menu leave much to be desired I fear.) The bright orange menus and placemats, however, have drawings of chickens which, with a view of the chickens roasting around the rotisserie, may be quite disturbing for those animal-friendly among you, but you will lick your lips with satisfaction once you’ve eaten your ill-destined winged friend, trust me.

Website of the week:
Here you will find the first three episodes of the best TV show ever in life “Johnny Saucisson” featuring of course “Une Americaine à Paris.” Check it out! And please tell me what you think – post away, mes amis!