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So, I made a goal last fall that I would EMBRACE this winter with JOY and VIVACITY, and to not complain one single time about the weather. And guys! I’ve sort of done it! (And for the record, it was 3 degrees two Sundays ago. Fahrenheit, not celsius. That’s -16.1111 degrees Celsius, if anyone cares.)

It’s been a discipline, but I’ve caught myself actually enjoying the winter so far, for the most part.  And yet now, in the middle of March, it is still really cold. Under 20 most of the time, and for at least the next 10 days. This is when winter in Ithaca starts to get real, and you remember that you will not feel anything close to warmth until May.

So for the past few years this has been the time of year when I start reading all the books about France I can get my hands on. Or blogs about French cooking, and I make lots of chocolate cakes…. Because at this point in the winter I need a little inspiration, a little extra help to find beauty and delight in the midst of these ordinary days in a tiny apartment in the frozen tundra.

And if anyone knows how to find joy & loveliness in daily life, it’s the French. In fact, they do almost everything, well, better. They dress better, they have better posture and overall poise, they are healthier, slimmer, consume less, eat (much, much, much) better, and generally are amazing at life. Ok, they’re not perfect, and I’m not saying I agree 100% with maybe all the hedonism or moral aspects of their culture, but if you’re on a quest for Joy in the midst of an everlasting winter I can assure you that lessons can be learned from the French.

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[My only caveat is that I read these deliberately in order to enjoy my own life here, which is decidedly not very Parisian or south of France or eating mussels on the coast of Brittany in August. And not to use these books to think thoughts along the lines of “My life would be so much better if I lived in Provence, etc.”  And I fully admit that many of these books are incredibly frivolous. Like, The French Beauty Solution and things like that, with chapters about grape cleanses and how to do your makeup. It’s a rather indulgent habit, but France is my one weakness (to paraphrase the oft-repeated quotation by Miss Lane from this delightful show).  BUT nearly every one of these books helps me to find small ways of savoring my actual life (rather than simply longing to live in Provence, which of course I do, but which doesn’t help me very much to thrive right here where I am). How to enjoy food a bit more, drink more water, how to move more slowly but with more grace, how to make everything from my wardrobe to my house neater and more beautiful, how to have elegant tea-drinking rituals, etc.]

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I usually start with re-reading French Women Don’t Get Fat. I’ve owned this delightful volume for over 10 years and I re-read it almost every year. Not as a manual for losing weight (though it would be incredibly helpful, if anyone needs help in that area), but as a manifesto for how to savor food, ritual, seasons, and life in general. The author explains that Frenchwomen simply know how to care for themselves well (without feeling guilty), how to derive great joy from simple pleasures, and how to feel indulged (rather than resentful and harried, which is probably my default) in the midst of daily life.  There’s a lovely passage toward the end where the she talks about the “little nothings of daily pleasure that are actually quite something to us… We have so many words for pampering– gater, dorloter, bichonner, se chouchouter— but we don’t equate it with decadence. It makes us enjoy life more, from moment to moment, and keeps us from seeking too much consolation from any one pleasure, such as food…”

And since having children I also re-read Bringing Up Bebe this time of year.  Not that I agree with every single aspect of French parenting, but it’s a delightful read and helps me remember to be calm, not to feel guilty for taking a bit of care of my own self, and to sometimes wear something other than yoga pants. (This book also has one of my favorite stories about a French woman ever: the author, an American, and her family went on a trip with a French family they knew, and the French husband went out one morning early and bought a baguette and brought it back, and when he did, his wife purred contentedly, “J’adore cette baguette.” (“I adore this baguette.”) Not jumping off the walls with excitement, but just a deep, calm sense of joy and delight– about a baguette. I think this thought now when I drink my morning coffee– I adore this coffee, etc. A slight shift towards joy. It works.)

I also requested from the library The Elegance of the Hedgeho, a French novel that was recommended to me a few years ago by a dear friend. It’s lovely. One of my favorite novels.  So I’m re-reading that (although I also somehow got myself in the middle of a potty training book— I’m gearing up to train little person #2, eek!– and a book about super-runners in a remote Mexican tribe that’s turning out to be surprisingly thrilling and one of my new favorite books of all time).

And then I was telling all of this to a friend of mine from church, and she said that she had a stack of French novels (these below, minus the Elegance of the Hedgehog) she would lend me! So my spirit is richly supplied with French literature of varying qualities.

Anyway, here’s to finding beauty & simple joys in the middle of winter, or in the middle of whatever dreary or hard season you might be going through. And to huge piles of books.

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