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    Ah, Paris

    Vive La France Profonde!

    Need a break from the bustle and grime of city life? The French capital and its surrounding countryside still offer one of the most charming getaways on the planet.

    As Britain and France commemorate the D-Day landings 70 years ago on the beaches of Normandy, there’s another, less momentous, anniversary between the two countries. It’s exactly 20 years since the Channel Tunnel was declared open by Queen Elizabeth II and the French President Francois Mitterrand. The British royals are said to have travelled by train from Waterloo to Calais at a sedate 80 mph, while the presidential party sped to the coast from Paris at 186 mph.

    The tunnel linking the UK to France now carries around 20 million passengers a year—85 percent of them British. However, plans for a tunnel had been opposed for centuries, and the anti-tunnel-campaign continued throughout the construction, with one journalist reporting it as “the opening of an underwater passage joining together two nations who cannot stand the sight of each other.”

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    The Queen of the French Kitchen

    Before Ducasse, before Bocuse, there was La Mère Brazier, whose cooking was the ultimate in rich hedonism.

    Deep in the volcanic gullet of France, on the swollen banks of two rivers fat with fish and krill, in a land sweetened by sod and loamy truffle clods, Lyon squats with its bouchons and charcuteries, a gastronome's glutted mirage. This is not Paris, elite capital of elegant cafés, ville of dainty macarons and delicate glaciers—this a town belonging to the butchers and the traders, to the silk workers’ guild and the workaday Quai Saint-Antoine, where fishmongers and oyster stalls rowdily hawk their rough wares. A mercantile burg, a blue-collar town, where communal lunchtime tables at the city’s convivial inns groan under glistening sausages, duck cracklings, fried dough, and every kind of offal under the sun—black pudding with roasted apples, hearty pâtés, pig’s trotters, breaded tripe smothered in sauce gribiche—all washed down with tankards of Beaujolais and shots of plum Armagnac. Rabelais wrote Gargantua here, in this city devoted to the most Pantagruelian of pleasures. Where Paris brings to mind the grand hôteliers, toiling in the finicky tradition of Escoffier and Carême, entertaining for emperors and kings, Lyon evokes the gulous meal and the family chef, culling the vegetable garden for a thick country potage. Here, we find cuisine paysanne, not cuisine de cours. Here, we find temples to all things earthy and porcine. Here, we find La France profonde.

    Here we also find l’homme rotund, or at least we used to, back in the days when the city’s 19th-century dining clubs wouldn’t admit any chap weighing less than 175 pounds and bon vivants were charged according to their grosseur (five centimes a kilo). At these same clubs, lucky tradesmen got to gorge themselves on “Venus’s nipples”—giant quenelles molded into the shape of ethereal breasts and areoles. Since that time, Vieux Lyon has been a gourmand’s Jerusalem, a savory Santiago de Compostela, with pilgrims following a route marked not by cockle shells but by the trail of three-star auberges studded along the countryside down the autoroute from Mâcon like plump little lardons.

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    Human Rights

    France’s Decade of Discrimination

    A decade ago, France passed its infamous ban on religious expression in public schools. Since then, despite condemnations from international rights organizations, they’ve gotten even worse.

    Ten years ago this week, French president Jacques Chirac signed Law 2004-228, or the “French headscarf ban” that would ignite a decade of religious contention in the country. Though couched in general language—prohibiting the wearing of “conspicuous” religious dress—the law disproportionately impacts minority religious groups and directly interferes with numerous basic human rights.

    The ban disproportionately prevents primary and secondary school children of Muslim, Sikh, and Jewish communities from freely exercising their religious beliefsWhile wearing the headscarf, turban, and yarmulke are barred without exception, Christian crosses are considered “discreet,” and therefore, exempt from the ban.

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    France Honors Women … Finally

    The Pantheon is getting two more women to add to its ranks of national greats—bringing the tally to a grand total of four heroines in the entire mausoleum.

    London has its Westminster Abbey—final resting place of Britain’s greats, from Dickens to Darwin—and Florence has the Basilica di Santa Croce, where the bones of Michelangelo and Machiavelli will mingle til the end of days.  France’s national heroes are more spread out—Abelard and Apollinaire are up at Père Lachaise along with Proust, Balzac and Marcel Marceau, while the Bonapartes and assorted military elite lie entombed under Les Invalides’ imposing dome. And over in Paris’s otherwise scruffy Latin Quarter, the neoclassically ornate Panthéon trumpets its dedication to the grands hommes of the grateful patrie, among them Alexandre Dumas père and the satirist Voltaire.

    To wit: “aux grands hommes.” There are only two women interred at the Panthéon, and only one who got there on her own merits. That would be Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie, the gal who discovered radioactive polonium. The other, Sophie Berthelot, was allowed in so she could repose in aeternum next to her spouse, the chemist Marcellin. This, from the country that birthed Joan of Arc (whose reliquary ashes, granted, might actually be from an Egyptian mummy), Simone de Beauvoir, Colette, Marguerite Duras, Coco Chanel, Anaïs Nin, George Sand, and Marat’s bathtub assassin Charlotte Corday.

  • Pool photo by Lionel Bonaventure

    No, Seriously

    YouPorn’s French Publicity Stunt

    Is $500,000 enough to get the ex-First Lady of France to represent a porn company?

    Valerie Trierweiler is having a bit of a rough year.

    The former First Lady of France ended her relationship with President Francois Hollande in January after allegations surfaced that he was having an affair with French actress Julie Gayet. And in the midst of this publicly broadcast break-up, Trierweiler was offered the obvious conciliatory option of representing a porn company.

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    Toddlers Sans Tiaras

    France Proposes Child Pageant Ban

    For “hyper-sexualizing effect.”

    France’s Senate voted on Wednesday to ban all beauty pageants for children under 16 in an effort to protect girls against what they consider to be premature sexualization encouraged by the contests. Although the bill’s language includes boys as well, conservative senator Chantal Jouanno told the AP that the bill’s intention was primarily to combat girls’ contests such as France’s annual “mini-Miss” pageants.  "When I asked an organizer why there were no mini-boy contests, I heard him respond that boys would not lower themselves like that,” Jouanno said. Under the proposed law, pageant organizers and parents who enter their children in pageants will be liable to prosecution. But pageant lovers needn’t get alarmed yet, the bill still has to go through the lower house of the legislature to become law.

  • Author Sophie Fontanel. (Sipa)

    Ne Couchez Pas Avec Moi

    My 12 Years Without Sex

    In her memoir, French Elle editor Sophie Fontanel chronicles her decision to take a stupendously long break. By Lizzie Crocker.

    In 1934, upon returning to New York from France, expatriate novelist Henry Miller lamented that the American female was bland and conformist, lacking the charged eroticism of Parisian women. If one were to replace the actresses of the New York stage with "a poor, skinny, misshapen French woman with just an ounce of personality," Miller grumbled, it "would stop the show. She would have what the Americans are always talking about but never achieve. She would have it. America is minus it."

    Eighty years later, the stereotype persists. Our shelves are full of books about how French women do everything better than their American counterparts. There’s Debra Ollivier’s Entre Nous: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl; Pamela Druckerman on no-nonsense parenting in Bringing Up Bébé; Mireille Guiliano on Why French Women Don’t Get Fat and Jamie Cat Callan on Why French Women Don’t Sleep Alone.

  • Brigitte Bardot: the real deal? (AFP/Getty Images)


    The Myth of French Feminine Perfection

    Is it innate, artificial, or are we just idealizing them?

    French women: we just can’t get enough of them. From their naturally svelte figures to their easy fashion sense, they’ve long had American women asking, pourquoi? Yet we are mistaken, says the French newspaper Le Figaro. Turns out our notion of la Marianne and her ilk is romanticized all out of proportion. They do diet; their appetite is suppressed by cigarettes; they dye their hair and refuse to admit it; and they wear plain old cotton panties like the rest of us. Le point: we should stop idealizing our sisters across the Atlantic for their looks and start taking their cues on more important matters—as in a recent story on state-sponsored postpartum perineal reeducation. Trust us, it’s awesome.

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    Seeking Belleville's Sex Workers

    In Paris, illegal Chinese immigrants are turning to sex work to survive. Anne-Marie Bissada on grassroots efforts to teach the women about STDs and street smarts.

    Walking around Paris’ Belleville neighborhood, one sees a very different side of the City of Lights: gone are the glitzy buildings, the Napoleonic architecture and the well-dressed Parisians. The borough is a dense mass of working-class blocks that have served as home to the city’s immigrants and its poor for hundreds of years. Famed singer Edith Piaf lived in Belleville, as did many starving artists and musicians of decades past and present.

    Since the 1980s, Belleville has become home to one of the city’s largest Chinese communities. At any given hour, on the neighborhood's main streets, bevies of Chinese women—mostly in their 40s or early 50s, dressed in miniskirts, fishnets and full makeup—congregate near Metro stops or in front of rows of shops. They chat, giggle, and tease each other like schoolgirls. Some hug Louis Vuitton knock-offs close to them, while others clutch purses that show the wear-and-tear of daily use. By five in the afternoon, at just about every entrance to a building, the women seem to linger alone or in pairs.

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    Oh la la

    Vive le Cinéma!

    Celebrate Bastille Day with France’s best actresses.

    They may not have stormed any barricades in search of liberté, égalité, or fraternité, but French actresses certainly deserve a hand. Unrivaled in their easy glamour, women like Audrey Tautou (Amélie) and Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose) dazzle us from both sides of the Atlantic, in their native tongue and in their charmingly accented English. Betty Confidential has paid tribute to these stars with a list of the best 14, sure to provide good ideas for Netflix queues and DVD rentals. The round-up is full of up-and-comers like Bérénice Bejo (The Artist) and Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds), as well as a few grandes dames: if you haven’t seen Leslie Caron’s twinkle toes in An American in Paris, it’s high time you did.


    Vanity Fair Launches French Edition

    Scarlett Johansson graces first cover.

    Iconic American magazine Vanity Fair is launching a French edition this month. It will remain faithful to the "original" style of the magazine with a heavy French influence, according to publishers at Condé Nast. The magazine features ads from French brands such as Peugeot and Nivea, which are new to Vanity Fair. The first issue features Scarlett Johansson on the cover, with investigative stories from French newsmakers like Lilian Bettencourt's former butler. Vanity Fair en français will be aimed at their European audience with more culture, fashion, and French interest stories.

  • A Muslim woman wears a veil in Paris, France. (Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty)


    Pregnant Muslim Woman Attacked

    Resulting in a miscarriage, her lawyer says.

    Two “skinheads” attacked a pregnant Muslim woman on Thursday outside of Paris, which resulted in the loss of her baby, according to her lawyer. The 21-year-old woman, who was four months pregnant, reportedly was taunted repeatedly by two Frenchmen who shouted anti-Islamic slurs at her. Her lawyer, Hosni Maati, said they eventually attempted to rip off her veil and cut off her hair. Police said it is unclear if the attack caused her pregnancy termination.

  • Coloured engraving of Alexandre Dumas son and the courtesan Marie Duplessis. (UniversalImagesGroup/Getty)

    La Belle Dame

    The Original Lady of the Camellias

    Julie Kavanagh tracks the legend of courtesan Marie Duplessis, muse to mid-19th-century Paris’s greatest politicians and artists.

    Marie Duplessis was the most admired young courtesan of 1840s Paris. A peasant girl from Normandy, she had reinvented herself in a matter of months, changing her name and learning how to dress, speak, and act like a duchess. But this was far more than a Pygmalion or Pretty Woman transformation. The country waif, scarcely able to read or write when she arrived in the capital at the age of thirteen, was presiding over her own salon seven years later, regularly receiving aristocrats, politicians, artists, and many of the celebrated writers of the day. These were, of course, all men, because no virtuous woman would have anything to do with a courtesan, but Marie’s profession had bought her proximity to the most brilliant minds in Paris. Her close circle included Nestor Roqueplan, editor of Le Figaro, Dr. Veron, director of the Opéra, and bon viveur Roger de Beauvoir, whom Alexandre Dumas père called the wittiest man he had ever known. Dumas himself was intrigued by the childlike Marie, and his son Alexandre fell in love with her. Franz Liszt came to Paris for a week but was so bewitched by Marie that he stayed for three months and remained romantically attached to her memory for the rest of his life. Such was her fascination that her early death from consumption in 1847 was regarded as an event of national importance. “For several days all questions political, artistic, commercial have been abandoned by the papers,” a bemused Charles Dickens wrote to a friend from Paris. “Everything is erased in the face of an incident which is far more important, the romantic death of one of the glories of the demi-monde, the beautiful, the famous Marie Duplessis.”

    A year later, with the publication of The Lady of the Camellias, the novel Dumas fils had based on her life, the beau monde was abuzz again. Dumas père was a national institution in France, and people were curious to see whether the twenty-four-year-old was to follow his father’s lead. He certainly had the elder Dumas’s lively style and flair for natural dialogue, as well as a freshness and sincerity of his own. But of even greater interest was the subject of the book itself. Alexandre’s affair with Marie Duplessis was well known on the Boulevard, and so was the identity of the heroine he renamed Marguerite Gautier. His descriptions of her are pure reportage. Whether sitting in her box at the theater with her signature bouquet of camellias or stepping into her pretty blue carriage, wrapped in a long cashmere shawl, Marguerite was instantly recognizable as Marie: the same tall, thin physique, the same chaste oval face, black eyes, and dark arched brows. As intrigued then as now with the private lives of celebrities, the public read the fiction as fact, thrilled to be taken inside the demimondaine’s apartment, allowed to eavesdrop on scurrilous conversations at her dinner table, and be shown her rosewood furniture, Saxe figurines, Sèvres china—even her boudoir with its costly array of gold and silver bottles. Marguerite’s friends and suitors also had their counterparts in real life, the passionate young hero Armand Duval being a composite of two of Marie’s lovers with elements of Alexandre himself.