Sunday, February 2, 2020

L'art de vivre

Quite a few years back I was given a Christmas gift. Like a child I tested the weight of the neatly wrapped package, guessing what it was. I didn’t know it yet, but this was one of my best ever gifts. The wrapping paper torn, the cover revealing itself, it was obvious that I was going to like this book.

The gift giver watched as I opened the treasure. She explained how it had been hard to pass on this mail-order, used copy book, signed by the author (inscribed to a Monsieur Roland in 1996).
The title and cover photograph were already enough to tell that I held a world of ‘frenchiness’ in my hands. The title flows sing song to the rhythm and elegance of french, the syllables stringing out to a soft conclusion. 

L’art de vivre au fil des jours       

The Art of Living to the Rhythm of the Days  — or —- The Art of Everyday Living

by  Victoire de Montesquiou 

what a name! In her elegant photo on the cover she is wearing a casual straw hat and a simple country dress.  The clincher is her overflowing armful of lavender and wild flowers.
This treasured gift now has a second inscription, this time to Madame Vieth Christmas 2016. My friend wrote - “a Suzanne, Pour l’aider a être française plus que les françaises…..” (Here’s a book to help you become more french than the french.)  I couldn’t wait to dive in.
My friend’s copy sits out on a shelf in her busy kitchen, the spine of the book broken, the pages loose and held together by ever larger rubber bands. Her book is well loved. It is pulled out to be referenced for reflections on daily life or consulted for classic recipes to satisfy the demanding crowd that is so often at her table.

My copy sits on the shelf next to the sofa. This is not a coffee table book. I turn to it evenings when I am curious about what a french household might be “doing” in the month of January, February, or maybe July, October… With each reading I find new and old ideas to think about. Madame de Montesquiou describes her monthly household chores, work to complete in the garden, suggestions on how to take care of yourself, thoughts on living with others, and of course recipes for the seasonal produce one will find at the market.The book is organized to be a meditation, a confirmation, an exploration of the monthly rhythms of life. 
Over the years what I read means new things to me. Behaviors that I used to perceive as formal and complicated, too ‘frenchified’- now seem more everyday. Instead of greedily looking for ways to be French I treasure the parallels of my upbringing and of the perspectives to this french woman’s way of approaching life. (One thing I have learned over the years is that I will never be French. Sure some french expressions and physical behaviors are seeping into my everyday comportment, but overall it is obvious that I’m all American and always will be.)

Victoire de Montesquiou’s style is old fashioned and in spite of her claims of being a liberated woman the language is probably too sexist for many of you. But then I’m not the most radical of women - ha far from it!  I find good sense in these reflections. My hope is that we are all intelligent enough to filter out the old stuff and hold onto the gentle encouragement of kindness and the life gently lived.

Victoire’s purpose for the book is quickly evident in the few short paragraphs of the prologue. “From the turns and detours of my life I regret nothing. I have learned from each experience and I know now that these events are the price of a life. Life is the taste and art of bonheur, a good life is the willingness to make of each day a moment of exception, offering a wondrousness to those that one loves.”

She briefly explains that she was indeed born with a silver spoon into a family that cultivated curtesy, elegance and entertaining. Circumstances changed "de n’avoir plus la possibility materiel de vivre sur le meme pied”* and she was forced to rethink things, to focus on what she felt was important. She was released from tedious formalities, gone were the decadent luxuries and banished snobbisms. Her focus is on warmth, politeness and simplicity, on home, and self. Sounds like today’s mantras…..”less is more”, “keep it simple”, “only keep what brings you joy”. What I appreciate in Victoire’s perspective is that she is honest about wanting to keep a lot of her old fashioned notions too.

Without the luxuries of life just being handed to her, Victoire found she was more curious, more creative. Mix and match old and new, be frugal —sneakers from the discount store — but once in a blue moon splurge on a wonderful dress from the stylish boutique in town. Carefully select your purchase so that it is a source of jubilation and not culpability. Little by little you find yourself in experiencing your own creativity - not creativity decreed by outside forces. Enjoy the pleasure of actively observing, being yourself, loving and risking being creative.

Victoire concludes the prologue stating her montra, “avec plaisir “ (with pleasure).
This is a well used french phrase of gratitude, generosity and zest! 

The prologue leaves one with plenty to hold onto, but I’ll continue to dip you into her monthly observations throughout the year.

Here’s to grand things in 2020!

*She “no longer had the financial possibility to live on the same foot.”


Lynne said...

Loved finding your post in my email box this morning.
My thought . . . ”how would you know . . . “
You probably don’t know . . . you are a favorite . . .
One of my treasured/saved/shared posts was of yours . . .
The bells ringing when a loved one of the village had died . . . .
ringing and ringing . . . and ringing . . .

And the book . . . a treasure of flowers, thoughts, recipes, wisdom . . .
I must see if I can locate a copy.

Not sure why I have been treated with you today but . . .
Thank You!

Anonymous said...

Oh! I just love this! Huge thanks to you for sharing this dear Susan.
Heather G.

Unknown said...

I love this post. It's so sensible and confirming. Thank you for writing it!

Mary Anne

claude said...

Finally back. More than 6 months without a word thah's a long time but finally you're back with comments and remarks beautifully expressed.
Thank for writing again.

Jen Francoeur said...

Thanks for this beautiful, inspiring post, S.

"Plus Francaise que les Francaises..." I think you're pretty much there. You have always been skilled in selecting your bargains and splurges, elegant and original.

(I can smell that gorgeous bunch of lavender)