L’art de vivre encompasses everything from a reverential respect for history to the way one should conduct oneself. It permeates every aspect of life, including the way one dresses, entertains, decorates, prepares a meal, converses and maintains a home. It’s civility, respect for nature, quality in everything from bread and butter to haute couture and architecture.
The French seem to intrinsically understand that, though many aspects of life are beyond our control — c’est la vie — there are always life-enhancing details that are totally within our control. It’s a choice, a way to celebrate la joie de vivre whenever and wherever we find it.
Judy: In your book, homemaking in France is described as an art. Tell us more.
Tish: When it comes to French homemaking, I see it as a combination of three elements: art, science and tradition.
Cooking, entertaining and decorating are the art. Science comes in with the cleaning, maintaining and organizing of the home. Finally, tradition is that very special ingredient each family brings to the whole by adding its unique mix of culture, heritage and customs.
When all those components are in harmony, households run smoothly and pleasantly while providing a restorative retreat for all within.
The homemaking chapter looks at everything from linen closets and a well-stocked larder to decorating and cleaning tips.
Judy: Style and beauty have been the main topics you have covered as an author and journalist. What can readers look forward to learning in your new book?
Tish: It would be impossible to talk about l’art de vivre à la française without celebrating the renowned style of French women.
When I began to think about the chapters on beauty and style for this book, I realized I was setting myself up for a serious challenge: What more could I say that I hadn’t already said? So, I turned to experts and asked lots of questions.
In the style chapter, for example, Inès de La Fressange, Dior’s Mathilde Favier, LVMH’s Camille Miceli and Chanel’s Marie-Louise de Clermont Tonnerre all contributed to the conversation. They talked about attitude and posture, the importance of details, and how to use clothes to express our personalities. Their advice was relevant for all of us, no matter our lifestyle, age or budget.
The beauty chapter features interviews with doctors, makeup artists and two women who create divine perfumes. Then, because I know how much we love our beauty products, I’ve included a collection of some of my favorites.
Judy: If you had one tip the American dinner party host could steal from the French host, what would it be?
Tish: In conversations with two and three Michelin star chefs and celebrated Parisian hostesses, the single constant in their advice for gracious entertaining was: “Keep it simple.”
Learn how to prepare a few delicious recipes that can be prepared with ease and use only the best seasonal ingredients. Then set a lovely table to enhance the sensual experience.
Some of the best hostesses I know, and those I have interviewed, have a tried-and-true repertoire of recipes on which they have built their reputations. Also, they know where to find outstanding cheeses, breads, wines, and often desserts.
As Stephane Bern, my favorite observer of French history and savoir faire, told me: When entertaining, one always hopes a dinner is bon et beau — good food beautifully presented.
Judy: You have a whole section in the back of the book called “Cadeaux” (gifts) that include lots of tips. Please tell us more.
Tish: These pages are so much fun. The best thing about writing a book like this is meeting absolutely brilliant people who are willing to share their secrets. I cannot begin to tell you how much I’ve learned and the marvelous time I have had in the process.
The section came about because I simply could not stop doing interviews. As a result, there were exceptional bits of information that didn’t quite fit into the chapter categories. They include everything from how to take a beautiful photograph to poetic descriptions by Catherine Muller, floral teacher extraordinaire, on how to make exquisite seasonal bouquets.
Then there are tips on cashmere care, a wine vocabulary and an extraordinary section on Slim Cuisine (including a few recipes) with three star Michelin chef, Michel Guérard. Until I met him I thought everything that could be said about dieting had been said. Oh how wrong I was.
This column was adapted from Mary Carol Garrity's blog at www.nellhills.com