Friday, June 24, 2011

Bensimon Shoes!

Bensimon shoes, to me, have always been the quintessential French laid-back summertime shoe.

Pronounced benn-see-mohn, the canvas shoes with rubber soles have long been an understated favorite of the sporty summer crowds in all the right French vacation spots.

They have always been cool. A French friend once clad all the young children in her daughter's seaside wedding (NDLR: no frou-frou grown-up bridezilla bridesmaids at French weddings, just adorable little kids!) in sailor suits and shod them in Bensimons. Of course it was totally perfect and chic in the most Côté Ouest kind of way. Can you imagine an American wedding filled with kids wearing, essentially, sneakers? Not on your life! This was totally charming and comme il faut.

I got my first pair of Bensimons on a summer vacation in France, on Île de Ré. So practical for toodling around the village, going to the marché, and oh, if you get invited to go boating, you're all set for maneuvering nimbly on deck. Then I brought them back to the U.S., and they seemed.... too casual. Frumpy, almost. There was zero recognition of their coolness. To some they looked like old-lady slip-on sneakers. But like my love affair with espadrilles, I ignored the social sartorial stigma and wore them with pride, knowing that I was in the know (shoe-wise) an ocean away.

Back in Paris, I became smitten with the Bensimon boutique in the Marais. Everything about it shouted "Ahoy, monsieur! Take me sailing in Brittany!" Rugged canvas jackets, khaki rubber-soled shoes, all with such clean, spare lines, You could practically smell the briny Atlantic air.

Fast forward to 2011. If you haven't heard, Bensimons are HOT-HOT-HOT fashion items these days. Darlin' Miss Bee brought a pair of pink lace-up Bensimons home from her year in France, and has been proudly wearing them around town. She is such a fashion trend-setter that I knew she was on to something.

Then while perusing the stacks of celebrity magazines at my dentist's office waiting room today, I came across two separate articles touting the glories of Bensimons. Yes, they are the rage with Hollywood stars.

Zut. I always liked being in a small group of fashion insiders. No more.

The good news is that Bensimons are available on line in the US via And shipping is free. The price is a little more than you'd pay in France; but, factoring in the cost of a plane ticket that you don't have to buy, well worth the price.

And don't go for cheap imitations. The Bensimon cognoscenti will know the difference.

image via

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Midnight in Paris

I settled into my cinema seat and waited impatiently through the coming attractions for the feature film to begin. Ready for my Paris fix by watching the much-discussed Midnight in Paris. The film began, with the brassy, jazzy trumpet music playing over the familiar sights of my favorite city.

But… something was wrong.

The colors.

Everything seemed too yellow. “Woody Allen got it all wrong, “ I was thinking. I am way too possessive about my Paris knowledge. “Is he trying to make it look like Kodachrome or something?” I was fuming just a little. “The light in Paris is silvery, not gold. The buildings are soft grey, and he is trying to make the buildings look as if they are all made of sandstone.” Even the gold leaf on the fountain at the place de la Concorde was too shiny, and the verdigris was too green. The wet nighttime streets should be reflections of pewter and chrome, not glimmers of gold. It wasn’t MY Paris, in any case, I harrumphed inwardly. What was he thinking??

Nevertheless, thrilled with seeing familiar spots, I somehow managed to refrain from elbowing Miss Bee at recognition of every panorama, every street scene in the introduction. I just reveled in knowing virtually every locale. Miss Smuggy-pants. When Owen Wilson first walked into Le Bristol, I couldn’t resist and leaned over and whispered “That’s Le Bristol.”

It’s occasionally truly obnoxious to be in the role of “I used to live in Paris.” This was no exception. I tried hard to suppress my oh-so-superior knowledge of the settings. Especially since Woody had gone so overboard on the gold. His shots of the admittedly posh Le Bristol seemed over-the-top in the gilt and gold-plate department. I didn’t get it.

But soon enough I was ensconced in the plot, and the cinematographic details took a back seat.

I did, however, almost jump out of my seat and hissed loudly to Bee, “That’s DEYROLLE!” In the scene with the champagne-soaked party surrounded by taxidermied animals. “Drole?” she whispered back. “D-E-Y-R-O-L-L-E! Deyrolle, my favorite taxidermy store!” I was beside myself.

I hate people who talk in movies.

As the movie progressed all I could do was admire Woody Allen's brilliance. This film was a magical modern-day fantastic tale interwoven with "The Kugelmass Episode," Back to the Future, and Grimm's "The Twelve Dancing Princesses."

Then, at one point, Owen Wilson's and Marion Cotillard's characters were in deep conversation about what it means to live in a golden era. One's nostalgia for a more golden era is sometimes missing the point that the golden era is actually the present.

"Ah," I sank back in my seat.

The golden-yellow light of Paris was brilliant, Mr. Allen.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Maxime Le Forestier in San Francisco

"C'est une maison bleue..."

Start singing those lyrics and a generation or two of French -- and francophiles --will sing along with you:

French singer Maxime Le Forestier perhaps singlehandedly put San Francisco on the French contemporary cultural map in 1973 with the recording of his wildly popular song "La Maison Bleue," known to most as simply "San Francisco," a tale of a summer spent in San Francisco in 1971 in the time of peace, love, and flower children.

Then, last September, an enterprising San Francisco/Parisian journalist who grew up "singing this song in the shower" tracked down the actual location of the Blue House.

And now, dear beloveds, Maxime Le Forestier is returning to San Francisco to sing for us all, on the 40th anniversary of that fateful summer in San Francisco. He will be performing on Friday June 24 at the Herbst Theatre. Ticket information is here.

I think the phrase "once in a lifetime" is not an exaggeration in this case. And needless to say, the SF French and francophile community is quivering in anticipation. Me included.

A few anticipatory participatory sing-alongs are planned. But of course!

First, a guitar rehearsal on June 17 at NPG studios on 18th street.

Then, for a broader sing-along audience, a French pique-nique potluck at Dolores Park, weather permitting, on June 22. Just to get in the spirit of things.

Rumors are swirling that M. Le Forestier might show up at one or both of these events. I can't confirm or deny -- so far they're just hopeful speculation. But, well...

For specifics on either of these, contact Christine at christine [at]

Of course, I'll report back about the actual concert. But you knew that.

UPDATE: concert canceled due to visa difficulties.
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