I arrive, late as usual, at Marie's luminous apartment in the 16th, for our regular working meeting. Opening the door, she instantly apologizes after we trade our bisous. "Je suis desolée, I didn't sleep well last night, " she explains. "I look awful."
I examine the scenario. Marie has not a milligram of makeup on her lightly-tanned face. Her hair is pulled back in a pony-tail. "Tu me vois 'nature'," she laughs.
"This isn't fair," I am thinking. She looks fabulous. On a good day, when I've made a huge effort to pull together my face-hair-clothes French Look before our meetings, I still fail miserably in measuring up to Marie on a supposedly bad morning after a sleepless night. She's thrown on a Claudie Pierlot sweater, boot-cut jeans, high heels from Calypso, a silver charm bracelet, a beautiful ring. Elegant, svelte, understated chic.
Maybe I should give up all hope. Me? I'm wearing the usual American-in-Paris mish-mash, pulled together in a panic-induced half hour before I meet with the Queen of Chic. Jeans, heels, Gap deep-V top, skinny cardigan, hand-made necklace from a vente privée. But it still is ... too pedestrian. It's been like this every week for over a year since we've been collaborating on our book.
I've improved mon Look since the early days, most of the time, and now at least I know the major no-nos to avoid. But I despair a bit. The French transformation of Polly isn't an overnight phenomenon. If she's been coaching me all along as we write, and I am still so not with-it yet, how can we ever explain it in our book? Another how-do-you-do-it question for me to ask.
Our work pace is heating up now because a French literary agent might be interested in pitching our book to his roster of publishers. Oh, for a contract! This book project, where I ask Marie how anyone can learn the elements of being as Parisienne-chic as she is -- is it an impossible dream? She answers every question, no matter how absurd sounding... or personal. We write simultaneously as we discuss, she in French and I in English.
"Just now, when you spoke on the phone twice," I insist, "you used two very different voices for different conversations."
"I did?" she asks, surprised.
"Yes, both were for business, but with one person you were insistent, with another your voice was high-pitched and flowery." We drill down on the reasons for this. There is so much ineffable about being a Parisienne, why and how they are the world-famous chic charmers that they are. So many pieces to the puzzle. I want to know it all. Can I ever learn how? Can I ever learn how to adopt the charming aspects and appeals of a Parisienne while still retaining the positive elements of my easygoing American self, and articulate it to readers?
We've finished the summary and the introduction, have the chapters mapped out, and now are cranking through chapter-writing. It's hard work, this book, but it's also a lot of fun. Our Parisienne-scouting field trips are a riot. And it shows in the manuscript. I can hear our laughter of discovery in each paragraph. She is amazed that I ask about the smallest French feminine details which she takes for granted. I am impressed by how much her French elegance and chic is simply second nature to her. Each writing session is another step at bridging the gap.
Marie doesn't know that I've been taking notes on what she's wearing at each meeting. I check my observations from last week. It was the exact same outfit, just a floral print blouse, untucked, instead of today's sweater. Her staples. What looks good.
On the other hand, I sure hope she hasn't been keeping a log of my pathetic daily attire. I have, but I'm not spilling those beans. Not yet.
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