Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Thanksgiving in France: An Interview with SmartyGirl Karrie as our Tour Guide

Photo Credit: Renee Marchol San Francisco's Palace Hotel
You've read my friend Morgan's travel guide to France. Have you been inspired to display travel souvenirs as a prominent theme in your home decor this fall?

Apartment Therapy's Micki Howl wrote an article titled, "Travel Inspired Home Decor" that I recommend.

In addition, I am confident that my interview with Karrie will persuade you.

Karrie decorates her apartment with a French theme. Imagine a white vanity table and an elegant collection of perfume bottles. Like me she is fond of Art Nouveau architecture. Whereas I've only experienced Art Nouveau in Monterey at Seven Gables Inn, Karrie has toured France to view it.

I study Karrie as she drinks a cold American Mocha Freddo topped with whipped cream as we sit, for this interview, in Peets Coffee and Tea in Lafayette. It is a chilly Thursday night in August, at 8 P.M. after a long work day for her in sales.

She wears a crisp, long-sleeved, vertical striped blouse: black and white. Her makeup is classic with a pop of red lipcolor. In addition, her red accessories give her black and white outfit a chic, modern appearance.

Even though I am indoors, shielded from the Norcal night wind I shiver in my dark green miltary-style parka.

The shivers are from goosebumps but also from the excitement of hearing Karrie's fantastic stories of Thankgiving in France, an aristocratic host family, riding the Metro carrying too much cash, a hospital trip after consuming an eclair and playing hooky to spend early mornings at the Museum of Decorative Arts.

Imagine that you find yourself underemployed after college graduation, like many young people moving back to their parents' home in this recession. 

You read about a study abroad opportunity, six months in France to earn a certificate and you take out a loan to go.
Photo Credit: Karrie Keegan in France

What is a less common way to experience France? Karrie's host in France was a 70-year-old French woman aristocrat named Mademe de Cremier. Karrie had the unusual opportunity to experience the hospitality of "Old France".

What are some aspects of "Old France"?

Her host was proud of her aristocratic circle and kept a thick directory of all the aristocrats in Europe in her parlor.

Her black and white French hunting dog, Rodreig, went pheasant hunting with Madame de Cremier's male relative regularly. On hunting days Karrie would often smell fragrant red wine braised pheasant when she returned home during evenings from class.

Photo Credit: Renee Marchol Food Trucks in San Francisco
This is radically different from "New France" as you can read about in the New York Times with its invasion of food trucks.

Her host was formal and insisted that she be addressed as Madame de Cremier. Karrie observed that her host was French slim and wore the fashionable pencil skirt suits daily. That tiny waist! To picture this, think Christian Dior's Spring 2012 as seen in UK Vogue.

Photo Credit: Karrie Keegan in France
What else seemed distinctly "Old France"?

Karrie received a lecture on the debt by Americans to Louis the XVI, when my friend asked her host why she was going to mass to mourn the anniversary of the French King's death.

Karrie returned to her host's parlor after visiting the Museum of Decorative Arts, expressing her awe of the decorative arts display (interior decor exhibit) with furnishings 300 years old.

Photo Credit: Renee Marchol American Palace Hotel's Pied Piper Tapestry Only 100 years old
Madame de Cremier did not share Karrie's awe. Instead she said, "The books and furniture in my home are 300 years old and that's why I want you to be careful when sitting on my furniture with your American derriere!"

Karrie did not envy the haranging the housekeeper received when the staff accidently damaged the host's wall art while dusting. Karrie describes breakfast at her host's house as eating cornflakes in a museum.

Are French desserts really that different from American pastries?

In Karrie's case, she discovered that her body can't take the French doses of bakery fat and sugar. The described the giant almond meringues as big a dinner plates that she watched locals shatter and dip into French coffee.

Photo Credit: Renee Marchol Alpine Pastry Shop of Norcal
She also described the richness of French eclairs that were sweeter and more buttery than she ever experienced. After one eclair, her stomach pains forced her to make her first visit to a hospital in a foreign country.

Yes, the desserts are "to die for." I believe Karrie would warn Americans to sample small bites rather than to copy the French and eat whole pastries in one sitting.

What are some non-verbal French rules?

Karrie shared that at French magazine kiosks, you are not encouraged to linger. Instead you buy not browse otherwise you are chased away by angry merchants.

Also in constrast to sit-where-you'd like American eateries, in France waiters of gourmet bistros will enforce the unspoken rule: Patrons who sit inside order full meals. If you are only ordering a coffee and a pastry you must sit outside. Karrie discovered this when she felt cold and choose a cozy corner to enjoy her beverage and dessert.

Other diners knew this but my friend did not. The waiters did not bother to be polite and asked her to move.

How did you deal with homesickness as an American in France during Thanksgiving?

Karrie ordered her butchered turkey from two American ex-pats who owned a specialty American grocery in France. The shelves were stocked with American brands such as Ritz crackers and Smucker's jam.
Photo Credit: Renee Marchol American Cape Cod Strawberry Skillet Dumplings

She rode the Metro  from Paris, with a chilled turkey in her paper grocery bag two hours away to Limoges. She did this so that she could enjoy the company of other Americans and eat roast turkey with cranberry sauce. You can read more about American shops in Paris here.

Do you have an unusual travel story to tell fellow SmartyGirls? Where have you spent American holidays abroad? Comment below.

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