Those French. It really gets me how they cultivate that l’air superieur just because they can dress up the everyday, le quotidien, if you will, in that sing-song patois of theirs and all of a sudden, pouf! Tout le monde goes fou. It’s as if life, poured through the filter of French, suddenly becomes interesting. Un petit peu more exciting.
Take boredom, for example. In America, everyone is bored. I’m so bored! people complain. That’s why we have all that entertainment—it distracts us from our boredom. But in France, no one is bored. One suffers from ennui, maybe, but not boredom. It requires élan to pull off ennui. A bored housewife in New Brunswick is a Lifetime movie. A housewife suffering from ennui in the French countryside, why, that’s literature. Ennui takes dullness and makes it fascinant.
I was thinking about all this chez moi the other week. Sitting on my chaise longue, popping bonbons and reading Proust, I was struck by how much material a Frenchman could extract from the memory of a baked good. Eight volumes, to be exact. Which got me to thinking about those French and that, with just a soupçon of frenchiness, they turn even the most mundane into a work of art. A urinal mounted on the wall in a den in Poughkeepsie is bizarre. Make it a pissoir and call it “Fountain” and it’s declared a seminal cultural landmark of the 20th century. And it’s comme ça with everything. An entire philosophical school based on the idea that nothing means anything? If you came up with that in Cleveland, who would bother?
Take anything, n’importe quois, if you make it French, it becomes art. Misery? Art! Decadence? Art! Sexual perversion? Art! De Sade, the old goat, whose exploits are so base, so utterly depraved, that I can’t even mention them here, is considered a literary genius. An artiste! A bon vivant! French is the magic wand that can turn the merde of a marquis into gold, such is its power.
And something doesn’t need to have started off in French to get the benefit from it. Pas du tout. It works in translation as well. Jerry Lewis. No need to say more.
There simply isn’t an aspect of culture into which the French haven’t planted their flag with a triumphant voilà! Food, fashion, film… The rest of the world can merely aspire.
Those French. It would be so easy to hate them. If only they weren’t so gosh darn charmant, with all that certain je ne sais quois.