Monday, April 26, 2010

Transatlantic Parallel

Until I met Jeanne-Aelia Desparmet-HartLundi was my least favorite day of the week, but since we've constructed our Transatlantic Parallel partnership -- I love Mondays (!)

Briefly, for those of you unfamiliar with our weekly exchanges, this is what transpires: Jeanne
-Aelia, creator of the divinely chic blog,Through the French Eye of Design, lives outside New York City; I live outside Paris. That puts us in the unique sociological position of studying up-close and personal the habits and habitats of those whose culture may not necessarily mirror our own.  And this is where we tell you about our adventures --  the frustrations, the faux pas and the fun.

Each of our "conversations" includes two subjects we choose together, followed by a total blackout until we see each other's post the same moment you do.

This week we've decided to take a look at women in politics and transportation.

Clothes: The Great Communicators

To be fair, I should start my discourse on the politics of dressing with a simple fact: "What do I know?" 

I have never understood why, with few exceptions -- and yes, on both sides of the Atlantic -- women in government (or hoping to be) set themselves a style standard that can best be described as neat and not necessarily "crisp" which has its own allure when done right. No, we're talking about not a hair out of place, knife pleats in the pants, skirts grazing the underside of the knees, often a primary color is involved and perhaps a bold necklace, we know Hillary loves them, which holds attention next to the face which has the mouth which spews the words which spread the message. Madeleine Albright famously had her brooches.

Comfort is important we all agree. I remember at a conference I helped coordinate where Madame Albright was the star speaker. During the question and answer period she spoke about having to run after Yasser Arafat across a cobblestone courtyard to bring him back into the heated negotiations from which he had dramatically exited in a huff. Now that calls for comfortable heels. I can't recall whether she referred to a hiked up skirt. It may explain also why Madame Clinton wears pants in case she too is obliged to run after an errant head of state.

I think we all get it: serious, pulled-together, no-nonsense ensembles rule the day. However on
those rare, refreshing occasions when those few women who have figured out they can be serious while still being stylish I think they add great panache to the public facade. On the other side of the Atlantic I think Nancy Pelosi is stunning and sometimes Kathleen Sebelius gets it right, if we're counting First Ladies, one can like her choice of clothes or not, but Michelle Obama has a vibrant, confident style.

I'm sure there are many other women at other levels of state and federal government I do not know so I'm counting on my partner to fill in the blanks -- on both sides of the aisle.

On this side of the Atlantic my favorite (and Jeanne-Aelia's as well) is our Minister of Finance, Christine Lagarde (the first two pictures), whom you have seen here many times. Also in the style-a-thon is Rachida Dati, European Deputy and Mayor of the Seven Arrondissement (pictured with Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and again immediately below. Both are consistently chic -- day and night. Rama Yade, (in the plaid jacket) Minister of Sports and Valerie Pecresse (in the red leather jacket), Minister of Education, vacillate between boring and smartly stylish. 

The socialist leaders, Martine Aubry, head of the party, is downright dowdy and Segolene Royale (pictured together here), who ran for president against Nicolas Sarkozy and is apparently gearing up to do so again, is trim and attractive, but stays on the safe side, sometimes teetering over into "dadame." On rare occasions she dares a stylish aberration. She has all the potential, but maybe feels it's not politically correct to be too chic.

 As I said, if we're counting First Ladies, who could not include Carla Bruni-Sarkozy?

Trains, Planes and Metros

My philosophy about getting from point A to point B is "whatever works." In a perfect world I would have a driver. I hate to drive. I'm not afraid of flying, but it's not way up there on my list of fun pass times, particularly these days as we all know. Even first class travel is a hassle, though less so obviously. Air travel is a necessary inconvenience.

Traveling by train is a by-gone luxury in the United States from my admittedly limited experience and subway travel of which I've had plenty of experience in New York City is unpleasant at best and let's not get into at worst. It does normally get one efficiently from point A to point B.

In France though, we have the fast train, the absolutely out-of-this-world wonderful TGV, I'm sure many of you know it. It is pure luxury and first class if one desires is budget friendly with lovely meals to make the trip from Paris to the South of France a non-stop pleasure. Since the French do have five or more weeks of vacation, they have the time to take trains to their leisure destinations. (The pictures at the top show the TGV inside and out.)

Trains as far as I know, except perhaps between New York and D.C., are no longer part of the general culture in the States. I remember every morning for years taking the commuter train from outside New York into Grand Central Station and then home again. The experience was rather unsavory and sometimes in the winter there was no heat. 

The Metro system in Paris is rarely unpleasant except perhaps in the summer when one can be packed entirely too close to  "dewy" passengers, but all-in-all it's a fast, clean, well-oiled system that everyone I know uses all the time. Buses are the most fun because of the sightseeing, but if you're in a hurry, the Metro is the solution.

(As I re-read this I think I haven't said very much of substance on transportation. I trust Jeanne-Aelia will be more lucid and interesting than I on the subject. Over to you my chere.)


Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Au contraire ma belle, you have made your point clearly and always with such intent to help us better understand what fashion or trend works for each one of us, and to explore ourselves from the perspective of others. MERCI MA BELLE! Anita

Jeanne-Aelia Desparmet-Hart said...

LETITIA!! J"ADORE! you are such a fun and terrific writer and you always find the right slant, the right image, the right tone, and always the great wit. Bravo! c'est trop sympa ma partenaire extraordinaire.

BigLittleWolf said...

Couldn't agree more about the TGV and the métro!

And your style commentary, as usual, is impeccable.

BigLittleWolf said...

PS - s'il te plait - visite mon post de ce weekend, au sujet des chaussures... j'aimerais bien savoir si ce qui reste "tendance" ici se voit de ton côté de l'Atlantique. Et il y a meme très peu de Louboutins !


Lily Lemontree said...

Fantastic post!
I am on my way over to 'Through the French Eye of Design' right now for the other side to the coin so to speak!
This must be one of my most favorite series in bloggerland, makes me look forward to Mondays!
As always, I send you all my love dear friend!

Deja Pseu said...

I think women politicians (especially here in the US have to walk a very fine line between "stylish" and "everywoman." Above all, one must not offend, which explains the general blandness.

We had the great pleasure to take the TVG from Paris for Reims for a day of touring champagne houses (and some marvellous tasting, bien sur!). It was really a pleasant way to go, and so quick!

Lorrie said...

Excellent points. Mixing politics and fashion is a delicate business.
Another woman whose style I admire is Canada's current Governor General, Michaelle Jean.

Ahh, le métro et le TGV. Wonderful.

My husband and I took the TGV to Avignon several years ago. We chose the "Zen" instead of the "Zap" compartment. At the start of the trip a very stern conductor stood at the front of the car and lectured the passengers about staying quiet. No noise tolerated! A woman across the aisle caught my eye and leaned over to whisper, "comme l'école."

knitpurl said...

TGV looks so comfortable. Lucky you to have it available. xoxo

Anonymous said...

I think Americans think that pretty is the opposite of smart, and that if you look too good, you're superficial. I myself find it uncomplicated to hold these two (allegedly) opposing thoughts in my head at the same time.

I really wish we "did" trains around here.

xoxox --

Metropolitan Mum said...

I used to live in Germany and in Switzerland for quite a while. The female politicians are worth hiding them. But at least public transport is presentable :)

PS: I am so disgusted by the London tube that I DRIVE despite rush hour and congestion charge.

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