Le Weekend, 3/3/23: Going Bobo in Paris, Macron in Angola & Other Stories 🇫🇷

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March 03, 2023

Dear Frenchly Readers,

The other day I was on the phone with my friend, Nils, back in Lyon. We were discussing my travel plans for late April, when the boys and Dan and I will make our way back to France for a little work, a little pleasure, certainly some new bandes dessinées and definitely good food. I told him we had gotten an Airbnb in Paris in the 10th arrondissement, on the rive droite—the Right Bank. I lived in the 14th arrondisement back in 1340, as my older son likes to point out, so things have changed a bit. I lived, oddly, (and odd only because I was born and raised in Maine), on the Avenue du Maine with my friend Lorin, who now runs a bakery in Northern California where he makes French pastries and a specific bread peculiar to Bordeaux. Obviously, I didn’t try to live on the Avenue du Maine. It just happened. It was one of those classic French apartments—large with big louvred windows that opened to small balcons facing the Avenue.

I had hoped to stay in the 14th on this trip; my first time taking my kids to Paris. Mostly I wanted to impress them by looking like I knew where I was going when we got there. And, also, the 14th retains its classic French vibe as a low key arrondissement full of families, good food and the keepers of French tradition. But I couldn’t find anything. So, when I told Nils where we were staying in the 10th, he said, “Oh yeah. That neighborhood is très Bobo.”

“Meaning what?” I said. “Tattoos and trust funds?”

“Exactement,” he said.

After that conversation, I wanted to know more about the origin of the word “Bobo” and found that it was coined by David Brooks in his 2000 book, Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There, which is about the bourgeois bohemians of the late nineties and 2000s. These are the anti-yuppies, who are “self-absorbed and narcissistic” (his words, not mine), and though they are major consumers, they aren’t all guilt-ridden about it because they feel they are building ethical and pleasurable lives by putting their money to good use, like buying “Made in the U.S.A.” products, for instance, or getting their showers redone with river stones, or traveling to Guatemala. To put a finer point in it, he writes: “They’ve taken all the things that were from the ‘60s of interest to teenagers, like free love and nudity, and gotten rid of them, and kept all the things that are of interest to middle-aged hypochondriacs, like whole grains and fancy rice.”

I might say it this way: Bobos say “Namaste” when they part ways; they say Keen-Wah, instead of Kee-NO-AH, and they like oat milk cortados and artisan bread.

The term “Bobo” didn’t stick in the U.S. But it did stick in France. French Bobos were suddenly everywhere, as bad as their U.S. counterparts, to some degree, but European and French, and slightly lower key. Some might describe them as grittier versions of England’s champagne socialists, but that doesn’t really get at the aesthetic of the French Bobo, who mixes Hermès scarves with second hand jeans and a skinny, stained t-shirt. In general, though, this is  a social class in France that likes to retain the purity of French values and style, while mixing it up with responsible and affordable Veja sneakers, French made underwear, and gluten free crêpes.

This got me thinking. Around the holidays, there was a tweet I noticed from Emily Nussbaum, the writer who wrote TV reviews for The New Yorker from 2011-2019 and won a Pulitzer Prize for them. She wanted to know what was the Williamsburg of Paris, if memory serves me right. I wrote back that she should go to Lyon, which, those of you who have been reading me know, is probably my favorite city in the world (Bill Buford got it all wrong in Dirt. But that’s another story.) What I love about Lyon is that it hasn’t been spoilt yet by the mallification of the world. I’ll never forget my trip to Paris when I saw a Gap near the Saint-Sulpice church. “That kind of corporate gentrification will kill Paris,” I thought. For me anyway. I mean, the Gap? Of all things? (Maybe a Bobo wears Gap jeans which they atone for by sliding them over all-organic cotton underwear made in the banlieue of Paris?)

But then I thought, what is the Williamsburg of Paris? So I asked our writer Cat Rickman to think about this idea. And she wrote this essay for me about the neighborhood that is probably most considered the Williamsburg of Paris, and in a way, how this is a sad statement for both places. Her essay is part elegy to what was once and is always eliding us and also a tour guide for those of us who want to eat gluten free cake and drink good coffee in Paris, even if that makes us très Bobo, too. It’s compliqué. And, as they say, when in Bobo-land, do as the Bobos do….

À cuisiner, regarder et lire çe weekend:

Right about now, though root vegetables still abound in many places in the world and continue to fill up well-meaning CSA boxes, many of us are craving tender lettuces, spring watercress, something tangy, clean, delicious. Philip Ruskin has just the thing to get you through the March doldrums: A céleri rémoulade salad. It’s made with raw celery root that’s been julienned; in other words, cut into matchsticks, and it has a tangy, mustard dressing that makes it taste like spring, even though it’s an ugly tuber. The last time Dan made this, he drenched it in dressing, which was gross. So faites attention! Add the dressing in little by little and taste as you go. Don’t stint on the lemon, either. Pair it with a white wine from this French woman-owned wine company in Napa Valley and you’ve got magic.

To watch: Andrea Meyer has 11 new French films for us opening this weekend at the festival Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, in New York. But some of these films are coming soon, or may already available, on both small and large screens, so keep an eye peeled.

Also, Cat Rickman has this round up of French events across the U.S. Some of these looks really interesting and fun!

To read: I was interested in this story today in Le Monde about Macron visiting Angola, a west African country where Portuguese is mainly spoken, but also some French, and where France is heavily invested in the petroleum industry. I was interested, in part, because my older son has made friends with three Angolan boys who speak Portuguese to each other, and a combo of French and English to my son. My son started being friends with them this winter, when he played basketball on their school team (my son’s school has no basketball team, so he can join our local town team). These boys are the children of recent Angolan asylum seekers in Maine; New Mainers. Both my son and these boys had a connection, which was they were all newer to the middle-school-boy-crowd than some of the kids who had been together since kindergarten. And they had another connection: a love of sports. But the icing on the cake was French. These days they all run track together. And what moves me is that, for this little group of four teenage boys, the language of French is a bridge between them, a secret conversation they can have together. My son’s new friends are generously bringing him into the fold, giving him safe a place, too.

À bientôt,

Caitlin.

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Who You Calling Bobo?

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Mange!

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