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Olive Belly Button

At first gasp, France's Télématin could be the identical twin cousin of The Today Show. The hosts hum along to pop music on the way back from commercial; there's corny banter; a stodgy man in a bowtie minces and camps it up, just like Al Roker. The French Katie Couric would have to be a petite blonde named Sophie Davant who got her start doing weather 20 years ago. But then, there's this: female hosts wear complicated tops in the style of Jean Paul Gaultier; meanwhile, America's Kelly Ripa is left to languish in a palette of corporate beige and focus-group-friendly blandness. And the male host of Télématin sometimes wears a jaunty jean jacket. Sure, I could see Regis or Matt in denim if they were on location with, say, a rock star. But would they turn the collar up?

And also, the camera angles. Today, we're discussing some new sunscreen technology with a beauty expert. The shot begins off kilter, showing profiles of guest and host as they project to the imaginary audience. Focused on the expert in the foreground, the perspective then changes to the host in an artful manner. Returning from commercial, the camera gaze lingers tightly (voyeuristically?) on the beauty expert's face while the music plays. Wrapping up the segment, she finally declares a certain brand of sunscreen most effective, but who could think about dermatology now? I want to put on a black turtleneck and play bongo drums with Truffaut.

The weather girl on Channel 6 is showing her navel. She speaks of last week's hurricane in Florida, talking about the horrible devastation. All the while, her little olive belly button winks at the camera. She signs off with a bouncy clap of her hands. You, mademoiselle, are no Al Roker. I can't decide if I'm more annoyed at the objectification aspect, or the fact that it's such a gross cliché -- sexpot weather girl. "Oh her! Did you know she's not even a trained meteorologist?" My cousin reads my mind when I ask her about this particular jeune fille. "She used to do télé réalité." When I flip back to Télématin, the host tells the female expert that men will be distracted by her legs if she sports the chiffon sarong in question. The woman responds archly, "And what will you be wearing on the beach?" And with that bit of flirtatious repartee, I mute the television.

I go to the grocery store before my friend Julie's birthday party Wednesday night. It being the day before la fête nationale, (Bastille Day), the lines are epic. An American couple behind me frowns at the inconvenience -- in their Connecticut grocery store, "this would not fly." A few minutes later, the cashier runs a price check. "Why don't you call Kara?" the American woman sighs to her husband. "Tell her we're in line at Monoprix." As if Kara will be at all surprised, or need any further explanation.

A blonde in a wrap dress holding only a bouquet of flowers glides up to the register. "I'm very late for a dinner party; these are for the hostess, you see. Would you mind if I just buy this one thing?" she asks charmingly. "Bien sûr," the group up front responds. The woman from Connecticut loses it. "Oh can you believe this? We've been waiting 20 minutes and this lady's just going to waltz right up?"

In front of me, there's a French couple with a dog studying the flower woman gravely. I imagine they're going to take up Connecticut's cause, but then the woman leans into her husband saying, "Elle est super belle." (She's very pretty.) "C'est claire," he agrees with resolve, like the prize judge at a county fair.

Whenever I picnic in France, I feel like I'm in that Seurat painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. There's a sort of tidy, alert, in the moment-ness. People just being; it's so simple. Thursday night, I watch the Eiffel Tower fireworks at a picnic with family and friends.

When the spectacle starts, our view is in fact, partially blocked by a large building. Several parties around us hastily gather their things and scuttle southward on the lawn. What a bummer to scramble like that, I think, settling back on my elbows. When my friend Stephan comes around with a bottle of champagne, I'm worried there won't be enough, seeing as I showed up with unexpected guests in tow, but he insists. We all toast, "Vive la France," and it turns out there's just enough for everyone.


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