Friday, January 29, 2010

Ooh-la-la: Romance and seduction, the French way

Who would have thought that first thing in the morning, before finishing the first cup of coffee of the day, I’d be talking about girlie stuff like sexy lingerie and the French art of love with the lovely, curvy Jamie Cat Callan, and ... No, no, no, snookums. I had a legitimate reason for chatting her up while you were still asleep. She’s the author of (we need to pause here for a chuckle en Francais: hoh-hoh-hoh) “French Women Don’t Sleep Alone: Pleasurable Secrets to Finding Love,” and she’s coming to town next week to talk with the ladies from the Port City Women’s Club, and, like it or not, for the overwhelming majority of French filles Callan interviewed, undies are a key part of Aphrodite strategy.

Now, we’re not necessarily talking about the kind of frilly and sexy (and very uncomfortable looking and quite possibly dangerous) items that you might find in a Frederick’s of Hollywood catalog, or so we’ve heard. But the pieces have to be nice — and they have to match. And you’ve got to turn yourself out, knicker-wise, every day, no matter if you’re anticipating, or hoping for a romp — er, a night of romance, or just popping into the car to run an errand. Not just because it makes you feel pretty or because you’re worried (thanks, Mom) about being seen in tattered underoos if, God forbid, you’re in an accident, but because it’s the first thing you put on in the morning, it is the first step in how you present yourself to the outer, physical world and, in essence, is an indication of how you relate to it. Immediately. And, beyond that, a simple step like lingerie choice helps build inner confidence. And that, the author says, not the bloomers, is what really gets the pheromones jumping.

During her February talk at River Merrimac Bar and Grille, Callan will serve up the straight Continental dope on flirtation and romance (the French raison d’etre) as well as marriage, deconstructing the French fairer sex’s rep for being so sexy and mysterious and intriguing — so ooh-la-la — and explaining why accessories like scarves, boots and skirts (and lingerie, of course) are essential building blocks for romance. And what makes her such an expert on the subject? With a name like Callan, she’s obviously not French. True enough. The author, whose middle name, Cat, is actually a nickname from her teen years, is half-Irish and blond. But her maternal grandmother was very definitely French, and looked the part. ”She was tall and slender with black hair, just a stunning woman,” Callan says, “She always dressed so beautifully, so elegantly, always with scarves, always turned out in heels, stockings. She was incredibly stylish.”

As a young girl, Callan spent her summers with Grandmere, who schooled her in the ways French women find and keep love, but she didn’t put it all together — the ideas about romance and seduction and style — until she started working on “French Women” a couple of years ago. She had been bouncing around a bit, writing three young adult novels in the 1980s, chasing after a master’s degree in film at UCLA, writing some screenplays and serving as an assistant to Meg Ryan in the 1990s, returning home to Connecticut to teach writing to adult students at Fairfield University (which is where she met her hubby, William Thompson, a climate change scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, who was taking a class). Then, in one of those “light dawns on Marblehead” moments a couple of years ago, Callan, who just celebrated her 56th birthday last week, realized that she has always loved to travel, that she’s always been fascinated by French culture and that she’s a writer and that she could put it together into one enjoyable package: Travel to France and write about French topics. “My only regret is that it took so long to put these things together,” says the writer, who will be heading back to France in the fall, to research (“It’s not a vacation,” she says) “Bonjour Happiness,” her next book. “I just wish I had thought of it earlier.” She’s also working on a memoir about being a femme d’un certain age, growing up with an “impossibly French” grandmother.

The book, called “adorable” by literary sexual provocateur Erica Jong, isn’t all garterbelts and push-up bras and makeovers. It also looks at the French art of flirtation, explains why French women always feel sexy and where and how they meet their men, especially since they don’t date. Huh? Nope, instead of the usual expensive (and very high-pressure for both parties) date, they go to dinner parties, which tend to be casual affairs, so to speak, allowing the time and space to do the romantic, emotional stripteases they do so well. Or so we hear. Or fantasize about. (Oops, sorry, snookums. Just speculating. But, you know, I think French girls would be more understanding about things like that.) It also gives them the chance to duck out if it isn’t going to work out. The book also includes recipes — for food and, perhaps, seduction.

The book “connected the dots in my relationship with my grandmother,” says Callan, who teaches popular fiction at the University of Southern Maine’s Low Residency MFA Program at Stonecoast. “I had no idea that my grandmother was going to be my muse.” And, for the author, it’s all good: “I’m having the time of my life,” she says.

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: Jamie Cat Callan, author of “French Women Don’t Sleep Alone: Pleasurable Secrets to Finding Love,” will speak at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 1 at River Merrimac Bar and Grille at the Tannery. The event is free and open to all area women. The Port City Women’s Group came together four years ago, evolving from a small group of women sharing stories about themselves to a business networking group. They meet the first Monday of every month.

MORE MORE MORE: For more information about the author, check out her Web page. To watch a short interview with the author, check out this video.

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