Let's Talk About Seduction

By Kyanna Sutton   |   Tuesday, September 20, 2011
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Oct. 1, 2011

Cover of Elaine Sciolino's book. (Courtesy Times Books)

BOSTON — For the French, seduction isn't simply a question of sex. It's a mindset that transcends sexual conquest, relating to how one approaches one's life as a whole. Elaine Sciolino, Paris correspondent and former Paris bureau chief for The New York Times, offers a few tips for Americans in her new book, La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life. She shared some thoughts on the book over email. 

Seduction ≠ Sex

Sciolino described seduction in France as omnipresent in everything: From sharing a meal, to the scent of a perfume; from a walk through the Versailles gardens, to a night-tour of Paris — or the elegant hand-kiss of a charming man. "It is an all-encompassing word that can stand for persuasion, attraction, influence; soft power," Sciolino explained.

Sciolino makes it clear that seduction is a force that seems to infiltrate all areas of French life, whether it is present in flirtatious conversation or political debate. "I was fascinated by newspaper headlines that more than often made use of this word, séduction, to qualify situations, people, or even objects. Saying that a politician is 'a seducer' does not necessarily mean that he is physically or sexually attractive, it can mean that he has great charisma, that he is a talented speaker, a brilliant mind," Sciolino said.

Nikos Aliagas demonstrates the je ne sais quoi of "the look." (via greekadman/Creative Commons )

The Look

In her book, Sciolino describes seduction in France, and in Paris particularly, as being inextricably wrapped up in a strong sensibility of quiet sophistication; much of which is transmitted and translated between people non-verbally throughout the culture. Sciolino explained the foundation of seduction as, le regard, "the look." It is without question, the first step in the art of French seduction.

"'Le regard' is the electric charge between two people. Their eyes lock and there is an immediate understanding. So much of seduction and seducing the other has to do with le regard, it holds promise and mystery, it's much more subtle than words, it has to do with the body without being overtly physical and sexual, but it can be enough to destabilize another, or to form a strong connection," Sciolino said.

I asked Sciolino to boil the game of seduction down to three rules (for busy American readers), or in this case, three acts of the "play." She accepted the challenge.

Act One: Le Regard

"Master the look. You never walk alone on the streets of Paris. (This is not New York!) Someone is always looking at you and you can look back. The look is powerful. There is something chaste and pure about 'the look,' as there is no sullying of the body. But there is also something inherently unfaithful about it, because with the look, you never stop falling in love. Stendhal, the nineteenth- century novelist, said, 'You can say everything in one look, and yet you can always deny the look, for it cannot be quoted word for word," Sciolino said.

This seemed to beg a question. Should "the look" be accompanied by a smile?

"Smiling is complicated in France," Sciolino said. "Avoid it in the beginning. Americans are accustomed to smiling at strangers; the French, particularly the Parisian, are not." That might help explain why some Americans find Parisians rude.

"The reluctance to smile does not indicate the absence of kindness in the French character, but it does signal reserve. A French smile is fraught with too much meaning to be bestowed as a mere pleasantry," Sciolino said.

Act Two: Intellectual Foreplay

"Turn conversation into a verbal caress and learn the pleasure of process. For the French, life is rarely about simply reaching the goal. It is also about the leisurely art of pursuing it and persuading others to join in. How much fun would sex be without the flirtation, or dinner without the bouquet of the wine? What joy is there in words without wordplay, or in ideas without fencing and parrying?" Sciolino said.

Act Three: The Kill

"Where an American might see 'the kill' as the sex act, the French might see it in the moment of pre-consummation. Some of the most unlikely characters throughout French history have valued the sizzle more than the steak. Georges Clemenceau is best known in the United States as a French prime minister. But he was also a novelist. There's a line in one of his novels that I love: 'The most beautiful moment in love is when I climb the staircase,'" Sciolino said.

This idea of anticipation as the apex of seduction is clearly illustrated on the jacket of Sciolino's book. In this case, a well-heeled woman climbs the staircase. One of the things a reader takes away from Sciolino's book is that for many French women in particular seduction = war. But is war a good metaphor for seduction?

"Arielle Dombasle, a singer and actress who is a character in my book, told me that seduction is war," Sciolino said. "So did Moliere's fictional character, Don Juan. Seduction can be war, but it's much more than that. Seduction has so many different facets. It's not simply war, it's not simply persuasion, it's a combination of all these different tactics, skills, emotions, processes. That's what makes it so complicated," Sciolino said.

Part Two: The Fallout Of Infidelity In France & Seduction In Politics

Get Caught Reading!

Monday, June 27, 2011
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"My Nine Lives," Violin$, Alisa Weilerstein, and Who's Afraid of Modern Music?

By Brian McCreath   |   Tuesday, December 7, 2010
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Wednesday, Dec. 8

Cellist Alisa Weilerstein, featured today in a performance from the Kissinger Sommer festival, will be performing in Boston in April as a guest soloist of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston.

And here few items from recent news that caught my attention:

American pianist Leon Fleisher had a conversation with Diane Rehm about his new book, My Nine Lives:  A Memoir of Many Careers in Music, and you can hear the conversation, with Fleisher's co-author, Anne Midgette by visiting the Diane Rehm Show.  I'll have a couple of selections performed by Leon Fleisher in the afternoon on Wednesday.

At NPR, you can hear the story of the most expensive violin sale in history (well, it will be when it happens anyway...).  It's called the Vieuxtemps Guarneri del Jesu, and you can hear a concerto written by its former owner in the afternoon.

Finally, Alex Ross, the music critic for the New Yorker, expresses some thoughts that I've often had about new, or modern music.  As happens invariably, he expresses it much more compellingly and eloquently than I, but by way of summary, it's something like this:  Our culture values artistic risk-taking in many forms.  Think of the value placed on Jackson Pollock's paintings, or Stanley Kubrick's films.  If places like the excellent Institute of Contemporary Art are hip and cool, or even just intriguing, and if Frank Gehry's architecture (that's the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, courtesy of WikiMedia Commons) is so highly thought of, why does modern music (however you want to define it - Birtwhistle?  Carter?  Schoenberg?) struggle for acceptance among a broad population?

Check out Alex's article at The Guardian, along with a response about the situation specifically in Britain by Tom Service.  And feel free to leave a comment or two here.  And as you're thinking all that through, be sure to tune in on Wednesday afternoon for one of Boston's many terrific ensembles devoted to new music, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, with a piece by Evan Ziporyn.  BMOP's concerts on Dec. 10, 11, & 12, entitled Luminous Noise and including music the fascinating composers Jennifer Johnson, Chen Yi, and Judith Weir, might be just the thing to shake up those pre-conceived ideas about modern music.

A Summer Book List

By WGBH News   |   Thursday, June 14, 2012
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What are you reading this summer? These are some recommendations from Emily Rooney's panel — including your input.

Read More

The Food Obsessive's Diet

By Will Roseliep   |   Friday, June 1, 2012
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peter kaminsky
Peter Kaminsky's new book is "Culinary Intelligence." (Courtesy Random House)

June 1, 2012

BOSTON — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates over 35 percent of Americans are obese. That astounding figure puts more than one third of the country at high risk for high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
Some who are overweight or obese decide to make changes to reverse weight gain, including getting more exercise and adopting a new diet. For those who choose the latter, there is a head-spinning array of choices available: low-carb, no-carb, low sugar and high fiber, in addition to celebrity-endorsed diets and weight-loss programs.
But setbacks such as unusual foods, a new eating schedule or a complete ban on favorite dishes can derail even the best-intentioned dieters.
Food writer Peter Kaminsky was 35 pounds overweight when he decided to make a change. After he grew large on a steady stream of rich foods and large portions — the spoils of the trade — Kaminsky was forced to make a change.
“I was a chunky boy,” he said. “I topped out at 205."
So Kaminsky developed a diet that allowed him to enjoy the foods he wrote about without sacrificing anything he loved. He focused on maximizing flavor, minimizing portions and cutting out anything not strictly necessary. He wrote up the results in a new book, "Culinary Intelligence: The Art of Eating Healthy (and Really Well)."
One tactic that helped: “Get rid of processed ingredients because [you’re] going to put on weight very quickly,” Kaminsky said. “Buy the best ingredients you can afford — and that ain’t foie gras. That’s whatever’s in the farmer’s market.” Cook, or live with someone who does, and you can make those ingredients taste good.
Kaminsky’s approach — flavor first — has allowed him to honor his foodie roots while making crucial lifestyle changes. He said his diet is a way to maximize the “flavor per calorie” of everything he eats, from breakfast through dinner and every snack in between.
According to the author, the diet has paid off: “Now I’m 166 pounds.”

Game of Thrones: The Cookbook

By Abbie Ruzicka   |   Wednesday, May 30, 2012
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May 31, 2012

medieval lemoncakes
You don't need a spit or a cauldron to make these cookies inspired by "Game of Thrones." (Abbie Ruzicka/WGBH)

BOSTON — A little more than a year ago, roommates Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer began a food blog with the idea of cooking the medieval recipes from the "A Song of Ice and Fire" (Game of Thrones) series by author George R.R. Martin. The two started testing out the medieval foods they read about in the series by searching for the recipes online and through medieval cookbooks and altering the recipes for modern-day palates. 
Their blog, "Inn at the Crossroads," became wildly popular amongst Game of Thrones fans. With the blessing of George R.R. Martin himself, Monroe-Cassel and Lehrer have turned their food blog into a new book: A Feast of Ice and Fire: The Official Game of Thrones Companion Cookbook
Elizabethan Lemon Cakes
Recipe excerpted from “A Feast of Ice and Fire”
Makes 36 small cakes
Baking: 15 minutes
Prep: 5 minutes

2 1/2 cups flour, plus more as needed
1 egg
2 cups granulated sugar
2 egg yolks
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
Grated zest from 2 lemons
1 1/2 teaspoons milk
Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a large baking sheet.

In a large bowl, combine the flour and granulated sugar. Cut in the butter, then add the zest and the whole egg and yolks. Mix thoroughly, adding more flour as needed, until the dough is no longer sticky and can be easily shaped by hand.

Roll the dough into balls about 1 inch across and place them on the prepared baking sheet at least 2 inches apart, giving them room to spread as they bake.

Bake for 15 minutes, until the tops are just slightly golden. Allow the cakes to cool for a minute before moving them to a cooling rack.

Mix the confectioners’ sugar and milk to a smooth consistency. Once the cakes have cooled, use a spoon to drizzle the icing over the cookies.

For the icing:

3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/3 cup lemon juice, plus more if needed
1 teaspoon unsalted butter, softened
Yellow food coloring (optional)
Garnishes such as candied orange peel, pomegranate seeds or decorative sprinkles (optional)

Mix the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice together in a double boiler over medium heat, stirring all the while. Stir in the butter. Mix until the icing is a nice, smooth consistency, suitable for pouring. Add more juice, if necessary. If you would like, tint the icing yellow with food coloring. 

About the Authors
Brian McCreath Brian McCreath

The WGBH News team comprises the WGBH radio newsroom, The Callie Crossley Show, The Emily Rooney Show and WGBH Channel 2 reporters and producers from Greater Boston and Basic Black. 


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