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The Newcomer

Vive la France

by Frances Potts

A French woman has revealed the secrets of why French women don't get fat. So said Oprah on her May 16 broadcast in which the author of a book with that title politely tried to skirt the obvious-Americans are over weight.

Not much was said about our pudgy U.S. men, but this French lady is determined, through her writing, to improve us women.

A frequent traveler between France and America, the author, whose name eludes me, has had opportunity to compare our eating habits - and the results thereof - with women around her Parisian luncheon table.

And we came off looking rather like garbage disposals.

It seems the women who never get fat have a set of secrets that have never leaked outside France until now. Indeed, the author said her friends berated her for "telling our secrets." She said she assured them her book tells "only some, not all" their secrets.

Does this mean if we follow the eating secrets she does reveal, we will have about as much success as a cook trying to make a dish from a recipe in which an essential ingredient has been omitted?

I prefer to think she hasn't been that cruel.

I haven't read the book-although I may-but Oprah's questioning revealed that French women never exercise but do walk everywhere they go. However, the crux of their never-get-fat secret is taking pleasure in their food. Evidentally this means American women chomping on a triple burger with a side of fries know nothing about pleasure. (Oh yeah?)

The pleasure the author is advocating will take us from gobble and swallow to a higher level if we let our senses go wild. The French, she said, take enjoyment from preparing the food and presenting it elegantly before even sitting down to eat. Then, seated before fine silver, goblets, snowy white napery and small portions, they eat slowly and with thought and feeling, paying attention to texture, taste, aroma. Food becomes a complete sensation in which appreciation becomes the key.

I decided to give this a try.

I chose my sun-dappled verandah as the experimental site. I dressed the glass-topped table I received for my birthday with a placemat in a Southwestern design and a bowl of flowers given me by neighbors.

Then I retreated to the kitchen to whip up a pasta dish involving a handful of noodles, an egg, a sprinkle of onions and lite soy sauce. It fit into a lotus bowl the size of my fist.

I felt I was getting into the spirit.

So, I thinly sliced a quarter of a cucumber and arranged it artistically on a dainty plate alongside a slice of watermelon I could see through and one giant strawberry lightly dusted with sugar. (Yes, sugar. So, OK, I cheated.)

By now I was on a roll.

A goblet of water with a lemon slice rounded out my presentation...I thought. Then I remembered a glass of wine was the author's recommendation at each meal.

So I poured a small glass. It was either half full or half empty, depending on your outlook.

All of this I carried to the table and placed just so. But when I sat down the sun was in my eyes. I hesitated to move because I had intended to feast my eyes not only on the meal and bouquet of flowers, but also on my rose garden, planted last October and now rich with blooms of pink, white, lavender and velvety red.

See, I was going as far as I could with this experiment. Since I was dining alone, there would be no conversation, thus no food for thought, but I figured the eyes, at least, would be well fed. But the sun was relentless, so I jumped up and pulled the placemat across the table.

Never do that with a stemmed glass full (half full) of red wine.

Mopping up wine could have threatened the elegance of this dining experience, but it provided an opportunity to slip into something more comfortable. (Are wine stains removable?)

Newly gowned, I ate slowly, resting my fork after two mouthfuls in the recommended Frenchified way. The brain, Oprah's author said, takes 20 minutes to get the I-am-full message.

From start to finish, it was a rather pleasant experience and, as I pushed away from the table, I heard my eyes and tongue thank me-or perhaps it was just my stomach rumbling.

There was another guest on Oprah's May 16th show who said she lost 22 pounds in three months following the French Women Don't Get Fat lifestyle. Maybe everyone who makes the transition to the French women's way will not lose weight, but, with three glasses of wine a day, they might not care.

. Frances Potts is a retired journalist who spent her career working at several newspapers in Washington state.

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