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     Fatale:  How French Women Do It

Edith Kunz, the author of the recently published "Fatale: How French Women Do It" (Bridgewood Press), went on a quest to find the answer to a most crucial question: What is the secret behind the power of seduction of French women. Ms Kunz plunges into French history to find the key to this powerful and yet mysterious power. She revisits troubadours who were the first to codify the rules of courtship, to introduce a ritual into the relationship between men and women, in the Middle Ages. She ends with the modern era, the era of Catherine Deneuve. The historian of seduction examines every aspect of the French woman's charm: her diet, the culture she is raised in, the ideology that shapes her, the decor of her bedroom, her role as wife and mistress, the issue of age and what she calls "the art of brilliance" which Frenchwomen use to dazzle French men. Edith Kunz has been a lover of France since her adolescence and lives in Paris part of the year.

We met at the Train Bleu, the restaurant which overlooks the gare de Lyon. The restaurant looks like a decor from a Balzac novel, with its gold and frescoes and drapings. It could be the residence of a prosperous bourgeois under Napoleon III. Edith Kunz was wearing a Jean-Paul Gaultier blouse which echoed her book. It featured "La Vierge de Melun", the famous painting of the mistress of Henri IV, Agnes Sorel. Agnes is dressed in the formal manner of the court but one of her breasts is outside her severe outfit. "She was known to have the most beautiful breasts in the kingdom," explains Kunz. "And she started a new trend: noble women at the court would be dressed up to the waist and showed their breasts." This was before silicon implants. Here is an excerpt from our conversation.

Q. How did you become interested in your subject?

A. I have always been fascinated by French history. It is better than any fiction. But French women are especially fascinating. We are trying so hard to compete with men, whereas we see French women not having to compete and yet they have power. They are smart and yet are sexy. U.S. women are trying to emulate men with the tie, the Brooks Brothers suit. we look over here and we see women in top positions and they dress in very sensuous ways. Then we hear about glamour, "menage à trois": it is the myth!

Q. We feel there is much more of a gender war in the U.S.

A. Yes, there is. In France, it goes on more smoothly and we see the power. When you think about it, there's been 2000 years of practice here in a very lush environment with style, with the architecture, with the arts, and we've had 300 years, coming out of Puritanism. We are still adolescent.

Q. Also, in America, everyone wants to be strictly equal to everyone else.

A. We are maybe trying to catch up too fast. We see a lot of other women in other countries catching us. We are trying to go so fast we are going overboard. We're trying too hard. There is a mystery in the power of French women and that's what interests me.

Q. How different is the environment in which French women grew up in from the environment of an American woman?

A. They have been exposed to history. In their history there are king' mistresses, women who are older than men and still fascinate men. You grow up with a lot of wonderful art around. In the U.S. you would be concerned to have a nude statue in a park! Here, you see statues everywhere, you don't need to go to a museum. There is such sensuousness. French people don't have a problem with age. My Gosh! In California aren't they doing everything not to look a day over 30. Here, I am more comfortable with my age. It is relaxing.

Q. Everything starts with the troubadours? They are the ones who define the rules of love, of courtship, and that's when women started having power?

A. But it even starts with Sainte Geneviève! She was a pretty tough cookie! She got herself together to stop the Huns. She was liberated. Joan of Arc, too. We see the power of women even in what they call the Dark Ages. Eléonor of Aquitaine was quite some gal: married to a French king, left him for an English king and she had three sons and pushed them to the throne. There is osmosis. French women read about it, they see their mother being confident; they see it in the street. They see this casualness with the body in the street. Women here do what they want. It's helped me being here. I have become more comfortable.

Q. What role did troubadours play? You say it all starts with them.

A. Hurrah for the troubadours of the 11th and 12th centuries. I feel they were instrumental in brightening up the dismal dark ages with humor, melodic music and romantic gamesmanship when they brought their "road show" to the northern climes. They developed an openness about love that had been stifled for too long by religious extremists.

Q. What's the secret of French women?

A. One word: confidence. They are confident in themselves, confident with their age, their body, with their power. I don't see them burning bras! They are sensuous even at work. In the U.S., you cannot even open the door for them. They might believe you are being solicitous. I don't know what made American women so angry. Here, I don't see the anger. They charmed men to death, and it is fun for both. It looks like a lot of sensuousness. Do you see plastered down hair, like in the U.S.?

Q. Where does that come from?

A. I think it comes from "practice makes perfect" because they have been at it a long time. And they have been reading a lot of history and see the power behind the throne. They've had time and exposure to the power that has taken place. All the mistresses of the kings were strong. I'd rather be behind the throne and pull the strings but let the guy be the target. Pretty clever.

Q. Are French women freer?

A. The women I see are more comfortable talking about sex, talking about their husband having a "petite amie", without being embarrassed about it or treating it as a huge tragedy. But again, it is all in history. It is the common thread.

Q. Simone de Beauvoir seems to have been more influential in the U.S. than in France.

A. Yes, perhaps her book, The Second Sex, made more of an impression on American women. But I guess this is because American women are still confronting the scars of puritanical mores. Things are changing slowly.

Q. Have you been changed by living here?

A. I am more confortable with my age, or with compliments, for instance. American women would say: "Do you mean it?" But American also have wonderful qualities. They have curiosity, vitality, enthusiasm.

Q. And great legs!

A. Yes!

Q. You start your book by saying the French woman is not very attractive but that she knows how to prepare herself.

A. French women are not the classic beauty. They are shorter, very well proportioned but not Italian beauties, even if you have Catherine Deneuve or Brigitte Bardot. French women look like "lightweights" but make up for physical bulk with mental prowess. They have their sensuousness which is more important. They also are very chic. More so than Italians, in a way.

Q. Also, you say that one of the secrets of French women is to never have men lose face in front of them in public. They know when not to push and men are grateful for that.

A. What I have observed about French women is that they don't act too sure in public. I have seen confrontations in the street to get a cab. In Paris, a French woman would just look at the man in a way that says: "How could you?" if a man wanted to get ahead of them. And that's more effective than a kick in the groin. French women donŐt have to prove it in public. They know they're gonna win with charm.

Q. How do French men reconcile the fact that they might have a mistress with the importance of family in their life?

A. There is a tradition which might not be able to go on for ever. If we live to be 100 years, does that mean we are going to be married to the same person and be romantically charged for 70 years? I think it is slightly unrealistic for human nature. Margaret Mead says that in another century we will have three mates: one for the adolescent urges, one for child bearing and one for companionship. And it is the way it has been in France for a long time. History helps you to live every day.

Q. Why?

A. Because France is a catholic country, it was difficult to divorce; but also because property was combined and it was important to keep it that way. So the French had a tradition of working it out. You'd take care of physical urges, but the code was that you kept the family together. Also, French men and women have grown up with the history that it is taking place and that it is not a total embarrassment. Look at Mitterrand! When people were bringing up his other mistresses, he would answer: "So?" and that was it. Danielle Mitterrand was not raising a fuss either. There is a code: the family comes first even if you had a mistress in Paris. Look at Victor Hugo. He had it very well balanced.

Q. That does not shock you?

A. Well, he gave Madame Hugo the respect of the domicile. She had the big house, could go to church with him. Like Zola. He would have lunch on Sunday with Madame Zola and would bicycle to Meudon to her lover. The wife still had first choice for the important occasions. So, no, I am not shocked. This is more realistic.

Q. Are French women better lovers?

A. I don't know but there is the myth, the reputation. I just know there is a lot of focus on the final act, a lot of comfort. In the U.S. you read about "the 10 easy steps", "10 rules to make it easy". We are a little more uptight about it.