It is a well-known fact that, in London, everything sounds sexier in French. You get menus in French in most restaurants (most of them with awful spelling mistakes, I have to say). And just think of a French kiss if you are not convinced. Between you and me, I really don’t understand why we French have such a reputation. I can only speculate. So here is my latest theory: maybe it is all because, in my view, the best descriptions of kisses can be found in French books. Because, let’s face it, nobody describes a kiss (French or not) better than the French. As a geeky teenager completely lost in a sentimental desert, I used to devour every book to get some information as to how a kiss should feel. French authors were my confidants, they taught me everything. I remember reading such descriptions for days on end. It was the sort of stuff that was making my teenage self incredibly happy.
The first description that I found was in Candide, written by Voltaire. Candide is a child of “the most unaffected simplicity”, whose face is “the index of his mind”. Candide is in love with Cunegund (whom I never really warmed up to, she is quite pedantic), and he kisses her at the end of the first chapter. Here it is:
Cunégonde laissa tomber son mouchoir, Candide le ramassa, elle lui prit innocemment la main, le jeune homme baisa innocemment la main de la jeune demoiselle avec une vivacité, une sensibilité, une grâce toute particulière ; leurs bouches se rencontrèrent, leurs yeux s’enflammèrent, leurs genoux tremblèrent, leurs mains s’égarèrent.
And in English of course:
The miss dropped her handkerchief, the young man picked it up. She innocently took hold of his hand, and he as innocently kissed hers with a warmth, a sensibility, a grace–all very particular; their lips met; their eyes sparkled; their knees trembled; their hands strayed.
What’s not to love about such a first kiss? To me, this sentence still epitomises what a kiss should be about. It gave me very high expectations of how my first kiss should feel, and it is fair to say that the real thing didn’t live up to them. Not to mention that the guy dumped me after a few days. I moved on (Don’t we all?).
I soon found out another description that was at the same time deeply serious and incredibly frivolous. The irony is that Cyrano, the main protagonist of the play (written by Rostand), doesn’t actually kiss Roxanne. He borrows his words to the handsome Christian, who gets the kiss. So tragic. So unfair. By reading it again and again, somehow I forgot about my own heartbreak. I still know the lines by heart. I am pathetic.
Un baiser, mais à tout prendre, qu’est-ce ?
Un serment fait d’un peu plus près, une promesse
Plus précise, un aveu qui veut se confirmer,
Un point rose qu’on met sur l’i du verbe aimer;
C’est un secret qui prend la bouche pour oreille,
Un instant d’infini qui fait un bruit d’abeille,
Une communion ayant un goût de fleur,
Une façon d’un peu se respirer le cœur,
Et d’un peu se goûter, au bord des lèvres, l’âme !
|A kiss, when all is said,—what is it?
|An oath that’s ratified,—a sealed promise,
|A heart’s avowal claiming confirmation,—
|A rose-dot on the ‘i’ of ‘adoration,’—
|A secret that to mouth, not ear, is whispered,—
|Brush of a bee’s wing, that makes time eternal,—
|Communion perfumed like the spring’s wild flowers,—
|The heart’s relieving in the heart’s outbreathing,
|When to the lips the soul’s flood rises, brimming!
I watched Cyrano de Bergerac the other day, and I could still feel the magic. Seriously, it is an incredible text, right?
Growing older, I became passionate about a French author called Zola. I liked the realism of his books; I could live and breathe the characters. The most dramatic kiss of the Rougon-Macquart series can be found, in my view, at the end of Germinal.
Catherine and Etienne are trapped in a mine’s tunnel. Just before she dies, they share an intimate moment that starts with a kiss.
D’un élan, elle s’était pendue à lui, elle chercha sa bouche et y colla passionnément la sienne. Les ténèbres s’éclairèrent, elle revit le soleil, elle retrouva un rire calmé d’amoureuse.
With a sudden impulse she hung on to him, seeking his mouth and pressing her own passionately to it. The darkness lighted up, she saw the sun again, and she laughed a quiet laugh of love.
Very dramatic, right? And then she dies.
As I grew older, I started reading other authors. I also realised that all kisses were not happening center stage, and that some were actually harder work than others. This one is coming from The Great Gatsby (Scott Fitzgerald). I like its simplicity, it just sounds true, almost familiar.
It was like that. Almost the last thing I remember was standing with Daisy and watching the moving-picture director and his Star. They were still under the white-plum tree and their faces were touching except for a pale, thin ray of moonlight between. It occurred to me that he had been very slowly bending toward her all evening to attain this proximity, and even while I watched I saw him stoop one ultimate degree and kiss at her cheek.
So here it is. Here are the best kisses of all times. What can I say? I feel in a romantic mood tonight…I sometimes wish I was a teenager again to be able to feel the way I felt back then. That said, I learned one thing over the years: nothing beats living your own life. Not even the greatest French kisses of all times.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London