Lauren Ernt, publishing administrative assistant and long-time Francophile, completed her undergraduate degree at McGill University in Montréal, in part to gain first-hand experience living in a Francophone environment. After graduating she traveled to Annecy, France and worked as an English language teaching assistant. She now works as a publishing assistant in Minneapolis.
Her interests include reading, writing, language, music, movies, cycling, horseback riding, cooking, eating, and traveling, just to name a few.
AWP: Name the books and movies, works of art and music, fashion or cuisine that have inspired you.
LE: It’s so hard to choose. I love films from the 1930s-1950s, particularly thrillers and film noir. Alfred Hitchcock‘s films are great examples of the aesthetics and storytelling that I love. So is Carol Reed’s The Third Man. Everything about that film gives me chills: the photography is gorgeous, the characters are intriguing, the plot twists unexpectedly. It’s fantastic.
As for literature, Margaret Atwood is my current favorite author. She’s got a way of constructing a story that introduces these seemingly disparate threads, then weaves them together at the very end in a very powerful way. Her observations of human behavior are so precise and so insightful. A friend of mine and I were talking about it once: It’s like Margaret Atwood’s characters notice and say the things that we do, but that we might never say out loud. I love her use of language, too. It’s hard to explain, but I feel a very tactile connection to the words she writes. I just want to wrap myself up in them.
Another inspiring book is, believe it or not, the dictionary. Seriously. I keep one on my kitchen table and can spend hours looking up words and examining their etymologies. Just to think about how the English language (my first language) has developed and changed is fascinating. I do the same thing with my French dictionary. One of my favorite parts about studying French is when I learn a word and try to understand how the word evolved, and then identify where those words have trickled into English in unexpected ways — it really sparks my imagination. For example, generally speaking the French word “pendant” and English word “pendant” mean two different things. The French word means “during” or “while:” the English word refers to a piece of jewelry that one hangs from a chain. These words are spelled the same, pronounced differently, and refer to different concepts or objects. But they have this common idea of hanging somewhere, whether it’s between two points in time or from a chain. This is a purely amateur observation and speculation, but it’s so much fun to think about.
AWP: Do you have any role models?
LE: I don’t think I’ve ever had one role model in particular. In general, I look to strong women for inspiration, whether they happen to be family members, friends, teachers, or public figures. I took horseback riding lessons as a kid, and my riding instructor taught me a lot about respect and integrity.
AWP: What is the last book you read?
LE: The last book I finished was Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I’ll be honest: this was not my absolute favorite book. The narrator’s voice just didn’t do it for me. The story built nicely, though, and even though I wasn’t crazy about the prose I found that the book itself raised a lot of powerful questions.
Also, it was a book I read for a book club. I had a greater appreciation for the book after discussing it with my book club, which is one of the great things about discussing literature with others. Even if you don’t particularly enjoy something, having the chance to pick it apart with friends gives you a different perspective and deeper understanding of it. You might even up liking it a bit better.
WORDS OF WISDOM:
AWP: What handed-down wisdom did you receive from your mother or father?
LE: My mother has always taught me the importance of persistence and perseverance, especially in terms of school and work. My father travels extensively for work, and his example has always taught me to be curious about other cultures and learn from them.
AWP: What were your favorite childhood things to do?
LE: I loved reading, writing, and drawing. I spent a lot of time daydreaming, especially about horses, which were probably my greatest childhood passion; it seemed that everything I did related to horses. Luckily for me, my parents were able and willing to drive me out to the barn for weekly horseback riding lessons throughout a large chunk of my childhood.
AWP: What nourishes your passions?
LE: It must be the love of discovering hidden bits of knowledge. It’s like my love of the dictionary. The words we use every day are the product of thousands of years of human communication, and they all have fascinating stories. I experience this same kind of passion when traveling. The best way for me to travel is to set out in a new city with a camera and map. I love to get a little lost, stumble upon a cafe or beautiful building, and then find my way again.
AWP: How did you get your foot in the door at the beginning of your career?
LE: To be honest, I’m still at the beginning of my career! I work in the publishing industry, which is highly competitive. Having completed a publishing internship at a respected house helped a lot. Aside from that internship, though, I bounced in and out of a number entry-level positions in a variety of settings, including office work, teaching, television production and programming, and door-to-door canvassing. Having a diverse background probably helped me as much as anything.
AWP: Was being stylish important to you growing up in your teens? Is it now?
LE: This is a tough one. Being stylish was important to me growing up, precisely because I rarely was stylish. In grade school, I always envied the other little girls with their effortless ability to follow fashion trends. How did they do it? How did they manage to have perfect hair and understand makeup at the age of 11? How did they manage to avoid wearing hand-me-downs from their older brothers? This was always a mystery to me, and the source of occasional embarrassment. Fortunately a teacher of mine lent me a book of essays by Barbara Kingsolver, and pointed out one essay that addressed this very coming-of-age conundrum. In the essay, Kingsolver posits that it’s possible to have style without being fashionable. To paraphrase, being fashionable is wearing the latest trends; style is wearing what you want because you want to, you know you look good in it, and you like it thank you very much. This helped me out a lot, and gave me the freedom to try out different styles during high school and college.
I’ve more or less settled on a fairly classic style, with my own little embellishments. I generally hate shopping for clothing, so buying a new wardrobe every season, just to be up-to-speed is not an option. When I buy something, it’s something that I know will a) last a long time, and b) will look relatively acceptable, fashion-wise, for a long time. I do love a well-cut suit or a sexy cocktail dress, though, so if I stumble across one I will invest in it.
AWP: How do you define style or fashion?
LE: Honestly, I like Barbara Kingsolver’s definition, so my personal definition takes a lot from it. For me, style is the ability to present yourself with self-confidence. When you wear something that you like and that fits you well (both your body and your personality), that translates into style.
AWP: Tell me about your cooking and eating habits and traditions.
LE: Cooking is so satisfying. It’s creative, it’s tactile, it’s my way to unwind after work. Most of all, though, it results in something delicious for me to eat. I love using a meal as an excuse to get together with friends. I did this a lot with my fellow language assistants in France. We’d all convene at my friend Meredith’s apartment, each bringing a couple of ingredients for the main dish. We’d cook, eat, and drink together. It was such a wonderful way to spend time with people.
AWP: What was your most memorable meal to date?
LE: Again, this is a tough one. There are so many! What come to mind right now, though, is the raclette. My family had come to visit me for Christmas, and I wanted to take them out for a special treat. We went to a restaurant called Le Freti, which specialized in cheese. It was unique in that the rez-de-chaussée housed the restaurant’s own cheese-making operation, the products of which were used in the restaurant upstairs. In describing the restaurant, the colleague who had recommended it to me said “Ça sent du fromage.” (“It smells like cheese.”) No kidding.
AWP: What is in your refrigerator right now?
LE: Lots of fruits and vegetables. Plain yogurt. Butter. No cheese — I used that all up earlier this week, so I should probably head to the grocery store again soon. A wide assortment of not-quite-empty jars of pasta sauce. I hate cleaning out my fridge.
ART OF LIVING:
AWP: What do you live for? What do you love above all?
LE: This is such a broad question, so I’m afraid I’ll have to give a very broad answer: learning. I love for my brain to be stretched beyond what I thought was possible, and to look at something familiar in a way that I never would have considered before. I suppose this is what attracts me to my personal interests and activities. Travel, reading, conversation, cinema: all of these provide discoveries and new perspectives.
You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® blog, How to find a (suitable) place in Paris, and other miscellaneous information, by Bénédicte Mahé. Frenchwoman from Brittany who is in her mastère-spécialisé final trimester doing an internship in Paris, shares with students how to find a place in Paris.
Franglais: Modern French-English words, by Canadian writer Philippa Campsie who writes that many French speakers are appalled by franglais, but there are those, like us, who find it fascinating. Included is a useful vocabulary of French to English translations for franglais, where you’ll find words like, “les baskets: sneakers or trainers – literally, the shoes worn to play basket ball,” which is one of our favourites.
The Child Madeline, by writer and educator Natalie Ehalt who shares her love of Madeline, who brings a deserved respect for girls and children worldwide. Excerpts from Mad About Madeline: The Complete Tales, by Ludwig Bemelmans.
French Impressions: Alice Kaplan – the Paris years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis, on the process of transformation. Author and professor of French at Yale University, Ms. Kaplan shares her new book, Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis, on the process of transformation. By entering into the lives of three important American women who studied in France, we learn how their year in France changed them, and how they changed the world because of it.
A Woman’s Paris — Elegance, Culture and Joie de Vivre
We are captivated by women and men, like you, who use their discipline, wit and resourcefulness to make their own way and who excel at what the French call joie de vivre or “the art of living.” We stand in awe of what you fill into your lives. Free spirits who inspire both admiration and confidence.
Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening. — Coco Chanel (1883 – 1971)
Text copyright ©2012 Lauren Ernt. All rights reserved.
Illustrations copyright ©Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.