Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Guest: Rozsa Gaston

The Jolie Laide (the pretty-ugly one)

Strolling in the Tuileries gardens on a late March day, Jean-Michel alerted me to a woman who had just passed.

C’est une jolie laide.” — It’s a pretty-ugly one.


I turned to catch the back of her henna’d reddish purple hair and bony legs. He motioned to continue walking around the pond until we passed her again.

This time I pretended to look at some children playing behind the smallish woman as we approached. Her sharp, vixenish face had a pleased-with-herself expression on it. Its most prominent feature was a long nose with a definite bump. Her legs were nothing to write home about. No text book from any country would have categorized her as a beauty.

“She is beautiful, no?” Jean-Michel murmured to me, once out of earshot.

“Um, she’s got something going on, for sure,” I replied truthfully, a little envious. What woman with any sense of how crooked and short her legs were, would dress them up in designer tights and stiletto boots? Yet, she’d looked undeniably hot. Apparently Jean-Michel thought so too.

Instead of giving in to my preconceptions, I opened my mind to his. I had so much to learn from him and besides – I was working on becoming comfortable in my own skin these days, wasn’t I? I could at least fake it ‘til I make it, I told myself.

“A jolie laide is a woman who is beautiful even though she is not. She has something that is considered ugly, but on her, it’s not. It’s part of her charm,” he explained.

I was all ears. We circled the pond again, hoping the woman would do the same. She did. This time I pretended to spot something on the ground while I studied the suede, stiletto-heeled black boots she wore over grey and black striped tights covering slim short, legs with knobby knees. The content wasn’t amazing, but the presentation certainly was. Brava, I silently complimented her as we walked by.

What the heck could a pretty-ugly woman have that a just plain pretty woman didn’t have over her? Apparently, plenty. I searched my mind to think of a jolie laide I might have known somewhere in my past. I’d never contemplated the concept before, but as soon as Jean-Michel explained it to me, I understood. Something niggled at me, reminding me there’d been a woman like that in my own short past.

In a minute, I had it. Voilà.

Joelle. She had been a waitress I’d worked with back in Hartford, Connecticut, the summer before music college at a French restaurant called La Crêpe. It was a chain of restaurants that served crêpes in the style of Brittany, the region next to the Atlantic Coast of France, west of Paris, where Celts had settled in the fifth and sixth centuries — probably because the food was better than back in the British Isles. The waitresses had worn cute blue dirndl skirts with suspenders, white lace blouses and enormous white Breton head-dresses. They’d looked sexy in a sweet sort of way. I’d applied for the job because I knew in an outfit like that I’d meet guys.

Joelle had been short, bony and chic with a bump in her nose, just like the woman we’d passed in the park. The other waitresses were in awe of her. Her boyfriend had picked her up every day after work. During her shift she flirted with any male customer she found interesting, regardless of whether they were in female company or not. She had been in total command of herself and not surprisingly – French.

I’d soaked up every move she made, marveling to myself that she was not even mildly attractive, but her perception of herself announced to the world she was a knockout. The men appeared to buy it. To me it didn’t matter if she was beautiful or not. She was powerful.

Joelle had been a jolie laide.

“I know what you mean,” I whispered back. “Like maybe a bump in a certain woman’s nose isn’t just a bump on her. It’s a beauty feature?”

“Précisément,” Jean-Michel agreed. “It’s precisely the feature about her that a man falls in love with.”

Something clicked in my brain.

From Paris Adieu (2011) by Rozsa Gaston, available on, and

About Rozsa Gaston

Rozsa Gaston is an author who writes serious books on playful matters. She is the author of Paris Adieu, Dogsitters, Budapest Romance, Lyric, Running from Love and the soon to be released Paris Adieu sequel, Black is Not a Color Unless Worn By a Blonde. Rozsa studied European intellectual history at Yale, and then received her master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia. In between Rozsa worked as a singer/pianist all over the world. She currently lives in Connecticut with her family.

You can visit Rozsa’s website at

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About Paris Adieu

The first time Ava Fodor visits Paris as a nineteen-year old au pair, her French boyfriend introduces her to the concept of being comfortable in her own skin. If only she knew how…

One Ivy League degree later, she’s back for an encounter with a Frenchman that awakens her to womanhood. If only she could stay….

Five years later, Ava returns to Paris as a singer/pianist. She falls for Arnaud, whose frequent travel tortures her. While he’s away, a surprising stranger helps Ava on her journey to self-discovery. Armed with the lessons Paris has taught her, she bids adieu to Arnaud, Pierre and her very first love – the City of Light.

1 comment:

  1. And is that Schumann playing in the background of your beautiful blog site?

    So perfect for your atmosphere - and for Ava's awakening to passion in Paris. Merci mille fois, chere Denyse Bridger.


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