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Luxury: "great comfort, especially as provided by expensive and beautiful things

"something that gives you a lot of pleasure but cannot be done often" Cambridge Dictionary

I began this post a few weeks ago, prompted by this cover on the AFR's over the top Life and Leisure magazine. It was sort of a dream setting I guess, the sort of luxury we supposedly all aspire to . Alas I can't quite remember what I was going to say back then, but yesterday the AFR's even glossier occasional magazine landed. This one was dedicated to Paris, and although I usually skim such publications in a few minutes, sometimes even seconds, today I actually read a few of the articles. So here I go on a ramble around the concept of luxury and what the enormous difference is between those two definitions at the top of the page.

Let me begin with this quote from Oscar Wilde

“Extravagance is the luxury of the poor; penury is the luxury of the rich.”

And this picture. First of all a proviso. The lady under the Poor banner is not poor. She is apparently a low-level celebrity of some kind. I tried to find pictures of the genuinely poor, but found it difficult to be sure whether the people being photographed were really poor - for there is a wave of fashion - I'm talking haute couture here - based on the clothes of the homeless. Not cool. and I will not go there. In fact their clothes are probably very similar to those sported by the super rich here.

"The saddest thing I can imagine is to get used to luxury." Charlie Chaplin

However, looking at those pictures - the couple on the right - the super rich - are Mark Zuckerberg and his wife. Maybe the T-shirts and shorts are more expensive than what I would buy in K-Mart but they're hardly expensive. He has famously said he wears the same T-shirts every day because he doesn't want the stress of making a decision. There are two things about this. One the ultra rich are so rich that they really don't have to care what anybody thinks about how they look - unless they are sensitive souls but who can be ultra rich and sensitive? Secondly they don't actually want to be noticed for all manner of reasons.

"Money talks but wealth whispers" Anon

But this is a foodie blog, not a fashion one. Do the ultra rich eat beans on toast I wonder?

My glossy magazine had a feature on a Parisian patissier called Cédric Golet - apparently voted the best pâtissier in the world several years in a row. This is a picture of some of his creations on the title page of that article - Fruit Couture, which when you think about it is pretty much right. Because this is as high as you can go in the pâtisserie world. The queues snake around his shops - of course, like all of these top chefs they surely can't cook much anymore -because they have a number of different venues, and these things take time and technique to produce.

"Take Le Citron, his trademark dessert that looks, even upon close inspection, like a real lemon, ..., It's dimpled peel (actually white chocolate coated with a lemon and sugar spray, airbrushed with kirsch and gold powder) can be cracked open to reveal a heart of lemon curd and uzu ganache - and takes three days to assemble. The recipe for his strawberry, filled with lemon balm ganache, took five years to perfect. "The fruit is feminine, precise, with very, very fine flavour notes. I like to represent what nature has given me", says Grolet." Divya Bala/Fin Magazine Numero Special: Paris

I think it was this amazingly over the top description of an over the top pastry that really pulled me into revisiting 'Luxury'. And partly because although this does indeed cost you - €18 (around $30) - for moderately well-off people that is not a lot of money. If you were in Paris, and had the time and desire to queue for over an hour then why not indulge yourself in something you would probably remember for a very long time? If you can afford to be in Paris then you can afford to buy one of the most amazing delicacies in the world. I assume it would be as good as it looks or surely it would not have the success that it does. I would call this affordable luxury, although of course somebody living on the dole or on the streets would not. In fact I now remember that my thrifty husband would not let me buy an icecream from Berthillon on the Ile St Louis on our last trip to Paris because it cost €15 - slightly less than Le Citron. Meany.

It's a relatively small luxury isn't it? One that I for one would be willing to pay for although possibly not queue for - not for over an hour anyway. That queue, by the way, is long partly because "the pâtisseries only allow two to three people in at a time, to ensure each has a luxurious experience." A nice touch I think. We did buy an ice-cream at one of Rome's best gelateria - my husband has become slightly less thrifty with the passing of time - and besides we were with others who had no such restraint. However, that was not a luxurious experience. There was a queue - not too long - but the shop was packed and the service very rudimentary. Not a luxurious experience. And honestly I have had better icecream in relatively normal places.

Luxury in food is not always tied to money either. Sometimes it's just availability, although of course scarcety tends to drive prices up. But the first asparagus of the season, the first grapes, the first peaches and plums. They are special.

I guess those gorgeous pâtisseries gain an extra special touch of luxury because it is a prestige brand - the highest in fact, and so you also benefit from a sense of privilege. Not only does the product itself give pleasure but you also get a buzz from just being there. Like that long ago dinner at Paul Bocuse.

If you have very little money you can still get a taste of luxury in simple things as Cadbury so skilfully remind us with their series of ads with the catchwords "There's a glass and a half in everyone:"

Who cannot be sucked in by the love of the child and her sacrifice of precious toys so that she can give her mother a luxurious gift, not to mention the, admittedly very minor, generosity of the store owner, who does more than give her a free chocolate bar, he also allows her to feel that she is giving a real gift. She has paid for the bar with things she loves. The gift is truly from her.

For luxury is not just objects, although there are outrageously expensive objects in that Fin Magazine - Omega watches with individual slices from a meteor as background to a circle of diamonds, dresses that have no price - POA (price on application) and experiences such as 26 hours on the Paris- Venice leg of the Orient Express which will set you back £7,350 ($14,098)per person for this top of the line suite - a mere $5,550 for an ordinary couchette.

You don't have to go to such extremes though. Depending on how much money you have you can have equally 'luxurious' experiences for "Luxury is anything that feels special" says one Aerin Lauder. And surely that trip on the Orient Express would come with a lot of stress - what to wear (there are rules), how to behave, how to converse with fellow guests, that would take away from the experience? Unless you are a billionaire of course and don't care. Whatever your income there is always something that you can spend on that is a luxury for you. Something to create a special moment.

Sometimes luxury is just time in a busy world. Time to stay in bed a bit longer than usual, time to read a book, sit in the garden in the sun (when it's warm enough) and watch the birds as they go about their busy lives, or time to gather together with your family in the local park over some sausage and steak over a barbecue. Now that's not very pricey, but the experience is priceless.

I admit I was impressed by Cédric Golet and his pâtisseries - they even tell you on their website when there are shorter queues. He seemed to have an egalitarian approach to the concept of luxury - saying -

"We're in this business to share. When you put a cake in the middle of the table, it's to share it." Cédric Golet

After all "Luxury is an attitude" says Elva Li - who runs a fashion company called Elva LI Bespoke Luxury. Back to those very expensive gowns again.

A long time ago now I wrote another post on a similar theme called Excess - also about extremes - but rather more critically I think.

I am now going to cook our not very luxurious meal of poached chicken in lemon sauce from Robert Carrier, but hope that it will be just a little bit special. My guru meal of the week. I'll report back tomorrow.

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17 de jun.
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In order to appreciate luxury you need to have been poor. Perhaps not "licking the cobblestones clean each morning" sort of poor, but educated poor!

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