our christmas carol, like miss liberty herself, is a gift from france to america
If you're French, maybe you've seen this lady modeling lingerie on tall Paris billboards. (Is Paris burning?) If you're a moviegoer, maybe you caught her line to architect John Cassavetes in Tempest ("I loove arsh-tect!"). If you're one of the little animals, maybe you've seen her at the Chicago Anti-Cruelty Society, where she does volunteer work. (She's the stunning-looking human with the lullaby voice.) And if you're none of the above, you're still lucky. You get to meet her now.
Carol Ficatier (Fih-caht'-yay): A product of France, pleasing to the senses, mischievous, bright -- descended from noble blood, even. See also beauté, émigrée, noblesse, enchanteresse.
She comes from Auxerre, 20 kilometers from Chablis. It's pretty there on the Yonne River -- a 13th Century cathedral, vineyards -- but it's not bright lights, big city, and young Carol was très motivèe.
"I was trouble in school," she says, "the clown of the class, always." Her accent is almost gone now -- she's been working hard on it -- but the English word for animals, for instance, still comes out shaded by "animaux." "And I did not work very hard. I modeled a little bit when I was younger -- little magazines. Then, starting on my 18th birthday, I became a full-time model."
As she looked up just a year later at those fondly remembered (in Paris anyway) lingerie billboards, Carol's attitude was "It is me, but it's not. I can be very objective. I am not looking at myself and saying, 'Boy, am I nice!' It's someone else, almost, someone else I know so well that I know all the flaws."
There were not enough flaws to keep her from moving on to high-profile assignments in Zurich, Hamburg, Milan, Tokyo, and, after a few nights of nail biting, in the vigilante capital of the world. "New York, for French people -- for a lot of people -- it's a scary place," she says, covering her eyes. "A few days before I left Paris, there was a movie on French TV, Death Wish -- Charles Bronson shooting everyone. I was thinking, My God, I'm so scared! But I loved New York at first sight." New York reciprocated, and now, five years later, Carol is a très successful model, occasional actress and defender of animal rights in her new home town, Chicago.
"I belong to The Humane Society of the United States and another group called Mobilization for Animals, which fight the abuse of animals in laboratories," says our Miss December, whose vegetarianism arises from a revulsion for any kind of killing. "What goes on in the laboratories -- the testing done on animals -- is atrocious. It's sick. But you couldn't fight that every day. You would cry all the time. So, at the Anti-Cruelty Society, I take the dogs out of their cages and take them for walks. I give them some affection. I would like to be part of a program called Pet Therapy, too -- taking puppies to hospitals or nursing homes. It does wonders. Old people who haven't talked or shown emotion for years, they talk, they cry. One job I want to have someday is training animals to help blind people. I would like to help people and animals at the same time."
Carol gets a little weary of constantly being asked her impressions of the United States, but she can't help mentioning a few differences between her home country and this one.
"I find American people much more friendly than the French. Women here are nicer with other women, for one thing. When I first got here, I would go to a restaurant and a lady would say, 'Oh, you look wonderful; you're so pretty.' And I thought, That's so strange! In France, if you look wonderful, another woman will check you out, but she will never tell you that you look nice. Also, I like the kind of fun you have here. American fun -- whatever kind -- it's more loud, there's so much more noise.
"Now, with sex, I must say I prefer the French. Americans are more repressed," she says, taking pains to point out that her American husband is an exception. "The French are more open. Nude beaches everywhere; you can be topless anywhere. It seems to me that with French people, sex is more natural. It's something that is there, and it's nice, and let's not make a big deal out of it."
Soon Carol will be studying the big deals we call the Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, the Louisiana Purchase (known in France as "une grosse erreur") -- those mightily important events about which Americans have forgotten all the details.
"I have to learn your history," she says. "I'm going to try to be an American citizen. It's funny, you know? I am French. It's my background and, goddamn it, I'm French. But as far as America is concerned, you can't be both. America says, 'If you become an American, this is it. You swear you won't have anything to do with your other country.' Which is a little drastic. The French, they say, 'Tough. Who cares? To us, you will always be French.' "
Carol Ficatier, as French as the lilt in her voice and the mischief in her eye, is going to be one of those Americans to whom the rest of us point with pride.
Photography by Richard Fegley, Stephen Wayda