I do one of these every time I go somewhere. I’ve held off on France out of fear of excess choice, but here goes:
French opera: Debussy’s Pelleas et Melisande is ravishing, try to find the old version conducted by Roger Desormiere. Messiaen’s St. Francis wins an honorable mention; my favorite piece of French music might be Messiaen’s Vingt Regards.
French restaurant: I’ve yet to get into Pierre Gagnaire, considered the world’s greatest restaurant by many. For quick notice, I’ve done well at the Michelin two-stars Savoy and Hotel Bristol, the latter is even open for Sunday lunch, a Parisian miracle.
French novel: Proust is the only writer who makes me laugh out loud.
French pianist: Yves Nat has done my favorite set of Beethoven sonatas. These recordings are brutally frank and direct, and deep like Schnabel, albeit with fewer wrong notes. Few aficionadoes know this box, but it stands as one of my desert island discs. Note that French pianists are underrated in general.
French artist: I find much by the Impressionists sickly sweet and overexposed. I’ll opt for Poussin (this one too), Seurat’s black and whites, and Cezanne watercolors. Right now I would rather look at Chavannes and Bouguereau than Renoir or Monet. As for the most underrated French artist, how about Delacroix? A few years ago some of his small canvases were selling for as little as $60,000.
French movies: If you don’t usually like French movies, you still should watch Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped, Jean Pierre Melville’s Bob Le Flambeur (a big influence on John Woo, also try Le Samourai), and Theodor Dreyer’s Joan of Arc.