(Adds prosecutors’ decision in sixth paragraph.)
July 1 (Bloomberg) -- The French Academy of Seduction costs $2,500 a semester and isn’t for the meek.
“We need to make love,” director Veronique Corniola says on a muggy morning in Paris. “It’s very good for a man. It’s also good for a woman. We just don’t know how to do it very well.”
Learning to seduce and copulate correctly are the curricular cornerstones at the school that Corniola says has graduated some 3,000 students since it opened its doors in 1995 across the street from the Chanel boutique on Rue Cambon.
Now, in the wake of former International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest in New York on charges of attempted rape, unlawful imprisonment and forcibly touching a hotel chambermaid, Corniola’s mission is to teach the world the protocols of foreplay and clean up France’s debauched sexual reputation. For the former Club Med social director, etiquette is everything and Strauss-Kahn gets her dander up.
“Dominique Strauss-Kahn is not a French lover,” is Corniola’s verdict.
Strauss-Kahn has pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors in Manhattan today said they agreed to release the French presidential hopeful and return his bail, while retaining his passport and not dismissing the case against him. Their investigation into the 32-year-old hotel housekeeper from Guinea is said to have raised doubts about her credibility.
Still, his arrest on May 14 poisoned the French ideal of Romantic Nationalism. Sex in France is more than an indoor sport. It’s political. America’s national symbol is the bald eagle. The British have a bull dog. France has Marianne, a woman with exotic breasts bared. As Eugene Delacroix’s celebrated painting “Liberty Leading the People” graphically shows, she’s spearheading a path through her enemies to a brighter future.
It’s impossible to undervalue the significance of sex in France. Connoisseurs even have their own museum, the Musee de l’Erotisme, a seven-floor establishment that includes a full- sized display brothel and its own Facebook page.
An on-site inspection of this abundantly stocked exhibition space in Paris’s Pigalle area, open from 10 a.m. until 2 a.m., shows the place is the hottest, albeit least wholesome, museum on the planet.
“All of this has led people to believe that French men are the best seducers in the world,” Corniola says glumly. “That’s finished, over. They’ve become too aggressive, the way they touch too vulgar.”
Philippe Larmine, the 55-year-old director of the digital publishing company AI Editions SA, is not surprised and says the tragic tale of Strauss-Kahn is older than Victor Hugo.
Holding a copy of the 19th-century writer’s stage drama “Ruy Blas,” Larmine is standing on a veranda overlooking prostitutes parking their mobile-home brothels in the Bois de Boulogne. He reads from the play’s opening scene, in which Hugo’s main character, Ruy Blas, finds himself snared in a fate similar to that of the fallen IMF director.
“My reign is over, thrown out, disgraced, everything lost in one day for a passing fancy, at my age, silly and crazy with a low-class handmaiden,” Larmine recites. “My credit, my power, everything I was dreaming of, my position, my job, my honors, in one instance collapsed within the laughter of the crowd.”
Corniola says her role is to teach students how to avoid dangerous and doomed sexual liaisons. “The course goes for nine months,” she explains, taking my hand to show the correct way to greet a woman during a first encounter of the close kind. The touch is soft, with the man giving the woman’s hand a slight and gentle turn to the right.
“Look into her eyes with a smile,” she instructs. “Nowadays men and women go from coffee to sex and that’s not good.”
Corniola says her seduction school, which accepts no more than 30 full-time students a year, also offers a three-month quickie course on intimacy for $1,250. She has three instructors and says her pupils mostly come from France, Canada, Belgium and the U.S.
“They’re all professionals, politicians, lawyers, top executives,” she says. “They usually fall into two categories, divorcees or couples who’ve been married for so long that they don’t know each other.”
Flinging back her mane of curly auburn hair, Corniola says,
“Let me tell you an incredible fact. We now have more female students than male students.”
Corniola says both sexes have forgotten the art of seduction.
“With the raucous way men are today, women need to make an effort,” she adds. “The first question I ask is ‘how many people have you slept with?’ That’s the starting point.”
What comes next is a field trip to a Paris restaurant or a museum and a study-abroad program at a Club Med resort in a steamy climate.
“All of my students have lost the habits of seduction,” Corniola says. “They’ve lost confidence in themselves and require a precisely structured intimacy to survive.”
And Corniola says she’s the one to give them an education. So far, she says nobody has dropped out.
--Editors: Vidya Root, Jim Ruane
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