In a replay of Angela Lansbury’s Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris movie, I’m thrilled to report that Mrs. Davis is also going to Paris. Yes! It’s true. In June of this year, I’m heading off for week-long writers’ retreat and sight-seeing trip to Paris (the real one, in France, not Ontario) and I’m beside myself with excitement. I’ve signed on with a small group of 8-10 women who will spend the week in a boutique guest house in the Bastille district. We’ll write in sidewalk cafés and soak up the atmosphere guaranteed to inspire us to write Hemingway and Fitzgerald-like prose for the world to enjoy. More on that in future postings.
In the meantime, every once in a while we stumble upon a delicious little book that wasn’t even on our extensive “To Read” list. The other day as I was perusing the list of books I’m on the waiting list for at the library, their ingenious software produced a few titles they thought I might find interesting. One was Paris in Love by Eloisa James, the pen-name for Mary Bly, a New York Shakespeare professor and a New York Times best-selling author of romantic fiction (go figure). Of course, anything with Paris in the title always grabs my attention, so I immediately downloaded her book. And what a treat it turned out to be.
After a cancer diagnosis and mastectomy a few years ago, the author re-evaluated her life and figured she needed to spend more time smelling the roses. Like so many of us who were career women, the stress, the hours, the responsibility and the workload can be overwhelming at times and she felt she needed a break. Her solution was to sell their New Jersey house, car, and many possessions and move her entire family (including her professor husband Alessandro, an 11-year-old daughter Anna, and 15-year-old son Luca) to Paris.
Her husband was able to get a teaching job and her bilingual children were registered in an Italian-speaking school in Paris. They rented a centrally-located apartment and started living the life of Parisiennes for a year. Their children were not in favour of the move and leaving their friends but James/Bly knew they’d ultimately come around and benefit from the experience. She planned to work on a new book and perform a few speaking engagements during her sabbatical.
Paris in Love is written in the form of an undated diary, loose paragraphs of anecdotal observations and experiences. I enjoyed every single page and found myself reading with a smile on my face through most of the book. It’s absolutely delightful. She shares everyday experiences, sights, sounds, and tastes with the reader in a way that makes us feel as if we’re right there with her. Whether she’s observing street fashion by those impeccably-turned-out French women or tasting pastries and delicacies in the many exquisite shops, we feel her joy.
Naturally, I bookmarked dozens of pages with the names of shops, restaurants, and museums I would like to visit when I go to Paris in June. I know I can’t cram them all in but it’ll be fun trying. It is worth noting that not all the restaurants offered quality food and service and the author’s sharing of her impressions reminds us that like any large city, Paris is not all sunshine and romance. It has its share of street people, poverty and rudeness.
Her children are the most affected by cultural differences. They hadn’t learned cursive writing in their American schools and combined with being taught in another language, they struggled academically. She endures the eye rolls and deceptions of her children, describing their experiences with relatable humour. They struggle to keep their apartment warm in the winter and cool in hot weather. Will she ever find a satisfactory hairdresser? Their building has an ancient elevator that barely holds two people so groceries often have to be walked up to their fourth-floor apartment.
Parisians have little rituals that surprised and delighted her. “On May Day Parisians buy lilies of the valley in twists of paper and give them to each other.” She also learned that the assumption that French women don’t get fat is just a myth, but they do have a fashion sense we could definitely learn from. “French women, no matter their size, dress thin.” She goes on to further advise, “I can tell you definitively that young French women do not turn to Hollywood for instruction on how to dress. Instead, they discover what flatters their particular figure, and they stick with it.” Good information.
Several of the locations described in the book were familiar to me from previous visits to Paris so it was a trip down memory lane. I loved every single page of the book and can’t recommend it enough. I’d give it 9 out of 10 and if you’ve never been to Paris, then this book is the next best thing to going there.
If you cannot find this book at your local bookstore or library, you can order it by clicking here. (Disclosure: If you order from this link, you will receive Amazon’s best price and I may receive a teeny tiny commission. Thank you.)