Paris in Love by Eloisa James
Nonfiction – Memoir
2012 Random House
Finished on 8/4/12
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)
Paris in July Challenge #2
This morning the snow was coming down fast in rue du Conservatoire, slanting sideways and turning the gray slate roofs the color of milk. I leaned against my study window, idly thinking about how passionately children love snow, when I realized that I was peering down at a group of Parisian women in the street below, engaged in the rapid-fire kissing of a wintry hello. Growing up on the farm, we’d braved snowstorms in puffy coats; these women wore dark coats belted tightly around their slim waists. As they bent toward each other, pecking like manic sparrows, their scarves flashed magenta, lavender, dull gold. From my vantage point, far above them, they looked like inhabitants of a different world.
In 2009, New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James took a leap that many people dream about: she sold her house, took a sabbatical from her job as a Shakespeare professor, and moved her family to Paris. Paris in Love: A Memoir chronicles her joyful year in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
With no classes to teach, no committee meetings to attend, no lawn to mow or cars to park, Eloisa revels in the ordinary pleasures of life—discovering corner museums that tourist overlook, chronicling Frenchwomen’s sartorial triumphs, walking from one end of Paris to another. She copes with her Italian husband’s notions of quality time; her two hilarious children, ages eleven and fifteen, as they navigate schools—not to mention puberty—in a foreign language; and her mother-in-law Marina’s raised eyebrow in the kitchen (even as Marina overfeeds Milo, the family dog).
Paris in Love invites the reader into the life of a most enchanting family, framed by la ville de l’amour.
Paris in Love is a charming, honest read filled with both touching vignettes (her chapter on grief and Kate Braestrup’s memoir, Here If You Need Me*, tugged at my heartstrings) and laugh-out-loud tales of life in Paris. I love the way this book is organized. Some anecdotes are shared in two- or three-page “chapters” and others are a single paragraph. This is perfect for those like me who can barely keep their eyes open for more than 15 minutes while reading in bed. I would love to include each and every passage I marked with (24!!) Post-It flags, but that would spoil the fun of discovering your own favorites. Here are just a few:
I walk through the streets and enjoy listening to wild chatter in French with the same level of understanding that one has hearing a row of sparrows crowded on a telephone line. Are these people really talking, or are they just singing to each other? They look far too elegant and sophisticated to be uttering the half-assed things people say to each other in New York.On Books:
Anna spent last evening rearranging her room. She’s divided her shelves into “books with girls in them,” “books in which bad stuff happens” (mostly fairy tales), and “books for every day” (Junie B. and Enid Blyton). I took a look at my bookshelves. I have “books with happy endings” and “books telling me how to be happy.”and
Anna had a tough time at school today with Beatrice’s gang of mean girls, who took possession of the mats during gymnastics class and demanded a password (which, of course, they wouldn’t share). On the way home, we talked about friends and how complicated they are, and then on the Metro Anna grinned and said, “I have a friend,” holding up the fifth Harry Potter book. I remember those days very well. I had friends too: Anne of Green Gables, Dorothy Gale and Toto, Nancy Drew.And then, of course, there’s the food. Oh, the food! Like Julia Child in Julie & Julia, Eloisa loves her French food.
Between six thirty and seven o’clock in the evening, every other person on the street swings a long baguette partially wrapped in white paper. Suddenly, the world is full of crusty bread.and
We discovered yesterday that our beloved covered market, not to mention the local fishmonger and butcher, is closed on Monday, which left our cupboard bare. For lunch I had a hunk of an excellent Camembert, with a boiled potato sprinkled with coarse sea salt, followed by a leftover apricot tart. Life is good.and
There is a bakery down the street from Anna’s school, on avenue de Villars, where there is always a line. They specialize in little fruit tarts. The most beautiful one has figs sliced so thin as to be translucent, then dusted in sugar. Luca’s favorite looks like a tiny version of the Alps: small strawberries, each one sitting upright and capped in a drop of white chocolate. My personal favorite has sliced apricots arranged in overlapping patterns, like crop circles in an English field.On poetry:
When I went to college I stopped memorizing poetry, thinking that I would pick it up when I had more time. But as I lay in the dark thinking about how soup foamed into soap, it occurred to me that I may not have world enough and time to memorize the rest of even a very small canon. My grandmother was diagnosed with dementia, and was silent the last decade of her life; my father, my darling father [Robert Bly] of a thousand poems and more, has taken to watching leaves fall from their trees. Rather than knit those leaves into words, he simply allows them to fall. It’s a cruel fate: to watch without recounting the fall of the leaf; to grieve without creating anew; to age without describing it.As I listened from a beach-chair in the shade
In the last year, as I’ve watched him struggle with the way age is stealing his words, it occurred to me that I should memorize some more poetry, as ballast against my possible inheritance of that good, wordless night. Here, in its entirety, is the poem with which I resumed my memorization: W. H. Auden’s “Their Lonely Betters.”
To all the noises that my garden made,
It seemed to me only proper that words
Should be withheld from vegetables and birds.
A robin with no Christian name ran through
The Robin-Anthem which was all it knew,
And rustling flowers for some third party waited
To say which pairs, if any, should get mated.
Not one of them was capable of lying.
There was not one which knew that it was dying
Or could have with a rhythm or a rhyme
Assumed responsibility for time.
Let them leave language to their lonely betters
Who count some days and long for certain letters;
We, too, make noises when we laugh or weep:
Words are for those with promises to keep.
I enjoyed Eloisa’s writing so much that I decided to check out some of her romance novels, but after a few cursory glances, I decided to pass and await her next memoir. I do hope there’s another. Or maybe a novel. I’m not really into the bodice-ripper type stories.
Final Thoughts: I’ve never been to Paris, or anywhere in France, for that matter. Ms. James’ memoir has me longing to visit (maybe even more so than Italy) and I think it would be a great reference guide for my first trip to Paris--hopefully, before I turn 55!
And, a comment from my husband:
Boy, she's a very good writer! "It’s a cruel fate: to watch without recounting the fall of the leaf; to grieve without creating anew; to age without describing it."Yep. I'd have to agree!
Go here to read more about Eloisa James (Mary Bly). Her website can be found here.
*Click here to read my review for Braestrup's memoir.