Archive for the ‘paris’ tag
“If you want your memoir published, be sure to write it in Paris.”
- Nathalie Atkinson, National Post
Lately it feels like whenever I walk through a bookstore I come across a display for all things French. Everything from colourful macarons to the eating habits of French children seems to be interesting to us at the moment. And in addition to French cookbooks and style manuals, the books I’m seeing a lot of lately are Paris memoirs.
Because I love Paris I naturally want to read as many of these memoirs as I can.
Over the past little while I’ve read four of them. Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes wasn’t my favourite, but it was still charming and worth the read. Paris, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down by Rosecrans Baldwin, about a writer who moves to Paris to work for an ad agency, was witty, honest and well-written, while Paris, My Sweet by Amy Thomas was a lighter, somewhat fluffier look at Paris through the eyes of a writer who leaves New York for Paris. But what it lacked in plot it made up for in food description. I was very hungry while reading this book. Consider yourself warned.
And speaking of hungry, The Sweet Life in Paris by pastry chef David Lebovitz is an entertaining collection of stories about Parisian life mixed in with delicious recipes. Probably the best that I’ve read so far.
And yet it seems that I’ve barely scratched the surface. Here are more Paris memoirs I’d like to read:
As much as I’ve enjoyed reading these books, maybe it’s time I stop reading about other people’s experiences in Paris and just go there myself. It’s been five years since I last visited and I’ve been searching for a decent croissant ever since. But in the meantime, I guess other people’s stories, as many of them as possible, will have to do. Because much like choosing from a tray full of French pastries, why stop at just one?
One of the things I vow to do on my return to Paris is to spend more time at cafés. During my last visit, I may have been too committed to seeing stuff and doing things to truly appreciate that the café life in Paris is just as important as any of the tourist attractions I was lining up for.
It’s such a simple joy to sit, contemplate, and observe while sipping an espresso and maybe nibbling on something sweet.
Since I’m trying to go back to Paris this year, I decided to arm myself with the book Literary Cafés of Paris by Noel Riley Fitch. It’s the perfect little travel guide to bring along on your trip or to read at home before you go. The literary cafés are broken down by area, so you can visit them all if you’re in Paris for a while, or just spend the day hopping from one place to another in a more concentrated area such as the Right Bank.
A café that I did make time to visit was Café de Flore on Boulevard St-Germain. I couldn’t resist the Art Deco decor and its artistic and literary history. Picasso frequented Café de Flore in the 30s and 40s, along with Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir who wrote there every day.
On my visit, I chose to sit outside at a small table so I could watch the people walking by. I had been instructed by a friend to order their Chocolat Chaud because it is “the best hot chocolate in the world”. I did and I wasn’t disappointed. It was like drinking melted chocolate only better because you add some heavy cream to it. And despite its history, it didn’t feel too touristy to me. I could have stayed there for the entire afternoon. Next time I’ll order a second Chocolat Chaud and do just that.
If you’re interested, here’s a great article on Café life in Paris.
Café de Flore
172 Boulevard Saint-Germain
The Writers of Père Lachaise
“…the essence of Paris is lost if seen through the double glazing of a hotel room or from the top of a tour bus. You must be on foot, with chilled hands thrust into your pockets, scarf wrapped round your throat, and thoughts of a hot cafe creme in your imagination. It made the difference between simply being present and being there.”
I had high hopes for this book. I really did.
Unfortunately, The Most Beautiful Walk in the World by John Baxter did not live up to my expectations.
I thought this book would be a memoir and literary walking tour all in one. I thought it would detail inspiring walks I could take on my next visit to Paris, stopping at literary landmarks along the way. And while it did mention a few places the literary tourist in Paris should not miss, it wasn’t really a guide to the off-the-beaten-path heart of Paris as the blurb on the back suggests. It’s just a memoir of a man who lives in Paris with loosely connected chapters and random anecdotes, and a few literary references thrown in every now and again. For example, the author mentions the Brasserie Lipp, where Hemingway was a regular. He points out that Hemingway’s preferred meal was cervelas (a type of boiled sausage) with potato salad and a demi of the house beer. There are also mentions of Hemingway at La Coupole and The Ritz Paris. But the book didn’t have the Hemingway walking tour I had hoped to find. So in the end I decided I would’ve been better off re-reading A Moveable Feast while taking detailed notes and creating my own walking tour.
The Most Beautiful Walk in the World was a quick read and had some great descriptive passages of Paris and all its beauty. And if his collection of first editions as seen in the video below is any indication, John Baxter is probably one hell of a literary tour guide.
A warning about Lunch in Paris: don’t read it if you’re hungry. It won’t end well for you.
The descriptions of food and meals in Paris are definitely the best thing about this book. I’m partial to dessert myself, and the recipes included are all worth trying.
I’ve categorized this as a literary travel book but to be fair it only points out one literary spot in Paris when it briefly mentions La Coupole. Hemingway used to drink there, of course, as did Fitzgerald, Beckett, Sartre, and many other writers and artists. (There is a pretty handy list on their website.)
But Lunch in Paris doesn’t claim to be a literary book. It’s for foodies and general Francophiles. Some of Elizabeth Bard’s descriptions made me want to hop on a plane: “There are very few streets that don’t bear some small imprint of a grander, more gracious time – the swooping curve of a wrought-iron balcony or a fading stencil above the window of a boulangerie.” And there were some interesting observations on architecture, such as this one about Notre-Dame: “It is difficult to imagine that the same imposing towers and jutting gargoyles have been presiding over Paris since before the printing press, or the bubonic plague.”
The last time I wrote about my growing literary travel library I mentioned that I was still searching for a good book about the literary side of Paris. Literary Paris: A Guide by Jessica Powell is exactly what I was looking for.
While I would prefer it in paperback, Literary Paris is a hardcover book with just the right amount of information on 30 writers who have spent time in Paris. Each profile tells you a little bit about the writer and how Paris played an integral part in his or her life. It’s illustrated with photos and paintings and all the sites mentioned include address and visitor information (including Metro stops), but I’d probably double check all that info since the book is now over five years old.
With Literary Paris you can visit the library where Proust worked as an honourary assistant, the home where Mark Twain lived and hosted dinner parties, and the restaurant where Balzac loved to eat.
This book will definitely be coming with me on my next trip to Paris.