Paris. Through My 11 Year Old Eyes.

In August, 1972, my parents took us to France for the first time. I had just finished fifth grade, and with it the novel Harriet The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. Harriet has no bearing on Paris whatsoever, other than the explanation of why I kept such a detailed journal; I imagined it would be great fun to be a spy.
When I compare my writing with what my third graders can write today, I am almost ashamed. The sentences are stilted and trite. They are incredibly naive. Yet, they give an indication of what Paris was like for a young American girl. They lay the foundation for the first trip I made to the City of Light.

On August 1, we flew on Air France from Chicago to Paris, with a stop in Montreal. Apparently the stewardesses passed out perfumed towels, candy and gum; who knows about dinner? I didn’t bother to mention that except in a post script at the end of the day: “We had a very good supper of chicken.”
For breakfast, on August 2, there was “grapefruit and rolls with their marvelous, creamy, unsalted butter.” (Unsalted butter was a rare breakfast treat which I have continued eating ever after.)
On August 3, I took notice of the Parisian markets. “The markets are stalls or booths and are just open. Also, there can be meat next to fruit next to vegetable. In one fish store there was fish with there eyes still in them and unskinned!
The markets are always open so when the people need it (to) they go down and buy whatever they need. They don’t have refrigerators (can this be true?). For lunch we bought fruit and ate it walking around.
People go in a bakery and buy bread. They go walking around with it under their arms, they just carry it with no basket and no wrapper on it. The shape of it is like this…(a baguette) or…(a round loaf).”
(I think of the American way of shopping in the early 1970’s: huge supermarkets with food so “cleaned up” it hardly resembled its original state. Everything was wrapped in plastic, filled with preservatives, and disguised in convenient forms. Thank goodness stores like Whole Foods are bringing natural foods back to us.)
August 4:  After detailed observations on the size of French automobiles (teeny), and police cars shaped like a “miniature bus”, I went on to describe a Roman church in Montmartre. Evidently we visited many churches and famous buildings; the only one whose name I bothered to record wasn’t even the name but an inscription: Aux Grands Hommes La Patrie Reconnaissante on the Pantheon.
August 6: “We took a train to a place named a name I can’t remember, but it sounds like Versi. (Versailles) We saw the palace of Louis the XVII. The palace was nice, but we loved the gardens! Fountains and evergreen trees in the shape of cones to line the paths in he garden. And, small ponds with lilies and goldfish in them. The fish love bread and everyone feeds them.”

The entries go on and on with a rather tedious quality, so I will end on my final observation of Paris monuments:
August 7:  “We walked into a laundromat. Then we went to the Arc du Triomphe. The French like it a lot, but all it is, is a grand stone carved like a bridge.”
Imagine a sentence about laundry followed by totally discounting the importance of the Arc du Triomphe! It makes me want to laugh to see my foolishness recorded in a diary I ought to toss away. Thank goodness for the patience the French exhibited then, so unlike the feelings for Americans the last time I went to Europe in 2001. But, that’s a story for another day. 
Meanwhile, we have this month of July to explore all things French: food, film, fashion, literature, art…whatever it is that strikes your fancy. I have several posts planned, and I hope you do, too. I’m looking forward to sharing Paris in July with all of you. Bienvenue!

Paris in July

Click on the photo for credit
What is Paris in July? It is a month long blogging event for anyone who loves anything about Paris and France. We blog about books, food, travel, film, fragrance, music, poetry, history, and almost anything else. It’s like taking a virtual trip to Paris.
Karen and Tamara have always hosted this event together. Now they are welcoming Adria, who is an American author living in Paris, and me, to make this a truly virtual and global event.
How does it work? For the month of July, all you need to do is post about something having to do with Paris or France…a French book, film, album, recipe, you name it. You might write one post, or you might write several. We welcome them all. Check out previous posts here.

Each team member of the Paris in July challenge will be joining in with special topics. Karen will write about fashion and books, Tamara will write about travel and food, Adria will write of all things Paris, and I will write on perfume, as well as highlighting several books (such as the one gifted to me yesterday by Obvious State).
So, start planning, dreaming, and preparing for the best virtual journey to Paris ever. We look forward to traveling with you in July!

Paris in July: Impressionism and Modernity

In the nick of time, I have something exciting to post for the Paris in July challenge. Yesterday, my mother and I went to the Art Institute of Chicago to see the special exhibit which showcases the work of the Impressionists through the “lens” of fashion. Beside each breathtaking painting, such as those done by Tissot, Cassatt, and of course, Renoir, was a glass case featuring the dress worn (or a close proximity thereof) by the subjects:

“Were the Impressionists fashionistas? And what role did fashion play in their goal to paint modern life with a “modern” style? This is the subject of the internationally acclaimed exhibition Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity, the first to uncover the fascinating relationship between art and fashion from the mid-1860s through the mid-1880s as Paris became the style capital of the world. Featuring 75 major figure paintings by Caillebotte, Degas, Manet, Monet, Renoir, and Seurat, including many never before seen in North America, this stylish show presents a new perspective on the Impressionists—revealing how these early avant-garde artists embraced fashion trends as they sought to capture modern life on canvas.” (Art Institute site)

There were hats, and shoes, as well, and my favorite case had five or six bottles of Guerlain perfume complete with the baudruchage. On the walls were painted quotes from famous authors such as Emile Zola. I wish I could have photographed them all for you, but the Institute police were quite fierce in their enforcement of the rules.

In the train on the way home, my mother and I marveled at the way that we had never quite noticed the influence of fashion on the French Impressionists before. My mother said she’ll never be able to look at their paintings in the same way again. Which is, of course, what education does for us.

Paris by Edward Rutherfurd

Oh, friends, I tried reading this for Paris in July. For discussion with my mother who finished it early this June. I even highlighted certain passages with interesting facts about Paris: Montmartre, the Latin Quarter, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower and the Place d’Invalides. Places I’ve walked through numerous times as a child and a young woman. But, I couldn’t get past the first hundred pages.
The reason? It’s because the characters are so contrived to fit into Paris’ history that I could not care about them. The sentences about them seemed stilted, their emotions were empty, and their dialogue was forced.
Sadly, I can only count one book read for Paris in July. I hope to do better next year.  For now I’m off to Japan to see what’s going on in Yasunari Kawabata’s House of Sleeping Beauties.

Paris In July: Eugenie Grandet by Honore de Balzac

by Honore de Balzac
published in 1833
Penguin Classics edition: 248 pages
It just so happened, while I was reading this little novel, that we lost the electricity in our home. I sat by candlelight, much as Eugenie herself might have done, and was immediately thrust into the darkness of her life.
Hers is a life which is dominated by a rich father. He is a cooper, and a winemaker, who owns acres upon acres of land. He is wealthy beyond belief, but does this make him happy? Or, generous? He is a miser, a tight-fisted, manipulative, selfish man with a hard heart which can only appreciate his accumulated gold. As Balzac reminds us, “Misers thrive on money and contempt.” (p. 131).
When Eugenie’s cousin, Charles, comes from Paris to visit them in Saumur, he is unaware that his father has lost everything. Now bankrupt, Charles’ father sees no other option but to shoot himself in Charles’ absence, thereby leaving his son his debts as sole inheritance.
Eugenie’s great sense of compassion flares, and she comforts her cousin with every delicacy she can find to put on the table (such as a whole bowlful of sugar rather than the tiny lumps her father portions out). She even goes so far to give him her entire collection of gold, coins her father has given her each year on her birthday, for of what purpose is it to her when she can offer Charles a future? Off he sails to India, after leaving her his valuables, and promises for a future together on which she rests all her hope.
This hope, and the memories she has of their two kisses on the garden wall, sustain Eugenie through great distress when her father discovers what she has done. He cannot abide the fact that she has given her gold away, given it to help someone else, and he confines her to her room with bread and water. Thus begins the demise of her mother, distraught over all the anxiety in the home, while Eugenie remains strong and calm.
‘To put a girl of twenty-three on bread and water!…’ exclaimed the President de Bonfons. ‘And without just and sufficient cause! But that constitutes actionable cruelty; she can proceed against him; inasmuch as…’
Eugenie heard them talking about her, and came out of her room.
‘Gentlemen,’ she said, as she came forward with dignity, ‘I beg you not to do anything about this matter. My father is master in his own house, and so long as I live in his house I must obey him. What he does should not be subject to the approval or disapproval of other people; he is answerable only to God. If you have any friendly feeling for us, you will say nothing whatever about this; I beg you not to talk about it. To criticize my father is to belittle us all in the eyes of the world. I am very grateful for the interest you have taken in me, but you would oblige me much more if you would silence the offensive rumours that are going about the town: I heard of them only by accident.’ (p. 203-4)
Eventually, Eugenie’s parents die. We wait for Charles to come back and fulfill his promise to her, for surely such a good and noble woman deserves such a happy ending? But Balzac determines to show us two important lessons instead. One, that money in and of itself can never satisfy. And two, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:33-34)
May our hearts be in the right place.
(I read this novel for Paris in July, 2012, and also with Richard, whose views can be found here.) 

Paris in July: Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan

Bonjour Tristesse
by Francoise Sagan
translated by Irene Ash
published by Harper Perennial Modern Classics
first published in 1955
pages: 130
With a name like Bonjour Tristesse (Hello Sadness), you know something bad is imminent in this novel. And the way that our narrator tells her story, with heavy foreshadowing throughout, one reads with one’s heart in one’s mouth.
“I will pass quickly over this period, for I am afraid that if I look at it closely, I shall revive memories that are too painful. Even now I feel overwhelmed as I think of Anne’s happy laugh, of her kindness to me. My conscience troubles me so much at these moments that I am obliged to resort to some expedient like lighting a cigarette, putting on a record, or telephoning to a friend. Then gradually I begin to think of something else. But I do not like having to take my refuge in forgetfulness and frivolity instead of facing my memories and fighting them.” (p. 115)
I was reminded of Briony in Ian McEwan’s Atonement. While some maintain that she was innocent in terms of meddling in her sister’s affair, I will always believe it was intentional. In this case, Cecile meddles with her father’s affairs quite purposefully. They had enjoyed a life together of rather shabby morals; she accompanied him to bars, smoking and drinking like an adult, taking on Cyril has a lover when they vacation in the summertime. He went through mistress after mistress, never taking any of them seriously until Anne. Anne was a friend of Cecile’s mother, now deceased, and when she re-entered their lives Cecile’s father quickly abandoned his current amour, Elsa, for her. At first Cecile is happy about her father and Anne. But then she concocts a plan for this relationship’s demise.
Why does she do this? Because she wants to test her powers over her father? Because she resents Anne’s intrusion into their happy life? Because she can? At any rate, it is decided that Cyril and Elsa will cavort around the beach, and in the woods, purposely creating the effect that they are lovers in order to distress Cecile’s father. Cecile never thinks that anything will come of this; she seems to assume that her lover, and her father’s ex-lover, will play this game until everyone returns to Paris and their normal lives.
Sadly, this isn’t what happens at all.
Francoise Sagan wrote this novel when she was eighteen years old. While I question the power of its writing (such foreshadowing! Such telling of emotion rather than showing!) I can attest to the fact that she captures the heart of a selfish young woman spot on. And the suspense one feels while reading to the end is rather incredible. But, I will not tell you what the tristesse is. That you’ll have to discover for yourself.

Read for Paris in July 2012 hosted by Tamara and Karen. Find Chinoiseries’ reivew here.

Paris in July II: The Perfect Colour and The Perfect Book

When Molly came to my mother’s tea party, she left her iPhone on my end table. Knowing that she needed it to remind herself when to take her medication in the evening, I ran out to her Saab convertible where she was pulling out a silver case.

“Need to put my lipstick on while driving through downtown!” she happily explained.

“Molly!” I said upon seeing a black lacquer rectangle inside, “what colour is that?!”

I grabbed it from her as quickly as I could because I am not to be daunted in my discovery of the Perfect Red Lipstick. Which I’ve apparently found this time for sure.

The case said “Paris”. It’s from the Rouge Coco collection, and it’s number 22. It’s also the colour that Sandra Bullock wore when accepting her Oscar last year, but I didn’t know that until I’d conducted further research on the colour.

Anyway, you see it pictured here above one of the books I’m going to read for Paris in July. Tried the collected stories of Guy de Maupassant last night, and just about died of disappointment. After Fitzgerald’s? They’re horribly disjointed and lacking impact.

So, Paris in July will be celebrated not only with Mavis Gallant’s Paris Stories, it will be celebrated in style with Chanel’s lipstick in the same name. Vivre Paris!

Paris, From My Mother

(I asked my mother to write of Paris for it was she who first took me there. At her hands I learned to read, at her hands I learned of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. We have returned several times over the course of my growing up, but Paris holds its own place in each individual’s heart. Here is what it means to her…)

I remember rolling the word Paris around on my tongue when I probably didn’t know it was a city far away across the Atlantic. The word itself was exciting unlike another and though my mother’s blue bottled perfume said, Evening in Paris, its inherent qualities told me little. I loved the magic of the word as I grew and began to discover where Paris was and how many adventurers had escaped to its shine. Then I realized that paintings I liked were painted by artists with French names. In a sophisticated restaurant (in the prairie city of Winnipeg) in my favorite Eaton’s store! items on the menu that I didn’t understand, were written in this special language. About that time I was beginning French in my junior high, Earl Grey. Soon I was trying those glamorous words, (made in Paris, I thought) on my tongue. I began to search for any and all opportunities to learn about Paris.

The passion has never dimmed. Even after my first visit in1974 to the city to rendezvous with an Israeli artist friend, who led my family and I on many treks and searches, the city made itself known to me in very small discreet increments. Of course we sat in cafes ordering Schweppes with lime and café au lait and ate jambon sandwich in the Luxembourg Gardens watching les petites float their boats. Strangely (to me) my husband tired of the city and made arrangements for the family to visit the country. We chose Gourdon in the Dordogne Valley and traveled there by train. My sad au revoir to Paris was quickly healed as we began to discover the countryside around Sarlat, Rocamadour, Combescue on horseback. In fact the randoneur who led our trip told us we were the first Americans to ride those trails.

Too soon too soon we had to say another au revoir and I promised myself I would return no matter what or how. I did, with my two children. We spent a summer visiting Paris then the chateaux of the Loire, Bretagne, finally safely back to the country town of Gourdon.

I have returned many times, with family, with my husband and even alone. Paris remains an ultimate glamour pill. No coincidence that I offered my daughter the opportunity to buy her wedding dress in Paris. No wonder I encouraged her study of French which quickly surpassed my Berlitz drivel; assuring her mastery of the menu at the Tour Eiffel, even hushed translation of the concert at St. Sulpice.

I wait and hope and look for opportunities to do it all just one more time. The perfume makers of Grasse continue to waft their treasures to my attention, the ancient city of Aigues Mortes with its walled fortifications provides not only memories but were a fine prelude to the Camargue, and Mont St.Michel is so outstanding I returned a second time with my beloved to eat omelettes and gaze at the incredible beauty of sea and stone.

Nevertheless and always Paris has its own beat unlike any other. And though the Jeu de Paume has changed to the Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre now sports the I.M. Pei glass triangle the Mona Lisa still lives there and the Rodin garden continues to welcome lovers of all ages. Coffee, whose fragrance combined with diesel flavours the air of Paris reminds visitors like me that they are still welcome. At home I am transported to my fantasies by a whiff of coffee or Chamade, while the real essence remains in my heart.