Thursday, September 13, 2012

Paris Adventures

I guess you could say I've been too bogged down to blog, but having completed some research for work on the web tonight, I'm taking a vacation--a virtual one at least and heading to Paris with author Eloisa James and her family, but first I'm remembering my first trip to Paris.

I first visited Paris in 1998 on a group tour while traveling with my mother. It was one of those "If This is Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium" kind of experiences, but for my mom and me it was a Grand Adventure. As our bus entered Paris on the way to our hotel, we passed the soccer stadium where throngs of soccer fans were entering the Stade de France, France's national stadium. We were told by our guide that France was playing the highly favored Brazilian team that night in the World Soccer Final.  Flags hung from windows of high rise apartment buildings, the entire city was in a state of anticipation and high spirits.
 Crowds arriving at Stade de France, St.-Denis, Paris
1998 World Cup
Mother and I were tired, so we opted out of the tour group event that evening.  Instead we strolled around the Montmartre neighborhood where we were staying, got something to eat, then settled in to watch the soccer match on TV.  Neither of us understood French or much about soccer for that matter, but the excitement of the French commentators and the frenzy of the crowd was mesmerizing.  When France beat Brazil 3-0, winning their first ever World Soccer Cup, the city erupted.  The deserted streets of an hour before filled with throngs of people spilling out from cafes onto the streets around our hotel.  The sounds of fire crackers and blowing car horns filled the night air. 
I wanted to enjoy the festivities, so I joined the crowds roaming the streets of Montmartre that night.  A stranger grabbed me and hugged me, chattering in French and I felt bad that I didn't understand him and couldn't make even a simple reply.  Indeed everyone seemed to be hugging each other; when cars came to a stop light, occupants jumped out of the cars, ran around hugging people and shouting, then jumped back into their vehicles when the light turned green. 

Paris crowds celebrating 1998 World Cup win in Montmartre

According to news reports the next day, a million people filled the Champs-Elysees that night.  New York Times reporter, Craig Whitney, wrote: Black and white, Muslim and Christian, Arab and Asian, the people of Paris trooped down the avenue as they had during victory parades after World Wars I and II...It was, the French coach, Aime Jacquet said, a moment of ''national communion.''
The next day Mother and I ate at a sidewalk cafe.  We ordered Quiche Lorraine and when our plates came out, the tomato in the side salad had a French flag stuck in it.  The waiter smiled and said, "Quiche Lorraine France" when he brought our dishes to the table. 
Paris in Love, by Eloisa James
Random House, 2012
(Read in Kindle Download)
My goodness, my trip down memory lane took longer than anticipated, and I've left Eloisa James and her Paris memoir hanging.  Eloisa James is the pen name of a successful romance author who in her other life is Mary Bly, a Shakespeare professor at Fordham.  After losing her mother to breast cancer and having a brush with the disease herself, James and her Italian-born, university professor husband decide to apply for sabbaticals and move their family to Paris for a year.  Paris in Love is the story of that year. 
James takes the Facebook entries she posted that year from Paris, expands some into longer essays and organizes her reminiscences into the seasons of the year for this book.  This adds to the "You are there with her" feeling of the journal.  Her two children--fourteen-year-old son, Luca, and irrepressible eleven-year-old daughter, Anna--are often less than enthusiastic participants in this cross cultural experiment and provide frequent fodder for James' musings. 
James also writes a lot about ordinary days:
Parisian life is small and quiet.  I pack the children off to school and then think greedily about how many hours I have before they come home.  I have come to the conclusion that silence and time are the precious commodities.
Paris (and our apartment) is so dark and quiet this morning that I feel as if I'm entirely alone.  This sky is the color of gray flannel, the darkness broken only by the dormer window of another early riser.  The women who lives in that attic painted her walls yellow, and reflected light bounces out like a spring crocus.  If light were sound, her window would be playing a concerto.
The main character of this memoir is Paris, as the City of Light is always a scene stealer.  James describes other scenes outside her apartment window as she sits and writes, the homeless man who has pitched a tent on the heat grate near their apartment, her explorations of the city, her children's experiences in an Italian school, French food, the small, lesser known museums not to miss on one's next trip to Paris, the trials and tribulations of the family's obese chihuahua, Milo.  Her observations are concise, yet evocative.
Description of a winter scene from Paris in Love:
High up, somewhere in the milky sky, the snow clings together before it pinwheels gently down in little clumps.  Thousands of cotton bolls were trying to seed themselves on rue de Conservatoire.
But James is most eloquent when she writes of her family and her motivation for seizing this opportunity to live in Paris:
My grandmother was diagnosed with dementia, and was silent the last decade of her life; my father, my darling father 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.
I know how James feels.  My mother, who gamely tramped all over Europe at age 76, is now losing her words and the names of her great-grandchildren, but she and I will always have Paris.
To take a virtual trip to Paris in the footsteps of Eloisa James, visit the wonderful Paris Breakfast blog.  The blog's creator has posted quotations from Paris in Love and paired them with photos of Paris.
To see more of France, you might also be interested in my past blog posts about our 2011 trip.  To see the French home where my husband and I stayed in the French Alps town of Serres, click here.  Click here for post about our visit with another friend in Veynes in the Alps.  Click here to read and view photos of the village of Cucuron in southeastern France where part of the movie, A Good Year, with Russell Crowe was filmed and where Ricky and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary.  To read and see photos of two other villages in Provence, click here.  And to view Marseilles scenes, plus more of Serres in the French Alps, click here.  



  1. I enjoyed this trip to Paris and will also check out James' blog. Even as we lose our parents to varying forms of dementia, our memories can be treasured. I'm glad you and your mother will "always have Paris."

    1. Both our trips to France have proven to be special, and the one with my mother was quite an experience. As a child, my mother was the one in her large family who always was ready to go somewhere, according to family stories.

  2. Oh, not James' blog, but still a pleasure.

  3. Hi Teresa, I am glad to see that you enjoyed Paris in Love. I actually had found it at the SC library and was reading in lieu to the airport and then passed it over to Mom for her to finish. I since ordered an Amazon copy so I can read at leisure. Which means secretly reading late at night or early am before the household is awake. I remember hearing about your Paris trip, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading the details and seeing the pictures. Now that I've gotten on the blog, I'm curious to read more posts. I'm glad your recent visit home was such fun and we're crossing our fingers that we'll see you (and Ricky!) at Christmas. Much love, Em

    1. Emily, I very much enjoyed the first Prague Monitor piece you wrote after returning from your summer trip. I tried to leave a message there but I've forgotten my password, then messed up when I was sent a new one time only password. Anyway, good job as usual. Glad you visited my blog and hope you'll return. Your recommendation of Paris in Love proved accurate. Everyone reading it seems to enjoy it. Simple, yet eloquent. TERESA