Not surprisingly, I love to read Paris memoirs and other Paris-centric books, both fiction and nonfiction. I’d say about a quarter of my library falls into this category. I got Paris Was Ours last Christmas (my Christmas list is usually made up entirely of books) and I finally got around to reading it recently. It wasn’t my favorite, but it was enjoyable nonetheless—a great book to curl up with with a cup of coffee or glass of wine on a rainy day.
Paris Was Ours is a collection of stories written by thirty-two writers who have either lived in or spent a significant amount of time in Paris. Some of the more notable writers include Diane Johnson, David Sedaris, and David Lebovitz.
Despite my unconditional love of Paris, what I really appreciate about this sort of book are the parts that are honest about the difficulties of living in the City of Light, challenges with which anyone who’s ever moved somewhere unfamiliar can relate. In Paris Was Ours, these difficulties in their many iterations are a common theme among all of the writers, though in the end, almost all of them intimate that they came away from their Parisian experience with silver-lined memories.
Also not surprisingly (if you’ve taken the time to explore my literary inclinations), the piece by David Sedaris was my favorite. In “The Tapeworm is In,” he recounts the time when his sister sent him a copy of Pocket Medical French, which came with a cassette tape that included a medical-themed walking tour of Paris. Here’s an excerpt:
I followed my walking tour to Notre-Dame, where, bored with a lecture, on the history of the flying buttress, I switched tapes and came to see Paris through the jaundiced eyes of the pocket medical guide. Spoken in English and then repeated slowly and without emotion, in French, the phrases are short enough that I was quickly able to learn such sparkling conversational icebreakers as “Remove your dentures and all of your jewelry” and “You now need to deliver the afterbirth.” Though I have yet to use any of my new commands and questions, I find that, in learning them, I am finally able to imagine myself Walkman-free and plunging headfirst into an active and rewarding social life. That’s me at the glittering party, refilling my champagne glass and turning to ask my host if he’s noticed any unusual discharge. “We need to start an IV,” I’ll say to the countess while boarding her yacht . . .
I wouldn’t call it un-put-downable, but Paris Was Ours is certainly worth reading if you’re wont to soak up every last bit of Francophilia wherever you possibly can.