The Experienced Travelers have been on a medical hiatus throughout the summer and fall. Nurse is battling a serious infection in her knee, but we are on the road to recovery. Just one more surgery for another knee replacement and she’ll be dancing a gigue.
In my dual-role of primary caregiver and temporary cook, I prescribed regular infusions of Chateauneuf du Pape for the patient and the chef. It certainly improved her disposition – and heightened the quality of my cuisine. So, Dear Readership, you went on the back burner – so to speak. Mea culpa.
Here are a few Parisian “good reads” I bookmarked for just such an occasion. It’s the season for fireside reading and these books go nicely with a glass of wine and ripe Norman camembert:
Elaine Sciolino, Paris correspondent and former Paris bureau chief for The New York Times is author of La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life. Oh Dear Readership, how we long to understand the game, and Ms. Sciolino guides us through the labyrinth of French social interactions and teaches us how to flirt with the butcher.
Seduction governs all aspects of French life – romance, cuisine, business and politics. The ETs have been under the spell for years. Just as we were relieved to know the diagnosis with Nurse’s knee, we are thrilled to understand the frisson and shortness of breath we get when we start planning a trip to Paris. I downloaded a sample and so far, it’s terrific.
To the Dear Readership who reside in France — what is your take on the art of seduction? We rely on you to give us the straight story.
I’ve always meant to tell you about Alistair Horne. His “Seven Ages of Paris” is one of the best comprehensive histories of the city I’ve read – twice. From the island of Lutetia to the postwar period, it’s entertaining, well-written and relevant. It might make you want to find the extant remains of Philippe-Augustus’ 12th century fortified wall. If you do, I can tell you that it’s against local law and ordinance to pry off a piece of the wall for personal home use.
Another good read is David Downie, a food and travel author who resides in Paris. (someone else who is living the life I was meant for, but I shan’t be mean about it…) “Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light” is a series of essays on different aspects of the city, its inhabitants and its history. You *will* reserve flights after reading “Paris, Paris”. Mr. Downie also writes an excellent blog.
My current bedside reading includes Mary McAuliffe’s “Dawn of the Belle Époque” about the Paris of Monet, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Debussy, Clemenceau et. al. It’s a bit formulaic but provides an excellent introduction to this fascinating period in French history.
And speaking of the Belle Époque – have I mentioned Proust lately? Set aside Danielle Steel and read the Mother of All Modern Social Set Pieces – Mme. Verdurin and her Wednesday “at homes” with the little clan or the Princesse de Guermantes’ “see and be seen” party. Just *try* “Combray” – the first section of “Swann’s Way”. If you get that far, you’ll have friends for life in six volumes.
Choose the new Penguin editions, which are easier to grasp than older translations. Don’t suffer like I did because I wanted to read the same translation that Virginia Woolf read. Historical verisimilitude is nice but it will make you want to walk into a pond with stones in your pockets – oh, wait a minute…
In fact, I think that “La Seduction..” makes a perfect pairing with “In Search of Lost Time”- the theory explained in Sciolino and the practice artfully demonstrated in Proust.
There. Now your holiday wish list is done and you can spend the winter weekends “in Paris” – without dispensing with jammies and a cuddly comforter. It’s good to be chatting with you again!