Note: I published this without the photo of the cover and without proofing it. My apologies!
Eloisa James is a romance novelist, but this book is a memoir of her sabbatical year in Paris with her husband Alessandro and her two pre-teen and teenage children, Luca (son) and Anna (daughter). I like it because you can pick it up and read almost any page of her entries from her blog or diary. Many of them are about food, which is one of my favorite topics to discuss.
The short paragraphs or longer essays give you a picturesque picture of her year in Paris and loving it, from the small apartment to the schools her children struggle with, mainly because of language, and also because she found that the French schools were ahead of the schools back home in New Jersey.
Not all of the book is warm and fuzzy, as she discusses her own problem with breast cancer, her mothers death, and the death of a good friend. But written in the context of her overall good year in France, that’s part of life, with the good and the bad, which she seems to manage. Mostly, the author is upbeat and outgoing and her descriptions and observations are interesting and enjoyable.
Here are a few excerpts, which speak for themselves in terms of enjoyable reading. Many are about food. (Quotes are in italics for emphasis.)
On her visit to the Eiffel Tower with her daughter Anna and a new school friend: I decided there is nothing more melancholy than a French carousel on a rainy day, and wished we had paid for champagne and crepes.
On her comment about rising early: Very early in the morning, the only light comes from tightly closed bakeries. Chairs are upside down on top of the tables, but the smell of baking bread feels like a welcome.
On reviewing her mother’s idea that she dress like a lady when she was wearing her husband’s black, bulky sweater and mannish shoes: “…..but I’ve come up with a New year’s Resolution: I want to know what elegance looks like at age fifty, a milestone that looms just a few years away…. I intend to learn precisely what these French women buy and, perhaps, just as important, how they manage to look so commandingly elegant after attain ‘un certain age.’ It is truly a pity my mother is no longer alive…..I’ve finally decided to dress like a lady.”
On a rainy day, observing the homeless man in her neighborhood using three umbrellas to protect his possessions: “The umbrellas look like wildly colorful mushrooms sprouting from the pavement. From down the street, they seem to bloom, low and colorful against the gray buildings.”
On silence and time: “Parisian life is small and quiet. 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 most precious commodities.”
A weather observation: “This morning I dropped Anna off at school, then walked across the Seine on a lavishly gilded bridge. The wind was fiercely chilly, but the sky bright blue, and the way the sunshine on the river and danced all over that gold leaf opened a door straight from winter to a slice of spring.”
Description of a morning: “Paris (and our apartment) is so dark and quiet this morning that I feel as if I’m entirely alone. The sky is the color of gray flannel, the darkness broken only by the dormer window of another early riser. The woman 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.”
I love her observations and her comments about everything she experiences, cleanly and honestly, as though we have a little window into her brain. There are some long essays that are also interesting, completing a picture of Paris quite nicely.
I thoroughly enjoyed this slice of life memoir and believe it is a good way to restore feelings of normalcy during this “Twilight Zone” time. It is published by Random House. The 2012 paperback is $15.00, although I think I purchased it for much less as a used book. Worth every penny! As the Chicago Tribune says: “Exhilarating and enchanting…brims with a casual wisdom about life.” (Right on!)