I have a long history with France. When I was in preschool, we had a French conversation class a few times a week. I learned “Bonjour” and “S’il vous plait” with a treacherous southern accent.
Fast-forward a few decades when I move to West Africa. Suddenly everyone around me could speak French (among many other languages) and my interest in studying French was renewed. I began lessons to help communicate and made the wise choice of obtaining a French boyfriend.
In a blink of an eye I was married to said boyfriend and living in the City of Lights. Now, there is quite a difference between visiting and living in Paris as I soon discovered. First, there is not as much accordion music as in the movies. Second, your feet hurt from the cobblestone streets. And finally, everyone speaks French all the time. This is especially difficult when you are monolingual despite your best intentions.
Paris and I didn’t fall in love at first sight. We didn’t have a torrid affair. But over the years we have come to respect each other. I love the efficiency of the Metro but hate the lack of personal space. I’m sure Paris feels the same way concerning the volume of my Franco-American family but all the same loves American movies.
This year began and now is ending under the shock of terrorist attacks on my adopted city and its people. Twice I have failed to explain the events to my bilingual and bicultural children. Is it a surprise? These attacks make no sense in any language or culture.
I am shocked and sadden but refuse to mourn. For if we mourn, we are accepting the end of Paris and her way of life. I refuse to give up in the face of ignorance and violence. So instead of writing an eulogy for Paris, I want to sing her praises.
Below is a list of books that for me embody the beauty, artistry and complexity of Parisian life. Do you have any books that evoke the beauty and flavor of Paris? Please send me an email at Melissa@mabmedia.net and let me add to my list.
Stone Angel by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Katie May Green
In France, World War II was only a moment ago. Paris was especially marked by the Nazi invasion. Yolen’s story of a young Jewish girl forced to flee her home is a beautiful story of hope overcoming the horror of war.
Pumpkin Time! By Erzsi Deak and illustrated by Doug Cushman
Although the story takes place in the countryside and not in the city, this adorable book was written and illustrated by two people who I became friends with in Paris. This book is perfect for any child interested in gardening and/or pie. And honestly, who isn’t interested in pie?
For young adults:
Romancing the Dark in the City of Lights by Ann Jacobus
This amazing novel of despair, destruction and rebirth set in Paris is near and dear to my heart. It was created by the award winning author Ann Jacobus not too long after we became friends while living in the City of Light.
Anything by author Joanne Harris.
Harris does a masterful job creating and explaining French culture and its environs in her multiple novels that take place in France. My personal favorites are Holy Fools and Chocolat.
French: The Secrets of Classic Cooking Made Easy by Carole Clements and Elizabeth Wolf-Cohen
I hate to cook. By the grace of this amazing cookbook I have survived many dinners and holidays with the extended French family. It is everything a cookbook should be, clear, concise and containing countless step-by-step photos.
Wine and War by Don and Petie Kladstrup
A fascinating look at how the production and consumption of wine (and especially champagne) helped the French Resistance’s fight against the Nazi’s.