Don’t expect Ernest Hemingway, but Paris is still Paris

"Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down" was written by Rosecrans Baldwin and is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ($26 hardcover)

Ah Paris, a beloved city that’s often celebrated in books, movies and songs. Who among us is not enamored with the City of Light? The art, the food (especially pastries), the sidewalk cafes, the cathedrals, the culture – well, you get the point. Rosecrans Baldwin is not the first American to seek the good life in the French capital, but he finds it’s not the Paris of Ernest Hemingway and the Lost Generation. It’s not even his parents’ Paris.

In this wry, droll memoir published last month, the young writer mixes his love of the city with humor and a big dose of reality. For instance, here’s his description of the lay of the land. “Paris neighborhoods, the arrondissements, are organized like a twist. They spiral from the river like toilet water flushing in reverse and emptying out of the bowl – a corkscrew or what have you, a flattened pig’s tail, a whorling braid notched one to 20.”

He’s a self-described Francophile who always dreamed of living in Paris, so when the opportunity to work as a copywriter for an advertising agency there presented itself, he couldn’t turn it down. However, things have changed a bit since he visited Paris as a nine year old with his parents. The ubiquitous American fast food chains, the internet and smoking bans have invaded Paris. Even (gasp) the English language is spoken more and more. This American who loves Paris finds life there to be very different from what he expected. There are obstacles to establishing a work-day life there; for instance opening a bank account and getting a credit card in addition to a debit card is a major tour de force. He and his wife are even told they don’t look serious enough in their passport photos!

In the end, Baldwin and his wife endure and find much to love as they uncover a Paris of their own, a vigorous city for a new generation. As I write this Book Biz, one of my children is visiting Paris and sending wonderful photos via the latest technology. The Sorbonne, the river, Notre Dame Cathedral and the little park behind it, Musee d’Orsay, le Jardin de Luxembourg – even her lunch – appear to remain beautiful, vintage Paris.

 

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