Paris in Love

Excerpts

A Parisian Summer
A Parisian Spring
A Parisian Fall
A Parisian Winter

 

Audio Excerpt

Paris in Love in Audio – read by Eloisa herself.
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Good Housekeeping Excerpt

The first part of Paris in Love was featured in the August 2012 issue of Good Housekeeping.

A Parisian Summer
Anna hates Paris. She hates the move, she hates leaving her friends, she hates her new school, she hates everything. I am the only mother in France dragging a child with her nose in a book down the street, the better not to see anything Parisian.


Anna hates Paris

Our apartment has a sweeping staircase, and stained glass windows looking into the courtyard—and a tiny, slow elevator added in the 1960s. My husband and I both fit in only by standing side-by-side and sucking in our tummies. Sometimes the groceries fit too. The children have to take the stairs. I generally emerge to find Anna lying on the last few steps, gasping, one hand out flung toward the (locked) door, doing a great imitation of dying-man-in-desert-sees-mirage.

The butcher down the street has started flirting with me! It makes me feel as though I'm in a movie. He also gave me a one-euro discount on my sausages. Alessandro's unromantic assessment is that the butcher is an excellent marketer. Which is true. I am now a customer for life.

Alessandro was born and grew up in Florence, Italy, with a passion for learning languages (English and Latin in high school, French, German, Russian, and ancient Greek thereafter). When I first met him, he had a charming accent that he shed after having been, as he puts it, seduced into domesticity. He’s now a professor of Italian literature at Rutgers University, and was even knighted by the Italian government for obscure intellectual contributions to the republic. At any rate, Alessandro made up his mind not to squander the opportunity to make his French as good as his English, and to that end he’s put a notice on an internet bulletin board offering to exchange an hour of French conversation for an hour of Italian. He’s being deluged with responses—most of which seem to be treating his offer as an opportunity for a blind date. My personal favorite is from Danielle (“but some call me Dasha, your choice”), who wrote saying that she had an extra ticket to The Nutcracker, and that they would have a great time speaking French, especially after drinking much champagne.

This morning the Thai restaurant at the bottom of our street exploded, resulting in clouds of white smoke and a terrible smell of burning rubber. The guardienne came up to the fourth floor to tell us that she thought the owners were doing something nefarious in their basement.

The woman who works in the Italian grocery down the street turns out to be from Alessandro’s hometown. Once this interesting fact was established, she took charge of his groceries, removing the olive oil (inferior), switching to buffalo mozzarella (fresher than the kind he’d chosen), and slicing Parma prosciutto rather than San Daniele. It occurs to me that the wily Florentine extracted quite a few more euros from Alessandro’s wallet by claiming kinship, but her creamy, delicate mozzarella is worth every penny.

It's night, after a day of rain... the windows are open and the strains of a glorious opera pour from the Conservatory down the street.

Like any big city, Paris has homeless citizens. But I've never before seen a woman carefully sweeping the doorstep where she, her baby, and her husband slept. Some homeless Parisians have little pup tents, and simply flip them open on the street; many have carefully tended cats and dogs on leashes.

Paris in Love

Mirabile dictu! Anna has found two things she likes in Paris. The first is chocolate, and the second is the rat-catcher's shop, which has four big rats hanging upside down from traps. We detour to gawk at them before grocery shopping.

Archetypal French scene: two boys playing in the street with baguettes were pretending not that they were swords, as I first assumed, but giant penises.

Big excitement! We have just entertained a fraudulent chimney sweep, ostensibly sent by the landlord’s insurance company. He set to work, but Alessandro decided to check up on him. It was all a scam to get us to pay for unneeded cleaning. The sweep had to be thrown out, brushes, rods and all, with much French protesting and yelping, after cleaning two chimneys. It felt very Dickensian.

Anna has just told me of my demise. She recreated our family in the “Sims” computer game, and I died after refusing to stop reading in order to eat. “Next time,” she said, “I’ll make you a rock star and then you won’t mind leaving the house.”


End of A Parisian Summer. Like it? Order Paris in Love!

A Parisian Spring
Spring has come to Paris! The sky before my study window is pale blue, with airplanes' fleecy vapor trails patterning it like lace, and the building across the street is gleaming in the sunshine. The itinerant brass quartet that occasionally plays in our quartier for money is down on the corner tootling "Blue Moon," with great verve but not such great timing.

Anna came out of school with her mouth tight and miserable. Each day one student gets to ring the dismissal bell, and today was Anna's turn. So she dashed downstairs, so excited that she didn't think to ask for permission; she just rang that bell. It wasn't time yet, so she was yelled at and thrown out of the office, and—worst of all—a boy named Tommaso laughed at her.


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Yesterday I saw a quintessentially French umbrella in a shop window: bright red polka dots with a ruffle. I could just imagine that cunning ruffle dancing down a rainy street. I bought it for Anna, only to be asked (with outrage): "Mama! Do you think I'm Minnie Mouse?" If on a wet day you see a quintessential Minnie walking down rue du Conservatoire, c'est moi. Today young men stood outside the Métro stations, selling bundles of small narcissus, their stalks tied together very tightly so the heads burst into exuberant posies. Almost every woman handed over a couple of euros, so the street was filled with women holding bright yellow flowers to their noses, looking happy.

At lunchtime Alessandro and I strolled over to a Hôtel Drouot auction preview featuring vintage haute couture, that is, designer clothing made completely by hand. I tried on a Chanel opera jacket that must have weighed fifteen pounds, thanks to the exquisite, heavy gold embroidery and beading—thousands and thousands of tiny hand stitches and shining bright beads. For just a moment, I felt like Grace Kelly.


End of A Parisian Spring. Like it? Order Paris in Love!

A Parisian Fall
We spent the summer in Italy, then rented a car and drove to Paris. I pictured this drive as the proverbial “quality time,” a charming entrée to a year of creative freedom. But in fact, the children took it as a chance to catch up on missed television, now endlessly available thanks to the internet. "Look, kids,” I shouted from the front seat. “There’s a glorious chateau off to our right!" The only response was wild laughter inspired by Family Guy riffs on Ronald Reagan. They weren’t even alive for his presidency.

Last night we stayed with friends who own a kiwi orchard in Cigliano, in northern Italy, a misty, dim forest with rows of female trees, heavy with fruit, interspersed with fruitless males. The farmhouse had hooks over the beds to hang drying herbs and sausages. Showing no respect for tradition, Luca freaked out at the “meat hooks” and begged to be allowed to sleep in the car. We managed to keep from our friends his belief that their beloved house was really a charnel.

Back in the car for the final leg of our journey to Paris, Anna played fart noises on her iPod Touch off and on for hours. I tried to ignore the way my ten-year-old had regressed to half that age, and kept my head turned to the window. The French highway was lined with short, vertical pipes from which ferns sprouted. The frilly parts made it look as though the troll dolls from my childhood were hiding in the pipes—perhaps waiting for a chance to hitchhike, if the right family were to happen along.

Our Paris apartment is elegant in the way of a Chanel coat found in an attic trunk: worn around the edges, but beautifully designed. The building dates to the 1750s, and the wood floors are all original. The kitchen and bathroom are at the far end of a long corridor that bends around one corner of the building’s courtyard—so that the smells (and the servants) would be isolated.

Our guardienne, it emerged, is not French, but Portuguese, with a round face and a bright smile. Alessandro went downstairs with her, and was gone for an entire hour; it seems they discussed the price of vegetables the whole time. He reported that store owners on rue Cadet, the shopping street two blocks over, are all thieves. Armed with this knowledge, and dutifully following instructions, we set out for a covered market, Marché Saint-Quentin, where the vegetables are cheaper and the vendors are honorable. We found a dazzling variety of fruit, including four varieties of grape: small glistening purple ones, big violet ones, green ones with wild sweetness, and tiny green ones with bitter seeds.

We just spent three hours opening a bank account. I thought our charmingly chatty banker would never stop talking. As he carried on, I felt more and more American. He even gave us a phone number to call for advice diététique. French women must not be universally thin if they need dietary advice from their bank.

Eiffel TowerThere is a small hotel across the street from our building, and another to our right. Half way down the street is an enormous Gothic church called Saint Eugène-Sainte Cécile. I gather that Cecilia is the patron saint of music; the Conservatory is right next door. Being in the church is like being inside an enameled treasure box that a demented artisan slaved over for years. Every surface—pillars, walls, ceiling—is covered with ornament, most of them in different patterns. We gaped until we were shooed out, as Mass was going on. I was a bit humiliated about not understanding a word, thinking it was my defective French, but it turned out to be entirely in Latin. We’re going to try the American Catholic church instead.

In a wild burst of preparation for ninth grade, Luca has just had his lovely Italian curls straightened. Now he looks like a fifteen-year-old French teen, but with an Italian nose.

Today we joined a rollerblading event: thousands of hip Parisians zipping over a medieval bridge as the sun shone on the Seine. Until I ricocheted off a stranger and flopped on my bottom. A race organizer told me sweetly that “eet eez too difficile.” That, as they say, was that. We fell into café chairs and watched Paris stream by as we drank Oranginas. Then we rode back, slowly, practicing our braking.

This morning I saw a chic French woman in the Métro...wearing a beret. How is that possible? I would look unbearably twee, like one of the chipmunks in Alvin and the Chipmunks doing Singing in the Rain.

End of A Parisian Fall. Like it? Order Paris in Love!

A Parisian Winter
Paris in Love

My favorite Galeries Lafayette holiday window is set with an exquisite dinner party scene: crystal chandeliers, fabulous dishes, tiaras scattered between the plates, wine glasses draped in pearls—all of it being enjoyed by assorted marionette bears. One has a wineglass in each paw and a tiara tipped over one ear. He raises the glasses drunkenly, toasting all the children outside the window.

The streets are suddenly filled with men selling chestnuts, roasted over oil barrels. Alessandro and I bought some, wrapped in twists of newspaper. They split open from the heat, showing sweet yellow insides. We walked along slowly, nursing the warm packages in our hands, eating smoky, slightly charred nuts.

Due to my disinclination to chop off chicken heads, my butcher whacks them off for me, but he leaves the knees: black and red, hardscrabble knees for running hard. Parisian chickens are much more chicken-like than Mr. Perdue's; furthermore, eggs come ornamented with tiny feathers. My children shriek: "Butt feathers!" Having grown up on a farm, I like remembering the sultry warmth of newly laid eggs.

Anna and I were in a department store, weighing the merits of a stuffed penguin over a stuffed possum, when we were accosted by Santa Claus. This skinny, insistent Santa just wouldn't quit; he wanted a picture with Anna. Having been a micro-preemie, she's quite petite. But in her head she's a young lady of eleven, and young ladies do not sit on the laps of strange Santas. "You know what, Mama?" she said when he was finally banished. "That man was weird." And, a moment later, "I bet French Santas drink too much wine."

Paris in RainThe rain comes down every day; here my umbrella is as crucial as my wallet. My favorite adaptation to the wet weather is babies in bright red backpacks that have four posts to hold a little red canopies over their heads. They look like plump Indian rajas swaying along, atop paternal elephants.

Anna and I walked past yet another homeless man and his dog today. "He's a wiener dog!" said Anna. One look and I said, "No, she's a mama wiener dog." A wild scream followed. "Mama! She has puppies! Tiny puppies!" Sure enough… nine—NINE—tiny, tiny puppies were inside the box on a warm grate. Two days old, according their owner. We gave him all our change.

We went with friends to the Champs-Élysées tonight for the first time since Christmas lights were put up. Trees all the way down the avenue are lit with tiny pale blue lights that slide downward, as if a lazy, bluish rain were falling.

End of A Parisian Winter. Like it? Order Paris in Love!

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eloisajames.com Eloisa James is a New York Times bestselling author of historical romances. But she's also Mary Bly, a Shakespeare professor at Fordham University with degrees from Harvard, Oxford, and Yale. Since professors are lucky enough to have sabbaticals, she and her family spent a year in Paris… Paris in Love: A Memoir is the story of their adventures.

Read more about Eloisa over at EloisaJames.com

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