Attention armchair travelers! Uncork the Bordeaux, put out a plate of fromage and turn off your cell phone for the duration of the journey. “Paris in Love,” a memoir by Eloisa James, transports you to the City of Lights. Join her as she savors waist-expanding delicacies, explores lesser-known museums, gets lost in a maze of narrow alleys and learns to abandon the hectic pace of American life for the peaceful rhythms of Paris.
Few of us will ever have the opportunity to “chuck it all” and move abroad for a year. So, living vicariously through James’ prose may be the next best option. But don’t expect total bliss; adjusting to a foreign land is never easy, especially with two disgruntled children in tow.
A professor at Fordham University, James, aka Mary Bly, typically writes historical romance novels. After battling breast cancer, she and her Italian husband, Alessandro, decide to live out their dream of a sabbatical in France. Much to the chagrin of Luca (age 15) and Anna (age 10), they sell their New Jersey home and most of their belongings before embarking on the adventure.
“Paris in Love” began life as notes in James’ daily journal. After sending the entries via email to friends and relatives, they convinced her that the writing was worthy of becoming a book. At first, I found the brief paragraphs to be somewhat mundane, as she recounted her children’s bad behavior on the ride from their grandmother’s home in Italy to Paris. After all, annoying children in the backseat is a universal constant. What parent hasn’t had that experience?
But I quickly became engaged, viewing Paris through her thoughts, as she described fashionable French women, trying negotiations with a butcher and the three hours it took to open a bank account. The “chatty” banker even felt obliged to recommend a good dietician to the couple. While most Americans would run post haste to the nearest airport after such an experience, they persevered.
Overcoming cultural differences, they were rewarded with peaceful walks in parks, streets filled with bouquets of flowers and the quintessential flavors missing from mass-produced foods. Of course, they encountered many surly French waiters and an overabundance of high-priced bistros. But they quickly learned to follow locals to family-run cafes, where menus don’t exist, for better and less expensive cuisine. And readers will hear no complaints about the endless supply of patisseries, chocolate delights and wines. Frankly, this book made me hungry – and green with envy!
Yet, having the luxury of time, James created most of their meals at home after gathering fresh ingredients at fish markets, fruit stands, green grocers and bakeries. Be sure to try her “Lemon Barley Chicken Soup” recipe.
However, I found Luca and Anna’s experience at the Leonardo Di Vinci school downright disheartening. Luca went into a state of despair when he discovered ninth graders are expected to master calculus and architectural design. And fifth grader Anna stumbled at the blackboard while trying to solve double-digit long division problems. No calculators allowed! Without nightly tutoring, both would have failed. But it was inspiring to see how adaptable children are when push comes to shove. Both picked up the nuances of French much quicker than their mother did.
James claims that’s because her brain has to concentrate on English for her livelihood. Good excuse! Indeed, with impressive prose, she artistically paints the changing seasons as she gazes upon Paris street scenes from her apartment window. I became so engrossed in her depiction of a snowstorm that I felt chilly, even though the temperature in Colorado was 90 degrees.
The story also contains side-trip adventures to London, Florence and Bochum, Germany; along with the family’s endless struggle to reduce the girth of Milo, a 27-pound Chihuahua! To top it off, James includes a guide to her favorite places at the back of the book. This is a great reference for anyone lucky enough to be traveling to Paris in the near future.
By the way, James does debunk one French myth. She said, “French women do get fat!” However, they have a secret weapon for looking glamorous even after consuming all of those croissants. Read the book to find out what it is. That and the time you will spend dreaming about escaping to a culinary heaven make “Paris in Love” well worth the read.