In 2009, Eloisa James, her husband and two kids took a big leap in their lives, hopping across the pond from New York to Paris for a year. The move came during Jame’s recovery period from her diagnosis and struggle with cancer only two years after cancer took the life of her mother. The memoir isn’t really about the cancer and learning to live in the moment. In her own words she:
did learn that moments could be wasted and the world would continue to spin on its axis.
The book is a wonderful collection of snippet observations that James had posted via Twitter and Facebook and emails during her time in Europe. This is by far, one of my favorite memoirs about living in Paris. James’ observations are witty, clever and eloquently written. The brief stories range from the experiences of her entire family. There was a very unique twist of her American born children going to an Italian school in France (their father is Italian, so the children are already bilingual). Both James and her husband, Alessandro, are teachers taking a year old sabbatical to live in the city of lights. The sections about the children’s time in school was the most entertaining for me. It added a depth of understanding to French culture that other memoris gloss over.
There is also an adorably overweight chihuahua that makes appearances throughout the book, although Eloisa’s mother-in-law might not want to hear him described as such. Eloisa seems to have a fantastic relationship with her family, and it was nice to read about their family adventures, particularly in the ordering strange foods department at restaurants.
Each chapter starts with a few pages of Eloisa retelling a particular story in-depth. The rest of the chapter is followed by snippet observations. The book chronicles their time in Paris from summer 2009 to summer 2010.
Here are some of my favorite posts to give you a feel for her writing style:
Quelle horreur! The guardienne came to clean and noticed that our glassware was smeared, which had been driving me crazy. The box of dishwashing powder that we’d been using? Salt! It looked like dishwashing powder, it was under the sink, and I never bothered to puzzle out the label. We have been running the dishwasher with salt alone for two months.
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 chickenlike 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.
Marina said today the first thing she plans to do back in Florence is find a new vet. That nasty vet who told her Milo is obese, she said, is too young and doesn’t understand Milo’s emotional problems. Taking his life in his hands, Alessandro pointed out that the vet was the third and most recent to cast aspersions on Milo’s weight, and that the most important number to keep in mind was not the vets’ years, but the figures displayed on their scales.
Eloisa James’ also describes May Day in Paris, which is filled with protests, and lilies of the valley being sold throughout the entire city. My husband bought a bundle of the flowers, some wine, cheese and bread, and we had a fantastic picnic on our hotel balcony watching the rest of the world walk by. Although we didn’t see any protests on the streets last year.
I also adored the story of Milo getting stuck between the wall and the couch while making a run for a treat, because he couldn’t fit. There are also a number of beautiful descriptions of the rain/snow falling down her window, off the roofs, on the floor; the relationship she and her family formed with the homeless man sitting outside their nearest metro stop, and their experiences with visiting family and friends.
Eloisa James is also a highly successful romance novelist, so this book will be a welcome addition for her current fans. I finished this book in 2 days, and would have probably finished it in one night, if I hadn’t started reading it at 11p. As an added bonus, James’ includes a list of the shops & restaurants that she and her family frequented during their stay in Paris.
Just for kicks, this is my favorite picture of Paris from my honeymoon last year. We stayed in the Rue Cler district, and this was our view every morning when we went out for breakfast. Is it any wonder why I’m so desperate to go back there? Maybe that’s why I’ve relegated myself to living vicariously through other people’s Parisian memoirs. I think I’m bordering on pitiful at this point. Oh well. C’est la vie.