"Paris Was Ours: Thirty-Two Writers Reflect on the City of Light" Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $15.95
In the introduction, editor Penelope Rowlands recalls when she and her then-boyfriend first arrived in Paris. It took a while for the then-20-year-old Rowlands to become accustomed to her new surroundings. Initially she hated the city, resisted it — then fell in love with it. "I learned the language," she writes, "through sheer humiliation" as she was subjected to the "scorn" of waiters and bus drivers as much for her perceived foreignness as for her halting French and "pale English looks."
But it was in Paris, the city that she loved and hated seemingly in equal measure, where she came of age and where she was changed by the experience of being there. That is the theme of this wonderful and mostly original collection of essays and two poems by 32 writers. They describe why they went there and what they found when they got there. The writers gathered by Rowlands are a diverse group.
A few are famous, such as David Sedaris and Edmund White. Others are well-known in their own areas of expertise. Stacy Schiff has written a well-received history of Benjamin Franklin in France, and Jeremy Mercer wrote a fabulous memoir of the time he spent working and living at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. There also is novelist Diane Johnson and blogger Julie Lacoste.
The essays capture the mood of the city in all of its dark and light shades, evoking the spirit of Eugene Atget and Marcel Proust.
"Paris Was Ours" is a sparkling collection as well as a nice literary complement that fans of the Woody Allen movie "Midnight in Paris" would especially enjoy.
"Stuff Parisians Like: Discovering the Quoi in the Je Ne Sais Quoi" Berkley, $15
In this tongue-in-cheek book, French sommelier Olivier Magny reveals what it takes to be a true Parisian. Sure, much of what he suggests is based on stereotypes, but that doesn't mean they aren't true.
The book consists of short entries on various aspects of Parisian life and culture, accompanied by a useful tip and a sentence that sums up the best way to sound like a Parisian. When crossing the street, for example, Magny declares that a person should never stand at a red light while waiting for the light to turn green. After all, he reasons, "There has to be a better way." In Paris, that means dashing across the street whenever and wherever you want.
Magny discusses the Parisian penchant for wearing black (except in the summer, when Parisian men get to wear white). There also is the observation that Parisians of both genders and all ages seem to be on a perpetual diet ("the Parisian will not let fatness take over"). That is packaged with the belief among the French that exercising is a pointless activity.
Another trait: Parisians love New York ("in Paris, stating that you prefer Paris over New York will make you sound old and boring").
As for tourist fashion, he strongly recommends that you avoid the uniform of the tourist. That means no fanny pack, sneakers or camera hanging from the neck, and try not to walk too slowly or get lost on the Metro. Most of all, to be a true Parisian you must learn the art of complaining because, according to the French, if you must complain, you must be smart.
Other topics covered include riding a bicycle, small cars, Clint Eastwood, scarves and Barack Obama ("the leader Parisians would love for their country").Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun