Paris in July 2018

This is not an official button for Paris in July; I just happened to like this black and white photo of a woman sitting peacefully by the river. “What is it,” I ask myself, “that she is absorbed in reading on such a quiet day?”

For there is a wealth of literature from which she could choose. As for me, I am currently absorbed in Annie Ernaux’ The Years, which won the 2016 Strega European Prize and the 2018 French-American Foundation Translation Prize. (It is truly spectacular.)

And within my stacks we find treasures to be devoured such as these:

The Madeleine Project by Clara Beaudoux, about a young woman who moved into an apartment in Paris and discovered a storage room of belongings left by the previous owner, all of which Clara documented on Twitter;

nyrb classics such as Like Death by Guy de Maupassant, or Act of Passion by Georges Simenon;

Or, My Heart Hemmed In by Marie Ndaiye.

Each choice holds promise of beautiful writing, stories revealed, and a French atmosphere to absorb. I am eager for July.

And you? What are you reading for Paris in July?

Paris in July: Murder on the Ile Sordou


When I was a young bride living in Europe, I would often take the time offered to teachers in the summer to flit about my favorite countries. I would put on a shade of Chanel lipstick, which is no longer made, named Explosion; it was a brilliant fuschia which matched my maillot de bain perfectly, and somehow I felt quite comfortable on the beaches of the French Riviera wearing ridiculously bold colors. It was the 1980’s, after all.

Along the coast of the Riviera is a most beautiful city named Aix en Provence. which is about 30 km north of Marseille. It is here that the author of this mystery, M. L. Longworth, writes when she is not teaching in Paris. Her novel Murder on the Ile Sordou takes place on a fictitious island, but one that may resemble any of the islands off the coast of Marseille, and it is a novel with more ambiance than any mystery I have read.

While it may resemble the writing of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, or Donna Leon’s Venice, this mystery has a quality all of its own. M. L. Longworth brings France in general, and Provence in particular, to life with her dialogue, her setting, and her characters. Even the meals which they enjoyed after a two hour afternoon nap seemed indescribably delicious.

I’ve made a summer menu, so let’s just forget about the storm out there: we’ll begin with cucumber and melon gazpacho and then red snapper ceviche shooters, followed by vegetable spring rolls. Once we’re sitting we’ll eat roast bass with olive oil, mussels, and cherry tomatoes, and, finally, in honor of our meat-loving host, a rack of grilled lamb with stir-fried summer vegetables, wasabi puree, and a cilantro-mint vinaigrette.

A loud round of applause rang out. “And not to forget dessert,” Emile said, holding up his hand.” A chocolate cake served with fresh strawberries and vanilla bean ice cream, surrounded by a concoction I call ginger and lavender drizzle.”

Oh, the lavender in Provence! The seafood! The cresting waves of the sea on a summer evening…I was there in an instant, enjoying the remembered sensations even more than the mystery itself.

If I should tell you about the mystery, I would spoil the surprise. You must read it yourself to discover which of the guests who have arrived by boat will be murdered and why. But, while you are reading of the case to be solved, you will be immersed in the culture, and for me that was the most special aspect of this book.


A Nineteenth Century Point of View from France…Scarlet and Black by Stendhal



“Julien will be a notable worker in our Lord’s vineyard. He is not lacking in memory or intelligence and he is thoughtful. But will his vocation last? Is he sincere?”

I have been living in 19th century Paris for the past week, viewing it through the eyes of Julien Sorel who is Stendhal’s hero in Scarlet and Black. I have been held captive by his actions every minute of our acquaintance.

Julien begins his life as many things: a peasant, a carpenter’s son, a Latin scholar, the lover of the Mayor’s wife (Madame de Rhenal) at age twenty. But, when he goes to seminary, and then eventually on to become secretary for the Marquis de la Mole, Julien becomes a Parisian dandy.

Not that he can compete with the rich young gentlemen of the day, who bore the Marquis’ daughter, Mathilde, to death. No, Julien adheres to liberal views which he is not shy about sharing; he is also aware of the hypocrisy he exhibits in not having enough independent wealth for even his daily bread.

In fact, he feels that all priests are hypocritical, and it isn’t until the final chapters of the novel that Julien believes in God himself. He has been far too preoccupied with love affairs, social status, and the glory he has found in living as the nobility do.

Who can say how deep was his love for Madame de Renal? Surely at the time they felt their love to be true, but it could not be sustained with her a married woman. Probably it was inevitable that he fall in love with the Marquis’ daughter at his next place of employment. But, you can see how that love could be called into question as well, once her father sees Julien’s penniless status as compared to the Marquis’ power and riches. All of which Julien could inherit upon marrying Mathilde.

Stendhal makes us look at status and ambition, while examining the priests and nobility, in this novel which often struck me as overly dramatic. Yet, I can forgive a novel written in 1830 for making me want to cry out, “You vile brutes!” after certain passages. The story is what makes it compelling, as I alternatively cheered for Julien and longed to slap him for his stupidity. What has changed between people of his era and people of today?

As I read, I marked quotes from Stendhal that seemed particularly insightful. Many of them apply to French culture today as I think back on the times that I have been in Paris. Below are some of the passages I highlighted.

On priesthood: “I’m confiding this detail to you so that you will have no illusions about what awaits you in the priesthood. If you are thinking of paying court to those in authority, then your everlasting damnation is assured. You may get on in the world, but you’ll have to do things which will harm the poor and needy. You’ll have to flatter the sub-prefect the Mayor, and, in short, any man of importance, and make yourself the servant of his passions. This way of behaviour, which the world calls savoir-vivre, may possibly, for a layman, be not entirely incompatible with salvation. But in our calling, a man has to choose between success in this world or the next – there is no middle way.”

On being a freethinker: “In their eyes he was convicted of the heinous vice of thinking for himself and of forming his own judgements instead of blindly following authority and example.”

On attitude: “Have you forgotten Horace’s nil mirari (never show enthusiasm)? Just consider how all this tribe of lackeys, seeing you standing here, will make fun of you; they’ll see in you one of their equals unjustly placed above them. Under cover of good-nature, of giving you sage advice and guiding you in the right direction, they’ll be trying to trip you into making some gross blunder.”

On speaking: “By the way, don’t let these Parisians hear the sound of your voice. If you say a word they’ll find out a way of making you look ridiculous. It’s a special knack of theirs.”

On entertaining guests: “The Marquis was absolutely correct in his behaviour to his wife; he took care to see that her drawing-room was adequately furnished with guests – not with peers, for he found his new made associates insufficiently noble to be entertained at his house as friends, and not amusing enough to be received in an inferior footing.

On attire: “Young Parisian women are not very fond of people of a certain age, especially when they do not dress very smartly.”

On facial expressions: “A melancholy air can never be good form; what you want is to look bored. If you’re melancholy, it means you want something you haven’t got, or there’s something in which you haven’t succeeded. That’s an admission of inferiority. On the other hand, if you’re bored, it means that the person who has vainly tried to please you is your inferior. Realize, my dear fellow, what a grave mistake you’re making.”

On conversations: “The policy of the government in power, which forms the main topic of conversation in middle-class houses, is never touched on in the houses of people of the Marquis’s rank, except at moments of great emergency…Provided you did not treat God, the clergy, the King, or anyone holding public office as a matter for jest; provided you did not speak in praise of Beranger, the newspapers of the opposite party, Voltaire, Rousseau, or anyone allowing himself any freedom of speech; provided, above all, that you never mentioned politics – then you were free to discuss anything you pleased.”

On belonging: “In Paris, people are civil enough to hide their laughter, but you always remain a stranger.”

(I read this book for Paris in July hosted by Tamara. It also applies to one of the books I have listed to read for The Classics Club.)


Paris in July…One of The Reasons I Love to Blog In July

Paris in July 6 - floral

Tamara is hosting Paris in July again this year and has suggested we write up our intentions here. It is such fun to look over everyone’s plans, to mark off possibilities on my own personal list and add a few more from others’.

I have a new perfume to write about, an unexpected present from my husband who gave it to me under the term “end of year present” when it’s really because he’s such an excellent man. A hint? The designer from whose house it came was around when Dior began and just passed away this June.

Also, I have longed to read Stendhal’s The Scarlet and The Black since I was twelve years old and saw it in the stack of novels my mother brought on our trip to France. I tried it then, as I delved into most of her literature, but it didn’t quite suit me. Now I am three quarters of the way through and marking every other page. You’d be surprised how much a French novel set in the nineteenth century applies to today.

And on a much lighter note, I’m toying with reading the true story contained in Almost French by Sarah Turnbull.

There may be more novels pertaining to Paris in July, in fact I hope that there are. Some of my favorite books of the summer have come from this particular event, including Bonjour Tristesse, A Moveable Feast, Therese Raquin, and Eugenie Grandet.

Will you be reading anything French in July?

Paris in Juillet: Au Revoir

And so we come to the last day of July, and with it the closing of the event we have been celebrating all month: Paris in July. Of course this does not mean that all things francaise will be put aside for another year. Mais, non! 
I will still be reading what I can find from French authors; in fact, On The Rue Tatin will be recommended to the book club’s reading list by one of its most beloved members. My mother.
I will still be writing on postcards picturing Paris’ most beautiful scenes from obvious state.
I will drink cafe au laits, eat jambon sandwiches, and finish a meal with creme brûlée when it’s available.
And, there will never be a day I step out of the house without wearing a French perfume.
Which beings us to the announcement of who will win the fragrance give-away I hosted several days ago. The winner of the little beach scene, the Chanel No. 5 soap, and the Dior samples is Guiltless Reader. May you enjoy each item and long remember the month that was.
Paris in July.

Paris in July: The Secret of Chanel No. 5…et un petit cadeau

The Secret of Chanel No. 5 by Tilar Mazzeo is a fascinating book which explores the famous fragrance from the woman behind it, to its creation, to the effect that it’s had in the world since its birth in 1921. We begin with the idea of what Coco wanted her perfume to portray:

“She (Coco) wanted something oddly contradictory. Her perfume had to be lush and opulent and sexy, but it also had to smell clean, like Aubazine (the Catholic orphanage in which she grew up) and Emilienne (the chanteuse from the cabaret demi-monde). It would be the scent of scoured warm flesh and soap in a provincial convent, yet it would be unabashedly luxurious and sensual. In the world of fine fragrance today, a perfume begins with an idea, a “brief”, and if Coco Chanel had put into words what she was looking for in her signature scent it would have been this tension.”

We continue with why the fragrance has such a sexual connotation:

“Generally speaking, there are three kinds of materials that are used to make perfume-scents inspired by flowers; scents inspired by other parts of plants, such as their roots, barks, and resins; and scents inspired by the smells of animals. Chanel No. 5-one of history’s most famously sexy perfumes-uses them all in generous doses. But Chanel No. 5 is especially about the florals-the ingredients of traditional perfumery that might seem to have the least common with the smell of the body. Yet, reconsider. Flowers are after all the essential machinery of a plant’s reproductive organs, and perfumes are often made from their sexual secretions. The difference between plant estrogens and animal estrogens is a slight one.”

And we carry on with how Chanel No. 5 experienced its international fame most especially after World War II:

“It remained a luxury even as all other comforts of living vanished, and this status of luxury–as something untouched by this era of losses–was part of the magic and desire. It was this idea of making the perfume available through the United States Army, though, that catapulted the fragrance to new levels of cultural celebrity. Like the perfume itself–a balance of sexy florals and fresh-scrubbed aldehydes–it was the embodiment of an essential contradiction: something at once completely familiar and exclusively luxurious.”

“That connection had been confirmed in the minds of millions of Chanel No. 5 enthusiasts in 1952, when rising starlet Marilyn Monroe revealed that when she wanted to feel sexy, she turned to No. 5. Memorably, an impertinent reporter once asked what Monroe wore to bed, and the coy response came: “Nothing but a few drops of Chanel No. 5.” Today, it is still one of her best-remembered quips.”

A decade later, however, Chanel lost much of its prestige. “By the early 1960s, it was suffering from a potentially disastrous overexposure and was widely available throughout the United States in discount drugstores and at chain outlets like Woolworth’s. It was becoming associated with the kind of scent that was worn by an older generation of women who were out of step with fashion.” The brilliant idea to counteract this image was to hire Catherine Deneauve as the fragrance’s spokes-model. Her films, her voice, her beauty brought back the sexual allure that Chanel No. 5 had always carried.

One of the more recent faces of Chanel No. 5 is “the girlishly sexy Audrey Tatou, who first came to international fame as the title character in Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie Poulain (2001; released in English as Amelie)

“It has been a coordinated and evolving campaign that has made Chanel No. 5 more famous than ever, but it has worked for the same reason the Second World War made it an icon: these films and fragrances are an invitation to mystery and fantasy.”

As for the answer to the question the title of Tilar’s book provokes, what is the secret behind Chanel No. 5? “It’s the wonderful and curious fact of our collective fascination with this singular perfume for nearly a century and the story of how the scent has been–and remains–capable of producing in so many of us the wish to possess it. Think of that number: a bottle sold every thirty seconds. It is an astounding economy of desire.”

And to fulfill in part any desire you may have toward experiencing this fragrance for yourself, I have:

…a brand new box of Chanel No. 5 soap. It may be the perfect introduction to this fragrance, for if you don’t know that you want to wear it, you can scent your whole room just by leaving the soap in a dish. You can scent a drawer, as well, or your entire bathroom. (If you are a man still reading this, you can give it to your woman.) I hope this choice is a good way for you to enjoy the now and forever fragrance.

…two sample fragrances from Dior: J’adore and Miss Dior. Underneath is a sample of Guerlain’s famous oriental fragrance, Shalimar. They have nothing to do with Chanel, of course, I simply include them as French fragrances.

…a nifty little gift from Chanel’s Esprit Croisiere at Nordstrom. This is authentic blue sand on a classic little beach scape which resembles Monte Carlo. The little umbrellas and boardwalk have holes to allow the sand to flow through, so that you can control how much sand appears on the beach by shaking the box. 

To enter the give-away containing the soap, the samples, and the little box, simply leave your name and email address. I will select a winner and announce who it is on July 31, 2014, when Paris in July comes to a close. Bonne chance!

Paris in July: French Perfume, Those I Own and Love

From Chanel:
No. 5 Eau Premiere
Allure Sensuelle Parfum
No. 5 Eau de Parfum
From Guerlain:
Parure, my favorite fragrance ever which has been discontinued
Mitsouko, another favorite chypre
Chant d’Aromes
L’Heure Bleu
Aqua Allegoria in Rose
From Jean Patou:
Joy Eau de Toilette
Joy parfum
From Dior: 
Forever and ever
(And a random shot of Roger Piguet’s Fracas, as well as Hermes’ 24 Faubourg, a scent my mother wears beautifully; it is her bottle given to me.)
Well, this could be embarrassing, to show such a collection of fragrances and this only in part. But I’ll just forge ahead with telling about this particular passion of mine, and you can reveal any passions of yours in the comments if you so choose.
I have often thought how lovely it would be to have a signature scent, a fragrance that upon smelling one would straight away recognize the wearer. Alas, that is not my fate. There are far too many beautiful perfumes to limit myself to one. Even though I do have a few favorites.
I began wearing Cristalle by Chanel when I was seventeen, and everyone else in high school was wearing Charlie. But, fitting in has never been my strong suit so I blithely carried on with Chanel rather than Revlon. I had long wanted to wear No. 5, but it smelled too serious to me. I had to work up to that “now and forever” fragrance which has become my son’s favorite.
There have been many, many others along the way. After Cristalle I wore Anais Anais by Cacherel, Magie Noire by Lancome, and when I went to teach in Europe after college, Poison by Dior was all the rage. From Europe to now, I have had a steady accumulation of fragrances and still find it impossible to choose one. The fragrance I spray on in the morning depends on the day, the event, or my mood.
How does one go about choosing a fragrance? Quite simply, the best way is to spray it on and wear it before buying. What smells good on some people, can smell rancid on me. What starts out lovely and fresh can turn sickeningly sweet by the end of the day. But, there are also books which can also help tremendously.
Perfumes: The Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez is invaluable in learning about perfume. This particular edition is older, and missing some of the reviews found in updated editions. But, it has a five star rating scale, and description, of hundreds of perfumes. Even if you didn’t buy a single one, the descriptions alone are interesting reading. For example, here is what Luca says about Poison (although the photo is from a different book; I can’t show you my bottle because I have given it away):
“Reviewing Poison is a bit like road-testing an Abrams M1 tank in the evening rush hour. People seem to get out of your way, and if they don’t, you just swivel that turret to remind them you’re not kidding. This is the fragrance everybody loves to hate, the beast that defined the eighties, the perfume that cost me a couple of friendships and one good working relationship. It is also unquestionably the best dressed-up, syrupy tuberose in history, and in my opinion it buries Amarige and the first Oscar de la Renta in the “make it a night he’ll never forget” category. Every perfume collector has to have this but please never, ever wear it to dinner.” ~Luca Turin
I am planning a post specifically on Chanel No. 5 for July 26. You may wish to come back for it, as I will also have a simple give-away in accompaniment.

Paris in July: My Friend Maigret by Georges Simenon

I already love him, this famous Inspector Maigret about whom I’ve been hearing so much. By page 20, I see that we have similar feelings, he and I. For example, here’s a passage about work:
“Don’t you like the Mediterranean?”

“In general, I dislike places where I lose the desire to work.”

“That’s because you like working, is it?”

“I don’t know.”

It was true. On the one hand he railed every time a case came along to interrupt his daily routine. On the other hand as soon as he was left in peace for several days he would become restless, as though anxious.”
Or, how about this simple phrase?
“Not yet sure if he was in a good temper or a bad one Maigret grumbled as he fumbled in his suitcase for his razor.”
I don’t fumble for a razor in the morning. But I do often wonder if I’m in a good mood or a bad one; it isn’t always readily clear on any given morning.
Even if the mystery would prove to be disappointing, I can tell that Maigret himself will not be. No wonder Georges Simenon is as beloved an author as the Inspector he created…
When a man named Marcellin is killed (on the Mediterranean island of Porquerolles) for proclaiming his admiration for Chief Inspector Maigret, the Inspector leaves Paris to investigate. He is shadowed by a British policeman, from London, who has been invited by Maigret to see how it is that the French solve cases. (Like a brother in law and his wife, who are perfectly respectful but annoying after five days, Maigret wonders how long he can abide this policeman’s company. Even though Maigret himself invited him.)
While the setting is not in Paris, it sounds like the most appealing French island, where people must take a boat to and from the mainland. It is a perfect description for a summer escape: the air is tropical and balmy; the trees are tamarisk, olive and pine; and white wine is drunk every evening by the citizens who gather at the Arche for conversation and games. 
It makes me long for an era gone by (this novel was first published in 1949), for the south of France, and for people who lead simple lives, albeit with secrets of their own. It makes me long for more novels involving Maigret, a character for whom I feel more affinity than Inspector Clouseau, Hercule Poirot, or even Chief Inspector Armand Gamache himself.

Paris in July: Remembering my Wedding Dress on Our Anniversary, Which Is Tomorrow

About fifteen years ago my mother had a fabulous idea, and my father paid for it.
“Would you like to go to Paris,” she asked, “for your wedding dress?”
I was preparing for my second marriage in July of 2001. No June bride for me. No, I was a very hot July bride, but I was dressed in Parisienne style.
My mother and I flew directly from O’hare airport in Chicago to Charles DeGualle in Paris. It was our first time in Paris for neither of us; over the years we had become quite familiar with it, in trips we took together as a family, as well as the times we had gone independently. (When I taught in Germany, it was quite easy to go to Paris for the weekend.)
I had made an appointment with a young designer, but on an off chance we went to the Galleries Layfette to see what kinds of robes de mariage they had. And there we met the wonderful Sylvie.
Either I am not terribly particular, or she knew just the thing, for within about three try-ons we had the perfect dress. She studied me for a moment, and then she said, in English, “It needs a little somezing.” Off she went, and when she came back she was holding the most charming hat. I loved it at once.
When I tried on the whole ensemble, I felt quite pleased. And Sylvie said, “You look very beautiful. You just have ze need for…um…how do you say…a little micro-fibre.” Because while I am not fat, it’s true I had a bit of a tummy poking through this sample dress. I cannot think of a more charming way to be told. And my husband and I often laugh about it even now, thirteen years later. 
The shop was named Cymbaline, and they constructed for me a long skirt of no frills with a separate top that laced up the back. “You can wear zis separately, if you choose”, I was told by the ever practical French. Which I have on subsequent anniversaries.
My mother and I stayed at a wonderful hotel. It is called the Hotel Relais Saint Sulpice, chosen by my mother who is able to find the most perfect meal, the most perfect lodging, the most perfect opportunity anywhere she goes. 
And while we revisited the usual sights, such as the I. M. Pei before the Louvre, it is the streets which hold the most charm for both of us.
I wish the pictures of my photographs were clearer, but I hope they give you an indication of Paris during our stay. I hope they build in you a desire to go and see it for yourself. Because just as the authors highlighted in Paris Was Ours, or the way my mother said, “Let’s go,” it’s not as difficult to go there as it may seem.

Paris in July: Paris Was Ours by Penelope Rowlands

When I read the essays on Paris which are included in Paris Was OursI am struck by the courage these writers had to pick up and go. Some of them would not call it courage; they would label their action as foolish, or impulsive. But I think that anyone who has a dream, and makes it a reality, is very brave. Especially when it calls for changing one’s environment. Language. Culture.

It is clear that Paris cannot be an easy city in which to live. Beautiful, yes. But, also expensive. And, unwelcoming. (“Or, politely put, they are born cynics who lack an Anglo-Saxon’s curiosity about strangers.” Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni) These writers tell of their experiences with handling money, with finding an apartment which cost twice what a two-bedroom apartment in a building with at doorman in Brooklyn cost. They talk about fashion, how the French women are the size of their teenage daughters, mostly because the portion of their meals is small, not the fat content. French women are quintessentially chic women, who buy two or three expensive things (think Chanel) a year, wrap a scarf around their necks, and are set to go for any occasion.

The writers of these essays come from varied places in life. Some are students, some are writers. Some are in the fashion industry, others are bankers. One is homeless, another is an apprentice chef. They all write of their unique experiences in The City of Light.

One of my favorite essays in the collection is titled, “My Bookstore High” by Jeremy Mercer. Of all the times I have been to Paris, I have neglected to visit Shakespeare and Company. (Perhaps I had a misplaced importance on finding Guerlain parfumeries, or the cafe Deux Magots.) Jeremy found here a sanctuary for a poor writer with no bed of his own:


From what Eve had told me, George welcomed lost souls and poor writers. I qualified on both counts. Considering the precious little money in my pockets, and the scarcity of options before me, it didn’t take long to decide that fate had brought me to Shakespeare and Company that rainy Sunday afternoon. For the first time since the threatening phone call. I began imagining a future. I would write a brilliant novel at the bookstore..” ~Jeremy Mercer

And now to record some of the quotes I highlighted while reading, for they struck me as especially pertinent to my own experiences of Parisian life:

“Parisian standards are high, even unforgiving. They’re also double edged, explaining at once why the city’s inhabitants look as good as they do, seem as cold as they can be, and have accomplished so much in art, music, literature and more. There’s a taut discipline beneath their seemingly effortless finesse, their knack for displaying almost anything–whether it’s a plate of moules, a bouquet of wildflowers, or their own physical selves–to advantage.” ~Penelope Rowlands

“In Paris, before possessing an object of desire, one tries to covet it as long as one can.”~Veronique Vienne

C’est comme ca. More than its literal translation (“It’s like that”), this phrase is best rendered as “That’s just how it is.” ~Caroline Weber

“I had never been in a place where there was so much to observe: the benches, the wrought-iron balconies, the long cars that looked like bugs, the policemen with their huge caps, the food sold outdoors, bookstalls outside along the river. Everywhere I went, there was a new tableau to take in.” ~Alice Kaplan

“Children in France are seen but not heard,” says one American friend, Katherine, who is a mother of two. “Except on the playground, where the parents don’t get involved and then it becomes Lord of The Flies.~Janine di Giovanni 

“I was someone who was wrapping a paring knife bought at Dehillerin in an apron and placing it in my suitcase. But more than that, I felt like a Parisian cook. Surviving in the crucibles of the city’s kitchens gave me the confidence to face what awaited me.” ~Patrick Kuh

“Work was seen as an essential component of modern motherhood, a component of good motherhood, in fact, because it was something that helped women feel happy and whole. Particularly odd was how readily my American peers accepted all their stress and guilt as a natural consequence of motherhood. It didn’t seem to dawn on anyone that there could be another way.” ~Judith Warner

These brief quotes give you an idea of what is found in this collection, a collection which as closely approximates actually living there as I have read.