Download Paris Was Ours- Thirty-two Writers Reflect on the City of Light PDF

TitleParis Was Ours- Thirty-two Writers Reflect on the City of Light
File Size857.7 KB
Total Pages203
Table of Contents
                            Cover Page
Title Page
Copyright Page
Introduction: L’Arrivée
Véronique Vienne, L’Argent Is No Object
Diane Johnson, Learning French Ways
Walter Wells, Becoming a Parisian
Caroline Weber, Love without Reason
Samuel Shimon, Keep Your Distance
Joe Queenan, Friends of My Youth
Valerie Steiker, Fledgling Days
David Sedaris, The Tapeworm Is In
Jeremy Mercer, My Bookstore High
Mark Gaito, Chantal’s Gift
Alice Kaplan, My Day with Mr. D.
Janine di Giovanni, Parenting, French-Style
Patric Kuh, Deal With It
C. K. Williams, Two Paris Poems
Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni, Understanding Chic
Julie Lacoste, It’s My Home, That’s All
Janet McDonald, Just Another American
Judith Warner, Toward a Politics of Quality of Life
Roxane Farmanfarmaian, Out of the Revolution
Lily Tuck, My Literary Paris
Zoé Valdés, The Tribulations of a Cuban Girl in Paris
Richard Armstrong, Montparnasse and Beyond
Judith Thurman, Guillaume à Paris
Karen Schur, Ma Vie Bohème
Edmund White, A Mild Hell
Alicia Drake, The Sky Is Metallic
Stacy Schiff, In Franklin’s Footsteps
Brigid Dorsey, Litost
Noelle Oxenhandler, La Bourdonneuse
Marcelle Clements, Paris Is Gone, All Gone
David Lebovitz, Enfin
Penelope Rowlands, Le Départ
Credits and Permissions
Document Text Contents
Page 101

painful. For whatever reason, by the end of the year not one of the four
Americans living in the residence had developed a friendship with a French
European. Francophones who were not European were much more open.

At dinner one evening, I glimpsed the top of a tall Afro leaving the refectory.
I didn’t know there were any other black people in the residence and was
intrigued by the dark-skinned young woman retreating with a tray of food. The
next time I saw her slipping out with her dinner, I said, “Bonsoir.” Her
friendliness surprised me; she invited me to drop by her room anytime. Her
name was packed with syllables—Myrianne Montlouis-Calixte—and she was
from Martinique, a place I hadn’t heard of, and was in Paris studying math. She
spoke almost no English and my French was in its infancy, but we managed to
communicate. Appearances notwithstanding, Myrianne wasn’t antisocial, just
anti-French. She found Parisians as cold and gray as the city, and missed her
island home.

Through my new friend, I discovered an entire community of
from the West Indian bourgeoisie tucked away in the residence and was invited
to some of their social gatherings outside the . These girls from Guadeloupe
and Martinique ate alone or in each other’s rooms. They were elated to meet an
African American and bombarded me with questions about racism, Harlem,
black entertainers, and anything that touched upon the lives of black people in
“America.” They giggled at my French and laughed outright when I attempted to
explain that I was black, not American. “ , Jeannette, you are so ver-ry

,” said Marie, who spoke a little English. She said I looked American,
dressed American, and walked like an American.

I was curious about their hostile attitude toward the Paris-born ,
who took her meals with French friends and described herself as . They
said the French didn’t accept them as equals; therefore, French West Indians
should refuse to claim a French identity. Even more annoying to them was Binta,
a twenty-year-old Senegalese married to a much older French businessman. The
relationship incensed the West Indians, and the framed photo of her husband that
Binta kept on a bedside nightstand did little to improve her standing. Binta
certainly was a special case. Just before my return to the United States, she
begged me to send her some American skin-lightening cream. “I want to be
light-skinned and beautiful like Diana Ross and Donna Summer.” These and
other cross-cultural friendships were eye-opening: while African Americans
continued to reel from the destructive legacy of slavery and racism, people of
color worldwide struggled with their own forms of racial turmoil. I realized that
the social and psychological effects of racism transcended national borders.

Page 102

Other friends I made that year were equally fascinating. Much of my time was
spent with Linda and Ernie, Indonesian twins who were classically trained
pianists. The three of us had long conversations in each other’s rooms and were
sometimes joined by Ike, also Indonesian. Ike’s father had named her after his
hero, President Eisenhower. I was also very close to Wisdom, a gorgeous
African from Togo whose dream in life was to move to Colorado and “live like
an American.” His father had given Wisdom’s four brothers names that were just
as remarkable: Peace, Light, Love, and Might. There were times in Paris when I
felt as if my brain could barely process the wealth of new impressions, surprising
names, and puzzling accents.

During spring break I traveled to the walled town of Saint-Malo in Brittany. I
explored the ramparts, cruised around on a rented Mobylette pretending to be a
member of Hell’s Angels, and, at low tide, ventured out by foot to Grand Bé
Island to visit the tomb of Chateaubriand. By year’s end, I had visited
Martinique, fallen in love with French literature, and read everything available
on the experiences of African Americans in Paris; no one claimed France was
perfect, but many African Americans saw it as a haven from racism. My greatest
accomplishment, however, was that I had learned to speak good French, which
couldn’t be said of the American students who had continued through the year to
huddle together in cafés.

Senior year, I returned to Vassar with a stack of French records and an
obsession with Paris. I’d also fallen head over heels for a teenager from
Martinique, but the long-distance relationship didn’t survive the voyage across
the Atlantic. I kept French as my major, and the year passed in a flurry of term
papers, thesis research, and preparations for graduation. Unable to come up with
a feasible plan for my future, I applied to graduate school in French literature as
well as to law school, in the hope that fate would make the decision I couldn’t.
No such luck. I was admitted to both. Unable to decide one way or the other, I
enrolled in an NYU master’s degree program in France and deferred admission
to Cornell Law School until the following September. All I wanted was more of
Paris; real life, with its dreary careerism, could wait a year.

Graduation day sparkled with flashbulbs and grins. The French department
gave me an achievement award. Ernest had also successfully completed four
years—in prison—and had been paroled; we posed for photos and called
ourselves “The Graduates.” I was a project girl a Vassar girl now, and glad
to be both. A bright sun slowly crossed campus, pulling with it light and shadow,
just as I had done.

Page 202


Most of the essays in this book are original to this volume and are copyrighted in
the name of each contributor and published with his or her permission. The
English translation of Zoé Valdés’s essay is copyright © Andrew Hurley.

Pieces that were previously published appear here in a slightly different form
and are credited as follows:

Janine di Giovanni’s essay is copyright © Janine di Giovanni and published with
the permission of the Daily Telegraph/Telegraph Media Group Limited 2009.

Excerpt from Alice Kaplan, French Lessons: A Memoir (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1993) reprinted by permission of the University of Chicago
Press and the author.

Julie Lacoste’s blog entry, from Un temps de retard by Julie,, was posted on November 23,
2008, and is reprinted by permission of its author.

Excerpt from The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most
Glorious—and Perplexing—City by David Lebovitz, copyright © 2009 by
David Lebovitz. Used by permission of Broadway Books, a division of
Random House, Inc.

Excerpt from chapter 7 from part 1 of Project Girl by Janet McDonald.
Copyright © 1999 by Janet McDonald. Reprinted by permission of Farrar,
Straus and Giroux, LLC.

Excerpt from Time Was Soft There by Jeremy Mercer, copyright © 2005 by the
author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.

Noelle Oxenhandler’s “La Bourdonneuse” was first published in the New Yorker
on May 10, 1993, and is reprinted by permission of its author.

David Sedaris’s “The Tapeworm Is In” is from Me Talk Pretty One Day
copyright © 2000 by David Sedaris and reprinted by permission of Little,
Brown and Company.

Stacy Schiff’s essay originally appeared in Gourmet magazine and is reproduced
here by permission of the author.

Page 203

The excerpt by Samuel Shimon is from , copyright © 2005,
published by Banipal Books, London, and is reprinted by permission of the

Valerie Steiker’s essay is adapted from her book,
(New York: Pantheon, 2002) and is reprinted by permission

of Random House.

Judith Warner’s essay originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the
Outlook section of the and is reproduced here by permission
of the author.

Excerpt from pp. 15–21 from by
Patricia Wells and Walter Wells. Copyright © 2008 by Patricia Wells Ltd.
Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Edmund White excerpt is copyright © Edmund White, c/o Rogers, Coleridge &
White Ltd., 20 Powis Mews, London W11 1JN.

“Racists” and “On the Métro” from by C. K. Williams.
Copyright © 2006 by C. K. Williams. Reprinted by permission of Farrar,
Straus and Giroux, LLC.

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