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Paris Was Ours by Penelope Rowlands

Paris Was Ours (2011)

by Penelope Rowlands

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I'm a sucker for books about Paris & this collection of essys by people who have lived in Paris did not disappoint. This is a book that can be read straight through, or dipped into as the mood strikes. It brings all the charm (and sometimes not so much charm) to the reader and, in the end, makes me want to book a flight and go back to that wonderful city. ( )
  etxgardener | Aug 2, 2013 |
After reading 32 writers describe their time spent in Paris, it is much easier to see how challenging it can be for Americans to live in the French culture. I have never been to Paris, but I've become enamored of it from afar and I picked up this compilation of essays to get my fix. I feel that I have come away with a deeper understanding of the culture, which in some ways runs contrary to US values. Americans tend to be apprehensive to visit France, as they find the French rude, haughty and condescending. Not surprisingly, the French find Americans to be the same way, but even more so, they see us as entitled, as if we can go into their country and expect them to speak English to us (Sound familiar?) The French find Americans to be sloppy, demanding, rude, loud, and poor abiders of rules. Each of the writers talked about how challenging it was to fit in, as Parisians seem to follow their own set of rules, that seem to change arbitrarily and without notice. And, they can be quick to attack when a newbie fails to follow a rule. One writer talked with shock about how as a teenager she stepped on the grass in the park and a complete stranger (man) came up and slapped her across the face. The book takes many angles as the contributers came from many walks of life. Several writers chronicled their university days, remembering fondly the poor conditions of their apartments and lack of food. A few of the contributers are famous, with one famous chef and a noted writer discussing how they have made Paris their home. One essay was written by a homeless lady who blogged about her daily struggles to protect her children while living on the streets. For most, Paris was described fondly but with frustration. The years spent living in Paris were very challenging... some hated to try to speak to storekeepers, but finally learned the rules of what to expect and how to stand firm. Others found it challenging to find enough cheap food to eat, as they would sometimes walk all over Paris to find it. The irony being that the food that was found was sometimes of such exceptional quality that it far exceeded student faire. The stories offered great bredth and depth regarding both the beauty and the dark sides of the culture. For example, while women are given exceptional benefits in the workplace with long maternity leaves and protected jobs, they are also light years behind in being treated as equals and not as sexual objects. This topic was explored by an author who gave birth to her children in Paris and was astounded by the benefits, while having to accept the other aspects, such as having men make advances on her in lewd fashion, which was apparently common at the time. Parenting also, is apparently much different, as the French culture does not encircle around the child, rather the child must come along to follow rules and get in line with the parent's agenda.

In all, this was a fascinating glimpse of a much different culture than ours, one that has been around for much longer yet not changed as much over time. I'm not sure if it made me want to visit Paris more or less than I did when I started. At least I will feel that I understand a little more about it when I do make a trip! ( )
1 vote voracious | Dec 28, 2011 |
Since Paris has been a center of culture for so long I was drawn to this book, and after reading these thirty two mostly fascinating and insightful essays about the joys and irritations of living in The City of Light I was not disappointed. The authors are contemporary, but their lives in Paris span decades. Most are British or American so give a sort of English-language cultural perspective, which can’t help but be interesting to someone like me who is a member of that tribe, but other essayists come from around the globe. I especially enjoyed the essays by an Iranian woman, who lived in Paris as a young woman shortly after her country’s 1979 revolution, and a Cuban woman, who had been led to believe that living in Paris would be a punishment. ( )
1 vote Jaylia3 | Sep 7, 2011 |
These are essays from writers young and old, male and female, gay and straight, students and professionals, mothers and daughters.

I enjoyed some of the essays more than others but I think that it took all of them as a group to present the picture of Paris that they did. From the experiences of Americans, French expats, Iranians, Cubans and Brits, a universal vision of Paris from the point of view of a visitor is gathered -- one of love, loneliness, awe and fear. After reading this collection, I am now familiar with café culture, Parisian fashion, expensive but tiny maid's rooms, French parenting methods and architecture.

My favorite essay was from Zoé Valdés, a Cuban diplomat's wife and author who had to reconcile her upbringing and indoctrination in the communist nation with the beauty, freedom and consumerism that she experienced in Paris. I also really enjoyed the piece by Roxane Farmanfarmaian about her experience of being basically locked out of Iran while staying in Paris. Each unique point of view in this book is surprisingly similar and one can only finish this book in awe of those who choose to relocate to the City of Light.

http://webereading.com/2011/03/new-release-paris-was-ours.html ( )
  klpm | Mar 18, 2011 |
I love this book. Read my full review here:
http://thenovelworld.com/2011/02/23/paris-was-ours-review/ ( )
  TheNovelWorld | Feb 23, 2011 |
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For Julian, filius et lux
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I'm a Parisian of the recurrent, revolving-door kind.
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Paris is ?the world capital of memory and desire,? concludes one of the writers in this intimate and insightful collection of memoirs of the city. Living in Paris changed these writers forever. In thirty-two personal essays?more than half of which are here published for the first time?the writers describe how they were seduced by Paris and then began to see things differently. They came to write, to cook, to find love, to study, to raise children, to escape, or to live the way it?s done in French movies; they came from the United States, Canada, and England; from Iran, Iraq, and Cuba; and?a few?from other parts of France. And they stayed, not as tourists, but for a long time; some are still living there. They were outsiders who became insiders, who here share their observations and revelations. Some are well-known writers: Diane Johnson, David Sedaris, Judith Thurman, Joe Queenan, and Edmund White. Others may be lesser known but are no less passionate on the subject. Together, their reflections add up to an unusually perceptive and multifaceted portrait of a city that is entrancing, at times exasperating, but always fascinating. They remind us that Paris belongs to everyone it has touched, and to each in a different way.… (more)

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