Paris Was Ours: Thirty-Two Writers Reflect on the City of Light

Paris Was Ours: Thirty-Two Writers Reflect on the City of Light - Penelope Rowlands Paris Was Ours is a very enjoyable and fairly informative collection of essays. Like most collections of this type, some were better than others. Unlike most collections of this type, most of them were very, very good.

I was pleasantly surprised by the range of experiences presented: expats not only from America and Britain, but places as varied as Iraq, Iran and Cuba all give us a taste of their Parisian experience. And it’s not just foreigners; there are several essays from natives as well, each with a different view to offer. Nearly all of the contributions were from people who make a living as writers, but only a few of them were "famous," or at least only a few were immediately recognizable to me, namely Diane Johnson (of Le Divorce fame), David Sedaris and Edmund White. Many of the essays shared a certain perception of Paris, but you may be surprised that the over-arching themes were not concerned with the "City of Light" romantic Paris, but the melancholy, mired-in-history Paris that few American writers seem to acknowledge in their dreamy remembrances of Continental self-discovery. There are the requisite mentions of foulards and such surface-level observations, but there are also deeper examinations of Parisian life. I don’t say “French life” because, as many of these essays make clear, living in Paris is not necessarily the same as living anywhere else in France.

One of my particular favorites was “Friends of My Youth,” by Joe Queenan, which captures the rambling essence of the student Year Abroad; the drunkenness, wandering and friendships that only a year of freedom in a foreign land can give. A few others worth noting are Diane Johnson’s “Learning French Ways,” Janine di Giovanni’s “Parenting, French Style,” Zoe Valdes’ “ The Tribulations of a Cuban Girl in Paris,” and Karen Shur’s “Ma Vie Boheme.” Each one has something different to say about Paris, but many of them share common themes: homesickness, the aloof Parisian attitude to outsiders, the idiosyncrasies of French culture, all of which I find fascinating as I’ve never left the East Coast of the U.S.

This collection was entertaining and enlightening, and for $1.99 on my e-reader it was a steal.