Buying a Piece of Paris

Buying a Piece of Paris (Photo- Macmillan USA)During an emotional time last year, when I was dealing with some personal upheaval and getting ready to relocate from Australia back to Canada, I went through a random Francophile phase. I’m not entirely sure what fuelled it, other than a deep love of croissants. Within the space of about two weeks, I read the French parenting book Bringing Up Bebe (it should be noted and emphasised that I am single and childless), and the pseudo diet book French Women Don’t Get Fat (it should also be noted that I’ve been about the same size – a comfortable US 4/6 – for the better part of a decade).

I fully acknowledge that it is weird to read a parenting book when you don’t have any children, and a diet book when you don’t intend to go on a diet, but it was a weird time. I think what may have drawn me in was the French outlook in both. Everything in moderation, act like a lady, remain calm, look after yourself first. These are important messages, regardless of what you’re trying to do with them, and especially important messages when you are deciding what to do with your life in a time of great change.

A few months ago, I tried to recapture that same French spirit with Petite Anglaise, but it didn’t take hold in the same way – perhaps because I didn’t feel Catherine Sanderson fully embraced the French spirit in the way that that Pamela Druckerman and Mireille Guiliano do (and gasp! Druckerman is an American! Guillano splits her time between the US and France, but is clearly French through and through). It also may be that I didn’t need books about France quite as much as I did in late 2012.

But from time to time, one catches my eye. Enter Buying a Piece of Paris, which I found at the local library.

This fun little memoir is written by Ellie Neilsen, an Aussie who is charmed by the City of Lights as a tourist and decides to go about claiming a piece of it for her very own.

“…What I wanted, more than anything else in the world, was to walk into that butcher’s shop and buy a piece of paradise. I wanted to say, ‘Bonjour, monsieur’ and have Monsieur say, ‘Bonjour, madame’. And I wanted to be able to tell him, calmly and with some authority, that I would like half a rabbit (no, I don’t need the head) and a few pieces of canette (female duck’s legs) and some andouille. Whilst thanking Monsieur I would purse my lips, shrug a shoulder, and outline my weekend cooking-plans in flawless French.

Of course, this could never happen. For a start, I am not in the habit of eating rabbits, headless or otherwise. When I purse my lips I look comical or intoxicated (depending on the time of day), and I cannot speak French. I am, however, greatly in the habit of imagining myself in all manner of situations that are outside my real, everyday life. So that day, almost four years ago, as I stood at my window, willing the street beyond to leap up two floors and embrace me, a plan popped into my head. It was a perfect plan, one that involved daring, danger, and a ridiculous amount of money. It was a plan that would show that butcher’s shop who was who. I decided to buy Paris. Well, just a tiny bit of it. I’m not totally irrational.”

Nielsen is charming, sharply observant and a little bit silly. I identified with her strongly, except that financially, I have no hope of buying a piece of Paris (at least not anytime in the next two decades).

There are moments where she comes off as a little bit smug and entitled, but to be fair, I don’t think practical people run around having these types of whims. I don’t always agree with what she does, but it makes for a good read. This was just the right amount of French escapism to get me in the mood for summer, and give me a healthy case of the travel bug again.

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