If your body resides in America or Canada, but your heart and head seem to prefer living in Paris, I might just have the perfect book recommendation for you!
I wrote Paris Dreaming a while back, originally for the Australian market. Like so many women here, I swoon over all things Parisian, and French, too, for that matter. I think it’s because France and Australia are diametrically opposed in so many ways — but it’s the contrast that makes us complementary. The old opposites-attract factor.
But what I’ve come to realise, since Paris Dreaming was released, and since I set up this website, is that there are many women around the world who feel the same. We’d love to live in Paris, run away to the City of Light like some heroine in a romantic novel. But home is where our family is. Paris, hélas, cannot be our reality, but it can be our dream. Our soul city. A place we visit as often as possible (even in books or films) to recharge our spirits. Paris colours our world. It teaches us about la vie en rose — how to see life through rose-tinted glasses.
Also, America and Canada have their own special histories with France, like Australia (which came so close to being settled by France instead of Britain that the Francophile in me can barely cope reflecting on it). So I like to hope Paris Dreaming will resonate with you.
So what is Paris Dreaming exactly? Well, at heart it’s a one-hundred-thousand-word love letter to the City of Light — one that I’ve been writing, or at least envisioning, since the age of five, during and in between the countless times I have visited Paris (literally: I have lost count). A few years ago, I found myself back in Paris on a beauty press trip, with a free day to spare, so I quickly scribbled out my perfect one-day Paris itinerary. Two other journalists ended up joining me. We began with breakfast at Angelina and, warmed by the velvety-lush old-style hot chocolate, then wound our way through the delightful Tuileries Garden, before flitting over the graceful Pont des Arts, into the storied world of Saint-Germain. As we meandered around, I shared what I knew about the buildings about us and streets beneath us, the stomping ground of so many of history’s greatest poets, playboys and princesses.
Over lunch at the legendary Café de Flore, where our rosé-filled carafe matched those rose-tinted glasses, my colleagues encouraged me to write down everything I had just said. It was, as you might say, a light bulb moment. Suddenly the City of Light looked extra sparkly.
I ended my day with more sparkle: a glass of champagne at Le Meurice on the Rue de Rivoli. Then I stopped by the bookstore Galignani just down the road, where I bought myself a notebook, blank but for a title in bold on the first page: ‘Le Livre à Venir’ — The Book to Come. I began filling the pages on the flight home.
Home. That was an idea I would come to explore further. Because I felt so at home in Paris. Yet I’d never stayed longer than three months — back when I was 21, and studying French there. I reflected on the fact that perhaps we all have a spiritual home, somewhere you might have lived in a past life, or somewhere that provides some kind of fulfilling parallel life. I had friends who ‘found themselves’ in Italy, India and Manhattan. For me, it was always Paris.
I thought about all the different times I’d been to the city. What she (because, oui, Paris is a woman) and her people had taught me. How they’d inspired me to live my life. I realised that knowing Paris had made my life immeasurably better. Any passion or hobby will enhance an existence, of course, but there was something about Paris, I thought, that was so exceptionally life-enriching. This is the city that created the concept of living well, of haute cuisine, of joie de vivre … But it is also the city that teaches you there’s beauty in the smaller moments, too. ‘La vie est faite de petits bonheurs,’ say the French. I’m not the first one to try to mine the secrets of living well à la française, of course. But I felt I had my own story to tell, from the viewpoint of a beauty journalist of 20 years. Paris is, of course, the global capital of beauty, but over time it also teaches you what is perhaps the true meaning of beauty.
There are oodles of history, biography, cultural study, and even beauty tips, woven through Paris Dreaming — but it’s essentially a personal memoir. And memory was a key theme. Not only did I have to file through the dusty depths of my mind (and pages of angsty old diaries), but I thought a lot about the concept of memory, its realness. How do you keep the past alive?
My mother’s surname is Proust. Family legend is that a leaf on a distant branch of the genealogical tree bears the name Marcel Proust, the legendary French author of the tome of a classic, In Search of Lost Time. Years of memory gushed back to him one day when nibbling on a madeleine, the shell-shaped French tea cake that he used to eat as a boy. This in turn became pages and pages of words, as the author feverishly wrote into the wee hours, attempting to record a beloved Parisian world that was fast disappearing. He lamented the loss of all this time, but paradoxically the very act of writing kept the past in the present.
Perhaps, I thought, I continually holidayed to Paris in order to preserve my own past, to stay young, to keep old and happy memories alive. That would explain why, with each visit, I’d so lament the shuttering of a favourite old boutique or brasserie, sure signs of time passing. Nevertheless, I now had a way to bring it all back. I could simply close my eyes and remember (madeleine or no). And I could write it all down …
If you decide to buy Paris Dreaming … Merci beaucoup! I hope you enjoy the read — and the virtual journey to our beloved soul city.
Paris Dreaming: What the City of Light Taught Me About Life, Love & Lipstick can now be found in American and Canadian bookstores, or ordered online from the likes of Amazon. It’s also available in Australia and New Zealand. Watch this space for details of the United Kingdom release …