Au revoir encore, Paris…

August 10, 2019 at 12:18 pm 6 comments

Au revoir, Paris. Photo by Janet Hulstrand

My heart breaks a little bit each time I have to leave Paris.

This doesn’t happen when I’m there for just a few days, or even a week. When I’m there for just a few days, or even a week, I know that my stay is going to be short, and I don’t have the chance to really sink into the lovely feeling of being in Paris.

But when I’m there for a month or so, as I was lucky to be once again last month, that is an entirely different matter.

That is being able to sink into the lovely feeling of actually living in Paris, though for a short time, and it hurts to have to say goodbye once that feeling has been established.

I have been lucky to stay in quite a few different neighborhoods in Paris over the years. The very first night I spent in Paris, back in 1978, I stayed at a cheap hotel on rue Monsieur le Prince in the Latin Quarter. I do believe (though I am not sure of this), that the same hotel is still there now, and that I walked by it recently. It is looking even more down-at-the-heels than it was when I stayed there, but it is still a hotel.

Which is one of the nice things about Paris, it does change but change does not usually happen very quickly…

Because I was staying near the Pantheon this time, I spent lots of time in the beautiful Luxembourg Gardens once again this summer, and was delighted to be able to swing by the wonderful Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore on a regular basis, to buy books and to say hello to Penelope Fletcher, bookseller extraordinaire and much beloved among English-speaking writers (and readers) in Paris.

Penelope Fletcher, bookseller extraordinaire, in front of the Red Wheelbarrow bookstore, 9 rue de Medicis, Paris. (Right across the street from the Luxembourg Gardens.)

Penelope suggested several new books for me to read, giving me enough new reading to carry me through the next few months. The first review I wrote this summer, a book she recommended, is a wonderful novel by a very talented rising star in the literary world, Aysegül Savas, Walking on the Ceiling

Penelope has also become a good friend of this writer: because she is doing what all writers hope booksellers will do: she is selling my book 🙂  (Demystifying the French)!

Demystifying the French, on the shelves at the Red Wheelbarrow bookstore. My book is in very good company, I’m honored!

When I was in the U.S. last spring promoting my book, one of the most frequent questions I was asked was “What do the French think about your book?” At that time, I couldn’t say, because the book was not available in France yet. Since then I am pleased to be able to report that the first few French people who have shared their thoughts with me about Demystifying have been positive: my three favorite adjectives gathered from French readers are: “juste” (which means, fair, or right); “rigolant” (which means funny); and “brilliant” (this last adjective is from a French friend who is currently living in England, can you tell?)

Interestingly, Penelope tells me that most of the people buying Demystifying in her shop, at least lately, have been French. I think this speaks well of them, that they are open-minded enough to be curious about a book with such a title….and kind enough to support the writer by buying it!

One of my favorite things to do after visiting the Red Wheelbarrow (and almost inevitably leaving there with at least one new book) is to go into the Luxembourg Gardens and sit near the sculpture of George Sand, or by the bandshell that is not far from there: where I settle in to read happily, surrounded by others reading, enjoying that lovely favorite activity of Parisians: reading and people-watching in the parks and cafes of the city…

Statue of George Sand in the Luxembourg Gardens.

There were other pleasures too: one night a friend invited me to attend a concert in the beautiful Eglise St. Severin. This church is one of the oldest surviving churches in the Latin Quarter: the current late Gothic structure was built after fire seriously damaged the previous church in 1448, on the site of previous churches dating back to the eleventh century.

The concert was performed by four soloists from the Maitrise de  Notre Dame de Paris, who that night were singing the incandescently beautiful music of Bach, Haydn, Purcell, and Schütz. After the concert, my head filled with the lovely echoes of the music, I walked back home, past the Sorbonne. The second of the brutal heat waves that hit Paris this summer had not yet begun. It was a beautiful, balmy evening to be walking in the streets of Paris after a concert of sacred music in an ancient and sacred space, through streets where Parisians (and others, of course) were sitting at outside tables en terrasse: wineglasses glinting, silverware clicking, a low murmur of conversation in a mixture of languages, waiters gliding gracefully from table to table.

This time I was in Paris with a group of American students who were studying French at the Institute Catholique. Among the things we did together were a walking tour with the wonderful Edith de Belleville and a concert at La Sainte Chapelle–on the hottest day in Parisian history as it turned out. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful performance; and by the time the concert was over, the weather had broken and there was a lovely cloud cover over the gates of the St. Chapelle as we headed home. I walked back to the Left Bank over the Pont St. Michel, with its lovely view of the Seine: to the west the Eiffel Tower, to the east the damaged but still standing Notre Dame Cathedral.  (Thanks be to God, and to those courageous Parisian pompiers, who fought through the night and risked their lives to save it!)

Before my students returned to the U.S., we had a delightful meal together at the Bouillon Racine. “This is an au revoir dinner,” I told them. “And au revoir means (literally) until the next seeing. So you see, it is quite a positive way of saying goodbye, strongly implying future meetings. Not final at all.”

When my children were little and we would be leaving Paris each year at the end of July, as the van drove us toward the airport, or we ourselves drove out of town in a rental car, headed toward the south, or the west, or the east of France, “Au revoir, Paris,” I would say, and they would echo me. “Au revoir, Paris,” we would say together with a collective sigh, missing it already.

It is really the only thing that makes me feel better about leaving, ever. Those words. Those words of hope, of a next time, of another time to be in lovely Paris…

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, a literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.” 

Entry filed under: About Paris. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Timothy Dunn  |  August 11, 2019 at 7:37 am

    Ah! I just finished her book, a birthday gift from a dear friend.
    I have been to Paris once for a week. It is among my most treasured experiences. This article took me back for a few minutes. Her book made me want to return ASAP. Ah revour, indeed. Merci, madame.

    • 2. Janet Hulstrand  |  August 11, 2019 at 11:55 am

      I’m so glad you liked both my book, and this post. Thank you for commenting 🙂

  • 3. Kevin  |  August 11, 2019 at 11:37 am

    Beautiful, Janet. I know we will continue to meet there despite what calamities besiege is. It is part of our story.

    • 4. Janet Hulstrand  |  August 11, 2019 at 11:54 am

      Calamities? What calamities? I think you must be referring to our adventures 🙂

  • 5. betweenmeandthee  |  August 11, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    J’aime cela! Your book and this post! I’ve purchased at least 8 copies of your book! I even gave one to every gal in my little French class and our professor.
    My review of your book: accurately charming; clear, succinct and lovely just like Paris!! Merci por votre livre. And pardon my French , literally!

    • 6. Janet Hulstrand  |  August 11, 2019 at 8:26 pm

      My goodness, Marla, how nice of you! I’m so glad you enjoyed the book, and thank you so much for sharing your enthusiasm with others. I’m both very pleased and grateful. Mille mercis!


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