Murakami Sale
 
 

Recently Viewed clear list


Original Essays | August 21, 2014

Richard Bausch: IMG Why Literature Can Save Us



Our title is, of course, a problem. "Why Literature Can Save Us." And of course the problem is one of definition: what those words mean. What is... Continue »
  1. $18.87 Sale Hardcover add to wish list

    Before, During, After

    Richard Bausch 9780307266262

spacer
Qualifying orders ship free.
$2.50
List price: $16.00
Used Trade Paper
Ships in 1 to 3 days
Add to Wishlist
Qty Store Section
1 Local Warehouse Travel Writing- France

Paris to the Moon

by

Paris to the Moon Cover

 

 

Excerpt

Not long after we moved to Paris, in the fall of 1995, my wife, Martha, and I saw, in the window of a shop on the rue Saint-Sulpice, a nineteenth-century engraving, done in the manner, though I'm now inclined to think not from the hand, of Daumier. It shows a train on its way from the Right Bank of Paris to the moon. The train has a steam locomotive and six cars, and it is chugging up a pretty steep track. The track is supported on two high, slender spires that seem to be anchored somewhere in the Fifth Arrondissement (you can see the Panthéon in silhouette nearby), and then the track just goes right up and touches the full moon up in the clouds. I suppose the two pillars are stronger than they look. The train is departing at twilight--presumably it's an overnight trip--and among the crowd on the ground below, only a couple of top-hatted bourgeois watch the lunar express go on its way with any interest, much less wonder. Everybody else in the crowd of thirteen or so people on the platform, mostly moms and dads and kids, are running around and making conversation and comforting children and buying tickets for the next trip and doing all the things people still do on station platforms in Paris. The device on the ticket window, like the title of the cartoon, reads: "A Railroad: From Paris to the Moon."

The cartoon is, in part, a satire on the stock market of the time and on railway share manipulations. ("Industry," the caption begins, "knows no more obstacles.") But the image cast its spell on us, at least, because it seemed to represent two notions, or romances, that had made us want to leave New York and come to Paris in the first place. One was the old nineteenth-century vision of Paris as the naturally modern place, the place where the future was going to happen as surely as it would happen in New York. If a train were going to run to the moon, that train would originate from the Gare du Nord, with Parisian kids getting worn out while they waited.

But the image represented another, more intense association, and that is the idea that there is, for some Americans anyway, a direct path between the sublunary city and a celestial state. Americans, Henry James wrote, "are too apt to think that Paris is the celestial city," and even if we don't quite think that, some of us do think of it as the place where tickets are sold for the train to get you there. (Ben Franklin thought this, and so did Gertrude Stein, and so did Henry Miller. It's a roomy idea.) If this notion is pretty obviously unreal, and even hair-raisingly naive, it has at least the excuse of not being original. When they die, Wilde wrote, all good Americans go to Paris. Some of us have always tried to get there early and beat the crowds.

I've wanted to live in Paris since I was eight. I had a lot of pictures of the place in my head and even a Parisian object, what I suppose I'd have to call an icon, in my bedroom. Sometime in the mid-sixties my mother, who has a flair for the odd, ready-made present, found--I suppose in an Air France office in Philadelphia--a life-size cardboard three-dimensional cutout of a Parisian policeman. He had on a blue uniform and red kepi and blue cape, and he wore a handlebar mustache and a smile. (The smile suggests how much Art, or at any rate Air France, improves on Life, or at any rate on Paris policemen.)

My younger brother and I called the policeman Pierre, and he kept watch over our room, which also had Beatle posters and a blindingly, numbingly, excruciatingly bright red shag rug. (I had been allowed to choose the color from a choice of swatches, but I have an inability to generalize and have always made bad, overbright guesses on curtains and carpets and, as it turned out, the shape of future events.) Although we had never gone anywhere interesting but New York, my older sister had already, on the basis of deep, illicit late-night reading of Jane Austen and Mary Poppins, claimed London, and I had been given Paris, partly as a consolation prize, partly because it interested me. (New York, I think, was an open city, to be divided between us, like Danzig. Our four younger brothers and sisters were given lesser principalities. We actually expected them to live in Philadelphia.) My first images of Paris had come from the book adaptation of The Red Balloon, the wonderful Albert Lamorisse movie about a small boy in the Parisian neighborhood of Menilmontant who gets a magic, slightly overeager balloon, which follows him everywhere and is at last destroyed by evil boys with rocks. Curiously, it was neither a cozy nor a charming landscape. The Parisian grown-ups all treated Pascal, the boy, with a severity bordering on outright cruelty: His mother tosses the balloon right out of the Haussmannian apartment; the bus conductor shakes his head and finger and refuses to allow the balloon on the tram; the principal of the school locks him in a shed for bringing the balloon to class. The only genuine pleasure I recall that he finds in this unsmiling and rainy universe is when he leaves the balloon outside a tempting-looking bakery and goes in to buy a cake. The insouciance with which he does it--cake as a right, not a pleasure--impressed me a lot. A scowling gray universe relieved by pastry: This was my first impression of Paris, and of them all, it was not the farthest from the truth. To this set of images were added, soon after, the overbright streets of the Madeline books, covered with vines and the little girls neat in their rows, and black and white pictures of men in suits walking through the Palais Royale, taken from a Cartier-Bresson book on the coffee table.

Pierre, though, being made of cardboard, got pretty beat up, sharing a room with two young boys, or maybe he was just both smaller and more fragile than I recall. In any case, one summer evening my parents, in a completely atypical display of hygienic decisiveness, decided that he was too beat up to keep and that it was time for him to pass away, and they put him out on the Philadelphia street for the trashman to take away.

I wept all night. He would sit out with the trash cans and would not be there in the morning. (A little later I read about Captain Dreyfus and his degradation, and the two uniformed and mustachioed figures got mixed up, so perhaps he had been sent to supply intimations of the other, darker side of French life. They were certainly there to be intimated.) What made me sad just then was the new knowledge that things changed, and there was nothing you could do about it. In a way, that was a Parisian emotion too.

What Our Readers Are Saying

Add a comment for a chance to win!
Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

Darnaway, January 1, 2011 (view all comments by Darnaway)
This rejoicing on Paris must be a delight to most civilized readers - to those who love two countries - their own, and France, - and Greece, if I may be allowed to make it three. "Pace", Herbie, for my using my second word as a noun. Standards have fallen everywhere; from the C of E to French cuisine. My first guide to Paris said it is practically impossible to eat poorly in France. A couple of years later one read that it was becoming a possibility. Mr. Gopnik was not able to recover the lost in the nineties, but this book certainly gives fine hours to those not opposed to fondly picturing what he observed while he was living in Paris, and what some of us breathed in a few years earlier.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No

Product Details

ISBN:
9780375758232
Author:
Gopnik, Adam
Publisher:
Random House Trade
Location:
New York, N.Y.
Subject:
France
Subject:
Paris
Subject:
Journalists
Subject:
Americans
Subject:
Family/Interpersonal Memoir
Subject:
Personal Memoirs
Subject:
Editors, Journalists, Publishers
Subject:
Paris (France) Social life and customs.
Subject:
Americans -- France -- Paris.
Subject:
General Biography
Subject:
Biography - General
Copyright:
Edition Number:
1st trade pbk. ed.
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series Volume:
72-67.
Publication Date:
September 2001
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Y
Pages:
368
Dimensions:
7.94x5.30x.78 in. .59 lbs.

Other books you might like

  1. Paris: The Secret History
    Sale Trade Paper $10.98
  2. Almost French
    Used Trade Paper $4.95
  3. The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the... Used Trade Paper $5.95
  4. Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be... Used Trade Paper $13.00
  5. Death of the Heart Used Trade Paper $6.95
  6. Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in... Used Trade Paper $7.95

Related Subjects

Biography » General
Featured Titles » Literature
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
History and Social Science » Europe » France » Paris
History and Social Science » Journalism » Journalists
History and Social Science » Sociology » General
Travel » Europe » France
Travel » Travel Writing » Europe
Travel » Travel Writing » France
Travel » Travel Writing » General

Paris to the Moon Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$2.50 In Stock
Product details 368 pages Random House Trade - English 9780375758232 Reviews:
"Review" by , "The overarching theme of the book is France's ambivalent status in the world today and just how French self-attitude is different now from what it used to be — in other words, the 'persistence of this civilization in the sideshow of postmodern culture.' Falling under Gopnik's critical eye are such specific topics as Islamic terrorism, labor relations, French versus American versions of the health club, and 'the French gift for social dramatization.'"
"Review" by , "The finest book on France in recent years."
"Review" by , "Magisterial. A"
"Review" by , "Although his subjects are broad global capitalism, American economic hegemony, and France's declining role in the world, [Gopnik] approaches each one via the tiny, personal details of his life as a married expatriate with a small child....Throughout, Gopnik is unabashedly sentimental about Paris, yet he never loses the objectivity of his outsider's eye. His 'macro in the micro' style sometimes seems a convenient excuse to write about himself, but elegantly woven together with the larger issues facing France, those personal observations beautifully convey a vision of Paris and its prideful, abstract-thinking, endlessly fascinating inhabitants. Although the core readership for this book will most likely be loyal New Yorker subscribers, its thoughtful, funny portrayal of French life give it broad appeal to Francophiles unfamiliar with Gopnik's work."
"Review" by , "Gopnick's essays do what the best writing should do: they inform as they entertain."
"Review" by , "Adam Gopnik's avid intelligence and nimble pen found subjects to love in Paris and in the growth of his small American family there. A conscientious, scrupulously savvy American husband and father meets contemporary France, and fireworks result, lighting up not just the Eiffel Tower."
"Review" by , "Adam Gopnik's Paris to the Moon abounds in the sensuous delights of the city — the magical carousel in the Luxembourg Gardens, the tomato dessert at Arpège, even the exquisite awfulness of the new state library. But the even greater joys of this exquisite memoir are timeless and even placeless — the excitement of the journey, the confusion of an outsider, and, most of all, the love of a family."
"Review" by , "The chronicle of an American writer's lifelong infatuation with Paris is also an extended meditation--in turn hilarious and deeply moving — on the threat of globalization, the art of parenting, and the civilizing intimacy of family life. Whether he's writing about the singularity of the Papon trial, the glory of bistro cuisine, the wacky idiosyncrasies of French kindergartens, or the vexing bureaucracy of Parisian health clubs, Gopnik's insights are infused with a formidable cultural intelligence, and his prose is as pellucid as that of any essayist. A brilliant, exhilarating book."
"Review" by , "Adam Gopnik is a dazzling talent — hilarious, winning, and deft — but the surprise of Paris to the Moon is its quiet, moral intelligence. This book begins as journalism and ends up as literature."
spacer
spacer
  • back to top
Follow us on...




Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at Powells.com.