Paris by the Book!
There’s a very exciting read very soon – one that takes you deep into the heart of Paris. The title itself is a work of art – Paris by the Book – not to mention the cover! What’s the book about though and who is the author behind this rather aptly titled book for FrenchBookFriday?
Bienvenue a Liam…
I’m excited to bring Paris by the Book to Book Trail since the novel itself began as a book trail.
A few years back, I proposed to an American newspaper that I write a travel piece on Paris. But mine would have an unusual twist: instead of the usual guidebooks, we’d use children’s books to find our way through the city. The publisher agreed and needless to say, so did my children, three girls then aged 5-13. For almost a week, we crisscrossed the city using the pages of Ludwig Bemelmans’s Madeline, Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon (the book version of the 1957 film), and Brian Selznick’s The Adventures of Hugo Cabret. Though I’d been to Paris many times before, I saw it in a completely new way through their eyes—and their books.
Paris by the Book is a work of fiction. Its cast and story are entirely made up, and, as the note in the front matter says, any resemblance to actual persons or places is purely coincidental. Still, I was inspired by my family’s experiences in Paris when I later sat down to write my book about a young mother and her two daughters who move to Paris, run a bookshop, attempt to solve a mystery—and whenever they can, troop around town in the footsteps of their favorite auteurs, Albert Lamorisse and Ludwig Bemelmans.
Herewith, then, just a few highlights from our children’s-lit view of Paris.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret wound up not making the final cut of my novel, but it’s a wonderful book in its own right. A key location from that book is the massive clock atop a previous, and prettier, iteration of the Gare Montparnasse. It’s gone now, but my daughters thought the clock atop the Musée D’Orsay a more than adequate replacement. Peering through the clockworks out at Paris is a treat for tourists of any age.
Many children, particularly American ones, can recite the beginning of Ludwig Bemelmans’s Madeline series from memory: ‘In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines, lived 12 little girls in two straight lines….’ Though various schools and buildings and Paris claim to be the ‘real’ old house, the truth is that Bemelmans made the edifice up. That didn’t stop us for scouring the city for likely stand-ins, though. Our favorite candidate was the Institut Historique Allemand (German Historical Institute).
Though The Red Balloon, both book and short film, is how millions of children worldwide first ‘saw’ Paris, the film and filmmaker are relatively little known in Paris—and nor is the hilly neighborhood, Ménilmontant, where he shot the film. It’s well worth a visit. The Paris panoramas here are nonpareil, and wrapping around the corner of a building at 36 Rue Henri Chevreau rises a mural that will reward the intrepid traveler.
If, meanwhile, you’d like to see the street where Paris by the Book takes place, well—Rue Saint Lucie la Vierge is entirely my own creation. (Though I will confess that St. Lucy is the patron saint of writers.) However, if you took the Métro to Saint-Paul, got out and started walking along the rue Saint Paul to the Seine, you might see a faded, but familiar, red edifice about halfway down on the left…
If you get thirsty on your trip, two fine places to stop:
o High atop Ménilmontant, and just steps from where the opening scene of Red Balloon was shot is Moncoeur Belleville. Friendly and full of locals, its outdoor picnic tables are a great place to grab a drink—and a view—on a sunny day and dream of red balloons.
o In the shadow of Notre Dame on the Île de la Cité, La Reserve de Quasimodo is a quiet, unassuming wine bar. But the selection is fantastic and so is the building’s history, which dates back to the 1200s. Most relevant here: Ludwig Bemelmans, author of Madeline, actually owned the bar in the 1950s, until he abruptly sold it, “à cause de chagrin d’amour.” Exactly what kind of heartbreak? Well, that’s another story…
And don’t forget the cakes!
Thank you so much Liam for transporting us to Paris. What a wonderful idea for a book and it’s very exciting to have been on your booktrail of booktrails!