According to statistics, the average residential square footage per occupant in Paris is 31 meters, or 333 feet. When I first arrived in Paris as a student, I had already spent two years in a 129 square-foot unit in a student residence in Brittany, and was yearning for a little more space and a little less isolation. I decided to look for a two-bedroom apartment to share with my older sister and a platonic male friend. Two-bedroom apartments seemed to be the most common housing types available for rent in Paris—there were plenty of them in the flat advertisements section of Le Figaro, which was the main research tool for Parisian real estate at the time. Without any particular difficulty that I remember (but of course with the enforceable guarantee of our parents’ names on the lease), we found an affordable 860 square foot flat in the 15th arrondissement. It was located on the ground floor of a newish building, and the living room had windows that opened onto a lawn-filled courtyard. I picked that room for myself, while my roommates settled in the two bedrooms on the street side. My almost-first decision as an adult was to adopt a cat, which my parents had always refused to do, despite my supplications. I decided on a tri-colored female companion, named her “Liouba” after Chekhov, and unscrewed the venting grid of the bathroom so that she could come and go as she pleased, granting her the freedom I was craving for myself.
One of our favorite reads about the power of literature is Nina George’s The Little Paris Bookshop, about a floating bookstore on the Seine and Monsieur Perdu, the proprietor who prescribes fiction to cure any malady.
To celebrate the international bestseller’s paperback release, we asked Nina George to curate a bookshelf filled with curative novels, aptly titled “20 Books to Cure What Ails You,” reminiscent of Monsieur Perdu’s pearls of wisdom.
And if you like that bookshelf, and want other books to match your mood, check out The Book Apothecary. Simply choose a temperament and wait as we select three books that will pair well with your emotions.
We were so inspired by the book, that we’ve decided to dedicate some of Read It Forward’s content this month to all things French. Expect to see essays about the joys of living la belle vie in Paris, excerpts from magnificent works of historical fiction, delicious and mouth-watering French recipes from chefs like David Lebovitz and Ina Garten and even some free downloadable coloring book pages from Paris Street Style!
Oh, and did we mention we’ll be giving away a trip to Paris?
× A sincere smile. Not necessarily a perfect smile, but a radiant one.
× A taxi driver waiting for you to get through your front door to make sure you are safe. Rare but beautiful.
× Having a great sense of humor, and being able to laugh at yourself. Works even better if you’re George Clooney or Barack Obama.
× Attention to others. Have you ever met someone who, when they look into your eyes, makes you feel like the most interesting person in the world?
× Bringing fresh flowers for no reason.
I was born in Paris, France and grew up in a green and lovely suburb of the City of Lights. I met the boy who would become my first French lover in high school. He was born a triplet, and I felt lucky to know these three identical and very entertaining brothers, Yves, Alain and Joel. We all joined a local youth club, and for years we went camping, rock climbing, sailing and exploring numerous areas, including sneaking one night in the Catacombs, the tunnels running in the bowels of Paris.
Eventually, I fell in love with Yves, of the aforementioned three brothers. He is an artist, and we both attended the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. Besides studying art, I wrote poetry, and also took nude drawing classes at the Atelier de la Ville de Paris on the Place des Vosges. To support myself in college, I became a model for painters and photographers. I modeled in all the famous art studios in Paris, such as Les Beaux Arts and the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, and met numerous artists.
Years went by, I journeyed around the world, and later immigrated to the United States, but still I kept in touch with the friends of my youth. I see Yves twice a year when I revisit my hometown of Paris. We walk along the Canal Saint-Martin, or go to my favorite museum, le Musée d’Orsay. Recently, we saw a great exhibit by a number of the turn of the century artists who depicted the world of prostitution. Amongst the paintings, there were funny little sex movies with ladies of the night in costumes of that era, and men with large moustaches.
When my daughter is eighteen months old, my husband and I decide to take her on a little summer holiday. We pick a coastal town that’s a few hours by train from Paris, where we’ve been living (I’m American, he’s British), and we book a hotel room with a crib. She’s our only child at this point, so forgive us for thinking: How hard could it be?
We have breakfast at the hotel. But we have to eat lunch and dinner at the little seafood restaurants around the old port. We quickly discover that two restaurant meals a day, with a toddler, deserve to be their own circle of hell. Bean is briefly interested in food: a piece of bread, or anything fried. But within a few minutes she starts spilling salt shakers and tearing apart sugar packets. Then she demands to be sprung from her high chair so she can dash around the restaurant and bolt dangerously toward the docks.
Our strategy is to finish the meal quickly. We order while we’re being seated, then we beg the server to rush out some bread and bring us all our food, appetizers and main courses, simultaneously. While my husband has a few bites of fish, I make sure that Bean doesn’t get kicked by a waiter or lost at sea. Then we switch. We leave enormous, apologetic tips to compensate for the arc of torn napkins and calamari around our table.
On the walk back to our hotel we swear off travel, joy, and ever having more kids. This “holiday” seals the fact that life as we knew it eighteen months earlier has officially vanished. I’m not sure why we’re even surprised.
After a few more restaurant meals, I notice that the French families all around us don’t look like they’re in hell. Weirdly, they look like they’re on vacation. French children the same age as Bean are sitting contentedly in their high chairs, waiting for their food, or eating fish and even vegetables. There’s no shrieking or whining. Everyone is having one course at a time. And there’s no debris around their tables.
When I first arrived in the City of Lights, I was disappointed.
In the days leading up to my first European jaunt with my best friend and her mom, I had recurring dreams about seeing the Eiffel Tower. In each romantic reverie, I was driving in a car with sites whizzing past the window as I stared in awe at the lattice tower.
But my first day in Paris, just a week before my 25th birthday, was a far cry from the whimsy of my visions. After arriving at the notoriously massive Charles de Gaulle airport, it took nearly three hours (and dozens of precious international cell phone minutes) for me to locate my travel companions. After we breathlessly located one another (finally!), it took another hour and a half to track down our Super Shuttle, doing the best we could to navigate the terminals with exhausted miming and my high school French. All the while, we were dragging overweight suitcases packed with our many attempts to look Parisian chic.
When we arrived at our hotel, I felt dizzyingly tired. I’d planned to spend the day sightseeing, but who knew that jet lag actually isn’t just an urban myth, but in fact a very real state that can cause you to see, think, and feel things that should not be repeated? An hour-long power nap morphed into a few; groggily, the three of us woke up to meet our other best friend, whom we’d come to visit during her law school study abroad.
We walked to a nearby café for dinner. The entire way, I found myself straining—to no avail—through the humid August temperatures for a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. While some of the buildings looked vaguely European, I remember thinking to myself: I don’t feel like I’m in France. I could’ve been right back in the US, and my dinner didn’t help the matter: I caught up on my friend’s Parisian adventures over a bland omelet and soggy fries, all the while secretly dreaming about New York pizza.
Ever since Mimi Thorisson was a young girl, she’s been passionate about food. She spent her childhood living in Hong Kong and during holidays, she would head to her French grandmother’s house in the South of France, eating and savoring local dishes all the while.
After Mimi’s early career in television and media, she settled down in Paris with her photographer husband, but their burgeoning family led to a move to Médoc, in the countryside north of Bordeaux. The agricultural setting taught her to source local produce and proteins and she began writing a food blog, Manger, in 2010. Her first cookbook, A Kitchen in France, came out in 2014.
Here, she shares a seasonal spring recipe with RIFers. Bon Appetit!
On warm days, it feels so luxurious to have a chilled vegetable soup. I probably make gazpacho most often—every other day, in fact—but this pea soup is a beautiful alternative. If I have stale bread, I like to quickly make croutons with some olive oil and rosemary, but most often I just serve it with a fresh baguette. As is the case with gazpacho, I think it makes a world of difference to have just a hint of garlic cream and oil sprinkled over the soup.
To celebrate the paperback publication of the international bestseller The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, we want you to experience spring in Paris!
The idyllic setting of The Little Paris Bookshop—a floating bookstore on the Seine—inspired Read It Forward to give you the chance to win the ultimate trip to Paris!
One lucky winner and a guest will win a trip to France—the prize includes complimentary round-trip flights, a 4-night hotel stay, a dinner voucher to dine like a Parisian, and more!
The prize pack also includes “The Ultimate French Library”: a collection of French cookbooks, novels, and memoirs to read before your journey. Bring the flavors of France to your own kitchen with a new set of Staub cookware and a Lior spice set. Plan your itinerary with Fodor’s Travel guide to Paris and learn some French with Living Language’s Learn French.
Bon chance from Read It Forward and Tastebook!