I’ve always wanted to go to Paris. As a teenager, I even briefly entertained the thought of attending the Sorbonne. I eventually ended up in California, at the University of California Santa Cruz, which was arguably the most hippie college on the face of the planet at the time. Later in midlife, when I decided to run away from home and spend the summer in Europe with my son, we were faced with deciding whether to start our summer in London or Paris, and we chose London, simply because British Air had a special going which gave us a free hotel room near Covent Garden, and so I missed out on Paris yet a second time.
Nonetheless, I have, from time to time, making use of my high school French lessons (many thanks to Mme. Boaler!), although the most use I got out of it was not in Europe, but in Southeast Asia, where I lived for two years in Bangkok. That might be an opportunity for a book of my own one day.
Lisa Baker Morgan’s Paris, Part-Time resonated with me. Not because I have ever been to Paris, but because her story hits home with everyone who has ever wanted to go there. French phrases are sprinkled liberally throughout the book, which made me feel, at least for a brief moment, comme un Parisien.
I learned a few things I definitely did not know. I had heard in the past, the pronunciation of “oui” differently, and was always curious about those who said “we,” in sort of a lazy-sounding pronunciation. That, Lisa, says in chapter eight, is the Provence accent. Those distinctions were lost on me in Southeast Asia when I traveled to Laos (at one time a French colony), where I had a choice between speaking broken Thai in the Bangkok dialect with an American accent to Laotian-speaking service people, or alternately, speaking French with them. French worked far better for me, although French with a Laotian accent was not something Mme. Boaler prepared me for.
Throughout the book, Lisa includes a few of her favorite French recipes (I wish there were more!). A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, Lisa chronicles her work as a chef in both Los Angeles and Paris, along with the trials and tribulations of trying to navigate the byzantine legal maneuverings involved in buying and remodeling a perfectly lovely-sounding apartment in the 16th arrondissement. As you might conclude, this book goes a bit beyond your run-of-the-mill travelogue. It’s not meant to be a guidebook, instead, it is the story of Lisa’s very personal journey. That said, the book is filled with gorgeous descriptions of uniquely Parisian experiences. She doesn’t just talk about the sites – she shares her experience.
Perhaps the biggest thing which resonated with me was the underlying implication that the standard American two-week vacation is simply not enough. If you want to truly understand Paris (or Bangkok, or anyplace else), you really need to spend some serious time there, and that is just what she did.
If you want to understand the real Paris – not just visiting for two weeks and walking down the Champs Elysees with your camera around your neck and guidebook on your hand, but really knowing it – Paris Part-Time is the best place to start.
Dan Blacharski is editor-in-chief of TheVivant.com.