If you are entertaining thoughts of heading to Paris for longer than a casual stay, Suzy Gershman’s book, C’est la Vie: An American Woman Begins a New Life in Paris and—Voila!—Becomes Almost French is required reading. In fact, it should be subtitled: Things You Need to Know Before Moving to Paris. But even if you’re jetting to France for just a week you should get a copy of this book. Who knew that reading about an American writer renting an apartment in Paris, literally trucking out to Lille to buy bed linens in the Porthault factory outlet (now I want those sheets too), or learning how to work a French stove and oven could be so entertaining—as well as potentially very helpful—for the Paris-minded amongst us?
Gershman, who was a travel guru and author of the Born to Shop series, decided to make her dream of moving to Paris for a year come true after the unexpected death of her husband. I waited for far too long to actually read this book once I borrowed it from the library because I thought it would be depressing based on that premise but I could not have been more wrong. Gershman is a skilled writer, extremely knowledgeable about her subject, and thoughtful and funny to boot. This gem of a book is packed with great little details about the day-to-day realities of starting a life in Paris and Gershman even offers a guide in the back to help you decipher the meanings of things you will find in ads for Paris apartment rentals. For instance, do you see the word Pierre? It means stone, and most old buildings in Paris are described as being made of it. Is the building you want to live in said to be asc or sans asc? With elevator (ascenseur) or without? Does it have placards (closets)? The index is an important cheat sheet to have by your side in case you decide to move to Paris yourself!
|The Grande Arche in Paris at night. Photo source.|
Along the way Gershman shares wonderful (and sometimes cringe-worthy) insights about dating in your fifties when you are a widow, telling your only child you have decided to relocate to France permanently, and how emotionally moving French architecture can be. I loved this passage, when Gershman saw the Grande Arche for the first time, even though she was on her way somewhere else:
“In Paris, unlike in many other cities, architecture is more than beauty. Its strength lies not just in concrete and steel or Roman building techniques, but in the emotional grip it has on people. I stood there, bending my head back and looking upward in awe. I let the power of architecture and time and place sweep me away and let tears flow down my cheeks. I tilted my face up toward the arch and the sky of France.”
The book came out in 2004 but I had never heard of it before last year and saw it by chance at my local library. It is the perfect addition to your spring reading list if you haven’t read it already. Gershman, who died of cancer in 2012, was the kind of writer I would’ve liked to have gotten together with for a glass of champagne and a chat about the City of Light, a place she clearly—and dearly—loved.