Saturday, 21 November 2015

Paris by Imogen Robertson

It’s a week since we woke to the news of the attacks in Paris, and the search for the ringleaders continues as I write this. In January after attacks on Charlie Hebdo I went and joined the crowd at Trafalgar Square, this time I didn’t know what to do. My reactions are best summed up by this First Dog cartoon in the Guardian. Do go have a look if you haven’t seen it already.

I love Paris. I spent a weekend there behaving badly as a teenager, ended my Interrail trip before university by meeting friends outside Notre Dame, climbed up to Sacre Coeur with various pivotal boyfriends and once ended up going on a luxury romantic break there on my own. The man who was supposed to go with me dumped me just after I’d bought the tickets. That last one sounds rather tragic, but actually I ended up having a rather important weekend proof-reading my first novel in cafés, considering my future and hanging out with poet friends. I ended up marrying the man who was supposed to go with me and we had our own Paris adventure while I was researching The Paris Winter.

There’s a danger then that my view of the city might be idealised and overly romantic, a little saccharine like the slightly over painted views of the Eiffel Tower for sale in Montmartre, but researching has made Paris richer and stranger to me, and the more I delved into the city’s bloody and complex history the more I grew fascinated with it. London is my home, Porto is where I go to be happy, Paris is the place I go to think.

Like many cities it is a place of great cultural adventure, luxury and opportunity, but also a place of sharp divides and contrasts, competing cultures and values.  A place of clashes and revolutions, of change. These are some of the books I read to discover and revel in that. If you haven’t read them, I do reccomend them and please let me know any favourites I’ve missed.

Witty, questioning and irreverent essays from an American in Paris. The book is illustrated by photographer Allison Harris
A meticulous and dense history of the city, but utterly absorbing.
The Fall of Paris: The Siege and Commune 1870-71 by Alistair Horne
A brilliant history of this pivotal moment in the city’s history.
A fascinating slice of snobbery and misogyny dressed up as a celebration of the feminine, but fascinating for those who want to know something about the social and economic world of women during the Belle Époque and some of the conservative attitudes that run through the city still.
A collection of colourful histories which explores the darkness and strangeness of the city as it celebrates it. 


Penny Dolan said...

Thanks, Imogen. I'm hoping to visit Paris sometime in 2016. Can hardly take in the sad news of the last week or so, and must be worse if you know the city well.

Sally Zigmond said...

Thank you, Imogen. Last Friday brought tears to my eyes as Paris was the very first 'foreign' city I ever visited. I was 17 and blown away by its atmosphere. I've been back several times. They have always been seminal moments in my life, such as a superb dinner on the Seine with my then new husband, a day in the Louvre and another day in the Musee d'Orsay when I fell in love with Renoir again. How I loved taking our two little boys (now both men who have been their often without me)up to the top of the Tour Eiffel... I could go on. Paris has always remained a song in my heart - A Moveable Feast, as Hemingway puts it.

carol drinkwater said...

Yes, sally and Imogen, I was going to write to remind us of Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein, but most particularly 'A Moveable Feast', which I read yesterday has sold out of almost every copy available here in France this week. I have written about Paris as well for my HG blog this month coming up on 26th. So, apologies for the overlap. I live here so I am looking at it from a different perspective. The pain and anger, I feel sure, kicks in for all of us after such news whether we are visitors, dreaming of visiting or inhabitants.

Leslie Wilson said...

I love Paris and your blog really resonated with me, Imogen. Very glad to have the useful bibliography. My daughter Jo did two terms of work experience there for her fashion course and I visited her and did a lot of research for a novel I have yet to finish. Lovely days, and I did fee relaxed and safe there then. I spent last Sunday trying to find out if all our friends in Paris were safe. They are and I was relieved. But I was shocked and saddened to see a letter in the Guardian saying that people in Tripoli experience that kind of thing every day: so spare them a thought too!