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Paris. Some people are seriously in love and obsessed with this city, others just shrug, ‘eh’. No matter how you feel, just say “Paris” and you immediately think of something… you can’t help it. Like New York, this city is larger than life in our imaginations. It is steeped in history, significant to just about any subject you can think of. Fashion, military, architecture, movies, mathematics, science, etc.

I have not yet been to Paris, but I am determined to go. One day. Hopefully sooner rather than later. I used to be in the ‘eh it’s just Paris’ camp. I thought it’d be cool to see, maybe, if I got the chance. But now I am going to make a point to get there. My dream is to retire there – to sit in my teeny balcony and watch people walk by below me, to have bread and wine in cafés, to paint and dance into the wee hours of the morning, to just be eccentric and have Paris embrace and magnify those eccentricities.

The catalyst for my Parisian longings was Julie & Julia, a film based on the book by Julie Powell. (The movie was directed and screen-written by Nora Ephron, who died yesterday – a strange coincidence, as I had started this post yesterday, thinking of this movie) made by  I saw this movie, and while I wasn’t overwhelmed by the story, I thought was intrigued by the depiction of Julia Child and her French surrounds.

I had heard of Julia Child before, but didn’t know much about her. To learn more, I borrowed DVDs of her show “The French Chef” from my library.

You can watch all the episodes by checking them out at your local library or get a quick fix by downloading free episodes online. Julia is great in these and I wanted more of her… so I found her book, My Life in France.

It’s all about Julia Child and her time in France where she discovered, almost accidentally, her love for cooking. It’s a wonderful read, and paints a portrait of Paris in all its culinary glory.

There are a ton of movies produced and/or set in France, but one I’ve seen recently sums it up: “Paris Je T’aime. It’s a film made up of 18 short stories all set in Paris, done by different directors with different actors telling stories about Paris and the lives of its inhabitants. There’s also Woody Allen’s most recent, Midnight in Paris“, which presents a historical view of arts and culture in Paris, of which there is just. so. much.

One example is the literary scene in Paris in the 1920’s. Holy cow. Hemingway‘s writing grew up in Paris during this time. I’m not a big fan of his fiction writing, but his non-fiction is compelling. I’m reading his memoir of his time in Paris, A Moveable Feast. The counterpoint to this book is a novel called The Paris Wife, about Hemingway’s first wife, who was with him during the Paris years. This was a quick read, it’s not particularly well-written, but the story gives you a good overview of the Hemingways’ lives at that time.

The writers and artists that feature prominently in these books – Dos Passos, the Fitzgeralds, Pound, Stein, et al – were all impactful on arts and culture in the 1920s and have been since then.

David McCullough, a historian and writer, recently wrote The Greater Journey: Americans In Paris about Americans who traveled to France in the 1800s and were intellectually impacted by their stay there. I haven’t read it yet, but I have enjoyed other works of his and look forward to diving into this one.

Whatever it is that draws you to Paris, or even the idea of Paris, you are not alone. And until you can get there in person, you can pass the time by learning about its history, reading and watching movies about the people who have ‘found’ themselves, their calling, their passions there. While you’re at it, learn a new language.

No matter when you go, save your money for your trip… you can get all these books, movies, and language and music CDs at your local library, all for free.  !!

Copyright by Moyan Brenn

After reading a book about Teddy Roosevelt, I wanted to learn more about early American politics – my civic knowledge is sorely lacking. A book crossed my path that looked really good – Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. It was written by Walter Isaacson, the same guy who wrote the recently published Steve Jobs biography. Benjamin Franklin is a BIG, intimidating book, but I thought I’d give it a shot and am sooo glad I did! I have a new-found admiration for the complex person that Benjamin Franklin was.

This very large, potentially very dry and boring book covered Franklin’s entire life, but did so in a way that was far from dry and boring. Franklin himself was not dry, was not boring – this bio paints him in such a way as to highlight his charm, his curiosity, and his intelligence, without glossing over his less endearing personality quirks.

When I read John Adams by David McCullough (a wonderfully well-written book about our cantankerous but endearingly earnest second president), Franklin’s exploits were touched on, and in this book, the reverse is true. Adams and Franklin had a sort of love-hate relationship, and it’s interesting to read about it from both sides.

Franklin led a full, full life – this book covers all of it. After reading this book, I’ve gotten to know better the man behind the myth. Franklin was full of nuance and depth. It seems that what we need now, in this world, is another Franklin. Someone who has a curious, practical mind, who embodies the American dream, who is a champion of the middle class and who believes in the community supporting each other. He was against “big government” but believed in fair taxes, and felt that wealthy people should give back to their communities – of their own volition, without any government regulation. He was a stickler for clear rules and regulations, but didn’t mind playing a part during a negotiation, bending the truth or leaving details out to benefit the newly forming America. He was shrewd, yet had a charming naiveté.

This book helped me understand more about the events leading up to the Revolutionary War, and brought Benjamin Franklin to life – it was interesting, and very much a page-turner (which is huge – I almost never finish non-fiction works; they just fade out at the end into ‘blah’. This was a far cry from blah).

It definitely has made me want to read more about the founding fathers, the beginning of our nation, the Civil War, our presidents…. There’s so much to know, and I’m looking forward to finding other well-written books to help learn it.