We’ve finally made the move from Versailles back to Paris. That’s one of the many reasons for the long gap between posts—working on book #3 while promoting RUINS OF WAR have also dominated my time. Moving is always a pain in the ass, but as anyone who moves apartment to apartment knows, it’s all about the head-scratching, argument-inducing process of figuring out how to put 10 pounds of crud in a 5-pound bag.
I attended a French play the other day, which made me think about another aspect of French culture: their love of live theater.
There are approximately 300 playhouses in Paris. That’s a lot of theater going! French playwrights and theater producers seem to crank out plays year ‘round, only taking time off for most of July and August, when the entire country goes on vacation. But even during those months you still have the multitude of theater festivals all over France. Some Paris theaters even have two venues in the same building, each showing a different play. And every time I’ve gone to see a play, the house is at or near full capacity. The French obviously love their pieces des theatre.
When I tell people I live and write in Paris, many have said, “Paris must really inspire your writing!” as if it were an established fact.
I can understand where this almost mythical idea came from: that “golden age” of American expat writers in the 1920s, when Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrud Stein rubbed elbows with Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Jean Cocteau. Then, in the 1950s, there were the great African-American writers Richard Wright, Chester Himes, and James Baldwin, shortly followed by the Beat writers Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Gregory Corso. And that doesn’t count the multitude of other expat writers from all over the world who made Paris at least their temporary home.
Upon moving to Paris I decided that if I wanted to successfully integrate into this new life the first thing I was going to have to do, even before tackling my first novel, was to learn French. I enrolled in the venerable Alliance Francaise. Started by such luminaries as Jules Verne and Louis Pasteur, Alliance Francaise is the language school for French as a second language.
My first attempt at expressing something in French was when I wrote an email to my French girlfriend, and proceeded to mistakenly tell her I wanted to have sex with her ears, her eyes, her lips. Not an auspicious start…
This happened early in our relationship, and while still living in Los Angeles. My girlfriend was away on a business trip, and I decided to impress her by writing a romantic email. Mind you, at the time, I knew exactly zero French, but I was going to give it my all. I pulled out a French-English dictionary and looked up the word for ‘kiss.’ It informed me that the correct word was baiser. Okay, here we go… “I can’t wait to see you and kiss…”