A talented essayist for the New Yorker pens a love letter to the City of Lights, praising Paris to the moon (though that’s not the original meaning of the title).
Gopnik, who lived with his family in Paris for a few years, gets a grip on the grandeur and travails of the capital’s shopping, cuisine, haute couture, and architecture, as well as French procedures for faxes, exercise, reckoning with war criminals, enjoying civilized general strikes, and arguing over “the best restaurant in the world.” Quotidian activities and objects are rendered wonderful simply by the locale, as our correspondent revels in the mutual misunderstandings, the bureaucratic pigheadedness, the lofty attitudes, and the journalists’ turtleneck jerseys. He interprets, as well as any interloper can, the Parisian (or, if you like, the French) mind. To Gopnik, big buildings in the capital stand for official culture, while French civilization is represented by the small shops: opting for civilization, he takes us through the happy little shops of his arrondissement and embraces a culture invisible to the camera-laden tourist. How that culture greets the birth of his daughter—a French child, he maintains—is recounted nicely. Conversely, in an effort to guide his soccer-wise Gallic son, Luke, into the boy’s American heritage, he concocts a charming bedtime story about baseball. Explaining life in Paris is, of course, a monumental task; it is, perforce, politico-emotional, socio-literary, formidable, and philosophical. But it is Gopnik’s métier and he’s quite good at it. With a text marked by facile wit, he draws lessons from a variety of things.
Thanks for the postcards, Adam. Sounds like a wonderful time. Wish we were there.