Charming debut memoir traces an Australian woman’s off-the-wall plan to become a local in the City of Light by way of real estate.
For years, Nielsen dreamed of calling Paris home. During one visit, while gazing out a balcony window and fantasizing about ordering rabbit from a butcher shop in perfect French, an epiphany struck. She would buy an apartment, et voilà—an outsider she would be no longer. She convinced her stubbornly realistic yet doting husband Jack to commit to the hunt, and off they went with son Ellery in tow. They were optimistic at first, each hazy lead inspiring visions of lofty windows, parquet floors, kitchens stocked with copper pots and redolent with the aroma of well-cooked duck soufflé. A parade of real-estate agencies exposed them to Parisians’ inimitable ways with conversation, culture and decorating—but no suitable apartment. Nielsen, who had romanticized France into an urbane Everest, saw each small real-estate setback as emblematic of a personal character flaw. Sundry friends and strangers reinforced her self-doubt. From Claude, the aunt of an acquaintance who exuded a regal elegance befitting Catherine Deneuve crossed with the Arc de Triomphe, to a grizzly sidewalk artist who painted with the same vivacity with which he addressed his patrons, everyone she met seemed to incarnate a Parisian essence to which she could only aspire. Nielsen’s narrative describes multitudes of apartment showings, briefly interrupted by short, amusing recollections of trips that reinforced the depths of her commitment to la ville lumière. Her love is not one of fleeting lust or random affection, but a more enduring emotion, and her persistence and dedication are finally rewarded with an apartment on the rue de Rivoli. “My world is suddenly bigger,” she writes. “From now on I’m part of two universes.”
A bubbly, delicious treat for anyone whose horizons aren’t bounded by the ordinary.