Spalla (Catch Your Breath, 2014) offers a travel memoir and a love story about two Americans in Paris.
In 2003, at the age of 57, the twice-divorced author says that she had “given up on finding anything close to lasting love”—that is, until she met a man named Bernie Verdier in Huntsville, Alabama. He was born in Paris but had served in the U.S. Army for 22 years before embarking on a second, 20-year career as a program manager for defense contractors. The French-speaking, Corvette-driving Verdier and the author hit it off well enough to decide to travel to Paris together. “That was almost twelve years ago,” says Spalla, “and my life has not been the same since then.” She takes readers on a number of intimate journeys to France, providing observations (the smell of Paris is “a combination of bread baking, car exhaust fumes, a bit of sewer gas, potatoes frying, cigarette smoke, and musty sea water”), tips (“try the American Cathedral of Paris” for an English-language church service, she says), and personal stories, such as one in which she apprehended a pickpocket. Overall, the book makes for a pleasant mélange of material that’s lighthearted but earnest. The Alabaman author’s personality inevitably shines through; a self-proclaimed “Southern belle,” she provides honest accounts of occasional timidity (“I didn’t venture out much on my own,” she admits of her first apartment stay in Paris) as well as practical advice (“don’t drink very much unless you have a cooperative bladder!” she says of attending the Tour de France). Overall, readers will likely find her story to be both useful and inspiring.
An insightful, easy-to-read guide to an illustrious European city.