The author of The Piano Shop on the Left Bank (2001) returns with another celebration of France.
Carhart (Across the Endless River, 2009) was 4 when his family moved to Fontainebleau in 1954. His father was a staff officer for the headquarters of NATO command, housed in the Château de Fontainebleau. The author and his four siblings were enrolled in French schools, where they had to learn the language quickly. Carhart alternates chapters explaining the 900-year history of the chateau with delightful tales of France in the 1950s. Having returned to live in Paris as an adult, he has been lucky to meet the architect in charge of preserving Fontainebleau. The architect has shown him the attics and gutted remains, explaining the additions and changes of the various occupants, including Marie and Catherine de Medici and Napoleon III. He convincingly argues for his preference for the history-rich chateau over the more popular Versailles. Just as interesting are the stories of children’s games played at school and Sunday excursions to Paris. In the city, they explored parks and museums while their father went to his fencing matches. The family lived in a large home with an acre of garden, sufficient household help, and, most importantly, wine delivered to the back door every few weeks. Camping was a cheaper vacation for a family of seven, but spending an entire day setting up their large, nonwaterproof tent took most of the fun out of it. Carhart relates how their father thought nothing of driving on two-lane highways and narrow mountain roads in their giant American station wagon, without a sign of a guardrail. As the author tells it, everything was a lovely adventure.
Those lucky enough to have lived and attended school in Europe will love this book, and anyone heading to Paris will surely add Fontainebleau to his or her schedule.