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Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik

August 21, 2009

A friend of mine recommended that I read this book before my upcoming trip to Paris and it is probably the most charming book I have read in a while. Adam Gopnik is a staff writer for The New Yorker and Paris to the Moon is a collection of essays on the five years he spent in Paris with his wife and first child, Luke. Apart from bringing back the nostalgia of being an expat for me, and reminding me how wonderful/frustrating/eye-opening every day situations in a foreign country can be, this book was also a very good introduction to “local” Parisian culture. For instance, since going to the gym and eating a to-go salad and sandwich for lunch are basically mainstays in my life, I was surprised to hear that there aren’t too many gyms in Paris (Gopnik searched fruitlessly  until he found one where he could “work out” alongside women strolling on treadmills with their jewelry still on) and that take out (let alone lunch and a sandwich wrapped in plastic)  is basically unheard of. Not like these were things I didn’t already know from having lived in St. Petersburg but still interesting to be reminded of the different lifestyle Americans choose to follow.

The book is full of anecdotes about living in Paris – buying Christmas lights for the tree (they come in a circle in France, not a straight line), organizing a protest when the local brasserie is bought out by a large restaurant group, trying to buy a turkey for Thanksgiving when there is a student/railworker strike  etc. What makes me look forward the most to Paris is Gopnik’s description of the small marks of what he calls “civilization” in daily life. A poem quoted on a sugar cube wrapper with a picture of the poet, the elaborate wrapping of a macaroon from a pastry shop and his beautiful descriptions of the gardens and parks filled with people enjoying themselves. Yes, the vision is romanticized but Gopnik tempers it with many descriptions of the frustration of battling with unexplained bureaucratic procedures and the language barrier. Hopefully my experience won’t be bogged down too much by that!

On another note, interestingly Gopnik has also attracted quite a few haters along the road. I came across this article in Gawker describing an article in The New Republic that accuses Gopnik of using his children to get ahead in his writing. Based on this book, I would say he sounded just like any other proud new father describing Luke’s reactions to things so I don’t think the accusation is entirely valid.

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