Friday, August 13, 2010

Americans in Paris: Adam Gopnik

I loved pretty much everything about Adam Gopnik's Paris to the Moon, which I read before we arrived here, from his cross cultural observations to his wonder at his growing son. When I see that carousel in the Luxembourg Gardens about which he wrote so lovingly, I always think of his book and regret, just a little bit, that my kids were too big, even when we arrived, to ride it. Gopnik scored again with the introduction to Americans in Paris. There were so many incredible passages that there's no way I could pick just one. Here are few that resonated with me.

An American in Paris is, as they say, a story in itself: one need merely posit it to have the idea of a narrative spring up, even if there is no narrative to tell.


This book is a history of the worlds Americans have made in the city where they have gone to be happy. It is in part, therefore, the history of an illusion. Every world American thinks up is a world we think we've discovered (It's India! cries Columbus, setting the tone), and the line between illusion and reality is even finer in Paris than it is elsewhere. Paris is our happy place because, against the logic of history and horror, we have insisted that it be so.


...French society, high and low, is open at the surface, closed at its core...the fruits of social life, talk and food, are instantly, or almost instantly, offered (if not at home, then at a restaurant, that matchless French invention for semiprivate life) to a visiting American, the roots of social life, the sense of cohort and belonging, remain almost impossible for an American to put down in Paris.


We are happy, above all, when we are absorbed, and we are absorbed when we are serious, and the secret of Paris, in the end, is that the idea of happiness it presents, is always mingled, I do not always know how, with a feeling of seriousness.

From "Introduction," Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology, Adam Gopnik, editor (New York: The Library of America, 2004).


Dan said...

Am I the only France enthusiast who did not like Paris to the Moon? I read it hoping for something insightful, but I felt like he was just one more author exploiting the "happy place illusion" to squeeze coins from readers.

Starman said...

I've always liked Adam Gopnik.
We are in Frankfurt at the moment.

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