Overseas or international travel can be a wonderful respite, a well-needed jolt of excitement, and an invigorating learning experience. Whether for work or for pure pleasure, once past the hassles of airport security, it always feels to me like a new adventure, a present meant to be opened.
It has been a while since I’ve travelled abroad, but I have wonderful memories of those countries I have visited, including Canada, France, Italy, Israel, Spain, Nepal, Chile, and Argentina. France was one of the first countries to entice me. When I finally arrived there during the vacation between fall and spring semesters of my junior year in undergraduate school, it did not disappoint. Subsequent visits cemented the adoration despite my feeble attempts to speak French with any elegance or fluency.
Francophiles will rejoice with a new memoir entitled My Paris Dream, written by Kate Betts, former editor of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Time. It recounts her experiences as a young woman finding her way in Paris: renting a room from a young family (the perfect way to learn French slang), looking for work, making friends, falling in love. It tells how her hard work paid off and her writing caught the eye of John Fairchild, publisher of Women’s Wear Daily, and what it was like to work for him during the 1980’s when she met practically anyone and everyone of significance within the fashion industry.
I especially liked Betts’ candid reflections about how she behaved, and not always with the poise and sensitivity she knew she was capable of demonstrating. She matured a lot during the years captured in the span of the book, and she is direct about what she could have done better. For young people, especially young women, pursuing a dream and trying to figure out what they want out of life, this candid self-reflection is welcome. She struggled, made mistakes, and learned. Despite the so-called glamour of her journalistic pursuits, she never lost her grip on reality and eventually blossomed in a way that one can only admire.
Another French valentine is Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik. Written in the late 1990’s and published in 2000, it recounts a Francophile’s impressions of the City of Light while navigating daily life and first-time parenthood. The writing is delicious–more nuanced and detailed than My Paris Dream, but just as real.
February 17 is National Café au Lait Day, but you don’t need to wait until then to savor your Paris dream. Purchase or borrow a copy of both books, settle in to one of Evanston’s many coffee shops, and delve into your own mini vacance. It’s a terrific way to ward off the chill and transport yourself.