Mavis Gallant’s “A Revised Guide to Paris” (1980)

The first story in this Mavis Gallant reading project was “The Other Paris”, the title story in her first collection.

Therein, a young woman’s dreams of Paris fell through (with her dreams of the romance she had imagined).

Even after she became engaged to be married, Carol was weary of Paris. Of the real Paris.

“I’m tired of the way everything is here—old and rotten and falling down.”

The only thing that amazed her was how disappointed she was, by the reality of the city and the life she led in it.

Here, in this 1980 short piece, readers can imagine someone as disappointed and disillusioned as Carol sitting down for the afternoon with a sheaf of papers to write a guide to the city.

No, not actually a guide.

That would be another kind of story.

This is a revised guide.

This is the guide that comes after the guide which fell through.

“RATHER THAN SPEND his first afternoon in the hotel lobby with the rest of the charter group, watching a rerun of “Gunsmoke” dubbed in French, the wise traveller will set out without delay to replace the contents of luggage stolen from the airport bus. And what venue can be more suited to this than Paris – city where “everything can be had” (Anatole France)?”

The tone is playful but sharp. And sad, too. After all, can you imagine how disappointed you would be to find yourself signed up on a tour with a group of people who are content to spend their first afternoon in Paris in the lobby of their hotel?

You, too, would strike out independently, wouldn’t you? Even if you had just had your luggage stolen. (Yikes, see how that just slips into the story.)

Throughout the piece, there are snippets of wisdom offered as though notable Paris-dwellers were directly contributing to the guide. (It doesn’t matter if they are authentic phrases – perhaps they are, I’m unconvinced – because there is nothing authentic here. Or, at least, nothing worth peering at closely. Nothing nice.)

“Two doors beyond, the traveller will find the Café des Grands Mots, celebrated as the meeting place between the Nouveaux Philosophes and exponents of the Nouvelle Cuisine. It is said that one of the latter, returning from an exploratory tour of America, cried to one of the former, ‘Mon vieux, c’est une mine d’or!’ As a result of this perhaps apocryphal anecdote, the café is now known to Parisian cognoscenti as ‘The Old Gold Mine.’ Typewritten notices signify the tables occupied by chefs and philosophers, respectively, while a plastic shroud marks the place where Philosopher Anthelme Rendu on 4 September 1978 turned his back on his American publisher and began to sulk.”

When Helene Hanff wote in 84 Charing Cross Road about wanting to go to England to find the England of English literature, she declared that it was there.

That is not the case for our young fiancee in “The Other Paris” nor for our young writer of “A Revised Guide to Paris”.

Nonetheless, for a few pages, readers can bear to inhabit this pointed and disappointed piece.

It must be more comfortable than Paris.

Note: This is part of a series of posts on Mavis Gallant’s stories, as I read through her short fiction. This is the fifteenth story in Going Ashore. Please feel free to check the schedule and join in, for the series, or for a single story; I would love the company. Next week’s story: “La Vie Parisienne”, as the stories between it and today’s have been covered earlier in the reading project.

2017-12-12T10:29:43+00:00

6 Comments

  1. Naomi December 15, 2017 at 10:40 am - Reply

    This story sounds like fun – as fun as you can get for Gallant?- I don’t know.
    I loved Deepika’s story. 🙂

    • Buried In Print December 15, 2017 at 5:02 pm - Reply

      Out for a long, kinda dirty and slushy walk in the city today, I smiled thinking of Deepika’s sister complaining about the Paris streets. Gallant = visionary. And I do think she can be fun: maybe my commentary says more about me than it does about her stories. I should have a closer look for her humour!

  2. Deepika Ramesh December 13, 2017 at 9:36 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this post, Buried in Print. The post made me smile because I thought of what my sister said when she visited Paris. As soon as she reached Paris, I asked her to send some pictures. She sent pictures of her room. Of course, I didn’t want to see her room. I wanted to see PARIS. So I fought with her to go out a bit for me and show me the roads. And she said, “I just saw the roads. Don’t ask me to go there again. They are just so dirty.” I am still laughing.

    Now, would you please me to find these stories online? Should I have to buy Gallant’s books. I am not in a position to buy a book. But if the stories are available online, I would so love to try. 🙂 Thank you!

    • Buried In Print December 14, 2017 at 9:41 am - Reply

      Thank you so much for sharing your story about your sister’s experience of Paris, Deepika: I just love knowing that the truths that Mavis Gallant experienced there can still resonate today. That’s wonderful!

      The only way that I know of, to read her stories online, is to have a subscription to the digital publication of “The New Yorker” magazine (which I would love to have too), as they published many of these stories for the first time and they have their entire publication history archived for members to search. (This is why I long for a subscription myself!)

      The stories I am reading now are part of her early writing (1950s and 1960s and a few scattered from the 1980s in a collection which gathers all the previously unpublished stories) and they are the hardest of her stories to find. Next year, I’ll be reading some of her later works, which are a little easier to source. Mel, of The Reading Life, is in the same position as you, but he is reading her work too, so whenever you see a post about one of her stories on his site, you will know that it was available easier to find and available as an epub. (Although how can anything compare to that Isaiah Spiegel story!)

      • Deepika Ramesh December 14, 2017 at 9:50 am - Reply

        Thank you so much, Buried in Print.

        I am religiously following The Reading Life’s post, and biting into the short stories slowly. So, I think I will stumble upon Gallant’s stories. And I can enjoy her stories vicariously through your posts too.

        I wish I had ‘The New Yorker’ subscription. Their short story collection seems eclectic, although I am struggling to forgive them for plugging in ‘Cat Person’ which didn’t agree with me.

        Thank you for this lovely comment, Buried in Print.

        Oh! Isaiah Spiegel story. Oh, Buried in Print, it made me cry so much. But those kind of tears make me brave to go back to that story.

        • Buried In Print December 15, 2017 at 4:44 pm - Reply

          Mel is responsible for a large number of books in my stacks. Many of them I “kind of” wanted to read to begin with, but, then, he read them and loved them and now I am so much keener on them. I’ve just borrowed two more from the library today! So, be warned! (In a good way!)

          Even though I haven’t read “Cat Person” yet, I have a feeling that I will agree with you. As for the Spiegel story, I will need to take a bit of time to recover from the first listening/reading of it before I return. It is one of those stories which makes me love being a reader and respect authors who present stories like this but I also find it overwhelming. And, for some reason, I wasn’t expecting the story to unfold in such a direction. But, how foolish of me, of course it had to – the times! I’m glad to know that the two of you are reading and rereading it too. That gives me additional courage to return.

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