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.