I'll let you in on a little secret: I've never really wanted to go to Paris.
I feel like I should travel there someday. People have told me to travel there someday. But the stubborn fact remains that even though I've been to London twice, I'd still rather go back to London (or almost any other city I've been to, in fact, and I'd love to pick up Glasgow and Manchester and Ottawa and a plethora of other British, Scottish, and Canadian places) than go see Paris for the first time. Part of this is the language barrier: I don't know any French, and although my accent for Spanish words is acceptable, my accent on French words is not. In Montreal I screwed up the courage to say "bonjour" to a museum guard, who then smiled kindly and a bit sadly at me and said, "Hello."
So I can't say that Rosecrans Baldwin's travel memoir Paris, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down, really made me want to visit the city. But it was a highly enjoyable read, and it's made me vaguely curious to see Paris, which is more than I felt before. Baldwin is better known as one of the founders of The Morning News and a popular literary fiction novelist, but before all of that he took a job in advertising in Paris--despite, as the book jacket reveals, "the fact that he had no experience in advertising. And despite the fact that he barely spoke French."
So what you get here is a mixture of travelogue, as well as a more typical memoir-like focus on work, friendships, and his marriage. He does the travelogue stuff well, like when he describes the neighborhood where they rent an apartment:
"And where roads didn't cross was an old covered market, the Marche du Temple, blue with a dirty glass roof. Some weekends, men trucked in what appeared to be stolen leather goods, but otherwise the market stood empty--Thursdays, maybe it was Tuesdays, a tennis league strung up nets inside--and the surrounding quadrant would be filled with people dawdling over cafe tables that they'd occupy for hours, chatting with friends....Rue Bretagne had a park with a playground, two bookstores, a boutique that sold vintage radios, a booth that sold found photographs--it was the Left Bank I'd seen in picture books, preserved in time. At the center stood the oldest Paris farmer's market still operating, Le Marche des Enfants Rouges, built in the 1600s, now ringed by food stalls that sold Moroccan tagines, huge piles of Turkish desserts, West African stews, even sushi.
It was fantastic." (p. 23.)
So yes, I'll admit that paragraphs like that made Paris more interesting to me than I've ever found it before. But what I enjoyed even more about this book was Baldwin's report of working alongside his French colleagues, trying to navigate the country's many bureaucracies, and the many personality quirks of Parisians. Mr. CR read the book too, and we both enjoyed learning that Parisians love eating at McDonald's, but they spend a lot more money there per meal than Americans will. And there's a lot more lovely bits, including the ones where he discusses how he tried to pick up the knack for when to kiss people on both cheeks in greeting, arguing with the French telemarketer who calls constantly to talk about his telephone service, his coworkers getting annoyed when he has the gall to eat his lunch at his desk (which is simply not done there, I gather), and French labor strikes.
Did Paris really end up bringing Rosecrans down? Not so much. You get the feeling that it was a more exhausting experience than he thought it would be, but in the end he still seems to find the city a little magical. To think something is magic even after you get to know it better? Let's face it: that's the best kind of love story.