...of the roughly zillion places I'd like to travel and visit.
This is awkward, since I never really wanted to visit France. Sure, everybody tells you to go to Paris, but sadly, when you're dealing with time and money constraints, you have to pick and choose vacation spots very carefully. Mr. CR has never been to Great Britain and I always wanted to drag him there first.
But then along comes a great book like Mark Greenside's I'll Never Be French (No Matter What I Do): Living in a Small Village in Brittany.* This is one of the first travel books I've read that actually made me want to GO to the place the author is describing, rather than just glad that I could read the book and not have to go. It doesn't hurt that the France being described by Greenside is actually Brittany--the northwestern part of France that juts up nearly to meet Great Britain and which is more Celtic in character than French.
Greenside tells the story of how, in his late forties, he followed a girl to Brittany. The love affair with the girl soon ended; his love affair with Brittany was just beginning. Part of the joy of the book is that he doesn't fit in and he knows it--he knows no French and he accepts that he's largely helpless. (His first morning in France he can't figure out his house door, hops out the window, makes it to the local bakery, and gets bread and coffee, largely through hand signals and the goodwill of the shop owner.) Thanks to some very helpful neighbors who are just happy that he's American and not English, he eventually starts to learn how things work in France and, by the end of the summer, buys his own house there.
I'll admit it. I liked this book largely because I liked this guy. I am charmed by middle-aged men who have no money, but have no problems taking advice from French women about which houses to look at, and who also are secure enough in their manhood to borrow the money from their moms. I also liked that he admitted he was helpless, and he was never going to actually be French (or Breton), but that he could appreciate them all the same. I also liked his take on the differences between French and American children:
"French parents treat their kids like adults, knowing they're children and they'll lapse. American parents treat their kids like babies and get short with them when they don't act grown up. One of the saddest sights I've seen is American parents bringing their two-year-olds to the movies and getting upset when the babies begin to cry." (p. 67.)
There's plenty of food and landscape description, as well. Tell me if this doesn't make you hungry: "We buy a hunk of white bread cut from a loaf the size of a truck tire, local cheese, a tomme and chevre, dry sausage with pistachios, pate de campagne, strawberies from Plougastel, two pears, two green apples, a bottle of local cider, and a huge chocolate truffle for dessert--and drive to Pointe de Corsen on the Atlantic for a picnic." (p. 204.)
It's an awesome book. I won't tell you you have to go to France, but you do have to read this book.
*Follow the link to Powells.com, where there's also a cute video of Greenside talking about the book.