A paean to Paris…

For years I owned a place in Paris, a sixth floor (really 7th if we count them the American way) walk-up: no elevator, alas, but that’s what made it affordable and justifiable- excellent cardiovascular exercise to counter the effects of the rich food. Two sunsplashed rooms, in thirty-three efficiently designed square meters that were “well distributed” as the French are fond of saying, close to the now popular Canal Saint Martin area, with a view of the Sacré Coeur if you peered out the corner of the front balustrade window and arched forward just so, and even a metro station (Goncourt) a few seconds walk from the front door of the building; not a bad deal for less than the cost of a new German sports car back then.

“Two rooms” isn’t quite an accurate description- there was a living room and a bedroom, and a tiny kitchen that could still be called eat-in when three backless stools around a petite table were squeezed in, a comparatively large entrance hallway with one whole wall a dedicated closet from floor to ceiling, a toilet room (WC) with its own window, and a shower/half-tub room without.

I loved this “appartement” and got to know Paris quite intimately thanks to my time there.

I took that firsthand knowledge, and poured it into a hybrid travel course that would allow my students to learn about Paris through literature and film. I taught it exactly three times but probably would have offered more had certain heinous terrorist acts not befallen the city in such rapid succession that journalists couldn’t help but publish their reports and articles often with a same or similar title that now gives a sad, new twist to the meaning of the name of my course, “Darkness in the City of Lights.”

It had worked well; a dozen or so students first took the classes with me on campus at home in the States during the fall semester to discuss, analyze and research a variety of readings and films related to the topic, and then, over winter break, we would visit as a group, important places in Paris directly related to the academic content.

I loved that course and its travel experience, as did the students. It endowed our readings and films with extra dimensions of complexity, for which our appreciation of the works only grew. It gave our visits to those beautiful locations deeper meaning as it connected us more closely to the history of that great city and its citizens, and it allowed us to understand more viscerally what life was and is like as a Parisian, bestowing upon us a profound spirit of grace for how lucky we were to savor the treasures of the French capital, even if only briefly.

So, now, upon request, I am including here on a snapshot of our readings and films (without our discussions and research), and the corresponding visits that we made. Paris itinerary will follow.

We read, in alphabetical order by the author’s last name:

Guillaume Apollinaire– the poems Le Pont Mirabeau, Hotel, Trip to Paris and some of his Calligrammes,  for example:


Marcel Aymé– the short story The Passer through Walls

Honoré de Balzac– the novella The Girl with the Golden Eyes

Charles Baudelaire– the prose poems Eyes of the Poor, Cake

Alexandre Dumas– the novel Lady of the Camelias

Victor Hugo– the novel Les Miserables

Patrick Modiano- the novel Out of the Dark

Guy de Maupassant- the short stories Minuet, That Costly Ride                                           

We watched, in alphabetical order by the title of the film:


Cléo de 5 à 7

Femme Nikita

Hotel du Nord

and from Paris, je t’aime– the following shorts:

Pére Lachaise

Quai de Seine  (recommended viewing for our president-elect)

Tour Eiffel


Next up, where we went in Paris. I’ll be back...

The-passer-though-walls-ParisLe Passe-Muraille, in Paristhe infamous Passer-through-Walls