JUNE 25, 2012
OF COURSE THE TITLE is irresistible. In a sea of books about the glories of Paris, and why can’t America be more like Paris and oooh the food is so much better in Paris and boohoo all writers should live in Paris, Rosecrans Baldwin (two major boulevards in L.A.?) we think, is going to give us the real story. Paris gets more and more like New York every day. Yes! Another reason to save on plane fare! Let me ruin the ending for you by saying that nostalgia for Paris only increases with every page. Everything Baldwin (whose hipster-ness oozes off the pages) dislikes about Paris looks marvelous from here. The endless meals, the preoccupation with beauty, the gruff exteriors that barely conceal molten cores, the willingness to strike at the slightest provocation, the ostentatious friendliness (kiss, kiss — the bises) of coworkers — all preferable to whatever grey reality drew the reader to yet another book on Paris in the first place.
What’s new and different here is the detailed insight into what it might be like to take a job in Paris with a moderate understanding of French (not to mention how quickly Baldwin morphs from hipster to insufferable French hipster). Baldwin, who had written some marketing materials for luxury products, was given a job as a writer for a Parisian ad agency. He and his girlfriend, Rachel, a writer, found an apartment and settled in. “Basically,” he writes, after explaining the amazing number of off-color and racist jokes and the universal aversion to anything p.c. (pay-say), “Paris office life was an old boys’ club with female lifeguards.”
But the thrill wears off, and you can see it in the very structure of Baldwin’s sentences (which get more wistful as the book progresses, as if, dare we say it, Paris undid him!): “Living abroad pierces your skin until one day you prevent it. You make yourself unshockable. The buildings on the Rue de Rivoli give no new light, and you cease to see things fresh…If I inspected myself honestly, the Paris I knew best was from my commuting hours, before sunrise or during the dark blue winter twilight, and it was difficult not to think of Paris, my Paris, as a hallway in a shopping mall.”
This reader is torn: grateful for the unvarnished view and irritated, too. Time to watch Midnight in Paris.