As I grew up with my dedicated, committed French teacher mother, I unconsciously copied her passion for Paris, and for France beyond the Seine. Maman and I, alone together, were as close as only antagonists can be — but whatever my regrets, catching her Gallic obsession never was among them.
Maman, by the way, despite looking the Parisienne part (below, right) was born in the U.S.A., and couldn’t claim a drop of French blood. Still, hadn’t her Degas milliner, Marquet Pariscape, Dufy racehorses presided (in reproduction, of course) over my entire childhood? All summer, Maman traveled. She sent me cartes postales and brought home Faience pottery, Courvoisier cognac and tiny chocolate bottles filled with French liqueurs.
But, ironically, it was thanks to forbears on my father’s side that France was, literally, in my bones. (Never mind that Daddy didn’t live with us, rarely gave his ancestry a thought, and insisted he couldn’t learn a foreign word, French or otherwise.) Maman took care to train my ear for the purest Parisian accent. RaCHmaninoff, she made me pronounce, starting at age six. The composer’s name might be Russian, but that r is a must for the French tongue. Sans the tricky r, you can’t correctly say, c’est vrai.
I was in my thirties by the time I could afford to travel to France for a couple of weeks a year. When, moonlighting from my day job as a fashion copywriter, I suddenly published a story on a French subject in the Times (above), Maman did seem pleased, if not so surprised. I surprised myself and everyone else by taking a long detour into writing about New York City police detectives. With one crime book, then two, finally published — surely I’d return to la belle France. The time came when I did. By then, I could fly to Paris as often as twice a year, even for three weeks. Even for a month . . . .
In 2012-2013, six months in Paris turned out to be, as a friend had predicted, life changing. Home in New York now, I’m unsettled. Not really at home. Nothing helps the malaise but my French rounds: French film. French news. French boots. French arts. French mascara. French lessons. French crafts. French beret. Repeat at least one of the above, daily. Sooner or later, somehow the circuit will bring my French bones back around. Back where they belong.