Take me to Paris
July 26, 2021 12:48 AM   Subscribe

I'm reading Nancy Mitford's foreign correspondence from France in the 1950s and am adoring it. Would love to continue being transported to mid-20th century Paris by other books and media- what should I read and watch to achieve this? (I do not, sadly, read French so recs will have to be English or in translation.)
posted by Balthamos to Media & Arts (31 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
Janet Flanner's "Letter from Paris" column ran for ~50 years in the New Yorker, and there are several collections you'd probably enjoy. Some films that leap to mind are from the 60s: Rohmer's The Bakery Girl of Monceau or Nadja in Paris (see this FPP about that film and Rohmer in Paris) and Godard's Vivre Sa Vie and Masculin Féminin.
posted by Wobbuffet at 1:18 AM on July 26, 2021 [1 favorite]


Novels set in Paris
posted by TheRaven at 1:23 AM on July 26, 2021


Paris Stories, by Mavis Gallant, is currently on backorder at Bookshop.org but may be available in your library or local bookstore. She's a wonderful, and somewhat overlooked, writer.
posted by basalganglia at 1:24 AM on July 26, 2021 [1 favorite]


The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, written by Gertrude Stein. A wonderful portrait of Paris in the '20s and '30s, and probably the best place to start if you're interested in reading some Stein.
posted by jamjam at 2:43 AM on July 26, 2021 [1 favorite]


A Moveable Feast by Hemingway
posted by aka burlap at 3:13 AM on July 26, 2021 [2 favorites]


Zazie dans le metro
posted by mani at 4:25 AM on July 26, 2021 [1 favorite]


Left Bank by Agnès Poirier is non-fiction, about Sartre, de Beauvoir, etc in mid-century Paris, and I loved it.

At the Existentialist Cafe by Sarah Bakewell sounds similar but I haven’t read it (yet).
posted by fabius at 5:13 AM on July 26, 2021


Roughing It on the Rue de la Paix by Dorothy Adelson (1954). I treasure my copy, discarded from a library. An American woman starts anew as a freelance writer in post WWII Paris. First she rents a room in the working flat of her friend, a dressmaker and then tries to find a place of her own at a time when heat and hot running water were luxuries.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:03 AM on July 26, 2021


The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:48 AM on July 26, 2021 [4 favorites]


Jean-Paul Clebert's Paris Vagabond is vivid but may not comport with a desire for romantic escape, if that's what's motivating you.
posted by praemunire at 7:34 AM on July 26, 2021


Response by poster: No, it doesn't have to be romantic or "nice"!
posted by Balthamos at 8:01 AM on July 26, 2021 [2 favorites]


About ten years ago, I saw a new hardback book that was about the expatriates who remained in Paris and were stuck there for the German occupation of 1940-1944. I'm sorry I do not recall the title or author, but I aleasythought that it looked interesting.

I think historian Anthony Beevor wrote a book about Paris in the war too; I enjoyed his books about the battle of Stalingrad and about the fall of Berlin in 1945.
----
Chronicle Books (I think) published a beautiful volume of aerial photography of Paris in the 1950's.

I do not find it when searching their site, so maybe it is out-of-print, or maybe it was another publisher. I think I gave it to my Mom. I'll see if I can find it and get the title and author.
posted by thelonius at 8:43 AM on July 26, 2021


About ten years ago

That means it was probably 15 or 20 years ago :)
posted by thelonius at 8:43 AM on July 26, 2021


Great list, TheRaven. Although there's only a couple by Alan Furst, I'd amend the list (like a couple of the other authors on it) to say 'all of them', because he usually has at least one scene in Paris; but he always writes about the WWII or late inter-war period, before the 1950s. And naturally it includes Simenon's Maigret mystery novels, which he wrote between 1931 and 1972, with over twenty written during the 1950s.
posted by Rash at 8:47 AM on July 26, 2021


I love Julia Child’s My Life in France; she includes stories from other cities, but Paris in the ‘50s is the focus IIRC. It’s wonderful.
posted by stellaluna at 8:48 AM on July 26, 2021 [1 favorite]


Down and Out in Paris [and London] George Orwell 1933. Adventures in the catering trade.
posted by BobTheScientist at 8:56 AM on July 26, 2021 [1 favorite]


Memoirs of Montparnasse by John Glassco is quite good. (bonus: he makes fun of Hemingway)
posted by ovvl at 9:48 AM on July 26, 2021


No, it doesn't have to be romantic or "nice"!

The quartet of books Jean Rhys wrote about Paris in the late 1930s will definitely do for vibes but are definitely dark. Good Morning, Midnight is my favorite (and maybe the darkest)

And on that note (and it feels maybe too obvious to mention maybe) but there's also Giovanni's Room
posted by thivaia at 10:02 AM on July 26, 2021 [1 favorite]


a lot of MFK Fisher's writing is about her time in between-the-wars Paris
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:25 AM on July 26, 2021 [1 favorite]


The Collection takes place in a post-war Paris fashion house and has gorgeous sets and clothes.
Available on Amazon Prime. Warning, the single 7-episode season is not tied up neatly with a bow.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:26 AM on July 26, 2021 [1 favorite]


If you can get a copy of "French or Foe" by Polly Platt, it could be a great supplement to some of the other suggestions here. It's a guide originally intended for expats moving to France, on how to deal with culture challenges in their new environment. Fascinating reading with lots of observations on behavior and etiquette in both everyday French society and the upper levels of commerce and diplomacy that Ms. Platt was familiar with. The original text seems to be set in the 1980s or so, possibly a bit out of date for today's reader, but for your purposes, that might actually be an advantage.
posted by gimonca at 11:39 AM on July 26, 2021 [1 favorite]


I recently watched Chloe de 5 à 7 (on HBO, with English subtitles), and in many parts it felt like walking through a city, looking at people and things happening around me. The main character is written to be a bit prickly, but it’s one of the most engrossing film experiences I’ve had in a long time.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 12:33 PM on July 26, 2021 [2 favorites]


(For ease in finding, it's Cleo, not Chloe.)
posted by praemunire at 12:50 PM on July 26, 2021 [2 favorites]


These famous French new wave movies were filmed on location in Paris and elsewhere in France: The 400 Blows (1959) and Breathless (1960).
posted by JonJacky at 1:14 PM on July 26, 2021


That Summer in Paris, a memoir by Morley Callaghan, is an interesting account of life in Paris among the Lost Generation set: Hemingway, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein etc. I liked it because as a bit of an outsider, Callaghan has a perceptive though sympathetic view of some troubled and self-aggrandizing people.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:44 PM on July 26, 2021


Paris in the Fifties by Stanley Karnow.

"In July 1947, fresh out of college and long before he would win the Pulitzer Prize and become known as one of America's finest historians, Stanley Karnow boarded a freighter bound for France, planning to stay for the summer. He stayed for ten years, first as a student and later as a correspondent for Time magazine. By the time he left, Karnow knew Paris so intimately that his French colleagues dubbed him "le plus parisien des Américains" --the most Parisian American."
posted by CheeseLouise at 1:50 PM on July 26, 2021 [1 favorite]


Bob le Flambeur was also filmed in Montmartre and elsewhere in mid-50s Paris (and Deauville). It's the grandfather of the modern heist film (Soderbergh stole shamelessly from Melville).
posted by praemunire at 2:27 PM on July 26, 2021 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: Thanks everyone! Great recs. Cleo de 5 à 7 is perfect- will definitely re-watch that one.
A recommendation from me if anyone else wants to go to 1940s Paris is When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr.
posted by Balthamos at 2:35 PM on July 26, 2021 [1 favorite]


About ten years ago, I saw a new hardback book that was about the expatriates who remained in Paris and were stuck there for the German occupation of 1940-1944. I'm sorry I do not recall the title or author, but I aleasythought that it looked interesting.

I guess it's Americans in Paris: Life and Death Under Nazi Occupation, by Charles Glass (2010). It's quite good.
posted by elgilito at 3:17 PM on July 26, 2021 [1 favorite]


That is the book I was thinking of, yes.
posted by thelonius at 12:16 AM on July 27, 2021


I can't find the photography book I was thinking of. I am fairly sure that I saw it at the Chronicle Books store that was in the mall near the Moscone Center in SF, 15 years ago, and that is why I thought they published it.

But this recent book, Paris: From The Air, looks amazing.
posted by thelonius at 10:16 PM on July 27, 2021


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