Believe it or not, Paris is a pretty famous and popular city. Crazy I know, I was just as surprised as you are. It is not uncommon for artists and authors to find inspiration from this beautiful city and put it into their work. I am sure there are millions of books out there that take place in the city of Paris. There is so much to it and it is the city of love so why wouldn't someone want to use it as a setting for their story. I know, personally, I have read a number of them throughout my life and a few have become very important to me over the years. I didn't really think about how by coming to Paris I would be walking down the same streets as some of my favorite literary characters.
When I was a very little girl, my mom would read a book to me about an old house in Paris that was covered with vines where there lived twelve little girls in two straight lines and the smallest one was Madeline. Madeline was one of my favorites when growing up. I read the little books, I watched the movies, I had the dolls, and I dressed up as her one year for Halloween. Madeline was just the coolest girl because she was small yet brave. When I was packing for Paris, I thought it might be fun to bring Madeline along with me for the journey. My mother made fun of me for prioritizing a doll during my college study abroad experience in Europe, but I brought her and the books with me anyway. I’m so glad I did. I took a day and decided to carry Madeline and the books around the city to take pictures. As I was doing this and rereading these picture books, I saw that I’ve been to places I’ve seen in drawing for practically my entire life. The artwork was so stunning and accurate to these places in the city. It felt so amazing and special to really be here. I didn’t think about how I’ve thought about Paris since childhood in a sense so it made me that much happier that I chose to live here for study abroad. These places were coming off the pages and into my real life.
When you read a book, you paint a picture in your mind. Whether the place is real or imaginary, you have to fill in the blanks on your own whether you know what these places look like or not. This imaginative aspect of reading has been my favorite since I was a very little girl. My favorite book I read in elementary school was The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews. This book was so much about creating worlds and imagination that Julie has refused to let the story become a movie because creating a tangible image would ruin part of the magic. Since reading that book, I can’t read without picturing it as a personal movie in my head. Now in the past when I have read about places in Paris I had zero background of what they looked like so I created these imaginary setting in my mind. One specific example is in my favorite cheesy romance novel, at the end where the couple finally kisses for the first time. It described the place they are at as this park with a lake in the middle with little toy boats in it and surrounded by these grassy hills. That park is called Luxembourg Gardens. As someone who had never seen Luxembourg before I imagined this giant, very natural looking park almost Central Park like. I had pictured this naturally made lake and a giant grass hill covered in trees right beside it. Now that I’ve seen this all in real life I see that it is more like a manmade fountain than a lake and the grass is flat and rather far away from the water. It was weird to see how my imagination compared to the reality of it, but not in a bad way at all. Now after reading the book again I have the accurate picture in my mind and I can think about how I’ve been there. I’ve sat on the grass where Anna and Etienne had their “french kiss” (I know they didn’t really because they are fictional characters, but you get my point).
After being in Paris for a few weeks I did decide to reread my book to see it through these different eyes. I would read about a place or something they did and it would make total sense to me. I could relate to the lives of this fictional character. I’ve read this book so many times, but this round was different. I could relate to the characters feelings and experiences. They would walk past a monument and I would think “I’ve been there” and it almost felt in a way like I was a part of the story now. It sounds very very cheesy, I am aware of that, but this was just another cool way to see the city. I went through and wrote down all the places from the book so I could see Paris through Anna’s eyes. It’s been a part of my experience that I wasn’t thinking about when I chose to study abroad here in Paris.
Thinking about these literary examples of Paris that have followed me throughout my life with the new perspective of being here was not something I was planning on doing during study abroad. I had never imagined how special it would feel to see these worlds as my own. I’m so glad I took the time to look back at the Paris I have been imagining for years and compare it to the Paris I get to see every day now. Do you have any books set in Paris, or anywhere in the world for that matter, that are important to you? I would very much recommend bringing them along for the journey to read again through different eyes.