My thanks to Mr. Cornflower who has kindly written this post:
Oxford, Paris, Heidelberg, Edinburgh; I have been fortunate in the cities where I have lived and worked over the past thirty years. I would not favour one above the others, but a recent and very much appreciated gift has revived memories of a place which not only its residents but many admirers regard as the centre of the civilised world.
Julian Green's Paris was published in the early 1980s, when I myself was living in a student garret in the Latin Quarter, but the sweep of his marvellous book takes us right back to his own childhood - he was born to American parents in Paris in 1900 - and forward in the imagination to a Parisian a thousand years hence, looking through a window at the landscape of trees and houses beneath a rainy spring sky. You will find absolutely nothing in here of any practical value - no museum opening hours, no restaurant tips - but you will find an unsurpassed evocation of place. Paris, says Green, could be spoken of in the plural; there are many Parises, and the Paris of Parisians has only superficial connections with the Paris of outsiders. Until you have wasted time in a city, been bored there, strolled aimlessly through the unfashionable parts of town, you will not even suspect that within the Paris you can see there lies another, secret city, as real but as difficult to reach as Timbuktu once was.
This other Paris is woven from the memories, the feelings and the habits of the people who live and lived there. As I sank deeper into Green's world, I recalled my own Paris where it threaded in and out of his tapestry. I can still smell the ripe whiff of the Metro which he mentions; I must have used it many hundreds of times, and one warm day I manhandled a bed and a mattress up and down the escalators and in and out of the trains to save the delivery charge from the discount store to my flat - my fellow passengers expressed no surprise or even particular interest, not I think from indifference but from a courteous respect for my privacy. I could still walk, not perhaps blindfolded but certainly in the dark with no map, from my flat in the rue Maitre Albert to the Archives Nationales, across the two islands in the Seine, with a detour on the way back at Berthillon's ice cream shop as a reward after a particularly dry and dusty session. I was on a fairly tight budget so my occasional minor treats were very welcome - I once spent I think it was 15 francs (about £1.50) on four perfectly ripe white-fleshed peaches from Fauchon, quite a big outlay in 1982, and I can still remember thinking how exquisite the taste was as the juice of the first one hit the back of my throat.
Hemingway was right: if you have been lucky enough to live in Paris as a young man it will stay with you for the rest of your life, for Paris is a moveable feast. Green's book, published in an excellent Penguin edition with the original French text facing an English translation at which I tried hard not to peep, brought back the flavours and contentments of my own Parisian banquet with a wonderful freshness.