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Paris in July: Paris by Julian Green

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If you’re a book obsessive like me, you’ll know the delights and the dangers the Internet can bring. Tracking down of volumes in the past used to by trawling through second hand bookshops and new titles and authors came via word of mouth or reviews in magazines and newspapers. But nowadays the sky’s the limit with the different online sellers and all the lovely blogs with recommendations of what to read next.

This book was another that I stumbled upon whilst reading a literary blog (alas, I can’t recall which one). The cover intrigued me, and it was about Paris (a city I love to read about) so I invested in a copy – Penguin dual language edition with illustrations. I’d never heard of Julian Green (who seems to sometimes be spelt Julien) but the Penguin site says this about him and the book:

Julian Green was born to American parents in Paris in 1900, and spent most of his life in the French capital. Paris is an extraordinary, lyrical love letter to the city, taking the reader on an imaginative journey around its secret stairways, courtyards, alleys and hidden places. Whether evoking the cool of a deserted church on a hot summer’s day, remembering Notre Dame in a winter storm in 1940, describing chestnut trees lit up at night like ‘Japanese lanterns’ or lamenting the passing of street cries and old buildings, his book is filled with unforgettable imagery. It is a meditation on getting lost and wasting time, and on what it truly means to know a city.

Having read the book I can say that oddly enough, this is not hyperbole! It’s a slim little volume made up of a collection of short pieces which are sometimes more like prose poems than anything else. Green describes lost areas and eras of Paris, places from his past and meditates on possible futures of the city. The little vignettes are beautifully written and very evocative. Green’s deep love of Paris is evident and the writing transports the reader to a city which probably no longer exists.

As an example of the beauty of the language in this book, this small section comes from a piece called Parisian Landscape, where Green is describing artists’ views of Paris:

“We are a long way from Baudelaire’s city of stone and marble, but poets carry in their hearts the tragic vision of their desires. They did not see that dark landscape, our painters; they made shadows with bright colours and looked with the eyes of children upon gardens, rainshowers and busy streets; and beneath the great white clouds that traverse their skies from end to end they restore to us a happy Paris, the city of light.”

I loved this book – reading it over a couple of sessions transported me and gave me quite an itch to visit Paris! I see that Julian Green has written a number of novels so I shall be looking out for them on my bookbuying travels.

Paris in July: Maigret’s Pipe by Simenon

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I had earmarked “The Ripening Seed” by Colette for my Paris in July read, but the mood was not right so I confess I abandoned it. I’ve learnt that there’s no point forcing reading – you’ve got to read what you want, when you want or it just doesn’t work. Instead, I was drawn to a nice thick volume of Maigret short stories, “Maigret’s Pipe”, which I recently picked up. I read the first story, which is a longish short story, over the weekend and was as usual bowled over by Simenon’s control of a story.

The setting was, as ever, Maigret’s Paris. Even when he’s away from the place, he’s a Parisian, and he’s always uncomfortable out of his own environment. The streets of the city feature in all the stories and in my imagination they’re always black and white and rainy! However, to the story at hand!

By Jac. de Nijs / Anefo (Nationaal Archief) [CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“Maigret’s Pipe” is a clever tale which begins with the great detective mislaying his favourite smoking aid, his briar pipe. Irritated by the loss, he can’t settle till he goes back over the events of the day, trying to work out when he last had it. What appears to be a simple matter leads on to a much more complex crime and situation and as usual with Simenon, I had absolutely no idea of the solution! I haven’t read many Maigret short stories and I did wonder how the character would work in a truncated setting. But as usual, the tale was enjoyable, atmospheric and entertaining. What I love about Simenon’s writing is how he can conjure up a place or person very simply in a few sentences – he brings what is probably a lost Paris alive! I hope to read more of the stories in this book as July goes on but for now” Maigret’s Pipe” has transported me to the City of Light!

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