“When good Americans die, they go to Paris,” Oscar Wilde said. The old love affair between Americans and the City of Lights seems to go on and on. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were among the early birds, but the popularity of Paris as a destination peaked in the second half of the 19th century when sea travel became faster and more comfortable. By 1870, twenty thousand Americans settled in Paris for a prolonged sojourn or made the city a permanent home. Thousands more passed through each year as tourists and gathered knowledge of how things were done the French way – for better or worse.
The Greater Journey by David McCullough paints in detail this great experience of Americans in Paris and its profound influence on the development of American art and sciences. The book is eminently readable and enjoyable. McCullough achieved a panoramic view on the different personalities moving in different circles yet connected through the same goal: to learn and absorb new ideas. The Greater Journey reads like Who is Who in American art, science, medicine and technology. No other book offers such a clear understanding of the dynamics in 19th century Paris.
Are Americans still in love with Paris? They are, to be sure, until they actually go there to live. Like their ancestors, many publish books about their experience. Some maintain their enthusiasm, at least in their writing, but others question the benefits of living in today’s Paris. These past two hundred years, America has made a giant progress in art and sciences and now she can teach rather than to be taught. Under these circumstances, how does the beauty and excitement of Paris weigh in the balance with its various inconveniences? Is it worth it?
Rosecrans Baldwin answers this question in his book Paris, I Love You but You’re Bringing me Down. His one-year chronicle of functioning in an upscale advertising agency shows the bumpy road an American has to travel while working and living in Paris. Just trying to figure out the kissing protocol in the office is a headache: who of your co-workers do you greet with kisses and who do you not? (They won’t tell you.) This, and other tricky rules, as well as the city services interruptions, and a lot of red tape in daily life, quietly nibble at your enthusiasm until there is little left. Paris I Love you but… contains many deep insights served with gentle humor.