Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik | Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Paris to the Moon

Paris to the Moon

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by Adam Gopnik
     
 

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In 1995, Adam Gopnik, his wife, and their infant son left the familiar comforts and hassles of New York City for the urbane glamour of Paris. In the grand tradition of Stein, Hemingway, Baldwin, and Liebling, Gopnik set out to enjoy the storied existence of an American in Paris -- walks down the paths of the Tuileries, philosophical discussions in cafes, and afternoon

Overview

In 1995, Adam Gopnik, his wife, and their infant son left the familiar comforts and hassles of New York City for the urbane glamour of Paris. In the grand tradition of Stein, Hemingway, Baldwin, and Liebling, Gopnik set out to enjoy the storied existence of an American in Paris -- walks down the paths of the Tuileries, philosophical discussions in cafes, and afternoon jaunts to the Musee d'Orsay.

But as readers of Gopnik's beloved and award-winning "Paris Journal" in The New Yorker know, there was also the matter of raising a child and carrying on with la vie quotidienne -- the daily, slightly less fabled life. As Gopnik discovers in this funny and tender account, the dual processes of navigating a foreign city and becoming a parent are not completely dissimilar -- both promise new routines, new languages, and a new set of rules by which each day is to be lived. With singular wit and insight, Gopnik manages to weave the magical with the mundane in this wholly delightful book that Entertainment Weekly deemed "magisterial."

Editorial Reviews

bn.com
Many Americans are smitten by the allure of an expat's life in Paris, but few of us go so far as to indulge that fancy. In 1995, longtime writer for The New Yorker Adam Gopnik did just that, however, taking his wife and infant son along as he followed in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway, Berenice Abbott, and so many other restless Americans of the past century who have made their way to the City of Light. Gopnik recounts his experiences in this terrific book.
Le Point Magazine
Without doubt the most influential translator of French culture to the United States.
Who wouldn't want Gopnik's job? Take your family to Paris for five years, watch your infant son become fluent in French, spend your days eating and drinking and interviewing chefs and fashion models, then write up an occasional report for The New Yorker. Gopnik's collected essays about his five years in Paris are filled with delight. While predictable in his appreciation of Parisian beauty and charm, Gopnik is several cuts above many others writing about Europe's romantic appeal. Gopnik knows cuisine, haute couture, politics and sports, and he uncovers larger cultural truths through simple domestic experience. His comical effort to join a Parisian health club, where women on treadmills move at window-shopping speed, leads to his realization, "The absence of the whole rhetoric and cult of sports and exercise is the single greatest difference between daily life in France and daily life in America." An elegant stylist and master of metaphor and description, Gopnik's observations are incisive and original. Such as when he links his feelings about his first delectable meal in Paris, when he was a teen, to those of Stendhal after his initial visit to a brothel: "I knew that it could be done, but I didn't know there was a place on any corner where you could walk in, pay three dollars, and get it." Some might find Gopnik's touch too light, too boureois, perhaps even too self-satisfied. Still, this is an eloquent book about an American's romance with Paris, that seductive city which lures us in, yet excludes us from its inner circles.
—James Schiff
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this collection of 23 essays and journal entries, many of which were originally published in the New Yorker, Gopnik chronicles the time he spent in Paris between 1995 and 2000. Although his subjects are broad -- global capitalism, American economic hegemony, France's declining role in the world -- he approaches each one via the tiny, personal details of his life as a married expatriate with a small child. In "The Rules of the Sport," he explores the maddening, hilarious intricacies of French bureaucracy by way of a so-called New York-style gym, where his efforts to become a member encounter a wall of meetings, physical examinations and paperwork. Many of the entries, such as "The Fall of French Cooking," focus on how Paris is coping with the loss of its cultural might, and look at others of the inexorable changes brought on by global capitalism. "The Balzar Wars" describes a mini-revolt staged by a group of Parisians (including the author) when their local, family-owned brasserie is purchased by a restaurant tycoon. Throughout, Gopnik is unabashedly sentimental about Paris, yet he never loses the objectivity of his outsider's eye. His "macro in the micro" style sometimes seems a convenient excuse to write about himself, but elegantly woven together with the larger issues facing France, those personal observations beautifully convey a vision of Paris and its prideful, abstract-thinking, endlessly fascinating inhabitants. Although the core readership for this book will most likely be loyal New Yorker subscribers, its thoughtful, funny portrayal of French life give it broad appeal to Francophiles unfamiliar with Gopnik's work. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In fall 1995, Gopnick, an art and cultural critic for The New Yorker, moved to Paris with his wife and young son, Luke. His reports from the city, published regularly in the magazine, proved to be fluent and witty, delightful fodder for anyone who loves Paris or has ever dreamed of living abroad. Those pieces, collected here, constitute more than a memoir of one American's struggles to adjust to French ways (though Gopnick was not completely out of his depth, having lived briefly in Paris as a child). True, the essays take the intimate and everyday as their genesis, covering, for instance, Gopnick's attempts to sign up at a "New York-style" health club, taking Luke to puppet shows and the carousel, visiting the new Bibliotheque National or the "dinosaur museum," struggling with French Christmas tree lights, and fighting to keep a favorite restaurant alive. But these are just starting points for deeper reflections on what it means to be French, to be American, and simply to be alive at the close of the 20th century. Gopnick's essays do what the best writing should do: they inform as they entertain. Highly recommended.--Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Alain De Botton
[T]he finest book on France of recent years. . . . The distinctive brilliance of Gopnik's essays lies in his ability to pick up a subject one would never have imagined it possible to think deeply about and then cover it in thoughts . . .
New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
A talented essayist for the New Yorker pens a love letter to the City of Lights, praising Paris to the moon (though that's not the original meaning of the title).

Seattle Times
Gopnik is an artful reporter, dapper in his prose, sharp in his sense of absurdity. . . .
Entertainment Weekly
Magisterial.
From the Publisher
Advance praise for Paris to the Moon

"Adam Gopnik's avid intelligence and nimble pen found subjects to love in Paris and in the growth of his small American family there. A conscientious, scrupulously savvy American husband and father meets contemporary France, and fireworks result, lighting up not just the Eiffel Tower."
—John Updike

"Adam Gopnik's Paris to the Moon abounds in the sensuous delights of the city—the magical carousel in the Luxembourg Gardens, the tomato dessert at Arpège, even the exquisite awfulness of the new state library. But the even greater joys of this exquisite memoir are timeless and even placeless—the excitement of the journey, the confusion of an outsider, and, most of all, the love of a family."
—Jeffrey Toobin

"The chronicle of an American writer's lifelong infatuation with Paris is also an extended meditation—in turn hilarious and deeply moving—on the threat of globalization, the art of parenting, and the civilizing intimacy of family life. Whether he's writing about the singularity of the Papon trial, the glory of bistro cuisine, the wacky idiosyncrasies of French kindergartens, or the vexing bureaucracy of Parisian health clubs, Gopnik's insights are infused with a formidable cultural intelligence, and his prose is as pellucid as that of any essayist. A brilliant, exhilarating book."
—Francine du Plessix Gray
        
        
"Adam Gopnik is a dazzling talent—hilarious, winning, and deft—but the surprise of Paris to the Moon is its quiet, moral intelligence. This book begins as journalism and ends up as literature."
—Malcolm Gladwell

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780099772019
Publisher:
Random House of Canada, Limited
Publication date:
03/27/2001
Pages:
416
Product dimensions:
5.08(w) x 7.76(h) x 0.87(d)

Read an Excerpt

Not long after we moved to Paris, in the fall of 1995, my wife, Martha, and I saw, in the window of a shop on the rue Saint-Sulpice, a nineteenth-century engraving, done in the manner, though I'm now inclined to think not from the hand, of Daumier. It shows a train on its way from the Right Bank of Paris to the moon. The train has a steam locomotive and six cars, and it is chugging up a pretty steep track. The track is supported on two high, slender spires that seem to be anchored somewhere in the Fifth Arrondissement (you can see the Panthéon in silhouette nearby), and then the track just goes right up and touches the full moon up in the clouds. I suppose the two pillars are stronger than they look. The train is departing at twilight--presumably it's an overnight trip--and among the crowd on the ground below, only a couple of top-hatted bourgeois watch the lunar express go on its way with any interest, much less wonder. Everybody else in the crowd of thirteen or so people on the platform, mostly moms and dads and kids, are running around and making conversation and comforting children and buying tickets for the next trip and doing all the things people still do on station platforms in Paris. The device on the ticket window, like the title of the cartoon, reads: "A Railroad: From Paris to the Moon."


The cartoon is, in part, a satire on the stock market of the time and on railway share manipulations. ("Industry," the caption begins, "knows no more obstacles.") But the image cast its spell on us, at least, because it seemed to represent two notions, or romances, that had made us want to leave New York and come to Paris in the firstplace. One was the old nineteenth-century vision of Paris as the naturally modern place, the place where the future was going to happen as surely as it would happen in New York. If a train were going to run to the moon, that train would originate from the Gare du Nord, with Parisian kids getting worn out while they waited.



But the image represented another, more intense association, and that is the idea that there is, for some Americans anyway, a direct path between the sublunary city and a celestial state. Americans, Henry James wrote, "are too apt to think that Paris is the celestial city," and even if we don't quite think that, some of us do think of it as the place where tickets are sold for the train to get you there. (Ben Franklin thought this, and so did Gertrude Stein, and so did Henry Miller. It's a roomy idea.) If this notion is pretty obviously unreal, and even hair-raisingly naive, it has at least the excuse of not being original. When they die, Wilde wrote, all good Americans go to Paris. Some of us have always tried to get there early and beat the crowds.



I've wanted to live in Paris since I was eight. I had a lot of pictures of the place in my head and even a Parisian object, what I suppose I'd have to call an icon, in my bedroom. Sometime in the mid-sixties my mother, who has a flair for the odd, ready-made present, found--I suppose in an Air France office in Philadelphia--a life-size cardboard three-dimensional cutout of a Parisian policeman. He had on a blue uniform and red kepi and blue cape, and he wore a handlebar mustache and a smile. (The smile suggests how much Art, or at any rate Air France, improves on Life, or at any rate on Paris policemen.)

My younger brother and I called the policeman Pierre, and he kept watch over our room, which also had Beatle posters and a blindingly, numbingly, excruciatingly bright red shag rug. (I had been allowed to choose the color from a choice of swatches, but I have an inability to generalize and have always made bad, overbright guesses on curtains and carpets and, as it turned out, the shape of future events.) Although we had never gone anywhere interesting but New York, my older sister had already, on the basis of deep, illicit late-night reading of Jane Austen and Mary Poppins, claimed London, and I had been given Paris, partly as a consolation prize, partly because it interested me. (New York, I think, was an open city, to be divided between us, like Danzig. Our four younger brothers and sisters were given lesser principalities. We actually expected them to live in Philadelphia.)
My first images of Paris had come from the book adaptation of The Red Balloon, the wonderful Albert Lamorisse movie about a small boy in the Parisian neighborhood of Menilmontant who gets a magic, slightly overeager balloon, which follows him everywhere and is at last destroyed by evil boys with rocks. Curiously, it was neither a cozy nor a charming landscape. The Parisian grown-ups all treated Pascal, the boy, with a severity bordering on outright cruelty: His mother tosses the balloon right out of the Haussmannian apartment; the bus conductor shakes his head and finger and refuses to allow the balloon on the tram; the principal of the school locks him in a shed for bringing the balloon to class. The only genuine pleasure I recall that he finds in this unsmiling and rainy universe is when he leaves the balloon outside a tempting-looking bakery and goes in to buy a cake. The insouciance with which he does it--cake as a right, not a pleasure--impressed me a lot. A scowling gray universe relieved by pastry: This was my first impression of Paris, and of them all, it was not the farthest from the truth. To this set of images were added, soon after, the overbright streets of the Madeline books, covered with vines and the little girls neat in their rows, and black and white pictures of men in suits walking through the Palais Royale, taken from a Cartier-Bresson book on the coffee table.
Pierre, though, being made of cardboard, got pretty beat up, sharing a room with two young boys, or maybe he was just both smaller and more fragile than I recall. In any case, one summer evening my parents, in a completely atypical display of hygienic decisiveness, decided that he was too beat up to keep and that it was time for him to pass away, and they put him out on the Philadelphia street for the trashman to take away.
I wept all night. He would sit out with the trash cans and would not be there in the morning. (A little later I read about Captain Dreyfus and his degradation, and the two uniformed and mustachioed figures got mixed up, so perhaps he had been sent to supply intimations of the other, darker side of French life. They were certainly there to be intimated.) What made me sad just then was the new knowledge that things changed, and there was nothing you could do about it. In a way, that was a Parisian emotion too.

What People are saying about this

Francine Du Plessix Gray
The chronicle of an American writer's lifelong infatuation with Paris is also an extended meditation--in turn hilarious and deeply moving--on the threat of globalization, the art of parenting and the civilizing intimacy of family life. Whether he's writing about the singularity of the Papon trial, the glory of bistro cuisine, the wacky idiosyncrasies of French kindergartens, or the vexing bureaucracy of Parisian health clubs, Gopnik's insights are infused with a formidable cultural intelligence, and his prose is as pellucid as that of any essayist. A brilliant, exhilarating book.
John Updike
Adam Gopnik's avid intelligence and nimble pen found subjects to love in Paris and in the growth of his small American family there. A conscientious, scrupulously savvy American husband and father meets contemporary France, and fireworks result, lighting up not just the Eiffel Tower.
Malcolm Gladwell
Adam Gopnik is a dazzling talent--hilarious, winning, and deft--but the surprise of Paris to the Moon is its quiet, moral intelligence. This book begins as journalism and ends up as literature.
Jeffrey Toobin
Adam Gopnik's Paris to the Moon abounds in the sensuous delights of the city—the magical carousel in the Luxembourg Gardens, the tomato dessert at Arpege, even the exquisite awfulness of the new state library. But the even greater joys of this exquisite memoir are timeless and even placeless—the excitement of the journey, the confusion of an outsider, and, most of all, the love of a family."

Meet the Author

Adam Gopnik has been writing for The New Yorker since 1986, and his work for the magazine has won the National Magazine Award for Essay and Criticism as well as the George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting. He broadcasts regularly for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and is the author of the article on the culture of the United States in the last two editions of the Encyclopedia Britannica. From 1995 to 2000, Gopnik lived in Paris, where the newspaper Le Monde praised his "witty and Voltairean picture of French life" and the weekly magazine Le Point wrote, "It is impossible to resist delighting in the nuances of his articles, for the details concerning French culture that one discovers even when one is French oneself." He now lives in New York with his wife, Martha Parker, and their two children, Luke and Olivia.

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Paris to the Moon 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Being Parisian myself, and in US for 5 years it is a great pleasure to read about my hometown and its way of life, seen through the eyes of an outsider. It is a delight of truths about the city's synergie, about the french culture, and about a foreigner who wants to understand and integrate a new world, but will always be on the edge of it. Believe me, the challenges are incredibly similar whem you are a Parisian living in Boston, or New York!! This book gave me a lesson of humility about my culture and let me know that the same confusions, frustrations and joys are shared by anyone who has the chance to live in another culture.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author is the kind of traveler who makes other American travelers cringe, and in just a few years, he has evidently become the kind of self-absorbed New Yorker who is unloved everywhere. Instead of embracing the experience of living in a new country, he is a rude guest, constantly commenting on his hosts' shortcomings. This is an irritatingly self-indulgent story on an old subject, done before by many other better writers. There is nothing new or original here. I cannot understand the reviews. As for the pretense of being a concerned parent wanting to get his child away from American culture...PLEASE...if he was tortured by his son's obsession with Barney, it's because he brought Barney there in his suitcase! This family eventually leaves France, commenting that they do not "live a full life" there...Not surprising, they live outside, and stay outside Parisian life. I kept hoping for some real contact with the French, some insight. Something other than an experience with a local shop keeper or taxi cab driver. But this is someone whose first actions in Paris included hooking up American cable in his apartment. He learns that you can get a wonderful apartment in Paris...it just takes money and connections. He winds up with a beautiful place on the Left Bank... a typical expat experience... I have met these "journalists" before. They live in Paris, Rome, Beiruit, Bejing...yet somehow manage to never leave their comfort zone. How very boring.
Wanderluster More than 1 year ago
Paris to the Moon was only marginally enjoyable for me. Travel memoirs are my favorite genre, French/Parisian travel in particular, so I appreciated the book to that extent. But overall, the writing style and choice of topics left something to be desired. Gopnik writes in an irritatingly halting fashion that left me frustrated and wishing that he would just get to the point of his every sentence. Also, as someone who knows a bit of French from high school and college, I was able to understand his occasional use of the language, but I imagine his frequent failure to include translations would prove quite cumbersome for anyone unfamiliar with French. To be perfectly honest, the book was just flat out boring at points...maybe because I'm not all that interested in French soccer or politics. I did enjoy the culinary descriptions and first-hand accounts of European health care. But on a scale of one to ten, I'd give its page-turning factor a three.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a college student I lived in Paris for a year and have been a frequent visitor to Paris before and after my year of study. I was hoping this book would take me back to my life that I long to return to. At times it does, but most of the time is spent reading about redundant gibberish. It was not worth reading and frequently skimmed through it hoping the writing would improve.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you find Gopnik's toddler son as relentlessly fascinating as he apparently does, you might like this book. But if you're not an immediate family member, the 'ain't-my-kid-cute' stories will quickly tire you, as may Gopnik's tendency to pull forced French-American comparisons out of every last croissant crumb. While there are some good and pointed insights to be found, much of it comes off as a smug Manhattan boor holding forth, instead of a witty and knowledeable correspondent who learned to live with the French. And as a chronicle of someone who spent a whole five years in Paris, it's oddly insular and remote: one wonders why Gopnik's relations with Parisians never progressed past the most fleeting casual kind (a taxi driver, a waiter) that any one-time tourist could have had. Want a real feeling of being an American living in Paris - read Janet Flanner.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The most pretentious and self-aggrandizing essayist in the US takes on Paris. It's like mixing arsenic with hemlock. This is drivel from the first word to the last. Read Janet Flanner instead. THAT is the real McCoy, and this is French hogwash.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have lived in Paris for the past ten years. I have lived in every district excluding maybe three, I, along with other American and British friends have worked in restaurants, bars, temp work, and in major corporations. Every neighborhood has a different atmosphere and every work place as well, Mr. Gopnik's book is a very typical New Yorker's view of the world, which is narrow minded. NY is not the center of the world and everything does not need to be compared it it, especially by a man who lived in the same area all five years of his stay and never lived or worked with French people. Sorry, not only is the book boring, with its chapters on a fax machine and fax paper, but the fatherhood thing was common as well and how rude to come install your self and critize a place that never need your opion. Paris is a little hop over the Atlantic, NOT the moon! To relish over the differences without end it maybe interesting for someone undertravelled, but as for the rest of us, it is relly a disappointment and I will try to get a refund at the boutique I purchased it from.
Hal_OBrien More than 1 year ago
The book certainly has its charms. As does Mr Gopnik. It's fun reading of his dilemmas regarding his kids, because they edge towards being more French as the years go by while they live in Paris, and while Gopnik likes the breadth that gives them, he also realizes they have to go back to the US eventually. It's interesting to watch the balancing act. One image that sticks with me from this book is how if the French had a magazine akin to "The New Yorker," (for whom Gopnik wrtites) they'd have theory-checkers rather than fact-checkers. This is because Gopnik thinks the French see facts as mutable depending on one's point-of-view, so what really matters is the consistency of one's theories. The ironic thing, of course, is that by this measure the George W. Bush Administration was far and away the most French in American history.
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This was a present for my niece. She is a complete Paris buff. She loved it!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved Paris to the Moon! It was an amazing book with an extraordinary dry sense of humor. It didn't glamorize Paris and told Paris as it is romantic but sometimes confusing charming and frustrating. I had some trouble at the beginning when the topic was French politics and I didn't know the people involved so found it difficult to relate to. However once I gone pass that bit the book was thoroughly enjoyable.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I picked this book up at a Parisian English bookshop. I read it in bits and pieces during my 6-week stay. Any American who has spent any time in Paris will appreciate this true life tale. Using his son's birth & growth as a backdrop for his story, Gopnik weaves a tapestry of his own complex attraction and involvement in Paris life and culture (from joining a gym to becoming embroiled in labor dispute at his favorite restaurant to the French birthing experience). Gopnik highlights the cultural differences and challenges using his son's years-long attempt at merry-go-round ring chasing as a metaphor for his own growth and understanding of that growth. The book is about a love affair of sorts with a city and a people that Gopnik does not always understand or like but that he loves and appreciates for adding dimension - not only to his life ¿ but also to that of his family. Ultimately, Gopnik's decision about whether to remain in Paris revolves completely around his decision to either raise a French child or an American one who speaks fluent French and eats croissants and lox instead of Cheerios. A delightful read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Adam Gopnick moves his wife and infant son to Paris from New York City. He works for the New Yorker so all this is possible. And although the book at times is just hilarious, funny, and insightful, many of the chapters read like they were separate New Yorker articles. There is a wonderful story of his trying to first find a gym to join, and then joining process and then the discovery of how the French use the gym. This little gem may be worth the price of the book alone. But later I found an ¿article¿ on the fashion industry just boring. I found the book to be a very uneven read that I could only recommend to persons going to visit or live in France.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was simply transported by this beautiful memoir. As a former (American) au pair/student in Paris, I recognize the places, the emotions, the thoughts, the feelings, and the questions which Gopnik writes about. As a subscriber to 'The New Yorker', I recognize that wonderful writing style that is Gopnik's: every paragraph is its own little essay, and not a sentence should be missed. The book is now (sadly) put away on a shelf, but I still envision little Luke saying, 'ça va, Swimmy??'... and understand exactly why he said it. A great book!