Faire de la Valise

While fielding responses about apartments, I’ve started thinking about what one packs for a three-month jaunt in another country. Since clothes are, alas, universal, I can ease my mind with the knowledge that, once in Paris, I can probably procure any vêtements I find myself in need of. Same for toiletries and, really, everything else. The sole problem I foresee is that of books. Given previous “books read” posts here, I will probably read around six books will I’m in France, and besides the cost of buying an English-language book in a country where English is not the native tongue, there’s the problem of finding a place that sells them. My experiences finding foreign-language books in New York stores is non-existent—except for the Libros en Espanol section behind the desk I worked at at Barnes & Noble—and I know for a fact that buying books from Amazon.com is impossible and buying them from Amazon.fr is trop chère. I imagine buying English books from the .com will be as expensive when I’m in France as buying French books from the .fr was for me here.

So I’ve been putting together a list in my head. The long-neglected Bel Ami by Guy de Maupassant seems a necessity, as does the unread copy of Richard Pevear’s translation of The Three Musketeers, although I can’t really see myself bringing a hardcover book with me. Then there’s the French authors I still want to read, like Proust’s Swann’s Way—the first in In Search Of Lost Time series that has plagued literary scholars for time immemorial and is the basis for one of the those Monty Python sketches that is still funny enough those it’s par-dessus votre tête—which my boss told me today is just enjoyable to read for the words before you even get into what’s going on mechanically in the book. There’s the problem, though, of having to reconcile the fact that you’re an American, in Paris, reading Marcel fucking Proust. Why not go nuts while I’m at it and read some Racine or Molière and really look like a douchebag? I wouldn’t mind trying out some more Boris Vian, though, since he is almost unknown here and the level of douchery French people might associate with reading one of his books in public is completely unknown to me.

I’ve been putting off reading Tender Is The Night since I started reading Fitzgerald a few years ago because it’s the last new thing of his I’ll ever be able to read, save for some short stories which I have to remember to pack now. But it takes place on the French Riviera and if I end up driving to Marseilles with my friend and his wife for a weekend with her family, it might be the right reading material for any downtime we have while we’re there. I don’t think I’ll be in the mood to reread The Sun Also Rises without putting the book down every fifteen minutes and finding the places Hemingway mentions, and there’s only one other book of his that deals with Paris. There is no way in hell I’m going to be the jerk-off American sitting at a café and reading A Moveable Feast, not for all the crêpe in Paris.

Since the last paragraph, I’ve picked up a copy of Swann’s Way specifically to read on the flight to London and the train to Paris and specifically because it will make me look like a douchebag. A ten-day marathon reading of The Stand has returned me, for good or for bad, to my American center, which I am now unbalancing by reading Hunger by Knut Hamsun, a Norwegian who apparently changed the face of modern literature with the book in 1890. I should be confused enough by the end of February to go quietly when Proust comes for me.