An American in Paris: Why I live in France

N. Lee Wood

N. Lee Wood

is the author of Faraday's Orphans and Looking for Mahdi, both published by Gollancz/Vista in 1996. She sold her first ever novel in Romania and hasn't stopped being published since. She is a frequent visitor to British and European conventions, and travels extensively from her home in Paris. She is married to Norman Spinrad, who shares her enthusiasm for Europe in general, and Romania in particular.

Lee Wood and Norman Spinrad came to Europe to research a book, and ended up making their home in Paris. Lee explains some of the reasons why.

Reason #1: It's the bellybutton of Europe. It's a convenient centre from which all of Europe can be visited with ease. From here, you can get on the TGV, zip lickety-split across the countryside to the Eurotunnel, and after twenty minutes in the Tunnel (which looks a lot like the Metro underground, so feels quite normal and routine), you arrive in Britain where the TGV slows down to become what Norman Spinrad likes to call the "Tay Zhay Oy Vay", toddling along at genteelly unhurried pace into London.

Or, take the train to Amsterdam for a lovely weekend. Hop on a plane and in less time than it takes the TGV to go from Dover to London, you're in the new Berlin. Or hire a car and just go. Don't make any plans, simply follow your nose for a leisurely journey through Europe to a different country every other day, each with a different language, different cuisine, different customs, and some, like Switzerland, having three for the price of one.

Even stretching your route a bit farther afield isn't difficult, now that Eastern Europe has opened its doors and becoming more accessible. Budapest is gorgeous, Prague is fantastic, Bucharest.... well, Bucharest does have some of its old world charm still intact despite Ceaucescus' best efforts, and the Palace of the People is definitely worth seeing, just for being astounded by the gothic colossal size of it (second biggest building in the World after the Pentagon!). But the Romanian countryside is some of the most beautiful in the World, Timisoara's elegance and grace at one end of the country, and at the other is Constanza's embarrassing riches of Roman and Greek ruins and artifacts, so much even bus stops are decorated with amphoras and statues thousands of years old.

Reason #2: The food. Of course. But not just "of course". French food is, with good reason, one of the best in the World. And who can say they've lived until they've tasted fresh pain au chocolat just hot out of the oven? Lovely little bistros and bar au vins. Lyonaisse sausages and fresh oysters from Normandy. But Paris would be dead boring if it only had French restaurants. Luckily for food lovers, the French were relentless imperialist colonisers over the past two centuries or so, and so imported the rich and diverse cuising of all the countries they occupied, from various countries in Africa, a few of which still exist, to Lebanon and Algeria, to Viet Nam, and the Caribbean islands. Whether or not you approved of the politics involved, the food they brought back makes Paris one vast Nirvana for foodies.

Reason #3: Speaking of politics.... I love the politics. The French get passionately involved with politics, wrinkle Gallic noses at the American "fast food" of sound bites and headline news. In depth coverage is the norm, and journalists interviewing politicians are relentless. And should the French decide their government's policies are unacceptable, they take to the streets. By the thousands. Where else would you find two out of three Frenchmen in support of the general strike last winter which paralysed most of Paris for week after week after Juppe announced service cuts along with tax increases (pay more, get less, if you want the American sound bite version)?

I marched along with the foreign contingency in one demonstration, and one young British SWP member paused long enough from shouting, "The WORKers uNITed will NEVer BE deFEATed!", and singing "The Internationale" to burble, "Look at this! It's brilliant! A quarter-million people in the streets, all protesting, and it's peaceful! Not a riot cop anywhere! You wouldn't see this in bloody Manchester, you wouldn't! Vive la France, mate!" And, indeed, the sight of old women waving from their balconies, some with tears in their eyes as they shouted, "Merci!", and in passing the prison where guards and prisoners alike held out signs scrawled on cardboard as they cheered on the crowd are something I'll never forget.

Reason #4: The services. Visible and invisible. Mail delivered by a postman you know by name. Mail every day except Sunday, not once but twice a day. The "Merde-Max" motorcycle patrols, impressive mean green machines that scour the streets in search of doggie doo, sucking up the offending deposits of Paris's multifarious canine population with its high-tech vacuum cleaners. The Metro public transport only appreciated for its ubiquitous efficiency, cleanliness, and speed when the CGT goes on strike and people have to fend for themselves to get around.

And the cops. I confess I like the cops. I might have a slightly different opinion were I ever to be arrested by any, but the cops on the street treat the general public with courtesy. The first time I became lost and approached a policemen on the street to ask for directions, I was startled when he suddenly snapped to attention and saluted me. So startled, in fact, that I saluted him back. He laughed, and when I asked why he'd saluted me, he said with great pride, "Because I work for the people of France." Nice, that.

Reason #5: Because it's home.

[Up: Interviews Index | Top: Concatenation]

[Updated: 99.9.29 | Contact | Copyright | Privacy]