Transcript for Episode 469: Contemporary French Novels: A Literary Journey

Category: French Culture

[00:00:00] Annie Sargent: This is Join Us in France, episode 469, quatre cent soixante neuf.

[00:00:22] Bonjour, I’m Annie Sargent, and Join Us in France is the podcast where we talk about France, everyday life in France, great places to visit in France, French culture, history, gastronomy, and news related to travel to France.

Today on the podcast

[00:00:36] Annie Sargent: Today, I bring you a conversation with Elyse Rivin of Toulouse Guided Walks about novels we love that are about France.

[00:00:44] Most of the ones we mention are either set in France or by French authors. We purposefully chose to limit ourselves to books that are recent, not the ones you heard about in college if you took French literature. Before recording this episode, I reread all of the ones that I’ll be talking about, and it was a lot of reading that week, but I enjoyed it greatly.

[00:01:06] Now, Christmas is just around the corner, and if there’s a francophile in your life, they would probably enjoy one of those books. I’ll link to them in the show notes. And what’s the number one Christmas gift you can give between family members and friends in France? A book. We give lots of books in France and it doesn’t even have to be a gorgeous coffee table book.

[00:01:28] Could be your favorite murder mystery paperback. Could even be an old book you read long ago and want to gift to someone in your life, hence the second hand bookstores that are still going strong in France.

[00:01:41] But you don’t need to fly to France just to get a book, you can order it from one of the links that I’ll provide in the show notes.

Supporting the Podcast with Your Purchases

[00:01:47] Annie Sargent: And by the way, when you click on the links on, the show gets a small commission and some months, it’s even enough to pay for podcast fixed expenses, because you know what, creating a podcast costs money. So check out the show notes and click on those links because it doesn’t cost you a penny more.

[00:02:06] It’s built into Amazon prices. We all pay those, whether we use an affiliate link or not. So you might as well help the podcast.

[00:02:15] If you want a more extensive list of great gifts for the francophiles in your life, or the travelers in your life, go to, because that whole episode was about gifts for cooks, for home decor, clothing, kids, the travelers, French learners, et cetera.

Podcast supporters

[00:02:35] Annie Sargent: This podcast is supported also by donors and listeners who buy my tours and services, including my Itinerary Consult Service and my GPS Self Guided Tours of Paris on the VoiceMap app, or take a day trip with me around the Southwest of France in my electric car.

[00:02:52] And you can browse all of that at my boutique

[00:02:58] And after my chat with Elyse, you’ll hear an update from Patricia Perry on what you need to plan on if you’re going to be in Paris during the Olympics. She lives in Paris full time. She keeps up with these things.

[00:03:10] Be prepared.

Bootcamp 2024

[00:03:11] Annie Sargent: And for those of you who have been waiting for your chance to get your ticket for the Bootcamp 2024, today is the day. So, to find out all the information you need, go to, or look at the show notes for this episode at the numeral 469, and it’s all spelled out there.

[00:03:38] But just to recap, the Bootcamp is going to take place in Toulouse between May 11th and May 19th. But to really take full advantage of the experience, I recommend you arrive in Toulouse on May 10th, and you don’t leave until May 20th. So that’s a full 10 days, and we are going to have a grand time.

[00:04:00] About half of the, well, actually more than half of the seats are already spoken for. So if this is something you want to do, make up your mind. It makes for a wonderful Christmas gift as well.


Annie and Elyse about Favorite French Novels

[00:04:19] Annie Sargent: Bonjour Élyse.

[00:04:20] Elyse Rivin: Bonjour, Annie.

[00:04:22] Annie Sargent: We have an exciting episode today again about books. I don’t know what it is about us and books, this is like the third episode we’ve done about books.

[00:04:29] Elyse Rivin: It is true. It is the third. Well, let’s see, we did bookstores…

[00:04:33] Annie Sargent: Right, we did ‘France for Bookworms’, that was episode 455.

[00:04:38] And then the ‘Bibliothèque Nationale de France and Libraries in France’, that was 461.

[00:04:46] Elyse Rivin: Right.

Facebook group moderator Jenny, keeps a list of books set in France or by French authors

[00:04:47] Annie Sargent: Right? And now, this one is about novels or books set in France or by French authors.

[00:04:55] And what inspired this is that, our most excellent Facebook group moderator, Jenny,she kept a list of books set in France. And I looked at the list and I was like, oh my goodness, there’s a lot of them.

[00:05:10] So I’m going to put a copy of that list in the episode notes for this, because there are so many. The way she has it organized is alphabetical by author. Okay. So, the first one on this is “Flirting with French.” It’s a kind of a language memoir. You have the “Elegance of the Hedgehog,” which is a favorite of mine. Although I read it so long ago that I read it on paper, if you can imagine that.

[00:05:39] Elyse Rivin: Oh, you actually held a book in your hand, Annie?

[00:05:42] Annie Sargent: Yes. And, as a result, I have no idea where the book is. So, it might be in my house here, it might be in Spain. So I couldn’t read it again this week.

[00:05:50] I would have otherwise, because it’s an excellent book. There’s something called “Lunch in Paris” about, it’s a romance, food recipes, “Picnic in Provence”, “The Bonjour Effect.” Now, this one I have not read, but it puzzles me how somebody could write a whole book about how you should say Bonjour.

[00:06:06] Like, yeah, yeah you should. All right?

[00:06:10] I don’t know, perhaps it’s a whole lot of anecdotes about how saying Bonjour changed everything, changed her life. I don’t know. Duh. Yes. Say Bonjour, okay?

[00:06:18] There’s one called “Love Letters from Montmartre,” which sounds like it was written you know, somebody who has a lot ofexperience, a very good author.

[00:06:26] One called “A Thousand Years of Annoying the French” by Stephen Clark, which I have not read, but I want to. But I did read “A Year in the Merde” by him and it was very funny. So he’s got a funny, you know, he’s a Brit with funny takes on French life.

[00:06:42] ‘Sarah’s Key’ which you will mention is about the rafle du vel d’hiv, a very, very sad event.

[00:06:49] “All the Light We Cannot See” is a favorite, of course, and we’ll talk about this one at length. I’m skipping “A Moveable Feast” by Hemingway, which we’ve probably both read, but long ago.

[00:07:01] Elyse Rivin: Long ago, but I’ve actually read again more recently becauseI went through another reread Hemmingway phase.

[00:07:08] And so that was interesting.

[00:07:10] Annie Sargent: Yes. ” Suite Française” by Irene Nemirovsky, excellent book, I’m in the middle of it, I tried to reread it for this recording, and didn’t quite get past 55 percent or something, but yeah…

[00:07:24] Elyse Rivin: I’ve read it twice.

[00:07:24] Annie Sargent: A good book. Yes. Yeah. This is my second time reading it. “The Paris Bookseller” is on the list. That was episode 371 of the podcast. I had the author on the show.

[00:07:35] One that’s controversial, “A Year in Provence” by Peter Mayle.

[00:07:39] Elyse Rivin: Yes.

[00:07:40] Annie Sargent: Yeah. It’s controversial because it’s so condescending. But it was a book that ushered in a whole long list of books by people who moved to France just so they can write a book. And there are so many of those.

[00:07:54] They don’t even like the country, I don’t think. They are, typically they are good journalists, good writers. And if you write a book about France and you’re any good at writing, you sell. People want to read books about France. There’s even like chefs, cooks that come to Paris.

[00:08:10] There was one in Lyon.

[00:08:11] I can’t remember what the book was called, Splash, or something. He just came to write a book. So he stayed there for like six months, wrote the book, got the hell out. Move on to the next country where I can write a book. Anyway, I do not like those very much, but they are a fact.

[00:08:25] “Bruno, Chief of Police,” the first in a long list of books by Martin Walker, which I thought I was not going to like, and I did.I did. I’m not saying I’m going to read the whole series because he’s written like 35 books or something. But it is on the list and it belongs on the list. It’s actually pretty good and has some depths to it, I guess.

The only street in Paris, Elaine Sciolino

[00:08:44] Annie Sargent: “The only street in Paris,” by Elaine Sciolino, which I think she’s a reporter.

[00:08:50] Elyse Rivin: I’m pretty sure she is, or was, writing for the Times, New York Times.

[00:08:55] Annie Sargent: She lived in Paris and wrote three books about Paris. “The Only Street in Paris” is about the Rue des Martyrs, and a lovely street that people should go to. I always recommend people take my Montmartre Walking Tour, then walk Rue des Martyrs, and if they still have some legs to them, then go to the Opera House, which is not that far.

[00:09:16] Elyse Rivin: You got to have legs for that Annie.

[00:09:17] Yeah. You got, yeah. You need legs for that. Yes.

Le Memoires d’Hadrien

[00:09:19] Elyse Rivin: And the last one I’m going to mention is “Le Memoires d’Hadrien.” So this is Marguerite Youcenar, a famed French author. She is more of a historical memoir / philosophy. So I love her. I read the book when I was young. Again, it was on paper. I have no idea what happened to the book, but an excellent, excellent author.

[00:09:40] She’s translated into English. She has imagined that the emperor, Adrien, Hadrian,is writing letters to various people, and in these letters he philosophizes. And if you like philosophy and history, you will like the book. It’s a very good book.

[00:09:56] So these are the ones on the list.

[00:09:58] I highly recommend you check out the list on the show notes for this episode. I think people who enjoy France, and reading about France, because there’s many more. I just mentioned a few, but there’s probably 20 more than what I mentioned. So, a lot of fantastic books.

Elyse’s list of Favourite Books set in France or by French Authors

[00:10:16] Elyse Rivin: So, Elyse, what are some favorite books of yours that are set in France or by French author or whichever?

[00:10:23] Well, hmm, let’s see. I made up a little bit of a list, which includes, of course, a couple of people that you’ve just mentioned, like Marguerite Youcenar.

[00:10:32] I thought I would just mention some people who are writing today with my apologies, one or two exceptions because they are no longer alive.

[00:10:42] But I just wanted to pick up on the last thing you said, it is a fact that there are enormous, enormous number of writers who write in France, who come to France, or who are French, this is still a country of writers.

[00:10:56] It’s a big deal that you would not see this really announced on a big television show in the States when there are certain prizes that are given out every year.

[00:11:05] There’s a lot of news coverage of them. Writing books, and books in general are really still an extremely important part of the culture in France.

[00:11:14] And I think that that’s probably one of the reasons why many writers who are not French do come here, aside from the fact that France, Paris, of course, and France in general, lend themselves to writing. I think Italy does too, but France really, between the mystique, the whole beauty of Paris and the rest of the country, including places like Paris Gueux, the Provence, it’s really a place that’s conducive to writers.

[00:11:44] Annie Sargent: Yeah, I really think that if you park yourself, I don’t know, on the Atlantic coast, or on the Mediterranean coast, or near there or anywhere in France really, life is slow enough that If you’re an author, you’ll probably want to write.

[00:12:01] Elyse Rivin: And even if you’re not an author.

[00:12:03] Annie Sargent: Perhaps, yes.

[00:12:04] Elyse Rivin: Perhaps, perhaps that’s what it is, perhaps it’s the air that inspires, you know.

[00:12:09] Annie Sargent: Maybe. Maybe.

[00:12:10] So, there’s a ton of books that we’re going to mention today. A couple we’re going to go into some depth about, but mostly we’re just going to try and like, go read this kind of thing.

[00:12:21] Elyse Rivin: Yeah, I mean, part of the problem is, it’s hard to make a list. I mean, this is just a sampling.

[00:12:26] This is like a tiny, tiny sampling with a few examples of books that have either stuck in the mind or there’s a particular thing about the writers or whatever. And me, I don’t know if any of you know this out there, I don’t know if I’ve ever said this, but you know, I love, love, love, police stories, mystery stories.

[00:12:42] This is just, you know, it’s like, it’s my candy, unfortunately, and I eat too much of it, and I eat, and I read too many of them. And I thought, that I have a certain prejudice that it’s the northern writers, what the French like to call the Scandinavian black, meaning dark stories, you know, that I really like.

[00:13:00] The English, the Brits are really great at writing mystery stories, police stories, and the Americans are. But there are a few French writers who write today, who are writing now, who have become really, really famous and whose work is really worth looking at. And so if those of you are interested in police stories, thrillers, mystery stories, I just want to mention two.

[00:13:22] Annie Sargent: Okay. Yeah, this is not a genre that I read that much in…

[00:13:26] Elyse Rivin: I know you don’t.

[00:13:27] Annie Sargent: Cozies, yes, I like cozies.

[00:13:29] Elyse Rivin: She cozies the cozies are okay.

Fred Vargas

[00:13:32] Elyse Rivin: I like a little bit more grit, I think, but there actually are two and they are quite dissimilar, which is what’s interesting about them. So one of them is a woman, she’s very interesting.

[00:13:41] Her name is Fred Vargas. And actually her real name is not Fred Vargas at all. Her real name is Frédéric Odoine Rousseau, which I actually did not know until I was doing some of the research for this.

[00:13:58] Annie Sargent: Sounds like a good name, but Fred, I would think it’s a man.

[00:14:01] Elyse Rivin: You would think it was a guy. Yeah. Well, I have a feeling she did that intentionally.

[00:14:05] Annie Sargent: Right, because in French, you can be Frédéric or Frédérique.

[00:14:10] Elyse Rivin: And it turns out that in the real world, she is an archaeozoologist. Okay. That means that she’s an archaeologist who studies the history of animals. I don’t know what period is her specialty. There are a couple of British writers that I know of that I’ve read and loved who, one is who is an Egyptologist.

[00:14:31] It’s interesting. A lot of these writers who have a field of study, but it has nothing to do specifically with writing mystery stories. It’s just weird. Anyway, she has written a series of books. There are nine of them. All of them have been translated into English and they all include, the main character is the Commissaire Adamsberg.

[00:14:50] And these are books that are quirky. None of these books are hard to read, anyway. But if there’s a certain kind of humor, kind of weird humor, the characters are very eccentric. It basically, are stories that take place in and around Paris, but it’s not a touristy Paris.

[00:15:06] It’s a more funky kind of Paris.

[00:15:09] Annie Sargent: It’s real Paris, right?

[00:15:10] Elyse Rivin: Is real Paris, yeah. And the stories are great because they’re very atmospheric. There’s no specific one story that I need to talk about or anything like that. It’s just that there’s this ongoing list of characters that develop these relationships and they all have these certain idiosyncrasies. And she has a very, very interesting style in her writing.

[00:15:32] And these are not stories necessarily where it’s, there’s a lot of bloody action, you know, this is not her thing. I think women tend to not write that way, but you can correct me. I mean, out there, I don’t know?

[00:15:43] Annie Sargent: Do you spend a lot of time inside the head of some psychopath? Because I hate that.

[00:15:47] Elyse Rivin: You spend more time with these quirky people in this commissariat and, you know.

[00:15:52] Annie Sargent: Quirky’s good. Quirky’s good. But psychopath killers? No.

[00:15:56] Elyse Rivin: But there’s always a really interesting killer somewhere.

[00:15:59] Annie Sargent: Well, sure. I mean, it is a murder mystery. It has to be a murder.

[00:16:02] Elyse Rivin: Right? And several of them have made into television movies. So she’s very famous.

[00:16:06] Annie Sargent: Fred Vargas.

[00:16:08] Elyse Rivin: Yes. And she’s how old? Let’s see, she was born in 1957. So she’s what? She’s about 55, 60, something like that. She’s going strong. She’s going strong.

Bernard Minier

[00:16:16] Elyse Rivin: And then there’s this guy whose books are very, very different. And I have read three of them.

[00:16:21] And I actually, I’m including him because I know that a lot of people like this kind of style. I don’t necessarily think he’s that great a writer, but he’s sold millions and his name is Bernard Minier. And a bunch of his books have been translated into English and have been made actually, two of them have made into movies and he is from Toulouse. Yay! Yay! And his books all take place, the Commissariat is in Toulouse, and his books all take place somewhere between Toulouse and the Pyrenees. The Pyrenees are a major character in his books, and that’s one of the things I like about them, but they all have weird psychopathic killers.

[00:16:59] You don’t necessarily get into their heads, but there’s always something very weird and kinky going on somewhere. Lots of characters. And these are books, unlike hers, these are books that are filled with action, a lot of action. And the writing is, for those of you out there who read Michael Connolly, people like that, it’s very similar in that kind of style.

[00:17:19] There’s lots of going, getting some place, you know, figuring out what’s going on. Lots of characters, it moves all the time. And the settings in the Pyrenees are very impressive because he really knows, he was born in the foothills of the Pyrenees. He grew up in and studied in Toulouse.

[00:17:34] And so everything takes place in and around this area.

[00:17:37] Annie Sargent: Oh, I might have to read one.

[00:17:38] Do you have them on paper?

[00:17:39] Elyse Rivin: Yeah.

[00:17:40] Annie Sargent: Am I not to read a paper book? Oh no!

[00:17:42] Elyse Rivin: Yeah, you might have to, you just might have to hold a book in your hand. Oh my goodness gracious. Oh my, okay. And then why don’t you talk about Martin Walker, because he’s another police story writer?

Martin Walker

[00:17:54] Annie Sargent: Yes, so Martin Walker, I didn’t think I would like because it sounds like a cheesy, you know, whatever. But I only read the first one. Well, okay, the other thing is, I didn’t want to buy his book. I don’t know. I had to hang up. I thought, I don’t need to give this guy any money because everybody’s giving him money.

[00:18:09] I don’t need to do that. So there was a free section of one of his books that I got. And I thought, this is just not interesting. And so…

[00:18:19] Elyse Rivin: I’m just making a face, because how do you know from, because it’s free if it’s, okay, go ahead, go ahead…

[00:18:24] Annie Sargent: Well, the thing is, it was like the first 20 pages or something. And so I decided, okay, I’m based on the 20 pages I’m not going to like it. But I bought “Bruno Chief of Police”, the very first one. Once you get past, once the murder happens, it gets more interesting.

[00:18:42] Because honestly, what he has to say about the Dordogne, I know the Dordogne quite well, so Saint Denis is a, he made up the town, but this town has a Route de Paris so it has to have a north, south, kind of, you know, so it’s, but it’s also on a river.

[00:19:03] It’s on the Vézère river, which does not run north-south. So I wondered if it was Eymet or something like that.

[00:19:09] It’s not big enough to have a Gendarmerie, because he’s the Chief of Police Municipale, which means in real life, he would do nothing but like, you know, parking tickets, helping the kids cross the street to get to school.

[00:19:23] Yeah, I mean, in real life, he’s not even the Chief of Police. Most municipalities like this in France, this is reality versus novels, they have, like my village, 2000 people, they had one police officer for the longest time, and now they’ve decided to have four, but they spread over three villages. So they’ve pooled their resources, and they have a very nice electric Zoe car that they tool around in. And they just patrol, like they patrol to see if there’s any trouble in the neighborhood.

[00:19:54] I don’t think their life is that exciting, but, Bruno, Chief of Police, gets to do some extraordinary things. If you spend more time into the book, it’s like, wow, you’re good.

[00:20:04] Elyse Rivin: Now, Martin Walker is English.

[00:20:06] Yes.

[00:20:07] And he lives in the Perigord area half the year. So, I mean, you know, he’s one of those English people who’ve fallen in love with the Perigord and made it his, basically, I think he was a businessman before.

[00:20:19] He actually once called me years ago to talk about doing something together and I didn’t know who he was at the time.

[00:20:25] And I just kind of waved him off.

[00:20:27] Annie Sargent: Elyse!

[00:20:29] Elyse Rivin: Yeah, that’s me. That’s really me.

[00:20:31] Annie Sargent: But he’s a real person that you actually talked to. Yeah.

[00:20:34] Elyse Rivin: Yeah, and I think he’s actually in real estate or something like that, you know, and then he writes these books on the side. So he must make a lot of money.

[00:20:42] Annie Sargent: Yeah, he’s rich. He really sells a lot of books. There’s no question that he sells a lot of books.

[00:20:46] Elyse Rivin: And I know that he talks a lot about food and things like that in the books.

[00:20:50] Annie Sargent: Well, in the first one, the chief of police, Bruno, is considering a love life. He’s thinking about it. And so he goes on a date with two English women.

[00:21:04] Elyse Rivin: At the same time?

[00:21:05] Annie Sargent: Yes, but it wasn’t a date to begin with, but it turned out that it, in his head, it was a date.

[00:21:11] He was selecting which one he wanted to date. And he selects the one that can cook.

[00:21:16] And he’s very, very surprised that an English woman can cook, of course, because a French guy, obviously would not believe that any English person can cook. So there’s a, I mean, there are a lot ofthings in the book that are a bit irritating, but listen, it’s entertaining.

[00:21:30] I can see why he’s popular and the book moves, you know, once you get past the first bit, there are, it’s not recipes per se, but he mentions a lot of foods, and what they drink with the foods, and what bread they have with the food, and stuff like that.

[00:21:47] So that’s why, you know, it’s… those are good books.

[00:21:50] If, you need some entertainment, they are just fine.

[00:21:53] Elyse Rivin: A couple of people that I’ve met, and doing some of my tours have said to me, Oh, I really like them, and I asked them why, and they said, it’s very specifically, that it’s because they talk about wine and food, and living in the Perigord.

[00:22:08] And I thought, for people who do not live here, that is something that probably makes these books interesting. Because they didn’t talk about the stories, they didn’t talk about the characters. And so I think that’s the difference. There are other writers who have more atmosphere, but I think his concentration is, he developed this love for the Perigord area, and so he just wants to have stories, and everybody pretty much likes a mystery story now and then, yeah.

[00:22:33] Annie Sargent: Yeah. So the book starts with the French hate the EU, which honestly is more an English thing than the French. You know, please make reference to Brexit. So, that he imports from his own, you know, ethos, I guess. And then he makes whole story about, they try to circumvent the EU inspectors. But then there’s a murder and the person who’s killed has swastika engraved on his wound on his chest. And the guy is a Harki,

[00:23:11] one of the Algerians who fought for France during the war of Independence. so it becomes a political thing, and when that comes into the book, it’s really pretty well done. He inserts some true history into what he’s writing, which makes it more interesting than just recipes. But there are, and perhaps if you, as you move along with the books, he talks more and more about the food, you know, I’m not sure I didn’t read the others.

[00:23:39] That’s probably how it goes.

[00:23:40] Anyway, an interesting author and well written, you know, very capably written, I thought, and pleasant, very pleasant.

[00:23:47] Elyse Rivin: And those are just three examples. There are of course, many, many writers who do mystery stories because it is such a cool thing to do, is to write mystery stories.

Tracy Chevalier Historical Novels

[00:23:57] Elyse Rivin: Yes. How about talking about, there are two writers, both of whom actually are English speaking, who write historical novels and have written books that are really kind of fun to read. One of them is a writer that I like a lot. She’s actually American, Tracy Chevalier. She’s the woman who wrote “The Girl with the Pearl Earring.”

[00:24:18] And it’s very interesting. I have read, I think, five of her books. I like her as a writer. I think she’s a very good writer. She’s not a heavyweight. Yoursenar type of writer, but she’s got good writing.

[00:24:29] And what she does, which I find really interesting, is she basically takes a work of art or an object and uses that as the inspiration for creating a story that very often has historicalreality, but is also a fantasy because she makes up the story.

[00:24:47] The case of the girl with the Pearl earring is basically she creates the story of how this picture by Vermeer came to be painted. And so what she did was she took the unicorn tapestries, which of course are the beautiful tapestries that are in the Clooney Museum in Paris. And she’s a very prolific writer.

[00:25:06] And she wrote a book called “The Lady on the Unicorn.”

[00:25:10] Annie Sargent: Yes.

[00:25:11] Elyse Rivin: Which takes place in the year 1490, and which is just this lovely, historically fantasized version of how these tapestries came to be with the Lords and the Ladies and the love story and knights and fighting and things like that. And because I find her writing so wonderful, it’s just an totally enjoyable thing.

[00:25:31] And it, I like books like that, that are based somewhat on real historical facts, but at the same time, create a kind of somewhat romantic, but very interesting atmosphere in the past. So it’s whimsical. It’s whimsical, and it’s also, it gives you a sense of what life was like at that time. Filled with lots of very good detail about medieval existence in Paris, and in France.

[00:25:57] So it’s a lovely book

[00:25:58] Annie Sargent: So kind of like the cathedrals and pillars of the…

[00:26:02] Elyse Rivin: The Ken Follett books, right? Exactly. But the Ken Follett books, of course, are all about a thousand pages. Hers tend to be between 200 and 250. She’s better. Better. Easier to read, it doesn’t take too long, you know.

Kate Mosse

[00:26:15] Elyse Rivin: And then there’s a writer named Kate Mosse. But Kate Mosse, not the fashion model, her last name is spelled M O S S E, in the paper I forgot to put the E on. And she’s really interesting, she lives most of the year in a house just on the outskirts of Carcassonne, and she’s also a writer of historical fiction.

[00:26:32] Annie Sargent: Oh, she’s the one who did Labyrinth, which I keep keep calling Carcassonne, but it’s not, it’s called Labyrinth. Right.

[00:26:39] And it turns out I was looking things up because I remember having read that book. And of course, one of the reasons I read it was because it was about Carcassonne, and about the Cathars, and about secret passageways and things like that. And it all takes place in the old city of Carcassonne.

[00:26:52] And if you go, you can kind of walk some of these little streets because there are a few of these streets that are still there. But it turns out that she’s written a whole bunch of books that all take place in the Middle Ages and she takes little sections of the areas around there. The Aude, the Héros, all these little parts.

[00:27:11] And she discovers a village or an object or a church, and then she builds a story around that. It’s kind of neat.

[00:27:17] So she, the Labyrinth book is also like, jumping in time because there’s the whole chase between people who live in the present and people who live in the Middle Ages.

[00:27:29] And I mean, it’s you know, it’s fantasy.

[00:27:30] It’s a bit Dan Brownish “The Da Vinci Code,” there’s a secret that you have to find out, you know, this kind of thing. It has a lot of action. I don’t, personally, I think as quality writing, I think Tracy Chevalier is better, but Kate Mosse’s books are fun to read.

[00:27:47] They’re a little bit like what Bernard Minier is in mystery stories, they kind of like, okay, they keep you going. you feel you’re running all the time. You’re out of breath by the time you get done with a chapter, you know, they’re running all over the place. And there’s a lot of this time thing between present time and past time, which turns out to be a theme that’s used a lot in literature.

[00:28:07] Yeah. And it’s a fine way to write a book. I find those enjoyable as well. Just good for, you know, for entertainment.

[00:28:13] For entertainment. And giving you a kind of a good comparison in some ways between present times and things in the past, you know, taking you back and forth. It’s kind of neat.

[00:28:23] And of course, being in the South of France, we’re loaded with places that elicit this idea of going back to the past. It’s kind of neat around here.

Books about World War II

[00:28:32] Annie Sargent: Let’s, two books about World War II, okay?

[00:28:34] You’re going to talk about one, I’m going to mention the other. Of course there are lots, and lots, and lots of books about World War II.

[00:28:41] Thousands.

[00:28:42] Thousands.

Sarah’s Key, Tatiana de Ronay

[00:28:43] Annie Sargent: There’s another one that I didn’t mention because it’s very much a sort of very specific book about an event here in Toulouse, but of course books about World War II tend to be heavy, in terms of the subject matter, but so much depends on the writer, how it feels when you read books about them. So, there’s a writer that I really like, her name is Tatiana de Ronay.

[00:29:03] She is Franco-American. Her mom is American, her dad is French. And she grew up kind of half and a half between the States and in France.

[00:29:13] And she’s remarkable. I’ve seen her interviewed on television. She’s quite nice to listen to when she gives good interviews. She writes half of her books in English and half of her books in French and then she does the translation herself, back and forth. And I don’t know, I don’t know exactly how she decides which book will be written in which language.

[00:29:33] It’s kind of… probably whatever comes out, you know.

[00:29:36] Elyse Rivin: And the first book she wrote that was published and became a huge bestseller and has actually since been turned into a film, is a book that in English is called “Sarah’s Key.”

[00:29:47] Annie Sargent: Ah, yes, of course.

[00:29:49] Elyse Rivin: And it was the first published book. She wrote several others that were turned down, which is typical, I guess, of lots of writers at first.

[00:29:56] And it became a huge success, a huge bestseller. And it’s really a book about, it’s again, a book that has a time shift between the, when it was written, which is, I think about 2002, I think that was the time when it all starts, and then going back to World War II, it’s about someone who is investigating and doing research on events surrounding the raffle of…

[00:30:21] Annie Sargent: Le Vélodrome d’Hiver.

[00:30:23] Le Vélodrome d’Hiver. A raffle was, is basically when thousands of Jewish people were gathered up, taken out of their houses, and put into what was a skating stadium.

[00:30:35] It’s actually a biking and skating stadium. I think that was something like 16000 mostly women and children. And they were eventually sent off to the camps. And I don’t know if any of them actually ever survived.

[00:30:49] Yes, it’s a terrible, terrible event in French history. And we haven’t done an episode about it, even though I know about it, because it is such a downer.

[00:30:59] Elyse Rivin: It’s a downer.

[00:30:59] Annie Sargent: There’s nothing, no redeeming quality to this event.

[00:31:03] Elyse Rivin: No, but the book is a wonderful book. I have it. I’ve read it twice. I’ve seen the film. It’s very strange. It sounds like it’s a… the investigation, the heroine, the modern heroine who goes back in time and discovers a secret. And I realized because I’ve read several of her books, all of her books involve a secret.

[00:31:24] So this is one of the key ideas that she always uses in a book, I read a book she wrote that takes place in a castle in Italy. There’s always this kind of what’s the secret behind people’s lives, you know, kind of thing. Her writing is lovely. It’s not very hard to read. It’s a great book, and I would strongly suggest that everybody read it.

[00:31:45] Annie Sargent: Yeah, it sounds very good, one of these historical books that you probably should read.

[00:31:50] Elyse Rivin: And it brings you up to date about a certain number of events that did happen.

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr

[00:31:54] Elyse Rivin: Yeah. As the book by Anthony Doerr.

[00:31:57] Annie Sargent: Yes. “All the Light We Cannot See.”

[00:31:59] So this one we mentioned on the podcast years ago when I did an episode about Saint-Malo with somebody. And this is a book that I’ve reread just this week in preparation for this episode. Really, really good book. So this is Marie Laure Leblanc, she’s a blind girl with lots of freckles.

[00:32:18] She loves Braille. She loves her books, mostly Jules Verne. And she’s the victim of a war, and the circumstances of the war that she can do absolutely nothing about, or perhaps she can.

[00:32:30] Elyse Rivin: Or perhaps she can.

[00:32:31] Annie Sargent: Perhaps she can. It’s a wonderful book. There’s a lot of characters. Her father, Daniel Leblanc, is a museum curator, I guess, of the Jardin des Plantes. There’s a diamond, there’s a diamond chase.

[00:32:49] There’s Werner, who is a German kid who’s enrolled in Hitler’s youth, because he’s a poor orphan, and that’s the only way, and he’s very bright, and that’s the only way he can think to make something out of his life. And ends up being a redeeming light in the whole German…

[00:33:09] The Germans are presented in a very, realistic light, I guess. The Germans of World War II anyway, the Germans have changed a lot. We’re not saying these people are still, the majority in Germany today, but back then it was pretty awful.

[00:33:23] So, this book is a must read, it kind of switches back and forth between different characters. At times it’s a little bit hard to follow because the timeline shifts, but this was probably my third reading and it’s easier to get the pieces to fit together in my head.

[00:33:41] It’s a very optimistic book, Marie Laure does not die, a lot of other people do die.

[00:33:46] Anyway, a fantastic book, I can’t recommend it enough, and I’m sure many of you have already read it. It was a huge bestseller, an excellent, excellent book.

[00:33:55] And Anthony Doer is an English speaking writer.

[00:33:58] He’s not French. And he also has written a couple of other books that all seem, he also, if Tatiana de Ronay, her thing is to have a secret in each story, his is to have a time shift in each story. And one of the things, as you mentioned about “All the Light You Cannot See,” is that the narration of the book is from her point of view and from the young boy’s point of view.

[00:34:19] And it shifts back and forth a lot.

[00:34:21] Yeah, it’s Werner and Marie Laure, and you have a lot of fantastic characters like Madame Manek, she’s the caretaker, but she’s also a resistant. Yes. You have Frederick, the poor German kid who just, he’s a victim, of just the cruelty of Hitler’s Youth. Anyway, an excellent, excellent book.

[00:34:43] Elyse Rivin: And it does give you a very good description of what the Siege of Saint-Malo was like, which is very important because Saint-Malo is a city that was destroyed and rebuilt after World War II, and so it’s a very wonderful book about giving you a sense of place.

[00:35:00] Annie Sargent: Yes. And I’ll put a link to this in the show notes, the tourist office of Saint-Malo had long ago, they put out a walking tour based on the parts of the book that take place in Saint-Malo. And for some reason it disappeared from their website, but I have a copy of it and I’ll link to it in the show notes so you can download it.

[00:35:20] And so if you go to Saint-Malo, you might want to walk it. I mean, Saint-Malo has been completely rebuilt, so, you know, you’re not really looking at what was there in World War II, but it’s a fun walk anyway, so a good way to discover the city.

Annie Arnault

[00:35:34] Elyse Rivin: Okay, so where do we go from here? Let’s do Annie Arnault, because we both have read her books and like them. Annie Arnault is a woman who, she was born in 1940, so she is now, about to be, or was, just 83, and two years ago she won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

[00:35:53] There are, of course, a bunch of French writers who have won, Modiano has won, but there are not too many…

[00:35:58] Annie Sargent: 17th.

[00:35:58] 17. There are not too many women. Yes. The Nobel Prize in Literature was, the first one was given 1901. It was awarded to a French author, a French poet, can’t remember his name. Some of the people that were, that received the Nobel prize in literature, I have not read. read I’ve never heard of.

[00:36:17] Yeah. But, Annie Arnault, we both read. Yeah.

[00:36:20] Elyse Rivin: And so actually what happened was, Annie and I both discovered her work because having been nominated and won this prize, I went, Oh, this is a writer I don’t know, let’s read her. And it turns out that her writing is something that I really, really like a lot.

[00:36:37] She writes very interesting books that are mostly based on her own life. There’s a whole category of writing in France, very particularly, really particularly in France, that’s called autobiographical fiction. This is the term that’s actually used.

[00:36:53] Annie Sargent: It’s called “navel gazing”.

[00:36:55] Elyse Rivin: Yes, Well, it’s very interesting, because it’s not really memoir.

[00:36:59] It’s not in the sense, it’s not memoir, but at the same time, it really is often about very personal things. And she is a really interesting example of this. A lot of people consider her writing to be non-fiction because of it, but it actually is very, very moving. And she writes books that have to do with growing up.

[00:37:18] One book is called ‘The Place’, which is about her relationship to her dad. Another is called ‘The Woman’, which is about her relationship to her mom. These are both very thin books. She wrote a book called ‘The Years’, which is about growing up in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, basically being a kind of a hippie and an intellectual.

[00:37:37] All of her books are very, very spare prose. This is what’s, it’s a very interesting style of writing. It’s a style that really goes back to Hemingway. Having studied lots of literature at university, I remember at the time, teachers saying, you know, I mean, this is a new thing, the style of Hemingway.

[00:37:56] I didn’t think it was new, I just thought it was just normal writing, personally. I mean, I’ve always actually liked that kind of writing. It’s not florid writing. It’s very, very spare, very, very direct. There’s an accumulation by the writing after a while it gets, you realize that there’s an emotion behind it.

[00:38:13] And it’s one of the things I think I like in that kind of writing.

[00:38:18] Annie Sargent: It’s to set the mood, you know, instead of a long description of the setting, it’s going to be something like the door creaked, period. And from that, you’re supposed to imagine the type of place you’re in. So it’s a type of writing that I enjoy, but you have to be really concentrated on these little… because the words are… these are not long books. They’re very short books. And you have to really be there with the book. Otherwise you miss it. Okay? It’s a type of literature that I enjoy. You know, nombrilisme is what we say in French, navel gazing, but at the same time, there are so many very astute remarks, very short, astute remarks about what it’s like growing up in France when she did in the fifties, with lower-middle class parents…

[00:39:12] Elyse Rivin: Poor parents, actually. Yeah.

[00:39:14] Annie Sargent: Doing everything she can to escape that life and become an intellectual and marry much above her kind of rank, her natural. So it’s a book about the ranking in French society, at least in the fifties.

[00:39:30] And as someone who grew up very blue collar, I can relate to some of this quite easily.

[00:39:35] You know, there’s a dad who doesn’t think he should go to the school events or the graduation thing because he wouldn’t belong there. Not because he doesn’t love his daughter, but because he’s like, I don’t…

[00:39:50] I relate, I relate to a lot of this stuff.

[00:39:53] Elyse Rivin: Yeah. I found her books very moving. They were very simple and they talk about really coming out of this very, very basic working class environment, and what happens when you use language. One of the things I think I like the most about her books is that she talks about how, when you change class, you change your language and that really makes a difference, particularly in a country like France.

[00:40:17] The way you talk, the words you use, the phrases you use, it’s very, very indicative of the background of your family. And it’s lovely that way.

[00:40:26] Annie Sargent: I actually remember, I don’t remember the day, but I remember in sixième, so I was 11. I remember thinking, I cannot talk like these people, I have to get rid of the accent. It was a decision. I decided to get rid of my accent. And I can do it. It helped me greatly learn English, because if you try to get rid of your Toulouse accent, like I did, you pay attention to how to make sounds with your mouth.

[00:40:56] And then once I wanted to learn English, it also helped me apply the same principles, but just to English. This to me was vital. I had to lose the stupid Toulouse accent.

[00:41:08] Now, when I talk with my siblings, I get it back. And I do not care at all, anymore. I was 11, I cared. At my age, 58, I do not care anymore. And I stopped caring long ago.

[00:41:22] It was really, really important to lose the accent. Yeah. To get somewhere in life, you had to lose the accent.

[00:41:27] Elyse Rivin: And yes, yes, it’s true. You really do. I kind of got rid of my New York accent most of the time, but it comes back every once in a while. When I get angry and I curse, it comes back. There you go.

[00:41:39] Annie Sargent: All right, Elyse, we have to be selective. The next books we’re going to talk about, because we don’t have a lot of time left.

Marguerite Duras

[00:41:44] Elyse Rivin: We have to talk about two writers that I think are really, really interesting. One of whom is Marguerite Duras. This is a woman who’s no longer alive. She died in 1996, which is a while ago already. She’s someone whose writing is extremely influential, and again, in the vein of people like Hemingway, she wrote in a style that in France is called “the new literature”, which meant a literature that was rather spare. She’s written books, she’s written plays, she wrote screenplays for movies. One of her works that’s the most famous is called “The Lover.” She writes about colonialism. She grew up, her mom, and her brother, the three of them went to Indochina.

[00:42:24] And because she was born in 1914, she really in a lot of her works talks about political issues, and colonialism, and the effect of colonialism on people’s lives. And she uses personal things, but she’s also written about World War II and being a resistant. The book that made the biggest impression on me was called “A Dam Against the Pacific.”

[00:42:47] It’s also called “The Seawall,” which describes them growing up in Indochina and her mother, who was an elementary school teacher, trying desperately to make a life in a place where the French government basically cheated them and lied to them. The colonialism stinks, the local population hated them for being European.

[00:43:07] Her books are wonderful in evoking all these questions about politics, and colonialism, and things like that, without talking directly about them.

[00:43:16] Annie Sargent: Right. They’re not about that.

[00:43:18] Elyse Rivin: They’re not about that.

[00:43:19] Annie Sargent: They’re never about that. So “The Lover” is about this 15 year old who falls in love with a Chinese man who’s 12 years older than she is.

[00:43:28] And it’s a complicated book, but it’s not voyeuristic.

[00:43:32] Elyse Rivin: No.

[00:43:32] Annie Sargent: And it’s full of, again, very short remarks about what was happening that make a lot of sense.

[00:43:40] So it’s an excellent book. It’s a classic.

[00:43:43] I mean, this is the sort of book that they make you read when you study literature, you know?

[00:43:47] Elyse Rivin: Yeah.

[00:43:47] She was really an interesting lady.


[00:43:49] Elyse Rivin: You want to talk about Youcenar in particular or did you already, do you feel like you already have?

[00:43:53] Annie Sargent: Le Memoires d’Hadrien Yeah. But she wrote a lot of books that are all very good.

[00:43:57] Elyse Rivin: They’re all very good. Shewas a heavyweight intellectual.

[00:44:00] Annie Sargent: Definitely. Yeah.

[00:44:01] Elyse Rivin: She may be a little bit too heavyweight for my brain. I don’t know. I have to try…

[00:44:05] Annie Sargent: When I was younger, I loved her. I haven’t read one of her books in years, so I should try it again.

[00:44:08] Elyse Rivin: Maybe I should try it in English. Maybe that would be better

[00:44:11] Annie Sargent: Oh, Perhaps, but her French is not that difficult. Well, but she’s not like, she’s not super short sentences like Duras, okay? There’s more words. Yeah.

[00:44:19] Elyse Rivin: A writer that writes today that I really love, who is, I think very interesting is a young, youngish woman. She’s in her forties, named Leila Slimani, and I have three of her books. I’ve read all three of them.

[00:44:34] She’s Franco-Moroccan. Her family basically, her grandmother, was French, but she is, she was from an upper class, Moroccan family. Grew up in a French speaking environment. So she has spoken French all her life. She went to school all her life in French.

[00:44:49] So for it is really her first language. And she now lives in France. She’s married to a Frenchman and she started out by being a journalist and then decided to write fiction. And her books are stories, except for one. She was given the honor, and this of course is something I’m always interested in, she was given the honor a few years ago of being invited to spend 36 hours all by herself in the Contemporary Art Museum in Venice, by, I never remember if it’s Arno Pino, one of those two guys, you know, the one of the two Richies, you know. They have one of these big, beautiful, contemporary art museums that’s been in an old building Venice. And they each year for some number of years invited a writer to come and spend 36 hours, like being a phantom at night, walking around the museum and to write their impressions of what came to their mind by doing it.

[00:45:41] And that was the first thing I read by her, which was very, it’s a curiosity, it’s a very odd little book, you know. But then she has written now two volumes of what is a trilogy, that is based on the history of her family going back several generations. So it’s a saga and I love it. And it takes place in both France and in Morocco and it starts with World War II, and it follows this family through the different generations and the events both in Morocco and eventually the events that happen in France. And it’s great, it’s wonderful. It’s really great writing and it’s not, there’s no style that sticks in your mind. It’s just like you get involved in the story and you want to know what’s happening to these people. And she just really is a great writer. And so the second volume has just been published, but that she won the Goncourt, she didn’t win the Nobel. Big one.

[00:46:33] Not for either of those, but for a book called Lullaby. And so she’s on her way to being a major, major, major writer of French literature.

[00:46:42] Annie Sargent: Hmm. Sounds good. I need to try one of hers. Yeah.

L’Élégance du Hérisson

[00:46:45] Annie Sargent: We cannot end this without talking about “L’Élégance du Hérisson.”

[00:46:49] Ah, and Simone Veil. Yes. Okay. So, “The Elegance of the Hedgehog.” A great book. It’s not a very long book. It’s by Muriel Barberi, French author.

[00:47:00] She has published several, I think, but this one was published in 2006. Again, I had it on paper and don’t remember. I didn’t read it again for this, but it’s set in a building in Paris, narrated by two characters. You have René Michel, who’s the 54 year old concierge, and Paloma Josse.

[00:47:18] She’s a precocious 12 year old, resident of the building. And both of them hide their true lives, their true selves from the world, because the old lady is a lot more intelligent, and well, very, very well educated, self educated. Has read a lot of books, knows a lot of art, all of that, but she’s a concierge, she’s supposed to be the dumb lady who sweeps the floor, right?

[00:47:44] And then you have the 12 year old who has decided that life is not worth living and is planning on committing suicide. Does not. And their lives intersect with a new tenant, a Japanese man who comes, moves in. Anyway, it’s a novel about identity, the search for meaning,the complexities of everyday life.

[00:48:05] It takes place in this Paris building. It’s just a lovely book to read. And it’s not a downer, despite the fact that the little girl wants to commit suicide.

[00:48:16] Elyse Rivin: Because we know that that’s not really what happens. And actually, I have to say that since they turned it into a movie with Josiane de Belasco, who’s a very famous actress here in France.

[00:48:26] Annie Sargent: A funny lady, normally.

[00:48:29] Elyse Rivin: Normally funny lady, but so as soon as you say the name of the book, I see her face in my mind. It’s terrible. It’s like once you’ve seen an actor like that…

[00:48:38] Annie Sargent: Idon’t think I’ve seen the movie. I need to.

[00:48:40] Elyse Rivin: I’m glad I read the book before I saw the movie because it’s terrible, because once you have a book that’s been turned into a movie like that, especially this where the character of the concierge is so important, it’s like, I go, Oh my God, it’s Josiane Belasco. No, really, it’s not her. No, not at all.

[00:48:57] Annie Sargent: An excellent book. If you haven’t read it, you must. It’s very entertaining and also has some depth to it. It’s not a light book, but it’s not a downer book either.

[00:49:07] Elyse Rivin: Know, it’s not a downer book, not at all. It’s a very good example of current, I’d say, contemporary literature that doesn’t try to be pretentious, basically.

Simone Weil

[00:49:17] Elyse Rivin: So let’s end with Simone Weil.

[00:49:19] Annie Sargent: Simone Weil, okay.

[00:49:20] I don’t understand why more people don’t know about this woman.

[00:49:23] She was so important in France. We have to do an episode about her. Definitely.

[00:49:29] Because she was so, so important. She was raised during World War II.

[00:49:32] She was a teenager.

[00:49:33] Elyse Rivin: In Nice.

[00:49:34] Annie Sargent: She was taken away to a concentration camp with all of her family. She’s a Jewish lady. And survived, many in her family survived.

[00:49:44] Elyse Rivin: One of her sisters went immediately into the Resistance and was sent to a different camp, and was not identified as being Jewish so she survived that camp, because it was a work camp. And then she was sent, basically, she’s a survivor of Auschwitz. And she, and her other sister, and her mom were sent there, but unfortunately her mum and her sister lived through the camps and then died almost immediately after being released because they were so weak.

[00:50:11] Annie Sargent: Yeah, they were so weak and had caught, they were very, very sick from their imprisonment. Anyway, she moved on from this horrible beginning in life, studied law and…

[00:50:24] Elyse Rivin: Got married young.

[00:50:25] Annie Sargent: Got married very young to a lovely man who is still alive.

[00:50:29] They had, I think, three sons?

[00:50:31] Elyse Rivin: Three sons, I believe, actually they now have, the family, their sons, I think their grandsons have all married into like well known families.

[00:50:40] I mean, it’s just a, it kind of created a kind of an interesting dynasty of upper class.

[00:50:45] Annie Sargent: And she became a politician, and she’s the one who passed the right to have an abortion in France. And the way she did it is so interesting, because she didn’t claim that women had any rights, she just said, she showed the men how they did not want to have all the babies that they might be making with these women that they had affairs with. And it worked. It worked. And it’s not because she wasn’t a feminist, because she was a feminist, but she was very, very careful how she put things. And she wrote a book called Ma Vie, My Life, My Life, that is so interesting to read. It is very easy to read. It’s an excellent, excellent book. I think you should read it.

[00:51:29] By the way, she is in the Pantheon. And she is in the Pantheon, one of the few.

[00:51:34] Elyse Rivin: She died when, what two years ago? Is that when she died? I’m trying to remember.

[00:51:37] Annie Sargent: No, it’s longer than that, I think…

[00:51:40] Elyse Rivin: 2017. The book is wonderful. The book is an enormous book that starts with her childhood and she goes through all of these periods of her life. And it is remarkable because of how optimistic she stayed through being put into a concentration camp, through all of the trials and tribulations of her life, and then her fight as a politician to get things done, her fight to become a lawyer as a woman, every stage of her life is basically one thing after the other, and it’s done with the most amazing looking forward and optimism.

[00:52:16] And one of the things, just to say, because on the cover I have it in paperback, I actually have a copy in English, and I have a copy in French at home. She was beautiful. And she knew that she was beautiful. And in fact, one of the things, if you read the book, it’s very important to understand why that’s very important in the history of what happened to her.

[00:52:35] But she always insisted that people should not look at her, they should hear her, so that they didn’t get taken away by the fact that she was just very beautiful, physically beautiful to look at, that they should listen to what she had to say.

[00:52:49] Annie Sargent: When she was older, she had this image of, like, piercing eyes.

[00:52:55] Elyse Rivin: Blue eyes.

[00:52:56] Annie Sargent: She had, her hair was always tied in a bun, she always wore, like a two piece suit with a skirt. And she would just look at you like she could see right through you.

[00:53:07] She probably could.

[00:53:09] Yeah, I think she was a witch.

[00:53:10] Elyse Rivin: I don’t think she was a witch.

[00:53:11] Annie Sargent: No, just kidding.

[00:53:12] Elyse Rivin: She was a magician.

[00:53:13] Annie Sargent: Yes, magician is a better word. She lived to be 90 years old.Yes. She lived a good long life and was well recognized during her life. And really set an excellent example for people who are progressive and want to achieve things without, you know, just get it done. It’s not about what you say, it’s about what you do.

[00:53:37] Elyse Rivin: And really, if you’re going to read one memoir of somebody who was alive in the last half of the 20th century and beginning of 21st century, that’s the one you should read.

[00:53:46] Annie Sargent: Elyse we have managed to talk about an hour, but a good hour it has been.

[00:53:50] Elyse Rivin: Books. Books. Books.

[00:53:52] Annie Sargent: We hope we have inspired you. Take a look at the show notes for links to all these, to all these books. I think you’ll be inspired to enjoy a few wonderful books, either from French authors, or about France.

[00:54:04] Elyse Rivin: Absolutely.

[00:54:05] Annie Sargent: Merci Élyse.

[00:54:06] Elyse Rivin: De rien Annie. Au revoir.

[00:54:07] Annie Sargent: Au revoir.


Thank you Patrons

[00:54:14] Again, I want to thank my patrons for giving back and supporting this show. There are exclusive rewards. You can see them at And thank you all for supporting this show. Some of you have been doing it for a long time. You’re wonderful.

[00:54:32] And a shout out this week to new patrons: Allie Koppel, Kristopher Phelps and Elisabeth L. Martin. Oh, also Jules Nolan. Wonderful to have you on board with the community of francophiles who keep this podcast going. This is the time to express your gratitude and it’s much appreciated.

[00:54:53] for me, and Elyse go to ElysArt.

[00:55:03] This week I also have three people I would like to thank for their generous one time donation. Thank you Debbie Beals and Kristine Vogelsang.

[00:55:12] Debbie wrote: ‘My husband and I had our honeymoon this July in Gordes, and Villefranche-sur-Mer, and the advice from your podcast was absolutely invaluable for planning our trip. We also benefited from the Facebook group and really appreciate this community you have created. We love the podcast and see it as a great resource for future trips and we hope to take as well. Thank you so much.’

[00:55:37] Christine wrote: ‘Thank you for all your fabulous information via your podcast. It helped make our trip a huge success.’

[00:55:44] And many thanks also to Liz Dooley from Texas, who did not leave a note, but is much appreciated all the same.

[00:55:52] They all used one of the green buttons on any page on that says ‘Tip your guide’.

Monthly meetings with patrons

[00:56:00] This week I had my monthly meeting with patrons.

[00:56:02] It hasn’t happened yet, so I can’t report on how it went, but the theme for this month was: ‘Do you always go to Paris or do you venture out into the rest of France? Are you a city person or a country person?’ Vacation time is limited and I understand why people go to Paris because there’s so much to see and do there.

[00:56:20] But perhaps, maybe, maybe, maybe, I put a bug in your ear to consider the rest of the country as well.

Planning a trip to France?

[00:56:29] If you’re planning a trip to France and have questions that didn’t get answered in an episode, you can hire me to be your itinerary consultant, or you can buy one of my VoiceMap tours.

[00:56:40] You will find all of that at my boutique, and read the page carefully. It explains it all.

[00:56:49] Time for my chat with Patricia Perry about anticipating possible friction points in Paris during the Olympics.

Annie and Patricia: Possible Problems during the Paris Olympics

[00:56:56] Annie Sargent: So Patricia is with me, she came for Thanksgiving. Thank you so much for coming all this way to spend Thanksgiving with us.

[00:57:04] Patricia Perry: Oh, thanks for inviting me. I know you’re just going to be good here, so…

[00:57:08] Annie Sargent: Okay. So we want to talk about the Olympics, and you live in Paris full time, so we want to talk about things that you foresee might be a bit of a problem in Paris, like anticipate, warn people about things they need to know about.

[00:57:24] Patricia Perry: Well, if you don’t already have a place reserved, you need to get on the stick and do that now. And if you can, you should already have your tickets and see know which venues you’ll be going to, which are spread around the city. And then if possible, you want to get your lodging as close as possible to the primary venue you’re going to, so ideally you could walk. Paris is a small city, and an hour gives you a lot of time to walk to places, and it’s very easy to walk. I think the subways will be jam packed. The surface streets will be in gridlock with buses and taxis and Ubers. So, your best bet is to walk there. You can also take a bike, but if you’re not used to riding a bike in Paris, think twice about it.

[00:58:10] Annie Sargent: Yeah, you know, I’m only going to the Paralympics, so I think things will be simpler during the first week of September when the Paralympics are taking place. But I anticipate that gridlock is going to be the biggest problem in Paris during the Olympics. And as you said, staying nearby is really the best thing, but if you’re going to events all over the city, then start getting into that area much earlier than you would normally on a normal day.

[00:58:39] Didn’t you just tell me that the Paris Metro gets 4 million users every day?

[00:58:44] Patricia Perry: Yeah, just on a normal day.

[00:58:45] Annie Sargent: Right.

[00:58:46] So Olympics is going to be a lot more.

[00:58:48] Patricia Perry: Yeah, they expect 10 million visitors, so there’s going to be multiple more millions a day trying to get around Paris.

[00:58:55] Annie Sargent: So I know people worry a lot about, Oh, what’s the best bakery and what’s the best restaurant. That’s not what you should be worried about if you’re coming during the Olympics. Please worry about how you’re going to get to the stupid venue.

[00:59:08] Patricia Perry: Like Annie says, give yourself as much buffer as possible because you’ll be able to, you know, maybe sit down and have a meal before or a drink or whatever, but get there early and either just walk around or, you know, sit down, but get there early.

[00:59:23] Annie Sargent: Yeah, you’re going to need to be very flexible. Now if you don’t have your accommodations yet, then get on with it.

[00:59:30] Patricia Perry: Yeah, and I think that’s a little bit chaotic, because there’s not anywhere near enough hotel rooms, and some of the Paris authorities are trying to crack down on Airbnbs right now. So, some people are getting kind of skittish about doing that. There’ll be a lot of people that want to let out their places, they’ve never done it before, so they won’t do it quite right. So, there’s a lot up in the air.

[00:59:50] Annie Sargent: That’s a very good point, you know. And also if it’s your first time putting your apartment on Airbnb, what are the chances that you’re going to even show up in the search? You’re going to have to go to an Airbnb, but go down several pages, probably just to find something that will suit you. That would be my guess.

[01:00:12] Patricia Perry: Yeah, and just be expecting small apartments. Everything in Paris is like miniature by comparison to North America and lots of other countries, so very small bedrooms, don’t bring a lot of luggage, small kitchens.

[01:00:25] Annie Sargent: Yeah. And when you’re walking around, I mean, I’m sure the facilities all over Paris are going to be on high surveillance, but there will be scammers and pick pockets. So, the only way to prevail against those is to have nothing on you. That’s my opinion. What do you think?

[01:00:42] Patricia Perry: Yeah, just wear it somewhere on your person in a deep pocket or a money belt. But don’t even carry a purse if you don’t have to.

[01:00:51] Annie Sargent: Yeah, it’d be simpler to go through security, there’s going to be a lot of security in Paris. There’s some already, but there’s going to be a lot.

[01:00:59] Also what do you think is going to happen during the opening ceremonies, like how is that, have you heard what, how that’s going to work?

[01:01:06] Patricia Perry: Yeah, the opening ceremony will be along the Seine with all these boats, you know, over 100 boats with the various committees floating down the Seine. So, there are ticketed areas on the bridges and the prime viewing areas, but there’s supposed to be a lot of open area along the banks of the Seine where, you know, it’s for the little people, for all of us to have a good time.

[01:01:25] And I’ve heard they’re going to do some sort of security process where you have to register to get into those areas, which means they have to have them cordoned off and then review people coming in, which… they haven’t said how that’s going to work yet.

[01:01:39] Annie Sargent: Yeah, I’m not sure what they’re going to…

[01:01:41] I know there’s going to be a lot of surveillance all over, you know, which we’re not used to in France. And so French people are complaining about this already.

[01:01:49] Patricia Perry: Yeah, there’s cams, there’s more video cams out and people are whining already about, they can’t take my picture, my face, but that’s the only way they can monitor all these things, so it’s coming into a person who then will alert the local police in that area that there’s something they need to look into.

[01:02:07] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Yeah. So these are things you can easily… what’s the word I’m looking for? Mitigate. Oh, brilliant. If only I could talk.

[01:02:16] So you can mitigate these things by just being aware of the fact that it’s going to take you a long time to get around Paris. So no zooming around the city just for the fun of it, just because you read somewhere that this is the best whatever it is that you’re interested in.

[01:02:30] Try to stay close to where the venues are going to be, give it plenty of time to get there, also plenty of time for security, and don’t trust anyone. Like, don’t.

[01:02:42] Patricia Perry: And in Paris also, I don’t know if they’re going to be putting out more toilets, but that’s always a problem for a lot of people. There’s just not very many. I mean, your best option is finding a restaurant, getting a coffee, going in, using the facilities. Yeah.

[01:02:56] Annie Sargent: Whenever you’re indoors to a venue that serves food, they are required to have a bathroom. And so use that. And also all the Olympic venues obviously will have bathrooms.

[01:03:06] But there’s going to be some frictions along the way, I’m sure.

[01:03:10] Thank you so much.

[01:03:12] Patricia Perry: Oh, nice to be here. Looking forward to a big Thanksgiving feast soon.

[01:03:16] Annie Sargent: Yes. Merci.

[01:03:18] Patricia Perry: Au revoir.

[01:03:19] My thanks to podcast editors Anne and Cristian Cotovan they do a fantastic job. Next week on the podcast, an episode about spring in the South of France with Renée Bogue. Just to put all of us in the mood for better weather days.

[01:03:33] Annie Sargent: And don’t forget to get your ticket for the Bootcamp 2024, if that’s something you want to do, .

[01:03:45] Thank you for listening and I hope you join me next time so we can look around France together. Au revoir.


[01:03:51] Annie Sargent: The Join Us in France Travel Podcast is written, hosted, and produced by Annie Sargent and Copyright 2023 by Addicted to France. It is released under a Creative Commons, attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives license.




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Category: French Culture