It began when I lived in Paris and continues to this day. I love meeting visitors to the city, especially those who are seeing it for the first time. Their enthusiasm is contagious, and I enjoy nothing more than to share what I’ve discovered of the best my city has to offer. I was reminded of this as I read Intoxicating Paris: Uncorking the Parisian Within, the latest book by P.J. Adams.
Adams is frankly delighted by most of what she has seen in Paris and not too “cool” to admit it. In a breezy and clever writing style, she has produced an entertaining memoir-cum-guide to the City of Light. This book is an excellent introduction to Paris that is chock full of useful information for the first-time visitor. The seasoned traveler will recognize many of her impressions and will enjoy reliving their experiences through her eyes.
First-hand accounts make for good reading, and Adams has recorded hers in a witty, insightful manner. Nowhere is she more eloquent than when she writes of food. The markets of Paris come alive in her vivid descriptions, and each meal taken in a restaurant brought back some wonderful memories. From the first cafè crème of the day, by way of baguettes and cheese, foie gras and oysters, through to the digestif, P.J. Adams is apparently no stranger to the bounty of Paris. I am surprised I made it through this book without gaining weight.
Although it’s always fun to have bragging rights to an out-of-the-ordinary experience you’ve had while traveling, Adams recounts one that most of us would willingly forego. While visiting a tourist site (she doesn’t say which one), she fell, breaking her leg and spraining the other ankle for good measure. As interesting as it may be to learn the ins and outs of another country’s medical system, I think most travelers would prefer to read about it than to live it first-hand while on vacation.
Adams describes her experience with clarity and insight. Her account of the care she received (and, even more so, the price comparisons for medical care and prescriptions in France versus in the States) made me long, even more than usual, for my days of living in France. My encounters with French medical care have been uniformly positive. However, I had the advantage of having lived there for several years and being fluent in French. I can only imagine landing in the hospital during a vacation, hampered by a limited command of the language. But P.J. Adams is a trooper, and she managed to come through it all with her sense of humor intact.
Countless books have been written on the subject of Paris, but I suspect that one written by someone with a background in psychology is somewhat rare. (Adams is a family therapist and author who lives and works in southern California.) Past experience often informs one’s perceptions, and apparently her background in that field has honed her skills of observation and her ability to assess and report what she has seen in a cultural context.
Adams has exhaustively researched her subject and has graciously credited all of her sources. For those who wish to continue their reading, she has provided an extensive reading list at the end of the book. I find only two very minor faults with this book. The first, I wish she had relied more on her own sound impressions and less on those of some of her sources. More often than not, her own ring with more authenticity than those she has cited. The second, each chapter is illustrated with photographs, although they are rather small. I think fewer of them, displayed in a larger format, would have had more impact.
In the end, what comes across is that this is a witty, intelligent woman with an open mind and strong powers of observation who has made the most of time spent in Paris and knows how to appreciate the abundance of pleasures the city has to offer. Best of all, her affection for her subject shines through on every page. P.J. Adams would make an excellent dinner companion. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what one of our topics of conversation would be.