Jours of Our Lives: Beth Arnold on Travels and Life in France

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Jours of Our Lives: Beth Arnold on Travels and Life in France
In 2001 award-winning journalist Beth Arnold and her husband, writer James Morgan, had a bold and beautiful idea. They decided to spend six months traveling around France, following a path laid out by the life and work of Henri Matisse, one of Jim’s favorite painters. Their adventures are described in the book Chasing Matisse (one of my favorite books about France), which was published in 2007. However, like many Americans before—and after—them, they decided that six months was simply not long enough: and they ended up staying in France for ten years. Now settled back into their home state of Arkansas, they have recently started a new publishing company, Alastair & Arnold, and the first book to be published is Jours of Our Lives: On the Road in France and Beyond, which began life as the blog posts Beth wrote during the Chasing Matisse part of their ten-year adventure. An interesting complement to Chasing Matisse, Jours of Our Lives is a wonderfully engaging story, infused with the author’s clear and deep love of France and all–well, most–things French. It is inspiring to see how these two brave souls took a huge risk in stepping forward to live a dream, and how it all turned out so well. There were plenty of moments of doubt and stress along the way, times when they wondered whether this had been a good idea after all, and plenty of mishaps that are probably much more amusing in retrospect than they were at the time of living them. But, as Beth concludes at the end of one of the chapters, “All it takes is for a little something to go right—a chance meeting, a charming street, a sunshiny day, a moment of beauty, in whatever form—and I feel like we’re back on track again.” Beth recently took the time to answer my questions about their time in France via email. Here is our interview. When you first went to France did you have any idea you would end up living there for 10 years? If not, how did that happen? When Jim and I were first planning our time in France, we thought we’d spend six months or so there and come back to the USA. At that point, we’d move from Little Rock to Hudson, New York. A friend had told us that Hudson was the spot for us, because writers and artists were moving there. We’d be close to NYC. The culture was excellent, and we had many friends in the area. My friend had a country house in Hudson and invited me up for a weekend that included a shad roe party that one of his friends threw every year. I flew up and attended beautiful dinners and lovely festivities, met interesting people, and looked at houses. But on that weekend, instead of finding a house to buy, I had an epiphany. Why did we have to come back at all? I’d wanted to live in France for years. I’d wanted our family to have the experience of living in Europe. So why didn’t we just stay in France once we got there? It truly was like a light bulb becoming charged with electricity above my head. I felt absolutely euphoric! We could live in France and not come back! Why not?! We were writers and could live anywhere. You lived in a few different neighborhoods in Paris during your time there, and you traveled all over the country in Chasing (after) Matisse. Do you have a favorite arrondissement, or neighborhood in Paris? And do you have a favorite village, town, or region of France?  Oh, there is something wonderful about every Paris neighborhood. I once met a couple who had bought an apartment in Paris, but before they did, they literally walked every street in Paris. How cool is that! Before we lived in France, we always stayed on the Left Bank. When we moved there, we lived on the Right Bank. The history of the Lost Generation on the Left Bank is so appealing—their hangouts and restaurants—but the Right Bank would have to be my favorite side of the Seine. We moved from Collioure, France, to the 2nd Arrondissement in Paris before it was trendy. We found a gorgeous little apartment above Chez Georges in a building where it was said Napoleon once lived. Our flat was about 70 square meters, and it was gloriously classic yet modern with built-in closets and a small dishwasher in the tiny kitchen. We were right by the Place des Victoires, a couple of blocks from the Palais Royal, and, well, I could go on and on. A perfect spot in the center of Paris, close to good metros and access to everything. Who could ask for more? The first Valentine’s Day we were there, we had a Valentine’s party and invited 90 people, and about 60 came. We were smashed into this apartment like sardines, and everyone loved it. After five years we moved from the 2nd to the 20th. A friend said to me that this was the real Paris, which I had taken with a grain of salt. I was wrong. The 20th was delightful—and it was the real Paris, where working people/working class people (among others, of course) lived. We used Cimetière du Père-Lachaise as our private park, where we walked daily. The food shopping was wonderful. There were fewer tourists. We took buses, which gave us motor tours of Paris, getting from one place to the next. People were…

Lead photo credit : Étretat, Normandy. Image credit © Pixabay: Bigfoot

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Janet Hulstrand is a freelance writer, editor, writing coach and teacher who divides her time between France and the U.S. She is the author of "Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You," and "A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France." She writes frequently about France for Bonjour Paris, France Today, and a variety of other publications, including her blog, Writing from the Heart, Reading for the Road. She has taught “Paris: A Literary Adventure” for education abroad programs of the City University of New York since 1997, and she teaches online classes for Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington D.C. She is currently working on her next book in Essoyes, a beautiful little village in Champagne.


  • Maria Bennett
    2019-06-28 07:06:57
    Maria Bennett
    I enjoyed reading about your opinions on all things French. I could feel your “passion”. I can’t wait to purchase and read your book. My husband and I are taking a short trip to Paris and Loire, and after reading your interview, I am more jazzed than ever to get there..., we don’t know anyone with the same passion for France as we do. Thank you for sharing!


  • Mari
    2019-06-27 13:57:54
    Excellent view of life! “Beauty is a necessity of the soul!” I feel the same way about Basque Country + the West of Ireland. I really enjoyed Beth’s views on the best + worst of French culture. But how do you do it all, financially? I need this tip!


  • Carlyn snell
    2019-06-06 10:17:13
    Carlyn snell
    Marvelous article. I have always enjoyed Beth Arnold’s articles and blogs. Just finished her delightful book Jours of Our Lives. It is a marvelous journey through France. And it is impossible not to share her love and wanderlust for the French countryside and for Paris.