Though vacation detoured me briefly, I am still on my virtual tour of France. This week I am combining parts two and three of my planned four-part journey (music, movies, books, food). I elected to read Chocolat by Joan Harris and Mrs 'Arris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico.
Chocolat: The overview of Chocolat found on Barnes and Noble's web-site describes the story this way . . .
In tiny Lansquenet, where nothing much has changed in a hundred years, beautiful newcomer Vianne Rocher and her exquisite chocolate shop arrive and instantly begin to play havoc with Lenten vows. Each box of luscious bonbons comes with a free gift: Vianne's uncanny perception of its buyer's private discontents and a clever, caring cure for them. Is she a witch? Soon the parish no longer cares, as it abandons itself to temptation, happiness, and a dramatic face-off between Easter solemnity and the pagan gaiety of a chocolate festival.
. . . which begs the question, "Did we read the same book?" While there is nothing totally false in that description, it misses the essence of the story. It is about finding balance, about public persona vs. private desires, about secrets and acceptance and freedom. Seeing as the book is over ten-years-old, I'm assuming most of you have either read it or seen the movie. If not, do it right now - I'll wait. . . . . .
As far as how it applies to the Paris in July theme, it really doesn't. Although it's set in France, it doesn't need to be. Other than the fact that "chocolat" sounds so much sexier than the English pronunciation, the story is universal.
Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris: I try to avoid cliches when writing reviews, but my mental thesaurus is stuck on "delightful" to describe this book. I know...makes you want to run, screaming, for...well, for whatever it is you run screaming for when something is sickeningly sweet. But that's really not a complete description.
Mrs. 'Arris (that's Harris with some variation of British accent) is a charwoman (or cleaning lady) in London - sixtyish, widowed, making a meager living. When she sees a dress designed by Christian Dior in her client's apartment, she deems it the most beautiful thing she's ever seen and decides that, regardless of impracticality and enormous price-tag, she must have one. Her determination to pinch pennies finally allows her the trip to Paris to select her dress. Every review I've read talks about the people she meets on this trip and how she affects their lives - which is a good story - but, I think the real lesson is in Mrs. 'Arris's reaction to the unfortunate events when she returns. Although quiet and sweet and delightful, this is also an eloquent story about finding true beauty.
This was a re-read for me, and I knew going in that the Paris setting isn't really important. She could just as easily been headed to Milan for an Armani gown. So, as a choice for Paris in July, perhaps not the best, but I love this story and will take any excuse to visit Mrs. 'Arris. Paul Gallico actually wrote four books involving Mrs. 'Arris and I am currently reading number two, Mrs 'Arris Goes to New York. I'm sure you'll want to mark your calendars or your Blackberry or whatever it is people mark as a reminder these days, to check back for my review.
Both of these books have been made into movies and, as usual, I think the books are better. However, in the case of Mrs. 'Arris, only slightly. Angela Lansbury as Mrs. 'Arris was plucked directly from my imagination. Perfect casting!
Movies: As far as other French-related movies, one win, one loss. I watched Funny Face and An American in Paris. Not a fan of Funny Face! Audrey Hepburn may have claimed (via lip-synch) I Could Have Danced all Night in My Fair Lady, but don't confuse stamina with talent. Partnering with Fred Astaire would be daunting for even the best dancer, so she really didn't stand a chance from the start. And her dancing was much better than her singing. Also, the idea of a 58-year-old Astair and a 28-year-old Hepburn as a couple just didn't work. The gorgeous costumes by Edith Head were the saving grace of this lack-luster film.
An American in Paris, was a much bigger hit with me. Gene Kelly may be the suavest (is that a word?) man ever. Suave: displaying smoothness and sophistication in manner or attitude. That is Gene Kelly in a nutshell. He even walks with grace. I could watch him dance all night! Once again (I'm detecting a theme) the Paris setting was almost an afterthought, at least as far as inspiring me to go there. But I do now have a burning desire to tapdance on a grand piano.
Paris in July is a month-long event sponsored by Tamara @ Thyme for Tea and Karen @BookBath.