Listless: Let’s go to France


I’ve had France on the brain lately. It’s infiltrated my thoughts – the food, the culture, the accents, the architecture. But what is it about this country that calls out to us, that inspires such vivid images and longing in our minds? Is it the aura the country’s past emits, or is it the steadfast way its kept to its roots? I honestly don’t know, but I’ve been reading enough books and watching enough movies to make a couple of notes about it. So I give you…

Things about France that make you want to go there

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind

My first encounter with Perfume was the 2006 film based on the novel, and that probably wasn’t the best introduction. I really didn’t like that movie at all, despite seeing Alan Rickman outside of his potions robes. But because of French Milk (more on that soon), I gave it a second chance. Süskind’s novel, though telling the tale of Grenouille and his apathy and manipulation for human kind, paints such a lush picture of Paris and the French countryside in the 18th century. The way he describes the scenery through scents, and Grenouille’s obsessive cataloging of each one, makes you want to experience them all – the good and the bad. It’s strange reading about a psychotic man and empathizing with him, experiencing his disgust with the lurid scents of pre-industrial Europe and his ecstasy from the flora and nature. Grenouille’s obsession with scent ends up being a tour for the reader.

French Milk by Lucy Knisley and A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Though both written in very different times, French Milk and A Moveable Feast both explore Paris through the eyes of their writers and add a very personal element to the typical travel novel. Hemingway’s journals about Paris in the 20s make you wish you were there, partying with F. Scott Fitzgerald and getting drunk on wine in a small cafe somewhere. It’s the old time Paris you imagine in your head, burlesque shows and booze and lights and sex and just pure fun. French Milk, which is Knisley’s illustrated journal of her time in France, has great pictures of all the food she ate there. Reading it makes me hungry for macaroons and pâté. It’s like your experiencing her trip, from the mundane to the exciting, step by step with her and getting a man-on-the-ground experience rather than only the highlights. But seriously, the catalogue of the macaroons she ate makes me salivate.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s films

You can’t help but be happy when you watch a Jeunet movie. Even if it’s about cannibalism like Delicatessen or child kidnapping in The City of Lost Children. The atmosphere he creates in his French films is whimsical and textured. It’s ideal and dark. It’s what you want a French town to be, and sometimes everything you don’t want it to. Or maybe I just really, really want to hang out with Amelie and crack some creme brulee with her.

— Ortolan Bunting

The ortolan is a bird that lives in Europe and kind of looks like a finch. But the bird itself isn’t the thing that makes me want to go to France – it’s the way the French eat it. Though it’s no longer served widely, French gourmets consider it a merit badge to eat the ortolan. First the bird was caught, force fed, and drowned in French brandy before it was cooked roasted whole. When you eat ortolan, you eat it whole – bones and all – with a napkin draped over your head to preserve the aroma of the dish. It all sounds kind of cruel to the bird, which is probably why the French government has upped its protection on them. But the care and technique that goes into creating the culinary experience is what sounds the most appealing. Writer Michael Paterniti spoke about it on an episode of This American Life, and the entire experience sounds otherworldly.

Of course this whole list is very idyllic, as I’ve never been to France. If you’ve actually been to France and want to fill me in on some of the bad, leave a comment.