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The City and the Writer: In Paris with David Foenkinos

By Nathalie Handal

If each city is like a game of chess, the day when I have learned the rules, I shall finally possess my empire, even if I shall never succeed in knowing all the cities it contains.

                                                —Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

Can you describe the mood of Paris as you feel/see it?

It’s really difficult. There are thousands of Parises within Paris. Paris is a manic-depressive, bipolar woman. But I see Paris as the promise of sensuality.

What is your most heartbreaking memory in this city?

The first time that I discovered the Bibliothèque Nationale. I was in awe of its beauty, its power. I hadn’t imagined discovering such an immense and impressive interior garden. And inside there are red carpets where the students walk slowly. Since then, I’ve found an apartment just across the street!

What is the most extraordinary detail, one that goes unnoticed by most, of the city?

Parisian women are lovely.

What writer(s) from here should we read?

You have to read Le Paysan de Paris (Paris Peasant) by Aragon. It evokes the Paris of the ’30s, the narrow streets, and the possibility of getting lost.

Is there a place here you return to often?

I love the Buttes Chaumont. It’s a park that’s sort of on the outskirts. You can climb high up to a bélvédère and see all of Paris! It’s magic, and it’s less crowded than the Eiffel Tower.

Is there an iconic literary place we should know?

Not literary, but cinematographic. In my movie [Delicacy, based on his novel and produced and directed by the Foenkinos brothers], I filmed in a relatively unknown part of Paris that’s like a little village : La butte aux Cailles in the Thirteenth.

Are there hidden cities within this city that have intrigued or seduced you?

At home, in my hallway, with all my books.

Where does passion live here?

People think that passion lives on the bridges, under the lights, but no, passion must live in hiding. In the corners of hotels (there’s one with a Great Buddha in an interior courtyard), in the tiniest streets, dead-ends . . . Paris is the best city for hiding oneself .

What is the title of one of your works about Paris and what inspired it exactly?

I speak very little about Paris in my books. But in my book Le potentiel érotique de ma femme (Erotic Potential of My Wife) the characters meet at the Bibliothèque François Mitterrrand, the one that I love so much! They choose the same book at the same time . . . It’s literary love at first sight.

Inspired by Levi, “Outside Paris does an outside exist?”.

Yes, you have to close your eyes, it’s in the dream. One can leave Paris the way one can kiss another.

Translated from the French by Laura Itzkowitz


David Foenkinos is a French novelist and screenwriter. Born on October 28, 1974, his novels have been translated into twenty-five languages and garnered ten awards around the world. Most recently, Delicacy, which was first published in France, garnered nominations for all five major French literary prizes and has sold one million copies. The film adaptation of the book starred Audrey Tautou and François Damiens, and was nominated for a César for best first film, and better adaptation. The film has been sold in 40 countries. His first play "Célibataires" was produced by Studio des Champs Elysées. David lives in Paris.

NH's Discovery of the Month:

Paris conceals its sensual beats in metered-echoes. And as Henry James said, she knows how to live. It’s one of my home-cities, and one of my favorite activities while there is going to cafés—not surprising. After all, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Ernest Hemingway, Anais Nin, Samuel Beckett, and on and on, all wrote ,imagined, and of course, drank in these pleasure-temples. Some of my favorites literary cafés: Café des Deux-Magots, Café Flore, La Closerie des Lilas, La Coupol, Brasserie Balzar, and the magnificent Lapérouse.

Published Dec 30, 2012   Copyright 2012 Nathalie Handal

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