I realize that anyone unfamiliar with the 1970s Broadway hit 6 Rms Riv Vu may not get the connection, but the title of this blog refers to an apartment dreamed of, not one in the newspaper ads. An Aussie couple is in Paris for two weeks looking for the apartment of their dreams: a two-bedroom, charming, upper floor, located in central Paris. They have about 500,000 Euros (translation: about $750,000) to spend from his mother’s estate, but it is his wife, Ellie Nielsen, who is driving the search for this perfect get-away from Melbourne. (When did second homes become located so distant from the first?)
Buying a Piece of Paris by Ellie Nielsen (2007 publication in Australia; 2009 in USA) is the story of the process of searching for and purchasing this dream apartment. In most of the nonfiction accounts of such purchases, the actual finding and purchasing of the place is chapter one; in this 244-page memoir about “the home of my dreams in the City of LIghts” the entire narrative focuses on the chase. No terrific chapters on how difficult it was to find painters or plumbers or deal with utility companies a la Peter Mayle. The realtors in Paris are rather skeptical about Nielsen’s forays into their offices, particularly with her limited French, but she is determined. As a result, for much of their vacation while her husband and young son play in the parks, she spends her time scouting out apartments and learning the system in France, such as the fact that rarely would an apartment be shown without the owners present, and as they are spending their vacation in Paris in high summer when most residents are out of the city, it becomes difficult at times to view an apartment.
And, the apartments that she is shown rarely match her vision of the charming apartment she desires. On the last day of their Paris visit, an apartment that seems likely suddenly comes to the forefront, but “Je suis desolee,” the owners are out of town. Never fear. Friends come to the rescue and view the apartment and recommend a return trip. Nielsen hops on a plane, is charmed by the place, and seals the deal.
This book is a good example of a theme that may have reached its zenith. I’ve now read several “buying the place of my dreams” books, and, frankly, this one is the least satisfying. The narrator has some of the same characteristics as Amy Hawkins, the fictional “heroine” of L’Affaire, which was the focus of an earlier blog entry. Both seem rather superficial, looking for that je ne sais quoi that France, and particularly Paris, provides. Nielsen, has the book jacket notes, certainly has “verve,” but perhaps not the depth of cultural description and analysis that makes for a truly good read in the ever-burgeoning house-hunting literature.