Book Review: A Paris Apartment

aparisapartmentA mystery inside a mystery. April Vogt, Four starsContinental furniture specialist with Sotheby’s, gets the opportunity of a lifetime when the Paris office requests her assistance to assess the contents of a Paris apartment that had been closed for 70 years. Full of incredible furniture finds, as well as an unknown painting by Giovanni Boldini, the contents promise an exceptional auction. Then April finds journal entries of the woman who walked away from the apartment 70 years ago, Marthe de Florian, a 19th-century courtesan whose life intersected with many of the turn of the 19th-to-20th century Parisian personalities and her estimates of the potential auction proceeds skyrockets. But she can’t convince those in charge to follow her suggestions.

In addition, April is uncertain of the state of her marriage and is attracted to the lawyer for the apartment’s beneficiary who plays a key role in getting access to all the journal entries as well as to the woman who wants to sell the contents.

Gable’s story is full of all the key plot twists and turns authors are instructed to include, on two levels: April’s life as it plays out in the novel as well as Marthe de Florian’s in the journal entries. Maddeningly for April, the journal pages provide an incomplete picture of Marthe, leaving her convinced she needs to learn more in order to persuade her bosses to set up a special auction of all the pieces instead of breaking up the collection to add individual pieces to several general auctions. Or does she simply want to satisfy her own curiosity?

Gable’s story is intriguing, all the more so because its premise is real. The real life Marthe de Florian walked away from her Paris apartment at the beginning of World War II where the furniture and the Boldini portrait remained out of sight for 70 years. Love letters to Marthe were also found in the apartment. Gable invents a few characters, a relationship or two, but remained true to the bones of history.

While I enjoyed the characters, some of the relationship contortions that Gable has April put herself through diminished the entertainment, the reason I assigned only four stars.

P is for Paris

Who doesn’t love Paris?

There’s just one thing wrong with it for me–I kept being sent back there when I really wanted to see some other places, too.

My first trip to Paris was in December 1987 1977, during the New Year’s break at Alexandru Ioan Cuza University in Iași (pronounced “Yahsh”), Romania, where I was the American lecturer, sponsored by the Fulbright-Hayes Exchange Program. I refer to the break as the New Year’s break because Romania in those days didn’t observe Christmas, or at least they didn’t observe it by name. The store windows displayed banners inviting shoppers in to buy presents to observe “December–the month of gifts.” Children in Romania looked forward to receiving New Year’s presents.

My trip began by tram from the industrial zone of Iași where I lived to downtown where I would catch the bus to the airport. As I stepped off the tram, the heel on my right shoe snapped off, making it necessary for me to walk on one tip toe as I made my way from Piața Unirii (Unification Plaza) to the Air Moldova ticket office where the bus picked up passengers for the morning’s flight to Bucharest and from there onward to Paris. Once I reached Bucharest, I was able to open my suitcase and switch shoes. First on my to-do list when I got to Paris was to find a shoe repair shop.

I chose to spend my vacation in Paris because, well, who doesn’t love Paris? In addition, a couple I knew from Tehran had moved there a year earlier. Shellagh had been our secretary and her husband, Bill, worked for IBM in Tehran until the company transferred him to Paris. They lived in an apartment in Neuilley-sur-Seine on a floor high enough up for a their living room windows to offer a splendid view of the Eiffel Tower.

Shellagh gave me directions to get from the airport to downtown where she met me and brought me to their apartment. Since she had to return to work, I had the afternoon to explore the neighborhood and get as many of the tasks on my to-do list done as possible.

Before I left for Paris, I worried about how I would get by since I had never studied French, and I had heard how impatient the French were with tourists who don’t know the language. One of the French lecturers in Iași assured me I would get by just fine. He told me I didn’t need the whole French language, I should just speak French words. In addition, Romanian is a Romance language with many cognates with French.

It pleased me greatly to be able to tell Bill and Shellagh that on the first afternoon I was able to find a place to repair my shoe, another to get film developed, a beauty shop where I made an appointment for later in the week to get my hair cut, and a boutique where I purchased a black velvet pant suit and a black dress with a subtle print in a fabric that could be washed in my bathtub and then just hung to dry without needing any pressing to wear again. All with only French words, and one French sentence, Parlez-vous anglais?

At the end of the academic year, I traveled again to Paris to see Shellagh and Bill, this time with my parents.

Two years later, the company in Minneapolis where I worked once I returned to the US scheduled several of their staff members to travel to Europe to meet with their distributors. I was among those chosen, but they sent me only to Paris.

The company knew I enjoyed traveling. In contrast, a colleague, Thom, hadn’t really wanted to go on the trip at all. So he complained. In response to each complaint, the company added an additional city to his itinerary. He was sent to the Netherlands, Norway, and France.

Maybe I should have complained, too. But it just didn’t seem right. Who doesn’t love Paris?