Paris: research adventures, food & wine, French class & Smart Board infatuation

My husband and I have been over two weeks in Paris, and today is our last day here. 

I’ll be spending much of it in the library of La Fondation Napoleon, but I’m tempted to slip in an hour as a flâneur this morning, strolling the book stalls by the Seine … and perhaps even take some photos.

I’ve not taken many, in part because it has been very much a working trip.

For the first two weeks I was in class at l’Alliance Française Paris.

photo 3

At level B1, I was in way over my head, but the teacher was fantastic, very charming, and so I persevered—and I’m happy I did so. I’m less shy now about speaking French, and in another ten years … who knows? By the time I’m 80, I might be able to understand what people are actually saying.

In any case, I was absolutely enchanted—besotted!—with the teacher’s Smart Board. This technology is years old, but it blew me away. I had no idea! On a Smart Board a teacher can move images around, write, move words, scroll, call up videos, play audio, switch between pages, connect to the Net: anything.

Immediately I thought: every home needs a Smart Board. More to the point: I need a Smart Board. Imagine outlining a novel on it, calling up character images … ! Seeing a Smart Board, I felt the same kind of revery I experienced first seeing a computer. What a tool!

When I wasn’t in class or frantically preparing homework (or eating fine food and drinking fine wine), I plunged into research. Our first weekend in Paris it was the Journées du Patrimonie, when many historic places are opened to the public. I wanted to see inside the Petite Luxembourg Palace, where Josephine, Napoleon and “the kids” — Hortense and Eugène — lived before the move to the Tuileries.

The lines and crowds were overwhelming, and the public was only allowed into a few rooms of the Petite Luxembourg, but I did see the room believed to be the one Napoleon worked in.

Nap's office in Petit Lux

Of course, it would have been a bit thread-bare then.

The Luxembourg palace itself is, of course, amazing. Here, the library:

Lux library

It would have been quite a bit different just after the Revolution, of course. It had been used as a prison, and had no doubt been vandalized.

Also around Paris, I searched out sites:

—the location of La Chantereine (discovering how very long the lane way must have been);

—where the mother of a character killed herself during the Revolution;

—where Talleyrand lived (and gave a ball);

—where Napoleon’s brother Lucien Bonaparte lived (and likewise gave a ball).

And, of course, the Louvre, where I lingered by portraits of my characters.


I loved seeing the glittering detail of Josephine’s gown up close:

Louvre shoe detail

Venturing out-of-town, we went to Château de Grignon, the home of Hortense’s best friends (and now a school)…


… and to Joseph Bonaparte’s country château Mortefontaine, where I was very very lucky to connect with the owner and be given a private tour.


Mortefontaine      Mortefontaine hallway Mortefontaine staircase

Last, we went to Saint-Germain-en-Laye where I was again very lucky that a former resident was kind enough to show us into the place where Madame Campan’s school used to be. Much of it is new, but there are some remnants of the former Hôtel de Rohan:


In the back garden, there was this intriguing bit of antiquity:

Campan mystery rock

A bit of the former chapel, perhaps?

Of course, as is always the case with travel research, I discover that I have quite a few changes to make in the next draft, which I will begin next week. But until then, time to flâneur.

Longing for Paris … always


I suspect that a longing for Paris will always be with me. My husband and I will be spending three weeks there next September, but already I’m eager to go. 

Ann Coombs responded to my wish to see an exhibit at Malmaison by offering to be my eyes and ears. She’s there tomorrow! She’s been on an amazing European trip, and has been recently posting photos of Paris on her blog, PixieInParis.


Travel gremlins beware!

It snowed here yesterday, and so it seems only right that we’re heading off for the winter tomorrow.

Even so, it’s so beautiful, it’s always wrenching to leave. It’s said that home is where your books are, and leaving my books is hard. 

It’s going to be a long trip. We’re going to London, Paris, Burgundy and Switzerland before returning to Toronto and heading down to Mexico for six months. It’s a complex transition to pack for, a complex trip to plan! 

But by tomorrow mid-day, the items on my To Do Lists (note: more than one list) will have been ticked off, and those things not … tant pis! 

I believe in Travel Gremlins … don’t you? They’re a playful sort of spirit that will throw a surprise catastrophe in your path just when you’re about to step out the door. A basement flood, a child walking into a hornet’s nest, the cat having kittens—these are the more memorable tricks they’ve played on me in the past. I’m on guard! 

Going over one of my lists, I noted an invitation from the owner of The Red Wheelbarrow in Paris to stop in for a visit. She’d posted a lovely review of Mistress of the Sun on her blog. A few quotes:  

Mistress of the Sun was a thoroughly enjoyable read.”

“Rich descriptions aside, what elevates this book from romantic fiction … is the portrait Gulland paints of Petite. As portrayed under Gulland’s skillful hands, Petite is a conflicted person who struggles to do her best according to her convictions. While she loves the King greatly, she is unable to reconcile this love with her religious convictions.”

I’m looking forward to meeting the proprietors of The Red Wheelbarrow on this trip. Anyone who names a bookstore after a poem by William Carlos Williams is “thumbs up” in my mind. From the photo above, it looks like my kind of bookstore.  

My travel reading has been selected: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. Have you read it? 

Reader letter of the week

I get the most wonderful mail. Here’s one:

I hope this email finds you well. My name is Kristin and just this past week, I have just finished reading your Josephine B. trilogy. I read all three books within a week and wanted to let you know of the impact your writing has made on me.

You see, I am planning a celebratory trip to Paris this fall with my mother. Paris has always been a city that has intrigued me, mostly for the tragic and romantic notions that surround it. Over the past several months, I have been conducting research on the places that we would like to visit. It is very easy to become overwhelmed, due to the city’s rich history that contains so much allure, stories, and sights. I honestly didn’t know where to begin. Once I did begin, I became lost very quickly in choices, guidebooks, travel websites, reviews, etc.

A friend, after hearing of my travel plans, recommended your books. The timing could not have been more perfect. As I was reading your books, I found myself keeping my laptop right by my side. I have probably used Google and Wikipedia more in the past week than I have in the past year. Without realizing it, I have given myself a “mini-education” on various aspects of the French Revolution and of course, Josephine and Napoleon. My next order of business is to read as much as possible on that time period, using many of your recommendations (from your website).

Our trip in the fall now has a better sense of purpose, as we will plan to visit many of the sites from the novels. I am particularly drawn to Malmaison, and hope to spend some time there during our visit. I plan on giving the first book in the series to my mother this weekend, I’m sure she will be just as charmed as I was.

I just wanted to express my thanks for your wonderful work. I am very much looking forward to buying your other books. I should probably save one for the airplane ride but I know that the temptation to read it right away will be too great!

Kristin and her mother will be celebrating two milestone birthdays together: she will be turning 30, and her mother 60. I can’t imagine a lovelier celebration.

Be sure to try to see David’s The Coronation of Napoleon in the Louvre, Kristin: the room it’s in is not open for viewing every day, so you have to find out when to go. It’s well worth it. I wept when I last saw it.

Enjoy Malmaison! And thank you so much for writing.

Readers: what places have you traveled to after reading about it in a book?

The Bookworm in Edwards, CO


It was a two-and-a-half hour drive from Denver to Edwards, but well worth it. The Bookworm is one of the best bookstores I’ve seen, and they really know how to put on an event: great advertising, good wine, exceptionally tasty appetizers.

Okay, this may sound silly, but I discovered the first sign of their savvy advertising in the washroom:

What a perfect place for an ad! It’s a universal truth known to all bookstore owners that book browsing and the need to use a washroom are mysteriously yet biologically linked. (Seinfeld confirmed this in a skit.)

It was a great audience. Many of them had already read—and loved!—Mistress of the Sun.

There were 51 in attendance, a number of them from book clubs. Here is another mother/daughter portrait: Therese and her lovely daughter, Rachel.

Another mother told me that she was looking forward to going to Paris with her daughter. They had read the Trilogy and would be tracing Josephine‘s route. What did I suggest? I recommended that she read Walks through Napoleon & Josephine’s Paris by Diana Reid Haig. This is a gorgeous book, recently given to me by a very special person, Janet Park Datema (more on Janet later), in St. Louis. Another good guide I recommend to Trilogy tourists (of whom there are a number!) is You Go Girl Paris. The authors list many Josephine B. sites to see.

All-in-all, a fabulous evening! Thank you, Bookworms all.