Paris

(Photograph by Peter Turnley, Café Ma Bourgogne, Place des Vosges, Paris, 1982) Lydie McBride occupied a café table in the Jardin du Palais Royale and thought how fine it was to be an American woman in Paris at the end of the twentieth century.

That is the first line of Secrets of Paris, a novel I wrote when I was, well, an American woman in Paris at the end of the twentieth century.  The novel was first  published by Viking in 1991 and will appear again on January 25.

(New trade paperback)

(The original hardcover jacket.)

My time in Paris was romantic, literary, adventurous, tragic, and haunting.  I wrote in a garret, the maid's room on the top floor of a Belle Epoque apartment house.  Every day I walked from the Pont de l'Alma to the Ile St. Louis, and back.

My walk took me past the Louvre, which I visited often.

I began to imagine setting a section of my novel in the museum's storerooms, where treasures hide, ghosts live, and a madwoman roams.  I was inspired by the letters of Madame de Sévigné (February 5, 1626 – April 17, 1696) Mainly I drew on my own expatriate life--being in Paris with a man I loved, wanting to live in the city forever, yet missing home so much.

Most of Madame de Sévigné's letters were written to her daughter, and their connection touched me deeply.  My mother had gotten ill while I lived on Rue Chambiges.  Being so far from her, especially during that time, was very hard.

We wrote each other countless letters, and then she came to Paris to have chemotherapy at the American Hospital in Neuilly.  Rock Hudson, dying of AIDS, was a patient at the same time.  We passed Elizabeth Taylor in the hall.  The intensity of everyone's sorrow...our family's, theirs.

Gelsey, my mother's Scottish Terrier, came to live with us.  She traveled in cars, on the Metro, the TVG, Air France, and trans-Atlantic on the Queen Elizabeth II.  When I would walk Gelsey in my neighborhood--she adorable, me writer-disheveled in jeans and a bomber jacket--fashionable women shopping at Dior and Givenchy would coo and pet her while I gladly remained invisible.

I met a Filipino woman, "Kelly," working as a maid in the Eighth Arrondissement, whose great dream was to reunite with her sister living in the United States, and open a fish market together.  She had been smuggled into France from Germany by a Filipino driver of exiled Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.  The driver had many duties, including a weekly visit to the design house of Nina Ricci on Avenue Montaigne, to purchase hundreds of hand-embroidered white linen handkerchiefs which the Marcoses would use instead of tissues, at a time when millions in the Philippines suffered in poverty.

These are a few of the stories that lived with me in Paris.  The city's beauty hides secrets.

While living there my novel Angels All Over Town came out in the States.  One day i received a call from a man saying he was a Newsweek photographer and had been assigned to take my picture for the magazine--an article about first novelists.  I thought it was my friend Joe Monniger, a fellow writer living in Vienna, playing a joke on me (he would,) but the photographer gave me a number and told me to call back, and the operator answered, "Newsweek" and put me through.

Thus I met Peter Turnley, amazing, talented, award-winning, war correspondent, artist, photographer.  We spent the day touring Paris, Peter photographing me on the Champs-Élysées, at Invalides, on the Pont d'Alexandre III, on the Champs de Mars beneath the Eiffel Tower, on the banks of the Seine.

We had coffee at storied and literary Fouquet's and he told me of covering world conflicts, dodging fire, seeing war upfront.  I wondered how he'd gotten stuck taking pictures of a first novelist.  His last shot of the day--using up film--was black and white, on my balcony.  I'm squinting into the day's last light, thinking about Paris and war and Peter dodging bullets.  That's the picture (shown here) the photo editor chose.

The photo shoot made it into my novel Crazy in Love. In the movie, the photographer is played by Julian Sands.

Over the years I have viewed Peter's work with admiration.  His Wikipedia entry begins:  Peter Turnley is a photojournalist known for documenting the human condition and current events. Over the past two decades, he has traveled to eighty-five countries and covered nearly every major news event of international significance. His photographs have been featured on the cover of Newsweek more than forty times. A renowned street photographer who's lived in and photographed Paris since 1978, Turnley is one of the preeminent photographers of the daily life in Paris of his generation.

That is Peter, exactly.  How lucky I was to be photographed by him, and to become his friend.  His images capture for me the essence of Paris then and now.

On Facebook my team often holds giveaways.  This one will stand out from all others.  We'll be offering signed copies of Secrets of Paris, but also a print, for one single reader, of one of my favorite of Peter's photographs (Peter Turnley, Paris, 1991):

The black and white photograph is traditional collector museum quality archival prints on fiber paper. Each print is signed on the front and back by Peter Turnley, and signed on the back by Voja Mitrovic, world renowned master printer who has been a long time printer for Henri Cartier-Bresson, Josef Koudelka, Rene Burri, Peter Turnley, and many others.

If you wish to be eligible to win a copy of the novel as well as the photograph, please just click this link to Facebook and "like" the page.  Among other things, we have a wonderful, supportive group.

I'll sign off with this quote.  It's from a letter by Madame de Sévigné and appears on page one of Secrets of Paris:

What I am about to communicate to you is the most astonishing thing, the most surprising, most triumphant, most baffling, most unheard of, most singular, most unbelievable, most unforeseen, biggest, tiniest, rarest, commonest, the most talked about, the most secret up to this day, the most enviable, a fact a thing of which only one example can be found in past ages, and moreover, that example is a false one; a thing nobody can believe in Paris (how could anyone believe it in Lyons?). ~From Madame de Sévigné, December 1672

We Gather Together (even if we can't)

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. This year I'm missing my sister Maureen--she and Olivier went to France, to say bon voyage to his brother and sister-in-law, leaving Bordeaux to open an inn in Indonesia.  Missing my nieces, too--Mia will be with her friend, and Molly will be with her husband Alex and his family.  We'll all be together in spirit, as well as with Rosemary...sometimes that's the best even a close family can do.

Thinking of Maureen and Olivier in France, I remember having Thanksgivings in Paris.  The day would start by reading Art Buchwald's yearly-repeated column in the International Herald Tribune.  Then I'd make dinner, including a not-so-easy-to-find dinde, for all my American friends there.  There'd always be at least twenty...

I'm very lucky, though; a young friend, Nyasha, is coming down from Massachusetts to spend the holiday with me.  I love having visitors from out of town, and I'll enjoy showing her all my favorite NYC places, and having a special dinner.

Growing up always had dinner with my father's sisters and family--Aunt Mary, Uncle Bill, and Billy Keenan, Aunt Jan and Uncle Bud Lee--either at our house in New Britain or the Keenans' in Elmwood.  When it was at ours, we had lots to do to prepare.  Wednesday was a half-day at school, and my sisters and I would run home to help our mother and grandmother.

We'd go down to the basement to get the good china and crystal glasses, and we'd wash everything till it sparkled.  Mim would bake pies, and we'd help: apple, pumpkin, and mince.  One of us would make cranberry-orange relish--a recipe via Ocean Spray from the Whitneys, the family across the street for whom I babysat--and another of us would bake cranberry and date-nut breads.

The three of us would help polish the silver, and fill bowls with nuts in their shells.  My grandmother had a turkey platter, a green oval with a splendid turkey, its tail spread and preening, displayed on a hutch in the dining room.  We would take it down, the only time all year, feeling excited to know the next day it would be laden with turkey.

(Photo below from right: Tom Rice, Bill Keenan, Mary Keenan, me, Billy's elbow, Lucille Rice raising her glass, tiny corner of Maureen's hair.)

After dinner, my father would lead a walk on Shuttle Meadow golf course, across the street.  It was always wonderfully bracing and damp, and usually cold, and we'd tromp through the rough toward the brook and ponds, to see if any ice had formed yet.  Given my father and Uncle Bill's humor, there'd be lots of laughter.

Dinner at the Keenans's was great, not only because we were guests and had only to bring the pies, but because Billy had these toy horses that I loved and wanted to play with long after it made sense age-wise.  When we got older and could drive, "the kids"--my sisters, Bill, and I--would go to the movies.  Billy and I were recently reminiscing about seeing Silent Movie at the Elm Theater.  Dom Deluise's line, "I need a blueberry pie badly" made a particularly deep impression.

Billy was a football player; if he had a game we'd go see him play at Northwest Catholic.  Later, when he went to Amherst College, one of my teenage highlights was to head up there with his parents and my sisters, tailgate in the parking lot, and feel like hot stuff because we knew Billy.  (Photo of Rosemary, me, Bill Keenan.)

This year Thanksgiving falls on November 25.  That is a bright and shining occurrence.  It happened once many years ago.  Mrs. Whitney, my "other mother," (and currently bookseller extraordinaire at G. J. Ford ) gave birth to her second daughter, the exceptional and luminous Sam--aka the best midwife in the west in my novel Dream Country.  Sam lit up our lives from the minute she was born, and continues to do so while being the best midwife in the west, raising her daughter (my goddaughter) and twins, and telemark skiing in the mountains of Park City, Utah. (Photo of Sam and Sadie)

We all attended Vance School--from my mother to my sisters and me to the Whitney children (aside from Sam, the birthday-Thanksgiving girl, there are Tobin and the twins Sarah and Palmer.)

Every year all the classes filed into the auditorium, and we'd sing We Gather Together and Over the River and Through the Woods.  May you all be gathering together with your families and friends, all your loved ones.

Cranberry Orange relish:

1 bag cranberries; 1 seedless orange; 1 cup of sugar.  Make in two batches: chop up the orange and put half plus half the cranberries and half the sugar through a Cuisinart, food mill, or grinder.  Then do it again.  The relish will be delicious and you will be happy.

The photo above is of Maureen and me in the kitchen at Hubbard's Point.

Advice To Young Writers

Luanne Rice, author of 29 novels, shares some of the methods that have made her such a successful writer.

Luanne Rice's Shark Video

New York Times bestselling author, Luanne Rice, tells of her chance encounter with a Shark.

up in the sky

Written on a random flight, who knows when, on one book tour or another. up in the sky

by Luanne Rice

when i fly, i go up in the sky.

it's true, and i'm up here now.

all around me is blue, except for long cloud highways leading to and from canada and other places.  below me, there is haze.  through it i can see rivers, ponds, towns, hills, roads. i am in a dream.

in the dream i join a parade of people, strangers, pulling suitcases on wheels, bumping along the jetway and over the narrow space between it and the jet door, and onto this large conveyance.  it is a jet plane.  i almost never dream of parades.  and as a waking hermit, i rarely, well, never, march in them--but that's not even the strange part.  the surreal part of this dream is taking off from the ground, going up into the sky, in a flying machine.  this is not my natural element.

i did not always feel this way.

when i was young, i was as one with the sky.  i flew with abandon.  i'd go flying with my cousin--a true beach boy with whom i used to go crabbing at the rocky end of the half-moon beach known as hubbard's point, an experience about which i wrote my very first published story.  his name is tom.  when tom was 16, even before he could drive, he got his pilot's license.  he wanted to get as many flight hours as possible, and i was right there beside him.  we flew everywhere.  we buzzed his teacher's house in harwinton.  we flew home from the airstrip near waitsfield, vermont in a snowstorm.

we used to charter an old seaplane.  he would land in the boats-only area right by the crabbing rocks at the end of the beach, to pick me up.  i'd swim out to the plane and climb onto the pontoon and into the cockpit.  my seat would be soaked with salt water.  he'd turn us out to sea, and we'd bounce over the waves.  the plane was so old that when he took off and banked right, the passenger door would flap open and i'd be looking straight down at long island sound.

fearless children we were.

then there were the paris years.  i lived in paris with my first husband.  his name was also tom.  we were young and in love.  with each other, with everything.  every day i would walk along the seine for hours, trying to memorize the exercises my tutor, madame piochelle, had given me.  "allo, allo, ici george, qui est la?"  "c'est moi, jean!" "vien jouer avec moi?"  "oui, j'arrive."  "a tout a l'heure."  "a tout a l'heure."  i would also shop at the marches, especially rue cler, for our dinner.  once i bought a whole rabbit.  i don't remember how i cooked it, but i do know that i have bad dreams about it now.  tom loved my cooking, and i loved doing it for him.  to me, that was the essence of love.

once on the terrace of chez francois, near the pont de l'alma, i met bono.  actually he said his name was paul , I  didn’t figure out  he was bono until a bit later.  this was just before joshua tree.  we started talking--about love, being irish, being american, being writers, and love again.  what else was there but love?  nothing.

during that time, my mother developed a brain tumor.  i flew home a lot, to see her.  that was the first time i remember feeling skeptical of flying.  would the plane get airborne?  would it actually land?  maybe i was really afraid of something else, like losing her.  i'm not sure.  but the way i got myself through those feelings was to think of my father, who had been in the air force.

his name was tom, too.

world war ll, he was stationed at a base at north pickenham on the wash, north of london.  he was only 23.  he trained for a year in colorado springs.  before that, he'd never been in a plane.  he grew so close to his crew--as close as brothers.  he was navigator-bombardier.  once in england, flying missions over france and germany, he stood out and was promoted to the lead plane in the eighth air force.  he refused to leave his old crew--his new crew had to literally carry him and his possessions to their nissan hut.  the very next mission, his old crew was shot down over helgoland.

that's not the part that inspired me, exactly.  although writing it, i see that it sort of did.  somehow my father kept going.  i can only imagine his grief.  he flew on d-day, over normandy.  his was the first plane over dresden, shot down on his way home.  he was irish-catholic.  i think of him, a beloved and sheltered boy from a close hartford family, thrown into war.  he had a very sensitive soul.

promoted to the lead plane in the 8th air force, he was the very first plane over Dresden.  on his way back from that dreadful bomb run he was shot down.  other planes, his friends, went down in flames all around him.  he parachuted out, crash-landed in a tree in occupied france and broke his back.  he was rescued by a family with three daughters; they hid him in their barn.  after he got home and married my mother, they had three daughters.  my sister rosemary also has three daughters.

cosmic, non?

bien sur.

during my paris flying years, i would quell doubt and fear by thinking of all the times my father flew without getting shot down.  over 25 missions.  back and forth over the english channel, during tempests of all kinds.  wild winds blew, making the plane shake.  they would lose altitude, but just keep going.  i imagined his old bomber, strafed with shrapnel, taking off and landing again and again.

there i was on the concorde--who was i to worry?  i was really just a spoiled traveler.  anyway, my mother wound up coming to paris to have her chemo at the american hospital.  i didn't fly as much after that.  although tom took me to venice for my 30th birthday.  we stayed in a sweet hotel behind la fenice.

i heard placido domingo singing in the courtyard.

one night tom and i took a water taxi to the lido.  i had to put my feet in the sand and feel the salt of a brand new, to me, sea.  i thought of thomas mann.  there are times when i'm an existential beach girl.  but i guess if you're reading this, you know that by now.

the next time i felt tense about flying was many years later.

fast forward.

through life, life, life.

many beaches later.  mistakes, mysteries, flights and passions later.

marriages, too.

okay, here's the story.  i was on book tour in summer, 2001.  trans-canada, from fredericton to vancouver.  at the time, i was in the midst of a tragic, unbecoming, and completely abusive non-love situation.  my third marriage.  snares had risen from the depths, wrapped themselves around my ankles.  that made it hard to fly.  how can you rise--above the earth, above anything--if you are tethered from below?

my itinerary took me amazing places.  halifax, toronto, calgary, banff, lake louise.  being so far away and so often up in the air let me see my life with some persective.

look down through the clouds and see what is.

that book tour saved my life.  it showed me my strength, and that I didn’t have to stay with him.  kick him out, reclaim myself.  surround myself with real love—not twisted, psycho control masquerading as a marriage.  I was out of there.

thank you, sky, for holding me aloft.

thank you, plane, for taking me away.

thank you, my own strong heart, for never giving up.

i know i can fly because guess what?  i’m doing it right now.

still, it's a dream.

Connecticut Center for the Book, 2005

In Honor of Reading Lolita in Tehran: a Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi by Luanne Rice

August 30, 2005

I was born in the United States, where we have a Constitution whose First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, and I have lived here my whole life except for two years when I lived in Paris, in the Eighth Arrondissement, overlooking the courtyard of a hotel with red awnings, which was hardly oppressive.  So I’m humbled to be writing this in honor of Azar Nafisi’s visit to the library.

While I lived in Paris, I took a train to Amsterdam to see the Anne Frank house.  In fourth grade at Vance School in New Britain, we had read her diary. The small everyday details of Anne’s life made me love her, and feel I knew her.  Like me, she had loved and rebelled against her parents, liked a boy, fought with her sister.

She had also lived in hiding from the Nazis, watched neighbors being dragged from their homes, worried her family would be killed—and written about it.  For a young girl living in the secret annex, that was an act of dissidence.  Here is a quote from Tuesday, April 4, 1944:

“I want to go on living even after my death! And therefore I am grateful to God for giving me this gift, this possibility of developing myself and of writing, of expressing all that is in me. I can shake off everything if I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn."

Writing as salvation…  Anne wrote what the world wasn’t supposed to read.  The power in that act is nearly unfathomable to those of us protected by the First Amendment.  Reading brought me into Anne’s world and changed me, showed me what one voice can do.  Her words have always meant so much to me.  Not only for what they say, but for the very fact she wrote them.

Light of the Moon

Against a backdrop of stunning natural beauty, and in the shadow of a mysterious family legend, one woman is about to discover that to find your way home, sometimes you must travel far away...

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