I raced into the bookstore, around the corner from my apartment in San Francisco, to find some books for the long flight to France. Glancing over the rows of books I read titles of the current bestsellers, those that popped out I had read, the others didn't intrigue me.
Books worthy of six weeks of reading was what I was looking for. I was going to be in Paris and Rennes to taste the French life style, to see if I could say good bye to my family and leave California for a foreign land, in hope to be with a Frenchman that I was in love with. Six weeks with the man I loved that was the easy part. The language, his family that I didn't know, the culture, lack of money to sit at cafes, or go to lunch, or hit every museum in town, how was I going to fill the hours alone when he would be at work?
Book-covers grab my attention first. If the title corresponds with what I feel from the book-cover I take it as a sign to open it and randomly read a page or two. Not the back cover, nor the first page, no for me it is a random page in the middle that seals the deal or not.
A thick paperback with a grey cover caught my attention. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. How fitting: Set in France, I was going to France, 1463 pages thick, sort of like three books for the price of one.
Words jumped out:
"Sold her front teeth",
As I thumbed through the pages street names, squares, churches, names of places appeared. I made a decision that when I was in Paris I would only read Les Miserables outside, on those streets, squares, churches and places.
A chunky monkey history tour book, I giggled to myself. I carried it home and stuffed it into my carry on.
Little did I know that Victor and I would become friends. Inseparable. Soon to be French Husband teased that he was jealous of Victor, "He takes you everywhere!" I went with Victor through out Paris. If I couldn't find the places he mentioned I would pull out my map, close my eyes, point to place and head out. Once there I would try to find something in the neighborhood that "felt" like Victor's description. Though more often than not I found what I was looking for.
Some of the places where I went to read:
Since the convent Petit-Picpus, where Valjean barely escaped capture by Javert by scaling the wall into this convent, does not exist, I went to Pont d'Austerlitz (bridge), since that was mentioned in the book. A beautiful view of Notre Dame can be seen. I went to the garden behind Notre Dame and read.
The Marais, where Monsieur Gillenormand’s home (Marius’ grandfather) was said to be. I sat next to Victor Hugo's by his home at Place des Vosges, Hôtel de Rohan Guéménée.
I read the wedding scene in St. Paul’s Church where Marius and Cosette were married.
Often I sat in the park at Les Halles, by Saint Suplice, or The Jardin du Luxembourg where Marius first saw and fell in love with Cosette. In the Jardin du Luxembourg there is a famous romantic fountain, I sat their and stained the pages of Les Miserables with tears.
Saint Jacques du Haut Pas Church, by the Jardin du Luxembourg is where Valjean went to daily mass. I loved sitting in churches, the quiet space allowed me time to reflect on what I was reading, and take a nap from Victor's carrying on and on.
The sewers... in which Jean Valjean drags Marius' body to safety. French Husband had a friend who knew how to go undergound into the old catacombs and sewers of Paris. Of course, it was at the time illegal to go underground. Though on the plus side some of them were not used as sewers anymore. Around midnight with the cloak of darkness we snuck inside.
"The sewers begun in 1370, the complex system of tunnels and pipes constructed in Paris over the years is currently the largest in the world, stretching for 2,100 kilometers (1,305 miles) or more." via http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/news-exploring-pariss-underground-sewers?image=1#8ysOCSMSZomSCkdK.99
We walked for miles. I mean miles, with boots, flash lights, often crawling or at least bent over through the underground, if we hadn't been with French Husband's friend we would have never ventured this adventure on our own! My friend Celeste (whom I visited in Thailand) was with us and my cousin Julie. It was the highlight of my journey with Victor.
At times when Victor carried on and on I asked if I could skip a few pages. I teased I could edit his book in half. Though if offered me Paris through the lives of beloved characters: Valjean, Fantine, Cosette, Maruis, Javert....thankfully, as I probably would not have had the courage to read Les Miserables otherwise.
Since reading Les Miserables I had not seen a film nor play about it. Until several days ago that is when Tom Hooper's Les Miserables opened in France. My memories of Victor's book where beautifully strong and I was afraid that nothing could match my expectations. The fear that it might tarnish or shadow my vision was a feeling I did not want to bear. Nevertheless, twenty some years after reading Victor Hugo... I went to see the film. I was not disappointed from the first scene onward. Anne Hathaway's "Fantina" singing I Had a Dream brought every memory and moment of reading Les Miserables alive. I could hardly stop crying.
Last night because Les Miserables was Oscar nominated. I decided I would stay up and watch it. I found a site on the internet that "streamed" the Oscars live. They started in the wee hours of morning, and ended at six. At one point French Husband came down stairs... looked at me and said, "Are you crazy?" I responded without looking up, "You just realized that now?" He shook his head and headed back upstairs.
The lack of sleep is daunting.
But the memory of Les Miserables is renewed, as well as a crush with Victor .
Have you read Les Miserables