This book is an absolute delight from start to finish. But don’t read it – at least, not in a public place. It’ll have you smiling to yourself at the author’s light, lively smile, chuckling quietly at the faux pas, which are a normal part of expat life, that she shares with us and occasionally laughing out loud at the sudden ridiculousness of a crazy situation she finds herself in. And there’ll be the odd gasp of horror at the hair-tearingly-out stubbornness of French bureaucracy, and once or twice of admiration at our narrator’s partying stamina. People sitting in the airport terminal or doctor’s surgery around you shoot you looks of alarm and sidle quickly away from this clearly insane person giggling to themself!
Vicky Lesage shares the adventures of her early years in Paris, warts and all – and that’s what’s so wonderful. ‘Confessions’ is absolutely the right word to go in the title. The author doesn’t spare the French and she doesn’t spare herself. However, she only has a dig at French people when they deserve it, and is quick to admire all their good qualities, of which there are plenty. She’s less forgiving of herself, calling herself a ‘nerd’ now and again and worrying about her language skills. What she forgets to tell us is that Resourceful is her second name. There seems to be nothing she can’t cope with, and she tackles Paris head on – and wins!
We join Vicky as she finds friends, frustrations, places to live, fun, work, more frustrations and, on the way, the love of her life.
I honestly can’t think of anyone who won’t enjoy this book. If you’ve ever thought of going to France either to visit or to live, or even if you haven’t, you’ll get a sharp insight into what it’s like in this country. From the shopkeepers, who regard you as ‘Satan’s spawn’ because you want to pay with a €50 note, or, worse still, a credit card, to the fonctionnaires who always seem to withhold crucial information and thus complicate your life a million times more than it needs to be, to the bewildering number of public holidays, and finally to getting married there. Fabulous!
And as well as being a thoroughly brilliant book to read, it’s a showcase of good self-publishing practice. Here I put on my professional editor’s hat. We have the following:
• a classy, sassy cover
• an extremely well-written and well-presented text
• short, punchy chapters
• acknowledgements and table of contents at the end of the book: I wanted to dance when I saw that! Why? Well, these items take up valuable space in the free sample 10% or so that interested readers download when they’re considering buying an ebook. Given that an ebook opens at the last point you read to, you don’t need a contents list to find your page, so push that to the back. It’s there, but it’s not intruding, as are the acknowledgements. I’ve always advocated this approach but there’s been resistance. We’re too used to having these elements up front. Please, follow Vicky Lesage’s example!
• a chatty ‘about the author’ section, inviting us to review the book in exchange for a bonus story not in the book and to get in touch.
We have not only authoring, but indie authoring at its very, very best in this little gem of a book. It’s a self-publishing party in itself!
Sister Mary Keyholder
I would like to say that when I first stepped off the plane and embarked on my new life in France, something memorable happened. Or something funny or amazing or romantic or at least worth writing about. Truth is, I don’t remember. I take that to be a good thing. Considering all the mishaps I’ve had since moving here, “uneventful” nearly equals “good” in my book.
Looking back all these years later, I see myself as a hopeful, naive girl full of energy stepping off that plane. Tired of running into my ex-boyfriend seemingly everywhere around my midwestern American hometown, and having been unceremoniously freed from my IT job, this fearless 25-year-old was ready for a change.
I had dipped my toes in the proverbial European pond over the course of several college backpacking trips and now wanted to experience living there. To wake up to the smell of fresh croissants, to drink copious amounts of wine straight from the source, and maybe meet a tall, dark and handsome Frenchman. Who was, of course, not a wienie.
Oh, to be back in the shoes (or flip-flops, as it were) of that intrepid girl, arriving in a new land, successfully commandeering the Métro and her luggage, triumphantly arriving on the doorstep of her destination.
The smooth sailing didn’t last long.
I had sublet an apartment for the summer from an unseen Irish girl, Colleen, using Craigslist. The photos showed a charming, yet tiny, apartment that I already pictured myself living in. You’d think this was where the story starts to go wrong, but the girl and the apartment did exist! Making it probably the last apartment to be legitimately rented online before scammers cornered the market.
For me, the issue was getting in to the apartment.
First I had to get the key. Colleen had agreed to leave it next door at the convent (Me? Living next to a convent? This’ll be good.) The Catholic schoolgirl in me had an overly romanticized notion of how a Parisian convent would look. I was expecting some sort of Gothic cathedral with nunny looking nuns. So I must have walked past the modern, imposing structure about twenty times, sure I’d been conned, before I noticed the sign. Ahem.
I retrieved the key using a combination of my shaky French and the logic that, c’mon ladies, how would anyone else have found out about this bizarre scenario and come knocking on your door?
“Bonjour, je m’appelle Vicki. Comment allez-vous?” I asked the group of navy-blue-clad, pious-looking women gathered inside the doorway.
The elderly (aren’t they all?) nun closest to me cautiously replied, “Pas mal. Et vous?”
Ack! What did she say? I was so busy forming my question I didn’t plan for her response! Just keep going, you can do it. “Je cherche une clef.” I’m looking for a key.
“Oui, une clef.” Now I know that’s not much to go on, but let’s be real. Do lost girls often come to their door? Hrm. Now that I think about it, maybe that’s how girls become nuns? Better speed this up before I get stuck in the nunnery, never to be seen again. “Colleen leave key? It’s for me.”
“Oh yes, a key! For an American girl. That must be you.” Was it that obvious? Was it my blonde hair? Wide, toothy smile? No, it was probably my command (or lack thereof) of the French language.
“You’re friends with Colleen?” she asked.
I wasn’t sure how to answer that since we weren’t really friends, but then again I wasn’t even sure that was the question. My French wasn’t up to the task of explaining how I knew Colleen, and for sure if I said we weren’t friends, Sister Mary Keyholder would never hand over the precious key.
“Yes,” I said with a smile, then promptly got the heck out of there.
Key and two heavy suitcases in hand, I headed to my new apartment building. The number on the front, 20, was written in the ornate curlicue script that most French buildings employ. The large windows of each apartment were fronted by black wrought-iron rails, providing the perfect vantage point from which to observe the goings-on of the street below. I eagerly punched the five-digit code into the digicode reader to the right of the door and was in.
Next issue: finding the actual apartment. You’d think this would be easy since Colleen had said it was on the third floor. Silly me, that seemed like enough information until I scoped out the situation.
Problem 1: Once inside the front door, I saw two buildings – one that faced the sidewalk (in which I was currently standing) and one past a quiet courtyard containing a few trees and a large, overflowing trash barrel. Which building was it?
Follow the rest of Vicky’s tour.