With characteristic warmth and humor, Carhart takes readers along as he and his family experience the pleasures and particularities of French life: learning the codes and rules of a French classroom where wine bottles dispense ink, camping in Italy and Spain, tasting fresh baguettes. Readers see post-war life in France as never before, from the parks and museums of Paris (much less crowded in the 1950s, when you could walk through completely empty galleries in the Louvre) to the quieter joys of a town like Fontainebleau, where everyday citizens have lived on the edges of history since the 12th century and continue to care for their lieux de mémoire—places of memory.
Intertwined with stories of France’s post-war recovery are profiles of the monarchs who resided at Fontainebleau throughout the centuries and left their architectural stamp on the palace and its sizeable grounds. Carhart finds himself drawn back as an adult, eager to rediscover the town of his childhood. FINDING FONTAINEBLEAU imagines a bright future for this important site of French cultural heritage, as Carhart introduces us to the remarkable group of architects, restorers, and curators who care for and refashion the Château’s hundreds of rooms for a new generation of visitors. Guided by Patrick Ponsot, head of the Château’s restoration programs, the author takes us behind the scenes and shows us a side of the Château that tourists never see.
“The author of The Piano Shop on the Left Bank (2001) returns with another celebration of France…Those lucky enough to have lived and attended school in Europe will love this book, and anyone heading to Paris will surely add Fontainebleau to his or her schedule.”–Kirkus Reviews
“Part memoir, part history, part love letter to France—Thad Carhart’s adopted home—Finding Fontainebleau is a fun, intriguing meditation on time, place, and nationality. I don’t think I can pay it a greater compliment than to report that reading it sent me to Paris’s Gare de Lyon, there to board a train to Fontainebleau, which I saw with new eyes.”—Penelope Rowlands, author of Paris Was Ours
I took five years of French in jr high and high school and remember vaguely learning enough about Fontainebleau to fit on a post card. How wonderful must it have been for Mr. Carhart to spend his childhood growing up nearby. And then to go back as an adult and get the 'backstage tour'? C'est magnifique!
This is the kind of story that makes history come alive. To hear it from someone who was there, and for a long enough period of time to really dive into his or her subject. It's like learning a foreign language by immersion in the culture.
The text went back and forth between the author's childhood and the 'present'. The transitions were very smooth and each story added something to the one before or after it. Like the story of the shooting of a teacher one day at school. From his childhood...it's like watching the start of some terrible event in slow-motion and then things speed up into utter chaos. And then Mr. Carhart speaks to the administrator some years later and she says something along the lines of, "Wow! That really happened?!?"
Also amusing were the accounts of his mother's 'inventory' with the landlady of the state of the house and its contents before the move in and shortly before they moved out. I have to say I side with the renters on this one. Perhaps the landlady felt they were renting Fontainebleau itself and not a house in the town. The house was another thing he got to visit both as a child and as an adult, although by that time it had been turned into a set of offices.
If you can't get to Fontainebleau on your own, reading this book is the next best thing.
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(Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the author and publishers via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review. This post contains affiliate links.)