On my blog at Southern Fried French I often recommend books about France, so I read a lot of French travel memoirs. Karen Chase’s Bonjour 40: A Paris Travel Log (40 years. 40 days. 40 seconds) really stood out for me. It’s full of wise and funny reflections on Paris, on being a woman at a turning point, on life and love.
Lynn McBride: Paris travel memoirs seem fantastically popular at the moment. Your book has a unique twist, and a fresh, thoughtful take on common French travel experiences. What was the evolution of the idea?
Karen Chase: I went to Paris for my fortieth birthday to stay a month. I kept a blog, primarily for friends and family, but then women (some strangers) started telling me about how it was changing the way they thought about travel, themselves and getting older. When an editor and friend, Kristen Weber, suggested I do more with it, I developed the adventure into a travel essay.
LM: While your book is a Paris travel log, it’s also very much a book about transitions: age milestones, relationships, traveling in new ways.
KC: Paris has this historical reputation for being a place of rebirth. It’s where women find out more about what it means to be a woman. I was turning 40, which many women dread, but I wanted to rejoice in my milestone. I had read so many travel essays, like Under The Tuscan Sun where the female authors suffered before traveling, and I felt disconnected from that. I wasn’t suffering. Bill Bryson never suffered. Why couldn’t a woman travel from a place where she was already happy?
LM: I’m interested in how you found the experience of traveling alone, versus traveling with Ted, as you did later in the trip.
KC: I’m a big proponent of women traveling alone. It breeds confidence and self-sufficiency. In Paris, I had to read maps, had to speak French to get around, and truly saw Paris through my eyes first. Ted met me on day 30, and then I could stay up past midnight far away from my apartment, like when we went a jazz cave in Montmartre. I could also kiss him madly on the lover lock bridge, Pont des Arts, near Notre Dame. After all, Paris is about love, too.
LM: You’re a designer as well as a writer. How do the two intersect, is there some cross-pollination?
KC: Always. My writing, my design and my photography are always feeding off one another and together they make my senses very, very aware. For example, spring markets in Paris are filled with fruits, breads, cheese, roasting chickens, jewelry and a collection of shoppers, smells, and colors. I still don’t think I’ll ever be able to perfectly describe or capture the Paris market. The only way to do it is to stand in the middle, empty your head.
LM: How do you think you’ll experience Paris in the future?
KC: My first response was as an old dear friend who I have thought of each day, and have missed since the moment we parted. Then I realized that was understating it. Paris is an amazing, soulful, kind, mysterious and sexy lover who spun my head off my shoulders and left me wanting more. I simply want more. Please. More. Please.
LM: What’s your next project?
KC: For the readers who enjoyed the ebook of Bonjour 40, a print book has just come out on Amazon. While the ebook had nearly 40 photos, this version has over 100 images, along with all the original entries, and a few more details. I’m working on a novel that is very different from Paris. It’s historical fiction about the Declaration of Independence.
LM: Do you any thoughts to pass along to others who are travel-journaling or writing memoirs?
KC: Make it personal. Make it funny. Share all the sensory experiences. Read Bill Bryson and relish in the descriptions. Read Elizabeth Gilbert and be mature enough to realize that she’s not self-indulgent, she’s empowering. Find a professional editor. But by all means, go. Just go. Travel. See and experience the world. The words will come.
Karen A. Chase is the author of Bonjour 40: A Paris Travel Log (40 years. 40 days. 40 seconds.). She is a writer, and owns 224Pages.com, a design studio dedicated to creating book covers, trailers and materials for authors and publishers. She happily lives with Ted and their two cats in Richmond, VA.
Read more about our contributing author, Lynn McBride here.