Thanks to TLC Tours for a review copy of Finding Fontainebleau and for the giveaway copy. All opinions my own —
Twenty years ago this summer, I visited France, where I toured many chateaux — one being Fontainebleau (the author notes that it’s not pronounced “Fountain Blue,” but more like “Fon ten blow”). So, given that, along with my affinity for all things European, it’s not a surprise that Thad Carhart’s new book appealed to me: Finding Fontainebleau: An American Boy in France.
I loved this book. It was a mix of memoir of the author’s childhood spent in France (his father worked for the US government/NATO in the 1950s), the history of the nearby Fontainebleau Chateau, and just a look at life in France and how it’s different from life in the USA.
Interesting bits from the book:
- Carhart was surprised when, as part of his family’s moving-in to their French home, the French landlady made a very careful inventory of all that the home contained when they arrived. He was to learn that this careful accounting of items was a very French “thing,” noting that “unfinished” domiciles there are basically stripped to the bones, not containing even light fixtures, ventilation fans, or door knobs.
- My stereotype of the French, from my two trips there, is that they are less willing than other Europeans to converse with Americans in English. Carhart pretty much confirms this, writing that “Language is no light affair to the French, and meeting them more than halfway is expected.”
- Those bemoaning the loss of cursive instruction in our elementary schools will enjoy Carhart’s description of the careful attention paid to penmanship in French schools. Two children walked along the desks daily, filling receptacles on each with ink which the students used to write. No erasing here!
- Carhart’s dad enjoyed fencing, a sport I knew nothing about. I learned a thing or two — participants earn points when their opponent touches them with their sword, for instance.
- In France, where many houses/apartment buildings contain only narrow, winding staircases, it’s impossible to move much furniture up and down stairs. When moving, large items are instead moved in and out through upper story windows. Carhart mentioned how nervous it made him to watch this happening, and I always pictured a piano dangling above the sidewalk.
- The French, probably like most Europeans, revere the past and appear to take care of and repair old things much more than we do in America, generally speaking. This can refer to buildings, clothing, shoes — you name it.
- The author describes his family’s camping adventures across Europe. They go to Spain, and attend several bullfights, or “corridas.” He described these so well, and I felt with him his sympathy for the animals involved, and the horror his sister must have felt when a matador threw a bull’s hoof at her (this was supposed to be a good thing!): “It occurred to me that the hours I spent in the Barcelona corrida as a boy were as close as I was ever likely to get to the world of antiquity: brutal, direct, captivating, and fundamentally different from what we call our worldview.”
I couldn’t help envying Carhart the wonderful childhood experience of living in Europe when he was five — a perfect age for language-learning. He talks about how his parents decided to enroll him and his four siblings in French-language schools there. As a kindergartner, Carhart picked up French quickly. I enjoyed his discussion of the pronunciation of his name in French. “Thad” was pronounced “Sad” in French, due to their having no “th” sound. He didn’t like that, so for his school he became “Ted.”
One area where the book disappointed me was its lack of photos. In many places the text really cried out for these, as a location would be described and I’d struggle to imagine it.
Another thought I had while reading was how wonderful it would be if someone wrote a similar book, having grown up near Neuschwanstein Castle. Anybody? Anybody? I promise I’ll read it 🙂
I can give away a copy of this book thanks to TLC Tours. If you would like to win, fill out the rafflecopter form below.
Linking to Booknificent Thursdays at Mommynificent.com