Lit-Savvy Travel

Great literature mirrors human nature, animates history, and ignites brain fireworks on any trip. You do not need advanced degrees or a heavy travel dossier to be a lit-savvy traveler.

Here’s how literature can illuminate your travels:


Cats GrinREAD. Find writers of your destination, stories set there, historical figures and events. Choose the best translation; try an excerpt if there are more than one. I find titles online, and have found some great books by looking at University literature programs’ reading lists. Rick Steves offers comprehensive literature, DVD, and music lists for his destinations. www.ricksteves.com


Cats GrinRESEARCH. The For Dummies series offers history in bite-sized chunks that even a non-fiction phobe can swallow (British History for Dummies, for example). www.dummies.com Learn about the author, see what else he has written; find interviews, photos. Online research is the best place to start, as it points you in whichever direction you wish to go.


Cats GrinREFINE your travel plans. Eyewitness Travel Guides are la crème de la crème: visual and concise, they cover every detail of your trip. Plan to visit museums, monuments, works of art, exhibits, tours, concerts and lectures. Many homes of great authors have been preserved into museums. Your guidebook will also lead you to restaurants and haunts favored by writers and characters.


Cats GrinREALIZE the dynamic nature of lit-savvy travel. Once you have arrived in your chosen spot, immerse yourself in the world of your book. Go to various settings you imagined when you read. Watch for modern-day counterparts of characters. See what you envisioned; it does exist!



Here’s one way to experience Paris.

READ: Cat’s Grin by Francois Maspero:Cats Grin

This is a semi- autobiographical novel about a boy growing up in France during the last years of World War II. http://www.antiqbook.co.uk/boox/bkf/37541.shtml It presents the Occupation and Liberation through the eyes of curious, sensitive, and often funny Luc Ponte-Serra. Maspero has given Luc a flawlessly authentic boy-essence; Maspero climbed back into his own 12-year-old skin. Meet Cat:

Cat, whom other people call Luc, is thirteen. They say he is big for his age. He has skinny legs with big knobby knees sticking out of his short accordion-wrinkled pants and a heavy hank of black hair falling over his eyes—his mother says they are lavender, it depends on the weather, blue eyes, gray eyes, almond-shaped eyes, Persian-cat eyes—and a mouth that stretches from ear to ear when he laughs, like a mouth on a cat piggy bank. In the summer freckles come out around his nose; he likes that.



RESEARCH: World War 2 Paris:


Francois Maspero is still writing. Photos and interview (in French) here.

Read Chapter 19, The Occupation, in The Seven Ages of Paris, by Alistair Horne link to book. Go online to and read personal first hand accounts of the war.

Online, just type in keywords of the events in the book and you will find a wealth of information.






REFINE your plans to experience World War 2 Paris:

FrancoisPlan your visit to the Museum of the Order of the Liberation at the Invalides.

Dive into your Paris Eyewitness Travel Guide. us.dk.com/static/cs/us/11/travel/intro.html - 29k Plan a tour through Meeting the French focusing on the Occupation and Liberation. www.meetingthefrench.com Reserve some time to see the photograpy of the period. 


REALIZE the Paris of Cat’s Grin.

Walk past the Hotel Lutetia, where Luc went to find information about his mother after the liberation of the camps. It is now one of the grand hotels of Paris.

Trace Luc’s steps as he sneaks back and forth across turbulent Paris between his elegant grandmother Lady Ponte-Serra’s luxurious apartment in the Trocadero and his aunt and uncle’s run down place in the 7th Arrondissment:

He is wearing his old navy-blue wool jacket with the tabs, his too short shorts,also blue wool, with the threadbare hem that rubs raw sores on the insides of his thighs if he has to walk very far, his espadrilles, and the greased-stained knapsack from which he is never parted.

FrancoisPeer into cafes and imagine the Petit Roscoff, the café where Cat met his friend Diane.

When you look at the Invalides, you may see, in your mind’s eye, the barbed wire around it, the American jeep, and the young FFI soldiers.

…soldiers in windbreaker jackets wearing red forage caps or sailor’s berets with pompoms. The soldiers invite girls to climb up on the tanks and be shown around the insides; the girls kiss the men, leaving large smudges of red on their faces, which the men do not bother to wipe off.

In the South Gallery of the Musuem of the Liberation, see faces of brave young men, like Antoine, who paved the way for the Liberation. Upstairs in the Deportation display see clothing worn at Ravensbruck and Buchenwald, where Luc’s mother and father were. Find the playing cards made by men whose intelligent minds craved activity. See sketches of faceless women on forbidden paper….find one that reminds you of Luc’s mother.

Between the Pont des Arts and the Pont-Neuf on the Seine, you will see boys Cat’s age in water up to their knees, wet and happy—sixty-five years later. Watch young boys in the Luxembourg Gardens and imagine Cat and his large-headed friend playing and poking at their makeshift boats with long sticks until the gendarmes chase them off. Close your eyes and envision the vacant, empty spaces. Hear the silence in the deserted gardens, broken only by boys’ shouts as paper airplanes sail through the air.

In the Luxembourg gardens the air is striped with white arrows pursued by packs of screaming schoolboys, Luc always in the lead.

Here is a series of photos I took in the Luxembourg Gardens of a Cat-like-character; the last blurry photo contains the ghost of Luc Ponte-Serra.



Books to Enhance France


Eyewitness Travel , France, and Paris

France for Dummies, Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince
French Wine for Dummies, Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan
French Phrases for Dummies, Dodi-Katrin Schmidt, Michelle M. Williams, Dominique Wenzel
Paris for Dummies, Cheryl A. Pientka

La Belle France, Alistair Horne
The Seven Ages of Paris, Alistair Horne

Essays, Michel de Montaigne

In a Dark Wood Wandering, Hella S. Hasse

An Army of Angels: A Novel of Joan of Arc, Pamela Marcantel
Joan of Arc, Mark Twain
Joan of Arc: By Herself and Her Witnesses, Régine Pernoud
Blood Red, Sister Rosé, Thomas Keneally

Queen Margot, Alenxandre Dumas
The Entire Memoirs of Marguerite de Valois, Queen Marguerite de Valois

The Agony and the Ecstasy, Irving Stone
Michelangelo, Kirsten Bradbury
The Pocket Louvre, Mignot

Literary Paris: A Guide, Jessica Powell
Lost Illusions, Honoré de Balzac
Les Misérables, Victor Hugo
Sentimental Education, Gustave Flaubert
The Red and the Black, Stendhal
In Search of Lost Time trilogy, Marcel Proust

The Days of the French Revolution, Christopher Hubert
The French Revolution: A History, Thomas Carlyle
Blood Sisters: The French Revolution in Women’s Memory, Marilyn Yalom

A Place of Greater Safety, Hilary Mantel
City of Darkness, City of Light, Marge Piercy

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

A Case of Curiosities, Alex Kurzweil

The Journal of Eugene Delacroix, trans Lucy Norton

The Josephine Bonaparte Trilogy, Sandra Gulland
Napoleon and Josephine, An Improbable Marriage, Evangeline Bruce
Walks Through Napoleon and Josephine’s Paris, Diana Reid Haig

Walks Through Lost Paris, Leonard Pitt

The Impressionists’ Paris, Ellen Williams
The Judgement of Paris, Ross King
The Private Lives of the Impressionists, Sue Roe
The Luncheon of the Boating Party, Susan Vreeland
Artists by Themselves: Renoir by Renoir (Monet, Degas, and van Gogh) edited by Rachel Barnes
Impressionists, Antonia Cunningham
Monet, Vanessa Potts

500 Self-Portraits, Phaidon
The Artists Revealed – Artists and their Self-Portraits, Ian Chilvers

Lust for Life, Irving Stone
The Letters of Vincent van Gogh
van Gogh, W.Uhde

Paris Tales, Helen Constantine

Walks in Hemingway’s Paris, Noël Riley Fitch
Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation, Noël Riley Fitch
Literary Cafés of Paris, Noël Riley Fitch

Suite Française, Irène Némirovsky
David Golder, The Ball, Snow in Autumn, The Courilof Affair, Irène Némirovksy
Irène Némirovsky, Her Life and Works, Jonathan Weiss
Shadows of a Childhood, Elisabeth Gille (daughter of Irène Némirovsky)
Le Mirador, Elisabeth Gille (Irène Némirovsky as imagined by her daughter)

Cat’s Grin, François Maspero
Charlotte Gray, Sebastian Faulks
Chocolat, Joanne Harris

Wine and War, Don and Petie Kladstrup
Noble Rot, a Bordeaux Wine Revolution, William Echikson

Paris to the Moon, Adam Gopnik