This was such an enjoyable memoir, a wonderful escape into the life of someone who took a risk to start living the life he wanted. Cris Hammond followed a lead that his wife left taped to the bathroom mirror and radically changed their lives forever.
From the publisher:
This is the story of becoming suddenly unemployed, nearing 60 and being forced to face up to the fact that life is about to change drastically. It’s about discovering that your life can fall apart just enough to allow you to put it back together again in a whole new way.
This is the story of tossing the briefcase, cutting up the credit cards, selling the house and buying an 80 year old Dutch barge in France, then setting sail for Paris.
It’s a joyful and funny tale of stepping off the beaten path to live a dream that you’d thought you’d forgotten: Living on a barge in the middle of Paris.
I love memoirs about people with boats–books about people who make their livelihood on the ocean or those who buy a boat to cruise the coast. This is the first book I’ve read about a barge or boating in France. Who knew there’s this whole sub-culture of people in France (lots of Brits, some Americans, and fewer Aussies) who live on barges? I thought that was something people did in England or the Netherlands.
Cris Hammond gets the axe at work. He used to live a more artistic lifestyle, but got sucked into the steady-paycheck world of business suits and briefcases for a bunch of years and lived on automatic pilot. This book is the story of what he did to maintain his life financially after that illusory safety-net unraveled and he buys an old barge to create a life where he and his wife spend part of the year exploring the rivers and canals of France and beyond.
Hammond is a good storyteller. He describes people and situations with ease and humor, and also pokes fun at himself without the cloying self-effacement that quickly gets old in tales of Americans stumbling around in a foreign country trying to figure out new things like buying an old barge, getting it refitted, learning how to drive it through locks, and dealing with the lackadaisical French work ethic that he experienced.
I enjoyed the way Hammond shows what it’s like to move back and forth between France and San Francisco, how he and his wife slowly create this new life of theirs. Twice he mentions how the lack of media stimulation (no newspapers, radio, TV or ready access to the internet) on the boat helps their anxiety level sink and their sense of calm become palpable, and then the readjustment of life back in San Francisco where the 24 hour fear mongering news cycle ups the tension of everyday life.
His father’s sickness as well as the loss of his job start Hammond thinking “dangerous questions” like:
- What makes me happy?
- How many hours a day do I spend on autopilot?
- What more important, things or time?
- What is happiness?
Hammond’s friend Phil, a cartoonist, goes along for an early trip and fills the roll of the wise sage, the one who says things like, stressing out over X isn’t going to increase your odds of not dying and, “Take your time. Enjoy the trip, just in case, you know, you don’t make it all the way to the end.”
If you like books about France or French culture, you’ll want to add this one to your list. There’s just enough barge info to keep boating geeks interested, but mainly this is a story of adventure and learning how to let go and live the life you want with the reminder (or warning) that even when you’re living the change you want, that doesn’t mean there won’t be headaches, heartaches, and frustrations along the way. Hammond does a fine job of showing the beautiful with the challenging realities of life and dealing with other people.
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From Here to Paris
Source: review e-copy for France Book Tours
Recommend to those who enjoy memoirs, Paris, France, and books about the boating life.
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