When you read as much heavy historical non-fiction as I do, you need a change of pace every once in a while in regards to genres, so that’s where Jennifer Coburn’s mother-daughter travel memoir We’ll Always Have Paris comes in.
Since her father’s premature death, Coburn has always had an intense fear of dying young, and more importantly, missing out on opportunities and experiences with her daughter. As a result, she becomes obsessed with the idea of living like each day is your last, not saying “I’ll do this” or “I’ll go there” one day. No, she’s of the mind you should just do it. And that’s how she and her young daughter go on their first trip to Europe together, specifically to Paris.
Naturally, Coburn and her daughter’s first trip to the City of Lights isn’t exactly as spectacular as she had always envisioned, but by all accounts the trip was a success because her daughter didn’t beg to go back home after a day abroad (many children under the age of 10 certainly would). Every couple of years they go on a new European adventure, to Spain, Italy, and even Holland. I especially enjoyed Coburn’s descriptions of the Dali Triangle in the Costa Brava area since this is a part of Spain I’ve yet to visit but have immense interest in. But eventually they return to the one city they truly will always have.
In terms of whimsical reads, We’ll Always Have Paris is it. However, as someone who is a more experienced traveler, I will say I found Coburn’s descriptions of places and experiences in Europe to be somewhat comical (a la typical American tourist). And yet, she reminded me of the 14e Arrondissement story from the film Paris, je t’aime. It stars Margo Martindale (of The Americans fame) as a middle-aged American who travels to Paris alone because she had always wanted to. Her French pronunciation is terrible, she greatly stands out, and yet she’s there, having made the effort and more importantly, made something come true.
What I enjoyed most about We’ll Always Have Paris, and even more so than the travel parts, were the chapters from her past, specifically the flashbacks involving her childhood and the relationship she had with her father. I thought the writing in these sections was so eloquent and a beautiful ode to her father’s memory. By all accounts her father was somewhat of a mess, both financially and in having his life together, and yet he was a good father to Coburn, even with his shortcomings, and that’s what she wanted to be for own daughter.
I think if you’re a parent considering taking your child on his first trip abroad, this would be a wonderful look into that new and exciting world. And if you’re like me and just enjoy a travel narrative to induce some wanderlust and read other people’s descriptions and opinions of places you’ve been, then you’ll definitely appreciate We’ll Always Have Paris.