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Authors: Lucinda Holdforth

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True Pleasures

Praise for
True Pleasures

‘The pleasure of this book is the way Lucinda Holdforth
gracefully and intelligently negotiates this well-worn
terrain and makes it her own … The story of a quiet
revolution written with a light, sure touch.'

The Age

‘[A] quite remarkable piece of travel writing …
Passionate and compelling.'

Sydney Morning Herald

‘Delightfully captivating … A truly lovely,
thoughtful and erudite journey.'

Sunday Telegraph

‘There is no more perfect book for travellers to Paris than
Lucinda Holdforth's wonderfully erudite
True Pleasures

Vogue Entertaining & Travel

‘If you too dream of being Nancy Mitford, or perhaps
Madame de Pompadour or Colette, all of them living
in Paris as snug as oysters, this is the book for you.'

Canberra Times

‘[A] fascinating study of an enduring city.'


True Pleasures
is more than biography or
memoir. It can be read as a gentle instruction manual
on how to look at life from a different view than
the usual run-of-the-mill perspectives.'

Limelight Magazine

true pleasures

a memoir of


Copyright © 2005 by Lucinda Holdforth
[email protected]

05 06 07 08 09 5 4 3 2 1

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written consent of the publisher or a license from The Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency (Access Copyright). For a copyright license, visit
or call toll free to 1-800-893-5777.

Greystone Books
A division of Douglas & McIntyre Ltd.
2323 Quebec Street, Suite 201
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
V5T 4S7

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Holdforth, Lucinda, 1963–
True pleasures: a memoir of women in Paris / Lucinda Holdforth.
Includes bibliographical references.
-13: 978-1-55365-129-1     
-10: 1-55365-129-4
1. Women--France—Paris—Biography. 2. Paris (France)—Biography. I. Title.
2005     920.72'0944'36     

Library of Congress Information is available upon request

Published in Australia by Random House Australia Pty Ltd

Jacket Photograph © JK / Magnum Photos
Jacket design by Stacey Noyes
Printed and bound in Canada by Friesens
Distributed in the U.S. by Publishers Group West

Permission to quote from the following sources is gratefully acknowledged:
Richard Rand,
Intimate Encounters: Love and Domesticity in Eighteenth Century France
© 1977 by the Trustee of Hood Museum of Art / Dartmouth College, reprinted with permission of Princeton University Press. Extract from
My Apprenticeships
by Colette and translated by Helen Beauclerk published by Secker & Warburg used by permission of The Random House Group Limited. Extract from
Madame du Deffand and Her World
by Benedetta Craveri, translated from the Italian by Teresa Waugh, reprinted by permission of David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc. (Copyright © 1982 by Benedetta Craveri, translated from the Italian by Teresa Waugh.) The Ballad of Lucy Jordan. S. Silverstein © Evil Eye Music / Essex Music Australia, reprinted with permission.
The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh
edited by Charlotte Mosley and
The Letters of Nancy Mitford
edited by Charlotte Mosley reproduced by permission of Hodder and Stoughton Limited. Extract from Voltaire's
Selected Writings
, edited by Christopher Thacker, reprinted by permission of The Everyman's Library. Extract from
The Pursuit of Love
The Nancy Mitford Omnibus
reprinted by permission of PDF on behalf of The Estate of Nancy Mitford © 1978, 1974, The Estate of Nancy Mitford. Extract from
Selected Writings of Germaine de Staël
translated by Vivian Folkenflik reprinted by permission of Columbia University Press.

Every effort has been made to trace accurate ownership of copyright text used in this book. Any copyright owners who have inadvertently been omitted from acknowledgements and credits should contact the publisher and omissions will be rectified in subsequent editions.

To Syd Hickman,
whose timing was perfect

Table of Contents

  1 Arrival

  2 Great Dames

  3 Place des Vosges

  4 The Academy

  5 Le Grand Véfour

  6 Courtesans

  7 Salons

  8 The Left Bank

  9 The Language of Love

10 Dressed by Dior

11 Place Vendôme

12 On Grown-Up Women

13 But Women
Politics …

14 A Good Death

15 Au Revoir

Further Reading


True pleasure for me can be found only in love,
in Paris or in power

Germaine de Staël, 1803


The mornin' sun touched lightly on the eyes of Lucy Jordan, In a white suburban bedroom in a white suburban town, As she lay there 'neath the covers dreaming of a thousand lovers, Till the world turned to orange and the room went spinning round. At the age of thirty-seven she realized she'd never ride through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in her hair.

‘The Ballad of Lucy Jordan', Marianne Faithfull

morning in 1944, Nancy Mitford was lying in bed feeling sorry for herself. At the age of forty, she disliked her life. Her marriage was a failure. She had written three minor novels, but their poor sales meant she was forced to work as an underpaid assistant in a London bookstore. She wanted to leave her job and write another novel, but couldn't quite afford to. War-time food rationing had left her dangerously thin, and now she was laid up with a severe bout of laryngitis.

On that day in London – bored, bed-ridden, frustrated – Nancy Mitford wrote her mother a letter.
I need a
, she wrote.
I am so underpaid
. Then, out of the blue, she declared:
I am angling like mad for a job in Paris
. She emphasized that such a plan was all very nebulous – but you can tell that this is just a daughter's strategy to hose down a mother's mounting alarm.

It's the one-liner that really gives the game away. There it is, the next sentence all alone on the page, a single row of words like a song lyric:
Oh to live in Paris! I'd give anything
. And so Nancy Mitford gave voice to the ambition that would change her life.

Today, at dawn on a spring morning more than a half-century later, I stumble, drained and pale, through the plastic tubes of Charles de Gaulle airport. I've just stepped off a 24-hour flight. My skin is paper, my hair is wire, my travel-wear limp and stale.

A regal Algerian in his early thirties is my taxi driver. We talk a little; I try to energize my lazy Australian mouth to perform the acrobatics of French vowels and diphthongs. ‘Australia?' he remarks. ‘That's a long way away.' And, ‘You love Paris, uh? Everyone loves Paris, of course.' Then, ‘Me, no, I don't live here, it's too expensive – I commute here every day. It's OK.'

All of a sudden he says, shyly, tenderly, ‘My wife has just had our first baby. A girl.' He holds up a small Polaroid – I lean forward to admire a coffee-colored baby with wisps of dark hair.

‘She's beautiful,' I say. ‘What is her name?'


I roll back in delight. ‘The storyteller?' Of course. ‘The
. How do you say her name again?'

He repeats the word with melting slowness, as if honey is rolling in his mouth: ‘Sché-hé-ra-zade.'

It sounds so wonderful, so feminine and exotic, I repeat
it after him and I see him smiling at me proudly in his rearview mirror.

‘Perhaps she will grow up to tell wonderful stories about her own life.'

‘Yes,' he says. ‘My wife believes so.'

Our conversation lapses as we draw closer to the city center. I wind down the dewy window as Paris resolves itself before my glad eyes: the sweep of the Seine, the creamy buildings, the domes and spires of the great monuments. Is it my imagination, or can I already smell the bittersweet coffee and buttery croissants?

We pull into rue de Normandie in the ancient Marais district. My destination is actually a little shop, converted into a tiny house. My friend Rachel is away at a conference in Brussels, but she has forwarded me her spare key. I fiddle awkwardly with locks and suddenly, I'm in.

The scene is comfortingly familiar: here are Rachel's red glass tulips, her American novels, her collection of black and white photographs … I knew them in Canberra, saw them again in her apartment on rue Maître Albert when I visited several years ago, watched the accretion of beautiful things. Even when we first met, two junior officers in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, even then, Rachel had flair.

That's new, I see, that fabulous white
chaise longue

Like me, Rachel did not stay with the Department. We left Canberra within a year of each other following the election defeat of 1996. From the office of the vanquished Deputy Prime Minister, I went to Sydney to work for a management consulting firm; she came to Paris to work for the OECD. Now she advises global companies on trade issues.

On the dining table is a message in Rachel's black round hand on heavy white paper:
Dear Lu, If you are reading this you've made it!
She gives me careful instructions on the lights, the heating, the TV, the nearest Metro station and the local food markets.

A narrow curved stairway leads up to the bedrooms. My bed is dressed in lemon-scented white linen, big fluffy pillows for reading, space in the cupboard for my clothes and books, even flowers and a quaint history of the Marais district on my bedside table.

It's getting warm. I take a shower, and the steam lifts the airplane's stale odors from my skin. Then I lie on the white bed as the muted Parisian light flickers through the window and the progressively more purposeful street noises rise up.

When I joined the management consulting firm, I sailed in on a tide of stockmarket excess. Business was booming and the partners were feeling benevolent. They were in the mood to talk about quality. They were ready to be excellent. So I was employed to help the management consultants communicate more effectively with their clients: together we would make a team of
compelling communicators

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