Coming Full Circle

I‘m not sure how my love of all things French began.

I do know when it started. I was 10. Mom asked what I wanted for my birthday and out of nowhere I replied, “A book of French literature.” She wasn’t expecting that, but did her best.

She wound up buying me a pocket French dictionary. Not bad for pre-Amazon times, in my tiny downstate Illinois hometown of Chebanse.

But how? I must assign some credit to Mrs. Dovenspike, my grey-haired, cats-eye-bespectacled, fourth-grade teacher. I usually finished my classwork early. To keep idle 10-year-old hands and minds occupied, she forced us to read whichever volumes of the World Book encyclopedia were available on a big empty table at the back of the room.

One fateful day I picked up the L volume, thumbed through until I got to “Louis,” and started reading. I recall being fascinated that so many men with the same name had been the kings of France. For hundreds of years. And they were all from the same family!

Then I noted that most of them had married women named “Marie.” (Cue the M volume.)

Then F. (For France.)

I was hooked.

Fast forward to today.

I’m shaping this lifelong obsession into a new concept: building a lifestyle community for people with a similar curiosity about France.

This LitLife website and blog opens the doors to deeper understanding of French by sharing literature, history and practical insights as a fun series of posts and online courses. In the courses, we take time to get to know each other, just like you did in a classroom. Then once you’re ready, it would be my honor to serve as your on-the-ground, go-to guide. You’ll meet me – and the rest of a small group of no more than six people – for a one-week travel experience in Paris and France.

Here’s how the travel part works.

  1. I pick travel dates, a Paris base neighborhood where everyone will stay, and set an overall itinerary based on what will be happening in the city in the season we go.

  2. You book your flights and accommodations. Then you participate in more fun reading and online discussions as part of ‘mini-courses’ adapted from the French culture and language classes I teach college students. You’ll also want to condition yourself for a fair amount of walking: up to 20,000 steps some days.

  3. After getting to know each other online, we meet up in person in the City of Light for a week of exploring aspects of and living in this fascinating city. Not the typical tour stops. Not in an exhausting way. Think garden walks, flea markets, hidden alleys, great meals, insider shopping, nights at the theatre. Taking buses and subways like locals. Plus time on your own to explore, work out, sleep in, sip, savor.

It’ll be inspiring and illuminating. Not perfect, of course: half the fun in immersive, authentic travel are a few happy accidents! Not professorial: sharing insights is very different from lecturing. Not part of a crowd: each travel ‘cohort’ will be no larger than 6 people. Otherwise, it’s a tour. It’s hard to navigate narrow streets and sudden departures. Plus I’d have to carry a flag. (But I’ll be happy to wear a uniquely colored baseball hat so you can find me at a park exit.)

Of course, if you’re reading this, chances are you have been to or through Paris at least once. Here at LitLife, I’ll help you feel that you’re in and part of Paris, where all things French come to life. It brings me full circle, too, back to that sense of wonder I experienced reading about kingdoms and revolutions in Mrs. Dovenspike’s classroom.

Jeffrey Frank Kraft @jeffkraft