In Debra Shriver's third book about the city of New Orleans and her first on Paris, she takes you on a journey of self-reflection — a sabbatical from her decades-long, high-powered life and career in New York City. With a one-way ticket to Paris, she did what is known in New Orleans as the French leave. My grandmother used this phrase often with a little wink at the end of a long debutante ball or wedding reception.
By definition, a French leave is a custom which began in 18th century France that means going away from a gathering without taking leave of the host or hostess or to go away without permission or notice. And that's exactly what Deb did. With little fanfare and few goodbyes, Deb escaped Manhattan and her job for a much-needed time-out. After years of a 24/7 schedule and holidays spent in her second home in New Orleans, she stepped back and slipped away.
She writes, "In France, very few things are done in haste and time is the silent ingredient." The French Leave: From Paris To Orleans Parish, is a stunning book of luscious photography and charming text. Her nine months of soul searching and eventual permanent move to the Crescent City are beautifully chronicled.
The limited edition book is the first to be published by Crescent City Press, the new imprint that Deb founded here. As she notes, "My desire is to identify and inspire, through publishing, the overflowing cache of talent throughout my adopted city of New Orleans and neighboring regions."
This title will only be sold in small bookstores, boutiques, and museum shops here and in Paris. It's the story of quiet meandering on narrow streets and footpaths, days spent wandering through secret gardens, and solitary afternoons lingering at sidewalk cafés. Her captivating depiction of the shops, food stalls, and elegant dining tables send me on my own little French leave. Deb shot and edited all of the photography herself on an iPhone, allowing her to capture the delicious small details and unplanned moments of everyday Parisian life. A treasure trove of antique silver, fine porcelain, fading painted finishes, and chipping gilt are "a movable feast" as Hemingway would say.
I especially love her description of navigating the food markets where patience, simplicity, and presentation is the rule. There's no multi-tasking. "This was one of my most important lessons," Deb explains. "If you asked for cheese, bread, and fruit, the vendor would sell you: Cheese. Bread. Fruit. One at a time. The French naturally mono-task, and they are almost never in a hurry. There is artful parceling; packaging by wrapping twine the color of corn silk around very thin waxed paper; and, finally, payment."
"I had come to Paris in search of Colette," says Deb. "I'd packed three slim. well-read paperbacks for my journey. Traveling muses; three for the road." As she explored the nooks and crannies of the City of Light, Colette's classic two-volume set on love, Chéri and The Last of Chéri; Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, and Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer were steady companions.
She also includes delightful recountings of meeting Catherine Deneuve, touring Coco Chanel's apartment, visiting Claude Monet's former home in Giverny, and staying at the Hôtel La Mirande in Avignon. She even gained access to the Hôtel de Pontalba, a hôtel particulier and the Parisian home of New Orleans' Micaela Almonester, Baroness de Pontalba, who built our iconic Jackson Square. There are self-portraits shot as she peers through tiny shop windows and she cleverly weaves images of the Vieux Carré into the story.
With her unrivaled eye and honest emotion, Deb takes us along on her restorative sojourn finding exquisite beauty in ordinary things. "One's destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things," she explains." Novelty lights up the brain." This book says big things in quiet ways in which we can all find solace. The French Leave definitely feeds your heart and soul. I'm checking off several hard to shop for people on my holiday list — history buffs, French design lovers, antique collectors, and those of you who love a stylish coffee table book, you just might find this under the tree. There are several author signings scheduled and the book is available at the New Orleans Museum of Art as well as other local independent bookstores.
This story appeared in the October and November issue of Adore