Setting: Lunch yesterday at Chez Albert in Amherst, a small, cute, dark French restaurant. I am seated in the window, with a professor of French Literature who I’ll leave anonymous. We’ve had eggplant Napoleons and are finishing up.
French Lit Professor: Just as long as you don’t do something like, well, I mean the mistakes people make when they write about Paris in the 19th Century are just terrible.
Me: Tell me, please. I was going to ask you but then I didn’t. What are the worst ones?
FLP: Well, parties in the Tuileries when it was knocked down, or even people living there when it was still a ruin. There was one novel where they climbed the Eiffel Tower, which hadn’t been built at the time. In another, they got on the Metro, which wasn’t in place until 1909 or something. This isn’t hard to check!
Me: [Blinking in horror at the idea of being one of these people] There’s that beautiful collection of photographs online, through Northwestern University, of the ruined Tuileries.
I’ve gone to Paris to do stage-blocking. I’ve stood where she’d stand, to see what she’d see, and then got a book of postcard photos, with pictures of monuments now, vs. then…
FLP: I have that book! And then, my Lord. There we were in the Louvre, the Louvre! And they were selling that tour, for that. . . the [bestseller title redacted].
[He squints] And that book has a scene where he describes at the beginning going from the Left Bank to the Right Bank and it’s as if it’s reversed. All of the monuments in reverse, right at the beginning. And they have [bestseller title redacted] tours on sale in the Louvre with these mistakes. My wife noticed it first and then I did. I mean. . .Don’t do that.
Me: I’m trying very hard not to.
FLP: If you like, I’ll read the draft and I can tell you where you’re messing up, if I know.
Me: I’d like that. I’d prefer you find the mistakes before rather than after.