In her book Joie: A Parisian’s Guide to Celebrating the Good Life, Ajiri Aki talks about the flaneur, a gentleman sometimes described as “one who loafs” but actually is a person who strolls about a city and takes the time to appreciate it, pausing on a park bench to read a newspaper, having a croissant at a sidewalk bistro, peeking into a bookstore or art gallery with no purchase in mind or just politely watching other people of interest. A boulevardier is a similar, albeit upscale, term that comes to mind.
An American now living in Paris, Aki admits she is a bit of a flaneuse herself, and the enjoyable thing about Joie is that the book is written for those of us who are also mentally flaneurs and flaneuses – those who enjoy mentally “grazing” for interesting things and ideas, no further definition necessary.
In the introduction, Aki says, “As a Nigerian raised in Austin, Texas, I never imagined that I’d one day be living what one would call ‘the good life.’ I thought the best things in life were reserved for the ultra-wealthy and affluent people. I grew up thinking if you were lucky enough to have something special or something fancy, you saved in and didn’t dare use it daily.”
She also tells the sad story of her mother, who died when Aki was 12, who kept waiting for the proper occasion to use the good china – and never did.
While most of us Americans never have the chance to actually live in Paris, as Aki does with her husband and two children, the book can tell us how to find our Paris – our “joie” – wherever we live. Some examples:
- First, she counsels us to do what should be natural – live in the moment as much as we can – as she is whether she is on a stroll along the Seine or taking the time to buy fresh flowers for the hallway table.
- She encourages us to take more lunches with friends or with other interesting people who may become friends, and she even has a strategy for so doing.
- And Aki transports the joys of café lunches to entertaining at home and plays a bit of Martha Stewart to suggest ways we can succeed at it.
- There is also a section on self-image – how to think better of yourself – and she suggests how to do it by self-pampering and self-presentation.
- Finally, there are the book’s illustrations. In perusing them, I got ideas about decorating and entertaining – more inspiration than suggestions.
Joie makes an excellent gift – for yourself or someone else – and you don’t really need an occasion to do so. Clarkson Potter publishes it for $37.50.