Paris is a city which most of us must either learn to love or learn to avoid. It offers rough first impressions and offends its magical reputation.
As quickly lauded as it is derided, Paris is an archetype of disappointment.
In Paris and Other Disappointments, disappointment is challenged in its heartland: travel and family.
In this memoir, author and comedian Adam Rozenbachs leads his half-interested father on a trip around Europe, discovering how predictably disappointing the magical cities really are.
Their trip is trying, and at times, tense and fraught, as Rozenbachs fights this fall from magic to mundane which his father meets quite comfortably, and indeed champions: "I calmed myself by breaking the trip down. Three weeks wasn't that much. It was just 21 days. 504 hours. A mere 30240 minutes. 1814400 seconds with Dad. That was all."
The memoir's style of humour is noticeably adapted from the stand-up form - for maximum impact it helps the reader to invent and imagine a stand-up persona behind the words, delivering the jokes as a personality.
The book is otherwise smooth, light, easy to read, and full of great lines. My favourite part of the adventure is Tom Rozenbachs, the author's father. In his mild and understated manner, this is a man acclimatised to the unvarnished substance of real life.
Having been dragged to Europe he drags that mundanity with him and reminds us what we all find on our journeys: that Paris is just a stinking city.
One of the most interesting questions you can really ask is "how's the water pressure?" or 'what night is bin night?'.
With such prosaic fascinations Tom grounds their travels, and despite his son's frustrated attempts to elevate him to some cultural or intellectual paradigm, he identifies with the places around the world in the familiar lens of the real humdrum we live in.
"From the literal thousands of things that could serve as a reminder of our trip, he chose the one I'm almost certain no one has taken home before: unlaid street. As if Dad's suitcase hadn't been heavy enough, from Paris on it had the added weight of street paving."
Despite its at times dishearteningly believable subject matter, no part of this book made me resent travel or revel in disappointment.
I was led by reflection on common underwhelming experiences to a remembered fondness; as the memoir re-emphasises, through our disappointments in travel and family we find as many profound fascinations and joys.
- Paris and Other Disappointments, by Adam Rozenbachs. Penguin. $34.99.