On the morning commute the other day, a personal ad in one of the English language Paris weeklies popped out from the page: “I’m not fused with nationality pride—any girl who can walk!”
It’s the end of September and with summer crushes long over, Parisians are looking for love to get them through the cold season. Fall is also the time to brush up on language skills and the language of love in Paris personals this year is full of stumbles and sweet blunders. When you read, “Seeking a cleaver and smear girl for fun things—tanks to your response,” your heart just warms.
Paris has a big reputation to live up to, being the city of love, light and hooking up for well over the past 2,000 years. There’s a long list of lovers, punters and working class heroes who wrote their aches and cravings on a desk in a corner of Paris somewhere—historical precedents to the tempting offer, “I vile in Paris & want a grill to make me happy. R U the she?” Here, with Paris as a backdrop, are a few steamy, stormy couples and some of their love letters through the centuries, in no particular order:
Star-crossed existentialist Simone de Beauvoir to novelist Nelson Algren: “I should give up travels and all kinds of entertainments, I should give up friends and the sweetness of Paris to be able to remain forever with you; but I could not live just for happiness and love, I could not give up writing and working in the only place where my writing and work may have a meaning.”
Madame de Sévigné to her daughter, Paris’s prolific epistolary It Girl of the 17th century, was devastated when her daughter Françoise Marguerite got married and moved to Provence, writing to her almost daily: “I set you up as an idol in my heart.”
Zelda Fitzgerald to F. Scott: “I don’t suppose I really know you very well—but I know you smell like the delicious damp grass that grows near old walls and that your hands are beautiful opening out of your sleeves and that the back of your head is a mossy sheltered cave . . . ”
Marquis de Sade to his little beast, Mademoiselle Rousset, writing from prison where he was incarcerated for sodomy and the supposed non-lethal poisoning of prostitutes in Marseille with Spanish fly: “My little beast, like a new Don Quixote, I will go to break my lances at the four corners of the world to prove that my little beast is, of all the little female beasts breathing between the two poles, she who writes the best and who is the most lovable.”
From the tragic story of twelfth-century philosopher and theologian Abélard to his student and beloved, Héloïse (a tumultuous love that ended with her uncle castrating him; now they are buried together in Père Lachaise Cemetery): “Ah, Héloïse, how far are we from such a happy temper? Your heart still burns with that fatal fire you cannot extinguish, and mine is full of trouble and unrest. Think not, Heloise, that I here enjoy a perfect peace; I will for the last time open my heart to you; I am not yet disengaged from you, and though I fight against my excessive tenderness . . . I remain but too sensible of your sorrows and long to share in them.”
Victor Hugo to Juliette Drouet: “Let us remember all our lives that dark little room, . . . the two armchairs, side by side, the meal we ate off the corner of the table, our sweet conversation, your caresses, your anxieties, your devotion.”
Henry Miller to Anais Nin: “I sent a second letter to Switzerland, same address, did you get it? . . . Don’t be terrified by the avalanche of mail. It is a bad habit of mine . . . Hugo [Anais’ husband], I hope, is not annoyed . . . He must not. In any case, I am not dropping them on his desk . . . But, I know how it can be sometimes. I should hate to have him saying to himself—‘More mail from that guy? What’s the meaning of all this? I hope to Christ he croaks.’”
Gertrude Stein to Alice B. Toklas:
For the 2012 French fall harvest of personals, sometimes the clumsier, more candid requests in English are the most appealing. Here are some of the more rousing (arousing?) prospects. Remember, in Paris, no gate is too far:
-I travel the world in case of your job. Move to your home and making the love. I can move on your state. You pay my visit. We share this dream.
-He must love animal. Preference juvenile. Long hairs.
-I AM CLAM. I AM NOT CONFLICT.
-Meat me, no everything about me!
-I make you the little death big time. (La petite mort, the little death, means orgasm among other things)
-I love my mob. Taxt me!
-Looking for an essay woman, bed soon.
-Massy girls is for me, oui oui!
-It is hard to describe one’s self. I am salute and of the umble ear. I focass on the positive.
-Hi every girl, it’s oaky for relations and I love really love the Sweden.
-I want to relocate you. We can move wood together. No gate too far.
Heather Hartley is Paris editor at Tin House. She’s the author of Knock Knock, released by Carnegie Mellon University Press. Her poems and essays have appeared in or on PBS NewsHour, The Guardian, and elsewhere. She has been Co-Director of the Shakespeare and Company Bookshop literary festival and lives in Paris.