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One woman's summer of pleasure in Paris

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Glynnis MacNicol, you had me at the title. OK, let me back up. Glynnis MacNicol is a writer. She has a new book out, and the title that hooked me - "I'm Mostly Here To Enjoy Myself: One Woman's Pursuit Of Pleasure In Paris." In MacNicol's case, the pursuit of pleasure boils down to cheese, also wine, friendships, sex, repeat. Glynnis MacNicol, welcome.

GLYNNIS MACNICOL: Thank you so much for having me.

KELLY: So start where your story starts. The summer of 2021, you decide to book a flight and an apartment in Paris. And I want you to take me to that moment, just what you were feeling that - fleeing New York, as you wrote, was - it's not an option. It felt like a necessity.

MACNICOL: Yes. I had remained in New York through all of lockdown, so from March 2020 right through to where the book begins in the summer of 2021, in my little studio apartment on the top floor of my apartment building very, very much alone. Of course, I could speak to people on Zoom and sort of see them at a distance when we'd go for walks in Central Park, but otherwise, you know, a very solitary existence, untouched. I say in the book unsmelled (sp), which is such a strange thing to realize but was true.

And in July of 2021, there was sort of that brief respite where vaccines had rolled out, and it seemed briefly that we might be moving back into normalcy. And I had stayed in this apartment in Paris in previous summers and had a very solid friend group there. And so I reached out to the apartment owner and said, do you think this is possible? And he said, absolutely. And so I booked it and got on a plane and took off.

KELLY: Yeah, and decided just to open yourself to all of the pleasures that one imagines would come from escaping for a month to Paris. Start with just - I could feel your joy. I mentioned the cheese, and was - there's a lot of wine. There's a lot of rose being poured. There's a lot of chocolat chaud, hot chocolate. It's so palpable, your joy. Tell me just what it felt like to be out in the world smelling, being smelled, eating all the things.

MACNICOL: It felt like I hurled myself in - it was almost like I - the way you hurl yourself into water in the middle of summer or the way you hurl yourself into a meal when you haven't eaten. It - sometimes when I think of myself then, I think of those videos of animals who've been in captivity being allowed back in their natural environment. Like, it was just hedonistic and joyful, and I - it was very little thought involved. It was almost instinctual. Like, I just wanted everything pleasurable as much as possible as quickly as possible as frequently as possible.

KELLY: You also hurled yourself into the sex.

MACNICOL: (Laughter).

KELLY: Why did it feel so important, that particular physical pleasure at that particular point?

MACNICOL: When I say I was alone, I was alone. And so - and I imagine there are a number of people who can relate. But that sense of touch - I think going without touch - that's such a primal need, really. and we know that from infancy onward. And so I just - I say this in all sincerity. I just couldn't get out of my clothes quickly enough. I really...

(LAUGHTER)

MACNICOL: I couldn't - I just wanted to be held. I wanted to be touched. I wanted to be, I mean, all the other things that you hope follow those activities. But it was really, I mean, primal in a way. It was - I wanted more.

KELLY: Yeah. Some people will be listening to this and judging your choices, as it sounds...

MACNICOL: Shocking (laughter).

KELLY: It sounds like you're well aware. They will be saying, you know, what's she doing putting pleasure at the center of her life and sleeping around and doing all these decadent things, and she doesn't know what she's missing, not marrying, not having kids. The question I have for you from that is, do you grant those who have made different choices than you the same freedom, the same respect you've learned to grant yourself?

MACNICOL: I hope so. I mean, I - my friendships are at the center of my life, and many of those friendships are with women and men who are in long-term marriages, who have children I'm very close to. I think I have something like 15 godchildren at this point.

KELLY: Wow.

MACNICOL: Yeah (laughter). I benefit from all of that, and I can't imagine not extending the same amount of respect and thrill and enjoyment in their lives. My life is so much richer for having access to all of that. I really try very hard to not slide into the either-or that we have in these conversations about married versus unmarried 'cause I think the real lived experience is that the women in my life who are partnered or who do have children benefit enormously from my presence in varying ways, just as I benefit enormously from theirs.

And that I was able to do this is wonderful, and I'm aware. I say somewhere in the book that I wasn't tapping into, you know, the savings account of my finances - I've been a writer; that's a minimal savings account - but in the savings account of my relationships in order to be able to do this and land in Paris to such a rich community. But the radicalness, I think, in the larger sense of women pursuing pleasure simply because they want to feels new, and it invites criticism. And yet I hope that we're all able to do that, whatever that looks to us.

KELLY: Have you been back to Paris since that summer of 2021?

MACNICOL: Indeed, I have (laughter).

KELLY: Did it live up? Was it as good?

MACNICOL: I will say this. The - I went back the following summer sort of thinking, wow, I wonder if I can do a repeat of this. That was a really enjoyable experience. And my father was dying that summer. And when I got to Paris, I was so grateful to see my friends there and to sort of slip into a different mindset. But I found what I really wanted was my friendships and not sort of the sexual attention that I had access the summer before.

And then the next time I returned, I was in a much different mindset.

KELLY: Yeah.

MACNICOL: And I did have a really good time removing my clothes again in addition to all the other pleasures. So I think, too, we're so conditioned to think of women's stories in general as, you know, a solution at the end, you know? Women are problems in need of a solution, and that solution always - not always, but often is a wedding or a child.

And I was reminded in the writing of this and many of my trips back and forth between New York and Paris that it's more, you know, like waves. Like, sometimes it's really, really enjoyable, and then sometimes things get difficult, and then they get enjoyable again and that there's not an end to this. As I think anybody knows from their lived experience, it's - it comes and it goes and having the faith to know it will get better again when it's not going great. And then additionally, when it's going really well, understanding to enjoy it while it is because it's not a permanent state.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOT CHOCOLATE SONG, "YOU SEXY THING")

KELLY: Glynnis MacNicol - the book is "I'm Mostly Here To Enjoy Myself: One Woman's Pursuit Of Pleasure In Paris." Well, this has been a pleasure. Thank you.

MACNICOL: This has been a delight. Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOT CHOCOLATE SONG, "YOU SEXY THING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.