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'Suddenly I was alone': Former Texas Monthly editor writes about his wife and the city they loved

By Sharyn Vane
Special to the American-Statesman
"Paris Without Her" by Gregory Curtis

Gregory Curtis and his wife, Tracy, loved Paris as they loved each other – fiercely, fully, flaws and all.

Tracy’s diagnosis of late-stage pancreatic cancer in 2010 and her death months later gutted Curtis. He found himself back in Paris as he healed, navigating both his new life as a widower and their favorite city.

Curtis chronicles that emotional journey in his affecting, heartfelt new memoir “Paris Without Her” (Knopf, $26.95). The former Texas Monthly editor launches the book Tuesday at BookPeople with fellow Austin writer Stephen Harrigan. 

It was Harrigan, in fact, who gave Curtis his title. 

“In September of 2018, I put myself in a corner,” Curtis recalled in a phone interview. Friends were leaving their Paris apartment for a semester to teach in the States, and offered him a short-term rental. “I didn't let myself think. I was afraid that if I thought about it, I’d think myself out of it.” 

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Over years of traveling to Paris for leisure, studying at the Sorbonne and writing two art-themed books rooted in France, he had occasionally mused on writing a more personal book about Paris.

“Now I had an apartment, I was going to be in Paris all that time, things are falling into place – I should write that book, whatever that book was. I was talking with Steve Harrigan and he said, ‘You know what your title is: “Paris Without Her.”’ Immediately, those three words just hit me very strongly, and that made the book coalesce in my mind.”

Meeting at the Texas Monthly

Curtis met his wife in 1974 in the offices of Texas Monthly, the magazine he would go on to edit from 1981 to 2000. Their connection was instant and electric. “I didn’t know then that I would marry her, but I did know that I loved her,” he writes. 

The two courted, married and settled in Austin with two daughters from Tracy’s previous marriage and, eventually, another daughter and a son. They’d been married for more than six years the first time they visited Paris for Curtis’ work. The attraction, like their own, was immediate.   

Curtis spotlights the pair’s tremendous meals, semi-comic traffic mixups and a memorable stag hunt, early trips that he recreated from Tracy’s detailed travel journals and the couple’s snapshots. He shows their bonds deepening as the years of their marriage accrued, along with their beloved visits abroad.  

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Notably, he doesn’t shy away from sharing rough patches, either.  

“I wanted it to be believable,” Curtis said. “I wanted it to be as true as I could make it. … Anyone who’s been married for 35 years knows that there are times when it’s rough.” 

Seeing Paris with the couple makes Curtis’ solo returns there far more poignant. He shares how after Tracy’s death, keeping occupied became paramount.    

 “Suddenly — and it was sudden — I was by myself,” he said. “I found that I needed things to do, and so each day, usually in bed at night, I would think, ‘OK, tomorrow I'm going to get up, and do this, and do that, and then at 2 I'll take a walk, and then I'll go get groceries.' I'd plan out my day, because otherwise I thought I might just get up and not do anything, and that seemed to be a really bad idea.”

Traveling to Paris for extended periods helped as he built new memories to add to his cherished ones. He studied French at the Sorbonne, where he was decades older than most of the students, and nurtured a new relationship with a teacher and artist he dubs Céleste in the book. Throughout, the city’s streets offered the ideal venue for long daily walks. 

“It was always new, always fresh — not always astonishing, but often astonishing,” he said. And it was what he needed. “That kept me alert and satisfied and happy enough.” 

If you go

Gregory Curtis at Bookpeople

Curtis will talk about “Paris Without Her: A Memoir” in a virtual BookPeople event at 6 p.m. Tuesday.   It's free to attend, but copies of the book are for sale. Information and registration: bookpeople.com/event