Recalling the Discovery of Liberty and Love in Paris

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All her life, Catherine Hiller thought she knew her mother. And she did, to a certain extent.

She is impulsive, independent, beautiful and emotionally in-tune, a loving mother at her core. She is a ball of wit — even her shopping lists are entertaining — and a gifted raconteur, having regaled the family with countless stories all her life.

But those stories were edited, her daughter has since realized. She never knew about the romance, the movie stars, the crime, or the sex. Or that her mother never loved her father — instead, after their separation, finally falling for a man named Maurice in France, the linchpin in Glynne Hiller’s memoir, “Passport to Paris,” which she will discuss on Saturday at Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor.

At 94 years old, she is still full of surprises.

“Sometimes I worry that the art of flirtation is dead,” Catherine Hiller said. “But my mom’s book resurrects it.”

Written on and off, for the past 12 years, from Glynne Hiller’s upstairs study in Sag Harbor — “I’m a rather slow writer,” she said — “Passport to Paris” centers on just 1950 to 1952, a critical time in her life, she explained.

“I focused on these two action-filled years in Paris because they were pivotal to the rest of my life. I left my husband and met the great love of my life, although we never got married,” she said. “It was agony and heaven. Agony, at first, because I wasn’t sure he loved me back. Then it was heaven when I knew he did.”

She was often elated while writing, sometimes finding herself in tears or laughing out loud, she said. “And like any writer, I enjoy striking a felicitous phrase,” she said.

The most joyous chapters revolved around her first dates with Maurice, as she basked in their relationship rushing back to her, but she doesn’t shy away from the darkness, either — reliving an afternoon she was raped by a man she knew well, who found her alone in her apartment one day — as well as leaving her husband.

“I want people to know that there are times when you have to fight for your liberty,” she said. “Most people thought I should stay with my husband, Joe, who was a good man, but once I realized I didn’t love him, I needed to break with what was then tradition and try life on my own with my little daughter.”

With very little money, they lived out their adventure — and “Passport to Paris” is an ode to joie de vivre, Catherine Hiller said. She has a new respect for her mother as a writer, she said, and as a person.

She has a feeling that those her know her will, too.

“I felt the book needed to be published because, after all these years, all her friends and family wanted to read it,” she said. “And strangers, too, would benefit from its publication, because it’s such fun to read, and her character is so refreshing.

“I also thought she would enjoy scandalizing her circle, and, perhaps, others,” she added. “After all, this is a 94-year-old woman writing frankly about love and sex.”

Glynne Hiller will discuss her memoir, “Passport to Paris” on Saturday, June 2, at 5 p.m. at Canio’s Books, located at 290 Main Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, please call (631) 725-4926.

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