For those who have been fortunate enough to travel à Paris, you will certainly recognize aspects of this tenderly written, yet honest portrayal of the adopted city writer John Baxter has come to love.
A well-known author in his own right, Baxter has the ability to call to mind the historical events and pleasures of ex-pat authors such as Hemingway and artists such as Man Ray. His intimate knowledge of the streets of Paris and of those who have traveled upon them before his time led Baxter to begin hosting literary walking tours through the city to visiting writers.
In this book, Baxter describes many strolls through the various arrondissements from not only his point of view, but the vantage point of different flâneurs, or walkers,
throughout major historical eras, including a Nazi-occupied Paris, a Paris in revolt, a bustling 1920’s Paris, as well as the Paris of today. To follow Baxter around the city for a single tour would be a true treat, but from the knowledge stored within the pages of his book, one must realize that a single tour alone would not suffice.
Though for many, the idea of a trip to Paris is a romantic and fuzzy-fringed happy day dream delight, Baxter is cautious in his detailing, and often mentions the less than admirable qualities as well. Still, it is obvious from his tale telling that for him, the city is perhaps his favorite character of all.
The book closes with the author’s confession that for him, the most beautiful walk in the world consists of strolling down rue l’Odeon, not just because of the historical aspects of the street, but because of his personal experiences as well. For readers who have not visited Paris, I would highly recommend the book, if only for the lessons in literary and art history that unfold without hesitation or distraction. And for those who plan to visit the city, flip to the very back of the book, where Baxter has written some well-reasoned pieces of advice for traveling on a limited budget.
Sarah Aylward received a copy of this book from the publisher, Harper Perennial.