A unique combination of memoir, history, and travelogue, this is author David Downie's irreverent quest to uncover why Paris is the world's most romantic city—and has been for over 150 years.
Abounding in secluded, atmospheric parks, artists' studios, cafes, restaurants and streets little changed since the 1800s, Paris exudes romance. The art and architecture, the cityscape, riverbanks, and the unparalleled quality of daily life are part of the equation.
But the city's allure derives equally from hidden sources: querulous inhabitants, a bizarre culture of heroic negativity, and a rich historical past supplying enigmas, pleasures and challenges. Rarely do visitors suspect the glamor and chic and the carefree atmosphere of the City of Light grew from and still feed off the dark fountainheads of riot, rebellion, mayhem and melancholy—and the subversive literature, art and music of the Romantic Age.
Weaving together his own with the lives and loves of Victor Hugo, Georges Sand, Charles Baudelaire, Balzac, Nadar and other great Romantics Downie delights in the city's secular romantic pilgrimage sites asking , Why Paris, not Venice or Rome—the tap root of "romance"—or Berlin, Vienna and London—where the earliest Romantics built castles-in-the-air and sang odes to nightingales? Read A Passion for Paris: Romanticism and Romance in the City of Light and find out.
That real France, la France profonde, does exist. Having lived for many years in Paris and speaking fluent French, I know the country well. I love France and the French people and have written this book to share what I have learned. You can follow along as I describe my walks on sections of the 180,000-kilometer network of blazed trails crisscrossing France.
In the first nine chapters of this book I recount the experiences I have had walking in nine very distinct regions of France. Individual chapters are devoted to Auvergne, Finistere-the westernmost part of Brittany, Alsace, the Cevennes Mountains, Provence, Rouergue, the Loire Valley, Emblavez and a section of the pilgrimage trail to Santiago de Compostela-the Way of Saint James.
Much of On the Trail in France is devoted to unexpectedly encountering total strangers, enjoying French food and wine, appreciating nature in all its beauty and fury and exploring French-and other-languages. I met many unforgettable characters, young and old, named and nameless. Elderly raconteurs in Auvergne and Provence. A saucy waitress in Alsace. Precocious children in Finistere and Provence. A Schoolmaster who wanted American pen-pals for his students. A bilingual lady novelist in the Gare de l'Est. Monsieur Prouff, always showing up in a different guise. A modern troubadour. Savvy businesswomen and sleepy soldiers. Students and chefs. Goatherds and dopers. A publican who was a painter. Winemakers and snail wranglers. A phony artist. Penniless pilgrims. They all pass through these pages. And I even had a brief encounter with a serial killer-without learning of his crimes until a year afterwards.
It is almost impossible to write about France without writing about food, and it is through food that we may acquire an understanding of the elusive French character that both intrigues and thwarts us. It is through food that we may grasp the meaning of one of the defining characteristics of France, the mysterious notion of terroir, which I translate as "the soul of the soil."
During my walks I ate peasant fare at rough-hewn tables and gourmet cuisine in elegant dining rooms. Steaks and game. Morels and bilberries. Snails and skate. Jerusalem artichokes. Dishes with exotic names: pounti, far, backeofe, kouign aman, landjager, pommes tapees. And who can know France without knowing her cheeses? I savored Munster and Pelardons and Cabicous, tommes and fourmes and paves. I drank lambic apple brandy in Finistere and neya sussa wine less than a week old in Alsace. A beer brewed from buckwheat. I even tracked down a wine called Clinton.
Visitors may be surprised at the diversity of languages, dialects and cultures evoked in these pages. I met people who could shift effortlessly from French into Breton, Alsatian, Occitan or Provencal. I even discovered one of the world's least-known languages, Welche, that has nothing to do with Wales.
On the Trail in France is a welcome guide for anyone in good health who practices recreational walking and desires to learn more about France and the French. It is my hope that these chapters will not only entertain and inform but encourage readers to venture off the beaten track to discover the human and natural treasures awaiting them.
To start you on your way, I have included a compendium of practical information in a separate chapter entitled "Your Walk on the Trail in France." As an additional enticement, I have included more than forty photographs illustrating some of the sights I saw...on the trail in France.
Every guidebook to Paris is crammed with sites to see during the day, but visitors are often cast adrift once the sun sets and the Louvre, Notre Dame, and other tourist attractions shut their doors. Sadly for those who have retreated into their hotel rooms, it's only when darkness falls that the City of Light shines brightest. Full of as many unexpected detours and delightful digressions as the city itself, award-winning author John Baxter's Five Nights in Paris is the ultimate off-the-beaten-path guide to exploring the French capital after hours.
Baxter leads readers on five evening tours across Paris's great neighborhoods. Each night's itinerary is selected for its connection to one of the five senses: the first, "Sound," explores the great jazz clubs of Saint-Germain-des-Prés; "Taste" samples the eclectic restaurants and bakeries of the Marais; "Touch" brings alive the city's legendary cabaret scene, including Montmartre's nearby Moulin Rouge; "Smell" describes Parisians' love of perfume and takes us to the infamous former opium fumeries along the Bois de Boulogne; and "Sight" traces the favorite haunts of the Surrealist artists, beginning in Montparnasse.