A Passion for Paris: Romanticism and Romance in the City of Light

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"A top-notch walking tour of Paris. . . . The author's encyclopedic knowledge of the city and its artists grants him a mystical gift of access: doors left ajar and carriage gates left open foster his search for the city's magical story. Anyone who loves Paris will adore this joyful book. Readers visiting the city are advised to take it with them to discover countless new experiences." —Kirkus Reviews (starred)

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.

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About the author

David Downie, a native San Franciscan, lived in New York, Providence, Rome and Milan before moving to Paris in the mid-1980s. He divides his time between France and Italy. His travel, food and arts features have appeared in print publications worldwide. Downie is co-owner with his wife Alison Harris of Paris, Paris Tours custom walking tours of Paris, Burgundy, Rome & the Italian Riviera. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Paris, Paris, and the bestselling Paris to the Pyrenees.
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St. Martin's Press
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Published on
Apr 28, 2015
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Biography & Autobiography / Personal Memoirs
History / Europe / France
Travel / Europe / France
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Many tourists who visit Paris wish they could discover the real France, the hidden France they have read about in novels and seen in paintings at museums. They would like to visit charming villages, meet "real" French people and savor traditional French cuisine. But how to do it? And, for that matter, does this authentic France still exist?

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.

Why would a man retire from his job and take off on a unique 4,000-mile walk around France? What possessed him to wear out his sixty-year-old hips and knees when he could spend a comfortable retirement at home? In this fascinating book Terry Cudbird reveals the obsession which is long distance walking--the intoxicating freedom to go where you want, the escape from the complications and paraphernalia of everyday life, the unpredictable encounters. His itinerary covered the six sides of the French hexagon. In a year's walking he passed through the Pyrenees, the Languedoc, Provence, the Alps, the Jura, Alsace, Lorraine, Picardy, Normandy, Brittany and Aquitaine. En route he discovered the astonishing variety of France's regions; their culture, history, languages, architecture and food. He passed through cities and hamlets, idyllic mountains and bleak plains, the heat of Le Midi and the cold of Le Nord. The author relates the highs and lows of a sometimes gruelling trek: the dramatic changes in landscape, the unexpected acts of kindness but also the guard dogs, snorers in hikers' refuges, storms, man-eating insects, blisters, exhausted limbs, lack of water and a rucksack which was always too heavy. Most important, he met hundreds of French people, many with an unusual outlook on life and interesting stories to tell: hermits, hippies, pilgrims, monks and farmers to name but a few. He made some lasting friends. Terry Cudbird's journey is rich in incident and observation. It is also, in part, the story of an individual coming to terms with his parents' old age and growing dementia. Through walking he finds not only a source of endless new horizons but also the means of accepting the past and its loss. This book will be of interest to walkers, lovers of France and anyone who has ever dreamt of encountering real adventures not far from home.
 “Beautifully written and refreshingly original… makes us see [Paris] in a different light.” -- San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
Swapping his native San Francisco for the City of Light, travel writer David Downie arrived in Paris in 1986 on a one-way ticket, his head full of romantic notions. Curiosity and the legs of a cross-country runner propelled him daily from an unheated, seventh-floor walk-up garret near the Champs-Elysées to the old Montmartre haunts of the doomed painter Modigliani, the tombs of Père-Lachaise cemetery, the luxuriant alleys of the Luxembourg Gardens and the aristocratic Île Saint-Louis midstream in the Seine.
Downie wound up living in the chic Marais district, married to the Paris-born American photographer Alison Harris, an equally incurable walker and chronicler. Ten books and a quarter-century later, he still spends several hours every day rambling through Paris, and writing about the city he loves.  An irreverent, witty romp featuring thirty-one short prose sketches of people, places and daily life, Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light ranges from the glamorous to the least-known corners and characters of the world’s favorite city. 

Photographs by Alison Harris.
“I loved his collection of essays and anyone who’s visited Paris in the past, or plans to visit in the future, will be equally charmed as well.” —David Lebovitz, author of The Sweet Life in Paris
“[A] quirky, personal, independent view of the city, its history and its people”—Mavis Gallant
“Gives fresh poetic insight into the city… a voyage into ‘the bends and recesses, the jagged edges, the secret interiors’ [of Paris].”— Departures

From the Trade Paperback edition.
From the New York Times bestselling author of My Paris Kitchen and L'Appart, a deliciously funny, offbeat, and irreverent look at the city of lights, cheese, chocolate, and other confections.

Like so many others, David Lebovitz dreamed about living in Paris ever since he first visited the city and after a nearly two-decade career as a pastry chef and cookbook author, he finally moved to Paris to start a new life. Having crammed all his worldly belongings into three suitcases, he arrived, hopes high, at his new apartment in the lively Bastille neighborhood. But he soon discovered it's a different world en France.

From learning the ironclad rules of social conduct to the mysteries of men's footwear, from shopkeepers who work so hard not to sell you anything to the etiquette of working the right way around the cheese plate, here is David's story of how he came to fall in love with—and even understand—this glorious, yet sometimes maddening, city.

When did he realize he had morphed into un vrai parisien? It might have been when he found himself considering a purchase of men's dress socks with cartoon characters on them. Or perhaps the time he went to a bank with 135 euros in hand to make a 134-euro payment, was told the bank had no change that day, and thought it was completely normal. Or when he found himself dressing up to take out the garbage because he had come to accept that in Paris appearances and image mean everything.

Once you stop laughing, the more than fifty original recipes, for dishes both savory and sweet, such as Pork Loin with Brown Sugar–Bourbon Glaze, Braised Turkey in Beaujolais Nouveau with Prunes, Bacon and Bleu Cheese Cake, Chocolate-Coconut Marshmallows, Chocolate Spice Bread, Lemon-Glazed Madeleines, and Mocha–Crème Fraîche Cake, will have you running to the kitchen for your own taste of Parisian living.
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