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3.8 out of 5 stars37
3.8 out of 5 stars
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on 12 March 2012
The only way to really get to know any city is to walk (with the obvious exception of Los Angeles, as John Baxter points out so entertainingly) and if this book doesn't make you want to meander around the beautiful city of Paris, nothing ever will! Guide books will tell you things like which metro line will take you to the Eiffel Tower, and that the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays, but this book will encourage you to wander and seek out for yourself the unusual, the fascinating and the beautiful corners that make this city such a delight to visit again and again.

Mr Baxter's knowledge of Paris and its recent history is evident on every page, and so too is his love for the city that he has called home for several decades. He has many stories to tell about the people who lived, loved, ate, drank and even committed murder in these streets and parks. I will never be able to sit in the Luxembourg Gardens calmly reading my book ever again, without thinking of the Luftwaffe making the Luxembourg Palace their HQ (they weren't daft, were they!) or the evil Henri Desire Landru who met the women he would go on to murder at the cafe in these very gardens, and I shall be constantly looking in shop windows for an opium pipe! Hemingway gets many a mention and Mr Baxter is quite happy to affectionately chip away at the "action man" image that this literary giant has acquired over the years.

The real message of the book is that every one, Parisian and visitor alike, has a different view of what makes Paris such a wonderful place to be, and if you leave your guide book behind and just walk you will find your own favourite shops, cafes and views and then you too can return home with stories to tell. The author has told us about some of his favourite walks in Paris, but I bet he has kept his absolute favourite a secret - and why not!
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on 11 November 2012
Not what I was expecting from the title. If the writer was at a party he would be the one who spent all his time name dropping or going one better than everyone else. I love Paris and walk for miles around the city and so was looking forward to reading someone else's similar experiences. But this does not flow, it is not his year in Paris. It jumps from one name drop to another. Yes I like to know history and who has been where, I have followed ideas from other books and found some lovely new experiences but this book has not given me any incentives to think I must go there!
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on 31 January 2013
Ernest Hemingway used to hang around the same area that the author now lives in. As did Pound, Joyce etc etc That seems to be the main point of this tedious book. Dull anecdotes about the author's life and times bolted on to a very vague and unengaging history of artistic Paris with a few addresses tacked on to the end. The pictures are okay and the book is well designed but it is at least 60% longer than it needed to be. Would've made a mildly diverting magazine article but it's no book.
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on 11 November 2012
After having spent some weeks in Paris this year I was looking forward to reading this book, but was disapointed as I found the title very misleading.
I was expecting to find lots of interesting off the beat information that I could investigate on my next trip. However I found the information and stories inside very run of the mill with stories that any one with a slight knowledge of Paris would be aware of.
During my time this summer I learnt a lot about Paris and its history and of it's flaneurs and I would have expected it to cover information over a larger area and not just the left bank.
Some of the anecdotes were mildly amusing but not a book I would recommend to lovers of walking in Paris
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on 27 December 2012
In recent years, a whole shelf-load of books has appeared by Anglo-Saxon authors about living (and sometimes loving) in Paris, complete with wry observations on the French and their culture, and on the follies of Anglo-Saxons adrift there. John Baxter, an Australian cultural critic married to Frenchwoman, has already had several goes at this theme: this is his latest, and it's a frustrating and irritating read. That's because it's a reasonable book which, with a bit of editing and some judicious additions and deletions, could have been a good one. As it is, the text has a rushed, unfinished, Will This Do? kind of quality to it. There's no preface thanking those who read the book in draft, which is logical enough, because it looks as though nobody did.
The first thing to say is that this is not a book of Paris walks, nor even a book about the habit of walking in Paris, along the lines of Edmund White's Le Flaneur. It's really a collection of (mostly) amusing anecdotes, loosely related to walking around the author's own Sixth Arrondisement, and showing uncomprehending American tourists the cultural landmarks. There are long digressions about other cities the author has lived in (presumably to use up space) and stories about famous American expatriates, usually drunk. On the other hand, there are no footnotes or references, no index and and no useful maps. Nearly all of the Parisians mentioned in the book, living and dead, writers, artists or just tourists, are non-French: indeed, the French figure very little in the book at all.
The book has its virtues. It is gracefully and amusingly written it is obviously based on deep knowledge of parts, at least, of the city, and some affection for it, and most of its practical advice is quite useful. (Just don't follow the suggestion to buy a Carte Orange for the Metro or you'll get a funny look. It wae replaced some years ago by the Navigo Pass).
But this is very much the Paris of the upper middle class professionals, hardly straying outside the chicest areas, and full of the kind of wild, witty generalisations you might might hear at smart dinner parties, and of which the French are so fond. It's not true that Parisians don't own cars, for example: a few minutes on a street corner watching for cars with "75" on the number plate will convince you of that.(Indeed, elsewhere in the book the author makes it clear that he himself has a car, or at least drives one). It's not true that there are no French-language guides to walking in Paris: I have one. It's not true that all Parisians are slim: there's increasing worry about obesity among the young, especially in the large, and usually poor, immigrant communities which are scarcely mentioned in the book. It's not true that everybody leaves Paris in August. It's certainly the case that the traditional holiday period is between 14 July (Bastille Day) and 15 August (the feast of the Assumption), but by the third week in August many Parisians are back, because the schools will soon be re-starting. That said, many Parisians can't afford holidays anyway, and many others have to stay on to operate the transport system, serve in the shops and bars that stay open, and clean the streets, and the apartments of the middle classes. The oddest blind spot, though, comes at the end of the section on Baron Haussmann, the architect of the Grands Boulevards the author likes walking along. It's suggested (correctly) that one of Napoleon II's major reasons for undertaking this project was the fear of violent revolution, and the desire to have wide open spaces for troops to fire and manoeuvre in. But it's also suggested that Haussmann was fired in 1870 because the revolution failed to happen. Not only is this wrong (he was the fall-guy for massive scandals and cost-overruns), but the revolution, or something like it, actually broke out the very next year, after the French defeat by the Prussians, when the ordinary people of Paris rebelled against the decision to seek peace and surrender the city. The government, which had fled to Versailles, sent troops down the shiny new Boulevards to savagely repress the Commune which had been set up, at the cost of tens of thousands of lives, mostly non-combatants. It's the greatest atrocity of modern French history, but then again it's unlikely to be discussed at dinner parties in the Sixth arrondissement very often. These kinds of things ought to have been caught as part of the editing process, and it's easy to imagine the kind of letter that should have been sent: more on Paris, less on LA, check this and this, do you mean X by Y? and so forth. But some of the mistakes should have been caught just by re-reading the text. For example, Parisians do not keep contact details in their "agenda" which is a diary, but in their "carnet d'adresses," their address book, like everybody else. And the romantic expression "living off love and fresh water" makes no sense at all, and is mistranslated from the original "l'amour et l'eau fraiche" or love and cold water, which does make sense.
Above all, don't use this as a guide-book. The lack of proper maps, and the vague nature of the descriptions, which mean that it's hard to know which areas are being referred to, would get you lost in no time. Again, it's as if the author is jotting down, or even dictating, notes from memory, rather than doing some elementary checking with a street map.
As I say, a shame. Reading the book is a bit like lunching (at your expense) with a very amusing and knowledgeable foreign resident in Paris with a taste for colourful stories and a tendency to exaggerate. But frankly, the publisher should not have let this out as a book in its current form.
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on 20 November 2012
Strolling through Mr Baxter's book is like strolling in Paris itself. One starts off slowly and gathers momentum just in time for a petit noir ... relax, contemplate and move on. The book is subtle and not a crash course in "where to go" or "what to do"....nothing in it falls under the heading "must do or see". All is gentle. Neither is it a pocket book to be referred to at every street corner. Read it , make some notes, loosely plan your day then put it away. And this, I believe is Mr Baxter's advice - start with good intent, then say to hell with it and get lost!
It has enough on restaurants (and what and who happened there), on parks, on bookstores etc to be the only thing you really need when visiting Paris.
I didn't particularly care for the chapters on LA and the Australian outback - I know they make for a contrast to the main subject, but who needs it?
Thoroughly recommended.
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on 23 March 2012
Rather than a guidebook, this is a memoir of walking in Paris and if - like me - you love simply wandering in the City of Light, this will conjure up wonderful memories. Many times I found myself longing to be sitting outside one of the cafes he describes with coffee and a pain au chocolat.

John Baxter leads guided walks for tourists in Paris and draws on his experiences to evoke not only the spirit of the great literary figures of Paris (Hemingway, Fitzgerald etc) but also the places they frequented. Rather than a story as such, each chapter describes a different period in the history of Paris, or a different quartier. Some places are familiar, but there are many that I will seek out next time I'm there.

A beautiful book about a beautiful city.
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on 18 April 2012
I enjoyed reading this book. John Baxters personal experences are used to frame snippets of literary and general Parisian history / gossip in a fun and readable way. It is refreshing that John doesn't allow the the book to take itself or himself too seriously - I found that this lack of pretentiousness makes the book eminantly accessible.
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on 10 September 2012
John Baxter is in love with his adopted city , but also with its literary past. The opening chapters could be the back script of Woody Allen' s wonderful film from last year, " Midnight in Paris". This no guide book. It gives the reader the opportunity to fall in love with their own neighbourhood, wherever that may be. look up, look back, find out, be aware. We can all do it. Yet this is about Paris. It's really about the Left Bank, and the six arrondissement. We have trod these streets so many times and it is beginning to look somewhat tawdry now, yet it's still Paris. This is an enjoyable book especially if you appreciate The City of light.
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This not Wainwright's Paris. If you are looking for a series of walks with the mileage and the main features outlined, look elsewhere. It is also not a tourist guide to Paris or a history of Paris - I'm finding this quite a difficult book to describe. I think I'm going to go all whimsical:

Imagine you are in a bar in Paris, having met up with a friend you have not seen for some time. In mood, you are suspended somewhere between the second and third glass, mellow but still in charge of your faculties. He starts to tell you what he has been getting up to, describing his life in Paris, sidetracking off into anecdotes as they come to him, odd bits of history, jokes, gossip, the odd snippet about his family. You listen, entranced, because you are relaxed and the ambiance in the bar is great - and he is such a fabulous story teller.

So, I apologise for the whimsy, but it's the best way I can describe this book. It has whetted my appetite for Paris, A Moveable Feast by Hemingway and more books by John Baxter (already ordered!) It has also made me feel mellow and happy and not at all hungover. What more could one ask of a book?
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