Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Most Beautiful Walk in the World

Like Lot's wife, I have looked back with longing and regret as the train or taxi took me back to the airport and I had to leave a city feeling that I had barely touched its surface. Fortunately, since I didn't become a pillar of salt, I may one day have the opportunity to return to these places of wonder with more time to be a flaneur. What a fabulous word!
In other words, I may not be trying to pump every waking moment of an all too short vacation full of seeing everything that one "must" see. Rather, I will have the leisure to stroll aimlessly, to take the road less traveled, to peer down the alley, to tarry over window displays, to sit in a park and people watch - one of my favorite things to do.

Paris is one of those cities that beckons to me to return. So when I read about John Baxter's new book, subtitled "A Pedestrian in Paris," I made sure to order it the very next day. Oh yes, one of the perks of being one of the purchasers for our library branch is that I make sure we purchase what I like. After all, I'm a taxpayer too, n'est pas?

Baxter is such an easy man to spend time with. It's easy to see how he was able to make a go of a little bet to become one of the most popular Parisian walking guides. ( He sees things as a writer does, his anecdotes of famous and infamous denizens of the Paris of the past are spot on and filled with little known details. If you've seen the fabulous movie, which I've mentioned previously here, Midnight in Paris, then you know of whom we speak.

An ex-pat Australian, Baxter married a French woman with whom he has a daughter. They've lived in Paris for over twenty years now and, reading this little gem of a book, one senses that not only has he not lost his passion for France but that it grows deeper each day.

Each little chapter - maybe 4 to 6 pages - is preceded by a timely quotation from famous observers of Paris life. Baxter proceeds to take us on one of his little walks through Montparnasse or the Marais, stopping for refreshment at some wonderful out of the way cafe where we can smell the aperitif and hear the friendly banter.

He describes Paris in each of her seasons, each lovelier than the next. Even sitting bundled up in a park in November Baxter finds beauty in the austerity of the light, the silhouettes of the buildings against the pinkish gray dusk. Walking through Paris, he says, is the difference between being there and being present. What a delightful distinction!

I admit that there are few cities that I don't enjoy visiting, but there are some that strangely call to you from the moment you arrive. Baxter says that this phenomenon is like love at first sight. Certainly Rome was one for me, Florence too, Washington, D. C. will always be one of those, but Paris, ahhhh Paris. I did not get enough. Reading John Baxter made me want to pick up the phone, dial up Air France, and book the next flight out. Which city was it for you?

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