Book: The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris (NEW June 2011) by John Baxter
In The Most Beautiful Walk in the World , John Baxter tells stories that add depth to a stroll through Paris. The Australian writer lives in the city of literature and art with his French wife and their young daughter.
When a friend ropes him into leading a literary walk for participants in a literary seminar, he adds “tour guide” to his professional description. He takes us along from the first attempt to hold tourists’ attention by talking about the lives of the famous, sex (the kinkier the better), and food (equally lusty). His self-deprecating description of his learning process includes letting us in on mistakes he has made as he gets used to living in France. But the details of literary and political history that he shares reveals an intelligent and entertaining companion you would be glad to have along on a Paris walk.
Because the casual visitors may get bored by details about the famous writers, artists, expats and revolutionaries that fascinate Baxter, he tells stories instead of piling on facts. But thankfully, he has saved up a multitude of little-known information to share in The Most Beautiful Walk.
He muses on the popularity of cultural seminars where people pay to take writing classes in Paris (strictly limited hours so as not to interfere with sight-seeing) or bullfighting practice in Spain or “The Literature of Cuisine” in Rome with dinner every night being the most taxing part. “The only required reading was the menu.” He says.
Next to environmental tourism, cultural tourism is the leisure industry’s major growth area. For every person who hikes across Bhutan or counts butterflies in the Brazilian rain forest, another longs to plunge into the thickets of literature, unaware that it’s just as full of surprises, agreeable or otherwise, as any Amazonian jungle.
Because Baxter lives on rue d’Odeon, he most intimately knows the Latin Quarter and adjacent St. Germain. That made the book particularly appealing to me, because we stayed in St. Germain and walked to the Jardin Luxembourg…
through the Alleé behind the restaurant Procope, down St. Michael and across many of the short curving streets he mentions in this book.
The frustration, of course, is that John Baxter was not along on our walks. We slap our forehead and say, “How did we miss that plaque that says…!” or “I wish I had known that Marat printed revolutionary flyers in this very building.”
Why did we not go all the way up to Montparnasse when we were so close?
Why did we not visit Hemingway haunts like La Couple (opened in 1927)?
Why did we not stop at Closeries des Liles, with its plaques naming each table for a famous person who once hung out there–like Hemingway, playwright Samuel Beckett (spelled Becket on the plaque, we learn from Baxter) or Man Ray, the avant garde painter and photographer?
Mais je ne regrette rien, as Edith Piaf sang. When you travel, everything you choose to see cancels out something else that you might have seen. So the answer to most of our couldashouldawoulda thoughts is simply time. Just as this book shortchanges the right bank and many outlying arrondissements, we would never see ALL of Paris–even if we lived there.
In case you are traveling to Paris for the first time, Baxter also includes at the end of the book a very helpful guide packed with insider tips, entitled “Paris, Mode d’Emploi” (a User’s Guide).
I already loaned my copy to my brother and sister-in-law, who have visited Paris and teach literature. But if I am fortunate enough to return to Paris, I’ll want it back, because of all the Paris books I’ve read, this one fit most neatly into my own method of travel. Verdict: Just as sure as walking is the way to see Paris, The Most Beautiful Walk in the World belongs in the travel library.
I want to thank the publisher, Harper Collins, for providing the copy of this delightful new book for review. Photos are Ken’s and my own and if you want to copy, please ask first. The video of Edith Piaf comes from You Tube. The book title is linked to Amazon for your convenience. If you click through to Amazon and purchase anything at all, I get a few cents which helps support A Traveler’s Library. Thanks.
I have a few favorite cities for walkability, but Paris must be number one. Do you have other recommendations for walkable cities?