Walking in Paris

Destination: Paris

Book: The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris (NEW June 2011) by John Baxter

Strolling in Paris, Eiffel Tower
Strolling in Paris, Eiffel Tower

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…

Jardin Luxembourg
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.

Procope restaurant, Paris
Procope Restaurant, Paris

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.”

Allee behind Procope restaurant
Allee behind Procope restaurant

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 TubeThe 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?

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

28 thoughts on “Walking in Paris

  1. A truly excellent book. John is so sure-handed with his craft that he allows himself to meander through the small chapters of the book without apparent (though implied) destination, just as one would a sunny afternoon’s walk in Paris. He mentions Dorothy’s “Paris Literary Seminar” but I was unable to find it on google, though an apparently similar one is advertised. Any contact info would be appreciated.

  2. I love the sound of this book. I’ll keep it on my list. I’m hoping for a walk in Paris soon. I love your pics. By the way – you asked about walkable cities. One closer to home is Washington, DC. It’s really a fascinating city to walk and I think sometimes we Americans take it for granted because our history isn’t as old as European history, but it’s really pretty cool. I was just there and had a great time simply walking.

  3. What a fascinating book!!!!! I definitely must get my hands on it- even if I’m not planning to go to Paris in the near future.

  4. Ok, if I ever get to Paris – which I hope to some day – I’ll know just the book to take along with me. Thanks, Vera.

  5. I have another favorite book about Paris written by an Australian. Have you ever read ALMOST FRENCH? It’s fantastic. And also very self-deprecating. I look forward to reading this book too.

  6. I’ve never been to Paris but these photos make me feel like I’m right there. Maybe someday I will get to stroll these very same streets!

    1. Thanks, Susan. It has already been 9 1/2 months and I sometimes feel like it was just a dream. But these photos prove I was really there.

    1. Roxanne: I’m not sure a pull out would work for this book, because it is really not a guide book in the classic sense. It is more impressions of various places. If you want a guide, you’ll need to see if you can get the author to take you on a walk!

  7. The Cuisine of Literature seminar in Rome? Hel-LO! Sign me up!

    Spellbinding review, as always. This is jumping straight to the top of my must-read list, and then I will die with envy about not being able to return to Paris any time soon.

  8. If and when I do return to Paris – to see so much that I missed the first time around – I will be sure to be armed with this book.

  9. this sounds like a fine read, Vera, thanks for letting us know about it. I am not so much on walking tours, but enjoy exploring on my own on foot, several favorites: Cambridge, Massachusetts, Portland, Maine, Belfast, Glasgow.

    1. I go back and forth about being guided on a tour. I think a one-on-one experience, or a very specialized small group tour like the ones this author gives are okay, though. Just for comparison, when Ken and I went to Crete the first time, we toured Knossos on our own, relying on what we had read in guidebooks. The next time, we hired a guide with a small group of people and we got a lot more out of it. Of course now, you just put the guide on your smart phone and off you go!

  10. This reminds me of when a friend and local walked me through the streets of St. Petersburg explaining all of the sites and history. It still makes me smile to think of it. For some reason we got ice cream even though it was in the middle of the winter.

    1. Ahh, St. Petersburg. That’s another place we hired a guide and a driver just for the day, and it was probably the best $100 we ever spent. She got us into the not-yet-finished childhood home museum of Vladimir Nabokov and took us on a whirlwind tour of the Hermitage, and we ate at a wonderful restaurant that was not a tourist place and we would never have found it in a million years.

  11. Just back from Paris, and as soon as I started reading, I began to have the regrets you were talking about. But you’re right, it’s all about choices; I do regret not making it to Montparnasse, but I LOVED the catacombs tour we did instead, and that took us to a really cool neighborhood, too. And now I have fodder for my next visit!

  12. What a great sounding book. On the measure of something interesting to discover around each corner and compactness, some favourite walking cities of mine include Boston, Amsterdam, Prague, Venice (away from St Mark’s Square), Edinburgh, Florence and Vienna. Paris still rates #1 above all these and hence is a great topic for a book.

  13. When I lived in France, near Paris, I loved to walk that city. I especially enjoyed the store fronts, and the giant old doors, often freshly painted with glossy paint.

    1. Alexandra: Did you ever read a history or literature guide that told you what had gone on behind those old doors? Or do you prefer the mystery of imagination?

  14. I did a guided walk through London’s criminal history once. It was fabulous. Heard many great stories and discovered cool places I probably wouldn’t have found on my own.

    I love walking in Paris, but have never done a guided walk there. A literary walk of Paris sounds wonderful and this sounds like a great book to have along. Going to look for it online right now. Thanks 🙂

    1. That London walk DOES sound like fun. There’s a company that does similar tours in LA that I’d love to do some time. See all the haunts of “noir” artists. When we were in San Francisco a few years ago, I had a personal night time tour of Dashiell Hammet’s hangouts led by a man who is an expert. I think most cities now have “ghost tours” and certainly the ganster tour in Chicago is popular!. In Washington D.C. there used to be a Spy tour–don’t know if they still have it. Cities have so many stories to tell.

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