John Baxter's The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris was so much fun to read. I am going to Paris for a week in July and, in typical fashion, am spending my time before the trip reading up on the city.
The book is less a guidebook than a series of short essays, each of which focuses on a particular spot (restaurant, theatre, park, etc) or slice of history (often literary) or a cultural quirk (absinthe drinking, for example) and all of which impart a feeling of what it is like to roam the streets and boulevards of Paris, stopping for a coffee, window shopping, enjoying the light, and relishing the feel of the city.
Baxter has a lovely way of writing that I quite enjoyed...
“Paris metro stations sometimes resemble women’s handbags, filled with colorful but often puzzling objects, many of dubious utility.”Lest you think the book is only about the beautiful buildings, exquisite food, or lovely parks, Baxter also talks about the gritty aspects that characterize all cities, regardless of how well their tourism offices spin reality. I absolutely loved reading about the two side-by-side cabarets in Montmartre (circa 1900), Le Ciel (heaven) and L'Enfer (hell), as well as les apaches (street gangs) from the 1920s.
And, to top it off, the front of the book contains a marked map with all of the restaurants, markets, and sites.
This book was a great way to kick off my Paris reading and whet my appetite for cafe au lait and croissants.