Like many Francophiles, I've never read a book about Paris. Not a whole one, all the way through, anyway. Of course, I've bought enough of them, of every sort, and in some cases the hope of their being read has extended over several years. For instance, I was almost sure I would tackle the distinguished art critic John Russell's Paris (1960), 'with photographs by Brassaï', but never got past the pictures. I had slightly less confidence about Maxime Du Camp's six-volume Paris, ses organes, ses fonctions et sa vie dans la seconde moitié du XIXe siècle (1869-76), bought partly for its Flaubertian connections, or rather disconnections. (Flaubert always saw himself as being betrayed by the literary friends of his youth: one betrayed him by marrying, another by dying, while Du Camp, in the worst treason of the three, betrayed him by becoming a journalising littérateur - of which this massive work is a triumph of that form, or, for Flaubert, non-form.) More practically, I bought Paris à pied - published by the Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pédestre - after discovering from a browse that there is a red and yellow waymarked path running west-east across Paris, that the GR1 crossed the Bois de Boulogne and the GR14 and 14A the Bois de Vincennes; but no, even this exciting prospect didn't get me lacing my boots. And then there are the cultural and literary guides which Paris regularly spawns: Hemingway at the Ritz bar, Sartre at the Deux Magots, Balzac and Victor Hugo practically everywhere - here we go again.
LRB 22 April 2010 | PDF Download