THE ROAD FROM THE PAST: Traveling Through the History of France by Ina Caro

THE ROAD FROM THE PAST: Traveling Through the History of France

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Caro's travelogue incorporates, with only partial success, the sensibilities of a dogged historical researcher and a chatty tour guide in its trip through French history from Roman Gaul to Louis XIV's court. Caro's goal is to bring to life the star-rated sites in typical guidebooks and to translate the deep French sense of the country's history for an American mind. With a deliberately chronological itinerary, she begins in the Provence of the Roman Empire; continues through medieval Languedoc, Dordogne of the Hundred Years War, and the French Renaissance's Loire; and finishes in Louis XIV's Paris and its environs. Along with many travelers in France (and her husband, biographer Robert Caro, who joins her), she takes in such famous sights as the Pont du Gard, the pilgrimage church of Conques, Bourges, the château of Blois, and Versailles. Her personal familiarity with a vacationer's instincts means that her routes are well chosen, with a few detours around touristicated places and some chance finds in pleasant hotels and restaurants. (Her own tourist anecdotes, though, are the stuff of rec-room slide shows.) While researched satisfactorily, her approach to site-specific history tends to the parochial, and without an authority's ability to synthesize place and past, even the most notable locales cannot convey the complexities of the Wars of Religion or the Albigensian Crusade. Although outdoing the average French tour guide in information (and congeniality), Caro still has the taste of one in her attachment to the picturesque, whether in architecture and scenery or historical personalities and events: Her portraits of the vastly different Joan of Arc and Catherine de' Medici are alike in their romanticism, as are her snapshots of the Roman Arch of Triumph at Orange and the Castle of UssÉ. Despite her sizeable bibliography, Caro's evocation of French history in her travels is only marginally deeper than that of the Michelin guides.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1994
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Talese/Doubleday