A longtime resident of Paris muses on the city he loves.
As in previous similar books, Baxter (Montparnasse: Paris's District of Memory and Desire, 2017, etc.) proves to be an amiable guide to Paris, where he has lived for nearly 30 years. Evoking history, literature, observations on nature, and digressions on food, customs, and culture, the author ambles through the city, conveying his heartfelt admiration for the French way of life. “We who live in Paris are used to living by the weather and the seasons,” he writes. Unlike America, where New York’s supermarkets feature strawberries in January, the French eagerly anticipate asparagus, stone fruit, and wintry stews at just the right moment. In food, “as in most things, the essence of pleasure resides in timing.” Baxter anchors his Parisian rambles with a tale of the Republican calendar, devised by Philippe François Nazaire Fabre d'Églantine, an actor and self-promoter who became George Danton’s private secretary. Given the task of updating the calendar, beginning in 1792, immodestly designated Year One, Fabre lengthened the hour from 60 to 100 minutes and extended the week from 7 days to 10. Three weeks made a month, and each month was named to reflect the natural world: Floréal, the month of flowers; Prairial, for meadows; Vendemiaire, for the harvest; Nivôse, a winter month, when it snowed—in Paris, but not in the sunny south; followed by Pluviôse, when it rained; and Ventôse, when the winds blew. The calendar was generally ignored, and Fabre met his fate at the guillotine. For Baxter, however, there was something poetic about evoking in the name of the month “the sensual possibilities of the greatest country in the world.” Besides reprising France’s bloody revolutions, the author creates assorted vignettes of Paris past and present: mimes and buskers, politicians’ links to nature (Mitterand preferred roses, Chirac, apples), the inspiration for the song “April in Paris,” the city’s various public pools, and the urban legend of a subterranean crocodile.
A quirky, affectionate portrait by an unabashed Francophile.