Memoirist, biographer and translator Baxter (Von Sternberg, 2010, etc.) turns his sensuous walking tours of Paris into the written word, with gratifying results.
The author does what he does best—short chapters that explore some engaging nugget of Parisian culture or history, in a pace and voice that are both gentle. Goaded by a friend to put his voluminous knowledge of Paris to use as a walking-tour guide to literary and other artistic haunts, he accepted the challenge and found a calling. Baxter enjoys amusing and being amused, and he has pocketfuls of colorful background stories that create atmosphere. He is of the Henry Miller school—give him the boulevards known for sex and crime, food and drink, the opium dens and the absinthe bars, the art galleries selling salacious photographs—and he pulls it all off with an air of charm and calm. On his tours, the plans are open-ended; he digresses as needs be, perhaps into a story about how the lock to his house broke when he was about to leave for Christmas Eve at his relatives’, or the curious interlude with a performance artist claiming to have known Marlene Dietrich. Readers can feel his elation at being out and about, experiencing the antique weather in the small passageways, cruising down Haussmann’s sidewalks, dropping into cafés famous and obscure and exploring anything Hemingway. He is the flâneur’s flâneur: “Visitors didn’t want their Paris. They wanted mine. Plenty of time when they got home to read Flaubert or a history of the French Revolution. What they wanted now was to reach out and touch the living flesh—to devour and be devoured.”
Walking through Paris with Baxter is really what bien-être is all about.