Sparkling dispatches about Parisian culture and history from an Australian biographer and film critic who is a longtime City of Light resident.
“All Paris stories are to some extent stories of love,” writes Baxter (A Pound of Paper, 2003, etc.), who combines chapters featuring the city’s golden modern age (the 1920s and ’30s) with material about his permanent move to Paris in 1990 with wife-to-be Marie-Dominique. Twenty-seven brief chapters chart his diverse, erratic interests and the progression of his deepening love affair with the city. In the ’60s, “French” meant “sexy” to the youthful author, as he recalls in “Why Paris?” By 1969, he had sailed for Europe, turning his back on the modest Australian success of his film After Proust because, he jokes, “I just couldn’t bear listening one more time to someone pronounce ‘Proust’ as ‘Prowst.’ ” Living in France, he learned how to drink and eat, or at least how to order in style (“The Food of Love”). But sex occupies more of the text than cuisine, beginning with “The Market in Meat,” which notes that brothels and the gratification of curious fetishes became an important attraction of Paris during the modern era, then lists some of the more infamous clubs that catered to “special tastes.” French voyeurism is the subject of “The Sexual Restaurant,” and “Sacred Monsters” provides a loose-rolling overview of the sexual revolution sparked by the 1959 publication of the erotic paperback Emmanuelle. Baxter’s acquaintance with an American expatriate writer he calls Hugo (“The Man Who Knew”) allowed him access to thrilling archives and personalities that unlocked the city of vice. Meanwhile, Marie-Do got pregnant and gave birth; the couple acquired a family dwelling in the provinces; and the author could finally call his adoptive country home.
Captivated readers will hope that Baxter’s “long conversation” with Paris, still going strong after 14 years, never ends.