What is it about Paris that makes you want to go there, even if it’s just through the vicarious experience of a book? Certainly, you could have “fun” many places. There are many locations with stunning views, adventures, or new cultures to explore. But there is something about Paris that surpasses all of the usual touristy pleasures and experiences.
Life in Paris is about elegance, quality, and excellence. The climate is just right – not too warm and not too cold. The city is the model of northern hemisphere livability – you can get there easily, there’s plenty of places to stay, and cabs and the metro allow you to move around easily. There’s public places – art museums, in particular – to visit and see, along with plenty of lovely green spaces to get fresh air and pause from the hustle-bustle of city life. And of course, there’s the food. You will eat well in Paris, with quality ingredients, thoughtful preparation, and lovely presentation. But you won’t eat too much – proportions are just right, with none of the overindulgence of many American restaurants.
Paris is culture at its peak – and not just the art, fashion, and architecture. Paris is everyday living at its best. You don’t just have a breakfast of cereal poured in a bowl. You have a scrumptious croissant or pastry, butter served at precisely the right temperature, a perfect cup of coffee, a hunk of baguette baked that morning, and strawberry jam. Simply walking around Paris is a pleasant adventure. Although the city is busy, you don’t suffer the rushed, over-crowded vibe of New York or Amsterdam. You may take your time, enjoying the parks you pass, stopping to browse, pausing to watch river traffic on the Seine. You don’t have to be “doing” something all the time; it’s perfectly acceptable (and highly recommended) to sit in a sidewalk café sipping wine and people watch for a spell.
The architecture of the city lends itself to both feeling part of a grand plan, plus the charm of discovering narrow, quiet streets where you can feel the peace of a small town. You can soak in the artistic masterpieces of the Louvre or the D’Orsay, but you can also take a few moments to eat a delicious but not too sweet cake at a perfectly set table on the roof of the Centre George Pompidou, a piece of everyday art in itself. Balance and harmony are evident everywhere.
Last summer, my family vacationed in Paris, and we loved every minute of it. (I say that now after recovering from the slightly terrifying experience of getting lost in a sketchy neighborhood near Gare du Nord; it’s now a fond vignette in family mythology. Sometimes the memories of a place are more pleasant than the reality.) I won’t be going to Paris this summer – at least not in person. But I’ll be “visiting” Paris again through the pages of a book, with my toes in the sand and maybe a bottle of French wine in the cooler beside me.
Here are some of my favorite books about Paris. (All non-fiction; my next blog post will feature favorite novels about Paris):
Paris to the Moon– New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik moves to Paris with his family. A wonderful examination of Parisian culture
A Paris Year: My Day-to-Day Adventures in the Most Romantic City in the World– a lovely book with illustrations and graphics
The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs– a journalist explores her own Parisian neighborhood
A Moveable Feast– Hemingway’s most accessible and joyful book
The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris– This short book rambles along through Paris, a good quick read.
Cynthia Coe enjoys travelling and writing about her travels. Her novel Ginger’s Reckoning takes the reader from Houston to Moscow, with stops in KnoxVegas and a couple of interesting cities in Western Europe along the way. Ginger’s Reckoning is now available on Kindle for $2.99; also available in paperback, included in Kindle Unlimited.