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Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light [Paperback]

by David Downie, Alison Harris, Diane Johnson
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (94 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 5, 2011
 “Beautifully written and refreshingly original… makes us see [Paris] in a different light.” -- San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
 
Swapping his native San Francisco for the City of Light, travel writer David Downie arrived in Paris in 1986 on a one-way ticket, his head full of romantic notions. Curiosity and the legs of a cross-country runner propelled him daily from an unheated, seventh-floor walk-up garret near the Champs-Elysées to the old Montmartre haunts of the doomed painter Modigliani, the tombs of Père-Lachaise cemetery, the luxuriant alleys of the Luxembourg Gardens and the aristocratic Île Saint-Louis midstream in the Seine.
Downie wound up living in the chic Marais district, married to the Paris-born American photographer Alison Harris, an equally incurable walker and chronicler. Ten books and a quarter-century later, he still spends several hours every day rambling through Paris, and writing about the city he loves.  An irreverent, witty romp featuring thirty-one short prose sketches of people, places and daily life, Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light ranges from the glamorous to the least-known corners and characters of the world’s favorite city. 

Photographs by Alison Harris.
 
“I loved his collection of essays and anyone who’s visited Paris in the past, or plans to visit in the future, will be equally charmed as well.” —David Lebovitz, author of The Sweet Life in Paris
 
“[A] quirky, personal, independent view of the city, its history and its people”—Mavis Gallant
 
“Gives fresh poetic insight into the city… a voyage into ‘the bends and recesses, the jagged edges, the secret interiors’ [of Paris].”— Departures

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Like the guide who leads us through The Hermitage and its history in Sokurov’s 'Russian Ark’, David Downie is the master of educated curiosity. With him we discover Paris, a seemingly public city that is, in fact, full of secrets—great lives, lives wasted on the bizarre; forgotten artisans; lost graves (lost till now); the ‘papillons nocturnes’; and the ‘poinçonneur des Lilas’. I have walked some of the city’s streets with him, and reading this book is just as tactile an experience.”  —Michael Ondaatje

“… beautifully written and refreshingly original…Curious and attentive to detail, Downie is appreciative yet unflinching in describing his adopted home… makes us see [Paris] in a different light….”—David Armstrong, San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
 
“The delightful and insightful essays in Paris, Paris meld history, atmosphere and observations on Paris places, Paris people and Paris phenomena.”—John Marshall, Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Chicago Tribune
 
“Downie is a saunterer, wandering down the narrow ancient streets of the Île de la Cité, picnicking in storied graveyards like Père-Lachaise, observing a seduction at Jardin du Luxembourg with a birder's patience…. captures the sort of people and places missed by those jetting from starred bistros to hotels with showers.”—Dan Rubin, The Philadelphia Inquirer
 
“…gives fresh poetic insight into the city… a voyage into ‘the bends and recesses, the jagged edges, the secret interiors’ [of Paris].”—Dory Kornfeld, Departures
 
“David Downie’s prose illuminates Paris with an unequaled poignancy and passion. He understands and evokes the soul and the substance of the city with a critic’s intelligence and a lover’s heart. He makes me want to live in Paris again.”—Don George, Contributing Editor, National Geographic Traveler
 
“Perhaps the most evocative American book about Paris since A Moveable Feast.”— Jan Morris
 
“[A] quirky, personal, independent view of the city, its history and its people. Residents will recognize a place they can vouch for and not the clichés so frequently conjured up to match the legends. Visitors and newcomers are bound to find Paris, Paris reliable company as they discover the city’s beauties and pleasures and its problems too.”—Mavis Gallant
 
“Downie brilliantly upholds the American expat tradition of portraying the City of Light with an original and endearing touch.”—John Flinn, Travel Editor, San Francisco Sunday Chronicle
 
“If there is one book I’d read before heading to the City of Light, Paris, Paris is it. Downie, a longtime Paris resident and roamer, writes with knowledge and verve, pinning down the funny and the sublime as he captures on his canvas the quirks, foibles and follies, and the peculiar mystery of the people and places, that make up this wonderful city.” —Harriet Welty-Rochefort, author of French Toast and French Fried
 
“All visitors to Paris who want their eyes opened and their knowledge widened should buy David Downie’s irresistible collection of Paris essays. Take the book with you on walks and be astonished at his sense of detail and place; read it in bed or over a glass of wine in a café, and be introduced to a Paris few know. The text is immaculately complemented by Alison Harris’ beautiful and evocative photographs.”—Anton Gill, author of Il Gigante and Peggy Guggenheim, a biography

"I loved his collection of essays and anyone who’s visited Paris in the past, or plans to visit in the future, will be equally charmed as well.”--David Lebovitz, author of The Sweet Life in Paris
 
“When good Americans die, Oscar Wilde wrote, they go to Paris. Don’t wait that long. David Downie’s new book reflects the city and its light with such power that its title says it twice. Paris, Paris shimmers with wit and mesmerizes with wisdom. With splendid photographs by Alison Harris, it is as the French would say un must.”Mort Rosenblum

“[Downie’s] is not a superficial examination of Paris but rather a deep understanding and appreciation for all that is quirky, unique or enchanting about the city…those everyday folk who bring Paris to life…One of the most entertaining and interesting books written about Paris that we have found.” – Diane Ohanian, FranceOnYourOwn.com

"Paris, Paris, presents the places, people, and phenomena of the city with unequaled intelligence and passion [...] an enchanting valentine to an ageless love."--Don George, Trip Lit for NationalGeographic.com


“Compelling... a rapturous, history-rich love poem”--Pauline Frommer, Toronto Star

"Suitable for serious Francophiles and curious spectators alike, this book paints Paris from a delightful, fresh perspective." --Andrea Rappaprt, Sacramento Book Review

From the Publisher

In his introduction, David Downie provides a tantalizing foretaste of this engaging, critically acclaimed book. "Paris is the kind of city butterfly catchers have trouble netting, tacking down and studying," he assures readers. "Like all great cities and yet unlike any other, Paris is alive and fluttering, it changes with the light, buffeted by Seine-basin breezes. This place called Paris is at once the city of literature and film, an imagined land, a distant view through shifting, misty lenses, the leftover tang of Jean-Paul Sartre’s cigarettes clinging to the mirrored walls of a Saint-Germain-des-Pres café, and the city where I and over two million others pay taxes, re-heel shoes, and shop for cabbages or cleaning fluids." Packed with detail, Downie’s essays "evoke the soul and the substance of the city with a critic’s intelligence and a lover’s heart" (Donald George, Global Travel Editor, Lonely Planet). Celebrated travel writer Jan Morris seems to agree, calling Paris, Paris "Perhaps the most evocative American book about Paris since A Movable Feast." Readers expecting the usual puffery will be disappointed. As noted author John Baxter points out, "Lifting the curtain (in some cases before the people inside expect it) is very much what this book is about… The chic Place de Vosges, for instance. What’s it really like to live in those 17th century hôtels particulièrs and to look down on the cafés under the colonnade where movie stars take coffee and fashion models prowl? Well, for some, not much fun, since many tenants inherited their homes generations back, and can’t or won’t renovate. Persuading one to invite him in, Downie describes being ‘led from floor to sagging floor by the pavilion’s unwashed, unshaved, ornery owner, who scowled out of the broken windowpanes and cursed his inheritance. You think it’s beautiful, he shouted over and over, you like the view? I hate it here. I hate it!’" Happily Downie’s abiding love for the French capital wins out, despite the occasional tongue-in-cheek jab. "[He] lives in Paris, like wine in a glass," comments prize-winning short story writer Mavis Gallant, who has called Paris home since 1950. "Paris, Paris is his quirky, personal, independent view of the city, its history and its people. Residents will recognize a place they can vouch for and not the clichés so frequently conjured up to match the legends. Visitors and newcomers are bound to find Paris, Paris reliable company as they discover the city’s beauties and pleasures and its problems too." Paris, Paris is that rare object nowadays: a book of literate travel essays illustrated with striking B&W photographs. Known for her photography work in the books of Sophia Loren, Marcella Hazan, Anne Willan and many other celebrities and cooks, Alison Harris is also a passionate chronicler in B&W of Paris’ streets. As Diane Johnson sees it, "Paris must be the most photographed place in the world, from Doisneau to Cartier-Bresson. These beautiful studies by Alison Harris extend that literature with a powerful formal talent. Her camera’s loving dissection of details that the busy traveler might not notice for himself, makes of this book a splendid object in itself, a sort of bibliophilic gem." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (April 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307886085
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307886088
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (94 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #19,885 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
187 of 189 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Journey into Paris, Paris October 21, 2005
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I own a large library of books about France and have probably read almost every major title that features Paris. David Downie's new book Paris, Paris is in a class all its own. It is the most superbly written book on Paris I have read. Downie has a very lively and intelligent style, as well as a deliciously ironic sense of humor. He is also a real journalist in his brave tenacity to "get the story." He takes us to places I would never otherwise have access to because I would be much too timid to make the approach. For instance, to penetrate the inner sancta of fortress-like Ile Saint Louis mansions, he tells how he systematically tested the outer doors and found a few to be always open. He marches right into luxurious courtyards, has a good look around, and describes what he sees in vivid prose. Or when researching the root of the expression "city of light," he heads right to the office of the chief engineer of Paris' municipal lighting department. I found myself very impressed with his approach towards his subject and with his straightforward, unselfconscious way of expressing himself.

Downie is an American who has lived in Paris for over twenty years; however I have to imagine that he has gotten to know the city better than most natives. His curiosity leads him to all Paris' corners, not just the obvious showy places we all know and love. He does take us to some of my favorite neighborhoods and shows us details I've never noticed before, but he also points out the off-beat and even really ugly spots from where we can get a different perspective altogether on this rich, multi-layered city.

The book has three parts: places, people and phenomena. Every chapter is both entertaining and informative. I ate the book up like a plate of many-colored macarons, savoring every flavor.
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45 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Paris Paris: Journey into the City of Light May 30, 2006
Format:Paperback
David Downie is a magnificent writer. His exquisite prose reveals Paris as few other writers have. It is a must! As a native New Yorker and avid reader with eclectic tastes who has greatly enjoyed reading books on Paris and Parisians, for the more than 40 years I have lived here, Paris, Paris, has thoroughly delighted me. Every chapter is unexpected, original and yet finely tuned to reveal the universal truth or should one say truths of the City of Light. Downie writes with such extraordinary sensitivity and respect about this city, its history, its culture and most of all its people that he deserves a special place in the Pantheon of Americans who have found inspiration in their experience of the French capital. Downie demonstrates deep love of his subject matter but far from blind he also writes about the problems of Paris and the shortcomings of its population with compassion. More importantly perhaps he brings to the written page the kind of humanity that leaves his reader a better person for having taken the journey with him.

Wendy Johnson

A "Parisian" New Yorker
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better than the typical travel fare. August 14, 2005
Format:Paperback
Paris, Paris is a refreshing compilation of tales of a city I have visited many times. Each essay is packed with interesting tidbits about Paris neighborhoods and sites. Next to it's well written insight, the thing I would say to recommend this book is that I didn't want to skip through as I do most travel books. I particularly liked the piece on Pere-Lachaise, and the way I got to weave through 350 years of monuments in the time it took me to drink one cup of coffee.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ravishing reading, but... March 27, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
David Downie's essays about Paris make for a ravishing reading experience. His topics are both expected and surprising: walking Paris at night; how the lighting of the city adds to the magic; cafe life; Pere Lachaise; Coco Chanel...for the lovers of Paris, the text is a dream. Almost. It's evident that these wonderful essays were written separately, although no individual copyrights or publication information is given, because there are too frequent overlaps from essay to essay, with information shared in one is repeated in another as if we'd never heard it before. Once is an oversight in editing; over and over again, it's just plain annoying.

The photography of Alison Harris, Mrs. Downie, deserves a better presentation: the pictures that head each essay seem evocative of the essay's topic, but the reproduction is poor and they're all too small to really enjoy. A glossy sampling of her photography would have helped the book immensely.

What also would have helped would be maps of the areas Downie is writing about.

Bottom line: 5 stars for the writing; 1 star for the presentation.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Paris, Paris reviewed September 20, 2005
Format:Paperback
I found this wonderful review of "Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light" on the web. It is by noted author John Baxter.

What creaks and smells? Rattles and groans? Is misty, wind-swept and blisteringly hot, sometimes all in the same day? Can murmur seductively, but from time to time shriek, or moan in ecstasy? Is exasperatingly disinclined to admit one to intimacy, yet, just as it does, can transform itself with a swirl and a flash into a new creature, utterly unrecognisable?

Give up?

The answer is Paris - or at least the Paris on which David Downie lifts the curtain in his book PARIS, PARIS. JOURNEY INTO THE CITY OF LIGHT.

Lifting the curtain (in some cases before the people inside expect it) is very much what this book is about. While Downie tips a respectful nod to the city of cordon bleu cuisine, the Louvre and Orsay museums, the shops of the grands boulevards and the boutiques of his own quartier, the old Jewish ghetto of the Marais, he's more interested in what's happening behind those façades.

The chic Place de Vosges, for instance. What's it really like to live in those 17th century hotels particuliares and to look down on the cafes under the colonnade where movie stars take coffee and fashion models prowl? Well, for some, not much fun, since many tenants inherited their homes generations back, and can't or won't renovate. Persuading one to invite him in, Downie describes being "led from floor to sagging floor by the pavilion's unwashed, unshaved, ornery owner, who scowled out of the broken windowpanes and cursed his inheritance. `You think it's beautiful', he shouted over and over, `you like the view? I hate it here. I hate it!"

Downie's Paris differs fundamentally from the Paris glimpsed by the tourist.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful vignettes on the City of Light
I bought this book as a prelude to visiting Paris this summer. I wanted to learn a bit more about the city, beyond the usual stock histories and Wikipedia entries. Mr. Read more
Published 3 days ago by Steve Kroll
4.0 out of 5 stars a beautiful travel through his words
Very visual, and informative about the history, mixed with his own personal, everyday love affair with this fascinating city. Read more
Published 8 days ago by whj
5.0 out of 5 stars THE Parisian Book of All Books on a Paris!
This particular book is one of the most informative, enjoyable; yet, historically blended tomes that we have found so far on the background of Paris' many, many secreted corners. Read more
Published 27 days ago by Dorothea Sharp
5.0 out of 5 stars Paris Nostelgia !
Having been to Paris I wanted to relive my visit and this book did not disappoint. I can return again and again and let my mind wonder through the streets of this great city.
Published 2 months ago by Max Conner
4.0 out of 5 stars Secrets from a local, on the spot.
Even though I have been to Paris umpteen times, this very enjoyable book contains some gems of information from a local on the ground enabling one to delve even more deeply into... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Saltiere
5.0 out of 5 stars Great prep for trip to Paris
Gave me great history, behind-the-scenes knowledge, and a love for the uniqueness of Paris before my trip there in 2013.
Published 4 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Insight & Entertaining Read
I bought the "Paris, Paris" book and read it from cover to cover in nearly one sitting! It had me riveted to my seat as I toured the City and it's history through Mr. Read more
Published 5 months ago by PSMichael
5.0 out of 5 stars A colorful, detailed read
There are many books written about Paris...every year. This one, a collection of essays by travel writer David Downie, is different. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Byron Tully
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice trip through time and place
The author does a fine job of transporting the reader to different times and places of this well trodden city--to places less known while illuminating the lives of famous or... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars insightful and fun quick read
Great little read.. took this on a recent trip to Paris not as a guide book, just to get a bit more history and it was just right. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Jasmine
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