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Paris to the Pyrenees: A Skeptic Pilgrim Walks the Way of Saint James [Kindle Edition]

David Downie
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (124 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Part adventure story, part cultural history, Paris to the Pyrenees explores the phenomenon of pilgrimage along the age-old way of Saint James
Driven by curiosity, wanderlust, and health crises, David Downie and his wife set out from Paris to walk across France to the Pyrenees. Starting on the Rue Saint-Jacques, then trekking 750 miles south to Roncesvalles, Spain, their eccentric route takes 72 days on Roman roads and pilgrimage paths—a 1,100-year-old network of trails leading to the sanctuary of Saint James the Greater. It is best known as El Camino de Santiago de Compostela—“The Way” for short.
The object of any pilgrimage is an inward journey manifested in a long, reflective walk. For Downie, the inward journey met the outer one: a combination of self-discovery and physical regeneration. More than 200,000 pilgrims take the highly commercialized Spanish route annually, but few cross France. Downie had a goal: to go from Paris to the Pyrenees on age-old trails, making the pilgrimage in his own maverick way.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

An eclectic author of cookbooks, novels, and tourist guides, Downie embarks here on the genre of travel writing. His journey, which he completed on foot between the titular locations, in general followed the hallowed Christian pilgrimage route to Spain, le Chemin de Saint Jacques. France being France, history accompanied Downie as much as his walking companion, his wife, Alison. Their conversations were sparked by route-side sights, such as a centuries-old château that counted as young, and became enmeshed with Downie’s interior reflections about his reasons for undertaking the journey. Downie’s initial motivation was to improve his health, but after aches and pains suspended the trip, he was sustained by coming to grips with the spiritual auras of the pilgrimage route. Residing in local memory of druids, and in Christian symbols of crosses, churches, and statues of the Virgin Mary, religiosity became a topical constant in Downie’s thoughts and discussions, as did Vercingetorix, Julius Caesar, and François Mitterand. Astutely ruminative, Downie hovers between past and present in this enjoyably offbeat travelogue. --Gilbert Taylor


Past praise for David Downie:
“Perhaps the most evocative American book about Paris since A Moveable Feast.” —Jan Morris
“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. I have walked some of the city’s streets with him, and reading this book is just as tactile an experience.” —Michael Ondaatje
“Bristling with knowledge and the insights of good fiction, Downie takes you on a trip that is as much a compelling intellectual journey as it is a rich revelation of place. A hard book to put down.” —G. Y. Dryansky, author of Coquilles, Calva, and Crème

Product Details

  • File Size: 4434 KB
  • Print Length: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Pegasus Books (April 2, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #225,515 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Walking in the Past to Understand the Present April 7, 2013
By Oz
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Paris to the Pyrenees masterfully combines history and memoir. Downie is a true scholar whose breadth of knowledge about the succession of settlers and conquerors in the lands along the path of his pilgrimage illustrates how unchanged the human story has been over multiple millenia. And the personal background and yearnings that lead Downie to attempt such a potentially grueling quest,accompanied by his wife Alison, add a catch that integrates all of our individual journeys.The beauty of the land they traverse is vividly portrayed by Downie's words and Alison's photographs. Weaved throughout is a tender narrative of seasoned love between Downie and his wife that provides a framework for a pilgramage that, like life itself, defies absolute resolution.
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85 of 100 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I guess "Vezelay to Macon" wasn't as sexy a title May 15, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The writing was lovely and evocative, but the author did not walk from Paris to the Pyrenees in the pages of this book, he walked from the Tour Saint Jacques to the Peripatique, took a train to Vezelay, walked from there to Macon, and gave us a short summary of his walk from Le-Puy-en-Velay to Roncesvalles. While I enjoyed what he wrote, it was truly a disappointment that we weren't able to follow his entire path, most notably because during the course of the book he hated encountering pilgrims, so seeing him on the portion of the route when he actually had to deal with them would have made a much better story. Oh, and the Kindle version does not have the lovely photographs, so be forewarned.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
When I first heard about this book, I thought that it would be just another Camino de Santiago book (of which there are many). But I bought it anyway, because the book's title intrigued me.
I took the book with me on a month-long trip to Argentina. While there, I re-read the book many times. In fact, I'll be reading it again in the future!
The book is a compelling tale of the author and his companion, who decide to walk part of the Way of St. James, which is one of the many "Ways" to the final destination of Santiago, Spain. One of the main things I loved about the book is that the route they walk is not commonly traveled or written about. It's not an easy route to travel, in the sense that there aren't lots of other travelers doing the same thing. It's a glimpse into traveling off the beaten track, but doing it with a bit more style as well as a intimate view of the French countryside.
I've walked this "Way" myself some years back, and this author captures the experience perfectly. He doesn't waste a lot of time with packing lists, complaining about blisters or talking endlessly about church after church. That's all there, but it's understood that the walk isn't an easy one and that discomforts are part of the journey. Instead, he experiences the journey itself, moment by crystalline moment, allowing you to feel that you are walking beside him. His writing allows you to be not just a reader or observer, but a companion to his journey which becomes your own. While the author calls himself a skeptic in the title, by the end of the book he doesn't seem skeptical at all. He seems to have a deeper understanding of his connection to all things and to see that his path in life is an important one.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book April 3, 2013
This is a beautifully written, cleverly constructed book that explores whole regions of France while describing their inhabitants. David Downie takes you on a unparalleled journey through space and time along which essential questions about life are raised. Sociology, history, geography are conjured up and guide you as you walk the Way of St James with David and his (wonderful) wife Alison, giving the book a multi-layered reality that makes it unique. Sitting in your armchair, you have the feeling of becoming a traveller yourself as the narrative (and Alison's photos) reveal people, landscapes, serendipitous meetings and discoveries of all kinds. You find yourself wishing this journey will never end...
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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
David Downie was a fiftyish American expatriate, living in Paris and woefully out-of-shape. As part of his program to redirect his life and reform his body, he determined to hike the French "Way of Saint James", the French counterpart to the more famous Spanish "El Camino de Santiago de Compostela", ending at the Roncesvalle Abbey in the Pyrenees, on the French-Spanish border. Perhaps for the alliterative effect, he entitled his book about the trek PARIS TO THE PYRENEES.

In point of fact, most of the book is about a small segment of the planned hike -- from Vézelay to Mâcon, in Burgundy. In Paris Downie walked only a symbolic 3.26 miles before he and his wife hopped a train to Vézelay. From there, they hiked along country roads and paths, many of which were old Roman roads, to Mâcon, overnighting in country hotels and B&B's. Downie's body gave out just short of Mâcon, so he had to abort his pilgrimage. Downie devotes 299 of his book's 313 pages to that segment of the hike. A thirteen-page epilogue summarizes the final segment of his trek, four months later, from Le Puy-en-Velay to the Roncesvalles Abbey.

Downie's hike in Burgundy contained the makings for a good book, so I don't agree with his (or his publisher's) decision to tout his trek, misleadingly, as "Paris to the Pyrenees". But even with a more honest title, the book that Downie actually wrote would only be fair. Yes, it contains interesting snippets of history, colorful figures met on the road and in hostelries, and information on life in contemporary non-Parisian France. And yes, it is written with good pace and in an informal, slightly irreverent, cheerful style. David Downie is a convivial guy. But he has no filter.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Nothing much
Nowhere in the same league as Paris, Paris. Book is disjointed, cynical, generally a downer. I read it all but definitely not his best work.
Published 13 days ago by Barbara D
4.0 out of 5 stars Flawed Pilgrimage; Great Travel Lit
Downie walks a portion of the Campostela pilgrimage trail, from south of paris to just across the Pyrenees. Read more
Published 13 days ago by Nemoman
5.0 out of 5 stars Genius? Maybe not, but close to it!
Okay, so he didn't actually walk from Paris to the Pyrenees, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. This is the first Downie book I've read, and I loved his writing style. Read more
Published 23 days ago by David Stockman
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a Camino Book
Author is obviously a good writer. The book was entertaining but it was not about walking a pilgrimage. The title and subtitle are misleading. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Rellrog
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed, wish I hadn't bought this book
I bought this book without reading the reviews and wish that I had. As one reviewer wrote Downie truly has no filter. Read more
Published 2 months ago by janet s dore
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Kindle purchase Ever
I've enjoyed this book so much I've re-read it three times. I especially liked how Downie incorporated his love of Ancient history into the journey and narrative. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Carreen Dawn Andersen
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
Didn't find tjis book very interesting. Too slow.
Published 4 months ago by Janice Tebo
5.0 out of 5 stars Lyrical and lovely to read!
An interesting pilgrimage from the heart of Paris to the Pyrennees. The writer has such a lovely way with language, and can weave a masterful sentence that is like smooth dark... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Yahtzee!
5.0 out of 5 stars Even Better The Second Time Around
I just got through with my second reading of Mr. Downie's wonderful account of he and his wife's pilgrim journey. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Bruce Sharer
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
Interesting but not enough balance between human interest and historical references for me.
Published 8 months ago by Sandy Allen
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