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98 of 101 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Paris for the Flaneur, April 14, 2010
This review is from: Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris (Hardcover)
Graham Robb is a modern-day flaneur. The concept of the flaneur was popularized by Charles Baudelaire who defined it as someone who strolls about the city in order to observe it and experience it, someone who might also be an esthete and a dandy. This book contains 19 anecdotes that are meditations on historical characters and the geographical locations with which they are associated. There is of course no better city to be a flaneur than Paris, a city where every street and building has a story to tell.

Robb has a novelist's imagination and eye for detail. The first episode is set in the late 18th century and concerns a young man coming to Paris from Corsica. The lad makes his way to the Palais Royal to experience to the pleasures of the flesh for the first time. The young man we find out later on was Napoleon. Apparently the residence Cardinal Richelieu and French Royalty had become the place to go for nightlife in Paris.

Before Baron Haussmann cleared whole neighborhoods to lay out wide boulevards along straight lines, Paris was a network of convoluted, narrow streets. It was a city without maps. Robb tells the story of Marie-Antoinette as she was fleeing the mobs during the French Revolution. She was trying to get to Vincennes but accidentally gave her coachman the wrong directions and ended up in the hands of her enemies.

One of the most interesting and little-known figures brought to light by this study is Charles Axel Guillaumot. In the late 1700s the streets of the Left Bank were starting to cave in as a result of many years of quarrying below the city. Guillaumot, who was an architect and surveyor, decided to reinforce the caverns underneath the city and use them as a place to bury the dead, thus creating the infamous Catacombs.

There is also a chapter on Hitler's one and only whirlwind tour of the city with his sculptor Arno Breker and architect Albert Speer. The tour lasted only two and half hours but apparently Hilter beside himself after absorbing the splendor of the city. It reminds us that he was an artist before he became a politician.

Every chapter is beautifully written and full of surprises. One can imagine that there are many more stories such as these. They seem arbitrary but nevertheless insightful. Robb has repeated the succuss of an earlier work, The Discovery of France: A Historical Geographyin which he does for rural France what he does for Paris in this volume.
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Initial post: Aug 20, 2013 3:08:34 AM PDT
Hitler was an artist before he was a politician? Hitler was an artist before he was a Nazi dictator?
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