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The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris Hardcover – March 21, 2001

3.8 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

If a place is best known by its particulars, then Edmund White is an expert on Paris. Fortunately, he's generous with his secrets: he reveals a Paris not found in any other guide in this first book in the Writer and the City series. White's Paris is seen on foot, as a flâneur, a stroller who aimlessly loses himself in a crowd, going wherever curiosity leads him and collecting impressions along the way. Paris is the perfect city for the flâneur, as every quartier is beautiful and full of rich and surprising delights. But this is no typical tour of monuments and museums; it is much more intimate and surprising. As a flâneur of Paris for 16 years, White knows where to find the very best of everything--silver, sheets, plum slivovitz. He can tell you where to get Tex-Mex surrounded by a dance rehearsal hall, where to rent an entire castle for a party, or even where to get Skippy peanut butter. He eschews the pearl-gray city built by Napoleon and roams the places where the real vitality lives, the teaming quartiers inhabited by Arabs and Asians and Africans, the strange corners, the markets where you can find absolutely anything in this city that accommodates all tastes. White's Paris is a place rich in history with a passion for novelty and distractions. So a walk through the Jewish ghetto leads to the history of the little-known Musée Nissim de Camondo, with its impressive collection of Louis XV and Louis XVI furniture, created by a family of Jewish bankers ultimately killed in the Holocaust. White shares other favorite and obscure museums, such as the Hôtel du Lauzun, where writers like Balzac and Charles Baudelaire and the painter Edouard Manet met for long evenings of music and hashish-induced hallucinations. Reminiscences in Montmartre reach back to the thriving jazz culture created by African Americans in the years between the world wars and include stories about Josephine Baker, Richard Wright, and James Baldwin. While White may ignore Notre Dame, he has fascinating tidbits to share about kings and queens and their heirs who still fight for the throne. The variety of Paris, White remarks, is matched by the voraciousness and passion of its people. With his own remarkable flair, he reveals a thriving and alluring city where tourists rarely tread. --Lesley Reed

From Publishers Weekly

The first in Bloomsbury's new, "occasional series" The Writer and the City, White's (The Married Man) collection of impressions stands in marked contrast to many travel books published today. The organizing principle is the combined force of White's perception, imagination, frame of reference and voice. He moves seamlessly from an eyeglasses museum to the Hotel de Lauzun--home to Baudelaire as a young man--and a discussion of the poet's dandyism and struggle with syphilis. White includes personal memories and anecdotes of gay Paris--in both senses of the phrase--past and present. "To be gay and cruise is perhaps an extension of the flƒneur's very essence, or at least its most successful application," even as the flƒneur's wandering is "meant to be useless." White describes his own favorite cruising spots as well as those of Louis XIV's homosexual brother, and notes that Napoleon officially decriminalized homosexuality. Other gems include a visit to the street where Colette lay bedridden with arthritis and spied on Cocteau across the way, and a discussion of the expatriation of African-Americans like Josephine Baker (Cocteau said of her, "Eroticism has found a style") and Richard Wright (who wrote of Paris, "There is such an absence of race hate that it seems a little unreal"). White's charming book is for literati, voyeurs and aesthetes, and for travelers who love familiar terrain from a different viewpoint.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 211 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1 edition (March 21, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582341354
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582341354
  • Product Dimensions: 4.5 x 0.7 x 7.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #906,549 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I hope that the people at Bloomsbury Press continue to employ wise and opinionated writers who can tell us about their favorite cities and the personal secrets to be found in them. This first, by Edmund White, is a winner.
White takes us into HIS Paris, a city he has lived in for many, many years. As an American, the city will naturally feel different to him than it might to a native. White's writing is, as always, graceful and beautiful. His assessment of Colette, his desription of "nationalism" among the Jews of Paris, and, certainly, his thoughts on Homosexuality and specifically HIV in this city are important and fascinating. I also especially enjoyed the short appendix on "further reading."
It surprised me that a few of the other reviewers were taken aback that White would spend so much of his time on gay Parisian life. This has always been a subject for White...in his novels, his memoirs and in his non-fiction works. Hire Julia Child to write about Paris and we're bound to get a book filled with thoughts on food. By the way, a "flaneur," we are told, is a person who walks, strolls for the purpose of walking or strolling...not with any "ulterior" motive. RECOMMENDED
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Edmund White has done it again. He has created the first (in what seems to be a series) guided tour of a great city which focuses on the idiosyncrases, particular flavor, befuddling history and ultimate addicting charm of Paris. This is as close as it gets to walking along side an established scholar and join him in the role of "Flaneur" - one who meanders without prejudice through the backways of a great city, just for the sake of observing and reflecting. There is more French (rather Parisian) history in this little tome than multivolume sets that mold on library shelves. But we find out only the things that interest White (he makes it all so poignant). Sections of the city and the book are devoted to the peculiar Parisian take on monarchism vs royalsim vs republicanism vs socialism. White cleverly introduces anecdotes that at first suggest neighborhood gossip but later are referenced to available writing that documents these strange truths. There is an entertaining history of African Americans in Paris, immigrants of all nationalities as they are today and were in history, a hilariously confused lineage of the royalty of France, and a frightening examination of why AIDS is so rampant in the city. White strolls, cruises, pauses, reflects, delights in the smells and times of day when the light is best in certain areas, and provides a staggering list of the countless museums devoted to every idea imaginable while castigating city design choices and current architecture meant to make the city logical.
The format of this book is very small which means it would fit into the back pocket of any tourist visiting the City of Light who longs for much more insight than pocket guides from tour companies can even suggest. White writes as well in books like this and his bios of Genet, Proust etc as he does in his inimitable novels. This is a little treasure of a book!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
White gives some elegantly written historical insights into the monuments of Paris. The compact format of this book makes it a handy companion on a trip to the City of Light. I must admit with some consternation, however, that my attention began to flag as White seemed to focus more and more narrowly on the gay perspective. I couldn't escape the feeling that as we meandered along the Paris streets, there was a conversation taking place in which I was an unwelcome hanger-on. My problem, I guess. This would be a completely delightful book for those more interested in the gay point of view.
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By A Customer on May 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Flaneur is a French term for an aimless urban stroller. One in search of experience, not knowledge. Paris, says Edmund White, is ideal for this indulgence. Unlike sprawling New York, for example, almost every Paris street alluringly turns seamlessly into the next. I found one of the best strolls described led to tha Marais, a district untouched by Baron Haussman's reconstruction of Paris under Napleon 3rd in 1869, which is the Paris we know today. Young Parisiens rediscovered and moved into the houses with old fashioned fireplaces and timber beamed ceilings, causing prices to rise The old Jewish ghetto is here, surrounded by neighboring chic boutiques.
Strolling east of the Champ d'Elysee is the Parc Monceau where Colette, San Saens and Proust once lived. One of the old mansions houses an extensive art collection of antique furniture, rugs, china which White says is only slightly less impressive than that of the Frick Museum in New York. Few tourists know this
. White unhurridely lingers at sites overlooked by most tourists, recalling priceless memories of Parisiens from Monarchists to literary figures.
Today. he notes Arab, African and Asian immigrants nearly dominate the city's tastes and sounds. Opiniated, yet free of prejudice, White eyes paradoxes of Paris. A section on Parisian homosexuals illustrates this. A large bibliography covers every aspect of French life. This book is witty, honest, thoroughly engaging.A unique guide for visitors to Paris,
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Format: Paperback
When I ordered this book I expected a travel tale similar to Bill Bryson or Paul Theroux. It is everything but that. It's hardly a travel tale at all as the author only mentions a few selected places in Paris so that he can write about artists (mostly) who have lived there. The back cover advertises the author as a stroller who ambles in the streets of Paris, but that is only a metaphorical stroll. There is no walking, no exploration, no description, and almost no personal impression on what the author actually saw.

Checking again the reviews after reading the book, I wonder how many reviewers have actually read it. The tone is not funny, but serious. And there are no visual descriptions, at least not of anything that still exists or that can be visited.

The book is essentially a gay American man's very personal account on the city's cultural history and the Parsisian lives of a few (gay) artists. First I was taken aback and almost tossed aside the book, but it turned out to be relatively interesting because it is a side of French society about which I knew very little.

The six chapters are all very different. Chapter One introduces Parisian high society through fashion and the arts, as well as a few French writers (Colette, Baudelaire, Sartre) and the places where they lived. Chapter Two is the multicultural Paris of Blacks and Arabs, quickly focusing on Black American jazz players in Paris, and a comparison of racism in France with the USA. Chapter Three is about Jewish Paris and a history of the Camondo family.
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