Paris, Paris: Journey Into The City Of Light by David DownieParis, Paris: Journey Into The City Of Light by David Downie

Paris, Paris: Journey Into The City Of Light

byDavid DownieForeword byDiane JohnsonPhotographed byAlison Harris

Paperback | April 5, 2011

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“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
An American journalist based in Paris since 1986, David Downie has written about European culture, food and travel for magazines and newspapers worldwide. He was a Paris correspondent for, Departures, Appellation, and Art & Antiques, and has contributed to, and many other websites. Currently he is...
Title:Paris, Paris: Journey Into The City Of LightFormat:PaperbackDimensions:320 pages, 8 × 5.3 × 0.84 inPublished:April 5, 2011Publisher:Crown/ArchetypeLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0307886085

ISBN - 13:9780307886088

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Rated 4 out of 5 by from great also as a travel guide Honestly, this is a book you need to bring with you to Paris and read there to check out the areas the author loves to discuss. I knocked off a star because I'm just not all that fascinated as some people are where dead artists lived and hung out. The stuff on current day activity was far more fascinating when compared with the historical background especially the Place Des Vosges and the bookselling vendors along the Seine.
Date published: 2017-01-21

Read from the Book

It's the Water: The SeineThe time-worn stones were cold and the ever-flowing stream beneath the bridges seemed to have carried away something of their selves...—Émile Zola, L'Oeuvre (1886)No single element of Paris evokes the city's ambiguous allure more poignantly than the Seine. A slow arcing gray-green curve, the river reflects the raked tin rooftops arrayed along its embankments, and the temperamental skies of the Île-de-France. Sea breezes sweep fresh Atlantic air up it into the city. Each day when I step out for my constitutional around the Île Saint-Louis-a ten-minute walk from where my wife, Alison, and I live-I ask myself what Paris would be without the Seine. The answer is simple: it wouldn't.At once water source and sewer, lifeline, moat, and swelling menace, the Seine suckled nascent French civilization. It made the founding of Paris possible, transforming a settlement of mud huts into a capital city whose symbol since the year 1210 is a ship, with the catchy device Fluctuat nec mergitur: "It is tossed upon the waves without being submerged" (and it sounds better in Latin). For centuries this murky waterway has filled Parisians' hearts, minds, and noses with equal measures of inspiration or despair.Back in the mid-1970s, the low point of Paris urbanism, I visited the city for the first time and was taken aback by the river's chemical stench and the flying suds from its filthy waves quivering over the cars on the just-built riverside expressways. A decade later I willfully forgot such details when I engineered my move here. I was tantalized by the scenes-of dancers on the Seine's cobbled quays, bridges compressed by a telephoto lens-in what might possibly be the worst movie ever made, Tango. Never able to tango despite lessons, and aware from the start that I'd duped myself into imagining such a dreamy place could exist, I've been stalking the photogenic quays of Paris ever since. Although I've sometimes felt my passion for Paris ebb, the Seine has flowed along, in its indifference seducing me, a knowing victim, time and again.Not long ago, after a failed research mission to the National Library on Paris's extreme eastern edge, I glanced down at the river from the Pont de Tolbiac and realized that, despite my wanderings, I'd never actually followed the Seine downstream across the city to the quays of the 15th arrondissement. How long a walk could it be? Without real conviction or particularly comfortable shoes I set off to see how far I could get.Judging by the smokestacks upstream, the glassy National Library towers, and the floating nightclubs moored in front of them, not to mention the cars dueling on the Pompidou Expressway, it struck me as hard to believe the Seine ever had been a wild river edged by marshlands, where the area's Celtic inhabitants lived. Five thousand years ago that benign river provided France's mythicized forebears-Nos ancêtres les Gaulois-with food, potables, and the protection they needed to build their island-city, which the Romans eventually called Lutetia. Until the 1980s no trace of the Seine Basin's early fisherfolk had been found, but while reconfiguring the formerly industrial Bercy area's warehouses, workmen turned up several Neolithic canoes. The hallowed site is recalled by Rue des Pirogues de Bercy, a street sandwiched between a multiplex cinema and a convention center. City officials quickly latched onto the canoes, seeing in them a symbol of pre-Roman civilization and the solution to an etymological mystery. The canoes jibe with the Celtic-language hypothesis of the origin of "Lutetia": luh (river) + touez (in the middle) + y (house), meaning "houses midstream," an apparent reference to what is now the Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis.Of course everyone knows the unappetizing alternative, which Victor Hugo pointed out in the mid-1800s: in Latin lutum means mud, therefore Lutetia was the "City of Mud." As to the etymology of "Paris," the canoes came in very handy. The ancient Celtic word appears to be composed of par (a kind of canoe) + gw-ys (boatmen or expert navigators). Therefore the Parisii tribespeople were expert navigators with canoes. The Romans dubbed the muddy settlement Lutetia Parisiorum, a mouthful that later inhabitants shortened to Lutetia then Frenchified to the euphonic Lutèce. Paris's neolithic canoes are evoked by the dozens of paddle-shaped information panels, designed by Philippe Starck, found in many places around town.If you believe what the conqueror Julius Caesar wrote in Gallic Wars, France's expert canoe navigators (and other warlike inhabitants) savored not only Seine trout, but also human flesh. The fearsome Gauls called their river Sequana, meaning "snakelike," presumably because the Seine meanders on its 482-mile course from its source on the 1,500- foot Langres Plateau in Burgundy to the Atlantic, a torpid yard's tilt per mile. The Romans lost no time humanizing snaky Sequana into a curvaceous water nymph of the same name. In case your mind's eye fails to envision her, a mid-nineteenth-century rendition of Sequana stands in a faux grotto at the Source de la Seine. This watery enclave is near the village of Chanceaux. But the property belongs to Paris: Sequana's fountainhead was claimed for the city not by Caesar but by another emperor, Napoléon III.By continuing downstream from the National Library on the landscaped left bank, under rows of poplars, past barges, houseboats, and homeless people's encampments, you'll eventually catch sight of Notre- Dame's spire. It marks the center-point from which distances in France are measured. Fittingly, not far from where Notre-Dame stands the Romans built their walled citadel or civitas (later bastardized as la Cité), ringed by the Seine's natural moat. Then as now the river ran at its narrowest around the Île de la Cité and could be forded when low, which is why Roman engineers first bridged it here.There was nothing new under the sun in Caesar's day. The Seine's ford lay at the crossroads of older, Bronze Age trade routes, routes that led south to the Mediterranean and west to the English Channel. In time, Lutetia became the crucible where the south's copper and the west's tin met and melded into bronze weaponry. In the fourth century AD, when Julian the Apostate was proclaimed Augustus in Paris, the rebellious young emperor elevated Lutetia to the rank of "summer capital" of the Roman Empire, and the Seine became the new Rome's Tiber. In due course, once the Romans had vacated, upriver paddled medieval missionaries and Norsemen of an equally bloody-minded nature, bent on trading, raiding, and proselytizing. And the rest, as they say, is history, a murky tale splayed over centuries and far too slippery to grasp here, with Lutetia becoming "Paris," Sequana morphing into "Seine," and my feet already sore after a mere mile's march downstream.Since the early twenty-first century even the short seedy stretch of quay fronting the Austerlitz train station has been pedestrianized. You can now walk unmolested by cars along the river's left bank for several miles, almost as far as the Musée d'Orsay. I paused on the Pont d'Austerlitz to reconnoiter and rest my bunions. With several specific episodes of city lore in mind, it struck me that, probably ever since the first Gallic fisherman-cannibal fell afoul of his neighbor hereabouts, the Seine has been the favorite accomplice of murderers, and a convenient channel for the lifeblood of adulterers, warriors, revolutionaries, royalists, and massacre victims.Take, for instance, Isabeau of Bavaria, luckless bride of mad King Charles VI. Around 1400, in a fit of jealousy, he had one of her admirers sewn into a cloth sack and tossed into the river (from where the Pont Louis-Philippe now stands, on the Right Bank). And what about the Saint Bartholomew's Massacre of 1572, when the Seine famously ran red? It did so again during the Revolution, as illustrated by eighteenth-century chronicler Jean-Louis Mercier's account of Louis XVI's execution at Place de la Concorde. Mercier tells of an onlooker who dipped his finger into the sovereign's blood as it ran toward the river, pronouncing it particularly salty. Victor Hugo, no stranger to prose in full flood, preferred the sewers to the Seine for many uplifting scenes in Les Misérables, though he did finish off his misguided police inspector, Javert, in the river's maelstrom.As I ambled downstream, I tried to remember how many times in Georges Simenon's novels Inspector Maigret fished bodies or their parts from the Seine, into whose depths Maigret stared daily from his office on the Quai des Orfèvres. The silver screen has certainly upheld the ghoulish-river tradition. People are pushed or fling themselves into Sequana's arms with alarming frequency, as in the otherwise forgettable Paris by Night. Relatively recent history has also seen the river run rouge: in October 1961, during the Algerian War, the infamous Nazi collaborator Maurice Papon, then prefect of the Paris police, ordered hundreds of Algerian demonstrators to be beaten or bound and dumped into the Seine. The crime was denied for decades, and Papon, protected by everyone from De Gaulle to Mitterrand, remained free until 1999. A plaque on the Pont Saint-Michel records the event. It was placed there in 2001 by mayor Bertrand Delanoë.But I suspect most contemporary visitors to Paris couldn't give a flying buttress about the morbidity of moviemakers, literati, historians, and statisticians, who note that in an average year about fifty people fling themselves into the river hoping to end their lives. Like me, when I'm in a good mood, they imagine the Seine as a romantic setting, with pairs of lovers twining. That was precisely what I saw ahead, midstream, in the shade of a spreading sycamore, on the upstream tip of the Île Saint-Louis. The sight reassured me that, on the river's edge, there's something for everyone. There's the Tino Rossi sculpture garden, for instance, with built-in sand pits and convenient statuary for insouciant dog-walkers. There are concrete- lined heat sinks for sun-seeking optimists, amphitheaters for tango enthusiasts, footpaths for red-faced joggers, and many an isolated stretch where anglers wet a line or clochards a wall.Day and night, the river buzzes with bateaux-mouches, speakers blaring and floodlights glaring, gaily conveying millions of merrymakers each year on a magical Paris mystery tour.But how much of the Seine's glamour is carefully staged illusion? When in a sardonic frame of mind, induced, as was now the case, by the press of bodies around Notre-Dame, I often think of the river's curving sweep as seen from a satellite: an eyebrow raised at all romantic notions of Paris, starting with my own. Romance? Two hundred years ago Napoléon I, ever the poet, dubbed the river "The highway linking Paris and Rouen." Thanks to inspired twentieth-century planners, the Seine is still a highway, paved with asphalt on both sides, and girded by commuter train rails underneath the left embankment. Industrial barges and tour boats churn up the dark waters between.Twenty-five million tons of freight, much of it toxic, transits on the river yearly. The effluent and garbage of the capital and upstream Seine Basin have flowed across Sequana's bosom since the days of Lutetia. That paragon of romantic bridges, the Pont des Arts, linking the Louvre to the Institut de France, was long where street sweepers dumped their loads. So foul was the Seine by 1970, the statistical baseline for reclamation efforts, that it was pronounced "nearly dead." Of the dozens of fish species pre-industrial fishermen once snared in their nets, scientists could find only three remaining. The situation has slowly improved, with bottom-feeders such as torpedo fish making a comeback, though in the early 1990s then-mayor Jacques Chirac was a trifle premature when he tossed trout and salmon into what was still a sump. The fish promptly went belly up. Granted, a few escapees from the Canal Saint-Martin do cross Paris now and again, swimming as fast as their fins will take them to Le Havre and the sea. In 2010 one lucky angler famously fished out a plump, healthy hatchery salmon-and practically made front-page news.Today, with the river's quays and bridges a UNESCO World Heritage Site, few Parisians suspect that Sequana is on a respirator: six oxygen-pumping plants hidden along the banks keep floundering fish species alive. Still fewer people notice the submerged garbage- catching barriers discreetly emptied by trucks or barges. And hardly anyone thinks of the hundreds of employees working around the clock to keep the river tidy, police it, control its flow, and purify its water. This is not done merely to please environmentalists or the tourism board. The fact is eighty percent of Paris's drinking water comes from the Seine. The turgid flow is treated in four plants at the rate of three million cubic meters daily then piped into the homes of unsuspecting residents. I recall the day I heard rumors that, on average, by the time the Seine reaches my kitchen sink it has been through five human bodies. Try telling that to an enraptured visitor at a riverside café.Parisians shrug off such reports. They seem to acquire a taste for chlorine and kidney-filtered water. With that pleasant thought in mind I gulped an espresso and a glass of Seine then descended a stairway to the riverbank, just downstream of Place Saint-Michel. I was in time to see the Brigade Fluvial, stationed near the Pont des Arts, struggle into wetsuits and brave the waters. I prayed to Sequana that these fluvial firemen were inoculated against every known water-borne disease and heavily insured. Ditto the Seine police, who fly by on speedboats, their sunglasses flashing, apparently having the time of their life. If only their dream duties did not include dealing with the successful suicide victims, and the many, many others who try but fail.Despite the widely reported death of Jacques Chirac's trout and salmon, many Parisians continue to dream of fishing and swimming in the Seine, so much so that Paris's port authority and long-serving mayor Delanoë are studying the feasibility of creating inner-city bathing beaches. Delanoë got his toes in the water in summer 2002 with an initiative called Paris Plage, as in "beach." He ordered that the Right Bank expressway be closed temporarily, and had outdoor cafés, sun umbrellas, and portable swimming pools planted on the tarmac. The initiative is now a regular summertime event, and the expressway is also closed from mid-morning to early afternoon on Sundays, transforming the pitted asphalt into an enchanted Yellow Brick Road. But no one so far has been foolhardy enough to scatter sand on the riverbanks and dive in.As I shuffled now over the handsome, modern Solferino footbridge to the Right Bank quays flanking the Tuileries, I paused to take in the seductive views, and had to admit that a sandy strand somewhere hereabouts wouldn't be bad. Once the water was clean enough for a swim, however, there would remain the minor detail of the Seine's yearly floods, which tend to wreak havoc and would possibly sweep away the mayor's beaches.

Editorial Reviews

“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,"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 “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