Vacation in Paris Blog

Paris Book Club - Part Two

Places To Visit - Posted on Apr 19,2021 by JanSmi

Everyone has his or her own vision of Paris, but the books I’m going to talk about have the facts that can make the vision more real.

Two writers – and in the interest of full disclosure, let me tell you I know and respect both of these women – bring the City of Light into focus in very special way.

First up, Joan DeJean. Joan is a time traveler; she slips back a century here, a century there to render an account of what makes Paris unique and how and why it got that way. Her books are fantastically-researched and beautifully-written.

"How Paris Became Paris" is for anyone curious about the origins of this urban beauty. In this book, Joan steps back to the 17th century to sketch the forward-looking layout of the city and the ideas behind it. The grandiose plan of the time proves to be a model for cities today. As Paris gets ready to host the Olympic Games in 2024, you can see old ideas re-emerging to give form to the venues envisioned. And the new Champs-Elysées in planning? It’s nearly identical to the old avenue Joan describes. This is a terrific book, but . . .

. . . my favorite of Joan’s books remains "The Essence of Style." Although not strictly about Paris, it is about how certain things made Paris – and other cities – possible. Things like street lights, trendy cafes and folding umbrellas. But Joan goes way beyond that to outline the elements that made Paris and France the center of European culture and style. Here you get to see Louis XIV, the Sun King, and his minister Colbert turn the Chateau de Versailles into a gigantic shop window as they peddled everything French to the entire world. You might say their idea was “France First,” and what a powerful idea it was. Thank them the next time you toss some thyme or parsley into your pan, order a crème brûlée or open your umbrella in a downpour. And thank Joan for telling you about it. (My only quibble: Joan’s crediting Dom Pérignon with inventing champagne. He didn’t – but that’s another story.)

Elaine Sciolino is another one who writes about Paris with magic in her pen. Just check out "The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs" and "The Seine: The River that Made Paris" if you don’t believe me. What comes through on every page is that these are books by someone who loves living here and is thrilled to share her knowledge. Elaine’s book on the Seine made me happy I can drift along even in confinement from the comfort of my apartment.

And if you think history is a boring way to approach the world’s most romantic city, try Elaine’s "La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life." You’ll be seduced.

Enough of the glamour and beauty, you say? Well, here’s one for you lovers of mystery, murder and mayhem: "Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer in Nazi-Occupied Paris." David King takes one back to the Paris of World War II where intrigue, collaboration and resistance all flourished in the shadows.

But those shadows hid something else as well. This is a true horror story that plays out against a background of unrelenting tension and terror.

You’ll be ready for a double espresso and some sunshine after this one.

Photo ©Aneta Pawlik

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Our latest guest bloggers - Don and Petie Kladstrup

Don and Petie Kladstrup are authors of two best-selling books, the first being Wine and War: the French, the Nazis and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure, a best-seller that has been optioned for a motion picture. Their second book dealt with World War I: Champagne: How the World's Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times. Both books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Coming November 1st! Champagne Charlie: the Frenchman Who Taught America to Love Champagne

Don and Petie are former journalists. Don was a award-winning foreign correspondent for CBS and ABC Television News. Petie worked for several mid-western newspapers before serving as an assistant to the American ambassador to UNESCO in Paris. They are the parents of two daughters and have lived in Paris since 1978, splitting their time between the city and their country home in the south of France.

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