For me part of the enjoyment of travel is reading about our destination and planning our itinerary. I may start reading six or seven months before our trip and most always bring along a couple of books to read during the trip. And often I will continue the reading after our vacation when I am processing photos and setting up postings for this blog. Here are the six books I used most extensively in the before, during and after stages of our recent trip to Paris:
1. Rick Steves’ Pocket Paris. Our daughters gave us Rick Steves’ Pocket London last year as a going away present along with a companion Pocket Paris. During the seven months between our trip to London in 2013 and Paris in 2014 I practically memorized this tiny book and we planned to follow Steves’ recommendations for all our sightseeing activities. As it turned out, we never made it to Rue Cler or Versailles, two of his major chapters. He gave us excellent tips, however, for visiting the Louvre and d’Orsay museums and the Eiffel Tower. And his Historic Paris Walk which includes Notre-Dame and Sainte-Chapelle was excellent. We also followed up on some of his suggestions for eating establishments in our neighborhood. Thanks to Rick, we had an enjoyable afternoon snack one day at La Crepe Rit du Clown on rue des Canetes a block north of Saint-Sulpice.
2. Forever Paris by Christina Henry de Tessan. For our 45th wedding anniversary our daughters gave us a Paris travel package that included a couple of books, a couple of DVDs and a laminated map. One of the books was Forever Paris: a tiny but delightful book that consists of 25 walks that follow in the footsteps of famous people such as Hugo, Rodin, George Sands, Sartre, Piaf, Balzac, Zola, Moliere, Monet, Matisse, etc. who lived for at least part of their lives in Paris. Each of the 25 chapters is 4 pages long: two pages of biography with a photo or painting on the second page, one page of text describing the walk and finally a detailed map of the entire walk. Many of the walks were at least partially in our neighborhood and we then walked those portions that were close by. We did the entire Hemingway walk one day. I started working on my photos from this walk today and will soon have a posting up on Hemingway’s Paris years. We skipped entirely the walks that were far away from our apartment but we read all 25 bios and discovered many interesting tidbits.
3. Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik. This book is filled with interesting comparisons of New Yorkers and Parisians by The New Yorker writer who lived in Paris in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Most of the chapters were published originally in The New Yorker. I especially liked reading about how he and his wife raised their young son during their stay in Paris. Gopnik visited the Luxembourg Gardens often as well as some of the restaurants in our neighborhood. He spends one chapter comparing Le Cafe de Flore with Les Deux Magots. If you like French food you will probably enjoy his writings about cooking and his culinary experiences with Alice Walker. I think my favorite chapter was the one on the baseball stories he made up for his then three-year-old son. My sister Betty visited Paris nine years before us and loaned me some of her favorite books, including this one and the one below. Thanks, Betty!
4. The Greater Journey by David McCullough. The famous historian covers the experiences of many Americans who traveled to Paris during the last 70 years of the 19th century. The early chapters describe the lives of many American medical students in the 1830s and 40s and about half of the book is about famous American artists and writers such as Samuel FB Morse, James Fenimore Cooper, John Singer Sargeant, Mary Cassat, Augustus Saint Gaudens, etc. The chapter about Morse and Cooper in 1831 was especially interesting. Morse spent every single day for a year at the Louvre painting his masterpiece The Gallery of the Louvre and Cooper walked over to the museum every afternoon to visit his friend. There’s another chapter later on about Morse the painter who transformed into Morse the inventor. The best chapter in the entire book, however, is the one about Elihu Washburne, the American Minister to France, and his heroic activities during the Siege of Paris in 1870-71 by the Prussian army and the brief civil war that followed. The rich people of Paris fled the city in droves, as did all the embassies but ours. Even the official government moved out, first to Bordeaux and then Versailles. But Washburne stayed and offered shelter, food, and medical attention to the poor, the starving and the wounded. This is the book that I didn’t get around to reading until we returned home.
5. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. Papa’s memoirs on his life in Paris with his first wife Hadley during the 1920s was published in 1964, three years after his death. In 2009 his grandson Sean re-edited it because he didn’t like some of the things his grandfather wrote about his second wife Pauline Pfeiffer (Sean’s grandmother) and about Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. I read the 1964 edition that was edited by Hemingway’s fourth wife Mary but was pretty close to the original according to his biographer, A.E. Hotchner, who had the chance to read the manuscript before if was edited. Hemingway frequented many places in our Odeon neighborhood. (See #2 above), including the Luxembourg Gardens, Gertrude Stein’s home, and several bars / cafes.
6. The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor-Marie Hugo. Read my posting here on Hugo and you will know why this book is on the list! I read the ebook version on my iPad (free to download).