Sunday , May 19 2024
The next time you visit Paris, Peu, mais bien (Do less, but do it well.)

Book Review: Paris: The Collected Traveler edited by Barrie Kerper

If you’ve read every good guidebook before heading to Paris, yet felt you were missing out on the true essence of this city’s secret passions, Paris: The Collected Traveler will be your guide. Immerse yourself in articles, essays and interviews gathered to enhance your perception of the City of Light. Author Barrie Kerper includes personal reflections and insights from writers, residents and experts on Paris culture, including many of our favorites: André Aciman, Ina Garten, Mireille Guiliano, Peter Hellman, and John Russell.

The author advises we avoid “Stendhal Syndrome,” named for the French novelist, who felt physically sick after visiting Santa Croce in Florence; thus the syndrome is described as the sensation of being completely overwhelmed by your surroundings. Kerper suggest we do our homework to avoid arriving in Paris with a long list of must-see experiences, and instead let the city absorb us into its culture. You’ll receive more than a superficial experience with Paris: The Collected Traveler as your companion.

The section entitled “A Table!” will be familiar to anyone who’s tried and failed to understand how to gain entry into certain restaurants, and get noticed by the staff. The “Counter Culture” essay in this section, by Naomi Barry, Gourmet’s first resident correspondent in Paris, teaches us the first trick to dining at l’Atelier. It can only be done if someone opens the doors for you…from the inside, like the old Manhattan speakeasys.

Barbara Dinerman’s essay on the architecture of Paris train stations will give you wanderlust and perhaps a desire to return to the late 19th century. That was a time and place when rail stations were built as monuments; a time when the poetry of their architecture inspired great painters, including Manet, Monet and Caillebotte to capture their subtle essence.

Beyond the introduction to Paris and thoughtful advice from Kerper as your companion, Paris: The Collected Traveler includes articles and essays that are pure delight. Culled from the author’s own library, the pieces are arranged in themes to give you a concentrated look into understanding the city, its politics, history social issues food and the arts.

Paris: The Collected Traveler offers a wonderful introduction to the best arrondissements, and includes Joseph Voelker’s humorous essay on the typical traveler’s attempts to speak French, including his advice that you “Try retired people: they’ve generally got the time, and therefore the patience, to let you practice.”

Each section includes recommended reading and web resources for further study, and serves as a good reference for more in-depth immersion, should your trip offer the time. Excursions beyond the city include over 100 pages of the author’s favorites; a compilation of places great and small that will become your lasting memories of your next Paris experience.

This delightful anthology deserves a place in your travel plans, especially if you leave all your other guidebooks at home, and carry this along as an ebook on the plane. By the time your flight lands, you’ll be fortified with your newfound knowledge and ready to make the most of Paris’s marvelous monuments, gardens and museums. It should be your constant companion as you enjoy the City of Light, and as you take time to relax and read in Paris’s lovely parks.

Published by Random House Vintage, the price of this generous guide is less than petit dejeuner at a outdoor café on the Rue de Richelieu. 

About Helen Gallagher

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