paris (im)perfect and Karin at the Alien Parisienne had written reviews, I felt a sense of relief. Downie had gotten his reviews from the Paris blogging community and therefore there was really no need for me to actually read it or write a review. I could have my free book with a clear conscience.
Then for some unknown reason, I threw it in my bag when we were packing for our recent biking vacation, and one evening, I actually picked it up and started reading it. (Oh come on, don't tell me that you pack books and never read them. Happens to me all the time.) And you know what? I found myself hooked.
Happily it turns out the world actually does need another book about Paris as long as it is as well written as this one. Downie bypasses the cliches and the overstatements, digging deep and dishing up a series of essays about bits of Paris that I'm pretty sure you don't know all about. His essays cover the lives of boat dwellers, bouquinistes, and artisans, Parisians' attachment to their dogs and cemeteries. He profiles the lives of Modigliani and Chanel, talks with the city's chief lighting designer, and spends a good bit of time exploring the complicated issue of the regentrification of the Marais. And that's just for starters.
Downie's writing has an easy quality to it (even though he gets worked up about some things) and the format of short essays lend itself well to those of us who get their reading done on the Metro or late at night with sleep beckoning. You can read a chapter or two and set it down for later or plunge straight ahead. Frankly though, what I liked best about this book was Downie's willingness to share his thoughts on Paris without insisting that the reader adopt them. He doesn't push a right way to experience Paris, although anyone would certainly be enriched by following in his footsteps, at least for a bit.
I got the impression that these essays may have been separately published and only now bound into one volume because there are quite a few repetitive sections that a good editor should have rooted out. But that's a small complaint and certainly not enough to dissuade you from getting your own copy. Put this on your own wish list or gift it to your favorite Francophile. Better yet, give it to someone who doesn't already have an undying affection for the City of Light. They may just find that there's a lot more to Paris than loves lost, love found, pastries, lingerie, wine, and strolling along the Seine. And amen to that.