The Secret Paris: David Downie’s Paris, Paris

parisMy wanderlust had reached an all time high and needing a long-overdue escape, I neatly packed a weekend bag with the intention of catching the earliest flight out. The destination would, preferably, be Europe, but just about anywhere would do.  At least that was the plan. In reality, student loans and rent were coming due, so I settled on the next best thing: reading David Downie’s Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light.

I had read memoirs and novels about Paris before—most of which followed the predictable plot of a woman finding love or her life calling against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tour—but had heard that Downie’s take was marvelously different. Authentic and even comic. My interest was immediately piqued and I was curious to read the American observations of a man who had called the City of Light home for 25 years.

Part travelogue, part history, part candid personal anecdotes, Downie’s book was almost as good as a free ticket to Paris itself. A satisfying course of thirty-one vignettes of Parisian life, people and places, Downie gives readers a true insider perspective of Paris. In fact, I reached the last pages feeling much more familiar with Paris and its delights and oddities than I ever did during my five days there last spring.

David Downie is the ideal travel writer and his ability to dissect and disclose the color and character of his experiences fascinates me. Whether describing Les Bouquinistes, Parisian booksellers lining the Seine with green boxes, or explaining just why otherwise aloof Parisians so adore their dogs, Downie’s accounts are rich in insight and charm.

Every chapter seamlessly blends Paris’ eclectic history with its current state of affairs, and in the process, the reader gains a unique understanding of both the tension and allure of Paris’ need to maintain the past yet embrace the present. In short, Downie’s Paris, Paris educates as it delights and is a must read for any Francophile, dreamer or anyone with a case of wanderlust.

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