I stumbled across Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light while preparing to visit Paris again, a city I have loved for almost 40 years. The author, David Downie, is an American who has lived in Paris since 1986. He loves Paris deeply and knows it far better than I do.
The walk begins at France’s gigantic national library — Bibliothèque nationale de France. This is the largest library I have ever seen; it houses 15 million books and journals. It is located near the Métro station Bibliothèque François Mitterrand right along the Seine. But not much else is nearby. The location feels desolate, modern and suburban, although the library remains within Paris’s Périphérique or beltway.
However, it was unclear to me from reading the book where the walk ended so I emailed the author who cheerfully responded with the details and even suggested a nice, reasonably priced restaurant for lunch right along the walk. The restaurant is La Fregate and is at the only spot on the walk where you have to go up to the sidewalk from the river. Downie describes the restaurant as “cozy, friendly, insiderish, welcoming — and the service — efficient, discreet and unusually chummy for Paris.”
I watched the city transform from stark, modern suburbs and eventually came upon Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower and on to its terminus at the Pont Mirabeau. I will never forget Le Pont Mirabeau after reading Guillaume Apollinaire’s poem in high school. The poem breaths life and love into the bridge. Seeing Le Pont Mirabeau at the end of this day-long walk was special. The entire walk was about 10 km or 6.2 miles. The transformations within that short distance speak volumes about Paris.
On top of the wonderful details that make Paris come to life, Downie’s prose shows a love and mastery of the English language that I appreciate. This gem of a book will teach you so much about Paris and make you want to return again and again or go to Paris and remain as Downie has.
At Downie’s suggestion, I also visited Buttes Chaumont park which is even more impressive than Mr. Downie describes. He knows Place des Vosges like the back of his hand so that chapter is exceptional.
On top of the wonderful details that make Paris come to life, Downie’s prose shows a love and mastery of the English language. This gem of a book will teach you about Paris and make you want to return again and again. It may even motivate you to go there and remain as Downie has.