May 30, 2016

Book Review: The Most Beautiful Walk in the World by John Baxter




Thrust into the unlikely role of professional "literary walking tour" guide, an expat writer provides the most irresistibly witty and revealing tour of Paris in years.
In this enchanting memoir, acclaimed author and long- time Paris resident John Baxter remembers his yearlong experience of giving "literary walking tours" through the city. Baxter sets off with unsuspecting tourists in tow on the trail of Paris's legendary artists and writers of the past. Along the way, he tells the history of Paris through a brilliant cast of characters: the favorite cafés of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and James Joyce; Pablo Picasso's underground Montmartre haunts; the bustling boulevards of the late-nineteenth-century flâneurs; the secluded "Little Luxembourg" gardens beloved by Gertrude Stein; the alleys where revolutionaries plotted; and finally Baxter's own favorite walk near his home in Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

The Most Beautiful Walk in the World was the perfect book to read when planning a return visit to Paris. I wanted unique insights and the perspective of someone who intimately knows this city. And how better to know it than one who walks its streets? Although he covers some famous Parisian residents throughout history, the artists and writers, it is the not-so-famous characters he writes about that captured my imagination –the somewhat sinister Hugo, the larger-than-life three Texans who in an unlikely twist ends up falling in love with French food and liquor, the rich friend shopping casually for a Matisse. Like a charming host full of intriguing facts and funny anecdotes, Baxter treats the reader, his guest, to glimpses of Paris seldom seen. There is also a very valuable appendix which lists some valuable tips for making the most out of one’s trip.

“…[E]very Parisian, and everyone who comes to know Paris, “discovers his or her own ‘most beautiful walk.’ A walk is not a parade or a race.  It’s a succession of instants, any one of which can illuminate a lifet ime.  What about the glance, the scent, the glimpse, the way the light just falls … the ‘beautiful’ part?  No tour guide or guidebook tells you that.”

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