A Flâneur’s Guide: Paris, the Right Bank, by “richardb,” is the follow-up to the author’s similarly titled guide to the Left Bank. It crosses the Seine to offer another witty, offbeat, entertaining and frequently off-the-beaten-track view of Paris.
Once again arranged alphabetically, it includes the usual suspects, of course – the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Marais, the Canal Saint Martin, etc. – along with all their pertinent details, but the author always manages to come up with a little nugget about them you weren’t aware of or a description that provides an unusual perspective on a famed site. He compares the Louvre, for example, to “a maze akin to a Las Vegas casino (particularly when looking for a convenience or the exit).” So true!
On the Église Sainte-Marie Madeleine, where the funerals of such luminaries as Frédéric Chopin and Johnny Hallyday took place, he tells the story of the difficulties surrounding the ceremony for Chopin, which had to be delayed for two weeks because the composer had asked for Mozart’s Requiem to be performed. It was an impossible request since women were banned from the church, and the piece required female choristers. The solution: hide the women singers behind a black curtain. He goes on to compare today’s “celebrity funeral afters” on the steps of the Madeleine to the scene at the Cannes Film Festival, complete with red carpet, “thronging crowds, the roar of the paparazzi … and the smell of lilies and incense.”
One of the book’s main assets is the way the author clues readers into the Parisian esprit. The entry on Johnny Hallyday, the late French facsimile of an American rocker whose colossal and endfuring popularity in France is inexplicable to outsiders (as is that of Left Bank-based singer Serge Gainsbourg), the book will explain to you how you can enter the spirit of French Johnny-mania and commune with fans worshipping at the monument to him (a Harley Davidson atop a huge guitar neck by artist Bertrand Lavier) on the Esplanade Johnny Hallyday.
Richardb’s Paris is Paris of a certain era, much of which might not be familiar to the younger generation, but for anyone nostalgic for still-existing remnants of Old Paris, it’s a delight. While he does include Paris’s recently opened museums, the Bourse de Commerce–Fondation François Pinault and the Hôtel de la Marine, most of the restaurants have been around for decades or, in one case, over a century (Chartier). Readers can be assured, however, that his assessments of them are of a more recent vintage – just don’t expect reviews of any “bistronomic” restaurants.
As I noted in my review of A Flâneur’s Guide: Paris, the Left Bank, richardb is an acquaintance of mine, so I can vouch for his great talent as a raconteur.
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