A NEW YORK TIMES "SUMMER READING" PICK!
From the incomparable John Baxter, award-winning author of the bestselling The Most Beautiful Walk in the World, a sumptuous and definitive portrait of Paris through the seasons, highlighting the unique tastes, sights, and changing personality of the city in spring, summer, fall, and winter.
When the common people of France revolted in 1789, one of the first ways they chose to correct the excesses of the monarchy and the church was to rename the months of the year. Selected by poet and playwright Philippe-Francois-Nazaire Fabre, these new names reflected what took place at that season in the natural world; Fructidor was the month of fruit, Floréal that of flowers, while the winter wind (vent) dominated Ventôse.
Though the names didn’t stick, these seasonal rhythms of the year continue to define Parisians, as well as travelers to the city. As acclaimed author and long-time Paris resident John Baxter himself recollects, “My own arrival in France took place in Nivôse, the month of snow, and continued in Pluviôse, the season of rain. To someone coming from Los Angeles, where seasons barely existed, the shock was visceral. Struggling to adjust, I found reassurance in the literature, music, even the cuisine of my adoptive country, all of which marched to the inaudible drummer of the seasons.”
Devoting a section of the book to each of Fabre’s months, Baxter draws upon Paris’s literary, cultural and artistic past to paint an affecting, unforgettable portrait of the city. Touching upon the various ghosts of Paris past, from Hemingway and Zelda Fitzgerald, to Claude Debussy to MFK Fisher to Francois Mitterrand, Baxter evokes the rhythms of the seasons in the City of Light, and the sense of wonder they can arouse for all who visit and live there.
A melange of history, travel reportage, and myth, of high culture and low, A Year in Paris is vintage John Baxter: a vicarious thrill ride for anyone who loves Paris.
Baxter (The Most Beautiful Walk in the World) invites Francophiles to explore Paris in all its seasons in this insightful if meandering memoir. Baxter surmises that Parisians, in particular, "are used to living by... the seasons" whether that means toasting to November's quick-fermented Beaujolais nouveau in bars strewn with autumn leaves, or forgoing air conditioning in the summer in order to enjoy the breeze through open windows. This way of living has deep roots, according to Baxter, who breaks up weather-related anecdotes with the little-known history of performer-politician Fabre d' glantine and his ill-fated Calendrier r publicain, the official state calendar used for just 12 years during the French Revolution. Aiming to adopt a system of decimalization and break from Catholic influence, Fabre implemented a 10-day week and renamed months for their characteristics: Pluvi se roughly, "rainy" fell during winter and Flor al, or "flowery," was in spring. The author seems out-of-touch at times an ex-lover's daughter is "a bosomy twentysomething with pretensions to art" yet his descriptions of nature are nuanced, as when a windstorm leaves trees "levered out of the ground like rotten teeth," and "April's pale, cloudless skies look as well scrubbed as a Vermeer." This joyful exploration of a much-beloved city will make readers wonder if there is ever really a bad time to visit Paris.