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  • Written by Barrie Kerper
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On Sale: July 12, 2011
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-0-307-73932-2
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Synopsis|Excerpt|Table of Contents


This unique guide to one of the world’s most beloved tourist destinations combines fascinating articles by a wide variety of writers, woven throughout with the editor’s own indispensable advice and opinions—providing in one package an unparalleled experience of an extraordinary place.
This edition on Paris features:
● Articles, interviews, and reminiscences from writers, visitors, residents, and experts on the region, including Ina Garten, André Aciman, Judith Jones, Mireille Guiliano, Naomi Barry, and Patricia Wells.
● In-depth pieces that illuminate such treasures of the City of Light as the bridges on the Seine; Parisian train stations; cobbled streets and hidden gardens; the peculiarities of the French language; the delights of French bread, chocolate, and wine; and much more.
● Enticing recommendations for further reading, including novels, histories, memoirs, cookbooks, and guidebooks.
● An A–Z Miscellany of concise and entertaining information on special shops, hotels, and museums not to be missed; French phrases and customs; boat trips on the Seine; Jewish history; antiques; spas; tips for shopping; and the most romantic spots in Paris.
● Recommendations for excursions to Chartres, Fontainebleau, Burgundy, Brittany, and Champagne.
● More than 150 photographs and illustrations.


France: The Outsider

Ian Jack

This editorial was the introductory essay in an issue of the fine, thought-provoking literary magazine Granta. Though it appeared in the autumn 1997 issue, the references made to society and politics remain very much similar today. (Though the unemployment rate in France, for one thing, has fallen.) The essay as it appears here is an edited version of the original.


IAN JACK was the editor of Granta from 1995 to 2008. He edited London's Independent on Sunday from 1991 to 1995, and currently he writes a weekly column for the Guardian. Jack has also served as a foreign correspondent in South Asia and is the author of The Country Formerly Known as Great Britain (Jonathan Cape, 2009).


The first man to fly solo across the Atlantic and the hero of his age, Charles Lindbergh, saw France from the air on May 21, 1927. He had been flying for more than thirty hours and seen nothing but ocean since he left New York, and now the green fields and woods of Normandy were below him. Journey's end! Time for a bite! He took a sandwich from its wrapper and stretched to throw the wrapper from the cockpit. Then he looked down and decided that just wouldn't do. "My first act," Lindbergh said to himself, "will not be to sully such a beautiful garden." His American waste paper remained in the aircraft—scrunched, one assumes, in a ball at his feet.

The French writer Jean-Marie Domenach, who died this summer, tells this story in his last book: Regarder la France: essai sur le malaise français. It is for Domenach yet another small stone in a large mountain of anecdotal evidence gathered to demonstrate the singularity of France as a state, a people, a culture and (in this case) a landscape. But, as Domenach's subtitle indicates, all isn't well with this singularity. The fields that Lindbergh flew over are larger now, the roads straighter and wider, the peasants (should Lindbergh have spotted any, bending their backs in this beautiful garden) dramatically fewer. All of these changes have happened to most other western countries as agriculture has adopted new machines and new techniques to plough out hedges and plough in chemical fertilizers, to relegate agricultural labourers to models in museums of folklore. But in none of these other countries (even England, where the countryside supplies a large part of the national idea) would rural transformation be seen as such a blow to the nation's identity. There would be nostalgia, of course, and ecological concern. In France, things go much further. Implied in Domenach's story is the notion that, had Lindbergh been flying over some other, less top-quality country (Portugal, say, or Belgium), he might have nonchalantly tossed the paper into the windstream and had a good spit at the same time. But, as General and President Charles de Gaulle was fond of saying, France is . . . France. Even Lindbergh, high up in his frail aeroplane, and with a hundred other things to worry about, could see the specialness of the place and respect it.

Nobody doubts that France is special; certainly not the French. It is the largest, though not the most populous country, in Europe, and was once the most powerful. Its linguistic unity and its natural boundaries—France can be seen as a hexagonal fortress with sea on three sides and mountains on two—have given it a clearer identity, a less contested nationalism, than most countries which share a continent. Its history is alive with symbols, events, heroes and slogans which have not been shuttered in to the cobwebbed past—which form part of France's grand and still unfolding story, as the French tell it to themselves. France sees itself as the birthplace of modern ideas and modern politics. The words of the American constitution are fine, but a snappier political credo than "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" has still to be invented. The terms "Left" and "Right" as in left-wing and right-wing come from the seating arrangements in the National Assembly of 1789, when the pro-revolutionaries took the benches on the left side of the chamber. When Britain was manufacturing industrial and necessarily temporary objects, France was taking the lead in creating enduring, and now universal, abstractions. These ideals, which have dignified humankind, form part of France's claim to its status as a universal nation. Add them to a cultural preeminence which has lasted through most of the last and the present century—think of the French novel and French painting in the nineteenth, French film in the twentieth—and a way of living notorious for its discriminating pleasure in philosophy, love, food, drink and fashion, and France's claim to be the global model for civilization can seem unanswerable. "Ah, the French," as the maxim goes on the northbound Channel ferry and the jet heading west to North America, "they know how to live!"

The paradox is that, while France has thought of itself as a tutor to the world, it has never really believed that it can be imitated. France is distinctive. It may believe, as the USA affects to believe (or simply assumes), that it is a country with values which can be franchised anywhere; but unlike perfumes, croissants and fizzy water—unlike, in fact, the Statue of Liberty—some items are not for export. There is the French soul; there is an even mistier item, la France profonde. Here normal rules do not apply. Sooner or later, in almost every area of human activity, one comes across the phrase: l'exception française. Exceptionally, France has retained several parts of its empire with little sense of post-imperial shame. Exceptionally, in the 1990s it began again to explode nuclear devices under one of these old outposts (when on British television a French government spokesman was asked why, if these tests were so safe, they were not conducted under French waters rather than in the far-away Pacific, he replied: "But Tahiti is France"). Exceptionally, it still regards French as the near-rival to English as the triumphant world language, when nearly four times as many people speak English (and three times as many use Spanish, and twice as many Bengali—or Arabic). Exceptionally, it is the most anti-American country in western (or for that matter eastern) Europe.

Nearly all of these exceptions flow from what is now the greatest exception of all: the power of the French state to regulate, subsidize, satisfy and inspire the lives and ambitions of France's fifty-eight million citizens. The urge to standardize and centralize in France predates the Revolution, but it was the precepts of the Revolution, later codified by Napoleon, which allowed French citizens to feel that they played equal parts in a grand and unifying design. There would be standard courts dispensing standard law, standard schools teaching the same French history, standard forms of local administration sitting in headquarters with Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité standardly engraved in their stone. The language would be standard despite its many regional variants, the measurements (metres, litres, kilos) also. All standards would be set by the government in Paris. The state interfered but it also sheltered, and it became one of the glories of France, inseparable from the idea of the French way of life. Today France employs five million civil servants (proportionately five times as many as the USA) and industries run by the state comprise more than a third of the French economy.

The state, then, matters in France as it does in few other countries. It has never been, unlike in Britain or the USA, the bogey of the tax-paying middle classes. For one thing, it keeps a large part of the middle class in work; more than half the families in France depend on income from the state. For another, its regulations and subsidies have sustained the attractive variousnesses of France, which still produces four hundred (or a thousand; the boast varies) different kinds of cheese, and where a town of one thousand seven hundred people can contain (this is a real but typical example, from Beaujolais) three bakeries, a butcher, two grocers, a pharmacy, a jeweller's, two clothes shops, a flower shop, two hardware stores, a newsagent, two garages, several bars, two hotels and two restaurants, one of which is mentioned honourably in the Michelin guide. In Britain and North America, supermarkets and shopping malls would have closed most of them, while politicians spoke airily about the free market's great virtue of consumer choice.

But—reenter le malaise français—unemployment runs at 12.5 percent (double the British figure) and the centralized political and bureaucratic elites of Paris have become deeply unpopular and sometimes corrupt. And the nation state is now retreating throughout the world as a custodian of economies and cultures, abandoning its old remits to the capricious pressures of the global market. France has many phrases for this phenomenon—le capitalisme sauvage, le capitalisme dur (hard), le capitalisme Anglo-Saxon—and most of them could be heard in the elections of June this year, when France ditched its right-wing government and replaced it with an alliance of Socialists and Communists. On the face of it, the Left had capitalized on France's prevailing moods of sinistrose (dismalness) and morosité (gloom) by promising that the two great forces for change in French life could be resisted: that France needn't bow to Chinese wage rates or cut its public spending so that it could qualify for membership of the European Monetary Union. The Left pledged that it would create seven hundred thousand jobs, half of them funded by the state, and cut the statutory working week from forty to thirty-five hours with no reduction in earnings. In Britain, where Mrs. Thatcher expunged socialism from the politics of her Labour successors, there was mockery and also half a cheer.

France was being exceptional once again, struggling to preserve its cherished ideas of Frenchness. To the rest of the world, which has accepted globalism as an inevitability, the way things are and will be, it seemed as though its fourth-largest economy had recoiled in the face of modernity; that Fortress France was pulling up the drawbridge.

Where does French writing stand in all this The awkward truth here is that, outside France and small pockets of Francophilia, hardly anyone knows. Name six living French novelists. Name six contemporary French novels. The French, of course, blame this neglect on Anglo-Saxon ignorance and hostility, but the truth (our truth, at least) is that, in literature, France pulled up the drawbridge long ago. Saul Bellow, writing in Granta in 1984, remembered how Paris had been the capital of international culture before the Second World War and how, on his first visit in 1948, the city had still seemed "one of the permanent settings, a theatre if you like, where the greatest problems of existence might be represented." Thirty years later that feeling had gone. "Marxism, Euro-communism, Existentialism, Structuralism, Deconstructionism could not restore the potency of French civilization," Bellow wrote. "Sorry about that."

Today in France there are arguments about the purpose of writing and a movement to put the world back into the book; it hasn't escaped the French that the failure of French writing to sell abroad may have, to put it strictly in terms of the market, more to do with the producer than the consumer. Today a younger generation of writers is emerging which is more willing to look outward again. Many of these writers come from present or former French territories outside Europe, or are the children of migrants from those places. What their writing has in common is the desire to dramatize the deed rather than the thought, the story above the idea.

They reflect a France that is richer and more complicated than the beleaguered monolith of newspaper headlines, and which cannot be accommodated by old ideas of Frenchness, no matter what its government may say or do. France, we should never forget, has the largest Muslim community in Europe, between three and five million people, and Europe's largest Jewish community (about seven hundred thousand people) outside Russia. A third of France's population has ancestry from outside its borders.

Beneath the crust of its mythology, France has already changed. Why otherwise would Jean-Marie Le Pen and his anti-immigrant, anti-Europe, anti-American party, the National Front, exist And why in June would they have won 15 percent of the vote The real challenge to France is not the Anglo-Saxon world. It is to find a new and more plural identity, freed from the burden of glorious memory.

Table of Contents

France: The Outsider by Ian Jack
Dreyfus Is Decorated
La Poste and I by Barbara Wilde
The French, Rude? Mais Non! by Joseph Voelker
Recommended Reading
Foreword to John Russell’s Paris by Rosamond Bernier
According to Plan—Maps of Paris by Catharine Reynolds
Why I Love My Quincaillerie by Barbara Wilde
Thirza’s Take on Paris by Thirza Vallois
Proust’s Paris by Sanche de Gramont  
We’ll Always Have…Questions by Ann Burack-Weiss
Recommended Reading
Interview: Patricia Wells
The New Left Bank by Alexander Lobrano
On the Île Saint-Louis by Herbert Gold
The Paris of Parisians by Catharine Reynolds
Recommended Reading
A Saga of Bread by Naomi Barry
Liquid Gold by Susan Herrmann Loomis
The Anatomy of Success: Remi Flachard, International Specialist in Vintage Cookbooks by Naomi Barry
Why We Love French Wine by Peter Hellman
Recommended Reading
Interview: Kermit Lynch
Interview: Ina Garten
A Clean, Well-Lighted Café in Montparnasse by Adair Lara
Counter Culture: The Success of Breaking the Rules by Naomi Barry
Thanksgiving in Paris by Laura Chamaret
Recommended Reading
Interview: Alexander Lobrano
The Walls of Paris by Mary McAuliffe
Affordable Gothic Thrills by Anne Prah-Perochon
A Tale of Two Artists by Catharine Reynolds
Of Cobbles, Bikes, and Bobos by David Downie
Perfection Squared by André Aciman
Solar-Powered Timekeeping in Paris by Susan Allport
Station to Station by Barbara Dinerman
Streets of Desire by Vivian Thomas
Paint the Town by Paris Muse
Passages by Catharine Reynolds
The Secret Shops of the Palais Royal by Barbara Wilde
Recommended Reading
Bridging the Seine by Vivian Thomas
Recommended Reading
The Master of the Machine by John Russell
The Message by Jeannette Ferrary
We’ll Always Have Paris by Stacy Schiff
Le Père Tanguy by Henri Perruchot
Recommended Reading
Interview: David Downie and Alison Harris
Barrie Kerper|Author Desktop

About Barrie Kerper

Barrie Kerper - Paris: The Collected Traveler

Photo © Peggy Harrison

Barrie Kerper, a former journalist and avid traveler, is the editor of numerous books in the Collected Traveler series.

Author Q&A

Barrie Kerper’s Paris Top 10
*Arènes de Lutèce: I love going to buy provisions at the rue Mouffetard street market (in operation Tuesday through Sunday) and then take my pique-nique to this stone amphitheater in the Latin Quarter.   Built by the Romans, it’s a beautiful spot to sit and relax in every season unless it’s raining or bitterly cold.  There are entrances at both 47 rue Monge and rue de Navarre.
*Musée National du Moyen-Âge:  Housed in the Hôtel de Cluny (and often still referred to simply as Cluny), this Museum of the Middle Ages is on the site of ancient Roman baths and was the abbey of the order of Cluny.  The garden here is beautiful, and among the museum’s treasures are the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries and the Pilier des Nautes (Pillar of the Boatmen) – that was found under the choir of Notre-Dame in 1711.  The Pilier is a four-sided altar dedicated to Jupiter and some other Roman and Gallic deities, and it was erected by the Parisi river merchants and sailors. It is no coincidence that Paris’s coat of arms is a boat motif borrowed from the seal of the Watermen’s Guild, appointed by Louis IX in 1260 to administer the city; in the sixteenth century, the Latin motto Fluctuat nec mergitur (“Buffeted by the waves, we shall not sink”) was added, and it remains today.  The baths and the Arènes de Lutèce are the best preserved Roman remains in Paris. 
*Museums: of course the Louvre (especially the Grande Galerie and the original stone fortifications) and of course the d’Orsay (be sure to buy a copy of A Fuller Understanding of the Paintings at Orsay by Francoise Bayle in the bookstore) and of course the Carnavalet (it’s the Museum of the History of Paris, after all), but also the smaller gems that Paris has in spades: the Musée Rodin, Musée Cognacq-Jay, Musée Marmottan, Musée Jacquemart-André, and the Musée Delacroix.
*Père-Lachaise: this enormous cemetery in the 20th arrondissement (boulevard de Ménilmontant and avenue Gambetta) is one of my most favorite “monuments” and whenever I recommend it to visitors they always thank me.   Its size is not what makes it remarkable – though it’s one of the world’s largest cemeteries – but, as Alistair Horne notes in Seven Ages of Paris, “it contains probably more of France’s past than any other forty-four hectares of her soil. In it resides a whole history of Paris, indeed of France herself, in marble and stone.”
*Cooking schools and foodie tours: there’s no doubt that ‘At Home With Patricia Wells’ is an outstanding, once-in-a-lifetime cooking experience. Classes are held in her rue Jacob cooking studio, for five days, with a maximum of seven participants, and they include visits to markets and restaurants.  But they sell out fast, so if you can enroll in one, you’ll likely be doing it about a year in advance (www.patriciawells.com).  But food writer Wendy Lyn of The Paris Kitchen (www.thepariskitchen.com) is another stellar name in the culinary world of Paris, and not for nothing was she named “One of the Top Ten Culinary Guides in Europe” by The Wall Street Journal. In Wendy’s words, The Paris Kitchen site was born “with the idea that there is no single kitchen that defines Paris – Paris the city inspires the great guys and gals working in the kitchens all over town.”  Wendy (who has lived in Paris for almost 25 years) leads small (four people maximum) food and wine walks  that are fabulous.  But they’re also quite popular, and require advance confirmation. 
*The hotel trio of Verneuil, Thérèse, and Récamier (www.hotelrecamier.com).  These three hotels are owned by Sylvie de Lattre, who is one of the most stylish and savvy women I’ve ever met.  The Verneuil (in the 7th) has been beloved by many North American travelers over the years, while the Thérèse (on the right bank) has had a loyal international following, especially by business travelers.  But the Récamier, reopened (after a renovation) in 2009, is the jewel of the group, located on place Saint-Sulpice.  Right now this is my favorite hotel “group” because I think the Verneuil and Thérèse are very good value inns with a lot of character in great locations, and the Récamier is a hugely appealing boutique hotel in a hugely desirable location.  I constantly recommend all three, and everyone raves to me about how much they love them. 
*Verlet (256 rue Saint-Honore, 1st) is on one of Paris’s most fashionable rues but I find its prices quite reasonable.  You can stop in here to purchase coffee beans, loose tea, candied fruit, cakes, confiture, peppercorns, vanilla, etc., but you can also sit down for a spell at small tables in quiet surroundings.  Founded in 1880, Verlet offers four house blends and 20 single-origin coffees, as well as nearly 50 kinds of tea.  I wish it opened earlier in the morning (9:30) but I’ve been known to plan my itinerary around its hours (closing is at 7:00 p.m., and the café is also closed Sunday and August).
*La Patisserie des Rêves (93 rue du Bac, 7th) is, as its name suggests, a pastry shop to dream about.  It is not like any other patisserie I’ve ever been in, and it is truly, truly delicious. The pastry king behind this venture is Philippe Conticini, and some of his creations are displayed under glass cloches (bells) in this colorful shop. I’ve only been to the rue du Bac location, but there is another in the 16th at 111 rue de Longchamp (metro: Victor Hugo).  This bigger space also has a tearoom, which I will be sure to visit next time.  The really good news if you end up loving this patisserie as much as I do is that there is a really cool store, Maisons des Rêves (11 rue Coëtlogon, 6th) also owned by the entrepreneur Thierry Teyssier, founder of this entire enterprise that also includes a handful of exquisite looking hotels: Romaneira (Portugal), Paraty (Brazil), and Dar Ahlam (Morocco).  www.maisonsdesreves.com.
*Institut du Monde Arabe (1 rue des Fosses-Saint-Bernard, 5th / www.imarabe.org) is one of the most vibrant museum-cultural centers anywhere in the world, and the front façade of the building is one of the most unique: it’s completely covered with metal panels that appear to open and close throughout the day based on the sunlight moving across the façade.  The panels are meant to replicate moucharabieh, an element of traditional Arabic architecture in private homes and palaces.  Moucharabieh were typically carved of wood in a latticework pattern and were on the second floor of buildings; women could look out through the lattice without being seen. The bookstore here is excellent, as are the exhibits and events, and on the top floor is Ziryab, an outdoor terrace specializing in Lebanese cuisine with the added bonus of a great view.
*Lastly, leave the city!  The surrounding Ile-de-France region -- as well as the neighboring regions of the Loire Valley, Burgundy, Champagne, Normandy, and, further afield, Brittany – are all beautiful and all worthy of a day trip (or longer).  Among the very best resources for planning are An Hour From Paris by Annabel Simms (Pallas Athène, 2008); Food Wine Burgundy by David Downie and Alison Harris (The Little Bookroom, 2010); and I’ll Never Be French (No Matter What I Do) by Mark Greenside (Free Press, 2008), which is dedicated to Brittany (and note that Mark shares his personal list of Brittany favorites in my book).



“Perfect for both the armchair traveler and those who want to get up and go.” —Chicago Tribune

  • Paris: The Collected Traveler by Barrie Kerper
  • July 12, 2011
  • Travel - Europe - France
  • Vintage
  • $19.00
  • 9780307474896

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