Book Review: Five Nights in Paris by John Baxter

Allez-y, mes amis. Paris and its night are yours.”

– John Baxter, Five Nights in Paris

SYNOPSIS

An unforgettable nocturnal tour through five iconic Parisian neighbourhoods by the bestselling author of The Most Beautiful Walk in the World.

The preeminent expat writer on Paris and author of The Most Beautiful Walk in the World takes you on an unforgettable nocturnal stroll through five iconic Parisian neighbourhoods and his own memories.

 John Baxter enchanted readers with his literary tour of Paris in The Most Beautiful Walk in the World. Now, this expat who has lived in the City of Light for more than twenty years introduces you to the city’s streets after dark, revealing hidden treasures and unexpected delights.

 As he takes you through five of the city’s greatest neighbourhoods-Montmartre, Montparnasse, the Marais, and more – Baxter shares pithy anecdotes about his life in France, as well as fascinating knowledge he has gleaned from leading literary tours of the city by dark. With Baxter as your guide, you will discover the City of Light as never before, walking in the ghostly footsteps of Marcel Proust, the quintessential night owl for whom memory was more vivid than reality; Hungarian photographer Gyula Halasz, known as Brassai, who prowled the midnight streets, camera in hand, with his friend Henry Miller; Louis Aragon and Philippe Soupault, who shared the Surrealists’ taste for the city’s shadowed, secret world; and Josephine Baker and other African-American performers who dazzled adventurous Parisians at late-night jazz clubs.

 A feast for the mind and the senses, Five Nights in Paris takes you through the haunts of Paris’s most storied artists and writers to the scenes of its most infamous crimes in a lively off-the-beaten-path tour not found in any guidebook.

9780062296252 Five Nights in Paris by John Baxter

REVIEW

As soon as I saw the email in my inbox from Harper Collins Publishers with Paris in the subject line I sent off an email as quickly as possible requesting a reading copy. I have been in a love affair with Paris for many years now and having visited the city a few years ago, that love has only deepened. I have collected many non-fiction titles written about France but I have a particular love for anything set in Paris.

John Baxter’s Five Nights in Paris: After Dark in the City of Light is a delightful romp around Paris by night embracing the sights of a town famous for its degustation, debaucheries and beauty. Paris is a city of vices and Baxter’s inspiration comes from the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries currently hanging in the Musée National du Moyen Age. The tapestries depict scenes of the five senses – sound, taste, touch, smell and sight – as well as a sixth described as a mon seul désir. Of course, there were several issues with orgainising walking tours by night, the most important being that most attractions are closed except for those surrounding food or entertainment. As one wise friend of Baxter also pointed out, the ‘cobbles are murder.’ Most walking tours in Paris tend to focus on the indoor nightlife – restaurants, cabarets and of course the famous Moulin Rouge. Baxter chooses five neighbourhoods that are connected to the five senses and walks the reader through each one.

The Lady and the Unicorn

The Lady and the Unicorn

Night one begins with sound, in particular, jazz. Baxter suggests that jazz and philosophy are ‘natural bedfellows’ in the neighbourhood of Saint-Germain-des-Prés; Baxter describes Paris as the jazz capital during World War Two where it has been suggested that even the Nazi’s turned a blind eye to the Jewish or black entertainers and gypsies for the music they provided the soldiers. It was also home to the likes of Simone de Bouvoir.

Sound

Sound

Night two belongs to taste and Baxter explores the restaurants and bakeries of the Marais. The highlight of this chapter was the discussion and appreciation of the croque monsieur, in it simplest form, a cheese toastie!

Taste

Taste

Night three explored an evening by touch – the cabaret scene, Montmartre and the famous Moulin Rouge. Paris is a city known for its sensuality and sexual entertainment – topless dancers at the Moulin Rouge, well ‘dressed’ performers in strip clubs (with Christian Louboutin’s on their feet) and beautiful women,

I was almost ready to start a conversation when a willowy woman in impossibly high heels and a crimson evening gown swayed by on the arm of a shorter, older man. She passed before we turned our heads, so we didn’t see her face. It didn’t matter. It was impossible to watch anyone else, a fact which both the man and woman were fully aware. Something in the way she moves…

“Now that…” said Milou respectfully, “is sexy!”

Touch

Touch

 

The Moulin Rouge - photo taken by thebookkat

The Moulin Rouge – photo taken by thebookkat

Night four belongs to smell and the parisians love of perfume. Paris is the home to stunning, fragrant gardens and Chanel No. 5. Did you know that the Paris metro is filled with the fragrance of madeleine, an experimental fragrance of vanilla, jasmine, lily, citrus and rose to make the underground experience a more pleasant one!

Smell

Smell

Last but not least is a night by sight. Baxter explores the favourite haunts of the surrealist artists like Salvador Dali and co. beginning in Montparnasse where they loved to play parlour games such as exquisite corpse. Paris is a literary city and Baxter wanted to base this night on a famous literary piece. He chose Last Nights in Paris by Philippe Soupault, a ‘sinister surrealist vision of the Paris night.’ As a departure point for the city’s love of books, he even commissioned a bookbinder to create something beautiful for his own copy of the book!

Sight

Sight

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Baxter’s writing style is easy and relaxed, almost like having a conversation with a good friend. His prose is detailed and the anecdotes and facts he weaves throughout are always relevant and interesting. He has evoked a clear and enjoyable version of Paris, one that makes me want to set off right away…

The Eiffel Tower  - photo taken by thebookkat

The Eiffel Tower – photo taken by thebookkat

 

AUTHOR: John Baxter

ISBN: 9780062296252

PUBLISHER: Harper Collins Publishers

RRP: $24.99

PUB DATE: May 1 2015

Thank you to Harper Collins Publishers Australia for sending me a reading copy in exchange for an honest review!

Images from:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/28/lady-and-unicorn-tapestry-restored

http://www.tchevalier.com/unicorn/tapestries/

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