Around and About Paris From the Dawn of Time to the Eiffel Tower Volume 1: 1st-7th Arrondissements
by Thirza Vallois
Iliad Books 2011
Be warned: Around and About Paris is not for faint-hearted Paris wimps looking for a breezy read, an easy ride and a couple of restaurant recommendations thrown in for good measure.
We're talking hard-core street slogging here. Thankfully, Thirza has done it for us, and how.
Clichéd as it may sound, having Around and About Paris with you is like having an incredibly knowledgeable friend by your side as you wander the side streets of the city. Almost every street corner on Thirza's carefully constructed walks has a story to tell, and she tells it in absorbing detail.
I have a web site for English teachers and lovers (of English) called Hotch Potch English. And I would say that Thirza's approach to her Paris anecdotes closely follows my own; she calls them as she sees them.
We are privy to a marvellous hotch potch of stories, observations and asides as we stroll the lesser-known quarters, discovering a different and far richer Paris than we ever suspected existed. Thirza's attention to detail and knowledge of all that has gone to make up this place we love and even venerate is breathtaking.
As I mentioned before, it may be a bit too much for some, but there are plenty of other books for those who want a more superficial or touristy approach. Personally, I curl up with Around and About Paris for a few minutes every day and lose myself in five or ten of its lovingly researched pages.
'Lose myself' is exactly what I mean. The work is completely absorbing and you find yourself transported back to whatever era or salon or migration or transformation is being discussed almost as though you where there. It's magical.
The new edition of the first volume, covering arrondissements 1-7, has been completely revised, Thirza herself telling me that she retraced all the streets to update her walks and wiseries, things changing even in the seemingly immutable city of light.
There is a series of charming colour photos in the middle of the book and each arrondissement has some maps with routes marked out for us to follow, either literally or through the author's evocative words and stories. And stories she has. It's the sort of book to make one give up any thoughts one might have had of writing one's own modest history of this exceptional place.
Oh well, that just leaves one with more time to do other things, I guess. The only question left now is, will the author update the other two volumes, covering arrondissements eight to twenty? The new layout seems crisper and easier on the eye, or maybe it's just that the pages are whiter than in my yellowed, battered and dog-eared first edition!
The book's also gained about 80 pages, not including the coloured photos and a fresh new cover and overall the overhaul is a great success.
So look no further if you'd like to lose yourself in an absorbing pell-mell of Paris anecdotes, curiosities and historical facts of course, as you cruise the lesser-known streets of the city with one of its veritable connoisseurs: Thirza Vallois.
* Sab Will runsPhoto and Curios Tours in Paris, and also manages a variety of Paris and photography-themed sites and blogs. He writes an illustrated Paris Chronicle every day, runs a Meetup group for Paris lovers, interviews Paris personalities and reviews Paris books (on this blog), and even contributes to the city's street art (shh), so feel free to browse some of the links below and in the right-hand column to find out more about what he gets up to out there...