When you daydream about Paris — and you do daydream about Paris, right?! — whatever sparkling, romantic images you conjure are probably not too far off the mark. It is known, after all, as the City of Lights and the City of Love.
The Eiffel Tower can be seen from almost everywhere and is a constant reminder that you are in Paris. The streets are lined with cafés, the tables and chairs arranged so you can sit next to your companions and look out on the people passing by. The smell of baguettes wafts in the streets in the early morning. And when the sun gets lower in the sky, burnishing the buildings with its glow, people fill the cafés, drinking wine, smoking cigarettes, and talking, while their hands gesture in the air to make a point. It is, in many ways, just like the movies.
But Paris is home to more than 2 million people, and they’re not all chic women in little black dresses. Paris is a modern, thriving city with a vibrant, multicultural population and a cultural scene that pushes forward — in music, art, literature, technology, cuisine — as it nods at its illustrious past.
And you want to talk about history? There have been people in the vicinity of Paris since a Celtic tribe settled along the Seine all the way back in 259 BC. In the Middle Ages, it gave us Notre Dame Cathedral and The Sorbonne, the first university in France. Since then, dramatic history has played out on both the Left and Right Banks: the French Revolution, Napoleon’s reign, the Belle Epoque, the gilded era of the 1920s (with Hemingway and Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Picasso and Dali), and the dark days of WWII with Hitler and his Vichy government.
In this episode, we talk about some of our favorite experiences visiting Paris and how it really does live up to its dreamy reputation. Then we discuss the books that transported us there: an insightful memoir about one lively (and typically Parisian) street, an illustrated novel about the magic of everyday life, a fictional biography of Madame Tussaud, a modern crime novel with a snappy heroine, and a confection of a story that centers around an exceptional bottle of wine.
Read the full transcript of Episode 13: Paris.
Maison Landemaine: Although this bakery is part of a local chain, it makes old-school, legit French bread — it’s even approved by David Lebovitz, our favorite American in Paris. The location at 123 rue Monge is where we acquired the legendary baguette we talked about in our show.
Atelier des Lumières: The interactive Van Gogh exhibit we saw has been replaced with a similarly rendered (and dramatic) exhibition called Monet, Renoir… Chagall. Journeys around the Mediterranean. This one will run through 3 January 2021. Get all the details on the official website.
Paris Catacombs: We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Paris Catacombs. It’s a bit macabre, yes, but also fascinating, beautiful, and a bit sad. If you go, definitely read Tunnel of Bones first! All the info you need to visit is on the official website.
The theft of the Mona Lisa: CNN reports on the crime caper of 1911.
Urban Experiment: This Wired article explains the background and work of the (mostly) benevolent hackers known as Urban Experiment who secretly repaired the clock in the Pantheon.
Antoine Lauraint: As promised in our show, here’s a video of the trés français author talking about his book The President’s Hat.
Real Parisians in Little: Learn more about Dr. Philippe Curtius and see his wax model! He’s the doctor who taught Marie Tussaud the art of wax figurines. There’s also Louis-Sébastien Mercier, the author of The Year 2440: A Dream If Ever There Was One, and Élisabeth of France who was tutored by Marie Tussaud as a child.
Down the rabbit hole of Madame Tussauds: The premier museum is in London, but there are 20+ smaller museums around the world. Get all the info on the official website.
Rue des Martyrs: This is the street featured in David’s recommended book The Only Street in Paris. Click here to see a map and photos of the street.
Henri Le Roux chocolate shop: As referenced in The Only Street in Paris, the salted caramels from this shop ‘transport those who try them to the sea off the coast of Brittany.’
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Top image courtesy of Sergei Aleshin/Shutterstock.
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