One of my favorite things to do is hang out on the couch and flip through picture books about Paris. If I can’t be there in person, at least I can be there in spirit. My fascination with the city is about art, romance, architecture, food, history, plants, and leisure. I loved Paris before I lived there and I love Paris now. Yes, it’s an imperfect city, and believe me, when you work there, it loses its luster quickly, but the luster never completely wore off for me. It’s still a dream, no matter how well I know it, and always will be. Here are the favorite books I turn to when I want to dream about the city of light.
Above Paris is such a fun book. It’s, simply put, all aerial shots of the city: a Google maps’ view published before that app existed. You view Paris as if a bird, seeing the intersections of housing blocks and waterways, hidden courtyards, and open green spaces. It’s interesting to see how the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower are positioned in the city. You also get an appreciation for the Hausmann architectural style with the grand avenues spiraling from the “places.” The two drawbacks to this book are there’s no index so if you’re looking for a particular landmark, it might be difficult, and the photography isn’t as vivid as it would be today. Still, the book is a treat.
Life on the Ground
Eugène Atget is one of Paris’s most famous photographers. He was born in the mid-1800s and died in 1927, working at first as an actor and later, a commercial photographer. He took over 5000 photographs of Paris, capturing both its beautiful monuments and working people. In his book, Unknown Paris, he shows us the nooks and crannies, a sleepy Seine, misty spires, sunny vestibules, curving mysterious streets. The book’s mood is one of lovely melancholy, photographs that yearn and hide secrets. Totally worth having on your bookshelf.
Let’s Talk Food
Journalist Lindsey Tramuta published a much-needed book about Paris. Why much needed? Because The New Paris spotlights the food and craft innovators. For instance, did you know that despite the café’s prominence in Paris, most of them serve the same not-so-great coffee? Tramuta educates readers on the history of various French traditions and how several entrepreneurs are bringing them into the 21st Century. We get a peek at the latest innovators in food, fashion, shopping, wine, sweets, etc., even gathering spaces. This is a must-have book if you’re interested in discovering who is reinventing modern French culture.
Similarly, I bought Tasting Paris because I wanted to learn how to make classic Parisian restaurant food. I always liked that I could get a delicious fresh meal at almost any reputable eatery there and wanted insider knowledge on how to create those dishes. With alluring photos, this book is like a greatest-hits of recipes: quiche, goat cheese salads, Turkish flatbreads, fish tagine, roasted chicken, even homemade hazelnut spread. It would make a lovely gift book for the Francophile in your life.
Chef Ina Garten created a contemporary classic with her recipe book Barefoot in Paris. Touted as “easy French food you can make at home,” this how-to book is full of highly traditional dishes simplified by Garten. They’re all sumptuous. Herbed-Baked Eggs and Bouillabaisse are highlights. I still use her herbed potatoes recipe (with a little garlic olive oil of my own). Now, I’m getting hungry.