Front cover of Streets of Paris book - Streets of ParisTHE STREETS OF PARIS: A Guide to the City of Light Following in the Footsteps of Famous Parisians Throughout History

Susan Cahill

[St. Martin’s Griffin, 320 pages]

Countless people have walked the streets of Paris, experiencing the City of Light in their own way. As a city so rich with history, arts and culture, it can be overwhelming for visitors; there’s too much to see and too little time to soak it all in. As such, many rely on guidebooks to focus their sightseeing efforts.

For those lovers of history who enjoy meandering off the beaten path and taking a more mindful, relaxed approach to tourism, Susan Cahill’s The Streets of Paris does a beautiful job as a tour guide.

The book is divided into 22 chapters, with each chapter dedicated to a historical figure associated with a specific area in Paris. A beautiful photograph taken by photographer Marion Ranoux sets the scene at the beginning of each chapter. Cahill then succinctly, though always respectfully, describes the history of each character by tying them into their surroundings, which become the reader’s surroundings.

While tracing the footsteps of these famous Parisians, Cahill also provides directions for walking or taking the métro. She ends each chapter by recommending worthy places to visit while strolling through each neighbourhood, such as gardens, cafés, schools and even cemeteries.

A distinct, thoughtful approach

What makes The Streets of Paris such an ideal read for the mindful, historically focused traveller is the author’s approach. Instead of bombarding the reader with a heavy history lesson, she keeps each chapter short and easy to read and digest. She leaves room for the reader/traveller to reflect on the city’s history while enjoying the surrounding beauty through sight, sound and taste.

Cahill points out the quartiers where the featured historical characters worked and lived, including addresses of childhood homes and final resting places. She encourages each reader to walk the streets of Paris by following the same route that, say, Voltaire took from the café where he downed an alarming amount of coffee to the theatre venues that showcased his plays.

Anyone can choose to delve deeper into the history of each character that shaped the city by visiting historical sites and signing up for tours, or simply by contemplating the wonder of the Seine and the gothic architecture of Notre-Dame over lunch on a café terrace.

Joining crowds is a choice

Encountering crowds of tourists all over the city is inevitable ,but joining those crowds is a choice.

I recall one instance when I visited the Louvre, finding myself in the wing that housed the famed Mona Lisa. It was a den of madness—tourists were jostling for the perfect vantage point to take a photo of the painting. There was no way I was going to wade into that; the prospect alone stressed me out. Instead, I turned my attention to one of da Vinci’s Madonna and Child paintings, which had no audience but was just as intriguing.

While it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of city tourism (an example of this would be the long lineups at the Eiffel Tower), it’s not so easy to keep yourself from being stressed as a result. Fortunately, as mentioned, Cahill’s book serves as an alternative guide for those who want to experience Paris at a less feverish pace. The only thing the author asks in return is that readers be mindful of the fact that Paris was born not only from love and light, but also from the bloodshed of war and revolution.

By keeping the history in mind, you’ll be able to appreciate the city all the more.

The 22 Parisians that Cahill focuses on in this book represent that storied past, and by keeping the history in mind, you’ll be able to appreciate the city all the more. Beauty is to be found not only at the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower, or on the Champs-Elysées, but also in the “tucked-away quartier of Pernety” where the artist Alberto Giacometti had his studio.

Sights off the beaten path such as this are just as worthy of attention as the city’s most popular tourist spots, and they’re perhaps even more rewarding to visit, as you can appreciate them without lightening your wallet or enduring the press of the crowds.

Slower can be better

Shops in the 14th arrondissement - The Streets of ParisIn reference to the backstreets of the 14th arrondissement, Cahill writes, “the slower you go the more moments of surprise and pleasure you’ll have.” These are definitely words to live by.

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by Olivia Balanga-Santos

image: Wikimedia Commons