Favorite Another Paris Travel Hit from David Downie

If you’re a fan of David Downie’s Paris books, as I am, you shouldn’t miss his new one. It’s entitled, romantically enough, A Passion for Paris: Romanticism and Romance in the City of Light, and was published only a few days ago to general acclaim — even from some of the crankier reviewers.

The best compliment I can pay the book is that its overall quality and level of interest are up there with Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light (2011) which I consider one of the finest introductions to Paris you can find anywhere. I refer to it regularly during my visits there, along with his fine smartphone app, David Downie’s Paris: Time Line.

A Passion for Paris is the story of the Romantic period in Paris, the period most Americans PassionForParis coverthink of as Paris itself — the nineteenth century from Victor Hugo onward. Downie’s knowledge of the city is encyclopedic, as you’d expect from someone who’s lived in and written about it for decades. He and his wife Alison Harris, an outstanding photographer who contributes to his work as well as having her own practice, also offer walking tours of the city, which I’ve taken. They are excellent.

He has the guts of a daylight burglar. Some of his best vignettes result from back-door visits to places not ordinarily open to visitors, as well as ad-hoc interviews with people who start out unwilling to talk to him but wind up offering delightful vignettes.

His descriptions of the sights are colorful and add to the pleasure of the book. For example, here he is in full flight about the Carnavalet museum, the must-see municipal museum in the Marais:

“It’s an entertaining steeplechase of 146 rooms on three floors with 600,000 items on display in two multi-winged historic town houses wrapped around five mossy courtyards joined by staircases and passageways, one of them flying like a Chinese bridge over the Lycée Victor Hugo.”

All this history started with Victor Hugo, who lived and wrote during the turbulent period between the French Revolution and the Commune, the violent near-revolution in Paris shortly after the fall of Napoleon III. Or, in Downie’s words:

“…1830 was the year a motley group of French Romantics gathered around Victor Hugo and his friends and rivals and swept Paris into the paradoxically romantic modern age, or the unexpectedly modern Romantic age.”

Much of their work was descended from Chateaubriand, especially his René, who Downie believe “shaped or warped the minds of a generation, starting with Victor Hugo.” George Sand said, “I was René.” Baudelaire, a generation later, was still influenced by Chateaubriand.

Read the book. It’s a bottomless well of information about one of the most important periods of Paris history. St. Martin’s Press, 2015. Kindle edition $12.99, hardcover $20.17 on Amazon.

Visit the author’s web site or Amazon author page.

The Paris Time Line App

Downie Time LineIf you have trouble keeping up with the characters, turn to his outstanding Time Line app. I use it frequently to look up personalities or points of history, and can’t summarize it any better than this “about” material Downie sent me:

About this app:

Entertaining, informative, opinionated: David Downie’s Paris Time Line brings Paris alive.

This is much more than a Wikipedia-style listing. It features Paris and Paris alone and goes into places revealing details you’ll find nowhere else.

The When, Where, Why, What and Who of Paris: David Downie’s Paris Time Line features key Dates, Places, Events and People in Paris’s 2,000+ years of history.

The layout is simple and clear. This app is all you need to explore the City of Light on site or in an armchair, from the time when Paris was a pre-Roman settlement of mud huts, to the kaleidoscopic megalopolis of the present day.

Fully illustrated with hundreds of historic images and contemporary photos by the author or by photographer Alison Harris, David Downie’s Paris Time Line tells you where to go to see Paris’s history alive today or documented in the streets, monuments, churches, museums, parks, and gardens of the city. While you roam around Paris, David Downie’s Paris Time Line helps you discover dozens of key Places: you learn what you’re looking at, when it was built or came into being, and what historical or contemporary figures are associated with it.

You can also search by name: “Napoleon” for example. Or you can search by an event-driven term like “Impressionism.”

It’s available on the App Store  (Look up Romanticism for a thumbnail history.) $4.99

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Bad News from Antarctica – the Ice Sheets Are Melting, and Fast (wonkish)

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Here’s about as chilling a lede* as you’ll see in an American newspaper these days: A hundred years from now, humans may remember 2014 as the year that we first learned that we may have irreversibly destabilized the great ice sheet of West Antarctica, and thus set in motion more than 10 feet of sea level rise. Ten Feet?  That would … Continue reading

Here’s why you should schedule your trip to Paris NOW! – the Euro

Euro notes Tue 03-17-15 small

Remember all the political talk about the debasement of the dollar? If you’ve been following exchange rates lately you’ll understand that debasement, like the looming inflation that was about to devour the American economy, has been sort of … weak. Like nonexistent. Wonkblog (Washington Post) posted an astute analysis of the Euro/Dollar situation and came to the same conclusion I … Continue reading

Book Marketing on a Shoestring

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No one could be happier than I that Doris-Maria Heilmann has published an author’s road map to sales success, “Book Marketing on a Shoestring.” Her advice for the marketing of my novel “Treasure of Saint-Lazare” helped it reach #39 on the all-Kindle best-seller list and in being chosen the best historical mystery of 2014 by the Readers’ Favorite book-review site. If … Continue reading

How The New York Times gets made every day

Popular Mechanics did a long and interesting story — especially fascinating for ex-journalists — about the nuts-and-bolts process of taking The New York Times from bits and bytes to finished product, one of the last profitable daily newspapers. Tatiana Repkova of Media Managers Club spotted this and included it in her weekly list of significant journalism stories. If international journalism … Continue reading

A Passion for Paris – on Valentine’s Day

Paris in Love

What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day in the most romantic of cities than with the author and photographer Alison Harris, whose most recent book is Paris in Love, and her husband David Downie, author of the forthcoming A Passion for Paris and many other Paris books. The English-language service of France24 interviewed both of them recently for its Encore! … Continue reading

Charlie Hebdo: The yawning gap between fact and fear, La Marseillaise, and moving national ceremonies in Paris

Count on The Economist to bring complicated issues into sharp focus with a single well-constructed graphic, such as the one it published on the day of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. (See it here on the Graphic Detail blog. ($)) But first, run your own thought experiment by answering these questions: What percentage of the population of your country is Muslim? Has … Continue reading

The French 9/11


I wasn’t going to post about Charlie Hebdo because — what can you say? But I thought the front-page picture from tomorrow’s issue of Le Monde was so striking I couldn’t pass it by: If you’d like to receive my blog posts and occasional newsletters by email, please subscribe by leaving your email address below: Email address: … Continue reading

Favorite This is really a big deal …


The NYT reports today that France has agreed to pay $60 million to compensate Holocaust victims who were deported on the French National Railways during World War II. The agreement will have to be approved by the French Parliament, which should not be a major obstacle because the government’s party still holds a majority. It calls for paying the money directly to … Continue reading

Will we catch up with Europe in credit-card security at last?


I WRITE ABOUT PARIS, but this story is true there and absolutely every other place in Europe: You go to the restaurant, and all around you the locals are paying with plastic. They push their card into the small wireless machine the waiter brings to the table, key in a PIN, get their receipt, and leave. No signature required, and it’s … Continue reading