237! That was the number of stairs up to my petite “chambre de bonne” (maid’s room) on the 8th floor of my apartment building in Paris. I counted them on the second day. But, even though I never lost an ounce, life on the top floor did have its benefits. For one thing, the balconies faced west where the setting sun would highlight the Eiffel Tower, a mile away. I could look in the direction of Montmartre and see the white dome of the Basilica of Sacré Coeur or, if I looked in front of me, the rows of zinc Mansard roofs stretched down to the Seine. Maybe living in the neighborhood once frequented by James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald rubbed off on me because I sometimes thought of myself as a wistful character in an understated novel. I haven’t been to Paris in a few years. But whenever I see a film set there or read a book about the city I not only indulge my nostalgia but I also learn a bit more about this endlessly charming place. If you are a Francophile like me and would like to “visit” the City of Lights, here are a few suggestions.
Woody Allen’s acclaimed film Midnight in Paris is a romantic fantasy where Paris of the past and present overlap. The Most Beautiful Walk in the World by John Baxter is a memoir and walking tour of some of the gardens, cafes and boulevards that constitute the heart of the city. Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris by Graham Robb offers an insight into the lives of some of the city’s great and not so great residents. David McCullough’s The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris 1830-1900 describes the fruitful cross-pollination of ideas between Americans and Parisians during the Victorian era. And if you are looking for a novel that combines suspense with historical fiction (set on the eve of World War II) try the New York Times bestseller Mission to Paris by Alan Furst.