Book Review – A Year in Paris by John Baxter

I received an Advanced Reader Edition of this book through Terrance Gelenter of Paris Expatriates.com. Thank you.

John Baxter has become a leading chronicler of Paris by viewing the charismatic city through different lenses, first walks and then by arrondisement. His current book uses the annual turn of the weather to frame the City of Light as a City of Seasons explored through a characteristically charming collection of essays. The spine of any Baxter book is always the interesting historical anecdote illuminated by personal reminiscence, amusingly told in the avuncular style of a cityfied Peter Mayle.

A well-made point in this book is that Paris is a long-running urban experience set in tension with a surrounding countryside defined by its dedication to land, and nothing quite defines the rural experience like the changes of the seasons. One of the themes that Baxter dips in and out of during this book is the revolutionary calendar which renamed the twelve months of the Gregorian year that has come down to us from Roman times. The Revolutionary Committee, guiding the creation of a new France to replace the corrupt Bourbon monarchy, commissioned in the 1790s a new revolutionary calendar with new names for the months based on their characteristic weather or agricultural nature. The beginning of the new revolutionary year was reset to the newly named month of vendange which supplanted September. This renamed month and this new annual start date celebrated the grape harvest by putting France’s most seasonal event in its rightful first place on the revolutionary calendar.

For readers, sitting down with one of Baxter’s books is to stroll the streets of Paris from an armchair, to take a tour of a city that lends itself to the virtual traveler or absent friend of the city. Fun. Highly recommended.

Review by Paul A. Myers of “A Year in Paris” by John Baxter

 

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