We have all read a zillion guidebooks directing us to the best stuff, the special stuff, even the secret stuff in Paris, and if we're jaded, we can hardly be blamed.
The best Paris? Special Paris? Secret Paris? Really? You think?
It's a great relief, therefore, to stumble upon a book about Paris that begins like this: "Paris can be a surprisingly disappointing experience."
The problem: travelers have limited time, so they try to do too much. In search of the full picture, they see nothing.
Better, suggests Bill Gillham, an English academic and child psychologist who has made dozens of trips to Paris, to see less --- that is, to make a visit that's locally based.
Choose "one of the many village-like communities that make up the city," then venture out occasionally to the major sights.
What a radical idea. Don't visit Paris. Live there.
Gillman's prose is consistently tart.
"From mid-July to the end of August there is a mass exodus of those who live in Paris when their city is given over to tourists who know no better."
"One of the worst things about Paris in high summer is that the nights are not particularly cooler than the days."
"To be avoided are single rooms, as these are always the worst and often intolerably small....only very good friends should share a room."
"There are a number of guides to Paris shops, usually written by women who see shopping as an exclusively female occupation."
In restaurants, "it is common practice to offer the worst tables first, especially to tourists."
See what I mean? For once, you're not getting an even-handed guide. But you are getting, in 227 pages, a very useful one, for Gillham's opinions are curatorial --- he wants you off the road most traveled, so you can experience the sights, shops, hotels and restaurants he thinks are worth your while. He tells you how to order in restaurants, when to have your meals, what qualifies as a decent breakfast. He points you toward the overlooked. And, of course, he pushes his favorites.
The Left Bank? So many chic areas, but "St. Sulpice is arguably the smarter place to live." The place des Voges? Go early, before breakfast. The Ile St-Louis? "A fine place to stay, provided you get yourself out before breakfast and don't return until late afternoon."
A brasserie that has served bouillon every Monday since 1896. A doll museum. The best copper saucepans. A bistro "in steady decline, a process difficult to halt." Polidor: "the best-known bargain bistro in Paris, and it's in every guidebook." La Maision de la Mutualité: "an art deco restaurant on the first floor of a community and health center. ..an experience not to be missed."
The best café terrace. The most interesting shopping street. One of the few places in Paris where you still find street singers. How to make a reservation --- in French. Six great destinations for kids.
And on, and on.
"Parisians' Paris" --- don't leave home without it.