Parisian's Paris Paperback – Jun 1 2008
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"A very useful [guide], for Gillham's opinions are curatorial . . . don't leave home without it." —headbutler.com --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
Bill Gillham first went to Paris more than fifty years ago. He is an academic and child psychologist and has written almost a hundred books, most of them for children.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
What this book is is a very thorough listing of a large number of aspects of Paris that would normally escape the visitor who by definition does not know the city very well. The author of this book, on the other hand, knows Paris very well.
I highly appreciated the recommendations for visiting certain quartiers that are out of the well-trodden tourist path (that I seem to have walked over and over again every time that I have visited Paris in the past), the specific recommendations for unusual, hidden places for breakfast, bistros and brasseries that are known only to locals, the unique, unusual shops, icecream parlors, very interesting but unknown museums, etc. None of these are easily found unless one really knows one's way in Paris very well.
But, for all of the above reasons, it is also not a book for a first time visitor to Paris, or at least, cannot be the only book used by a first time visitor who definitely has to see the 20 or so major attractions. In my opinion, a regular guide, such as DK Eyewitness, together with this book would make an ideal combination.
Another important practical point is that the book is fully packed with information, much more than one can tell from its size. This is because it mainly consists of lists upon lists of recommendations, with very short synopses of explanations. Hence I recommend acquiring this book well in advance of a visit to Paris, then using it to plan a trip well before going there.
What happens is that there is so much to do in Paris that planning what to do the night before doing it takes too much valuable time. One year of dedicated walks around Paris will not suffice to cover all the spots that this book recommends. One will have to choose and concentrate on certain neighbourhoods, certain aspects of the city and get to know them very well.
Read the book in advance, decide on where you want to go then use the book as a referesher during your trip. Enjoy your trip.
The fifth star is missing because he assumed the only breakfast one would want to eat is croissants and coffee. Very french, very lovely for those who can, but a book for tourists that recognizes the benefits of a good sleep (so rare!) should likewise recognize the benefits of a morning fuel that allows a non-French engine to purr all day. For my gluten-free, dairy free husband, that was the ubiquitous omelet nature. Just as easy to find as croissants in the morning, but not in all the same places. Perhaps that's terribly American of him, rest assured I made up for it in my croissant adoration and consumption. A bow to the possibility that croissants and bread may not be the only breakfasts one could want would have given this very helpful book its fifth star.