SETTING out to write a fresh, engaging guide to Paris is not for the faint-hearted. Paris is, after all, the most visited city on Earth, and many of those visitors end up writing in one way or another about their experiences there.
Not easily deterred, Australian expat author John Baxter set himself exactly that challenge, informed in part by a quarter of a century of living the life of a Parisian local.
Sydney-born Baxter settled in Paris in 1990. With his French film-maker wife and their daughter, he has explored every one of its 20 districts – all distinct in culture and character and offering points of interest seldom seen by regular tourists.
Baxter’s eagerness to show off the city’s nocturnal side is a natural extension of his occasional role as a literary-walking-tour guide. Asked to devise an alternative to day rambles, he hit on the idea of leading newcomers down the famous boulevards and avenues and through the obscure backstreets and alleyways long after most foreigners have sat down to dinner and perhaps a cabaret show.
Five Nights in Paris: After Dark in the City of Light presents Paris at both its sparkling best and its seedy worst: lit up and ready to party, party, party with those in the know.
With chapters arranged around five sense-inspired themes (sound, taste, touch, scent and sight) Baxter invites readers into a real-life version of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris Hollywood success.
His lively narrative introduces characters as intriguing as they are unexpected, ranging from Surrealist painters, early 20th-century photographers and African-American jazz musicians to restaurant front-of-house staff and modern-day burlesque performers. Along the way he describes the X-rated activities of Paris’s bourgeois beneath the chestnut trees of the Bois de Boulogne parkland and identifies one-time brothels and opium dens among the city’s grand edifices.