On Appreciating What Literature has to Offer, but Wanting more.
"This Book was Born Of Ignorance," claims the introduction. A lot of remarkable things have emerged from ignorance—winning of battles against remarkable odds, epic and passionate love stories, inventions, etcetera. Ignorance is an origin that a lot of great things can claim. That is not to say, though, that this book is great-just that it was someone's project, inspired by passion and a desire to learn more, which, in turn, makes it worth looking at.
The Premise of Pitt's "Walks Through Lost Paris" is to expose the old Paris by recounting walks (4 specific ones) that he takes through neighborhoods in the city, and comparing them to not-so-long-ago (and some long ago) Paris. He includes pictures, details, and historical facts to do so. He goes about his historical excavation and unveiling with a few goals (I mean, at least this is what I gathered from reading it) in mind.
1) To educate people on the fact that Paris was not always the Paris that one thinks of today, or the paris they see when they stroll down l'avenue de l'opéra or look up at notre dame in the square on l'ïle de la cîté. More specifically that the old muddled, crowded, dirty, Paris was replaced (with the visions on Haussmann and Napoleon III, and a small army of architects and builders) by a more modern, pretty, straight, and regal one.
2) To wage a scientific excavation on the quarters, and compare them to what they used to be: essentially transposing the imagined old architecture of the city onto the current map.
I could talk for a while on my opinions of this book, but reading it has put me into a scientific-esque mode where I feel as though I need to number my arguments and draw a map or a blueprint or something. So, channeling Leonard Pitt, I’ve broken down my arguments about his arguments into two generalized points (utilizing specific examples).
Things It Taught Me
: We often do not know everything about a place, and places evolve more than we may think…Layers upon layers upon layers of history exist, and something like a city can be dissected to reveal the past in a very scientific way. For instance, I learned about the history of the Rue de Seine(in the 3rd walk), which was home to George Sand, Housed Isadora Duncan’s Brother’s Academy, was where Oscar Wilde died in a hotel, and housed Queen Margot’s estate. It’s incredible to look at a city as a now and then and physically discuss the details that have changed from then to now, as well and how significant they are. Evolution happens.
My Main Qualms:
My emotional side wanted more. Facts are cool, and maybe I’m less ignorant now….but unless you give me some first hand accounts of people experiencing this different Paris, then I’m not going feel a whole bunch about it. It’s interesting, yes, but I wasn’t inspired to keep reading a lot of the time. It is not without its extracts from famous books, astounding facts, or famous quotes, but they seemed to only support the thesis that “Paris is really different now--” or that “the History of Paris is crazy and complex.” The romantic inside of me cried a little craving an elaboration of the first-hand accounts of rue St. Julien le Pauvre (Walk 1, p. 54) where Pitt mentions how the cellars of one of the houses were used to hold overflows of prisoners at the end of the 18th century. An interesting fact, but how were they converted into prisons? What were they like? When did that stop? —I want to be able to understand what each period of time was like for a place, and how each was different more through the eyes of the people that inhabited it. Buildings and places may hold history, but it is the people who create that history (and the buildings, and the places for that matter).
Whether I enjoyed the book or not, I don’t know. On second look, though, I guess this book with a new tone that lead me to realize something about myself—that a scientific look at the facts of a situation are more interesting to me as supporting players in a book, second to first-hand accounts. For that realization, and a look at a new way to see Paris, I believe I owe Mr. Pitt a thank you.
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