Paris From The Ground Up

Paris From The Ground Up
By James H. S. McGregor
Belknap/Harvard University Press – £22.95

Paris is indeed beautiful – as well as mesmerising, beguiling, romantic, magnetic, and as a result, quintessentially intoxicating. It is also really hard work, annoying and by far, far too expensive for its own good. But then everyone has differing perceptions and pre-conceived ideas of the place; a place that is in equal measure, sparkling and magical, administratively deplorable and socially questionable.

So it’s (sometimes) rather nice to be able to stand back, and regard the many attractions of this stunning city from afar. And where better to start than with such an enticing book as this?

By injecting something of a humanistic spirit into the places on which he writes, James H. S. McGregor brings the essential essence of a city to life. While his previous From The Ground Up’ writings include Rome, Venice and Washington, Paris From The Ground Up really is something else. By writing with an astute authority in relation to his subject, as well as an acute awareness of his readership (and if it isn’t thus, it most certainly comes across as such), the author inadvertently ensnares his readers into wanting to investigate – both city and book – a great deal further.

Contained herein is something for everyone: from hedonists to historians, from philosophers to poets, from romantics to revolutionaries, from dedicated followers of both fashion and passion to architects and artists.

Like the city itself, this book is as lavish as it is contained as it is bristling with inspiration and invitation, as McGregor succinctly writes in the Introduction: ‘’Paris for many is the city of enlightenment where high culture, grand literature, and precise expression have reigned for centuries. Their city sets an absolute standard for correctness in art and life. For others, Paris is the capital of Modernism – the place where all the significant revolutions in taste and practice first took hold and where the great movements in anti-academic art began their worldwide careers. They honour the paintings of Gris and Picasso, along with the writings of Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, the young Hemingway, and other expatriates. The city that these people hold dear rejects all boundaries and rules.’’

I’m not sure I entirely agree with the last sentiment regarding ‘’the city that these people hold dear rejects all boundaries and rules.’’ For having lived in France, I have to confess to not knowing anywhere else like it with regards (petty) rules and (hideous) regulation.

The country’s quasi-obsessive yet abominable administrative network, is so utterly inane and irrational, I’m still amazed as to how France as a whole, continues to function. Apart from elongated lunch breaks and a mendacious maze of ‘’rules’’ that just DO NOT WORK, the Paris that the aforementioned people may have once held ‘’dear,’’ is currently awash with ‘’boundaries and rules.’’ Then again, perhaps the eloquence of France’s capital city is more than enough to distract its populace from such social and governmental shortcomings.

Who knows?

Either way, this book does the place proud. By focusing on all of its plus points – of which there are far too many to mention in just one book, although McGregor does come close – the author instils within the reader, an array of poetic and petulant emotions. From ‘The Cathedral of Notre Dame’ to the ‘Foundations of the Louvre,’ from ‘Paris On The Edge’ to ‘Revolution and Redesign,’ Paris From the Ground Up is an enthralling account of one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

Replete with a collection of superb photographs and colourful historical maps (ten in all, which date back to Roman Lutetia and conclude with the City of Paris circa 1739), this highly informative yet tastefully written book, definitely needs to be read by anyone remotely interested in the City of Light.

David Marx


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