Monday, March 9, 2009
Metrostop Paris : History From the City's Heart by Gregor Dallas
This is an intelligent travel guide that's determined to go its own way, easily transcending its self-imposed limitation of taking the metro everywhere. The chapter on the Trocadéro, for instance, soon becomes an extended essay on the sexual exploits of Anaïs Nin, Henry Miller et al. Readers expecting a standard introduction to one of the prettiest parts of Paris will find instead all the queasy details of Nin's late abortion. Similarly unexpected is the chapter on Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which is informed by a close reading of Jean-Paul Sartre's Being and Nothingness. Seated on the Paris metro, Gregor Dallas tells us, Sartre regarded the commuters around him as object lessons in the other-as-object. (On the London tube, by contrast, TS Eliot encountered only "mental emptiness" in the faces around him.) In the end, Metrostop Paris is actually an entertaining history of ideas masquerading as a travel guide and, as if parodying the genre, Dallas tells us not only which streets to go down and where to have lunch, but which waitress to fall in love with.