Author David Downie Unravels the Mysteries of Paris

Gabriella Tutino

 

Ask anyone about the most romantic cities to visit, and Paris will undoubtedly be on the list. The city seems to be in everyone’s subconscious; Paris screams ‘romantic.’ But what is it about the City of Light--with its turbulent yet mesmerizing history of politics, violence, art and sex--that attracts thousands of visitors? What is that special essence of Paris that deems it so romantic? These are a few of the questions David Downie sets out to answer in his latest book A Passion for Paris: Romanticism and Romance in the City of Light.

Downie is a travel writer, food writer and nonfiction author, and A Passion for Paris is his latest book. Like the Romantic literary heroes that he mentions throughout the book, it is also his love-letter to the city; praising its mysterious allure, describing its powerful intrigue and questioning what makes Paris tick. Part memoir, part love-letter and part light history reading, Downie weaves his experiences living in Paris with the city’s past icons and moments, rewalking literal paths and creating a narrative that flows between the times.

Downie focuses not only on his personal heroes—Félix Nadar, Victor Hugo, and Charles Baudelaire, to name a few—but on the neighborhoods of Paris, as well as the movement of Romanticism, the architecture, and the many affairs and trysts that seemed to mark 1800s Paris as a sexually liberated city. Granted, many of these facets overlap but Downie has the ability to blend the history in such a way that it paints a whole picture; this is not a sluggish, chronological read. Downie is successful at imagining and presenting Paris as it would’ve been, with his emphasis on the vibrancy of the city and its people amongst the eccentric and encouraging atmosphere of its time.

 

 

The reader is introduced to Paris through Félix Nadar, just like Downie was, and it is the adventures of this artistic man, who was part of the Romantic movement, that draw you in. The opening chapter sets up the formula for the rest of the book: Downie spends each section and chapter diving into the lives of some of the most influential Frenchmen and women, visiting their homes turned into museums, recounting events, sharing each figure’s passions and philosophies. Downie, in both his research and his explorations of Paris, uncovers hidden truths and city secrets that only add to the allure and his case for the city.

‘A Passion for Paris,’ while painting vivid accounts of Paris’ past peoples,  does not fail to add historical context and therefore balance out the tome between persuasive essay and fact. Downie sheds light on the architecture of the city, for example, explaining that the “quintessential Paris” one thinks of existed prior to the Second French Empire, when Napolean III ruled. Additionally, Downie attempts to explore the psychology of the French consciousness, the “French idiosyncratic unhappiness” that is distinct to the city and which Downie believes could be at the core of Paris’ romantic pull.

While there are no definitive conclusions drawn, A Passion for Paris takes the reader on a journey through 1800s Paris, digging into the heart of the enigmatic city and having the reader ultimately decide what is indeed romantic.

 

Author Bio:

Gabriella Tutino is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

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