John Baxter is an Australian-born writer, film critic and literary tour guide, who has been living in Paris for over twenty years.
We asked him about his life, inspirations and one of his more recent books, ‘The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris’, in which he recalls and recounts a year he spent giving literary walking tours through Paris.
John, how would you describe yourself in three words?
Driven international author.
You have been living in Paris for over 20 years, but had lived in Australia, England and America prior to this. What took you to Paris in the first place, and why did you decide to settle down there?
The short answer is “I met a girl”. The long answer takes up a large part of my book ‘We’ll Always Have Paris’. It took 15 years and two other marriages for me to realise she was my ideal wife. Since she’s Parisian, it followed that I should leave Los Angeles, where I was then living, and move here.
Before then, I had no ambition to live in France, couldn’t speak French, and knew Paris only as a periodic visitor. It quickly became apparent that this was the city where I was always destined to put down roots.
Do you consider yourself ‘Parisian’? What does being ‘Parisian’ mean to you?
If I am Parisian, it’s only by adoption. Not every Parisian would accept me as one of them. Fortunately, most people in Paris come from some other region of France, so I’m in good company.
Unlike the occupants of other cities in which I’ve lived – Los Angeles, London, Dublin, Sydney – Parisians make no claim to represent or symbolize anything. Though this is technically the capital of France, the loyalty of Parisians is exclusively to the city itself. To be Parisian is to respect and celebrate before all else the city’s traditions and patrimony. As I write in ‘The Most Beautiful Walk in the World’, “Paris is my church”.
You live in the apartment building in which Sylvia Beach, the founder of the famous ‘Shakespeare and Company’ bookshop lived. Did your neighbourhood inspire your work or did your interests lead to your life in the 6th arrondissement?
It was coincidence – or fate, or what Karl Gustav Jung called ‘synchronicity’. The family of the woman with whom I fell in love and married had occupied that apartment since she was eleven, unaware of its significance in literary history.
Place to drink…
For an afternoon glass of wine, Bouillon Racine, rue Racine, 6ème. For cocktails, the bar of the Lutetia Hôtel, boulevard Raspail, 6ème.
Place to shop…
I don’t shop. My daughter and her friends distinguish between ‘buying’, which is what I do, and ‘shopping’, where the pleasure is in the process, and one may not necessarily come home with anything at all. The only place I indulge in that sort of ‘shopping’ is at brocantes and the weekend Marché aux Puces at Porte de Vanves.
Place to go for a day trip… Illiers-Combray in Eure-et-Loire, the childhood home of Marcel Proust.
As a book collector, I do most of my book buying for pleasure at the second-hand book market which takes place each Saturday and Sunday at Parc Georges Brassens on rue Brancion, 15ème. For new books, I buy online or download to my Kindle.
Read part 2 of our interview with John here, as we discuss writing and how the idea for his book was born.
Tell us about a walk that changed your perspective – join the conversation below.
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