COMPETITION: Interview with John Baxter part 2 – Expat author – WIN one of 3 copies of ‘The Most Beautiful Walk’
Competition: Win a copy of ‘The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris’ – Find out how below
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, inspiration 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.
Why did you decide to become a writer? Was it a decision?
No writer ‘decides’ to write. The decision is made in the genes. Talent manifests itself first in infancy as a voracious desire to read. By the time they are seven or eight, writers already know they have a special skill. Proust describes nodding off over a book, but dreaming he is still reading. When he wakes up a few minutes later, he realises the passages he has dreamed he was reading are original with him. He has taken up the story and continued it, seamlessly, as his own creation.
Joan Didion writes in ‘The White Album’, “we tell ourselves stories in order to live”. She may imply she’s talking about all people, but essentially she means writers.
What do you think it was that drew the likes of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso to Paris in the 1920s and 1930s?
There are three primary reasons why people moved to Paris after World War I.
If you were rich, like Gertrude Stein, Nathalie Clifford Barney, Harry and Caresse Crosby, and Gerald and Sara Murphy, you came to the city because the rich had always done so. French was the recognised second language of intellectuals in countries like Russia, and French taste in all things was regarded as superior.
If, like Hemingway, you were poor, you came here because, if you wished to starve in a garret while learning to paint or write, you could do so for longer in Paris than in most other cities, since the cost of living was so low and the locals so welcoming to artists and authors. As Hemingway wrote in 1921, one could live for a year in Paris on US$1000.
And if, like many expatriates of the time, you were a lesbian or cross-dresser or drug user or African American or part of some other persecuted minority, and forced in your own culture to lead a secret life, Paris was the ultimate accepting city where you could do almost anything you pleased.
Do you think that Paris continues to attract artistic and creative people today? Why?
Most of the reasons that drew creative people to Paris no longer exist. It isn’t cheap, and its standards of taste in food, couture etc. have long since been exported to all corners of the world. Today’s havens for the outrageous and the outlawed are Berlin, New York and the Internet. Artistic and creative people like to visit Paris, but very few of them stay.
‘The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris’
One of your most recently released books is ‘The Most Beautiful Walk in the World’, an engaging collection of short stories which walks the reader through Paris.
Where did your inspiration for the book come from?
It isn’t a book of ‘short stories’. It’s a memoir. Nothing is fictionalised, except to disguise some of the characters.
The idea came because a friend who ran an annual seminar for aspiring writers asked me to lead some of them on a literary walk. To my surprise, I found I had a flair for it. ‘The Most Beautiful Walk’ describes my evolving sense of the best way to see Paris as a pedestrian.
However it’s not a guide book. Essentially, I urge people to throw their Michelins and Frommers away, and learn to appreciate the city through instinct.
How did you decide which stories to include and which to leave out?
In your book, you include an anecdote about Los Angeles and another about Australia. Why did you choose to include these in a collection of stories about being a pedestrian in Paris?
What an odd question. It’s like saying, “Your sonata is written in the key of B flat. Why did you include a passage in C sharp minor?”
In the book, I contrast the experience of walking in other places with that of walking in Paris, which seems to me unique. Also, as the book is called ‘The Most Beautiful Walk in the World’, the rest of the world has to figure in it someplace.
Thank you John Baxter for speaking with Ma Vie Française™. We’ve enjoyed getting to know more about you.
Read part 1 of this interview here.
Competition: Win a copy of John Baxter’s ‘The Most Beautiful Walk in the World’
Ma Vie Française™ magazine and Short Books UK are giving 3 lucky members the chance to win a copy of John Baxter’s book.
To win, all you have to do is:
- JOIN the Ma Vie Française™ community for free and
- In a COMMENT below this article, tell us:
- About a walk that changed your persepective; or,
- Where you like (or would like) to go for a walk in France.
We will then select 3 of the best answers as winners at 5pm AEST, Monday 10 September 2012.
1. John Baxter by Nancy Manning, via johnbaxterparis
2. Pablo Picasso’s Gertrude Stein, by suburbanslice, via Flickr
3. Paris, by scottpaeth, via Flickr
4. ‘The Most Beautiful Walk in the World’, via johnbaxterparis
5. Paris fake tilt-shifted, by bildungsr0man, via Flickr