Header image by Natalie Rapoport. Antoni Gaudi. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Walking with John Baxter

It’s been a while since I enjoyed a book about Paris that much. Actually three wonderful books published in a last few years by John Baxter  and savoured as a delicious  and soul nourishing course.  With The Most Beautiful Walk in the World for entrée,  We  Always Have Paris for le plat principal, and Immoveable Feast for le dessert.

It’s like having a great walk with the old darling friend who is bursting with stories to share and love Paris  as much as you do.

If you’d like not only look at Paris scratching a guide books surface, but have a conversation with  the city and have a deep feeling that you live there, really live, not just visiting , touch and embrace, then you can have it. You’re few pages away from being invited into non-fiction reality you ‘re craving for.

His writing is what I call 3D, you can walk right into the story following the author, be around the people he meets, or quite colorful characters , artists, writers, personalities long gone, but who added so much to Paris extravagance, uniqueness and charm…. being Paris you love today.

The same feeling  you had watching Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. It’s amazing that the movie, widely loved by audience and critics,  and Baxter’s book The Most Beautiful Walk in the World, largely unnoticed, were released at the same time. What a coincidence! As if the authors worked together in different genres.   In 1998 Baxter being an acclaimed film critic and biographer, published a brilliant book about Allen.

They have so much in common especially remarkable ability to float freely and seamlessly between times as if it’s completely normal just to open the door and voila, you’re there meeting  Hemingway with Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein or Sylvia Beach, Dali and Picasso, Marlene Dietrich, Sartre. Paris is known for magic stunts like this.
Allen and Baxter are both about the same age and share the fondness of Paris jazz era of 20-s, it’s just Baxter has no nostalgia. Sweet melancholy isn’t his trait. He is contagiously happy here and now and thrilled to become first time father (in1990) to a beautiful daughter Louise. He isn’t on philosophical quest , he is just walking and enjoying Paris.

And what Diane Johnson, author of Le Divorce , wrote on the cover about Baxter is completely applicable to Allen,  as they both have great and very special sense of humor mixed with delicate self irony: “ John Baxter is so erudite while being so funny. He’s much more than a tourist – he’s got it all”.  He did indeed.

You can’t say you know Woody Allen though you certainly can like him as a writer/director/actor. I do.  The clumsy, nervous, intelligent, hilariously witty old chap. I love him and not all but many of his movies.

John Baxter reveals enough personal thoughts and experiences, memories and reminiscences to give you feeling you know this big vivacious teddy bear gourmand with a  kind heart and profound knowledge of  movie history  and literature, lively writer very curious to the world and full of joi de vivre.
His  descriptions are so vivid that from now on you won’t just pass by a building, a passage, a door or a square. You will pass THE building, The door, The alley, or The bench in the garden, or raise your eyes to look at THE window.

Stories and anecdotes are weaved into very cinematic montage from boulevards to markets, from metro to squares, from Montparnasse to Saint Germain, from artists to chefs, from literary walks to movie moments. Myths and legends are inseparable from pulsing reality and the writer feels equally comfortable recalling past, depicting present and taking us to his world trotting discoveries. 

And Paris isn’t always flowers, coffee and baguettes. It can be harsh and oblivious but majestic nevertheless. An intellectual treat,  poetic essay full of fondness and admiration to the city where his heart belongs, where he is at home. Even his morning market shopping list sounds like a poem.

Baxter is an extraordinary personality himself. Born in a small town in Australia he became a journalist and worked in movie industry shooting documentaries. As soon as he could, he spread his wings to Europe, lived in London for several years before moving to States  and settling down in LA. Was married and divorced.

At age 50 an established movie critic and biographer leaves behind a sunny city with many friends and starts afresh a completely new life no less than in Paris , with  no language or career connections . He married a Parisienne, radio journalist and documentary film maker Marie-Dominique, that was the happy ending of their 15 years romantic affair and the beginning of  a wonderful adventure – family, French family, family in Paris dans la Rue d’Odeon no.18 on the 6-th floor.

I love the last picture in the book. (Couldn’t help but scanned it, though not sharp enough, sorry).
It says it all.

What a delightful journey it was.

You close the book and you’ve just returned from The Most Beautiful  Walk in World.

Thank you for coming.

*  All images except the last one are by Natalie Rapoport.
**The last image is from  The Most Beautiful Walk in the World by John Baxter here


  1. Oh thank you for taking me on a morning walk around Paris with you dear one. That book just went to the top of my Paris reading list! And now about your photographs. You,my friend have captured Paris as I wish I could. I will be revisiting this post many times.

  2. I, too, adore John Baxter's Parisian writings.....and Woody is just a fabulous film-maker. He gets to what's true and important in the most hilarious ways. I read John's book last Christmas...he has that easy going Australian style...is quite funny...and has such a wonderful way with words. I read the book in a day.....I loved it Natalie. John also gave a reading here in Paris at Shakespeare & Co...but alas I couldn't attend. A fabulous post Natalie. J'adore.


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