Monday, 17 December 2012

Paris posers

I meant to take Penguin's reprint of Julian Green's Paris with me to the French capital but, in a moment worthy of Geoff Dyer in Out of Sheer Rage, forgot it at home. So I visited Green's impressions of the city of his birth while on the London Underground instead.

Like the author on his return to the USA during World War II, 'It was a Paris of visions in which I took my walks now, a Paris that, though intensely real, was imperceptibly migrating from flesh to spirit.' In her idiosyncratic yet incisive introduction, Lila Azam Zanganeh rightly challenges Green's nostalgia and even his tendency to exclude others from experiencing 'the Paris of the Parisians'.

In my favourite chapter, 'Museums, streets, seasons, faces', Green contends: 'The posers you could set, even for teachers, just by running through the history of our city (what happened to the mummies brought back from Egypt, where were they buried, what lies beneath the column on which the spirit of the Bastille is forever taking wing, where did they divert the Phantom of the Opera's underground lake, who posed for the statue of Pierre de Wissant, who lived in the château des Brouillards?), but in Paris you may always be sure there will be someone, secretly in love with his city, who will know all the answers.' That must be true of London nowadays, too.

(The answers to Green's posers can be found at the back of the Penguin Modern Classics Paris.)

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