When I decided to visit Paris for 10 days of summertime lollygagging, I did what comes naturally to a grad student with too much unstructured time: I began researching les halles out of it.
European travel is a deeply classed thing, about as far from a human right as a good local pâtisserie to the American way of thinking. And so LUXE Paris differs from The Rough Guide to Paris more in branding than content: every travel writer assumes you need two pages explaining the virtues of the Louvre, and that perhaps you’re interested to learn that the Tour Eiffel was built for the World’s Fair of 1889, commemorating the centenary of the Revolution.
Perhaps this die-cast method of guide editing is the clearest marker that guide-readers are first-time visitors seeking a Paris Experience nearly identical to those their aunts and great-aunts had in prior generations. And like any earnestly self-conflicted student of the humanities I simultaneously reject and desire this mimetic Paris Experience. I’m exactly the sort of consumer who will scoff at the Lonely Planet Paris City Guide one afternoon but happily buy the identical Lonely Planet Paris City Guide app that evening.
But the issue runs deeper than cookie-cutter guides: the problem confronting the self-hating tourist lies in defining what it means to experience a city.
Must the tourist have walked the Route des Iles in the Bois de Vincennes? must he have eaten at l’As du Falafel? Tourism by obligation is a matter of mere ranking: if Musée de l’Orangerie > Musée Marmottan then you do the first and skip the second.
The practice of tourism by assimilation is centered on the performance of authentic local behavior—c’est à dire behavior the visitor has been taught to understand as authentic: snubbing a beautiful afternoon by reading Kristeva in the windowless inner room of the Café de Flore, par exemple. The assimilatourist will rent an apartment, frequent two cafés and un resto, and return home with an experience of an experience rather than a sense of the city.
Somewhere between these extremes lies the etymological tourist, practicing a tourism of movement (tours, from Gr. tórnos: a turn). The tourer has the advantage of Paris on the neighborhood scale, a semi-authentic experience qua flâneur, and a partial mapping of the city’s physical and social spaces.
This, in any case, is my theory.
In coming posts, I’ll assemble the Paris tourer’s guide I had to cobble together from diverse sources. This includes travel and tourist lit, history podcasts, and walking equipment sufficiently lubricious to ease the pudgy academic’s amorous entry into Paris afoot.