Next in our exclusive 56Paris interview series, we catch up with author John Baxter in Paris.


John knows these streets like the back of his hand – something he brings to life in his memoirs and literary walking tours around the capital.


We asked him for his fascinating insights into life in Paris as an expat, and about his brand-new book.



About the author, John Baxter


John Baxter is an Australian-born author and filmmaker.


For decades, he’s immersed himself in Parisian culture, becoming an expert on its hidden corners and rich history. This love affair with our city is evident in his collection of acclaimed memoirs, which offer a unique perspective on Parisian life.


He also gives guided literary walks around the city, imparting his vast knowledge.


But John’s literary works extend beyond memoirs. He’s also a well-respected film critic and biographer. His biographies delve into the lives of legendary directors such as Stanley Kubrick, George Lucas and Woody Allen.


Some of John’s other bestselling books – translated into many languages – include We'll Always Have Paris and The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris.


His latest is about the biggest subject of all – amour!



The love stories of Paris


56Paris: Hello John. We’d love to know about your latest book, Of Love and Paris: Historic, Romantic and Obsessive Liaisons.


John: James Joyce called Paris ‘a lamp for lovers, hung in the wood of the world’ but love is a slippery concept, open to almost infinite definition.


I wanted to show the many varieties of love, as demonstrated in the stories of some famous lovers, and examine why so many of these relationships flourished in Paris, a city no more ‘romantic’ at first glance than Athens or Berlin or Rome.



56Paris: Your subjects range from lesser-known troubadours and courtesans to

famous artists like Salvador Dali. How did you choose which love stories to tell?


John: If there’s a theme to the essays, it’s the message of Shakespeare, that ‘the course of true love n’er did run smooth.’


Many deal with classic passion, such as that of writer Romain Gary for actress Jean Seberg, and actor Charles Boyer for his wife Jean. Both men killed themselves rather than live without their partners.


I also wanted to show how love can transcend differences in class, means or gender; for example, the relationship of Marcel Proust, rich, intellectual and gay, with his unsophisticated and happily married housekeeper Céleste Albaret.


Some stories upset our expectations. Napoléon Bonaparte lived frugally, scorning the imperial trappings to which he was entitled, but allowing his middle-class wife Joséphine, even after they divorced, to spend millions on clothing, jewels and a private zoo.


Other essays look behind the scenes of some famous love stories to reveal hidden turmoil. Simone de Beauvoir remained devoted to Jean-Paul Sartre, who was incapable of love as she knew it, or of fidelity.



John’s connection to the City of Light


56Paris: Is this your first book about Paris?


John: Far from it! In fact, it’s the twelfth. Other titles include Immovable Feast: A Paris Christmas, Chronicles of Old Paris, Paris at the End of the World: The City of Light during the First World War, The Golden Moments of Paris, Five Nights in Paris: After Dark in the City of Light, A Year in Paris, and individual volumes on Montparnasse, Montmartre and St Germain des Prés.



56Paris: Which did you most enjoy writing, and why?


John: Paris at the End of the World gave me a chance to research our family history, since my paternal grandfather fought in the Australian Expeditionary Force and spent time in Paris. Though he never fired a shot, his experience mirrored that of many young Australians, Americans and Britons, who first encountered foreign lands and people while in uniform.


His story and that of Paris dove-tailed perfectly.



Books and the literary world of Paris


56Paris: How did you get to know the city so well?


John: A fascination with rare books and memorabilia of the années folles (roaring 20s) drove me to explore bookshops and markets across the city, and to haunt brocantes (collectibles markets) and flea markets.


There are few better ways to discover the city, since markets take place in districts you wouldn’t normally visit.


56Paris: Tell us about your Literary Walks.


John: While helping direct the Paris Writers’ Workshop for WICE (Womens’ Institute of Continuing Education at the time), I substituted for a lecturer hired to do a literary walk, and found I had the knack.


After a few people asked if I did such walks outside PWW, it became a sideline, as well as inspiring The Most Beautiful Walk in the World, so far my most successful book about Paris.



56Paris: Did your lifelong passion for film incite you to become a writer?


John: It was more the other way around; writing taught me to pay more attention to the structure of film and to language. What began as a way of escaping from reality into a synthetic world gave me a new appreciation of reality.