David’s Discoveries: The Beetle-Loving Calligrapher Of Paris

For the last 26 years, calligrapher extraordinaire Eric de Tugny has lured the curious into his magical bolt-hole of a stationer’s shop in Paris, on the Rue du Pont Louis Philippe.
Long down at the heel, part of the crumbling old Jewish district, this short, straight road is on the western edge of the Marais. Most of the traditional businesses have gone elsewhere, though the nearby Shoah Memorial remains the neighborhood’s soulful anchor. Now a chic shopping enclave, indigenous bobos and visitors crowd the sidewalks to gaze at the handmade papers in the accessory-filled boutiques, do the photo gallery and tea salon, and open their wallets wide in the chocolate or specialty food shops that stand cheek-by-jowl between the Seine and Rue Francois Miron.

The shop’s name – “Mélodies Graphiques,” meaning “Graphic Melodies” – gives nothing away. What might it really mean?

The melody of beautiful writing, or the graphic quality of music? Inside, Bach or baroque chamber music plays softly on the sound system. The only other sound is that of Tugny quietly penning sinuous lines of his inimitable script letters – creating invitations and announcements, or love notes, wedding menus and anything else clients can imagine where the beauty of the penmanship and the composition are essential to the message. Perched behind his working surface – it doubles as the cash desk – Tugny merges village scribe and New Age seer.

He has far too much work for one calligrapher to do. Fan mail from friends and clients in Helsinki, San Francisco, Casablanca and London is pinned to the wall behind.

But there’s more to the shop than first meets the eye. All may seem proper and normal: pens, pencils, wrapping paper, agendas, book plates, cards and suchlike are carefully displayed, with an artistic yet orderly sensibility. Look closer and you might recoil. Real, preserved bugs adorn the shop windows, or perch near the cash register. The book of bugs, a richly illustrated volume with Tugny’s illustrations, is displayed nearby.

What makes the middle-aged Tugny so extraordinary is not merely his talent with quill pen, ink and rag paper. Insiders know the impish Frenchman as the City of Light’s most bug-wild, beetle-mad collector, an intrepid hunter, preserver and illustrator of creepy crawlies, coleopteran many-legged, horned, fanged, stinging, biting, dangerous, deadly, gorgeously weird-looking insects from around the globe.

If you’re lucky you might step in as he’s drawing a scorpion he caught, most likely in the Cote d’Ivoire, and brought home triumphantly, pickled and floating in a mason jar.

Ask the affable Tugny what he has in the old-fashioned folders propped up on wooden crutches at the front of the shop and you will be treated to beetle mania. Green bugs with antennae that would put Big Ears to shame, locust-like monsters with translucent wings, giant yellow beetles with chocolate-brown bottoms seemingly dipped in chocolate – dozens and dozens of exquisite drawings done by Tugny. Each is a labor of love requiring, on average, 60 hours of work with loupe, caliper and the ink-filled tools of his trade.

Born in Morocco to French parents, brought up and educated in Lyon, Tugny’s first profession was biologist, with a specialty in entomology. His expertise: the coleopteran of North Africa. In the last 30 years he has captured – or been sent – every known species, and has immortalized each with the precision of an Audubon. Astonishingly, the modest, soft-spoken Tugny is self-taught, his hand and mind driven solely by passion.

“It all started 15 years ago,” he told me recently, one rainy Paris day as spring turned to summer, his mirth contagious, “with an invitation to a bar mitzvah.”

A local Marais resident came to buy paper supplies, admired his handwriting – the store hours are in calligraphy – and asked him to write out names and addresses for a celebration. Soon the Jewish community was beating a path to him for personalized invitations: bar mitzvahs, weddings, funerals, anniversaries, special events, art exhibitions and more. Word spread. Now photographers, authors, movie directors, fashion designers and wealthy new neighborhood denizens beeline to Tugny’s shop. He is in such demand that, with evident regret, he refuses clients who don’t give him a long enough lead time. I watched as several came in, one begging for the scribe to write a letter, another to create a menu for a soiree.

The calligraphy led him to indulge his twin passions: drawing and insects. Now he’s preparing to sell limited editions of his prints. “Oh, I never sell the originals,” he answered when I inquired politely. “Those I will always keep.” Alongside the mounted pickled bugs – and his inimitable, wry sense of humor.

Author and private tour guide David Downie’s latest critically acclaimed books are “Paris to the Pyrenees: A Skeptic Pilgrim Walks the Way of Saint James” and “Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light,” soon to be an audiobook. His Paris Time Line app was published in April: www.davidddownie.com and www.parisparistours.com.

Paris’ Treasure-house Of Mysterious Medieval Marvels: The Cluny Museum

What Do Paris, Saint James, Scallop Shells, Pilgrims And Primitive Under-Floor Heating Share With Unicorns And Abbots?

Easy: Paris‘s Cluny Museum, officially France‘s National Museum of the Middle Ages.

Deciphering the mysteries of this riddle is as easy as clambering up the wooden staircases of the museum and poking through the labyrinth of its cluttered rooms.

Look at the hewn stone and massive brick walls. They might be in the Roman Forum. Correct, the Cluny Museum occupies a medieval-Renaissance mansion built into the ruins of an ancient bathhouse. It’s the oldest building in Paris, exuding atmosphere scented by beeswax. Once the Paris home of the fabulously rich Abbots of Cluny, for nearly 1,000 years Rome’s right-hand man lived here, possibly in greater comfort than a king.

Spiral or sweeping stone staircases, mullioned windows, Gothic gables and vast salons with massive timbers and mammoth fireplaces, stained-glass windows, secret passageways and sublime keyhole views: this was the abbot’s little Paris hideaway. The rest of the time he lived in an even more sumptuous residence in the town of Cluny in Burgundy.
Somewhat reduced by 19th-century modernizers and other urban vandals, the garden of the Cluny Museum once swept all the way from today’s Boulevard Saint Germain to the Seine. Now it’s a small, mossy enclave where fountains splash and the kinds of herbs and medicinal plants the monks once tended grow in symmetrical beds.

Cluny Abbey represented the money and ecclesiastical power of the Church of Rome. Cluny helped map out and build the pilgrimage routes of France (and other European countries). Those routes, dotted with lucrative, Cluny-run monasteries, still lead to the shrine of Saint James the Greater – alias Santiago or Saint Jacques – in Compostela. That’s in Galicia, Spain.Scallop shells are the symbol of Saint James; the French call them coquilles Saint-Jacques and gobble them by the million. That’s why they’re piled outside restaurants and clustered like barnacles over the façade and even the giant doors of the Cluny Museum. Pilgrims draped with real scallop shells still show up at the Cluny. Why? It’s about 100 yards off the Rue Saint-Jacques, the Way of Saint James pilgrimage route that crosses Paris, blazes due south and, at least in theory, crosses France and the Pyrenees into Spain.

The Cluny Museum was one of our first stops on the Way of Saint James, when my wife and I crossed France on foot from Paris to the Pyrenees, an insane undertaking and the subject of an upcoming book about contemporary craziness and questing.

As to the unicorns, slightly faded after 500 years, they romp across the “Lady and the Unicorn” tapestries hanging in a dark upstairs room in the museum. Reverential silence reigns. For unknown reasons the air is close: bated breath, heavy breathing or faulty air conditioning? No matter. Find a seat if you can and wait until your eyes adjust to the gloom. The room is a secular pilgrimage site for anyone interested – not to say obsessed – with unicorns or the initiatory mysteries of adolescence. No one is entirely sure but most art historians speculate that the tapestries represent the human senses plus one: feminine intuition. They’re also probably about sexual initiation, the unicorn a suggestive symbol of what awaits the comely maiden shown in this mesmerizing artwork.

Original stained-glass windows rescued from the Sainte-Chapelle and half a dozen cathedrals twinkle, backlit, on the walls of a small room at the Cluny. For those like me, with imperfect vision, these usually distant gems are close enough to see the tiniest, often gruesome details. Heads are hacked off, devils ride horses, dragons are slayed, and, of course, saints are flayed or blinded.

Oh, and what about the under-floor heating? To find out head to the caldarium, tepidarium and frigidarium – vaulted Roman bathrooms below today’s street level. Everyone knows under-floor heating was an ancient Roman invention widely used in Lutetia Parisiorum – the ancient Roman name for Paris. The hypocausts – brick ovens for heating water pumped under the caldarium and tepidarium – still stand along Boulevard Saint Michel.

Once floored with mosaics and decorated with frescos, the Roman rooms now display the battered décor of ancient Lutetia Parisiorum. Sculpted stones show the guild of Seine mariners. There are portrait busts, carved ivory and architectural fragments galore. Some were found under Notre Dame Cathedral, site of an ancient Roman temple and defensive wall. Others surfaced during digs elsewhere in town. The cracked heads of the kings of the Old Testament, knocked off Notre Dame by rioting French Revolutionaries, stare down at you. Part of the once exquisite, wrecked cloister of Saint Germain des Prés surrounds an entry.

Beyond the museum’s gorgeous booty spanning the centuries, it’s the feel of the Cluny that I love most. And the fact that long before the abbots and pilgrims congregated here my mysterious hero, Emperor Julian the Apostate, was crowned at Cluny by his troops back in 360 A.D. Julian adored Lutetia Parisiorum. Not only did he try to reinstitute paganism as Rome’s official religion, he was also the first recorded Roman to get rid of the tongue-twisting name and call this layer-cake city by its modern moniker: Paris.

Author and private walking-tour guide David Downie’s latest book is the critically acclaimed “Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light,” soon to be an audiobook. His next adventure-memoir, to be published in April 2013, is “Paris to the Pyrenees: A Skeptic Pilgrim Walks the Way of Saint James.” His websites are www.davidddownie.com, www.parisparistours.com, http://wanderingfrance.com/blog/paris and http://wanderingliguria.com, dedicated to the
Italian Riviera.

[Photos by the author or courtesy of Wikipedia Commons]

Paris Water Walk: Footloose On The Canals Saint Martin And Ourcq

You don’t have to be Moses to walk on water in Paris. Even a footloose freethinker can happily skip over the flowing Canal Saint Martin and its sources, the farther-flung Canal de l’Ourcq and Bassin de la Villette.

These unsung watercourses built or expanded by Napoleons I and III enter Paris on its northeastern edge at La Villette, site of the city’s former slaughterhouses. They curve torpidly across the edgy 19th, 10th, 11th and 4th arrondissements – in that order – until they reach the Seine at the Arsenal Marina.

I was tempted to write “spill” or “rush” but the fact is the canals flow slowly, through many locks. They’re the antithesis of in a hurry. At the right time of day the mood along their tree-lined banks matches the go-slow pace of the water.

Missed seeing the canals up to now? That’s easy. From behind Place de la République, all the way to the Place de la Bastille and the Arsenal Marina, the Canal Saint Martin runs underground. That’s one reason it’s easy to walk on its waters: the esplanade on top is a linear garden. The park and flanking roadways change name many times. Parts are asphalted and used twice weekly for open-air markets.

The market on Boulevard Richard Lenoir held Thursdays and Sundays happens to be Paris’ best. It’s one reason why, when I walk the canals end to end, I start here early on Sunday. In fact, since the new Seine-side walkways have opened on the Right Bank, I pick up the pedestrian path on the river, amble past the Arsenal, then wend my way through the market heading northeast.

For me, the serious excitement starts at the first mossy lock in a pocket-sized park under giant trees. That’s where the Quai de Jemmapes and Quai de Valmy begin. You spot your first humpback bridge 100 yards along. From here to the edge of town it’s an almost uninterrupted series of locks, placid, greenish water, sycamores five stories high – and cafes, nightclubs, restaurants and bobos galore.


Whereas the Marais was gentrified 30 years ago, the Canal Saint Martin got going around the year 2000. It’s still the land of Wannabe-Bobos – the ones who haven’t quite made it into the star-architect, starlet and multiple-starred chef empyreans.

But judging by the cigarette butts littering the embankments, the SUVs and Smart cars on the sidewalks, and the prices at the cute cafes serving silly food, the prospects are excellent. This will soon be another Place des Vosges. It’s even noisier, with fewer foreign tourists.

Since the object of my walks is to find authenticity in an increasingly gentrified Paris, my enjoyment skyrockets once I get to Place Stalingrad. This section of waterway changes name, becoming the Canal de l’Ourcq. The unpronounceable part is a river. It’s what actually feeds the canals and the wide Bassin de la Villette, another marina.

At Stalingrad and Bassin de la Villette the new park is big with tame hipsters and wilder varieties of Parisian alike, the kind covered with tattoos and equipped with portable professional sound systems. They compete with the barge-cafes, embankment-side clubs, and the multiplex movie complexes facing each other on the Quai de la Seine and Quai de la Loire.

These quays and their unpaved embankments are now the prime destination of Paris’ new generation of bobo-boules players. They’re also the city’s main binge-drinking and partying venue, a lively scene once darkness falls. That’s why I get up here in the morning, when the party crowd is sleeping off the latest all-nighter. Or I saunter over in the late afternoon, at dusk, when the locals and yuppies mix on the quays. There are sling chairs, bike lanes, and walking paths – and if you like rowing or fishing you’re equally well served. Rest up! You’ve got another mile or more to go.

Beyond the locks and pivoting bridge with bizarre decorations, the best part of the walk begins: Quai de la Marne and Quai de l’Oise. Here the aerosol artists have beautified many a wall, the low-income high-rises lend an enchanting could-be-anywhere feel, and the kaleidoscope of characters you encounter seems increasingly full of character.

Geezers come out to La Villette to wet a line: this is the best fishing in town, it’s claimed. The most prized spot is where the Quai de la Gironde and Quai de la Charente meet the quays of Marne and Oise fronting what used to be the meatpacking plant and slaughterhouse district. Anglers pull up plump pike and perch, and maybe even the proverbial lost trout that’s survived a trans-suburban swim.

Urban sunbathers hike out here too. The canals are a reflecting pool, increasing the intensity of the Parisian sun and deepening the summer’s leftover Saint Tropez tan.

The backdrop: train trestles and the reconverted meatpacking plant – once Europe’s biggest. It now houses the Cité des Sciences museum and Geode movie theater. Plus there’s the crazy Parc de la Villette with its fire-engine red garden “follies” and tatterdemalion lawns. The old slaughterhouse, La Grande Halle, a mega-concert venue, lies behind, and so does the Cité de la Musique, Paris’s ear-challenging music conservatory.

On weekends, young couples and their kiddies, yuppies and rare birds – the real working-class Parisians – turn La Villette into an open-air, inner-city resort.

After a cross-town gallop it’s a great place to hear contemporary sound pieces – and fuel up on coffee or something vinous. The hike back to the Seine on the opposite bank of the canal replays the scenery. It also stretches out your water walk by a couple more hours – if you go at the appropriate, deliciously slow pace.

Author and private walking-tour guide David Downie’s latest book is the critically acclaimed “Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light,” soon to be an audiobook. His next memoir, published in April 2013, is “Paris to the Pyrenees: A Skeptic Pilgrim Walks the Way of Saint James.” His websites are www.davidddownie.com, www.parisparistours.com, http://wanderingfrance.com/blog/paris and http://wanderingliguria.com, dedicated to the
Italian Riviera.

Seine-Side Saunter: Retaking Paris’ Riverfront

Before dawn the other day, I stole down to the Seine and waited in darkness until the security
guard at the construction worksite had walked upstream out of sight.

Vaulting with the agility of a middle-aged guy with bad knees, I strode down the newly laid cobbled walkway below the Pont de Sully. The site is part of an ambitious project to slow or banish cars from Paris, and welcome walkers to the Seine while revitalizing the river’s UNESCO World Heritage Site banks.

I danced a silent, gleeful jig of victory; the river would soon be ours again!

Soon: In September 2012 the one-mile stretch of walkway on the Right Bank between the Canal Saint Martin and city hall is slated to be finished. In spring 2013 an even longer stretch on the Left Bank near the Musée d’Orsay will be ours. Add them to the existing Seine-side pedestrian areas and by summer of 2013 we will be able to walk across town on either bank following the river almost entirely unmolested by automobiles.

Photo: Paris.fr

I made the victory sign, a flying “V.” I then lowered my index finger in a loving F-you salute to something directly across the Seine from where I stood: the billionaire’s townhouse on the Ile Saint Louis where for decades my arch-nemesis would hob and nob and chain-smoke with the other cigar-puffing plutocrats who ran France in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. They were the bankers, financiers, real estate developers and members of the construction lobby, the charming folks who practically destroyed old Paris, starting with the Seine.

My nemesis was and remains a certain Georges Pompidou, long a minister and then president of France. Dead now, he lived on the Ile Saint Louis overlooking the Seine’s Left Bank. But he grooved a few blocks away with the top 1 percent at the Hotel Lambert, the 17th-century townhouse currently under restoration and facing me across the river. For decades the mansion was owned by the Rothschild clan and frequented by a Who’s Who of malignant “modernizers.”

Before Pompidou… [Jongkind, 1874 (Musée Malraux, Le Havre)]

Granted, I was not in Paris in 1874 when the Dutch painter Johan Barthold Jongkind set up his easel by the Seine and painted his gorgeous view of the Quai des Céléstins and the old riverside port, plus the five-arched Pont Marie. I was not old enough to remember the quays before their transformation in the late ’60s to early ’70s. How could I suffer nostalgia for something I’d never known? Easy.

My first stay in Paris as an adult was back in 1976, a few years after Pompidou made the egregiously misguided statement that “It is not the car that must adapt to Paris, but Paris that must adapt to the car.” Among Pompidou’s many destructive projects – eyesore high-rises, shopping malls, the new Forum des Halles – he was bent on turning the Seine into an expressway. He succeeded. Thirty-six years ago I stood on the Pont de Sully in this very spot and wondered what madness had seized the Parisians, so well known for their love of the past. Now I am beaming with satisfaction: live long enough and you’ll see some things get set right.

The river had always been the lifeline of the city. Along its banks since before the Romans arrived were habitations, port facilities, bridges, taverns and towpaths. One of my favorite crime novels by Georges Simenon, “Maigret et le clochard (Maigret and the Bum),” was set on the Ile Saint Louis and in the Port des Céléstins. Having read it when young, I felt I had been here.
But Pompidou wanted American-style freeways to show New York and Chicago that Paris could be just as modern. He demolished nearly all the city’s ports and poured cement embankments in their place. He ran tunnels under historic buildings in some spots and built out into the river in others. The Seine morphed into a sewer flanked by raceways.

Now… a work in progress (Photo: www.alisonharris.com)

As I tooled that dawn along the sidewalks above the worksite, peering down, I dreamed the dream of current Mayor Bertrand Delanoë: cleaning up the Seine so that it’s swimmable again – to humans and fish. That’s a few more years down the road.

While the transformation continues despite Paris’s sweltering summer heat, thousands of hikers, walkers, joggers and cyclists are swarming to the already pedestrianized sections of the Seine. They run from the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower (almost) on the Right Bank and from the city’s upstream limits to the Musée d’Orsay on the Left Bank. It’s a route I do several times a week in one direction. I can’t wait to be able to go downstream on the Right and upstream on the Left, or the other way around.

So what’s the downside?

Critics argue that traffic will be nightmarish – precisely what the mayor wants in order to get Parisians to give up using their cars. Other naysayers are closer to the mark when they foresee noise problems for riverside neighbors, round-the-clock partying, and more work for Paris cleanup crews. The gentrification and de-naturing of what was a real, working city continues. Paris is party central, a place for tourists.

Photo: APUR/JC Choblet

True: We’ll probably never get the rough-and-ready freight facilities and riverboats back. We may never see people and horses braving the Seine’s brisk waters alongside trout and salmon. But you never know. And walkways, bars and open markets for yuppies surely have got to beat the asphalt jungle. My big question is, how well will the mayor’s yellow-brick road stand up to the ravages of climate change and ferocious flooding? Tune in next summer for an update once the job is complete.

Author and private walking-tour guide David Downie’s latest book is the critically acclaimed “Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light,” soon to be an audiobook. His next memoir, to be published in April 2013, is “Paris to the Pyrenees: A Skeptic Pilgrim Walks the Way of Saint James.” His websites are www.davidddownie.com, www.parisparistours.com, http://wanderingfrance.com/blog/paris and http://wanderingliguria.com, dedicated to the
Italian Riviera.

Letter From Lilliputia: Small Is Beautiful In Paris

It started on our flight back to Paris from New York: our seats had been put through the drier. They were too small to hold our newly fleshly forms. After a month in Chicago, San Francisco and New York City we had expanded our views – and backsides. Well, I had. My wife doesn’t thicken. Her DNA descends from termites.

The Paris taxi seemed luxurious after the battered Yellow Cabs of Manhattan. But it was shoebox-sized: half our luggage rode on our laps. We nudged bumper-to-baby-bumper down uncannily smooth surfaces into the groomed, green perfection of central Paris.

How quaint and prosperous and picturesque the tidy spider’s web of tree-lined streets with toy houses along them! The Eiffel Tower was slim and naked: it wore no cladding. Back home it might be demolished as pornographic. The Seine seemed a trout stream compared to the Hudson or Sacramento. And what were all those arched bridges built of stone? Surely steel and cement were superior?

In our absence friends who’d stayed at our apartment had exchanged our wormy furniture for dollhouse accessories. The ceilings and windows had downsized too. Our concierge, apparently by nibbling the wrong side of a mushroom, seemed the height of a child.

Forget inches: at 176 centimeters I towered over people and places! It felt wonderful. Petit was beau. How could I have forgotten why I moved here a quarter century ago?

Not only was small beautiful in Paris: old was pretty nifty too.Even the symmetrical broad boulevards driven through Paris in the 1850s-’60s by tyrannical Napoleon III and Baron Haussmann seemed mere country roads compared to the thundering avenues of our great American cities. I felt a new love for them well up in my caffeine-starved brain.

Strange: in centuries past Americans in Paris were bowled over by the newness and bigness. Nothing could be clearer from reading David McCullough’s new mega-bestselling book “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris.”

In the 1800s to early 1900s Paris was cutting edge and huge, the biggest, brightest City of Light in the world. It had boulevards, triumphal arches, medical schools, hospitals and, after 1889, Eiffel’s amazing nude skyscraper. Paris during the infancy and adolescence of the United States was infinitely grander, more modern and more imposing than slaughterhouse Chicago, rustic San Francisco or ramshackle New York. How had the equation been flipped?

Jet-lagged we headed for a favorite local bistro in the fashionably ancient Marais neighborhood where we live. On Rue du Prévot, an alley between slump-back buildings 500 years old, we entered the heartland of Parisian Lilliputian Bobo-land. With arms outstretched I could almost touch the leprous plaster on each side. Never has shabby chic cost so much per square foot – or centimeter.

Happily ensconced at a microscopic wooden bistro table on diminutive 19th-century wooden bistro chairs at Les Compères, we studied the daily menu. It had been handwritten in chalk by the lively, pretty waitress-proprietor’s tiny little hand. The wine glasses were petit. There was relatively little in them – but it tasted good, like real French wine. Though loud of voice the handsome young barman behind his tiny blonde-wood bar was even smaller than I. The kitchen looked like a walk-in closet in Chicago.

Out of that busy little kitchen came more of those silly dollhouse accessories: saucers pretending to be plates, each topped with kindergarten servings of crisp mixed salad with sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts, dressed with refreshing simplicity. The portions of the equally simple main course-pan-fried codfish reminded me of the single-bite tapas at sprawling Café Ba-Ba-Reeba in the Windy City. Even the duck confit and steak being wolfed by others looked minuscule.

Was all this tininess what was meant by “made to the measure of man?” I could feel myself retracting to European size as I savored the weightless spoon-sweet dessert: a simple swirl of unsweetened mascarpone and fruit compote. I resisted the house-made profiteroles. Afterwards there was no need to beg for “a small, single espresso.” The coffee was as thick as tar. The total content of the thimble containing it could not have exceeded 2 tablespoons.

Pleasantly buzzed, as I walked home to our 400-year-old apartment, past a city wall built in 1190 then through a handsome little square finished in 1612 I had one of those micro-epiphanies travelers are sometimes treated to.

Add together the simplicity, the lack of cloying sweetness, the powerful yet handsome smallness of things and people, and the miraculously preserved antiquity of it all and, bingo! No wonder nervy, hormonal New York twisted the torch from Paris’ child-sized hands a century ago and went rushing unchallenged into the gigantism of American greatness. Paris was too perfect and too hobbled by agelessness to run the race or contemplate change. Perhaps Paris was too wise to want to run the race at all.

As I spiraled up our staircase – no elevator in 1640 – to an apartment with no air conditioning, no microwave and no espresso-entertainment equipment in the kitchen I sighed with satisfaction. No wonder quaint little old made-to-the-measure-of-humanity Paris was still the favorite city of millions, including large Americans, and oddball little old me.

Author and guide David Downie’s latest book is the critically acclaimed “Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light,” which will soon be out as an audio book. His next travel memoir, to be published in April 2013, is “Paris to the Pyrenees: A Skeptic Pilgrim Walks the Way of Saint James.” His websites are www.davidddownie.com, www.parisparistours.com, http://wanderingfrance.com/blog/parisand http://wanderingliguria.com, dedicated to the Italian Riviera.