Are You an “Interstitial Tourist”?

curiosities of paris coverCuriosities of Paris is not for the casual tourist. Refreshingly, its cover features neither an Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, nor Sacre Coeur. No, this is for the hardcore Paris aficionado, or the “interstitial tourist,” who the book defines as someone who prefers to “explore the nooks and crannies of the urban landscape rather than its more aristocratic facets.”

This book, by Dominique Lesbros, burrows into the obscure, or, when tackling something a little less recherché, dives deeper than you’d expect. Take, for instance, the chapter on horses. We all recognize the oversized arches that once allowed horse-drawn carriages to pass through. But did you know that what look like decorative metals bars on the lower half of doorways often were utilitarian, holding a serving of hay so horses could snack on the go? Or that conical stone cornerguards, which flank the bottom corners of street-facing doorways, served as protection from the axles of carriages? curiosities layout 2Such details not only provide fresh entertainment for any stroll through any arrondissement, but also stimulate your everyday awareness of the history harbored in previously overlooked visual vestiges.

Titillating factoids about the lurid side of the city paint a fleshy portrait of yesteryear’s cheeky residents. There’s a street called “Great Scam” (rue de la Grand Truanderie) whose residents miraculously recovered from debilitating handicaps upon return home each evening from a day of begging. And did you know rue du Pélican was not inspired by the bird but is a less blush-inducing adaptation of the original rue du Poil-au-Con (which I’m going to decline to translate).

curiosities layout 1The solid writing avoids the “Aren’t-they-wacky?” tone that too often mars a compendium of oddities; it’s a fun read even if you never meander in to its many aforementioned nooks and crannies.

Smaller than a coffeetable tome but more robust than a pocket guide, Curiosities of Paris offers up more than 800 photos accompanied by captions that, while brief, pack a punch. It even manages to squeeze in new (to me) info on those old favorites, such as this: Sacre-Coeur is the only church in Paris that practices uninterrupted 24-hour prayer before the holy sacrament–and anyone is allowed to register to participate.

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