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Books As Travel Guides

Here’s a cool idea: children’s books as a guide to Paris. Excerpt:

Best of all, the bus helped us untangle Madeline’s twisting route. We started at the top of Paris, at the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur in Montmartre. We had to make the final climb to the hilltop church on our own, but it was early in the day and steep stairs and cobblestones were still exciting. Returning to the bus, we rolled back into central Paris, hopped off at the Palais Garnier in the ninth arrondissement and walked a few blocks down to the Place Vendôme, looking at the jewelry stores and for the jewelry thief Madeline spies there. The Jardin des Tuileries, just a little farther south, had all the birds and gardeners Bemelmans promised, plus a playground. From there, we rode to Notre-Dame cathedral, which we explored before switching to even more exotic transport—the Batobus, a boat that not only took us east to the Jardin des Plantes botanic gardens and a zoo (whose tiger Madeline tells, “pooh-pooh”) but also beneath the Pont Neuf, the bridge Madeline teeters atop (in the first book) and falls from (in the second). Then we did a crepe-fortified march southwest to the Jardin du Luxembourg before catching a last bus northwest to Les Invalides and, finally, the Eiffel Tower.

Along the way, our delight increased each time our daughters took out books and compared what they’d read with what they were seeing. Was that the—yes it was! And over there, did she—? She did, and so did we. Madeline’s Paris looked like our Paris. Some 70 years on, little had changed—we found every detail of every illustration.

It’s fun to think about books — children’s or adult books — as a travel guidebook. An obvious candidate is Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast” as a guide to the Left Bank of Paris. Can you think of others, for other cities? Let’s say you wanted to take a literary tour of a city or locale, using a work of fiction or a memoir as a guidebook, which book would you match to which city or place? Which would be the main places you’d see, the main things you would do?

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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