What’s hidden under the streets of Paris? Crypts, aqueducts, quarries, nightclubs, wine cellars, and bunkers from World War II, just to name a few. The cover story in this month’s issue of National Geographic delves into the catacombs beneath the city and the clandestine subculture of cataphiles that prowl them. “Under Paris” points to one of the reasons that the allure of the City of Light never seems to wear out in spite of the hordes of tourists that mob it every year and the number of tacky Eiffel Tower snow globes that seem to be for sale on every corner: it’s these blurring, ever-shifting borders between the present and the past.
Diane Johnson, author of the novels Le Divorce and Le Mariage, explores these borders above the ground in her 2005 National Geographic book, Into a Paris Quartier. In it, she prowls through the streets of St.-Germaine, relating her observations about her present-day neighborhood and mingling them with anecdotes about the past. Into a Paris Quartier is part of the Directions series, in which accomplished literary writers and poets such as Jamaica Kincaid, Francine Prose, and W.S. Merwin, explore places that are meaningful to them. The result is a somewhat eclectic collection of books that avoid the usual travel lit clichés. Find them in our online bookstore.