cover image The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris

The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris

Edmund White. Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, $16.95 (211pp) ISBN 978-1-58234-135-4

The first in Bloomsbury's new, ""occasional series"" The Writer and the City, White's (The Married Man) collection of impressions stands in marked contrast to many travel books published today. The organizing principle is the combined force of White's perception, imagination, frame of reference and voice. He moves seamlessly from an eyeglasses museum to the Hotel de Lauzun--home to Baudelaire as a young man--and a discussion of the poet's dandyism and struggle with syphilis. White includes personal memories and anecdotes of gay Paris--in both senses of the phrase--past and present. ""To be gay and cruise is perhaps an extension of the fl neur's very essence, or at least its most successful application,"" even as the fl neur's wandering is ""meant to be useless."" White describes his own favorite cruising spots as well as those of Louis XIV's homosexual brother, and notes that Napoleon officially decriminalized homosexuality. Other gems include a visit to the street where Colette lay bedridden with arthritis and spied on Cocteau across the way, and a discussion of the expatriation of African-Americans like Josephine Baker (Cocteau said of her, ""Eroticism has found a style"") and Richard Wright (who wrote of Paris, ""There is such an absence of race hate that it seems a little unreal""). White's charming book is for literati, voyeurs and aesthetes, and for travelers who love familiar terrain from a different viewpoint. (Mar.)