Book Review: On Bikes, in Paris

By Michael Webb

Paris: Women and Bicycles. Photographs by Gil Garcetti. Balcony Press, $45.

Bill Cunningham, the 84-year-old Bostonian who bikes around New York in all weathers chronicling street fashion for the NY Times, would love this book, for Garcetti’s images are all about grace, style, and spontaneity. My Parisian friend Linda de Nazelle complains that “riding my rickety old bike…I cant be as chic as I might.” I disagree. Years ago I invited her to dinner at Le Meurice, and she arrived in a stunning dress, handed her bike off to the doorman, and sashayed in as though she had alighted from a limousine. Her daughter, Audrey, has contributed a forward on the “Vélorution” in Paris. As a student, she helped organize demonstrations and then worked with city officials to make the streets bike-friendly. The terrifying traffic of Paris was tamed, and a former mayor pioneered “Vélib”—racks of bikes that are available to all for a nominal charge. Mayor Boris Johnson in London, and Bloomberg in New York followed his lead. The cities of Denmark, the Netherlands and Japan are already dominated by cyclists—indeed in Amsterdam they are as aggressive as kamikazes, and can bowl over unwary pedestrians.

Balcony once published my book on artisanal shops in Paris—a venture that introduced me to the dedication of individual Parisians and the survival of tradition. Garcetti’s book is as much about the timeless charm of Paris as it is about a new phenomenon. His book covers the entire spectrum of femininity, from fashion plates to moms ferrying kids to school, and grandmothers pedaling home with due deliberation. However, he has an understandable preference for pretty young women, who seem to relish his attention. It must have been a fun project and, now his son has been elected mayor of LA, it’s likely to have a decisive impact on our sprawling metropolis.

 

 

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