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The Book That Captured Mid-’70s Paris

Georges Perec’s An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris documented the tumult, traffic, and street life of the French capital over three days in 1974.
The style! The Citroëns!
The style! The Citroëns!François Lochon/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Paris looms so large in the global cultural imagination—from Hugo to Hemingway, from Madeline to Moulin Rouge—that you don’t even need to be there to be looking at it.

At the Art Institute of Chicago, Gustave Caillebotte’s 1877 impressionist masterpiece “Paris Street; Rainy Day,” with its wet cobblestones, carriages, umbrellas, and one prominently featured electric lamp, functions as a kind of portal back to the City of Lights: That’s what Paris’s own mayor, Anne Hidalgo, found two years ago during the North American Climate Summit, when, thousands of miles from home, she almost inevitably found herself with a glass of wine and facing the Caillebotte’s Paris portrait. Wherever you go, there’s Paris, a shining metropolis full of romance and reverie.