I recently received three books in the ‘Quiet City’ series by Siobhan Wall for review. Her latest book, Quiet Paris, follows Quiet Amsterdam published in 2012, and Quiet London in 2010. I was intrigued by the idea of seeking out the quiet spots in each of these beautiful cities because so often when traveling, I become overwhelmed by the urban cacophony, all there is to do and see, and I just need a quiet place to recharge.
Ms. Wall set out to “wander aimlessly” through selected cities to discover secluded gardens, Muzac-free shops, bistros and out-of-the way cafes. She carefully describes her favorite museums, libraries, galleries, cultural centers, as well as her private selection of places of worship and places to relax.
We asked Ms. Wall to share with us why she decided to write these books:
“Why did I start writing the quiet series? Firstly, I’ve had Menière’s disease for around 17 years now, which started after a bad cold virus. I have mild to moderate dizziness most of the time, which gets a lot worse if I become ill with the flu, am over-tired, or travel by any means of transport other than a bicycle for more than an hour.”
“After making a list of really inviting quiet places, I realised that other people might also appreciate finding small cafes or intimate, muzac-free restaurants, so I decided to write a book that would encourage readers to seek out tranquil places. Living in Amsterdam, I realised that looking for peaceful spots was a good way to explore the city and get fit at the same time. (Due to having Menière’s disease, I never learnt to drive a car). I spent idyllic afternoons cycling to nature reserves and walking along empty paths alongside dykes fringed with tall reeds. It was easy to discover beautiful outdoor spaces – I just silently cruised down cycle lanes to green patches on the map. Instead of cars, I prefer to hear alive things – birdsong, bees – things breathing and wild. I like to wander, especially if I have been very busy writing and love discovering secret places by chance. For me, the pleasure of the incidental and the unplanned is part of the quiet thrill of doing research for the books.”
“Often my research just involves talking to people I meet in peaceful locations, as they invariably know about other tranquil places – it’s like belonging to a secret, underground network of lovers of quietness. I am happy sitting in empty churches, or walking past lavender bushes in hidden gardens or looking at thoughtful pencil drawings in small galleries. I am meadow girl, really- a 21st century female version of Ferdinand the Bull, the fictional character who used to sit under an oak tree smelling the flowers.”
“I recently realised that writing the books is like creating my own medicine as the Menière’s disease subsides if I feel calm in a tranquil place. I really appreciate the places in the books while I am taking the photographs, even before they are published. Working on the books, I return from each city with lots of photos to edit, followed by a busy few months writing and checking information about each location. I suppose I have managed to create the ideal job for myself.”
“I can easily hear people speak in the quiet locations I visit, and can help curious readers discover them, too. (I find that the small shops, cafes and gardens don’t get overrun with visitors, as people seeking a quieter life tend to go alone or with a thoughtful friend and once there, they whisper rather than shout). What I discovered as an artist and writer, is that ideas appear very easily when I am quiet. It is as if the distractions of everyday life not only make me dizzy, but get in the way of new things emerging. As well as a solace for busy lives, quietness allows gentle, unexpected things to happen.”
Telling her story with both black & white and colored photos, Ms. wall shows us the serene side of each of these cities. Here are a few examples of what you will find in Quiet Paris:
100 bis rue d’Assas, 75006
” It is a delightful space to visit, from walking through the cottage garden to discovering the gentle, hand-carved figures on large plinths in each tranquil room.”
Les Jardins des Archives Nationales
60 rue des Francs Bourgeois, 75003
Four gardens surround France’s National Archives, offering small ponds, huge plane trees and lilac bushes.
La Boutique Extrordinaire
67 rue Charlot, 75003
On a street of small shops, this boutique sells extraordinary women’s garments. From unique sweaters to scarves to jackets, you will find much here to love.
Ms. Wall also offers restaurant and lodging recommendations.
Le Terroir Parisien
20 rue Saint Victor, 7005
Next time I am in Paris, I will be sure to try this restaurant. She calls Le Terroir Parisien “a sophisticated place to enjoy superb dishes made mainly with ingredients from the Ile de France, the area surrounding Paris”
Le Pavillon de la Reine
28 place des Vosges, 75003
This boutique hotel has long been a favorite of those who love understated luxury. The private garden is a place to unwind after a long day of sightseeing.
Each book has the same format and inviting photographs. They are books you will want to consult before planning your trip to London, Amsterdam or Paris. Even if finding a quiet spot is not your goal; Ms. Wall’s discoveries are magic.
Written by Terri Fogarty for EuropeUpClose.com