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YOU’D SUSPECT THAT, despite its Baedeker’s-like red cover, Karen Elizabeth Gordon’s Paris Out of Hand is not your ordinary guidebook. For one thing, the Eiffel Tower is upside down. For another, Karen Elizabeth Gordon is also author of the The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: A Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed. 

Just as Transitive Vampire is highly entertaining to editorial types, Paris Out of Hand is a delight for lovers of this great city. Here are tidbits about Paris Out of Hand, a perfect book these days for us armchair travelers. 

Paris Out of Hand [A Wayward Guide], by Karen Elizabeth Gordon, in collaboration with Nick Bantock and Barbara Hodgson, Chronicle Books, 1996.

As noted by, “This seductively beautiful replica of a 19th-century travel book—replete with illustrations of sights you will never see and maps that may plummet you into a different era—guides readers through the Paris that is, that might be, and that never was…. A rare and rowdy entertainment that dares its readers to explore a Paris one can only wish existed.” 

Hotel Haussmann; 75, rue Dialosque. Gordon’s hotel comments are prefaced by a helpful Rating Guide.

This and other images from Paris Out of Hand concocted by Gordon collaborators Nick Bantock and Barbara Hodgson. 

Gordon recalls with fondness a particular room at the Haussmann: “… number 17 with its view of number 22 in Hôtel des Apaches across the street. (I remember this view well because I wound up having long confidential chats with its very visible guest—a Scottish female impersonator doing a  stint at Les Monstres Sucrés….)”

A Personal Note. I’ve not been to the fanciful Hotel Haussmann on the equally imaginary rue Dialosque, but once stayed at a hotel near the Boulevard Haussmann. I recall it was quite the businessman’s hotel, with checkin performed, uniquement en français, not standing at a conventional front desk, but seated as if arranging a bank loan.

During my stay, I encountered no female impersonators, Scottish or otherwise.

Restaurant La Paloma; 78, rue des Regrets. Its owner, Monsieur Pignol, selects the restaurant’s name and much of its menu with the letter P: Pain, poulet, poisson, pistou, poivron, palmier, petit pois, pissenlit, pates, pignons, poulpe, piperade …. 

Gordon explains, “It somewhat spoils the effect to cite these in English, but you can’t very well decide which chances to take without having a clue: Pistou is ‘a Provençal basil-garlic-olive oil sauce.’ Petit pois are ‘little peas (the only kind the French will eat: adults are sent off to the salt mines).’ Pissenlit is dandelion (‘which in French means pissing-bed, for its diuretic properties’); piperade is ‘a Basque scrambled eggs dish, with peppers, tomatoes, onions, and ham..’ “

Gordon also shares gossip about the owner: Monsieur left  Madame Pugnol “after thirteen unpleasant years (he took some of the cutlery to set himself up at La Paloma)….”

“After several years as a recovering bachelor,” Gordon says, “M. Pugnol settled down with a graduate student at the Sorbonne…. Among the poissons (fish) is her salmon in existential crisis, saumon de Beauvoir. Fans of Magritte’s challenges to art and reality order repeatedly the ceci n’est pas une piperade til the real piperade pipes up.” 

Les Expressions Française. Appropriately, Paris Out of Hand includes a plentitude of useful words, phrases, and expressions en français. One of my favorites is “J’aimerais sortir avec votre hyene pour boire en verre,” “I’d like to take your hyena out for a drink.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021  

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