A Passion for Paris returned last week with a lovely post from La Mom Paris. I am so excited to bring you the story from another Parisian expat, Daisy de Plume who’s the founder and creative director of THATLou, which runs themed Treasure Hunts at the Louvre (among other museums). We met through a mutual friend so I have yet to experience her titillating museum event, but I am looking forward to trying it one day.
You can find her in the usual spots: on her blog , Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest. She lives on the Right Bank with her Argentine husband and their toddler, Storsh, who shows his belly on request in any of his three languages. Daisy shares her passion for the city of light with us this week.
Behind Gare St Lazare 1932 Henri Cartier-BressonBefore I moved to Paris 8 years ago I had a dismissive, social-floozy relationship with the city. I’d been here countless times, never for the city itself, but for a myriad of other reasons. My best friend grew up on the Côte d’Azur and my godmother had a country house in Brittany. To see them both, Paris was a natural airport hub. Nearly each summer I’d have a weekend here shuttling from one place to the other.
Generally I’d see friends here for those crammed-in overnights before a flight home or a train south. It was all very superficial. In most cities I insisted on walking everywhere to get a lay of the land, to see how landmarks connected, to understand the metros and whatnot. Paris? I’d just taxi it over to Fred’s in Neuilly, or up to Hélène’s in the 9th, etc. The only clue I had was that I hadn’t one – I was indignantly aware of my own ignorance, and “I didn’t care”.
Clearly feeling guilty, I would justify my ignorance with architectural snobbism. A venal quality: Education is to enrich, not justify! I’d been raised by a mother whose taste (and indoctrination) weighed heavily on Rome, focusing on the Classical and Baroque. Throughout growing up I had many stints in Europe – boarding school and years-abroad in Rome, Florence and London, but never touched foot in France for any substance. Paris was my stomping ground of social-fluziness and that was that. It was pretty, sure, but nothing one could take seriously, other than for perfume and fashion. It was just another 19th century town, not much different really from DC with its sweeping Haussmannian boulevards connecting one heavy-handed landmark to another. Name a landmark and I’d rattle off a date – nearly all from the 19th century (l”Arc de Triomphe 1806, Eiffel Tower 1888, Grand Palais 1897, Sacré-Cœur 1914). Pshah! Paris was overrated and it was ok that I didn’t know a bit about it despite my mileage here.
Then in my late 20s, from 27 – 30, a heavy cloud stopped over my shoulders. My grandmother fell ill and after a series of hospitals, died. We had been very close, especially as I matured and appreciated that my father’s death wasn’t only my loss; she’d known him slightly longer than my 21 years. The minute Didi fell ill I grew up and had to learn how to handle a flock of lawyers, doctors, medical-insurers, then morgues and law suits and nastiness. I was executrix to her will and had to clear her enormous flat out of 3-generations of STUFF. Life became serious. I became serious. When I wasn’t handling that I found refuge in working too hard at my magazine job (which had originally been fun fun fun, and not too much work!). My naturally social-self vanished, and needless to say my regular stints abroad ceased.
Hidden in my seriousness, isolated in her beautiful, sad penthouse overlooking the Hudson with West Village rooftops in the foreground, France somehow came to me. In mediums I’d never really paid much attention to. Food, Films, Literature, Photography, Ballet at the Joffrey. Three characters took on immense importance. And as Paris was their city, calcified in who they were, I realized just how ignorant I was of this city I’d always spurned so casually.
First there was Honoré de Balzac. Not necessarily the best writer in the Western Cannon, but a fantastic observer and story-teller, and I gobbled up nearly all of the Paris volumes of his Comédie Humaine (90-odd novels with interweaving characters). Père Goriot killed me, how cruelly his daughters treated him, same for the tragic Colonel Chabert. On a lighter more charming note I had François Truffaut films, which I watched with pen scribbling in my film notebook, tracking Antoine Doinel’s sassy ways as he truantly crossed Paris as a child in 400 Blows and skipped-out on jobs (and women) as an adult in Baisers Volés. Lastly there was Henri Cartier-Bresson. I was working for David Friend, Director of Creative Development at Vanity Fair, and former Photography Editor of Life Magazine. David knew all the old warhorses, including Cartier-Bresson, and it was his photography in particular that I honed in on. The grandfather of photojournalism, one of the founders of Magnum Photos and a towering figure behind the lens, it was HCB who snapped the ‘Decisive Moment’ (the landmark photograph taken behind Gare St Lazare where Cartier-Bresson captured a moment of a figure jumping over a plank, just before his foot makes a huge splash in the puddle).
Around my 30th birthday Didi’s estate finally cleared and I was through with her Christopher Street aerie. In the last stretch of that period I plotted a sabbatical from my life. I flipped a coin between heads –
Shanghai (Didi’s city and, like Paris, one where I’d been numerous times but didn’t know at all) and tails – Paris. Obviously tails won, so I rented a flat in the Marais– telling myself I’d return just before the elections to volunteer for Kerry – and arrived for the first time to visit Paris for Paris. I was guarded, doubtful even that I’d like it. But I had to see. My intention was to scrutinize it from the prism of Balzac, the lens of Cartier-Bresson, the silliness of Doinel, and then return to reality 4 months later. Flash! The decisive moment happened! I fell instantaneously head-over-heels with Pourrie Pourrie, Paname, Paris, and all those melodic tunes and fetid smells.
The metro alone was enough to love – that metallic smell being pushed through the tunnels, the splendid buskers (a 13-piece string orchestra playing Châtelet!), Malraux’s theatrical stations like Arts et Métiers. It was all just grand. Life was grand. Paris was grand.
Before even boarding the plane to NY 4 months later I realized that no matter how irresponsible it was to really leave my life and no matter how hard it was going to be to make Paris mine (visa, language, unemployment level, $-€ exchange being rot) I was only going home to help out with Kerry. In a very short time Paris had clearly gotten under my skin.
When Bush won, of course, the decision was sealed!
Merci Daisy, that is quite a story!