Paris As I See It


by Thirza Vallois   

My first encounter with Paris, in the 1950s and as a very young teenager, came as a great disappointment. Landing at the Gare du Nord, the first Paris I saw was shabby and unappetising, light years away from the “City of Light”. “Where ARE the Dior models from Vogue Magazine?” I asked my mother in frustration. A cab driver soon whisked us off to a more flattering Paris, but even aboard a “Paris by Night” coach and horse-drawn carriages (long since gone), the city failed to live up to the mystique I had anticipated. No way could it live up to London. Based on that first visit and the few that followed, I have no idea what prompted me to pick up Paris for my student years. It would be interesting to psycho-analyse why I chose to settle here for good. There was more to it than just meeting and marrying a Parisian. It was more like the slow process of falling in love with someone one at first actively dislikes.  It is one of those perfidious tricks that fate plays insidiously on our hearts.

Not that I now love Paris unconditionally. I love it realistically and with eyes wide open. And sometimes I hate it.  Being a bit of a chameleon, it took me no time to have full command of the language and integrate into French life.  The combination of a good sense of observation and hyper sensitivity to a fault, enabled me to capture all the vibes, innuendoes and dynamics of the city. Some are nice; some are not. My love for beauty, music, art and literature, not to mention my keen interest in history, as well as current social and political issues, couldn’t find a better place   to feed on and thrive in.

It all just happened, taking its natural course. As did my writing. Unlike so many aspiring writers who come to Paris with that goal on their minds, my writing sprouted, grew and matured spontaneously, when the moment was ripe. Interestingly, it happened in Paris and not in London, although I much preferred London to Paris in those days. Paris, gruff and Gallic, exasperated me, whereas London was a smooth journey. Perhaps it was precisely because I was comfortable in London that I felt no urge to write about it. It didn’t antagonise me.   Paris on the other hand was so intense. Besides, so much in Paris was played out on the streets and public places. Of course in the 1960s London too  began to buzz, in a way more than Paris, but  it was more of a surface buzz. It lacked the depth of history and tradition, the intimate sense of community.  In Paris you may still have “your” own boulanger or butcher who will tip you how best to cook your meat. London is confidently on the way to New York; Paris is looking there too, but over its shoulder and more reluctantly.

Of course Parisians too spend time commuting, shopping, eating out and night clubbing, and Paris  too is gradually affected by homogenising globalisation, but for the time being it  hangs on to its creative individuality. Despite the rampant increase of franchised outlets, a typical Parisian street still has its own character. Can you tell one British high street from another? Unlike London, which was destroyed by the Great Fire in 1666, and despite the major urban works under Haussmann and his followers, Paris has preserved a sense of historical continuity going back to the Middle Ages. Its building façades and cobbled streets can be read like a marvelous book, bursting with fascinating stories, some true, some legends. All are part of Parisian lore and history.   Add to this the fact that inner Paris is quite small and  compact and you’ve landed  in walkers’ paradise, to be explored horizontally and vertically simultaneously.

Take for example a leafy courtyard  you have chanced upon — a gift from heaven to be thankful for. How much greater is the gift when you can also imagine Leslie Caron/Gigi step down into that courtyard, or Gigi’s creator, Colette, emerge into the street from another charming courtyard, a couple of blocks away. Or Mozart aged 7, stepping out into rue François Miron in the Marais. Imagine him, aged 10 popping up further north, now the corner of rue de Bretagne and square du Temple, playing the harpsichord to the city’s most brilliant and glittering society. No trace is left of that venue, the Palace of the Grand Prior, the court of the illegitimate branch of the royal family.  Imagine yourself enjoying a Häagen-Dazs ice-cream on place de la Contrescarpe, then finding out you are sitting on the very spot where  five hundred years ago the land’s most famous poets  gathered under the name of La Pléaide and wrote the manifesto that would propel the French language into future glory.  By the by, you find out that up until then that status was bestowed on Latin alone, hence the Latin Quarter, the language of the university.

Despite the proliferation of facts and details, I don’t see Paris as their accumulation but as a whole. The details I glean along the way all come together, leading to the understanding of the city, my ultimate goal. Including current-day Paris. including the bits that are not so nice. Including the dark shameful pages one would rather push under the carpet. I see Paris as a gigantic tapestry spread at my feet, into which I weave the innumerable threads of my findings. Increasingly, I see Paris also as a mosaic of ethnicities (it’s not quite London yet, but it’s heading in the same direction), boasting along its central axis a string of  miniature worlds of exotic diversity. Finally, I see Paris as a gigantic puzzle, one of those that come in thousands of pieces and take forever to complete.  Mission impossible: There will  always be that other door you didn’t notice before to be opened, a hatch at your feet to be lifted, a building site  to remind you that Paris is a city in perpetual motion (oh, please spare us your highrises and other questionable projects), a never-ending story, a lifetime commitment once you become a Paris writer and get caught by the “bug”.

Social Media Etiquette : Five Tips for Writers in the Era of Twitter and Facebook


by Laurel Zuckerman, Editor of Paris Writers News

Writers are increasingly succumbing to loutish behavior on the social networks.  Here are a few tips for a return to civility in the #sm era:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

Consideration for others is the key to polite behavior on the internet as in real life. If you respect one and only one rule – treat others as you want to be treated yourself – you will be fine.

Here are some gentle questions to help you to adjust your behavior:

1) Do you enjoy following tweeters who write nothing but  « my book is great » and  « buy my book » ? Why not ?

2) You have NEVER bothered to « like » your writer friends’ book pages on Facebook, but your book is coming out tomorrow and your publisher wants you to ask your friends to like its Facebook page… This is ok, isn’t it ?

3) You are far too principled to write a five star review on Amazon/Goodreads/Librarything… just because the author is a friend (in fact you would be personally offended if a writer friend asked you to compromise your integrity), but the PR guy at your publisher is hysterical : can’t your friends write five star reviews quick, quick?

4) Facebook has this great feature that enables you to enroll your friends in groups of your own invention. And also to send messages to all your friends, including daily announcements about your terrific new book. Zuckerberg wouldn’t have invented if he didn’t want us to use it, would he ?

5) Advanced twitter users keep sticking your twitter handle in their tweets so that they appear in your email. Sometimes it’s great and make sense, but other times it’s so clearly self-promotion you can’t stand it. How to tell which is which ?

Bonus questions : What kind of Facebook posts and tweets do you personally appreciate? Are grateful for as an author ? Consider a favor you would be delighted to return?

If you’re in doubt about the do’s and don’ts of social media, don’t worry: we all are!

My pet peeves are reserved – not for authors trying to do their best – but for publishers who are too lazy to do serious PR themselves (and as a result are pushing it onto authors) and for social media giants like Facebook who keep changing the rules just as we begin to understand them.

If there is such confusion concerning the lines between the personal and the professional it is mostly because that’s how $100 billion companies like Facebook hope to earn their profits. So beware. Social media is new and still largely uncharted.  I hope these few simple questions will help you to navigate safely and successfully.