The New Paris: the book that convinced me to stay in Paris
It’s not very often you can claim that a book has changed your life. Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary taught me that my level of social awkwardness and romantic haplessness was not without precedent (and that I was most likely going to end up dying alone and be found two months later half-eaten by alsatians); Simone de Beauvoir’s Le seconde sexe taught me that I didn’t read French anywhere near as well as I thought I did; and Lindsey Tramuta’s The New Paris renewed my hope in Paris at a time when I was on the point of leaving it.
In a nutshell, The New Paris aims to counter the increasingly popular claim that, beneath the bright and shiny surface, Paris is a superficial city built on outdated traditions, which shuns change, innovation and diversity just as passionately as it resists the English language and good customer service. According to Lindsey, the city is in fact undergoing a shift where old traditions and beliefs are rejected in favour of novelty, entrepreneurship and outside influences. As proof, Lindsey details the transformation of Paris’s dining, drinking and shopping scenes, a revolution powered by a pioneering yet often uninitiated subset of young Parisians.
Let’s briefly talk about the contents of the book, which is divided into six sections: The New Food & Dining; The New Coffee; The New Sweets; The New Libations; The New Shopping & Crafts and The New Places and Spaces. In terms of food, Lindsey focuses on the rise of bistronomy, which pokes it’s tongue out at the stuffy traditions of French gastronomy. Lindsey cites the likes of Septime (which was launched by a former graphic designer) Semilla, Freddy’s, and Le 52 Faubourg St Denis; but equally the food-trucks (Le camion qui fume), the ethnic eateries (Hero and Candelaria) and the healthy food scene (Le tricycle, Bob’s Juice bar, Nanashi and Cafe Pinson) which are all materialising around Paris.
When it comes to drinking, the transformation that Lindsey describes is no less striking. She talks of Paris’s infamously underwhelming cafe scene characterised by bitter, cheaply-sourced beans, and the movement (influenced to a large degree by Australia — representing!) to remedy it. Here the charge is led by young Parisians who have experienced coffee epiphanies overseas, and foreign imports who saw a gaping hole in the market (and who presumably could no longer handle life without a good latte!). Examples are Cafe Lomi, founded by a Franco-Australian duo embracing different coffee techniques; and Holybelly, a cafe whose combination of great coffee and delicious brunch was inspired by the founders’ stints in Canada and Australia.
As for the alcoholic drinking scene, the traditional verre de vin is being given a run for its money by it’s fancier cousin: the cocktail. This movement began when a group of college graduates opened the Experimental Cocktail Club in 2007 as a way of making accessible a drink which had formally been confined to the drinks lists of luxury hotels. They then went on to open Prescription Cocktail Club, Night Flight and most recently Le Grand Pigalle Hotel (which is conveniently situated just around the corner from my apartment — FTW!).
When I first arrived in the Spring of 2016 I admit to seeing Paris as the museum city it was accused of having become. I loved its historical architecture, manicured gardens and emblematic museums, and I had delighted in several Paris trips over the course of my travels. However I was reluctant to place Paris in a list of my favourite cities, sooner giving space to vibrant London, dynamic Tel Aviv and romantic Istanbul. I certainly would never have chosen to live in Paris, which is why it is all the more surprising that I ended up accepting an offer to relocate here for a job (in French no less, a language I learned at school but have never spoken fluently).
I didn’t choose Paris; Paris choose me. And from the moment my plane touched down at Charles De Gaulle, the city seemed intent on testing my resolve. That month of May 2016 was notable for the simultaneous strikes of the metro and the garbage collectors; the infamous Nuit Debout protest movement; and the significant flooding which saw the Seine rise to its highest level in over 100 years. On top of this I found it difficult to make friends with Parisians despite (maybe because of!) my open and bubbly demeanour, and I struggled to make my mark in a work culture that I found to be individualistic, risk averse and deliberately separate from private life (Friday night work drinks is definitely not a thing).
And yet I found myself instinctively drawn to the New Paris that Lindsey evokes. I started following Parisian blogs (which led me to discover Lindsey’s own Lost In Cheeseland) and constructing lists of speakeasy bars and brunch spots to test (many of which figure in The New Paris). I was particularly drawn to the areas of the 9th and the 10th which — along with her own neighbourhood of the 11th —are identified by Lindsey as the heart of the New Paris movement. I had originally taken an apartment in the “old Paris” of Saint Germain, but feeling stifled there I soon relocated to the vibrant South Pigalle of the 9th, where sex shops and strip clubs rub shoulders with cocktails bars, boutique shops and organic green grocers. I wasn’t drawn to this aspect of the city as a type of Paris antidote; but as a version of Paris which seemed more real. I was drawn to it for the additional layer of richness it offered to a city which I loved deeply, but felt was in need of reinterpretation.
Yet I continued to struggle, despite the delights of the New Paris. The effort of trying to gain acceptance, to build a life for myself and to master the language was taking it’s toll; and the dismal traction I was gaining in all three of these areas was demoralising. During my second Spring I was made two separate offers of escape from Paris, and for about a week it seemed very likely that I would accept one or other of them. It just so happened that Lindsey’s book was released around this same time. I had eagerly pre-ordered it back in December, and it had since downloaded automatically on my iPad. I devoured it over the course of several days of international travel occasioned by the aforementioned opportunities. This was no accident, as I soon came to believe.
I had always greatly enjoyed Lindsey’s writing style in her blog, but The New Paris took her prose to a new level of incisive and evocative descriptiveness. Her writing concretised the viewpoint I had already vaguely started forming about the city and its culture revolution, and anchored it squarely in the cocktail bars and restaurants that I had been frequenting over the past twelve months. I delighted in discovering the stories behind these establishments, and the people behind the movement.
I found myself looking around me and noticing a very particular moment of Paris’ history unfolding. The French presidential elections had just produced a leader who was not only the youngest and most unconventional in the country’s history, but who represented an alternative to fear and popularism which was proving irresistible to the rest of the Western world. Meanwhile the world’s biggest startup campus, Station F, was about to open in the 13th arrondissement, adding further fuel to the already rumbling engine of Paris’s start-up scene. I felt a spirit of change rippling through Paris which transcended its food and drink scene. And I was thoroughly intoxicated by it.
I could have taken either of these "Get Out Of Jail For Free Pass" opportunities. I could even have decided to make my own way over to New York, Toronto or London. These cities already embraced diversity and open-mindedness — and the inhabitants spoke English! And yet I found the prospect of witnessing a transition more enticing than rocking up to a city that was already how I wanted it to be (at least in theory). Dare I say it, I even wanted to play a role! New York and London didn’t need me. As for Paris, while I wasn’t about to open up my own chain of cocktail bars, or rewrite the rules of local gastronomy, I had my own brand of irreverence and optimism to offer, as well as my unique outsider’s perspective. Plus I speak perfect English and let's face it, in Paris we are few and far between ;P
No sooner had I snapped shut the final pages of the book, I was 100% certain that Paris was where I needed to be. I politely declined both opportunities and I have never looked back since.
Shortly afterwards I reached out to Lindsey on Instagram:
Lindsey wrote back later that afternoon #FanMoment:
I’m not sure if the city will ever open up to me (I wouldn’t say it has yet, in any case). But I am convinced that there has never been a better time to be in Paris, and that there is nowhere I would rather be than my tiny, structurally questionable balcony in South Pigalle, watching this city redefine itself around me.
And I think that’s just as good a reason as any to stay, don’t you? Thank you Lindsey for opening my eyes to a different perspective on Paris at a time when I needed it most.
Find out more about The New Paris, including stockists, here.