Five famous expats that Paris was actually into
I may be biased, but I believe that Paris has the most interesting expats in the world. Those of you who follow my misadventures will already know just how difficult it can be to make it in this city. For one thing, this means that Paris expats who live to tell the tale are naturally resilient and bad ass - my kind of people!
For another thing, Paris offers endless creative material to those who seek it. It is not for the faint of heart, but it will always provide you with something to challenge you, something to marvel at, or in my case something to write about. It is a city which attracts artists, inventors, adventurers, romantics and amateur writers of GIF-filled satirical blogs.
I am currently seeking the most interesting expats in Paris to interview on my Paris Is Just Not That Into Podcast (fait signe if you know anyone I should speak to BTW). And I’m telling you, this city is full of cool, funny and inspiring expat peeps!
But Paris has always been a hotbed for the cool and interesting, and many of them were inspired to create things much more impressive than GIF-filled satirical blogs. Today I'm honouring five expats which Paris was apparently into.. well, most of them anyway.
1. Oscar Wilde
The Irish author of The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest had always been a fan of Paris. He was a shameless Rive Gaucher who was particularly partial to the 6th arrondissement’s Cafe de Flore, and had been fluent in French since he was a boy. However it was only in 1897 that Wilde fled to Paris following his conviction for “gross indecency” (Victorian codeword for homosexuality) and subsequent two years of imprisonment and hard labour.
He spent the last three years of his life here, ruined and frail yet indefatigably witty to the last. He died in what is now l’Hotel in Saint Germain at the age of 46, but not before uttering one of his most famous one-liners: “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has to go.”
After losing the duel to his wallpaper he was was buried in Cimetière de Bagneux before being disinterred and eventually reburied in his famous modernist tomb in the Père Lachaise Cemetery. It became customary for visitors to adorn his tomb with lipstick kisses until they were cleaned off in 2011 and a glass panel unceremoniously installed around it.
2. Josephine Baker
Probably one of the most bad-ass Paris expats (and a fellow Pigaloise to boot!) Josephine Baker was an entertainer of colour who left her native America for France because she felt that the colour of her skin was not such a big deal there. Baker became one of the most celebrated headline acts at the Folies Bergère cabaret hall, where her signature costume basically consisted of a girdle of bananas (I want one). She was often accompanied on stage by her diamond-collared pet cheetah “Chiquita” (also want one) who sometimes added an additional element to the show by escaping into the orchestra pit and scaring the hell out of the musicians.
As if this wasn’t already sassy enough, Baker went on to become a spy for the French Resistance movement during World War 2. She collected information during parties from German troops and officials who were too busy thinking with their d**ks. Later she also become an important figure in the American Civil Right’s Movement, and famously refused to perform to segregated audiences.
3. Jim Morrison
The infamous lead singer of The Doors may have only called himself a Paris expat briefly, but it’s fair to say that the time he spent there was quite eventful. Morrison passed his last three months in Paris, following a criminal conviction in the US for indecent exposure. He figured it was a good time to focus on his writing, and wander the streets of Paris toting his pen and paper in a plastic bag. Apparently he also spent a lot of time in nightclubs taking drugs.
Although the official version has it that the musician died of a heart attack and was found by his girlfriend in the bathtub of their Paris hotel, in 2007 the former manager of Left Bank nightclub The Rock N Roll Circus came out with a different version of events. Apparently Morrison was at the club that night with his girlfriend, where he bought some heroin and took it to the bathroom, from which he never emerged. Some time later he was found in the stall, head between his legs and foaming at the mouth.
The story goes that the club wanted to avoid the negative publicity that would understandably have ensued from the fact that a celebrity had just died snorting heroin in one of their toilet cubicles. Deciding to take matters into their own hands, they dragged Morrison out of the club (via the neighbouring Alcazar, which by the way still exists and is one of my favourite places in Paris) before whisking him into a car and planting him in his bathtub.
I will never complain about my experience as a Paris expat again.
4. Ernest Hemingway
What list of famous Paris expats could be complete without Ernest Hemingway, the American author who actually wrote a book about his expat experience, A Moveable Feast? Embarrassingly enough, I have not actually read this book yet, but I get the feeling it is a little more serious in tone than my own accounts of expat life, and perhaps less focused on dating.
Hemingway was another expat of the day who favoured the Latin Quarter, setting up digs on the rue du Cardinal Lemoine. What I hold against him in terms of his arrondissement choices I forgive him for having once described Paris as the city “where the most interesting people in the world live”. This is a quote I can get behind.
5. Marie Curie
Now here’s an expat that Paris liked. Polish physicist and chemist not only found herself a French husband, she also convinced him to drop his own scientific research to join hers. It was a wise choice by the way, as she ended up producing the theory of radioactivity and discovering two elements. She became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first person to win it twice. During World War 1 she also developed mobile X-ray units for field hospitals. Totally fierce, yes.
Further props to Curie for never forgetting her roots. Not only did she insist on teaching Polish to her two children, but she also named the first element she discovered “Polonium” after her beloved Polish homeland.
I’m still, I’m still Marie from the block..
Postscript: I have been a little silent on the blog lately. It's partly because, life (and that's OK because this is the best source of future material ;)) but mostly because I have been working behind the scenes on the podcast. I have been sourcing interesting people and trying to convince them that being interviewed in my lounge room using a home karaoke kit is not a creepy prospect. The good news is that I have succeeded in roping in several cool interviewees and I'm so excited to share the results with you soon!
Thank you for your patience. Bisous xx