British Girl in Paris talks to Sedera Ranaivoarinosy
about her personal experience of Paris.
A journalism student at NYU, Sedera is something of a music guru who loves good films and experimenting with photography. The 20 year old has lived on three continents; oringinally from Madagascar she has resided in Paris most of her life but now studies in New York. Read her weekly musings on her blog.
What is your absolute favourite thing about Paris?
Les quais de la Seine
I love the quais
because it’s so calming to walk along the water (the Seine and the canals), or sit there to read, eat or even nap. I also love the parts of the metro
that are above ground
, like around the Boulevard de Grenelle and near Barbès. I like the design of the bridges the trains run on and the way you can see into the life going on around you (the train is on the same level as many apartment windows). I don’t mean that in a creepy way; I just like seeing the city flash by me.
What areas do you like best and why?
I like the area where I live, the 20th arrondissement by the Gambetta métro stop, because you can tell people live there and interact unlike the 16th arrondissement for example, which is very fancy, but in my experience, rather dull. The Canal St Martin is a very nice area as well, especially during the summer time when you can hang by the water. It’s surrounded by lots of cute places to go to for a nice bite. The food selection around there is often a bit more edgy than other areas.
If you only had 24 hours in Paris how would you spend them?
I would visit the catacombs because I have never been and have always wanted to go. Then I would visit a museum, probably the Musée D’Orsay, which I haven’t been to in a while. Finally, I’d picnic at the Parc des Buttes Chaumont and finish off my day by eating a blanc manger at the restaurant Hôtel Du Nord, where the movie of the same name was set. I’m not exactly sure what the ingredient is, but they put in little crunchy things in the dessert that create a sort of firework in your mouth. It sounds ridiculous. Until you eat it. It’s delightful.
What are the most overlooked attractions in your opinion?
Vintage clothing shop Guerrisol near Barbes metro
Paris is known for its shopping options, but going to the Galeries Lafayette and the Boulevard Haussmann won’t really give you a selection that is that different from other capitals of the world. If you have the patience to dig through the masses of throwaway clothing, the thrift stores of Barbes like Guerrisol
are full of good finds. A thorough search through the racks at a thrift store could lead to a much more unique, and sometimes much cheaper, find.
What is the one thing you like least about Paris?
The métro, as convenient as it is most of the time, only runs until 1 am on weeknights and 2 am on weekends, which always makes my evenings end early. I don’t have the type of stamina that would allow me to party repeatedly until 5:00 am, when it reopens, so it would be nice to be able to hop on a metro at 3 am sometimes instead of waiting for a night bus or taxi. Parisians also need to pick up the habit of cleaning up after their dogs.
Any favourite films set in Paris?
One of my favourite films of all time is Les Chansons d’Amour by Christophe Honoré, which is set in Paris. There’s also Amélie by Jean-Pierre Jeunet; I love the playful way in which it represents Montmartre.
What about music – any songs that you feel capture the essence of Paris?
An old classic, Jean Renoir’s “La Complainte de la Butte,” which Rufus Wainwright covered, comes to mind because it references an iconic area of Paris, Montmartre. For a more updated view, Thomas Dutronc’s “J’Aime Plus Paris” and Camille’s “Paris” articulate well the love-hate feeling that can arise towards Paris after a while. In both songs, the protagonists sing about their disillusionment with the French capital and threaten to leave, but do not succeed. The stress, the dirty sidewalks, the early nights etc. cause annoyance but it’s a city like no other; it’s hard to get away once you’ve made your nest there and its advantages always manage to trump the inconveniences.
How would you define being Parisian?
That’s a really tough question because the socio-economic make-up of the different arrondissements are so different but I would say first and foremost that a Parisian is an urban being. He/she cannot function outside of a big city, no matter how enjoyable a few days away can be. It’s only enjoyable because it’s not a permanent move. Also, an encyclopedic knowledge of the metro map, as wellas the exact places to be on the train to get to your exit of the metro stations the fastest, is essential. I always used to feel odd telling people I was from Paris when I lived in the suburbs. Now that I am in Paris intra muros, as they say, and the metro is not the mystery it once was, I feel like much closer to owning that “Parisian” moniker.
Do you think the Parisian stereotype is true?
People relaxing on the Pont des Arts in Paris
If by Parisian stereotype you mean the idea that the Parisien is pretentious, stylish, unpleasant and intellectual all bundled into one, there’s some truth to it in the sense that Paris doesn’t always emanate friendliness: people seem rushed, nervous, and never run out of things to complain about, especially when public transportation employees are on strike. But in more personal environments, Parisians like to chill with a bottle of wine and have a laugh as much as the next person.
And even though there is lagging sense that being Parisian is better than being from other places in France, which I don’t agree with, I think the problem is due to the way France is represented elsewhere: unlike what could be inferred, this fancy image of Paris applies to a specific population and area. The way it is often depicted as being representative of the entire country unrightfully brings down the other regions and cities.