The City of Lighters and Other Paris Fun Facts

Everyone knows that French food is one of the most well-crafted and esteemed cuisines in the world, but not many people know why or how it came to be. In David Downie’s new book, A Taste of Paris, he dives into the history behind the food with a researcher’s wild abandon for discovery and a humourist’s eye for fun.

Last time we were reading about the City of Light here on the blog, we were exploring it through the paintings and photographs of writer Janice MacLeod in her book, A Paris Year.

Janice and her Paris Year!

This time around, we are deep in the archive vaults of Parisian history alongside author David Downie as he takes us on an epicurean tour of the food that made France famous. Magically, in just 280 pages, David manages to condense centuries worth of feasting into a tidy timeline that begins in 53 B.C. and ends in present day.

“What is thrilling at least to me,” David declares in the starter portion of the book, “is to speculate on how in modified and sometimes-hard-to-recognize forms many foods and food-related habits have survived the ravages of time, the invasions and massacres and floods and fires, the plagues and changes in religion or political and economic systems, and live on in Paris today.”

It is with that keen interest that David dissects how, when, where and why the French have cooked, created, dined and dallied their way to the top of the menu board. Along the way, we learn about colorful characters like…

Queen Caterina de Medici – wife of King Henry II (1519-1589)

Queen Caterina, wife of King Henri II who chewed tobacco leaves to relieve her headaches which started French women’s universal love affair with nicotine.

We also learn about the histories behind an assortment of interesting neighborhoods, buildings, and restaurants that all contributed to the food scene both ancient and modern…

Clockwise from top left: Le Marais historic district, Palace de Versailles, Hotel de Cluny dating to the 1300’s, Verjus restaurant

…and we learn fun facts galore on a myriad of kitchen topics like these…

  1. Butter knives were invented so that people couldn’t pick their teeth at table.
  2. During the Middle Ages, long before the invention of plates,  bread was baked in cutting board shapes and used to hold piles of food for individual eaters. Once the food on top of the bread was consumed, the bread was given to peasants or animals to eat.
  3. Artichokes are considered an aphrodisiac, especially in Italy.
  4. One in three French people smoke (hence the city of lighters!)
  5. In-home cooking spaces in most French houses didn’t exist until the late 18th century.
  6. Below is one of President Obama’s favorite restaurants near the Eiffel Tower…

La Fontaine De Mars

Paris is a city continuously simmering in centuries of tradition. A delightfully unique aspect of David’s book is that he shifts back and forth between present day and the past, so you absorb plenty of history along the way but you also directly understand the correlation between what’s changed and what hasn’t.

While you don’t need to be a European history scholar or a devout foodie in order to tuck into this culinary aspect of the city, it helps if you have a special interest in old world events and a basic understanding of the fine-tuned culture of the Parisian lifestyle because David presents so much interesting, thoughtful information.  You’ll want to marinate in his chapters for a bit instead of rushing through them in one quick read. I was lucky enough to receive this advance copy of the book several months ago. One of the fun aspects of reading it over the summer was keeping Pinterest close-by so that I could look up the people and places of Paris while I was learning about them through David’s eyes.

With a wonderfully engaging voice and an ability to colorfully (and often times humorously) describe a building or a banquet, David treks you around town with insight and intimation. One of my favorite lines in the book came forty pages in when he writes about the 3rd-century Roman bath complex at Cluny as “a charming jumble that looks like a mouthful of broken molars repaired with elaborate fretwork crowns.” Admittedly, I had no idea what the Cluny bath house looked like, but thanks to David’s description I could get a pretty good impression of it.

Other intriguing sections in the book included the eating habits of Versailles’ residents, the symbolic imagery found in The Lady and the Unicorn tapestry,  and the gregarious life surrounding French food writer, Maurice Edmond Sailland a.k.a Curnonsky (1872-1956).

A snippet from the Taste panel of the Lady and the Unicorn tapestry created in 1500.

But not everything is champagne and caviar and easily expressed. Amidst all of these fascinating history lessons, David also dives into his own food experience which began in Paris in the 1970’s. With his modern eyes, he retraces his food steps taken four decades ago to see how, and if, the landscape he once personally adored still holds up to the memories he stored. He also talks about the future of French food among the booming explosion of other newly exalted food scenes in other cities. Can Paris hold up to the competition?

Described best as  part guidebook, part history class and part personal memoir, A Taste of Paris pushes you to make notes, take notes, look for more, explore more… which brought me to quickly wish for two things that the book did not have – detailed maps of the areas where David traveled and an index for quick reference.  Then I discovered, as I finished the last page that David does offer both maps and an index of sorts. He and his wife offer walking tours of Paris through his website where they take you on all sorts of off-the-beaten-path adventures. That’s ten times better than a paper map and a list of page numbers! You get the guy (and the guide) in person, all to your yourself!

While we often don’t even think about the fact that millions of people have experienced both good and terrible situations treading upon the very ground we also walk upon so nonchalantly every single day,  David reminds us that the veins of history are deeply wound up in the practices and procedures of our modern lives. That flaky croissant, that steaming cup of hot chocolate, that celebratory pop of champagne were all born a long time ago yet they continue to intrinsically impact us as we move towards the future. In detailing the anatomy of a cuisine, David dissected a city whose culture has influenced a collective conscious of eaters around the world and that is pretty remarkable.

Whether you get the chance to meet up with David in Paris and peruse the food scene together or you simply read about his city in your city, A Taste of Paris is as satisfying as falling in love with a new museum exhibit. It will broaden your point of view, make you think, ask questions, ponder your own country’s evolution of food practices and ultimately make you appreciate how far we have come, as a civilization, from the days of heaping breadboards and kitchen-less houses.

Cheers to David for peeling back the layers of French food culture in such an interesting way!

Find A Taste of Paris available here. Learn more about David and his other Paris based books here. And if you find yourself in the City of Light(ers) take David’s tour and watch the book unfold before your eyes.

 

Lovers Who Can’t Quit: In Paris

Was all this so wonderful because it was brief and stolen?

Henry Miller wrote that line in a letter to Anais Nin on August 6th, 1932.  Janice MacLeod wrote that same line in her Paris journal on February 24th just a few years back. Eight decades ago Henry was talking about his love affair with a woman. More recently Janice was talking about her love affair with a city. Both refer to a passion that would and could never be quelled.

Janice!

Two years ago we had the pleasure of interviewing Janice here on the blog about her plans following the publication of her New York Times bestselling book Paris Letters.  When we left off with Janice back in March 2015, she was embarking on a new chapter in her life having just left Paris for Canada with her husband Christophe and a carefree sense of wild adventure in hand.  Calgary was clearly a whole different kettle of fish to tackle than France and Janice just wasn’t quite sure how it was all going to unfold now that she had left her dream city for a new frontier.

Newly arrived… A Paris Year

Fast forward two years and life in Canada for Janice produced a baby (Amelie!) and a new book (A Paris Year!).  Like a lover you can’t quit, Janice’s experiences in France ceased to be forgotten in her new surroundings.  The colors of the city, the  accordion lullabies, the memories of wine, cafes, neighborhood walks, market shopping and the speaking of a language she had almost mastered could never be set aside. Paris came to Canada in Janice’s suitcases, a secret house guest that absolutely refused to go home. Once an admirer always an admirer.

Paris Photography by Janice MacLeod

Lucky for us, Janice’s new book A Paris Year keeps the romance of her gorgeous adventure alive. Laid out like a day planner, A Paris Year tracks Janice’s whereabouts in the City of Light from January 1st to December 30th and includes her pretty paintings and feel-like-you-are-there photographs. Based on her actual journals kept while experiencing the city up-close and personal, Janice packs all sorts of interesting history, fun facts and traditions into the everyday observations that make up the charming lifestyle of French living.

Janice’s lively paintings of all things Parisian.

Part travel guide, part European history lesson, part art crawl and part early language primer, reading A Paris Year is as satisfying as hanging out with your best girl friend all afternoon. It’s interesting and vivacious and inspiring. There are funny moments like November 22nd when Janice truly thought she understood all the offerings on a French menu board only to realize it was written in English. There are sad moments (November 14th) which recognizes the anniversary of the 2015 Paris Attacks. And there are plenty of incredibly beautiful moments (February 2, March 4, May 11th, June 20th, practically the whole month of October, etc etc) that bring the heart of the city home to your doorstep.

There are new characters to meet like Antoine the Poet and Colin the ex-pat, both of whom offer intriguing little side stories that will leave you wondering and wanting.  And of course there all the famous French residents that you associate with the city – F.Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, Madame Curie, Vincent Van Gogh, Colette, Edith Piaf, Gaston LeRoux, Sylvia Beach and the ever present star of the show, Ernest Hemingway. He weaves his way in and around Janice’s storytelling as she weaves her way in and around Paris, showing up every few pages in her thoughts and his haunts. The moveable feast still very much moving.

In Janice’s first book Paris Letters, she details step by step how she made the big leap from living an unfulfilling corporate life in California to living a creative life in Paris. That book was the story of an artist’s awakening to her true self. This book, A Paris Year is the full color party she threw to celebrate it. Paris Letters showed us how to make a big change. A Paris Year shows us how to enjoy it.

During some months in A Paris Year, Janice seeks out a specific color to photograph, as an hommage to Nichole Roberston’s book Paris in Color. During the month of May the shade in mind was green.

Janice’s story in both books has an interesting way of sticking around long after you read them. As a result of marinating in the visual artistry of A Paris Year I now walk around my own city looking at the sites before me with new eyes and a running dialogue on how I might best describe a building or a season, a person or a park.

Too pretty to end, the only thing I disliked about this book was that it actually had to end. I was super excited to receive an advance copy in the mail which I read just before leaving for Seattle and then re-read on the flight to Seattle and then once again when I returned back home. I loved it that much… three times over!  Like a daily devotional it offers the unique option of reading a page a day if you are looking for a quick shot of escapism, or you can read it cover to cover, as I did  or you can just pick up and read whatever page you want at random whenever the mood strikes. Janice made it so easy for us to experience her Paris.  Its a day planner and a day dream all wrapped up in one.

If you can’t afford the expense or the time to get to Paris personally this summer, don’t fret.  Spend a few hours with Janice in her book and you’ll feel like you’ve been there yourself. It may be a brief and stolen time, but as Henry Miller implies those are the most wonderful.

You can find Janice’s new book A Paris Year here. Her previous book, Paris Letters here and if you find yourself needing even more joie de vivre, subscribe to her Paris Letters mail service and receive a Parisian note from Janice via the postal service once a month.

The April 2016 edition of Paris Letters

Next time on the blog, we are tackling the city of Seattle and the search for Great-Grandma Mabel’s doughnut shop. Did we find it? Did we find it? Stay tuned!

After Paris: Following Up with a Bestselling Author

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One of the most fun and inspiring reads of 2014 was Paris Letters by the effortlessly engaging Janice MacLeod. If you are unfamiliar with this book (now #7 on the New York Times bestseller list!) it is the ultimate manifesto for the creative spirit. A true, real-life story about how one woman dared to dream and then dared herself to really live that dream.

In Janice’s case, the dream was quitting a corporate job in California and traveling abroad to find fresh perspective and a renewed zest for life.  Not unlike Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love, Paris Letters is an inspiring memoir of a spiritual journey that transformed one life in a 360 degree manner, but unlike Elizabeth, Janice isn’t hashing out her past along her journey – she’s finding her future – and detailing it one small step at a time.

Literally, by book’s end, you know how Janice got from point A to point P (Paris!) because she tells you specifically in 258 pages of detail how she did it with a satisfying and surprising one-thing-leads-to-another  trajectory of events. Paris Letters is part serendipity, part planning, part passion and part blind-faith. Along the way, you’ll laugh, you’ll sympathize, you’ll understand. As you begin the last third of the book you’ll begin telling yourself that you know how the book is going to end and you’ll feel happy that Janice found what she was looking for. But this is a real-life story and real-life endings never dissolve into the sunset in the same tidy way they to do in a movie. Paris doesn’t become Janice’s be-all end-all, there are new adventures to be had and she eludes to the possibilities of a new life in Canada in a city that Christophe (her Parisian/Polish love!) became smitten with in the same way that Janice was smitten with Paris.

And so a move was made! This is where Ms. Jeannie picks up the story. What’s life like now for Janice post-Paris Letters, post Parisian romance, post France?

MS. JEANNIE: At the end of Paris Letters you imagine a life in Canada… a house, a lake, a garden, little Janice’s and Christophe’s… now that you are living there is your daydream still the same?

JANICE MACLEOD: Before Paris, I had BIG dreams of exploring Europe. Right now my daydreams are smaller and seasonal in theme. For example, in the autumn I dreamed of hiking along paths of golden autumn leaves. Did it! Then I dreamed of having a gorgeous Christmas tree. Did it! Now I’ve got dreams of spring and gardening on my mind. I’m starting to drool over seed catalogs.

It may not be the historic streets of Paris but, as the seasons kiss in Calgary, you can sense just as much romance in the landscape! Photo via pinterest

It may not be the historic streets of Paris but, as the seasons kiss in Calgary, you can sense just as much romance in the landscape! Photo via pinterest

MJ: How has your move to Calgary broadened your point of view?

JML: I’ve been pondering the idea of the pilgrimage. Life in Paris was a sort of pilgrimage because 1) I did a lot of walking and wandering 2) Everything was more difficult. Language, administration, maps… EVERYTHING. Now that I’m in Canada, everything should be simple but really the pilgrimage has just become more of an internal exploration. The outer may be easier but more intense inner work is beginning. I’m still on that pilgrimage.

photo via pinterest

Traveling the roads of calgary via pinterest

MJ:  For those of us who have never been to Calgary can you sum up your new city in a sentence?

JML: Four seasons of splendor inhabited by shiny, chatty people.

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Janice and Christophe!

MJ: What are you most attracted to about life in Calgary? Has Christophe found his Paris?!

JML: Definitely the four distinct seasons is the most attractive quality of Calgary for me. Calgarians like to play in all seasons, too. They don’t huddle up in winter. They hit the slopes and polish off their skates. I’ve revisited skating. Oh how I adore skating. And I’m delighted to announce that Christophe has found his Paris! He loves the wide open spaces here. It’s big sky country. Very different from Europe which, in his view, is more cramped.

Paintings of Janice's adventures in Paris are available for sale by clicking on this image

Paintings of Janice’s adventures in Paris are available here

MJ:  Do you think you will ever live in Paris again?

JML: Never say never. Though for now, my intention is to flourish in Canada. Now that we are settled in, it’s time to let the flourishing begin.

Photo courtesy of thedailybeast.com

The recently discovered 1920s Paris flat that was left untouched for almost 100 years. Read the amazing story here. Photo courtesy of thedailybeast.com

MJ:  Recently on your blog you posted the news article about the 1920s Paris apartment discovery. If someone came across a time capsule of your space in Calgary what might they find?

JML: HA! They would find thousands of photos and paintings of Paris. I’m currently sifting through all the art I did in Paris and will be posting it to my shop. It’s a big Parisian whirlwind here in my Calgary home.

Capturing the essence of Paris. A scene snippet fresh from Janice's blog.

Capturing the essence of Paris. A scene from the St. Paul Metro fresh from Janice’s blog.

MJ: What inspires you about the view from Calgary?

JML: I live along a river here in Calgary so I spent a lot of time just staring at the river. It’s an open-eye meditation. If you’re not moved by nature you’ve got problems. Then when you drive half an hour west BOOM! There are the Rocky Mountains. Those mountains were here long before I arrived and will be here long after I leave. Knowing that helps me not sweat the small stuff and to just be grateful to behold them here now.

MJ:  Do you feel as strong a need to share with people about your daily life in Canada? Is there a sense that life there is as equally entertaining as life in Paris?

First scenes from Calgary! Photo via Janice's blog.

First scenes from Calgary! Photo via Janice’s blog.

JML: I haven’t shared much about Calgary simply because so much of it has been administration-focused. Do people want to know about me changing my drivers license and health card? Do they want to know about my visit to the dentist? The doctor? It’s not quite as difficult or funny as it was in France. I spent my first season here just settling in. Plus, my brain went quiet after writing and promoting PARIS LETTERS. It will take some time to restart that part of my brain and then we will be back on, entertaining the masses one blog post and letter at a time.

Subscribe to Janice's beauiful Paris letters project for one month, six months or 12 months here

Subscribe to Janice’s beautiful Paris letters project for one month, six months or 12 months here

MJ:  One of the most inspiring things about both your book and your blog is your confidence in pursuing whimsical endeavors. Is that something you find you must continuously develop and encourage or is it just a part of your natural makeup?

JML: Ah yes, I’m sure there will be some whimsical moments as I attempt to become outdoorsy here in western Canada. I write to amuse myself, so that’s likely to continue. Then if it’s good writing I share with the world via my letters, books or blog posts.

MJ:  Of all the attention you have received from the Paris Letters journey, what is one of the most surprising experiences that has stemmed from the project?

JML: Two things. First, my book, the travel memoir PARIS LETTERS made it on the New York Times Best Seller list this month. I didn’t expect it at all. Total delightful surprise. Second, people who write me telling me the letter I sent them made their day. There is a lot of tough stuff out there to deal with in this world. The letter in the mail helps ease some of those burdens. I love when that happens and someone feels compelled to sent me a note in thanks.

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Each letter is prettier than the next!

MJ:  If you were the recipient of a painted letter from anywhere in the world, past or present, where would it hail from and who would be the author?

JML: I would hope to get a painted letter from Percy Kelly, whom I learned about when I traveled through the UK. It was his painted letters that inspired my project. To get a letter from him would be dreamy, but he passed away years ago, so it would also be super weird.

MJ:  What’s the next day dream?

JML: Sharing my photos and paintings. I created so much art in Paris but didn’t share it since I was busy making it. Now is my time to curate, edit, refine and share. It’s going to be great! I’m so excited to share it. There is a lot of pretty Paris art in my collection.

janicemacleod7

MJ:  Just out of curiosity, did you ever meet up with Mary in Canada? [Note: Mary was a Paris Letters recipient who turned out to become penpal to Janice. She’s mentioned throughout the book.]

JML: Not yet. She still lives as far from me as my friends in California. Canada is a big country. But one day I’m confident it will happen. As fate would have it, her son goes to my mom’s dental office. Can you believe that? So I’m sure at some point we will be in the same town at the same time. If not, I might just have to make a pilgrimage to Massey, Ontario, to see for myself where all her letters to me are written.

Perhaps that meeting with Mary will launch a blog post or launch a chapter in a new book! You just never know! But there is two things that Ms. Jeannie does know for certain –  However Janice chooses to document Calgary, whether it be through photographs or paintings, words or wisdom it will be beautiful and it will be entertaining just like the lady herself!

In the meantime, read Paris Letters! You will love it!

Other fascinating interviews with fabulously talented individuals can be found in the interview section on Ms. Jeannie’s blog. Stop by and take a peek here!

**** UPDATE 6/28/2017 **** Janice just published a new book all about her Paris adventures. It’s called A Paris Year and this one includes zillions of Janice’s photographs and paintings of magical, marvelous Paris . Read about it here. And grab your copy of the book here. 

Newly arrived… A Paris Year

 

A Trip to Paris with Photographer Yann Pendaries

As a child, Ms. Jeannie spent a lot of time in France, traveling about the country with her family. Home base was always The Crillon Hotel in Paris or the Loews Monte Carlo (now the Fairmont) on the French Riviera, but Ms. Jeannie’s parents insisted she and her sister know all of France including the waterways, so road trips (and boat trips!) were had.

Not having traveled back to France since she was about 15 years old, Ms. Jeannie retains a child-like wonder for all things French. Memories lean towards moments and feelings instead of specific places and experiences….rich hot chocolate, the sound of  patent leather Mary Janes on  marble floors,  boat rides down the Seine, her first taste of risotto, lemony perfume, two cheek kisses, children’s books all in French, toothpick thin pommes frites and the secret “European language” Ms. Jeannie and her sister made up.

Ms. Jeannie’s France is all about terraced hillsides, Bastille Day fireworks, hours long luncheons. She recalls her mother’s  bright orange Hermes shopping bags and a pair of fantastic red shoes Ms. Jeannie’s eight year old heart just had to have.  There was a fretful play date with a French boy named Tomas, that ended in the throwing of toys and tears. There was the first time Ms. Jeannie saw the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, the first time she flirted with a boy on a mo-ped and the first time she played the game of petanque with a group of locals.

And then there was the last time she saw the Eiffel Tower.

It was a grey and rainy Paris afternoon. Ms. Jeannie didn’t want to leave. She tried wholeheartedly to convince her father to stay an extra day or two, but he was adamant about schedules and airplanes and life needing to be resumed back in the States.  So home they went. Ms. Jeannie felt more than disappointed, not because she didn’t get her way, but because for the first time in her life she felt displaced. Caught between two worlds and two cultures at a tender age.  That was the year that the feelings of wanderlust set in. And never quite let go.

Difficult to put into words, this combination of desire and unease, Ms. Jeannie was delighted to happen upon the contemporary photography of Yann Pendaries, whose work, both magical and moody conveys images of France that are both dream-like and real. His hot air balloon series, in particular are some of Ms. Jeannie’s favorites.

80 Days in Europe by Yann Pendaries
Day 2 – Montmartre

Those childhood days in France float around her mind just like that balloon floats around the photograph. Sometimes easy to spot, others times more difficult, but always there, always floating.

Below, read about the inspiration behind Yann’s work as he takes us on a little unexpected weekend getaway to his France, where we discuss all things cultural from art to wine to history.

Ms. Jeannie:  So, you are a photographer based in Paris… is that where you grew up?

Yann Pendaries: I was born in the city of Orleans, where Joan of Arc played a part in the history of France … I spent part of my life there, and came to live in Paris in 2002. 

Orleans is located about 80 miles outside of Paris. Did you know that New Orleans, Louisiana was named after this city? Photo courtesy of web.france.com

MJ: What inspires you about your city? What are the top 5 places that inspire your work?

YP: Paris is a magical city that has withstood the din of war, one can still feel the medieval atmosphere through the narrow streets of the historic center, when you walk in the streets you can still discover new buildings or new stories.

Sunset on the Eiffel Tower by Yann Pendaries

Paris is endless images, every time I stroll through the city, I always discover new things which inspires my eye. My inspiration usually comes by chance, but most of the time especially in Paris. I have three main inspirations, colorful characters that I capture with great discretion…

The Parisian Cafe by Yann Pendaries

essential buildings like the Eiffel Tower (I try to magnify it with different angles)…

Sunset Eiffel Tower by Yann Pendaries

and last but not least, I love the gardens in Paris, my favorite being the Luxembourg Garden, in the center of Paris.

The Watchman by Yann Pendaries

Why specifically this garden? For me it is very representative of Paris from the 1950s, where you can still find toys rentals (small wooden boats that children push with sticks on the fountain, and which exists since the 1940s), in any season this garden is beautiful with fountains, thousands of trees, horses where children can also take a ride.
Look in my shop for Paris pictures and you will discover the love I have for this garden.

Luxembourg Gardens. Photo courtesy of aViewOnCities.com

Luxembourg Gardens – Fontaine de Medicis. Photo courtesy of aViewOn Cities.com

My last two inspirations have more to do with photographic creations, I try to make up magical worlds and I try to immerse the viewer in an idyllic world where dreams and poetry make you forget the worries of life.

Hot Air Balloon Photography by Yann Pendaries. This is one of Ms. Jeannie’s favorites!

I am currently working on two series, one is the hot balloon trip, to make you discover “my” Europe by scenery and lights I captured through my travels, and the other one is about the tiny trades self portraits; a little guy helps you understand for example how are created pretty things that you see all the time, I suppose that this way, you discover the beauty of simple things around you and afterwards you don’t look the same way at these small things in life.

Tiny Trades Series: The Strawberry Seed-Sticker by Yann Pendaries

MJ: How long have you called yourself a photographer? What drives your passion for it?

YP: I have officially been a professional photographer for 7 years, but have been keen on photography since the age of 9. In fact my father had an old film camera ; one day I decided to take it and make images for fun, and then I realized it was a way for me to express feelings I could not say otherwise. Thanks to photography I could also capture moments of sharing with friends and create memories of moments that lasted a second and which I would have surely forgotten now, but engraved on film for life the memories are everlasting.

Old Camera by Yann Pendaries

And then over time I began studying photography a little more to discover photographers, to see exhibitions and to improve my eye. I tried several styles of photography with a lot of failure trying to imitate others, but I realize now that I have found my style and my world and this motivates me even more now (and photography is like a music instrument, the more you practice the easier it is to write light, like a music sheet), and every day I want to go further into my world and share it with others.

The Music Heart by Yann Pendaries

MJ: Describe your studio space.

YP: My studio is small but big enough for me to make my pictures, look, here is a photo to give you an idea of my space. Now you know my secret when I produce my images 🙂

Yann in his studio.

MJ:  Paris is full of magic – it’s people, it’s architecture, it’s culture. As a photographer, do you ever feel overwhelmed by it’s beauty? Are there things about living in Paris that you don’t like?

YP: No, Paris is a constant source of inspiration, because every street, every neighborhood, every building or cultural events are different and it always brings a new vision of things.

What I hate, as in all great cities of the world are the constant noise of cars, the people rushing to get from point A to point B without even looking around or looking up and discovering or re-discovering the beautiful neighborhoods. That’s why I like to isolate myself in the parks and gardens where it is so quiet and relaxing, or getting off the main streets and strolling along the tiny streets where there is virtually no-one.

Old Man and the Eiffel Tower by Yann Pendaries

This is also why I hate the Champs Elysees, where there only are expensive shops and which have no interest for me. Many tourists coming to Paris absolutely want to go on the Champs Elysees, but when foreign friends come to visit me I do not bring them there, I take them in the popular neighborhoods and make them discover the real Paris and usually they are thrilled to discover it.

View of the Champs Elysees at dawn. Photo by Benh Lieu Song

MJ: If you didn’t live in France, where would live?

YP: Without hesitation, it would be in Berlin, Germany, I discovered this city 2 years ago and it was a revelation! The city is not really beautiful because it was ravaged by war, and post-war communism did not help, but there is a true cultural spirit, so many events are held there throughout the year.

Berliners are really nice and open minded people, and moreover, life is really not expensive, and it’s very nice to have some fun without spending much money.

Berlin Photography “Steles” by Yann Pendaries

MJ:  Recently, you worked on a hot air balloon photo assignment. Can you explain a little about the project and what you gained from the experience – besides gorgeous photographs;) 

YP: This project is intended to uncover Europe for people who do not know it, and to share the extraordinary landscapes you can find there, as well as perhaps make them want to come here. There are so many things to discover and to do that I felt compelled to share with you my experience, the fact of adding a hot balloon and create a real story with a little poetry to the point that some people sent me messages to ask me if I really was inside the hot air balloon was so much fun.

80 Days in a Hot Air Balloon
Day 66 – Suisse Alps

I also created a character, Aphiles, who tells through his diary his balloon adventures in each country.
Why Aphiles, you can guess 🙂 I actually play with the name of the character Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 days, that’s it, my secret is out 🙂

80 Days n a Hot Air Balloon by Yann Pendaries
Day 3 – The Church

80 Days in A hot Air Balloon by Yann Pendaries
Day 49 – The Czech Republic

80 Days in A Hot Air Balloon by Yann Pendaries
Day 17 – North – Cap Blanc Nez

MJ: Many of your photographs are romantic in nature, with dreamy settings, soft colors and love laced-themes. Does it take you a long time to set-up shots?

YP: The most of my outdoor photos are taken from live moments, without expecting  that anything would happens. I’m here at time T and if something should happen it must be now, I will not wait 1h or 2 hours and cause the thing to happen, the best time is now and not tomorrow or in 1 hour.

Blizzard by Yann Pendaries

For me the best lights are evening lights, which only last 15 minutes, so for me it is not worth it to wait, with this parameter I have very little time, I am here and I’m not going to be running to another place, this is my definition of time and present.

For other pictures, like the Tiny trades series, it usually takes me a full day to make a picture, because I have to take different elements separately, then I take a picture of myself and then digitally edit everything.

The Leaf Cutter by Yann Pendaries

Sometimes the positions of objects do not fit to what I had in mind, and I have to start over. I really like doing this, and I have a lot of fun constructing the picture and adding personal effects that give a dreamy and poetic aspect to the image.

The Moon Changer by Yann Pendaries

MJ:  As an artist do you ever get frustrated about not being to communicate an idea through the lens? If so, how do you combat that?

YP: Sometimes I wish I could express specific ideas, and if I can not do it I may be a little frustrated at the time, but it does not matter, because I remember the idea and another time may arise when I can finally realize it, I have the whole life before me and thousands of opportunities can happen, you just have to be patient.

MJ: Your wife is an artist also, with a fashion-based Etsy shop, Malam. How is it being on the other side of the camera as her product model? Are you comfortable on both sides of the camera?

Selections from Malam – Handmade Designer Clothing & Accessories

YP: In fact, I am very shy and I hate being in front of the camera! For me it is horrible, I do not know how to behave, I feel ridiculous and I’m afraid to look into the lens. But I do it for her, because I’m glad to help nonetheless ! However behind the camera I am very comfortable, it is for me like a barrier between the subject and myself. Behind the lens I can be confronted with the other without any problem, because it is like a masked ball, I can watch and take the pictures that I want when I want to.

MJ: One of Ms. Jeannie’s most favorite photographers is Robert Doisneau.

Selections frm the work of Robert Doisneu. These are some of Ms. Jeannie’s favorites!

When asked about his recipe for success, he said “I put all my trust in intuition, which contributes so much more than rational thought. This is a commendable approach, because you need courage to be stupid – it’s so rare these days when there are so many intelligent people all over the place who’ve stopped looking because they’re so knowledgeable.” What are your thoughts on this as a fellow photographer? Do agree or disagree?

YP: I’m a real fan of Doisneau, I like how he took pictures of workers, he managed to capture from the 1940s to the 1980s the real world sometimes despised in historic and artistic work. (I am proud to tell you that it was her daughter who gave me my diploma in photography in 2005). In the same spirit, I suggest you look at the photographs of Willy Ronis that I really love too.

Willy Ronis (1910-2009), French Photographer most known for his post war Paris photographs and often compared to fellow photographer, Robert Doisneau.

I did some pictures in this style (below), where I tried to recreate this world of the 1950s with a nostalgia for a beautiful and poetic life.

Child with Umbrella by Yann Pendaries

On his recipe for success I totally agree, I did not know it, I think ridicule does not kill, and I think you should always look further to reach a new thought. My Tiny trades series are an example of this :  I create new trades while everyone believes that things are made in such or such way , but no, we can believe there is something else that may seem unbelievable and surreal, but can actually exist even if it’s only in our imagination.

MJ: What is one message you hope to convey through your photographs?

YP: I want to bring each person a little piece of well-being in their homes, going home after a hard day of work and just quickly look at my photography and for a millisecond to forget the worries of their life.
If I can bring this little happiness I am the happiest, because I would love everyone to be at peace, and it is not easy today with everything that is happening in the world.

All My Love by Yann Pendaries

MJ: If you could live in any other time period in history, which would you choose and why?

YP: I would have loved to live in the 1950s, although I think that life was not easier than today, there were different problems, but I feel that life was simpler and slower. It is precisely thanks to R. Doisneau that I love this period, that I dream to live and walk in the streets of Paris with the sound of mirror salesmen who would shout in the streets: “glazier glazier!!”, By the way I have a little story to tell on this subject: when I arrived in Paris I lived in a 11m2 flat in Montmartre, sharing it with two mice :), and once a week, a knife grinder passed in the street with a bell, shouting “grinder grinder!!” it was really wonderful and there’s only in Paris that you can still see this kind of scene, so out of step with modern and electronic life, and this does a lot of good.

From Irving Penn’s Small Trades series, photographed 1950-1951

MJ: If you could do a photo shoot with any famous person, living or dead who would you pick and why?

YP: For me it would be Gandhi, this good and simple man managed to give India its independence without any bloodshed and in total peace. If all the Big men in the World could react like him, able to solve problems without weapons, just that of speech, heart and non-violence I think the world would be healthier.

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

MJ: What other artists influence your work?

YP: There are many, but most in the same area: humanist photography. There are of course as I have said above R.Doisneau, but there are also other more contemporary photographers like Raymond Depardon, Edouard Boubat, Andre Kertesz, Sebastiao Salgado, Josef Koudelka and many others, they inspired me a lot with their black and white images, always close to humans and poverty, but without prejudice to the characters that they captured, they’re just the messengers of these worlds, which are too little known to the public, and they manage to touch us and let us know that sometimes we forget these worlds, hidden behind our smartphones, while we rub shoulders every day.

Clockwise (left to right): Edouard Boubat, Raymond Depardon,  Andre Kertesz,  Josef Kouldelka, Sebastio Salgado

MJ: If you could describe your work in three words, what would they be?

YP: Passion, dream, and sharing.

MJ: France has always been known throughout history, as an incubator for creative collaboration between writers and artists, whether it be in a simple cafe meeting or an evening salon. Do you think that is still true today? Do you have a similar support group that helps keep you inspired?

YP: I do not belong at all to a group other than the group of my friends over a glass of wine 🙂 There are probably many collectives still today, but I never never hear about them.

There is a real nostalgia of these famous groups where characters such as Louis Aragon, Picasso, Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir met up for example in the Café de Flore in the district of St-Germain, you can imagine sulphurous discussions about art, society, politics, but now only the tourists go there, and the charm of begone years belongs to the past, this is also what has happened in this neighborhood where jazz was really everywhere. Now only restaurants and fashion boutiques take place alongside the sidewalks of this neighborhood where a part of France’s history was written in the postwar years until the 1970s.

MJ:  Since you mentioned wine, please tell us your favorite…

YP: Without hesitation the Beaujolais, it is unfortunately not very liked by French people in general, because every year in September we celebrate the Beaujolais Nouveau, when the wine is very young and not very good! but when you discover the Beaujolais region in Burgundy, there are many small producers who make an excellent wine, they are called Fleurie, St. Amour, Windmill, Julienas, actually they are all names of villages of Beaujolais, and yes there is a village called Saint Amour (Holy Love in English 🙂 )

MJ: If we were in Paris for just one night, what restaurant would recommend for dinner?

YP: Then I would advise this reader to go to one of the oldest breweries in Paris: Chartier (7 rue du Faubourg Montmartre, the 9th district), the restaurant has remained in the Art Nouveau style, it is really beautiful. Moreover, you can find legendary waiters with their legendary Parisian smile, which they have forgotten in the locker room :). Their menu offers traditional French cuisine and it’s not very expensive, but then you have to queue up a little to get a table. It is a real experience though, but I would not advise it for a lover’s evening, because you will never be quiet, between servers running around, the sounds of cooking, and the proximity of your neighbors, this may not be the most romantic evening ever. Go there though, you will not regret it.

MJ:  Have you ever traveled to the U.S? If so, where did you go? If not, which state would you like to visit?

YP: Unfortunately, I’ve never been in the U.S.! However I sell a lot of my photographs in the U.S., they travel and discover the country for me :), As a result I know a little about the geography of the United States and especially about postcodes it’s funny 🙂

If there was one particular place I would like to visit, I think that it would be Arizona, with the desert, the mountains… I would feel like I am on another planet or immersed in an old western film… although I do not like westerns, but on a photographic point of view I’m sure I’d be living a daydream.

MJ:  When you are not busy photographing (or modeling!), what other interests occupy your time?
YP: I really have a sweet tooth so obviously something I love doing and which is always nice to my family and friends is cooking cakes and desserts! When I cook, I feel like I am taking a break, I always put in a background music of Django Reinhardt to give me rhythm .

The Macaroons Hatter by Yann Pendaries

See more of Yann’s work, in his  Etsy Shop, Photography Dream and on his website . His adventures with Aphiles are chronicled on his hot air balloon blog.

This interview is part of an ongoing interview series, that Ms. Jeannie is orchestrating about artists, writers and musicians and their inspirations. To read other interviews in this series, simply click on the following links:

Sunday at the Diner with Luncheonette Vintage https://inthevintagekitchen.wordpress.com/?s=luncheonette+vintage&submit=Search

Discussing Rustic Home Decor, Beer & Movies with Designer Frick & Frack Scraps https://inthevintagekitchen.wordpress.com/2012/04/06/discussing-rustic-home-decor-beer-movies-with-designer-frick-and-frack-scraps/