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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
…essential buildings like the Eiffel Tower (I try to magnify it with different angles)…
and last but not least, I love the gardens in Paris, my favorite being the Luxembourg Garden, in the center of Paris.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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: