Author of the hilarious Paris Hangover and Paris Baby speaks favortie spots and seasons with Terrance Gelentera fellow author and the director of Paris through Expatriate Eyes
On a gloriously sunny August day I strolled the Boulevard St. Germain en route to Les Deux Magots for a twelve o’clock rendezvous with Kirsten Lobe, author of the often hysterically funny à la SEX AND THE CITY- and perceptive observation of Left Bank life, PARIS HANGOVER.
Fifteen months earlier I had been visiting with publishers in NY and a red-penciled manuscript of PARIS HANGOVER was on Kirsten’s editor’s desk who gushed with enthusiasm over the book and the serendipity of my appearance. I chalked it up as just another contribution to “chick-lit” and didn’t pick it up until boarding the flight that brought me here. Was I wrong!
Kirsten was as advertised: a striking, Amazonian brown-eyed, blonde former fashion designer wearing a sleeveless white chemise that showed off lightly tanned arms and legs. Being American we were both on time and after the obligatory two-cheek bise settled in side-by-side ( I despise oppositional seating) at a rue Bonaparte terrace table.
We were greeted by my favorite waiter (Raymond -#4) who took our order for two glasses of what proved to be two and a half bottles of Brouilly frais to wash down a leisurely lunch. What follows is the best of my recollection of that conversation.
TG: When did you first come to Paris?
KL: I first came to Paris at the age of 16 for a 3-month stint on a modeling contract. Growing up in Wisconsin, I never really felt I fit in, so when an opportunity to see Paris presented itself, I leapt at it, and somehow managed to convince my parents it was a good idea. Now that I’m older, I look back and think, that was very brave of them to let me go, and I’m very grateful that they did!
TG: When and why did you come back to stay?
KL: I, as virtually everyone on the planet, fell head over heels in love with Paris! But differently perhaps then most people, as I instantly felt, ”this is where I belong…as the French say, I was immediately aware that I was, ‘bien dans mon peau’.(good in my skin). So, from the years I started working in Fashion, I would make a pilgrimage or two every year to Paris and that feeling of wanting to live here, became a virtual obsession…I literally never had a bad day, not even a bad minute, every time I was in Paris. Of course, that all changed once I actually moved here! (she roars with laughter)
TG: Where do you live (arrondissement)? Why?
KL: I live in the 7th arrondissment, two streets from the Seine and two streets from Musse d’Orsay…It was the area I knew best and was within walking distance of all my favorite places. Frankly, everything is within walking distance in Paris-even Sacre Coeur! But, I also felt I needed to start in an area that felt familiar and had a dynamic street energy. That pulse of a city is quite addictive, and after living in New York 12 years, I knew I couldn’t feel comfortable in a place, where when you step out your door, you hear the echo of your own footsteps on the pavement, though, amazingly, that’s exactly how it is at night and then, I adore it..Walking home from a dinner, I am often alone on the cobblestone streets and with the street lanterns above glowing in amber, illuminating the old stone hotel particuliers. It’s like stepping into a Brassai photograph. Sublime!
I didn’t know it before I moved here, but the 6th and 7th are the areas where most Americans live. We have always congregated here– similar to the 20’s when Hemingway and Fitzgerald inhabited the same neighborhood. There is a delicious diversity present in this area–The palpable feeling of intellectually stimulating creativity coexists with a bourgeois sense of luxury and that one can step from one world into another at will and in moments. You can spend the day in beat up jeans drinking Ricard on the terrace of Cafe de la Marie …and a half hour later, you can be sitting next to Yves Saint Laurent at Brasserie Lipp sipping a Chateau Y’quem. All levels of society collide, intermix and celebrate each other in St. Germain.
TG: What’s your favorite café?
KL: Sans Doute (without doubt)..Cafe de Flore..For so many reasons! Certainly starting with the fact, that as a teenager I read that Hemingway and De Beauvoir held court there. That they would arrive for a late dejeuner, after a late night soiree and hole up writing all the day and evening as various friends would stop in for a vin blanc and a chat.
That was surely a dream of mine created early in life and when I came at 16, I simply was too shy and intimidated to even stop in for a coffee.
And now, after five years of weekly, sometimes daily visits, I literally go into ecstasies to be greeted with double cheek kisses and “Ma belle, comme habitude?” (the usual?)..I know every waiter and each of them is part of the beautiful little play that one steps into at Flore. Not to mention, I have had some profoundly marvelous times there; like meeting.. oh..about 2 dozen gorgeous men there. Did I just say that? Oh hell, it’s true And I celebrated my book deal there, my first book review, my engagement to my first French boyfriend…’course no fault to Flore that it lasted as long as roses last!
TG: What’s your favorite wine?
KL: That depends. Am I paying?!.(she laughs). If I’m footing the bill it would have to be a Pouilly Fume Husset or a Sancerre rouge..If someone with deep pockets is treating; then I will gladly partake in a Chassagne-Montrachet, Chateau Margaux 98 or Petrus Pomerol.
TG: What do drink when just kicking back at home?
KL: If I’m alone and just quaffing a ‘boudoir drink’.a drink one has as one’s dressing for the evening- then I God don’t quote me…yikes, you are I suppose, A chilled glass of Bourgogne Aligote. It’s light, reliable and I stock it by the case from Nicholas.as it’s about 5 euros a bottle and that’s a brilliant price, n’est-ce pas?
TG: What’s your favorite starred restaurant?
KL: OOooh, tough question. As I used to be more of a Michelin-resto patron when I had a big shot boyfriend. I am afraid evenings out on that level are few and far between. Strangely enough though, I’ve never had less money and never been happier. I digress. I do that a lot. It’s a French thing…maddening really. Try getting a straight answer from anyone with a French passport–impossible!
Right, Michelin resto.? I’d have to say, Le Grand Vefour in Palais Royale. You just simply cannot top the interior,18th century opulence to die and the service-impeccable. Good luck holding a regular conversation, as the cuisine becomes a continual source of ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’. Your mouth has never felt so alive, so tantalized and sensually seduced and in France, that’s saying something!
TG: What’s your favorite bistro du coin?
KL: Damn this is hard, as of course, there are so many that are charming for different reasons and in different seasons. I guess, I would have say in summer, the terrace of Le Petit Suisse or Cafe de la Marie. You cannot have a bad time sitting at La Marie, facing the majestic St.Sulpice sipping a kir and devouring a croque-Monsieur. Even though the cafe chairs are chained together so your virtually sitting on top of each other the setting always feels like your staring in your own little private film. The patrons are hugely mixed; Ines de la Fressange or Catherine Deneuve plopped between you and and a scruffy old concierge from the neighborhood! Try finding that on Madison Avenue!
TG: What’s your favorite market?
KL: The rue de Levis Market every dimanche in the 17th arrondissment..I think of it a carnival for the senses. It’s exactly how I had always envisioned the French street markets; A menagerie of Fellini-esque characters hawking everything from live little piglets, (which kills me) to mushrooms as big as globe. Fresh pain d’epices (gingerbread) still warm from the oven and little old men with gnarled rough hands offering you a slice of their homemade chevre a noix. It’s only open in the morning, so all your neighbors are out as well, stocking for a grand dejeuner a famille or to make their pot a feu for dinner. It’s a social event as well as a market like so many things.. the French make, what could be a mundane chore into a cherished ritual of pleasure!
TG: What’s your favorite park or garden?
KL: It used to be the Tuiluries, as I live so close and spent every morning running through the gardens before the tourists descended. I still adore it but have come to find many more private and breathtaking small nooks in the Jardins du Luxembourg. It’s larger, has more labrynthes, ancient trees-more character. In one pass around the park, your eyes set upon scene after charming scene– a dozen old men playing boules with great seriousness, small children howling with joy on the merry-go-rounds, old ladies baked to chocolate brown sunning them selves by the tennis courts, little children playing animatedly with their toy boats in the fountains. The list of visual delights is endless. In the summer, I go each day to take my lunch- a baguette du thon- by the enchanting Medici Fountain, so romantic, so uplifting.
TG: What’s your favorite time of the year?
KL: I love every season, each is so vastly different. If pressed, I’d have to say, spring is my favorite and winter, my least favorite. You have to really buy into the historical charm and love the architecture come winter. I had no idea it was often grey skies for weeks on end. Times like that, you have to take pleasure in the smell of cozy fires escaping the chimneys and revel in the absolutely incredible lighting and decorations that Paris dons herself in at the Holidays…Place Vendome.the lights sparkling in all the trees lining Blvd. St. Germain-it’s magnificent. Even if you’re poor and not in love, you’re still happy! Trust me, of this I can speak with authority!
And in spring the flowers in the gardens, all the flower boxes throughout the neighborhood are blossoming, spilling over window ledges, the evening light is astonishing. It stays light in June often until 10, 10:30 p.m. In spring, Paris really comes alive, hence the old ‘Paris in the spring cliché. It’s a city-wide celebration of life that manages to make it feel like a friendly village…Everyone hits the terrace on the first sunny day with a sensation of optimism bordering on ecstasy.
TG: How or do you stay connected to America?
KL: All of my family still lives in the U.S., my parents, my four brothers and sisters. We speak often and I get a chance to talk to them about American politics and American films. I don’t believe in having a television, so I get my World news from The Herald Tribune and Le Monde. It’s quite fascinating to see how very different the same events are portrayed in the two countries and what is given priority on the front page. I hate to say this, but the American press seems to really skew the news, and not always fairly.
I do laugh when I peruse the American magazines at bookshops like WH Smith..I always find myself looking at the cover of Vanity Fair or People and thinking, “Who the hell are those people? I have fallen totally off the map of tracking US movie, tv stars and celebrities and I honestly, love that. Celebrity worship is a very American notion that I think does the general public, a real disfavor.
TG: How do you celebrate Thanksgiving?
KL: The first few years here, I would get together with fellow expats and try to put on a real Thanksgiving spread but it’s pretty tricky to find some of the classic ingredients. The Pumpkin pie ended up being more of a pumpkin tarte and fell far short of the idealized version of childhood memories. Later, I discovered the shop on rue de Grenelle, ‘The Real McCoy’, that caters complete American style Thanksgiving fare but at 80 euros a head, it seemed rather pricey. Actually, as the years pass, I find I have begun to embrace the French holidays and all the specific dishes that are integral to the proper feast– The Galette des Rois (almond cake) that’s eaten in January, celebrating the New Year. The gigot (lamb) on Easter, and the divine Buche de Noel, (chocolate cake in shape of a log) for Christmas-Ladurée makes one that is positively orgasmic!
TG: How has Paris affected your work?
KL: That’s an interesting question because, on one level, I didn’t start to write UNTIL I came to Paris so that inspiration is entirely born from living in France. Certainly, writing, literature all the arts are held in high regard here. To be creative, regardless of fame or financial success is admirable unto itself thus it’s perhaps less daunting an idea, to attempt to write a book, poetry, etc. So, without that pressure to be the next Dan Brown I leapt into it with passion and the simple desire to express something.
In regard to my painting, which I did before in NYC.I am amazed at how the work has changed. In NYC I did huge 6×6 foot paintings of bold, graphic abstract expressionism in intense black and violent reds. And now my work is so quiet, very much smaller in scale. Now 3×3 feet, and the images are far more subtle and more influenced by nature and I think that loud, aggressive need to be noticed has faded, at least I hope it has! Paris breeds a sense of discretion. Everything from a woman’s laugh to an evening gown is done in more hushed tones. It’s really lovely, in fact, to see how silence and subtlety can speak volumes and can be far more captivating that then the blatant-in your face- approach that was very NYC.
TG: How has Paris affected your life?
Completely! And in every way I can possibly imagine! Which is rather astonishing, actually, to realize but also thrilling. I feel more connected to history, Paris has a soul and living here makes you feel an exchange with the architecture, the culture, the daily rituals of going each morning and evening to the boulangerie, the way that shopkeepers begin to know your favorite things and put them aside for you and greet you with sincere warmth and interest. It’s really charming to me that in my little quartier, Claude the florist knows I adore white lilies, Sophie at the Boulangerie starts wrapping up a golden brown brioche the second I walk through the door Phillipe the newspaper vendor always stashes a Herald Tribune to the side for me… It’s like a village, as I said before. And you feel a sense of community that didn’t exist in NYC. Everyone says, ‘bonjour’ as you pass on the streets knowing each other as simply voisins (neighbors).
I also would have to say, I have a greater appreciation for simpler things. You come to realize that most people are very content to have a small apartment, a little unpretentious car, a small circle of lifelong friends. It’s more about the quality, the genuineness of everything. The French take enjoyment in things that matter; a good wine, dynamic conversation with friends at their favorite cafe-lasting until the wee hours of the night. Details like the fact that almost all the stores are closed on Sundays, as it’s really a day to spend with family over hearty meals and going on walks by the Seine… For me, that is a joy.
I literally say to myself each day, as I see something as simple as the moon rising over the silhouette of Notre Dame or stroll past an old couple embracing on the Pont Neuf…’Ahhhh, this city really is dream! It’s romantic, beautiful beyond words and endlessly enchanting. Moving here is the best decision I have ever made!’