Expats in Paris
- Words: Ken Taylor
In 2004, hip-hopper Mike Ladd was tired of paying New York rent; after finding a temporary rent-free situation in Paris, he made the official move to the 9th arrondissement–and ended up marrying his landlord. It was the sort of situation that blows away most people’s expectations of the city, but aside from that, his idea of Paris is less than romantic. “Paris is not cool. It’s a great place to retire after a career in arms dealing or real estate,” he says. “Any romantic notions of Paris as an artists’ haven were gone by the early ’70s in my opinion… What made Paris so exciting in the early and mid-20th century was the combustion of very old modes of living colliding with technology and problematic ideas of internationalism. You have to look elsewhere for that concoction now. I’m here for personal reasons and that’s what makes the living easy.”
Ladd finds Paris’ suburbs an interesting and familiar mix. The suburbs are “a different city altogether,” he explains. “Much more dynamic and diverse; more like Brooklyn and the Bronx (except everything closes at 11) and more cosmopolitan.” So what’s the weirdest facet of French vs. U.S. life? “Our cable TV,” he says. “Press the green button and most shows switch to English.”
Favorite French expression: There’s a magazine store run by an old Asian guy near Porte de Versailles. He can get you any magazine in the world, especially the ones that come with toys.
Favorite French word or expression: Touche mon palet. “Touch my cookie.”
Heartthrob’s Jesse Siminski
“Paris is not the first place one thinks to move to for techno music,” says Jesse Siminski (a.k.a. Heartthrob), but it’s certainly shown much promise for the young producer, who last called New York home. The club scene is good, the trips to the rest of Europe are quick and cheap, and “when some interesting things started to develop with [Berlin label] Minus [to whom Heartthrob recently signed], it just made sense to go for it,” he claims.
Having been in Paris for two years, Siminski laments the city’s lack of good Mexican cuisine, but claims that his neighborhood near Place de la Republique in the 10th arrondissement has “plenty of great places to eat, and creatively minded boutiques around. There is also a lovely canal a few blocks away where people hang out, drink bottles of wine, and people-watch. It’s young and energetic without being too trendy.
“Before I had moved to Paris, I had never visited,” states Heartthrob. “I had an idea that, like New York, it would be big, fast, and would allow access to most things–like any good city should. I guess I didn’t expect it to be quite as sleepy. Many of the streets are dead after 12 a.m. But as someone working at nightclubs most weekends, I don’t mind the peace.”
Siminski’s tourism tip? “I love walking along the Seine near Île de la Cité, in the very heart of Paris. From here you can see the origins of the city and most of the more known historical behemoths in the distance. The city’s elegance is amazing.”
Most romantic place in Paris: The Palais Royal is gorgeous and definitely warms my heart. It is just across from the Louvre, but at the same time out of the way and a bit hidden. There are arcaded walkways and beautiful formal gardens to stroll around in. And on one side, one of the best and oldest three-star restaurants is stationed–Le Grand Véfour. Napolean once ate there.
Favorite French expression: Dégueulasse! “Nasty!”
Beirut’s Zach Condon
“All the French films got to me as a kid,” says Beirut’s Zach Condon about why he briefly moved to Paris this summer. Though Condon expected his apartment to be “five square feet and full of mold,” he says, “it was actually quite beautiful. Other than that, things were like I imagined them to be, but I’ve spent enough time in Paris to know how the city runs. It’s made being in New York feel a bit inhuman…
“I was in Ménilmontant–the 20th arrondissement–a beautiful, uncrowded neighborhood running up and down rue des Pyrénées near Place Gambetta. It had all I wanted nearby: good bars, really good shows (The Kocani Orkestar at La Fleche d’Or in the south, and farther north I saw Mahmoud Ahmed in Parc de Belleville).
So what’s the biggest draw of Paris? “People seem more genuine there. Life is down to earth without being boring. Food. Wine. I’m trying not to repeat myself here. The city has no pretensions of being something other than it actually is… I was skating near the Eiffel Tower and an old man was walking across the bridge au natural, sans shorts. He seemed to truly enjoy it. There was also a guy looking up girls’ skirts with a mirror in the metro...”
Most romantic place in Paris: At the movie theater, watching bad American blockbusters with French subtitles.
Favorite French expression: Un dernier verre pour la route. “One last drink for the road.” I named a song on the new album after that phrase. It was a phrase my friends and I came to use a lot in Paris–bittersweet.
Bianca Casady of sister act CocoRosie moved to Paris “by accident” five years ago. “It was available, like falling into an easy relationship,” she says. “It was so miserable at first… I went there as a lonely, depressed model and almost killed myself.” But things started to look up when her sister and musical partner Sierra showed up. The two now live in the 18th arrondissement (“the more North African part”), where they feel at home with their other non-French neighbors. “We understand each other’s French. [There’s] lots of action on the street corner at night. [It’s a] crackhead convention,” Casady explains. But the best part about their tenure in the French capital is the anonymity it offers them. “It’s like we’re invisible on the street, no matter what outrageous thing we’re doing,” says Casady. It’s not all they take solace in there, though. They also enjoy being “drunk by the train tracks with our tape recorder/boombox… and ‘The Track’–the outdoor track that we ran at at the local gym, where there was only boys–mostly North African.”
Most romantic place in Paris: Luxembourg Park.
Favorite French expression: Je suis l’homme sauvage. “I am the wild man.”
Chromeo’s Dave One
Pensionnaire étranger is hardly the title we Yanks might normally assign to Chromeo vocalist and Montreal-via-New York expat Dave One, but it suits him fine for his one-year stay at Paris’ Ecole Normale Supérieure, where he’s doing post-grad research for his Columbia University dissertation. He lives in Belleville, “a very bustling, cosmopolitan neighborhood in the north east–the Parisian equivalent of Jackson Heights, Queens.” Besides the scholastic offerings he’s had from the Sorbonne and the ENS, Chromeo’s also benefited from the move, mixing Fancy Footwork with Philippe Zdar on Serge Gainsbourg’s old desk, designing its album artwork with Surface to Air, and shooting the cover with ’60s erotic photographer Harry Peccinotti. Not to mention “that fall evening when Pee [Thugg, from Chromeo] and I went to Justice’s studio and we played each other our still-unfinished albums,” reminisces Dave.
So it’s all good, yeah? “The hardest thing about my move,” he offers, “aside from being away from the fam back home, was dealing with the notoriously Kafka-esque French bureaucracy. And seeing Sarkozy win the elections, of course.” His foil to all of the nonsense: “The most un-Parisian album ever: Springsteen’s Born to Run! I discovered it last winter–yes, that late, believe it or not–so it was one of the soundtracks to my year in France, and my ticket to New York nostalgia.”
Montrealer Misstress Barbara (a.k.a. Barbara Bonfiglio) is just one of a number of Canadians (like Fesit, Gonzales, and Buck 65) who’ve made at least a partial move to Paris. She still retains her Montreal address, but uses Paris as a base for her frequent European tours. It’s home, but “some people are very cold here, not too friendly. It’s completely the opposite with Montreal!” she states emphatically. That’s not to say Paris is without its good times, obviously. Aside from falling in love in front of the Louvre, she’s also a big fan of her second-home neighborhood, the 11th arrondissement; “It’s a more popular neighborhood [with] a lot of cultures and lots of restaurants of different cuisines,” says Bonfiglio. For her, the city still retains its idealistic charm: “It’s beautiful, it’s romantic, it’s classy, and it’s also a pain in the ass when it comes to dealing with the weather,” she laughs. “There are an incredible amount of cafés and great restaurants, cinemas, parks, and museums. You never get enough of it.”
Most romantic place in Paris: There are so many. I would say any of the bridges, or l’Ile St-Louis, or Jardin des Tuileries, the Louvre, Montmartre.
Favorite French expression: I have many I like, but one I use sometimes is J’me barre! It means “I’m outta here!” but in a more mad way.
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