Tuesday, 9 August 2011

France Month: Interview with Jane Paech

Hi Jane, thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions for our blog. Let's start with an easy, French-themed one, what's your favourite cheese?
It’s difficult to choose just one…Perhaps a perfectly ripe, rich and creamy Délice de Bourgogne. I would pair this melt-in-your-mouth, triple-cream cow’s milk cheese with a crusty baguette and a glass of Champagne.

Can you tell me about your book, A Family in Paris?
A Family in Paris is a mix of memoir and travel guide. The collection of anecdotes, travel tips and insights highlight the joys and difficulties of an Australian family relocating to Paris and adjusting to la vie parisienne. It’s an insider’s guide to food, shopping and museums - packed with information and woven with traditions and history, it’s filled with things I wish I knew on that sunny April day when our family arrived in the city.

What is it about Paris that makes life there so unique?
I believe what is truly unique and captivating about French life is that so many elements are elevated to an art form. Great thought goes into the simple line of a scarf, the display in a perfumery window, the exquisite packaging of a raspberry tart. This culture of elegance and beauty extends to all corners of life. Quality, good taste, style, attention to detail and the art of living well are infused into the everyday. The French, rightly so, are very proud of their heritage and traditions, and aesthetics plays a big part in this pride. Everything is made as beautiful as possible, and to my eye it appeared that every resident made a monumental effort, every single day.

What attracted you to Paris in the first place?

My former husband, who was employed by a multinational wine and spirits company, came home from work one day and asked, ‘How would you like to live in Paris for a couple of years?’ Picture-postcard images leapt into my head: fashion, art, style, romance, the capital of food. Attracted to French culture and mad about food, I’d always had a fascination with France. 'When do we go?' I replied swiftly, the decision made in a flash.

Why did you decide to write a book about your experience?
My six years in Paris were spent with pen in hand, scribbling away in notebooks, on serviettes and café coasters. I was in awe of the place. Unable to restrain myself, I would stop to describe the ambience of a garden or an intricate doorway. I was constantly documenting a thought, a flavor or a dish. A box under the bed contained a growing pile of restaurant cards and menus, along with tickets to museums and galleries. Writing was my way of capturing the splendor of our new life and trapping the memories. Consequently, the initial stages of the book were created almost unknowingly. It wasn’t until I returned to Australia with a mountain of scribble and a stack of twenty dog-eared notebooks that the desire to convey our experiences to travellers and other ex-pat families kept snapping at me like a haughty poodle.

The book is presented in an everyday, scrapbook style, what lay behind this decision?
Having spent my days taking notes and scribbling down anecdotes and everyday observances it seemed like a natural progression for it all to come together in a warm, chaotic, scrapbook style with photographs tossed about the pages. I also wanted it to be fresh, accessible and real; for the reader to be able to dip into Paris as we had through a kaleidoscope of everyday moments. It was the small, repeated experiences and daily rituals - the rattle of the metro, the smell of the boulangerie and the whirl of the antique carousel that became a big part of our lives and memories.

If you had just one night to show a guest around Paris, where would you take them?
I’d hire a car and head straight to the Champs-Elysées to the grand tea salon Ladurée for tea and macarons (prime time for afternoon tea is 4-5pm). After a bit of a stroll down the avenue, we’d do a quick tour of the city and take in the main city sights including zooming up to Montmartre to view the city below, around l’arc de triomphe and along the Seine. We’d circle Place de la Madeleine and Place Vendôme, home to the Ritz, rattle across Place de la Concorde, past the Jardin des Tuileries and the Musée du Louvre, then cross the river and peek into Notre-Dame before getting lost in the the heart of the Left Bank while gazing up at the Eiffel Tower as the sun goes down…Phew! Then we’d screech to a halt in the historic Marais quarter for the rest of the evening. First a relaxing apéritif at Au Petit Fer à Cheval, a tiny vintage café with a horseshoe-shaped bar and great people watching, before a promenade through the crooked streets and a late dinner at Le Petit Marché, a small, crowded and very French resto filled with locals. 

We can't not mention food, especially the famous things like bread and pastries. How is the French attitude to food different to ours?
Again, quality, good taste, style, attention to detail and the art of living well are paramount to French life, and this extends to food. From the exquisite pyramid of clementines in an open-air market to the antique rack of artisanal baguettes in a classic, old boulangerie, quality (and presentation) wins over quantity. Consumer expectations along with the demand for fresh, pristine produce are high, and France runs like clockwork. The arrival of various fruits, vegetables and produce in shops and markets mark the months and seasons, and indeed the passing of the year as plainly as turning the pages of your kitchen calendar. There is always something to anticipate and cherish.

What's the biggest misconception about Paris?
With one of the greatest café cultures in the world it is often assumed that the coffee will be of a very high standard. Unless you are a fan of the short black, prepare to be underwhelmed. Hanging out on the terrace is more about watching the world go by.

I once read a great quote about Paris: "Paris, pour te dire merci, avec mes pieds, je te caresse." If you could summarise your feelings towards the city, what would you say?

Paris, je t’aime à la folie.

What's next for you?

I am working on an intimate culinary travel guide to Paris that will comprise select, delicious afternoons in the city, and have a similar voice to A Family in Paris.

A Family in Paris by Jane Paech is available now

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