A Ballade down the Boulevard Beaumarchais
Given she was never trained as a watercolourist, Jessie Kanelos Weiner is doing alright. The Parisian local (who originally hails from Chicago, via Boston and New York) has released a book celebrating her French home of ten years. It’s a revealing look at the city through the eyes of an ex-pat and an artist, with a flair for the familiar and the found.
Having studied art, design and theatre, Kanelos Weiner – who moved to the city of lights within a week of searching "au pair, Paris" from her midwest American home – was already set with an interrogative eye. But after having little success with costume design and theatre in her new home, she focused on a career as a food stylist and cookbook author (having penned ten cookbooks); and the observations and illustrations on her blog, The Francofly. She has worked as a full-time illustrator for five years.
Her book, Paris in Stride: An Insider's Walking Guide (with co-author and fellow ex-pat Sarah Moroz), is the latest iteration of those worlds colliding. It features seven neighbourhood-centric walking tours rich with recommendations for cafes, sights, bars, museums and the like. All of the guides have a starting point and an endpoint, and feature Kanelos Weiner’s observational illustrations. It's a visual feast for the modern Francophile.
"It’s not the first Paris guide book in the world, but what we really wanted to do was find a pragmatic sweet spot between a walking guide and a beautiful book,” she says.
“It is a way of understanding those places and using visual clues from the illustrations to get the best experiences possible.”
And, so far, it's received a pretty high accolade: Kanelos Weiner – who regularly plays host in her adopted home – says that friends have applauded her book for the authentic resemblance it has to the tours she takes them on.
“They’re really happy it’s in a book now so other people can do it,” she says. “It really is how Parisians understand their city.”
The book is available in all good bookstores, or online.
My humble Parisian beginnings started 10 years ago not too far from Boulevard Beaumarchais. I was living and working as an au pair, spending my days learning the meaning of the word “non” and blow-drying the hair of a very Parisian. Since my workplace was also my home, I did all I could to spend my evenings strolling the streets that led to Bastille.
I was a 22-year old American in Paris and the Bastille area was home to boozy, fun-filled evenings that led to adventure. Soon I was a regular at the dive bar Le Pop-In. I knew the playlists by heart, the bartender knew my drink order and it was a straight shot stumbling home after a long night of drinking (It was also where I met my now-husband, which ultimately extended my 1-year stint in Paris- this year marks my 10th year living here.)
Within Bastille, Boulevard Beaumarchais is the unofficial camera and music store district. It’s just wide enough to really take in the details of the Haussmanian buildings on the other side of the street and while it’s had a bit of a gentrified facelift in the past 10 years (with additions like Merci, Café Plisson and Bonton), it’s always had a certain pull about it that makes it hard to stay away.
In my previous life I worked in costume design for stage and film. Although my French is fluent, French theatre doesn’t give me the same pleasure as it does in my native tongue. But if I can snag a ticket, I love seeing a ballet or opera at the Opera Bastille. It is less gilded than its opera sister Garnier, but it is a massive, modern architectural presence (designed by Uruguayan architect Carlos Ott) at Bastille where manifestations begin and end, evoking the French Revolution. It reinforces the opera’s firm position in the French lexicon which inspired my move 10 years.
Ironically, French personal style can be a bit conformist. I often feel like Parisians are slaves to the restrictions of “good taste”. Back in my au pair days, I always walked by this unisex salon and thought how cool it looked and dreamed of getting my hair cut there one day. I’ve always done the true rock’n’roll thing of cutting my own hair, but I finally just started getting my hair cut there. No matter what time of day, the playlist could be from a Saturday night, the knick-knacks are plentiful, the walls are splashed with primary colors and it feels like a micro-Parisian accomplishment going there now.
ROUGIER ET PLÉ
Some girls buy designer handbags, I buy art supplies. If I’m already out and about, I always pop by Rougier et Plé, an art supply superstore in front of Le Cirque d’Hiver. It is surprisingly pristine for a cavernous art store, but a go-to destination for haute gamme Made in France supplies like Lefranc Bougeois paints, Sennelier inks and one of the best Arts & Crafts selections in Paris.
This insanely delicious sweet shop boasts excellent chocolates, pâte de fruit (a chewy fruit juice-infused confection) and a modern tea salon where their sugary treats can be devoured on site. I always gift a gorgeous stainless steel box of their caramels to the friends and family back in the States. I encourage you to try one of each, including the fruit caramels.
I love checking out my French illustrator contemporaries at this charming corner illustration gallery. They carry limited edition prints, which are a unique and affordable souvenir to take home a piece of Paris. They often host fun, boozy openings, too.
I was recently explaining this place to a friend, “It’s like going to the catacombs. It’s great, but you have to throw your shoes out afterward.” Le Pop-in is a grungy Anglo-friendly dive bar with cheap beer, free live music and downstairs dancing cavern for when the spirit moves. And the real lack of fire code restrictions always gave me the impression that this place could “only be in France”. But it’s still fun, the crowd is cool and the music is spot-on.That’s the eternal allure of Le Pop-in.
LE REPAIRE DE CARTOUCHE
Despite all the super fresh food coming out of Paris these days, sometimes you need some old-style French comfort, like a bar-side glass of red and a funky terrine . The menu is game-heavy and the service is no good, but this place satisfies that Old World, dark wood-paneled French stodginess that can be super comforting every now and then. And it’s open late enough for a post-vernissage (art opening) bite to eat.
Jessie Kanelos Weiner is a watercolor illustrator (Vogue, TMAG, LVMH, WSJ), food stylist, coauthor of Paris in Stride: An Insider's Walking Guide (Rizzoli) and author of Edible Paradise: An Insider's Walking Guide (Universe), based in Paris and New York.