Bastille Day Bonanza

Friends!

Happy Bastille Day. Or as we say here, the 14th of July.

This is not Bastille Day, but rather a random summer Saturday. Jazz night! Parisians dressed as flappers! Dance! A fun time.

After a week of gray and rain (some downpours historically torrential!), the skies cleared up for France’s national ball.

In case you can’t make out the name of this restaurant with its patriotic flag decor: Food. Hmm, yes. Descriptive! (Actually supposed to be quite good!)

As per usual, it seems I’m spending more time gallivanting and less time checking in. So! A few snapshots of goings on!

Flame throwers in front of Notre Dame. But of course!

Waiting for an outdoor poetry event to commence.

I’ve had to do some administrative stuff, too. I stumbled into this hidden office space village. Wouldn’t mind working on this private canal!

No big deal. Just last year’s Pulitzer Prize winner, Viet Thanh Nguyen, at Shakespeare & Company.

I’ve also had some personally touching moments. Do you remember when I started Write-in Paris (WIP), the writing salon I hosted in my home? Yes, that was one of the best things I created during my time in the City of Light. When I gave up my apartment in search of new adventures, my friend Christine asked if she could take over WIP. Mais oui! I was so delighted that the tradition would continue.

Christine invited me over for the final meeting of WIP before summer break. It was so lovely being a part of the writing salon in its new incarnation.

View from Christine’s living room. Yes, that’s the dome of the Pantheon you spot there. On the other side of her apartment is a sunny balcony overlooking Rue Mouffetard.

I also got to meet a writer whose work I adore. You may remember when I interviewed Naomi J. Williams upon the release of her fantastic novel Landfalls. We became online friends and this week we finally got to meet in person. She’s doing research for her next novel (yay!) which she’s calling Akiko in Paris.

Naomi had just arrived after retracing the Japanese poet’s trek from Tokyo to Paris (including an epic journey on the Trans-Siberian railway! Really, check out her account.) We grabbed coffee one day (at the adorable Cafe Lomi near where she was staying), then ventured out the following day to the launch of Freeman’s Journal featuring book critic extraordinaire John Freeman, and super famous, fabulous authors Edwidge Danticat and Marie Darrieussecq. SWOON!

Naomi and I waiting for the reading.

John Freeman, Edwidge Danticat, and Marie Darrieussecq.

I would be neglecting another big news item if I didn’t mention that the US prez* paid a visit to Paris for Bastille Day festivities. I felt it my duty as both an American and French citizen to stop by the anti-Trump protest last night. Yes, of course there was one! (In fact, there were three!)

Pretty clear message.

Also to the point: Trump idiocracy.

Macron wined and dined 45 and I’m sure he was impressed. I mostly ignored the ignobility of his visit here.

I also missed most of today’s morning celebrations because 1) I sleep late and 2) military parades are not usually my thing. But I tuned in just in time! The brass band busted into a tribute of Daft Punk. Wha?? So cool! (Video below).

So, I’m stepping out on the lighter note. Less than 2 weeks left of my summer sojourn here (sob!) so soaking it all up while I can. Outdoor movies start next week. Day trips always a possibility. Mostly just seeing friends.

Which, speaking of, friends – YOU! – I’ve just started a newsletter I’d love for you to subscribe to if you’re so inclined. I’ve been thinking there’s lots of other fun things I’d love to share with you all that aren’t always Paris-related. Publishing news! Big moves! Silly stories! There will be a splash of Paris thrown in, too, of course, but it will be more of a free-wheeling digest.

It’s also going back to my roots. I used to send monthly musings via email to everyone I knew and I loved the more intimate form of letters (even if they are digital). A complement to the very public web.

So, I will keep posting to the blog, too (which you can also subscribe to!), but some special content will appear only in the newsletter. I hope you sign up for Sion’s Sparkle Desk . (Yes, a random name; I’ll share what’s up with it in the newsletter).  It’s all a fun experiment at the moment and I look forward to sending my first one soon.

Until then, raise a glass for the fête nationale. Enjoy your weekend!

“In this garden we speak French.”

Paris Summer Update

Friends!

I’ve already fallen off duty in documenting my forays in the City of Light. Turns out I’m too busy relishing my time in Paris to sit down and report on it. Sometimes life is to live!

The days are fun and full (how could I forget how much I adore the long nights, light still in the sky until 11 pm? And my, it has been many months since I described my days as “fun”).

Shall I tell you about attending a quirky film event called Kinoma at the National Library of France (Bibliothèque nationale de France)?

We saw some excellent short films, sat through a random sketch about dating (I think), awkwardly congregated in the lobby (the audience was instructed to leave the cinema while the film jury deliberated and invited to dance while DJ Metrosex spun tunes in the meantime. True story! DJ Metrosex!). Then we returned, awards were handed out and accepted as informally as if we were in someone’s living room. I loved the casual vibe.

At one point, after a long discourse by one of the invited guests, Ericka and I turned to each other and mouthed: this is so French! It was almost as if we’d forgotten how much this is a country of talking and debate. (Bonus tidbit for long-time blog readers: this is the same Ericka who received her doctorate in French cinema by defending a 600-page dissertation in French many years ago. She is also now based in the States but back for her Paris summer. We are obviously both discussing the possibility of returning).

Grand prix awards ceremony! (Photo courtesy of Kinoma).

Anyway, it was all random and interesting and really wonderful. These kinds of unexpected, offbeat experiences are my jam.

Other awesomeness! One of my besties (who took over hosting my writing salon, WIP) celebrated her birthday with a treasure hunt, petanque at Place Dauphine, and a fete on Pont Neuf. I met the beautiful new baby of another. There have been picnics at the bassin near the Bastille, coffee along the canal, and above all, time with my beau and long catch-ups with good friends.

It’s been wild how easy it’s been to slip right back in. That ease has been delightful and is obviously a comfort that I feel at home. Though on the other hand it makes me wonder: have I not grown at all since I left? I thought I might be further along on a new path. Wasn’t the idea to discover who I am away from Paris? What’s my identity when it’s not tied to the City of Light?

But perhaps that’s missing the point. I will always be tied to this city, it will always be a part of who I am. And this journey of discovery is a constant, a lifelong pursuit. Always ongoing, always unfolding, always evolving.

Last week, France endured a heatwave, with the hottest night recorded since 1872 (!) The canicule collided with Fête de la Musique, an all-night musical festival in the streets (and bars and churches and everywhere). Some experience this as a magical evening and others think that, particularly when paired with scorching heat, it approximates some version of a very noisy hell. But it falls on the solstice and is a true marker of Paris summer.

Continue reading ‘Paris Summer Update’

Lost in Frenchlation

The screening room at Studio 28. Photo courtesy of Lost in Frenchlation.

Friends!

I arrived in Paris, just in time for a heatwave and the last round of legislative voting.

I also finally made it to an event I’ve been invited to for well over a year.

Rarely do I make plans for the same day I land (jetlag, anyone?), but the evening’s opportunity was too good to pass up.

The garden tea room at Cinema Studio 28. Photo courtesy of Lost in Frenchlation.

Lost in Frenchlation has a simple mission: bring renowned French films to a broader audience by screening French films with English subtitles.

The Franco-Australian pair behind Lost in Frenchlation, Manon and Matt. Photo courtesy of Lost in Frenchlation.

When you think about it, the idea makes total sense. Film is such an important part of French culture and there are so many international folks in Paris. Unless you’re completely fluent, it can be difficult to follow a movie in your non-native tongue. Lost in Frenchlation allows easier access to current French films, as well as providing a convivial cocktail before or after for a full social night.

Events are held at Studio 28, the oldest screening room in Paris.

I was happy to get a chance to check out LIF, whose popularity has grown quickly. They were right about there being quite a market for their offerings! (Lost in Translation is currently nominated for “best reoccurring event in Paris” by Expatriates Magazine. The young organization had also just held their first event in London the previous night.)

I admit it was the specific film and event that had me particularly intrigued and gave me the energy to fight the fatigue upon my arrival to attend.

On Friday, June 16, the film on tap was Le Concours, a documentary about the strenuous entrance exam to La Fémis, one of the most prestigious film schools in the world. The director of the film, Claire Simon, was on hand afterward for a Q&A.


The film’s trailer, (only available in French – see why Lost in Frenchlation is needed?)

Le Concours was great – I could do a whole separate post about the movie itself! But needless to say it’s quite an experience to get a truly inside look at the highly competitive selection process of such an institution (A thousand candidates applied for 60 spots).


A clip from the film – *with* English subtitles!

The film lends itself to all kinds of juicy questions about art, subjectivity, inequality, and elitism. (Simon made a compelling remark in the Q&A about France “constantly recreating a gentry” – whoa, we could dig into that one for ages!).

Continue reading ‘Lost in Frenchlation’

“A Paris Year” by Janice MacLeod: Author Interview (+ GIVEAWAY!)

Janice MacLeod is the New York Times bestselling author of Paris Letters, a charming memoir of a Canadian copywriter’s leap from corporate day job to a creative life in the City of Light.

A page from A Paris Year.

MacLeod is back with her second book now. A Paris Year is less memoir and more sophisticated visual journal. Janice is not only an ace writer, you see. She’s also a talented artist; the book is full of her photographs and watercolor paintings. If she weren’t so delightful, one might almost be jealous of her overabundance of gifts.

But she is delightful! It’s our good fortune to get to go along for the ride she takes us on. A Paris Year: My Day-to-Day Adventures in the Most Romantic City in the World (St. Martin’s Griffin) follows a curious, creative soul’s discovery of Paris. With a whimsical, humorous style, the days fly beautifully by.

In honor of the book’s launch next week, I’m thrilled to offer not just one, but TWO free copies of A Paris Year. Simply comment by June 23, 10 am EST to enter. I’m thrilled, as well, to welcome Janice to the blog. We just missed each other in Paris. I would love to have met her in person. But she sparkles on the page as you’ll soon see.

Paris Letters was your inspirational tale of following a dream. A Paris Year is more curated journal, a combination of personal and historical anecdotes matched with your photographs, watercolors, and other artistic touches. I know a little something about how a book only featuring words (!) is produced. But how do you assemble a highly sophisticated mixed media diary? Like literally, how? Each page is its own art object! I’d love to hear the process of how this book came to be, both in the creative sense and the actual mechanics.

Author Janice MacLeod with one of her painted letters.

How A Paris Year was created is twofold: First, the organizing of information. Second, the actual creating of the pages (the “Like literally, how?”).

First, the organizing. I had a slew of journals from my time in Paris. Plus, I had a slew of photos on my computer. I also had the watercolor paintings of my Paris Letters, the painted letters I create and sell on Etsy.

At first, the plan was to make a book of all the letters. That proved a little dry when you line them all up, simply because sometimes I had a better photo than a painting of something, and sometimes I had a better sketch than photo or painting. Or I knew I could describe something better than I could take a photo or paint it. So my plan evolved to gather the best of all the visual elements.

Then I was walking through Bon Marché on the left bank in Paris and I came across a beautiful journal. I loved the creamy color of the pages, the font of the date at the top of the page, and the feel of it. As soon as I saw it I knew I had an idea for the canvas for my art, and a way to organize my collection… from January to December. I returned to my big pile of art and arranged it according to month. All January photos and paintings with a January theme and so on until December. I researched the notorious people of Paris: kings, queens, artists, authors, and inserted their stories in the appropriate months when they either lived, died, or did something of note. I added more photos and paintings as I went along.

Then a wonderful thing happened. I began to see links. For example, I wrote about the beheading of the king, who was carried to the beheading in a green carriage. Now all the park benches, bookstalls and fountains are painted a certain shade called Carriage Green, which led me to talk about my favorite Carriage Green fountain in front of Shakespeare and Company bookstore, which led to talking about Hemingway, as this was his favorite bookstore, and I happened to write about this on the day before Zelda Fitzgerald’s birthday, who was the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway’s friend, so I wrote about her. All these links seemed to run into each other until I had a year in Paris.

Second, the actual putting together of the book. I confess, I’m not an Adobe wiz. I scanned all my art and used picmonkey, an online photo editor, to create the pages. It was fast and user friendly. Then, I plopped all these art pages in Adobe InDesign (that’s what the printer needs to print the book), and typed in the text because my handwriting is too messy. It was a lot of learning. I’m more of a paint and paper kind of girl, not so much of a digital artist…but I learned so much in the process that I suppose now I am a digital artist. Though Adobe still scares me.

The book blends your personal notes with brief facts about famous Parisian figures. How did you decide upon the right balance? I would imagine an intuitive unfolding…

The more I tend to look at a page, the more I notice how there is only really one route to take. Sure there are other options that float around, but after a year of fiddling with the pages, there is usually one winning way to go.

As for the balance between the memoir aspect of the book and the facts about famous Parisian figures feature of the book, I just wrote all the interesting bits and left out the boring bits.

An example of one of Janice’s painted letters.

I often say to people who I tour around Paris that I know a thing or two about a thing or two. I basically retain the interesting bits and abandon the rest. A Paris Year is filled with all the bits I find interesting. If you’re looking for a full tour of Paris, call Rick Steves. If you’re looking for a lovely way to see Paris without being inundated with details, check out A Paris Year.

As for the memoir aspect of the book, I wanted my readers of Paris Letters (the book this time, not the subscription service) to notice parts of the year that run parallel to moments in the previous book. Little Easter eggs for loyal readers to notice and think, AHHH I remember that moment! Because the books were lived around the same time.

I noticed quite a strain of Ernest Hemingway and A Moveable Feast as inspiration throughout the book. Paris is a city of ghosts and you note that Hemingway seemed to be aiding you along. What do you feel Paris offers you as an artist – or how are you influenced by it? – this city which so many creative souls have inhabited?

When I’m in Paris, I find it easy to answer all the burning questions of my life. I can’t exactly explain it. I feel it’s more than just intuition. I think everyone has ghosts following them around in Paris. Mine happens to be Hemingway. When I first arrived in Paris, I read A Moveable Feast, which has many great lines about life in Paris. These great lines seemed to float around with me on my walks. Plus, the book is also a guidebook for writers on writing, so his advice and experiences in Paris were helpful to me while writing my books about Paris.

Your Paris is lovely and romantic. Yet you did decide to move back to your native Canada and seem to be something of a traveling nomad now. I’m curious to hear why you left – and any insights you’ve learned about this journey (a selfish question, maybe. I’m in the midst of this huge transition now!)

A painted letter.

I definitely had my dreams fulfilled by living in Paris: A book, a thriving online business, and meeting the lovely Christophe. He was feeling tired of Paris. He’d been here for 15 years by that point. I thought perhaps we could fulfill his dream of moving to the mountains of Canada. Plus, as a seasoned visa applicant (like every other expat in France), I thought we should move to a place where I wouldn’t have to spend half my time getting visas approved. I’m Canadian, so moving to Canada was a relatively easy move. The French administration can tire a person out.

Continue reading ‘“A Paris Year” by Janice MacLeod: Author Interview (+ GIVEAWAY!)’

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Eiffel Tower Excitement

So you know I’m committed to offbeat adventures and seeing the City of Light in new ways. But I watched this video and wondered: would I be willing to do this?

(Email readers, you’ll have to click to the blog to view. You might want to turn down your sound if you’re at work, too!).

In honor of the French Open, Perrier (of sparkling water fame), erected a zipline from the Eiffel Tower that has you hurtling up to 55 miles/hour at 375 feet high. (Apparently tennis balls reach a similar speed. Um, yeah. Interesting connection).

You can practice your French with this video showcasing more stunts from the Iron Lady:

So, question of the day: Would you test this zipline?

This exciting experiment is free, but only open until June 11. (Which, phew! I’ll just miss it so you won’t know if I’m too timid to try!)

Upside Down World (Update!)

Friends!

You’d be forgiven for thinking I disappeared from the face of the earth. When last I wrote you, it was November 4. Hmm. We all know what happened soon thereafter.

France is known for numerous strikes and demonstrations, but my life back in the States has become one perpetual protest since the election. But! I’ve met lots of great folks this way. Here I’ve turned to snap this random shot and spotted my seatmate from the Women’s March. We rode from Durham to DC together. Small world!

Returning to one’s home country after spending years abroad is already a difficult task. Numerous studies show that “reverse culture shock” can be just as profound as the move to a foreign country. The experience can even feel more confusing, as “home” is a place we’re supposed to know, and yet it’s home that has become foreign in a way. We’re confronting it from a very changed perspective.

Continue reading ‘Upside Down World (Update!)’

My Paris Decade

sion-by-jade-maitre-128

“I Am Running into a New Year” by Lucille Clifton

i am running into a new year
and the old years blow back
like a wind
that i catch in my hair
like strong fingers like
all my old promises and
it will be hard to let go
of what i said to myself
about myself
when i was sixteen and
twenty-six and thirty-six
even forty-six but
i am running into a new year
and i beg what i love and
i leave to forgive me

Lily pond - wow!

Friends, today is my birthday. It’s an occasion I like to think of as a rebirth, a chance to ponder changes for my new year ahead.

Truth be told, I play at these “fresh starts” often (which probably says something not so flattering about my follow-through). The rentree with its bustle after the slow summer vacation is usually that kind of time. My birthday, too. New Year and then Chinese New Year about a month or so later (I never quite manage to have made good on my January 1 resolutions.)

But this post is to share that a major change has indeed come to pass, and it may come as a shock.

Friends, I left Paris. At least for a little while.

I gave notice on my apartment, gave most of my stuff away. I returned to the town I grew up in, where I haven’t lived in nearly 20 years.

A path in Chapel Hill, NC. (Photo by TranceMist on Flickr Creative Commons).

A path in Chapel Hill, NC. (Photo by TranceMist on Flickr Creative Commons).

Whoa, whoa, WHAT? you may be saying.

I know. It’s a lot.

When last I wrote you, a move wasn’t even in the mix. But things changed quickly and I hopped on the ride.

Continue reading ‘My Paris Decade’


paris (im)perfect?

Sion Dayson is paris (im)perfect. Writer, dreamer, I moved to France on – no exaggerating – a romantic whim. As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong (and very right!) with such a (non)plan. These are the (im)perfect stories that result.

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