She had me at “Coffee?”
I’ve just spent a glorious week reading The New Paris: The People, Places & Ideas Fueling a Movement by Lindsey Tramuta, and my bucket list for Things to Do in Paris is longer than ever. This book is so great!
You may remember Lindsey from this post where she interviewed me on my Paris Letters for her blog Lost In Cheeseland. I remember the day well. It was a sweltering summer day in Paris. I had just popped my head out of the stifling Métro to take a breath of fresh air, but instead inhaled more heat and humidity. I was sweating in places I didn’t know I could sweat.
We met at Boot Café in the Haut Marais. She ordered an iced coffee. As the sweat dripped down my back, I decided to do the same. And the coffee was really, really good.
I had become so accustomed to drinking swill in Paris that I had forgotten that some places serve wonderful coffee. And this tiny tale illustrates what The New Paris is all about.
The fresh-faced Lindsey has spent the last few years seeking out a new wave of Paris-based artists who are adding a bright new energy and creativity to food, wine, pastry, coffee, beer, fashion, and design. She collected her discoveries (and stories behind the discoveries) in this new gorgeous book, which has the famed Boot Café on the cover. Nice touch!
Since the Midnight in Paris version of the city is so hypnotic to tourists, brasseries and cafés have been hesitant to evolve. They have relied on ambiance and the romantic ideas of sitting and lingering with a journal (for which I myself am guilty), and have forgotten that products they are selling are substandard and falling behind.
“The trouble with such an internationally fetishized public image… is that the city becomes a prisoner to its own deified history, hemmed in by its former successes. Few tourist cities have the weight of such an image and heritage to shoulder. So to protect its legendary reputation, the city has historically turned inward and resisted change…. As other world capitals garnered attention in the media for innovations in technology, business, and even the culinary arts, Paris’s image as change-phobic and voluntarily disconnected from the global world was cemented even further. Mediocrity (or a bad case of resting on their laurels) in many areas of life, from gastronomy to business and tourism, had become the accepted norm—why mess with something that works?”
Some of this wasn’t entirely the city’s fault. The economic crisis of 2008 had small-business owners flailing. The world had decided on “staycations.” No one came to Paris. There was a collective nervous gulp. Many businesses had to cut back on quality to keep the bottom line from sinking. This meant purchasing from wholesale giants, using frozen ingredients, and pre-made dishes. Though the crisis is now over, some of those cost-cutting practices remain.
I’ve also noticed this low quality when touring people around Paris. We inevitably stop at a very Paris-y looking bistro. Most order the three course menu of French onion soup, boeuf bourguignon, and crème brûlée. These three items were on their Paris bucket list, and bistros are happy to comply. The onion soup barely has a sprinkling of cheese and needs a hefty dose of salt, the stew is a joke, and the crème brûlée is the same quality found at the regular grocery store (but quadruple in price). The tourists smile, savor each bite, and marvel at the glorious cuisine.
And I’m looking at them with my brow arched thinking, “Are you serious?”
My tourists are so set on this idea that food in Paris is wonderful that they can’t actually taste how bad it can be.
But the good stuff is there. You just need to know where to look, and that’s where The New Paris comes in. I had already been to some places mentioned in the book, but was led to them through word of mouth. This impeccably researched book will lead you to the artists who are daring to evolve the realms of gastronomy, design, fashion, and (speaking from personal experience), coffee. Plus, the book has gorgeous photos of Paris, taken by the talented Charissa Fay.
As I read, I kept wondering why this book hadn’t been written yet. I suppose, like the artists mentioned in its pages, it takes a daring dreamer to take the first step. Why write about the new when people are buying into the old? Bravo brave Madame Tramuta! It’s a masterpiece.
Perhaps one day, you’ll find yourself in a Paris café she mentions in the book. Perhaps you’ll be wishing you were in Midnight in Paris, but with one sip of great coffee, you’ll be glad to be in the new Paris. It’s now available as of April 18th. Buy yours pronto.