Adrian Leeds came to Paris twenty years ago with a husband and a baby and a plan to stay one year. The baby is now a grown daughter, the husband is no longer in the picture, and she’s become the undisputed queen of the American real estate market here. And a permanent resident.
She may be best known outside Paris as the main character in 19 of the popular “House Hunters International” TV shows on HGTV. (If you’ve missed it, the popular show follow buyers or renters as they kick the tires of three properties before choosing one. The French shows are set mainly in Paris and run the gamut from multi-million-euro pads with view of the Eiffel Tower to student housing that’s considerably less grand.)
Her business empire, now operating under the name Adrian Leeds Group, finds properties, handles rentals and promotes fractional ownership.
Her main vehicle for contacting customers and prospective customers is the written word. She publishes three newsletters – the original, Parler Paris; a more technical one called French Property Insider; and her newest, begun when she bought an apartment in Nice, Parler Nice.
She lives and works in a very trim and very white apartment in the “haut Marais,” on the Right Bank between the Archives Nationales and Place de la République. We had lunch at the busy Café Charlot, one of her favorite lunch places, then walked around the corner to the old-fashioned carriage entrance that leads to her building on a quiet courtyard. It’s a popular neighborhood for Americans, and you’re likely to hear as much English as French around the café.
Café Charlot, a busy bistro in the Marais
Everyone who’s watched her House Hunters International shows has seen the apartment, because a part of every episode is filmed there. The living room is dominated by her long desk under the windows, where she keeps two desktop computers and parks her ever-present Macbook Pro (plus, the day I was there, a copy of my novel Treasure of Saint-Lazare).
The opposite wall is all books, and at the end there is a striking 1988 composition by the photographic artist Barbara Kasten. You’ll see it in the background of the video.
One of my favorite Paris blogs — no, make that My Favorite Paris blog — is the scrupulously researched and written Parisian Fields. It first caught my attention with its header picture of the outstanding bronze sculpture in the Tuileries Gardens, “L’Arbre des voyelles,” or the Tree of vowels, a 1999 sculpture by the Italian artist Giuseppe Penone depicting an uprooted tree lying in the forest. You are very likely to take it for a real tree if you don’t look carefully.
“L’arbre de voyelles” — the tree of vowels — in the Tuileries Gardens
The most recent entry is one I’ve been thinking about doing — the wonderful variety of shutters on Paris buildings. I’ll shelve that idea now, because Parisian Fields has done it in a way that would be hard to match. Take a look:
Parisian Fields is written and photographed by Philippa Campsie and Norman Ball, two Canadians who spend much time in Paris on much the same terms Jan and I do. We/they ride the bus, ride the métro, look for budget deals, and try to mix as much as possible with the Parisians. I don’t know about them, but I consider it a successful day when only one Parisian has responded to my French in English. It happens.
Philippa and Norman
Here’s their bio page:
Take a look, and follow their blog. It’s worth the effort. They don’t post often, but when they do it’s worth reading.
Riders of the busy Paris métro Line 4, which runs north and south through the entire city, will recognize this unusual station at the old abbey church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which traces its history back to Childebert I (ruled 511–558). It’s in the 6th arrondissement, which is pretty much the center of tourist life.
Métro Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Photo from Clicsouris, Wikipedia. Click for credit.
Unlike most métro stations, it is virtually free of advertising posters. Its pristine white-tile walls are decorated with light, and exhibit cases line the walls along both sides.
Last week one of the exhibits featured illustrated letters from famous artists. They are difficult to photograph because of the curved glass of the exhibit cases, but I was able to make acceptable pictures of letters from the painters Salvador Dali and Henri Matisse and the composer Camille Saint-Saëns (click the links to see their Wikipedia pages, in English).
It started as a charming tourist phenomenon – Lovers, mostly tourists, engrave their name on a padlock and attach it to the fence along each side of the Pont des Arts, the old footbridge connecting the Institut de France and the Louvre, then throw the key into the Seine below. What could be more romantic?
Will they or won’t they? A couple surveys the locks, with the Louvre in the background
There is not yet a law against it. But the law that governs anything and everything — the Law of Unintended Consequences — is enforcing itself with a vengeance. There are so many locks on the bridge railings that some have collapsed. The market has attracted lock vendors, themselves a form of pollution, and the crowds are dense. And engraved names are a thing of the past. Now, think Sharpie. And there are so many locks you can no longer see through the fencing, or find places for new ones. So creative lovers have started expanding the lock frontier. The other day I found several of them on a trash can.
No room on the railing? Lock up the poubelle
The city is doing its best to discourage new locks. Most recently, it has covered several parts of the railing with plywood and encouraged lovers to sign and take a selfie, or maybe just take a selfie.
Seventy years ago, after a bloody week-long insurrection by the French Resistance and a nail-biting wait for General Eisenhower to decide to support the recapture of Paris, allied troops flowed into the city as German troops left.
Aug. 26, 1944, the day after the German surrender, Leclerc’s 2nd Armored Division parades down the Champs-Elysées to the acclaim of thousands (U.S. Office of War Information photo via Wikimedia Commons)
The story was told memorably in the 1965 book by Dominic Lapierre and Larry Collins, “Is Paris Burning?” It detailed the day-to-day struggle that began when the Resistance forced action by breaking a truce, which had been negotiated by Degaulle’s emissary and the Swedish consul, and launched a five-day battle for the city with the battle cry, “A chacun son boche,” or “To each his own kraut.” It is prominently featured in the newspapers of the day, which are available in many of the museums.
The greatest and most serious drama, of course, was the battle for the mind of General Dietrich von Choltitz, the military governor of Paris, whom Hitler had ordered to destroy Paris before he withdrew. According to von Choltitz, Hitler’s question to him on the telephone as the end drew near was, “Brennt Paris?” He used the phrase in his own book a few years after the war and Lapierre and Collins adopted its translation for their book and the movie that followed (which was shown on French television last week, dubbed. It was still riveting.)
The film represented von Choltitz as rather more benign than he was in life. In fact, he was a tough, dedicated Nazi who ordered the deaths of many French men and women as late as a few days before he surrendered the city.
Paris is awash in museums. One of my favorites honors General Leclerc, commander of the 2nd French Armored Division, whose audacity had much to do with persuading Eisenhower to support the attack on Paris. You’ll find it atop the Montparnasse Railway Station in the 14th Arrondissement. (An adjacent museum honors Jean Moulin, a hero of the Resistance killed by the Nazis. His name appears on streets all over France.)
Place Denfert-Rochereau renamed Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy (click for map)
There were two wars going on at the same time — the war of the Resistance against the Nazis, and the war of the Resistance against Degaulle. France could be an entirely different place today if Degaulle had not prevailed, because the core of the Resistance was communist. The Parisian leader, Henri Tanguy (who assumed the nom de guerre “Rol,” and is now known as Colonel Rol-Tanguy, was a lifelong communist, as was his wife, who is still living. (He took the name Rol from a comrade who fell in the Spanish Civil War, where he fought.) Just recently, the square at Denfert-Rochereau, where he set up his command post in an air-raid bunker built for the city’s waterworks staff, was renamed in his honor.
It was Degaulle’s quick action and personal bravery that headed off the risk that France would be forced into an American military government.
The city plans a huge celebration Monday, the 70th anniversary of the day the Germans surrendered. The entire city is invited to a gala on the huge plaza in front of the city hall, where dignitaries’ speeches (President François Holland and Mayor Ann Hidalgo, among others) will be followed by a bal populaire, a festive outdoor dance of the sort the city normally only sees on its main national holiday, Bastille Day, which commemorates the start of the French Revolution. It’s much like the American July 4.
Clip from Paris.fr
The City of Paris web site has a fascinating collection of documents illustrating daily life under the occupation. (If it opens in French, click the “English” icon on the right.)
This map, showing the routes the various Allied invasion forces took into Paris on Aug. 24-25, appeared in Le Monde (no link).
Wikipedia has interesting articles about many of the events and people involved in the Liberation:
It’s the last weekend of Paris Plages, one of the many efforts of the city government to make life a little easier for its citizens (and attract even more tourists) by bringing the beach (the plage) to the city. Jan and I went to the Seine-side plage the other day and heard hardly any English, a sure sign that it was being used mainly by the locals.
This is the tenth August that the city has closed the Pompidou Expressway along the Right Bank, trucked in tons of sand, beach chairs, prefab restaurants and toilets, and invited everyone to spread out under hundreds of beach umbrellas. The Parisians love the sun (watch how many of them choose the sunniest seats in sidewalk cafés), so they flock to Paris Plages.
The Seine is not for swimming. Aside from the barge traffic, it’s not really clean, although it’s much better than it was a few years ago. But the foot-deep sand of the plage makes you think you’re at the seaside, if only for a while.
The plages expanded this year to the banks of the Bassin de la Villette in the 19th arrondissement, up in the northeast corner of the city. On Saturday it was full of families, many of them waiting in line to rent pedal boats. The concrete ping-pong tables were getting a workout, and the sandboxes were full of children and their parents.
Some interesting links about the Plages and related subjects:
And here’s a brief photo gallery (all photos by John Pearce):
Children play in the sand while their mother watches
What’s a beach without a restaurant? This one is full all the time, and has a great view of the Seine. The bridge in the distance is the Pont Neuf which, despite its name, is the oldest in the city. The famous statue of Henri IV appears above the head of the diner in the center.
An active game of foosball under Pont Neuf
The Louvre Museum has its own exhibit of reproductions. All the pictures are bathers.
Meanwhile, at Bassin de la Villette:
Parents and children wait in line to rent the pedal boats at the “Port de Paris Pages”
There’s no more lively place on a Saturday afternoon than Boulevard Saint-Germain around the old church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in the 6th arrondissement. It used to be one of the creative centers of the city but now is noted for the fashion industry and tourism. The two famous cafés, Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore, are just across the street.
La Planche A Dixie on Boulevard Saint-Germain
Down the Boulevard toward the Odéon métro station is a favorite area for café-sitting and people-watching, two Parisian pastimes we love.
Of course, those attract entertainers of every stripe. On Saturday we found a Parisian Dixieland band, “La Planche A Dixie,” playing enthusiastically and well in front of a shoe store next to a crowded café. It attracted quite a crowd, including two couples who couldn’t resist the impulse to dance. Charming.
Christian Giovanardi, the washboard (planche) player, organized his band in 1995. Since then, with a changing cast of members, it has cut several CDs (on sale at the impromptu concert) and performed on cruise ships.
The band has a good web site in English and French.
Other spots around Paris that frequently have music are the métro station at Châtelet (a Russian band is our favorite) and under the arcade at Place des Vosges, near the Marais.
THE STAIRWELLS and elevators of Paris apartment buildings are notoriously cramped, so the city’s movers have developed their own conveyor system to get furniture out through a window. This one, just off the busy Rue Froidevaux in the Montparnasse district, is just across the street from Montparnasse Cemetery, final resting place for many artists and publishers, as well as policemen and firefighters killed in the line of duty and not a few foreigners.
A mover’s conveyor near Montparnasse Cemetery
Montparnasse is one of the most interesting cemeteries in Paris (which has many).
The rear wall of Montparnasse Cemetery along Rue Froidevaux. In the foreground is a station for the popular Vélib rental bicycles. Photos by John Pearce
In the 60s, Jim Goldsborough was the star Paris reporter for the Paris Herald-Tribune (later to be the International Herald Tribune and the International New York Times). He recently published The Paris Herald, a roman à clef mined from his exciting days at the Herald. It was a yeasty time in France — the war was barely 20 years in the past, DeGaulle was (once again) in power, and the fate of the Paris Herald hung very much in the balance after the failure of its mother ship, the New York Herald Tribune.
I reviewed the novel for Part-Time Parisian last week and recommend it highly, especially if you’re a journalism or Paris junkie (I’m both). The book is here on Amazon. It’s available in Kindle and hardback editions.
————- John Pearce: Jim, we were almost contemporaries at the Herald-Tribune, although we never met, probably because I was working from Frankfurt. I remember Buddy Weiss very well indeed, along with some of the other characters in The Paris Herald. How much of you is in The Paris Herald? In other words, how autobiographical is it? Tell us about your time there.
Jim Goldsborough: I’d have a hard time making the case that the experiences of Rupert Archer, the lead character of my story, didn’t parallel some of mine. They did. But there’s a good deal of invention in my story, which is why it’s a novel rather than a straight history of the Herald Tribune. As for some other characters in the book, sure I could have used the customary disclaimer, “any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.” But that line is typically used to keep people from suing, and newspaper people tend to be suees rather than suers. Many of the characters in my story are real people and I use their real names – Jock Whitney, Kay Graham, Punch Sulzberger, Ben Bradlee, to take four – and their actions in the book try to be true to events. Some of the fictitious characters may be identifiable, and some not. Some are pure invention, though their actions serve real events. It is a work of historical fiction, and I have used a typical technique, interlacing fictitious characters with real ones, to tell the story.
JP: I was an admirer and devoted follower of your stories, and I very much enjoyed your novel — I will review it a few days after this interview appears. Tell me what you most enjoyed about working at the newspaper, and what effect it’s had on the balance of your career, both in journalism and in your non-fiction writing?
JG: I think that any of us who worked on the Herald Tribune in the late 1960s would say that those were the best years of our lives. Maybe we didn’t realize it at the time, but in retrospect we surely understand our good fortune to have worked for that newspaper in those exciting times. Covering Charles de Gaulle at the height of the Cold War, would be the highlight of any reporter’s career. The Herald Tribune in those days was an old-fashioned newspaper where you got off work just before midnight and downed too many demis at the Berri Bar waiting for the first edition and worrying about how you’d translated de Gaulle’s latest thunderbolt. We were underpaid and overworked but exhilarated to know we were the first truly international newspaper and that all Europe was out there waiting for what we wrote. For me, a young reporter who’d arrived in Europe knowing next to nothing, the time in Paris was transformational. I went on from there to become Edward R. Murrow Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Newsweek bureau chief, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment in New York, author of a half dozen articles in Foreign Affairs and three books. Hemingway had it right: Paris is a moveable feast. You leave it but it never leaves you. I knew I would never be content until I told the story of those years in Paris.
JP: You used a lot of real identities in the book, which I know must have made it more interesting to all of us who worked there at one time or another. How have your old friends reacted to the sudden fame?
JG: To a degree “The Paris Herald” is a roman à clef, though some of the principal characters – Whitney, Sulzberger, Graham etc. – don’t need a clef because I use their real names. As for many of the invented characters, some who may bear some resemblance to real people, the only complaint I’ve heard so far came from someone who was left out. I understand. If an author is molding his characters on real people he’s going to choose the most interesting models. Readers should not jump to conclusions. I’ve used not only imagination and invention but also amalgamation. Henri de Saint Gaudens, for example, a key French figure in the story, is a composite of two men who worked for President de Gaulle at the time. Saint Gaudens is in effect an original. So is Theo le Tac. So is Tonton Pinard.
JP: When you and I knew it the Paris Herald was truly a Paris newspaper, right down to the ratty offices on Rue de Berri. It was more like something out of The Front Page than the sixties and seventies. I don’t see as much Paris in the International New York Times. What’s your view about how it has changed over the decades? What has it done to the special feeling a lot of Americans have for Paris?
JG: James Gordon Bennett Jr., the man who sent Henry Stanley to find Dr. Livingstone, started the Paris Herald in 1887. At the time it was strictly a Paris newspaper – like the New York Herald and New York Tribune were strictly New York newspapers. Newspapers kept to their hometown. Later, as transportation improved, the Paris Herald began to be distributed around France and soon around Europe. This was especially true after the two world wars when the Herald Tribune’s American readership was spread around the continent. When the Americans went home in the 1930s and 1950s, the newspaper had to refocus, starting to target English-speaking Europeans. By my time, the owners knew the Herald Tribune had to become more European oriented. The changes that began in the 1970s – to move out of Paris, to cover less of Paris and more of other countries, were inevitable. Those moves also changed what had been a real Paris newspaper into what my friend Don Cook of the Los Angeles Times called a Neuilly “computer center.” One change that was not necessary was to change the name of the newspaper. That was an a-historical act of arrogance and contumely that is inexcusable.
JP: Some of the most interesting scenes in your book illustrate very clearly that the French government doesn’t hesitate to involve itself in the day-to-day work of journalism. Did you see the effects of such meddling in the day-to-day editing and publishing decisions of your own work?
JG: As a rule, the French government did not mess with the Paris Herald or International Herald Tribune. Before my time, there were a few cases of censorship related to coverage of the Algerian War, but French newspapers went through that as well. In my time, there were frequent cases of official complaint, but that is no different from what I’ve experienced on U.S. newspapers when government officials think you’ve been unfair or even wrong. As far as censorship, I know of none. As I make clear in my novel, the French government understood and understands the advantages to France of having the Herald Tribune (oops, New York Times) published in Paris, even though Paris may not be covered as much as it was. In my time, the government knew it was touch and go whether we would remain in Paris, especially in 1968 with the anti-Vietnam demonstrations and May revolt. The government was careful to do nothing that would strengthen the case of those in the newspaper’s ownership, especially Jock Whitney, who wanted to move the newspaper to Germany or Switzerland.
JP: What’s next? Do you have any other Paris-related projects in the oven? This is a Paris blog, and I’m a part-time Parisian, so I’d certainly like to write about another Goldsborough Paris book.
JG: My next novel is not about Paris, sorry to say. It is about Cuba. But after that, who knows? My daughter lives and works in Paris so I come over as often as I can. I stay in touch with French friends and events. A writer never knows what will pique his fancy. I wrote the first draft of The Paris Herald years ago in New York and put it in my trunk as I moved on to other newspaper jobs and to write other books. It might have remained there if the New York Times hadn’t decided two years ago to air brush the hallowed Herald and Herald Tribune names from history – just as Stalin air-brushed Trotsky and Mao air-brushed Liu shaoqi away. Changing the newspaper’s name was an offense that needed an answer so I pulled out the manuscript, worked on it for about a year, sent it off to an agent and then to a publisher. Maybe the next time I come to Paris I’ll see something that inspires me to do a new book on Paris. That’s David McCullough’s thesis in his book The Greater Journey, isn’t it? How Paris has inspired Americans though the ages. I see no reason why it should stop.
Part-Time Parisian welcomes PETER STEINER to its series of author interviews and reviews. He’s a super-creative man — for one, he’s the force behind the New Yorker cartoon absolutely everybody has heard of, the one captioned, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” (See his bio on his Amazon author page.) Today we’re discussing his novel The Resistance, a tale of moral ambiguity and betrayal in occupied Germany.
He’s had a varied and fascinating career, beginning with his Ph.D. In German literature, through his life as a prolific cartoonist to, in a sort of retirement, a new career as a novelist and painter. For details, including a look at his paintings, see his web site PLSteiner.com.
I met Peter two years ago at a reading he did for the American Library in Paris, and liked the book immensely. I re-read it in anticipation of this interview and the new review that will follow in about a week, and appreciated it even more. It’s a pretty deep book about occupied France and the ambiguities of life under military occupation, and I encourage you to read it carefully. Peter’s next novel featuring his protagonist Louis Morgon, an unjustly cashiered CIA agent who settles into a village in the Loire Valley, is scheduled for release next Spring.
The interview was conducted June 18 by email.
John Pearce: I have read The Resistance twice, once shortly after we met at your reading two years ago in Paris and again in the last few weeks. First I read it as a thriller, or maybe a mystery, but on my most recent reading it struck me as a morality tale. Your characters were forced into the German yoke, but each of them found his or her own way to full resistance or full collaboration, or in some cases to the appearance of one but practice of the other.
When you began, what did you want the novel to be? And did it come out as you intended?
Peter Steiner: First of all I wanted The Resistance to tell a good story–riveting and compelling. But then I also wanted it to be an examination of human ethics and morality in a difficult world. It began as a question I asked myself: how would I have behaved when collaboration was the law and resistance mortally dangerous? It is difficult even in the best of times to be a decent human being. And when times are tough,it is all but impossible. During the occupation of France everyone had to do terrible things. Even doing nothing was, in some sense, severely immoral. And the choices people faced day after day must have seemed, at least to the conscientious, all but impossible. I wanted good and evil to be mixed up with one another, even indistinguishable sometimes, as they are in real life.
JP: None of us knows how we would react under the pressure of a brutal occupation, and The Resistance is a good reminder that obvious heroics are very likely to be fatal — just look at the roadside memorials in rural France, or at the plaques on building walls all over Paris, in memory of those who died resisting the Germans. Your imagining of the diverse reaction of the citizens of Saint-Léon is one of the best explorations of the ambiguity of self-interest I’ve seen. How did you go about assembling your cast of characters? From your reading, from marinating in the local culture during your life in rural France, or from somewhere else entirely?
PS: I invented two young men (Onesime and Jean) and stuck them in dire circumstances. And the characters and situations gradually developed around them. I did lots of reading as I was writing, mostly to get the settings and history right. And I had some familiarity with life in rural France. But mainly I let the story unspool on its own.
JP: The Dême looks like a charming stream, a green necklace of small towns named something-sur-Dême. Is life there much different from the way it was in 1940?
PS: In some ways it’s completely different. For one thing, it’s more cosmopolitan in that many people come there from Paris now either on weekends or settle there. It is still the province, but not as insular as it once was. But physically amazingly little has changed, which is what draws the Parisians. There are still small farms worked by locals, the towns and villages look essentially the same, and the society with its social strata and differences is as rigid as before. And people enjoy life as only the French seem able to do.
JP: How did your French friends respond to The Resistance? Have they preferred any of your novels over the others?
PS: Our French friends mostly don’t read English so they don’t know my books, although many have signed copies.
JP: Is there another Louis Morgon story in the wings? If so, please tell us a little about it.
PS: A new Louis Morgon novel should appear next spring. In this book he locks horns with a Wall Street swindler. Like The Resistance this book is on a larger canvas and takes on bigger issues, although nothing as urgent as resistance and collaboration. Here it’s capitalism and avarice. On second thought, maybe it is as urgent.
JP: You’ve had a fascinating career so far — Ph.D. In German literature, professor, writer, painter, highly acclaimed cartoonist for The New Yorker and others (who could ever forget “On the Internet Nobody Knows You’re a Dog.”) If you had the chance to start over, would you follow another path?
PS: I didn’t know I had a path when I was following it, but the one constant has always been I’ve worked at what interested me as long as it interested me. I would do it exactly the same again, assuming I got as lucky again as I have been. How many people get to make that sort of life for themselves? Not many.
JP: When you’re writing, what is your work day like? Do you dedicated a period to writing, another to painting, and so forth, or do you let your inspiration take you where it will? Do you create better in France or Connecticut?
PS: When I’m working on a book, I’m usually not painting. And visa versa. I write when the spirit moves me, which, once the story starts rolling is often. But if it’s a gorgeous day, or something else calls to me, I do that. And with both writing and painting, I try to end each session on an up moment, a moment where I don’t want to quit. That makes me eager to get back to it the next day. This is not a job for me; it’s my retirement. So I do it when and exactly how I want to. Again, how lucky can one man be?
JP: How does your preparation for writing a novel differ from preparing to create a painting or a cartoon? Do you outline your novels in advance?
PS: My novels get a little preparation in my head–lots of mulling over places and themes, imagining and unfocused daydreaming. But that’s it. Then, when the bundle of all those thoughts is too baggy to hold onto without losing something, I start writing. I have one idea that starts things off and the rest comes as I write.
Then I do lots of editing, adding stuff at the beginning, etc. My painting is similar, an idea in my head that gets painted in rough form onto the canvas and then gets worked, messed around, changed. The big difference is that a painting is always present in its entirety and a novel isn’t. You are somewhere in it without any immediate sense of what you have already done or what comes next.
Peter Steiner’s web site: plsteiner.com, with internal links to his other books, his paintings and his cartoons.