Rose, Eternal

The main attraction of Au Nom De La Rose, a flower shop located in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris, is the collection of cut roses preserved in glass bowls. These roses look fresh, though they are technically dead.

The store owner explains. He has preserved the roses so that tourists that frequent his store can take the embalmed flowers back with them in their luggage. Without water or light, regular roses will wilt in a matter of days. Au Nom De La Rose’s preservation process allows the roses to live for up to three years.

These preserved flowers are called “roses éternelles,” according to the store’s website. The store sells other rose products–rose-scented bars of soap flecked with petals, rose lollipops, rose honey, and tiny jars of rose jam, glass flutes filled with rose-scented eau de toilette–but the roses resting inside the glass bowls are the centerpiece of the store, taking their rightful place near the register. They also cost 21 euros per bloom, which seems like one euro too many. 

I leave the shop flowerless, then stumble over to a small market. Locals sell clothing and records and jewelry and something that looks like it could be a shofar.My hair is tangled from the wind and keeps getting in my mouth. I feel romantic, and look ridiculous. At the market, I try to gather as many precious pins and gem-studded rings and photographs as I can find. I feel dazzled, increasingly ravenous. It isn’t enough for me in the moment that these beautiful things exist; my impulse instead is to capture them, to consume them.

In some ways, I’ve had this feeling all week. I photograph Paris obsessively. I try and write down everything, hoarding images and fragments of pretty phrases. I’ll find beauty and respond with longing, then sate my own longing with a promise to myself: you will return. My friends and I talk idly about moving here, as if this is the answer. We speak about moving because it’s easier than saying we want to transform our longing into something more permanent.

At this Montmartre market I understand the appeal of bottling beauty, the  mad desire to entrap and preserve it, to turn it into jam or soap or a piece of writing. But some things do not lend themselves well to mummification. It’s hard to know the difference. Flowers are beautiful and ephemeral, some of their beauty derived from their proximity to death. Preserving a flower seems almost sacrilegious. Paris is so enchanting because I know I am leaving. I take a photograph of the market, then briefly hate myself.

“Visitors Must Be Protected”

As visitors pass through the rooms of the Château du Petit Trianon at Versailles, a security guard in dark sunglasses follows a short distance behind. It is not immediately clear what he is protecting, and what he has deemed a threat.

In recent years, the focus of security measures at Versailles has shifted from vandalism to terrorism. While once the main concern was ensuring that visitors didn’t steal anything more valuable than a selfie from the Hall of Mirrors, the wave of terrorist attacks that started in 2015 and put the nation on high alert has galvanized Versailles staff to amp up security measures to match. 

These terrorist attacks began with a shooting at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, then another shooting the next day at a Jewish supermarket. In November of 2015, suicide bombers and gunmen targeted the Bataclan concert hall, the Stade de France stadium, and bars and bistros in the 10th arrondissement. The French government declared a national state of emergency following the November attacks, which was extended again in July 2016, when a man drove a lorry through a crowd in Nice celebrating Bastille Day, killing over 84.

The French government recently voted to extend the state of emergency until July 15th, 2017. According to a recent article in The Guardian, this will be France’s longest uninterrupted state of emergency since the Algerian War. Tourism has decreased as a result of fears over increased terrorist attacks, and popular locations like Versailles have had to adapt.

“With the attacks last year, security is reinforced,” explained Aurélie de Oliveira, 35, director of communications and e-commerce for Versailles.

At Versailles, this reinforcement comes in the form of increased security presence. At the entrance to the main Château of Versailles, visitors are expected to send their belongings through a baggage check. Next to the bag check, a yellow sign with a red triangle in the center greets visitors. The sign is marked with the words: “ALERTE ATTENTAT.”

“We are in a red alert about terrorist attacks,” explained Oliveira.

Versailles draws huge numbers of tourists each year, and for most of its history, has been open to the public. For many years this has been an advantage. Now, it’s possible to see this openness as a liability.

“We are open to the world,” said Catherine Pégard, president of the Château de Versailles, at an interview with Princeton students on Thursday. “Unfortunately, we must think of security more and more,” she said.

As an employee of Versailles, Oliveira said she feels safer with these security measures in place. It’s not that she’s necessarily scared to live in France—“after, life goes on,” she said, but these measures make her feel more secure.

While they work for Oliveira, there is a worry that these renewed security measures might detract from the beauty of Versailles. As Catherine Pégard maintained, a trip to Versailles must remain enjoyable. “Visitors must be protected,” she said, “but it must be a pleasure.”

The Many Lives of Catherine Pégard

Catherine Pégard has inhabited three distinct worlds. She has been a journalist, a political advisor, and is now the current president of Château de Versailles. One would think these worlds would overlap, or that the boundaries between them would start to dissolve. Instead, Pégard’s ability to keep these worlds separate in her mind is one of her greatest strengths.

“In France, we aren’t used to having different lives,” said Catherine Pégard in an interview on Thursday. “But I’m very lucky,” she continued. “This is my third.”

Any one of Pégard’s three careers would be enough for most high-achieving people. But for Pégard, one of the most important and visible women in French politics and journalism, one life was not enough.

 Pégard quickly rose to positions of power as a young journalist. She started writing for the French political newsmagazine The Point in 1982, covering politics. In 1995, she became the editor of the paper. While she was a young working journalist, she met the young French politician named Nicolas Sarkozy. This meeting would lead to another big break; soon after Sarkozy became president in 2007, he hired Pégard to be his political advisor.

Pégard said yes, and gave up journalism forever.

The move from the world of politics to the world of journalism was bizarre by French standards, and also for Pégard herself. Pégard had spent much of her life covering French politics, only to suddenly find herself an important political figure. “It is most difficult to know what to do on the other side,” she said.

The French were not used to a journalist who would leave journalism for another high profile career, let alone a career that would transform her into the kind of politician she’d written about for years. “I was creating myself at the same time during it, living it,” she said.

Though her career path was unconventional, having access to both backgrounds proved useful in Pégard’s political career. More than anything, it seems to have given Pégard context for understanding both worlds, as well as where they align, and where they conflict. Pégard disagrees with journalists who say that if they spend enough time with politicians they are covering, they will take on too much of their influence. “I think that is stupid,” Pégard says. “That means they are weak!”

Weakness, according to Pégard, seems to be defined as permeability to the influence of others. Strength means strong self-awareness, and distinct boundaries around what you believe. “If you are strong enough,” she clarifies, “you can hit with anybody, and say what you want. You must know what you want. You must know what you are. You must know what they are.”

At 63, the Le Havre-born Catherine Pégard knows who she is, even if that means she needs to intensely compartmentalize her life. As Pégard constructed her identity as a journalist-turned-politician, she was careful to keep her new career distinct from her new one. When she became Sarkozy’s political advisor, she asked not to be involved in the press. “It’s not easy not to be a journalist,” she said.

Pégard succeeded in keeping the boundaries distinct between her old life and her new one, even if this task proved challenging. “She was correct, and very strict,” said Elaine Sciolino, former Paris bureau chief for the New York Times and current Princeton professor. “Once she went to work for the government, she became loyal to the government. She was always correct with us [journalists].”

Though Pégard felt like an outsider as a former journalist in the world of French politics, her next job would be equally unexpected. When she became the president of Château de Versailles in 2011, Pégard did not have any curatorial experience. Yet that did not mean she was unprepared.

President of Versailles is a political position. She received her job as a presidential appointment in 2011, but performed so well in the role that she managed to keep her job after her five-year mandate finished;  Hollande, Sarkozy’s successor and rival, chose her to continue.

Pégard also cites her journalistic career as a helpful background for her job at Versailles. As Pégard’s journalism career informed her political one, it has continued to inform her post at Versailles. Journalism taught her the importance of honesty and staying true to her story, and provided her the toolkit to be a successful president of Versailles. “You need to be a journalist to be here,” Pégard said.

Each of Catherine Pégard’s previous jobs has helped her with her subsequent positions, so long as she has been able to keep them separate in her mind. This trend seems like it will continue, as Versailles attempts to adapt to the new media environment. Just as journalists must now know several different jobs to be successful, including television and video in addition to storytelling, Catherine Pégard’s position now requires her to engage with the modern world. She has done so in the same way as many modernizing media companies: by utilizing the storytelling power of Twitter.

“We do tweets at Versailles,” she said, grinning. “I am very proud of it. Now I tweet every day!”


La Seduction 2.0

A table for two, preferably with candlelight. Some wine, perhaps, then the hope of another, later date. If this is the idea of romance in the United States, nowhere is more romantic than Paris.

Paris clearly has no dearth of wine or neighborhood cafés. Still, many Parisians choose to outsource their romance, via the dating app Tinder.

This isn’t surprising–Tinder has over 50 million users around the world. Yet what’s interesting about Parisian Tinder is that it’s one of few aspects of French society without pre-existing social codes. There is a correct way to dress for taking the subway and a correct way to walk into a store, but miraculously, there is no correct way to seduce someone on Tinder.

Some people use Tinder casually, some swipe through for kicks, and some actually do use it to find long-term relationships. Of those Tinder users interviewed for this article, many found it difficult to generalize about societal Tinder behavior, which makes sense. How people think about Tinder depends on the person, and on the match.

“It’s a public application where you can find all types of people, so I would say both,” wrote Marwane, 23, an engineer and self-described “voyager” who declined to give his last name on Tinder.  

Yann Vasicek-Fong Tarantino, a 22 year old student at University of Paris-Dauphine, came to the same conclusion, but articulated it a little more bluntly. When asked if Parisian men always swiped right on everyone, he said that he did not. “But in the most cases I guess yes,” he said. “And if the girl is ugly we delete her ahah.”

In this aspect, Tinder use is pretty universal. Users can indulge their most judgmental and superficial impulses because there are such low stakes, but users can also swipe with the intention of finding real connection.

But in Paris in particular, many people create their profiles with Anglophone users in mind. Even if they’ve lived in Paris their entire lives, some still write their autobiographical information in English. Others are quick to turn the conversation to English when they realize their correspondents don’t speak French, or are using bad Google-Translate.

Documentary filmmaker Eloi Le Bastart de Villeneuve, 25, thought that the ubiquity of the English language on Parisian Tinder has something to do with tourism and study abroad programs.

Every year, thousands of young English-speaking tourists and study abroad students stream into the Parisian Tinder user base. Most of these, according to Villeneuve, are just looking for a “city guide,” a Paris resident to show them around the city for free. While this sounds like a bargain, it has a price; Villeneuve assumes many of his matches are just looking for a tour guide, not romance.

If the past few years are any indications, Tinder will continue to reshape romantic interactions across the world. For now, some trends seem clear: Tinder in Paris seems tailored for its visitors.

Ghosts of America

When American author George Saunders gave a reading at famed Paris bookstore Shakespeare and Company on March 20th, he could have been reading at any large American city. Most of the people who came to listen to Saunders read from his new historical novel Lincoln in the Bardo were young and English-speaking. They drank Kombucha and wore clothes that defied the unofficial French uniform; instead of monochrome layers, Oxfords, and a chic scarf, guests wore mom jeans and bleached out hair, sported bright lipstick and blunt bangs and colorful sneakers.

As soon as Saunders opened the floor to audience questions, however, the atmosphere shifted. Audience members began to ask Saunders about his thoughts on politics, democracy, and Donald Trump, and there is the sense that sense that many of the guests came to be calmed.

Elizabeth Howard, from Rochester NY and living in Paris for the year, brought her friend Rita O’Connell to Shakespeare and Company because she loves the store and wants O’Connell to see it, but also because of the “political issues of late,” Howard explained.

To Rita O’Connell, part of the draw was hearing Saunders’ savvy about United States politics, something that felt comforting to her. O’Connell made the pilgrimage for reassurance, and for community.

Shakespeare and Company has been a place of community for Anglophone literary expats since 1919, when Sylvia Beach moved from Princeton to Paris and opened a bookstore on the Rue de l’Odéon. The shop served as a meeting space for many of the literary greats of the Lost Generation, until it closed during the Nazi occupation of Paris when Sylvia Beach was arrested and interned.

The shop never re-opened, but in 1952 American bookseller (and New Jersey native) George Whitman changed the name of his bookstore–Le Mistral–to Shakespeare and Company. George Whitman ran the shop like a socialist paradise, offering a free room to anyone who tumbled into his shop in exchange for a one-page autobiography and some hours of work in the store.

After George Whitman’s daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman, took over the store in 2003, the store became further involved with the contemporary Anglophone literary scene, launching the Paris Literary Prize, hosting famous authors for readings, and opening a bake shop and café next to the store in 2015.

George Saunders, the author of the story collections “Tenth of December” and “In Persuasion Nation,” is perhaps the best example of this evolution of Anglophone literary culture at Shakespeare and Company, a culture that has grown increasingly politically aware in recent months. The store’s first event in 2017 was called “Literature Under Trump.”

Many of the guests at George Saunders’ reading made the pilgrimage to Shakespeare and Company either to hear more of Saunders’ sardonic wit, or hear about his stance on American politics. While Lincoln in the Bardo is a novel about a metaphysical journey through purgatory and history, it is especially relevant at the beginning of the Trump era.

“Those of us who got blasé about democracy got a wake-up call,” he said, in response to a question from an audience member about how to situate novel-writing in the Trump Era. Saunders voiced his frustration with the progressives who got lulled into complacency, but also suggests an alternative to despair.

One woman from the audience asked Saunders how he felt writing can make a difference, and if he ever felt like writing a giant “I-told-you-so” to all those who doubted his opinions on Trump. Saunders resisted the easy answer.

“I think about what writing has done for us,” he said. One shouldn’t fault the novel for failing to change the world, because “that isn’t really how the machinery works.” Instead, Saunders urged the audience to think about individual reading experiences.

While he knew his books wouldn’t save the world, he said that he believes in the awe and wonder they provide. These feelings, to Saunders, are the point. “The most powerful feeling in the world,” he said, “is to have totally unbounded love.”

At this, George Saunders seemed to remember where he was, and why it was special.

“Generations of people have come to this beautiful place, this beautiful city, and this building,” he said. “Generations have come because they kept wanting to learn more.”

In situating literature as an antidote for close-mindedness, Saunders connected nationalism and prejudice to the inability to empathize with others unlike us, and our inability to move beyond our projections. To Saunders, reading is central to this process of resisting projection. The worlds within books are important, only insofar as they can help illuminate our own.




The Sacred and the Profane

Enter the Basilica of Saint-Denis, located in the Paris suburb of the same name. The cathedral was constructed to honor the first Bishop of Paris, who died a martyr’s death in 250 AD. It serves as a final resting place for much of French royalty. Walk past the rose windows and cross-ribbed vaults that bathe the cathedral in weak afternoon light. Step down the stone stairs into the basilica crypt, past the recumbent royalty buried in the basilica’s vast tombs, to find contemporary photographs of the basilica’s new “queens of France.”

On prints affixed to plexiglass shaped to match the curved cathedral windows, six color photographs show women draped in ivory sheets. These women lay in repose; their hands open in their laps, their stares fixed heavenward. Many of the women are young, some bedecked in jewels and gleaming red nail polish, some unadorned, the fabric folds echoing the draped shape of a hijab.

These modern Madonnas are the work of the artist Arilés de Tizi. His art exhibition, called Queens of France, is part of his cycle of exhibitions on “the mothers of exile,” meant to link the two emblematic locations within the neighborhood of Saint-Denis: the basilica, and the open-air market hall of Saint-Denis, located just a few minutes away from the church.

The church is a refuge from the frenzy of the market, a meeting space of languages and predominantly North African immigrant communities of the neighborhood. De Tizi attempts to link the two spaces through portraiture. The six women in his exhibition are women from the neighborhood of Saint-Denis. Though photographed to resemble the Virgin Mary, the new queens in de Tizi’s portraits are immigrants and exiles, some here in France illegally.

Like much of his work, this exhibit aims to link the sacred and the profane, uniting these two spaces of Saint-Denis by representing figures from the market hall in lavish religious iconography. The central figure, “Ama,” is the grandmother of de Tizi. Her portrait is positioned at the center of the six, the only woman who wears an actual dress instead of an elaborately folded white shroud.

On a wall behind the portraits, a video plays on loop. The video features the women of the exhibition as they share their stories of war, religion, and the memories of the countries they had to leave.

“I came to France because I had to work,” says one of the women whose likeness is rendered in the installation. “I was only twenty years old. It feels like they stole my youth.”

“I do everything I can to be a good citizen,” says another. “You can’t turn your back on this country that gave us a chance.”

For those who now find their likenesses resting in the basilica, many did not feel as if they could have entered the basilica and crossed this cultural threshold. The church is open to all who can pay, but French culture can feel inaccessible to those who do not share its history.

“I would never have thought I would be visiting Saint-Denis,” one of the women says. “I’ve always had an image of a mosque, a basilica as a closed space. The Basilica is a place of peace; I feel my spirit has a certain rest.”