Note: This is an English-language review of the French-language book “À Paris” by Jeanne Damas and Lauren Bastide. At the time of writing there is no English translation edition of this book.
When I began to see Jeanna Damas’ -Parisian It-Girl and founder of clothing line Rouje – new book float around social media, I knew I had to have it, despite not really having an inkling about what it was actually about. (No surprise there – as my previous book reviews on this blog suggest, I read everything and anything that’ll help me become more like a local and less like an expat.)
I half-expected Jeanne’s book to be an autobiography or a showcase of her apartment, company, prized beauty products, and favourite spots around Paris. To my delight, it was not like that at all. Despite her name being the big draw, Jeanne reads like a footnote in the book, which is first and foremost a collection of stories of neighbourhoods and the women who call them home.
Nothing about the book and no one featured in it is stereotypical. It presents Parisiennes not in the fashion for which they are infamous, that is drinking espresso and smoking cigarettes at Café de Flore and having perfect figures and devastatingly dramatic love lives, but instead, refreshingly and potentially for the first time, as they actually are.
From a young mother by canal Saint-Martin, to a militant vegan in SoPi, to the 14-year old leader of a girl gang in Ménilmontant, to a retired model and dancer on Boulevard Voltaire, there is an incredible diversity of women and stories. They discuss everything from how they fit their life into a little chambre de bonne underneath the rooftops, to the fear they felt following the 2015 terror attacks, to how they brought their dream of opening a restaurant in the City of Light to life.
The one common thread between all of these stories? Their affinity for the city that they call home.
Some came from other towns and cities in France. Some came from other countries. Some were born in Paris – but these are the exception, and not the rule.
Maybe more so than the stories and the women themselves (no easy feat, considering how lovely each of them are!), this was what really struck me and made me fall hard for Jeanne’s book. Rather than instructing me on how mastering bedhead and wearing a trench coat will make me blend in with the locals, À Paris taught me that by living in Paris, and loving it, and wanting to make it my home, I am as much of a Parisian as any who was born-and-bred here.
And anyone else with the same dream for this gorgeous, often frustrating, and endlessly inspiring city can be, too.