Beth Arnold

Posted on January 25, 2012 by Susie Hollands

Beth Arnold is a journalist and award-winning writer living in Paris.

1. What initially inspired you to move here or visit?

The first time I came to Paris, I was 19 years old, and I immediately fell in love with this sublime city.  I dug the way Paris (and France) looked, felt, and the respect for art and artists – and I mean that in every sense – that existed here.  It was a revelation compared to the environment in the U.S.  I felt at home here, and I wanted to return and live.

It took 20+ years but I finally did it.  My husband, James Morgan, and I are both writers, and I thought of a book idea for him.  The title I initially imagined for the book was “Learning To See,” but it evolved and was published in 2005 as “Chasing Matisse.”  So we came to Paris to follow the footsteps of Henri Matisse on his artistic path in order to find the history, the visions, the views of what had inspired this artist we both admired.  We took this journey to see ourselves in new ways, to get a fresh view of life and our lives in particular.

2. Earliest Paris memory?

It was literally getting off the plane at CDG, thinking how amazing it was that I was in Paris, how exciting, how wonderful!  I knew I was beginning a memorable adventure, here and throughout Europe.  I was probably wearing this baby blue polyester pants suit that my mother had bought as good travel wear for my trip.  The jacket was short with panels of multi-color stripes.  Polyester was the new hot fabric.  Very fashionable at that moment.

3. Best neighbourhood you’ve ever lived in?

I have to say the 2nd.  At least, it’s my favorite.  I lived on rue du Mail, right by the Place des Victoires for more than five years, and it was like waking up in Fairyland.  Gorgeous.  In the movie, “The Tourist” with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, I recognized where the first scene was shot right away 6 in this fabulous apartment where I dreamed of living.  Spectacular view of Louis XIV on his horse right outside.

I also have to say I live in the 20th now, and before I came to love this quartier, my friends who lived in this hood would say to me, “This is the real Paris.”  And I would think, hmm, what is the real Paris?  This is it just because there aren’t a bunch of tourists out here?

The thing is…my buddies who said this were correct.  The 20th is the real Paris.  It’s a real urban neighborhood that may not be typical coffee table book material but what we have is a mixture of old handsome and ugly new buildings, dynamic street art, enormous markets with products you wouldn’t find most other places, tons of green space, parks, and secret gardens.  People live in actual houses out here and have their own yards. The rue des Pyrénées is a fantastic food street, and there are charming, reasonably-priced restaurants that haven’t been overtaken by every American who comes to town.  Bobos abound, but the young designer and creator energy is palpable.  A slice of unpolished Parisian life.

4. What’s the best meal you’ve eaten in Paris?

I’ve had so many wonderful meals in Paris and for different reasons.  I always remember the thick, juicy veal chops I had at La Grille Montorgueil one late lunch in winter.  Jim and I were almost the only ones in there, and we felt cozy, warm, and sated.  I had an amazing meal at Spring this past fall when my food-discerning daughter, Blair, was visiting.  A splurge – but delightful.

Some of my most memorable and fun meals have been at Olio Pane Vino with Francesco’s warm hospitality and delicious, simple (in the best way) Italian food, convivial ambiance. It’s always a pleasure to dine there.

And for the constant question of best hamburger in Paris, here’s my scoop:  Maison de l’Aubrac 37 rue Marbeuf in the 8th Arrondissement – for a thick, juicy, delicious (just how an American likes them) burger. Totally hits the spot.

5. Sexiest moment you’ve had in Paris?

Not for public consumption.

6. What do you hate most about living in Paris?

The lack of convenience, the schlepping.  The fact that you might have one thing in hand to check out of a store, and you’re often stuck behind people with carts full because there are few fast lanes – and people have no concept of letting you go ahead of them – though I do it all the time.

7. Who’s your favourite Parisian – be they living or dead, real or fictional?

Liane de Pougy.  When I read her My Blue Notebooks, I was riveted.  What a story.  Madame de Pougy was a beautiful but poor young woman in Brittany who left her husband and son to come to Paris where she became a Folies-Bergère dancer and one of this city’s most notorious courtesans.

Her friends were the celebrities of the the Belle Epoque and the first part of the 20th Century like Sarah Bernhardt, Jean Cocteau, and the poet Max Jacob.  She hated Colette.  The love of her life was Nathalie Clifford Barney (who had this effect on others), but she married a Romanian prince and ended up as a nun.  She lived an exciting, scandalous, for many years posh life – with dresses from Poiret – but her son was killed in WWI, and she was finally haunted by loving him too little when he was alive.

8. Favourite cinema?

Les Halles.  Obviously, not because it has the nicest theaters.  No.  But when I lived by the Place des Victoires, I could be there in five minutes to slip into a film.  I’m a movie-holic, and this is heaven to me. Run and watch.

9. Right bank or left bank? And why?

Before I lived in Paris, I was devoted to the writers of the Lost Generation and their legacy on the Left Bank.  That was where I spent my time when I was in Paris.

When I was moving here, I was advised by my (then new) friend David Mallett to live in the 2nd for the feel and character of the neighborhood, and I’m ever so glad we took his advice.  He was exactly on the money, which is so apparent now since the 2nd has gotten so hot.  I find the Right Bank to be more interesting and dynamic.  The Right Bank is where the young creatives/artists are setting up shop and living.  There aren’t as many English-speakers coming across one’s ear waves as we walk down the streets.

As ever excellent New York Times and Hungry for Paris writer Alec Lobrano penned in a review of the restaurant Chatomat, “such zealously overgroomed and sociologically pasteurized precincts as Saint-Germain-des-Pres, which I’d wager is just about the dullest patch in Paris these days.”  He nailed it.

10. Favourite Caviste

I buy wine everywhere from Monoprix to Nicolas and any little cubby hole in between, but my favorite caviste in the 20th is La Cave du Père Lachaise at 3, avenue Gambetta.  I love the way the store looks and feels, charming with a sweet local touch and a nice selection of wines.  The service is friendly and good, and there are tasting evenings occasionally.

In my old ‘hood in the second, I’d go with Legrand Filles et Fils in my beloved Galerie Vivienne for its excellent selection.  I also love to sit at the bar and have a good glass of wine and a plate of charcuterie.  But keep in mind that nothing is cheap.

11. Where do you go to escape the city?

Which of my children do you want?  France is full of so many beautiful villages and dots on the map to spend time – from Normandy and Brittany to Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon, the Pyrenees.  I’ve traveled extensively throughout this alluring country, and I love so many places that I’ve never been able to decide where I would want my country house to be – if I could have a country house.

So what I’m going to tell you about is one of my favorite places to go not far from Paris – the stunning Château de la Barre, which is owned by the Comte and Comtesse de Vanssay, better known as Guy and Marnie to anyone who has ever been lucky enough to stay with them.  The chateau has been renovated to impeccable taste and standards, and Marnie and Guy are immaculate hosts, both charming and downright fun.  (Go for a weekend or a week and, please, sign up for one of their dinners, and you’ll see for yourself.)

There are plenty of sites to see in the region -the Loire – and, like most of France, the summer holds a slew of festivals and arts.

12. Where are the best looking girls or boys in Paris and why?

On the street.  Isn’t that where the cool hunters find the edgy looks they’re searching for?  Fashionistas may look good but can be so boring.

13. Where do you get your news?

From the Internet and my husband, James Morgan, filters the International Herald Tribune and New York Times for me, sending me articles he knows I’ll want to read.  I love Madame Figaro for style.

I spent (almost) a month in Greece writing a book called 28 days without the internet, and I actually held newspapers – Herald Tribs – in my hand and read them cover to cover.  It was fantastic, grounding.  Give yourself a break and unplug regularly.  Relax and hold more paper, then recycle it.

14. Favourite museum?

My favorite small museum is the Musée Maillol.  Not only was Dina Vierny a brilliant muse for Aristide Maillol, she was also a savvy, creative businesswoman in founding this gem of a museum.  Her sons, Olivier Lorquin, the director of the museum, and his art historian brother Bertrand Lorquin, its curator, have shown her erudite judgment and taste in their management of the Maillol.

My favorite museum to see exhibitions—and this has included some of my favorite shows in Paris – is the Musée d’Art Moderne in the 16th.  I like the space and the flow.  Even if there’s a big crowd, you can see and truly enjoy the art.

15. Favourite shop?

I’m wild about Liwan at 8, rue St. Sulpice for its exotic array of dresses and jewellery, linens and other household items, soaps, more.  Proprietors Dina and Christine (with Lebanese designer Lina Audi) have exquisite taste and understand customer service to the nth degree.  It’s a joy to do business with them.

Astier de Villatte at 173, rue Saint-Honoré is to die for.

Hema at 118, rue Rambuteau is the spot for inexpensive basic just-about-anything-you-actually-need that comes with good design. I love a bargain.

16. Who’s the most stylish Paris personality?

Frederic Malle who created Editions de Parfum.  He may live in New York now, but his pedigree couldn’t be more Parisian and his scents carry me away.  He made perfume and the selling of it new, and he gives credit where credit is due, in this case, to the artists who work for him.

17. What is your favourite film set in Paris?

That’s tough. I collect them. Today, I’m going to say A New Kind of Love with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, who always sizzled together. So EARLY 60’s.  Would never get made today. So fun to watch! Must see.

18. What about Paris most inspires you?

The beauty that engulfs me everywhere I go.

19. What makes someone a Parisian?

A state of mind (as well as intense knowledge of the city and comfort here).

20. What’s your favourite French word? (Swear words allowed!)

ce soir – Two words…but who’s counting?