Thirza Vallois

Posted on March 31, 2011 by Susie Hollands



Thirza Vallois is the author of Around and About Paris, Romantic Paris and Aveyron, a Bridge to French Arcadia.

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

2. Earliest Paris memory?
Arriving at Gare du Nord as a very young person and literally being shocked at seeing corpulent and what seemed to me elderly working-class women dragging their weary slippered feet in front of the station. I was expecting everyone to look like slender models out of Vogue magazine in Dior “new look” garb and endless hats.

3. Best neighbourhood you’ve ever lived in?
My own for the last nearly 40 years – the 14th arrondissement. It’s next-door to the Latin Quarter but more leafy. It has real neighbourhoods (ask film director Agnès Varda – she’ll agree). Lots of artists and intellectuals live here, but discreetly, without the “noise” and the “buzz”. It is genuine and unpretentious, low-key, not hyped by the media, not touristy, just the way I like places to be.

4. What’s the best meal you’ve eaten in Paris?
Impossible to answer such a question. But among the best meals was Le Laurent, Le Bristol, Alain Passard, the Grand Véfour, Le Pré Catelan…But it’s not fair to compare such places with the less pricey ones which can also be enjoyable.

5. Sexiest moment you’ve had in Paris?
First kiss with my first French boyfriend who later became my husband. I still remember, first Saturday of May at midnight, on the tip of Île Saint-Louis facing the back of Notre Dame. This was way before climate change and the four seasons of the year had each a definite air and smell about it. Paris no longer has those unique moments of spring that we still had in those days and which quickened our senses.

6. What do you hate most about living in Paris?
The pollution, the crowds, what has become the tourist industry beyond the bearable (and that includes the overwhelming crowding generated by school parties), and the occasional Parisian “attitude” which has improved a lot in recent years but has not entirely disappeared.

7. Who’s your favourite Parisian — be they living or dead, real or fictional?
Georges Brassens (who like most Parisians was originally from elsewhere). If I am allowed to add a few others – Madame de Sévigné, Marcel Proust (who WAS Parisian born), Colette, and Diderot’s fictional Neveu de Rameau. I am sure I’m forgetting lots.

8. Favourite cinema?
All the art cinemas of the Latin Quarter, rue Champollion etc, but also La Pagode because it’s architecturally unique, and Le Denfert because it’s delightfully shabby and throws me back 50 years.

9. Right bank or left bank? And why?
Definitely a Left Bank person. When you are an old timer in Paris, which I am, you tend to have your neighbourhood, your restaurants, your baker, your chemist etc. all of whom become “home” and “family” like your own village. I have always lived on the Left Bank and that’s where I feel I belong.

10. Favourite Caviste?
Strangely, in view of what I’ve just said, they are located on the Right Bank, at the galerie Vivienne: Legrand Filles et Fils. The establishment is nearly a century old and for several generations belonged to the same family. It has history, but also fabulous wines, often hand-picked from unknown vineyards.

11. Where do you go to escape the city?
Wherever the opportunity takes me. I love it all – sea, mountains, countryside. But because I wrote a book on the Aveyron, in the deepest and most remote part of France, I have made lots of friends there and go there more often than to other places, except those close to Paris, Normandy first and foremost.

12. Where are the best looking girls or boys in Paris and why?
Difficult question. But I was once invited to a St Valentine’s event at the Ritz, because of my book Romantic Paris, where I saw an exceptional collection of beautiful people. What struck me more than the beauty, however (after all, you get beautiful young people in every country) was the individual character of each and their sophistication. They were not interchangeable and that’s so uniquely Parisian.

13. Where do you get your news?
From a variety of sources. I listen a lot to France Culture, I select very carefully what I listen to (and also what I believe…) On television I like to watch C dans L’air on La Cinq, I listen to BBC Radio 4, I read some of the French Dailies, but won’t say which to avoid my political leanings being misinterpreted. I also read The Economist, occasionally the Herald Tribune, more rarely The Spectator, although I like it a lot.

14. Favourite museum?
Perhaps Nissim de Camondo. And also because of the tragic story behind it.

15. Favourite shop?
Sierra on rue du Pont Louis-Philippe, although I have the feeling that the old lady and amazing stylist of knits that owns the shop is closing down. Last time I walked past, a few weeks ago, it said, ‘Bail à céder’. You don’t see such goods in Paris nowadays. She is one of the last remnants, if not the last one, of those good old days.

16. Who’s the most stylish Paris personality?
It has to be Carla Bruni.

17. What is your favourite film set in Paris?
Definitely Les Enfants du Paradis, the ultimate masterpiece in the history of French cinema.

18. What about Paris most inspires you?
Its ever changing skies as far as non man-made stuff goes.
The street scene in its endless variety, as far as humans go.
Its hidden courtyards.
Its arty shop window displays.
Its delicious early mornings (think of Jacques Dutrong’s Paris s’éveille).

19. What makes someone a Parisian?
Feeling like one and being perceived as one, and having the characteristics and character of a Parisian – class, sophistication, culture for sure, but also standing one’s ground, protesting, complaining, arguing, this is all part of the package.

20. What’s your favourite French word? (Swear words allowed!)
I cannot answer such a question being bilingual and having so many words at my disposal, but, off the top of my head, since I nickname my baby granddaughter mignonnette (but also pomponnette and ma petite poupée), for whatever reason, it just happened, clearly I like the sound of it. Incidentally, have you noticed how often French children are nicknamed after animals – mon petit lapin, mon petit biquet… it also works between lovers.