Unofficial Black History…Paris and France

The history of France and, in particular, Paris, hold within their storied chapters a slightly more unofficial history for African Americans.

Prior to the Louisiana Purchase, blacks living in the French territory were free. After the purchase, in 1803, they immediately began living in a segregated and unjust state (namely, the American South).

While an accurate total is difficult if not impossible to determine, it is estimated that tens of thousands left Louisiana and for France. There they would, once again, be free and live in relative peace.

The second major arrival of African Americans on French soil was during the First World War, when 200,000 American soldiers, who hardly enjoyed life, liberty, and democracy at home in the US, came to fight and die for it in France.

After the war ended, some stayed. Some returned to France in the months and years that followed. In fact, the period between the two World Wars marked a vibrant influx of African Americans, and African American culture, in Paris.

Grafitti in the 4th arrondissement of Paris. Photo: Weatherford Bradley, copyright 2018.

The French discovered American music, kicking off the Jazz Age, as Parisian nightclub owners competed to have the very best American musicians perform in their clubs, skin color be damned. While musicians at the Cotton Club in Harlem had to wait outside in whatever the weather between sets, black Americans in Paris could work, eat, drink, sleep, and socialize wherever they wanted, with whomever they wanted.

Daughter of a St. Louis, Missouri, house maid, Josephine Baker arrived and summarily wowed Parisians and made a home here. She subsequently was awarded a Legion of Honor for her efforts fighting with the resistance during World War II.

Josephine Baker…not the same old song and dance.

She did return to America, but the circumstances were telling: she came to speak at the 1963 civil rights march on Washington. Her message was blunt: she told the overflow crowd that  she never feared for her safety in France, but she did in the United States.

The mystical pull of Paris on writers, artists, and musicians of all colors and backgrounds continues to this day. Parisians continue to welcome us, as they always have, empathetic and often sympathetic to injustice of any kind, and appreciative of creativity of every kind.

And to them we say, Merci beaucoup.

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L’Eau de Cassis

Strolling through the Marais after a morning croissant and coffee, you could almost miss the tiny shop at 21 Rue du Bourg Tibourg. But don’t.
The L’Eau de Cassis perfume boutique is small, but elegantly appointed. It is also home to a family’s 150-year-old-legacy. So, to fully appreciate their products, it might be a good idea for us to go back in time…just for a moment.
Flashback to 1851 when Lorenzo Salvaire, a Piedmontese perfumer, composed an light and distinct (and, as it turns out, iconic) fragrance for a grand dame who was vacationing in the quaint town Cassis, which is nestled along the French Riviera.
Fast forward to 2005. Fabrice Cicot, heir to the perfume dynasty and keeper of the scented secrets, decides to honor Lorenzo’s artistry and legacy. He recomposes the unique fragrance of his great-great-grandfather, which he calls “L’Eau de Cassis”.
But he doesn’t stop there. Fabrice, together with other dedicated family members who still work in the family business, create an exclusive line of fragrances that will, in a phrase, take you there.
Photo: Weatherford Bradley, copyright 2018; other photos courtesy of L’Eau de Cassis.
So visit the shop and allow yourself the luxury of spending some quality time with Luca and Raphaele. They will welcome you warmly, patiently guide you through their unique offerings, detail their company’s storied history, and share the magic that only an timeless, inspired fragrance can create.
The scents, still made with painstaking care in the company’s workshop in Cassis, include Absolue de Garrigue, La Mer , and Soleil d’hover. Still, it’s the classic L’Eau de Cassis that holds us spellbound and remains the crown jewel of the family business.
As Luca said, softly and modestly, during a recent visit, “We’re just trying to give our customers happiness, to create a memory, a moment to share with them.”
And so they have. Complimenti.
                * paris unofficial

La Ferme St Aubin

A stone’s throw of it’s sister island, the Ile de La Cite, the Ile Saint Louis sits in the middle of the Seine, isolated, aloof, and removed from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Cars feel suddenly out of place as you cross the Post Marie to approach rue Saint Louis en l’ile, the main street that runs the length of the island. Indeed, ‘the little village’ as the inhabitants refer to it, has hardly changed since the 1700s when the majority of the buildings were constructed.

Fast forward almost 300 years, change has been slow here. As late as the 1970s, the bells of carts pushed by window pane repairmen and knife-sharpeners could still be heard, dingling through the streets, notifying the residents of their passing presence.

Today, the place still feels slightly frozen in time. Dogs sit in doorways, unimpressed by passing tourists. Residents huddle in cafes, waiting, it seems, for winter and rain, when the masses will evacuate and the island will again be their own.

Near the end of the rue Saint Louis en l’ile, just before you’d cross the bridge to visit Notre Dame on the other island, you’ll find a little cheese shop. Lucky for you if the door is open: you’ll only have to follow your nose.

Franck and Mammar, gentleman cheese merchants.

For the last 150 years, La Ferme St. Aubin has provided the finest in artisan cheeses to the residents of this elusive and exclusive neighborhood, home at times to Voltaire, Balzac, and the Rothschild banking family.

Photos by Weatherford Bradley – copyright 2018 all rights reserved

The speciality of the house is goat cheese, but don’t limit yourself: the variety is mind-boggling, the flavors mouth-watering, and the quality top-shelf.

Here you’ll find everything you need for a classic Parisian Picnic: the cheese, of course; the cured meats, ready to eat; reasonably priced quality bottle of wine; and a world-class baguette from the bakery next door (more about that in a coming post).

Once you’ve made your purchase, it’s a five-minute stroll down the street, to  an ancient flight of stone stairs that will take you down the river’s edge.

Once there, you’ll locate a park bench under a leafy tree. Sit, relax, and enjoy artisan delights from La Ferme St. Aubin in your private paradise that is the Ile Saint Louis.

Wave to the passing tour boats as they putter down the Seine. Toast your good fortune: you’ve discovered one of the unofficial, largely unknown pleasures of Paris.

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Nina’s Tea

A welcome respite after an afternoon of credit-limit-popping retail therapy at the Place Vendome, Nina’s Tea waits patiently for you, right around the corner at 29 rue Danielle Casanova in Paris’ elegant 1st arrondissement.

 

All Photos by Weatherford Bradley, copyright 2018 all rights reserved

Stepping into the legendary establishment, founded in 1672, is like stepping into a French aristocrat’s version of heaven, with an abundance of white, touches of pink and gold, and an atmosphere of supreme tranquility. This is one of the functions of Nina’s Tea, you see: to force you to take a moment, leave your worries outside the door, and relax with a cup of absolutely fabulous tea.

Please do this with me… if only on the internet. Lift the delicate porcelain cup to your nose, inhale that beautiful aroma. Now, sip the smooth, hot liquid paradise that is Nina’s stock and trade. Aaahhhh. Exhale. Sip. Repeat as necessary.

Now, isn’t that better? Of course, it is. Your troubles, you see, are no match for any of Nina’s magnificent, artisan blends of tea. Everybody knows this, but here’s the unofficial: hospitality is the key ingredient in Nina’s recipe for success. You’ll be treated like royalty as you enjoy a cup in the salon with something sweet.  So sit up straight in your chair and point that pinky when you hold that cup that holds the good stuff.

Remember also to fortify yourself with surplus reserves for those trying moments that inevitably await you back home. The store stocks a wide range of delicious teas in easy-to-pack-for-the-trip-back containers.

Good for you, good for friends and relatives back home who are expecting the perfect gift from Paris when you return.

The only problem? Trying to decide on a favorite. Ours is Tea de Muses, but bon chance as you try to pick just one to love and adore.

Discover more at Nina’s website. Merci us later.

  • paris unofficial

Knock Knock

Prior to the French revolution, family seals crowned the doorways to many of the Parisian residences that housed the elites of the city, proclaiming their status and their wealth for all to see.

Then the starving, oppressed public rose up in anger. Several prescient nobles who sniffed the winds of change took the self-serving initiative to preemptively pop their own seals off and tuck them away in the attic in an attempt to appease the often-vengeful masses.

No reason to advertise, as they say, especially when liberte, egalite, and fraternite were coming into fashion with a passion.

Some change-resistant aristocrats endured the shame of having the revolutionaries pop the noble symbols off themselves. Sometimes a few titled heads were popped off in the process, with the help of the guillotine.

Since then, doors in Paris have generally remained a functional and discreet affair. They are many times mute, giving little hint as to the luxury that awaits within.

That’s kind of been the official rule, often, but not always. Behold the rare, unofficial display of splendor below.

photo: Weatherford Bradley, copyright 2018 all rights reserved

 

  • paris unofficial