How Does Paris Make Us Feel Sexier? Interview with Author of Naughty Paris

Heather Stimmler-Hall of Secrets of Paris is bringing out a new edition of her elegant Paris guidebook, Naughty Paris. I had the chance to interview Heather about some of the concepts in the book. I was curious about some of the Frenchwoman’s secrets, and Heather was happy to share what she knows in an email interview.

IPPY_cover

You’ve talked about how Paris women have a ‘secret garden’. What is this and how might we cultivate our own secret gardens?

A Parisian woman don’t feel it’s necessary to share every aspect of her personal life with those closest to her, not even with her husband. She doesn’t always say where she goes, who she’s with, what she ate, where she shopped. Not that she’s doing anything sneaky or that would upset her partner. She simply maintains a bit of mystery and privacy that she cherishes. Her own private garden.

This might be going to watch cheesy Hollywood films with a pint of ice cream on her own, getting her legs waxed and her hair highlighted at a local beauty parlor, or spending an afternoon alone at an art exhibition that moved her.

Your secret garden can be anything you want it to be, but it has to be private, not shared with others. We’re so transparent these days, just the idea of doing something wonderful for yourself without posting photos of it all over social media is a rebellious idea.

I love that. This is a great way to think about how we can cultivate a relationship with ourselves and to access our true desires. Privacy! What a concept!

How common do you think it is for women to want to feel sexier while in Paris?

In my own experience as a travel writer and tour guide, I find that American women tend to be very conscious of Parisian women and their historic reputation for being mysterious, seductive, fashionable, and sexy. For some visitors this can be intimidating, but for others it becomes a challenge and an inspiration.

First, American women don’t want to appear like frumpy slobs in comparison, there’s our national pride to protect! And then there’s the desire to discover their secrets so we can use them ourselves. After all, the Parisians aren’t all super models. Au contraire. They simply know how to make the best of what they’ve got, and they have (or fake) enough self confidence to pull it off without looking like they’re even trying.

That idea alone can be quite liberating for women who are used to trying to force themselves into an American cookie-cutter version of beauty and sexiness that is hardly attainable by the average person.

Despite (or maybe thanks to) the language and cultural barriers, feeling sexier in Paris is almost effortless for women once they relax and allow themselves to enjoy all the wonderful pleasures the city has to offer.

It’s true; I’ve seen this for myself and the women in my Paris workshops. You almost can’t come to Paris and not want to add a little feminine flair.

What gets in the way of women being able to access this side of themselves either in Paris or at home?

Not being able to relax and enjoy themselves, lol! Seriously, it’s not part of our culture to indulge in our own pleasure. Even on vacation we’re too goal oriented, with long “to do” lists and built-in guilt for doing anything that we might actually enjoy. A lot of women see the title “Naughty Paris” and say, “Oh, I’m not naughty!”

But when we deny ourselves pastries and chocolates because we’re on a diet, beautiful clothes and fancy heels because they’re not practical, and a day of simply people-watching on a café terrace with a bottle of wine because we think we “should” be visiting the Top Ten Tourist Sites, we’re telling ourselves that even the simple joys in life are bad.

Pleasure is the new Naughty, without even needing to go anywhere near anything blatantly sexual. Sometimes it’s easier when we’re on vacation to let loose a little bit, but once we’re back home and back to work…that’s a whole different book!

naughtyparis

I love that ‘pleasure is the new naughty’! What surprised you while researching and writing this book?

I’m a travel writer, not a “naughty expert”, so doing the research was quite eye opening, but I would say it was more surprising to discover who was interested in reading “Naughty Paris”.

Let’s just say that I got the most Puritanical reactions from American women under 40 (but usually under the disclaimer of “I have no problem with it, but my friends are very conservative”), while older women were usually more enthusiastic and open-minded.

It’s encouraging to see how so many women really do come into their own after 50 and stop caring so much about what other people think of them. They’re more likely to “get” Parisian sexiness than the women in their 30s.

That’s fascinating, and also great to see how women develop as we age. What do you want most for readers of Naughty Paris?

Most people dive right into the “Naughty Nightlife” chapter or focus on the dining and hotel recommendations to start planning the logistics of their vacation, but I do hope everyone takes the time to read the first chapter* to better understand – and perhaps even step into – the Parisian state of mind.

*downloadable for free on the Kickstarter page

The Daunting Work of Researching a Historical Novel in Paris

My novel Chasing Sylvia Beach shares the story of a young woman captivated by another era and what happens when she unexpectedly gets the chance to visit Paris, 1937, a place she’d only dreamed of. (Yes, very much like Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris!)

From the interior courtyard at Gertrude Stein's former apartment in Paris

But even romantic dreamers need facts to breathe life into a story. I had to do solid research to take my readers all the way to Paris approaching the end of its heyday. I needed more details about bookseller Sylvia Beach’s world.

Many writers love research, but I’m no scholar. I didn’t know where to start searching. While I am able to delve in once I find a source, unearthing new material isn’t my forte.

Worse, in 1999 when I first began writing this book, research was a whole mostly analog. To contextualize this long-ago era, I didn’t yet have a personal computer or an email account. There was no Google and no abundant jungle of information to tap at a click.

Saving me with its vast abundance of information, the Internet blossomed as a treasure trove for researchers. Over the twelve years it took to write Chasing Sylvia Beach, I developed a multi-pronged approach in order to depict a historical period accurately.

If you’re writing a historical novel, you may consider some of the seven methods I used to show Paris, 1937, in all her fading glory.

In-person research

I took many trips to Paris, visiting Odéania, the name Sylvia and Adrienne gave their Left Bank neighborhood. I walked the streets, ducked down alleys and sniffed around second-hand bookshops. I’d squint to edit out the contemporary noise and hubbub, inspired by Leonard Pitt’s Walks in Lost Paris, which showed before and after pictures of the city.

Films

Paris is proud of its past and French nostalgia made it easy to find Paris-related media. Forum des Images, located in the center of Paris, is an archive of the films featuring the city of Paris.

On several visits, I viewed archived footage from this era and saw clips like this. Seeing animated images helped me to relate more immediately to the people in this era.

Stock photos

The city of Paris also hosts an extensive archive of Paris photos that I accessed online. From thousands of images, I generated my own gallery depciting people at the time (1937) and in the places (the Sorbonne, the Luxembourg Garden, the Latin Quarter and St Germain).

Staring at these images and writing immediately after inspecting them helped me hone my observation and description skills. Paris en Images has a huge database of photos of the city of Paris.

Conversations with masters

It never hurts to look at good examples of historical fiction for inspiration. You may be able to strike up conversations with the authors, as I did.

I had the good fortune to correspond with spy novelist Alan Furst about how he accessed Paris in the past. Interviews and conversations with Noel Riley Fitch, John Baxter and a Parisisan named Alexandre who survived the Nazi Occupation of Paris all helped me delve deeper into this city’s past.

The author, by interview subject Alexandre, Paris 2010

Paris booksellers were often willing to talk about the era and pointed me toward other books or resources that helped my quest.

Archived material

If the subject of your historical novel was a real person, there may be museums or archives devoted to that person. Because of a generous grant from the Alliance française of Denver, I was able to spend a week in Sylvia Beach’s archives.

I used every penny of the $1,000 to travel to Princeton, New Jersey, where Sylvia’s archives are held in the Special Collections of Princeton University Library. I managed to slip this experience into my novel, so you can read about it in detail there.

Touching Sylvia’s things and visiting her grave was a profound experience that deeply impacted the story and added a layer of emotion I couldn’t have accessed otherwise.

Books

Of course it was a book that got me into Sylvia Beach in the first place. Here’s the bibliography that helped me write my novel.

Cultural immersion

My friend, journalist Lys Anzia invited me to consider the gestalt of the era. She urged me to listen to music of the era, read up on the political climate, investigate social and cultural mores of the period. I also found myself inspecting fashion, transportation and writing tools (fountain pens and typewriters) to ensure accuracy.

Crossing the Seine in Paris

Trying to access another era calls for persistence and thoroughness. You’re attempting the impossible and know that you’ll never fully get there.

But you do the best you can, fueled by your intense desire to see, feel and know what it was like to inhabit another era.

I gave Lily Heller, my character, this chance to visit Paris, 1937. And she thanks me for it, as well as for what it leads her to.

What helps you do historical research? Was research easy for you or a challenge? 

Paris Artist Interview with Graffiti Artist Sid Marquez

I met artist Sid Marquez at the CREA conference in Italy in 2009. Sid is not only a graffiti artist, he’s a graphic facilitator and a member of CREA France, an organization devoted to the development of creativity.

I ran into Sid again at a CREA meeting in Paris in December 2011. I’d adored his live graffiti demonstration in Italy, and he invited me to join him on a mission in Paris.

I was treated to a graffiti tour of Paris, culminating in seeing a piece come to life under Sid’s spray cans. The adventure was great fun. I captured a lot of footage and interviews; it was quite a challenge to edit it down. Enjoy!

 

 

Art Every Day Month, The Last Week

Well, we’ve tipped over into December and my duty to make some art every day is officially over. I did complete a daily creative act – mainly scribblings and jibblings in my Moleskine accordion notebook.

I will not stop because November has passed. I find this the best way to pass time otherwise spent sighing heavily. I have passed many minutes waiting in line without even noticing the time. That is the gift of the journal.

Many of these spreads aren’t finished. I need to add color and more love. But if I wait for that I fear I will never post them.

I am still learning how to draw people. Just when I think it’s time to give up (sorry, Katy Mesuga – you are much more stunning than my drawing suggests), I capture someone on the next page and am encouraged to keep trying.

Authors Geoff Dyer and Dinaw Mengestu at Shakespeare & Company

Oh! I can try to draw the backs of people too..

 

 

 

 

Notes from Henry Miller talk + métro railing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tea room at Tea & Tattered Pages

Drinks with interesting women on their Spontaneity Tour of Paris

 

 

I treated myself to lunch out...

Waiting in line for the Steins for nearly an hour

The exhibition was well worth the wait.

 

 

 

I visited two outdoor markets today and was delighted.