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I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Thirza Vallois, author of a series that you might consider the bible of Paris, during her California lecture tour. I promise that you will want to go see her speak and that you will find yourself looking for her books.
TV: I have spent decades researching Paris, walking its every street, digging under every stone I could, pushing all the doors into its courtyards, interviewing everyone I could, reading all the books and archives I could lay my hands on. It took me 15 solid years to get immersed in my topic, and 8 solid years to write Around and About Paris. Being completely bilingual, being married into a French family, having the most prestigious university degrees from the Sorbonne, having taught for many years in French schools and institutions, all helped. Yes, I think I have as good a grasp of the city as one possibly can, although only those who know little about Paris will realise that one never has a full grasp of Paris. Like a courtesan (which is how William Faulkner defined her), Paris will always elude us and only give us part of herself. It is for us to constantly go out and seek her out, which is what I did for the world when I plunged into the adventure of Around and About Paris.
KA: What is it about Paris that has captured your attention over the decades?
TV: Impossible to answer this question. Shall I say "everything"? A certain atmosphere that one cannot pinpoint, the light…. Oh yes, the light, the ever changing skies, the Parisian temperament, the feminine grace, French songs… the intellectual stimulation. The endless Seine, but also the Canal Saint-Martin, and soon the river Bièvre, which is going to be dug out of the ground. Food and fashion, but that’s taken for granted.
KA: When was the first time you came to Paris?
TV: When I was a young, frivolous teenager. In fact my first encounter in Paris is on the online archives of Bonjour Paris for all to read. It’s a heart-warming story.
TV: It would take volumes to explain how I went about the research. All I can say is that no one was allowed into the room where it took place for eight years. Piles of notes, sorted out according to their topics and subtopics, covered every piece of furniture and the floor, and the cleaning lady was more than exasperated! But then, Paris deserved it. I also tried to alternate walking—library- walking, one day each, so as to allow my blisters to rest between walks.
KA: Your previous works approached Paris from its history and evolution? Do
your new works continue to elaborate on this subject?
TV: My present book is not at all about Paris. My present book is about the last hidden patch of France, the most remote and the most rural. Quite a contrast when coming from the Champs-Elysées or Bd St-Michel at rush hour. I have walked with the shepherds and the cowherds, I have ridden with the horsemen, but I have also met fashion designers and painters who could display their works in the most sophisticated boutiques, shops and galleries of Left Bank Paris (as one of them does), Sloane Street in London, or Manhattan. I hope to finish my manuscript in the next few months.
KA: And your speaking tours, what can an attendee expect to learn?
TV: Oh, my audience is always enchanted. When they come out they realise how little they knew before. They come out humbled (as I am myself), and like newborns who will never see Paris as before. It all takes on a new meaning, and it all begins to make sense. But I only give them the beginning. It is for them afterwards to go out and find out more. And let me add that my talks are always accompanied by very special slides.
KA: Lastly, what’s your favourite place to enjoy the afternoon sun in Paris? Which is your favourite view over the city? And what is your favourite street to walk down?
Thirza Vallois is recognized as a leading expert on Paris. She has written a series of in-depth travel companion books titled Around and About Paris, as well as a another work titled Romantic Paris. She is a regular contributor to Bonjour Paris and is currently on a lecturing tour of California. More information on Thirza as well as information about her books can be found at www.thirzavallois.com.
Read Around and About Paris and then grab a great air fare via AutoEurope to visit her favorite places.