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Insider's view · Europe · france · Paris

Insider: Alain Bisotti

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Insider: Alain Bisotti

Where have all the Parisians gone?
Alain Bisotti has been living in Paris for more than 20 years. He is the marketing manager at the small, charming Hôtels Paris Rive Gauche hotel chain on the Left Bank. He is also a designer and the author of the popular Hôtels Paris Rive Gauche cultural blog. Bisotti's humourous, witty entries are a joy to read, no matter whether the theme is a current art exhibition or a new gastronomical find. In any case, his blog is definitely worth a look before heading to Paris. "I used to be a book seller in the south of France (Toulouse)," says Bisotti. "When I arrived in Paris I had to accept a job as night auditor in a hotel and I realised that I was enjoying it. I decided to stay and I'm so happy with this decision. I'm living with my future husband and our dog near the Canal Saint Martin."

Why do you like living in Paris?
I travel by bicycle, and every morning on by bike I'm just simply happy - even if it's just watching the sun come up and give colour to the buildings of Paris. You can find something beautiful in nearly every corner of Paris. I always cross the bridge on my way to work and every morning I see the Louvre, the Musée d'Orsay and the Conciergerie. Whenever someone comes to visit me who's in Paris for the first time, I always recommend they walk through the Louvre, both the Pyramid and the museum. I think it's magical and fantastic...simply unbelievable.

Does Paris really continue to amaze you? Have you not become accustomed to it by now?
No. In addition, I now have a dog, so my walks now have a completely different character. I notice things I never noticed before when riding my bike. That's the magic of this city. I know people who visit Paris regularly, and the same thing happens to them -- they're continually amazed at what they see. That doesn't happen, for example, in London. In London, I'm not amazed at all. But Rome elicits the same feelings as Paris. Especially when the sunlight bathes the city. The light is fantastic.

Is there anything you hate about Paris?
Yes, the behaviour of the people. And Paris is not very clean, either.

Because of the dogs?
No, because of the people. For example, people unwrap a sandwich and often just thrown the paper on the ground.

Was it the same 20 years ago?
Now it's just more pronounced. Maybe you don't see it in the centre of the city, because that's tourist territory and is therefore cleaned often. But if you live, for example, by Canal Saint Martin, it's a mess. But I like Paris anyway.

Could you name your five favourite restaurants/cafés in Paris?
Carmen Ragosta: Mode et Cuisine
(8 rue de la Grange aux Belles Paris 10e; www.carmenragosta.com). I like this place very much and I go there almost every weekend. The owner is a designer of women's clothing and also a wonderful chef. She specialises in vegan Italian cuisine. The restaurant is not open every day. On Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays it serves lunch; on Saturdays and Sundays it serves brunch. Sometimes Carmen opens it for dinner on weekends, but then you have to be a group of at least four or five people and make a reservation well in advance. But she'll make a meal specially for you! You never know what to expect when you arrive at Carmen Ragosta. Whenever I'm there, I meet people who first have a meal and then try on Carmen's clothing. She's very talented. Besides, her restaurant makes some of the best tiramisu in the world!
Jesus Paradis (22 Cour des Petites Ecuries; www.jesusparadis.com). A nice place to have a drink and listen to nice music with nice people! Jesus Paradis is in the hip area of Rue Saint-Denis and serves spicy food from Brazil and Cape Verde. Twice a week the restaurant also serves homemade hamburgers. Just a few years ago Rue Saint-Denis was a very creepy area. But now it's very trendy, especially the area around Château d'Eau. It's full of hipsters tasting all kinds of hamburgers, because the newest trend is eateries that serve homemade hamburgers.
Pâtisserie Viennoise (8 Rue de l'École de Médecine, 75006 Paris). A small Viennese-style pâtisserie near the l'Ecole de Médecine that's almost as old as a human lifetime. The counter at the front of the bakery sells cakes and strudels for take-away that are made right on the premises, in the bakery's basement. Further inside is a small café with tables.
Le Salon du Pantheon (13, rue Victor Cousin, 75005 Paris). Near the Sorbonne, for secret meetings.... Le Salon du Pantheon is located on the upper floor of Cinéma du Panthéon. Furnished with retro-style furniture, low tables and lush rugs, the place looks more like a designer lounge than a restaurant. The interior designer is none other than French film diva Catherine Deneuve! It's an unbelievably homey place and, furthermore, is serves great food.
The Pharamond (24 Rue de la Grande Truanderie 75001 Paris; www.pharamond.com). A place to go for the atmosphere, not for the food (which is far from excellent). With its wonderful Art Nouveau interior, the first floor looks like a classic turn-of-the-20th-century bistro. But the true gems are the several private salons on the second floor, which seat three, four or five people and can be reserved for special occasions. Just imagine what might have happened here many years ago.... The Alexandre salon is the largest, then there's the Orient Express salon, the Cloud salon (with the most "design" of them all) and the Feathers salon....
Le Train Bleu ( (Gare de Lyon, Place Louis-Armand, 75012 Paris; www.le-train-bleu.com) is also a special place. Located in the Gare de Lyon station since 1901, its interior brings you back to the Belle Époque. The food, however, is nothing special, so it's more of a place to have a coffee or cocktail. I remember when I first came to Paris, I worked nights and came here in the mornings to have a cup of coffee. I lay back and gazed at the ceiling. A fantastic place!

What should one definitely do to catch the nerve of Paris in all its diversity?
I would say La Fête de la Musique. Every year on June 21st there's music of all sorts on every street corner and a real party feeling across the city. There's no other night like it here. Expect a few bad cover versions of rock classics, but also much spontaneous dancing and a great deal of laughter.

How would you describe the true Parisians?
That depends a lot on the neighbourhood. But to compare, for example, Brussels and Paris -- they're two completely different cities. In Brussels it's the foreigners and poorer people who live in the centre of the city, whereas in Paris it's the other way around: the city centre is mostly full of white, rich people and the further you go from the centre, the more foreigners and poorer people you'll meet.
In Paris we live as if in a dream. We know nothing of reality, of the economic crisis and so on. Even though we really are going through a crisis, and a very serious one at that. Wandering through the streets of Paris, you see restaurants full of people every day, even on Mondays and Tuesdays. And it's not just tourists, but locals as well. We are supposedly all in the same boat, but we don't even realise what's happening, not even here at home in France. It feels like there's a glass dome covering Paris.
Speaking with people in Paris, you'll find that it's difficult to find a true Parisian. The people you'll most likely meet are from Provence or other regions of France. The true Parisians have left Paris. Most of my friends are also not native Parisians. Paris is full of foreigners.

And no one knows what's happened with the true Parisians?
They've all run away.

Why have they run away if Paris is so wonderful?
I like Paris very much, but I think I will run away from it in about ten years. too.

Why?
It's a very, very busy city. Furthermore, the older one gets, the more one wants peace and quiet and proximity to nature. Paris is a city for very active people; it's not for senior citizens. Paris is very difficult for the elderly, because they often live alone and in buildings without elevators. Maybe it's like that in all cities, but Paris is definitely not the friendliest city in which to grow old.

Where would you like to grow old?
I think I will head to Seville. In Spain relations between people are different than they are in France. Even on the streets of such a turbulent city as Madrid one sees young people helping old people. In Paris you don't see anything like that. That doesn't happen anymore. On the bus you'll never see a young person giving up his or her seat to an elderly person.

Is that French arrogance?
Yes, I believe arrogance is actually a very good word. And it's not Parisian arrogance; it's French arrogance. The French have always been big, and humanity is not a part of their character. A mixture of different communities is also not characteristic of France. Many people live next to each other but never meet their neighbours. I must admit that I also have no African or Asian friends. All of my friends are white. Social mixing is not characteristic of Paris, only closed circles that do not overlap. I had no opportunity to meet people in the place where I previously lived; I did not try to begin conversations with them, and they did not try to begin conversations with me. That's funny! The French are quite racist. And that's a problem.

What is the biggest stereotype about Paris? And why it is or is it not true?
Something people often say to me is, "Parisians are so well dressed!" But I'm not really sure that's true. Most people get their clothes from the same chain stores you'll find the world over, or at the supermarket. If visitors think we can all afford to get our clothes from Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, they're wrong.

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