The Necessity of French Cafés is the blog of ArtSlant's Georgia Fee Artist-in-Residence, Lisa Diane Wedgeworth, who is undertaking her residency in Paris during June and July 2016. Lisa will build this blog as a digital archive of essays, photographs, excerpts of narratives, and other relevant manifestations of the project. You can find more information about ArtSlant's Georgia Fee Artist/Writer Residency here.
Paris is always a good idea.
—Audrey Hepburn as Sabrina Fairchild in Sabrina
It has been four week since I arrived in Paris and I have met the most interesting people. We have held court in crowded metros and on bouncing buses, on living room sofas and tiny chairs in cafés, in cozy jazz clubs, a convalescent home, spacious galleries, and on damp grass in the park. I have been blessed with new friendships and humbled by the trust given to me to document those I have only known for a few minutes.
As one would imagine, the who, what, why, when, and how that inspires one person to visit and another to move to Paris is as unique and complex as the person themselves. It is my hope, with this documentation, and this peek into their stories, that a layer has been lifted that may give a bit of insight as to why. And maybe, just maybe, it will inspire someone else to be inspired.
Name: Quan Lanae Green
Time in Paris: 10 days (3 days in 2005, 7 days in 2016)
Café: Le Petit Cluny | 5th Arrondissement
I met Quan the first week I was in Paris at Patricia Laplante-Collins’ well-known weekly Sunday Soirees. It was the evening before she returned to Atlanta, having spent a week in Paris to complete her memoir, From Poughkeepsie to Paris: A Ghetto Girl’s Journey to Becoming a Fabulous Woman. Quan’s passion for life is contagious and she embodies the joy, courage, and love of life that motivate many to visit Paris.
I asked Quan about her most recent trip to Paris, and this was her response:
Paris is known as “The City of Light” and when I was here for the first time in January of 2015, I felt that. I felt enlightened and I felt positive energy. Back home in America, I have this saying where I am constantly telling people, Let your light shine. When I saw the Eiffel Tower for the first time, I said, This is me! If someone can build a structure [laughs] that would represent me, it would be the Eiffel Tower. I mean, you have this huge tower in the center of Paris, just lit up for everyone to see…that represents me!
During that first trip to Paris, I was just overcome with so much emotion. I remember the first time I visited the Louvre and saw the pyramid, my initial reaction was—I just cried. It was uncontrollable and I couldn’t believe that I was there, seeing it with my own eyes. It felt so good. It meant so much to me. I had came a long way. Where I am from in upstate New York, Poughkeepsie, it’s very hood, it’s very ghetto. Not many people get out—they definitely don’t get a chance to go to Paris. And, you know, in that moment, it was like, wow, ghetto girl [laughs] you did it. You did it. You know? I promised myself I would go back. That feeling was so strong. I wanted to write about it. And I wanted to use this experience, these feelings, to empower and inspire other girls who may or may not be living in the hood right now, but who have dreams. I want to tell them that it is possible and that if I can do it, they certainly can.
Name: Veronica Kugler
Years living in Paris: 9 (1998–2001, 2010–present)
Café: Le Saint Jean | 18th Arrondissement
In 2010, Veronica moved to Paris for the second time with her three young children (ages four, six, and eight) in tow. Before relocating, she spoke to them only in French while her husband at the time spoke to them in English to assure the children would be bilingual. We were first introduced at La Mère Lachaise, a little café on Ménilmontant in the 20th arrondissement, as we were both there to see American chanteuse Shugga Rosenbloom perform with her jazz band. Veronica is a writer whose love for French language and culture inspired her to first visit Paris when she was eighteen.
Living here with my kids is really amazing. When we arrived they attended a public French school. Since they were the only Americans, they were basically little rock stars and by the end of the first year they were correcting my French. Since they were already bilingual, the transition was smooth and they made friends easily. Living here is an experience we will all cherish. Their field trips are to the Louvre and The Musée d'Orsay, we are able to vacation throughout France, and last year I took them to Norway. I had been when I was younger; it is such a beautiful country. I remember thinking, I want to come back with someone I really love. I was young and single then and was thinking romantically [laughs]. When I was planning our vacation, I thought, I love my kids and wanted to share such a special place with them.
I asked Veronica about her own desires to live in Paris and what ignited that spark?
For me, it really started by growing up in an urban environment and not knowing much of what was out in the world, other than family vacations back south to visit relatives. My window of seeing other places was based on television and Paris was always portrayed as the city of romance and beauty. What resonated with me was the history and culture of France. When I went to middle school, I had the opportunity to pick two electives. Foreign language was a choice, French was an option—that was really one of the defining moments of my life, choosing to study the French language. Once I learned that it was possible for me to take classes and learn how to speak French, then that became my goal. If you’ve ever taken language classes you know pretty quickly it’s not just language: it’s learning about the culture, about the people, their history. Throughout my academic experience, it was learning about French culture and history that inspired me to move to Paris. And, that, the spark ignited by those classes was the guiding light throughout my teenage years.
I was interested in whether, at any time before coming to Paris, she had thought of Josephine Baker, James Baldwin, or Langston Hughes. Did any of that history or legacy filter into, or inform her desire to be in Paris?
In our household there wasn’t a big focus on African-American history. My dad died when I was four. As a widow with four children, my mother was extremely busy with work. It wasn’t until I was a senior in high school—this was back in the 80s—where I was exposed to African-American history, when we actually had an African-American history course. I took the course and that was when I learned in depth about our contributions. I was already seventeen by then and I had learned about our history, but the dream—to live in Paris—was already in me. When I was in college, I started reading James Baldwin and became really curious about the experience. I had dreamed about and picked this place [Paris] and now I’m learning that people have sought refuge here.
Trying to find a parallel, I had wondered what would my experience be? When I finally made it to Paris, that may have been a small part of what inspired me. It was interesting to have this dream and know there was a historical component to it. Additionally, the reality that people in Paris treated me like I was American, not African-American—that was really an eye-opener.
Interview excerpts have been lightly edited for clarity.
Lisa Diane Wedgeworth is an LA-based artist and writer. Tonight, July 1, she will facilitate her first storytelling workshop: Tell Your Story! at Cafe Le 138 | 138 Rue de Faubourg Saint-Antoine 75012 Paris | Workshop hours: 18:00–19:30
(All photographs: Lisa Diane Wedgeworth)