La Vie de Paris


Location Latin Quarter in Paris

Rent 1,150 euros [market]

Square feet 648 square feet [one-bedroom apartment with two terraces in 1970s concrete six-story building]

Occupant Frank Browning [journalist, author, The Culture of Desire

[Ring, ring] . . . It’s Federal Express. Bonjour, madame. [ He receives the package.]

How is the Internet in France? Four whole days once, the entire Internet was gone. It’s a crappy system.

A burned car is on your street near the building the color of moutarde. Tuesday there was one in the Marais, not far from the Republique.
Eighty cars are torched per day in France. It’s gone on for a year. They are almost all in immigrant ghettos. Here, it’s probably people getting rid of cars they want the insurance company to replace. I never saw a burned car here before. This is just a little bit of a street in Bobo land. I was getting up as I do to go to the local café to read the morning papers on one of those days with drippy, leaden Paris skies—they can last for five months . . .

People seem sad in Paris. I was watching them at rush hour, running to the Metro with these anxious looks, little bags of provisions. Then in the restaurants, eating alone, chewing their tiny pieces of meat as they stare out or read Le Monde. Paris is famously one of the most depressed cities in Europe. People haven’t had many raises in years. The economy seems frozen. You put on top of that the worst civil emergency in 40 years.

When did you move here? In 2000. I’d lived in Brooklyn, Windsor Terrace, for six years, on the street where they shot Smoke. I was with my boyfriend of the time in this brick row house, reporting for NPR, writing books, and going back and forth to Kentucky. My family has an apple orchard.

Green, red, crab? You’re an American and you think only three. We have around 30 varieties. I wrote a book called Apples.

Why did you move to Paris? It became clear it was time for me to leave. I couldn’t afford to stay in New York. I’d always wanted to live abroad. I had friends in Paris; the dollar was high. They have better sex clubs. Though at my age, it’s a little . . .

A friend said the Paris mayor is openly gay and has done wonders in the Marais, shutting off the streets to traffic—so New Urbanist. New restaurants are opening. I went to Le Bouledogue, which is the place to eat, I guess, though I only had a snack and then went to Les Cahiers de Colette across the street and there was a reading and all these French intellectuals were there, with their eyeglasses, holding their wine. I moved to New York in 1994. I found it too late to move at 47. For me, New York means taking in stride the most grotesque brutalities. You have to be able to smash your foot down on the fingers of your social and literary competitors to make the better spotlight. It’s the same in Paris, if you’re French. But I’m not.

How did you get the apartment? A friend had it. He was moving to Italy. It’s very difficult to find an apartment with two terraces. Paris is like New York—people pay for light.

But Paris buildings are mostly six stories, cream-colored, not dark brown like New York. There are height limits. So tidy—the garbagemen in their apple, excuse the expression, green outfits with their green brooms. It’s a small city. I can cross Paris in 25 minutes. My friend and I are buying a barn and tiny house to renovate for resale in the second-home market—in Le Loir, not La Loire, but its tributary. Christophe has already converted a family barn. I said, I’ll put some of my retirement money into it; we’ll sell to the English or Dutch. They can’t afford to buy in their own countries. Rural real estate here is cheap to them. More and more Parisians are looking at the second-home market. In New York, people feel they’ve failed if they spend a weekend at home, the same for all the Bobo cities: Oh, you stayed the weekend, I’m so sorry.