Franco File Friday: Daisy of THATLou

The Louvre is at once spectacular and intimidating, and for art novices, the sheer size of its collection may even induce anxiety. To avoid shuffling through each corridor aimlessly, it's wise to visit armed with an itinerary, or even a guide, to create a tour according to what you'd most like to see. Thanks to one New York expat, there's now a third option. Daisy de Plume (yes, a pseudonym), art fanatic, entrepreneur and expat in Paris since 2004, launched THATLou (Treasure Hunt at the Louvre) two years ago as a way to lend new meaning to touring the museum. Riding on its success, she recently launched THATRue, an extension to the concept, which takes visitors into the streets for three distinct hunts of the Latin Quarter.

Daisy’s initial motivation to come to Paris may have been pure escapism but what has kept her here for the last decade is an insatiable passion for France, its history and its evolutions. Learn more about her below! 

Describe what you love about France in three words. 
History. Lifestyle. Chablis.

Favorite area of Paris to introduce to out-of-towners?
I have a standard walk I do with guests that circles my own Faubourg St Denis hood. We invariably hit the 9th Arrondissement Square Montholon, a dignified, park framed by Bourgeois Haussmannian numbers. There are several playgrounds for various ages nestled among the French sculpture and soaring old trees. After a bench-sit we’ll wander back via the small private-feeling lane of Cite de Trévise, which has a private garden the size of a stamp, with an adorable trickling fountain. Much like NY’s Gramercy Park, the little garden is only accessible to residents. Heading back over from the 9th to the 10th we usually traverse the cobble-stoned passage-like rue Gabriel Laumain, where the only people we pass are idle dog-walkers and other people with kids zipping along on the traffic-free lane.

Depending on my guests’ interest, sometimes we’ll stop in the wonderfully eclectic Brocante shop Atelier de Pablo (34, rue d’Hauteville), which was a pioneer of cool for the hood. The Faubourg St Denis area, in the SW corner of the “The Perfect Tenth” (as your title went for Bon Appétit) is now a bobo-magnet from architect & designers’ offices to bars, restos, cafes, and of course shops, but Atelier de Pablo opened well before the hood took off, back in 2006. Rue d’Hauteville was a Furrier’s street (and still has a few wholesale fur shops), and their upstairs was originally one huge bank vault holding furs. The ladies who own the shop, Vero et Ben, had to spend oodles to remove the steel walls in the renovation.
After that we’ll toddle up to Pan (12 rue Martel 75010) to make dinner reservations and then take a glass on the tree-lined Passage Petites-Ecuries before continuing on through various passages, my favorite being Passage Brady (lined with Indian colors, smells, spices and restos) and eventually ending at Canal St Martin. It’s a pleasant afternoon wander.

Key tip for museum-lovers on a strict timetable ?
As the grandfather of dusty old museums, the Louvre is un-skippable. One of the keys, if your schedule permits it, is to go on off hours (a Wed or Friday night, when it’s open till 9.45) and to buy your ticket in advance (at the tabac within the Louvre du Carrousel subterranean mall) to skip the line. Once inside, choose a section / period of art and concentrate on that alone. Don’t rush in and then wander aimlessly (if you don’t have a lot of time), take the map and think about what might interest you that day. It’s the same as the Met, people get overwhelmed with too many choices. Don’t be afraid to dismiss enormously important works (as they’re all enormously important works), they’ll be here when you return. If you focus your visit, you leave enriched. If you stretch yourself thin (altogether too easy to do there), you’ll leave wilted. Another tip – if you’re here for a layover you can leave your bag at the left-luggage, have your visit to the Louvre and then go out exploring the central Paris hood that the Louvre is the lynchpin to (Tuileries picnic, Palais Royal, Notre Dame, a Marais or St Germain stroll, etc). Tickets are good all day long.

But if the Louvre’s not your bag, I have two fave intimate museums: 1) the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson down in the 14th (metro Gaite). Cartier-Bresson epitomizes Paris for me and the collection has a small but impressive permanent collection in the light-filled aerie at the top (among his archives), as well as other floors of some fantastic photographers who’ve won the Cartier-Bresson award. It’s free on Wed nights from 6.30-8.30. Then the other small museum I love spending an hour or two in is the Jacquemart André, not too far from Etoile, in the 8th Arrt. It’s Paris’s equivalent of NY’s Frick Museum or London’s Wallace collection – a rich financier’s art collection within his mansion. The quality isn’t top tier (the quality at the Frick far surpasses it), but they have a great Tiepolo fresco in their plant-filled winter court, and some fun Van Dycks, Rubens and Titians, etc. On weekends they have period costumes kids can dress up in. And their tearoom is divine, perfect for feeling like a lady who lunches in a regal 19th century setting.

Most underrated place/spot in Paris?
Well, it’s clearly doing well, as there are so many branches, but I feel like I don’t see a lot of mentions of the Julhès empire. A family fromagerie that started out on Faubourg St Denis, it also has a well-reputed collection of whiskeys, wines and champagnes (with informative tastings here and there at their HQs).

Most amusing or frustrating interaction with the French?
Any foreigner who’s lived here for some time has a thick dossier of visa-war stories, both bitter and funny. For years I was an illegal alien in quest of hurdling the famous French red tape. Then for years I was legal through my office job, on a somewhat exhausting one-year-at-a-time basis, staying limber with those annual Prefecture hoop-jumping performances. At one point my titre de séjour was rejected due to using sunglasses as a headband in my ID shot. God forbid one smile or have glasses anywhere near the photo booth! I think my favorite French exchange was with a State doctor who had to examine me for a work permit. At the time I smoked like a chimney. I’d smoked in NY, but after a few years in Paris I was up to 2 packs a day, morning, noon and night. My lungs hadn’t been X-Rayed in ages, but for this medical clearance they needed them. The doctor was pleasant enough, more engaged with her mobile than my medical exam, but we both knew it was a paper-work visit really. When it got to the point where she looked at my X-Rays I asked her to look more closely, was she sure my lungs were fine? Obligingly she looked again and confirmed that yes, my lungs were spotless. “But that can’t be, je fume comme un pompier!” I said. Slightly annoyed at my persistence she snapped “well if you care so much then just quit”.

The simplicity of it all was just so logical when she blurted it out. Don’t quit because it’s bad for you, do it ‘cause it’s bothering you – we’re all going to die anyway, really. French logic, time and again when it lands in my lap, has somehow made total sense. I always saw those visa-visits as a reinforcement of my love for France, a test of “do you really want to be here?” Thanks to my Argentine husband’s Spanish passport, I have passed that French visa rite-of-passage and only have to visit the prefecture once every 10 years now.
Thanks, Daisy! For more on THATLou and THATRue, follow Daisy's blog, her Facebook page and her Twitter updates

*All photos courtesy of Daisy de Plume; portrait by Lindsey Kent of Pictours Paris. 
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