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An American in Paris

Lindsey Tramuta’s debut bestselling book, The New Paris, offers a collection of insights into the evolving tastes shaping the City of Light.

Lindsey Tramuta
Lindsay Tramuta. Photo: Charissa Fay/Abrams Books

Lindsey Tramuta’s debut bestselling book, The New Paris, offers a collection of insights into the evolving tastes shaping the City of Light.

The New Paris
Lindsay Tramuta
Abrams (2017)

In observing a wave of fresh ideas and innovators breathing new life into the French capital, Tramuta points to the transformation of a once locked-in-time city attached to its past. Tramuta, an American who has called Paris home for over a decade, is well positioned to comment on French culture as both an insider and outsider. Insider in the sense that she is perfectly comfortable in the French language and is now a French citizen; outsider in the sense that she can perhaps explore, with greater curiosity and intention, cultural shifts that her French compatriots may not. Even the French press, upon the book’s release, joked that it took an American to document these changes.

“For a lot of the French people I spoke to, they had felt the changes, but they hadn’t actually sat down and thought about them the way I was presenting them. That’s what the outsider lens does: you can see things that someone else doesn’t take the time to see or is too entrenched to see,” Tramuta says. In The New Paris, Tramuta’s perspective invites the lens of photographer Charissa Fay, whose striking photographs animate the ever-changing worlds of food, wine, pastry, coffee, beer, fashion, and design in the capital.

Feeling frustrated that few books were depicting the realities of life in Paris, Tramuta sought to fill a gap in the market. “I really wanted to focus on recasting the way we think about Paris,” Tramuta says. There are stereotypes we all know. “Books and magazines allow them to continue. There were stories I’d turn down, when magazine editors wanted me to perpetuate that myth, and I didn’t want to be part of that,” Tramuta says. “I want to show that Paris is a special place for a much different reason. I’m trying to show the city for what it is and that what makes it strong and interesting today isn’t the same as what made it interesting 20 years ago.”

Through years of editorial work for outlets like The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Fortune Magazine, and Afar, Tramuta has established herself as an authority on the French cultural scene. By 2014, she realized she wanted to go beyond these individual, isolated stories and pull them together in a book. “Like most writers, I’d say I enjoy the interviewing more than the writing,” Tramuta says. “I really liked talking to people and unraveling the story as I went along. I’d think I’d gotten to the bottom of a certain topic then meet someone who said, ‘but have you thought about this?’ and they’d point me to an expert in natural wines or to certain reading material. It was such an exciting feeling to be in that moment with someone and to have this picture crystallize in front of me. It made me even more excited to write about it.”

“I really wanted to focus on recasting the way we think about Paris,”

Containing her thinking within the parameters set by time and publisher constraints proved to be the most surprising challenge for Tramuta, who found there was always too much to say. The best way to deal with all the information was to organize the book around key themes expressed in this moment of cultural shift: Parisians who are abandoning career-for-life ambitions for passion projects; young talent infusing elements from their foreign training into their line of work; and a city-wide awakening (prise de conscience) about how Parisians are living and consuming as a society.

It’s about people consuming what they’re interested in, which is more sustainable than a trend. Take specialty coffee, for instance. The act of ordering and consuming coffee in much of France has traditionally been less about the actual drink and more about the social experience and caffeine-bolstering effect. The nearly burnt beans—typically Robusta—tend to be substandard in quality, the machines old and poorly managed, and the baristas poorly trained. But, as Tramuta writes, young people inspired by the coffee cultures of the US, UK and Australia are transforming the city’s specialty coffee scene with brews that are crafted by trained baristas using freshly roasted high-quality beans.

The New Paris also contains chapters on pastries and sweets (including a look at how the éclair is inspiring the imaginations of contemporary pastry chefs) and on libations (Tramuta traces the democratization of craft cocktails as drinks accessible to all and shows how natural wines and craft brews are now legion in the city). There is a chapter on shopping and crafts, where Tramuta takes us to the shops of cheesemongers, fishmongers, cobblers and locksmiths whose businesses are thriving in the era of Amazon. In the chapter on Places and Spaces, Tramuta includes a look at the rapid gentrification of the 10th and 11th arrondissements, the area along and around the Canal St. Martin. With new boutiques, trendy bars and brunch eateries, this Williamsburg-like space is commanding more attention among travelers and locals than ever before.

Texans will appreciate Tramuta’s profile of Thomas Abramovicz in the chapter on Food and Dining. The Frenchman, who spent a year training in central Texas, tracked down everything he’d need (meat, wood, Bourbon) to open the first authentic smokehouse in Paris. His menu features beef in the form of slow, smoked brisket and ribs, barbecued chicken, pulled pork, vinegary cole-slaw, baked beans, and pecan pie. Abramovicz brings a style of cooking that’s unique to another country, yet not modified or toned down. He’s passionate about his craft, and as a result, Parisians have come to fully embrace his BBQ joint, The Beast.

This increasing openness to doing things in a less traditional way is something Tramuta experienced personally in the process of writing The New Paris. “I was surprised by how much I really enjoyed the wine and beer reporting. Those people are so completely immersed in their passion,” she says. “When I reread those passages, it makes me realize how my own tastes have changed, how these individuals helped push me a bit further.” It’s incredibly energizing and reflects on the ways in which societal tastes have become more inclusive, more open to outside influences.

The internet, specifically social media, helped prompt the change. It made Parisians look around them, to see in their own population a diversity of histories and experiences, opportunities for growth and development. “It became obvious that there are all these other cultures in the world that are innovating, designing, creating with the world in mind, and that created the impetus for Parisians to do the same,” Tramuta says.

The French began spending more time on social media platforms back in 2008, at a time when the economy was crashing, when they had to imagine what the future was going to look like. “Today, people are looking at activism, women’s movements, ways to get involved. But France will always have battles, the way the French are so anchored to history. Even when they’re moving forward they’re still looking back. It’s forever a battle but has gotten a lot better in recent decades,” Tramuta says.

There are other cities doing things in a more progressive manner, cities that are, perhaps, stronger socially. Tramuta says that cities undergoing difficulties of their own can see in Paris a number of enterprising people who have “managed to shake off some of what’s holding it back, people who are continuing to fight the fight and looking forward even when its leaders are not.”

People have a higher expectation of what Paris provides in terms of services, what makes the city more livable and breathable, and city leaders have a unique responsibility. “The population is ever increasingly more demanding,” Tramuta says, “and that provides an example to other cities, to other people. That natural inclination of the French to fight for what they want, pushing the city to keep their interest in mind.” Some city leaders lose sight of that completely, but mayor Anne Hidalgo, Paris’s first female mayor, is making sure its needs are heard. For instance, Hidalgo plans to incorporate four “urban forests” in the city center. In an interview with Le Parisien she said, “We have an obligation to act today to avoid making this city impossible to live in down the road.”

In some ways, The New Paris is a work of ethnography, or, at the very least, sociological in scope. Tramuta’s next book, which will be published by Abrams in 2020, delves more deeply into the social fabric of Paris, showing its ills and struggles in a more profound way. While The New Paris looks at the broader changes sweeping the capital, Tramuta’s next book goes more narrow, focusing on one particular group of people shaping the city—its women.

“Paris has always been a model,” Tramuta says, “and now it continues to innovate in a number of ways whether in fashion or food. Other cities and individuals are still looking to Paris, and they can learn from the city beyond just the cultural perspective. They can learn from Paris’s shortcomings as well, and maybe learn to handle their own better than Paris did. I would hope that it continues to be a city that is looked to as a guidepost.”

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Katy Dycus

Katy Dycus Originally from Fort Worth, Texas, Katy now lives in Madrid, Spain. When she isn't teaching, hiking, or laughing with friends, she's probably writing for the anthropology journal Mammoth Trumpet. Or looking for the perfect avocado.