Archive for the ‘American history in Paris’ Category

Exploring African-American History in Paris with Discover Paris!
By Francine Allen, Guest Blogger

Saturday, August 13th, 2011
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Monique Y. Wells (left) and
Francine Allen (right)
at Notre Dame Cathedral
Photo by

The Eiffel Tower scales the sky.

Yet, its height is easily matched by depth—the depth of history held by the city in which it stands: Paris.

The buildings and streets of Paris tell a deep and rich history of the African-American experience, a history that Monique Wells and Tom Reeves of Discover Paris! helped me to discover. Their meticulous tour planning enabled me, as a first-time visitor, to travel with ease throughout Paris, learning of African-American history in a context and setting far beyond the U.S. border.

Touring Paris
Initially, the prospect of using the Paris metro system to tour the City was intimidating, an intimidation compounded by my very limited French-speaking ability. However, when Monique Wells walked with me to the metro station soon after my arrival in the City and showed me how to read the metro maps, her quick lesson in metro map-reading made it possible for me during the remainder of my time in Paris to ride the metro confidentially, visiting all of the tour sites outlined in the personalized schedule that she and Tom helped me design. My confidence and comfort level in Paris were further boosted by the fact that the metro system was only a very short walking distance from the quaint and comfortable hotel that Monique and Tom found and booked for me long before my arrival in the City.

After leaving Paris, I traveled to the southern part of France, to the hilltop village of St. Paul de Vence, where novelist and essayist James Baldwin lived and died. Here again, Discover Paris! made my travel to the village smooth, finding drivers who were both punctual and kind as they transported me between the train station and my hotel in Nice, and later, between the train station and the airport in Paris.

Learning of the African-American Presence in Paris
The ease with which Discover Paris! enabled me to travel throughout Paris and to other areas of France allowed me to focus on my primary purpose for visiting the City—delving into the African-American experience in the City. As Monique revealed in her tour, this experience is wide and deep, with building after building in Paris testifying to the black presence in Paris. There stands, for instance, the Casino de Paris where Josephine Baker performed. Then, among the never-ending array of Paris cafes sits the famous Café de Flore where, in one of its upper rooms, James Baldwin wrote Go Tell It on the Mountain. Along a road running by the cabaret Moulin Rouge arises the residence where Langston Hughes lived briefly. Beyond these buildings, there stand other buildings and areas that testify to the many lesser-known African Americans who also lived in the City, opening businesses in Paris at a time when doing so would have been unheard of in the United States.

This legacy, this historical fact of the black presence in Paris is not merely a matter of history. African Americans are still living and working in Paris, as is the case of novelist Jake Lamar. After Discover Paris! set up an interview for me with Lamar, I learned from this Bronx native who has chosen to make his home in Paris that, for him, one main attraction of the City is the love Paris shows the literary artist, regardless of his or her level of notoriety. This stands in contrast, Lamar says, to the U.S., which tends to give greatest attention to the most acclaimed literary artists.

Understanding the Global Nature of the African-American Experience
In creating a uniquely designed tour for me, Discover Paris! helped me to think of Paris beyond mere stereotypical images. Rather, I came to see how the City itself enriches the study of African-American history in three key ways. First, it reveals the very global nature of the African-American experience and the way in which this experience, in order to be fully understood, must be considered, studied, and explored beyond the borders of the United States. Secondly, the City highlights how the global aspect of the African-American experience includes not only Africa but Europe as well. Finally, the City’s history suggests that the pursuit of freedom continues to characterize the African-American experience, whether that pursuit is prompted as it was decades ago by a desire to escape segregation and Jim Crow or whether it is inspired today by the simple pleasure of freely enjoying life in a nation different from one’s birth.

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We wish to thank Francine Allen for contributing this article to our blog.

For information about our African-American history in Paris tours, follow this link.

Bellying up to Hemingway’s Bar

Thursday, July 21st, 2011
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Plaque showing were Ernest Hemingway sat at the bar of the Closerie des Lilas.
Photo by

Last Saturday evening we had the occasion to dine with a group of Ohio State University alumni in the upper room of the Closerie des Lilas, a restaurant rich in history. After the dinner, Monique and I descended to the ground floor to see if it was true that there was a plaque marking the spot that American writer Ernest Hemingway occupied when he frequented the bar.

Arriving there, a couple who had just finished their drinks moved away from the seats that they occupied. Spotting the plaque and the empty seats, we decided then and there to sit down, enjoy a cocktail, and relish the moment in this chic place.

But what a price we paid to “relish” the moment—the price of cocktails start at 15€! Taking a deep breath, we each ordered a Kir royal à la fraise des bois.

I guess the adage is true that drinks taste better in Paris, and even better still at the very same spot where Hemingway once sat.

Ernest Hemingway looks down benevolently from above.
Photo by

Bartender pouring two 15€ champagne cocktails.
Photo by

Proof that we were there.
Photo by

Monique and Tom doing their best to relish the 15€/drink champagne moment.
Photo by

Why we may never go there again.
May Hemingway rest in peace!

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Celebrating Independence Day at the Ambassador’s Residence

Friday, July 8th, 2011
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Independence Day was celebrated yesterday at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Paris. The theme of the party was “California Cachet,” highlighting California as a tourist destination.

Center: Ambassador Rivkin
Left: His wife Susan
Right: His son William

Ambassador Charles H. Rivkin gave a stirring speech (in admirable French) about his hopes for the spread of democracy throughout the world.

Renée Fleming

American opera star Renée Fleming sang “America the Beautiful,” accompanied by the choir of the American embassy, The Dip Notes (not pictured).

Jenna Ushkowitz

Kevin McHale

Jenna Ushkowitz and Kevin McHale, members of the cast of the American television series Glee, each sang, accompanied by the U.S. Air Force band Check Six.

American filmmaker Zachary Taylor and co-founder of Discover Paris! Monique Y. Wells

Hundreds of invited guests, many of them VIP French, including senators and admirals, attended the party held in the garden of the ambassador’s residence.

Corporate Sponsors

French and American corporate sponsors provided accommodation, food, and beverage. Staff members of the American embassy provided various services, including welcoming the guests.

A good time was had by all!

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It Could Have Fooled Me

Friday, June 10th, 2011
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For all of the years that I have known of the existence of the 1/16 execution model of the Statue of Liberty that stands proudly in the former priory of Saint-Martin-des-Champs in Paris (now the Musée des Arts et Métiers), the idea that it was made of plaster never entered my mind. I always thought that it was bronze.

Execution Model of the Statue of Liberty
Photograph by Discover Paris!

The statue, in fact, is the “execution model” that its originator, Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, and his workers used to create enlargements of the different elements of the statue that was assembled on Liberty Island and now stands in New York Harbor. That great statue is made out of molded sheets of copper affixed to a metal framework.

A few years ago the French art dealer, Guillaume Duhamel, approached the administrators of the museum with the idea of making cast-bronze statues from the plaster one. The administrators were initially reluctant to do so because of the fragility of the plaster statue. However the problem was eventually solved by using a process that scans the sculpture without touching it and creates a digital model. An identical reproduction was then made for casting, and the first bronze to be cast was installed in the courtyard of the entryway to the museum.

First Bronze Cast from the Execution Model
Photograph by Discover Paris!

Last night a reception was held at the museum to honor the realization of this great project and to celebrate French-American friendship. Following a speech by Jean-Claude Ziv, professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, about the birth of the idea for the Statue of Liberty, American ambassador Charles H. Rivkin gave a speech evoking the symbolism associated with the statue and the singularity of the United States as a nation of immigrants.

United States Ambassador Rivkin
Photograph by Discover Paris!

Following Rivkin’s speech, attendees were invited to join guides for tours through the museum or to explore it on their own. The reception cocktail took place in the courtyard in front of the newly-installed bronze Statue of Liberty.

A good time was had by all!

For a virtual tour of the Saint-Martin-des-Champs church, click here.

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We have written about the Statue of Liberty on two other occasions in our newsletter Paris Insights. Our first article, published in October 2000, was entitled “Is There a Black Statue of Liberty in Paris?” and addresses the rumor that circulated on the Internet at that time.

The other article was published in July 2006. Entitled “Three Ladies and a Flame,” it discusses the three Statues of Liberty that one could find in Paris at that time.

To gain access to these articles and, at the same time, gain access to our monthly newsletter, enter a subscription at the following link: After signing up, you will receive an access code.

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Will Discover Paris! Finally Get Its 15 Minutes of Fame?

Friday, March 18th, 2011
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Tom Reeves and Monique Y. Wells being interviewed by Anna Bromwich
Cameraman: Stephen Mann

On Friday, February 25, we met Amanda Rogers and Stephen Mann of RPP Productions in New York at the Café Tournon to participate in a documentary for a Web TV program on “literary Paris.” They had heard that we have expertise regarding the African-American literati who frequented the café in the 1950s, and they wanted to film us talking about that history.

With the permission of the café’s owner, we occupied a corner of the dining area and were recorded discussing Chester Himes, Richard Wright, William Gardner Smith, and other men who met frequently at the café (perhaps sitting in the very same corner) to debate politics and particularly the condition of black people in the United States. They also played chess, drank, exchanged banter, and flirted with the local women who came by to see them.

After our conversation, we moved to the Luxembourg garden where Anna Bromwich, an English woman living in Paris, acted as moderator and asked us questions about black history in the neighborhood. I talked about Ira Aldridge, an American and perhaps the most famous Shakespearian actor in Europe in the 19th century. He performed the leading role in Othello at the Odéon Theater, across the street, in 1867. Monique talked about Alexandre Dumas, perhaps the most famous French writer of the 19th century, who is buried in the Panthéon. Its immense dome is visible from the garden, providing a great photo opportunity from our vantage point near the Medici fountain.

The photographs were taken by Bryan Pirolli, an American studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, who came by to help out Stephen, who operated the video camera.

Cameraman Stephen Mann Adjusts His Camera to Shoot the "Good" Side of Tom Reeves and Monique Y. Wells

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Remembering Thomas Jefferson on the 4th of July

Sunday, July 4th, 2010
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Thomas Jefferson
(c) Discover Paris!

A statue of Thomas Jefferson stands at the entrance to passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor (formerly named pont de Solférino). The statue was erected on July 4, 2006, the 230th anniversary of American independence and the 180th anniversary of Jefferson’s death. According to the inscription on the base, it is a gift to the city of Paris from the Florence Gould Foundation, which supports French/American exchange and friendship, and Alec and Guy Wildenstein in memory of their father Daniel. The statue, sculpted by French artist Jean Cardot, depicts Jefferson holding a quill pen in his right hand and the original design of Monticello in his left. He is facing the Hôtel de Salm, the building whose construction he was able to observe from the south terrace of the Tuileries Garden across the river. Professing to be “violently smitten with the hotel de Salm,” Jefferson incorporated the design of its dome into the redesign of his house in Monticello when he returned to America.

We published a self-guided walking tour of the American Revolution in Paris in the July 2009 edition of Paris Insights. The walk traces a route connecting a number of sites in Paris that are associated with two of the USA’s founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. Access to the article that contains this walk, entitled The American Revolution in Paris—An Itinerary for American Patriots, is available to paid subscribers of our newsletter. To enter a subscription, click here.