Tucked away in quiet back alley ways, you can find the studios and residences of some of Paris' many artists and craftsmen. There are whole neighborhoods that have ateliers and charming little apartments where artists have lived side-by-side for generations. These spaces are reserved for them and so remain the same year after year. You can watch glass blowers, book binders, musical instrument makers, engravers and painters of minatures working in these traditional studios. In fact there are about 4000 artisans* who live and work in central Paris. They are mainly clustered in the Marais and the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, near the Bastille. There is strong support for arts and crafts in France. This comes in the form of both cultural and financial encouragement. France seems to be a country that really appreciates those activities and professions that bring beauty and charm to daily life and are willing to fund people of keep them alive. Of course France is also known for guarding its history and traditions with attention to detail. Since Paris is the most visited spot on the planet, there must be something in the rest of us that is attracted to the old beautiful things which the French take so much time and expense to maintain. This is all good news for French crafts people. There is still a lively system of apprenticeship in France and jobs waiting for young people who learn traditional arts and crafts. The amount of restoration that is accomplished every year in France is phenomenal**. Children who do not seem academically inclined at the early age of 13-15, are encouraged to skip ordinary high school and take up a trade. Our neighbor's daughter was apprenticed to a fine chocolate maker after finishing junior high school. Her first year she was required to get up at 4 am to start work and work a split shift. She worked on every holiday, which was, of course, the busiest days for the shop where she was an apprentice. It was grueling hard work for a young girl but it certainly kept her out of the usual adolescent trouble! After five year of studies, and passing several demanding exams, including creating chocolate sculptures in a few high-pressure hours, she's a professional candy maker with all the skills and knowledge of generations of chocolatiers before her. She works at a very fine chocolate shop and can aspire, when she's a bit older, to either take over the business or open her own shop. Gwenola, the daughter of our friends Françoise and Bernard, followed the usual academic path finishing high school with a speciality in literature. It's a whole other story about how rigorous high school is in France and how impressive it is when someone, like Gwenola, passes her baccalaureat, the big exam at the end which determines who will go on to university. After high school she attended fine art school and began training as a photo restorer, one who can restore not only photos but negatives as well. She studied for 10 years, passing various difficult exams at every step of the process to become one of the very few professionals in France who can do this very meticulous and delicate work. She has had jobs at the Rodin Museum in Paris, and various other museums and archival institutions. Not far from the Marais and the Faubourg St. Antoine, where many artisans live and work, is another of my favorite neighborhoods in Paris, where handmade journal creators have set up their shops. It is such a pleasant walk from the Marais, down toward the Seine through the Village St. Paul. It's one of the oldest and least touristy corners of central Paris. On the Rue Pont Louis Philippe are a number of shops that sell beautiful paper products. It's curious to me that in Paris you'll often find types of shops all clustered together on the same street. This is true for book, journal and paper making artisans. It's a real delight to go from one shop to the next and see all the wonderful things on offer. I suppose my favorite is Papier + They have a luscious selection of several styles of journals in every beautiful color of the rainbow. Emily and I both bought a little book with a round hole in the cover and used it to make photo albums for our husbands for Christmas last year. Les Exprimeurs is across the street and sells beautiful paper products as well. Calligrane has two stores, one with paper sculpture and really gorgeous handmade folios, quite expensive, one with inks, gadgets, notebooks and miscellanea. One can spend a very pleasant afternoon walking from the Marais, through the Village St. Paul, ducking into the passageways behind the store fronts and finding some adorable and almost secret shops. I have never found more than a few other people there when I have poked around. Then shopping at the various paper stores is a great pleasure. You'll find yourself at the end of the stroll right at the quai across from the Ile St. Louis. You need only cross the bridge to have the wonderful adventure of exploring there. But that's another post, another time!
* The word artisan in French is used for anyone who works with their hands, from butchers to plumbers to stain glass window makers. I use the word with the English meaning, which connotes someone who works in the arts.
** One of my favorite books about Paris is entitled Paris, Paris, Journey into the City Of Light, by David Downie. He has a fabulous chapter about these neighborhoods in his very different guide book. He has also recently published his first novel, which I also highly recommend, entitled Paris, City of Night.