An Americano in Paris: Russ Pope Plays Expatriate
Seven successive days of Parisian cafes? In the last week of November 2022, I took a trip to Paris with my family with the goal of looking, eating, and drinking. We always walk everywhere, so we are usually hungry and thirsty. I love people and places and want to shoot photos and make drawings of the things I see, as documented in the past travel articles I’ve done for Juxtapoz over the years!
For starters, coming from the East Coast of the US to Charles de Gaulle airport is fast and I think easier than going from the West Coast. The way the time zone works, I prefer to leave on a red eye and land just before 8 a.m. Paris time. I don’t want to lose a day with the time change by traveling mid-day!
We landed a few hours before we could check in to our lodging, and with the rain coming down so hard, started where anyone should start—with a quick cafe stop for coffee and breakfast. And then, you do the second thing you have to do when you are in Paris: you go look at art. We went straight to the Centre Pompidou, checked our luggage (traveler’s tip: they have great luggage lockers at the Pompidou), and spent a few hours looking at the exhibitions. Alice Neel, as well as the Le Corbusier sets, were both highlights. From the Pompidou, we headed to the place we'd rented in the 11th arrondissement (also known as Popincourt), dropped our gear, and headed out for more city walking and then one of those brilliant Parisian dinners.
As we know from all my travel stories, I appreciate a great coffee. By that, I also mean a good breakfast treat, a breakfast sandwich or pastries in a spot with good music and vibes. And when in Europe, and especially in Paris, morning-time decisions are made with intention. We almost always know where we'll be spending our morning when we go to sleep the night before. My favorite on this trip was Comets Café and Disques in the 11th arrondissement. They had one of the best egg sandwiches I've ever had, great coffee, and ran a super selection of music every time we were there. Another bonus? They have a collection of some of my favorite print publications and nicely curated vinyl offerings for sale. This all makes lots of sense: coffee, print, and vinyl! Comets also reminded me of a few other regular spots for these mornings in Paris I have been to through the years, La Fontaine De Belleville, in the 10th arrondissement, being one of my favorites. We visited Belleville on this trip as well.
We visited Baimba and his gallery Bim Bam to see Jeffery Cheung's solo show, which was just awesome. I love Jeff's work and he had a nice collection that was easy to spend time with and digest. Baimba is a sweet, smart human and I enjoyed the conversation. I look forward to coming back later this year for a project with the Bim Bam family.
I also made sure to get in to see Alex and his great skate shop, Nozbone. He's been doing it for a long time and it's still one of my favorite shops in Paris. In the back of the shop was a mural by Keiji Ishida, an artist I highly recommend, and I picked up one of his zines as well as a really well-done mustard wide-wale cord hat in the shop (one of my favorite souvenirs from our trip).
Across the street, we bought pastries from Christophe Vasseur's Du Pain et Des Idees, which were delicious despite a short wait. The exterior of the shop is special with its gilt lettering outside and beautifully detailed furniture and ceiling inside. I would suggest stopping by both Nozbone and the pastry shop when passing through the 10th arrondissement.
Obviously, my point here is that I love cafes: fancy, middle-of-the-road, and those not-so-special spots that turn out to be so special. If it's midday, or actually anytime between breakfast and dinner, I'm down to stop in a typical neighborhood cafe, whatever looks visually appealing and has great people-watching possibilities. These are the spots with the classic awnings and woven Parisian cafe seating, outdoor and indoor space, fully ready for a pop-in. The great part is that they all have decent drink options and cheese/bread boards. I love sitting in a corner, watching and listening to the people and the city pass by, which always provides inspiring content for drawings, a few I included in this article here.
That’s why I love Paris, and why I keep wanting to come back. It’s exhilarating, full of details that emerge if you just find the time to sit and watch the world go by. It makes sense that so many writers, artists, and philosophers did the same thing: found a cafe, and let their creativity and revelations come to life. Thank you Paris, I'm never disappointed, see you again as soon as possible. —Russ Pope
This article was originalyl published in the Spring 2023 Quarterly