For Americans, the last year seems like it's been one big existential crisis. We've all spent the last 12-24 months hotly debating who is an American and who gets to be one, and whether or not we even want to be one. In the midst of this, it's been easy to lose sight of the fact that we're not the only ones who are dealing with globalization and all that goes with it; letting people and ideas flow into our country that might change its cultural, racial, and political landscape.
France, in particular, has been in he throes of its own particularly tough identity crisis these last few years. As a country that leads with its culture, the fact that people from outside its borders are moving in and bringing their versions of food and clothing and art with them threatens one of its most valuable assets. So much so that one of the candidates for the upcoming French Prime Minister election in April, Marine Len Pen, has gained ground with her Trump-like nationalist mentality, which favors deportation and rejects diversity. She went so far as to tell Anderson Cooper on 60 minutes recently that “[France] isn’t Burkinis on the beach. France is Brigitte Bardot.”
So why are we telling you all of this? Because we recently came upon an interview that we think perfectly sums up the state of the world in a metaphoric, honest, and not-at-all-boring way. The actual interview is couple of years old at this point, but the sentiment isn't, and it's from an obscure-enough publication that we're going to gamble you haven't seen it yet. The interview is from the magazine Paris is Dead, with Taiwanese chef Rose Chalalai Singh, the proprietor of a Thai restaurant in Paris. We're republishing it here because it's too awesome to paraphrase (see the original article here).
Did you choose Paris or did Paris choose you?
We chose each other. I moved here for love, but I think I really felt established here the day that my son was born. He’s five years old now and travels a lot – we have already been to Thailand three times this year – so i’m not sure if either of us is really Parisian. In any case, when you come to the restaurant it’s not like you’re in Paris. With all the employees, it’s just one huge Thai family.
What makes a Parisian? Are Parisians particularly different to Thai people?
I come from a country where nobody complains. Your house could be on fire, and you wouldn’t complain. Your house could be flooded, and you’d still live there. People where i’m from just say, “it’s okay, we’ll get over it,” and their attitude is very much about making the most of your situation.
The Thai mentality is the total opposite of a Parisian. The parisians create this darkness around everything.
But I do love Paris. It is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and already I have so many amazing memories being here. Paris is at its best when you cross the river. The light – every single time – is so beautiful. The Parisian sky always looks like an opera.
Maybe i’m becoming a bit Parisian though… [smiles wryly.] I’ve started to swear, say horrible things, complain and i’m never happy with rain.
Do you imagine dying a Parisian?
Of course not! I have so many places I want to go!
But all this is making me think… it’s really hard for me to talk about Paris. First of all, I travel a lot, and secondly, I don’t understand the language very well.
Is that a barrier to living here, not understanding french perfectly?
If I understood everything, i’m not sure whether I would still be here… I love that I don’t understand french and that’s why i’m still here: i’m in a bubble, and I love it.
Where is the center of Paris?
Paris has no center, but each arrondissement has a heart. You don’t have a downtown like in New York, but I love that.
Today, did I even leave the third? No! Did I need to? No! It’s great.
Where do you see Paris in five years?
There’s a lot of foreign money pouring in that will change the city; the country as a whole will open up more. It will be like London. It already smells of money.
Even now, nobody speaks french in Le Marais, it has become another town. I remember 15 years ago, when I arrived in Paris, and no one spoke english. Now everybody does, and it has become so international.
What would be your last meal?
I want to eat so many things before I die! Crab meat spaghetti from that place in Venice, traditional Japanese food in Tokyo… [pauses.]
In fact, I know. My last meal would be the same as my first.
I was with my parents. They took me to this Chinese restaurant in the suburbs of Bangkok which served this big noodle dish with pork. I had no idea what to do with my chopsticks. I think i’d end with that.
But I don’t want to eat – I don’t want to waste time eating – i’ll save time and have sex instead!
What would you wear to Paris’ funeral?
I’m not going to its fucking funeral because everyone else is! And anyway, i’d be busy getting the table ready for the meal afterwards.
What is your relationship with death?
I’m quite hardcore, you know. My mom disappeared when I was seven years old and my family is all over the place. My grandmother’s death was a particularly big loss. She was the center of my world and the love of my life. When she died, my father sent me to boarding school and so I grew up alone.
He took care of everybody, he’s a big man. But when you’re a big man, you can’t afford to give so much emotionally; you have to be strong and make lots of money to support everyone and be the king of your world.
Is Paris dead?
Paris is not dead because it remains. But it has passed over into a different life.
Paris is like a very beautiful woman who went to la for plastic surgery and just returned. That’s Paris right now. It’s a time where the city’s cultural impact has become entirely materialistic; a time that a lot of local artists are struggling; a time that art and fashion business have become more like a stock market.
Before, Paris was the art capital of the world. There were so many great artists living here. Where are the great artists now?
It has become a little bit like NYC here: you can’t own a big space. It’s impossible. At least before you could go to Cafe Flore and would see all the art scene hanging out together, but now it’s just tourists. Think about it, who do you see in Cafe Flore? Nobody!
Plus the caliber of french food has really dropped. The food used to be amazing. I remember when you could walk into any old place and you would still have french people cooking in the kitchen and making amazing food. But now it’s so gentrified…
While things are different now, Paris is not dead.
Conducted by René Habermacher.
Transcribed and edited by Edward Siddons.
Photography by René Habermacher.
Creative direction by Antoine Asseraf.
Styling by Suzanne von Aichinger.
Hair by Marc Orsatelli.
Make-up by Ismael Blanco.
Production assistant Marion Louapre.
Retouching by Dimitris Rigas.
All looks by Kenzo.