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An American tour guide, author and artist in Paris: an interview with Rosemary Flannery
An interview with our collaborator, Rosemary Flannery, who has been a Parisienne since 1989 and gives private guided tours of Paris’ museums and monuments
1. Where do you come from, how long have you lived in Paris and what brought you here?
I grew up in a small town in New Jersey and moved to NYC when I was 18. I first visited France as a model in my twenties and lived between Paris and the south of France for about a year. I was determined to move back permanently as I really love the country. Back in the States, I completed my studies and then worked in the fashion industry. My work with Chanel, Guy Laroche and Louis Féraud brought me to France periodically. Eventually, I married a Frenchman and have been here since 1989.
2. What is your profession and how did you get into that line of work?
I have three. I give private tours of Paris’ museums, monuments and neighborhoods for small groups. I am also an author and artist. The tour guiding came about by accident. Living in Burgundy in the late 90s, I painted and gave drawing classes, including brief art history lessons, which my students loved. Moving back to Paris, I was introduced to someone looking for a new guide for museum and neighborhood tours. It seemed a perfect fit. Exploring Paris and seeing the beautiful ornamental sculpture decorating the buildings inspired my book, Angels of Paris: An Architectural Tour through the History of Paris.
3. Had you done/do you do the same kind of work in a different part of the world? If yes where?
As I’m passionate about art, architecture and history, I created a tour in English about a beautiful medieval church, Eglise de St-Père-sous-Vézelay, for friends who visited Burgundy. It’s particularly rich in statuary and in history. Giving tours in a quiet Burgundian village is very different from Paris but the historical and artistic appeal remains the same. As for writing and painting, one can find inspiration anywhere. I have exhibited in France, Tunisia and Ireland.
4. What are the biggest challenges Paris had in store for you, both in terms of working here and living here?
I have always felt at home in Paris. At times the bureaucracy can be trying but I think that’s the same everywhere. Being an independent freelancer is challenging but that’s similar elsewhere too.
5. In terms of your profession, how has Paris real estate changed over the past 10 years?
There’s now greater accessibility to the handicapped, including in privately owned museums. For instance, the Jacquemart-André Museum on Boulevard Haussmann (8th arrondissement/district), one of my favorite art museums, housed in a 19th-century mansion, will install an elevator in 2015.
If we can speak of ‘museum real estate’, I eagerly await the re-opening after a five-year renovation of the Picasso Museum, in a 17th-century salt tax millionaire’s townhouse in the Marais. The expanded exhibition space will allow much more of Picasso’s work, currently in reserve collections or in archives, to be viewed.
A few great historical buildings have not been modified, such as the 1407 Auberge de Nicolas Flamel on the rue de Montmorency in the Marais (3rd arrondissement), with welcoming angels carved in stone around the doorway.
6. Which neighborhood do you live in and what made you decide to live there?
I live in the 8th arrondissement, which happened by chance. A friend had found the apartment but thought it was too quiet for him, so he told me about it. I love quiet! It gives onto a courtyard and there is no street noise. It is in a Haussmannian building with elevator and has a small fireplace.
7. If you could live in a different Parisian neighborhood, which one would it be, and why?
I would love to live on the left bank, ideally in the 5th arrondissement in the leafy area across from Notre Dame (rue Maître Albert, rue des Grands Degrès) or further south near the Luxembourg Gardens. I prefer old neighborhoods that have more of a village feel. They are typical of ‘vieux Paris’ with outdoor markets and small winding streets.
8. What would you miss the most about Paris if you were to move away?
The beauty, the aesthetic sense. So many little things here are done with such care and charm. The way pastries are wrapped up like little presents, with a ribbon! The wonderful crusty breads, perfectly baked. Having a drink with a friend in an outdoor café, and not feeling rushed. The view from the Pont Neuf, and the wonderful architecture from so many different eras.
9. Is there one hidden treasure that you find indispensable to your work here? Please share.
So many indispensables! The Italian café Illy Espressamente on the rue Auber (9th arrondissement) around the corner with its great coffee, wifi and ambiance. I wrote most of my book there and I prepare for my tours there. And the beautiful Jacquemart-André museum: my next book is about Nellie Jacquemart, a society portrait artist who married a wealthy financier. Together they amassed one of the greatest private collections in the world.
10. If you could offer one piece of advice to a first-time buyer in Paris, what would it be?
Love the neighborhood! And trust your instinctive feelings about the place you are buying; they are invariably right.
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Haussmannian buildings: the signature architecture of Paris
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Paris renovation and decoration stories from the front lines: an apartment in the Marais neighborhood
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