I have admired the book Paris en Details Le Marais ever since it was published in 2011 with its richly detailed architectural photos of the Marais similar to mine. I met the author Marianne Strom at a holiday party last month and she graciously agreed to be my Parisian of the Month. Enjoy this interview with Marianne, a very multi-talented writer, photographer, and historian.
Where were you born and where did you grow up?
In a small community close to Stockholm.
When and why did you move to Paris?
To study history of art at the Sorbonne university.
You are an historian, photographer, and author. Please tell us how you got into all three fields and if you were originally schooled and/or trained in them?
I have always been interested in art and started studying the subject at Harvard. My dislike of the commercial aspects of art made me focus on public art and architecture, which also was the subject of my PhD thesis: Public Art - Integration of the plastic arts into the architectural, public and social space, later published under the title Art Public. (Despite the fact that my editor, at first, insisted on that the terminology Art public did not exist in the French language!)
At the time, the Stockholm metro was constructing a new metro-line with grotto-stations excavated in the granite roc. Artists were called upon to render these rough, hostile stations more "human and inviting" to the future commuters. Each one of the grotto-stations measured some 3.000 m2. The largest public art project ever realized in the history of Sweden!
These grottesque grotto-stations instigated me to look around the world for other underground artworks. I found 40 metro systems all with different artistic and esthetic approaches: the most extravagant of them all are, of course, Moscow's metro stations recalling luxurious underground palaces!
To finance my research on MetroArt in the Metro-Polis, I was sponsored by the three-hundred-year old foundation of the Bank of Sweden. But the grant did not include expenses for a photographer to come with me around the world to photograph art and architecture in the underground. The options? Purchase the necessary illustrations on the spot, or buy myself a good piece of professional equipment. Not a difficult choice.
Needless to say, to comment on your own pictures, or use your own photographs to illustrate your proper text, is handy and eliminates problems like copyright! The result of my MetroArt study: an itinerary exhibition with some 500 photographs, which has been staged in 20 cities in the world and the publication of three books in various languages and editions.
What is your public art project?
There have been several. One on Sacred Sites, art and architecture, an exhibition that was staged the first time at UNESCO in Paris. Another on Wooden architecture in Sweden staged in France and in Sweden. Yet another project The new look of the Waterfront, which I unfortunately never put on shore, due to lack of sponsors on both sides of the Atlantic. And The Marais project of course.
You moved to the Paris in the mid-1970s and lived in different parts of the Marais since then. Please tell us about the experience of living in each place.
My first place on Boulevard du Temple, was really in the very outskirts of the Marais. If you ever saw hôtel Salé before it became the Musée Picasso, you get a good picture of the Marais at that time. My second place, in 1980, was in rue Charlemagne on the 7th floor without elevator, with a magnificent view of the Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis church to the east and the Tour St-Jacques to the west. The presence of the ancient shopkeepers, handicraftsmen, wholesale dealers was still vivid in the area. You found everything in the neighborhood. No need to leave the Marais. As a matter of fact, many of the habitants had never tempted to set foot outside, never visited the Left Bank or the Eiffel Tower... My third place was on rue des Francs-Bourgeois, one of the oldest streets in the Marais. My husband and I stayed there for three years and within that time our three neighbouring bakeries shut down and were replaced by what? fashion stores! This was, in the middle of the 1980s and the beginning of the radical change of the Marais. My fourth place is on rue des Archives in an ancient monastery rebuilt in 1731. The monastery had been submitted to the same destiny as most other buildings in the Marais after the French Revolution. And as late as thirty years ago, the building's courtyard still served as mechanic garage space, and where the monks had installed their library, hat makers and producers of plush animals had set up their workshops...
Obviously you have seen major changes in the Marais since you first moved here. What are the biggest changes you have seen, both positive and negative?
The positive side is that instead of being wiped off the Parisian map - a constant threat the Marais has been subject to all along the 20th century - the Marais, the "swamp", with its concentration of hôtels particuliers, architectural treasures from the 16th-18th centuries designed by the most prominent architects of that time, has within the framework of the Malraux Law, in 1962, been saved from demolition and preserved as national heritage. This was the first time in French history that an entire area was protected! Today, many of these hôtels particuliers serve as cultural institutions, such as museums, public libraries, national Archives, cultural affaires, etc.
The negative side is the massive tourism and invasion of fancy and less fancy shops basically dealing with fashion. And this at the expense of the traditional craftsmanship that flourished in the Marais at a time. But, there are new trends more adopted to today's need and beliefs, visible to a greater extent in the 3rd than the 4th arr., with new workshops opening, handcraft of all sorts, parks and squares giving examples of ecological horticulture with new and traditional species of plants, flowers and vegetables...
Your apartment faces one of the most beautiful mansions/hotel particulier in Paris, the Hotel de Soubise. What is the history of your building and the Hotel de Soubise?
Hôtel de Soubise dates from the beginning of the 18th century and was designed by the architect Pierre-Alexis Delamair in a perfect classical style for François de Rohan, Prince of Soubise. It was the last hôtel particulier being built in the Marais before the French Revolution. The interior, Salons of the Prince and the Princess are the finest example in Paris of the rococo style, signed by architect Germain Boffrand in the middle of 1730s.
Bought be the state in the beginning of the 19th century hôtel de Soubise was assigned to house the imperial Archives before becoming the national Archives.
I loved your most recent book “Paris en Details Le Marais” since I live in the Marais. Please share with us about the book, why you wrote it, and the research and history process you went through.
I was tired of the subterranean twists and turns of Under-grounds throughout the world, with my Nikon tucked into my leather jacket, wanted some fresh air and sunlight, but also to use my Hasselblad and Leica (not very competitive with the metro space).
Since I had lived in the Marais for a while and was observing the radical changes I started to document buildings before and after the application of the Malraux Law and particularly the architectural details of this cultural heritage. Besides, a better and more spectacular example of integration of the plastic arts into the architectural space is hard to find!
If you could invite one person from French history over for dinner, who would it be, what would you prepare, and what wine would you serve.
I would invite the French architects having designed these fabulous buildings and serve them a Swedish smörgåsbord!
What do you prefer about Paris?
I find Paris on the top of the list in the world regarding culture, rich and multifarious.
Click here to go to Marianne's website to see more of he work
Click here to order “Paris en Details Le Marais” from Amazon France (book is published with bi-lingual text, French and English)
I am pleased as punch to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Tours, which are 3-hour walking tours I will personally be leading. The Eye Prefer Paris Tour includes many of the places I have written about such as small museums & galleries, restaurants, cafes & food markets, secret addresses, fashion & home boutiques, parks, and much more.
Tours cost 195 euros for up to 3 people, and 65 euros for each additional person. I look forward to meeting you on my tours and it will be my pleasure and delight to show you my insiders Paris.
Check it out at www.eyepreferparistours.com
New! Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes
I am happy to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes. Come take an ethnic culinary journey with me and chef and caterer Charlotte Puckette, co-author of the bestseller The Ethnic Paris Cookbook (with Olivia Kiang-Snaije). First we will shop at a Paris green-market for the freshest ingredients and then return to Charlotte's professional kitchen near the Eiffel Tower to cook a three-course lunch. After, we will indulge in the delicious feast we prepared along with hand-selected wines.
Cost: 185 euros per person (about $240)
Time: 9:30AM- 2PM (approximately 4 1/2 hours)
Location: We will meet by a metro station close to the market
Class days: Tuesday,Wednesday, Thursday,Friday, Saturday, and Sunday
Minimum of 2 students, maximum 6 students.
Click here to sign up for the next class or for more info.
I am happy to announce the sale of a new set of prints of my Eye Prefer Paris Photos. I am offering 20 of my most popular and iconic images for sale including my doors, architectural details, statues, and monuments. They will make great gifts for all your Francophile friends, relatives, and colleagues but don't forget to buy some for yourself.
Click here to see photos and for full details including sizes, prices, and shipping. Here is a sample of some of the photos.