Interview: Randy Diaz, I am NOT a francophile – Installment #2
This is the second installment of our interview with Randy, who lives in Paris and delights in sharing his views and experiences with us … I thank Randy for his frank, open approach to our questions…
Oh, how I love it when people are themselves and don’t pretend to be something else! Randy is generous, has broad life experience and a fabulous sense of humour. Oh, and by the way he is also a ‘foodie’, French trained, but specializes in Southeast Asian and Indian cuisine. Randy provides very real restaurant reviews on his blog. He believes that the best way to discover/learn about a culture is to visit their markets and eat their food and it also helps to know a local.
… Join me here and in further installments to start to get to know Randy…
Randy what was your background before heading to France? Did you have any prior connection or interest in France before moving there?
I retired in 2002, prior to that I was a Vice President for a major financial corporation. Growing up my family and I lived in Spain, Italy, and Portugal, so we traveled extensively throughout Europe and France being one of the countries we visited. As a teenager most of my visits were primarily the south of France, and later as an adult, my partner and I came to Paris for a vacation, but I never said during those visits, “wow, I need to live in France,” who knew later in life we’d move to Paris and Paris would become our primary home.
Would you give me 4 adjectives which best describe you AND how would you describe what makes you ‘tick’
1. I am definitely not a Francophile, but I do now enjoy living in France. Like most Parisians I have a love/hate relationship with Paris, and the coping mechanism is somewhat similar, the French complain, I write.
2. I value friendships over location, in other words, I could live, excuse the expression, in “Bumf***k, Idaho, just as long as I have a close network of friends.
3. Food and cooking is my passion. I’m also a serial hobbyist. I love cooking for friends and just making them happy with my food. I have varied experience, my father was a cook/chef, and taught me at a very young age to cook. As an adult I went to the California Culinary in San Francisco as a hobby, but never pursued it as a career, because unless you’re a “celebrity” chef, earning money was quite difficult, plus the long hours were not very attractive. When I retired; however, I taught Asian style cooking, wrote restaurant reviews, catered, and even helped develop menus. “Fooding” is a hobby.
4. I am retired, so I can do and say what I want without answering to anyone, but myself.
What was your first connection with France – what is your ‘French Life’ story?
My first connection with France was when I was 17-18 years old, my family took us on a road trip through southern France on our way to Italy. I thought it was beautiful, but I thought the Costa del Sol in southern Spain was more my liking, probably because at the time we were living in the province of Andalusia in southern Spain, and I was familiar with the area and the Spanish Rivera didn’t have the same glitz and glamour as e.g., Cannes. Later as an adult, I went back to southern France and spent time in Cannes, I still thought it was beautiful, but I did not like it. I thought it was quite artificial and pretentious; sort of what LA is for me today. Maybe if I was a rich movie star or mogul, than I would see it with different eyes, but I’m neither.
Surprisingly, in 2009, we went back to visit Cannes and the surrounding areas. Undoubtedly, it is a beautiful area, but it’s just not appealing. It is still where the rich play and party, and just does not seem real to me. It was also during the Cannes film festival, and there was so much gawking and every one trying to look cool and hip, the scene was just not for me.
When my partner and I first visited Paris together back in the 80’s, I enjoyed Paris a lot because it seemed more down to earth and plus I’m a city boy at heart, having grown up primarily in San Francisco. But I never had the urge to move here, I was very content with my life in San Francisco. Now that I live in Paris, I’ve learned to enjoy my life here, plus I have a wonderful, wonderful network of friends. And, like anything, once you figure out the “workings” of the country and its people, you learn to appreciate it. It’s not a good idea to compare life in U.S. vs. France or Australia vs. France for example. If that’s the case, than don’t live in a foreign country, because it will always be different. It’s not better or worse, just different, that’s what makes a new country exciting.
When did you come up with the idea of ParisMissives? What were you hoping to achieve when you created it? I understand you are about to build a new website, what are your plans?
I’m a very social person, and I have a lot of friends and family in the U.S. Before we moved here in 2008, they asked me to keep them updated as to what I was up to. So began my missives. It was also a great way to vent my frustrations on paper, sort of cathartic release. I had an audience of about 50-people, then it grew to 100, then to 500 etc., etc., I updated my missives every week in an online newsletter format, but not for the public. I religiously tried to update my missives weekly. Then if I missed a few days, I actually had friends write demanding to know where they were. I can’t imagine anyone being interested in my life, it’s just different. But it was becoming like a job and routine, so I stopped mid-last year. Then we were back in the US for a wedding in May-June, and my friends literally begged me to restart my missives, so in mid-June I did it as a blog; hence, the birth of http://www.parismissives.blogspot.com otherwise known as I’m not a Francophile, but I live in Paris, and this time it’s public. I’m surprised it’s become quite popular, because I see Paris at its best, as well as its worst, warts and all.
Since I hastily created the blogspot in mid-June, I realized it has limited capabilities, so I’ve decided to create my own website, which should be finalized in the fall.
One thing I want to make very clear, I am not a writer. I am retired, and I write solely for my edification and for my friends. I am not writing for an editor with big sponsorships. I’m not writing to become the next famous blogger, or working to publish a book. So, when I write for example, about a restaurant, I write what I feel. I’ve had “foodie” friends comment, “I approve with your assessment.” I have to laugh because I don’t need their approval. I say what I want! I have no-one to answer to but myself. It’s a great position to be in, since some food writers are sensitive of possibly insulting their “sponsors” or advertisers, or worse, their peers.
For now I will continue blogging; however, if blogging becomes too much like a job, and I’ve lost enjoyment writing, than I will probably stop.
I believe you have a home in Paris, tell us about your ‘French Life’ … (how do you spend your time, your favourite things and the everyday stuff which ‘gets to you’, positive and negative…)
Yes, we have an apartment in Paris. Let me first describe to you how we came to living in our current apartment in the 15eme. Our first year we lived in the Montmartre area, just right around the corner from Place de Tertre by the Sacré Coeur. I loved the scenic area and the “village feel,” however, it was extremely touristy and noisy. It’s a nice place to visit, but for me, not to live. I felt like I was in a French “kitschy” movie with a bunch of wannabes.
Second year, we lived in the Marais, otherwise known as the “bobo” (yuppie) area. Lots of activity, lots of cute expensive boutiques, bars, restaurants etc. I liked the area alot, but was craving for something more “Parisian,” some where I wouldn’t be bumping into a lot of tourists and a lot of people wanting to see and be seen. It didn’t feel like I was in a community, it felt like constant activity of keeping up with the “de Milles”.
We searched high and low for our next apartment. I could write a whole chapter about apartment hunting in Paris, it is by no means easy. We searched in several arrondissements high and low, and came across the 15eme, which we never really considered, but turns out it’s the best decision we ever made. First of all, if you are going to look for an apartment in the “single” arrondissements, pickings are going to be slim, and it’s quite expensive. Once you go to the double digit arrondissements, you’ll find larger apartments and have more to choose. The other thing that was important for me is that I have a large workable kitchen. It is amazing to me that a city into food, the average typical apartment kitchen has 2-burners and if you’re lucky it may have an oven. I once had one of those typical small refrigerators, I use to joke it took me 3-days to freeze ice, but it wasn’t a joke, it was reality and for an American that’s not good, since we like ice with everything.
With that said, since our third year, we have lived in the 15eme a block from Rue Convention. It’s a great area to be in, because it’s where real “Parisians” live. The only tourists who come by are those lost looking for the Eiffel tower.
Since my partner and I are both retired, our days are simple. We get up and decide what we will do today. We have an incredible market on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. So, if it’s a market day, we will go to buy cheeses, fruits etc. We have a lot of friends, and we’re constantly checking out new restaurants, going to the parks, going window shopping etc. I love having dinner parties, and I love the process of shopping and putting the food together. I also help friends cook, and recently helped a friend develop a menu for his new restaurant. And, next month we volunteered to teach English at a local adult college. With a friend, I also started an Ethnic supper club, and it’s been quite a success. Each month one of the members will host an ethnic dinner. That means they will research, organize, and if necessary work with the owners to accommodate us, since most restaurants in Paris are small.
So, in a nutshelf, we keep pretty busy.
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JUDY: And it certainly sounds like it doesn’t it?…. More from Randy soon… watch for Installment #3 and we look forward to your comments below. Do you share any of Randy’s views?…
If you would like to read Installment #1 of our Interview with Randy Diaz, you can do so here. Also I am sure that you will enjoy Randy’s Blog www.parismissives.blogspot.com otherwise known as I am NOT a Francophile, but I live in Paris.