Paris Ivry, France

Intellectual rigor and the art of commensality


Emma and Marco are sociologists and social researchers, who recently moved from the inner city to an incredible modernist apartment in a vibrant community overlooking Paris. They are self-confessed lovers of the everyday and its routines, from walks to cooking to dropping off their son Isaac to school. What they are too polite to say, is that they make the mundane an art form, and nowhere is it more visible than in their cooking. Yes it is utilitarian, but also honest and yet sophisticated, and deeply influenced by their multiple travels and discoveries. We chatted over some amazing fish seasoned with a home-made spices mix. Their conversation is always thought-provoking and leaves you feeling a little smarter and better-informed.


garden herself looking in

Marco, you are originally from Madrid, can you tell us more about your experience in living in two cultures ?

M: My mother is actually French and I attended the Lycee Francais in Madrid. I came to Paris for a university exchange in 1994, but in many ways, going to university in Spain after following a French curriculum for all my secondary education, felt much more like a shock. I have had that odd experience of feeling like a Frenchman in Spain and a Spaniard in Paris, somewhat always an outsider.

What about you Emma?

E: I grew up in rural Jura, a mountain area in Eastern France, but went to boarding school, so experienced a transient life of sorts. I was very happy to settle my bags in Paris and have been living there since 1995. I was lucky enough to spend some time for academic research in New York city. and I loved the opportunity that a alien environment offers. It is almost like an out-of-body experience and opens a parenthesis for deep thought and perspective, unencumbered by the overly familiar.


Mutiple influences are visible in your cooking and even your home and tableware, what's your philosophy about traveling ?

M: We actually prefer to settle for a significant length of time in one place, so that we can experience a new city like a local. In many ways, we rebuild a well-known routine in a foreign environment, shopping for food, using public transport, cooking. We have spent time like this in Berlin and New York City. Turin somehow qualifies, as we spend time there for shorter periods of time, but on a regular basis.  It allows us to live the city from within, through the experience of an altered everyday. True adventure comes not from a change of scenery, but rather from a complete change of habits, like camping, Then no need to go far, camping in Brittany or Les Cevennes is just what it takes to feel out of daily routines.

How does having a child change the way you travel ?

E: Not much, we don't over-invest in the idea of early exposure, At our son's age (4 years old), everything is new and everything is great, no matter of geographical location. he has accompanied us on long enough academic trips to China and, recently Chile. The biggest difference is that now that our son started school this autumn, we are bound by the school holiday schedule. More and more, we consider taking a longer trip, for a full school year. Now that we have our home in Paris, leaving feels much less daunting, as we have a secure base to come right back to.

Where could be next ?

E: I am very drawn to a country like Denmark, less for the culture shock but on the contrary because I feel a clear affinity for its progressive value.  It seems to combine a certain quality of living, with a high value on quality family time, a different relationship to work and working hours, and more fluid social organisation. Even their focus on the environment and climate change is inspiring.

M: Yes Denmark is a contender, as well as New York which is one of our favourite cities. I also harbour a slightly romantic view of well-established academic centres and could easily picture myself cycling through the streets of Cambridge. It seems the relationship to time is different there, to accompany a cultural and intellectual emulation. I also find Asia, China and Korea in particular, fascinating, because I want to understand their history and traditions. Yet in many ways, our life in Paris in a multi-cultural neighbourhood, our son's experience of a state school that hosts a great many nationalities - that nourishes fully our thirst for a different experience. No need for a change of scenery when cultural mixity is our doorstep. When we travel, even as far away as China, of course the language and local customs are different, but they do not overwhelm the familiarity of having a simple meal or a few beers in an unpretentious local spot. The real change of scenery resides much more in a change of social context. Rubbing shoulders with the happy few at a horse-racing meet is much more alien to me than many travel experiences - and no need to go very far for that. When you think about it, many so-called cultural differences are anecdotical. Countries are the products of their institutions, and it is in social stratae that we may find the greatest unknown.


Thank you Emma and Marco for your hospitality and sharing your thoughts so freely.