Arts and travel reporter and tap dancer Ruby Boukabou is a woman of many talents. And lately Ruby has poured her creativity into a wonderful new book, The Architecture Lover’s Guide To Paris. It’s full of info about the iconic buildings, and top walks to take through the City Of Love. It includes nearly 200 colourful photos, many taken by Ruby, who prior to the pandemic, would spend part of every year in Paris. Ruby chats to The Starfish.
Ruby, congrats on this lovely book.
What inspired you to want to write it?
The book was a commission from my publisher, White Owl Books, who liked what I did with my first book, The Art Lover’s Guide to Paris (2019). Before accepting, I took a few weeks to walk around the city to decide what I could add to the subject and what my approach would be.
What inspires me to write these type of books is to help people get the most out of a destination, by telling them the intriguing backstories and sharing practical tips. I was motivated to create a book that was extremely accessible and that held a lot of information of both architecture and Paris in general, but in a concise and colourful way. The photography aspect also inspired me.
You obviously know Paris very well. How so?
My dad immigrated from Paris in the late 60s and owned French restaurants when I was a kid in Sydney, so I was always surrounded by French culture – particularly food and music. I went to Paris for my 25th birthday and have been back and forth ever since, having been based between Paris and Sydney for quite some time now, with also quite a bit of time spent in North Africa. Paris matches my pulse with the frenetic buzz and anonymity of a big city but with a villagey local vibe. As a tap dancer and cabaret performer, I’m also drawn to it for the many performance opportunities and incredible choice of live jazz around the city every night.
How long did it take you to research?
I spent about six months on the ground researching, writing and photographing, then the editing process took another six months (part time). But the book has many years of research, in terms of my knowledge of Paris and insider tips.
Did you know exactly what you wanted to put in it from the outset, or did it evolve along the way?
I knew from the beginning that I wanted to make it very readable and concise and so I started by created the chapters, then filled them out with details as I went. Part One has a history chapter and a timeline, Part Two includes lots of practical things including a 36 hour itinerary for those in a rush, spots to find Paris panoramas, hotels, cafés and shopping.
Part Three covers things such as the train stations, places of worship, street furniture, underground Paris, columns, arches, rotundas, libraries, museums and more. Part Four, my favourite, has six self guided walking tours I designed. I cut my teeth designing walking tours for National Geographic one summer and since then have really enjoyed creating them for various media. They are a fabulous way of discovering a destination and coming away with a very personal experience – plus you get to work up an appetite for all those delicious French meals!
When deciding what to include in the book, what influenced you in particular?
What my research confirmed is that Paris of today is still very much the vision of Baron Haussmann who completely resigned the city under Napoleon III in the 19th century. The grand boulevards, the limestone apartment blocks, the large public parks… they still define Paris today. I spend a lot of time in the Buttes Chaumont park for example. Like many others, I really appreciate nature when living in a landlocked large city.
What’s your favourite piece of architecture in all of Paris?
I think the 1875 Opera Garnier is spectacular. Here’s the entry from the book:
Place de l’Opéra, 75009
Entry tickets purchased at entrance on rue Scribe
The 1875 Palais Garnier opera house is a declaration of love to the arts that has stood the test of time. A creationof Charles Garnier, it was part of Napoleon III’s great Paris makeover and constructed on top of a subterranean lake and a swamp. With Beaux-Arts symmetry and Baroque and Renaissance elements, the highly decorative opera employs marble, gilded bronze and has a concealed iron framework.
The exterior displays sculpted Greek deities, busts of famous composers, personified versions of Harmony and Poetry, monumental columns and glorious gilding. Interior highlights include the magnificent marble staircase, a velvet and gold auditorium and long galleries with chandeliers and ceiling decorations of cherubs and clouds … you’ll float around and out on an operatic high, particularly when the sun is out as it creates a magical glow in the galleries.
If someone’s new to Paris, with limited time, what area would you suggest they roam through, and how will your book help?
Montmartre is quaint and dreamy and they can do the artist’s themed walking tour from my first book The Art Lover’s Guide to Paris. But from this book, any of the walking tours are fun, and are great ways to discover different areas,. The first one criss crosses over the central Paris bridges, the second one is in the Marais area that begins at Arts et Métiers and finishes at Place de Vosges. The third one is in the Latin quarter that starts at the ancient Roman arena, passes the 12th century wall of Paris, then leads you to the mighty Pantheon and through the serene Jardin du Luxembourg and back to the Seine.
Your book mentions Notre Dame, and its repair work since the fire. Had you been to it many times before it was burned? If so, what impact did that have on you?
I’ve spent a lot a time around Notre Dame – not necessarily in it, but around it. I’ve busked the bridges, performed at Shakespeare & Company, and passed it on the way to the jazz clubs in the Latin Quarter… I was back in Australia when the fire happened and was awoken with the news at 5am. A few weeks later, when I was back in Paris I went to visit the site and while the Parisians’ initial shock had passed, there were still people standing and looking up, perplexed at the damage. Because I wasn’t there when it happened, it had less of an intense affect personally, as such. But, the strange symbolism of the literal heart of Paris going up in flames inspired me to learn more about the history of the building. I have included some of in the book.
With Covid hampering travel, how long since you’ve last been to Paris, and how has that affected your life and plans?
I arrived back to Australia in December 2019 with the plan of spending summer here then heading back to Paris in April, as I usually do. Then Covid happened. I kept busy teaching tap dance online, writing and performing a cabaret show and doing a lot of cooking! I’ll go back to Paris sometime soon, but not quite yet. As for the book, it had already been commissioned so it didn’t effect the publishing but luckily the deadline was after Covid began so when I edited it, I ensured it was as much for the armchair traveler as for the practical explorer.
You perform a cabaret show, Paris By Night. Will that be coming to Perth any time soon?
I’d love to come to Perth to perform it. Any ideas of cabarets, restaurants or producers welcome..
You’re also working on a new podcast, Sense In The City. Tell us about that?
Yes! I developed Sense in the City with Hazel Brown in Melbourne in early 2019 and its first form was as a book about Paris ,and how to discover the city via the senses. More recently, entrepreneur David Fuller took on the project and it has turned into podcasts, travel tips and much more. I’m hosting the Sydney podcast, there’s an Athens one that’s up and and more on the way. It’s a great way to explore a city, celebrate ways in which we can travel without necessarily going anywhere and also to celebrate each city’s creatives – musicians, chefs, artists, performers. It’s now on all podcast apps and here:
It sounds like wherever you are in the world, you’re still busy singing Paris’s praises. What has Paris brought to your life, Ruby?
I love the way Paris celebrates culture. The city is alive with artists and everyone of all walks of life engages in the arts… the boutique cinemas, the evening art events, the colourful street art, the cabarets, the architecture, the theatrical terrace cafés and of course the jazz coming out of bars on every second corner! You don’t need to plan ahead, you can just step out and get amongst it.
Where can people buy your book?
The Architecture Lover’s Guide to Paris and The Art Lover’s Guide to Paris is available from all booksellers. People can also order a signed copy and find out more from my site- .
Photographs: Ruby Boukabou