Harriet Alida Lye is a writer and editor-in-chief of Her Royal Majesty, an international literary and arts review. Originally from Canada, she fell in love with Paris while studying at the AUP and decided to move back to the city upon graduating. She founded Her Royal Majesty in 2008 as a space for a new generation of international artists to express itself in a tightly curated issue focused around a particular theme. The launch of the review's 11th edition will be celebrated at le Carmen on 1st November.
1. What initially inspired you to move here or visit?
There are lots of reasons, but it might come down to this simple one: my room-mate in Halifax was going to be spending a year in Dijon and I wanted to do better.
2. Earliest Paris memory?
I visited when I was eleven, and was walking around with my cousin Leo – people often mistook us for one another, both floppy haired with big brown eyes – looking into the windows of restaurants. Our parents were with us, they must have been, but I don’t remember them being there. Lots of people were all around, but since they were above our eye level, we felt alone down there. We saw little pink sausages curled up on sticks with raw red peppers lying limp on a bed of Romaine. Thinking about it now, it must have been in the 5th, around the rue de la Huchette. Then we came upon a shop called Harriet de Prague – it sold wedding dresses, and closed down a few years ago – and I just thought that it was the strangest thing, that my name should belong in this place.
[See photos: in 1997, with a broken arm and a sick Tamagotchi. In 2008, with the pair of keys I still wear around my neck.]
3. Best neighbourhood you've ever lived in?
I think every neighbourhood I’ve ever lived in is the best while I’m living there, but as soon as I move I can’t imagine being back. I’ve lived in Paris for three years and in about 8 apartments. The most unfiltered joy I’ve had, though, was in my first apartment in the 5th: I had 8.6 m2 (the size of your average bathroom) below the rooftops and a view of the Eiffel tower from the hallway and the Pantheon from the window tucked into the sloping ceiling. I loved my fruit-man on the rue Saint Jacques, and the market at Place Monge, the gardens and I could just run downhill to Shakespeare & Company, where I was working, when I was late for my shift.
4. What's the best meal you've eaten in Paris?
I had Canadian Thanksgiving at my apartment with twelve friends last weekend. I made my mum’s recipe for stuffing (pomegranate molasses to replace the cranberries; it worked a charm), chicken instead of turkey, roasted sweet potatoes with caramelized fennel and pears poached in tea, topped with candied spiced walnuts. Everyone brought something: among the best of the contributions was Michael’s gluten free apple tart with homemade cinnamon-ginger ice cream. It was perfect – perfect food and perfect company – but my memories of meals are often eclipsed by the one that follows so as this was the last big feast, it is also the best.
5. Sexiest moment you've had in Paris?
Of the ones that I can mention, I’ll say this: the moments when lives overlap and you have a sudden –spark– of a moment with a stranger, a look that lingers and re-lingers, are among the sexiest. They’re even better because they lead to nothing, so you are left only with imagination and expectation; the most romantic moments can be the ones that are unfulfilled.
6. What do you hate most about living in Paris?
The whole taxi situation is just incomprehensible – that you have to start paying as soon as you place an order? that you can’t ever (or hardly ever) just hail one down? that they are scads more expensive at night? please! – so I try to only take them to surprise myself, or when it’s someone else’s idea.
7. Who's your favourite Parisian — be they living or dead, real or fictional?
Saint Geneviève, or the tiny lady with coke-bottle glasses who sells cigarettes from a silver briefcase at the bars on the rue des Trois Frères.
8. Favourite cinema?
The Filmothèque on the rue Champollion for the old movies, the Max Linder for the balcony and the quality of sound (it’s just so loud!), and the ones on the canal for new movies and for the ferry that takes you between the two.
9. Right bank or left bank? And why?
10. Favourite Caviste?
I don’t have regular enough patterns, or a refined enough palette: I buy what I need when I need it. La tête dans le fromage is across the street from me and they’re really nice and have cheese and antipasti as well as (amazing, amazing) wine, and Le Verre Volé just down the street is a really nice restaurant as well as an excellent caviste. I had a bottle of Sicilian natural wine over a long lunch with a new friend, and the wine tasted just like apple juice, really, and apple juice is nice.
11. Where do you go to escape the city?
The Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is an escape within the city, but when I need real air I like taking the train to some place I’ve never been and spending the day, or just the afternoon. My room-mate and I are good adventure planners; she always brings a Frisbee, I always bring a picnic blanket. Giverny, Moret-sur-Loing; Chantilly for the horse-races; apple-picking in Jumeauville; hot air ballooning in Champagne!
12. Where are the best looking girls or boys in Paris and why?
This is where I say that the best looking ones are my friends, and we are generally to be found in the North-east. There are good looking people everywhere, and the best looking are the ones that look most interesting.
13. Where do you get your news?
I still like reading Canadian news (I was born in Ontario) – I just find it less stressful. I have to admit, though: I’m fairly bad at following the news. I worked at France24 for a while and that is pretty much the only period in which I knew what was going on in the world. All the important stuff filters in through headlines snipped together from Presse stands and in conversation.
14. Favourite museum?
15. Favourite shop?
16. Who's the most stylish Paris personality?
17. What is your favourite film set in Paris?
18. What about Paris most inspires you?
Movement: the metro, the bridges, bicycling through the city. The democracy of proximity.
19. What makes someone a Parisian?
I don’t know how to answer that. A certain je-ne-sais-quoi?
20. What's your favourite French word? (Swear words allowed!)