As a self-proclaimed “cabinet of chic curiosities,” MessyNessyChic is a whimsical website dedicated to all things unusual.
Founded by blogger, author, and self-described “escapist” Vanessa Grall, the quirky site features everything from tales of abandoned art to ghosts of photographs past. Often, her pieces are inspired by life in Paris, where the French-American has resided for 7 years. Combining her interests in the “undiscovered and forgotten” with her extensive experiences in the City of Light, Grall has decided to compile her knowledge into a new “non-guide book,” aptly titled, Don't Be a Tourist in Paris.
Don't Be a Tourist in Paris pairs the enchanting eccentricity of MessyNessyChic with the informative accessibility of a friendly tour guide. Detailing destinations from quirky coffee shops and secret restaurants to “hidden antiques villages and time capsule artist ateliers,” the one-of-a-kind book proves that there is so much more to Paris than busy bistros and attractions teeming with tourist.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Grall to find out more about this fascinating passion project. In our interview below, we discuss the inspiration behind both her blog and her book, as well as her experiences getting to know Paris and her hopes for those planning to follow in her fun-loving, French footsteps.
If you'd like to experience Paris like a local, you can order your own copy of Don't Be a Tourist from the MessyNessyChic shop.
How long have you lived in Paris, and what inspired your move?
I've been here seven years and counting! I'm half French/ half American but born and raised in London. I guess you could say I was playing life a little too safe in London. I was approaching my mid twenties with not too much to show for it, so I think the first step to change was to change the scenery. And boy am I glad I did.
I'd been working for a magazine for several years in Notting Hill and when I started writing MessyNessyChic, I think I tried to just copy that traditional magazine format—with a style section, a travel section, a culture section etc. But then I arrived in Paris and everything changed. Suddenly I was blogging about counter culture, forgotten history, urban anomalies, and off-beat travel. Not to say that London isn't an inspiring city or that it doesn't have history or subculture, but I think moving to a new city (especially one like Paris) opens your eyes and makes you more curious and nostalgic. I highly recommend it if you're ever in a rut. I like to think of Paris as my muse for MessyNessyChic.
How did MessyNessyChic start, and how has it evolved?
While sometimes I find it very hard to describe what MessyNessyChic is to a stranger, I think after seven years of blogging, in actual fact it has a very distinct style of curation today. Even though the content can be so diverse and we cover a smorgasboard of topics, readers know MessyNessyChic material when they see it and the growing community has really been a huge support. It feels like we're this merry band of outsiders on the internet, all coming together with a shared interest in life's little oddities.
What made you decide to write Don't Be a Tourist in Paris?
Living in Paris as a native English speaker makes your ear very attuned to hearing your old language on the streets, in cafes, at the market, etc. It's as if you develop a certain radar for it and you notice tourists and foreigners more than the average local. So often, I find them standing at street corners, asking each other which way they should go next.
I’ve got a soft spot for lost travellers who end up at the busy Paris landmarks with those overwhelmed facial expressions. The temptation is always there for me to take them by the hand and whisper: follow me.
The funny thing is, I've met so many Parisians that just don't realize their city is full of adventure. When I first moved here, in fact, I practically made it my mission to know Paris better than Parisians. This book was never going to be just for people that don't know Paris. It's for locals and first-timers and everyone in between. Our intern nicknamed it “the ultimate bible to Paris unknown.”
What did the process of writing it entail?
Oh let's see, driving my mobylette around Paris, taking all the little back streets, screeching to a halt like a madwoman every time I saw something intriguing. I don’t walk past an unusual door without checking if a real-life Narnia isn’t hiding on the other side.
Once I had most of my locations, I had to figure out a unique way to make them fit. I sat down with a friend at a bar and scribbled down a million ideas on a napkin over a bottle of wine. I wanted to write a non-guide book, so nothing standard like chapters organized by restaurants, museums, shopping, etc. In the end, I decided to go by a person's story in Paris– a different character for each chapter with certain needs, hopes, and desires. Fortunately, with my blog MessyNessyChic, I didn't have to look to look very far to find those characters. In fact, each chapter of Don't be a Tourist is inspired by emails I’ve received over the years from readers asking the very same thing in one way or another: can you give me your key to the city?
How does your book reflect your own experiences in the city?
I've got a big imagination. I like to create stories out of everything I see and look at the obvious in a very non-obvious way. So my dimly-lit local dive bar with dripping candles becomes the favourite haunt of Jim Morrison's ghost. Former artists' residences, now underrated small museums, become the opportunity to snoop around other people's houses.
Similarly, in what ways does it tie in with your website, which you describe as a “cabinet of chic curiosities?”
I dig very deep on the Internet when I'm researching articles, seeking out the untold stories and the little details. I'm slightly obsessive like that. So my book also digs much deeper than the average guidebook. Like my “cabinet of online curiosities,” I'm looking for the oddities of Paris, the hidden treasures and the secrets beneath the surface. If you want to see Paris like it is in the movies, I’ll show you the director’s cut. If you seek the unusual and the underground, I’ll take you down the rabbit hole and park you at the mad hatter’s doorstep.
Lastly, what do you hope readers take away from Don't Be a Tourist in Paris?
I want them to become enraptured by Paris like I am. But I also just want them to feel like they have a friendly voice to accompany them on their exploration.
Check out a chapter-by-chapter sneak peek of what you can expect to find in Don't Be a Tourist in Paris below!
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My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by MessyNessyChic.
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