PARIS — Will Inrig greets me wearing an ascot and a grin. The grin fits. He’s 20 and living in Paris and should be smiling wide. Will, though, isn’t so much spending his university days in the City of Light as immersing himself in Paris and Parisian culture. Hence the ascot. And the bottle of sparkling wine he has ready for us, and the foie gras, cheese (blue and brie, of course), dates and rich, dark chocolate. Starving student he’s not. Nor does he possess a 20-year-old’s demeanour.
“So tell me about you?” he asked when we sat down on his balcony overlooking Montmartre. In his voice was the inquisitive curiosity of a journalist, a turnabout that threw me. Twenty minutes into our meeting and he was getting to know more about this visitor than I was about him and that’s not the way it’s supposed to work.
Eventually, I got to learn that he grew up in Ottawa but after a year in Paris had been transformed and transfixed by France, its culture and people.
“I’ve been able to experience so much from coming here and that changes you, no doubt,” he said, adding that his French was poor prior to arriving in Paris. It’s improved dramatically since as he becomes accustomed to his new surroundings.
Will is staying in a historic apartment building in Montmartre, the quirky, vibrant and artsy neighbourhood known for the Moulin Rouge and church of Sacre Coeur. The building fronting Place Marcel Aymé, in the 18th Arrondisement, is one Will, an aspiring film maker, says he’d seen when he was young and visited the city with his father.
“When I walked up to the building I looked up and couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I knew I’d been there when I was a child.”
At the time of that second sighting, he had been living in a cramped, uncomfortable cubbyhole and was desperately seeking a good place to live at reasonable rent. He said he dropped to his knees and made a prayer to be able to take up residence in the building. That wish came true as he was accepted — albeit after a wait — by his landlord, Marie Jacques Perrier, an 86-year-old fashion journalist and singer who has hosted Django Reinhardt and other artists and musicians in the apartment over the past 60-plus years.
“It’s like a living museum,” Will said as he showed me around the apartment filled with books, albums, photographs nearly a century old and other artifacts of Paris in the early 20th century. It’s fascinating stuff and Will is well aware of its importance. He has a reverence for Perrier and the French culture she’s witnessed, and taken part in.
He says Perrier will share with him and guests lavish, multi-course dinners that include stories of the people who used to come into the building and what they’ve done. “Sometimes she’ll even sing a song she recorded with one of them,” Will said, smiling again.
Will is the only Canadian in his class studying at the American University and while he’s changed his major once and admits he may switch again, he’s certain of where he’d like to live, for the next few years at least.
Looking out over Montmartre from his balcony on a warm spring day, Paris stood there, laid out in front of him. He walked me around and spoke of his preference of tiny Saint-Pierre de Montmartre over Sacre Coeur and his adoration of an untouched garden where locals have parties far away from the bustling streets crowded with tourists and how he’s recognized as one of the neighbours now, in this Parisian enclave long known for its influence on style and culture. At one point on his tour, Will nodded and said with satisfaction, “Yes, I do feel like this is home now.”
Anyone who observed how uncannily suited he seemed for the city would have no doubt about it.
[Copyrighted photos by Julia Pelish Photography]