Paris, Beyond The Comfort Zone
Monique Wells, founder of Discover Paris!, has lived in Paris with her husband, Tom Reeves since 1992. She was named Black Culture and Heritage VIP in Paris. She has authored several wonderful books and itineraries, including Paris Reflections: Walks Through African American Paris and the Black Pearl Walk. Enjoy Monique’s insights of Paris Beyond The Comfort Zone.
Paris is one of the most exciting tourist destinations in the world, and African Americans are traveling there with increasing frequency. For us, Paris Beyond The Comfort Zone, represents not only the best of art, fashion and cuisine, but also a fascinating Black heritage destination. With the trails of Langston Hughes, Josephine Baker, James Baldwin and Maya Angelou to follow, who wouldn’t be tempted to visit the City of Light?
My company, Discover Paris! has provided African American travelers with customized Afro-centric itineraries and activities since 1999. These itineraries fulfill the desire to explore Black history and culture in Paris while indulging in the mystique for which France is so famous.
Our clients enjoy itineraries that incorporate the objectives that they express in our travel-planning questionnaire. When we were contacted by a couple that wanted to attend the French Open, they identified tennis, photography and African American history as essential components of their itinerary. We booked luxury accommodations for them in the heart of the city, and created a walking tour on which they visited major sites and less well-known areas of the Left and Right Banks over a period of days. We designed the itinerary to provide opportunities to take photographs of monuments, bridges and unusual architecture. We also incorporated information on African American history and culture for each route and provided restaurant recommendations for each day, leaving time for the couple to attend the semi-finals and finals of the tournament.
An example of a customized activity that we organized for a group is the Afrocentric culinary excursion that Discover Paris! co-hosted in November 2003. The first such excursion ever to be held in Paris, it featured African American culinary professionals and explored multiple elements of a traditional French meal. Cordon Bleu-trained chefs Percy Taylor and Klancy Miller and sommelier-conseil (wine consultant) Melba Allen-Buillard all contributed to the success of the event, which was attended by 12 African Americans from across the U.S. A few months later, Al Roker Productions interviewed Miller, Allen-Buillard and myself (as author of the soul food cookbook, Food for the Soul for the Food Network show Recipe for Success at Taylor’s Paris restaurant, Percy’s Place.
Discover Paris! has created a number of activities that clients can select à la carte (individually). These include a series of self-guided walks on African-American history; private, guided Afro-centric visits to museums such as the Louvre, the Orsay, and the Dapper (Paris African art museum); a flea market visit with an African-American guide, and gourmet activities including wine tastings with Melba Allen-Buillard. A la carte activities can be arranged to accommodate individuals or small groups.
We have also created the first and only comprehensive bus tour of Paris that highlights the history and culture of African Americans and other people of the African Diaspora. The ~3-hour tour affords a view of many of Paris’ most renowned monuments and sites, such as the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. We provide commentary on African-American history in Paris while the bus passes through neighborhoods as varied as the Latin Quarter, Saint Germain des Prés, Montparnasse and Château Rouge (Little Africa).
Drawing on the information that I gathered for our Discover African American History in Paris! tours, I co-authored a book entitled Paris Reflections: Walks through African-American Paris (co-authored by Christiann Anderson). This book, the cookbook, Food for the Soul.