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Alice Cavanagh, Paris

Interview by Elisha Kennedy

Photography by Molly SJ Lowe

Paris, France

Originally from Sydney, Alice Cavanagh now calls Paris home. As a writer and consultant for titles such as W, Vogue, WSJ, T Magazine and Cereal, her job sees her regularly on assignment around France and abroad. We caught up with her at home, in the pared back and classically Parisian apartment that she shares with her husband, owner of Paris’ Café Oberkampf, Guy Griffin.


Can you tell us a bit about your writing routine, if you have one?

Routine is a difficult notion for a freelance writer. We have to be quite reactive, but mostly, you just can’t force the magic. Sometimes the words are there and sometimes they’re just not — no matter how you decided to structure your day. When it’s not happening, I’ve learnt to take the pressure off: go for a walk, read the New Yorker, call a friend, and eventually something clicks and I just have to start writing. I tend to write from home for long sessions and cafés in short bursts. I’m probably more productive away from home.

 

How long have you been living in Paris? Do you think you will stay living there or move elsewhere in the future?

I’ve been here for six years and the time has flown. It suits me perfectly for now: I love being in Europe and being able to travel and my work here is very stimulating. Plus, every day still offers a new discovery — big or small — and I’m someone who needs that. We’re happy here but who knows about the future. I certainly miss my family in Australia but selfishly wish they would all just move here because for now I can’t imagine moving home.

Where are some of your places you like to go in your neighbourhood?

I love that Paris can be explored by foot or by bike. I don’t miss getting in a car, AT ALL. In my neighbourhood, we have some great restaurants: Achille and Le Grand Bain for dinner, Mokonuts for lunch, I love going for a drink at Aux Deux Amis. I don’t really shop in Paris (I’m an online shopper) but I do love spending an afternoon at Le Bon Marche. It feels like a real outing. Otherwise, we tend to seek out green spaces in our leisure time or walk along the Seine. The mayor of Paris has made the road next to the Seine pedestrian only and I’ve decided it’s our version of the Bondi to Bronte.

Can you tell us about some of the pieces in your home, and the stories behind them?

We moved a year ago and pretty much started from scratch. We’d recently married and this was the first home we choose together. We’ve acquired things very slowly and the house still feels quite minimal. Every other month we’ll buy a chair or a piece of art. I’ve liked taking our time and considering each and every addition. I love our Ercol coffee table that I found from a second hand store, and also the Niels O Moller desk chair — I looked for that for a while. My friend Mel O’Callaghan gave us a beautiful artwork as a wedding present. It’s from her paint pouring series and I love the colours.

We’ve acquired things very slowly and the house still feels quite minimal. Every other month we’ll buy a chair or a piece of art. I’ve liked taking our time and considering each and every addition.

What do you like to do to wind down?

I like the ceremony of making a cup of tea and then sitting on the couch and reading something or listening to a podcast, the BBC’s Woman’s Hour is a favourite. I also find cooking relaxing, though, not shopping for food, so if I’m organised with the groceries and don’t feel rushed, I tend to be able to switch off while cooking.

 

What is your morning routine?

I try to meditate most mornings. I’ve learned TM but prefer to use the Headspace app now as just find I am too rushed first thing. Tea and toast is pretty standard, while checking emails and calling the family in Aus. I love taking my time at the beginning of the day, it’s when I get organised and if I’m too rushed it throws me off completely.

Bedtime routine?

Sometimes I take a bath (especially in the colder months) to really unwind. I always read in bed, even if it’s just a few pages. I tend to have two-three books on the go at any one time and they’re in a scattered pile on my side of the bed.

I always read in bed, even if it’s just a few pages. I tend to have two-three books on the go at any one time and they’re in a scattered pile on my side of the bed.

 

What do you love to make for dinner on a Sunday evening?

Sundays are simple as we’ve usually had a weekend of indulging so it tends to be soup or a big salad. We’re close to vegetarian at home — we eat a little fish and occasional chicken — and tend to be more varied when we eat out. I’ve become a bit of a lazy cook over time, because I do find shopping in Paris much less convenient that at home in Australia. To make any given recipe I often have to visit three or four specialty shops.

What are you currently researching for work?

I’m working on a few stories: One on a photographic travel book series by a Parisian creative director, a feature on Louis Vuitton, I’m off to Portugal next month to do a story there so am looking into that, and I’m helping a friend with a new Podcast, so I’m currently planning the next episode.

What are you reading at the moment?

I just finished reading Ariel Levy’s The Rules do Not Apply. It was exceptional.

Finally, what are you looking forward to this year?

Always travel (Lisbon, London and Antwerp are on the horizon). Podcasting — a new venture I am enjoying and hoping to do more of. Plus, I’m really looking at refocusing on the work I feel truly passionate about. I just reworked my online portfolio (alicecavanagh.com) and ended up publishing only 10 percent of my work from the last 12 years. I choose the stories I am most proud of — I hope this will help me to set the tone and the focus for the next chapter of my career.


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