A Northeast Francophile

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July 31, 2014 // UPDATED 9:18 am - August 13, 2014
By: Eric Best
Barbara Redmond in Paris.
Eric Best
Barbara Redmond’s project, A Woman’s Paris, is a global gateway to everything French.

Barbara Redmond wears French scarves. Not only that, she hosts French tea parties. She also dresses like she’s about to shop along the streets of Paris. 

However, Redmond calls the Northeast Minneapolis riverfront home, thousands of miles away from the Parisian banks of the Seine River — and she’s only a quarter French-Canadian.

Redmond is the founder of A Woman’s Paris (AWP), an online publication with stories of French travels, culture and literature. Nearing its fifth year, Redmond’s website has become a portal for prospective travellers, or simply those with Parisian dreams, across the globe.

While French may be the language of love, art has been the language for AWP for Redmond, who doesn’t speak much French.

“Art is my language,” she said. “People tell me ‘I feel like I can see Paris through your eyes.’”

Redmond started the website after going to France annually since 2005, where she would plan self-guided art tours. She has studied art and architecture for many years, including a time at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and has done graphic design and other work for many advertising agencies in the Twin Cities.

The project shares a name with “A Woman’s Paris,” a guidebook by Mary Abbot dating back to 1900. In Abbot’s time, “Francophiles” — those with a love of France and its culture — were an American tradition. Abbot writes, “Paris is the abode of the beautiful…” as she guides Americans through conversing with French servants and finding the best cafes.

While Redmond is far from an aristocratic jetsetter, she once thought of herself as a Francophile. AWP readers can expect posts on French art and literature, first-person stories from Redmond and contributors about travelling and interviews with authors.

Redmond’s appreciation of France didn’t come from her first trip to the country in the mid-1970s, but from her family growing up in Minnesota. It didn’t even come from her French-Canadian grandmother, but from her grandmother who was a Swedish immigrant. Born in 1900, around the time of “A Woman’s Paris,” Redmond’s grandmother taught her a French-like attitude. As a kid, Redmond spent every weekend with her grandmother learning about couture (made-to-measure clothes), pouring tea and eventually drinking wine.

When she went back to France, it was déjà vu.

“It was like ‘I’ve been here before,’” Redmond said. “Dining there was just like dining at my grandmother’s house.”

But while this aesthetic may be considered dated now, Redmond’s site is adapting to a more global and cosmopolitan audience. After Minnesotan, American and French readers, her biggest readership is in Asia where travellers want access to in-depth writing on French culture.

Redmond has been able to write this way because the French appreciate her art, which she does right on the streets in Paris, she said. She can’t speak French well, so she draws her way through the city, which has been an advantage. Redmond said she once found herself exploring private, 18th-century caverns below a French bakery just by passionately sketching for employees and using a bit of the language that she knew, which she wrote about for the website.

Other AWP contributors from around the world also add a global perspective, she said. Redmond, who is semi-retired, has found contributors both locally and abroad to help manage the growing project, including interns from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and Macalester College. Native French speakers and other contributors also write and translate articles.

Though Redmond is devoted to France, she said it’s important to bring AWP back home to Minnesota where she sees “pockets” of French charm. She’s found local French connections through restaurants and local organizations, such as the French-American Heritage Foundation of Minnesota and Alliance Francaise de Minneapolis.

Redmond continues to make regular trips to Paris. Each time, she brings a little bit of France back with her to share with the world.

“There are a lot of people [who] won’t go to France. [AWP] is about opening a dialogue to a bigger world.”