People We Love: Judith Mahoney Pasternak

People We Love: Judith Mahoney Pasternak - Paris, France

Name: Judith Mahoney Pasternak

Base: New York

Occupation: Writer / Editor

Judith Mahoney Pasternak is the author of "A Parent's Guide to Washington, D.C." (Mars 2002), "A Parent's Guide to New York City" (2001) and "Timeless Places: Paris," (MetroBooks 2000) a coffee-table book. Additionally, she's published books on country music, jazz, Dolly Parton and Beethoven.

In a more explicitly political vein, Judith has written for Tikkun and AlterNet among other publications, edited the publication Nonviolent Activist and served for a short time as managing editor of the now defunct "Guardian Newsweekly." Along the way, she's also published some fiction here and there.

EuroCheapo: Your career is notable for its wide, wide range of publications. Are there any career highlights you'd care to mention?

Judith Mahoney Pasternak: The main thing is that I've always written. In my twenties I wrote ad copy for a living, but my life as a journalist really started with the women's movement.

I've written ever since I was a child. Along the way, I've written whatever people have paid me to write. That's how I've ended up writing books on such differing subject matter. I knew just a little about country music when I was asked to write that country music book, though I've always liked Dolly Parton. I enjoyed going down to Nashville to do some research on Dolly.

EC: When did you start traveling? What about travel inspires you?

JMP: I started traveling fairly late because I had children to raise. When I first started traveling, I couldn't believe how, whenever I was struggling with a map, someone would come up to me and help. On my first visit to London, I felt the gulf between the United States and the rest of the world really acutely. In Europe, people are always willing to help you with things.

I was in Paris a few years ago with a friend. I asked a bus driver in my bad French how to get to the Musée d'Orsay. He told me I needed to make a connection. So far so good. But when we got off the bus to change bus lines he actually exited the bus to point us in the right direction to make sure that we found our way to our connecting bus line.

EC: So much for the idea of Parisians as unfriendly! Are there any ways that your anti-war or more political activities have shaped your approach to travel?

JMP: That's an interesting question. I suppose that my politics fuel my feelings about Europe. There's a spirit of assistance in Europe that resonates with me. And my political background definitely colors the way I see the world. Many people I'm friends with throughout Europe I've met through my activism.

EC: How did you get into the "Parent's Guide" series? How about the Paris "Timeless Places" book?

JMP: With the "Parent's Guide" series I simply answered an ad posted on the National Writers Union website. I ended up writing the second book in the series with my son, Adam Lass, who lives near Washington, DC. Prior to that, MetroBooks asked me to write the "Timeless Places: Paris" book. The advance wasn't big enough to send me to Paris, but I had a ticket in my pocket and flew off. I always try to have a ticket to Paris around!

EC: We love that!

JMP: It was a better book, of course, because I went there to write it.

EC: What motivates you as a traveler?

JMP: I hardly ever go to museums. I was just in Paris with my son last week. He's never been to the Louvre so we went there together, but in all my visits to Paris I've only ever been to the Louvre once previously. Locals don't go to museums. They go to zoos!

EC: Where have you traveled?

JMP: I've seen much of Europe. I traveled with my mother to Marseille. It's a gritty city, very diverse. That trip made me realize that I love France, not just Paris. Recently, I thought that I couldn't afford to go to Paris and ended up finding a good fare to Buenos Aires, where I journeyed with three friends.

EC: Did it remind you of Paris?

JMP: The south of France, yes, because of the concerted effort that went into communication. There's a level of engagement that you don't find as often in northern European countries.

EC: Where else do you hope to travel? Any dream destinations you haven't made it to yet?

JMP: I want to see Egypt. I'm very much a city kid, so when I say "Egypt" I mean Cairo and Alexandria. St. Petersburg for the White Nights. Moscow. Istanbul. I'd like to see Havana. I'd like to see Memphis. Rock and blues music are passions of mine. Where else? Vietnam. Tokyo.

I don't travel to see scenery. I travel to see cities. When I travel I want to see people who live differently than I do. So, for example, I don't think I'll get to Alaska. When I was a child I lived on the Hudson north of New York. To this day, I find the Hudson to be staggeringly gorgeous. That's scenery for me. When I travel, my motivation is to see how people live.

EC: How do you think about budget travel?

JMP: I think the less you spend the more you see. Inexpensive hotels tend to have locals as guests, and the same can be said of those dining at inexpensive restaurants. I believe in budget travel.

EC: Any new discoveries from your most recent trip to Paris that you'd like to make public?

JMP: They're not necessarily new, but I have some Paris secrets that I'd love to share.

EC: Great!

JMP: My favorite hotel in Paris is the Résidence les Gobelins. I love staying there because it's in a real Parisian neighborhood. I've stayed there five times. En suite doubles there start at €79.

I've discovered an amazing little bistro, Le Mouffetard bistro, located on Rue Mouffetard. Two courses cost just €16, which is more or less typical for a less expensive tourist restaurant in Paris. The difference is that few tourists go to Le Mouffetard, first of all. Secondly, the food there is really a cut above. Their duck with honey sauce and potato cakes is divine.

I also love Place Igor Stravinsky, across from the Centre Pompidou, with its wide fountain and sculptures. It's especially fun for kids.

On the Left Bank, the L'Institut du Monde Arabe is another treat. Its windows are like irises, contracting with the light, a riff on Moorish architecture. The cafeteria on the top floor offers great views over Paris.

And then, in the northeast corner of Paris, on an old slaughterhouse site, is the Parc de la Villette. It's got a bamboo garden with hidden speakers playing a symphony of frog songs specifically commissioned for the park. It has an amazing Claes Oldenburg sculpture as well.

EC: Thanks so much for the chat and the tips, Judith! See you in Paris!

Photo: Brian Pasternak

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