(Part-time) expat Lisa Anselmo shares her life between Paris and New York. She is a creative director, writer and author of My (Part-Time) Paris Life – How Running Away Brought Me Home: a true story of how expat life in Paris brought her self-discovery and healing after tragic personal loss. She also has a blog and travel series of the same.
When you initially took the plunge to move (part-time) to Paris to write, did you know that the subject of your writing would be your journey of self-discovery, or did the realization evolve with your writing?
I had the book contract in hand when I moved to Paris (though that’s not why I moved). My editor and I knew the book would be about my journey to find purpose in Paris after the loss of my mother from breast cancer. But here I was in Paris, writing a memoir while still in the middle of the events—going through gut-wrenching life change. As the journey grew, so did the book. I was in a constant state of self-examination and introspection, and writing the book became a kind of therapy, full of “ah-ha moments.” It helped heal me.
Many of your experiences are ones that other expats can relate to. Were you aware of this as you were writing?
I wish! If I had known at the time I was not alone in my anxiety, I’d have felt a whole lot better. Instead, I blamed myself for my inability to fit in, my timidity, for having panic attacks in the grocery store or post office. I dared not let anyone know I was struggling. That would have been admitting defeat, weakness.
How was the book received by your French friends and neighbours, many of whom are mentioned in it?
Thankfully, everyone is still talking to me! My friends, whose wedding is captured in one of the chapters, were thrilled to have their day immortalized.
You say in the book that Paris has become your identity. Is that still the case and if so, can you explain how?
Well it’s certainly a giant part of my brand identity! But for me personally…it’s deeper than that now. I don’t feel like Paris is a separate entity I’m latching onto, or claiming, as I once did. It’s just home. I forget that I’m an immigrant until I’m reminded once a year to renew my visa. And the thing is, because I’m also in New York a lot, the two cities blur together. Like a full-time life in New Paris.
So, do you think Paris will always be your part-time life or could you imagine it becoming full-time for you one day?
Oh, but do I have to choose? New York charges me up, and Paris recharges me. I suppose l’amour could force my hand. That’s one thing my book doesn’t have: a romantic entanglement. Though I suspect they’d give me a boyfriend in the film adaptation!
Have you found the happy balance between the two sides of your part-time lifestyle or do you lean more towards one lifestyle than the other?
I would say I have one lifestyle, meaning I’m not really a different person in each city. But, okay, full disclosure: traveling back and forth is taking its toll a bit lately (I’ve been at it for two years now). It’s hard to create any kind of continuity, and I think I’m starting to crave that. If you’re only fifty-percent invested in one place, if you’re always leaving, are you missing out on making real connections? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself.
Part of the appeal of your narrative is learning more about the ‘real Paris’ – away from the tourist attractions. Do you have a favourite spot in the city?
My neighborhood, Sainte-Marguerite/Roquette, in the 11th. It’s gritty in places and not postcard pretty, but it’s vibrant and friendly. My food hangouts are Hakka Home (Chinese), Paris Hanoï (Vietnamese), and Il Bacaro (Venetian). My local watering hole is l’Armagnac, where I can catch the football matches. But my favorite spot to sit and people-watch is Au Baroudeur, which has a large, sunny terrace facing a busy intersection full of local life.
You have developed the concept of your part-time Paris life into a mini-series on YouTube. What inspired you to do that and can you tell us more about this project?
The series, also called My (Part-time) Paris Life, lives on my YouTube channel (Lisa Anselmo) and is part travelogue/part inspiration. I wanted to bring my audience inside my Paris, but also introduce them to people who took a risk to change their lives—like I did—and found success and happiness. Filmed and edited by Nomadic Frames, this season features Parisians like boulanger Christophe Vasseur of Du Pains et des Idées, and chef Pierre Sang. Next season we’ll feature expats. There are also mini-episodes about local culture and experiences and, yes, a tour of my little apartment.
You are a big supporter of saving Paris’ bridges from the “love locks”. Tell us more about your stand on that.
We’re in a perplexing age when it has become acceptable to visit someone else’s country and vandalize the property of the local people. That’s what “love locks” are: essentially vandalism of heritage sites in the name of love which, if you think about it, is actually pretty twisted, perhaps something born of the mind of a social media-obsessed society. Lisa Taylor Huff and I founded No Love Locks in order to educate tourists about the negative effects of the trend, and to push the mairie to enact a ban.
The situation is dire in Paris.The entire UNESCO World Heritage site is inundated with over one million locks, and over two million keys pollute the Seine today. To give you a sense of the scale of the problem, 65 tons of locks were removed from the Pont des Arts, and 35 tons from the Pont de l’Archevêché, just two of the 11 bridges affected. It’s the people of Paris who pay for all this “love”—financially, emotionally and culturally. Does that seem like love to you?
What advice would you give to new arrivals in the city looking for their first pied-à-terre here?
So many people think they can come on vacation and hit up some agencies. It’s a profound waste of time. For starters, there’s no multiple listing service in France so you’d need to visit dozens of sites or agencies to get a sense of the inventory. Plus, the local agencies represent the seller and couldn’t care less about what you need. Then there are the ever-changing tax laws, the notaires, the language barrier – you get the point. You’re buying property in a foreign country, people! This requires planning and expert help. Listen to Mama Lisa and hire a reputable expat real estate agency. Handholding is a wonderful thing when you’re plunking down hundreds of thousands of euros from thousands of miles away.
Throughout the book it seems there is the invisible guiding hand of your mother influencing so many of the decisions you made. Do you still feel that influence in your life today?
I so do. And I still need it. Since I left the stability of my former life, I’m making it up as I go. When you live an uncharted life, you need all the guiding lights you can get.
My (Part-Time) Paris Life is published by Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press and is available on Amazon.