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The Yin-Yang of Surviving Life in Paris

Lisa AnselmoLisa Anselmo

Author and many hat-wearing Lisa Anselmo had a record-breaking turnout at Après Midi yesterday with more than 60 attendees to hear her speak about her “Part-Time Paris Life” — and “how running away brought her home”…to Paris, that is. She struck the chord with so many in the room who had gone through so much of the same yin-yang feelings about their lives in Paris and questioned why Paris has such a strong attraction. This is a question I’ve asked myself many thousands of times — in fact almost daily.

Lisa asked me to go ahead and answer the question: “What was it about Paris that made you want to live here?”

All I could offer up was, “It’s inexplicable.”

I arrived for the first time in Paris in a cold, rainy August of 1979 traveling with my not-yet-husband and checked into a dumpy hotel in the Latin Quarter — the Hôtel d’Albe. It’s still there, but now totally face-lifted. The film Ben Hur was playing at the cinema opposite the hotel so that every night we clearly heard the roar of the chariot race scene. The room was shabby, but the bathroom was enormous with a big tub and a bidet — something I had never seen before. It got a lot of laughs and was a photo op I may never forget.

We both immediately fell in love with Paris and began to peruse the ads in the then Herald Tribune for apartments for rent. I wanted to stay in Paris; go no further on our two-month trek across Europe eventually landing in Israel where we had an apartment waiting for us along with our precious belongings that we had shipped there in advance. But, we didn’t stay and vowed to return. Return we did, year after year, until one day we realized it was time to test the waters and move to Paris for one year or more. That was 1994 and the rest is history.

An American in Paris poster

Yin Yang

Kein CrossKein Cross

The outside world believes that living in the City of Light is the height of glamor. Every movie or novel set in Paris perpetuates this image and has us believing it to be true. Just look at the 1951 film “American in Paris” and see how even a starving artist and struggling concert pianist will do just about anything to find success and romance in this foreign land. Nothing’s changed since then. There are still hordes of young (and old) artists, musicians and writers who are doing just what Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) and Adam Cook (Oscar Levant) did more than 65 years ago just to have their taste of the French capital.

So, what’s the big deal? The “yang” is the bright and romantic view of the city — its beauty and seductiveness. The “yin” is the dark side of life in a strange culture that isn’t as “user-friendly” as we’d liked or hoped. Lisa had her many stories, as did others in the room. We all do. Ask anyone who has applied for a visa at a French consulate, or sat in front of a frowning “fonctionnaire” at the “Préfecture” or spent more than 90 days living like a Parisian in a rental apartment. That’s when the “fun” begins and the yang starts to encroach on the yin.

At lunch with Club Rayé owner, Kein Cross, he asked me “With all you have been through, why are you still here?” Kein’s been through administrative hell to keep his club happily running, including getting permission to create a terrace on the corner opposite the club that would greatly improve the corner that had “become an illicit meeting point among teenagers.” He and I often share war stories from our dealings with the French administration making it the greatest challenge of our lives to stay in business and afloat.

That’s part of the point. Life in Paris (or anywhere in France) is a constant challenge, so we are never bored, if nothing else. We become tougher, stronger, wiser, more clever, more impenetrable. We become survivors, even if we didn’t start out that way. Surviving Paris is ultimately what happens to those who arrive with stars in their eyes, only to discover the yin of the yang. If you come as a retiree with a lot less need to entangle yourself in the bureaucracy, you can live virtually yin-free, with the exception of a few day-to-day encounters with the French culture. But if you’re an entrepreneurial American with a lot of great creative ideas, be prepared for the worst.

If you survive the worst — the yin of it, then, mark my words: You will never leave…and be glad you didn’t.

Note: Be sure to read all about Lisa Anselmo’s talk at Après Midi and see all the photos of everyone who attended!

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds - Paris, France by Pam Leavy

Adrian Leeds
Adrian Leeds Group

(Special thanks to Pamela Leavy who painted this portrait of me on a greeting card!)

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P.S. With the foundation of experience and knowledge gathered over the last 22 years, I’ve helped hundreds of people move to France. If you want to know how to survive the yin of the yang, email me for a personal consultation by phone, Skype or in person, to put you on the right path to survival: [email protected]

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