My (Part-Time) Paris Life: How Running Away Brought Me Home, by Lisa Anselmo, hardcover, 256pp, Thomas Dunne Books, October 2016
I saw this book on display at the library while I was perusing the new releases. Now, here’s the thing; I was there to pick up three books I had on hold, three books which have worked their way up on my have to read and to be read lists, the contents of which I get to in between tackling the piles of books I already own and need to read. All of which is to say, the last thing I need is to check-out or buy a book on a whim. I’ve really been trying to exercise self-control, limit myself to five checked-out library books at a time, no more than five on my library hold/wait list, and purchase only those books by authors with whom I interact on Twitter or whose work I know I have to own — members of which club I will never reveal to anyone but Duchess Goldblatt and my local booksellers at The Curious Iguana.
But, Lisa Anselmo’s memoir called out to me. First, I’ve a lot of experience at running away. Second, I have always wanted to do the ex-pat thing and will likely never be able to — I’ve a near dead passport I probably shouldn’t spend the money to renew as I have never once used it and likely never will; so reading about those who have followed their travel, change-my-life dreams assuages my inner-aching a bit. And third, it’s about a complicated relationship between a mother and child, and losing that mother, which is a life-event I dread and for which I am (foolishly, I know) trying to prepare myself.
So, I checked it out. I’m awfully glad I did. Here’s the synopsis from the publisher’s site:
Lisa Anselmo wrapped her entire life around her mother, a strong woman who was a defining force in Lisa’s life—maybe too defining. When her mother dies from breast cancer, Lisa realizes she hadn’t built a life of her own and struggles to find her purpose. Who is she without her mother—and her mother’s expectations?
Desperate for answers, she turns to her favorite city—Paris—and impulsively buys a small apartment, refusing to play it safe for the first time. What starts out as an act of survival sets Lisa on a course that reshapes her life in ways she never could have imagined. Suddenly, she’s living like a local in a city she thought she knew, but her high school French, while fine for buying bread at the corner boulangerie, goes only so far when Paris gives her a strong dose of real life. From dating to homeownership in a foreign country, Lisa quickly learns it’s not all picnics on the Seine, and starts to doubt herself—and her love of the city. But she came to Paris to be happy, and she can’t give up now. Isn’t happiness worth fighting for?
In the vein of Eat, Pray, Love and Wild, My (Part-time) Paris Life a story is for anyone who’s ever felt lost or hopeless, but still dreams of something more. This candid memoir explores one woman’s search for peace and meaning, and how the ups and downs of expat life in Paris taught her to let go of fear, find self-worth, and create real, lasting happiness in the City of Light.
This was a quick read, written as if a friend was sharing her life history over a few bottles of wine and a long, leisurely dinner. And there are plenty of bottles and dinners in this memoir. I loved the descriptions of Paris and her time there. That’s one part of the journey, but, too, there is a great deal of introspection and self-examination about her emotional journey. It might be difficult for some people to relate to someone who can afford to have residences in both New York City and Paris, neither of which are cheap, neither of which would ever be affordable for most people, let alone both, but reading about privileged lives doesn’t bother me. I enjoy it.
What everyone can relate to is having a parent and finding one’s own way and own voice. Growing into yourself and embracing your strengths, believing you can do and be what you’ve dreamed is a struggle for most people, and when you’ve had a less than affirming and encouraging parenting — even if approval was withheld out of the best intentions — the journey becomes even harder, and much longer than the distance between New York and Paris, and so noisy with the voices in the head whispering (or shouting) “You’re not enough!”
I argue with those voices all the time. We all do, I am betting. So, Lisa Anselmo’s memoir is a comfort with the many moments of, “Yes, I feel that way, too!” And to have that identification and recognition of a shared experience come in the shape of a witty, warm, well-written travel and dream journal is very much a good thing.
A fast read with a happy ending, and, better, knowing we can still get out of this country and go somewhere else — right now, just what I needed. I guess I better had renew that passport, if they’ll let me, since the administration of that election-stealing, russian conspiring asshat just erased the government’s apology for past discrimination against the LGBTQ community. No doubt those gop-bigots-misogynist-homophobes are already planning on sewing the pink triangles on me and mine and gassing us.