paris in 30 days

Meet the Jet-lagged New Yorker Who’s Trying to Get Those Damn Locks Off Paris Bridges

Photo: Kristy Sparow/Getty Images

Perhaps you’ve heard about the backlash against the near-decade-long tradition of lovers locking a lock onto the Pont des Arts and other iconic, Seine-spanning bridges in Paris? It’s a thing a lot of tourist couples do to (supposedly) “lock in their love” (good luck with that!) and also to leave a bit of their romantic selves behind in Paris.

Well, now some are saying saying that the lock-encrusted bridges are not only sort of an eyesore but also perhaps a danger to the bridges themselves, weighing them down (the city does remove the locks from time to time; like love, they can vanish). And guess what? Two of the biggest organizers of the effort to get Paris to ban the “love locks” are two Americans — the writer Lisa Taylor Huff and her friend Lisa Anselmo, a New Yorker who works on the business side of a large U.S. magazine but owns a tiny apartment in Paris, goes there several times a year for a few days to hang out, and writes about it on her blog, My Part-Time Paris Life.

We chatted with Anselmo about what it’s like to toggle between Chelsea and Paris’s 11th Arrondissement while co-helming the No Love Locks movement.

Lisa! How on earth did you end up living both in New York and Paris?
It wasn’t a logical decision. I’d spent a lot of vacation time in Paris, but then my mother passed away in 2011 and as an escape from my intense grief, I started having friends there go see apartments for me. I missed out on three that I wanted before I finally got on a flight and arrived one Saturday, saw six apartments, and found one that I wanted — a 258-square-foot unit in the 11th Arrondissement, which is kind of a working-class neighborhood, one of the last patches of real Paris left. The 9th Arrondissement? Forget about it. It’s bobo central now. [Editor: Bobos are bourgeois-bohemians, Europe’s equivalent of the indie-hipsters-turned-yuppie-parents who’ve overrun Carroll Gardens and Fort Greene.]

How did you afford it and pull off the real-estate deal as an expat?
I’d saved a lot of money. The apartment was about €240,000 (about $337,000 right now). I ended up paying half in cash and half with a line of credit. If you have a full-time job here in the U.S., you can get a low mortgage in France, like 2.5 percent interest. But buy a place through an expat agency like Vingt Paris. All the red tape is too much to negotiate otherwise.

Wait: How in hell do you hold down a full-time job in New York and still live part-time in Paris?
I get there about every six to eight weeks for four to five days, sometimes longer. I’ve been at my job a while so I get four weeks of vacation. But I have to say, two years into this routine, it’s getting tiring. Initially, I was just riding on jet-lag juice. Once in Paris I was so tired I was literally hallucinating the whole time. Now I’m living the same life in two different cities. Paris is no longer a vacation destination for me.

Any frustrations with being a Paris home owner?
The pace and bureaucracy is really frustrating. I had a leak in my apartment the first week, I was leaving in two days, and it was August. Trying to get a sense of urgency there is unbelievable. I heard the woman at the managing agency say, “Well, this isn’t my problem.” The lack of customer service is really jarring. On the positive side, they’ll let you sit in a café with one glass of wine for two hours.

What about the food? Isn’t it hard to find fresh vegetables in many restaurants?
That’s true. But it’s changing; you have new restaurants opening all the time, like Bones in my area. But vegetables are still kind of like a garnish. I have to go to this chain restaurant, Le Paradis du Fruit, every few days to get my quinoa and have a normal digestive moment.

Let’s talk about those pesky love locks. How’d you get so riled up about them?
I first saw them back around 2008 when it started happening, and I thought, That’s kind of charming. I don’t live near the center of town where the Seine is, so I rarely walk over those bridges. But late last year, I was on the Pont de l’Archevêché, which connects the 5th Arrondissement to Notre Dame, and I thought, What is this madness? My Parisian friend said, “Oh yes, they’re everywhere now.” It gnawed at me. So on my blog I wrote an open letter to tourists. Between me and Lisa, it went viral. We set up a petition asking the city to put a ban on attaching locks to non-designated areas and historic sites, and to designate a structure uniquely built for that purpose.

Do you think you have a chance of getting Anne Hidalgo, Paris’s new mayor, to enact your request?
In February, I’d have said probably not. But since then we have over 6,000 signatures. Local organizations are coming to us for help.

How are you juggling being a Paris anti-lock activist with your full-time New York life?
Not very well. I get up at 4:30 a.m. and check emails. The other Lisa has a less-taxing job, so we tag-team it.

Any advice in general for overexcited, shrieking American tourists in Paris? (Editor: Characterizations are the editor’s own.]
Don’t vandalize a historic structure. Put yourself in the mindset of the people who live there. If you do, you may venture out into areas where you wouldn’t normally. Be like Anthony Bourdain.

Give us some tips!
Take métro line 12 to Lamarck-Caulaincourt up behind Montmartre. Get out and walk it, and walk Rue Custine as well. You’ll get a real flavor of local life: the chicken guy right next to the boulangerie right next to the produce shop. You’ll hear mostly French, and if you want to be touristique, you can march right up to Sacré Coeur. Or take line 9 to Voltaire, Place Léon Blum. It’s full of local shops. Go visit the canals in the 10th. Go to the Marché d’Aligre in the 12th, a huge covered market, and smell, buy, eat, and walk. Also the Enfants Rouges market in the Marais. You can eat anything there.

What are you looking forward to in Paris this summer?
I want to go to this amazing arts-and-community space, a former massive funeral parlor in the 19th Arrondissement, Le 104. You can eat there; local kids practice their dancing there, and you can just sit and watch. I want to see how much I can do without spending money.

What’s the major difference between Parisians and New Yorkers?
Parisians strive for balance in their lives and love simplicity, whereas New Yorkers are all about ambition, bigger and better. Parisians live within their means, and they’re happier with less. They’re more educated. They talk about books and politics, not TV shows. But they’re also not as optimistic. A lot of them don’t make much money. Some people make 1,000 euros a month at jobs that in New York would fetch 3 times that. And, no, government “perks” don’t make up the difference. That’s a myth. Even in hard times, New Yorkers have gumption, whereas Parisians take their lumps a little more.

A Jet-lagged New Yorker Bent on Unlocking Paris