It’s strange to have lived in a place for so long and still realize there’s so much about it you still don’t know. There are many days where I feel like I know Paris like the back of my hand. There are other days where I’m reminded that I’ve only brushed the surface. After reading The New Parisienne: the women & ideas shaping Paris by Lindsey Tramuta I fell into the category of the latter. It wasn’t that felt overwhelmed by all that I don’t know, but curious to learn more.
I’ve thought a lot about my own desires to tell “alternative narratives” or the stories that are less told. In recent years I’ve come to see how the perpetuation and celebration of certain narratives in the media, and in our own minds are stories we’ve accepted, but without question. We don’t always know there’s another way of doing things because that other way of doing things isn’t always visible or represented in front of us. These stories that seem like exceptions, may likely be more the norm than we realize.
The New Parisienne was the first book I’ve been able to get into and read cover to cover since lockdown began. My mind had been distracted, but this book gave me focus, and pulled me in. Lindsey does an incredible job of distilling her long interviews into a few cohesive pages that capture the spirit of each woman featured in the book. I was so intrigued and eager to learn more about these different approaches and ways of doing business. I could relate!
While the book is focused on women who call Paris home, the stories in this book really could be from anywhere in the world. There’s something about the release of the book now that feels more relevant than ever. It’s incredibly timely to learn about different experiences beyond what movies and media perpetuate, but at the same time these stories feel very timeless. I couldn’t help but wonder where I’d be now had I discovered many of these women earlier in life. I learned a lot about the world in the process of reading their stories and discovering their work too.
Once I finished the book, I wanted to know more about the process. Here’s a special interview with author Lindsey Tramuta (aka Lost in Cheeseland).
In addition to beautiful photography by Joann Pai, the book features illustrations by Agathe Singer.
Anne Ditmeyer: Your book was initially supposed to launch in April but was delayed until July due to Covid-19. While I’m sure that was frustrating, I can’t help but feel like the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement makes the release of this book more important and relevant than ever. As the author, do you have any thoughts on the timing of your book as it relates to this current time in history?
Lindsey Tramuta: It was all VERY unexpected but I suppose this whole year has been about unexpected events. I spent the beginning portion of confinement mourning what I had imagined the rollout of the book to be but was reassured that my publisher was willing to delay the release to summer. It was still at a time when the U.S. had yet to lock down entirely and we were entertaining some idea that this would be behind us by summer. Either way, I figured summer would be better as it would give retailers and book distributors to adjust to the COVID-related disruptions to the industry and that it would give us a chance to evaluate to what extent readers were still hungry for books. By May, I was relieved to read that after an initial drop in sales in March, book buying surged
throughout the remainder of lockdown in the US and UK. I was starting to feel a bit more hopeful. This also coincided with deconfinement in France and our collective testing-the-waters in going out and piecing together a sense of normalcy.
Before June 2, the date of both the reopening of bars and restaurants (outdoors) and the first Black Lives Matter / Justice pour Adama demonstration in Paris, there were other pressing issues that related closely to many of the recurring themes in the book: tensions around division of labor, pay equality, precarious conditions for domestic / frontline workers, and great concern for disabled individuals. I certainly couldn’t have predicted that but it wasn’t surprising insofar as the inequalities many of the women speak about in the book are easily amplified by crisis. But with the eruption of the racial justice movement, it felt like suddenly the topics in the book around discrimination and France’s very complicated relationship to and handling of race would get a megaphone they may not have had otherwise.
The fact that these discussions around race and discrimination resonated far beyond U.S. borders and inspired protests and action GLOBALLY made me feel that there would be perhaps greater understanding or openness to the stories presented in my book. I felt more confident that these issues would be front of mind and the book might speak to a wider audience as a result. From a societal perspective, it finally feels like these discussions won’t be so easily swept back under the rug in France and in that sense I hope my book can be part of that awakening.
The book is broken down into activists, creators, disruptors, storytellers, “taste” makers, and visionaries.
AD: You point out “parisiennes” are often conflated with French women. One of the main goals of this book is to highlight the fact that there is a much richer view of Parisian women than the ones celebrated by the media. Why do you think people have clung to those narratives so closely?
For two reasons: one, I think it’s very uncomfortable for people to challenge what they hold to be true. In my early years in Paris, I held a rather rosy view of life and society because I was focusing on the ways in which the culture and its values were more evolved or “superior” to those in the U.S. However, I wasn’t necessarily able, at that time, to admit to the shortcomings and the cracks in the fantasy I was already starting to observe—the misogyny in politics and everyday life, the painful history of violence toward Algeria, flare-ups of antisemitism, etc. I was young but I was also still learning and hadn’t reached the maturity to feel that I could still appreciate and love this country and want to make it my home AND accept that it is imperfect and has serious improvements to make. As humans, we do this with our romantic relationships, our friendships, our careers, and our views—we create expectations based on narratives and either can’t accept when they disappoint or challenge our views or we adjust and learn and grow.
Then, there’s the corporate and political interests that have benefited from presenting a whitewashed image of Paris. Already we know that France has a very long history of searing debates about who is and isn’t French and the discrimination we’ve been talking about in this country is a result of that—who feels they have ownership of Frenchness and gets to decide for others what that LOOKS like. And then you consider how a city like Paris, itself a brand, that has consistently been one of the most visited destinations in the world, has leveraged 200+ years of myth-making around its greatness and its people to promote itself and you see a formula that works. Why change what isn’t broken? That’s the sense I get: the narrow slice of Paris and its women that gets recycled and repurposed endlessly because it sells billions of dollars in products and ideas and supports the tourism economy.
AD: You started writing The New Parisienne back in 2018. You’re addressing anti-racism and topics of diversity and representation that feel very 2020. You mention in the intro how much of this book was inspired by conversations you had after the release of your first book The New Paris. What has your own journey into some of these subjects been like? When/how did it fully come into your awareness?
LT: I’d say it’s been an evolution! Some of the early conversations I had in 2017 with women whom I met for other stories I was writing or in the context of events I’ve attended were catalysts to the change I wanted to see in my own mind. I wanted to broaden the voices I was following and when you start that, you don’t stop! One person leads to another who leads to another and suddenly my worldview had far more diverse influences.
Since those encounters ultimately led to me pursuing this book project, it was through the research process and interviews with these women that my desire to be part of the change that is needed fully blossomed. The process led to me becoming more alert to the stories that are crucial but easily (and intentionally) dwarfed in attention by other topics, made me engaged, made me want to seek out texts and ideas and conversations on topics on which I needed to be educated.
AD: You have a seriously impressive collection of women in this book. How in the world did you find/discover them all? How many were new-to-you names to you that came up while working on the book? What was the curation process like?
LT: It was tough! I started with the women I already knew to a certain degree or knew OF and branched out from there. Many of them I had been following online for a couple of years and had a good sense of what they were about and how they were contributing to the city. I also read about some of the women, such as Sarah Sauquet and Sandra Rey, in a magazine and knew I wanted to speak with them. There was a lot of cold emailing! But the process was about highlighting a diversity of professions, backgrounds, and perspectives.
The book features prize wining authors, musicians, an Olympic boxer, shop owners, and more.
AD: Was it a conscious choice to make sure some women you picked weren’t born in France and may identify more as nationalities other than French? Do you think the fact that you’re an American in Paris (who now has French citizenship) played a role in those choices?
LT: Absolutely! And I do think we as foreign-born citizens of France are more sensitive to differences and the importance of representation. We also pick up on things / behaviors that natives may not.
AD: How do you think your role as an immigrant/expat played a role in the writing of this book? Do you think a born and bred Parisienne would be able to share the story through the same lens?
LT: Of course someone from Paris could do this but the question is would the French publishers WANT it? I find that the same white-dominancy in American publishing exists in France as well and that impacts what gets the green light. The enduring argument among locals that France is now importing American identity politics and it must resist this pressure to highlight “differences” goes a long way in turning editors and even writers off to the idea of tackling topics of representation.
AD: Is there anyone you’d add to the book—or that we should know about—that you’ve discovered since it went to print?
AD: Anything else you’d like to add that readers should know about your book?
LT: If you’re in the US, please consider ordering the book from Bookshop.org or an independent bookseller! They need our support! You can find some other options on my website: www.thenewparisienne.com.
AD: THANK YOU, LINDSEY!! MERCI BEAUCOUP for all your incredible work and telling these stories.
Portrait of the author by Joann Pai.
It’s also worth checking out Lindsey’s podcast, The New Paris where she continues to tell different stories inside Paris. Yours truly recorded an episode shortly before lockdown (episode 51 – On deeper travel experiences).
You can read more about The New Parisienne: