Ana Leorne: “(…) deep down we’re all looking for the same things: respect, love, and happiness.”
1 – How old were you when you moved to Paris? What was the main reason to move?
I had just turned 30 when I came to Paris; I had quit my super steady, well-paid job in Lisbon to come and get my PhD before I was too old and no longer had the energy to make such a move.
2 – What kind of cultural characteristics have you absorbed from France?
I’ve always thought about myself more as European than Portuguese alone, which for me means having many different — albeit not really — cultures mixed up together. Yet I’d have to answer this by pointing out my love/hate relationship with the baguette (great when fresh but gets stale too fast). There’s a great respect for the baguette around here.
3 – Do you think your portuguese origins have influenced people around you?
Most people don’t even realise I’m Portuguese, mostly because apparently it doesn’t show neither in my looks nor in my accent (they can tell there’s an accent, but are never able to pinpoint it as Portuguese), so I don’t think so. However, and given my job as a music writer I often “evangelise” fellow French writers by turning them onto Portuguese acts I like; I remember putting together a playlist of 80s Portuguese rock with Heróis do Mar, Taxi, Variações, etc, to show them how amazing the “boom do rock português” was as a spontaneous movement, and how it came almost from nowhere, in a small and rather poor country which had just came out of a dictatorship. But I do the opposite with French acts (to both Portuguese and British audiences) so I guess it works both ways.
4 – What are the biggest challenges of living in a foreign country?
Maybe because we’re talking European Union here, I don’t find there’s a lot of them. France is probably one of the Western European countries with the best social support/benefits/etc, so — and in spite of Paris being by no means a cheap city to live in —, one never feels left out and abandoned, at least in a practical level. But that’s just my perception as someone who came here by choice and not because they had to, probably.
5 – What are the most positive aspects of France?
Two ring loud and clear to me: one is the respect this country has for the Arts in general, treating them as vital and not as a mere hobby of people who are too lazy to get “a real job” — for example, whenever I said I had a degree in Fine Arts in Portugal I used to get frowned upon as if it weren’t serious enough, while here a degree in Fine Arts is treated with admiration and respect. The other is the incredible support one gets from the state here, be it in healthcare, housing, etc — and I’m not even French. There’s also no tuition fees in France, so my PhD is virtually free.
6 – During this time in a France what have you learned about the human being? What sets us apart from each other?
This will sound like as obvious cliché, but living in such a big city, Paris teaches you about diversity and respect. Of course this is nothing new to me, but here it’s just more visible that differences between cultures/nationalities/etc are irrelevant when it comes to respecting the human being. Agreed, I’m not saying tolerance is universal — this is still a very racist country in many aspects —, but you learn to observe and absorb stuff around you and understand deep down we’re all looking for the same things: respect, love, and happiness.
7 – What is lacking in Portugal that France has and vice versa?
For starters, the state support we get here, especially in what comes to basic needs such as healthcare, education, and housing, which the French state sees as essential and in Portugal seems to be utterly ignored. My heart aches every time I go to Lisbon (or even Porto) and see rents going sky-high and people being pushed out of the city because their salaries didn’t rise accordingly. Also I have much respect for the social movements here, but that’s mostly because unions are more organised; in general, French people are very involved and informed about social and political life — something that has to do with their education —, which is something I always thought Portugal was lacking. The things I miss the most about Portugal are in their majority related to my family and friends: I wish I could have them all move here basically, as I usually miss people, not places. As for the cities, I miss Porto more than Lisbon as it’s my hometown… but Paris reminds me a lot of Porto (arguably smallish, dark, romantic, etc), so I kind of feel that vibe here as well. I miss the accent though!
8 – What’s your favourite french dish?
I wouldn’t say dish, but CHEESE. So much cheese. And their pastries and desserts, it’s incredible. They eat a lot of oysters and snails and all that disgusting stuff, so main courses are a bit tricky for me in France, but I do love their gratins (a dish, usually potato-based, made in the oven with a brown crust).
9 – What stereotype doesn’t make sense about France?
People always say French people — Parisians in particular — are cold and rude, but I don’t find that to be true at all! Maybe they’re not so openly nice like people in the North of Portugal, but once you are known in your neighbourhood you get much love and “bonjours” everywhere. It’s the little things, like the lady at the baker’s who puts extra cakes in your bag without you asking (or paying) for them, the post office man that asks you about your country with visible concern after they’ve learned about the forest fires in the news… you can have the most delightful, almost small-town community in one of the world’s biggest capital cities and I think that’s beautiful.
10 – What were your biggest fears before you moved? Where did you think something could go wrong?
Although not related to the moving per se: I obviously thought about it through and through but only realised a year ago or so that I had no idea how on earth I’d be able to successfully write a PhD thesis in French — especially in such a demanding field as Aesthetics. Even though the first confirmation came when I was accepted at the EHESS, which is one of the top social sciences institutions in Europe, I honestly never thought I’d pull it through. Yet, 450 pages later here we are — and now I get the feeling I could do almost anything.
11 – From the legal point of view, was the social framework easy? Do you have any advice for someone moving in?
Yes, as I’ve explained above; there’s LOADS of paperwork (and I’m European, I don’t even want to imagine for non-EU members) but once they’re submitted everything starts going smoothly. Depending on what they come here for, my advice would be to get informed about what kind of support is available to you: as a student you get some benefits, as a worker you get others, etc. Oh, and at least in Paris start looking for an apartment WAAAAAY in advance, as it’s probably the toughest thing to find!
12 – What are the greatest labor differences between Portugal and France?
I don’t work here so I don’t know details, but even though you pay a lot of taxes you are obviously much better paid, you get more vacation days, and a full time job is 35 hours a week, not 40. They’ve also recently passed a law that prevents your boss from contacting you outside office hours, be it by mail ou phone, which I find very important these days. I think that when you see your tax money being well spent and you still get enough to live you instantly work better. At least that’s my perception; I know I don’t pay tuition fees because taxes are partially covering that, and when I start working my own taxes will pay some other student’s. It’s mostly the mentality that the state is everyone and not a separated, villain-like entity that “steals” from you that makes a difference; in Portugal I always get the idea that people accept their tax money as “lost”, mostly because they don’t see their life improving after giving it away. Here people are also more involved in public affairs in general and demand to know where their money is going (your salary bulletin has it detailed, item by item, where your taxes are going: education, healthcare, arts, military, etc).
13 – What is your favourite spot in Paris?
I live pretty close to Montmartre, so whenever I feel blocked or something in my writing I go for a walk there. I also love the passages couvertes, those glass-ceiling galeries with all sorts of tiny shops. Then there’s a couple of coffeeshops and cafés that always make me feel at home, like the Patisserie Viennoise (5ème), the café at Studio 28 (18ème) or a recently discovered French-American diner in Passage des Panoramas, Groovy Monkey (2ème).
14 – Where do you feel “at home” in Paris? Is there a specific place?
Definitely, I always did. Just walking around the city makes me feel at home, Paris is very demanding in the way that you need to feel good about being on your own (i.e., feeling alone but not lonely), but once you master that it’s a pretty gentle lover.
15 – What is your favourite restaurant in Paris?
I love a crêperie near my house called La Petite Bretonne (9ème): it has genuine crepes from Bretagne, both savoury and sweet, and they’re delicious. Before Groovy Monkey opened I also used to go to Breakfast in America (4ème/5ème/2ème), an American diner with great food and (usually) great music playing. For tea and cakes, which is something I do a lot with my friends (and apart from Patisserie Viennoise which has the best hot chocolate in Paris) I love La Bossue (18ème).
16 – What is it for you to be real? What defines you as a person?
This is a tough question! Firstly, reality is but a perception, as everything is subjective and depends on your own point of view. But if you’re referring to “being real” to yourself, I’d say that it means searching deep down inside for what makes you happy and complete — almost like a karmic quest, I’d say. I have a friend with whom I used to make music with when I was in Portugal and he’s one of the greatest musicians/composers I know, and he always says that it doesn’t matter what you do, it matters what you can’t stop doing, and I very much believe in that. You are not a musician, or a writer, or anything because you “choose” to be so; if you get up in the morning and your first impulse is to write or make music and you are unable to feel complete without doing it, the same way you can’t live without eating or drinking or sleeping, then that’s what you are. This also answers the question of what defines me, as I’m very fatalist that way: I believe you need to follow your head and your heart, do everything with passion, be kind to others, and try to make this world a better place, even if just through little things. Call me new age hippie, but I do believe love can save the world. And that’s probably what defines me the best.
Place of Birth:
In my neighbourhood there’s a cool butcher/rôtisserie that sells awesome poulet rôti (roast chicken) and even though I only buy half I never eat it all in one day. So the following night I usually make this recipe with the chicken that’s left.
Half to a quarter of roast chicken, preferably dry
5 to 6 big potatoes (8 to 9 medium ones, etc)
You’ll need: Half to a quarter of roast chicken, preferably dry 5 to 6 big potatoes (8 to 9 medium ones, etc) Milk Butter Parsley Salt Nutmeg (optional) An egg Boil the potatoes in salted water. Shred the chicken in a bowl and add the parsley (lots of them, if you’re like me) finely cut. Mix well and reserve. After the potatoes are properly boiled — check it out with a fork —, drain the water and mash them. Add a bit of milk and butter, and nutmeg if that’s your thing. Work them into a proper purée but not too runny. Turn on the oven to 180/200 degrees C. Get an oven dish and grease it with a bit of butter. Lay down a layer of mashed potatoes, then the chicken-parsley mix, then another layer of mashed potatoes. Cover well. In a glass beat the egg slightly (yolk and white) and spread it on top of the whole thing. Make small holes with a fork on the surface and into the oven it goes. When the top is brown and beautiful take it out, it’s ready.
Name of the recipe:
Hachis Parmentier of poulet rôti