July 16, 2007

La Chose Intéressante du Jour

Interesting Thing of the Day moves to France

On July 1, 2007, the entire staff of alt concepts—that’s Morgen, me, and our cat, Zora—left San Francisco and moved to Paris. If you’ve been wondering why our sites have been a bit thin on new content in recent months, that’s the reason. But I’m pleased to say that we’re settled in our new home and once again actively writing about interesting new things.

Lots of people have asked us what we’re doing in Paris, and it’s a question we have some difficulty answering. I suppose the short answer is that we’re doing the same things here we were doing in San Francisco, except with a view of the Eiffel Tower and better bread. As to what induced us to move, that’s a bit more involved.

Interesting Continent of the Decade
In the spring of 2000, Morgen and I took a three-week vacation to Europe. Morgen had been to Germany as a teenager but I’d never seen any of Europe. I’d read lots of books set in France, and was especially interested to visit Provence. We also scheduled stops in Paris, Monaco, Venice, Innsbruck, Munich, and Bern, as well as numerous other spots in between. It was a whirlwind trip, to be sure, but it made quite an impression on me. It was on that vacation that I first encountered the Girolle, superautomatic coffee machines, Neuschwanstein Castle, and The Musée des Arts et Métiers, among numerous other things I later covered on Interesting Thing of the Day. In fact, the idea for the site itself occurred to me during our visit to Bern.

Of all the places we visited, though, Paris made the deepest impression on me. I’m addicted to discovering interesting new things, and as I’ve remarked here in the past, Paris has an extraordinarily high ITSKI (Interesting Things per Square Kilometer Index). So we returned to France for another three weeks in 2003, and spent two of those weeks in Paris. Once again, I found that I felt happier, more content, and more energized than just about anywhere else I’ve been—and I’ve been to a lot of places. It wasn’t merely the fantastic food, the architectural beauty, or the ubiquitous signs of a long and fascinating history. In some ineffable way, I was enchanted by the very vibe of the city— the subtle logic behind the ways people think and act here…I don’t know, somehow it just clicked with me. Although Morgen would probably tell the story a bit differently, she had similar feelings of fondness for France in general and Paris in particular.

Home Is Where the Heart Is
Back home in California, we gradually found ourselves growing restless. I’d be the first person to tell you that San Francisco is a wonderfully interesting city, and without question the years we spent there enriched our lives immensely. But at a certain point we began feeling that we’d run out of new things to experience there, that life was pleasant enough but somewhat dull. The cost of living was high, and I suppose we felt that we weren’t getting our money’s worth in a way. We frequently remarked about things that weren’t quite working for us in ways they would have in France. Like the bread, for example: I’m sorry, but even the best bakeries we could find in San Francisco—expert though they may be at making sourdough bread—simply couldn’t produce an authentic-tasting baguette.

Over a period of a couple of years, we talked about this growing sense of discontentment frequently on our customary long walks. We brainstormed about places we could move (within San Francisco or elsewhere), as well as other changes we could make to get ourselves out of the rut we seemed to be in. But none of the proposed solutions felt right, and the conversations always ended up right where they started.

Then one day around the beginning of 2006, on yet another long walk, Morgen finally said, “I know what we have to do. We have to move to France.” I remember thinking, in rapid succession, that she had hit upon the only correct answer (which should have been obvious), that such a move would be outrageously difficult if not impossible, and that we had no choice but to try. Almost immediately we agreed that this was our new plan; it was just a matter of figuring out how to make it happen. We also quickly concluded that Paris was where we should plant ourselves, at least initially.

Making The French Connection
We spent months reading books and Web sites about how one goes about moving to and living in France. The process is long and complex, especially if you’re not a resident of the European Union, don’t have a job offer from a French employer, and want to stay in France for more than three months—our situation exactly. For starters, you need a special visa. The requirements you need to meet before you can apply for it, and the paperwork required to document everything, are intimidating, to say the least. As is typical of the French bureaucracy, the process involves several different cases of “you need A in order to get B, but having B is also a prerequisite to getting A.” It was maddening. (And the madness doesn’t end once you get here, either: plenty more administrative hassles await us.) Crucial tasks like finding an apartment, setting up a French bank account, and getting appropriate health insurance presented loads of challenges.

There was also the matter of figuring out what to do with all our possessions. Although any move is a lot of effort, a move across the ocean in which you can only take a limited amount of stuff introduces more complications. It took us several months of concerted effort to determine how to sell, store, give away, or pack everything we own. We had to jump through a number of hoops to deal with issues relating to our business, taxes, and other financial matters. And, for good measure, we had to go through yet another long process to bring our cat with us—yes, we really are crazy.

I can’t begin to tell you how busy and stressful our lives were in the couple of months leading up to the move. Besides all the paperwork and logistics, we both had our regular, paying work to deal with. We got very little sleep and experienced entirely new levels of grumpiness. It’s easy enough now to look back and pretend it wasn’t that bad, since it’s all over with, but really: it was that bad. And, in the process, we had to sacrifice a number of things, not the least of which was keeping up with writing new articles on our Web sites.

A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and us
Now, however, we’re officially back in action—living our version of the dream in Paris and ready to get back to the sorts of work we enjoy. We have a lovely apartment with a suitably fast Internet connection and half a dozen good bakeries within a boule’s throw from our door. There’s UHT milk and pastis in our cupboard, and we’re more or less within walking distance of La Flûte Gana and Père-Lachaise Cemetery. We eat a lot of cheese, and waitresses ignore us unless our table is on fire. We’re happy.

We don’t know how long we’re going to be here, but I estimate that it will be somewhere between a year and forever. That is to say, we’ve got a one-year lease on our apartment—so we could decide to go somewhere else next summer—but it’s virtually certain we’ll stay in France, and highly likely that we’ll stay in Paris, for the foreseeable future.

We’ll continue working on Interesting Thing of the Day and our other sites—and in fact, we expect to have a lot more time to devote to them now that we don’t have to deal with moving. (And no, don’t worry: this move doesn’t mean that all the interesting things from now on are going to be French!) We’re also working on a new site that will be all about our lives as expats in France. As always, we thank you for your kind support. More interesting things are ahead! —Joe Kissell

More Information about La Chose Intéressante du Jour…

Our new blog about life in France is called Truffles for Breakfast.

If you’re thinking about moving to France, you might enjoy reading these books (just a small sampling of many on this topic):

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Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik

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French or Foe? by Polly Platt

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Talk to the Snail: Ten Commandments for Understanding the French by Stephen Clarke

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Almost French: Love And A New Life In Paris by Sarah Turnbull