August in France

It is quiet.  Wonderfully quiet.  Not just in Paris but everywhere you go in France.  On July 15th, after some national holiday that will go unnamed, the French decide that it’s been a solid 10.5 months of work, and that it’s close enough to 12 to round up and call it a year.  They depart in all directions, with a plan to return on or around September 1st.

Effectively this means you’re on your own if you choose to stay in your particular part of France.  90% of the local restaurants and shops close, and here in Paris, it’s the tourists who now outnumber the locals.  Everything feels slower because everything is slower.  Normally I would say this is in part due to the weather, but given the fluctuations of the last six months, I’m uncertain as to whether there is a correlation any longer between the season of the year and the expected climate.

My second card

The last card said “Visitor” and specifically prohibited working.  This one recognized my new status and interestingly was dated from the date of my follow-up visit to the Prefecture in April, not the date I received my first recipisse, in January.  This permanently shifts my renewal date to April, which is nice as I can now avoid the end of the year congestion that I have grown used to.  You’ll also see a new permanent entrance to the Prefecture at Cite:


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It ostensibly provides more safety via a double-doored security controlled entrance.  It’s just to the right, about 50 meters from the entrance you are used to.

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No, I’m not mad, bro.

Interestingly, the lady who issued me my carte took about five minutes (which felt longer due too the dread) rechecking all the paperwork from the previous two visits.  I remained stoic and impassive, and I kept telling myself, “Don’t sweat it, you’ve got everything in order.”  Sure enough, she stamped and signed all that was needed and that was “case closed.”

Please don’t make too much of my facial expression.  You’re specifically prohibited from smiling in official French photos. 🙂

Grand Train

Last weekend I took one of my meetup groups to Grand Train.  It’s part of an 8-year redevelopment project and rather than just have a boring old construction site, some smarties got together and created essentially a pop-up party that reminded me of the gently convivial atmospheres of the ruin pubs of Budapest.

Entrance is free and in addition to numerous train exhibits there are pop-up food shacks and indoor and outdoor seating galore.  It runs through October and you would do well to get in early (around 15h-17h) and leave early (before 22h) as it starts to get very crowded at that point.

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Outdoor Film Festival is back on…but not outdoors

La Villette, on the edges of the 19th, usually plays host to an outdoor film festival all summer long.  However, following the attacks in Nice, the Mairie de Paris laid down specific security expectations for outdoor events and the film festival couldn’t comply and it was tentatively suspended “until further notice.”  After a couple weeks of hand-wringing it was decided not to waste all the planning that had gone into selecting the films and organizing showing dates and the festival has been moved indoors to the Grand Halle.  If you want to join our Film and Supper Club we are going to watch Akira Kurosawa’s Ran next week.

Happy to be here

Despite this being my third year in France, this is my first full August in Paris, as the last two summers I was working in Switzerland.  Alas, they passed a law that went into effect earlier this year that restricted the number of non-EU persons that could work on temporary summer contracts, and my wings were clipped.  I was certainly down the first week I got the news, back in March, but the summer has proved what I suspected to be true back then: more opportunities would arise while I was in Paris, not in Switzerland, during July and August, and I would have more of a chance to explore parts of France that I have not before.  There are still two weeks to go before the Rentreé and I’m very glad to have these quiet summer days pretty much to myself (or to accompany friends who have never had Five Guys to taste their first one).

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The Summer that changed my life, or “Now I get to stay”

I think at any point in a film or a book there is a major crisis point at which the protagonist either succeeds or fails and the rest of the journey rises and falls on that moment.  My moment for my French adventure arrived this summer.  This is the story.

I have now come to believe that naivete can sometimes be a blessing in disguise.  When I made the decision in January 2013 to move to France in 12 months there were dozens of unknowns.  Would my French business succeed?  Would the French grant me a visa?  How would I get a bank account?  My more detail-oriented friends asked all these sensible questions before I left America.  Some things I knew the answer to.  Other things I had to figure out for myself.  What I couldn’t answer, because I couldn’t possibly know, was whether I would stay beyond my original 12-month visa, even after it was confirmed months after my visit.

In fact, I can say now, after the incredible summer that I had, that when I went to the States for a three-week work trip in June, I was almost certain that I would return to the States.  But it was that very trip, and all that followed, that led to where I am now, certain to stay here in France, happier than I have ever been in my life, and buoyed on a number of fronts.

It all started on LinkedIn, of all places.  The website that still hasn’t figured out what it is managed to function well enough for what I consider it to be, a dynamic online resume, and landed me an unsolicited interview for a project in Florida and Switzerland during Summer 2014.  It was for test prep, something I’ve been doing since 2004 and which culminated (so I thought) with the sale in late 2012 of a company I built from scratch.

Anytime you are in an industry for over a decade you inevitably build a long referral line and many potential clients are still willing to work with you, though you may live an ocean away and be many time zones apart.  I figured this demand would taper off over time, and given my management of my other companies, I welcomed that compartmentalization.

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Since I had been teaching in one-on-one or two-on-one formats for years, I had forgotten the sheer joy I felt being in front of a classroom.  I had felt that as recently as 2013, when I had a chance to teach my second MBA-level class on Entrepreneurship at Rockhurst University, my undergraduate alma mater.

The three-week intense SAT prep camp offered by JCT4Education reminded me of how much I enjoyed classroom teaching, and how those roots branched into my other pursuits (writing, tour guiding, interviewing).

Alas, this trip also reminded me that, for the moment, I missed nearly nothing about the USA save my friends and family.  Boca Raton was perhaps not the best representative of the States, but all the regular national themes were present: requirement of a car for basic daily functions, endless strip malls populated by Panera/Starbucks/Target/Outback/Barnes & Noble and the unending hamster wheel of living to work that so many Americans accept without knowing there is an alternative.

SWITZERLAND

A bigger contrast from Boca Raton could not be found in my four weeks in Rolle, in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.  Beautiful vistas.  A sense of life, not work, as the dominating principle, and an efficient and intelligent rail system.

Indeed, it was during a visit to the capital, Bern, as I was taking in this view, that I said to myself, almost reflexively, but audibly, “I’m not leaving this.”

And I began, as any Catholic might, to pray and work towards my goal.  “If you want me to stay, open the windows.  If you want me to return, shut them,” I prayed.  I then proceeded to work on opening those windows myself.  I ran two separate crowdfunders – one for my walking tour business and the other for my media company (both got funded).  I saw a significant uptick in my tutoring practice, which I realized would need to be incorporated as a solopreneur venture.  Indeed, even my blogging and social media firm took on new clients.  And my French attorney assured me that given the things I had in place, that the road to the next step in the visa process would not be overly onerous.

I wrote these words while I was in Scotland for the referendum, watching history unfold.  But I want, if nothing else, to remind my dear readers that you are solely in charge of whether you live a remarkable life – or if not – at least have a wondrous time in the attempt.  While I believe God definitively answered my prayers in June and throughout my summer, I also believe that God helps those who help themselves.

It is always darkest before the dawn.  I re-learned that this summer, and what followed will shape my life for years to come.