Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Everyone should spend a winter homeless in France

 It's so hard not messing up SOMEONE's picture in downtown Paris.
Whoo, it's been an eventful month.  I got a bit overwhelmed by how much I needed to catch y'all up on here, but today's the day.  Basically, my host family and I ended our work contract at the beginning of December.  We had decided I would stay through Christmas, but...the plans changed suddenly, haha.  They needed my bedroom available for the new help, so I went from employed and housed to neither in 24 hours.  It was an unexpected twist, but it's actually turning out to be amazing, thanks to the help of some incredible friends.  I've been couchsurfing with friends in Annecy, Geneva, Lyon, and Paris, enjoying myself thoroughly, and looking ahead to what options I have in 2014. 
The Annecy marché

MEANWHILE, my new book came out and got all kinds of fantastic coverage, my studio's Kickstarter campaign is heading into the final 24 hours, and a for-funsies comic I posted went completely viral.  MADNESS.
The view of Lake Annecy from a viewpoint hike through frozen woods

I was super sad to have to say such quick goodbyes to the kids I au pair'd for, and leave the village community I'd begun feeling a part of.  Luckily, I got a little quality time with each of my kids, was able to move and clean up after myself, and felt I did my best to end things properly.  It had been killing me how difficult travel was from my little town (30 minutes to the closest airport or TGV, and with only 2 days off in a row, it wasn't enough to go anywhere), and I've really been dying to get back to work on comics. :-/ The future is clouded in mystery, but I'm excited by the prospect of freedom.  It's not exactly what I had planned, but I was hoping for challenges and adventures when I left home.  Allons-y!
I stayed 8 nights with two generous comic book artists in Annecy (the authors of Tib & Tatoum!), which allowed me to continue my French class and keep seeing my friends in the area.  I got to see Annecy all festive for the holidays, with the Christmas market and the city lit up and beautiful.  It's incredible, getting to stay with locals and see the city through their eyes.  I would never have visited a swing dancing class, or shopped for vegetables at the street market, or known that December 6 was the Fête de la Saint-Nicolas, or discovered that I prefer soy yogurt to dairy, or found the American burger restaurant in the old town.  I'm newly convinced that, whenever possible, visiting friends or Couchsurfing is the best way to travel.
I was very curious how daily life might be different for a comic artist in France.  Seeing how they live and work, it's raising my aspirations for what kind of life I can build myself.  It reminds me of when I went to Periscope for the first time and suddenly had 25 real-life role-models for the career I wanted but could not previously picture.  It's opening my eyes to new possibilities.

On December 7, I ran the Course de l'Escalade in Geneva with a family from my old village.  They reached out to me this fall and invited me to run by the river in Seyssel with them a couple of times, took me to a BD signing in Annecy, introduced me to a comic shop owner and told him about my work, had me over for tea...  They are the sweetest.  At the race, the family's kids ran with their age groups, and then the mother and her sister ran with me in the afternoon women's 5k.  We had gauffre, hot dogs, sweet tea, coffee, fresh bread, and bananas.  The race weaved through Geneva's old city: narrow cobblestone streets, streetlamps, people cheering on the sidewalks and overpasses and out of their windows.  So pretty!  It was an unforgettable experience.  There were people calling my name and making eye contact with me as I ran by--I was so confused!  I thought maybe someone from Tumblr had come out to support me or something.  After the race, the mother of the family said that strangers had been cheering for her, probably because our names are written on the paper pinned to our chests.  D'oh!
Post-race glow

After the race, I stayed to visit my friends Chelsea and Pierre in Geneva for 2 nights.  We went to a French dinner party (only 2 French conversations went completely over my head!), saw the Museum of Art and History, marathoned Taken 1 and 2, and I went to Lake Geneva to see the touristy stuff.  Chelsea and Pierre helped me out big time, offering to store my unmanageably large suitcase at their condo until I relocate in January.  Now I'm free to travel around with my duffle bag and backpack containing my necessities.
Next was a trip to Lyon to visit Atelier KCS.  Woooooow.  I kind of fell in love with it.  I mean, I felt something special in Lyon back in October, but finally seeing a French comic book studio...!  It was magical.  I got to work there for several days with 10 professional cartoonists, see more of Lyon, and meet lots of wonderful and talented people.  I couldn't believe my good fortune.
Expérience, a comic shop in Lyon, sports sharpie drawings from hundreds of famous artists around the ceiling.
Foggy, freezing Lyon
A thank-you drawing for our Lyon host

And now I'm in Paris, seeing the city all festive for Noel and New Years.  I've taken a couple of work meetings on my search for What Comes Next (I'm hoping it's drawing comics for a French company and staying in France through the end of my visa, but...we'll just have to see).  Mostly I am enjoying my freedom, the people I find myself with, and the places I find myself in.  I'm so glad I'm here and doing this.  If I ever have kids they are definitely getting encouraged to take a year off in Europe.
I keep stopping to think about how I will describe this whole travel experience to people.  I want to recommend that everyone does what I've done, but it's simply not possible.  You'd have to have met Chelsea and Pierre and Aline and Nicholas and Flora and Sandra and Barbara and Alex and Damien and Ulric and Marine and Bartholemy and Nathalie and Ben and Jerome and Anne-Claire and Arnaud and Virginie and Olivier and Emy to have some of the best experiences I've had, and I just cannot guarantee you'd meet them if you took off for France.  I guess what I'll tell people is: don't be afraid to be open to friendship with people you think you will not know for very long.  My friendships with Aline and Chelsea were completely haphazard.  It would have been easy to think, "Ehh, this experience is temporary. Why invest in new friends?  I'll just wait it out and get back to my friends back home next summer."  We are not each other's normal types.  But oh my goodness, I can't even imagine if I'd missed out on knowing them!  That's a lesson I'm going to carry forward with me.

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