Exactly four years ago I thought I’d found a home, again. In the depths of economic misery, I’d ventured 3,700 miles away from my adopted city, Philadelphia, to weather the Great Recession in a meaningful way. I decided to live in Rouen, France and work as a middle school assistant English teacher in the rough-and-tumble suburb of Elbeuf.
The downturn that began in 2008 was an absolute depression for architects, particularly those in the City of Brotherly Love. By early 2011 not much had improved.
Wondering if I’d ever find work doing what I loved, I sat in a bar in Elbeuf with my head in my hands and a tear-speckled Le Monde on the table top.
It was April 6, 2011, and I was running out of time in France, where the job market was more favorable than in the US. My English teaching job would end in two weeks and my work visa was to expire the following month. It was my low point, my rock bottom.
As if by magic, at that moment I got a call, a job offer from a far away Alpine town to become the fourth employee at a small residential architecture firm. The recession, for me, was over at last, and a week later I packed up my belongings and moved 430 miles away, to Annecy. For work, I’d have gone almost anywhere.
Long story short, the government had mistakenly given me authorization to work as an architect, and I had to stop immediately, only a few months after starting. It turned out that France feverishly protects its job market against foreign workers, who must prove that there is no citizen willing and able to fill the job. In most fields, such proof is impossible.
Because it was already summer at that point, I’d missed all of the deadlines for the quality, low-cost masters programs in France that I was considering. I had to sell my car and head back.
Abruptly, the most interesting time of my life was over – a stretch only recently one-upped by my year and a half of involvement back home in Plainfield.
I nonetheless made a lot of connections and dear friends in the country, and nearly four years and several vacations later, I have come back for a long-anticipated short week of nostalgia, starting this morning in the area surrounding Annecy. I’ll continue to Paris, Rouen, and Nimes before returning home next weekend.
This trip is less about tourism and more about people and places I already know. I’ll share thoughts and photos when I can.
Here are a few images from my hour-long Saturday hike with friends Fred and Marina in their village of Dingy-Saint-Clair, near Annecy. We ascended 600 feet into the mountains before coming down.