I’m living in San Francisco, a city of Victorian and Edwardian buildings surrounded by the fog that comes in each summer. Spring and autumn are as clear as any other place and it feels like such a different city when the sun is bright and the sky is blue. The calm bay sits on the east side of the city, while the wild Pacific Ocean stretches out to the west. I was born here, at the French Hospital on Geary Boulevard. It doesn’t exist any longer, and a newer building with a modern hospital sits in its place.
I didn’t grow up in San Francisco, however. I grew up across the Golden Gate Bridge, in the town of San Rafael. My father is English and my mother American.
My dad was always one for being outdoors and he sought adventure; going to Denmark as an exchange student; riding bicycles across North Africa with three other young men; and then moving to Canada do logging with horses. He took the train to San Francisco, bought a building and met my mother, who was his tenant. He always intended to return to England, but meeting her changed everything – marriage, kids, a different life.
My mother was the daughter of a Lutheran minister, who worked as a chaplain in the army. Her own mother had worked as a legal secretary until she married. Having a father in the army meant traveling and living in different countries. She lived in Japan and Germany, and traveled around Italy and France.
I have never lived anywhere but the San Francisco Bay Area, but I have been lucky enough to have traveled to so many places. I didn’t go to England until I was almost 20 years old, but it was the beginning of a larger world vision. When I was 23, I saved my money and went to Europe with a friend for nearly three months. We traveled to England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and over to France, Italy, Switzerland and Germany.
Many years later and a few different lives lived – and a couple of trips to Greece and England in between – I began work at a cultural exchange agency. I needed to find something that I would find fulfilling and interesting, and I typed the word “cultural” into my job search. A job appeared on the screen without much information at all, except that it was a cultural exchange agency in the little town where I lived. I passed two interviews and got the job. I found out after the fact that I would be traveling to different countries as a part of my work. (Imagine my happy amazement!) This was nearly 13 years ago.
I was able to go to Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Peru. Most of my colleagues are from countries all around the world, including Bulgaria, Uzbekistan, Romania, Slovakia, Bosnia, Brazil, Colombia, Japan, Nigeria. This international life is really a part of who I am.
Truth be told, I have obsessed about living in France for 17 years, long before I met Olivier. It’s funny, because the first time I went to France, I liked it a lot, but I wasn’t in love with it. I had studied French all throughout high school and enjoyed language in general. I was able to use some French when I visited there, although it was exhausting! What precipitated my love of France was peculiar. I played the role of Katherine de Valois in Shakespeare’s Henry V, and something just clicked.
I wasn’t happy with the political climate during the year 2000, and heck, France looked awesome – good food, wine, beautiful and varied landscape, incredible history and architecture, excellent education system. I studied the map of France, its regions, its departments, and I read book after book written by people who had moved to France. Now, I imagined…it could be me?
Traveling to Russia and Ukraine was my last trip, as I had fallen in love with a Frenchman, and marriage and a baby were in my near future. We’ve since traveled to France every other year, with a side trip to England once to visit with my relatives.
It’s hard to believe my “new life” began 10 years ago, and we are now contemplating moving to France. All good things start with a dream right?
Bonjour! My name is Gwyneth. I was born in San Francisco, and after marrying a Frenchman and having a child, the three of us are planning to move to France sometime the future (who knows when). In the meantime, join me in my mini-obsession with France!