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How to pick a place to live

Posted in Style & Travel

direction_parisI met Alex the Parisian while sitting at the bar of a fish restaurant, enjoying a drink and a plate of mussels with chorizo that screamed for a large piece of grilled, dense bread to mop up the excellent sauce. Alex the Parisian, sitting in the stool next to me, offered me some of his bread, oily and smoky, that he had ordered a few minutes before.

 “It’s too much for me. Take it”

The fact that he looked like the spitting image of all those tv Jesus I grew up with, and that he was offering me bread in a fish restaurant was not lost on me, but I resisted the inner joke: long honey colored hair, a long beard barely tinged with grey at the temples, simple clothes and even barefoot.

“Do you surf?” I asked. We were enjoying our food a stone’s throw from the Pacific after all.
Of course he surfed, and he lived in Santa Barbara, where he practiced yoga: a sort of mystic, if not of the Christian kind. We got talking about our respective home countries, how beautiful Paris is but how unfriendly Parisians are – his words, not mine. “In any restaurant in Paris, people would deem me crazy for striking up a conversation with a stranger, even more so for offering to share my bread. Here in America people are much friendlier, you can be whomever you wish to be, no questions asked” he said in his pleasantly accented English.

Alex is not wrong of course. Parisians are considered unfriendly, not just by foreigners, but by the rest of the French too. Yet, probably a quarter of Americans, at some point or another, have fantasized about relocating to Paris. A few do, and learn to cope with, and even find charm in the restraint and aloofness of the locals. Alex, like many others – like me, after all – chose to live in a place that was more congenial to his personality.

London map
London map

There are two phases in life when we are more likely to uproot ourselves: in our 20s, looking for economic opportunities, a different life or just prodded by wanderlust; and when we approach retirement, when maybe we built a little nest egg and, in the wake of a downsize, or just wishing to let go of some of the factors that kept us moored, we start thinking of places better suited to our new lifestyle.

But how to go about choosing a new place to live? The possibilities can seem infinite: we can reminisce about trips we have taken and places that lived on in our imagination or we can be driven by children’s or friends’ relocations. According to the multitude of quizzes that periodically appear on my Facebook page, there are criteria and algorithms that can help you decide whether you are more suited for a metropolis or the country; seaside or mountains; old world or new. After all is said and done, and we have completed our dutiful research, picking a place to live, to me, is much more akin to the imperfect process of falling in love. When you want to be with someone more than anything else, you will make adjustments – so it is with a geographical location.

One of L.A.' scarier freeway interchanges
One of L.A.’ scarier freeway interchanges

My drive has always been curiosity. I thrive in places that have the potential to surprise me, and often large cities are more adept to doing that. Or smaller cities with a very intricate past that still percolates. Settling down in a small village, or even back in my hometown of Bologna, probably would turn me into a caged tiger a few months in. I also love nature and animals so a city with vast swaths of nature readily available, and animal friendly, would work best: Tokyo or Beijing probably wouldn’t be for me. From there, it becomes a balancing act: I can live without the sense of history Europe afforded me and under the constant threat of a major earthquake for the privilege of walking on the beach whenever I feel like it, or eat weird Korean food if I am so inclined. I would deal with the ever-present rain and the shifting political landscape for the pleasure of stepping into London every day, and spending weekends in the English countryside.

My environment has to satisfy me the way a lover would – the one experience of living in a place that did not mirror who I was turned me into a woman trapped in a failed relationship, plotting an escape. I can mediate, compromise and deal with less than perfection if my basic emotional needs are met. I flirted (Capri, the Greek Isles, Mexico), had occasional flings (Venice, Cape Town), and a major mistake (San Diego) along the route of settling down. I even went out with a best friend for a few years (Milan) but when it came to deeply satisfying love affairs, only London and Los Angeles have come through for me: multi-faceted, deep, stubborn, forgiving, unusual but always generous. Just like the best men.

What do you look for in the ideal place to live in?

Direction Paris image by Adam Roberts – spottedbylocals.com

London map image courtesy of the Londonist.com

LA Freeway image courtesy of moco-choco.com

 

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12 Comments

  1. silvia
    silvia

    I loved this piece very much, good girl. It’s funny because right after I read it I found an interesting article on London and all the good reasons why one should move there.

    Curiosity is the drive of your life and it explains many things about you. You want things the way you like them to be and where you live I believe is like an extension of your domestic environment.

    I now know that moving somewhere else permanently was never a real option and I regret those moments when I could have explored the opportunity in a more determined way. Somehow from time to time I’ll keep on wondering what if…

    July 31, 2015
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Wipe off the regrets. They only make us feel bad and they are pointless.

      August 1, 2015
      |Reply
  2. This post especially resonated with me as I’m on the horns of a dilemma myself as to where to live. Both of my children moved out of state so there’s no strong hold on me in the Mile High, but I don’t really see myself living full time in Hawaii. Perhaps if I move to the Pacific NW near my daughter I will have an easier time of getting to the Big Island for long visits though a part of me wants to reconnect with my European heritage. The downside will be I’ll be even farther away from family. Decisions, decisions…sigh. 😉

    July 21, 2015
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      At some point my husband and I fantasized about Kaua’i, where we vacationed for a couple of years in a row, until we spoke to the lady who owned the place we had rented: she was from San Diego and was going stir crazy at the lack of things to do. She and her husband even bought a condo in Honolulu but the island life, so far from the mainland, for someone not used to it can be hard. Not to mention how expensive the food is!

      July 22, 2015
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  3. Good cake. International food. Toledo was a mistake on both fronts, but one which I made willingly at the time suspecting that it might be. Now looking to get out… and flirting with the idea of Lisbon.

    July 21, 2015
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Cake should always be considered. I remember when you moved to Toledo, you wrote about having qualms. Lisbon, I wholeheartedly support – love that city! And good cakes there too.

      July 22, 2015
      |Reply
  4. Winston Moreton
    Winston Moreton

    Me. I drifted on economic currents for 40 years. Now family driven currents put me in a remote outpost – Gisborne, first place on the planet to see the sun everyday. My lover of 40 plus years is my travel mate and we do what is real ‘longhaul ‘ 30 hours NZ -Europe pretty much every 12 months following two daughters whose moves have been driven by their hearts rather than economics . Perhaps my daughters should subscribe to C&S

    July 21, 2015
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      I tried to research this economic theory – the stickiness of cities, I thought it was called – but I must have mixed my facts wrong because I couldn’t find it: something to do with getting stuck in cities for longer than planned because of the economic opportunities. Most people drift those economic currents, don’t they? I am curious about Gisborne now. Have to check it out. Failing that, send us pictures.

      July 22, 2015
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  5. Nicely put. New York is the lover I choose right now. Although I recognize he is selfish and stingy and self-absorbed, I can handle him. But I don’t see it being a relationship for life. Then…who knows? The South of France has always appealed to both of us. My French isn’t good but I like the opportunity to learn something new from my lovers. Improve in a language, why not?
    Didn’t know you were from Bologna. Love that place.

    July 21, 2015
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      I absolutely love where I come from, and where my family still lives, and I am not sure why I got such an itch to leave. Most of my friends stay. And now, I would never go back.

      July 21, 2015
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  6. Ellie Toffolo
    Ellie Toffolo

    Hi Claudia I do so agree with what you say and you have given much food for thought, as usual. I see exactly what you mean. But I personally find it difficult to decide. I suppose you could say I feel good everywhere – particularly in this global day and age . Bristol, UK, my home town was and is absolutely gorgeous, voted the best town to live in, in the UK. It gave me so much – I could live there even now – my first love, cultural and vibrant. Manchester where I went to University, is a great town, conducive to good living and cultural, but there was no romance for me, although I cared very much. Don’t know whether I could live there now – too much water under the bridge, it was my second love. Milan where I live now, is beautiful, just like London, it moves me, I still shed a tear every time I see the Cathedral – it meant many loves, but…… none life-changing. London is so lovely – but I only ever visited. Then I met a man, quite by chance 12 years ago, he’s Tuscan and so I decided to move to Tuscany, on the coast – my final love. Best geographical choice? I’m not sure……..but at the end of the day home is most definitely where the heart is, and where you find support. Best emotional choice, therefore.
    I read what Sue says about McG and envy her her sense of deep belonging, her love of the land and her roots. Wonderful almost tactile !!
    So if I can’t have Bristol, which is my McG, then I’ll have to settle for ‘a percentage of Home is where a large part of the Heart is’.

    July 21, 2015
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      I hear what you are saying and, yes, home is where the heart is, but I have to confess that if I were in love with a man who lived in a place I couldn’t relate to, I am not sure the relationship would flourish. My surroundings are so important to me. I do hope to maybe come visit you in Tuscany next time I am there??

      July 21, 2015
      |Reply

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