The other thing that needed to happen? Reconnaissance. I had never seen France outside of Paris. I needed to investigate the south of France, where the Mediterranean climate might match what I was used to in Santa Cruz.
An opportunity arose in 2016. The SIGCHI Executive Committee was planning a meeting mid-summer. In Europe. My airfare was covered.
The meeting took place in Edinburgh in late July, bleeding into August and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I scheduled a tour of southern France for the week or so before. Fly into Bordeaux, drive to Toulouse (visit friends there), Beziers, Montpellier, Arles, Avignon, Nice. Then fly from Nice to Edinburgh. AirBnB would be my guide.
Adjustments were made; my friends in Toulouse, Philippe Palanque and Regina Bernhaupt, were committed to a PhD defense in Spain, so I skipped Montpellier for a detour back to Toulouse. An Air France strike (surprise surprise!) forced me to book Nice to Edinburgh on Easy Jet, but also allowed me to better connect with my hostess in NIce, Catherine Audirac. Staying on canal boats in Avignon and Arles were highlights.
I liked what I saw.
Next, friends who visit France regularly — Elizabeth and Leon Olsen, Marjorie Yasueda and Dale Knutsen — made suggestions. Leon suggested I give Montpellier a closer look; I had skipped it in 2016. So in 2017 I visited Montpellier for a week, again via AirBnB, in a nice little unit just outside Montpellier proper, Lattes. I checked out the town, the Comédie plaza, the Polygone mall, the antique fair on Friday and Saturday (had a nice chat with one of the book vendors), the Musée Fabre, the public transport Tram (the subway there is above ground). I cruised into the Camargue, and took in the Parc Ornithologique‘s flamingos and other wildlife.
Again, I liked what I saw.
I took the tram from one end of town to the other, and back again. I never saw anything that looked like a slum, or looked unsafe or rundown. I thought, “I could live here. I could totally do this.”