Make it yours

It’s a vague sensation, a feeling that slowly grows stronger.

You wake up to the sound of the local radio – Guten Morgen Salzburg. You choose the right clothes now, no more Converses in the snow, no more white pants in the rain. You recognise the mountains around – you’ve hiked them, you’ve skied them, you’ve learned their names. You write your first email in German. You know what to order when facing a menu full of Schnitzels and Kase-something. You bargain the price of your second-hand skis. You read the (first paragraph of the) newspaper while eating a Salzburg Nockerl. You sit on the slopes, open a beer and take a deep breathe. You don’t need to look at the map anymore, and you cycle faster in the dark.

How long until you can call a place home? It’s been almost half a year since I’ve moved to Austria. It’s been new, terribly new, overwhelmingly new – amazingly new.

Ah and cold, too. F*** it’s been cold.

But I’ve noticed a change lately. It’s becoming familiar. It’s not like I know the Alps inside out, but my very own chart of Salzburg is getting clearer.

“You’re improving, but you know, to make it yours, you got to love it.”

My friend looked at me and smiled. I was complaining about German, about the hideous way I say the words, the struggle it is to learn it, the grammar, the vocabulary. Nein nein nein nein, I say that all day, and Gruss Gott too.

“To make it yours, you got to love it.” That sentence – so true. That’s true of learning a new language and that’s true of building a new home, too. As happy as I am to experience yet another life, it wasn’t until I heard those words that I realised the key to my happiness here. It’s not about knowing the dialect, the best off-piste or the local Kaiserschmarrn.

It’s only home when you love it.

Make it yours

The other side

I see clouds, snowfalls, and a dark night.

I see the propellers of our small, empty plane turning furiously, cutting through hail like a knife.

“Our flight to Salzburg will last 35 minutes. Welcome onboard.”

So this is it – I’m heading back to my new home, leaving my French holidays behind. This flight feels like a second New Year’s Eve. Just like the plane pushing through the clouds to take us to the destination, I’m finally stepping into 2016.

It’s been a strange transition. It’s not that I didn’t want the year to change – but you know, the stakes get higher as the number gets bigger. I stayed in a 2015 limbo for a couple of days, wondering what I wanted the next 366 days to bring. I took me a while to change doubts into hopes.

“Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.” Just before getting into the plane, I saw this from George Addair. And it struck me: no matter how many years would have gone by, no matter how big these fears can grow, I always, always want to step on the other side.

The other side

Paris ich liebe dich

I’ve never felt more French; yet I’m just starting to settle in my Austrian mountains. Paris, my beloved city, my darling capital, Paris is constantly on my mind; but Salzburg is taking over my daily routine. I watch French TV while learning German; I think of those defending the Parisian terraces while drinking a Gluwein under the snow.

I’ve been away too long to believe in geographical belonging, in a strong sense of place. But the memories, the moments, the years spent there… I will always be attached to Paris.

Is it legitimate? After all I’m 1,000km away, sheltered in my winter wonderland. I know nothing of the pain of the Parisians now, of their fear; I don’t share their reality. It’s easy for me to be French, to stand for France, to claim my love for my country and my city in this moment. I’ve never taken more pride in my origins – but I’ve also never felt farther.

Maybe that’s what symbols are for. These abstract, intangible things that bring you back to people you love, to places you care for. It’s a smell, a song, a flavour. A book, a movie, a chat in French.

It’s knowing that despite the distance, despite the absence, I’m still a little bit there. It’s seeing my Austrian life in bleu blanc rouge.

Paris ich liebe dich

In the making

We don’t get to change life everyday. Changing life – that is, changing place, changing job, changing habits. Leaving the people we love behind, closing the door on the place we’ve called home, knowing we won’t be back anytime soon.

This summer, I have packed my Spanish life, my sailing life, and driven away.

And then, a couple of weeks later, I have arrived in Austria. Far from the sea, far from the city. In a town out of a fairy tale, caught between the mountains. For a job made of flying bikes, mad jumpers, baseball hats and funky adventures.

The moment I reached my new home, I knew it. I knew the change was bigger than expected. It’s strange, because I am still in Europe, I am still writing about sports and I still drink red wine.

Nothing has changed.

Everything has changed.

The language – das ist nicht easy, ya ya ya. The people, the company, the projects. The culture, the schnitzels, the beer, the check shirts and the leather trousers. The rules, the paperwork, the residency permits, this new frame I need to fit in.

This new life I want to love – I already love.

Practicalities are not what define us, facts don’t guide our lives. Despite seriously needing a washing machine, a flat of my own and a French cheese platter, despite ignoring what lies ahead, I am where and who I want to be. In the making.

In the making


Obrigada Brasil.

Your cachaça destroyed my liver, your sun burnt my skin, your coconut sweets attacked my teeth and your mosquitos devoured what was left of me.

I can’t speak Spanish properly anymore… but I’ve mastered the art of Portengliñol.

I want a surfboard and my bikini seems strangely oversized. I’m carrying an excessive amount of cheap flip-flops with me; I could open a shop back in Europe. Not looking forward to go through customs in São Paulo.

I don’t think we’ve left any caipirinhas for the locals, and we probably didn’t impress them much with our samba skills.

My new favourite animal is this giant guinea pig that walks around the city like it’s normal to have A GIANT GUINEA PIG walking around the city.

I’ve replaced sleep with work, chats, parties, dances, ocean swims, and bowls of frozen acai. I’ve lost all sense of road safety – in fact, I’ve stopped thinking about speed limits, speed bumps, traffic lights, traffic jams.

I’ve stopped thinking.

I’ve been on a cool cat, a giant boat and a helicopter.

© Agathe Armand
© Agathe Armand
© Agathe Armand
© Agathe Armand

I’ve smiled and been smiled at, hugged and been hugged.

I’ve felt a knock in my stomach looking at the favelas – even though Chris kept saying they have nothing in common down here with the massive ones in Rio de Janeiro.

But 1,000km to the south, we found our own version of paradise between a marina, two beaches and three jungles.

I’ve locked the door of the pousada today. It was pouring down outside, the sky was low and the clouds were wrapping the hills in cotton threads. Maybe it was your way to see me off.

Brazil, you’ve been random, destabilising, intriguing.

You’ve been tropical, festive and generous, too.

You’ve been addictive. Até breve.

© Agathe Armand

© Agathe Armand
© Agathe Armand