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Reflecting on the Past: A 20-Year Journey Away From Home

Reflecting on the Past: A 20-Year Journey Away From Home

This month, I've been reflecting on the last twenty years, during which I lived away from France, my home country. From 2003 to 2012, I resided in Mexico City, and since 2012, I have made my home in New York City. During these twenty years, I've had the opportunity to learn two new languages, immerse myself in various cultures, and discover a strong inspiration from Indigenous knowledge in Central and South America. This inspiration guided me to a passion project that has since become the focus of my life.


The Beginning

On July 15th, 2003, I moved from France to Mexico by myself at the age of 24. The University of Normandy organized an exchange program, to which I applied right away. Three months later, I packed my small apartment, said goodbye to my friends, and was on my way.

I spent the first nine months in Puebla, two hours south of Mexico City, to study a Master's in Linguistics. When I graduated, instead of going back to France, I moved to El DF—aka Mexico City—for eight more years where I worked hard during the days, partied harder in the evenings, and explored tirelessly on weekends.

In 2012, I moved to New York City for love. The love didn't last, but my stay in New York did. I have been here for eleven years now—I found another love, established my own company, and started a family.


The Present 

I can't believe that twenty years have passed. TWENTY YEARS! I basically spent my whole adult life away from my country. Almost half my life was spent dealing with visas, working in foreign languages, spelling my name "M.A.U.D," and visiting my family once a year.

These twenty years have tremendously shaped who I am today and what I do for a living. I have somehow connected the dots one by one and created the life I wanted to live. My company, Behind the Hill, and my lifestyle are the natural outcomes of the last twenty years—inspired by adventure, curiosity, and nature. So today, I want to share some of the highlights of these twenty years as an immigrant living in Mexico and New York: what I have learned, moments I will remember forever, and some of my favorite places in my two adopted countries.


2003-2012—Mexico City

 In Mexico, I have been a student, a French teacher, and an employee at marketing agency for clients like Mercedes Benz, The Coca-Cola Company, and SONY. My friends were mostly Mexican and French; I had to learn Spanish right away, mostly with taxi drivers and street vendors. (Mexican slang and "Albures" have no secret for me.) I lived in six different houses: one in the town of Puebla, and five in Mexico City in the neighborhoods of La Roma & La Condesa. The workflow was quite heavy during the week, but weekends were dedicated to exploring new places (there were a lot of parties too).


Three Things I Learned in Mexico

1. Flexibility: On the very first day in Mexico, the taxi driver who picked me up from the airport said to me, "En Mexico, la unica regla es que no hay reglas" (In Mexico, the only rule is that there are no rules), and he was quite right. Rules are blurry in Mexico; you can often get your own way—which is amazing when you are in your twenties exploring a new country! Now, with some distance, I would say that there are rules actually, but there are always ways to make everyone happy. People talk and negotiate, and the next thing you know, you are invited for lunch. For some reason, life feels lighter in Mexico; everything is figureoutable. And this mindset has stayed with me ever since. Everything is figureoutable, and if not, I like to find the way to make the best of the situation.

2. The Beauty of Life and Death: In Mexico, you celebrate life and death equally. Death is part of life, and it's okay; there is nothing to be worried about. This was a very new concept to me. In France, death is always extremely sad; in Mexico, a loss is sad as well, of course, but once a year our dearest "muertitos" (dead) come back to visit, and we get to party with them! The perspective on life feels different, and I am happy that I learned this quite early on. I believe that the experience of life is better when death is not the definite end. Every year for the Day of the Dead, Mexican people offer their "muertitos" their favorite things (cigarettes, mezcal, nail polish, shoes, etc.), and they sing and dance for them. It's a party! These days, the Day of the Dead has been largely commercialized for a foreign audience, but twenty years ago, it was very different; there was no parade in Oaxaca nor in Mexico City (started in 2016). Only small villages would celebrate according to the beliefs of their community. My favorite places to celebrate Dia de los Muertos were Cucuchucho (Michoacan) and Mixquic (Estado de Mexico).

Mexico - dia de los muertos 

3. Resiliency: Because of their history, Mexican people are extremely resilient and tend to find a silver lining in most situations; even dramatic events are sometimes told in a funny way. I have always been a positive person, but growing up in Mexico definitely shaped who I am today, and I'm probably more resilient than most people because I grew up in Mexico. Resilience is a serious skill in life, and it definitely prepared me to be a mom, an entrepreneur, and a New Yorker.


Three Favorite Memories from Mexico

1. The Underground Culture in Mexico City in the Early 2000s: This period was absolutely amazing, and experiencing it in my 20s was incredible. At that time, the best bands and DJs from Europe or the US would come and play at small venues, like old convents, small bars in Centro Historico, private houses in La Roma, or even restaurants after they closed (such as Contramar for me!). This isn't just one moment in time, but a whole decade of nocturnal life in a very special city, away from social media and trends. It really felt like freedom to me.

2. Trips to Real de Catorce and the Wirikuta Desert: Twice, I traveled to these places, considered sacred by the Huichol Indians, and experienced the hallucinogenic peyote cactus. Both times, I felt an incredible connection with nature and a sense of being part of the universe (as hippie as that may sound). Often, I wonder how much these experiences still impact me today. Beyond the "trip," I remember the colors, the trees, the clouds. I could see Nature breathing, and from that moment, I knew I wanted to work closer to nature. I also developed an immense respect for Indigenous people who strive to preserve it.

3. First Trip to Mazunte on the Pacific Coast of Oaxaca: In December 2003, I traveled to Mazunte, even though I was very broke. I went from Mexico City to Pochutla by bus (13 hours back and forth just for the weekend), slept in a hammock for three nights (20 pesos per night), and ate cheaply. On the last day, I wanted to go on a boat tour with local fishermen to see turtles and dolphins, but I couldn't afford the three-hour tour (300 pesos). So, I offered to trade my hammock (aka my bed) with the boat owner, and it worked! I had the most memorable trip and got to swim with turtles. This part of the world remains special to me. I'm currently building an eco-house near where heirloom cotton grows and where the weavers live. I hope to stay connected to this region my whole life and to share it with my children as best as I can.

 Mermejita Mexico

Three Places I Love in Mexico City

1. Parque Mexico: This lush park in the heart of La Condesa was my backyard for eight years. I would go there to read books, walk my dog twice a day, and watch people dance the tango every Sunday. I've had picnics, sad breakups, and endless conversations there. Fifteen years ago, all my friends lived around this park, and even the office was located a block away. In recent years, the park has changed a bit—it's been renovated, and my friends have moved to other neighborhoods. But I keep visiting every time I'm in CDMX. I love to see what has remained from the past: the wonderful exotic trees, the many dog walkers, the vendors of cotton candy and jicamas, the ducks in their pond, and the beautiful art deco clock. I just walk around and take some time to honor the life I lived there when I was younger.

2. Museo Nacional de Antropologia: This museum is an incredible resource if you are interested in history, culture, and crafts. I could spend a full week there. Even though I lived close by for eight years, I feel that I still have so much to explore. If you consider going to Mexico City, I recommend spending a full day in this museum, which is located in the wonderful Parque de Chapultepec—an area that is also worth exploring.

3. Mercado de Sonora: This is a traditional market located in Centro Historico. Perhaps it has become more touristy now—I'm not sure—but twenty years ago, no tourists would venture there. This market is mostly known for its vendors of herbal medicine and items related to magic and shamanism. You can find candles of all colors, love spells, magic powders, lotions, etc. In another section of the market, you can find ceramics and party objects made of "cartoneria" (paper and cardboard), such as traditional dolls or piñatas.

Mexico: A Place That Influenced Me Long Before Social Media 

Even though I arrived in Mexico in my twenties, this country definitely shaped a huge part of my identity, and I usually introduce myself as a French citizen who grew up in Mexico. My best friends today all have a connection with Mexico somehow, and the eco-house I’m building on the Pacific Coast is a natural outcome of my love for this country. I was extremely lucky to live in Mexico before the Instagram era. Everywhere I went, everything I did, I saw it for the first time in real life, not on a screen. When I moved to Mexico, WhatsApp didn't even exist yet. Phone calls to France were very expensive, and I had to go buy expensive cards that allowed me 15 minutes phone calls with my family. 

These days, there are so many images and videos of every single place, experience, food, and people, that traveling is far less surprising than it was in the past. Travelers were in the moment way more than they are today. I miss this very much. If you know me personally, you probably know that I’m still looking for this feeling when I travel for work or with my family. I go far to find the right place that will surprise me. This is actually the idea of "Behind the Hill”—going further away to find rare materials and skilled artisans.


2012-2023—New York City 

I'm so grateful for having had the opportunity to live in New York City. It was not planned at all; it just happened pretty much overnight, and I acknowledge the privilege of living in such an incredible city. I have loved my Manhattan years, and I have cherished my Brooklyn years as my family was growing. In New York, my passion for heirloom cotton was born, and so were my two children, who were born at home in Fort Greene. These years were definitely creative ones, and I don't think I could have experienced them anywhere else in the world.


Three Things I Learned in New York

 1. Confidence: What struck me from the beginning is how Americans can be so confident when they talk about what they do or what they love. In contrast, the French seem more shy when it comes to sharing a passion project or ideas. It might be the "fake it till you make it" spirit, but I found it inspiring when I started my own project. I observed how my American friends would talk about what they do, and I tried to emulate it when I launched Behind the Hill. Sounding confident in front of others is key, and I think it helped me believe in my project from the beginning. 

2. Creativity: In New York, I happened to meet people who are highly creative, and people who have made a life based on their passion. I'm aware that this doesn't describe every single person in New York, but most people I personally know have creative jobs or are small business owners, whether they are photographers, writers, musicians, ceramicists, fashion designers, or retailers. Some of them have two to three jobs to make ends meet, and their passion project is what makes them feel alive. From this community, I learned that everyone loves a love letter! So now, when I enjoy a book or buy a ceramic or anything else, I might send a quick message to the author, crafter, or artist just to say how much I love their work. This would have felt extremely intimidating before, but not any longer. It doesn’t have to be a long letter; even a quick, thoughtful message on Instagram is usually much appreciated and keeps creative people going.

3. Personal Style: New York City is a place where people can dress pretty much however they want. There are no "rules" about how one should look. In France and Mexico, I think there are more "codes" and trends to follow to fit into one category, which inevitably generates judgments. In Paris, we actually love to sit at a coffee shop and comment on people on the street; this is cultural. New York is very refreshing in that regard; everyone embraces and celebrates personal style. It is such a diverse city; in one day, you might talk to ten different people from ten different countries, each with ten different ethnic backgrounds. This teaches tolerance, and there is no place for judgments about one's clothing choices. This is probably what I love most about New York, actually.


Three Favorite Memories from New York

1. The New York City Marathon: The first Sunday of November is one of my favorite days of the year in New York City. It's the day of the New York City Marathon, representing everything I love about New York: the most diverse event in the most diverse city. Apparently, the New York City Marathon is also the loudest, with 26 miles of musicians—violinists, rappers, choirs, bagpipers, etc.—turning the city into the host of the most eclectic unofficial music festival! It's fantastic! This event literally brings me to tears every year, and it reminds me how lucky I am to be part of this city. I have been wanting to run it multiple times, but having two children in the last five years made it impossible. It is definitely on my bucket list, though. Hopefully soon, I will experience that day with a bib.

2. The Community and Resiliency of New Yorkers: On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit New York City. Over the course of 48 hours, wind, rain, and water destroyed approximately 300 homes, left hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers without power, and damaged critical public and private infrastructure. It left many New Yorkers vulnerable, with limited access to food, drinking water, healthcare, and other essential services. At that time, I was living in the West Village and was by myself at home for a week. I never imagined that the storm would be that bad or that the city would lack food for over a week. So that day, to prepare for the storm, I did what everyone else did—I went to the supermarket and got some basics. But the line to the checkout was very long, and I got discouraged, so I left everything behind and went next door to a small shop and bought one cheesecake and one bottle of red wine to complement the pasta I already had at home. Little did I know, this was all I could buy for the next ten days! Thankfully, after just a couple of days, small restaurants in downtown Manhattan started to open again, using candles for lighting and offering a new short menu of meals that did not require refrigeration. I love New Yorkers' resilience and the way they seek beauty in adversity.

3. A Serendipitous Event: One evening in Spring 2016, I went to an artists' open studio in Brooklyn. I met a painter in her studio, had a quick chat, and she asked me, "What do you do?” I answered that I worked for a French marketing company. She seemed surprised by my answer and said, "Yes, this is your job, but what do you do? What do you create?" I had never been asked this question before: I didn't create anything, but I guessed she was also asking what made me tick or what was my thing? So after a very short pause, I answered, "I love to travel and I collect textiles. I hope someday I can find what to do around that." It was the first time I really articulated something I could do other than a 9-5 job for a big company. And so that same week, I started a business plan with the first idea of Behind the Hill. This moment at the open studio was so random, and at the same time so key. I have never met that artist again, but that random small talk came on point and probably accelerated the creation of an idea that had just started to emerge. Behind the Hill was launched a year later, in Spring 2017.


Three Places I Love in New York

1. Washington Square Park: I know it's a very touristy park and not a very original "special place," but for me, this small area in Downtown Manhattan represents all the different stages of my life in New York. When I first arrived in 2012, I spent many hours with my dog at the dog run; I would be there every day. My dog's best friend was Marc Jacobs's bulldog, which made me feel like a New Yorker right away. Then I got divorced, and the dog was gone, but I kept going to the park almost every weekend. It was my backyard during all the years I lived in the East Village (2013-2017). I would go to read a book or listen to the piano guy (if you know, you know). I've met people and had many conversations on benches. Now, I love to go with my kids on the weekend once in a while. We go to the playground, have an ice cream, and I like to think about these different lives of mine that meet in this park.

2. Red Hook: I love Red Hook, and going to this small Brooklyn neighborhood is like going back in time. On a Sunday, I like to go to Pioneer Works, a non-profit cultural center. Then I would definitely get a chocolate-dipped swingle from Steve's Authentic Key Lime Pie. Dinner would take place either at Hometown Bar-B-Que or at Red Hook Lobster Pound. But my favorite place of all is a pub, a little gem named "Sunny's Bar," which has been around since the 1890s and which the New York Times describes as "a spiritual holdout in Red Hook." My partner and I usually go on Wednesdays to listen to Smokey's Secret Family play live music, and people from all backgrounds come to dance. Definitely a must, away from trendy New York places.

Sunny's bar - Red Hook, New York

3. Boating Around New York: Every time I'm on a boat around New York, I'm happy. Whether it's a cruise boat on the Hudson River at sunset or the Ikea Ferry that goes literally from Manhattan to Ikea (in Red Hook!), I'm happy. I love the views. I love the breeze. When I'm on a boat around the city, I feel at peace. I often take the NY Ferry to go to Manhattan or to the beach at Rockaways. We also love to spend the day on Governor's Island with the kids. I started to use boats more often during the pandemic because I wanted to avoid subways and Ubers, and this habit has stuck with me ever since. If you ever visit New York, check out the schedule of the NYC Ferries.


The Future

So yes, twenty years have gone by. I have lived in two of the biggest cities in the world, started a family, and launched a business that is also a passion project. I think it's now time to close the New York chapter and settle closer to nature. Behind the Hill is a nomadic project that will evolve by my side wherever I am in the world, and I can't wait to see it grow in both Europe and the US.

I hope you stay tuned for more adventures about heirloom cotton, the new eco-house in Mexico, and my debut in another part of the world: Provence in the South of France, a place I have never been before…