Entrepreneur Jennifer Hill, today’s featured Profile in Vigilante Living, looks like an international Bond girl but is actually a JD/MBA who’d crush 007 in any meeting of the minds. In short, Ms. Hill is as capable as she is gorgeous. She is also a sucker for Europe. So it did not surprise me when this New Yorker ditched her high-powered legal career to launch the language startup www.sixtyvocab.com. Sixty Vocab (named by Forbes as “One of the Top 5 Startups to Watch in 2014”) is a smart new online (soon-to-be-mobile) foreign language vocab building tool that gives flashcards a facelift to get users conversational faster. The site is already hot in education, volun-tourism, and with travelers. And who do you suppose is walking the walk, living in Strasbourg, speaking French, while she builds this business? Oh yes she is.
As capable & skilled as Jennifer Hill is, one might expect this working mother who (1) just launched a startup, and (2) whose New York City condo is being gutted (3) all while she is pregnant to be a wee bit daunted by the amount on her plate. Hell no! Why? She moved to Strasbourg in the middle of all the flux: “I wanted to change everything at once,” explained Jennifer. “Work, house, commitments .” “So…. we moved to France!” The family took a flat in Strasbourg temporarily, and employing the flexibility of the internet, Jennifer manages her duties as Co-Founder and CEO and keeps tabs of the remodel all from her computer overlooking a sunny courtyard outside her Strasbourg home office whilst her son plays and learns French. “The goal was to reduce stress while I was pregnant,” Jennifer says, “so getting out of New York, and my day-job, pursuing my dreams, and not micro-managing the remodel was how we solved for that. I know, it’s counter intuitive!”
Everyone who remodels says to not live through the experience. But they don’t usually suggest leaving the country. How Vigilante is that? LEAVE the country while your contractor rebuilds your home. “It forced me not to monitor the project too closely and choose a contractor who was communicative and savvy with technology.” Jennifer explains. “Leaving everything created more focus. My husband and I are each living out of a single suitcase. Life is so much simpler! I look better every day because I brought only a few nice things.” It’s a lesson in editing: living with less can make you happier. Letting go of control can keep you more focused. Less is more.
And France, as it turns out, is a perfect place for Jennifer to be more focused. Away from her positions on tech company and non-profit Advisory Boards in New York, and a bustling social life, it’s a more serene existence. She walks to the local Strasbourg markets, takes her son to neighborhood parks, and sits in cafes admiring the historic architecture. There was more to be gained by letting go and gaining some perspective. “I’m building my company and using the product every day. I’m trusting that our home will be done in time, and just savoring these moments with my son. I have a sitter and work when he sleeps. “You can change your life!” says Jennifer. ” Press a button and you can have a whole new life.” Sometimes we forget that we are capable of dramatic change. Thanks for reminding us, Jennifer, to let go a little and have an adventure. A very Vigilante notion, non?
Jennifer co-founded Sixty Vocab in 2013. One year later, Forbes named it “one of the top 5 start-ups to watch in 2014.”
France agrees with her, non?
A selfie with her son this winter in Strasbourg.
Cafe Berlin, a favorite spot in Jennifer’s new adopted city.
Minimalist living in their Strasbourg flat. Roaming toehead toddler at bottom.
Strasbourg Bateax Mouche
In case you missed the last issue of the Sunday New York Times’s T Magazine (April 13, 2014) there is a most remarkable article about the eccentric Expats of Tangier. Their homes remind me of my parent’s way of decorating a house: consisting primarily of books, colorful mismatched paintings, textiles, prints, trinkets and gifts given to them over the years — and most importantly mementos from their travels and years living abroad. Homes like these feel real to me: they are accurate reflections of the people living in them rather than the vision of an interior designer (who provides his or her own ideas of what “interesting” look like.) In the Editor’s Letter in this same issue, Deborah Needleman does a superb job defining what is so anemic about the term “personal style” and why is is so meaningless. Nobody says this, but you really have to read, travel and DO something to have style. You don’t have to have money, but you have to be interested in the world. You can’t just go to a store and buy real style. Those are the hard and fast rules, it seems. These expats are immensely appealing. I wonder if Moroccan Tangerines living in the US would have as much to soak in and make their own? It would be an interesting experiment. Maybe they would turn their two-car garages into lush courtyards with tiled floors.
The Times also made the video (above) which captures what brought these expat individuals to this famous Moroccan city of light. There is certainly a lot in the piece about how they live. Much can also be gleaned from the unbelievable photography of these peoples Tangerine homes, shot by Will Sanders. The Times also put out the video, above, which leaves me breathless for a trip to this North African city. (All photography by Will Sanders)
I came across this 1968 Life Magazine at a used magazine shop — the Vintage Vigilante cover spoke to me. Two Californians on the cover look like they were snapped today, hipster beard and all. The main article is called “Young American Nomads Abroad” and covers anti-establishments young adults living in a cave in Crete, among other European destinations. The piece highlights the movements of the restless young people of this period who sought to escape the horror of the Vietnam War, the rise of American materialism, and maybe just to cut out on responsibility. But I find their search for something different admirable. Even if they came back and took desk jobs in the end. Settling can be OK as long as you’ve examined the alternatives. Like living in a cave. How can you know the nuances of your own culture if you’ve never experienced the context of the larger world?
How many of you wonder what might have been had you taken a wild leap off the career path? Like all my friends, I took a great job after leaving college: a corporate job in New York City where I got to wear a suit, act glamorous, and pay off college debt. And cry at 1:00am in my cubicle, exhausted, because my spreadsheet wasn’t done. What a waste of youthful exuberance! I wonder sometimes if at that tender age after college, I’d have taken the road less traveled and done something more Vigilante. Something my friends and college professors would have deemed careless and irresponsible: like postpone the debt payments to see the world a little and draw. Sure, I lived abroad later in my 20s, and I’m loving my career now with Vigilante Paper, but wish I’d taken a larger leap away from Western culture right then at 20, if just for a few years. My advice to my own children will be to ignore what is “expected” or “normal” — that stuff is just fabricated. Instead, I’ll tell them, pay attention to your passions, your unique eccentricities that make you YOU and dig deeper into themes and topics you’ve always found interesting. And most of all, do something a little bit scary: write your role model a letter, get on a plane to somewhere very different from the US, and do something that challenges you and your thinking. Because that is where growth is born. The Vintage Vigilantes in this 1968 piece were on to something; if you widen your scope of experiences, you’re sure to widen your own mind. This is the Vigilante mindset.
A few months back, I posted about Tiny Atlas Quarterly, a new online travel magazine that is revolutionary in it’s spare layout and poetic photography. San Francisco Bay Area photographer Emily Nathan founded Tiny Atlas Quarterly as an online project to collect new, sumptuously photographed work from locations all around the world. As it happens sometimes in the universe, I was subsequently invited by Tiny Atlas to provide custom illustrations this summer for this piece featured here called “Demystifying Abalone.” Shot in Jenner, California north of San Francisco Bay, Ms. Nathan tapped writer David Prior (formerly Director of Communications at Chez Panisse and the Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard Project) to explain the culture of abalone diving and the mollusk’s unique status as rare delicacy and skilled diver’s prize. It’s a private world, and Prior does a wonderful job cracking it open.
As a native Northern Californian (I’m from Santa Cruz, a surf town on the Monterey Bay) this project was an utter joy to work on. I’ll spare you a tome of Proustian memories of barking elephant seals that served as my alarm-clock through my bedroom window — but suffice it to say that I know this majestic landscape of ice plant and rocky coast like I know my own family. Emily Nathan has done it justice by capturing the messy seaweed waves, the unfinished, unfancy, salt-worn wood beach houses speckled along the cliffs, and the ruddy faces of surfers and divers who spend much of the day in a full wetsuit in the Pacific’s icy waters. I guess I am a bit homesick for Northern California. But at least I can spend some time on Tiny Atlas’ Jenner piece and let my eyes soak in the beauty. And dude, I am all over that orange WV bus.
I just watched the best television of my life. In general, Vigilante Living does not find much of inspiration on the tele. But that was because we did not know about VICE tv on HBO. I stumbled upon VICE’s brilliant episode Basketball Diplomacy last night. This was hands down the most intelligent, creative and ballsy television reporting I have ever seen. Featuring none other than: The Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un, Dennis Rodman, the Harlem Globetrotters, and VICE’s irreverent non-basketball playing reporter. I don’t want to spoil the experience for you by describing it too much. But watch it. This is how VICE describes the Basketball Diplomacy episode:
“U.S. relations with North Korea have been strained to the breaking point by the country’s disturbing nuclear-weapons threats, backed by “supreme leader” Kim Jong-un’s anti-American rhetoric. Fortunately, Kim shares one of his late father’s passions: American basketball. With that in mind, and through official and backdoor channels, VICE organized an unlikely, highly publicized trip to North Korea, hoping to thaw out relations through some hoops diplomacy. With NBA great Dennis Rodman and a trio of exuberant Harlem Globetrotters in tow, VICE traveled to the capital of Pyongyang for a surreal tour of the city, a basketball clinic with under-18 players, an exhibition game witnessed by Kim and 10,000 adoring fans, and – most surprising – a first-ever meeting between the baby-faced leader and an American delegation.”
Where else can you get schooled in international relations, observe a monumental toast by Rodman face-pierced and all, and view a window into the world of the last communist stronghold? They even get drunk together after the basketball tournament. This is what Vigilante Living is about too: seeking substantial meaning, having cojones, thinking rebelliously, and finding yourself attracted to things that seemingly don’t go together until you actually mix them yourself.
All photographs courtesy of hbo.vice.com
Tiny Atlas Quarterly is an online lifestyle travel magazine unlike any other you have seen. The brainchild of photographer Emily Nathan, Tiny Atlas began as the team effort of all the creatives Nathan had worked with during on-location photo shoots and projects over the years — the art directors, stylists, models, tech people — everyone who comes together at a shoot destination. As Nathan describes on Tiny Atlas, “As friends we work for clients and as friends we dine and travel the world together. It is rare that we come together professionally for projects of our own devising.” There are two things that I find unique about Tiny Atlas: the truly exquisite large-format photography (“stunning” is a fitting adjective) and the amount of heavy editing they do in their recommendations for each destination’s best lodging, restaurants and attractions. It’s like your best friend’s curated travel advice on the most original places to see when traveling. Not the Fodor’s version that will take you to places with other tourists watching a band of Peruvian pan flute players — when you’re nowhere near Peru. If you are not currently suffering from wanderlust right now — Tiny Atlas will surely land you with a major case of the travel bug.
All photographs via Tiny Atlas (Photography by Emily Nathan. Collin Erie and Fiona Conrad.)