words anna weber | images julie marchand & cerise laby
Intuition, chance, and an open mind: This is how Cerise Laby and Julie Marchand met, how they became fast friends, and how they decided to plunge themselves into the ever-expanding world of travel journalism, specializing in building a francophone media platform for fellow globetrotters and soul-searchers. An impromptu trip to Valencia to visit a mutual friend linked them intellectually and emotionally, and Where’s the F was developed a few years later, “between two glasses of wine and a walk on the beach” in southwestern France, explains Cerise.
The concept of “the F” came from a miscommunication that started while Julie was studying abroad in Denmark as part of her master's degree at Brussels’s well-repudiated journalism program, IHECS (where Cerise was also studying). A Canadian friend thought Julie was saying, “Where is the fuck?” every time she said, “What the fuck?” So, they ran with it—but what initially started out as a silly joke became more philosophical, more serious over time. After all, where is it, your fuck? Your meaning to life?
“When you finish a major part of your life—for example, your studies—there’s this emptiness in front of you where you have no idea what you’re going to do with your life,” Julie says. “You ask yourself, why didn’t I think more about this emptiness before? It’s a really difficult period of time.” Once Julie returned to Brussels, and the two women finished their degrees, they set to work on honing the idea, building the website, and learning HTML and web analytics on the fly.
Their different personalities and work habits complemented each other. “I have my head in the clouds, but Cerise has her feet on the ground,” Julie says frequently and with admiration. “I have so many ideas, and Cerise is able to solidify them, make them into something we can show the world—she has much more of a long-term vision.” Cerise interprets their differences as simply two dreamers, dreaming in distinct ways.
Now only a few months old, The F has dozens of contributors in essay writing, photography, and videography, all adding their thoughts, hopes, and journeys alongside Julie and Cerise’s own European voyages. The only requirements to blog for The F: inspire, be adventurous, push yourself out of your comfort zone, and have a story to tell. You don’t need to go to an exotic place—you don’t even have to leave your country. The F is a state of mind, a journey. Listicles, short articles of must-sees, instructables, and how-tos aren't published on the site, but Cerise believes they go hand-in-hand with this kind of media. “I think long format media has its place on the web," she says. "It just has to find a way to transmit itself in an eye-catching, clear way.”
Julie and Cerise have recently latched onto Alastair Humphrey’s idea of micro-adventures—day-long overnights within hours of one’s home address—and thus they’re working on a section of the website to be called, “Travel where you live.” For example, the two recently headed to Bruges and Ghent on two separate weekends because they’d never been to these two historic and cultural landmark cities located only an hour from Brussels.
Cerise muses, ”I hope that in every place I visit, I will find a hidden part of me." She adds, "Traveling is, for me, a way to find my equilibrium by learning more about the world and about myself and so, one day, finding my F. I need to fill my head with discoveries, new tastes, breathtaking landscapes, lovely and inspiring stories of people, to experience new things every day. That’s how I am and it’s not necessarily about traveling, but it’s a part of it. Even in Belgium.”
For Julie, it’s an ongoing process. “Every day we’re finding the F. And maybe one day, I’ll write an article saying, ‘I’m 74 and I found my F!’ I’d like to see the F as something that’s a path that you take, not caring what the end goal is. Over time the end in sight can change, but you’ve decided that you’re looking for something in your life, you’re not sure what, but looking means you’re already on the right path.”
So, what’s in store for the F? Positive reactions have been streaming in, giving them stores of fuel to stoke the fire. While projecting into the future is difficult for Julie at first—“I have trouble knowing where I’m going to be in two weeks!”—as she parses out her thoughts, they pick up steam, her words tumbling over themselves. A third person to help with the workload? A multinational site in dozens of languages? An app? T-shirts! Laughing, she returns to the foundation: The goal is to build a loyal and engaged francophone community, and ideally, they’d be able to put something into print within a few years, containing their best articles and most striking photos.
where do you live — J: Luttre, Belgium | C: Soignies, Belgium
favorite neighborhood dinner — J: There’s a restaurant in Pont-à-Celles called L’Improviste where the food is good, but it’s more the owner who’s wonderful. He’s from the Balkans, and he always puts the music on really loud, and he sings, and he dances, and he’s really funny. I always go with my mother. | C: My home. My dad is the best cook around here!
luggage — J: Right now, a Quechua backpack — as long as I can put all my belongings inside and it goes in the carry-on sizer, it’s good for me. | C: If possible, nothing save for my purse where I can put my camera and a notebook. I hate to be weighed down.
gadgets — J: My Nikon camera and a portable external battery with an international outlet for my devices. | C: An iPhone (that’s like the new Swiss Army Knife for journalists, no?).
favorite accessory — J: A big warm sweater that I take every time I go on a trip. | C: Shea butter! Perfect for chapped lips, hair, skin, and little scratches and bumps.
favorite charity — J & C: Along the lines of more of a cause: anything that brings education about the media and about the internet to people, especially because of how much of our lives are spent on the web.
favorite hotel — J: I’ll admit that I prefer sleeping on someone’s couch than in a hotel, but my favorite is a little youth hostel high above Lisbon, Portugal. It has lots of organized activities, a kitchen, a terrace looking out at old Lisbon, and breakfast in the morning. | C: None.
favorite apps — J: Instagram, because the photos are super beautiful, and I love the people I’m following... but I love receiving accepted notifications from Couchsurfing the most! | C: Instagram.
favorite airport — J: Dublin, because it reminds me of the first time I left to travel and to live far from my family, when I was only seventeen. It’s engrained in my head. I know the exact way to get home to Galloway from there by now, and I return at least once a year, sometimes more. | C: Barcelona-El Prat with its long, never-ending moving walkway.
favorite airline — J: For the price, and concerning the one I take the most often, it’s Ryanair, even if it’s not the most ethical company. But, I prefer not to take a plane if I can help it. I do lots of things by foot, by public transportation, by bus—slower types of travel. | C: Germanwings, because it’s low cost, but you definitely have more space than in Ryanair's planes.
home is... J: Where your heart is. | C: Where I feel safe and happy.
where would you like to live — J: I will never be able to respond to this question because I tend to be insatiable and unsatisfied. I love so many places, but I’m always wondering if the grass is greener elsewhere. That’s why I love moving around and discovering other cultures. I think that where I’d like to live would be in a country that makes me happy for the time that I’m there. | C: Near the ocean, in a place where there are more dogs around than people.
where & when were you happiest — J: It's a tie between Ireland and Denmark. When you travel in other countries, you have new experiences everyday and meet new people from different cultures. You feel like, in that kind of environment, you make friendships that would be difficult to find or to have at home, where you have your comforts and habits, your other friends, and your family. During these times, I feel very much like myself, because you can only count on yourself, your personality, your sense of humor, and your way of seeing things. And, either people accept you as you are or they don’t. But most do! | C: It’s a cliché and repetitive, but I think it’s when I walk on a beach, in no matter what kind of weather and in whichever country. Or, maybe in a swimming pool where I can swim freely.
what do you consider to be your greatest achievement — J: When I was in elementary school, I was unanimously voted by my classmates to receive the Friendship Prize. I got fifty euros for being everyone’s best friend! | C: For now, I don’t think I’ve achieved something great. I should be more proud about the projects I led successfully, but I know deep down that there are always more to come and better ones to make. I’m an unsatisfied person, but I prefer to call it "ambition."
what is your current state of mind? — J: Waiting to go forward, to continue to evolve, and to do fun things! | C: Ambitious and sad because I can’t make my way to where I want to be in my work.
how many trips do you take a year — J: At least one every two months, for a weekend or maybe a week-long vacation. Every two years, I take a much longer trip. So far, in 2015, I’ve traveled five times. | C: Between four to six trips a year, with a minimum of one big voyage a year.
how many of those are vacations — J: They're mostly for work, but it’s never just work; it’s a great excuse to travel. Work is play, play is work, and I play hard. | C: In my work situation, there are no vacations. I take them “when I want,” but that means I don't work during that time. I try to take a trip (a break) for a few days every two months.
without traveling, you relax by — J: Listening to music, watching TV shows, and playing sports. | C: Reading books a lot and swimming. I’m starting yoga, and I hope it will relax me.
won't board the plane before/without — J: I’m kind of manic, and I always verify that my bag isn’t too big and that I have everything, even though those last minute things that are totally useless. Once you've passed security, even if you’ve forgotten something, it’s too late! | C: Going to the bathroom! It stresses me out if I don’t go before boarding.
Indispensable in your carry-on — J: Identity card. | C: iPhone and headphones.
take-off routine — J: I try to get a window seat, find a comfortable position with my neck cushion, listen to music, and try to sleep because it goes much faster if you’re sleeping. I also chew gum to fight the rise in altitude. | C: I listen to music and read a good book.
first thing you do after landing — J: Go to the bathroom! I also get some water, put on some hydrating cream, take a deep breath and stretch.
Travel is... J: a necessity | C: discovering new cultures and yourself.