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Clair Thibaudeau

Clair Thibaudeau has done this before.

Well, maybe not this *exact* thing.

First, it would probably help to know what “this” is. At present, “this” is ditching the cozy, down-home embrace of St. Louis and moving to Germany. Two weeks prior to my interviewing her for her Paradowski bio. In the middle of a global pandemic.

In a vacuum, it might seem like interviewing a person two weeks after they’ve uprooted themselves and their significant other to move halfway around the world is *not* the ideal time to get a feel for what that person “is really like”. But for Clair, it’s actually okay—because, when you get right down to it, she really is like this.

A tale of two Clairs: with her parents, embracing the rugged terrain of Georgia, and gussied up in St. Louis with her boyfriend, Luke.

When I speak to her, she’s fresh off the euphoric high of a successful bread-buying encounter at a German bakery (Germans are serious about their breads). The way she tells it, she ambled through an interaction that included unforeseen follow-up questions (an expat’s nightmare), but I don’t really believe Clair “ambles” through anything. Clair strides through life with the fresh-faced, quiet confidence of a Glossier model. Which is why, when I tell you that Clair has done this before, without even specifying what it is I’m talking about, you’re probably already nodding your head. Yep, seems right. That tracks.

Here’s the part where I’d love to create some dramatic narrative tension by saying, “but it wasn’t always this way.” But here’s the problem—it was.

Clair, seemingly right at home among a flock of sheep grazing on Rheinwiesen in Düsseldorf, Germany.

Clair Thibaudeau has dreams

Or, “Escape From Sweat Mountain”

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Angelically clad in the highly coveted Laura Ashley Summer 1994 collection. If you Google “ideal childhood”, there’s a pretty good chance this image comes up.

Clair grew up on the side of a mountain in Georgia that was called—honest to God—Sweat Mountain¹. This fact, in conjunction with Clair’s aforementioned aesthetic and overall unflustered, All-American vibe, is enough to conjure certain fantasias of a bucolic country upbringing—think “My Tennessee Mountain Home”, retconned by way of the Peach State. But Clair maintains that her childhood was strictly suburban. “It was very much an ideal childhood. I always say it was like Bridge to Terabithia, without the death.” Clair, the death is the entire point. But okay, sure.

Clair and her parents, hiking what is (without a doubt) an equally colorfully-named mountain in Georgia.

Clair’s earliest modes of escapism were the same as many of her early-aughts peers—Harry Potter, the requisite foray into Lord of the Rings—but Clair always knew she was destined for stranger shores. Not just the shores of her imagination, or of Belegaer, but ones even stranger than that. Like, maybe, St. Louis. After getting accepted to Saint Louis University—a subtle but meaningful rebellion against her parents’ “nothing west of the Mississippi” rule—Clair settled in for a long summer of quiet reflection at home. Just kidding.

For a worldly, thoughtful person eager to launch into society (or, at least, the greater St. Louis metropolitan area), the summer between high school and college seemed to stretch and yawn before her. Clair wanted to shake things up, and she wanted to do it immediately. Not in four months when she moved into the SLU dorms, but now—in the summer of her youth, a summer of possibility.

“All of a sudden, I was just like, ‘Oh, there's so much more to experience and I want to go right now,’” she says. “I just could not wait to get out and explore the world.”

Hence:
Yellowstone.

An undaunted gaggle of Yellowstone youths conquering Electric Peak, the tallest mountain in the Gallatin Range of southern Montana, at an altitude of 10,969 feet.

Clair Thibaudeau has a plan

A perhaps lesser-known quality of our homeland’s great national parks is that they employ a ragtag bunch of high school and college students to staff their dining halls and official buildings every summer. Clair happened upon this fact while vacationing with her family in Yellowstone, and quickly convinced her college-senior sister to sign up to live in a national park all summer with her. Reader, as an older sister myself, I cannot imagine being convinced to do such a thing by anyone, let alone my younger sibling. But such is the cool confidence of Clair: “I was like, ‘I have this plan for us. Like let's move to Yellowstone together for the summer and then you can figure out like your life after that.’” It worked.

Shortly after, Clair and her sister Emma report for duty in Wyoming. Clair has, of course, just graduated from high school. Most everyone else in the camp is already a grizzled college student, learned in the ways of underage drinking, misfitry, and general no-goodness. Clair is unbothered. Which is particularly impressive considering that national parks—as federal lands—have their own judicial systems. Meaning that getting caught drinking is treated as, y’know, a federal crime². “You can go to Park Jail, and you can go to court in the park,” she tells me.

Over the summer, the sisters enjoyed such natural wonders as Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park, south of Yellowstone, and “enjoyed” (a strong word) such unnatural wonders as these Yellowstone-issued uniforms.

Clair managed to easily steer clear of any legal hiccups, and instead made the most of the weak WiFi and shoddy cell signals by hiking, exploring, mingling with America’s youths, and, yes, wearing a hairnet while doling out soup in the camp cafeteria. (It’s not all splendor.)

After what we can all agree was a very weird but formative experience, Clair went to SLU as promised, where she hitched her wagon to her native St. Louisan classmates to get a feel for her adopted city. “At the beginning, it was challenging. If you're moving to a city where you don't know anybody...I had thought growing up that this was what I wanted, and then it was like, ‘Oh, no, this is actually really hard to be away from your community and having to start over’,” Clair says. Hmmm. Really, 2021 Clair? Tell us more.

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Already making friends in her new home.

Clearly the trials of starting over in a new place were manageable, because Clair’s Sweat-Mountain-to-Yellowstone-to-SLU Pipeline molded her into the kind of person who picks up and heads to Europe during the most significant pandemic of the past 100 years. Clair makes it sound like a no-brainer. “Everyone kept saying that if we wanted to go to Germany, we could. So I brought it up to my manager, like, ‘What's up with that? Is that for real?’ Just kind of testing the waters.” After a year or so of asking, it seems the Paradowski people had to admit Clair had called their bluff. She called it all the way to Germany. 

LEFT: A highly optimistic Clair and (less so) Nellie The Rescue Dog, surrounded by suitcases. RIGHT: Clair manages to look pulled-together at the airport, a feat that *checks notes* zero people have ever accomplished.

Clair Thibaudeau has secrets
Or, a brief diversion

1

Clair was born in Boca Raton, Florida. Not a lot of people know that. “It’s kind of a secret. But I do give you the rights to publicly include that information,” she tells me.

2

Clair played the violin in her school orchestra for many years. This is not exactly a secret, but a refutation of the common misconception that she played tuba—a false rumor that some people³ have been circulating. “Tuba is for nerds,” she says, by way of explanation.

3

Perhaps because of the (* cough *) violin thing, Clair has very good taste in bands, but very poor recall for what those bands are called. She can and will, however, regale you with fascinating and delicious minutiae about the formation of said bands. And follow up promptly with Spotify links. In short, she is probably the kind of person who is great to be on a road trip with.

Clair Thibaudeau has found her tacos

A variety of important tacos, including some from Taco Buddha, named 2021’s Best Tacos In St. Louis by Clair Thibaudeau Monthly. 

This is not a euphemism. Two weeks on the ground in Germany, and Clair has already managed to locate her most-needed food item, and identify what may be the first in an up-and-coming wave of German taquerias that we will all be reading about in the New York Times Styles section soon. Or not. The point is: this feels emblematic to me—of the catlike way Clair can adapt and roll in the increasingly far-fetched situations she all too willingly volunteers herself for. The taco shop at the end of her street is an essential cornerstone of her survival, and moreover, it’s a meaningful sign that she is on the right track. But I can’t say I’m exactly surprised. And she doesn’t seem to be, either. After all, luck is mostly preparation.

Casually adapting to any environment with ease, abroad in the Canary Islands with Luke or back in Georgia with friends.

“I’ve actually done this before,” she says, at the start of our video call. She means her bio interview—this is her second time around. 

But all I can think is: I’ll bet you have, Clair. I’ll bet you have.

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¹ If you’ve got fifteen minutes to blow, I highly recommend looking up the Wikipedia article entitled “mountains of Georgia”. You will encounter a smorgasbord of truly excellent mountain names. Sweat Mountain is peanuts compared to some of these.

² How any of these college students manage to emerge unscathed is beyond me. They must be much subtler underage drinkers than I was.

³ One person, and you know who you are.