The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

WORLD OF WORDS: For writer Marianne Bohr, travel is a way to indulge a craving for language

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about words?

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about words?

Today we welcome new columnist Marianne Bohr, whose first book, Gap Year Girl, is about to come out. Marianne contributes a post showing how her love of languages intersects with her love of travel.

At age 55, my husband and I took a “senior year abroad.” We quit our jobs, sold the house, the car and most of our belongings to travel across Europe in search of adventure.

Part of that adventure was physical. Highlights of our 12-month sojourn across 21 countries included running the Paris Marathon and doing a seven-day hike along the Tour du Mont Blanc.

Part of it was about meeting new people and trying new foods.

But for me the adventure also had to do with words. Having always been a “word” person, I was fascinated by the myriad languages we encountered. So often I’ve wondered: Is it possible to overstate the importance of language in forging friendships across borders? And my response has always been, I don’t think so.

Language itself can be a window on the world, one that opens wide when either a common tongue is shared or you look behind the vocabulary of a language other than your own.

In future posts, I’ll look at specific words and expressions, especially those in French, since I’m a Francophile through and through. But for now, I have adapted a few passages from my book that contain a few observations about language that I made during our year abroad. Enjoy!

* * *

The trip from Grindelwald, Switzerland to Chamonix, France, requires four train changes and one bus. As the crow flies, the distance isn’t far, but crossing the Alps can be a multilegged, many-houred proposition.

On one of the neat and tidy Swiss mountain trains, a Japanese couple traveling alone takes their places across from a dapper, middle-aged local gentleman on the banquette seats next to ours. He jumps up to help them with their luggage and once the bags are in place, proceeds to initiate a friendly conversation in Japanese. The look of pure, unadulterated joy on the couple’s faces lights up the train. They’re on their own, far from home, and the serendipity of selecting seats next to someone who speaks their mother tongue is priceless.

Lively conversation among the three fast friends ensues as the Swiss gentleman moves over to sit facing the twosome. He animatedly points to features of the surrounding peaks and comments on the houses we pass by as our train proceeds down the valley. I’m transfixed by the exchange. The travelers laugh, heads nodding and smiles widening, and my heart warms as I imagine the talk turning from our magnificent Alpine surroundings to families, travel, and Japan.

When the train slows for the native son’s stop, they exchange cards and, hands at their sides, quickly bow their goodbyes. Surely the encounter will be one of the most memorable of the visiting couple’s trip.

*

In Grindelwald, where we’ve arrived for eight days of hiking, we attend an evening barbecue at our hotel in the shadow of the Eiger and meet a couple that hails from Dresden, in the former East Germany. They speak passable English (which was significantly better than our almost nonexistent German). They tell us that nowadays, all schoolchildren learn English from a very early age, but that they didn’t take it up until they were adults. They apologize for their lack of fluency, acknowledging that Russian was the requirement when they were growing up. Subjugators, of course, demand that the subjugated learn their language in a decisive power play.

We end up thoroughly enjoying our outdoor buffet in the company of our new friends, having learned much about their formative years behind the Iron Curtain—all because our companions have breached the language barrier.

*

Language is key for forging ties across boundaries but it’s a delicate art. We were also amused on occasion during our gap year by the quirky use of English by some of the people we meet.

  • I overhear an Italian traveler in a quiet Roman museum triumphantly exclaim when his English friend caught up with him, “The bull has now entered into the china store.”
  • Our pretty young guide in Dubrovnik, after she asked us if we were familiar with an anecdote she shared about her city and St. Blaise inquires, “Is that bell not ringing for you?”

Such endearing errors highlight the subtle nature of language and the translation of idioms in particular, but they shouldn’t inhibit us from giving another tongue our best effort. Learning other languages has always helped me listen to and use my own language more carefully and to pay closer attention to expressions that could be difficult to understand by non-native speakers.

*

I snap back from my linguistic reverie as our Swiss train slows and we pull into the station near the French border. It’s time to transfer to the next train that will drop us at the bus depot for the final leg to Chamonix. We are our way to Provence, where we’ll retreat for the summer.

My heart flutters knowing we’ll soon be back in the promised land of the quintessential romance language—my beloved French—where once again my language window will be open on the world. I may at times speak it like a bull that’s entered into the china store, but le français will always help keep my language bell ringing.

* * *

Thank you, Marianne! How about the rest of you out there? How do you look at languages other than your native tongue: are they an impediment or a lure for overseas travel and/or living adventures? Do let us know in the comments!

Marianne C. Bohr is a writer, editor and French teacher whose book, Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries, will be published in September 2015 (She Writes Press). She married her high school sweetheart and travel partner, and with their two grown children, follows her own advice and travels at every opportunity. Marianne lives in Bethesda, Maryland, where after decades in publishing, she has followed her Francophile muse to teach French. She has an author site where she keeps a blog, and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

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EXPAT ART AS THERAPY: Works that capture unexpectedly beautiful moments of life in other countries

ExpatArtasTherapy_principle_no_two

As the summer wears on—and I’m wondering what I am doing working long hours in a big city while everyone else seems to have escaped to beaches or mountains or on other adventures—I’m returning to my series based on the ideas of pop philosopher Alain de Botton. As those familiar with his work will recall, de Botton maintains that art can provide relief from as well as solutions to one’s angst.

But does the art we expats produce play a role in improving people’s lives? That’s what this series of posts explores.

No doubt, the works of international creatives has some appeal to what global soul Pico Iyer has called the great floating tribe of people “living in countries not their own.” (Expats currently number around 230 million, or about 3 percent of the world’s population.)

But are the works expats produce too specific to their own situations, or do these works, too, speak to broader life problems?

De Botton outlines six specific ways art can respond to human needs. My last post examined his first principle, that art can compensate for the fact that we have bad memories. I offered some examples of how international creatives have preserved precious moments of their lives in other countries in their works, not only for themselves but for posterity.

Today let’s look at de Botton’s

PRINCIPLE #2: Art can give us hope. Simple images of happiness touch us. We tend to be moved by small expressions of beauty—not because we are sentimental but precisely because so much of life is not pretty.

The example de Botton cites is Claude Monet’s Water Lilies, (or Nymphéas), a series of around 250 oil paintings that depict the French impressionist’s garden at Giverny. Monet painted the series during the last years of his life, while suffering from cataracts.

Claude_Monet_Nympheas_1915_Musee_Marmottan_Paris

Nymphéas, 1915, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris. via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

De Botton is of course stirring it up by insisting that beautiful art serves an important purpose. Artists of today seem to be in a race to outdo each other in the outrageous stakes. I’m thinking of Damien Hirst, who built his reputation on artworks displaying dead animals, or their parts, in formaldehyde tanks. Providing a respite from the ugliness of life is the last thing on his mind. Likewise for Jen Lewis, who uses her own menstrual blood to create abstract designs. Provocative, yes, but not my idea of beauty.

Returning to de Botton’s second principle: which expat artists have excelled at producing the kind of beauty that provides relief from life’s less pleasant aspects? (Who are our displaced Monets?)

By way of an answer I’ve arranged a small “exhibition” of works by four visual artists, three painters and one photographer, all of whom have been affiliated in some way with the Displaced Nation. As de Botton has done at several museum exhibitions, I’ve added post-it notes describing the therapeutic effects I’ve experienced upon viewing these artists’ works.

#1: “Lost on a Mountaintop,” by Candace Rose Rardon

Lost_on_a_Mountaintop_by_candace-rardon_800x

POST-IT: Those of us who have traversed international boundaries carry in our hearts the fear that we may someday lose our way—literally, of course, but even figuratively, with no family or old friends around to serve as mentors or sounding boards. Candace Rose Rardon shows us the flip side: how glorious to be lost on the top of a mountain range with the world stripped down to pines, sun, wind and hills, ready for you to paint your own scenes on it. Even a stay-at-home curmudgeon could be struck down with wanderlust, at such a prospect. Candace is a writer, sketch artist and illustrator without a location. She tells stories about the world through her words and watercolors.
OUR CONNECTION: Candace was the recipient of one of our Alice Awards.
SEE ALSO: Candace’s blog, The Great Affair; and her first book of travel sketches: Beneath the Lantern’s Glow: Sketches and stories from Southeast Asia and Japan.

#2: Les Mimosas de Mesubenomori,” by Julie Harmsworth

les-mimosas-de-mesubenomori-2013-800x-acrylique-et-pastel-c3a0-lhuile-sur-papier
POST-IT: My first (and only) visit to Nagasaki, made while I was living in Japan, had a lasting impact. To this day I carry around images of the damage wreaked on that city from my visit to the Atomic Bomb Museum. But for Julie, who moved to Nagasaki from the United States to teach English, the city was the place of her rebirth as an artist. She often walked to this local park, and this painting is her tribute to its flowering mimosa trees. For a moment her painting makes me forget the pain this city endured, along with the horror for war it engenders. Though one can never lose sight of the darkness, it’s possible to be touched by these simple, beautiful trees.
OUR CONNECTION: We are mutual blogging admirers. Julie, btw, has now moved to France, where she continues her work as a fine artist (hence the French title of her painting).
SEE ALSO: Julie’s portfolio site.

#3: “Russian Market—Phnom Penh,” by A. Spaice

Russian-Market-PhnomPenh_framed
POST-IT: I’ve never been to Phnom Penh but imagine it might be a variation on other Southeast Asian cities (Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Saigon) I’ve visited. From reading descriptions of the Russian Market, which lies in the southern part of Cambodia’s capital city, I can certainly picture it: a narrow warren of stalls, crowded, busy and sweltering, full of the kinds of goods you see in all of the markets in that part of the world (though apparently at better prices), everything from handicrafts to fake Swiss watches to pirated software to designer clothes considered unfit to be shipped abroad because of small flaws. The global economy at its finest! But what does writer and sometime photographer A. Spaice offer us? A glimpse of a splendidly isolated flower and flower-to-be. Such a beautiful reminder that the “I shop therefore I am” credo of Asia isn’t all there is to life!
OUR CONNECTION: A. Spaice was our first international creative to be “wonderlanded” (read her interview and an excerpt from her short book, Bangkok).
SEE ALSO: A. Spaice’s Design Kompany site and weekly e-zine.

#4: “End of the Drought,” by Antrese Wood

Endofthedrought_Antrese_Wood
POST-IT: The Pampas grasslands of Argentina are one of the most fertile areas in the world. When a drought occurs and its crops are destroyed, not only farmers—but also does the rest of the world—suffers, as world food prices are nudged higher. Antrese’s painting of the grasslands landscape “after the drought” reminds us that even when nature gives the earth and its inhabitants a terrible beating, the rain returns eventually and the beauty of the landscape is restored. If a glimpse of such beauty helps us forget the pain even for a moment, then perhaps it is possible to regroup and carry on. (Note to self: Come back to this painting once the dog days of August have arrived.) An American married to an Argentinian, Antrese has been living in Argentina since 2011.
OUR CONNECTION: Antrese was one of the interviewees in our long-running Random Nomad series. At that time she was about to embark on an ambitious project, “A Portrait of Argentina.”
SEE ALSO: Her portfolio site and her podcast series for artists, SavvyPainter.

Note: All four artists’ works are reproduced here with their permission.

* * *

So, readers, what do you think of the above “exhibition” of works that capture unexpected moments of appreciation for life’s beauty? I know that writing about these works helped to lift me out of my late-July funk, but did you, too, find it therapeutic? And are there other expat works you would recommend for this reason? Do tell in the comments.

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WONDERLANDED: “Bewildered, Bewitched & Bothered,” by expat writer Sally Rose

bewildered bewitched and bothered

Photo credits: (Row 1) Cheshire Cat, by thethreesisters via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); (Row 2) Alice in Wonderland Cosplay, by Michael Miller via Flickr (CC BY 2.0). Other photos supplied.

A couple of days ago we were Wonderlanded in Santiago, Chile, with American expat writer Sally Rose. She nearly had us twirling in teacups as she took us on a tour of the curiouser and curiouser aspects of her adopted home.

Today we have a chance to sample Sally’s writing and its distinctly wonderlanded quality with this excerpt from her recently published memoir, A Million Sticky Kisses, which recounts her early days as a volunteer English teacher at a not-so-well-off school in Santiago. How does Sally write about being a stranger in a strange land? NOTE: For the purposes of this post, I’ve titled this passage “Bewildered, Bewitched & Bothered” as that seemed an apt way to describe the scenes Sally depicts.

AMillionStickyKisses_cover_pm

* * *

Bewildered, Bewitched & Bothered (Part 2, Chapter 7 of A Million Sticky Kisses, by Sally Rose):

I got up early the next morning because the supervisor had granted me permission to attend the meeting which started at 8:00am. I was at the Metro station by 7:30, where the free newspaper hawkers were setting out stacks of papers. As I walked by, I started to take one from a stack. The male hawker slapped his hand on top of the paper to hold it down. I looked at him as he let out a rapid stream of Spanish, but I had absolutely no idea what he was saying. I tugged again at the paper. “¡No!” He would not let me have it.

“No entiendo. ¿Por qué?” I don’t understand.

From the corner of his eye, he glanced at me. ¡Gringa! I saw him almost relent for a second before tightening his stance as he started explaining again. I listened hard, but without success. He was one of those Chileans that I could not understand at all.

Finally, the woman, who was guarding the other free paper, came over to me and, like she might explain to a 5-year-old who was just learning how to tell time, she pointed to my watch and made a quarter circle with her finger. I understood her, but couldn’t believe it.

“¿Ocho menos cuarto?” 7:45? I had to wait until 7:45 before I could take one of their free papers? She nodded her head.

I realized that it wouldn’t do any good to try and finagle it. This was one of those mysterious Chilean customs that made no sense to a gringa, especially a gringa living in New York, where the papers sat in huge stacks and you could take as many as you liked.

As I walked away, bewildered, I noticed that there were several people already forming a line, willing to wait 15 minutes so that one of the hawkers could hand them a newspaper. They watched our exchange closely to make sure that I didn’t get a newspaper before they did.

I couldn’t wait 15 minutes, not if I wanted to be on time for the meeting. Not that I expected it to actually start at 8:00, but She-Who-Can-Never-Be-Late didn’t want to risk it. I descended the Metro steps without getting my newspaper after all.

"Out of time" street art, which has now been painted over (supplied).

Sally may be in Chile but she doesn’t want to be late! Photo credits: “Out of time” street art, which has now been painted over (supplied); Suivez le lapin blanc, by thierry ehrmann via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Incredibly, the meeting started at 8:05. The supervisor was a no-nonsense Chilean who spoke excellent English. I mostly just listened, but Marisol [Sally’s colleague, a Chilean English teacher] told me later, “I think she was nervous around you.”

Then, she added, “Jacqueline [another gringa English teacher] would really like it if you went to her classes today. The supervisor has given her another bad mark. She has received bad marks all year. Without telling her that they will not have her back next year, they have interviewed three other people to replace her. Yesterday, BAY-ACHAY-ESSAY [nickname for Victor Hugo Salinas, head of the English volunteer program] knocked at her door and told her that someone else would be teaching her classes that day. Then, a job applicant took over her classes while poor Jacqueline had to stand and watch.”

Her teaching skills needed improvement, but I almost could not comprehend the cruelty of this. I trudged off to find Jacqueline. Her classes, and now her career at this school, were a lost cause.

After school, I was invited to go with the chorus to the annual Christmas concert at a nearby cathedral. Students from each of The Network’s schools participated. My kids were partnered with girls from the adjacent high school.

We left in a large van from the school, zigging and zagging down narrow backstreets to arrive at the church just in time. We hurried the kids in to find our pews. In the 90-degree heat, my clothes clung to me, but inside the church, it was blissfully cool and smelled of candle wax and furniture polish.

I sat with one of the mother chaperones and kept an eye on the kids. In our chorus were eighteen girls and one boy. They were the only ones wearing their “every day” uniforms, the same gray sweat suits that they wore to school. Choir members from the other schools had on school uniforms, as well, but they were cleaner, dressier, and more expensive.

White shirts, navy pants for boys and white shirts with navy jumpers for girls. I had never seen my kids in any uniform except the sweat suit and I wondered if my school might be the poorest in The Network.

Behind me, I heard commotion and turned to find little girls pushing off and sliding from one end of the well-buffed pew to the other. I gave them a look that included an arched eyebrow and they settled down again, giggling.

The concert began with “It Came upon a Midnight Clear,” in Spanish. My kids were next. I didn’t recognize their song, but it was beautiful with their voices echoing strong in the vaulted cathedral. They accompanied the song by clapping their hands in flamenco-style rhythm while the youngest girl pinged on a triangle.

Sally doesn't mind her kids being in sweat suits when they perform well (photo supplied).

Sally doesn’t mind her kids being in sweat suits when they sing beautifully (photo supplied).

Out of the twenty or more songs, I only recognized five. The rest were traditional Chilean Christmas songs.

Afterward, going home later than usual, the train was crowded. A man entered after me and moved past me. Then, he called attention to himself by bumping into me as he moved in front of me again. “Permiso,” he said as he circled around. I thought he would be getting off at the next station since he stood by the door, but instead of facing the door, he turned around to face me.

All this moving around put me on guard. I was holding my purse, my school bag, and my sweater when I felt something funny going on with my purse. I looked down and saw a sweater hanging over the top of it. His sweater. Then, I felt something fiddling with the zipper. His hand?

Quickly, I moved away to the middle of the car, out of his range. Keeping my eyes on his, I felt around inside my purse to make sure everything was still there. I glared at him with mal de ojo, the evil eye, until he jumped off at the next stop.

Metro and evil eye

You have to have an evil eye on the Santiago Metro if you don’t want to be pickpocketed. Photo credit: Metro Universidad de Chile, by Guillermo Perez via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

* * *

Thanks, Sally! I love it, especially the section where you descend into the Metro muttering the equivalent of: “I’m late, I’m late, for an important date.” And your mal de ojo (evil eye) powers must be on a par with the Queens of Hearts’s “Off with your head!” Also, I’m glad your version of Wonderland includes children’s music.

Readers, what do you think? Has this excerpt from Sally’s book made you want to read more? If so, you can order A Million Sticky Kisses from Amazon or Good Reads. You can also visit Sally’s author site, where she keeps a blog and/or stay social with Sally by following her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. And of course you can also express appreciation for Sally in the comments below. ~ML

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Wonderlanded in Santiago with Sally Rose, expat writer, teacher and (above all) learner

Photo credits: Santiago (top) and New York City via Pixabay; Sally in Chile & Sally's Alice in Wonderland  painting by Russian artist. (supplied).

Being Wonderlanded with Sally Rose means going from the City That Never Sleeps to the City of Madhouse Parties. Photo credits: Santiago (top) and New York City via Pixabay; Sally in Chile & Sally’s Alice in Wonderland painting by Russian artist. (supplied).

Welcome back to the Displaced Nation’s Wonderlanded series, being held in gratitude for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which turns 150 this year and, despite this advanced age, continues to stimulate and reassure many of us who have chosen to lead international, displaced, “through the looking glass” lives.

This month we travel
d
o
w
n
the hole with Sally Rose to Santiago, Chile.

At first glance, Sally may not seem to have a strong connection to Alice in Wonderland, having been born and bred in the piney woods of East Texas. But I assure you her life has taken the kinds of twists and turns that would give Alice some serious competition.

First, Sally faced the struggle of getting out of a conservative small town in Texas, which simply didn’t have enough Mad Hatters in it to satisfy her curiosity. As she says in the introduction to her recently published memoir:

At night, I’d lie awake and listen to the whistle of the midnight train as it passed through like clockwork. I always pondered where it might be going. In my imagination, it was always somewhere “exotic” and exciting. Where to tonight? Chicago? New York? Out West?

Once she was old enough to leave home, Sally tried living in the Cajun Country of Louisiana, the plains of Oklahoma, and the “enchanted” land of New Mexico—only to make her way, eventually, to the East Coast and New York City, where she dreamed of writing the Great American Novel.

But even the Big Apple wasn’t enough to sate her restless, adventuresome spirit. Soon it was time to expand her horizons again and go abroad. Having been to Chile on a holiday, she signed up for a volunteer program teaching English in Santiago.

At last she had stepped though the looking glass! From the moment she arrived to live in Santiago, she found herself struggling with both language and culture, along with a whole host of unfamiliar characters—from avaricious school owners to boisterous school kids. She was a “stranger in a strange land.” Would she get out alive and unharmed, with her wallet safe (no joke!). Perhaps if she hadn’t been the recipient of a million sticky kisses, as her memoir is titled, she would have exited her Alice in Wonderland story by now, screaming “Off with their heads!”

But instead she embraced the adventure and has now become a permanent resident of Santiago, a displaced creative. In addition to A Million Sticky Kisses, which chronicles her earliest encounters with her Chilean students, Sally has also produced a children’s book, Penny Possible, about a Golden Retriever named Penny who trained for two years to become a therapy dog for an Iraq war veteran (proceeds are donated to Warrior Canine Connection). It has been a No.1 bestseller on Amazon.

Oh, but wait! A rabbit just darted by. Let’s follow Sally and hear about her Adventures as a Gringa Teacher in the Wonderland of Santiago de Chile…

* * *

Sally Rose: Thanks, ML, and thanks, Displaced Nation readers, for accompanying me on this trip to my special version of Wonderland. As ML mentioned, I was born and raised in East Texas, in a tiny little town. That means the northeast corner between Dallas and Texarkana. I’m not sure why I chose to incarnate in small-town Texas because I always had the feeling that I was a big-city girl, and I’ve since discovered that to be true.

My path to becoming a displaced national went like this: Texas-Louisiana-Texas-Louisiana-Oklahoma-Louisiana-Texas-New Mexico-Texas-New Mexico-New York-Chile.

I’d always wanted to try living in New York, and I’d always thought I’d live overseas. Everything before that was only practice.

“Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle!”

I must have felt disoriented from the moment I was born. Though there were differences in each of the original four states (Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico), my life before New York was fairly homogenous, but nowhere felt like “home.” Now, I realize that most of my moves have been based on trying to find my tribe. Asking myself, “Where do I fit in?”

Though many people become disoriented by being “down the rabbit hole,” I thrive on feeling that little edge of uncertainty, on feeling puzzled.

Living in New York meant getting used to high rent-tiny apartments, walking and public transit vs. car culture, different (read: NY) attitudes, too many choices, and 7,999,999 other people, yet not being connected to any of them.

Once I got into the rhythm and pace of the city, I found it exhilarating. I called New York my temperamental mistress, but I eventually felt less disoriented there than anywhere else I’d ever lived.

In 2008, I came to Chile on a vacation. Call it karma, fate, or the planets aligning—but the moment I set foot in that strange land, I knew the time had come to follow my heart and make my dream of teaching abroad a reality.

I moved to Chile on March 1, 2011, ready to conquer the world and make a difference in someone’s life.

“Curiouser and curiouser…”

Three years before I made the move, I did several stints of volunteer teaching in low-income schools where the students were considered to be “at risk.” Vulnerables. My book, A Million Sticky Kisses, covers that initial period.

I learned so much about myself that, most of that time, I wondered who was teaching whom.

In Santiago, Sally is teacher but above all learner (photo supplied).

In Santiago, Sally is teacher but above all learner (photo supplied).

“But she went on all the same, shedding gallons of tears, until there was a large pool all round her, about four inches deep…”

Once I decided to relocate to Chile, I had many moments of doubt, starting as the plane sat on the runway at JFK. Buckled in and staring out the airplane window, I had a moment of utter, can’t breathe, panic. What in the world was I doing? Leaving everything behind and moving overseas where I knew almost no one and barely spoke the language, what was I thinking?

Most “pool of tears” moments were followed by elation, the “I did it!” moments. Making the move, finding an apartment, getting my residency visa, opening a bank account, finally understanding enough Spanish to have a phone conversation, all counted as triumphs.

“If everybody minded their own business,” the Duchess said in a hoarse growl, “the world would go round a deal faster than it does.”

I haven’t changed my personal clothing style, which tends to be tailored and conservative. I actually enjoy wearing what I think of as the “Chilean granny uniform.” Wool skirt, wool sweater, wool scarf in neutral tones. And let’s not forget the sensible flats.

My short, red hair has earned me some long looks and possibly some judgment.

For young Chilean women, the hair style is long. Period. There are few exceptions. Once a woman is over 50, it’s acceptable to have shorter hair, but not spiky, red hair, like mine. This leads to suspicions that one is a lesbian, whether it’s true or not.

Sally doesn't care what Chileans think of her granny clothes & short red hair. Or does she? (Photos supplied)

Sally doesn’t care what Chileans think of her granny clothes & short red hair. Or does she? (Photos supplied)

“You’ll get used to it in time,” said the Caterpillar; and it put the hookah into its mouth and began smoking again.

It took me a long time to realize that you cannot be direct with Chileans. If you approach things openly and directly, they will often be embarrassed or offended.

This happened to me the first year that I was here. A teaching colleague had invited me to an asado, a BBQ, for Chile’s national independence day, Fiestas Patrias, September 18.

She invited me, but there were no details. What time did the party start? Would it be at her house or at her sister’s? Could she give me directions?

I sent her an email, asking these questions, but it went unanswered. I tried phoning her. She didn’t pick up. I texted her, Facebook messaged her, and phoned again, multiple times. She never responded to me and I ended up with no plans for the biggest Chilean holiday of the year.

Gringa alone on Fiestas Patrias. Photo credit: Bailando en la fonda, by Osmar Valdebenito via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Gringa alone on Fiestas Patrias. Photo credit: Bailando en la fonda, by Osmar Valdebenito via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); inset: Sally Rose (supplied).

The following week at school, she was polite, but not friendly like she’d been before. When I finally found her alone one day, I asked her what had happened. “I waited to hear from you about the BBQ. Why didn’t you respond to my messages?”

Lo que pasa es…” What had happened is that her baby had been sick and the car broke down. Then, her sister had decided not to have the party, and so on and so forth.

“I understand difficult family situations,” I told her. “What I don’t understand is why you didn’t let me know.”

She couldn’t explain this, didn’t seem to understand why it mattered nor why I felt disappointed.

Our relationship never recovered from this incident, and I was never invited again. She became distant; she avoided me. I lost a friend, but learned a lesson. To maintain Chilean friendships, I had to be less direct, or even silent, about many things, which is not my usual style.

“Well, I’ll eat it,” said Alice…

A Chilean food I love? That’s a strong word. I’ve tried octopus—too rubbery. Cochayuyo (dried seaweed)—rubbery and sticky. No love lost there. I’d have to say that my favorite Chilean dish is Pastel de Jaiba. This is a crab casserole baked in an individual clay bowl. ¡Rico!

Pastel de Jaiba, Sally's favorite Chilean dish (photo supplied).

Pastel de Jaiba, Sally’s favorite Chilean dish (photo supplied).

“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.

Since my current home is approximately 55m, and my dining room table seats four people, this would be an intimate party. I would host a traditional Chilean once, with a twist or two.

Once is tea time in Chile. Not everyone observes this tradition, but many still do. Once has its roots in friends getting together for a nip in the late afternoon. In some stories, it was soldiers who began the tradition. In other stories, it was older ladies. Either way, they wanted to keep it a secret, so they called it once. The word in Spanish means eleven, after the eleven letters in aguardiente, fire water.

These days, alcohol is not usually served at once. Traditional once includes tea, bread with butter and jam, sometimes ham and cheese, and on special occasions, a cake. Chileans love sweets, and many cakes here are layered with manjar, a tooth-aching, caramelized milk filling, similar to dulce de leche.

I would use my best tablecloth and my English teapot. Manjar‘s too sweet for me, so I would serve a gooey, dark chocolate confection instead, and since I’m a gringa, I would serve a dry, bubbly espumante, in addition to the tea.

Wearing hats might be involved. Gloves, optional.

Is Sally Alice or the Mad Hatter here? (Photo supplied)

Is Sally Alice or the Mad Hatter here? (Photo supplied)

“I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit-hole—and yet—and yet—it’s rather curious, you know, this sort of life!”

My identity shift began in New York and has continued here in Chile. There is something empowering about moving into the unknown. When you start to have small victories, like navigating the subway or ordering in Spanish at a restaurant, you feel a heady success.

On the flip side, your mettle is tested on an almost-daily basis. Once you have proved to yourself that you can survive, evolve, adapt, and thrive, you get a glimpse of who you really are.

Sally in Disneyland teacup, in the days before she was wonderlanded (photo supplied).

Sally in Disneyland teacup, foreshadowing her experience of being wonderlanded (photo supplied).

Advice for those who have only just stepped through the looking glass

It’s okay to not know where you belong. Change course if necessary. Accept that you may never fit in. If something doesn’t work, be flexible. Try something else. Reinvent yourself. The good news is that you’ve already done it once, and you can do it again.

“Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible.”

Ironically, I often work best when I am confused, challenged, or depressed. Since none of these is the case at the moment, I’m distracted by life, in general, but I have two specific projects in mind.

The first is an illustrated children’s book. It will be based in Chile, using iconic settings, and the theme will revolve around two of Santiago’s one million street dogs. I call them Bruno and Roger.

I am also in the process of reviewing and editing a former project titled Well, Why Was I Born: The Romance that Never Was. Publication goal: 2017.

sally rose books

Sally’s great works: two in the bag and two to come.

* * *

Thank you, Sally! That was a jolly good trip, both entertaining and thoughtful. Readers, I wonder if you feel like me, that there was something very special about the experience of being “wonderlanded” with Sally in Santiago? Please let us know in the comments. ~ML

STAY TUNED for the next fab post: an example of how Sally writes about place.

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CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Expats, if success in another country is what you’re after, throw the tools away and go for total immersion

Fiona Citkin for Culture Shock Toolbox
For her column this month, transitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol interviews displaced creative Fiona Citkin about her culture shock memories and coping strategies.

Hello, Displaced Nationers! Today I’m excited to introduce you to Fiona Citkin, who is a professional “diversiculturalist.” She runs her own consultancy on intercultural business competence and has written a major work on the link between intercultural competency and diversity in business, for which she was named Champion of Diversity in 2012.

Lately she has turned her attention to women leaders in the United States who are immigrants. These women came from other countries and “made” it in the world’s most competitive society, despite facing what Fiona calls “quadruple jeopardy”: 1) being women; 2) being mothers; 3) being ambitious; and 4) being foreign born. Fiona’s book is called Cracking the Code: How American Immigrant Women Leaders Achieve Success under Stress. If you’re curious to find out more, I urge you to follow her Huffington Post column, where she provides monthly reports on her research findings.

Fiona has experienced no small measure of that immigrant stress, and success, herself. She grew up and was educated in the Ukraine but has now made the leap to New Jersey.

Though Fiona is constantly on the go, I was able to catch up with her and ask her a few questions about her own culture shock experiences and tools for dealing with them. Here’s what she had to say…

* * *

Hi, Fiona, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. Can you tell us a little about your background?

I was born in Ukraine and lived there most of my life. I started a family; defended two doctorates; wrote an academic book on terminology and translation science; and became head of the English Department at Uzhgorod State University in Transcarpathia (Western Ukraine). I was a visiting professor at the Universities of Budapest, Hungary; Vienna, Austria; Bern, Switzerland, etc.—and have attended many linguistic conferences all over Europe. The longest time I stayed abroad while living in Ukraine was for a teacher-study semester at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. In short, I knew the taste of success in my homeland. And then I became a Fulbright Scholar to the United States, which gave me the experience of what it means to have one’s old life burn down and try to be a phoenix in a foreign land. As a newcomer in America, I have reinvented myself more than once.

In the context of transitioning from Europe to the United States, did you ever put your foot in your mouth? Can you share any memorable stories?

Here’s a story: I’ve been taught British English, like everybody in Europe. Learning the differences between the British and the American English seems funny now—but wasn’t then. For example, my co-worker Hugh, a friendly guy, suddenly started paying compliments to me, like “Oh, your pants are beautiful” – “Another pair of pretty pants, Fiona” – “I wish my fiancé had such nice pants as yours.” I felt confused and didn’t respond, because in Britain “pants” typically denotes ladies’ underwear…what does he want, I thought? Finally, a girlfriend explained to me that Hugh meant to praise my choice of what in Britain is referred to as “trousers.”

He likes my pants

Photo credit: Pixabay.

What does one do in a situation like that?

When I am not sure what to say, I say nothing and just smile.

Looking back on your transition from the Ukraine to the East Coast of the U.S., can you recall any situations that you handled with surprising finesse?

I hate to brag about “finesse” in cultural matters. No amount of time you live in your new/adopted country can guarantee your 100% integration and “finesse”—because deep down you’ll always be yourself, have a soft spot for your native land, and retain some inborn traits of your original culture. For my upcoming book I have interviewed 50 outstanding American women achievers who happen to be first-generation immigrants, so I have not only my own experience but also their accumulated know-how of how to handle cultural transition. The main fact is: cultural integration is a must for those who want to succeed in a new country.

If you had to give advice to someone who just moved to a new country, what’s the tool you’d tell them to develop first and why?

First, focus on strategies rather than tools, or tactics, because first things should come first, right? After twenty years of living and working in the United States, I have some worthy advice to share—and my books’ subjects have even more. To put it in a nutshell:

  1. Get the best education you can, hopefully in the field that’s most desirable in the host country (high-tech is the best for the USA).
  2. Learn the language BEFORE you come as an immigrant—but remember that culture trumps language, e.g., cultural integration is more important.
  3. Learn to be outgoing, friendly, and helpful to others; participate in the work of your local community.
  4. Be entrepreneurial—as this is the best way to sustain yourself: immigrants experience difficulties in getting jobs, everywhere.
  5. Last but not the least, use whatever your cultural heritage equipped you with to your best advantage.
American Flag and immigrant women successes

Photo credits: Ivana Trump, by Lloyd Klein via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Firma de Isabel Allende, by Pedro Cambra via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Gloria Estefan, by Louise Palanker via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). American flag by Pixabay.

Finally, before my book comes out, you can pick up ideas and pieces of advice from my monthly blogs at the Huffington Post.

Thank you so much, Fiona, for taking the time to share your culture shock stories. Developing an outgoing personality—but also knowing when to smile and say nothing—sounds to me like the kind of gauge or caliper we could all use in our cultural transitions. And if you’re in it to win it, so to speak, then it’s time to throw the toolbox away and immerse yourself, hook, line and sinker!

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Fiona’s advice? It would be particularly interesting to hear from those who meet her quadruple stress test (woman, mother, ambitious, foreign) but still have managed to achieve some success: do you have anything to add to Fiona’s prescriptions?

Well, hopefully this has you “fixed” until next month.

Until then. Prost! Santé!

H.E. Rybol is a TCK and the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and Culture Shock Toolbox. She loves animals, piano, yoga and being outdoors. You can find her on Twitter, Linkedin and Goodreads. She is currently working on her new Web site and her second book.  

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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LOCATION, LOCUTION: Nik Morton draws from his nomadic expat life to author genre fiction

Location Locution
Columnist Lorraine Mace, aka Frances di Plino, is back with her very first interview guest, the extraordinary Nik Morton. (Nik, thank you for giving the Displaced Nation a shout-out in one of your recent posts!)

Hello, readers. This month we have the delight of discovering how Nik Morton, a British-born resident of Spain who is also a prolific author, handles location, locution.

Although Nik has fifty years of writing experience, having sold hundreds of articles and more than a hundred short stories, he came late to being a published author. His first novel, a western, came out in 2007. This year he will publish his twenty-second book—Catacomb, the second in his Avenging Cat crime series. (The first was Catalyst and the third will be Cataclysm. All are named for the series’ protagonist, the Avenging Catherine Vibrissae.)

In addition to this contemporary crime series, which he publishes with Crooked Cat (there’s that feline theme again!), Nik has written:

  • westerns (Black Horse series, under the pseudonym Ross Morton, published by Robert Hale)
  • fantasy (co-written with Gordon Faulkner under the pseudonym Morton Faulkner, published by Knox Robinson)
  • Cold War thrillers (the Tana Standish series, which Crooked Cat will reissue).

Nik has run writing workshops and chaired writers’ circles, and has been a magazine editor, a publisher’s editor, and even an illustrator. His writing guide, Write a Western in 30 Days: With Plenty of Bullet-Points!, is said to be useful for all genre writers, not only writers of westerns.

Spain, where he currently lives, was the inspiration for the stories collected in Spanish Eye.

Spain is one of several inspiration sources for the well-travelled writer Nik Morton.

Nik was displaced, incidentally, long before he and his wife retired to Alicante. He spent 23 years in the Royal Navy, during which he had the chance to visit many exotic places—among them Rawalpindi, the Khyber Pass, Sri Lanka, Tokyo, Zululand, Mombasa, Bahrain, Tangier, Turkey, Norway, Finland, South Georgia and the Falklands. He has also travelled widely in his private life, giving him a wealth of places to draw on in his works in addition to his current home of Spain.

* * *

Which comes first, story or location?

This is a tough question, and the answer is ‘it depends’. For my seven western novels, the character and the story came first; the location for each required research for the period and the State, usually Dakota Territory.

Yet location definitely comes first for my Cold War thrillers featuring psychic spy Tana Standish: The Prague Papers, The Tehran Text and the third, a work in progress, The Khyber Chronicle. Each adventure in the series is based around actual historic events, so the location is crucial.

I’ve always hankered after writing about exotic places, and as you mentioned in your introduction, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel widely, both privately and with the Royal Navy. My wife and I lived for 20 months in Malta and out of that location emerged a cross-genre novel, a modern-day vampire romantic thriller, now out of print.

We’ve visited Tenerife on five separate occasions and from that evolved my romantic thriller, Blood of the Dragon Trees.

Having lived in Spain for over 11 years, I’ve absorbed quite a bit about the politics and crime situation here and have had 22 short stories published set in Spain, collected in Spanish Eye—exploring the human condition as seen through the eyes of Leon Cazador, half-English, half-Spanish private eye, written ‘in his own words’.

For my latest crime series about ‘the avenging cat’, Catherine Vibrissae, the story definitely came first: but the exotic locations were a close second—Barcelona (Catalyst), Morocco (Catacomb) and Shanghai (Cataclysm).

What’s your technique for evoking the atmosphere of a place?

Place is important in almost every scene; I want the reader to see the characters in the scene, so the place needs to be described in relation to them. Character point of view can provide an emotional appreciation of the scene too. The rugged, inhospitable High Atlas of Morocco, for example, can be strengthened by the character experiencing the intense heat and the almost preternatural silence of the place.

Technique: be there, in the scene. Of course you can’t overburden the story with too much description, but the weather, the flora and maybe even fauna, the landscape as character, all have their input at various times. If I can’t visualise the scene through my characters’ eyes, then there’s little chance that the reader will. I may not always succeed, but that’s what I strive towards—using all of the character’s senses.

Which particular features create a sense of location? Landscape, culture, food?

All of the above, depending on the dramatic content of the scene. People have to eat to live, so it’s natural that my characters eat from time to time. I don’t want to labour the point for the reader, but if I simply wrote ‘Corbin ate a meal at the hotel and then went out,’ then we’re in the realms of ‘tell’ not ‘show’; which has its place from time to time, but perhaps mentioning some particular food can make it more ‘real’ and show more of the character, such as:

Stomach full with Chili de Sangre Anaranjada, Corbin read the local newspaper in the hotel lounge, allowing the beef and pork to digest. He had complimented the chef, a Swede by the moniker of Iwan Morelius. Apparently, Morelius had been on the staff of Baron Ernst Mattais Peter von Vegesack, who had been given leave to fight for the Union. While the baron returned to Sweden after the war, Morelius stayed and Mr Canaan, the hotel manager, was vociferously proud of his culinary acquisition.

—From The $300 Man, by Ross Morton (p. 84)

Culture is definitely relevant if the story takes place abroad—whether that’s Prague or Shanghai. And we’ve already touched upon landscape, which can become a character that tests individuals to the limit.

Can you give a brief example of your work which illustrates place?

This cafe in Tenerife will soon be populated by characters from Nik Morton's imagination. Photo credit: Tenerife, Canary Islands, by Carrie Finley-Bajak[https://www.flickr.com/photos/cruisebuzz/8158748971] via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

This cafe in Tenerife will soon be populated by characters from Nik Morton’s imagination. Photo credit: Tenerife, Canary Islands, by Carrie Finley-Bajak via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

In Blood of the Dragon Trees, Laura has come to Tenerife to teach a couple of Spanish children. I wanted to create an ambiance while moving her through the story. She is waiting for Andrew Kirby, a mystery man who attracts her:

Clutching her Corte Inglés shopping bag, Laura arrived at the square about fifteen minutes early and, as usual, the adjoining roads were jammed with delivery trucks and a variety of taxis: Mercedes, Toyota, Seat, Peugeot. She was lucky and grabbed a café’s outdoor table with two vacant chairs. She sat and politely fended off the attentive waiter, explaining in Spanish that she would order when her friend joined her. Friend?

In the meantime, she waited, idly studying the antics of the men at the taxi rank in front of a series of phone booths. One of them was pushing his car along the rank, rather than switch on the engine, as the row moved forward. The taxis sported a colorful and distinctive coat of arms.

Sitting on the corner of the street was a blind man selling lottery tickets. She doubted if that would be possible in any town or city in England; the poor man would be mugged in seconds.
Most of the people at the other tables appeared to be businessmen and women, though there were some exceptions. An overdressed elderly woman sat with her Pekinese dog on her lap, feeding it biscuits while sipping her Tío Pepe. At the table next to her, a large bull of a man was glancing through the newspaper, El Día; he possessed a Neanderthal jaw and crewcut dark brown hair. For a second she thought she’d seen him before, but shook off the idea. Andrew Kirby was making her unreasonably suspicious!

—from Blood of the Dragon Trees, by Nik Morton (p. 116)

So, besides the observation of little details going on around her—and the suspenseful hint for the reader that we’ve seen the man with the Neanderthal jaw before—there’s the compelling influence that Andrew is exerting on her.

How well do you need to know the place before using it as a setting?

Ideally, travel to the place. But even then additional back-up research is necessary. Of course you can’t hope to travel to every exotic place you write about. I’ve been to many of the places in my novels and short stories, but not all—and I must then concentrate on research.

Sadly, non-fiction reference books can quickly become out-of-date—bus colours might change, customs may once have been quaint only to be replaced by adopted globalised traits. (Yes, it has happened to me!)

Any piece of fiction set in the past requires research; yes, you can travel the battlefields, visit the ancient cities; but you can’t experience that time, only imagine it.

Official map of the territory of Dakota[https://www.flickr.com/photos/normanbleventhalmapcenter/14009763855/], by http://maps.bpl.org via Flickr (CC BY 2.0) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/]

Some places can’t be visited, only researched. Official map of the territory of Dakota, by http://maps.bpl.org via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Fiction requires a writer to be bold, to do research and then re-imagine the place, with its sights, smells and sounds. The bottom line is, it’s fiction, which means an approximation of the real world. If a critic blithely dismisses writers who make a few errors in their research because they haven’t travelled there, then that critic is misguided.

Which writers do you admire for the way they use location?

Some books could be set anywhere; location is not significant to the story. Others, the location is vital to the story. The old practitioners Desmond Bagley, Hammond Innes, Nevil Shute, and Alistair Maclean described the location their main characters found themselves in, and you believed every word. Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe novels thrust you into a period and a place that seems real while you’re reading. Donna Leon’s Italy is real.

A few of the writers Nik Morton admires for their depiction of place in their novels.

A few of the novelists Nik Morton admires for their skill with depicting location.

Thanks so much, Nik!

* * *

Readers, any questions for my first guest? Please leave them in the comments below.

And if you’d like to discover more about Nik, why not pay a visit to his author site; his blog, called Writealot (no exaggeration in his case); and the archives of Auguries, a science fiction, fantasy and horror magazine Nik edited from 1983 to 1994. You can also follow Nik on twitter at @nik_morton.

Until next month!

Lorraine Mace writes for children with the Vlad the Inhaler books. As Frances di Plino, she writes crime in the D.I. Paolo Storey series. She is a columnist for both of the UK’s top writing magazines, has founded international writing competitions and runs a writing critique service, mentoring authors on three continents.

STAY TUNED for the next fab post!

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Photo credits (top of page): The World Book (1920), by Eric Fischer via Flickr; “Writing? Yeah.” by Caleb Roenigk via Flickr (both CC BY 2.0).

BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: Beach bound? Check out summer reading recommendations from featured authors (2/2)

booklust-wanderlust-2015

Attention displaced bookworms! Our book review columnist, Beth Green, an American expat in Prague (she is also an Adult Third Culture Kid), empties the remainder of her treasure chest that she brought to us two days ago, stuffed with recommended reads to take you through the summer.

Hello again. As explained in Part One of this post, I reached out to some of my bookish friends as well as a few of the authors whose books I’ve recently reviewed to see what books they recommend taking on vacation. I asked them to tell me:

Summer Reading 2015

Photo credits: Amazon Kindle PDF, by goXunuReviews via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); beach chair and sandy feet via Pixabay.

Here are the rest of the recommendations I received, including a few from yours truly and ML Awanohara (Displaced Nation’s founding editor) at the end. Enjoy!

* * *

MARK ADAMS, best-selling travel writer and author of Meet Me In Atlantis (which we reviewed in May): My recommendations are a classic travelogue, a biography of an intrepid traveler, and an adventure novel.

The-Snow_Leopard_cover_300xThe Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen (Viking Press, 1978)
Shortly before he died, I had the honor of interviewing Matthiessen at his home on Long Island. I was surprised by how concerned he seemed, knowing that his death was rapidly approaching, that he would be remembered less as a novelist than as the author of The Snow Leopard. I went back to reread it for the first time in twenty years and was amazed by how good it was—a moving story about a man’s search for meaning through Zen Buddhism after the death of his young wife, intertwined flawlessly with a thrilling narrative about an incredible journey through the Himalayas. So fresh and evocative it could have been published yesterday.

Bruce-Chatwin_A-Biography_cover_300xBruce Chatwin: A Biography, by Nicholas Shakespeare (Anchor, 2001)
Chatwin, of course, is one of the great travel writers of all time; he practically reinvented the genre with books like In Patagonia and The Songlines. But as Shakespeare’s brilliant biography demonstrates, Chatwin’s greatest creation may have been the globetrotting persona that he carefully presented to the world. The descriptions—decodings might be a better term—of how Chatwin assembled his literary works will be absolutely riveting to anyone who has tried his or her hand at trying to pin down the essence of a place using only words.

State-of-Wonder_cover_300xState of Wonder, by Ann Patchett (HarperCollins, 2011)
I once heard Ann Patchett on the radio, talking about the job of a novelist. She described it as “creating a world.” No one creates worlds with quite the skill that Patchett does. Reading her descriptions of pharmaceutical research being conducted in the Amazon is like being dropped into the jungle—you can feel the sweat beading on your forehead and the buzz of malarial mosquitoes preparing to land on the back of your neck. And you know what? Patchett’s Bel Canto, which takes place in Lima, Peru, is an equally brilliant tale that performs the magic tricks that only great fiction can, allowing you to read minds and travel through time and space.


MARIANNE C. BOHR, Displaced Nationer and author of the soon-to-be-published Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries: My summer reads are usually of the meaty kind because as a teacher, I have more time in July and August to pay close attention and savor every word. As one who suffers wanderlust daily, my three choices all have to do with travel. They are very different books, but each grabs my heart in a different way and I could read them over and over, each time discovering something new.
Bohr Collage

The Drifters, by James A. Michener (Random House, 1971)
This book takes me back to my youth and the thirst for exotic adventure that goes along with being young.

Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone, by Mary Morris (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1998)
I wanted to head straight to Mexico when I read this heart-wrenching book and also felt like the author was a new friend when I finished.

An Italian Affair, by Laura Fraser (Vintage, 2001)
What a guilty pleasure immersing myself in this book of islands, romance, lust and longing is. I could read it again and again.


SHIREEN JILLA, adult TCK and former expat and author of The Art of Unpacking Your Life (which we reviewed in May) and Exiled (which we featured in 2011): I would pack three very different books:
Jilla Collage

Red Dust: A Path Through China, by Ma Jian (Vintage, 2002)
Dissident artist Ma Jian’s diary of his walk across China in the wake of his divorce and threatened arrest is utterly enlightening, moving, profound and playful. Walking is clearly an under-rated pastime.

Look at Me, by Jennifer Egan (Anchor, 2009)
A powerful, beautiful novel about the crazed nature of modern urban life, it elevates Egan to one of the greats of American literature.

Paris Stories, by Mavis Gallant (NYRB Classics, 2011)
A regular writer for the New Yorker, Gallant penned these short stories about expats and exiles in Europe particularly Paris. They are brilliantly laid bare. (Born in Montreal, Gallant moved to Paris when she was 28 determined to be a full-time writer. She lived there until her death in 2014.)


BETH GREEN, writer, expat, TCK and BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST columnist: Here are my three picks, one of which I’ve not read and two that I have:

The-Messenger-of-Athens_cover_300xThe Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi (Reagan Author Books, 2010)
Summer is the best time to really sink into a mystery series. I love taking a few titles from an established series and binge reading them on the beach or by the pool. Previously, I’ve done this with Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley novels, Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books and Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire mysteries. This year I’ll be spending some time on the beach in Greece, so I’ve got my eyes set on British writer Anne Zouroudi’s Greek Inspector mysteries, which depict ugly crimes based on the seven deadly sins in beautiful Mediterranean surroundings. The series now has seven books, of which Messenger is the first. (Born in England, Zouroudi worked in the UK and the USA before giving it all up to live on a Greek island. She married a Greek as well.)

swamplandia_coverSwamplandia! by Karen Russell (Vintage, 2011)
This darkly fascinating and somewhat magical story of a girl and her siblings abandoned in a run-down theme park in Florida fascinated me when I read it a few years ago. It’s both a chilling odyssey into a swampland netherworld and an exploration of subcultures of the kind rarely seen in American books. For me it had the right amount of tension to keep you turning pages and the right amount of whimsy to keep the potentially depressing material light enough for a summer read.

Daughter-of-Fortune_cover_300xDaughter of Fortune, by Isabel Allende, trans. by Margaret Sayers Peden (Harper, 2014)
Summer is a time for voyages—or at least reading about them! I can name a whole bagful of road trip books I’d happily re-read over summer, but for pure swashbuckling joy I have to recommend Isabel Allende’s historical cross-cultural adventure Daughter of Fortune. An upper-class girl raised in an English enclave in Chile in the 1800s stows away to follow her lover to the gold fields of California. I haven’t read the sequel, Portrait in Sepia, yet, but I’m guessing it’s also worth adding to that beach bag. (Born in Peru and raised in Chile, Allende lives in California.)


ML AWANOHARA, former expat and Displaced Nation founding editor: We are constantly reporting on new displaced reads in the Displaced Dispatch, which comes out once a week. Just to give you a taste of the kinds of things we feature, here is a selection. As you can see, it comprises a work of historical nonfiction that reads like a novel, a memoir with elements of Nordic myth, and a novel by a once-displaced poet, all with beach-bag potential.

Daughters_of_the_Samurai_cover_300xDaughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back, by Janice P. Nimura (W.W. Norton, May 2015)
Call it the early Japanese version of our gap year or junior year abroad. The story begins in 1871, after Commodore Perry’s ships opened Japan to the outside world, when five young women were sent to the United States on a mission to learn Western ways and help nurture a new generation of enlightened Japanese leaders. Three of them stayed for ten years and returned to Japan determined to revolutionize women’s education. Several critics have said the book reads like a modern fairy tale. But if the women faced many hurdles in the course of their unusual journey, the tale doesn’t necessarily end happily ever after. “I cannot tell you how I feel,” one of them remarked upon her return to her native land, “but I should like to give one good scream.” Janice Nimura, an American who is married to a Japanese, has spent time living in Japan.

Passage-of-the-stork_cover_300xPassage of the Stork: One Woman’s Journey to Self-Realization and Acceptance, by Madeleine Lenagh (Springtime Books, March 2015)
Madeleine Lenagh is American but spent her first five years as an expat child in Europe, after which she grew up in Connecticut. Rebelling against her mother’s interference in her love life, she set out to travel across Europe alone. Arriving in the Netherlands broke, she took a job as an au pair—and the rest is history. She has now been living in the land of cheese and tulips for over four decades and speaks fluent Dutch. But that’s her travel history. Her own personal history remained repressed until she wrote this memoir. One of the things that interests me about it is that Lenagh chose to weave together the narrative using Nordic mythology. (As long-term followers of the Displaced Nation will know, we are fond of doing the same with the Alice in Wonderland story.) Passage of the Stork is a publication of Springtime Books, the new fledgling of Summertime Publishing, which specializes in books by expats and for expats and is the brainchild of global nomad Jo Parfitt.

hausfrau_coverHausfrau, by Jill Alexander Essbaum (Random House, March 2015)
This novel by Texas-born American poet Jill Alexander Essbaum, her first, depicts an American woman in a cross-cultural marriage to a Swiss banker. They are living with their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zürich. In the spirit of Essbaum’s erotic poetry, Anna (yes, the name is a nod to Tolstoy’s heroine) engages in a series of messy affairs. Now, is this book the expat answer to Fifty Shades? Actually, the answer to that question interests me less than the fact that Essbaum herself was once a hausfrau in Dietlikon, near Zürich, where she moved with her first husband, an American interested in studying Jungian psychoanalysis. Like Anna, she experienced intense loneliness and isolation—albeit no torrid affairs. Who would have guessed?

* * *

Thank you so much for your recommendations, ML and everyone else! Readers, it’s your turn now. What books are you looking forward to popping in the book bag this summer? And, for our friends in the Southern Hemisphere, what books are getting you through the winter?

Also, can I echo ML’s contribution by urging you to sign up for the DISPLACED DISPATCH, which has at least one Recommended Read every week. And please feel welcome to make recommendations for books to be featured in the Dispatch, and in this column, by contacting ML at ML@thedisplacednation.com.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

Beth Green is an American writer living in Prague, Czech Republic. She grew up on a sailboat and, though now a landlubber, continues to lead a peripatetic life, having lived in Asia as well as Europe. Her personal Web site is Beth Green Writes. She has also launched the site Everyday Travel Stories. To keep in touch with her in between columns, try following her on Facebook and Twitter. She’s a social media nut!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to subscribe to The Displaced Dispatch, a weekly round up of posts from The Displaced Nation and much, much more. Sign up for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: Beach bound? Check out summer reading recommendations from featured authors (1/2)

booklust-wanderlust-2015

Attention displaced bookworms! Our book review columnist, Beth Green, an American expat in Prague (she is also an Adult Third Culture Kid), has arrived with a treasure chest full of recommended reads to take you through the summer. NOTE: Check out Part Two here.

Hello again, Displaced Nationers!

Summer is upon us—well, for readers in the northern hemisphere, that is! And for those in the United States, Fourth of July weekend is coming shortly. Even if you’re not beach bound, perhaps you are at least picturing yourself sitting in a beach chair feeling the sand through your toes, the waves pounding towards you, the fresh, bracing sea air filling your lungs…

And what’s that you have in your hand—a book or a Kindle?

I find the sound of the waves and the ocean breeze the perfect conditions for escaping into other worlds that writers conjure up for us in their books. This summer, I’ve already been to a few local parks with my e-reader, and I’ll soon be topping it up with some of the books from our best-of-2014 list for an overseas trip. But I’m always on the look-out for fresh new material, and as there are miles to go before I can flop down on the beach of my dreams, I fear I’ll run out of prime reading matter by then. With this eventuality in mind, I decided to reach out to a few of the authors whose books I’ve recently read or reviewed, along with a few of my bookish friends, to see what books they recommend taking on vacation. I asked them to tell me:

Summer Reading 2015

Photo credits: Amazon Kindle PDF, by goXunuReviews via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); beach chair and sandy feet via Pixabay.

They responded with recommendations that seem tailor made for an audience of international creatives. Enjoy! Part 2 will be posted on Friday.

* * *

ALLI SINCLAIR, world traveler, Australian romance author and former co-blogger at Novel Adventurers: I recommend that you bring one travel book, one classic, and one novel. The following make a good combination:

ChasingtheMonsoon_cover_x300Chasing the Monsoon: A Modern Pilgrimage Through India, by Alexander Frater (Henry Holt & Co, May 1992)
There are some books that touch something in your soul that stays with you forever. For me, Chasing the Monsoon falls into that category. Originally published in the early nineties (and thankfully, still available!), Alexander Frater follows the monsoonal rains from the Kerala backwaters in southern India to Cherrapunji, in northern India—known as the wettest place on earth. Frater connects beautifully with the people he meets and he writes for all senses, giving the reader a full immersion into one of the most captivating countries on Earth.

The Ascent of Rum Doodle_cover_x300The Ascent of Rum Doodle, by W.E. Bowman (Vintage Classics, 2010)
Originally published in 1956 but still in print, this book is one of the most celebrated mountaineering stories of all time. The 1950s saw some of the world’s highest mountains successfully climbed (including Everest), and this book is a parody of mountaineering at it’s finest…er, worst. There’s a route finder who is constantly lost, a diplomat who continually argues, and a doctor who is always ill. Rum Doodle will most definitely appeal to fans of Bill Bryson, who wrote the introduction to the book’s international edition (published in 2010).

HellofromtheGillespies_cover_x300Hello From The Gillespies, by Monica McInerney (Penguin, 2014)
I’m a long time fan of Monica McInerney’s books, maybe because Monica is a “displaced” person: having grown up in Australia, she has split her time between Australia and Ireland for the past 20 years. This book is mostly set in outback Australia but with ties to England. Angela Gillespie, a mother of four adult children, has sent out a regular Christmas letter to friends and family for thirty years. The notes are always cheery and full of good news but this year, her note details the unsettling truth of how her family has fallen apart. If you enjoy family sagas with humour and heart, you can’t go wrong with this book. (True, some people recommend it for the holidays, but it’s summer in Australia at Christmas time, remember?)


BRITTANI SONNENBERG, adult TCK, current expat and author of Home Leave (which we reviewed in November): I would pack the following books (assuming I’d be packing it for someone else, who hadn’t read them yet).
Sonnenberg_collage

The Dog, by Joseph O’Neill (Vintage, September 2014)
It’s a devilish, compelling take on cosmopolitan and expat life by the TCK author of Netherland. (Joseph O’Neill was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1964 and grew up in Mozambique, South Africa, Iran, Turkey, and Holland. He now lives in New York City.)

Ghana Must Go, by Taiye Selasi (Penguin, 2014)
This is an intimate examination of a splintered family, set in Accra, Lagos, London, and New York.

All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews (McSweeney’s, 2014)
One of the saddest and funniest books I’ve ever read; an honest, moving portrayal of sisters and mental illness.


CHRISTINE KLING, author of travel- and sailing-related thrillers: I’ve just finished up the edits on a the third novel in my Shipwreck Adventure series, and I’m looking forward to taking a bit of time off from writing and working at reading my way through some of the long list of books I’ve been wanting to read. The three books I’d take in my beach bag include two novels and a combination cookbook/memoir/travelogue.

The-Janissary-Tree_cover_x300The Janissary Tree, by Jason Goodwin (Sarah Crichton Book, 2006)
My husband and I are contemplating building a new boat in Turkey, and after our recent visit, I’ve fallen in love with the country. Jason Goodwin has written travel books, histories, and thrillers, and I’ve been waiting for the chance to begin reading his work. The Janissary Tree, winner of the 2007 Edgar Award for Best Novel, is the first in what is now his five-book series set in in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire’s Istanbul. The series features a very unique protagonist Yashim Togalu, a eunuch guardian. In this book, Yashim is called upon to investigate a series of crimes including murder and theft of jewels.

Marina_cover_x300Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2014)
The first book I read by this author was The Shadow of the Wind, which I often cite as one of my favorite books of all time. I knew Zafón had written a young adult novel that was published in 1999 and became a “cult classic” in Spanish, and since I enjoy good YA novels like the Harry Potter series and the Hunger Games, I was happy to see this book finally released in English in 2014. Marina is set in Barcelona around 1980 at the end of Franco’s regime. This gothic tale is touted as containing elements of mystery, romance and horror as a young boarding school boy meets the exotic, dark Marina. Together they embark on a series of adventures where they meet the kind of grotesque Barcelona characters Zafón does so well.

Sea-Fare_cover_x300Sea Fare: A Chef’s Journey Across the Ocean, by Victoria Allman (Norlightspress Com, 2013)
Years ago I worked as a chef on our owner-operated charter sailboat, and I know what it is like to have to create meals for demanding guests. Victoria Allman is in an entirely different category as she trained as a chef and has worked your years on multi-million dollar yachts. In Sea Fare, Allman has combined the tales from her beginning as a green Canadian chef looking for a job in the charter yacht industry to the joys of shopping in exotic markets from Italy to Vietnam. From the descriptions of her experiences on board the yacht, dealing with crew problems and falling in love with the captain, the stories are grand, but the recipes and the outstanding color photos of the food, will probably cut my trip to the beach short as I head home to try some new dish.


HEIDI NOROOZY, adult TCK, translator and author of multicultural fiction: I just returned from a research trip to Germany, and my choices seem to reflect that! (I went there because I’m writing a novel about an East German detective, Johannes Christian Alexander Freiherr von Maibeck—I know, it’s a bit of a mouthful—I created for a short story I once wrote. The setting is Leipzig, German Democratic Republic, 1981.)

The-Leipzic-Affair_cover_x300The Leipzig Affair, by Fiona Rintoul (Aurora Metro Press, May 2015)
Set in 1985, this novel tells the story of a Scottish student at Leipzig University who falls in love with an East German girl and stumbles into a world of shifting half-truths. Well written and fast paced, the story captures the atmosphere of its setting very well, a world where nothing is ever quite what it seems. As one reviewer writes: “The book is expertly written and seems to me to be a very comprehensive picture of what it was like to live in the East German state.” (Rintoul, a Scot who lives in Glasgow, gathered her material for the book by visiting East Germany and meeting a woman who had been imprisoned. She also looking at extracts of STASI files on people she met.)

Zoo-Station_cover_x300Zoo Station: Adventures in East and West Berlin, by Ian Walker (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988)
British journalist Ian Walker, who once covered Central America for the Observer (and never managed to write his promised volume on Nicaragua), produced this travelogue on the two Berlins back in 1988. It depicts bohemian life in the once-divided city, where everyone seemed to be from somewhere else: West Berlin was full of Brits, Asians, Danes, Turks and East German exiles; East Berlin, of Anglo-Austrian expats. Walker’s descriptive narrative and reflections on the broader social issues of the day are what make this book stand out. As one of Amazon reviewer puts it:

Having read “Zoo Station”, I was able to understand why some people regarded East Germany as a pinnacle of socialist achievement, much more preferable to its capitalist twin in the West. It is good travel writing, and is both politically and culturally astute.

The-One-That-Got_Away_cover_300xThe One That Got Away, by Simon Wood (Thomas & Mercer, 2015)
Okay, this one isn’t about Germany, and I haven’t read it yet—but it’s at the top of my summer book bag. Tag line: “She escaped with her life, but the killer’s obsessed with the one that got away.” The story of two grad students in California who decide to take a road trip to to Las Vegas, this suspense novel deals with survivor’s guilt and is bound to be a thrilling ride. (Originally from England, Simon Wood lives in California with his wife.)

* * *

Readers, that’s it for this round; we’ll have another round on Friday (update: check it out here). Meanwhile, have you read any of the above and/or do you have summer reading recommendations to add? Please leave in the comments!

And if you need more frequent fixes, I urge you to sign up for the DISPLACED DISPATCH, which has at least one Recommended Read every week.

STAY TUNED for PART 2 of this post on July 3rd!

Beth Green is an American writer living in Prague, Czech Republic. She grew up on a sailboat and, though now a landlubber, continues to lead a peripatetic life, having lived in Asia as well as Europe. Her personal Web site is Beth Green Writes. She has also launched the site Everyday Travel Stories. To keep in touch with her in between columns, try following her on Facebook and Twitter. She’s a social media nut!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to subscribe to The Displaced Dispatch, a weekly round up of posts from The Displaced Nation and much, much more. Sign up for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: Three expat writers walk into a bar . . . and are giving away their books (limited time only!)

American expat in Hong Kong Shannon Young quit her day job last year to become a full-time writer. Here’s the latest entry in her expat writer’s diary.
Diary of an Expat Writer
Dear Displaced Diary,

As you can see from the facetious title of this month’s diary entry, this will not be the usual report on the ups and downs of becoming a full-time expat writer in Hong Kong. I’m shifting gears a bit to tell you about a couple of other writers who share my experience of leaving behind a home in the United States and making a new home in Asia.

In a previous diary entry (it was actually written by my alter ego, Jordan Rivet), I told you about some of my writing friends here in Hong Kong. All of us share a love of writing in English. And I think we all thrive on living in this vibrant international city, which feeds our creativity in all kinds of ways.

At the same time, I’ve been able to connect online (and sometimes in person) with quite a few other expat writers in the region—through my personal blog, social media, and even email. And let’s not forget you, Displaced Diary! You, too, have given me some new connections.

Today I’d like to tell you about two of these friends: Leza Lowitz and Tracy Slater.

Yes, Leza, Tracy and I are the three expat writers who’ve walked into the bar… We are all Americans but come from different backgrounds, and we share the experience of being outsiders in the places where we live. That must be why we enjoy drinking together—and helping each other.

The reason we’ve walked in the bar?

This summer all of us are celebrating the release of our memoirs talking about how we found love, life, and a home abroad.

Here are the stories in question:

TheGoodShufu_coverThe Good Shufu: Finding Love, Self, & Home on the Far Side of the World, by Tracy Slater (Putnam/Penguin, June 30, 2015)
The Good Shufu is a true story of multicultural love, marriage, and mixups. When Tracy Slater, a highly independent American academic, falls head-over-heels in love with the least likely person in the world—a traditional Japanese salaryman who barely speaks English—she must choose between the existence she’d meticulously planned in the US and life as an illiterate housewife in Osaka. Rather than an ordinary travel memoir, this is a book about building a whole life in a language you don’t speak and a land you can barely navigate, and yet somehow finding a truer sense of home and meaning than ever before. A Summer ’15 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection (as reported in the Displaced Dispatch), The Good Shufu is a celebration of the life least expected: messy, overwhelming, and deeply enriching in its complications.

Fire-Dragons_cover Year of Fire Dragons: An American Woman’s Story of Coming of Age in Hong Kong, by Shannon Young (Blacksmith Books, June 15, 2015)
In 2010, bookish 22-year-old Shannon follows her Eurasian boyfriend to Hong Kong, eager to forge a new love story in his hometown. She thinks their long-distance romance is over, but a month later his company sends him to London. Shannon embarks on a wide-eyed newcomer’s journey through Hong Kong—alone. She teaches in a local school as the only foreigner, explores Asia with other young expats, and discovers a family history of her own in Hong Kong. The city enchants her, forcing her to question her plans. Soon, she must make a choice between her new life and the love that first brought her to Asia. Susan Blumberg-Kason, author of Good Chinese Wife, has called Year of Fire Dragons “a riveting coming-of-age story” and “a testament to the distance people will travel for love.”

HereCometheSun_coverHere Comes the Sun: A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras , by Leza Lowitz (Stonebridge Press, June 2015)
At 30, Californian Leza Lowitz is single and traveling the world, which suits her just fine. Coming of age in Berkeley during the feminist revolution of the 1970s, she learned that marriage and family could wait. Or could they? When Leza moves to Japan and falls in love with a Japanese man, her heart opens in ways she never thought possible. But she’s still an outsider, and home is far away. Rather than struggle to fit in, she opens a yoga studio and makes a home for others. Then, at 44, Leza and her Japanese husband seek to adopt—in a country where bloodlines are paramount and family ties are almost feudal in their cultural importance. She travels to India to work on herself and back to California to deal with her past. Something is still not complete until she learns that when you give a little love to a child, you get the whole world in return. The author’s deep connection to yoga shows her that infertile does not mean inconceivable. By adapting and adopting, she transcends her struggles and embraces the joys of motherhood. “Here Comes the Sun proves that love is not bound by blood. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in that which connects us, holds us together, and makes us family.”—MC Yogi

The bartender looks up and says . . .is this a joke?

Three expat writers— Leza, Tracy and Shannon—walk into the bar…and the bartender wonders what they, and their books, could possible have in common.

True, I tell him, Tracy, Leza and I are rather different. Tracy and Leza are both from liberal Jewish families and are members of Generation X; I’m a Millennial from a large homeschooling family. Leza is from Berkeley; Tracy is from Boston; I’m from Phoenix. Leza writes about yoga; Tracy writes about therapy; I write about fencing. Tracy and Leza live in Japan; I live in Hong Kong. Tracy and Leza each pursued motherhood late in life; I’m a few years away from being ready for children.

Yet the similarities in our life choices and challenges are where our real connections lie. All three of us chose love over the comfort of our home countries. We struggle every day with living far from our families and making our time with them really count, and occasionally experience the joy of connecting unexpectedly with people in our new homes, from in-laws to coworkers to students. We have tried, and keep trying, to make sense of our lives in light of our rather unusual surroundings.

In short we three are displaced; nevertheless we are determined to make the most of the situation and to appreciate that it has fed our creative lives as writers. We have turned ourselves into what the Displaced Nation calls international creatives.

I have read Leza and Tracy’s books and can say without hesitation that if you like Year of Fire Dragons, you will also enjoy The Good Shufu and Here Comes the Sun. Each is a memoir that features a romantic relationship with a man from Asia that has in some way drawn us into our expatriate lives. Each book explores the process of building a new home and life in a new country with someone we love. More importantly, each story is about falling in love with a new place and accepting our new selves.

And now for the fun part, Dear Diary!

3ExpatMemoirsBanner
Click here to enter in the Rafflecopter giveaway.

Three expat writers— Leza, Tracy and I—walk into the bar and start toasting each other, but we’re also carrying a bag with three three books, two paperbacks and one hardback, to give away.

Displaced Nationers who are fans of this column, we’d like you to participate!! Simply click on the above link, and enter your email address in the box. That will count for one entry. You can also tweet and/or comment on this post for additional entries (up to 4). The deadline for entries is July 7; we’ll email the winner on July 8.

By doing this giveaway, we hope to build an even bigger community of people with similar experiences, who can help each other in some of the tough moments of expat and writing life. Finding a community when moving to a new country is vital, and finding a community of like-minded readers and writers is just as important.

It’s also great, as a writer, to feel on occasion that you don’t have to go it alone when it comes to promoting your works, even if you’re an expat living on the other side of the world.

On that note, let’s all raise our glasses.

Cheers!

Gān bēi!

Kanpai!

Shannon Young
AKA Jordan Rivet
www.shannonyoungwriter.com
JordanRivet.com

* * *

Readers, it’s fascinating to discover that three such different American women have all connected overseas and have memoirs coming out at the same time. I think we should offer a toast to them!!

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation and much, much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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GLOBAL FOOD GOSSIP: When facing repatriation after 18 years of the expat life, bring on the comfort food!

Serial expat (and soon to be repat!) Joanna Masters-Maggs is back with some juicy global food gossip to share.
Global Food Gossip 062315
“Oh, I see, it’s that time again, is it?” My husband entered the kitchen and sniffed the air. “It’s smells like Christmas, but it’s 30 degrees outside. “You’ll be wanting tea with that gingerbread?” Sighing he reached for the kettle.

Now, I’m not saying that expat life calls for comfort food more than any other lifestyle, but it does have it’s own rhythm of needs. For me, the main calls for comfort come during the entry and exit period of a new location.

I am now facing moving on from France—and frankly, even my beloved madeleine is not up to the job.

I need the kind of comfort food that warms up the winter, as neither the glorious weather nor the proximity of pools and beaches here in Provence can distract me this time.

Bikini be damned, my next move will be a return to England.

It is hard to imagine that repatriation can be more alarming than a move from one foreign country to another. Yet, after 18 years abroad and seven intercontinental moves, I am discovering that it is.

Our house in England is our holiday home, and we have few of the friends and none of the social networks we would have built had we stayed put. All the friends we have made at various offices, playgroups, schools, dog training groups and sundry activities are scattered across several continents. We will be in the interesting position of not belonging, while giving every outward appearance of doing so and no possibility of joining a repat support group (do such things even exist?).

You understand why I am reaching for the gingerbread now?

gingerbread-repatriation

Gingerbread by roxymjones via Pixabay.

The act of making gingerbread is a comfort in itself. Just watching the butter, syrup and sugar melt together and swirl in the pan, gives one time to relax and think.

Mm…as I watch the ingredients swirl, I’m thinking about cultural comfort foods of locations past.

Morning sickness in New Orleans calls for Morning Call

For anyone into comfort eating, my former home of New Orleans is a dangerous place. There are just too many temptations along the path of righteous eating, beginning with crawfish stew, jambalaya, seafood gumbo…

But it was beignets with coffee from Café du Monde or Morning Call (the less touristy choice, favored by locals) that became my preferred source of solace.

"City Park 12-12-12 Morning Call Coffee Beignets Dunk," by Infrogmation of New Orleans (CC BY 2.0).

“City Park 12-12-12 Morning Call Coffee Beignets Dunk,” by Infrogmation of New Orleans via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Of course life in New Orleans is pretty fabulous, especially when you are lucky enough to live in the French Quarter and see the life that exists behind the touristy façade. But comfort requirements are still there. Coffee and beignets are a fabulous hangover buster for one thing and for another they sure beat morning sickness into retreat while providing a good dose of the additional calcium an expectant mum needs. For me, the beignet and café au lait was the multi-tasking workhorse of comfort foods.

When it came time to leave the Big Easy, the beignet soothed my sadness, and I was careful to ensure I had a good recipe (see end of post) should it be needed to help with my adjustment to the next location: Den Haag.

The only problem, of course, with making your own beignets is the terror one feels when cooking with large quantities of hot fat—so it was with relief that I quickly discovered a more convenient way to ease my emotional entry into The Hague.

A cold arrival in Holland calls for oliebollen

We arrived in the middle of a particularly cold Christmas season. You can only imagine my delight at catching my first whiff of oliebollen and appelflappen, which fills the air that time of year.

Oliebollen is a Dutch style of doughnut that is traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve, and appelflappen are a kind of apple beignet—YES!—served with sugar and cinnamon and sold from little stands throughout the Christmas season.

What a happy Christmas that turned out to be. What joy to have a little bag of those to warm both your chilly fingers and the depths of your heart.

How can you not love living in such a place?

Dumpy in Brazil calls for Disk Cook

And then there was Brazil. Now Brazil provided a different sort of comfort food to get me through the hard times. Being pregnant and feeling dumpy in a land full of girls from Ipanema in tiny bikinis isn’t exactly fun—but then, suffering from the heat, I cut off all my hair. Short.

You don’t do that in Brazil. It’s akin to cutting off your femininity. It’s ugly.

Happily unaware of this and feeling as though I was channeling mid 1990s Meg Ryan, I returned home from the hairdresser. My housekeeper took one look of me and clapped her hands loudly to her cheeks with a look of pure horror. After a slight pause and in an unnaturally high voice, she said “Madame looks beautiful”—before making her excuses and disappearing for half an hour.

The next few days were a bit unsettling as Maria avoided eye contact. It wasn’t that I minded her thinking my hair was ugly, more that I was now aware of how little I understood the culture. How many other things was I getting wrong?

As insecure as it makes me sound, I decided not to compound one aesthetic error with that of gaining weight, too. I avoided thoughts of my beignet recipe and my go-to home remedy of buttered toast. I also steered clear of the local padarias (bakeries). Instead I filled up on fruit.

But the thing is, comfort food is the kind of thing that finds you and it doesn’t have to come in carbohydrate form. You just need to be open to it: it being a well-rounded flavor that puts your taste buds at ease.

The comfort food of Brazil found me rather quickly. Disc Cook is a service which will collect food from a huge list of restaurants and deliver to your house. A new restaurant opened in our area and we decided to try it out. Imagine my surprise when the healthy sounding chicken liver and spinach dish turned out to be my next comfort food.

Disk Cook screenshot.

Disk Cook screenshot, taken 24 June 2015.

No, hear me out. Full-flavoured meat that melted in the mouth, cooked with balsamic vinegar and pine nuts. Yes, I know it sounds odd, but it was so richly satisfying, I couldn’t get enough of it. I even took comfort in the cold leftovers of that dish, straight from the fridge.

In honesty, however, comforting as it was, it can never qualify as true comfort food. Firstly, it comes from a good restaurant and true comfort food should not be exclusive. Secondly, I was never able to find or make up that recipe for myself. If it is too hard to lay your hands on, it isn’t comfort food. Comfort food cannot be a cause of any stress—other than the weekly weigh-in, of course.

Enough of my unabashed wallowing, and now for my beignet recipe

As I write, I am beginning to feel a little nostalgic and rather sad again. The problem with being in a constant state of serial expatness is that each time you leave one place, you remember the pain of leaving the last. It is a sort of travellers’ emotional add-on game. Sometimes I have to walk away from it. That is true now.

Perhaps next time I can tell you how I found solace from homesickness and last-location-sickness in the foods of Malaysia, Venezuela and Saudi.

(If you have had enough of this unabashed wallowing, I apologise—but would politely point out that at least I haven’t descended to mentioning visits to certain popular fast food chains, which I have no doubt we perpetual expats have all indulged in at least once or twice. For that we must be grateful.)

New Orleans-style Beignets, adapted from The Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook
NOTE: I made the conversions to grams years ago. Metric rocks!

Ingredients:
1 package dried yeast
3 tablespoons warm water (hand hot)
180 ml milk
150g sugar
28g shortening (or lard—which I prefer)
1 tsp salt
375g all-purpose flour
1 large egg
Vegetable oil
Powdered sugar

Method
Combine the yeast and water and leave to stand for five minutes.

Combine the milk with the sugar, shortening and salt in a saucepan over a low heat until the fat melts. Remove from the heat and leave to cool until again hand hot. Very hot liquid will kill the yeast and so it will not rise. If your hand can tolerate the heat, so too can the yeast.

Combine yeast mixture, liquid mixture, two cups of the flour and the egg in a large mixing bowl. Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer for two minutes. Gradually stir in as much of the remaining flour as you need to make a soft dough.

Put dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Place in a buttered bowl, cover and leave to rise in a warm place for one hour until doubled in size.

Punch dough back, turn onto a floured surface and roll out into a 30 x 25cms rectangle. Cut into two-inch squares and place them onto a lightly floured surface where they can be covered and left to rise until double in size (about 45 minutes).

Pour oil into a pan to a depth of about 3 or 4” and heat to 375° F (190 °C). Fry the beignets four at a time until golden. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve warm. YUM.

* * *

Readers, we invite you to continue the food gossip! What new comfort foods have you added to your list on your moves around the globe? And do you have any words of comfort for Joanna on her imminent repatriation? Be sure to let us know in the comments!

Joanna Masters-Maggs was displaced from her native England 17 years ago, and has since attempted to re-place herself in the USA, Holland, Brazil, Malaysia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and now France. She describes herself as a “global food gossip”, saying: “I’ve always enjoyed cooking and trying out new recipes. Overseas, I am curious as to what people buy and from where. What is in the baskets of my fellow shoppers? What do they eat when they go home at night?”

STAY TUNED for the next fab post!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation—and much, much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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