The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

WORLD OF WORDS: How a mysterious passion for learning French has shaped the life of writer Marianne Bohr

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 French words?

New columnist Marianne Bohr, whose first book, Gap Year Girl, is about to come out with She Writes Press, is here with her second post attesting to how a passion for learning languages can engender a passion for travel.

I decided long ago that I was born in the wrong country. There must have been some mistake. But then again, if I’d been born in l’Hexagone, my passion for all things French wouldn’t exist. I’d have been raised with the language’s romantic euphony, and the fluid succession of words would be part of my everyday world. Some other tongue and faraway culture would have caught my fancy—so perhaps, just perhaps, it’s fortuitous my birthplace was Fort Wayne, Indiana, and not Paris.

Passions are essential to a happy life. When we care about something, it shrinks the world to a human scale, breaking it into wieldy pieces to love and nurture. My passion for French shapes my world, yet why I love this lyrical language so dearly is an essential mystery I’ll never fully understand.

In my first post I spoke about the decision my husband, Joe, and I made to do a senior year abroad at age 55. For the final six weeks of our “gap year” traveling through Europe, we settled into Aix-en-Provence, a stylish, sun-kissed university town in the south of France. We delighted in the daily outdoor markets and spent hours in cafes along the Cours Mirabeau, sipping rosé wine and listening to the mellifluous French chatter around us.

Photo credit: Les Deux Garçons, by tpholland via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

I signed up for daily French conversation classes, hoping to further exercise my sometimes-lazy American jaw in preparation for the new career that awaits me back in the States. Over thirty years in book publishing is behind me and armed with the degree I completed before we left for our gap year, I’m ready to embrace being a French teacher, full throttle.

First day of school

I’ve always loved being a student of French, no matter my age, but on the first day of my class at IS Aix-en-Provence (a language institute that specializes in teaching French to adults), I’m predictably nervous, as I’ve been on day one of every school year of my life. I lay out my clothes the night before and imagine first days of school gone by: my freshly ironed plaid uniform, crisp white blouse, just-purchased navy knee socks with tags still attached, and newly polished oxfords. I pack a snack, just as I did in grammar school, and I’m ready to go.

My giddy younger self emerges the moment I cross the classroom threshold, polished floorboards creaking, where I am once again a wide-eyed schoolgirl eagerly poised over a blank composition book, pencil sharpened and my ardor for the subject on my sleeve.

My class of ten includes students from Australia, Finland, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden, none of us a youngster and all on an educational vacation in summertime Aix. I introduce myself and stumble on the choice of tense. Do I use the present or the future tense of “to be”? Do I affirm I am a French teacher, or do I demur and say I’ll soon be a French teacher? I opt for the former, Je suis prof de français. It bolsters my confidence with a frisson of pride.

My prof is Céline—gorgeous, funny, and particularly warm. I so wish I could be like her—une jolie française who speaks lovely French. As I walk home from class, it hits me, as it has so often before: yes, I am a newly minted French teacher, but no matter how I try, no matter how I practice, no matter how fiercely I study, I’ll never be French. I’ll never be française. I’ll never sound like Céline. I’ll forever be on the outside looking in, my face and palms pressed against the linguistic glass. I plunge into a microflash of depression. But I proceed across town, under soaring sycamores, content to have a passion I can call my very own.

The French and their apocopes

The French often truncate words by dropping the final syllables and adding an “o.” Apéro, McDo, and resto (aperitif, McDonald’s, and restaurant) have long been staples of my French vocabulary, but thanks to my classes, I add abbreviations to my repertoire:

  • accro hooked on
  • les actus (the news),
  • un ado (an adolescent),
  • bio (organic),
  • un dico (a dictionary),
  • perso (personal), and,
  • (my favorite) Sarko (Nicolas Sarkozy).
Shortened French words

A few examples of the Gallic fondness for apocopes. Photo credits: Apéro au coin du feu, by Sébastien Bertrand via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); English-language dictionary via Pixabay; _EPP Summit, by European People’s Party via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Each week in class, we prepare presentations about les actus, and I do one on social media. Twitter and blogger have now entered the daily lexicon as regular “-er” verbs. We learn the quirky French term for “walkie-talkie” (talkie-walkie), that the expression vachement bien (amazingly good), which was very popular thirty years ago, is much less in vogue nowadays, and that it is très chic to say super (pronounced “sue pair”—accent on the “sue”), especially if you’re a woman.

The café was super-bon; your dress is super-chic; he looks super. I imagine the French language police, the Académie Française, must be super-fâché (very angry) about all the new Franglais.

Why won’t anyone speak French with me?

Indeed, much has changed in France over the past 35 years. There’s a new generation with kinder attitudes, more customer-service orientation, and lots of English spoken, so unlike the France of days gone by. Everyone wants to speak English, but I want to speak French. I’m bolstered by Joe, who always encourages, “Make them speak French, babe,” so we have uneven, lopsided exchanges:

“Good evening, madame.”

“Bonsoir, monsieur.”

“Would you like an aperitif?”

“Oui, je prends un kir, s’il vous plaît.”

“Very good. And you, sir?”

“Un kir aussi, merci.”

It’s initially disconcerting, but they eventually get the point and give us what we want. They speak to us in French! We really do appreciate the attempt to be accommodating and their eagerness to practice our language. If only we Americans would exhibit the same passion for learning new tongues.

* * *

Thank you, Marianne! How about the rest of you out there? Do you have a passion for a foreign language and if so, what kind of lengths have you gone to in its pursuit? 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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GLOBAL FOOD GOSSIP: To ease the stress of yet another international move, tea all round and some jammie biscuits?

Global Food Gossip 062315
Serial expat (and soon to be repat!) Joanna Masters-Maggs is back with some tasty global food gossip to share.

As I write this, we are in the middle of packing for our eighth international move.

By the way, I don’t count moves within countries as an actual move. Indeed, when people complain about having to move from one house to another, I have an unpleasant tendency to judge them for being just a little, well, weak.

Call me strange, but I have almost come to enjoy the stress because I know how deeply the memories will be imprinted as a result.

I especially relish the sweaty dirtiness of a move in a hot climate. You look dreadful and just don’t care. The joy of the dirt sloughing off you in the shower at the end of the day, is unspeakably satisfying. As they say, you never appreciate water until you have experienced thirst.

Memories set to the soundtrack of masking tape being torn from the roll and objects being wrapped in rustling paper—I have a few, including:

  • Watching the Malaysian movers slip on and off their shoes as the moved in and out of our house, no matter how heavy their load.
  • Spying the Brazilian workers taking a siesta under the removal van.
  • Above all, enjoying the sight of my children playing for days with empty boxes.

Tea, all round?

Tea all round

Photo credits: (clockwise from top left) “We’re Moving!” by David Goehring via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Moving Day, by Cambodia4kids.org via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Allied Movers, allied Moving Truck, by Mike Mozart via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); (overlay) Tea time, by Daniela Vladimirova via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

In England it is customary to offer tea to anyone who comes to work around your house. It politely defines their status as providers of services rather than servants.

I have come to associate removal men with strong, sweetened tea and a biscuit to go with it. No move has ever been complete without these accompaniments—and my biscuit of choice under the circumstances is the Jammie Dodger.

A Jammie Dodger comprises two vanilla biscuits sandwiched together with a red jam and possibly buttercream, too. The upper biscuit boasts a little cut out to reveal a little filling—what a tease!

Jammie Dodgers are freely available in English supermarkets. The store-bought version used to do the trick, but I am afraid I have, like an addict, come to demand something more refined as my drug of choice.

No dodging the Jammie Dodger

Years ago, while living in Virginia as a student, I started to make my own Jammie Dodgers, craving as I did a taste of home. Come on, I had to tolerate Lipton Yellow Label tea, which lacks the body I demand. If I couldn’t magic up a suitable English blend, at least there was something I could do about the biscuit situation.

Jammie Dan[https://www.flickr.com/photos/lacuna007/3399511720/], by Andrea Black via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/]

Jammie Dan, by Andrea Black via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

I hit on a good combination of a shortbread style biscuit and a good-quality jam. Imagine my surprise on discovering these were so much better than the factory version—so much so that I have never again willingly returned to the supermarket to buy them. I was young, remember. I still am. As the years passed I have tweaked that recipe until nothing surpasses it.

Arriving in France I was astonished discover that there was a chain of French bakeries that came very close to my recipe. What a disaster for my thighs! They could no longer look forward to being given a respite on the days when I don’t have time to bake.

Even the French can’t resist!

Known as sablé (literally, sand) for their sandy, crumbly texture, these confiture-filled delights are uncharacteristically large for a French pâtisserie. I relish the idea that even the French find them difficult to resist despite being a nation of “Oui, mais only one”.

I understand their dilemma. The sablé’s crumbly, buttery, shortbread-like texture offers what food technicians call “mouth fill”.

Talking of fillings, the French version comes generally in raspberry or chocolate as well as the ill-advised Nutella. Hm.. France really ought to give the concept of the Nutella sablé a rethink. This biscuit calls for a contrasting texture, so non merci to Nutella, here at least.

Photo credits: flickr black day[https://www.flickr.com/photos/29233640@N07/11273242073/], by Robert Couse-Baker (CC BY 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/] ; nutella cookies[https://www.flickr.com/photos/ginnerobot/7095126765/], by Ginny via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/]

Photo credits: flickr black day, by Robert Couse-Baker (CC BY 2.0); nutella cookies, by Ginny via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Apart from the size, the other difference in a French Jammie dodger is that instead of one hole cut in the upper biscuit to expose the filling there can be as many as three. Alors, the French can actually do vulgar excess it would seem!

Personally, I love the idea of the French ditching the restrained elegance we are so used to seeing from them. I also love that it is a jammie biscuit that drove them to it.

Cate the Cake: She’s the biscuit!

This move is the most special of all my international moves, because this time, my daughter is providing the Jammie Dodgers that fuel us. Since arriving in France, Catherine has developed first an interest in baking and then in patisserie—developments that have made my heart sing a special version of the 1812 Overture.

Instead of the “La Marseillaise” being quieted by the Russian national anthem, we have a case of “God Save the Queen” being, if not crushed by the French anthem, at least over-laid and dusted down with a Gallic flourish.

Cate the Cake (a weak nickname, but I can’t resist) has taken courses in all sorts of things from éclairs to crème brûlée. She has brought a certain French flair to my Jammie Dodger, making them even more irresistible, if that were possible.

Cate the Cake She's the biscuit

Having the patience and perfectionism I so entirely lack, she is willing to stare through the oven door until just the right shade of pale delicacy is reached that ensures the texture is melting, but not cloying. Adhering strictly to butter only, the flavor is delectable and well worth an extra few centimeters to the waistline. These beauties scream for a strong cup of English blend tea made with leaves, not a bag, and steeped a full five minutes.

Talking of which, I think I’ll nip in to the kitchen before the teapot is packed and give the packers a cultural experience to remember. After all, it’s the presence of workmen in the house that provides the impetus (or excuse?) for an extra-special tea-and-biscuits ritual.

*****************************

Jammy Dodgers/Sablés

Ingredients
• 250g plain flour
• 200g butter, cut into small cubes
• 100g icing sugar
• pinch of salt
• 2 free-range egg yolks
• Raspberry or Strawberry Jam

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 170C/325F
2. Place the flour, butter, icing sugar and salt into a bowl. Using your fingertips, rub the ingredients together until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
3. Add the egg yolks and mix until a dough forms. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and roll out to a thickness of about 0.5cm. Cut out shapes using a 4cm cutter.
4. Divide the sablés in half. Using a 2cm, fluted cutter, make a hole in the middle of half of the sablé biscuits and discard the dough. Place all the sablés on a baking tray.
5. Liberally dust the tops with icing sugar passed through a fine sieve.
6. Bake the sablés for 10-12 minutes, or until pale golden-brown and crisp. Remove and transfer to a wire rack to cool.
7. Using a teaspoon, place a small dollop of jam on a whole sablé. Place a sablé (with a hole) over the whole sablé biscuit.

* * *

Readers, we invite you to continue the food gossip! Can you relate to Joanna’s instinct for strong tea and Jammie Dodgers? And can you offer any other food tips to alleviate the stress of an international move? 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?”

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CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Expats, if you hammer away at something long enough, you might just get used to it!

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

Hello Displaced Nationers! The moment I learned that this month’s guest, Valerie Hamer, goes by the moniker of “Faraway Hammer,” I knew she had to be on this column. After all, no toolbox worth its salt would be complete without a hammer, even a cultural one!

Forgive me for hamming it up, but I really believe that Valerie, who is “British by birth and a nomad by choice,” will have some great insights for us.

But before we get into that, let’s go over why she has chosen to go by the name of Faraway Hammer. As it turns out, that’s how people pronounce “Valerie Hamer” in Asia, where Valerie has lived for over fifteen years. She loves how her name sounds with an Asian accent, so much so that she decided to name her writing site after it. Head on over there and you’ll discover that although Val has been a “world citizen” for some time now, she still loves her native Britain, and although her passport says teacher, her heart says says writer—of non-fiction, because she thinks the lives of “ordinary, everyday, regular people” are “richer and more interesting than any fictional character.”

Further to which, Val is the author of two non-fiction books with amusing titles:

And now it’s time for the toolbox part. Valerie has kindly agreed to share some of her culture shock experiences with us. Here’s what she had to say…

* * *

Hi, Valerie, and welcome back to the Displaced Nation. Now, I understand you were born and raised in the UK. But what about your alter-ego, Faraway Hammer? Where has she lived?

In Japan for seven years, Vietnam for a couple of months, and currently in year seven in South Korea.

In the context of transitioning from England to various Asian countries, did you ever put your foot in your mouth? Can you share any memorable stories?

I find language learning in a new country to be the thing that will get me into bother, usually when two words sound very similar. That’s how in Japan I once asked a shop assistant if there was poop inside the cakes instead of red beans!

Photo credit: Dorayaki, by Emran Kassim via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Photo credit: Dorayaki, by Emran Kassim via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Here’s another example. On public transport in Asia it’s normal to take and hold the bags of those standing, whether stranger or friend, if you are lucky enough to get a seat. The first time that happened to me I wrestled with the old lady trying to be helpful. I just assumed I was being mugged.

What does one do in a situation like that?

With my language gaffes I found people laughed as they actually appreciated my effort to speak. Having said that, such rookie mistakes have put me off learning Korean to any great extent. I don’t have the patience to go through that stage again. With the “bag helping” incident I would probably react the same way again in a new country/culture. Strangely, nothing I read or heard prepared me for that moment in Korea—perhaps people forget about such things when they adapt to a place, and forget to mention them?

Photo credit: Seoul Subway by Dale Ellerm via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Photo credit: Seoul Subway by Dale Ellerm via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Looking back on your transition from the UK to Asia, can you recall any situations that you handled with surprising finesse?

I can’t think of any. As I said, I continue to remain stubbornly “western” in many ways, but it’s also true to say that I’ve adapted to many things and no longer think about them. If you hammer away at something for long enough…

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?

Develop a keen eye. You can learn a lot by being aware of ordinary interactions between locals.

Thank you so much, Valerie! I think you’ve hit the nail soundly on the head, so to speak. Language gaffes can be icebreakers if you don’t mind people laughing at your expense. And donning your safety specs to observe the details of everyday life before you plunge in: that’s an excellent way to smooth the rough edges of a cultural transition. But of course there will also be times when you just have to hammer away at it; progress isn’t always immediate.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Valerie’s advice? If you like it and appreciate her sense of humor, I suggest you visit her writing site and/or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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.  

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LOCATION, LOCUTION: An expat life in Istanbul frees Oliver Tidy to write crime novels set in places he knows well (and Turkey, too!)

Location Locution
Columnist Lorraine Mace, aka Frances di Plino, is back with her second interview guest: fellow crime writer Oliver Tidy.

Hello, readers. My guest this month is Oliver Tidy, who on his author site refers to himself as a “semi-professional fantasist” and an “attention seeking vanity publisher” who is “living in exile.”

He also says he has a “yearning for yarning”—so how much of this is true and how much an exaggeration?

Well, it’s patently true he is a self-published author, currently with nine books available for download through Amazon:

  • four in his Romney and Marsh Files British police procedural series. Newly promoted Detective Sergeant Joy Marsh is shipped out to Dover on the Kent coast to work under Detective Inspector Romney, a cantankerous copper who nevertheless is good at his job…
  • three in his Acer Sansom thriller series. British soldier Acer Sansom resurfaces a year after the world thought he was dead, possessed with a single-minded need for vengeance…
  • two in his Booker & Cash mystery story series. An unlikely detective team, David Booker and Jo Cash, solve mysteries in Romney Marsh, a wetland area in southeast England…

As for the “exile” part, Oliver tells me he left the UK in 2009 looking for change and ended up in Istanbul, where he “got change in spades.”

He is currently working in a Turkish school teaching English as a foreign language to young learners. It’s a job that affords him enough time for writing, something he deeply appreciates:

When I lived in the UK, I tried a couple of times to write, but with the responsibility of property and family and work, and the distractions of television and radio and newspapers and people I never got anywhere with it. One of the many things that I have learned about writing is that you have to sit down and write—often.

Now that he lives in Istanbul, Turkey, Oliver Tidy is able to write stories set in his homeland, the most recent one being He Made Me. Photo credits: (clockwise) Oliver Tidy (supplied) and book cover art; St Thomas Becket, Fairfield, Kent, by Amanda Slater via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Living in Istanbul, Turkey, Oliver Tidy has been able to write books set in the place where he was born and bred, the most recent one being He Made Me, which takes place in Romney Marsh, UK. Photo credits: (clockwise) Oliver Tidy (supplied) and book cover art; St Thomas Becket, Fairfield, Kent, by Amanda Slater via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

As for the vanity publishing, Oliver also confesses he initially tried to get a literary agent because he never wanted to self-publish, believing that self-publishing was tainted with shades of ego-tripping.

“How wrong I was,” he said. “How wonderful and liberating self-publishing truly is. If I had not taken the step to self-publish, my readership would still be limited to my mum and me—and I’m sure that mum skim-reads most of my stuff.”

Judging by the Amazon reviews he receives, his audience extends far beyond his mum—and what his fans seem to love the most about his writing is its “local colour,” “sense of place,” and “wonderful descriptions of settings.”

Let’s find out how he does it, shall we?

* * *

Which comes first, story or location?

Why does this make me think of chickens and eggs? Such a hard opening question. I hope they’re not all going to be like this. I much prefer questions about my favourite things: raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, that sort of thing.

Anyway, here goes. As you mentioned in you kind introduction, I write three different series of books: one is set in Dover, Kent—The Romney and Marsh Files; one is set on Romney Marsh—Booker & Cash Stories; and one where, in three books so far, my central protagonist has shot up several different countries on a variety of continents—the Acer Sansom novels. (Acer is a great advert for Brits abroad. Bit of a one-man stag party.)

With the Romney and Marsh Files, story and location had an equal weighting in development. With the Booker and Cash stories it was certainly location first—I am Romney Marsh born and bred. As for the Acer Sansom novels, the first, Dirty Business, involved him visiting Istanbul, a city that I’d been living in for about a year. Acer went from Istanbul to Bodrum, a seaside resort town in Turkey that I’d spent the summer in. That book was definitely heavily influenced by my geographical experiences. The subsequent two books were predominantly plot led.

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

Tumble weed moment. In six years of writing I’m yet to experience writer’s block…until now. Give me a minute. I’ll come back to this one at the end. (I came back to it at the end and I still couldn’t answer it. Sorry.)

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

These questions are providing an opportunity to really reflect on my writing—something I’m feeling I don’t do enough of.

I don’t write much about what my characters eat. I write a little more than nothing on the cultures of my settings. Physical geography features more than either of the other two in all of my series. As far as my globe-trotting Acer Sansom novels go, after the first book—where I did have experience of the locations involved—I have to say a massive thank you to the Internet, especially Google maps, Google earth, Google street view. Maybe I should just say thanks Google. I’ve also obtained good insight from some travel blogs. Some of those are a wonderful resource for armchair writers.

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

I’ll use a short passage from the first Acer Sansom novel. One of my characters has driven from Istanbul to Bodrum.

Oliver Tidy’s first Acer Sansom thriller, Dirty Business, is set partly in Bodrum, Turkey, where he lived for a year. Photo credit: Cover art; The best place to live! by Tuncay Coşkun via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Before long the vista opened up before her. As she sometimes had in the years that she had driven to Bodrum, she pulled into a loose gravel pocket at the side of the road and got out of the car.

From her lofty vantage point high up in the hills that embraced the area, she was able to look down at the sprawling panorama of the holiday capital of Turkey. Little enclaves of white boxes, taking advantage of the best geography, were packed so tightly together in places that they might have been one huge solid mass of concrete.

The steep hills that backed these separate little communities demonstrated both the developers’ greed and the sun-seekers’ need for yet more building as newer communities sprang up, patching the arid landscape white like some poorly-designed chess board.

At this time of year Bodrum would be heaving not just with the Turks who could afford to escape the suffocating heat and humidity of the bigger cities but also thousands of holidaymakers of all ages and nationalities.

Once, she thought, the place must have looked like paradise from where she stood—before Man’s concrete assault paradoxically began the ruination of the very environment that made him invest in the area. Would it always be only a matter of time and money before the need to develop areas of outstanding natural beauty outstripped Man’s admiration for them? Thank goodness there were still some idyllic pockets of the area where the authorities had elected to cease development. She felt grateful, if a little hypocritical, that her family owned a villa in one of them.

Her gaze took in the superb sweep of the Aegean, glistening in the early morning light, stretching out towards Greek territory; the differing hues of green and blue combined to create the most inviting scene. She tried to make out details of the ships anchored across the bay but was too far away.

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

Having lived on Romney Marsh for over forty years has made the two stories—the third is under construction—in my Booker & Cash series much easier in the penning-the-setting stakes. My memories of the place are vivid and unshakeable and I return there for a few weeks each year in the summer which allows me to top them up.

I know Dover fairly well, having spent a lot of time there a few years ago. When I return to the UK I like to jump on the bus from my home on Romney Marsh to Dover for the day just to refresh my memory and see what’s new.

Cover art of Rope Enough, first in police procedural series set in Dover; Dover Castle, by Andrew and Annemarie (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Cover art for Rope Enough, first in Tidy’s “Romney and Marsh File” police procedural series set in Dover; Dover Castle, by Andrew and Annemarie (CC BY-SA 2.0).

As I mentioned, in the first Acer Sansom book I used Istanbul and Bodrum for my exotic locations—two places that I felt I had enough experience of to write convincingly about them. Most of Acer’s locations in the subsequent two books I have never visited. I’m always waiting to be taken to task by readers who have personal and insightful experiences of the places I’ve depicted. What can you do sometimes? You need to write about somewhere you’ve never been. You log on, do some research and then your best.

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

CJ Sansom for the way he portrays London in Tudor times; Michael Dibdin and Andrea Camilleri for their descriptions of Italy, and the unbeatable Patrick O’Brian for his depictions of any location, be it land or sea, that he touches upon in any of his Aubrey/Maturin novels. What a writer.

A few of Tidy's favorite authors, who know how to handle "location, locution."

A few of Tidy’s favorite authors, who have demonstrated a mastery of “location, locution.”

Thanks so much, Oliver!

* * *

Readers, any questions for the jolly Oliver Tidy? Please leave them in the comments below.

And if you’d like to discover more about Oliver Tidy, why not pay a visit to his author site. You can also follow him on twitter at @olivertidy.

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.

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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).

 

For this expat writer who has photographed everything from the Gulf of Alaska to her own back garden, a picture says…

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAGreetings, Displaced Nationers who are also photography buffs! “A Picture Says…” columnist James King is still away, so I am filling in again. But the good news is, he approves of the columns I’ve produced thus far! I know I’ve enjoyed spending time with the previous two guests, fearless and feisty photography pro Steve Davey and fine-art photographer Dave Long.

And today I’m excited to introduce Madeleine Lenagh, an American who, having lived in Holland for more than four decades, has made it her base for an impressive range of creative pursuits.

Madeleine Lenagh moeraki

A photo of Madeleine Lenagh taken in New Zealand, among the magnificent Moeraki Boulders.

I first heard about Madeleine from Springtime Books, which published her memoir, Passage of the Stork, Delivering the Soul: One Woman’s Journey to Self-Realization and Acceptance, several months ago.

As those who perused our summer reading recommendations may know, Madeleine’s book was one of my picks. I was intrigued that she chose to tell her life story using poetic vignettes and commentary by archetypes from Nordic mythology and fairy tales.

From the title of the book alone, it’s possible to discern that that Madeleine is in touch with nature at an almost spiritual level. She looks to the stork to deliver her soul (in ancient Egypt, a drawing of the stork served as the hieroglyphic for “soul”). And if you read the book’s prologue, you’ll see that her view of nature includes mermaids—as evidenced by the prologue’s very first sentence:

Three mermaids play in the huge rolling waves, splashing and diving in the curling spray.

It comes as little surprise, then, to discover that besides being an author and blogger, mother and grandmother, and life coach and counselor, Madeleine is a shamanic practitioner. She has been influenced by Dutch shamanic teacher Daan van Kampenhout, whose method fosters connections with helping spirits and ancestors.

What I didn’t realize, though, is how much Madeleine loves to travel and take photographs. She even has her own photography site.

Now let’s see what other worlds Madeleine can conjure up for us with her photos!

* * *

Hi, Madeleine, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. I’ll start the same way as James, by asking: where were you born, and when did you spread your wings (an apt metaphor in your case, given your fondness for storks) to start traveling?
Hi, ML, thank you for inviting me to take part in this column. In answer to your first question: I grew up in Westport, Connecticut. When I was two years old, my stepfather was sent to Europe as a Naval attaché to the NATO. For three years, we lived in Paris, Bad-Homburg, and London. We returned to Westport when I was five. Although I have few memories of those early years, I believe my love of traveling was born then.

So you didn’t end up being raised as a Third Culture Kid?
No, I didn’t leave the United States again until I was 21, when I coaxed my family into giving me a trip to Europe for my 21st birthday. I traveled all around Western Europe and down into former Yugoslavia. At the end of the summer, I was in The Netherlands and my money was running out. I didn’t want to go home yet and found an au-pair job for six months.

Which countries have you visited thus far, and of those, which have you actually lived in?
My travels have taken me all through Europe, as well as to India (Rajasthan), Indonesia (Java and Bali), Costa Rica, and New Zealand (South Island). I believe that Canada and Alaska deserve a separate mention as they are beautiful and remote parts of the world. But, apart from those few years when I was a small child, I have only lived in the United States and The Netherlands.

It’s interesting to me that you chose to make The Netherlands your home for your adult life. What made you settle there in particular?
When I became an au pair in The Netherlands 45 years ago, I sold my return trip ticket to buy winter clothing. Somehow I never got around to leaving. It often amazes me that I, a lover of wild places in nature, could feel so comfortable in this relatively “tame” country. There were key moments in my life when I asked myself, so where am I going now? But there was always more reason to stay than to go. Passage of the Stork, Delivering the Soul describes, among other things, my struggle to put down roots and find a sense of permanency.

“She will always love the sea…” —from the Prologue to Passage of the Stork

Moving right along to the part we’ve all been waiting for: a chance to appreciate a few of your photos. Can you share with us three photos that capture some of your favorite memories of the so-called “displaced” life of global travel? And for each photo, can you briefly tell us the memory that the photo captures, and why it remains special to you?
Occasionally I arrive somewhere and think, I could live here. One of those places was South Island, New Zealand. I love the wild remote land, the warm friendliness of the people, and the ever-changing scenery. The photo I have chosen here is the perfect arch of a totally deserted beach in the Catlins, way down on the southern end of the island.

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Untainted by the modern world, the Catlins are the kind of place where a mermaid might appear. Photo credit: Madeleine Lenagh

Wow, that’s the kind of place where it would be easy to imagine mermaids! I have only been to New Zealand’s Northern Island, but even there, I felt that it attracts people who want to get away from it all…
Along the same lines, another place I would be seriously tempted to live, if it weren’t so cold and dark in the winter, is Alaska. I love the pioneer spirit of the people who live there. My brother runs nature tours out of Paxson, which is located in one of the prettiest spots in the state. To the north of the Denali Highway, one sees the dramatic Alaska Range, with its snow-capped peaks and glaciers. An outstretched tundra lies to the south. However, the photo I have chosen, of a fishing boat near the shore, was taken down on Prince William Sound, during a day cruise in 2010. I like the muted colors, with only the bright splash of red on the boat to off-set the fog.

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While cruising through the calm, protected—and mysterious—waters of Prince William Sound. Photo credit: Madeleine Lenagh

Ooh, I really like this photo. So moody and atmospheric… Though I’ve never been to Alaska, I picture it as having this kind of mystique. Where are you taking us next?
This summer I traveled back to the New England of my youth. I realized how much at home I feel there, in spite of having left 45 years ago. Those of you who have read my book know that I have a special relationship with storks. One of the things they reflect about me is their migratory nature, feeling at home in more than one place. I love this photo of a white stork, taken near my home in The Netherlands, doing its special bill-clacking dance as it returns to the nest.

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Time for a spot of beak-clapping, says this Dutch stork. Photo credit: Madeleine Lenagh

Hm, until now I have always associated storks with the arrival of babies. But after hearing what you have to say, I may start thinking of them as the avian counterpart of the serial expat!

“I lie on my stomach, hearing gossamer wings rush by.” —from the Prologue to Passage of the Stork

Having seen your first three photos, I expect it’s a bit of a tough choice, but which are the top three locations you’ve most enjoyed taking photos in—and can you offer us an example of each?
I’m actually going to pick three new places for you. The first one is India. It is a riot of color and ornate decorations, a photographer’s paradise. The photo I have chosen illustrates this perfectly: a group of children posing for me in the “best room” of their desert compound near Jaisalmer.

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Colorful life in India’s Thar desert. Photo credit: Madeleine Lenagh

I also have a special relationship with Norway (disclosed in my book) and I love photographing birds. Up in the Lofoten archipelago, I had the unique opportunity to photograph white-tailed sea-eagles. I’m very proud of this shot, catching the bird just as it had landed on a rock.

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A white-tailed sea-eagle touches down on this untouched land within the Arctic Circle. Photo credit: Madeleine Lenagh

Finally, though I’ve taken you far afield, my last pick for favorite photography locations is my own garden! I love the simple beauty of the nature I find there. A perfect illustration is this photo of a spider web covered with droplets of fog.

spiderweb-s_800x

Is it a spider web or the finest lace? Photo credit: Madeleine Lenagh

I love that you’ve taken us back to your own garden! It makes me think of a fellow New Englander of yours, Emily Dickinson, who took companionship as well as inspiration from her garden in Amherst.

“You can cage a bird, but you can’t make him sing.” (French-Jewish saying)

Going back to your photo of the children in India, I wonder: do you ever feel reserved taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious of your doing so? How do you handle it?
I am very reserved about taking photos of people, especially in other cultures, and will only do so if they have given me permission. Usually, asking people if you can take their photograph is a wonderful way of making contact with them and often leads to spectacular portraits. The photograph of the children in India is a good example. I love how the two sitting girls (unmarried and therefore veiled) unveiled their faces for the photo.

When did you become interested in photography and what is it about this art form that drew you in?
I believe I have photography encoded in my DNA. My grandfather was taking brilliant photographs in the 1920s. My mother never went anywhere without her 1953 Leica. My Norwegian father (caution: book spoiler!) was a cinematographer. I started taking photographs (and working in a darkroom) when I was about 18 years old. I believe that I was originally drawn in by the fact that it required no real motor skills and I was dreadful at drawing! I’ve always had the urge to express my feelings in some creative fashion, whether it be writing, photography, painting, or dance. Currently, my greatest motivation to photograph is to share the beauty of the natural world with others; to draw them into the same sense of awe and majesty that I feel when I’m in touch with nature.

“Listen to all, plucking a feather from every passing goose, but, follow no one absolutely.” (Chinese saying)

And now switching over to the technical side of things: what kind of camera, lenses, and post-processing software do you use?
Most of these photos were taken with earlier cameras but, at the moment, I use a Canon EOS 6D, a full-frame camera. My favorite lens is a 70-200mm f 2.8 lens. I have been using a 2x extender to get up to 400mm, but recently decided that it slows down the focus too much so I will be looking for a good telephoto lens soon. I find that, as my experience grows, I grow more and more fussy about my equipment! I photograph in RAW format and process the images in Adobe Lightroom.

Finally, can you offer a few words of advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling the world or living abroad?
I suppose the most important advice is just to go out and photograph the things you love. Good photography takes practice and more practice. Study the manual of your camera and don’t be afraid to experiment with settings. Study paintings and sculpture by the artists you admire, to develop a sense for light and composition. As I develop as a photographer I find myself growing more and more critical of my work. It’s not just about showing the things I’ve seen or taking good photos. It’s about taking great photos that show a unique moment.

And I think the most important advice to any aspiring photographer was voiced by Pablo Picasso:

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

Thank you, Madeleine! I appreciate your sharing a selection of photos that illustrate your deep connection with nature. I’m impressed that you can find so much beauty and wonder on your own doorstep as well as on your travels to the world’s most unpopulated and unspoiled places.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Madeleine’s travel-photo experiences and her photography advice? Please leave any questions or feedback for her in the comments!

If you want to get to know Madeleine and her creative works better, I suggest you visit her author site and her photography site. You can also follow her on Facebook (she posts her latest photos) and Twitter. But to really get to know Madeleine, I recommend getting her book, Passage of the Stork, Delivering the Soul. You’ll never look at storks, or mermaids, in the same way again!

NOTE: If you are a travel-photographer and would like to be interviewed for this series, please send your information to ml@thedisplacednation.com.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: How far I have come in a year…and what’s next

Diary of an Expat Writer
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.

Dear Displaced Diary,

I write to you on the occasion of my one-year full-time writing anniversary!

One year ago I quit my job as an English teacher to write full-time. As I’m wrapping up my anniversary month, I’m taking some time to reflect on what I’ve learned and accomplished. I’ve described for you many of the details of my work over the past year, but in this missive I want to step back and consider the big picture.

One thing I’ve gone on about at some length is my affection for outlines and checklists, so before talking about what’s next, I’ll share a few lists: overarching goals I set at the beginning, struggles along the way, milestones achieved.

Intense! Shannon's to-do list, displaying just a few months of her year of full-time writing.

Intense! Shannon’s to-do list for February to May of this year.

Taking stock of Year One

Goals set at the beginning:
-Write full-time for at least six months.
-Complete the Seabound Chronicles (post-apocalyptic series) and publish it independently.
-Promote the release of my traditionally published travel memoir.

Challenges I encountered along the way:
-Establish a daily routine.
-Manage my expectations after a slow start to sales.
-Block out sales stats and reviews to focus on writing.
-Settle in for the long haul.

Milestones achieved:
-Completed three of the novels in the Seabound series: Seabound, Seaswept, and Burnt Sea (launches August 30th).
-Wrote early drafts of two novels (Seafled, a new book), one short non-fiction project (TBA), along with numerous articles and posts.
-Promoted the Hong Kong release (November) and worldwide release (July) of my memoir, Year of Fire Dragons.
-Stretched savings to keep writing for an additional six months.
-First 100-sales day.
-First 10,000-word writing day.

COMING SOON: Burnt Sea, the prequel for Shannon Young's Seabound Chronicles, due out in September.

COMING SOON: Burnt Sea, the prequel for Shannon Young’s Seabound Chronicles, due out in September.

Coming to an assessment

Overall, this has been a very positive year. I love the work, and I’m seeing a steady rise in sales. I’m learning a lot about the business and how to actually move books. Some of the things I’ve learned are helping me to streamline my strategy for the coming year (price promotions supported by advertising sell more books than blog tours, for example, and take WAY less time away from writing). My writing process is becoming more efficient, and the more I write the more ideas I have. But there’s another facet to any career change that needs to be addressed . . .

The money!

I haven’t reached my income targets yet. Although I am writing full-time, I am not making a full-time living (an amount that is different for each individual; I live in an expensive city, but we have no children). I’ve been living on the money I saved during the nine months between when I paid off my last student loan and when I got my last teaching paycheck.

Amazon now sends me a decent check every month and I’m seeing promising and consistent sales trends. I estimate that my monthly sales will produce enough income for me to continue writing full-time by Christmas.

What’s next?

At this point I’m close enough to the tipping point that it doesn’t make sense to look for a new permanent job. However, my savings are running low so I’ve decided to take a ten-week part-time teaching contract to get me through to that tipping point, beginning in October.

My new challenge over those ten weeks will be to maintain my writing momentum with a different schedule. I’ll only be teaching for two hours a day, but it will require a new routine and renewed focus during the rest of the working day.

I don’t yet know the details of my new post. Just in case it turns out to be more disruptive than anticipated, I’m doubling down during the two months between now and the start of the contract. I plan to finish the rewrites for Seafled, the final book in the Seabound Chronicles, by the end of September to make sure my publication schedule continues uninterrupted. While I’m doing the part-time work, I’ll use the rest of the day to write rough drafts for my next series!

I’m looking forward to getting out and about in Hong Kong a bit. Hopefully the ideas will flow and the more constrained schedule will push me to new levels of productivity. I completed all the books published under my Shannon Young name and wrote early drafts of three of the four Jordan Rivet novels while working full-time, so I know I can do this.

That’s it for now, dear Diary. I talk about my writing anniversary in a new video here if you’d like to take a look.

Thanks for everything!

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

* * *

It must be a sign of aging but for me it seems like only yesterday that Shannon embarked on this writing adventure, and my, she has accomplished a lot! But, alas, money is a perennial concern for creative types of any ilk, including those who live in far-flung places like Hong Kong (that’s an expensive city!). Readers, any thoughts, words of encouragement or other kinds of responses to Shannon’s latest diary entry? Please leave in the comments. ~ML

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TCK TALENT: Lisa Liang takes her show back on the road; second stop: Cape Town, South Africa (1/2)

TCK Talent columnist Lisa and her husband (and techie), Dan, head to Cape Town. Photo credits: (from left) Alien Citizen poster; Lisa and Dan in front of Little Theatre on University of Cape Town campus; and view of xxx through bus window (supplied).

TCK Talent columnist Lisa and her husband (and techie), Dan, head to Cape Town. Photo credits: (from left) Alien Citizen poster; Lisa and Dan in front of Little Theatre on University of Cape Town campus (supplied, by Daniel Lawrence); and view of Table Mountain through bus window (supplied, by Lisa Liang).

For the second month running, our TCK Talent columnist Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang updates us on her own creative life. This is the first of a two-part post on her South African experience.

Howzit, dear readers—molweni!

I’m devoting this month’s column to the experience of taking  Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey, my one-woman show about growing up as a Third Culture Kid (TCK) of mixed heritage, to Cape Town, South Africa.

The occasion was the 2015 Women Playwrights International (WPI) Conference, held June 29–July 3. WPI has brought together women playwrights and allied theatre artists, cultural workers, and scholars since 1988. It facilitates communication and collaboration among the international community of women in theatre by holding conferences every three years.

In last month’s column I remarked: “It sounds like my kind of crowd.”

Well…it was!!

It felt enormously special to be at the conference’s 10th assembly and its first gathering on the African continent—my first time back in Africa since I graduated from high school, and my first visit to Cape Town. I’ll always be grateful to the donors who financed the trip via my online crowd-funding campaign.

Into Africa

It takes a gajillion hours to get from Los Angeles, California, where I live, to Cape Town (with a layover at Heathrow). My husband (and techie), Dan, and I can’t sleep on planes (!) so were jet lagged on arrival—and only too glad to reach our lodging at Graça Machel Hall at the University of Cape Town (a residence hall, or dorm), the cost of which was generously covered by a housing grant from the Writers’ Guild of Norway.

The room and especially the communal bathrooms gave us flashbacks to our college years—except this dorm was cleaner and full of adult delegates to WPI and other conferences, which we appreciated. We were also happy that the bathrooms provided a good hot shower—and were taken aback (but ultimately impressed) by the free condoms offered in every bathroom on campus.

Note to travelers: If you visit Cape Town in winter (May–July), be warned: indoors is colder than outdoors. Virtually no one has heating or insulation, so bring thermal socks and long johns to wear beneath your pajamas at night, and a thick sweater for any day you lounge indoors—and you’ll be fine. I also recommend gloves and winter hats, unless you’re from a below-freezing-in-winter climate, in which case you’ll likely shake your head and chuckle at all the other tourists complaining of the cold. (The Canadian delegates seemed to be the most bemused by the rest of us.)

The conferencing experience

Every day Dan and I rode the shuttle taking WPIC delegates to the conference site on UCT’s Hiddingh Campus. During the 15-minute drive along the highway, we thrilled at the sight of Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, Devil’s Peak, the harbor, and the Atlantic. It’s impossible to miss the mountains—they loom over, or cradle (depending on your perspective), Cape Town and are magnificent.

My conferencing mornings began with a fantastic keynote by an African theatremaker or a fascinating panel of mostly African playwrights, all women. This was followed by a tea/coffee/yummy-snack break, then workshops led by theatremakers from all over the world, and then a tasty lunch provided by WPIC. Then: readings of excerpts from plays written by playwrights from everywhere and read by South African actors of every race/ethnicity, doing accents from all over Africa and the English-speaking world. Then another tea break, more readings, then panels/sessions/networking/presentations, then supper break (not provided, and we learned that we could not get a bad meal in Cape Town—every dinner out was delicious). The evenings ended with full-length performances.

I was conferencing 12–13 hours daily, and there was usually a smorgasbord of offerings from which to choose in any given hour.

She's really there! Typical beak between conference sessions 9selfie); conference poster on campus (supplied, by Daniel Lawrence).

She’s really there! Photo credits: Typical break between conference sessions (supplied, selfie); conference poster on campus (supplied, by Daniel Lawrence).

Prep for show time

Dan, meanwhile, toured around Cape Town—but joined me for the two technical rehearsals for Alien Citizen in the Little Theatre on campus. After the classroom debacle learning experience at SIETAR Europa in Valencia in May, we were so happy to be in an actual theatre again! The theatre was a bit run down, but it had a booth, professional lighting grid, and Sean (WPIC15’s excellent production manager), so we were stylin’.

If you’ve been following this column for at least a year, then you know what happened with my first old-fashioned slide projector in Iceland. (Woe.) Well, it nearly happened again. I forgot to attach the slide projector to the voltage converter that I bought expressly for Valencia and Cape Town. Instead, I plugged the projector to the wall with a little plug adapter…and it roared as a burning-wires-and-plastic smell permeated the air.

Gah!!!!

I unplugged everything, made adjustments, replaced the bulb, et voila! The projector worked normally…as long as you could ignore the lingering odor of burned something-or-other.

Conferencing highlights

After making sure that my laptop could communicate with the theatre’s screen projector (EVERY venue’s screen projector is its own special starflake), Dan went back to his Cape Town exploring while I attended another conference lunch. Lunches tended to be three quarters sociable (talktalktalk) and one quarter zombie apocalypse (many of us on iPads/iPhones while digesting). At every lunch, I sat with new people, all of whom were interesting and amiable and from everywhere. That was one of my favorite aspects of the conference.

Other highlights of the conference included:

  • the opening keynote by Zambian-born Mwenya Kabwe, who spoke humorously and eloquently about theatre and being an African woman theatremaker.
  • the performance of Walk: South Africa, which taught us a grim statistic, that half of all South African women will be raped in their lifetimes.
  • Kenyan actress-playwright Mũmbi Kaigwa’s reading of an excerpt from her smart, funny, and moving solo show, They Call Me Wanjikũ.
  • a panel of extraordinary South African theatremakers who told us that all theatre in South Africa in the 1980s was held in protest to Apartheid, but nowadays the theatre scene has become very segregated—it has regressed.
  • the workshop on Community Play Creation lead by Hope McIntyre of Sarasvàti Productions in Canada.
  • countless amazing women, including another ATCK playwright who grew up in many more countries than I did, and an Egyptian professor who was a budding playwright, which brought back happy memories of Egypt.
  • the final keynote by the incredibly accomplished Napo Masheane of South Africa. She spoke of working in a jewelry store as a teen, where adult white men would come in and immediately say: “Can I please talk to someone more intelligent?” She ended her speech with a poem that had a beautiful refrain, which she repeated with evocative gestures more and more quietly until she was only mouthing the words while making the gestures, and it made me cry:

    Do not shut your temple doors, whatever you seek seeks you, whatever you want wants you, whatever you need needs you.

    Do not shut your temple doors, there is enough space for all of us to shine, let us dance with fire under the stars.

SouthAfricatheatreconference_arrow

The delegates to the 2015 Women Playwrights International Conference, in Cape Town. Photo credit: Nardus Englebrecht Photography.

Show time!

After the final keynote, Dan and I had another tech rehearsal for Alien Citizen to program the lights. Sean gave the sandstorm-in-Casablanca a nice effect with upstage lights flickering, and the high-school-dance-in-Cairo was even more humorous because he spotlit me in purple with white polka dots that shimmied back and forth, reminiscent of a disco ball’s reflection.

And then it was showtime. After my experience in Valencia, I couldn’t help but have doubts over whether we would have a decent audience. But while I was waiting in the wings I heard delegates enter and sing along to some pre-show music (“Dancing Queen” and “Stand by Me”). I was glad they were getting into the mood, and it sounded like there were a lot more than 20! When I began the performance I could see that it was a “good house” (theatre jargon for “numerous seats filled”) and there were lots of laughs (which sounded slightly surprised, probably because most of the other shows at the conference had been about harrowing subject matter).

Afterwards I received amazing feedback from delegates from South Africa, Canada, Lebanon, Sweden, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Germany, Hungary, New Zealand, USA, Australia, Spain, Singapore, Kenya, Brazil, Jamaica, and more. Several said that the show was a great way to end the conference. I felt relieved, gratified, and honored.

That night, we met with other delegates at Addis in Cape for tasty Ethiopian food (and a cosmo for me). I’m always slightly braindead after performing, but it was lovely to “wind down” with other theatremakers who were very positive about the show. The next morning at breakfast, and again as we checked out of the dorm, more delegates praised Alien Citizen, which was the best way to end the conference for me.

Before, during, after the show. Photo credits: Drama of the slide projector (selfie by Lisa Liang, supplied); the show, which closed the conference; post-show cosmo at Addis in Cape Town (the latter two by Daniel Lawrence, supplied).

Can’t get over Africa

Thank you for reading, and stay tuned next month for Part 2 of Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey’s trip to Cape Town, to include tours of the winelands, the Cape Peninsula, Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of the 21 years he served behind bars), District Six Museum (a tribute to the 60,000 inhabitants of District Six, a former residential area of Cape Town, who were displaced by the apartheid regime), the aforementioned Table Mountain, and more! Until then…hamba kahle!

* * *

Thank you, Lisa! Once again, you’ve taken us on a vicarious journey—not only into a part of the world to which I’ve never been but also into the midst of theatre people, your creative tribe! I found it fascinating, as I’m sure others will as well. Readers, please leave questions or comments for Lisa below.

STAY TUNED for the next fab post!

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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

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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