The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

RANDOM NOMAD: Mardi Michels, Elementary School French Teacher, Home Cook, Writer, Photographer & Traveler

Born in: Adelaide, South Australia
Passports: Australia (by birth), Britain/EU (through my dad), Canada (I became a citizen in 2007)
Countries lived in: France (Paris): 1995-2000; Canada (Toronto): 2000-present
Cyberspace coordinates: eat. live. travel. write | my creative refuge from academia (blog); eatlivtravwrite (Twitter handle)

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
I left Australia because I was working on my PhD in French literature and felt it made a lot more sense to be in the country of the language and culture I was studying. Soon after moving to Paris, I began working in a restaurant (Woolloomooloo Restaurant Australien — now closed) to supplement a meagre scholarship. About a year after moving to Paris, I got a job teaching English at Université Paris X and I was hooked on teaching English (I was already qualified to teach French) so I undertook my Dip TEFL [professional diploma in Teaching English as a Foreign Language] at the University of London Institute in Paris, eventually scoring a full time teaching job at the British Council. My PhD? Incomplete…

Is anyone else in your immediate family “displaced”?
My sister also left home when she was in her early 20s to complete a PhD at Oxford (which she did), and from there she worked in banking all over the world (England, Singapore, Japan). She has also traveled extensively in South America. She, too, has ended up in North America (New York City), teaching math!

How about your husband? Is he displaced?
He was when we first met — in Casablanca in December 1999. I was on a vacation in Morocco, and after that two-week jaunt, Mr Neil followed me back to Paris for a visit. He is the reason I am now in Canada. Six months after he visited me in Paris, I had a job teaching in French in Toronto lined up for the 2000-01 school year — and the rest, as they say is history. Neil is originally from Vancouver but has traveled the seven continents to some “out there” places. I mean, how many people do you know who have been to Easter Island?

Describe the moment when you felt most displaced.
The first time I had to do lunchtime outdoor yard duty the first year I was living in Toronto. I was ill equipped for the cold, wearing leather boots and a wool coat that was more than adequate in Paris. Not so much here. It was five years before I succumbed to the puffy coat and winter boots.

Describe the moment when you felt least displaced.
Honestly? Stepping off the plane this past summer when I arrived in Paris. I try to get back there every year or so (I completed my MA in Second and Foreign Language Teaching a few years ago, requiring me to take courses two summers in a row in Paris). Even though I have lived longer in Toronto now than I did in Paris (and I love my life in Toronto), and I don’t have any family there, Paris is still a place where I feel curiously “at home.”

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from each of your adopted countries into the Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
I’m thinking cookware from Mora (a treasure trove of ring molds, tart pans and other French pastry equipment) or A Simon (good selection of glassware and heavy-duty white French porcelain) — both on rue Montmartre; or else baking ingredients from G Detou, one of the world’s great food shops, in Les Halles.

You’re invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other Displaced Nation members. What’s on the menu?
The meal I would prepare for you would include a dish inspired by each continent. My husband and I have visited all seven continents, and we actually hosted this luxury dinner last year, as documented on my blog:

  • Moroccan spiced chick peas
  • Vietnamese caramelized chili prawns
  • Italian polpette d’uova
  • Australian micro meat pies
  • Mexican tortilla chicken soup
  • Cuban ropa vieja
  • Panamanian (coconut) rice with pigeon peas
  • Jamaican jerk chicken
  • Île flottante

You may add one word or expression from the country you’re living in to The Displaced Nation argot. What will you loan us?
I couldn’t pick one specific one but some words that have crept into my vocabulary (and that of my students’) include hop là, aïeoh là là, et hop, and ouf — words that sound ridiculous removed from the context of everyday French vocabulary but that have turned out to be very useful in the context of my classroom ;) Surely The Displaced Nation could use a few more interjections?

It’s French Cuisine month at The Displaced Nation. Who is your favorite French chef, living or dead, and why?
Whilst she is not French, it has to be Julia Child, mainly for her “can-do” attitude.

Julia Child is the role model for our posts this month — and has just now been inducted into our Displaced Hall of Fame. Of the following three quotes by her, which one do you most identify with?

1) The only time to eat diet food is when you’re waiting for the steak to cook.

2) The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking, you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.

3) Until I discovered cooking, I was never really interested in anything.

I have to say the quote I most identify with is “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking, you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”

I teach a once a week cooking class to nine-to-eleven-year-old boys, called Les Petits Chefs; and though my students are pretty young and cannot be expected to know a lot about cooking (yet!), I found myself thinking of them as I read this quote. What continues to amaze me about my group of little chefs is their willingness to try new things and their (mostly) complete lack of fear about being in the kitchen (well, science lab, in our case!). Yesterday, for example, I had five little boys cutting up raw chicken (thighs, no less, so much messier than neat clean breast meat), and I watched them attack the task with great gusto. No fear (though a few “ewws!”) — they just got on and did the job, trusting me that the icky meat would be turned into something delicious in about 30 minutes (it was!).

Readers — yay or nay for letting Mardi Michels into The Displaced Nation? Tell us your reasons. (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Mardi — find amusing.)

img: Mardi Michels and her mari, Mr Neil, at the Fêtes de Bayonne (2008).

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s installment from our displaced fictional heroine, Libby, who seeks advice on her unexpected second pregnancy from someone who is older…if not altogether wiser. What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.

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

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10 responses to “RANDOM NOMAD: Mardi Michels, Elementary School French Teacher, Home Cook, Writer, Photographer & Traveler

  1. Adrian Nyland October 12, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    Great to learn more about you Mardi!

  2. Kate Allison October 12, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    Well, yay, obviously – there is no way we can cook that seven continent dinner all by ourselves!

    My kids would sympathise with you about the puffy down coats. These garments won’t fit into school lockers, and they make the wearer look like a marshmallow in a Michelin man suit.

  3. ML Awanohara October 12, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    Ouf. Well, I just now got a complaint from some TDN neighbors about this woman banging pots and pans at our gate. I told them they weren’t any old pots and pans but nice ones from Mora in Paris, but that didn’t seem to matter. Then I told them they could come to our next TDN dinner, and after I showed them the photos of what we’d be having (seriously, have you taken a look at those Moroccan spied chick peas, and that’s just for starters!), that shut them up pretty quickly. Oh là là!

    But, Mardi, I do have one further question, which would help us to more accurately gauge the level of your “displacedness” and hence whether you deserve the much-coveted right of TDN citizenship: what exactly is it about Paris that makes you feel so at home there, even now? As you say, you don’t have family in that city, and you are very happy in Toronto…

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite October 12, 2011 at 8:40 pm

      I think, you know, those neighbours need to appreciate the most excellent Mora pots and pans, you know?

      I am not sure what it is about Paris, but I think it’s the language. I am totally in love with the French language, as my job teaching French to 7-12 year old boys can attest to. I also think that the whole “living in Paris” thing appeals to my sense of challenge ;)

  4. camdenluxford October 12, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    Anyone who took 5 years to succumb to Marshmallow Man coats is A-OK in my book. I still shiver away the frozen Cusco nights in completely inappropriate light coats that would be more than enough in Australia.

    Also, that dinner? Amazing.

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