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This expat arrived in the tropics without any saucepans—but then cooked up a potboiler of love, horror and adventure!

LDF in DR Collage

Las Mameyes, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic (Morguefiles); Lindsay de Feliz (her own photo).

My guest today, the author Lindsay de Feliz, was scuba diving in the Maldives when one night she found herself on a tiny island in the middle of the Indian Ocean gazing up at the stars, the warm water lapping up against her toes.

She thought about life, love and the meaning of the universe. And then she had an epiphany: she no longer wanted the life she had made for herself in the UK. She would leave her husband of ten years, her cats, her house, her cars and her successful career, and buy a one-way ticket to Paradise (she hoped).

“What about your saucepans?” her mother responded upon hearing of this momentous decision. Possibly she was thinking her daughter had gone potty, but instead of saying that, she talked about the set of expensive pans she and Lindsay’s father had bought her for her birthday and Christmas the previous year.

Lindsay did not pack her saucepans and, when she accepted a job as a diving instructor in the Dominican Republic, was glad she didn’t—especially once she’d settled down with her Dominican boyfriend, Danilo. His son, who lived with them as well, had a habit of throwing pans in the bin because he didn’t like washing them.

Yet her mother’s question stuck in her mind, and she decided to write a memoir called What About Your Saucepans?, which was published last year.

I am thrilled to have the chance to talk to Lindsay about this memoir today, which I found an extraordinarily gripping read. Although Lindsay finds her pot of gold in terms of a man who loves her and a life on her own terms, it all goes to pot at a couple of points. And how she copes with these setbacks is as interesting as anything she has to say about the details of life within the country that has the distinction of being the most visited in the Caribbean (though her account of Dominican life is compelling, too).

And now, before we start, can you hear me banging on a saucepan as I yell out: BE SURE TO LEAVE A COMMENT; YOU’LL HAVE A GOOD CHANCE OF WINNING A DIGITAL COPY!

* * *

Saucepans-Cover_pmHola, Lindsay. ¿Que lo que? Can we start, please, by having you tell us what prompted your decision to write a memoir after a decade of living in the Dominican Republic?
I used to send monthly emails to friends and family about what I was doing and many of them said that I should write a book. I know people often say this, but the longer time went on the more the idea started to grow on me. However, the major prompt was when I was shot by a couple of burglars I’d apprehended at the gate to my home. The bullet passed through my throat and then went straight through my right lung. I made it to the local hospital being carried, then draped over the back of a motorbike, and eventually in a car. After a botched tracheotomy, I was taken to a hospital in the capital, where they put in chest drains. I went home after 12 days.

Wow! So being shot was what motivated you to write about your expat life?
There were lots of things I couldn’t remember about the incident—to this day, my recollections of it are a bit fuzzy—so I asked those who helped me what happened, and then wrote it all down. That became a chapter in the book, and then I filled in before and after.

C5 Bullet stuck in my back 2 weeks after the shooting

The bullet went through Lindsay’s lung and got stuck in her back. Here it what it looked like two weeks after the shooting (Lindsay’s own photo).

Did you ever think of writing a novel instead? I ask because your memoir almost reads like a novel. I felt as though I get to know all the characters and missed them when I put the book down.
No, I never thought about writing a novel—my life was like a novel!

I understand the life you left behind in the UK was somewhat more mundane. Can you describe a typical day?
Typically, I would drag myself out of bed at around 5:30 a.m. in the dark. Get showered and dressed in a power suit making sure high heeled shoes and jewelry matched. Wrap up warm and walk 20 minutes to the train station. Train to Central London. Tube to the city. Another tube to Canary Wharf. Total journey time around two hours assuming no delays, which there often were. Work out in the gym and then walk or train to the office. Work all day long, maybe lunch at The Ivy with agencies or journalists, then the same journey home again, getting home around nine and falling into bed to do the same thing the next day.

What was the trigger (so to speak) that made you decide to pack it all in and become a scuba diving instructor?
I adored scuba diving in tropical places and managed to go a few times a year and it just seemed daft to work so hard to pay to go diving when I could dive all the time and earn enough to live off doing something I loved.

How did you end up in the D.R., of all places?
I started off in the Maldives, then went east to Asia, found it impossible to obtain work permits so ended up in Menorca, an island in the Mediterranean belonging to Spain. I decided I should learn Spanish as I already spoke French and German (as an instructor, the more languages you can speak the better). I wanted to get back to the tropics and a job came up in the Dominican Republic, so off I went.

Every pot will find its lid

February is a month for celebrating romance and love. How did you meet Danilo, the Dominican man who became your second husband?
I had seen him around, but I wasn’t even thinking about a relationship. My plan was simply to learn Spanish then head for Costa Rica and work as an instructor there as the diving was supposed to be excellent. One night at a bar Danilo was there and offered me a lift home on his scooter.

Was it love at first sight?
No, although he was seriously cute. But once Dominicans decide that you are the one, they are like Rottweilers and never let you go! He pursued me with a vengeance.

Lindsay&family

A happy family, Caribbean style: Lindsay with her husband, Danilo, and two sons.

Your courtship led to a ready-made family (his kids) and marriage. Was that a difficult decision?
Not at all. Danilo moved in with me after a couple of weeks courting—as I said they move fast, and as soon as he moved in I was called his “wife” (the vast majority of Dominicans don’t actually get married they just live together but are known as husband and wife). He moved his three children in a week later. We were like that for three years, so most of the big cultural adjustments had already taken place—and there were many, which I discuss in the book. He gave me what I wanted in terms of doing everything to make me happy and to make my life easier, and most of all he made me laugh.

But isn’t “happily ever after” particularly challenging for those of us in cross-cultural marriages?
I must admit, due to the fact we were from such different backgrounds I doubted that we would ever become soul mates, in the way you dream of as a child. However, over the past couple of years—we have now been together for 12 years—he has become my media naranja, as they say here—my half an orange—and is totally my soul mate, my best friend and more. Much I think is due to fact that he is now at university, so we have more “intellectual” conversations, and my Spanish is now much more fluent than it was in the early days. We still laugh all the time and I could not contemplate life without him.

If ifs and ands were pots and pans…

Looking back over the decade you’ve lived in the Dominican Republic, what was your most “displaced” moment: when you thought, what’s a nice girl like me doing in a place full of superstition, political corruption, thievery, and the many other cultural quirks you mention in your book?
You are right, there are many—so many I don’t know where to start. Maybe squatting down to have a pee in the sugar cane fields, taking photographs of dead people in their coffins as their families wanted a picture and had no camera, going into a store and being asked to wait while they catch a rat, going to a jail to get prostitutes out, delivering a baby to a Haitian women on the mud floor of her hutand of course having been shot, which, although I didn’t realize it at the time, meant being taken to hospital draped over the back of a motorbike because there are no ambulances or emergency services where I live.

Goodness, that’s quite a selection! Can you also pinpoint your LEAST displaced moment, when you felt you were much more comfortable living in that place than in your native UK?
I feel like that every day now as I have become totally adjusted to Dominican life. Dominicans call foreigners like me aplatanado—literally, “like a plantain banana,” signifying we’ve become one of them. Nowadays I don’t care what I wear, no make up, material possessions are not important, I don’t get annoyed if the car is scratched—a whole different set of values to those I had before. Instead of dragging myself out of bed, I leap out, happy to see what the day has to bring. I go downstairs and look across at the mountains and watch the sun rise drinking fabulous Dominican coffee. I have never been happier. I talk in the book about my search for joy. Those moments of pure joy that you experience occasionally. Now here I have them every single day. No one could ask for more.

Could you ever live in the UK again?
No, I could never live in the UK again. In the D.R., there are very few rules, which, while it does give rise to some problems, also means one has the freedom of being able to park wherever you want, smoke a cigarette where you want, not wear a seat belt if you choose not to, and so on. I love that. Also, in the UK, Danilo and I have experienced racism—groups of youths making monkey noises on the trains—because I am white and he is brown. I could never ask him to suffer that. Here we have never been made to feel uncomfortable.

Does your husband feel the same way?
My husband loves the organization in the UK, the fact that people queue, the lack of litter in the street and the trains. But even if we did want to live in the UK, we couldn’t as the new immigration regulations mean that I would have to earn a salary I could never earn, and he would have to speak pretty fluent English, which would be very hard for him.

Panning for a publisher

Moving on to the book: what was the most difficult part of the writing process for you?
The first draft was easy. I tend to think for days about what I want to write—in bed before I go to sleep, when I am walking the dogs… I wait and wait and wait until I am bursting to write it down. It is so satisfying when you actually write then. Just like when you eventually find a toilet when you have been dying for a pee for ages. The hard bit was changing it to incorporate what the publisher and editor wanted. They wanted me to write much more dialogue, which I found hard, and to talk about things I didn’t really want to talk about. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, and in a memoir you really need to tell the truth. They were right, of course, and the book was much much better as a result; but it was difficult for me to describe all of the emotions.

You published with Jo Parfitt of Summertime Publishing. How did that happen?
The path to publishing was not an easy one. I wrote to literary agents and publishers, and some said no and others told me to get it edited and then resubmit—which I did, but it all cost money. I think in some instances they were just helping out their editor mates as they all said no even after I resubmitted it. In the meantime, I’d started a blog of the same name, which began to build me an audience ready for when the book came out. In the end I found Jo Parfitt, who directed me to a great editor, Jane Dean. Between them they knocked me and the book into shape.

What audience did you have in mind for the book, and has it been reaching those people?
Originally, I had in mind people who were interested in the Dominican Republic. Yes, it has been reaching them, but it is constant work to make sure you find them and tell them about the book. Luckily, the reviews have been fabulous and those who read the book have said that everyone should read it, not just those who like the DR.

I agree, I think it appeals on many levels, not just to those with an interest in the Caribbean.
Thank you for saying that. Apart from being about life in the Dominican Republic, it’s a love story, a horror story, it has adventure, and I like to think that it might make some people reevaluate their lives and what is important to them.

Do you have any advice for others who are writing memoirs and hoping to publish them?
Firstly, write the memoir. Do it. It is great fun and also cathartic. Never stop writing at a point where you are stuck or it takes ages to pick it up again. Stop when you know exactly what you want to write next. I would also say don’t give up when you are looking for a publisher, just keep at it. It must have taken me over a year at least to find Jo. And when I did she set me targets to achieve, which gave me a purpose and a goal. You must also be honest with yourself as to whether people will be interested in your story and what it can do for them, not just what it might do for you. And finally, don’t be arrogant and precious when your editor and publisher suggest changes. They know the market a million times better than you. Take their suggestions on board. In the end it will produce something much better than you could on your own.

10 Questions for Lindsay de Feliz

Finally, I’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
1. Last truly great book you read: In the Time of the Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez, a historical novel about the Mirabal sisters, who opposed the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic.
2. Favorite literary genre: Murder mystery
3. Reading habits on a plane: I haven’t been on a plane since Kindles and such like came out(!). But I used to read novels—the latest Patricia Cornwell or Tom Clancy—which I would buy at the airport.
4. The one book you’d require President Obama to read, and why: Mine. Because I know he would enjoy it, it would make him smile and help him to understand all of the Dominicans in the USA. He would also enjoy the part about Dominican politics. I can just see him reading bits of it to Michelle in bed in his stripey pajamas and them both laughing.
5. Favorite books as a child: Enid Blyton‘s The Famous Five series; the What Katy Did series by Sarah Chauncey Woolsey, under her pen name Susan Coolidge; Heidi; and books about horses and ballet dancers. As I moved into my teens I loved Georgette Heyer books.
6. Favorite heroine: Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: This is someone who hasn’t yet published a book so I hope that counts: Aisha Ashraf. Her writing simply blows me away and I could never write like she does. I am a story teller and she has a way of touching your heart. I would love to meet her one day.
8. Your reading habits: I don’t read as much as I would like now. However, when the electricity goes off (which it does here quite a lot) I grab a book and devour it. I also read books online by other Summertime authors which they send to me.
9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: Mine again! I know it would make a great film. My dream is to go to the Oscars. I just need to make it happen.
10. The book you plan to read next: Linda Janssen’s The Emotionally Resilient Expat. She is another Summertime author, and I am really looking forward to getting into this one.

* * *

Thanks so much, Lindsay. Readers, what I love about Lindsay is her attitude. Some of us might think that she went out of the frying pan (a life she could no longer stand in the UK) and into the fire (getting shot in the Caribbean), but she doesn’t see it that way at all. In fact, as she explains in the book, after surviving the shooting, she has even more purpose in life and even more devotion to her adopted home.

So, any COMMENTS or QUESTIONS for Lindsay? Do you think you would react in the same way to hardships?

And don’t forget, there’s a copy of the book to be won for the best comment! NOTE: If you can’t wait to read the book or don’t win, What About Your Saucepans? is available from Amazon, Apple iTunes, Kobo and Barnes and Noble. And you can also start following Lindsay on her blog, of course!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another episode in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby, told from the point of view of her husband, Olivera rare treat! (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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Trevi Fountain blesses American woman’s coins, granting her true love, a new life abroad, and now a book (we’re giving it away!)

Catherine Tondelli book signing photoWhile an expat in Japan, I mastered the ritual of tossing coins into the offering box, or saisenbako, at the Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple while clapping twice (to attract divine attention) and then making a short prayer.

In the West, of course, we toss coins into fountains and make a wish, but I’d never been one for doing that.

I might start trying it, though, now I’ve read Catherine Tondelli’s memoir, Three Coins in the Fountain, which recounts the luck she had in finding a mate the moment she tossed three coins into the Trevi fountain in the Città Eterna.

Sounds like a pitch for a Hollywood film, doesn’t it? Except, wait a minute, that film has already been done (in the 1950s)!

And it’s real life we are talking about here, not the movies.

Besides, Tondelli has kindly granted me three wishes:

  1. She will answer some questions about her memoir as well as her writing process (see below).
  2. She will GIVE AWAY TWO COPIES (hard copy or Kindle) to the two readers who toss in the best comment below.
  3. She will make the book available for free download for a short period—to be revealed at some point in our weekly Displaced Dispatch. (What? Not a subscriber? SIGN UP NOW!)

Before we start, I should mention that Tondelli’s book has been likened to another book recounting travels in the wake of divorce: Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. But for me, a half-Italian American, Tondelli’s more restricted itinerary makes a a lot more sense. Who needs India and Bali when you can easily get the whole package—great food, a renewed faith in relationships and family, and love—in Bella Italia?

Like me, Tondelli is half-Italian, and I like to think it’s that ancestry that made her realize the truth of Madonna Louise Ciccone’s assertion: “Italians do it better.”

* * *

3-Coins-in-Fountain-by-Catherine-Tondelli_dropshadowWelcome, Catherine. I read your book not long after I’d finished Imperfect Pairings, by Jackie Townsend, which we featured in this space this past November. But that was an autobiographical novel based on Jackie’s marriage to an Italian man. So here’s my question: did you ever consider telling your story as fiction, or perhaps using it to develop a film script for a romantic comedy?
I originally thought about writing it as a novel, but my story was so unique and it gave so much hope to women who have given up all hope of ever finding the man of their dreams after 40 years old. Most people would never believe that stories like this really do happen and that true love will find you as easily as tossing some coins in a fountain. I also felt that many people could relate to my crazy stories of growing up in a large family. In the 1960s it was normal to have families of seven or more children; but, with the exception of Cheaper by the Dozen, there is very little written about large families. You have a lot of crazy stories when you grow up with ten siblings!

Yes, I noticed in the press release for the book that you grew up in Chicago as one of 11 kids who were left behind by a deadbeat, jazz musician dad. Can you tell us a little more about your relationship with the man who bequeathed you the surname “Tondelli”? After all, he features in the book quite a bit as well.
I had a very challenging relationship with my father and harbored resentment towards him for many years. I was only 12 years old when he walked out on my mother. It had a huge impact on the relationships I had and the men I chose. A daughter’s first bonding with any man is with her father: he is her first boyfriend, role model for the men she chooses. We often repeat what we know rather than what we want: we need “familiar,” even if it’s unhealthy. I kept choosing unsuitable men until fate stepped in and finally tossed me a “get a good man” coin to throw in the Trevi fountain.

Did you and your father ever reconcile?
I didn’t speak to him for twenty years. We finally reunited when I was attending a conference in Las Vegas and he was a musician playing on the strip. I called him and we had dinner together. We hugged and kissed at the end of the evening: it was a huge healing moment in my life. I was never as close to him as I was to my mother but we had a good relationship up until the day he passed away one year ago. Writing about him also helped me to heal.

Sono pazzo di te (I’m crazy about you…or am I just crazy?!)

Now turning to the man who would become your husband, the handsome and irrepressible Fausto. Since romance is a big part of what your book is about, I’d like to recount the first moment when the pair of you set eyes on each other. Newly divorced, you were traveling in Italy with your mom and had by that time reached Rome and the Fontana di Trevi, where your mother handed you three coins and urged you to wish for a nice man to come into your life. At that very moment, you heard an Italian man say: “Eeffa you wanta your wish to comb true, you avv to trow the coins witah your layft (h)and as eet’s closer to your (h)art…”
Yes, and then he asked if I knew “de meaning of da tree coins”:

“Da first coin, you find your love in Rome, da second coin, you return to Rome and the t(h)ird coin, you marry in Rome.”

And that’s what happened: he and I fell in love, I returned, and we got married.

Chi ama me, ama il mio gatto (Whoever loves me, loves my cat)

Jackie Townsend entitled her book “Imperfect Pairings” because she thinks Americans have an idyllic view of cross-cultural marriage with Europeans, thinking it sounds very romantic—whereas the reality tends to be culture clash after culture clash. You seem to believe in the romance while also acknowledging there were hurdles along the way. After you got over assuming Fausto was gay, you suspected you might be just one in a long line of fountain pick-ups. And even after he at last won your trust, you and he had to struggle to get used to each other’s habits. He did not take well at first to sleeping with your beloved Siamese cats, for instance.
Three Coins is not your stereotypical girl-on-holiday-meets-man-of-her-dreams-and-lives-happily-ever-after. Yes, we did meet on my trip to Italy, but falling in love and moving to Italy was the last thing I’d expected. I came to Italy only after I had worked for three years in London and only when finding a good job in Rome. And when he proposed, I called my sister.

I like that you put a map at the beginning of the book, showing all the destinations you and Fausto traveled to together, before you decided to live in the same place. I presume Italy and Italian culture were an adjustment?
Even though I grew up in an Italian American household, the cultural learning curve for me was huge.
My mother descends from Irish stock, and Fausto couldn’t believe his ears when I told him my Irish grandmother had put money aside in her will to host a luncheon following her funeral for all her friends and family. When his father passed away, we went down to the morgue to say our last goodbye and then off to the church and finally the cemetery, all within two hours. No lunch, no funeral home, no photographs—it was all too fast, no time to mourn to grieve with family or friends. A real Mork & Mindy moment for me.

Was that your most displaced moment: when you thought, what’s a nice girl like me doing with an Italian?
That’s one, and another would be the Christmas after we moved into our new palazzo in Rome. I went to our five neighbors in the building and brought them Christmas cookies I made and a bottle of Spumante. Fausto looked at me with all my plates of cookies and bottles of Asti in my hand and said: “My love, what are you doing??” I went on to explain that we always bring something over to the next door neighbors in America for Christmas. He just stood there and smiled and said “We don’t do that in Italy.” I said, well, we’re going to start now!

Can you also pinpoint your least displaced moment, the first time you realized you felt much more comfortable with him and in Italy than you do with a man from your own culture in the U.S.?
I think it was when there was a Lazio (Rome) football game on TV and instead he took me to see a classical music concert at the Auditorium. He wasn’t telling me all night how much he was giving up for me…he really enjoyed the concert! I am a big baseball fan, not soccer. I was thrilled.

Non si serra mai una porta che non se n’apra un’altra (When one door closes another opens)

Moving on to the writing of the book: What was the most difficult part of the writing process?
Being constantly turned down by traditional publishers. Also, people I knew who already had books published weren’t very encouraging. Luckily, I didn’t let them get me down. After shopping it around for about six months, I decided to self publish. I realized with all my marketing and PR experience I could do a better job then they could in promoting my book in getting it to the right audience.

I see that you’ve listed Francesca Maggi as a co-author. How did that relationship work?
I was lucky as she was an editor and also an author and a friend. She had just published Burnt by the Tuscan Sun, and I asked for her help on the editing process. I gave her my manuscript and she polished and refined it pointing out my weaknesses and suggested options to strengthen those areas. She was instrumental in getting the flow right and helped with the technical elements. She was a natural choice for me as we share a common love of Italy and America, and she knew my husband well.

Can you offer any advice for others who are writing memoirs and hoping to publish them?
Don’t get discouraged. Publishing a book is not easy but if you have a good story, you now at least have options to get it out there. I love this quote by women’s fiction writer Jennifer Weiner:

The difference between people who believe they have books inside of them and those who actually write books is sheer cussed persistence—the ability to make yourself work at your craft, every day—the belief, even in the face of obstacles, that you’ve got something worth saying.

What audience did you have in mind for the book, and has it been reaching those people?
I really thought the target would be women between 20 and 60 (I do get a lot of emails from women like myself, and am happy they can relate), but I have been amazed at how many men also have written to me to say how much they enjoyed reading it. Obviously anyone who loves Italy, old-time romance, or stories of expat life in Europe would find it entertaining.

What do men like about the book?
I’ve had some nice comments from men who said that they were taking notes on Fausto’s techniques… Many of them also grew up in a large family. Also, Fausto was still a bachelor at 50. His story, too, can be inspiring!

Living La Dolce Vita

In your book you question whether Americans have their values in the right place given that we take so little vacation compared to people in Europe. Have you continued to feel this way about the U.S. since marrying Fausto and settling down in Rome?
Two years ago I decided to live like the Romans do and started working for myself so I could spend more time in the US visiting family and friends and also have more time to enjoy La Dolce Vita.

Do you think you could come back to live in the United States? What would be the adjustments?
After living in Italy for more than 12 years it would be very difficult for me to return to live in the US. Fausto and I have discussed moving back to California as he also acts in film and there are many more opportunities, but then we thought: how can we go and live in a city where they close the restaurants at ten o’clock? It would be very difficult to replace our lifestyle in the US. That said, I would love to transport the US postal office here as Italy still doesn’t have postal stamp machines. I bring my book and my computer now when I go to the post office as I know I’ll be spending the day there.

10 Questions for Catherine Tondelli

Finally, I’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
1. Last truly great book you read: Blood from a Stone, by Donna Leone, part of her crime series set in Venice.
2. Favorite literary genre: Biographies or autobiographies: real-life stories are always so much more interesting than anything you could make up. That said, I also enjoy reading fiction.
3. Reading habits on a plane: I usually have long flights as my mother lives in San Diego and I fly from Rome three or four times per year to see her couple that with all the travel I do for my work (am working on events in Dubai, Nairobi, Singapore and London at the moment). I always have three or four books in my library at home that I wait eagerly to put in my carry-on bag for my long, hopefully peaceful journey. I am old fashioned and still like to feel the paper when i read a book.
4. The one book you’d require President Obama to read, and why: Jimmy Carter’s book Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis. I believe that Jimmy Carter has been one of our great leaders yet he is so humble. He was my 95-year-old grandmother’s favorite president. He tells us that for example the USA gives far less foreign aid to developing countries than most people imagine. And, much of this aid goes to certain select countries whose loyalty we are trying to buy rather than because we want to help the poor. The book opened up my eyes to understand how we are perceived internationally. It will give Obama a good reminder that values and morals are more important than being powerful.
5. Favorite books as a child: Charlotte’s Web, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
6. Favorite heroine: I have many but at the moment it is Malala, the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban and survived.
7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: Beatrix Potter. I loved her books as a child, and she was also one of the early pioneer woman who broke the male barrier in publishing.
8. Your reading habits: I like to read in bed with my two Siamese cats (Stella and Luisa) on my lap.
9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: Three Coins in the Fountain, of course!
10. The book you plan to read next: E-Squared: Nine Do-It-Yourself Energy Experiments That Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality, by Pam Grout. She provides experiments that prove our thoughts really do create our reality.

* * *

Thanks so much, Catherine. Readers, your turn! Any COMMENTS or QUESTIONS for Catherine? What would YOU wish for with your three coins, having heard her story? Come on, Valentine’s Day is coming! Surely, someone out there aspires to be the next heart wearing the valentine of the Frank Sinatra song?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s TCK TALENT column, by Lisa Liang.

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An expat novel in episodes: SUITE DUBAI #1 – Arriving (2/8)

Suite Dubai Collage Drop Shadow

Image: Top: Book cover & author image (supplied by Callista Fox); bottom: By vahiju (Morguefiles).

It’s mid-December—perfect timing for the second installment of Suite Dubai, a serial novel by adult Third Culture Kid Callista Fox. As Callista tells it, the book grew out of a story that entered her head that wouldn’t go away: “There was this girl, young, vulnerable, naive, walking along a concourse in an airport, among men in white robes and checkered scarves and woman in black gauzy material. Where was she going? What would happen to her there?” Missed the opening installment? Get caught up now!!! NOTE: Highly addictive! Six more parts to come in 2014.

ML Awanohara

Her parents hadn’t wanted her to take this job. “Where?” her dad had asked, like he’d misheard her. “Dubai?”

Her mom had put her hand to her mouth. “All the way over there? In the middle of all those bombings? Can’t you wait a few more months, you know … see if something comes up here?”

A few more months? She’d already waited a few months. Twelve, to be exact. She’d already filled out more applications than she could count, for jobs she didn’t want until they’d rejected her. She had a degree in journalism and couldn’t get a job working the desk at the Motel 6. “Have you ever worked in hospitality?” a woman named Melinda had asked her over the phone, missing the irony of her own inhospitable tone.

In hospitality? What did that even mean? She’d spent her whole life being unnecessarily nice to people, on the phone, at the store, even in heavy traffic. She was certain she could hand someone a room key without causing a scene.

This job, the one waiting for her on the other side of the crowd, had been advertised on a website with an international employment section that she read mostly to pass the time, something she’d had plenty of since graduation. The public-relations position caught her eye, but she didn’t apply. She didn’t even know where Dubai was.

Then, rather than ask her mom for gas money—again—she threw some old clothes into the back of her Honda and headed for a consignment store. At a busy intersection she saw a guy dressed as a mattress, dancing on the side of the road, flashing a 15 PERCENT off sign at oncoming traffic. While she waited at the light, a gust of wind came and caught the inflatable costume like a sail and blew him back a few feet. He stumbled, almost fell, and then regained his footing, but his sign was blowing along the strip of grass and he had to turn and chase after it, the wind blowing against the back side of his costume now. His legs, outfitted in gray tights, stumbled along as he tried to slow himself down lest he become airborne and delivered to the brick wall of the nearby Chick-fil-A. She was scared for him, and she was even more scared she might recognize him from one of her writing classes.

That day she drove home and rewrote her résumé.

She added that she had done some public-relations work for a local nonprofit (omitting that it was her mother’s nonprofit). She had promoted an art auction that raised over $120,000 for at-risk teens (omitting that she’d really paraded paintings, like a woman on a game show, around a banquet hall, encouraging people to bid). She had been more of an art Sherpa than an event planner. Yes, she embellished. That’s what writers do. She wrote a kick-ass cover letter about the lost art of storytelling in the business world and clicked send.

“Where. The hell. Did you find this job?” her friend Emily asked, scribbling down the name of the website with a pen she’d chewed until it cracked. It was her tenth day without a cigarette. “I’d do it. I’d go in a heartbeat. I’m so tired of serving penny beer to drunk college guys.”

When they’d started their journalism degrees, they had both expected a job with the local newspaper that would lead to a column with the New York Times or a wire assignment that required a khaki blazer and a handsome translator. Now all they heard was, “Journalism is dead. You need to start a blog.” She and Emily scraped up money for domain names but neither of them got very far. Her life had become so dull and disappointing she was too embarrassed to write about it.

Emily was having the same problem. “I could describe the texture of the vomit delivered to my left sandal by a guy in a Georgia Tech jersey, or how I’ve started stealing my parents’ dog’s antidepressants.”

“Don’t worry,” Rachel said as she moved her chair into the shifting shade of the umbrella in Emily’s backyard. “I won’t get it. I’m not really qualified. Five years’ experience? Everyone wants five years’ experience. What I really need is a time machine.”

“But what if you do get it?” Emily said squinting at her. “I mean, a real job. One your parents wouldn’t be embarrassed to tell their friends about. I see my mom’s lip quiver before she tells people I’m a waitress at Kelly’s. She’s embarrassed. I don’t blame her. All those ballet lessons, cello lessons, Saturday Spanish classes, SAT prep courses, so I could get ahead. That’s what they said. So I could get ahead. Ahead of what?” She leaned back in her chair. “I wear a green apron with a pin that says ASK ABOUT OUR BUCKET SPECIALS. I count out change and signal to the bouncer when he needs to intervene. But see, I use the word “intervene” instead of “throw his ass out.” So it was all worth it, right? Because…vocabulary.”

“At least you’re good at something. I was a horrible waitress. Always forgetting who got the water, who got the wine. Twice I left a family sitting there, at a table, for almost an hour before even taking their order. The tips they gave me were out of pity. I saw it in their eyes.”

“You’re good at something. You just don’t know what it is yet,” Emily said, unwrapping a piece of gum and folding it into her mouth. “I should go back to school, take some architecture classes. That sounds so much better, right? ‘My daughter’s studying to be an architect.’ Especially if you go off to Dubai and leave me here alone.” Her eyes got shiny with tears. She looked away. “Or you could take me with you.”

“Well, there’s no way I’ll get this job.”

None of it was awful. They weren’t starving. They weren’t homeless. But enough days repeat themselves and you can’t imagine any day in the future being different than the one before it. This is how people fail, Rachel thought. A little bit at a time.

Two weeks went by without a reply. Then one night she remembered the business card in her nightstand. The one she’d had for over a year. The one she’d almost tossed in the garbage. When she had put it in the drawer she’d wondered why she was keeping it, but she knew she’d never get another business card with the word “sheikh” on it. She dumped the drawer on her bed and dug through the gum wrappers, hair ties, and scraps of bad poetry she’d written late at night when she couldn’t sleep. There it was, a simple white card embossed with the name Sheikh Ahmed Al Baz. He lived in a city called Riyadh, not Dubai. Wherever it was, it was closer to Dubai than Atlanta. So she wrote him an e-mail, asking if he remembered her, asking if he’d heard of the Al Zari Hotel.

* * *

So, readers, how are you enjoying the story so far? Let us know in the comments… And if you can’t wait until next month, you can always download the complete episode of “Arriving” (this is just the beginning) —as well as the next episode, provocatively entitled “Party on Palm Island”—from Amazon.

Callista Fox moved to Saudi Arabia when she was eight and lived there off and on until turning 19. she went to boarding schools in Cyprus and Austria. She has written two travel books and a travel column in the Sunday Oklahoman. Currently, she writes proposals for a consulting firm that provides technology and management solutions to governments and nonprofits around the world.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, an interview with this month’s featured author, Alexander McNabb, back by popular request. We’ll be talking about, and giving away, the final book in his Middle East trilogy: Shemlan!!!

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An expat novel in episodes: SUITE DUBAI #1 – Arriving (1/8)

Suite Dubai Collage Drop Shadow

Image: Top: Book cover & author image (supplied by Callista Fox); bottom: By vahiju (Morguefiles).

Today we begin a serial novel by Callista Fox, called Suite Dubai. Recalling her childhood as a Third Culture Kid in the Middle East, Callista had a story in her head that wouldn’t go away: “There was this girl, young, vulnerable, naive, walking along a concourse in an airport, among men in white robes and checkered scarves and woman in black gauzy material. Where was she going? What would happen to her there?” Sounds tantalizing, doesn’t it? On that note, here’s the very first part of Episode 1…with 7 more parts to come. (Warning: Highly addictive!)

ML Awanohara

When Rachel walked through the sunlit terminal at the Dubai airport, her student-loan payment was a month past due; her credit card, maxed. She had thirty-six dollars in her bank account and twenty-three in her purse, minus the ten she’d converted to euros to buy a stale ham-and-cheese croissant from a vendor at the Charles de Gaulle Airport. Now she couldn’t find the name of the man sent to pick her up. She’d printed the e-mail back in her mother’s office, folded it into a neat square. But where was it? Not in her purse or her carry-on bag. She’d checked them twice. It was a man’s name, something that started with an S. Her phone was no help. When she turned it on, the word ROAMING flashed across the screen. She was definitely roaming. At least Sallie Mae couldn’t reach her here. Not for a few weeks, anyway. And when they did, Rachel would finally have the money to make a payment. Unless her new boss realized she was a fraud and sent her home.

They wouldn’t have hired you if they thought you couldn’t do it. That’s what she’d been telling herself since Paris, since before Paris, really. Since she’d gotten the job offer.

You will do it, she whispered.

Down an escalator and along a series of moving walkways, she followed a family she recognized from her flight: a man in loose-hipped pants and long tunic, his wife in a bright green sari, the end of her scarf trailing behind her sequined shoes. Between them, holding their hands, a tiny girl in a yellow dress kept bending her legs, lifting her feet off the floor and letting her parents carry her along. The little girl shrieked and giggled, and in spite of the strain on their arms, her parents smiled down at her. In front of them, two men wore long, floor-length dress shirts. Checkered scarves flipped away from their faces like long hair. To her right, in the aisles of a duty-free shop, a woman covered in black gauze moved like a shadow among the perfume displays.

Rachel switched both bags to her other shoulder and smoothed the front of her wrinkled t-shirt. Her pants were no better. All those hours of travel had left a dull film on her skin and her head felt like it was filled with cotton.

She needed something. A trip to the bathroom to splash more water on her face. Something to eat. Several hours of real sleep—not the kind you did while trying to sit straight up until, desperate to finish your dream, your head slipped down and found a comfortable spot on the shoulder of the man sitting in 32F. “Excuse me…miss…”

She handed her passport to a man behind a high counter, who studied her picture then thumbed through the pages to her visa.

“You are here for work?” He asked.

“Yes,” she said. “The Al Zari Hotel.”

“The Al Zari Hotel,” he repeated. He looked at her t-shirt, her pants and then down at her tennis shoes. “Housekeeper?”

The customs line was long but it moved quickly. A man straightened his black beret before motioning for her to put her suitcase on the counter and open it. “Medications?” he asked. She shook her head. “Cash over ten thousand dollars?” She laughed. No. “Gifts over three thousand AED?” She had exactly no gifts worth any AED, as far as she knew.

“You have nothing to declare?” He said, looking annoyed.

“No,” she said. “Nothing to declare.”

“You are in the wrong place.”

She stared at him, not sure what to do next.

He pointed across the room to the Indian family who was waiting for their luggage to travel along a conveyor belt through an x-ray machine. “There,” the man said.

She grabbed her suitcase first, then her carry-on by the strap, tipping it over and spilling an envelope of pictures onto the counter. Together she and the customs man began to scoop them into a pile. He lifted one and squinted at it. Then he turned it around so she could see it. It was her with Truman, taken by a stranger while they stood in front of the roller coaster at Dollywood. They were doing that couples pose they’d perfected the one with their heads tilted toward each other. She was holding a mass of fluffy cotton candy and his face was scribbled out with a black marker.

“Oh, yeah.” She took the picture from him. “I should just throw this away.” She turned and slipped the picture into the side pocket of her bag.

On the other side of customs some sliding doors parted to reveal a crowd. People craned their necks to see who was coming through. Some held signs in Arabic. Some in Chinese or Japanese. The only English sign had the name Mr. Duncan written in marker. She walked along, looking for someone looking for her. The family from the airplane walked past her, the man pushing a luggage cart and the woman carrying the girl, who had fallen asleep on her shoulder.

Someone touched her arm.

“Rachel, eh, Lewis?” A short man with a horseshoe of black hair on an otherwise bald head, wearing delicate gold spectacles, stood a few feet from her. “You arrre Rachel Lewis?” His rolled rs made the question sound dramatic.

“Yes,” she said, and gave him a smile that remained on her face against her will. This was not the professional look she’d practiced but the face of a girl watching a friend of her father’s pretend to pull a quarter from behind her ear. “I’m Rachel Lewis.”

“I am Sayeed,” he said. “The car is outside.” He picked up her suitcase and headed for the exit.

Outside there was no sky, just the sun’s glare. It stung her tired eyes and she had to blink just to see where she was going. The heat felt thick as fur against her skin, too thick to breathe in all at once. Sayeed crossed a road and led the way along a row of cars, finally stopping at a white Mercedes.

The city looked nothing like she’d hoped. She saw no ancient markets shaded with draped fabric, no tents, no camels. It was as modern as downtown Atlanta with silver skyscrapers and wide, smooth multi-lane highways and perfectly painted crosswalks. A Rolls-Royce passed them on the right, then a big truck hauling men like cargo. They were packed tight on benches bolted to the truck bed; the ones on the end braced with their feet to stay seated. Their faces sagged, their shoulders, their arms and hands. They looked as tired as she felt. . . .

* * *

So, readers, would you like to hear more? Let us know in the comments… And if you can’t wait until next month, you can always download the complete episode of “Arriving” (this is just the beginning) —as well as the next episode, provocatively entitled “Party on Palm Island”—from Amazon.

Callista Fox moved to Saudi Arabia when she was eight and lived there off and on until turning 19. she went to boarding schools in Cyprus and Austria. She has written two travel books and a travel column in the Sunday Oklahoman. Currently, she writes proposals for a consulting firm that provides technology and management solutions to governments and nonprofits around the world.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, some musings on Thanksgiving from an expat point of view, by Anthony Windram.

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

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Image: Top: Book cover & author image (supplied by Callista Fox); bottom: By vahiju (Morguefiles).

For author Lana Penrose, expat “curveballs” come in threes

curveballToday we welcome back best-selling Australian author Lana Penrose, who last visited us in December to commiserate with those who were spending the holidays separated from their dearest and no longer nearest. Today’s occasion? The publication of Lana’s third memoir on her life abroad in Europe. Wait, did I just write “third”? Yes, this indefatigable Aussie managed to get a trilogy out of her expat experience, and is here today to explain.

—ML Awanohara

I’ve been asked to explain what motivated me to write my latest mini-memoir Addicted to Love, and it’s a very good question—one that I pose to myself often, particularly while in the throes of insomnia.

ToHelasandBack_dropshadowFor the uninitiated, I’m the author of To Hellas and Back, which chronicles my true-life tale of following the love of my life to the ends of the Earth (Greece) only to wind up losing my mind.

I then Nutbushed over to the UK to work for a world-renowned pop star and in the process wrote Kickstart My Heart, which details my attempt to negotiate my newly single life à la Bridget Jones—only with an axe through her head. As the book’s subtitle says: “A carnival of dating disasters”.

KickstartmyHeart_dropshadowNow these two books are rife with comedy, tragedy and my own human failings, so why scoop out what’s left of my heart and smear it across my shirtsleeve?

Like I said … a very good question.

More to the story…

The truth is that my story absolutely did not end with me leaving London to re-sample Greece after again being lured by love’s enchantment. In fact what happened next is something that I’ve kept close to my chest because it was downright shocking. I spent considerable time deliberating over whether I should share it at all.

AddictedtoLove_cover_dropshadowBut as many of you displaced writers know, the problem with being an author (one of the many!) is that you can’t seem to stop writing. And life has been more than accommodating in throwing me the odd curveball, the sort of material I feel compelled to purge away with my pen.

And so Addicted to Love was born: a mini-memoir that proves once and for all that truth really is stranger than fiction.

It’s set on the beautiful Greek island of Kythera, where I faced an impossible situation that I can’t go into here without issuing a spoiler alert … but rest assured that it’s gripping and you’ll digest it quite quickly, because it’s been described as “a page turner.”

Finally, an answer (of sorts)

But back to the original question: What motivated me to write this book? Well, thankfully (and unfortunately), experience has shown that there are many people who go through similar triumphs and tragedies to mine, particularly while traversing the globe. I like to connect with such people, and book writing is my way of holding out a hand and saying: “What—you, too?”and “You’re not alone.”

To Hellas and Back, Kickstart My Heart and Addicted to Love form a trilogy of the victories and pitfalls I experienced as an everyday person hurdling life abroad.

Each book can be read as a stand-alone, but I (predictably) suggest that you start at the very beginning to understand the depths of where I wound up.

* * *

Hey, Lana—you wound up here, at the Displaced Nation! That’s not the depths, surely? Readers, any questions for Lana or words of support? If you’re not familiar with Lana’s works, you can find the entire trilogy on Amazon or Smashwords. And don’t forget to follow her advice and begin at the beginning: by going to hellas and back!

Sydney-based (and no longer displaced) author Lana Penrose has had various incarnations, including music journalist, record company promotions gal, music television producer and personal assistant to an iconic pop sensation whose name shall never be revealed unless she’s subjected to Chinese water torture. She also once worked with the now-infamous Simon Cowell, which she today finds really odd. You can read more about her and her works on her author blog and/or follow her on Twitter: @LanaPenrose

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, when we’ll be revisiting one of the earliest themes on this blog, Alice in Wonderland, but from the perspective of an international creative.

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Image: MorgueFile

RANDOM NOMAD: Russell VJ Ward, A Bloke from Basingstoke with a Bloomin’ Extraordinary Life

Russell Ward Collage_pmPlace of birth: Basingstoke*, Hampshire, United Kingdom
Passports: UK & Australia
Overseas history: Canada (Vancouver and Ottawa): 2003-06; Australia (Sydney, New South Wales): 2006 – present.
Occupation: Civil servant in New South Wales (state) government; blogger; wannabe fiction writer and entrepreneur — currently setting up a corporate writing business.
Cyberspace coordinates: In Search of a Life Less Ordinary (2012 finalist in the Best Australian Blogs competition); In Search of a Life Less Ordinary (Facebook page); @RussellVJWard (Twitter handle).
*Basingstoke (aka Amazingstoke) is a small commuter town in the south of England that is occasionally voted one of the less preferred towns in Britain — though not by me!

So tell me, how did a bloke from Basingstoke end up in the lovely harbour city of Sydney?
As much as I like Basingstoke, displacement came easy! I always had a burning desire to experience life in a country different to my own. I wanted to explore new environments, opportunities and activities. I was initially drawn to Canada as my grandfather was Canadian, and I had a long-held desire to explore this great country. I left England in 2003 in pursuit of less stress, more emphasis on the greater outdoors, and for a healthier and fuller way of living life. In Canada I lived by mountains and the snow. I blame my Australian wife for the subsequent move to Australia — she wanted to come back home for a while, and knew I was a soft touch for living by the ocean. These days, when spending every available minute doing something, anything, by the beach, I blame her and curse her and blame her some more…

Is anyone else in your immediate family “displaced”?
My grandfather is my opposite number. He met my grandmother while serving with the Canadian Army in Europe during World War II and married her while based in the UK. He returned to Canada several times but ultimately lived out the rest of his life in England.

And wasn’t your wife also displaced at some point? Otherwise, the pair of you would never have met…
Yes, my wife was working in England for a year, while also spending time with her English family (her mother is English and moved to Australia when she was 12). We met in my home town at the gym of all places — she always used to go to the same classes as me.

It sounds as though you’re living the dream in Sydney, but I can imagine you’ve had your displaced moments. Which one stands out?
It occurred just after we arrived in Sydney with our two dogs. I was walking them at a small park opposite our rental house. The younger pup was playing under a tree with his ball when I noticed something dangling out of the tree immediately above him. As I got closer, I realized said dangly thing was a humungous python wrapped around a branch, with its head swinging perilously close to my dog’s own. Thankfully, he’s an obedient little guy (my dog, not the snake) so he came to me as soon as I called. I remember standing there muttering over and over to myself: “What have I done? Where have I taken us? Did I just see a python hanging from a tree?” It became even more surreal when an elderly couple strolled past the tree while out for their morning walk. “Watch out for the python!” I called out. “Oh, don’t worry about him,” the white haired gent replied. “He’s just a harmless diamond python.” I knew then that I was truly displaced … and a lonnnnnnng way from Kansas, Dorothy.

When have you felt the least displaced?
The moment last November when our son, Elliot, was born. Australia was now his place of birth and it suddenly had a new, much more personal, meaning for me. This wild and rugged, unashamedly and devastatingly beautiful country will always be his home, wherever we are as a family in the future. He is an Australian first and foremost — and I’m incredibly proud of having provided that for him.

I’ve seen some of Elliott’s baby pix on Facebook and I must say, he’s adorable! No wonder you’re a proud papa! Besides your wife and new baby, you may bring one precious item or curiosity you’ve collected from the country (or each of the countries) you’ve lived in to The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
From Canada: A bowl of poutine — a bowl full of french fries coated with brown gravy and topped off with curd cheese (which is a strange thing to be carrying in your suitcase and no doubt illegal to carry on your travels, but there you go). I’ve always had a penchant for the odd hot chip or fry. When I landed in Canada and somebody introduced me to this delightful French-Canadian dish, I knew I’d found my manna from heaven. Poutine. The very word itself makes me salivate.
From Australia: Probably a pair of budgie smugglers, which, though I’ve never worn — I can never quite get my head around the concept of wearing — would remind me of Oz as the majority of Australian men over the age of 40 wear them. FYI, the budgie smuggler — otherwise known as the “tighty-whitey” or “banana hammock” — is Australian slang for men’s tight-fitting Speedo-style swimwear. It’s something I shall never be seen wearing unless on a desert island by myself.

Don’t even think about it once you’re inside The Displaced Nation. We like to keep a sense of decorum. Next question: Can you donate any words or expressions from your travels to our displaced argot?
From Canada: It has to be “eh?”. “Canada, eh?” is something of a legendary sentence! “How’s it going, eh?” Used often and everywhere, it’s cute, quaint and so very Canadian. I also adore the way Canadians say “out”. Next time you’re near a Canadian, ask him or her to say it and you’ll see why.
From Australia: I’m going to avoid the “g’day” and “no worries” stereotypes and go with “ah yeah” — which I’m told I say all the time and which my friends tell me sounds very Australian. I think I probably used to say it in Amazingstoke, but years later, with the Aussie twang, it sounds less Jude Law and more Steve Irwin.

Let’s move on (or back) to food. You are invited to prepare a meal for the Displaced Nation, based on your travels. What’s on the menu? No poutine, please, we’re displaced!

Appetizer: From Canada — okay, no poutine but possibly a serving of waffles with Canadian maple syrup. I know, it’s not all that healthy and it’ll fill you up as a starter, but it was either that or the BeaverTails (fried dough pastry that resemble a beaver’s tail).
Main: I’ll revert to my current Australian habitat and chuck a couple of steaks with a few prawns on the barbie. (I know it’s an overused cliche — but one I’ve found to be true of life in the land down under.)
Dessert: I’ll whip up a key lime pie — a taste acquired from my short period of time working in the US. The pie was served on my arrival and, after seven hours of cattle-class airplane food, was quite easily the most delicious thing I’d tasted all day.
Drinks: I could share a few schooners of Australian lager, but instead I’ll opt for a jug of iced tea for the non-alcohol drinkers out there — I used to consume it by the gallon when living in Vancouver.

A theme we’ve been exploring this month, in honor of Valentine’s Day, is cross-cultural love. Thanks to your Aussie wife, you qualify! Tell me, what’s your idea of a romantic evening for two — and has it changed since the time when you were an unattached male who hadn’t yet left Britain?
It’s quite similar to when I lived in Britain: i.e., dinner for two, flowers, chocolates, a card and so on. In other words, fairly traditional. The difference now is the setting. In Sydney we’ll sit by the water at a local restaurant, maybe at the edge of the sand on one of the Northern Beaches. The sound of the ocean can be quite soothing … but is it an aphrodisiac, I hear you ask? Next time, I’ll order the oysters and let you know!

:D Our other theme of the month is film, in honor of the Oscars. Can you recommend any films that speak to the situation of expats and their displacement?
A film I watched recently that I’d thoroughly recommend and which completely spoke to the expat situation was The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It’s a British comedy-drama about a group of retirees who travel to India to take up residence in what they believe is a newly restored hotel. The most interesting part for me was the way in which the different characters deal with their displacement, especially to such a polar-opposite country to their own. Some cope well, others not so. And the parallels with everyday expat living are apparent throughout.

That’s actually one of the films we nominated for this year’s Displaced Oscars — results to be announced in our Dispatch on Saturday! We’ll be sure to register your vote before then.

So, readers — yay or nay for letting Russell Ward into The Displaced Nation? Among other contradictions, he’s an Aussie citizen but can’t seem to cope with nonpoisonous snakes and refuses to don a budgie smuggler. And he claims to be loyal to Basing/Amazingstoke, but wants to serve us Canadian (sweet) iced tea. (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Russell — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, a review of Jeff Jung’s new book on mid-life career changes involving travel and the expat life.

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

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Images (top to bottom): Banner from Russell VJ Ward’s blog; with his wife on Sydney Harbour (2010); photo he uses for his blog — taken in Launceston, Tasmania, in 2011; wearing Canadian mittens on Avalon Beach, Sydney, just before the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics — his way of showing his Canadian friends that he was supporting their athletes: “You should have seen the looks I got from the locals; it was a 35 degree Celsius day and I looked like a madman!”

The artichoke of cross-cultural love: Italy calls!

Signora Stella CollageAmore é gioia, amore é gelosia, amore é soffrire, amore é tenerezza, amore é calore. Amore sei tu! Is it any wonder that Italians always make the top-10 list whenever women are asked to rate the world’s best lovers? We are truly fortunate, then, in having the displaced author Estelle Jobson as today’s guest blogger. As you will see, this South African likens falling in love with an Italian man to feasting on a succulent artichoke — a rather curious analogy, to be sure, until one remembers that artichokes are cultivated in the Mediterranean. It is also a rather mysterious vegetable. How exactly do you eat it? As Jobson shows, it’s a matter of  peeling off the outer petals, one at a time… We are also fortunate in that Signora Stella is giving away an autographed copy of the book she wrote on her Roman love story! Grazie mille, Signora! (Details below.)

– ML Awanohara

The first call to write about Italy came when I was ten. With a smudgy HB pencil, I outlined an epic in my lockable, pink diary. It was to be about an extended Italo-American family who would make it big selling tyres. The main character, Pia, was to be my age, torn (theatrically) between her Italian roots and her American life. There would be family dramas (dramatic!), cascades of curls (curly!), Virgin Maries (statues and exclamations), and a stout grandma overseeing boiling pots of pasta. The novel would be shot through with shouting, gesticulating, and emotional-blackmail-meets-amore.

This literary project was soon shelved on the grounds of inadequate content knowledge: I knew nothing of the tyre business and had exhausted my repertoire on Italians. So the plot was filed amongst my many “books to write one day”.

Loving the individual

??????????What I did finish writing, in my thirties, is Finding Rome on the Map of Love, in which travel narrative meets love story. It is an autobiographical account of moving to Rome with an Italian man. It is about love radiating out from the heart of my Italo-South African couple, to love for a family, language, people, culture, and country. Just like the concentric rings within an artichoke. This happens in all relationships, however it is much more pronounced when the language, culture, and people are not those you grew up with. The rings within the artichoke make it very difficult to know which characteristic belongs to whom. Is it your beloved who is prone to interrupting others mid-speech? A family trait? Or that of the whole nation?

Just as Italians are sometimes drawn to the prudish, earnest, and ploddish Protestant way, so are we Anglo-Saxons drawn to their swaggering, flamboyant charm — and sometimes alarmingly cavalier approach to work. It threatens us to the core, yet opposites attract. And how! A part of us secretly longs to become the other. But since we can’t quite pull it off, the next best is to have them close to our hearts. Or better still, right in the bed. We say “Be mine.”

So the beloved in question — termed “the Meterosexual” for his dapper grooming — was in varied and bewitching ways the very opposite of what I grew up with. Unlike the wooden, roughly-hewn South African man, an Italian one may adore you, quite tangibly and vocally (poetically even), from head to toe. Because in his culture, your coiffure and your shoes are crucial. Core-shakingly so. The Meterosexual debated how I should do my hair for a job interview (“Hup? Down? No, hup. More professional!”) and set me straight on shoes that were an insult to an outfit. Certain footwear was actually banned from leaving the cupboard!

For a woman to have her appearance critiqued by a man, even an exquisitely stylish one, demands a certain thickness of skin.

But being South African, I had it.

Loving the family and culture

The next ring of artichoke love is that for your sweetheart’s family and culture. First I had la mamma pressing a hairdryer upon me lest I got a cervicale (the special Italian, wet-hair induced crick in the neck).

And soon thereafter, I was up against what felt like an entire nation (in this case, 60 million citizens) all clucking, fussing, and advising on health, the risk of catching a cold, and what food may be consumed at specific times of day, linked to its digestibility. This counsel was dispatched entirely unsolicited, but with tenderness.

Which is almost the same as love, isn’t it?

Italians regarded me, being Anglo-Saxon, as afflicted with a lumpishly undiscerning cultural palate. I was urged by strangers to read Dante Alighieri, listen to Vivaldi, and, above all, focus on what went into my mouth. The Meterosexual brought home gifts of emerald olive oil, popping with vitality, and parcels of pastries wrapped in a bow, popping with calories. His mother served me the Tuscan carciofini fritti (deep-fried artichokes). And his countryfolk served me regional cuisine, ubiquitous coffees, plus the unloseable gift: an ability to discern the superiority of mozzarella di bufala (female buffalo) over mucca (cow).

Loving a language

Further spirals of love lay in the process of gaining Italian language skills. Italian has delightful suffixes, to make words bigger, smaller, cosier, cuter, or nastier and uglier versions of themselves. This, to an English-speaker, is like playing Lego® with language.

With my ability to converse came a gradual adaptation to local ways. Although, truth be told, it’s easier to learn a foreign language than, for example, to wend your way successfully through the Italian national health system or to fathom the quasi-pagan fetishizing of the modern Catholic saint.

Loving the modus operandi

Living in Rome, I learned to ride a scooter in the city’s hair-raising traffic. This turned out to be a superbly transferable skill, relevant to many other Italian things, such as being honest. Telling the truth, the Italian way, is a flexible, savvy and self-preserving art. People lie with flair. In fact, it isn’t really lying at all, they explain. It’s being diplomatic, being furbo (smart). Banging your head against all this with rigid Protestant morals will only make your cranium ring. The Italians have taught me that blurting out the truth willy-nilly is ill-advised. It is gauche, hurts other people’s feelings, and counter-productive.

Now I know: one good lie deserves another.

Becoming the other

So it is that you start off in love with a foreign person and you end up assimilating their culture. Over time, some of the once-exotic features become yours and you may even lose bits of your cultural DNA, for lack of use (e.g., wearing ugly shoes). When I find myself using an Italian gesture or expression, because nothing else will do, I know I am no longer mimicking.

This is a moment of profound integration: deeper than love, more metaphysical than the first sip of the first cappuccino of the day. It will always be yours. It’s like becoming your own artichoke.

* * *

Readers, I have a confession to make. I’ve always found the artichoke a bit intimidating. I’m not sure I’m any less intimidated after hearing what Estelle has to say — but thanks to her, I’m can now appreciate its succulent taste and tender heart. And I know I prefer it steamy!

I can imagine her dashing Roman metrosexual calling her not just Stella but mia stella polare — his polar star! (And how can I get me a pair of those cool red shoes?)

What about you? Are you eager to hear more about Estelle’s love adventure with an Italian, and with Italy itself?

Listen to what readers of her book had to say:

Liesl Jobson (Estelle’s sister, still in South Africa and also a writer — one who wins awards for her short stories!):

Finding Rome on the Map of Love is an utterly enchanting and fabulously funny journey outwardly, into the city of Rome, but inwardly, Estelle bravely squares up her options in love and life. Her sharp eye investigates the real and the imagined and her inimitable voice always rings true. … [W]hile the focus is Rome, it is as much about being a stranger in a foreign country and the resourcefulness that is required to learn a language, understand the customs and become familiar with the ways of any new place.

Amazon reviewer:

You will adore this book; Estelle and her quirks will delight you, you’ll fall passionately in lust with the Eternal City and its people and be sad when it’s over. … Estelle’s writing skills will astonish you and you will ask, “Where has this writer been and why have I not heard of her?”

Amazon reviewer:

When I started reading Estelle Jobson’s observations on Italian culture, I felt I had run into an old friend on a common wavelength. Yes, me too!

Amazon reviewer:

Estelle Jobson is a very talented writer with a wonderful ear for the nuance and absurdity of language, and for the cross-culturally bizarre. … The book also boasts an extensive glossary that is bound to satisfy even the most pedantic of linguists.

And let’s not forget the back-cover blurb:

Estelle has an admirable career in publishing and a hectic, yet rich life. When her Italian diplomat boyfriend gets posted to Rome, she throws it all up to accompany him. There, she reinvents herself as Signora Stella, a casalinga (housewife) on the city’s highest hill, Monte Mario. Starting in autumn, she muses on life amongst the Italians and cycles through the seasons and sentiments of the Italian psyche. Signora Stella commences and ends at the same place: Follie, the local hairdresser run by Salvatore, a gay Neapolitan. This book captures a year’s worth of quirky, humorous, vivid observations about life amongst the Italians.

Can’t wait to read it? Jobson has published an excerpt on Italian Intrigues, the blog kept by one of our recent Random Nomads, Patricia Winton.

And now it’s your chance to ENTER OUR DRAW TO WIN A FREE AUTOGRAPHED COPY!!! Simply leave a comment in answer to the question:
**What has been your most entertaining experience with a cross-cultural relationship?**
Extra points for likening it to a vegetable; double the points if you’re a Displaced Dispatch subscriber!!!

The winner will be announced in our Displaced Dispatch on March 2, 2013.

NOTE: If you’re not the lucky winner but would still like a print copy, send an e-mail to findingrome@gmail.com.

Estelle Jobson has over a dozen years’ experience in book publishing and a Masters in Publishing from New York University which she attended on a Fulbright. She speaks five languages and has lived in as many countries; three years in Rome. She now lives in Geneva. To find out more about the book and follow its promotion, like the Finding Rome FB page. You can also follow Jobson on Twitter and read her occasional blog posts — for instance, this one on adopting Italian nationality, which she wrote for Novel Adventurers.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, when we announce the films that have qualified for this year’s Displaced Oscars!

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Images: All photos supplied by Estelle Jobson.

RANDOM NOMAD: Christina Ashcroft, British Expat, Australian Citizen, and Writer of Hot Paranormal Romance

Christina Ashcroft Tiara WriterPlace of birth: Croydon*, South London, United Kingdom
Passport: Australia (My UK passport expired a few years ago.)
Overseas history: Australia (just outside Perth, Western Australia): 1998 – present. “I live five minutes from the beach!”
Occupation: Writer of steamy historical and paranormal romance for Penguin and Ellora’s Cave.
Cyberspace coordinates: Christina Ashcroft: Welcome to my dark world of archangelic eroticism (author site) and @ChristinaAsh_ (Twitter handle).
*I always get very excited whenever I see Croydon mentioned in a book (which isn’t very often!)

Before moving to Australia, you lived in England all of your life. What made you take the leap to Down Under?
My husband and I were high school sweethearts — he, too, comes from South London (Upper Norwood). We had talked about moving to Australia off and on for several years. We used to watch the programs on the TV of expats, and it all seemed very exotic and exciting. The decider came when my brother made the move to Perth, WA, in 1994. We visited him in ’96 when he got married (to the girl he’d gone to Uni with in the UK). Despite being chased by the biggest cockroach in the history of cockroaches, we fell in love with the country. We arrived home in early January to ice and snow, and within a couple of weeks we filed our application! We moved out here with our three kids.

So your brother is also “displaced”?
Yes, he, his wife and two daughters live about an hour from us.

In your 15 years in Oz, when have you felt the most displaced — apart from the time when you were literally displaced by that cockroach?
Only when there’s a big family get together in the UK and we know we can’t make it. We used to have great family parties and I really miss them. Apart from that I’ve honestly never felt displaced, except for the first month or so when I did get a bit homesick… :-)

When have you felt the least displaced?
When I’m spending time in front of my laptop, lost in the mystical worlds of my characters. I’ve made a lot of writer friends online but I’ll never forget the first time I met up with my two critique partners (CPs) in the “real world.” It was just magic. I had found my tribe, and even though I’d had to travel to the other side of the world before we found each other, it was completely worth it. Funnily enough one of my CPs is also an expat from the UK who moved to New Zealand, but now lives in Australia. The other one is an Australian who was living in the UK when we first met online but she has now moved back to Oz.

It sounds as though you credit the move to Australia with your decision to become an author.
I’ve often wondered whether my career would have followed the same route if we’d stayed in the UK. While I’ve always loved writing it wasn’t until we moved to Australia that I decided to to write with the aim of publication. The support, encouragement and friendship I’ve found in the Romance Writers of Australia has been phenomenal. I also don’t think I would have met up with my CPs, and they are the ones who originally suggested I should try writing erotic romance.

ArchangelofMercyCoverAll this talk of erotic romance is helping to put us in the mood for Valentine’s Day. Can you tell us a little more about the plots of your books?
My paranormal romances feature fallen bad ass Archangels and the women who capture their hearts. I’m thrilled that my first Archangel book, Archangel of Mercy, was a finalist in the 2012 Australian Romance Readers Award for Favorite Paranormal Romance.

Wow, congratulations! And don’t you write historical romances as well?
My historical romances are set during the first century when Rome invaded Britain. There are sexy warrior heroes, magical Druid heroines and powerful goddesses.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected while living in Australia into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase besides your books?
Well, I’ve not brought a suitcase, I’ve brought a traveling basket with my three adorable kitties! :-) I’d always had cats in England, but we were here for 12 years before I finally adopted two sisters. One of them had four kittens but unfortunately only one survived. We spoil him terribly!

You are invited to prepare a meal for the Displaced Nation, based on your travels. What’s on the menu?

It would have to be a barbeque, of course! Not only can you cook practically anything on the BBQ but it always tastes a lot better than having to cook it in the kitchen. Plus it means I don’t have to actually do any cooking, since my husband and son take over with tongs and fork — always a bonus!

Since lamb is very popular here, we could have lamb and capsicum kebabs with salad and fresh crusty bread, washed down with a local wine and cold beer. Seeing as I’m from the UK, I should only ever drink warm beer, but I have to confess I’ve joined the Dark Side on that one!

For dessert — what could be yummier than a mango cheesecake?

Can you donate an Aussie word or expression to the Displaced Nation’s argot?
One of the best expressions in Australia is “No worries.” While my children take great delight in telling me I still sound “so British,” I do love saying “no worries.” It’s just so laid back and zen and also rolls off the tongue very easily!

Returning one last time to this month’s Valentine’s Day theme, what’s your idea of a romantic evening for two? Has it changed since the time when you were still living in Britain?
Room service in a fabulous hotel with a gorgeous view of the ocean. We’d eat our meal on the balcony as we watched the sun set and later we’d crack open a bottle of bubbly in the private spa. Although we’ve only managed this romantic getaway a couple of times in recent years, we never did anything like it in Britain.

Readers — yay or nay for letting Christina Ashcroft into The Displaced Nation? She drinks cold beer yet her children accuse her of being “so British.” And, though we might enjoy her erotic tales of fallen archangels and the women who capture their hearts around Valentine’s Day, would we benefit from a steady diet of this out-of-this-displaced-world fare? (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Christina — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another in our “Capital Ideas” series — focusing on one of the world’s most romantic cities (but of course!).

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img: Christina Ashcroft looking a little bit displaced(?) at the Romance Writers of Australia conference held in August 2012. Christina says: “My critique group call ourselves the Tiara Girls, so we take along our tiaras and wear them at the Friday night conference cocktail party. It’s just a bit of fun!”

Is it cooler to be married to someone from another country? Yes, particularly if they’re Brazilian!

Is it cooler being married to someone from another country? In my experience, it’s often everyone else who seems to think so, although maybe that’s because I happen to be married to someone from a country whose people are perennially voted the coolest nationality on the planet.

Typically, as soon as I mention that I’m married to a Brazilian the almost universal reaction is:

“Cool! I’ve always wanted to go to Brazil!”

Such reactions inevitably tend to be informed by the idealized images most people have about Brazil and Brazilians:

  • Carnaval
  • Samba
  • Football
  • Exotic beaches frequented by beautiful people wearing minuscule pieces of beach attire.

Brazil is, of course, far more complex than this. It’s as equally well-known for its

  • Favelas
  • Drugs
  • Gang violence
  • And…errr…films about favelas, drugs and gang violence.

Naturally though, people tend to assume that I probably haven’t married a gun-wielding, drug-pusher from the favelas, and so it’s the cool, beach-loving Brazilians they tend to envisage whenever I mention my marital status.

So, in everyone else’s eyes at least, my story of marrying the Brazilian girl I met in Argentina is way cooler than that about the girl they met in their local boozer in London.

And to be fair, it is a pretty cool story.

Cool as in mind-expanding

Yes, the samba, the beaches and the football (especially the football!) make life exciting, but what’s even cooler is that marriage to a Brazilian woman has been a life-changer — in a good way. For instance:

1) My horizons have been broadened immeasurably.
I’ve learned to view things through the eyes of someone who’s experienced them within another country and culture. Thus, things you may have previously found exotic, unusual or irrational become familiar, normal and logical.

2) I now see “cultural differences” in a positive light.
True, cultural differences have the potential to make a relationship fractious. But in our case, these cultural differences help to fill in certain gaps that we’d always looked for in the people we’d dated.

As a self-conscious Brit (British stereotype No 1: tick), I find it appealing to have a naturally sociable and confident wife (Brazilian stereotype No 1: tick), who is able to take control of social situations in which I’d otherwise feel uncomfortable. Her effortless sociability is the perfect counterbalance to my stuttering inability to engage in anything other than mindless small talk with most strangers.

By the same token, she appears to have found it a pleasant surprise to encounter a man who was a little less “forward” than what she had been used to in Brazil.

That, and the fact that I was the only man she’d ever met who could cook, I imagine.

3) I also think that cultural differences are often overdone.
Despite the perceived and real differences between our countries and cultures, there are occasions when I realize that in many ways, my wife and I aren’t all that different. As a football geek, I’ve found my wife’s interest in watching football one of life’s great blessings (Brazilian stereotype No. 2: tick; British stereotype No. 2: tick). I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve come home to find her watching a game on the telly.

Cool as in constant adventure

Another cool thing about marrying someone from another country is that life becomes more adventurous — at times rather literally. For example:

1) I’ve had the opportunity to learn and explore a culture and country with what effectively amounts to having a free tour guide.
And, let’s face it, where would you rather go when you have to go and visit the in-laws: Brazil or another boring town in England?

2) I’ve now embarked on the adventure of learning another language.
This is something I’d always wanted to do but was too lazy. Also, language schooling is pretty appalling in the UK — I can barely remember any of the French of German that I learnt all those years ago.

Whilst it’s still a work in progress, my Portuguese is now at least functional — and improving everyday.

3) I’ve been able to do something I always wanted to do, live abroad.
Indeed, my language learning has been significantly aided by our recent relocation from London to São Paulo. Would I have done this without my wife? Maybe not, because of circumstances and/or apprehension of moving countries on my own. For me, the option to live in Brazil was instantly made more manageable by my wife being from the country we moved to — my own personal relocation advisor if you will. As explained it my Random Nomad interview, it makes me feel a lot less displaced.

But, not always as cool as it sounds

However, despite how cool all this sounds it’s not to say that marrying someone from another country doesn’t come without its own particular challenges. Here are two that really stand out for me:

1) The early days weren’t easy.
Once we’d both returned home, following what was effectively a holiday romance, there was the little issue of us both living in different continents — a mere 6,000 miles apart.

And then, once we’d decided to give the whole (very) long-distance relationship a go, there was the feeling, similar to the one expressed by fellow Brit James Murray in his column last month, that the few weeks here and there we occasionally managed to spend together consisted mainly of getting re-acclimatized, rather than enjoying each other’s company.

And, of course, there were the usual issues that complicate long-distance relationships: loneliness, uncertainty, jealousy, lack of communication, etc. Fortunately, we had the Internet — a relationship like ours would have been unimaginable 15 years ago.

2) UK immigration laws — need I say more?
When my wife made the crunch decision to move to the UK, there was the added complication of the navigating a Kafka-esque immigration system that does its best to keep out anyone deemed to be from a “developing country.” Four years, various visa refusals, threats of deportation and thousands of pounds later, my wife was finally able to settle her status permanently in the UK.

Rather ironically, as soon as she received permanent status, we scarpered from the economic crisis in Europe to the relative calm in Brazil — where they’ve been far happier to accept me as a resident.

But hey! That’s pretty cool, too.

* * *

Readers, having witnessed Andy’s valentine to his Brazilian wife, what do you think? Are you in a cross-cultural relationship and if so, do you perceive similar benefits? Or are you more jaded than he is — suspecting that the challenges can outweigh the benefits once the “cool factor” wears off? Please leave your thoughts in the comments!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, when a Random Nomad with a finely-tuned sense of romance joins us!

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5 movies for expats and world travelers looking to stir up romance this Valentine’s Day

Editor’s note: Today we are happy to welcome a new member to the Displaced Nation team, Andy Martin. His debut post introduces our two favorite February’s themes: Valentine’s Day (aka expat love) and displaced movies (in honor of Oscar season). For those who haven’t read Andy’s Random Nomad interview with us, it’s worth knowing that he’s a UK-qualified social worker who now lives in Brazil with his Brazilian wife, and a self-professed football geek.

One of the things I discovered when I moved to Brazil is that Valentine’s Day is not actually celebrated here until 12th June, where it is instead known as Dia dos Namorados (Boyfriend’s/Girlfriend’s Day). The reasoning for this is that 12th June is the eve of St. Anthony’s Day, the saint otherwise known as “the marriage saint.”

Additionally, what the rest of us know as Valentine’s Day (14th February) typically falls during or around the time of Carnaval, and anyone who knows anything about the excesses of Carnaval knows that a holiday to celebrate fidelity may probably be best left until later in the year — say, June time.

Anyhow, seeing as my wife has lived in the UK and now openly embraces British culture she’s suggested that it would only be proper to celebrate both the British and Brazilian holidays — she’s a clever one! And what more traditional way to celebrate than a trip to the cinema?

Bearing this in mind, I’ve made a list of 5 films that couples like us — multicultural, expat, glolo and/or nomadic — might like to watch this coming Valentine’s Day, to stir up the romance of travel that brought you together in the first place…

The one about adventure

IndianaJones_small1) Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), dir. Steven Spielberg
An action-adventure drama that pits Indiana Jones (played by Harrison Ford) against a group of Nazis who are searching for the Ark of the Covenant because Adolf Hitler believes it will make their army invincible.

Why I like it: The original Indiana Jones trilogy was released between 1981 and 1989, and despite the pointless release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008, it will forever remain, for my generation at least, what introduced us to the potential excitement of exploring the unknown.

Personal note: I love my in-laws but they neglected their parenting duties in one pretty big way: their failure to introduce my wife to Indiana Jones (a situation that has, thankfully, now been rectified).

Most stunning aspect: Let’s face it, any film that can make archaeology seem like the coolest profession in the world has got to be doing something right hasn’t it?

The ones with the romantic clichés

The traveler is often accused of being a romantic, an idealist and of someone who is running away from life and all the problems and commitments that go with it. The alternative argument is that the traveler is actually taking life by the scruff of the neck and living it to the full.

Either way, two films that best capture this dialectic are the two that often most lionized by today’s generation of travelers:

IntotheWild_small2) Into the Wild (2007), dir. Sean Penn
An adaptation (also by Penn) of the book of the same name, by Jon Krakauer, depicting the true story of Chris McCandless, a 24 year-old American and persistent wanderer whom believed that there was more to life than settling for the 9-5 grind in an office.

Why I like it: My wife introduced me to it (her riposte to my Indiana Jones exasperation). She had watched it early on in our relationship, when she was in Brazil and I was in London — a genuinely long distance relationship.

Personal note: She said that the film’s protagonist, Chris McCandless, reminded her of me — although fortunately our story has had a bit of a happier ending than his (I’ll say no more in order not to ruin it for you).

No half-measures: Boy did McCandless walk the walk, giving away his $24,000 college fund to charity before hitchhiking to Alaska and plunging into the wilderness, gradually seeking the means to remove himself from the “real world. “

TheMotorcyleDiaries_small3) The Motorcycle Diaries (Spanish: Diarios de motocicleta) (2004), dir. Walter Salles
A biopic of Ernesto “Che” Guevara as a young man, representing an adaptation of Che’s memoir of the same name, recounting the trip he made around South America with his best friend, Alberto Granado.

Why I like it: Whatever you view of Che is, there is actually relatively little politics in the film, although one is introduced to some of the experiences that started to inform what he later became in life. Instead, for the most part, this is a film which perfectly captures what is to be young and curious of the world outside your own town or city. Che and Alberto chase beautiful landscapes and beautiful people, but also volunteer their time to those less fortunate than themselves.

Personal note: This film was the tipping point in inspiring me to travel around South America.

Memorable scene: There’s a great scene that highlights the dichotomy between the travel romanticized by “travelers” and that which is driven by the needs of most other migrants around the world — the topic of my guest post last month for The Displaced Nation. In it Che and Alberto meet an indigenous couple who have been forced from their lands and who are traveling in order to find work. When the couple ask Alberto and Che why they are traveling, they reply: “We travel just to travel.” Confused, the wife replies: “God bless you.”

The one about being displaced

Lost_in_Translation_small4) Lost in Translation (2003), dir. Sofia Coppola
The story of the unlikely bond between an aging movie star, played by the awesome Bill Murray, and a trailing spouse (Scarlett Johansson), after they meet in the bar of their five star hotel in Tokyo.

Why I like it: Life as a nomad is not all about romantic adventures and life-changing experiences — there are also just as many challenges and struggles: homesickness, culture shock and loss being just some of them. Lost in Translation is, perhaps, one of the films that best explores some of these issues.

Additional benefits: The story is poignant, and the film is beautifully shot.

The one that’s not actually about travel or expats

Blood_into_Wine_small5) Blood Into Wine (2010), dirs. Ryan Page & Christopher Pomerenke
A documentary about the Northern Arizona wine industry focusing on the musician Maynard James Keenan and Eric Glomski and their winery, Caduceus Cellers.

Why I like it: This film doesn’t really have anything to do with either travel or expat life, but I’m including it here because it’s about one of my favorite artists: Maynard James Keenan. A slightly biased choice perhaps, but I think it deserves a merit for the way it encapsulates the spirit of those people who have dreams and then act upon them to make them happen — a spirit which, I think, drives many of us travelers and expats.

Maynard’s dream: Maynard dreams of starting a vineyard in Arizona. Yes, Arizona. Despite the doubts and concerns of the experts he consulted Maynard invested almost his entire fortune, made from working with the bands Tool and A Perfect Circle, to start a vineyard in Arizona — a state entirely unknown for growing wine.

Does he succeed? You’ll have to watch it, I guess… And don’t forget to invite a date!

* * *

Readers, what do you think of Andy’s suggestions? Are these the sorts of films that make you feel romantic, or do you think he’s bonkers? We’re open to any and all comments…as well as to further recommendations of films likely to bring out the romantic side in us glomads!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post from our monthly columnist, James Murray, who right now can be found in front of his fireplace in Boston — and not because he’s in a romantic mood! Far from it…

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

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