The Displaced Nation

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LOCATION, LOCUTION: Expat author JJ Marsh on bringing a location to life through writing

jill 3Today we welcome expat crime writer JJ Marsh to the Displaced Nation. JJ grew up in Wales, Africa and the Middle East, where her curiosity for culture took root and triggered an urge to write. Having at this point lived in Hong Kong, Nigeria, Dubai, Portugal and France—she finally settled in Switzerland—JJ certainly belongs in our midst! But what makes her even more special is that she has offered to impart her knowledge to other international creatives about the portrayal of “place” in one’s works.

Currently halfway through her European crime series, set in compelling locations all over the continent and featuring detective inspector Beatrice Stubbs (on loan from Interpol), today JJ begins a new series for us, entitled “Location, Locution.” In the opening post, she will answer the questions she plans to ask other displaced authors in future posts.

JJ, we are positively THRILLED (in more ways than one!) to have you as a new columnist. Welcome! And now to get to know you a little better…

Which comes first, story or location?
Story, always. Or at least the bare bones of the plot. Then I audition various places before beginning to write. I have to know the setting, even before populating the novel with characters. The place IS a character. For example, once I knew the victims would be corporate Fat Cats in Behind Closed Doors, the first in my Beatrice Stubbs series, I looked around for a financial centre with the right kind of atmosphere. Turns out my home town of Zürich fitted the bill and even gave me the title.

How do you go about evoking the atmosphere of a place?
I’d say by really looking at it and digging deep. Not only that, but try to look at it from the perspective of your reader. It’s no coincidence that in many European languages, one asks for a description using the word “How”.

Como é?
Wie war es?

Yet in English, we say “What is it like?” We want comparisons to what we know. I actively chose to use a foreigner arriving in a strange country/city, so as to look at it with new eyes.

Which particular features create a sense of location? Landscape, culture, food?
I start with the senses. We notice sights, sounds and smells first, and add to our impressions with tastes and textures, all the while comparing them to our expectations. Food and drink are essential, as they reveal something of the region but also much about the characters. Cultural differences have to be treated with great care in fiction. Lumpen great dumps of information are poison to pace. But subtle observations can be woven into the story, provided they are relevant. I’ve just abandoned a book set in Rome which was clumsily pasted chunks of guidebook against a sub-par Eat, Pray, Love plot. The reader wants to be immersed in the world of the book, not subjected to the author’s holiday snaps.

How well do you need to know the place before using it as a setting?
Speaking for myself, extremely well. I feel insecure describing an area I’ve never visited. But that’s not true for everyone. Stef Penney, who wrote The Tenderness of Wolves, created a beautiful story set against the backdrop of the frozen wastes of Canada. She’d never even been there.

While I am awed by that achievement, I don’t think I could do it. I need to ‘feel’ the place and also, to understand the people.

My nomadic past and interest in culture led me to study the work of Geert Hofstede and Fons Trompenaars. One of their models is to analyze culture like an onion. The outer layer is Symbols—what represents the country to outsiders/its own people? The next is Heroes—who do the people worship and venerate? Peel that away and explore its Rituals—on a national and personal level. At the centre of the Onion, you will find its values, the hardest part of a culture to access. But that’s where the heart is.

Could you give a brief example from your work which you feel brings the location to life?
The recent UK horsemeat scandal amused me, as it’s part of the average menu in Switzerland. Here my combative detectives, one Swiss, one British, have just finished lunch.

Beatrice patted her mouth with her napkin. “Herr Kälin, your recommendation was excellent. I thoroughly enjoyed that meal.”

“Good. Would you like coffee, or shall I get the bill?”

“I’ve taken up enough of your time. Let’s pay up and head for home.” Beatrice finished her wine.

Kälin hailed the waitress. “I wasn’t sure you’d like this kind of farmer’s food.”

“Farmer’s food is my favourite sort. Solid and unpretentious. Not the sort of fare they would serve in those crisp white tents at the polo park.”

Kälin let out a short laugh. Beatrice cocked her head in enquiry.

“It would definitely be inappropriate at the polo park, Frau Stubbs. We’ve just eaten Pferdefleisch. Horse steak.”

Which writers do you admire for the way they use location?
Val McDermid, particularly for A Place of Execution. Not only place but period done with impressive subtlety. Kate Atkinson, for making the environment vital to the plot in a book such as One Good Turn. Monique Roffey for bringing Trinidad to life in The White Woman on the Green Bicycle. Alexander McCall Smith enriches his stories with a wealth of local detail, be it Botswana or Edinburgh. And Kathy Reichs for making her dual identity an advantage. Donna Leon’s Venetian backdrop, Scotland according to Iain Banks in Complicity, and Peter Høeg’s Copenhagen in Smilla’s Sense of Snow.

There are many, many more.

* * *

Thank you, JJ! Readers, any further questions to JJ on her portrayal of “place”, or authors you’d like to see her interview in future posts? Please leave your suggestions in the comments. You may also enjoy checking out the first three books in JJ Marsh’s Beatrice Stubbs series:

  • Behind Closed Doors: Takes place in Zürich, where someone is bumping off bankers.
  • Raw Material: Takes place between London and Pembrokeshire. Here Beatrice is joined by wannabe sleuth, Adrian. Amateur detectives and professional criminals make a bad mix.
  • Tread Softly: Unfolds in the Basque Country of Northern Spain. Beatrice is supposedly on sabbatical, but soon finds herself up to her neck in corruption, murder and Rioja.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s interview with Lisa Egle, author of Magic Carpet Seduction, two copies of which we’ll be giving away!

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!

Images: Typewriter from MorgueFile; picture of JJ Marsh and her book cover supplied by herself; map from MorgueFile

19 more films that depict the horrors of being abroad, or otherwise displaced

Readers, we have to confess, ever since horror novelist, former expat and Third Culture Kid Sezin Koehler suggested 15 horror films on travel and the expat life, we’ve become rather addicted — and have invited her back here today for another hit. Go ahead and indulge yourselves — it’s Halloween, after all!

Being the horror-obsessed film nut that I am — and loving how my expat/traveller life has collided with my scary movie self — I offer here are a few more honorable mentions within the three sub-genres I presented in last week’s post:

  1. The expat.
  2. The world traveler.
  3. The otherwise displaced.

1. Expat Horror: Caveat expat, or expat beware (or in some cases, beware of the expat!).

1) Blood and Chocolate, about an American orphan who goes to live with her aunt in Bucharest. Oh, and the orphan is a werewolf.




2) Drag Me To Hell, in which a Romany shaman in the US is evicted from her home and takes her rage out on the lowly loan officer who refused to give her a mortgage.




3) In The Hole we find an American student in a British boarding school who gets trapped in a World War II bomb shelter with a few classmates. So we’re led to think…




4) In The Grudge, Sarah Michelle Gellar gets far more than she ever bargained for living and working in Japan as a nurse, when a malevolent creature in her house begins an awful campaign of harassment, mayhem and torture.




5) Orphan finds us with a family interested in adopting a young Russian girl, only the longer she’s with them the more the mother suspects she’s not the child she claims to be.




6) + 7) The Joss Whedon marvels Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, both of
which feature a number of prominent expats — a few are slayer trainers sent over to California from the Old World (Britain), a few are expat vampires who’ve decided the anonymity of the United States better suits their feeding habits.



2. Traveler Horror: “Let your suitcases gather dust!”, cry these films.

8) In Shrooms, a group of young Americans go to meet their Irish friend on his home turf in order to experience the hallucinogenic mushrooms indigenous to the fairylands of Ireland’s bonnie green forests. He forgot to tell them that their chosen “tripping” site is also the home of a haunted and abandoned insane asylum. And that not all the mushrooms are the magic type.



9) In Open Water, two Carribbean cruise snorkelers are left behind, to be tormented by a shark. Based on a true story — and one of many reasons why I keep my feet on dry land despite now living in Florida.




10) In the same vein we have Piranha 3D, in which half-naked spring-breakers are set upon by prehistoric piranha that have been released through an underground fault.




11) The Hills Have Eyes features a family on a road trip through the post-nuclear testing New Mexico desert are set upon by a group of psychopaths who live in the hills.




12) Worlds collide in From Dusk Till Dawn when a reverend on a road trip to Mexico with his children is hijacked by two ruthless killers on the lam from the law after a series of brutal murders and robberies. They find themselves like fish out of water when their rest-stop bar turns out to be a haven for vampires.




13) When a group of friends go white water rafting in Appalachia, the idylic back country scene turns nightmare when a group of inbred locals terrorizes the group, and one of its members in particular. Deliverance is not for the faint of heart.




I could keep going with this sub-genre, but surely you get the point by now. Stay home!

3. Displaced Horror: “Think twice about moving or taking a sojourn outside the ‘hood” is the moral here.

14) Rosemary’s Baby, in which Mia Farrow discovers that her new Manhattan residence is also the home to a group of mad Satanists who’ve got their sights on her unborn baby.




15) The slasher musical Don’t Go In the Woods features a band on the verge of a breakthrough go camping to write some new tunes. Only, there’s something else in there with them that’s picking them off one by one.




16) Every incarnation of the Alien series brings us a group of Earth’s citizens in outer space, battling a wretched and basically unkillable xenomorph. Keep your feet on land. Save yourself the trouble.




17) In Friday the 13th, a group of summer-camp goers are stalked by a relentless killer. Man, this one makes me glad I never went to summer camp, even though growing up I always wanted to.




18) A writer on a summertime retreat to a supposedly peaceful cabin is brutalized by a gang of locals. One of my personal favorites, I Spit On Your Grave is a grotesque revenge fantasy come to life and suggests one might be better off simply working from home.




19) And we can’t forget one of the most iconic examples of Displaced Horror: The Shining, in which Jack Torrance, temporary caretaker of the historically creepy and ever haunted evil Overlook Hotel, goes mad and tries to murder his family. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, eh?

Happy Hallowe’en!

* * *

So, are you ready to burn your passport and throw away all your travel gear yet? 😉

And while we’re still at it, do you have any other films you’d add to Sezin’s best-of abroad horror list?

Sezin Koehler, author of American Monsters, is a woman either on the verge of a breakdown or breakthrough writing from Lighthouse Point, Florida. Culture shock aside, she’s working on four follow-up novels to her first, progress of which you can follow on her Pinterest boards. Her other online haunts are Zuzu’s Petals, Twitter, and Facebook — all of which feature eclectic bon mots, rants and raves.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, in which our fictional expat heroine, Libby Oliver, checks in and lets us know how she’s doing back at “home” in Merry Olde.

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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Some like it boiled: When it’s hot outside, go somewhere even hotter for vacation!

“Have a good summer!” The doctor’s receptionist hands me my receipt. “Are you going away?”

“Yes, to Florida,” I say. (Wait for it, wait for it…)

“Florida?” she screeches. In August?”

Bring quickly to the boil…

That old saying, the one about only mad dogs and Englishmen going out in the midday sun, apparently has a Northeast American variation: Only mad dogs and Englishmen go south to the midsummer sun.

On the face of it, it makes sense. Why bother to fly south when the mercury is already at 90 degrees in New England, as it has been for much of this summer?

That’s all well and good, but no one questions your sanity in winter, when you announce you’re leaving the cold February gloom to find even colder weather in which to ski. If anyone did question it, the reasoning would be: “But the snow’s better in Colorado/Italy/Switzerland!”

Simmer for 7 days…

Well — she said defiantly —  in summer, the sun and palm trees are better in Florida. Or Aruba. Or the Cayman Islands. While I love the maple and oak trees of New England in the Fall, they don’t look right amid tropical temperatures. It’s like lying on a sun lounger on an expanse of white sand, waiting for a margarita, and the waiter bringing you a cup of tomato soup instead. It’s just wrong.

“A-ha!” someone is bound to say. “But what about the hurricanes?”

True enough. Tropical Storm Isaac is right now barreling its way toward the Gulf Coast, where it is expected to reach hurricane strength. Yet the Northeast is not immune to summer storms, either. Exactly one year ago, Hurricane Irene arrived in Connecticut, downing trees and knocking out power for days. Two months later, the same thing happened again, but this time with a snowstorm called Alfred.

Now, you don’t see that very often in the Keys.

Remove from the heat…

The people who shun the roasting climes in summer prefer to go south in the colder months, and that’s fair enough. As I said in a post last Christmas, I would love to spend December 25 in a desert-island-like setting (albeit with room service.) That, however, means going farther south than good old Florida. I’ve had friends do the Disney water rides at Thanksgiving and come back home with streaming colds to prove it.

Thank you, but I’ll pass on that particular souvenir.

…And serve in July.

Perhaps this perverse determination to find somewhere hotter than my home climate stems from my nationality. I am from the country whose residents flee for two weeks every year in search of the summer that nearly always evades England.  Perhaps I am genetically programmed to be suspicious of summer’s consistency in my place of residence, imagining that it can only be guaranteed a few thousand miles nearer the equator.

The only solution to this state of suspicion and dissatisfaction, as I see it, is to move there permanently. Perhaps it would have its drawbacks: people who move to Florida or the Caribbean often say they “miss the seasons.”

Me, though, I would happily give some seasons a miss.


STAY TUNED for Tuesday’s post, in which Tony James Slater tells us what it’s like to be an expat writer!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to subscribe for email delivery of The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of the week’s posts from The Displaced Nation. Sign up for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Image: MorgueFile

BOOK REVIEW: “Expat Life Slice By Slice” by Apple Gidley

TITLE: Expat Life Slice by Slice
AUTHOR: Apple Gidley
Twitter: @ExpatApple
PUBLICATION DATE: March 2012 (Summertime Publishers)
FORMAT: Ebook (Kindle) and Paperback, available from Amazon
GENRE: Memoir
SOURCE: Review copy from author

Author Bio:

Apple Gidley became an expat at the tender age of one month old, in Kano, Nigeria. Since her early initiation into global wandering, she has relocated 26 times through 12 countries, acquiring a husband and two children en route.

Apple is known to thousands as ExpatApple, through her popular blog at the Daily Telegraph.


“From marauding monkeys to strange men in her bedroom, from Africa to Australasia to America, with stops in Melanesia, the Caribbean and Europe along the way, Apple Gidley vividly sketches her itinerant global life. The challenges of expatriation, whether finding a home, a job, or a school are faced mostly with equanimity. Touched with humour and pathos, places come alive with stories of people met and cultures learned, with a few foreign faux pas added to the mix.”

(Source: book description)


If anyone is qualified to issue advice on expat life, Apple Gidley is that person. Born to an English father and Australian mother, she takes the label “Serial Expat” to new heights.  She was a TCK before the term was invented (instead classed unflatteringly as an “expat brat”) and continued the global wandering throughout her adult life, with 26 relocations through 12 countries to date.

Her memoir provides fascinating reading, about places and lifestyles that most of us will never experience, and at times is almost anachronistic:  reading her reminiscences about servants, voluntary work, and charity committees, there’s a time warp sensation of stepping into a Somerset Maugham short story.

Although the book is a record of Apple’s patchwork life, most expats will relate to the emotional experiences she describes, no matter where in the world they are or  how many countries they’ve lived in. For example, we worry that leaving our family and friends behind will increase the emotional distance as well as the physical. After a while, we realise that this is mostly not the case, and that those who allow physical distance to become an obstacle weren’t so emotionally close in the first place. In Chapter 8, “Eighth Slice: Staying Connected”, she says:

As we age we draw closer still. We believe in family but do not see each other for years at a time, and yet we are all aware of where each of us is in the world, still scattered and testaments to a global upbringing.

In “Ninth Slice: Death at a Distance”, Apple deals with the elephant-in-the-room topic: the illness or death of a family member while we are thousands of miles away. During such times, it’s easy to beat ourselves up for choosing a nomadic lifestyle;  if our associated guilt trips were eligible for air miles, we could afford to fly back and forth to be with our loved ones as often as we wanted. In describing her own experiences of bereavement, Apple’s practical, matter-of-fact approach, plus her insights gleaned from other cultures’ attitudes to old age and death, reminds us that the old cliché of “life goes on” holds true, even after “death at a distance”.

Whether you’re a veteran expat, a re-pat, or are just about to embark upon your first move to another country, “Expat Life Slice By Slice” should be on your reading list.

Words of wisdom:

On TCKs:

For those children brought up as TCKs…a nonjudgmental and accepting attitude to different customs, colours and cultures is the norm. As this demographic grows, let’s hope for an even greater understanding of cultural differences for all our children.

On voluntary work:

Volunteering is work, sometimes harder than a paid position because it is the cause keeping you there and not the salary.

On making new connections:

Picking up people around the world to share your life with is one of the greatest pleasures in life, and sometimes you know straight away they will continue to stay in it.

On “Home”

Home is with me wherever I go…It is not a single building or a single country, but many of them.


STAY TUNED for Wednesday’s post.

Image:  Book cover – “Expat Life Slice By Slice”

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Which country produces the people who travel the farthest, the longest — and with the most credit cards?

The Displaced Nation was contacted about doing a post on a recent survey by Travelex on “How the World Vacations” — the results of which are summed up in a cool infographic (see bottom of this post).

Since Travelex helps travelers with their foreign currency needs, they were particularly interested in finding out not only where people are traveling internationally but also how they are financing their vacations.

I thought I’d go over some of their findings and see if it helps me to understand this Big Wide World of Travel.

Really? Did I? Or did I do something altogether more irresponsible, and just pull it apart for my own amusement? Well, you all know me by now. You decide…

What’s up with international travel?

More people are doing it now than ever before. Even in the most parochial parts of England, folk are pulling the ferrets out of their trousers, staring at glossy magazine adverts and dreaming of something more glamorous than a weekend caravanning in Skegness.

Rumor has it that almost ten percent of Americans now own a passport; even more significantly, some of them have actually used them!

Yes, travel beyond one’s borders is growing — but so is the human race. So it’s only to be expected, right? (The numbers of people going abroad did decline, however, in 2008 due to the global recession, but in 2009 the upwards trend resumed.)

And now for some stereotype-busting!?

I’m not sure how much the survey tells us that we didn’t already know, to be honest — but I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise, if one of you is a better statistician than I am.

Where do the Brits go on holiday? Hmm. Tough one.

If you guessed Spain, you can give yourself a pat on the back. It is Spain. For two weeks. The survey doesn’t tell us this, but most of them spend the entire fortnight lying lobster-red on the beach before heading for the nearest bar. Had the survey asked what they ate, the finding would have been 85 percent fish and chips, of which most would have been washed down with beer — the local variety of course, because it’s so staggeringly cheap.

The destination that comes in second for the Brits? Right again! France. The main surprise is how few are going to the United States nowadays: just nine percent (versus over fifty percent to Spain and France).

The Americans? They head to Mexico and Canada. Goodness, that’s a revelation! And if they venture any further, it’s usually to Europe, especially the UK and Italy, or to the Caribbean. That said, there are a few brave American souls visiting China these days.

The survey doesn’t report this, but most Americans when they go abroad eat burgers and fries, even when sitting in an Italian restaurant. They drink beer, too — but the good stuff, because it’s still cheap, and imported, which makes everything taste better!

Noticed any Chinese tourists lately?

Thanks to its booming economy, China gets pride of place in this survey. (The Japanese used to be the most well-traveled of all Asians, but I’m afraid they’ve been displaced!)

Interestingly, the 1.3 billion Chinese are represented by a sample of 20,000; anyway, for most of them the average length of holiday is six days. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that they end up going to Hong Kong — which I’m not sure counts as foreign these days. (Didn’t my country transfer sovereignty to China in 1997, or have I misremembered something?)

Chinese mostly use credit cards to pay their way, despite almost a third of those being refused. Which is a shame, though I can’t say it surprises me. Would you take a Chinese credit card? Be honest.

And a surprising number, about a third, travel by boat. Still trying to puzzle that one out, given how short their vacations are. Fear of flying, perhaps? I’ve heard some nightmare stories about China Airlines.

How about Brazilians?

Another booming emerging economy is Brazil, which is the fourth country to be featured in a big way in the survey. Guess where most Brazilians go? You got it, their wealthy neighbor to the North, the United States!

But what I’d really like to know is whether the five percent of Brazilians who had their bank cards stolen were the same ones that said they traveled by rail — in which case, it serves ’em right. Everyone knows that if you take a train in Brazil, you get robbed — it’s, like, common knowledge.

International holiday central

Australia, my adopted and much beloved homeland, makes a brief appearance in the statistics for “how long they stay.” We’re at the top of the charts. Did you know that Aussies having the longest holidays IN THE WORLD, by almost a week?

The survey doesn’t tell you how often we go abroad and where we go, however.  Because if you knew that every man, woman, child and most of the sheep here take a foreign holiday every single year — and that the vast majority spend it in Bali — you’d have perished of jealousy by now (or else looking into emigrating!).

As it is, I’m worried that if the Chinese see that Aussie vacations are almost three times longer than theirs, it will trigger a revolt, for which Australia will somehow be blamed! 🙂

Herzlichen Glückwunsch!

In their write-up of the survey findings, Travelex said:

We were surprised to find that the most consistent destination for international travel seems to be Germany. That’s right! Germany. We guess lederhosen and lagers hold a certain amount of appeal no matter what native language you speak.

It’s a fair point — who’da thunk it? Even the Chinese went to Germany. Well, 1.9 percent of them did. (Which, out of the 20,000 vacationers surveyed, means at least 382 out of a country of 1.3 billion.) Germany must be thrilled at this news of its new-found popularity across cultures.

I suppose another surprising finding is that while Chinese are busy having their credit cards turned down, Brits tend to err on the side of caution, doing their money exchanges before they leave, while many Americans are still getting away with using dollars — despite the recent talk of abandoning the U.S. dollar as the single major reserve currency.

* * *

It’s often said that statistics can be made to say whatever you want them to say. And then of course, there’s the old truism that 97.6 percent of statistics are made up on the spot…

Not that I’m saying Travelex did any of this, of course. Far be it from me to cast aspersions on their information-gathering tactics. I’m just wondering if something like this can tell us much. Still, it’s a pretty infographic — the designer of which has certainly earned a vacation overseas, in my opinion!

Please talk to me in the comments. Are you into travel surveys? Have I missed something earthshaking in this one? Am I being too flippant? I’d love to know your thoughts!

Additionally, you can hit us up on Twitter: @DisplacedNation and/or @TonyJamesSlater

And now for that fabuloso infographic:

STAY TUNED for Tuesday’s post reviewing some books by expats in Dubai.

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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Infographic courtesy of Adria Saracino, Distilled Creative.

Living La Dolce Vita with Heather Hamilton — Writer, Sailor & Adventurer

One year ago almost to the day, Heather Hamilton and her husband cast off their docklines in Annapolis, Maryland, in their 40-foot ketch. Since then, they’ve covered over 3,500 miles, up the east coast of the U.S. and down through the Caribbean island chain. Life on the open seas with nary a care in the world — sounds like La Dolce Vita, doesn’t it? I asked Hamilton to share the sensory highlights of her nautical adventures, along with a few “sweet life” tips for confirmed landlubbers.

Most heart-stopping sights

On the terrifyingly heart-stopping end of the spectrum: the sight of my mizzen-mast rocking back and forth (definitely something you don’t want) while the boat lurched in 12-foot seas and 45-knot winds. It nearly caused a heart attack. It was our first coastal offshore passage, and we were already sleep deprived and exhausted by the time the storm blew up overnight. We hove-to — that is, basically set the sails so that the boat could kind of “park” and wait out the blow. Pip was below, trying to get some rest, when I noticed that the mizzen sail just kept getting looser and looser, despite my many attempts to tighten it. Then I noticed the mast moving. PANIC!

Turns out, we had just had the rigging replaced, and during the big storm the new rig decided to undergo its initial stretching. The loosening of the stays had allowed the chocks to fall out of the mast’s base.

Despite the howling wind and lurching seas, Pip was able to tighten the rig and replace the chocks — only to discover that the pounding into the waves had splintered the bowsprit platform. After hours of work, we had finally secured the boat. We collapsed in a heap for some rest.

On the heart-stoppingly beautiful side of the spectrum: the hundreds of dolphins that danced around us on our trip down the Chesapeake Bay from Annapolis to Norfolk, Virginia. Despite having spent my childhood sailing with my dad in California and having sailed for five years on the Chesapeake, I’d never seen dolphins in the wild. On this particular day, I saw more than I’ve ever seen since: the pod stretched literally further than the eye could see. We radioed a sailing buddy who was two miles ahead of us and he was also surrounded. They played in our bow wave and did acrobatic flips around the boat — but the most astounding thing was their sheer numbers. Hundreds is probably an understatement; there may well have been a thousand dolphins frolicking around us. It was magic.

Most intoxicating scent

Ganja. It’s ever-present in many of the Caribbean islands, and its characteristic skunky smell is nothing if not intoxicating. Local youths and gnarled old rastas alike lounge around the town square smoking their joints; in certain places you get the impression that half the population is stoned. Boat vendors — the men who approach your boat in an anchorage to help you anchor, sell you fish/fruit/veggies, do your laundry, or otherwise do just about anything you will pay them for (uh, no thanks…) — seem particularly fond of weed, often puffing away as they row their boats along.

As we entered a bay in St. Vincent, one particularly ill-mannered vendor shouted at me for declining his services. He sported a spliff literally the size of a stogie, leading Pip to dub him “Stoner Churchill.” His aggression was surprising. Given the amount of weed he’d clearly ingested, one would have expected a much mellower response!

Dreamiest sounds

When I was at home, I had a fancy-schmancy alarm clock that allowed you to fall asleep or awaken to different sounds, like a Zen bell or running water. My two favorites to listen to while falling asleep were the ocean waves and the frogs. Who doesn’t love to fall asleep to the sound of surf? And the sound of the frogs reminded me of the few weeks every spring when the spring peepers went wild in the remote Appalachian area where I grew up.

One night, when we were moored in the national park in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, I fell asleep in the cockpit to these two sounds playing in harmony: the real surf gently breaking on the rocks only a hundred yards from the boat, and the nighttime frogs’ chorus providing the treble counterpoint. Heaven.

Most delicate flavors

Tree-ripened mango in Dominica — actually, the taste itself is nowhere near delicate, but I enjoyed the subtle distinctions between the different kinds of mango the island has. We arrived in Dominica in mid-April, just as these tropical fruits were coming into season. Everywhere you looked, sticky children and adults were peeling mangoes and gnawing the flesh off the seed as they walked down the street, chilled on their porches, or waited for the bus. Mangoes rolled in the gutters, where they became treats for street dogs and chickens. Since mango trees are everywhere, it’s simple to pick up a long stick and knock down a few ripe ones anytime you get the craving.

One day, we hiked several miles to the top of a hill where we were greeted by the sight of a stunningly beautiful little farm nestled in the jungle. There were coconut palms, banana trees, taro and sweet potato plants cascading down the steep hills. The farm’s owner, Ti-Babe, was a gnarled old man with approximately six remaining teeth and the warmest smile and eyes you can imagine. Ti-Babe answered all of our questions about his farm before insisting that he load us up with mangoes, peeling open both the large and small mangoes he grew so that we could taste the difference between the two. (The smaller mango had an amazing flavor, with a little sour to balance the sickly sweetness characteristic of a really ripe mango, but was very fibrous.) We sucked on mangoes the whole way back, arriving back at the boat exhausted, sticky and sated.

Softest physical sensations

The feel of the current across my skin while floating along snorkeling in perfectly clear turquoise waters, bright tropical fish flitting underneath in the dappled sunlight. (Pretty much every other physical sensation on a cruising sailboat is intense, painful, or just uncomfortable!)

Most interesting unexpected encounter with a stranger

The other day, I talked the owner of a local beach bar in Bequia, the largest island in the Grenadines, into allowing me to write an article about how she makes her roti, which are a flat bread wrapped around curried fillings, a kind of West Indian burrito. I’d heard that her roti were excellent, but was most intrigued as other sailors had cautioned me that she took a long time to make them — mixing and rolling out the tortilla-like dough for each order rather than making several in a batch. We’d chatted with Ruthie briefly at the bar the day before, when her eight-year old son proudly served us our beers. Her wicked sense of humor promised a fun afternoon in the kitchen.

Ruthie chopped ingredients for the fillings and then walked me through the labor-intensive process of creating the dough, which involves folding cooked, mashed yellow split peas into a flour dough and then rolling it out carefully. While the dough rested, she demonstrated how to make the fillings — both the vegetarian (black-eyed pea/pumpkin) and fish kind, both of which are strongly flavored with Trinidadian curry powder, which is milder and sweeter than the spices used for Indian curries in the States.

As Pip and I tucked into the final, delicious product, we invited Ruthie to sit with us and chat — and that’s when the real fun started. She regaled us with stories of island life, including a side-splitting story about a gay dog she once had. We talked about life and politics and travel, laughing the afternoon away over beers and her delicious food. It was the first serious conversation I’ve had with a local that lasted more than ten minutes, and I know that when we return to Bequia in the future, I’ll seek out Ruthie right away to catch up and continue building our friendship.

The place that stimulates all five senses

Because my life is constant travel, my boat is that place. Living on a voyaging sailboat means that your senses are constantly being stimulated — and not always in pleasant ways. You are stimulated for instance by the smell of a full holding tank, the sight of an approaching squall, the sound of a storm howling in the rigging, the sensation of a rough anchorage that makes you seasick in your own home, and the bitter, dry taste of fear. On the other hand, taking your home with you opens amazing possibilities: staying in one place for long enough to really get to know it; taking days off to do nothing, knowing that another hike or snorkel or town will be there the next day to explore; meeting not just locals but adventurers who have sailed from all over the world; and — most importantly — going to sleep every night in a bed of your very own, cats cuddled at your side. A sailor’s life is bittersweet.

Favorite artist with a sense of dolce vita

In the British Virgin Islands, I was entranced by the art of a man named Aragorn, who had started an artists’ cooperative, complete with pottery studio and organic garden, in the town of Trellis Bay. Every month, Aragorn’s Studio hosts a full moon party, a traditional Caribbean jump-up held on the beach. Trellis Bay’s party is legendary because of Aragorn’s art. Known for his sculpture, Aragorn recently started creating large outdoor fire sculptures: steel spheres, pyramids or cubes that come to life with fire. He hand cuts elaborate silhouetted shapes into the steel to tell a story. On full-moon night, he mounts these sculptures in the sea just beyond the shoreline, fuels them with firewood and sets them ablaze. The roaring fire within the sculptures, each of which is the height of a man, makes the almost prehistoric-style figures seem to dance in the darkness, evoking the earliest cave paintings. All of the elements — water, earth, wind, fire — combine to evoke a kind of primal beauty.

Favorite travel quote

“Every great and commanding moment is the product of some enthusiasm.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

I truly believe that without enthusiasm, life risks not only being terribly boring, but meaningless as well. Great things do not generally occur because one stumbles into them, but instead are the product of passion. Travel, with its many discomforts and trials, requires that one persevere with enthusiasm and passion. If you manage to do that, you’ll be rewarded accordingly — with great and commanding moments.

Advice for living la dolce vita under more mundane circumstances

The very same thing that makes travel great — but takes the most work — is something you can do at home: seek out new experiences and take the time to talk with people you meet while having them. I spent 15 years in Washington, DC, and while I hit the art museums more than some people would, I certainly didn’t begin to plumb the depths of experiences I could have had in that city. I wish I had taken the time to attend a service at the African-Methodist-Episcopalian church around the corner, whose rockin’ gospel shook the neighborhood windows every Sunday morning. I didn’t take any funky, historical tours or visit the off-the-beaten-path attractions. Most importantly, I didn’t take as much time to talk to people about their lives as I would have liked. When I travel, I’m good at asking questions and drawing people out; at home, I was in such a hurry to get things done that I didn’t take the time to ask the quirky characters omnipresent in any city about their lives. Travel is definitely a state of mind, a way of becoming an observer rather than a doer. Take a day now and then to become a traveler in your home town; it’s amazing what stories people have to tell.

A self-described “overachieving save-the-worlder” who used to run an international affairs advocacy group in Washington, D.C., Heather Hamilton is enjoying her newest incarnation as a writer, sailor and adventurer in the company of her husband, Pip Fryers. (Fryers has been sailing since he was a wee laddie in the Lake District of northern England.) You can learn more about this adventuresome pair and see where their boat is right now on their Picaroon Blog.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another expat book review, by Kate Allison.

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RANDOM NOMAD: Adria Schmidt, Career Consultant at Violence Intervention Program & Former Peace Corps Volunteer

Born in: Phoenixville, Pennsylvania USA
Passport: USA
Countries, states, cities lived in: Pennsylvania (Collegeville & Landenberg): 1985-87 & 1996 – 2004; Ohio (Cincinnati): 1987-96; Massachusetts (Boston): 2004-06, 2008-09; Argentina (Buenos Aires): 2007-08; Dominican Republic (Cambita Garabitos, San Cristóbal province): 2009-11; New York (New York): June 2011 – present.

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
I guess you can say I left my homeland in search of a home. I never felt very “at home” as a teenager in Pennsylvania, so when the opportunity came to travel to Spain on a class trip I went eagerly. On this short trip I found that I felt more comfortable with some parts of the Spanish culture than with my own. The seed of wanderlust was planted.

When I went to school in Boston at Northeastern University, I decided to study the Spanish language, partly because of my interest in the language and the culture of Ibero-America, and partly because of my wish to study abroad.

Under Northeastern’s “Dialogue of Civilizations” program, I worked in Puebla, Mexico in a women’s prison, as well as in a small indigenous village in the mountains of Cuetzalan, where the people spoke only Nahuati. Both were amazing experiences.

And under Northeastern’s study abroad program, I lived in Argentina for nearly a year — during which I decided I wanted to help impoverished people in developing countries so would try joining the Peace Corps. Two years and one Master’s degree later, I was finally accepted and sent off to the Dominican Republic.

So did I ever find that “home” I was looking for? To be honest, my travels have only nurtured that original seed of restlessness. The more I travel the more I discover about myself and others — and the more I realize how much I still have to learn. For now, at least, home is wherever I want it to be.

Is anyone else in your family a “displaced” person?
As far as my immediate family goes, no one is or has ever been “displaced” — although I do like to think that my travels have inspired family members to explore other countries. My father was always one of those people who felt it would never be necessary to leave the United States as he had everything he wanted or needed right here. But when I went to Argentina, my parents decided to visit, and my dad absolutely fell in love with the country. To this day, he tells people that Argentina has the best pastries in the world. Now when I tell my parents I’m going overseas, they no longer respond by saying: “Why do you want to go there?” Instead it’s “When can we visit?”

Describe the moment when you felt most displaced.
One night in Cambita my host sister’s husband brought me a guayaba (guava). He was really excited for me to try one for the first time, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him I had eaten this fruit before in Mexico. After I ate it I started to feel nauseous and dizzy. Soon my lips began to swell and my whole face was itchy. I was having an allergic reaction to a chemical (a fertilizer or pesticide) that had been used on the fruit. I called the Peace Corps doctor, who told me to take two Benadryl and then a shower to wash the chemicals off.

When I got to the shower — an outdoor zinc and cement block latrine with a drain in the middle — I hung my towel on the cement blocks and poured cold water from a bucket over my head. It was already dark and I couldn’t see anything.

As soon as I finished, I wrapped the towel around myself and as I was heading back to the house, I felt a small sting on my stomach, then another one on my back, and another one on my chest. Soon my whole body was burning with these sharp little stings. Inside my towel was a colony of fire ants! I ran to my room, only to find it occupied. My host parents, Doña Romita and Don Rafael, were busy adjusting a new table the latter had constructed from an old cabinet. All I wanted to do was rip off my towel, but I could not get naked in front of my 70-year-old hosts!

By that time, the ants were all over my body. I was jumping up and down, shaking my towel and yelling for them to get out of the room. In all the commotion the oil lamp was knocked over and shattered on the floor. Doña Romita refused to let me in the room with the glass on the floor. Still unsure of what was wrong with me, she rushed me to her room. I quickly closed the door and whipped the towel off, slapping the ants off my body.

Just when I thought the nightmare was over I looked up and realized the shades were wide open and everyone outside the house had seen me naked and jumping around. At that moment, Doña Romita knocked on the door to tell me that my project partner and his wife were there to see me.

Describe the moment when you felt least displaced.
After being in the Dominican Republic for more than a year, I came back to the States to visit my friends and family. One night, while out with some friends all the girls couldn’t stop talking about their weight. They were commenting about how beautiful one of our friends was because they had never seen her so skinny before. All I could think of was how sickly she looked and how much I wanted to feed her. I couldn’t understand why being skinny was considered better while in the Dominican Republic being called “fat” or (my favorite) “fatty” was a compliment. My view of what was healthy and beautiful had been altered from my time in the Peace Corps.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from each of your adopted countries into the Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
From Argentina: All the ingredients and utensils for brewing maté, a drink made from the leaves of the yerba maté plant, containing caffeine and related compounds. (This is sadly ironic since I accidentally left behind my maté in my apartment in Buenos Aires.) The yerba is packed into a hallowed-out gourd, which is then filled with boiling water. You drink the mixture directly from the gourd using a metallic straw with a filter at the bottom, called a bombilla. Some people walk around with a thermos of hot water and the gourd to drink maté whenever they have the urge. It has a very strong, bitter taste, but you can add liquid sugar.

From the Dominican Republic: Some large jugs of the tree bark, sticks and herbs that can be used for making the classic Dominican drink mamajuana. I assume the Displaced Nation has honey and rum we can add to it? After filling with rum and honey, you let the jug sit for a few days. You can also add cinnamon sticks soaked in red wine and honey, or raw squid and seafood soaked in rum. Men use the seafood mamajuana to boost their virility. Regular mamajuana supposedly cleans the blood, provides a tonic for liver and kidneys, relieves menstruation pains, and cures many other ailments (depending on who you talk to).

You’re invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other Displaced Nation members. What’s on the menu?
I would make the meal I ate the most of in the Dominican Republic: rice, beans, plantains, and overcooked spaghetti with carnation milk, canned tomatoes, and corn. It’s the perfect carb overload — are any of you marathon runners?

You may add one word or expression from the countries you’ve lived in to The Displaced Nation argot. What will you loan us?
From Argentina: Che, boludo. Che is similar to the American word “dude.” I love che because it means that whenever I’m talking to someone and can’t remember their name, I can just call them che. Boludo technically means “jerk” (or worse), but it can also be used in an endearing way. My Argentinian friends and I always used to greet each other with a “Che, boludo!”
From the Dominican Republic: Vaina — though it technically means the pod around pigeon peas (gandules), everyone uses it to mean a thing or object. If I ever got stuck and couldn’t think of the Spanish word for something, I would just call it vaina while pointing to the object with my lips. It’s a great word for anyone learning Spanish.

This month we are looking into “philanthropic displacement” — when people travel or become expats on behalf of helping others less fortunate than themselves. Do you have a role model you look up to when engaged in this kind of travel — whose words of advice you cherish?
Strangely, I have never had a role model for this kind of travel. I was always drawn to it — but for some reason never felt the need to seek out others who had done it before me. My family were against my joining the Peace Corps because of fears for my health and safety. A psychic I met at a Renaissance fair right before leaving for Argentina told me I was going to do the Peace Corps. I don’t really believe in psychics but everything she told me that day has come true. So perhaps it was simply a matter of fate?

Voluntourism is said to be the fastest growing segment of the travel industry (itself one of the world’s fastest growing industries). Do you think this kind of travel can help the uninitiated understand the problems our planet is facing?
Voluntourism is a tricky subject for me personally. On one hand I feel that it is ridiculous to pay someone’s plane ticket, lodging, food, and transportation at a more luxurious level than any host country national has ever experienced to have them “volunteer” and do a job that a local person would probably be more than willing and capable of doing had all that money been spent on their salary. On the other hand, I do realize the value of cross-cultural communications for both parties and that, on the occasions when it’s done correctly, the volunteer might actually be able to transfer a valuable skill to the host country nationals. In short, it all depends on how the voluntourism is being executed.

While in the Dominican Republic, I observed many volunteers who were asked to do jobs that could have been, and in some cases even were once done by Dominicans. It wasn’t that the local population didn’t have the knowledge or training to do some of these jobs; it was that they didn’t have the money to pay a salaried person and wanted a “free” volunteer instead.

Luckily, most Peace Corps volunteers were successfully trained to avoid taking jobs away from Dominicans, and instead focus on areas where they and their community felt the need was greatest.

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

img: Hair washing ritual in Constanza, a mountainous area of the Dominican Republic, in spring of this year. Adria Schmidt is the one getting her hair washed — the one doing the washing is Rebecca, a fellow Peace Corps volunteer, and they are in the home of another Peace Corps volunteer, Malia (not pictured). Due to the primitive plumbing conditions, hair washing has to be done in the kitchen, by heating water up on the stove.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s installment from our displaced fictional heroine, Libby, who finds herself celebrating her first Thanksgiving under less-than-ideal circumstances. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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In search of 007th heaven: A travel yarn in three parts (Part 3)

We welcome back Sebastian Doggart for the final installment of his story about the pilgrimage he made to Goldeneye, the Jamaican coastal retreat where Ian Fleming wrote all the James Bond novels. In Part 1, Sebastian reports on his clever ploy to gain admission to the birthplace of James Bond. In Part 2, he registers disappointment at the conversion of Goldeneye into GoldenEye, a soulless bolt-hole for the rich and famous. In this final part, he tracks down the original locations where some famous scenes in two early Bond films were shot.

Back on the cactus-studded road, fortified with a cup of 007’s favorite Blue Mountain coffee, I — along with my two Bond girls: my lovely girlfriend, Emily, and our cheeky six-month-old daughter, Alma — renewed the quest to find some legitimate traces of Britain’s greatest spy.

The movie that pays greatest tribute to Fleming’s love for Jamaica is Dr. No (1962). Filmed just outside the island’s capital city, Kingston, on the south coast, Dr. No features the first Bond car chase, as glimpsed in the film’s original trailer. (Notably, I did not encourage our red-eyed Jamaican driver to hit the accelerator and, for Alma’s sake, was relieved to see a large blue traffic safety sign saying: “SPEED KILLS. Don’t be in a hurry to eternity”.)

Also as glimpsed in this trailer, Dr. No also introduced the world to the first Bond Girl: Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder — emerging from the waves, cuddling a conch shell.

No matter that her voice was dubbed in the final film, Ms. Andress in a bikini was a vision that launched a million erotic fantasies, including my own. The beach where this iconic scene was filmed is as hard to reach today as it was for Bond in the movie. Located four miles west of Ocho Ríos, behind the Roaring River generating station, on a privately owned, rentable estate, it is approached by an unmarked track that ends at a security gate. The Laughing Waters stream — in which Bond and Honey concealed themselves — still pours into the sea.

But Bond and Honey’s actual hiding place is now a very unromantic drainage ditch.

In both the movie and the book, Honey’s beach lies on the island of Crab Key, which is Dr. No’s well-appointed hide-out. Bond and Honey make their way from the beach, through a lush forest, where they find a stunning waterfall in which to wash off.

I would do the same thing…

The cascade used for the movie is now one of Jamaica’s top tourist attractions, Dunn’s River Falls. As we reached this reputedly picturesque spot, the first thing we noticed were grotesque conga lines of cruise-ship passengers — mainly American, but with a large smattering of Chinese — clambering over the rocks. How I wished I’d had a Walther PPK pistol to silence the tour-guides as they orchestrated raucous football chants.

(Afterwards, Alma exacted her own ruthless revenge on the commercialized desecration of the waterfall. As we were waiting for our driver to pull up, a septuagenarian American couple, all sunhats and positive energy, approached us. Alma served up her gummiest, sweetest grin to the lady, whose tired face melted. “Awww,” she cooed, “you are the cuutest ba–“, at which moment she stumbled sharply and fell face first on to the asphalt. A blackish red liquid oozed from her mouth. Emily shielded Alma’s gaze from the horror. The husband yelled for help. A call went out to out to an ambulance, which — do they have one permanently stationed at the Falls to handle tourists tumbling down the rocks? — arrived within minutes. The lady was carried into the back of the ambulance, as her husband asked a fellow cruise passenger to tell the captain not to leave until she had been patched up and discharged.)

Dr. Julius No’s lair was where he entertained Bond and Honey for dinner…and concealed the laser that could disable American missiles. It also contained the nuclear reactor where he would meet his death, sinking into the boiling liquid from which he was unable to escape because of his metal hands.

The building used for the reactor’s exterior is a bauxite plant that sits beside the main road on the crescent harbor of Discovery Bay. It’s owned and operated by the American company Kaiser. Beneath its russet-stained dome is where the “red gold” that is Jamaica’s second-leading money earner after tourism is transformed into aluminium for export to U.S. refineries.

The other movie where Jamaica plays a major role is Live and Let Die (1974), the first film to star Roger Moore as James Bond.

Jamaica stands in as the Louisiana bayou for the classic scene in the crocodile farm owned by the evil Mr. Big. In the film, Mr. Big’s real name is Kananga, which was taken from real-life crocodile wrangler Ross Kananga, who was the double for Moore in the scene where Bond escapes by running over a phalanx of crocodiles.

In this clip you can see all five takes of Kananga performing this perilous stunt for Moore. The location was an actual crocodile farm called Swamp Safari, near the town of Falmouth. (It was being refurbished when we visited and is due to re-open next year.)

In Live and Let Die, Jamaica is also the fictional Caribbean island of San Monique. In the original novel, Bond comes here to track down what his MI6 boss, M, believes to be a stash of gold that was originally amassed by the notorious pirate Henry Morgan, himself an early foreign resident of Jamaica. That gold was being used by the criminal network SMERSH to fund nefarious activities in America.

In the movie, Kananga’s base was conceived of as a cathedral-like cave beneath a cemetery. It was here where the infamous drug lord kept his submarine. And it was here, in a shark-infested lagoon, that Moore kills Kananga by stuffing a bullet of compressed air down his throat, causing him to explode.

The Kananga scenes were shot in the real-life Green Grotto and Runaway Caves near Discovery Bay. They comprise a network of limestone caves and a limpid lake, 120 feet below sea level. Originally a Taíno place of worship, the caves had a recent incarnation as a nightclub — but after revelers damaged the stalactites, it was closed down. Today, tour guides are scrupulously protective of the green algae on the walls.

As my Bond girls and I wound up our 007 tour and headed back to New York, I was re-energized to write my own Bond novel. It will begin with our hero discovering that his mother, whom he has not seen since he was very young, is alive but has been kidnapped by a mysterious criminal gang.

With Bond’s fascination for women clearly linked to an Oedipal complex and an impossible love for his mother, this will set up the highest stakes of any 007 story ever. In an extraordinary final twist, his mother will be revealed as none other than…M herself!

M for Mummy! Genius!

What do you think? Will this effectively reboot the Bond franchise?

img: The intrepid Sebastian Doggart with his equally intrepid “Bond girls,” girlfriend Emily and their daughter Alma, snapped in front of Dunn’s River Falls, Jamaica, with conga lines of cruise-ship passengers in the background.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s installment from our displaced fictional heroine, Libby, who, having just said good-bye to her London home, is about to embark on her long-anticipated relocation adventure.

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See also:


As The Displaced Nation has been serializing Sebastian Doggart’s article (part 1 and part 2) about visiting Ian Feming’s Goldeneye estate in Jamaica, it seemed like a good time to take a brief look at Fleming’s writing with a Classic Displaced Writing Post.

Sebastian’s posts have been concerned with Fleming and his love of Jamaica, and while Jamaica and the Caribbean is used numerous times as a backdrop in the Bond novels, through the course of the novels Bond visits dozens of  different countries that Fleming has to conjure up for the reader.

What is clear on reading Fleming is just how important food and drink is to Fleming in order to allow him to describes new and exotic (at least for the vast majority of readers in austerity Britain of that time) locations. I don’t think it’s unfair of me to say that Fleming fetishes food and drink. At times, reading a Bond novel is like reading food porn. While the Bond films now do an expert and cynical job of name dropping as many brands as they can in 2 hours, the Bond novels don’t shy away with the name dropping of food or of alcoholic brand names. The Bond of the novels isn’t solely a Martini drinker. He’s aways one to try anything local that’s on offer. In Jamaica he’ll drink a glass of Red Stripe, in the US he’ll have a Millers Highlife beer. Throughout the novels Fleming uses food and drink to convey an alien culture, demonstrate social status, show Bond’s mood and his sophistication and ease with the world.

For ten minutes Bond stood and gazed out across the sparkling water barrier between Europe and Asia, then he turned back into the room, now bright with sunshine, and telephoned for his breakfast. His English was not understood, but his French at last got through. He turned on a cold bath and shaved patiently with cold water and hoped that the exotic breakfast he had ordered would not be a fiasco.

He was not disappointed. The yoghourt, in a blue china bowl, was a deep yellow and with the consistency of thick cream. The green figs, ready peeled, were bursting with ripeness, and the Turkish coffee was jet black and with the burned taste that showed it had been freshly ground. Bond ate the delicious meal on a table drawn up beside the open-window.

From Russia with Love (1957)

Video of some more examples –

STAY TUNED for Monday’s post, when guest blogger Sezin Koehler riffs off Alice in Wonderland to capture the curious, unreal aspects of her life in Prague.

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In search of 007th heaven: A travel yarn in three parts (Part 2)

GoldenEye collageWe welcome back Sebastian Doggart for the second in his three-part travel yarn about his attempt to infiltrate the Caribbean retreat called GoldenEye, where Ian Fleming composed all the Bond books. In Part 1, Sebastian reports on his arrival on Jamaica’s northern coast and admission at the gates of the compound that marks the birthplace of James Bond — newly remade into a resort for the super-rich. Stay tuned for Part 3, where Sebastian continues his Bond-worthy quest for traces of Fleming elsewhere in Jamaica.

Alighting from the car, I was greeted by Jenny Wood, GoldenEye’s English general manager, whose plummily cheerful efficiency had echoes of Miss Moneypenny. She welcomed us warmly and introduced us to a Jamaican employee called Henry, who would take us to our friends, the Usmanovs.

As Henry led us down a stone path, I asked him about visiting Fleming’s house. He said that, the week before, Bono had been staying there, but that it was now vacant.

Thrillingly, Henry promised he would get a key and take us to see inside.

He took us through a wooded area, where the trees had all been planted by a celebrity guest. Handwritten signs showed a tamarind planted by Princess Margaret, a royal palm by the Clintons, a lime by Harrison Ford, an ackee by River Phoenix, a cinnamon by Willie Nelson, and a guava by Johnny Depp.

Surely, this was the most eco-friendly example of name-dropping in the world.

Shaken, not stirred

We came to the luxuriously simple main restaurant, which also housed a bar in the very gazebo where Fleming would do some of his writing. Henry informed us that, when British Prime Minister Anthony Eden visited in 1956, he used this as a command post.

It was a perfect spot for a quick drink. I eschewed the obvious choice of a dry martini, shaken not stirred and ordered instead Bond’s own creation, a Vesper. Named after his Casino Royale lover Vesper Lynd, it’s made of three measures of Gordon’s gin, one of grain vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet, all shaken until iced cold, and served with a slice of lemon peel in a champagne goblet.

Energized, we walked on to a wooden bridge, over an emerald waterway that drifted into the sea, through a maze of discreet wooden buildings, each bordering a lagoon, to our friends’ own villa.

They welcomed us with a rum punch, made from Blackwell’s own self-named brand. We sat on the back deck, listening to the resort’s own reggae-oriented radio station, and savoring the sweet scent of marijuana wafting from the neighboring cabana. I slipped into my bathing suit and leapt into the cool water.

On the other shore of the lagoon nestled the spa, described in the resort guidebook as a place where guests have “a license to chill,” and where Bond himself “would willingly put down his guns, girls and gadgets to lose himself — and find himself.”

I went back inside my friends’ cabana for a shower. The bedroom smelled of fresh cedar and was immaculately decorated. The bathroom, adorned with new Villeroy & Boch taps and a craw-feet tub, was outside — shielded by a bamboo fence and festooned with bougainvillea.

I hope you can swim, Goodnight.

Soon after, Henry returned to honor his promise to take us to Bond’s actual birthplace, and we said goodbye to our friends.

Henry led us to the private beach where Fleming used to don flippers and a diving mask (but no snorkel) to look at parrotfish and snapper, and to spear lobsters and octopi for his dinner. A glass-bottomed boat is now available for guests to peer for barracuda.

On the shore, hotel lounge-chairs broke the natural rhythms. A rock pool that Fleming built for his son, Casper, teemed with black crabs — the same beasts that Dr. No used to torture Honey Rider. I wondered whether Fleming and his “Jamaican wife,” Blanche Lindo, might have indulged in some related zoologically erotic games.

Overlooking the beach was a charming sunken garden which Fleming had hallowed out for dining al fresco. Shaded by a proscenium arch of almond trees, he and his illustrious chums would sit here feasting on ackee, curried goat, and grilled salt-fish.

Henry took out a key to show us inside the complex known as “The Fleming House.” The renovations have expanded Fleming’s own modest footprint to embrace four houses, all built around a new, sunken swimming pool. The main building is an enlarged version of Fleming’s original bungalow, and there are three neighboring villas, which contain guest rooms and a private cinema.

Time to face gravity!

To stay in the Fleming House is beyond most mortals’ spending power: it rents for between $7,000 and $21,000 a night, depending on the season.

To put that in context, Henry, whom Chris Blackwell was paying $60 a week, would have to work seven years — and incur no other expenditures — in order to take his family to the Fleming House for just one night.

My first impression on entering the main building was similar to that of Noël Coward,
who, in a teasing ode he wrote to Fleming, complained about the hard furniture and the airless rooms.

Totemic African statues stared threateningly down into the cavernous living room. Paintings of a conch shell and a sea-view looked as though they had been bought from the local market. The floor was made of cold, pale stone.

The master bedroom was where Fleming did most of his writing, but this too was disappointing. Below a framed black-and-white photograph of Fleming stood a bullet-wood corner desk, but Henry admitted that it was a replica.

There was no sign either of the Imperial typewriter that Fleming used to write most of the Bond novels, or of the gold-plated Royal Quiet DeLuxe portable that he later purchased from the Royal Typewriter Company in New York. (The Royal, I learned later, had been sold to Bond actor Pierce Brosnan for a reported $75,000.)

As Henry led me back to my car, past a lime tree planted by Yoko Ono, the whole place suddenly felt fake and exploitative. It seemed more a celebration of celebritocracy than a tribute to the creative spirit — more akin to Scaramanga’s island than to Fleming’s original Goldeneye.

And as the iron gates clanged behind us, I suspected that, if Fleming had a chance to see how his erstwhile 007th heaven has been transformed, he would feel that Chris Blackwell has leapt on an ugly Bondwagon — and, like Auric Goldfinger, may be suffering from a deadly Midas complex.

img: (top to bottom) Fleming’s private beach; Fleming’s sunken garden; GoldenEye villa outdoor bath; GoldenEye villa bedroom — all by Sebastian Doggart.

STAY TUNED for Part 3, in which Sebastian continues his search for 007 on the beach where Ursula Andress appeared, in evil Doctor Kananga’s limestone caves, and in Dr. No’s lair on Coral Key. And before that we have tomorrow’s post — an interview with Random Nomad Vicki Jeffels, who answers an Alice question.

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