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THE ACCIDENTAL EXPAT: Globetrotting between overseas assignments

THE ACCIDENTAL EXPAT
Columnist Indra Chopra is back. Born in India, Indra embraced the life of a trailing spouse to become a globetrotter. She also conforms to the image I have a “lovepat.” Because she is such a curious and creative person, the expat life (both the international and the domestic kind) suits her down to the ground, as I think you will see in this post. ML Awanohara

For an accidental expat like me, adventure is not so much reaching out for unknown as it is changing residences, and countries, every so often.

In my last post, I described my family’s move to Oman for my husband’s job. We returned to India at the end of 2000. Eight years later, we would have another country binge—but in this post I want to share with you what we did from 2000 to 2008, a time when our friends were constantly grumbling about needing an exclusive telephone diary for the Chopras’ constantly changing telephone numbers and area codes.

Within a year of our return to India, we were planning an extended trip to United States. My first visit had been in 1975 when, fresh out of college, I attended summer school in journalism at Stanford University, in Palo Alto. It was the era of the “Fs”: Flower power, Frisbee, Freedom…

Twenty-six years later, I headed to America again at an equally momentous time: the aftermath of the horrendous carnage of 9/11/01. My husband and I were visiting our daughter, who, having completed her undergraduate studies at UMass, Amherst, had enrolled in UMass Medical School, which is located in Worcester.

Grey and gloomy Worcester

Our port of entry was Boston’s Logan Airport. From there we made a two-hour train journey past New England landscapes to an unknown territory whose name is pronounced “Wuss-tur,” as in Worcestershire sauce (which originated in the English midlands town of Worcester).

Our brusque reception by the immigration authorities at Logan Airport had put us in a somber mood, which grey and gloomy Worcester—a “city created by and for the middle class,” as Adam Davidson put it in a recent article for the New York Times Magazine—did little to dispel.

During the late 19th century and after, Worcester had attracted fresh-off-the-boat migrants from Europe, Asia, and Africa who had left behind unwelcoming Boston to look for work in the cotton mills and steel works, some of them starting their own enterprises. The proximity to Boston helped industries to flourish, but World War II and rise of other industrial bases across the country led to the greyness we now saw all around us.

I recalled having read Daoma Winson’s novel The Fall River Line, a 90-year saga about the family of a New England matriarch who owns a Massachusetts-based steamship line running between New York and Boston in the late 19th century. But the city I saw before me was a mix of new and old three-decker rectangular homes alongside newer constructions of colleges and hospitals.

Imagine my surprise when, researching the city further, I discovered that out of its gloom had emerged something pink, lacy and romantic. Esther Howland of Worcester started up a business making valentines in 1857, the success of which earned her the epithet of “the mother of the American valentine”; you can see a large collection of her creations at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester.

Worcester can also claim the “Smiley” face, created by Worcester-born-and-bred graphic artist Harvey Ross Ball—another seeming contradiction; and there are many other firsts to the city’s credit:

  • the largest female workforce in the USA;
  • the first woman Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins (she served in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s cabinet and had grown up in Worcester);
  • the first Bible and first dictionary printed in America (by one Isaiah Thomas, in the 18th century);
  • the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence, also by Isaiah Thomas;
  • the first monkey wrench, invented by Loring and Aury Coes in 1840 (just thought I’d throw that in!);
  • the first commercially successful envelope-producing machine, invented by Russell Hawes in 1853; and
  • WORC, the first radio station to play a Beatles song in the United States.

I suppose adversity bred innovation and, as far as the Beatles went, a “thumbs-down” to the Boston Brahmins.

Once settled, we walked around Worcester Commons and past the Burnside Fountain with its Turtle Boy statue; along the crowded downtown streets including Shrewsbury Street (where can be found Little Italy) and the tree-lined avenues where there are many houses dating back to the late 19th-century; all over the “modern” UMass Medical School campus; and even out to the suburban Auburn Mall (I had to shop in Filene’s). We also ventured out to the shores of Quinsigamond and Indian Lakes.

Lake Quinsigamond (or the Long Pond) reflects the sensibilities of the city. Though a favored destination for water sports, rowing and boating regattas, it misses out on aqua “vitality”.

Worcester Mass Collage 2

Bustling Boston (& vicinity)

Worcester’s saving grace, for me, is that it’s only a step away from Boston and its famous landmarks…no, I would not be one of those people who prefers Worcester’s slower pace!

My favorite Boston spots include Faneuil Hall/Marketplace, incorporating Quincy Market, the Freedom Trail, Harvard University, and, further afield: Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket the latter two accessible by ferry and good spots for celeb watching. I liked walking down Nantucket’s cobblestoned Main Street and gawking at the tony lifestyle and the boutique shops.

Boston and beach collage

There have been other visits to Worcester since then, in various seasons, as we continue our effort to appreciate small-town living. But on this first occasion, 15 days were sufficient, and from Worcester we jetted across to San Francisco to visit family. In this sense, we were conforming to the distinctive Indian habit of tagging family and friends across the globe to ensure hassle free board and lodging. (Thankfully, at least for the people doing much of the hosting, that concept is changing with Indian tourism opening up and more people traveling on their own.)

San Francisco, here we come!

San Francisco lived up to my “Alice in Wonderland” memories. Our days were devoted dawdling on Fisherman’s Wharf, trundling down Nob Hill in the cable car, watching the sunset from Golden Gate Bridge, driving around Palo Alto.

The quintessential university town had changed: there were more residences and start-up communities, shortening the distance between University and town. The path from Escondido Village (where I lived) to the journalism department (where I studied) did not appear intimidating as when I had first cycled on it.

San Fran Collage

The re-discovery journey had been pleasant except for an interaction with immigration officer on our return to Boston’s Logan International Airport. Having been assured by the travel agent of no extra charges, we had extended our return flight from San Francisco to Boston by two days. Hence our surprise when we were asked to pay $200 and, as we attempted to explain, the airline official countered with a complete dossier of our movements, the number of times we had cancelled our arrival to USA, the change we’d made to our flight schedule from San Francisco, etc., etc.

It was a case of pay the said amount or be barred from boarding the flight back to India. The disbelief came when I told my husband, in Hindi, to ask the name of the official or demand that we speak to her senior. She caught on and told us that we are most welcome, promptly giving us her name and declaring it would not change anything.

Left with no alternative, we promptly paid the contested amount and exited the country. Talk about “parochial” and “paranoid”! I suddenly remembered my Media and Broadcasting Prof. at Stanford, who, upon seeing me sit alone on the patio (I was finishing an assignment), apologised for the “parochial” attitude of my fellow students. (I told him I was fine.)

We did not stop visiting USA but, on the next occasions, we were prepared for the pat downs, security checks and x-rays. No hair sprays, body cremes, etc., and no loose talk. So, now when I am told “You have been selected,” I know it is not for a seat upgrade but for the body scanner.

Becoming Punekars

In 2004 we made another “small city” visit and, this time, a change of residence. There is no connection between Worcester and Pune, except that both are stress busters for concrete jungles: Boston and Mumbai, respectively.

Pune is an emerging “mega-city” said to epitomize the New India. It is also the cultural capital of the state of Maharashtra, celebrating Maratha arts and crafts, music, and theatre. It has a proud history as the seat of the Peshwas, who were the ruling figures within the Maratha Empire, which was established by the legendary Shivaji, the Hindu leader who challenged the mighty Mughals. He was later held up as a hero during the rebellion against English rule and bid for Indian independence.

But returning to the Pune of today: it is very much a city on the go, with mushrooming high-rises, malls, and hotels. Its already congested labyrinth of shops, roadside stalls, and disintegrating colonial architecture is constantly expanding, with new enterprises such as education centers cropping up, and more and more “steel ants” (mopeds and two wheelers) running along its narrow lanes and arteries. (Public transport leaves something to be desired.)

The one constant between former eras and today are the majestic banyan trees, with their nebbish roots adding a spidery effect.

The city is being invaded by professionals and tourists from neighboring cities and states. A true Punekar (aka Punaite) will argue that, despite the onslaught of so many people, their city has retained its elegance and charm typified by the “dragonfly” energy and the attitude of the female residents who cover their faces with a scarf and slice through the traffic. (For me, this unique sartorial style is a silent tribute to “girl power”!)

Upon our arrival, we visited the famous landmarks including:

Pune is the city for seeing Alphonso mangoes piled high on roadside carts and market stalls. The mango mania does not stop at simply eating the fruit but has invaded thalis (food platters), desserts, ice creams and shakes, literally adding color to the local cuisine.

What I relish most is the ubiquitous Vada Pav, a vegetarian fast food consisting of a potato fritter. I often purchase one from a roadside stall that, according to my friend’s driver, is the “best Vada Pav in town.”

The mesmeric effect of life in this part of the world culminated in our purchasing a property up in the hills, on NIBM Road in Kondhwa, a fast-growing suburb of Pune.

And now here I sit on our lawn, under blue skies, a rarity in the part of India where I’m from. Later I will watch the sun descend deeper into the surrounding hills while dreaming of new places where we might be based in near future.

Pune India Collage

Not surprisingly, the seven-year itch surfaced and in summer of 2008 we jetted our way to Hong Kong, another country and another accidental expat experience. The Sultanate of Oman and Hong Kong are on different trajectories: one a traditional nation and the other a place full of glitz, glamor and restlessness. Hong Kong’s mishmash of lingering British influences and Chinese opportunism must be what lures so many visitors, us included, to its crowded streets.

We came for a year and found ourselves queuing at the Immigration office to get extensions stamped for two, three, seven years—and then permanent residency.

But more on that experience in my next post…

* * *

Thank you, Indra, for sharing this continuation of your story. It was refreshing to hear about the United States from an outsider’s perspective, and to learn all about Pune. And now I am eager to hear what you make of Hong Kong! —ML Awanohara

Indra Chopra is a writer/blogger passionate about travel and curious about cultures and people. Her present status is that of an accidental expat writing to relive moments in countries wherever she sets home with her husband. With over twenty years of writing experience Indra has contributed to Indian, Middle Eastern publications and online media. She blogs at TravTrails

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Photo credits: Opening visual: Airplane photo and India photo via Pixabay. Second visual: (top row) Worcester, Massachusetts, by Doug Kerr via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); photo of the Beatles and of Worcester’s buildings via Pixabay; (bottom row) Turtle Boy, by Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Harvey Ball, by Michael Carroll courtesy Worcester Historical Museum; and Daoma Winston book cover. Third visual: Nantucket – Main St, by thisisbossi via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Quincy Market, by Smart Destinations via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Boston – Freedom Trail, by David Ohmer via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Cape Cod scene via Pixabay. Fourth visual: Cable car, Stanford U & Golden Gate sunset photos all via Pixabay; Fisherman’s Wharf – San Francisco, California, by Doug Kerr via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). Last visual: (top row) Mangoes for sale in Crawford Market, Mumbai, by Anuradha Sengupta via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); warrior statue via Pixabay; A Crowd Gathers – Pune, India, by Ian D. Keating via Flickr (CC BY 2.0) (same as bottom-row middle photo); Sunset at Sinhagarh, by Abhijit Kar Gupta via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); (bottom row) Sukhadia’s open vada pav, by Krista via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); [untitled – Banyan tree in Pune], by ptwo via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); and Osho Ashram, aka Osho International Meditation Resort, by fraboof via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

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

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

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

Madeleine Lenagh moeraki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

catlins_800x

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

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

alaska77

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

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

stork-s_800x

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

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

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

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

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

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

eagle_800x

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

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

spiderweb-s_800x

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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For this Salzburg-based New Englander and fine-art photographer, a picture says…

Kosovo selfie by Dave Long

Morguefiles; Kosovo selfie by Dave Long.

Hello, Displaced Nationers! I am standing in for A Picture Says… columnist James King, who unfortunately can’t be with us this month. James left the choice up to me, so I’ve extended an invitation to Dave Long, a U.S.-born photographer living in Salzburg, Austria. I discovered Dave through his involvement with under a grey sky…, the personal Web site of Paul Scraton, a Brit living in Berlin, Germany. Paul plans to produce a quarterly journal called Elsewhere, as reported in a recent Displaced Dispatch.

(What, not a subscriber to our esteemed Dispatch? Get on the list NOW!!)

Dave specializes in commercial and fine-art photography, with an emphasis on dramatic landscapes, extreme sports and historical architecture.

I was further intrigued upon visiting his photography site, where I discovered he has just self-published a book called Daheim Away from Home, available on Blurb.com. Daheim is German for “home”, and Dave explains that after 15 years of living in Salzburg, a “city full of cultural and historical wonder,” he “has finally come to terms that this truly is his new home.”

He also says that he wrote the photo captions in a “mix of English and German that is the reality of everyday life for an expatriate.”

And now it’s time to meet Dave and hear which of his photos he thinks speak at least 1,000 words.

Hmmm… But are these speaking in German or English—or both?! Let’s find out, shall we?

* * *

Welcome, Dave, to the Displaced Nation. Let’s start as James usually does, by asking where you were born and when you spread your wings to start traveling.
I was born and raised in Massachusetts, USA. My folks split up when I was ten and I bounced between two houses every other day/weekend for several years. I think that set me up for the flexibility you need when traveling. After hosting an exchange student from Switzerland who ultimately became a great friend, all I wanted to do was go abroad and learn a second language. By the time I got to college, I was already looking into semester programs in Europe. After a few adventurous bus trips across America, I finally left U.S. shores in 1999. With snowboarding as a top priority in those days, I wound up in Austria.

“High on a hill was a lonely goatherd…”

Is that where you’re living now?
Yes. Fifteen years later, two new languages and my own tricultural family, I am living in Salzburg, a small city nestled into the northern ridge of the Alps.

I think we’ve all heard of it thanks to Julie Andrews and The Sound of Music. But I’m curious, why did you choose Salzburg as your base?
The city is bursting with cultural flair, historic relevance, architectural splendor and immediate access to crystal clear lakes and imposing mountains. Not to mention the best of all four seasons. Basically everything a budding photographer could dream of. My wife, also from elsewhere, found a great education here, and we’ve both been fortunate to find good jobs. We’ve never had a reason to leave.

Wow, it sounds as idyllic as it looked in the film! I understand you’ve lived in Austria for 15 years. How many other countries have you visited during that time?
Nearly every country in the EU plus Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania and Tunisia. And, though I’ve only lived in Austria since leaving the United States, I’ve spent extensive time in Switzerland and in Kosovo on account of friends and in-laws.

“I’ve always longed for adventure/To do the things I’ve never dared…”

And now I’m excited to get into the substance of our interview, the photos, especially as I’ve been to your photography site and find your work pretty amazing. Let’s start off by having you share with us three photos that capture some of your favorite memories of the so-called “displaced” life of global residency and travel.
I’ve often traveled the Balkans, visiting friends and more recently, in-laws. I took this first shot in Prishtina, Kosovo, in 2007. It captures the moment when I realized that I would never have seen a United Nations SUV that had been dirtied by actual service in a war-torn region,had I failed to venture beyond my small town in New England.

“Peace Keeping Is Dirty Work,” by Dave Long

Definitely a “You’re not in Kansas any more” moment! What’s next?
High in the Alps, at a friend’s cabin in the forest, our mixed group of Austrians and Americans ultimately turned to light-painting after more than a few rounds of local Schnapps. I’ve found nostalgia to be a rare, but welcome, companion during my life abroad.

“Austria—Schnapps and Nostalgia,” by Dave Long

Having been abroad for as long as you, I can really relate to the nostalgia so wonderfully expressed in this shot. And your last one?
Playing lead guitar with an Austrian brass band to rowdy crowds at rural beer tent festivals was definitely not something I envisioned when I left home years ago. Had I known how much fun it is, I probably would have left even sooner.

"Austria—On Stage at Beer Tent," by Dave Long

“Austria—On Stage at Beer Tent,” by Dave Long

What a fabulous photo!

“These are a few of my favorite things…”

Moving on: Tell me the top three locations where you’ve enjoyed taking photos thus far—and can you offer an example from each place?
I love taking photos no matter where I am! If I had to choose, though, it would be:

  1. The Balkans, for their mysterious mountain landscapes, breathtaking shores and a tragic history you can often read from the walls of buildings;
  2. New England because I spent the first 20 years of my life there and now return as a traveler who views everything through the eyes of a photographer;
  3. And finally Salzburg, because it’s nearly impossible to take a bad photo here.

And now for the examples. Here is Struga, Macedonia, in the late afternoon, which brings out the raw beauty of this historic lake town.

“Struga—Raw Beauty,” by Dave Long

Next I’ll share a photo of Lowell, Massachusetts. Growing up nearby, I never paid much attention to the red brick factories. Now they seem like original backdrops in Hollywood films about the industrial revolution or working-class boxing legends.

"Lowell—Brick Reality," by Dave Long

“Lowell—Brick Reality,” by Dave Long

Finally, I offer two from Salzburg. Here is one of an Austrian girl in traditional dress reaching out across space and time to grasp the hand of a boy from an immigrant family. (Unfortunately, that’s a politically sensitive topic here, and all over Europe, these days.) I captured it while testing a new lens at Salzburg’s version of the Oktoberfest (called Ruperti Kirtag).

"Salzburg—Time and Space," by Dave Long

“Salzburg—Time and Space,” by Dave Long

The second one is a staged photo shoot with an athletic friend of mine showcasing not only the unique layout of the city but the quality of life for those who live here. My friend claims it’s more fun to run through the cobblestone streets Mozart once roamed than on a treadmill in a stuffy fitness studio. (I don’t run so can only take his word for it.)

“Salzburg—The Runner,” by Dave Long

I love seeing the range of the places where you’ve been—definitely speaks to the displaced life! Okay, time to move on an ethical question. I know the last photo you shared was staged with a friend, but I wonder: do you ever feel reserved taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious of your doing so?
I’d be concerned about a photographer who didn’t sense the importance of a subject’s privacy. That said though, some of the best street photos are those that capture a person’s candid nature. This sort of photography is difficult in Europe because the laws are extremely restrictive. I’ve found the best approach is to take the photo you see, then approach the subject in a friendly way, explain you’re a photographer and that the person has just created or been part of a unique/beautiful/extraordinary moment that you captured. If they ask, share the photo and if it works out, ask them to sign a model release so you can publish the photo later.

“How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?”

And now over to the technical nitty gritty. What kind of camera and lenses do you use?
From 2005 to 2008 I was the editor in chief and co-founder of “packed magazine,” a free bimonthly magazine distributed at hostels all over Europe. We wound up acquiring a Sony a100 for the magazine, the first SLR Sony released after taking over Minolta. I’ve been a Sony man ever since, having owned the a700 and a77. I’ve also stuck to prosumer lenses from various brands because so far that’s all I’ve ever needed to get the job done. It’s always been important for me to have the full focal range from 8mm fish-eye up to 300mm tele in various forms of primes and zoom (those are aps-c focal lengths). I love my kit, but I’m keenly looking forward to building a new set based around Sony’s compact full frame a7 line of e-mount cameras and lenses. I’m slowly and stubbornly learning (admitting) that full frame bodies simply produce a level of quality that just isn’t possible with an aps-c sensor.

I’m not sure I followed that last part, but I’ll leave it to others, more technical than I am, to work out. What about post-processing software?
I only shoot in RAW format and post-process in Camera Raw, Photomatix Pro and Photoshop.

“I have confidence in confidence alone…”

Finally, can you offer a few words of advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling the world or living abroad?
For the traveler: Just do it! Seek the unknown. But also be open to the possibility of staying in a place that seems like it’s trying to keep you if it feels right. For the photographer: Enjoy the mid-day hours by not planning on taking any photos. At the most, snap some candid street photos and macro stuff as it comes. Explore the destination by day and keep track of places you’d like to shoot later during the golden hour or early next morning (with your tripod!). Also never return to your hotel/hostel/etc the same way you left!

Editor’s note: All subheds are lyrics from Sound of Music songs.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Dave’s experiences? If you have any questions for him about his European adventure and/or photos, please leave them in the comments!

If you want to get to know Dave and his creative works better, I suggest you visit his photography site. And don’t forget about his book, Daheim Away from Home.

(If you are a travel-photographer and would like to be interviewed by James King for this series, please send your information to ml@thedisplacednation.com.)

STAY TUNED for more fab posts!

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TCK TALENT: Gene Bell-Villada, literary critic, Latin Americanist, novelist, translator and TCK memoirist

Gene B-V TCK Talent

Professor Gene Bell-Villada (own photo)

Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang is here with her first column of 2015. For those who haven’t been following: she is building up quite a collection of stories about Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs) who work in creative fields. Lisa herself is a prime example. A Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent, she has developed her own one-woman show about growing up as a TCK, which is receiving rave reviews wherever it goes.

—ML Awanohara

Happy New Year, readers! Today I’m honored to be interviewing Gene Bell-Villada, author of the Third Culture Kid memoir Overseas American: Growing Up Gringo in the Tropics and co-editor of my first published essay in the TCK/global-nomad anthology: Writing Out of Limbo. Gene grew up in Latin America and “repatriated” to the USA for college and beyond; he is a Professor of Romance Languages (Spanish), Latin American Literature, and Modernism at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. He is also a published writer of fiction and nonfiction.

* * *

Welcome to The Displaced Nation, Gene. Like me, you’re an Adult Third Culture Kid of mixed heritage. Since you were born in Haiti and grew up in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Venezuela as the son of an Asian-Polynesian mother from Hawaii and a WASP father from Kansas, your identity development was complex and nuanced, as you make clear in your memoir.  Can you tell us how you identify yourself these days?
Like the title of my memoir, I identify myself as an Overseas American, of mixed WASP and Chinese-Filipino-Hawaiian ethnicity, with a Caribbean-Hispanic upbringing. I wrote my memoir in great measure to disentangle and explain that background—for myself and others! More broadly, in my middle 20s, it dawned on me that, by default, I happened to be a cosmopolitan, and that I couldn’t feel “local” even if I wished to. And so, I set out to make the best of that cosmopolitanism and build on it.

OverseasAmerican_cover

Tell us two things you miss about each of your childhood countries.
From my three childhood countries, I miss mostly the Latin informality and warmth…and salsa dancing! From Puerto Rico, I’ve fond memories of the University campus that was next door to my first home in Río Piedras, and where my mother would take us for walks. From Cuba I miss the richness of the music and folk culture. About Caracas, 3,000 feet above sea level, I remember its mild climate and “eternal spring.”

“Puerto Ricans do a lot of hugging, Dickie reflected. His parents and relatives almost never did.”

Your TCK childhood had extra upheaval due to your parents’ divorce and your two years at a military school in Cuba while your parents each lived in other countries. I imagine that affected your feelings about where you lived.
I must admit, I don’t “miss” most of what I lived in my 17 years in the Spanish Caribbean. I had a very difficult childhood, in which I never really “belonged” to any of those countries, had little contact with the expat community, and was leading a painful, dysfunctional family life. Since my brother and I were put away in a military school in Cuba, it’s not a place that I would “miss.” The circumstances of my upbringing have made childhood nostalgia an elusive sentiment for me.

After a young adulthood in New Mexico (briefly), Arizona, California, Massachusetts, and New York—and some trips to Europe—you settled in Williamstown, MA.  When did you come to feel that it was home, inasmuch as any place can be for an ATCK?
My wife and I actually have had homes in two locations in Massachusetts: Williamstown and Cambridge. So we lived both in the city, where we had our home life, and the country, where I taught. And I guess I realized sometime in the 1970s that New England had become my home. The place had enough cultural density, layered history, and overall cosmopolitanism for me to feel at ease in those parts. (I’d also earned my Ph.D at Harvard.) I even turned down a job offer from UCLA in 1976 because by then I felt attached enough to Massachusetts to stay there. Plus, I didn’t look forward to living in my car on the LA freeways, or putting up with Los Angeles pollution, which was fairly serious back then!

“‘Ah, but you speak such good Spanish…'”

Have you returned to any of the Latin American countries in which you grew up? 
I’ve been back to Puerto Rico and to Venezuela, always experiencing those mixed feelings. When I visited my old neighborhood in Hato Rey, PR, in 2012, I found it largely changed. Moreover, during a previous visit to San Juan in 1985, I went for a stroll at the University grounds. At the sight of the palm trees at the entrance and the tower looming above it all, I fell to the ground, crying. It was a reminder that much of my youth there, when I’d believed that I was an “American” boy in the tropics, had been illusory.

As for Cuba, I could only go back under very specific conditions—not because of the regime, which I’m not against, but owing to my painful personal memories of the place. I worry that seeing certain streets and buildings might elicit a wrenching sadness in me.

Since you’re a professor of Latin American literature and have written about the heavyweights in the field, I presume you’ve also visited quite a few countries in the region at this point. What were your impressions?
Inasmuch as I’ve written books and articles about Borges, García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, and Mexican literature, I’ve been more than once to Argentina, Colombia, Perú, and Mexico. Going to and traveling in those countries brought insight into their literary works that one cannot get simply from reading them in one’s study. On the other hand, my Latin American and Caribbean background proved enormously helpful in accessing the culture and the society of those places. Indeed, García Márquez’s world is the Caribbean coast of Colombia; exploring that area in 1982 and 1988 was a lot like being back in San Juan and Havana! Writing about it was fun, a bit like a return to my childhood, without the pain.

“She was from New York. Didn’t people from New York listen to classical music?”

Although you have always had a passion for classical and Latin music, you ultimately found ways to express yourself through writing fiction and nonfiction. Does music still play a big role in your life? 
Music is my first love. If I hadn’t had a late start at the piano (a fact that unfortunately set me back several years), I might have stayed with it. I turned to literature, in some measure, because it didn’t require advanced hand-muscle skills! But once I got involved with the written word, I strived to make my prose style as artistic, expressive, and fun as music can be, and I worked to give it rhythm and melody. (Someone has remarked that I write like a musician.) I still play piano, though.

Is there a particular work that you are most proud of having written, and if so, why?
I feel equally attached to all of them! Each one has had its role in my life. My books on Borges and García Márquez (which have sold well and gone through second editions) are used in AP courses, and are consulted by general readers, here and abroad. From early on, I had set out to be a “cultural mediator” between Latin American literature and U.S. readers, and those volumes serve that purpose.

My book Art for Art’s Sake and Literary Life, on the other hand, grew out of my cosmopolitanism and my desire to deal with the uses of art as both escape and expression. (In some subliminal way, it’s autobiographical.) The volume covers the phenomenon of aestheticism in Europe, the U.S., and Latin America. I felt vindicated when the thing was a finalist for the 1997 National Book Critics Circle Award (there I was, sharing space with Cynthia Ozick and William H. Gass). It also got translated into Serbian and Chinese! When I asked my two translators just what had drawn them to the book, they both replied that what I’d said about Latin American aestheticism was also applicable to analogous 19th-century movements in Serbia and Taiwan. So my cosmopolitanism had shed light on some corners elsewhere in this world.

My two books of fiction focus in part on TCK issues, plus such cultural-specific matters as American relativism or the seductive influence of Ayn Rand.

But I finally turned to memoir because I felt it was the way to confront head-on the question of my crazy, mixed-up background, to make sense out of it all and give it a living shape. The process of remembering that past, and crafting it and getting it out there, has proved enormously therapeutic. It also led to my meeting Nina Sichel and, then, you, Lisa, via our essay collection, Writing Out Of Limbo!

My latest volume is a kind of experiment, starting with its very title: On Nabokov, Ayn Rand and the Libertarian Mind: What the Russian-American Odd Pair Can Tell Us about Some Values, Myths and Manias Widely Held Most Dear. Besides dissecting the two authors, I tease out my troubled relationship to them, delve once again into my own life history, and finally move on to the larger problem of a rising, spreading libertarianism in this country. There’s even an Appendix in which I throw in a number of spoofs of my own of hard-line libertarians! (I’ve been playing with satires of something or other ever since I was in middle school in Puerto Rico…)
on-nabokov-ayn-rand-and-the-libertarian-mind_cover

You’re a true international creative, with works that run the entire gamut! Tell us, what’s next? Fiction? Nonfiction? Something else?
I have stuff in the works, but am in the process of rethinking my projects in the wake of my wife’s death in 2013. (Widowerhood does things to your mind and spirit, alas.)

Where can people find your works?
All my books are available from Amazon and local bookstores, as well as from any good library!

Thank you, Gene, for sharing your wonderfully inspiring story with the Displaced Nation. So, readers, any questions or comments for Gene? Be sure to leave them in the comments!

Editor’s note: All subheadings are taken from Gene’s book The Pianist Who Liked Ayn Rand: A Novella & 13 Stories.

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NEW VS OLDE WORLDS: Would you rather chat about weather with a rugged Aussie or a whingeing Brit?

Libby Collage New&OldRegular readers of the Displaced Nation are treated every other week to a new episode in the life of fictional expat Libby Patrick, a 30-something British woman who has relocated with her spouse to a town outside Boston. Her diary, Libby’s Life, by Kate Allison, is replete with observations about life in New England vs. England. In the weeks when Libby isn’t published, we are featuring posts by writers who are sensitive to the subtle yet powerful differences between new and “olde” worlds. Today we hear from an occasional contributor, Kym Hamer, whose thoughts on the topic immediately drifted to the ten winters she has spent in her adopted home of London. Hmm…is that because her native Melbourne now has highs of 8°C, or 46°F (and overnight lows of -1°C, or 30°F)?

—ML Awanohara

Kym Outdoor Entertaining Australia Day 2008As an Australian who moved to the UK in 2004 and who continues to make London her home almost ten years on, I can’t really afford to have any quarrel with the weather.

It is one of the quintessential British-isms, this obsession with weather, and it is the question I find myself in the midst of most debate aboutalways at the first meeting and often well into several years of cross-cultural friendship.

The stereotype of Australia’s big blue skies, fresh-faced outdoorsy-ness and neighbourly games of cul-de-sac cricket prevails so strongly in the British psyche, that any suggestion that all is not what it appears Down Under comes across as churlish, un-conversational and bordering on arrogant ungraciousness.

It’s not worth arguing: the Brits like to be right about this.

But what has struck me most about these conversations is that they usually occur in overheated pubs, lounge-rooms, Tube carriages and lifts with the protagonists sitting or standing around in their shirtsleeves complaining about the cold.

I have never met a nation so unwilling to put a jumper on.

(Which reminds me of a rather bad joke: what do you get when you cross a kangaroo and a sheep? A woolly jumper!)

Wrap up warm, but not too warm

I’ve been caught out myself, rugging up [putting on lots of clothes in anticipation of going somewhere bl**dy freezing] upon leaving the house on a chilly morning. Silently congratulating myself on my toasty (sometimes even thermal) attire, I find myself wishing I could dispense with three quarters of it half an hour later.

And let me tell you, it’s a royal pain to carry around a heavy winter coat and quite embarrassing to sit sweating profusely in a job interview because everything you could have possibly taken offand still remain decent, let alone remotely “put together”has been shed.

So I’ve learnt to avoid the thermal underwear and to dress in layers. More or less like a pass the parcel parcel.

Tuning into the daily weather forecast on the radio as I open one sleepy eye each morning, I’ve learnt that it pays to double check that the light spring coat hanging at the ready should not be replaced by something more…or less.

Accessorize!

But the biggest lesson I’ve learnt is this: it’s the extremities that matter and the right hat, scarf and gloves can make all the difference.

As the temperature and wind chill factor pas de deux through London during any given month, the right “weight” of this essential triumvirate can have me either swanning about in a state of slightly disheveled fabulous-ness or looking as though I’ve been dragged through a damp hedge backwards.

As such I have acquired:

  • several right “hats”
  • a range of pashminas—from warm woolly to just to keep the chill off on a “summer” evening
  • many suitable scarves (they are defined by being more slender in shape than a pashmina)
  • not one but two perfect pairs of gloves—a heavy-duty, super-warm pair and a lightweight purple leather set.

Which reminds me how hacked off I was to lose one of the heavy duty duo in January—and must make a note to myself to buy the perfect replacement pair. I’ve learnt that’s harder than it sounds. Who knew such things would become so important to me?

And then there’s the bag. My handbag grew exponentially into a “tote” during my first few years in London, becoming big enough to stuff in one or any combination of this trio as I climbed up/down Tube escalators, entered offices and interview rooms, got on and off buses and hugged friends in the doorways of their toasty digs.

Thank goodness other essentialsphones, umbrellas, (e)bookshave gotten smaller.

“Bring something warm—if it’s dry we’ll be sitting outside!”

But when I am at home and the climate is just my own again, slippers and cozy throws abound, whether I’m curled up on the couch in the lounge room, cooking up a frenzy in the kitchen or tucked under the duvet in my bedroom. The heating does get turned on but only when a jumper just isn’t enough.

I am famous (or infamous?) for invitations tagged with “bring something warmif it’s dry we’ll be sitting outside.” Guests laugh knowingly and remark about taking the girl out of Australia and all of that.

But baby, when it’s cold outside, quite frankly you should already know the drill:

Put a bl**dy jumper on!

* * *

Thanks, Kym, for that impassioned account of what it’s like for an Aussie to live in the midst of limeys who’d prefer to moan about the cold instead of taking practical measures. And speaking of whingeing limeys, you’ve given us Yanks yet another reason to feel pleased that we declared our independence from Britain on this day 237 years ago!

Born and raised in Melbourne, Kym Hamer has worked in London in sales and marketing for nearly ten years. She writes the popular blog Gidday from the UK. Also follow Kym on Twitter: @giddayfromtheuk.

STAY TUNED for next week’s series of posts—and a Happy 4th of July Weekend, meanwhile, to US-based readers!

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Img: Photo of Kym Hamer entertaining outdoors, glass of wine in hand, in honor of Australia Day (January 26).

Portrait of woman from MorgueFile; Lighthouse (R) from MorgueFile; Lighthouse (L) from MorgueFile

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!

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Image: MorgueFile

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