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Eight months into my expat life, two roads diverged and I — I took the one home

Kat Collage_dropshadowToday we welcome back Kat Selvocki to the Displaced Nation. She wrote for us once before: a travel yarn about spending Christmas in Europe with friends. She had just been toiling in the farmlands of Iceland as a volunteer, and was about to head Down Under to begin a new life as a yoga instructor in Sydney. Now, just over a year later, she is back in the United States. What happened? Here is Kat’s repatriation story.

— ML Awanohara

As my year-long working holiday visa for Australia began to wane, I started considering my options.

Or rather, my option.

I teach yoga: a career that doesn’t generally allow for work sponsorship. I also had a rocky relationship with my Australian boyfriend.

The only I way I could feasibly stay in Sydney was to enroll in a course.

I’d heard tales from other expats of reasonably-priced options — reasonably-priced meaning anything under $8,000 a year — but knew in my heart it wasn’t going to work. I no longer had that kind of cash in the bank, and even if I had, you wouldn’t catch me spending it on some ridiculous “business basics” class.

It wasn’t that I necessarily wanted to stay; I just wasn’t sure I wanted to uproot my life after spending just eight months building a new life in Australia. There were places I still wanted to visit in that vast country, things I still wanted to do. And I loved the classes I was teaching.

But then I got glandular fever — commonly known in the US as mono, or the kissing disease. A month into fighting overwhelming exhaustion, all I wanted was for things to be easy again. In the end, it was having a such a debilitating illness that drove me over the edge.

I bought a plane ticket home.

The three emotions of repatriation

First came relief:

  • No more comments about how my tattoos, taste in music, or style were “too American.”
  • No more complicated calculations to figure out when friends or family would be available to Skype.
  • No more job rejections on the basis of not being a citizen.
  • And most importantly: central heating in abundance — finally, I’d stop getting sick so often!

Self-doubt followed. I’d spent years wanting to live as an expat, and when I finally had the opportunity, I’d been utterly miserable.

Had I failed, or not tried hard enough?

Should I have fought to stay longer, or at least until the end of my visa?

Were my reasons for leaving the right ones?

Why hadn’t I applied for that job working at a roadhouse waitress in the Outback, so that I’d at least seen more of the country?

Next up: fear. As I headed off to Oxford, UK, at the end of last year, to spend Christmas with friends before returning to the States to seek work, the wheel had come full circle. As reported on this blog in December 2011, I’d spent my first Christmas away from family, in Europe, on my way to a new life in Australia.

Whereas before I’d been full of excitement and anticipation, this time I was full of worry. I worried about how welcoming people would be when I returned. So many of my relationships had disintegrated while I was away, and I wasn’t sure if that was because of distance or because people were fed up with my use of Aussie slang in our conversations … or was it all my whining about being so bloody tired? (Hm, there’s that slang again!)

I had no idea whether finding work would actually be any easier, especially considering the much higher unemployment rate in the US.

I didn’t know how to talk about my time in Sydney without sounding bitter or depressed — but was also afraid that even if I sounded upbeat, people wouldn’t care to hear about it.

Old habits die hard…

I’d always believed that if something doesn’t work, you can simply head back to the place you were before.

Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure about that.

I had decided to move back to Seattle, a city where I’d lived eight years earlier. But would that be a terrible mistake? I pictured trying — and failing — to recreate the life I’d loved before.

Last time I wrote for the Displaced Nation, I reminisced about the four months I’d spent living in Prague on a study abroad. What I didn’t report was the depression and reverse culture shock I battle against upon returning to the United States.

If that were true after a mere four months, what impact would a year-and-a-half away have? Would I be feeling even more out of place? I dreaded the long readjustment.

I also worried about money, and whether I had enough to get settled again quickly.

…or do they?

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. (Except for the money concerns. Then again, I’m convinced that no matter how much I’d saved before returning, I still would have worried.)

From the moment I stepped off the plane, it was as if someone had flipped a switch inside of me. Even though things had changed — something that was particularly evident in New York City, which I passed through on the way to the West Coast (I’d lived there after Seattle) — it all felt normal. Easy. Almost as if I’d never left. My internal map and compass worked again; I knew where I was and where I was going.

And I still believe that — even though, two months after returning to the States, I continue to look the wrong way when crossing the street.

* * *

Thanks, Kat, for sharing your story. I found it very moving. Readers, any comments, questions for Kat — any similar stories to share?

Kat Selvocki — badass yoga instructor, photographer, writer and traveler — is currently kicking ass and taking names in Seattle after returning from her expat adventures. Learn more about her on her Web site: KatSelvocki.com. You can also follow her on Twitter: @katselvocki.

STAY TUNED for the final post in our fashion and style series, by the ever-so-stylish Kate Allison! (Well, she certainly has flair!)

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

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images: (clockwise, starting top left) Chelsea Market, NYC; Capitol Hill, Seattle; Circular Quay, Sydney; Chelsea Market, NYC; The Rocks, Sydney; in the air when flying from Sydney to Melbourne; Pioneer Square, Seattle. Center shot of Kat Selvocki was taken in Seattle. All photos are Kat’s with the exception of the Circular Quay in Sydney, which came from Morguefiles.

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And the Alices go to … these 3 expat writers for their Hurricane Sandy posts

 © Iamezan | Dreamstime.com Used under license

© Iamezan | Dreamstime.com
Used under license

My husband and I have a habit of going on holiday just before some major world crisis occurs — after which we have no choice but to spend several days holed up in our hotel room watching the events unfold on CNN. Twice it was a crisis involving water: the deadly Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.

But for Hurricane Sandy, we were very much on the scene — ensconced in our apartment in NYC’s East Village, and with no television to watch, not even a radio to listen to! As those who read my post of earlier this month are aware, we were deprived not only of power but also water, communications and public transportation for several days, and displaced from our home for one night — an inconvenience that, while somewhat traumatic, turned out to be minor compared to what others had suffered in harder-hit areas.

As I mentioned then, the experience gave me a chance to test this blog’s basic premise: that forcible displacement at some level compares with the kind of displacement one has when living in a country that is not your home. And if so, can a former expat like me draw on the strengths gained from living overseas to keep calm and carry on?

While pondering these fundamental questions, I came across three posts by expats on Hurricane Sandy that gave me some fresh insights — not only on Sandy but on the down-the-rabbit hole nature of international travel and the expat life.

Thus I’d like to hand out three “Alices” today to (in reverse chronological order):

1) PETE LAWLER

Awarded for: Clouds from the Past: My Reflections on Sandy, Gloria and the Jersey Shore, in his personal blog: The American Londoner
Posted on: 3 November 2012
Moving passage:

But here and now, when things are raw, when my cousins have been without power for a week and my parents are cooking with a propane tank and a Coleman portable grill even high up in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, I mourn. My heart goes out to those suffering and I mourn for that place of childhood sunshine and wish it a good and steady recovery in the coming months.
All the best, Jersey. I am thinking of you.

Citation: Pete, before Sandy, you probably weren’t thinking that much about “that place of childhood sunshine,” the Jersey shore — because, after eight years in London, you try not to think too much about sunshine any more. But then Sandy plunged you into mourning for all the good times you had as an all-American kid — the “long sunny days spent lazily frolicking through waves, collecting shells, and cautiously avoiding jellyfish.” It even made you think with some nostalgia of Hurricane Gloria, which you rather enjoyed as a seven-year-old. Absence, plus tragedy, can indeed make the heart grow fonder… What’s more, I sense how bad you must have felt about being powerless, from a distance, to help your parents and your cousin in their time of need — a guilt that’s at the hard core of the expat life. Just ask Linda Janssen — I’m thinking of her aptly titled “Down the Rabbit Hole” post of last summer, about her father’s illness.

2) MADELINE GRESSEL

Awarded for: Hurricane Sandy and the unspoken attraction of disaster, in Matador Abroad
Posted on: 1 November 2012
Thought-provoking passage:

Now, as New York City is sloshed by a record-breaking 13ft wall of water, it is I sitting comfortably in a café in Hong Kong watching the light October rain outside. … My friends post photos on Facebook of candlelit dinners, submerged cars, and the powerless, darkened skyline.

And I wish I were there with them. Not because I’m afraid for their safety (I’m not), but because I’m missing a moment of New York history. I’ll never be able to say, “Remember the flood of 2012? That was insane.” I feel jealous at the pictures, like I’ve seen a photo of an ex-lover with his new flame.

Citation: Maddie, I wonder why it is, as we also learned on this blog this month, so few American expats feel the need to connect with their homeland during a presidential election — which, too, provides a chance to be “part of history,” especially if the race is closely contested? I think the answer may lie in your rather astute observation: people love a disaster. Come to think of it, a friend of mine has confessed that during Sandy, she had the overwhelming urge to go outside — in the storm! (Even though it was expressly forbidden by Mayor Bloomberg.) In addition, your post reminded me of another old expat adage: out of sight, (afraid of being) out of mind…

3) RUTH MARGOLIS

Awarded for: “I wasn’t afraid of Superstorm Sandy — until the lights went out,” in Telegraph Expat
Posted on: 31 October 2012
Moving passage:

Forty-eight hours ago, I was relishing my role as stoic, cynical Brit, refusing to bow down to an impending crisis. I bashed out jokey emails to friends and family noting that it was “a bit blustery”…

…my husband and I — plus my visiting younger sister — spent much of Sunday and Monday quite enjoying the commotion. Like kids playing an imaginary game, we stocked up on all the (un)necessaries: crisps mainly, and garish American junk foods…

Then, something strange happened: the lights went out in Manhattan. … “Ah,” we thought, followed by a shaky: “Hmm”. … Eventually, we went to bed, with the radio on. No one got much sleep.

When the next storm hits, I expect I’ll ditch the cockiness sooner.

Citation: Ruth, there I was, trying to conjure up the “keep calm and carry on” ethos that I’d learned (rather begrudgingly) from nearly a decade of living in Britain, when, had I known you were down in Brooklyn, I could have asked for a refresher course (ah, yes, the junk foods and the jokey emails!). Still and all, I’m glad to know that even for a native-born Brit, there are limits, one of which is seeing the lights go out in lower Manhattan… (From now on, I won’t be too hard on myself!) I can also relate to what you said about these disasters having a cumulative effect (made worse by the fact that you’re living far away from your homeland and already feeling somewhat displaced). As you point out in your post, Sandy was the second time since emigrating that you’ve “had to assume the brace position,” the first being Irene. I can recall feeling something similar when living in Tokyo — first there was the Aum Shinrikyo attack on the subway and then the massive earthquake in Kobe, after which I decided that the stoicism required for this situation hadn’t yet been invented! (Bloomin’ heck, why was it I’d told everyone at “home” that Japan was so much safer?)

* * *

So, readers, do you have a favorite from the above, any comments on these bloggers’ ruminations, or any further posts to suggest? I’d love to hear your suggestions!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, some comforting advice and (hopefully) words of wisdom from The Displaced Nation’s resident agony aunt, Mary-Sue Wallace.

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

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Images: All from Morguefiles.

Love, love, love — love (& film) is all an expat needs… Welcome to February!

Two expats — he from England and she from Germany — first lock eyes in the lobby of a posh hotel in the Big Apple.

Returning to his room from the gym, he stops in his tracks, bowled over by her exotic Northern European beauty, while she is drawn to his toned and muscular physique. (Did we mention that he is of mixed — Nigerian and Brazilian — ancestry, and wearing bicycle shorts?)

She is, as it happens, already carrying another man’s child. But luck is on his side: she has split up with that man, some months back, after catching him in the arms of a jewelry heiress.

The goddess is available!

He wastes no time in sweeping her off her feet and, after less than a year, invites her to a custom-built igloo in British Columbia on the top of an glacier in uncharted terrain — kitted out with a bed, rose petals, and candles — to ask for her hand.

The couple are of course Seal and Heidi Klum — who until recently were the exemplar of a cross-cultural, cross-racial expat marriage.

Happy Valentine’s Day

But we’re here today to celebrate — not caution against — such unions. It’s February 1, and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.

The Displaced Nation is dedicating the month to international nomads who are out there looking for their own Heidi/Seal. Some of you may already have found a candidate, in which case you are busy decking out your version of Seal’s igloo with hearts and champagne, in preparation.

But whether you’ve found someone or not, the Displaced Nation is where you’ll want to hang out this month. We’ll have posts on Valentine’s Day customs, seductive foods, hook-up stories, and testimony from those who, unlike our celebrity example, have lived happily ever after — all with an international flavor.

And we’ll be celebrating love’s robust and free-wheeling spirit, as unleashed in the following lines:

Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love.
There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung.
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game
It’s easy.

Notably, John Lennon composed these lyrics after the Beatles were to come up with a song for Our World, the first live global television link (it was watched by 400 million in 26 countries). He was told it had to contain a simple message to be understood by all nationalities.

John and Yoko — there’s another international, interracial couple. They were living in New York. Would they still be together if John were alive? One likes to think so…

Hey, listen — should love not prove as easy as the song suggests, our blog can assist with that, too. One of our most frequently visited posts is one I wrote during Pocahontas month last summer: “Cross-cultural marriage? 4 good reasons not to rush into it…” (I’m not exactly proud of that, given that I’m the veteran of two cross-cultural marriages — a case of “don’t do what I do but what I say”?)

Pocahontas-John Smith are of course an archetype of cross-cultural, cross-racial marriage à la Lennon-Ono, Seal-Klum.

Just sayin’!

Movie-ing right along…

I promise I’ll come back for you. I promise I’ll never leave you.
–Hungarian geographer, Count László de Almásy (Ralph Fiennes) to his married lover, Katharine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas), in The English Patient

Sometimes fiction can be more wondrous than truth. Certainly that is the hope of those magicians of cinematography, who seek to manipulate us by reaching through the big screen to move our hearts and change how we see the world, remind us we have a soul…

If you’re a cinema lover, you’re in luck — because we are also dedicating this month to the movies.

In honor of film award season — the BAFTAs as well as the Oscars — The Displaced Nation will spend part of February paying homage to films that in some way feature expats and/or international travel.

Ah, the movies… As you get older, how much preferable it seems to experience danger and romance via the big screen. Why? Because you’re so much more aware of the risks.

Now, if only there weren’t so much bromance about. All of this male bonding is enough to make you long for Hollywood’s Glory Days, when stars were paired for their sizzling on-screen chemistry. Is is any wonder so many of us have turned to the small screen — namely, Downton Abbey — for that sort of thing of late?

Downton has the expat theme going for it, too, with an American heiress — played by Elizabeth McGovern, herself an American expat in England with an English husband — at the heart of the action (her money has kept the British estate from going under). And Shirley MacLaine will be arriving in Season 3 to play her mother!

Okay, I’ve gone off on a tangent. Back to what celluloid has to offer. When asked by Charlie Rose in November to explain the allure of film, Alexander Payne, director of the Oscar-nominated film The Descendants, said:

Like so many people, I’ve been madly in love with film as long as I can remember. If you love film, you love life. It’s the most verisimil [sic] mirror we have… If we look to art in general to be a mirror of our lives, to give us context, give us something to reflect off of — we’ve been waiting millennia for film… it really is us. And it also captures time, it defeats death in a way… You can capture moments of in life, core samples of someone’s life…

I don’t know about you, but I think we displaced types deserve a piece of that action!

Questions: Do you have any Valentine’s Day abroad stories to share with us? Are you rooting for any particular films at this year’s Oscars? And is anyone else besides us left feeling oddly bereft at the news of Heidi and Seal’s break-up?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s episode in the life of our fictional displaced heroine, Libby Oliver. Having uncovered corruption in Patsy’s Munchkinland, Libs wonders what to do. Should she inform WikiLeaks of the situation, or write a strongly worded letter to the Woodhaven Observer? Or is it just simpler to say ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’? (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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

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A Parisian lunch in Manhattan, à la displaced author Elizabeth Bard

I have a confession to make. I have a bit of fluff on the side. I’ve had it for many years now — and the flame of my passion never diminishes. The love burns in my soul, aches in my flesh, and ignites my nerves.

Why am I revealing this now, and in such a public way? As you may know, the Displaced Nation is dedicating many of its October posts to the joys of moving to France and learning French cooking.

I take this as a sign that the time has arrived for me to own up to my own rather torrid relationship with La Belle Cuisine Française — she of infinite variety, who makes hungry where she most satisfies.

Admittedly, I do feel a little guilty talking so openly about our affair while my husband, who is Japanese, is away on a business trip. (Because I’m so practiced at hiding it, I think he assumes that, like him, I would always choose Asian food over Western, Italian over French.)

But there you have it, my little secret. And now that it’s out in the open, allow me to report on my most recent tryst — a Parisian lunch I hosted in Manhattan yesterday using the recipes of Elizabeth Bard, who will be featured on this blog next week. A former New Yorker who now lives in Provence with her French husband, Bard is the author of Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes.

Friday, Oct 7 — plotting my assignation

I download Bard’s book to my Kindle and retreat to bed — mais oui! — for a read.

I am instantly enchanted. Bard is a woman after my own heart: she went to Europe to study and then fell head over heels for the culture, a man, the food…

I’m having a hard time choosing among Bard’s recipes, though.

The guest list is easy: my sister (who will go into the hospital on Wednesday for an operation, after which she won’t be able to enjoy food for a while) and two foodie friends, a couple, with whom I’ve collaborated on some lovely meals.

Except this time I’ll be going solo, especially as my husband is away (though maybe that’s just as well as he tends to dismiss French food out of hand, and therefore out of kitchen, for being too rich and creamy).

Actually, it’s the main course I’m dithering about — not the starter or the dessert.

I know I want to do mussels for the opening course as that’s one of my sister’s favorites, and Bard has a classic recipe for Mussels with White Wine and Fennel (and fennel is now in season).

I see that on her Web site, Bard has a recipe for Spicy Chocolate Pots with Fresh Figs — and quickly decide to make that my dessert. Like most sane people, I consider chocolate (along with champagne and oysters) to be the perfect food for revving up the libido.

And figs — Bard says that every autumn, around this time, she stages her own mini Figapalooza. I like the sound of that orgy. The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that the Bible got it wrong: Eve must have seduced Adam with a fig, not an apple. Didn’t he cover himself up with a fig leaf afterwards?

Speaking of apples, the recipe of Bard’s I’m most attracted to for the main course is her Pork Tenderloin with Four Kinds of Apples. The only thing holding me back is that my sister has a pet pig. For a moment, I imagine being able to persuade her to partake of this forbidden meat. “Oh, go on, just one little taste…” But then I realize how offended I’d be, as a dog owner and lover, if I were invited to lunch at a Korean household and they were serving dog.

No, not a good idea. So I opt for Bard’s Pasta with Fresh Peas, Arugula, and Goat Cheese for my main. To be honest, I feel a little sheepish about it. Surely my infatuation with La Belle Cuisine should drive me to my boldest feats of exploration and invention?

But then I remember Bard’s story about her husband-to-be inviting her to lunch at a Parisian restaurant that specializes in du porc noir de Bigorre. She refuses to indulge, even (especially?) when the waitress tells her he’s a happy pig, ordering the cassoulet instead.

Pasta it is, even though the only thing French about it involves topping the pasta with extravagantly big gobs of goat cheese.

Saturday, Oct 8 — shopping for just the right ingredients

I head to the green market in Union Square very early, my two dogs in tow. Just before I reach the Patches of Star Dairy stand, which sells fresh goat cheeses and goat cheese ice cream, one of them, my cocker spaniel, scavenges a brussels sprout and someone asks me if he is a vegetarian. (I wonder if his English springer spaniel heritage is kicking in, and he’s registering his disapproval of my love affair with France?)

Other green market finds include freshly picked arugula (also for the pasta), onions and fennel (for the mussels), and heavy cream (for the dessert).

I see some blue salvia at the flower stall that remind me of postcards I’ve seen of Provence, and appropriate these for the table decor.

I still need to get peas (they aren’t in season), so leave the dogs at home and go out again. Bard makes a curious observation at the start of her pasta recipe:

Five years ago, if someone told me I would take this much satisfaction in shelling my own peas, I would have laughed out loud. How times have changed.

I guess I’m not quite there yet (or perhaps I was there when I was younger — am I getting too old for these affairs?), as I find myself heading to the Trader Joe’s on 14th Street for a bag of freshly shelled English peas (yes, English — apparently there are limits to my love).

Actually, waiting on the line at Trader Joe’s on a Saturday is almost as tedious as shelling peas, and I almost laugh out loud — but then console myself by noting that I’ve also managed to score the bow tie pasta. It’s not whole wheat, though, as Bard recommends. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen whole wheat farfalle, TBH. (I wonder where Bard gets hers?)

It still remains to get fresh pesto (from the Italian specialty store on E 11th St), Green & Black’s 70% organic chocolate and ras el hanout for the dessert. I find both of these items at the Indian grocery around the corner from Little India. The ras el hanout is labeled “couscous spice” and smells appropriately exotic.

I stay up late infusing the ras el hanout in the heavy cream and melting the chocolate in that mixture for the dessert. Heaven!

Sunday, Oct 9 (morning) — final mad preparations

Another early start. I swing by the East Village Cheese store for a fresh whole wheat baguette, and then it’s off to the green market at Tompkins Square Park, to buy fresh mussels at the fishmonger’s.

There’s a spring in my step as I approach his stall. I am a woman in love, a woman possessed. Little do I know that disaster is about to strike — he had only a small supply of mussels and sold them all first thing.

Aïe. I stumble away from his stall trying to hide my tears. But then, American ingenuity kicks in: why don’t I try using Bard’s recipe but for little neck clams, which are in large supply? I go back and discuss with the fishmonger, who’s a friendly sort, très sympathique. He ends up giving me 40 clams for the price of three dozen.

But I’m not out of the woods yet. I have forgotten the figs — those delectable little fruits that ooze with flesh and seeds when you cut them open. Despite trying three grocery stores, I can’t find a single fig in the East Village — and this is fig season. Go figure!

On this ingredient, I cannot compromise. I text my foodie friends who are coming to the lunch (they live in the West Village) and ask them to scour the shops for the fleshiest, freshest figs they can find. They come through for me, confirming my long-held belief that West Village is the city’s epicurean center.

Sunday Oct 9 (1 p.m. onwards) — ah, quel plaisir!

My sister and friends arrive, the wine (initially the Muscadet I’m cooking the clams in) flows, and conversation does as well, ranging from tales of our misspent youths to the Wall Street protests.

I produce the first course, and it’s judged a big success. Does anyone mind that it’s clams and not mussels, I ask? All agree that it’s the broth that counts — and the broth, a mix of fennel, onions, garlic and white wine, is divine.

Despite being a little tipsy on the wine — we have now progressed to a bottle of red from the family domaine of Robert Sérol, au cœur de la Côte Roannaise — I manage to make the bow tie pasta al dente. I stir in the peas and the pesto, divide among four plates and then dollop on the lightly salted chevre. My guests and I gorge ourselves on this latest creation, exclaiming as several nuances emerge and caress our taste-buds — oh là là!

I suggest that we take a short break before the dessert. My cocker spaniel is nipping at my pant legs — signaling that it’s time for the guests to go home as he needs my full attention (and some treat toys with the leftovers).

But my other dog, who is mostly poodle, is having the time of her life (bien sûr), making several rounds with the guests for extended petting sessions.

Enfin, it’s back to the table for my chocolate dessert, which, I’m sorry to say, falls a little flat because — absolument incroyable! — it’s too chocolatey. Is that our fault (we don’t know chocolate from chocolate) or could the recipe use some sugar?

But the purplish-brown figs, which are ripe and ever-so-sweet, save the day.

Over little cups of coffee we all agree that my Parisian lunch at the hands of Elizabeth Bard has been an affair to remember.

Monday, Oct 10 — the morning after

My husband calls in the wee hours of the morning. He is now in Tokyo, with another week to go on his business trip.

“How was your Sunday?” he asks.

“Well, I had some my sister and some friends over for a little lunch,” I reply, thinking to myself: what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.

I go back to bed and awaken several hours later, at around 8:00 a.m. I lie there for a few minutes, basking in the afterglow of yesterday’s tryst.

When I at last rouse myself and face the mounds of dishes still to be done, I realize that this little flirtation of mine has its costs (not to mention my exhaustion at having to clean the apartment).

At least the hole in my pocketbook isn’t too bad. I reckon this particular fling has cost me around $80, including the wine — not bad considering what it would cost for four people to go out for a proper French lunch in Manhattan.

Hmmm… I wonder if I can fit in one more quickie meal before my husband gets home on Friday?

As Mario Cuomo, former New York State governor and father of our current governor, once said:

When you’ve parked the second car in the garage, and installed the hot tub, and skied in Colorado, and wind-surfed in the Caribbean, when you’ve had your first love affair and your second and your third, the question will remain, where does the dream end for me?

Touché — only I don’t think he’s ever been seduced by French cuisine à la Elizabeth Bard?

Images (top to bottom): Friendly fishmonger at Tompkins Square Park; little neck clams in fennel; an enthusiastic canine participant; chocolate pot with figs.

STAY TUNED for Tuesday’s post on classic displaced writing.

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, including seasonal recipes and book giveaways. Sign up for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Some enchanted drinking: Summer cocktails that send you round the world

After spending many a summer in England (summer, what summer?) and Japan (beyond brutal!), I now live in New York City, where summers can best be described as a hot mess.

As the dog days set in, I’ve been known to sing out: “Drinks, glorious drinks! Don’t care what they look like!”

Actually, that’s not quite true.

Well, the part about my singing aloud is true — we’re all barking mad in this city, especially around mid-August.

And the part about drinks being glorious is also true —  what could be more glorious than an icy cold drink that cuts through the moisture-laden air, offering the possibility that this steam bath may end one day.

(I’m talking about alcoholic drinks, of course — anyone of a puritanical frame of mind can slake their thirst at one of the city’s fancy new portable water fountains, connected to fire hydrants.)

But the part about not caring what my drinks look like — that’s simply not true. For me, the ultimate summer refreshment is a well-made, well-presented cocktail.

As Penelope Wisner writes in her introduction to Summer Cocktails: 50 Tantalizing Recipes,

Everything matters: the taste of the spirit, the taste of the ice, the temperature of the drink, and the look of the drink.

My drinking history, in brief

During my expat years, I would happily down a half pint of lager in the pub with my English friends, or drink Kirin beer and sake on outings with my Japanese office mates.

That all changed when I moved back to my homeland.

Maybe it’s in my cultural DNA. The cocktail — a mixed drink with two or more ingredients, one of which must be a spirit — is one of America’s more inspired culinary accomplishments.

Or could it be my actual DNA — one of my earliest memories is of asking my father if I could chew on the lemon peel he put in his night-time martini.

In any case, not long after I became a resident of New York City — home of speakeasies and the only city I know of with a cocktail to its name — I was driven to drinking…cocktails. Particularly during summers.

You see, I’ve never been one of the lucky ones who can escape to the Hamptons or the Jersey shore.

Instead of the sea, sun, sand, and sky, I’ve had to grapple with sweat, smog, dirt, and skyscrapers.

Now, I could have gone the conventional route and drowned my sorrows in a beer. But why do that when a cocktail is so much pleasanter, and can transport you to places you’d rather be in — places much more exotic than an overcrowded beach?

Cocktails are a trip

My hunt for the transcendent cocktail experience has yielded several noteworthy finds, among them:

1) The mojito at Victor’s Cafe on West 52nd St. A single sip transported me to 1950s Havana, where I found myself salsa dancing with a Ricky Ricardo-look-alike. (And that was before I’d sampled the roast suckling pig!)

2) The vodka martini in the Russian Vodka Room, also on West 52nd St. I thought I was in Moscow from the moment I entered this swanky establishment, greeted by the sight of a curved bar at which many natives are downing shots, and behind which are these enormous jars of flavor-infused vodkas. Once I’d tasted my martini, I was well on my way to an enriching cultural experience. Oh, so that’s how they get through daily life in Russia. It all comes down to homemade vodka and to music — sublime combination! (Misha Tsiganov, a prize-winning jazz pianist who studied in St. Petersburg, is the bar’s official piano player.)

3) The classic martini at Angel’s Share, a tiny gem of a bar in the East Village. This drink made me feel I was in Tokyo again, even though I wasn’t really a cocktail person there. The Japanese bartenders had the mix, shake and stir down to an art form — which is soooo Japanese. And no one is allowed to stand at the bar — ditto. But by the time I’d polished off my divinely-inspired drink, I’d left Japan far behind for heaven itself — an effect enhanced by a ceiling mural that appears to have been inspired by Botticelli’s playful cherubs.

4) The Negroni at The Smith on 3rd Avenue. The Negroni — one part gin, one part sweet vermouth and one part Campari — is said to have originated in Florence in 1919, the invention of one Count Camillo Negroni. The first time I sampled one at the bar at The Smith, I fancied I’d become E.M. Forster’s Lucy Honeychurch at the very moment when she witnesses a murder on the Florentine streets, and is about to faint. (Where is George Emerson when you need him?) You see, the Smith version is anything but aristocratic: it packs quite a punch.

Next up? I hope it will be the Mexican martini, which I read about it in the New York Times last month. Basically, it’s a margarita served in a martini glass, with olives on a spear.

The drink is said to have been introduced from Matamoros, Mexico, just across from Brownsville, Texas, when a bartender from Austin visited there and was served a margarita in a martini glass.

It has since become Austin’s signature drink. Being Texan, it’s twice as large as a regular drink, so customers are given the cocktail shaker and urged to pour the drink themselves.

I haven’t been to Austin — and would love to go (though preferably not in the summer). I reckon a Mexican martini may be just the ticket…

The only issue is, the drink hasn’t really made it out of Austin yet.

So if you happen to hear of any Austin expats working behind Manhattan bars (yes, that’s how they’d refer to themselves), be sure to inform me.

For now though would you kindly join me in a refrain of “Drinks, glorious drinks, wonderful drinks!”

QUESTION: Can you recommend some summer cocktails you think have the makings of a mini-escape?

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