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LOCATION, LOCUTION: Charles Lambert draws on his displaced life to produce psychological thrillers

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Tracey Warr is here with fellow displaced Brit Charles Lambert, a master writer of literary thrillers. He was born in England, lives in Italy, and describes himself as deeply enjoying the status of being a foreigner.

Greetings, Displaced Nationers.

My guest this month is the writer Charles Lambert, who was born in Lichfield, UK, a cathedral city in the Midlands, but who has lived in Italy for most of his adult life. After graduating from Cambridge, Charles worked as an EFL teacher in Milan and Turin in the mid-1970s—one of the most tumultuous periods in post-war Italian history, which he has written about in his psychological thriller, The View from the Tower.

After two years, he moved to Setúbal, Portugal, a smallish town south of Lisbon—and found himself, once again, at the heart of a political situation he struggled to understand (see his novella, The Slave House). After six months and a disastrous love affair, he returned to the UK to “get a proper job.” He ended up working as an assistant editor at a medical publisher’s on Euston Road.

Fifteen months later, desperately unhappy, he turned down a promotion and headed back to Italy, where he has lived ever since—initially in Modena (northern Italy) and then in Fondi, about halfway between Rome and Naples.

As I’ve already indicated, all of these backings and forthings have provided rich fodder for Charles’s imagination. Even his current work, as a language teacher in Italian universities, a job he has done since 1982, “makes up in the endless variety of human contact what it lacks, signally, in career opportunities,” as he puts it. Charles has also worked as a journalist for the news agency ANSA, translated for academic presses in the UK and the USA, edited for international agencies, and written critical essays on, among other things, George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, in which he confesses a unashamedly nerdish interest.

But his true passion is fiction writing—in particular, the psychological literary thriller. In addition to his many blog posts, the afore-mentioned novella, The Slave House, the occasional poem, and his acclaimed short story collection, The Scent of Cinnamon (for which he won an O. Henry prize), he has written four novels:

  • The Children’s Home (Scribner, 2016): An inversion of a modern fairytale, the story centers on a disfigured recluse living on his family estate, with a housekeeper as his only companion. His solitude is disrupted when stray children start showing up on his doorstep.
  • The View from the Tower (Penguin Random House, 2013): A psychological thriller and second in a planned trilogy about the darker side of Rome, the story centers on Helen, who has been having an affair with her husband’s best friend, Giacomo, an ex-terrorist, for 30 years. She is in a hotel room in Rome with Giacomo when she receives the news that her husband, a high-level politician, has been murdered. She simultaneously becomes a suspect and suspicious of everyone around her—forcing her to examine her own past and peel back the years of secrets and lies.
  • Any Human Face (Picador, 2011): The first in a planned trilogy about the seamier side of Rome, the story concerns what happens when Andrew, a quirky gay bookstore owner and sometime art/antiquity dealer in Rome, stumbles into a political vipers’ nest involving high-level politicians and Vatican officials while also struggling to overcome heartbreak from his past and learning to love again. When the book first came out, the Guardian called it a “sophisticated literary thriller set on the seamier fringe of Rome’s gay scene, a magnet for the lonely and displaced located a long way off the tourist trail.”
  • Little Monsters (Picador, 2008): Lambert’s début novel and the first of his books set in modern Italy, this is the story of Carol, a young teenager who, having witnessed her father killing her mother, is put into the care of her aunt, who hates and resents her, and her uncle, whom she eventually marries. The story is told in two time frames: Carol as ward and Carol as an adult, when she finds herself drawn to a boat-refugee child in Italy (the child reminds her of her unwanted teenaged self).

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He also recently produced a fictionalized memoir, With a Zero at Its Heart, capturing moments from his life in a unique, experimental format.

Charles says he has no plans to return to the UK, and Brexit is unlikely to persuade him to change his mind:

I don’t define myself as an expat. If I had to define myself, I’d probably go for “economic migrant” or, more simply, “foreigner”, a status I deeply enjoy.

For entirely pragmatic reasons, he is currently in the process of becoming an Italian citizen.

And now let’s hear from Charles about what techniques she uses to conjure up the Italy he knows so well as a long-time resident while also cherishing his status of outsider.

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Welcome, Charles, to Location, Locution. Which tends to come first when you get an idea for a new book: story or location?

Every book is different. My first novel, Little Monsters, began with a sentence and, within seconds, the sentence had found a home in the Peak District, where I spent most of my adolescence. That place, and my memories of it, dictated much of the narrative. The other half of the book was set in contemporary Italy, where I live, although the story took me to a part of Italy I didn’t know that well and I had to use my imagination. So, one novel, half story-led, half place-led. The next two novels I published were both set in Rome, and I can’t imagine them being set in any other city. Rome’s a city with a uniquely composted history of beauty and blood-letting, high ideals and dirty low-down dealings, and the novels dig into that humus with relish. My most recent novel, on the other hand, The Children’s Home, is set in an undefined place and time and the lack of temporal and geographical definition is an integral part of the story.

What is your technique for evoking the atmosphere of these places?

When I’m writing I have a strong sense of where I am. It’s in my mind’s eye, so to speak, so all I need to do is look around and report on what I see. If the place is a real place, then memory is involved. If it isn’t, the details come as I need them. A shop, a street, a tree… As a general rule, though, I’d say less is more. It’s what I call the “Bakelite-ashtray fallacy”—the idea that obsessively name-checking historical materials and brands gives a sense of period. It doesn’t. It gives a sense of working too hard to create a sense of period, and is inevitably counter-productive. The same is true with a sense of place. Too much description draws attention to itself and to the writer’s eagerness to be believed, not to the place it’s supposed to be describing.

Which particular features create a sense of location? Landscape, culture, food?

All three, to a greater or lesser degree, and I’d add language to the list—but, as I said above, with parsimony. It can be hard to resist the temptation to describe in detail every dish your characters are eating—especially if you love food as much as I do and the scene is set in Italy, as scenes in my work often are—but if the purpose of the scene is, well, non-gastronomic, you just need to do your best to keep the detail pared down. My agent, with exemplary dedication, once counted the number of bottles of red wine consumed in one of my novels (Any Human Face, if you’re curious). It was frighteningly high but, we both agreed, integral to the narrative, although it may have contributed to creating, for my characters at least, a serious sense of dislocation!
red-wine-bottles
More seriously, I think descriptions of place need to serve a double purpose. They provide a location, but that location must also give the reader something else, something about the characters’ relationship with that place, for example, or about the way the place might have shaped the characters, who they are, what they think, why they behave the way they do. Without that, it’s window dressing.

Can you give a brief example from your writing that illustrates place?

From Any Human Face (Picador, 2010):

Thirty years ago, Andrew lived just round the corner from Campo de’Fiori, in a two-room garret above the latteria. The latteria still sells its large white bowls of caffelatte and rusk-like biscuits, but Andrew moved on when the intensifying effect of a picturesque tiled roof on winter cold and summer heat became too much for him. Since then, like some bobbing object impelled by a centrifugal force he can neither understand nor halt, he has lived in a series of rented flats, each one a half-mile further from the centre than the one before. By an equally mysterious process, his worldly goods have accumulated as their worth has diminished; each time he moves, the boxes and plastic sacks into which he has stuffed his life seem more forbidding, more intractable. He shuttles between the old flat and the new in whichever car he has borrowed, just one step above a bag lady pushing an overloaded supermarket trolley, front wheel askew, his whole world teetering on a metaphorical wonky castor. He used to think corridors were wasted space. He doesn’t think that now.
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In general, how well do you think you need to know a place before using it as a setting?

Intimately, fairly well, hardly at all. Once again, in other words, it depends. In the passage above, I’m describing a part of Rome I lived in for many years. I had breakfast in that latteria, I ate those biscuits, I sweated and shivered in the kind of garret Andrew lived in. In another novel, on the other hand, long sections are set in a town I spent four days in some years ago and have never revisited. I’m hoping no one will notice. I need to have “felt” the place in some way but that doesn’t necessarily require years of research (although Google Street View can come in handy) or lived, physical presence. Sometimes, a single word might be enough to evoke what’s needed. One of the most potent descriptions of place for me comes at the beginning of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis: “His room, a proper human room although a little too small…”, where the two words “proper” and “human” are enough to mark out the extraordinariness of what’s occurred. His room becomes our room, and yet not our room.

Which writers do you admire for the way they use location?

In their very different ways, Cormac McCarthy and Penelope Fitzgerald. In works like the Border Trilogy, McCarthy’s vision of the world and of the lives of its inhabitants (both human and animal) make up a single vision: harsh, numinous, both indifferent and interwoven, a wonder of observation and lyricism. The settings in Fitzgerald’s last four novels range from 1950s Italy to pre-revolutionary Moscow, and there isn’t a moment when the world of the novel isn’t entirely believable. Once again, the trick is to reduce the detail to a bare—and convincing—minimum. There’s a moment in Innocence where children go to Upim (an Italian Woolworth’s) before school starts to buy their exercise books. I don’t know how Fitzgerald knew this, but it was all that was needed to persuade me of the authenticity of the novel’s world.

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Charles Lambert’s picks for novelists who have mastered the art of writing about place

Thanks so much, Charles, for your answers. It’s been a great pleasure.

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Readers, any questions for Charles? Please leave them in the comments below.

Meanwhile, if you would like to discover more about Charles Lambert and his body of work, I suggest you visit his author site. You can also follow him on Twitter.

À bientôt! Till next time…

* * *

Thank you so much, Tracey and Charles! I found this discussion fascinating. —ML Awanohara

Tracey Warr is an English writer living mostly in France. She has published two medieval novels with Impress Books. She just now published, in English and French, a future fiction novella, Meanda, set on a watery exoplanet, as an Amazon Kindle ebook. Her new historical novel, Conquest: Daughter of the Last King, set in 12th century Wales and England, will be published by Impress Books in October.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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 weekly updates and much, much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Photo credits: Top visual: The World Book (1920), by Eric Fischer via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); “Writing? Yeah.” by Caleb Roenigk via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); author photo, photo of Setúbal graffiti and of Italian cafe scene were supplied by Charles Lambert; A view of Lichfield Cathedral from the north West, by Roger Robinson via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0). Visuals that accompany the two quotations: Empty wine bottles via Pixabay; Roof Tiles (Rome), by Stewart Butterfield via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

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LOCATION, LOCUTION: Deborah Lawrenson’s latest novel is inspired by the beautiful and dramatic Algarve coast—plus she’s giving away a copy!

Tracey Warr is back with her latest interview guest, the novelist Deborah Lawrenson, who started out life as a diplomatic kid (in America we call them “foreign service brats,” with “brat” being used in a good way). **NOTE: Deborah is giving away a copy of her latest book, 300 Days of Sun. Details below.**

My guest this month is British novelist Deborah Lawrenson—who, as the child of diplomatic service parents, was displaced from an early age, spending her childhood moving from Kuwait to China, Belgium, Luxembourg and Singapore.

After graduating from Cambridge University, Deborah worked as a journalist in London, the highlight of which was working under gossip columnist Nigel Dempster, until she built up her confidence to start writing novels. She has now produced eight, including:

  • The Lantern, a modern gothic tale set in the lush countryside of Provence, in the tradition of Daphne de Maurier’s Rebecca; has been a bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic; featured on Channel 4’s TV Book Club (watch discussion HERE).
  • The Art of Falling, which was chosen for the prestigious WHSmith Fresh Talent promotion (2005)—set mostly in Italy, past and present.
  • The Sea Garden, consisting of three novellas set in southern France.
  • Songs of Blue and Gold, a love story set in a lush, richly imagined Corfu, inspired by the life of British writer Lawrence Durrell (incidentally, ITV recently screened a hit drama series based on the Durrells’ expat life in Corfu).

Deborah’s latest novel, 300 Days of Sun, which came out in April, is an atmospheric tale of spies and lies set in Portugal.

Deborah lives in Kent with her husband and daughter—though the family spends as much time as possible at a crumbling hamlet in the Luberon region of Provence, France.

* * *

Welcome, Deborah, to Location, Locution. Can I ask which came first, story or location?

In the case of my new novel, 300 Days of Sun, it was definitely location (though this isn’t always the case with my books). I went to Faro, in southern Portugal, to accompany my 17-year-old daughter when she enrolled in a two-week Portuguese course in the town. While she got to grips with a new language, I wandered around the old town with my notebook and camera, and let my imagination flow. Once I was inspired by the setting, I began to research the history of the country—and was drawn to the fascinating years of the Second World War when Portugal, as a neutral country, was a cauldron of intrigue, spies, enemies, opportunists and double-dealers. Since then, the beautiful and dramatic Algarve coast has become known as a wonderful, friendly place to spend time in the sun—three hundred days of it a year—but there have been some dark events there too, in particular, a notorious case of child abduction.

What techniques do you use for evoking place in your stories? After all, the action takes place long ago.

I’m quite a visual person, so I will always try to paint a vivid picture of the landscapes and immediate surroundings of my characters. Recently someone very kindly—and perceptively—told me that when I evoke a sense of place, it should more accurately be termed “the senses” of place. That is what I try to do: to write sensuously, to make the narrative conjure up the sounds and feel, and the smells, of the story. It’s the details that help the reader feel immersed in a place or time, and I do carefully research to make the transportation as accurate as possible.

Which particular features create a sense of location? Landscape, culture, food?

It’s all of these. You could argue that they are all interlinked anyway, as the culture of a place develops from its unique landscape. Whether that’s the harsh pragmatism of a people scratching a living from the soil of the Provençal uplands, or the geographical situation of Portugal that made it an historically outward-looking seafaring nation and the last escape hatch of Europe during WWII, the physical attributes of a place will influence the character and achievements of its inhabitants. If there was one unifying factor in the novels I write, it would probably be that. And food is simply another aspect of it: fish by the sea; cheese in the mountains from the goats and sheep that are the most viable form of livestock; endless variety in the melting pots of the great cosmopolitan cities.

Can you give a brief example from your writing that illustrates place?

Here are a couple of paragraphs setting the scene in Faro, from the opening pages of 300 Days of Sun:

“My first few days in the country, I was astonished by how many Russian tourists there were here, chattering in the shops and streets. Then I realised: to the uninitiated, Portuguese sounds like Russian. The language is nothing like the soft singsong of Spanish or Italian. The sounds shush and slip around like the shining, sliding cobblestones under your feet.”

“The temperature was climbing. The air was heavy with orange dust from the Sahara that fell like a sprinkling of paprika powder over the town’s white sills and ledges. I walked down to the ferry, needing to get out over water to catch some fresh wind. As the boat ploughed through green salt marshes, I did breathe more easily.”

"The air [in Faro] was heavy with orange dust from the Sahara..."

“The air [in Faro] was heavy with orange dust from the Sahara…”

In general, how well do you think you need to know a place before using it as a setting?

Obviously, knowing a place well will give a novel real depth, as I hope I achieved in The Lantern and The Sea Garden, both set in the South of France, which is my second home. However, I do think it’s possible to visit somewhere relatively briefly but to look hard and use what you see as the basis of a setting, so long as you do some decent research as well. After all, the characters in a novel might only visit a particular place once, and in that case, first impressions will be very useful.

The Lantern and The Sea Garden are both set in the South of France, Deborah's second home.

The Lantern and The Sea Garden are both set in the South of France, Deborah’s second home.

Which writers do you admire for the way they use location?

For me, Lawrence Durrell is the undisputed master. I also love the way Mary Stewart and Daphne du Maurier combined evocative locations with romantic suspense.

Deborah's picks for novelists who have mastered the art of writing about place

Deborah’s picks for novelists who have mastered the art of writing about place

Thanks so much, Deborah.

* * *

Readers, any questions for Deborah? Please leave them in the comments below.

And if you would like to discover more about Deborah you can visit her author site and blog, where she writes not only about her books but all things inspired by the South of France. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

BOOK GIVEAWAY*******************************
Deborah is offering a free copy of her new novel as a prize. To enter the competition please “Like” Deborah Lawrenson’s Facebook page. Then find the link on her page to this interview and enter a comment underneath.
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À bientôt! Till next time when my guests will be a Canadian husband and wife team who write novels together about a pair of unusual sleuths in an 18th-century Kent village, and who are themselves displaced inhabitants there.

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Thank you so much, Tracey! I note that one of the Channel 4 reviewers raved about Deborah’s first book for its “extraordinary description of place and descriptions of smell”; and readers have asked her if they can get the perfume, Lavande de Nuit, she describes in that work. (As it turns out, it exists only in her imagination!) —ML Awanohara

Tracey Warr is an English writer living mostly in France. She has published two medieval novels and her forthcoming novel, Conquest: Daughter of the Last King, set in 12th century Wales and England, will be published by Impress Books in the autumn.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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 weekly updates and much, much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Photo credits: Top of page: The World Book (1920), by Eric Fischer via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); “Writing? Yeah.” by Caleb Roenigk via Flickr (CC BY 2.0). All other photos supplied by the author, apart from those of Kuwait and Cambridge, which are from Pixabay.

BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: 11 Expat- and Travel-themed Books to Expand Our Horizons in 2016

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Attention displaced bookworms! Our book review columnist, Beth Green, an American expat in Prague (she is also an Adult Third Culture Kid), is back with her personal picks for expat- and travel-themed books to watch for in 2016.

Hello again, Displaced Nationers!

It’s been quite a long time since I last wrote to you here. Since my last column we’ve started 2016, celebrated the beginning of the Year of the Monkey, written and revised our new year’s resolutions, and (hopefully) read some really great books!

As part of my own (ever-evolving) New Year’s resolutions I signed up for the Goodreads Reading Challenge. It’s currently showing that I’m 22 books behind schedule for my overly optimistic goal of 300 books this year—but, hey, it wouldn’t be a challenge if it was easy, right?

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Now, usually in this column I talk about books I’ve already read, but this month I’d like to highlight some that I haven’t. There are, of course, lots of intriguing books coming out this year—more than I can cover adequately in one column! But, of the expat- or international-themed books coming out in 2016 that caught my eye, I’ve chosen 11 to feature in this post, one for each month left in 2016. Take a look!

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Beginning with…a Thriller and a Mystery

CambodiaNoir_cover_300x200Cambodia Noir, by Nick Seeley (March 15, 2016)
The debut novel from an American journalist who has been working out of the Middle East and Southeast Asia, Cambodia Noir is a thriller that I’ve had on my to-be-read list ever since I first heard about it. The plot: A young American woman who is working as an intern at a local paper in Phnom Penh, June Saito, disappears. Her sister hires a retired photojournalist with first-hand knowledge of the corrupt, dissolute ways of the Cambodian capital, to look for her. Author Nick Seeley got his start as a foreign correspondent in Phnom Penh. He’s been hailed as a “fresh voice” exploring the depths of the Far East’s underworld.


InspectorSinghInvestigates_cover_300x200Inspector Singh Investigates: A Frightfully English Execution, by Shamini Flint (April 7, 2016)
Always the fan of international crime fiction, I’m excited that one of my favorite series—a series of charming crime novels featuring the portly, lovable Sikh policeman Inspector Singh—is getting a new addition this year. Author Shamini Flint is sending Singh to Britain Diary of a Tennis Prodigy_cover_300x200in the seventh book in her series. Each book provides not only a puzzle for the reader to solve but also a close-up look at the locations where the books are set. This is the Inspector’s first time out of Asia, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he discovers in the UK.

And, a special note for readers with kids: on January 1 Flint, who is a Singapore-based Malaysian, published a middle-grade book, Diary of a Tennis Prodigy, with illustrator Sally Heinrich (Sally formerly lived in Singapore and Malaysia but is now based in Adelaide, Australia).

And Now Let’s Add Three Travel Memoirs…

No Baggage_cover_300x200No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering, by Clara Bensen (January 5, 2016)
I love memoirs that read like novels, as I’m hoping this one will! Recovering from a quarter-life meltdown, 25-year-old Bensen signs up for an online dating account, and to her surprise, ends up meeting Jeff, a university professor who proposes they take a three-week experimental trip spanning eight countries, with no plans or baggage. Her story resonates with the adventurer in me—I can’t wait to take a look.


Little Dribbling_cover_300x200The Road to Little Dribbling, by Bill Bryson (January 19, 2016)
It may already be old news to anyone who’s been in a bookstore recently—or read our Displaced Dispatch!—but the world’s favorite traveler, humor writer and expat, Bill Bryson, has a new travelogue out. It’s another of his road-trip books. (I much prefer these to his other writings such as A Short History of Nearly Everything and At Home—they started out great, but I ended up leaving them unfinished…) Bryson made a journey through Britain 20 years ago, which was forever immortalized in his bestselling classic, Notes from a Small Island. In Little Dribbling, he follows the “Bryson line” from bottom to top of his adopted home country. I’m looking forward to being in his company again.


In Other Words_cover_300x200In Other Words, by Jhumpa Lahiri (and translations by Ann Goldstein) (February 9, 2016)
As a London-born Indian-American, world-class novelist Jhumpa Lahiri excels at writing in English—yet has long harbored a passion for the Italian language. Not wanting to miss out, she moved her family to Rome to immerse herself and quickly reached a point where she was writing only in Italian. She kept a journal in Italian that has evolved into this dual-language memoir. As an expat who’s now tried to learn three foreign languages while abroad, I’m curious to see how Lahiri’s experiences match up to my own. (The critics would apparently like to see her go back to English!)

…Along with Two Works of Literary Fiction and a Harlequin Romance

WhatBelongstoYou_cover_300x200What Belongs to You, by Garth Greenwell (January 19, 2016)
An American professor working in Sofia, Bulgaria, hooks up with a male prostitute in a public toilet and slowly becomes more involved than he anticipated. Reviewers cite Greenwell’s lyrical prose as reason alone for picking up his debut novel, but I’m interested in seeing how this young writer—who himself once worked as an expat English teacher in Bulgaria—depicts the city and the relationships between locals and foreigners. (This book, too, was mentioned in a recent Displaced Dispatch.)


TheHighMountainsofPortugal_cover_300x200The High Mountains of Portugal, by Yann Martel (February 2, 2016)
Going over this years’ publishers lists, I’m now looking forward to reading a book by an author whose last book I despised. My friends were all gushing over Yann Martel’s 2002 novel Life of Pi; but, while it has an admittedly awesome premise, the story left me cold. But I’m excited to check out the chronically traveling Canadian author’s next book, which is set in Portugal and intertwines the century-spanning stories of a young man reading an old journal, a mystery-loving pathologist, and a Canadian diplomat. I’m planning a trip to Lisbon later this year, and hope to read this book before I go.


UndertheSpanishStairs_cover_300x200Under the Spanish Stars, by Alli Sinclair (February 1, 2016)
I’m pleased to report that former expat Alli Sinclair—my friend and former co-blogger from Novel Adventurers—has published her second romantic mystery novel this month. (Congratulations, Alli!) The action takes place in her native Australia and also in Spain. The plot: an Australian woman travels to her grandmother’s homeland of Andalucía to unravel a family mystery. She ends up meeting a passionate flamenco guitarist and learns her grandmother’s past is not what she imagined.

Finally, to Top Things Off, How About a Couple of YA Books?

I don’t read a lot of young adult books, but descriptions of two novels I saw reviewed recently stuck with me. Funnily enough, both books’ titles start with “Up”—maybe it’s the implied optimism that caught me? We could use a bit of cheer in our displaced world…

Up from the Sea_cover_300x200Up from the Sea, by Leza Lowitz (January 12, 2016)
This is a novel in verse. It tells the story of a Japanese teenager, Kai, whose coastal village is obliterated by the March 2011 tsunami, after which he is offered a trip to New York to meet children who had been affected by the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The trip also provides an opportunity for him to go in search of his estranged American father. Author Leza Lowitz is an American expat writer and translator living in Tokyo, where she also runs a popular yoga studio. Her favorite themes to explore in her writing include the idea of place, displacement and what “home” means to expatriate women.


UPtothisPointe_cover_300x200Up to this Pointe, by Jennifer Longo (January 19, 2016)
I’m always fascinated by stories of Antarctica so have my eye on this book about a teenage girl who aspires to be a professional ballerina but, when her grand plan goes awry, sets out on an expedition to McMurdo Station (the U.S. Antarctic research center) in the footsteps of her relative and explorer Robert Falcon Scott. Notably, Seattle-based author Jennifer Longo wanted to be a ballerina until she finally had to admit that her talent for writing exceeded her talent for dance. Like me, she harbors an obsessive love of Antarctica. I admire the way she has woven these two themes together!

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So, Displaced Nationers, what do you think? What are you looking forward to reading this year? Any much-anticipated displaced reads that should be added to my list?

As always, please let me or ML know if you have any suggestions for books you’d like to see reviewed here! And I urge you to sign up for the DISPLACED DISPATCH, which has at least one Recommended Read every week.

STAY TUNED for more fab posts!

Beth Green is an American writer living in Prague, Czech Republic. She grew up on a sailboat and, though now a landlubber, continues to lead a peripatetic life, having lived in Asia as well as Europe. Her personal Web site is Beth Green Writes. She has also launched the site Everyday Travel Stories. To keep in touch with her in between columns, try following her on Facebook and Twitter. She’s a social media nut!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to subscribe to The Displaced Dispatch, a weekly round up of posts from The Displaced Nation and much, much more. Sign up for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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LOCATION, LOCUTION: Paulo Coelho, on the monuments that immortalise cities

2010-26In this month’s “Location, Locution”, expat crime writer JJ Marsh talks with Paulo Coelho, the Brazilian best-selling author of The Alchemist, The Devil and Miss Prym, and The Witch of Portobello, among many others.

*  *  *

When I asked Paulo Coelho to take part in the “Location, Locution” concept, he was happy to oblige.

But he wanted to do it his way. So in a change to our usual format, here’s Paulo Coelho on place.

The moving monument

I have visited many monuments in this world that try to immortalize the cities that erect them in prominent places. Imposing men whose names have already been forgotten but who still pose mounted on their beautiful horses. Women who hold crowns or swords to the sky, symbols of victories that no longer even appear in school books. Solitary, nameless children engraved in stone, their innocence for ever lost during the hours and days they were obliged to pose for some sculptor that history has also forgotten.

And when all is said and done, with very rare exceptions (Rio de Janeiro is one of them with its statue of Christ the Redeemer), it is not the statues that mark the city, but the least expected things. When Eiffel built a steel tower for an exposition, he could not have dreamed that this would end up being the symbol of Paris, despite the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, and the impressive gardens. An apple represents New York. A not much visited bridge is the symbol of San Francisco. A bridge over the Tagus is also on the postcards of Lisbon. Barcelona, a city full of unresolved things, has an unfinished cathedral (The Holy Family) as its most emblematic monument. In Moscow, a square surrounded by buildings and a name that no longer represents the present (Red Square, in memory of communism) is the main reference. And so on and so forth.

Perhaps thinking about this, a city decided to create a monument that would never remain the same, one that could disappear every night and re-appear the next morning and would change at each and every moment of the day, depending on the strength of the wind and the rays of the sun. Legend has it that a child had the idea just as he was … taking a pee. When he finished his business, he told his father that the place where they lived would be protected from invaders if it had a sculpture capable of vanishing before they drew near. His father went to talk to the town councilors, who, even though they had adopted Protestantism as the official religion and considered everything that escaped logic as superstition, decided to follow the advice.

Another story tells us that, because a river pouring into a lake produced a very strong current, a hydroelectric dam was built there, but when the workers returned home and closed the valves, the pressure was very strong and the turbines eventually burst. Until an engineer had the idea of putting a fountain on the spot where the excess water could escape.

With the passing of time, engineering solved the problem and the fountain became unnecessary. But perhaps reminded of the legend of the little boy, the inhabitants decided to keep it. The city already had many fountains, and this one would be in the middle of a lake, so what could be done to make it visible?

And that is how the moving monument came to be. Powerful pumps were installed, and today a very strong jet of water spouts 500 liters per second vertically at 200 km per hour. They say, and I have confirmed it, that it can even be seen from a plane flying at 10,000 meters. It has no special name, just “Water Fountain” (Jet d’Eau), the symbol of the city of Geneva (where there is no lack of statues of men on horses, heroic women and solitary children).

Once I asked Denise, a Swiss scientist, what she thought of the Water Fountain.

“Our body is almost completely made of water through which electric discharges pass to convey information. One such piece of information is called Love, and this can interfere in the entire organism. Love changes all the time. I think that the symbol of Geneva is the most beautiful monument to Love yet conceived by any artist.”

I don’t know how the little boy in the legend would feel about it, but I think that Denise is absolutely right.

© Translated by James Mulholland

www.paulocoelhoblog.com

Read JJ Marsh’s 2011 interview with Paulo Coelho for Words with JAM magazine

Next on Location, Locution: Janet Skeslien Charles, author of Moonlight in Odessa

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JJ Marsh grew up in Wales, Africa and the Middle East, where her curiosity for culture took root and triggered an urge to write. After living in Hong Kong, Nigeria, Dubai, Portugal and France, JJ finally settled in Switzerland, where she is currently halfway through her European crime series, set in compelling locations all over the continent and featuring detective inspector Beatrice Stubbs.

STAY TUNED for next week’s posts!

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Image: Paulo Coelho, 2010 – PauloCoelho.com, used with permission.

And the nominees for best expat/travel film are…seeking your vote! Welcome to the 2013 Displaced Oscars

Don’t miss our 4 polls below! Results to be announced in March 2nd Displaced Dispatch! Enjoy!

When I first repatriated to the United States, I relished the chance to watch the Oscars again. For some reason — I’m not sure why, particularly as I was never a big movie buff — I regretted missing out on the pinnacle of Hollywood glamour during my years of living overseas, first in England and then in Japan.

It did not take long, however, before the novelty wore off. I grew bored with the dresses — they all seemed so same-y. And a tux is a tux is a tux.

I also grew bored with the selection of films. Typically, Oscar-nominated films take place within a single country’s borders — and when people cross these borders, it is in the service of maintaining them (IT’S WAR!!!). Apart from when Sofia Coppola was singled out for her Lost in Translation screenplay, the plots do not exactly speak to me and my prior situation of displacement.

Case-in-point: 2013 Oscar nominees

A great example of what I’m talking about are the two historical — or, more accurately, historically informed — movies that are up for this year’s Oscars:

  1. Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln — the quintessential American biographical period piece that the Academy loves (it is predicted to win five Oscars, including best director for Spielberg).
  2. Les Misérables, the film of the musical theatre adaptation — which in turn is based on an historical novel by Victor Hugo (1862), depicting life in the aftermath of the French Revolution. (Les Mis is likely to win for its score, sound mixing, makeup and hair styling, and best supporting actress for Anne Hathaway.)

Actually, make that three historical films, as Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (up for best picture, cinematography and best original screenplay) can come under that rubric as well. The first half is a mock Western and the second, a mock-revenge melodrama about slavery. At least, though, it has one foreign character: German bounty hunter King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Posing as a dentist, he gallivants around Texas, speaking perfect English. And you’ll never guess what? He’s a villain. He does have manners — but does that mitigate or enhance his villainy? One can never tell with Mr Tarantino…

Likewise, Argo (likely to win best picture along with some other prizes) and Zero Dark Thirty (likely to win for best original screenplay) depict epic events in the — albeit much more recent — American past. And although each of these films portrays Americans abroad, it shows them acting in the service of president and country — with the aim of protecting other Americans. Nothing too displaced about that.

The comedy-drama Silver Linings Playbook (likely to win Best Actress for Jennifer Lawrence) is about two people who bond over shared neuroses — could anything be more American? Not to mention their common love of pro-football (no, Andy, not the soccer kind!).

Perhaps the best of this year’s films for anyone with a proclivity for venturing across borders is Life of Pi (likely to win for best original score and visual effects). The story is about an Indian family that is emigrating to Winnipeg, Canada. Yet, as even those of us who haven’t seen the film know by now, Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) gets stranded on a lifeboat in the Pacific with a Bengal tiger. (That’s after the steamliner carrying his family’s zoo is pulled underwater during a freak storm.)

Over the course of months, the two unlikely castaways must depend on each other to survive — a scenario that provides an occasion for reflecting on cross-spiritualism, not cross-culturalism. (Pi, who was born a Hindu, loves Jesus and practices Islam.)

It also provides an occasion for displaced Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee to try his hand at 3D storytelling.

Why are we trying so hard to fit in when we were born to stand out?

WELCOME TO THE 2013 DISPLACED OSCARS. If we don’t fit into the Hollywood version, we may as well host our own event. We invite you to vote on your favorite films in the four categories we have created below. Preliminary results were announced in the Displaced Dispatch that came out on Saturday, February 23rd. Final results will appear in the Dispatch that comes out on Saturday, March 2nd. Be sure to sign up if you haven’t already!

1) Best Film Exploring Themes of Interest to Expats & International Travelers

This category honors the films that put cross-cultural themes right at the center. And the nominees are:

ShanghaiCalling_pm1) Shanghai Calling (2012, dir. by Daniel Hsia)
SUMMARY: Manhattanite Sam (Daniel Henney), an arrogant young lawyer, is transferred to his firm’s Shanghai office. He bungles his first assignment and finds his career in jeopardy. With the help of his beautiful relocation specialist, among others, he just might be able to save his job and learn to appreciate the wonders that Shanghai has to offer.
WHAT CRITICS ARE SAYING: How often do we get to see Shanghai on the big screen? That said, the plot is somewhat shallow and fails to make the most of Sam’s background as a Chinese American.

 

TheBestExoticMarigoldHotel_pm2) The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012, dir. by John Madden)
SUMMARY: A group of British retirees — played by British acting greats like Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy — have outsourced their retirement, attracted by the less expensive and seemingly exotic India. They are enticed by advertisements about the newly restored Marigold Hotel and given false dreams of a life with leisure.
WHAT CRITICS ARE SAYING: At the 2012 Mumbai Film Festival, the film was honored for showcasing Indian filming locations — a view not necessarily shared by viewers outside the subcontinent. Some of us feel that India was slighted by being treated as the shimmering background to a story about retirement-age self-renewal.

TheImposter_pm3) The Imposter (2012, dir. by Bart Layton)
SUMMARY: Thirteen-year-old Nicholas Barclay disappeared from his home in San Antonio, Texas, in 1994. Three and a half years later, he is allegedly found alive, thousands of miles away in a village in southern Spain with a story of kidnapping and torture. His family is overjoyed to bring him home. But all is not quite as it seems. The boy bears many of the same distinguishing marks he always had, but why does he now have a strange accent? Why does he look so different? This British documentary concerns the 1997 case of French serial imposter Frédéric Bourdin.
WHAT CRITICS ARE SAYING: By common consensus, The Imposter is one of the year’s most provocative pictures. Certainly, Displaced Nation writer Anthony Windram found it that way. In one of our most popular posts of last year, he mused that Bourdin’s story is not entirely unfamiliar to expats, all of whom have chameleon-like qualities.

CAST YOUR VOTE HERE!

2) Best Foreign Displaced Film

This category honors films about displacement that take place in non-English speaking countries and therefore require English speakers to read subtitles while learning about other cultures. And the nominees are:

Tabu_pm1) Tabu (2012, dir. by Portugal’s Miquel Gomes)
SUMMARY: The action in this experimental fiction ranges from contemporary Lisbon to an African colony in the distant past, in what was Portuguese Mozambique. First we are introduced to a cantankerous elderly Portuguese lady with a gambling addition. Then we flashback to her youth as a beautiful young woman living a kind of White Mischief existence at the foot of Mount Tabu, where she falls in love with a handsome adventurer…(Notably, the film’s title references the 1931 German silent film of that name, which took place in the South Seas.)
WHAT CRITICS ARE SAYING: The film shows what happens to expats who live too long — there are no remnants of “paradise” left. But some — e.g., A.O. Scott of the New York Times — have faulted the director for glossing over the issues of colonialism in the film in favor of simple aestheticism.

ClandestineChildhood_pm2) Clandestine Childhood (2011, dir. by Benjamín Ávila)
SUMMARY: A cinematic memoir drawn from Ávila’s own experiences, the film paints an unsettling portrait of families affected by military dictatorships. The year is 1979, five years after Perón’s death, and the family of 12-year-old Juan, who have been living in exile in Cuba, returns secretly to Argentina. Juan’s parents are members of an underground organization and for sake of their cover, he must assume the name of “Ernesto” and pretend to be a newcomer from northern Argentina.
WHAT CRITICS ARE SAYING: Juan’s parents aren’t fleeing the law because of their past misdeeds but are trying violently to overthrow a current dictatorship. The film therefore raises the question: do urban guerrillas make good parents? After all, they are asking their son, a Third Culture Kid, to act the part of a native in the homeland he never knew, for the sake of their political ideals. But while this question is intriguing, the story is driven almost entirely by clichés. As one critic remarked:

[T]he writing needs to be sharper to avoid feeling like a generic coming-of-ager.

LetMyPeopleGo_pm3) Let My People Go (2011, dir. by Mikael Buch)
SUMMARY: French immigrant Reuben (Nicolas Maury) is living in fairytale Finland — where he got his MA in “Comparative Sauna Cultures” — with his gorgeous Nordic boyfriend Teemu (Jarkko Niemi). He works as the mailman in a neighborhood whose colorful houses look like Scandinavian Skittles. Then, after a misunderstanding involving a parcel full of Euros, Teemu casts his lover out of Eden, sending him back to where he came from: Paris.
WHAT CRITICS ARE SAYING: Ruben’s return to Paris — where he finds his family weathering various crises as well as emotional instability — demonstrates why he left in the first place. (Aren’t most expats escaping something?) However, the scenes with his wacky, feuding family members soon become tedious. As one critic puts it:

The movie’s labored attempt at creating comedy mostly means lots of scenes with Ruben cringing as relatives shout.

CAST YOUR VOTE HERE!

3) Most Displaced Director

This category honors the director who has shown the most chutzpah in raiding the literature of other cultures to make a commercially successful movie (note: they do not cast the natives!). This year’s nominees are:

AnnaKarenina_pm1) Joe Wright for doing a British version of Anna Karenina (2012), casting his muse (Keira Knightly) in the titular role
WHAT CRITICS ARE SAYING: Some enjoyed Wright’s bold new interpretation of this classic Russian novel, while others felt that he did Tolstoy a terrible injustice — for instance, New Yorker critic Richard Brody had this to say:

Wright, with flat and flavorless images of an utterly impersonal banality, takes Tolstoy’s plot and translates it into a cinematic language that’s the equivalent of, say, Danielle Steel, simultaneously simplistic and overdone.

LesMiserables_pm2) Tom Hooper for casting a bunch of Aussies, Brits and Americans in Les Misérables
WHAT CRITICS ARE SAYING: Since Hooper previously won the Best Director Oscar for the terribly English drama The King’s Speech (historical drama, yay!), many found it odd that he would choose to take on this sprawling French story, and beloved musical, to create what he calls “an oil tanker of a picture.” But for what it’s worth, Hooper had no qualms about directing a film having to do with French history instead of his own. He is persuaded that Victor Hugo’s story speaks to issues of concern today:

Hugo’s story of populist uprising in 1832 Paris resounds in an era of the Arab Spring, the Occupy protests and general frustration over economic inequality.

DangerousLiaisons_pm3) Korean director Hur Jin-ho for making an Asian version of Dangerous Liaisons (2012) — which was originally an 18th-century novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclosset — and setting it in 1930s Shanghai
WHAT CRITICS ARE SAYING: Many have complimented Hur Jin-ho’s decorous adaptation, saying it was clever of him to swap the insular, decadent world of de Laclos’ book, which takes place pre-French Revolution, with the similarly gilded cage of Chinese aristocrats just prior to the Japanese invasion. But the film isn’t particularly sophisticated on a political or historical level. As one critic writes: “It’s all just window-dressing: pretty, but substance-free.”

CAST YOUR VOTE HERE!

4) Most Displaced Actor/Actress

This category honors the actor who has performed this year’s greatest feat of playing a role that requires them to take on a whole new nationality. We’re talking Versatility Plus! And the nominees are:

Daniel_Day-Lewis_pm1) Daniel Day-Lewis, the Anglo-Irish actor who portrayed Abe Lincoln in Lincoln
WHAT CRITICS ARE SAYING: Apparently, there was no American actor good enough to play one of the most exceptional presidents the nation has ever known as critics have had nothing but praise for Day Lewis’s performance. Here is a sampling:

His Lincoln is tall and tousled and bent over with the weight of melancholy responsibility in the fourth year of the Civil War.

[Day-Lewis] manages to inject so much quiet humour into what could have been a very reverential portrait.

[The actor] inhabits the ageing figure of the 16th President of the United States with exquisite poise, intellect and grace.

AnneHathaway_pm2) Anne Hathaway for playing saintly prostitute Fantine in Les Misérables
WHAT CRITICS ARE SAYING: Many find it impressive that Hathaway, cast as the tragic Fantine, sings the show-stopping “I Dreamed a Dream” in one take. (Tom Hooper’s contribution to the genre was having the actors sing rather than lip synch.) And some say that her willingness to have her locks shorn off on screen shows her commitment to her craft. That said, her performance is not to everyone’s taste. “Rarely have the movies seen such an embarrassingly naked plea for applause,” writes Australian film critic Jake Wilson — the implication being the Victor Hugo’s Fantine would have had more dignity.

Alicia_Vikander_pm3) Swedish actress Alicia Vikander for taking on two non-Swedish roles: Caroline Matilda of Great Britain (she served as Queen of Denmark and Norway in the 18th century) in A Royal Affair (2012); and Kitty in Anna Karenina (2012)
WHAT CRITICS ARE SAYING: Vikander’s “moxie” is apparently what landed her both of these parts. According to A Royal Affair director Nikolaj Arcel, every actress in Denmark wanted the role of Mathilde, but only Vikander had the requisite “regal quality.” She even went to Copenhagen two months before shooting began to learn to speak Danish fluently. Likewise, Anna Karenina director Joe Wright saw in her the qualities to play Kitty, a flirtatious young woman who believes the dashing Count Vronsky is her Prince Charming, only to find love with a kind-hearted farmer named Levin. It is not uncommon for movie-goers to remark that she outshines Kiera Knightly’s Anna.

CAST YOUR VOTE HERE!

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Are we missing out on any films/categories? Please leave your suggestions in the comments below.

Longing for even more expat and international travel films? Please go to our Displaced Oscars Pinterest board.

As for me, I’m going in search of a displaced after-party! Let’s hope I don’t have to travel too far to find one! 🙂

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another installment in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (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!

Related posts:

Images: Oscar statuette courtesy Dave_B_ on Flickr; actor pix from Wikimedia.

Random Nomads to the rescue! How to have an enchanted August (1/2)

Ah, summer — what power you have to make us suffer…and like it?!

I don’t know about you, but I’m not liking the mid-August dog days very much. For a start, I’m getting tired of watching my own two dogs panting instead of playing.

Thus I’ve turned to The Displaced Nation’s Random Nomads to help me find things to like during the remaining weeks of Summer 2011, which doesn’t technically end until September 23.

Besides asking them to report back on how their own summers have been, I begged them to share some tips for escaping one’s surroundings at times when one can’t manage a physical escape. I recall from my own expat days (in the UK and Japan) that global residents develop superhuman-reserves of stamina (the Japanese call it gaman, or “enduring the seemingly unendurable with patience and dignity”) to sustain them during less-than-pleasant interludes.

And I wasn’t disappointed — no less than five USA/Europe-based Random Nomads have come to my rescue! They’ve answered these three questions:
1) What has been your most enchanting moment of Summer 2011 thus far?
2) What has been your least enchanting moment?
3) Do you have any survival tips for people who can’t escape?

And next week, we’ll hear from three more, all of whom hang their hats in Asia.

NOTE: If you haven’t read the interviews with these five people about their “displacement,” be sure to do so by clicking on their names. They, and their lives, are fabulously inspiring regardless of what season it is!

BALAKA BASU — USA passport; current home: USA (New York City)
Most enchanting:
Swimming at Sandy Hook in New Jersey. The water out there at Gunnison Beach is green and gorgeous; the waves are gentle and warm, and they lap round you like a soft embrace. Over in the distance, you can see the skyline of NYC, wrapped in haze. It’s truly lovely, the closest you can come to the Caribbean in the metropolitan area, I think.

Least enchanting:
WASPS (the insects)! They built five(!) hives in our car, and we had to suit up in full sleeves, veils and boots — full-on winter armor in heat-stroke inducing weather — to kill them with poison as they boiled out of their hives. Not cool. Not cool at all.

Survival tip:
Find a cheap(ish) hotel with a bar and an outdoor pool — someplace no tourist would ever visit. Bring towels, bathing suits, a great beach read, and plastic cups — and pretend you’re on beachfront property in some place awesome: e.g., “Jamaica” without the plane ticket.

VICKI JEFFELS — New Zealand passport; current home: England (Tadley, Hampshire)
Most enchanting:
England had a couple of days of really tropical weather back in July — I loved it. For a brief time there was the lingering smell of BBQ wafting around our neighborhood, and I was even able to lie down on a towel in the garden and safely fill up my vitamin D reserves. Ah, bliss!

Least enchanting:
The following week the temperatures plummeted and it looked as if that was all the summer we were going to get.

Survival tips:
Ah yes, right down my alley! Many of my neighbors and friends were finding it really difficult to sleep in the humid weather, not helped at all by the BBC advising everyone to close their curtains! Whaaat? When you find it difficult to sleep, I advise a tepid (not cold!) shower to lower the body temperature before sleep. If possible (I know it’s not always possible), take a dip in a swimming pool — that’s ideal.

PIGLET IN PORTUGAL — English passport; current home: Portugal (Algarve)
Most enchanting:
To date, there are two special moments. Can I have two?

Yes, OK. Great!

Actually, one is magical and the other enchanting. Both slightly predate the summer months, but the effects still linger.

The most magical moment was the birth of our first grandchild, Lily-May, on the 28th of April in France. We drove as if possessed for two days from Portugal across Spain to the South of France to see her. Although I am not maternal by nature (I’m more of a practical Mom), when I held her in my arms for the first time, my heart melted. As recorded on my blog, she’s adorable!

The most enchanting moment was when I was singing to her and she gave me a big smile. Poor little thing — my singing is not that tuneful; I think she felt sorry for me!

Least enchanting:
The least enchanting because most worrying moment of Summer 2011 was the way our daughter’s health deteriorated after giving birth. Despite various consultations with doctors about the excruciating pain and the ongoing urine infections she was experiencing, they just prescribed antibiotics rather than trying to find the root cause. The local GPs were totally clueless! However, the answer quickly became apparent once her husband insisted she go to hospital for a proper examination. The maternity ward doctor, upon examining our daughter, quickly discovered that medical compresses, now rotting, had been left inside her! Once these were removed, she began to recover. But had they remained, I have since been informed septicaemia would have set in, with devastating consequences for both our daughter and breastfed baby granddaughter.

Survival tips:
This is difficult because adverse weather conditions to some could be absolute heaven for others. Weather, I tend to take as it comes as it is out of my control.

My own great escape would not be from the weather but from tourist areas. Living in a tourist area myself, I have renamed tourists “terrorists” because many leave their manners and consideration for others at home. They literally do “terrorize” the locals!

 Personally, I love wild and natural places far away from the mass concrete high-rise hotels, with rows of sun beds and parasols lining the beaches.

My idea of heaven is to take a picnic, a bottle of chilled white wine, our comfy chairs and a parasol down to one of the unspoilt beaches for a “sun-downer.”

Yes, there are other people there in July and August, but we all seem to appreciate the luxury of freedom from tourists, and peace…

So, if you are coming to the Algarve on holiday please check out some of my
“secret beaches.” I can show you how to escape the “maddening” crowds!

JACK SCOTT — British passport; current home: Bodrum, Turkey
Most enchanting:
Bodrum is the most secular and modern of Turkish towns. It’s where people come to escape the conformity of everyday Turkish society. Normal social rules don’t apply. However, scrape the surface and you will find magic of a different kind.

This summer, we were visiting a friend, a thoroughly modern Millie, who lives just a few hundred meters behind the bustling marina with its luxury yachts and raucous watering holes. Her home is set within a traditional quarter of whitewashed buildings huddled together along narrow lanes.

As we approached her door, we noticed an elderly neighbor dressed in traditional livery of floral headscarf, crocheted cardigan and capacious clashing pantaloons. She sat cross-legged in a shady spot of her bountiful garden and was busy plucking a fleece.

Being city boys and largely ignorant of country ways, we asked our friend what the old lady was doing. She was preparing the wool for hand carding, straightening and separating fibers for weaving on the spinning wheel she kept in her house.

She hummed as she plucked, happy under the cool of an ancient knotted olive tree and doing what women have done in Turkey for millennia.

Now you don’t get that in Blighty.

Least enchanting:
We were wandering down Bodrum’s bar street, a procession of cheap and cheerful bars and hassle shops.

We normally rush by; casual shopping in Turkey can be a bruising experience best only tried by the foolish and heroic. The cheaper outlets employ aggressive teenagers in tight, bright, white shirts to drag gullible punters in from the street. A firm refusal elicits a bellicose riposte. The posher shops employ mostly female staff whose sales technique is softer but no less annoying. Speculative browsing is unbearable when tailed by KGB-trained assistants and you are made to feel like a serial shoplifter.

On this occasion my partner, Liam, popped into a corner shop to buy some cigarettes. Keen to use the local lingo, he asked for them in very passable Turkish. The po-faced assistant looked at him blankly. Liam repeated the request. Another blank look. After a brief standoff, the assistant relented and repeated the order in English. He threw the cigarettes at Liam, snatched the payment and slammed the change on the counter.

Welcome to Turkey, where hospitality greets you at every corner. I know there are arse-holes in every country — but next time we’ll just shout loudly in English.

Survival tips:
During the height of the summer we’re like camp vampires and only venture out after dark. Earlier in the season we found ourselves sweltering in 40+C (104+F) heat with no air conditioning. Because our pretty little cottage has 18-inch thick stone and concrete walls it took us weeks to find a technical solution. In the meantime, I received a host of suggestions to help us through the sleepless, sweaty nights. I’d like to share a few:
• Wrap a gel-type freezer pack in a wet tea-towel and apply it to your hot bits (and watch them shrink).
• Buy a floor-standing industrial fan (but nail everything down).
• Bathe your feet in an ice bucket (and develop frostbite).
• Take a cold shower (except the cold water is hot at this time of year).
• Sleep on a wet towel (and rot the mattress).
• Decamp to the roof (and get eaten alive my mozzies).
• Emigrate to Sweden?!

SIMON WHEELER — English passport; current home: Slovakia (Plavé Vozokany)
Most enchanting:
I love the sound of the crickets chirping. Whenever I left for holidays from England as a kid, that sound always meant I was away and exploring. Now I have them every summer’s night, and I still cannot get used to it. I still get that thrill of being in a new place…

Least enchanting:
Mosquitoes — they love every bit of me!!!

Survival tip:
I’m afraid I need a physical escape from our 35C (95F) “phew, what a scorcher!” summer. Fortunately, one is available in North Slovakia — in the Tatra Mountains, on the border between Slovakia and Poland. Just a stunning part of the world, very quiet, largely undiscovered, a place that exudes old-fashioned peace. Being that bit higher in altitude, the temps are perfect.

 

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s Displaced Q on enchanting expat summers.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to subscribe to The Displaced Dispatch, a weekly round up of posts from The Displaced Nation, plus some extras such as seasonal recipes and occasional book giveaways. Sign up for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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RANDOM NOMAD: Piglet in Portugal, Award-Winning Expat Blogger

Born in: Harrow, England
Passport(s): British
Country lived in: Portugal Has had a house there from 2006-present
Cyberspace coordinates: Piglet in Portugal (blog)

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
Although we left the UK primarily due to health reasons, we were also in search of a better quality of life. The jobsworth* culture and the “health and safety” people, plus the PC Brigade**, were slowly driving us mad; we no longer had the right to exercise common sense any more than we were capable of making our own decisions. Yes, Mr Jobsworth, we know if we stand by the edge of a cliff we could fall off it. Or if we go out in the rain, we are likely to get wet. There appeared to be a whole army of people telling us what to do and what to think! England is not nicknamed the Nanny State*** for nothing!
* Jobsworth: A person in a position of minor authority who invokes the letter of the law in order to avoid any action requiring initiative, cooperation, etc.
** PC Brigade: Politically correct brigade.
*** Nanny State: A government that makes decisions for people that they might otherwise make for themselves, especially those relating to private and personal behavior.

Is anyone else in your immediate family displaced?
Our daughter moved to Lyon in France with her ice dance partner when she was just 15 years old to rain with a world-famous ice dance coach. When she gave up skating ten years ago, she met her French husband-to-be and remained in France. They have just had their first child — our first grandchild.

Describe the moment when you felt most displaced over the course of your many displacements.
I am unable to pinpoint the exact moment I felt “displaced” — it was more, shall we say, “moments” which gradually crept up on me over time. Language is a huge problem, and despite my valiant efforts to learn Portuguese, I have failed miserably. I’ve spent thousands of euros on private lessons, studied hard, but am still unable to converse properly in Portuguese. I’ve had to accept I am not a natural linguist and have resigned myself to doing the best I can. (No, I do not need any more lectures as to “you have to learn the language to integrate.” I have really tried.) Because of this failure, I now know what it feels like to be in a room full of people and feel totally alone — almost as if the room were empty or you were invisible. You are there in body but not in mind; simply a spectator. This is really difficult for me as I am gregarious by nature and a natural “chatterbox.” I am sure there are many expats out there who can relate… I am also a real foodie and, apart from desserts and cakes, am not that keen on Portuguese food…

Actually, you have made me stop and think again about this question.

Perhaps the moment I actually felt “displaced” was when our first grandchild was born recently in France. We also have another grandchild due in September, but in the UK. My first thoughts were: do we relocate to France or the UK? We have no family in Portugal so why stay here? I have begun to feel restless.

Describe the moment when you felt least displaced.
I have always felt at home in Portugal, despite language difficulties and a cuisine that is rather “basic” for my tastes. I have never tried to change anything: e.g., protest against bullfighting or insist our local snack bar serves fish and chips or curry. I accept life as it is.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from the country where you’ve lived into the Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
My curiosity item would have to be bacalhau. It is dried salted cod fish and a long-time favorite with the Portuguese. I wrote a blog post about it.

You’re invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other Displaced Nation members. What’s on the menu?
It’s a struggle for me to find Portuguese recipes I like. Most of the restaurants here in the Algarve serve up very much the same dishes: chicken piri-piri, sardines or grilled fish and meats served with salad and chips, etc. “Dish of the Day” offers other variations, but as I do not like snails, the “unmentionable” parts of animals or beans, this means the choice of food is often limited. But here goes:
Piglet’s Menu for The Displaced Nation

  • Calde de Verde (Portuguese Cabbage Soup)
  • Carne de Porco a Alentejana (Pork with Clams) [See recipe.]
  • A selection of Portuguese cheeses and crusty bread
  • Molotof — a light dessert made with egg whites. [Watch video.]

You may add one word or expression from the country you’ve lived in to The Displaced Nation argot. What word do you loan us?
My first instinct is to loan you leitão, which means “piglet” in Portuguese. My husband and I went out to lunch soon after we arrived in Portugal, and I thought I’d ordered roast pork. It turned out to be suckling pig! Hmmmm it made my trotters twitch! Mental note — I need to be more careful in translating the menu in future. Porco is pork. But perhaps it would be more in keeping for me to loan you the first Portuguese word I learned: bonita. It means beautiful.

Alice meets many curious animals when she ventures into Wonderland, including a piglet at one point. We’re curious (and curiouser!): why have you chosen the piglet moniker, avatar, and doppelgänger
Because I adore pigs. I would love to keep Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs if we had a large garden. I was nearly tempted to buy a little pig a few months ago at the local market until my head ruled my heart and common sense kicked in. Awww, but it was so cute! Some people love dogs. With me it is pigs.

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

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s installment from our displaced fictional heroine, Libby. Kate Allison has assured us it will contain some more Alice in Wonderland references — but will there be any piglets? Curiouser and curiouser, I think you’ll agree…

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