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LOCATION, LOCUTION: For acclaimed British novelist Simon Mawer, not feeling at home anywhere fires creativity


Tracey Warr is here with the extraordinary Simon Mawer, whose work is on a par with Australian-born, U.S.-based Peter Carey and Sri Lankan-born Canadian Michael Ondaatje. Like them, he has used his displacement to produce an award-winning body of fiction.

Greetings, Displaced Nationers.

My guest this month is world-class novelist Simon Mawer.

As ML implied, Mawer is a natural fit for the Displaced Nation. Though British, he has lived in Italy for many years and to this day finds his imagination fired by the extraordinary and the unfamiliar.

He also had a peripatetic upbringing. His father served in the Royal Air Force, and his family spent three years on the island of Cyprus—an experience that informed his novel Swimming to Ithaca (2006)—and a total of five years in Malta.

About his childhood spent in other cultures, Mawer has this to say:

These experiences planted in me a love of the Mediterranean world which has lasted my whole life. They also gave me a taste for exile which I have never lost. When people ask me where I come from I am still unable to reply. I have lived in Italy for more than three decades, but Italy is not home. Home is where the mind is, perhaps.

Returning to the UK for boarding school, Mawer attended Oxford University where he earned a degree in zoology. He spent three years teaching biology at the secondary-school level in the Channel Islands, two years in Scotland, and two in Malta, before moving to Rome where he has lived ever since, teaching biology for over thirty years at St George’s British International School in Rome (he retired in 2010). Because teaching took up so much of his time, he didn’t publish his first novel, Chimera, until age 40, when he sold it to Hamish Hamilton.

Mawer’s ten novels are imbued with a compelling sense of time and place. His characters grapple with their own fraught and hybrid identities. The Bitter Cross (1992) is the only one set in the distant past: taking place in the 16th-century Mediterranean, it explores the theme of exile and belonging through the eyes of one of the last of the English knights, from the vantage point of retirement on the fortress island of Malta.

But the rest of Mawer’s novels take place in the early 20th century, with settings ranging through 1930s Czechoslovakia, 1940s occupied France, wartime Rome, 1950s London during the Cold War, Cyprus, Israel and Palestine.

The following six have won high accolades:

  • Mawer’s first novel, the aforementioned Chimera (1989), tells the story of a part-Italian, part-English archeologist who is haunted by his own past. On an archeological dig in central Italy, he recalls being parachuted into wartime Italy as a Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent. It won the McKitterick Prize for First Novels.
  • Mendel’s Dwarf (1997), described by the New Yorker as “furious, tender and wittily erudite,” blends fact and fiction by telling the story of the fictional Benedict Lambert, a distant descendant of real-life founder of the modern science of genetics, Gregor Mendel. Like Mendel, Lambert struggles to unlock the secrets of heredity and genetic determinism. However, Benedict’s mission is particularly urgent—he was born a dwarf. The book reached the last ten of the Booker Prize and was a New York Times “Book to Remember”.
  • Set partly in wartime Britain and partly in the anarchic world of British rock-climbing in the early seventies, The Fall (2003) is about many kinds of falling: off mountains, into love, out of love, from grace. It was the winner of the 2003 Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature.
  • The Glass Room (2009) centers on a couple who who live in a modernist house that resembles the real-life Villa Tugendhat, which the German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe designed for a wealthy Jewish man and his gentile wife in Brno (now in the Czech Republic). But then the storm clouds of World War II gather and the family flees through Switzerland to the United States. This work was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction and the Wingate Prize, and was a bestseller in the US and the UK. The Guardian described it as “a thing of extraordinary beauty and symmetry,” and the Washington Post found it “eerily erotic and tremendously exciting.” The Glass Room was adapted for the stage from the book’s Czech translation for a performance in the city of Brno (which, incidentally, is the seat of the priory where Mendel performed his experiments).
  • Mawer’s ninth novel, The Girl Who Fell From The Sky (Trapeze in the US) (2012) was described by the Daily Telegraph as “an absorbing novel full of treachery, twilight and terror.” Set during World War II, the novel follows the path of the half-English half-French diplomat’s daughter Marian Sutro. Her hybrid status is an advantage in wartime, and she ends up serving as an agent in occupied Europe. The Guardian once described Sutro as “perhaps the closest thing to a female James Bond in English literature.”
  • Mawer must have enjoyed the company of this complex female protagonist as Marian Sutro returns again in his most recent novel, Tightrope (2015), a cold war thriller set in 1950s London. One of a handful of surviving agents of the Special Operations Executive, Sutro tries to cast off her identity as heroine of the resistance, but the memories of torture, heartbreak and betrayal won’t leave her—nor will the longing for adventure. Tightrope was described by the Sunday Times as “a sophisticated, deviously constructed story,” and by the Mail on Sunday as “gripping stuff, with a sinuous plot and some haunting bedroom scenes.” It won the 2016 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction and was Waterstones Novel of the Month (March 2016).

Mawer has also written two nonfiction books:

* * *

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

This very much depends on the book. Most begin with an idea—for example my last pair of novels, The Girl Who Fell From The Sky (Trapeze, in the US) and Tightrope, began with the idea of a young woman—a mere 19 years old—being recruited into a clandestine warfare outfit in the middle of the Second World War. Everything else followed from that. Similarly The Fall began with a literal fall, in this case the fall of a climber from a mountain wall. But once I’d got a mountain involved it was pretty obvious that location was going to become important. Indeed the Sunday Times reviewer drew attention to precisely this:

“What makes The Fall truly valuable, and truly unusual is its sense of landscape. Much British writing these days seems to be self-consciously urban. Mawer’s novel, distinguished by its keen descriptive sense of rock-face, crag, lake, snow and stone, bucks that trend beautifully.”

However, two novels later The Glass Room most definitely began with a location—the mesmerising Tugendhat House in the Czech Republic that I first visited in 1994. Standing in rooms that seemed to have barely changed from the 1930s, in a building that to this day remains a touchstone for modernist design, it was obvious for me to think, “There’s a story here.” I’m a writer of fiction so the subsequent story had to be my own creation rather than the true story of the family that built the house; but there is no doubt that location came first.

the-glass-room-collage-w-quote

What is your technique for evoking the atmosphere of the various places where you’ve set your four novels?

If there were only one technique it would be easy (and dull). There are many techniques but for me underlying everything is the idea that the reader must do some work. The writer’s task is to stir the imagination not replace it. So you evoke place with small hints, little details, small observations, and you rely on the intelligence of the reader to create the whole picture in his or her head. Don’t underestimate the literary intelligence of the reader—the ones without it are probably watching TV anyway. At best they’ll only be reading Dan Brown.

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

It depends on the location. For landscape one tends to resort to descriptive devices, leavened with metaphor of course. But it’s important not to overdo it and to restrain yourself from indulging in purple prose. Description should be brushed into the narrative with rapid, impressionist strokes. Urban locations, on the other hand, lend themselves to cultural references (see the example below).

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

How about Paris immediately after the war, as described in Tightrope:

Her first visit to the city since the war. Paris with a superficial gloss to it, like a piece of silver plate that has been polished up but is still worn away in places to show the base metal beneath: the drab buildings in need of cleaning, the broken pavements, the impoverished shops. But Paris with a strange, febrile vitality, Paris that was home to the theatre of the absurd and was itself a kind of theatre with people performing on its various stages, writers in the cafés of the Left Bank, politicians treading the boards of the National Assembly or berating crowds in place de la Bastille, black jazzmen from America sounding off in basements and cellars, models strutting on catwalks wearing clothes that outraged the poor of Saint-Denis and Belleville, tarts and pimps on the pavements of Pigalle. Paris canaille.

Paris canaille? Coarse, tawdry, crooked Paris. It’s the title of a song of the time written by Léo Ferré and first made popular by Catherine Sauvage. If the readers get that, great. If not, it doesn’t matter. But give them the opportunity to find out if they want to. You’ll find it here.

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

It is possible to know a place too well. I have lived in Italy for about 40 years and have written very little that is set in this country. It is too familiar to me (yes, Italy can become too familiar!). What fires my imagination is the extraordinary and the unfamiliar—so I’ve set novels in Israel/Palestine, Czechoslovakia, World War II London, Cyprus, 16th-century Malta. Of course once your imagination has been lit, then it is necessary to get to know the place sufficiently to write about it with conviction without ever losing the sense of newness and discovery.

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

Perhaps one writer above all: Graham Greene. He was a master at location, so much so that critics even bestowed his name on the world that his characters inhabit: Greeneland. You know it. It’s hot, arid, run down, plagued with dust and corruption and lost faith. That’s the ultimate achievement, to create a world so vivid that it transcends any real location and instead belongs entirely to you, the creator.

So true! I should tell you that my last guest, the novelist Dinah Jefferies, chose one of your books—The Girl Who Fell from the Sky—in answer to this question.

Thanks so much, Simon, for joining us. It’s been a pleasure, as always.

* * *

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

Meanwhile, if you would like to discover more about Simon Mawer and his novels, I suggest you visit his author site. You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

À bientôt! Till next time…

* * *

Thank you so much, Tracey and Simon! I have to say I’m particularly intrigued by Simon’s statement that he’s written very little in Italy despite (because of?) having lived 40 years in the country. That suggests that we international creatives should get started sooner rather than later if we decide to write about our adopted homes! —ML Awanohara

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

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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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, supplied; Roman scene via Pixabay; Cyprus. Nicosia 1969 – 70, by Brian Harrington Spier via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); and Street and Glastonbury Tor taken from Walton Hill, by Edwin Graham via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0).
“Glass Room” visual: (top) Mies van Der Rohe- Tugendhat House, 1930, by Rory Hyde via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); (bottom left) The Glass Room on stage at the City Theatre, Brn (Pavla Vitázková as Liesel, Svetlana Jantová as Kata), supplied; and Simon Mawer relaxing in the living room of the Tugendhat House, with the director of the house, Iveta Černá looking on, supplied.
“Paris as theatre” visual: (clockwise from top left): Acetate fabrics by Robert Perrier, 1951 Autumn-Winter via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0); Screenshot from Catherine Sauvage “Paris Canaille” (live official), Archive INA; Waiting for Godot (cover detail) via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0); and Zsa Zsa Gabor playing Jane Avril in the film Moulin Rouge (1952) via Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain 1.0).

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BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: Expat creatives recommend books for the (not quite) end of summer

End of Summer 2016 Reads

Attention displaced bookworms! Our book review columnist, Beth Green, has canvassed several international creatives for some recommendations of books that suit the various end-of-summer scenarios those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere will soon be in (if we aren’t already!).

Hello Displaced Nationers!

I’ve traveled quite a bit this summer, and now I’m wondering what I can do, as summer slides into autumn here in Prague, to bask in those prized last few moments of glory before the days get shorter and a chill enters the air.

I decided to canvas fellow international creatives about the books they would recommend for those of us who are:

  • Striving for one last beach read;
  • Stranded at an airport on our way “home”; and/or
  • Getting back to work/school/reality as autumn sets in.

There was just one catch: I asked if they would please recommend books that qualify as “displaced” reads, meaning they are for, by, or about expats or other internationals and so speak to members of our “tribe” (see ML Awanohara’s contribution below).

And now let’s check out their picks (correction: I should say “our” as I’m a contributor this time)—it’s an eclectic mix, but I predict you’ll be tempted by quite a few!

* * *

JENNIFER ALDERSON, expat and writer

TheGoodThiefsGuidetoParis_coverWhen I read on the beach, the story’s got to be light and quirky or it goes back in my tote bag. The Good Thief’s Guide to Paris (2009), by Chris Ewan—or really any of the other four books in Ewan’s popular series of mysteries about a globetrotting thief-for-hire—fits the bill perfectly. I actually dislike the much-displaced Charlie Howard immensely—yet somehow end up rooting for him along the way. An Englishman, he doesn’t feel at home anywhere and travels the world to get inspired to write his next novel—and then ends up involved in criminal activities that mirror his fictitious plots. Each novel revolves around Charlie’s bungled robbery of an artwork or antiquity in yet another famous tourist destination: Amsterdam, Paris, Venice, Las Vegas, Berlin… Ewan’s descriptions of each city are spot on and quite beautiful, in contrast to the wonderfully sarcastic tone of the novels themselves. The capers are silly, absurd constructions involving the shadiest of characters, which inevitably leave a smile on my face. I’ve already finished Paris and Amsterdam. The Good Thief’s Guide to Venice is next.

The City of Falling Angels_coverI actually have two suggestions for books I wish I’d had in my carry-on when stranded en route, both set in one of my favorite countries in the world: Italy! A few days before my husband and I set off for a week-long holiday in Venice, I popped into a local secondhand bookstore and spotted John Berendt’s The City of Falling Angels (2005). I absolutely loved Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, so I bought it without even reading the description on the back. Imagine my surprise when I pulled it out of my suitcase and realized it was all about the same magical city I’d just arrived in! It is an absorbing, magnificent novel that effortlessly blends fact and fiction. (Berendt moved to Venice in 1997, just three days after the city’s Fenice opera house burned down during a restoration—accident or arson?) The fabled city and many of her more eccentric residents form the soul of this book; art, opera and architecture are the main ingredients. Let yourself get lost in Berendt’s unique, almost conversational prose and follow along on his deliciously slow journey through one of the prettiest (and most mysterious) places on the planet.

BridgeofSighs_coverMy other pick is the captivating historical novel, Bridge of Sighs and Dreams (2015), by former expat Pamela Allegretto. The story follows one Italian family through the 1930s and 1940s, when Mussolini and later Hitler ruled the land. It is a sometimes gritty, sometimes romantic, tale of betrayal, intrigue and—above all—survival. The author’s beautiful yet compact descriptions of the landscape, people and culture effortlessly transport the reader to this fascinating and complex period in Italian (and European) history. I highly recommend it.

Whichever of these two books you choose, you’ll wish your flight was delayed indefinitely.

The Disobedient Wife_coverI’ve only read the first two chapters of The Disobedient Wife (2015), by Annika Milisic-Stanley, yet I’m already hooked—and would recommend it for anyone trying to get back into work/school mode. It’s such an eloquent description of the expat experience; from the first sentence I felt as if I was reading a soulmate’s description of how it feels to move on to a new destination after building up a life in a foreign country: we say goodbye while wondering what, if any, lasting impact we’ve had on our temporary homes. [Editor’s note: This book also made the Displaced Nation’s “best of expat fiction” list for 2015.]

The official synopsis reads:

The Disobedient Wife intertwines the narratives of a naïve, British expatriate, Harriet, and that of her maid, Nargis, who possesses an inner strength that Harriet comes to admire as their lives begin to unravel against a backdrop of violence and betrayal.

In the first chapter, Harriet is thinking back to her last post in Tajikistan: about the friends she’d willingly left behind and about her home, inhabited by another family only days after her own departure:

“All traces will be erased until the Dutch tulips I laid last September rise above the earth to bloom in April and pronounce that I really was there. The language, learned and badly spoken, is already fading from my dreams…”

These sentences stirred up so many memories for me of people left behind and as well as adventures past. I sometimes wish I could go back—even for a moment—to all of the places I’ve been in this crazy world and just say hello to the people I once knew there and remind them that I’m still around and do think of them once in a while. I cannot wait to finish this book. [Beth’s note: I did NOT mention to Jennifer that Annika is also participating in this column’s roundup—quite a coincidence!]

Jennifer S. Alderson has published two novels, the recently released A Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery and Down and Out in Kathmandu (2015), which cover the adventures of traveler and culture lover Zelda Richardson. An American, Jennifer lives in the Netherlands with her Dutch husband and young son.


ML AWANOHARA, Displaced Nation founding editor and former expat

Inspired by the new BBC One TV miniseries, at the beginning of the summer I downloaded War and Peace (new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky) onto my Kindle. And, reader, I finished it! And now I’m having trouble finding any novels that hold my attention. By comparison to Tolstoy’s masterwork, they all seem too narrow in scope, and their characters aren’t as beautifully developed. Sigh!

Tribe_coverI’m thinking I should turn to nonfiction until the W&P spell wears off. Right now I have my eye on Sebastian Junger’s latest work, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging—which I think could serve any of the purposes Beth has outlined above, though perhaps is best applied to the third condition (getting back to reality). Junger has been compared to Hemingway for his adventure non-fiction and war reporting, but this book is more of an anthropological look at the very human need to belong to a tribe. Though we expats have left our original tribes, I don’t think that this decision eradicates our tribal instincts. On the contrary, we are attracted to tribes of fellow expats; and some of us even find new homes in cultures more tribal than ours—where the people value qualities like loyalty and belonging more than we do in the West.

Junger provides an example to which I can personally relate. Recounting the history of 18th-century America, he says that no native Americans defected to join colonial society even though it was richer, whereas many colonials defected to live with the Indian tribes. They apparently appreciated the communal, caring lifestyle of the latter. That’s how I felt after I’d lived in Japan for several years. I really didn’t fancy returning to my native society, which I’d come to see as overly individualistic and centered on self to the exclusion of little else. To this day (and especially during election years like this one!) I struggle with America’s you’re-on-your-own ethos. Wealth doesn’t necessarily translate into well-being: why can’t my compatriots see that? It’s something I can feel in my bones because of the more tribal life I had in Asia. Could this book help me understand the roots of my displacement?

ML Awanohara, who has lived for extended periods in the UK and Japan, has been running the Displaced Nation site for five years. She works in communications in New York City.


BETH GREEN, Displaced Nation columnist and writer

Hotel_Kerobokan_coverI tend to pick beach books by the setting. So if I am going to the Caribbean, I’ll pick something set in the Caribbean. My last beach destination was Bali, and the book I wish I’d taken with me was Hotel Kerobokan: The Shocking Inside Story of Bali’s Most Notorious Jail (2009), a sharply observed account of life inside Indonesia’s most notorious prison, by Australian journalist Kathryn Bonella. Also great is her subsequent nonfiction title, Snowing in Bali (2012), a graphic look at Bali’s cocaine traffickers. Stories that depict true-life crime in unexpected settings (isn’t Bali supposed to be paradise?) automatically go on my to-read list—but I forgot to pick up Bonella’s book when we were at the airport and then wasn’t able to find in the area around my hotel. I know, most people go to the beach for good weather and strong cocktails; but for me, a holiday isn’t a holiday until I can peel back the veneer and peer at something darker underneath.

The Bat_coverWhat I actually ended up reading was in fact very good—Jo Nesbo’s thriller The Bat, in which he introduces his hard-headed detective Harry Hole and sends him to Australia to pursue a serial killer—but I wish I’d planned ahead and got something that blended with the scenery.

It’s a terrible feeling to get to the boarding gate and realize you don’t have enough chapters left in your book to get you through takeoff. (This is one reason I love my e-reader and try to have it loaded with dozens of books at all times.) For air travel especially, I look for the fattest, longest reads possible.

The Mountain Shadow_coverFor my next long flight, I’m hoping to read Gregory David Robert’s The Mountain Shadow, which came out last year and is the sequel to his equally weighty Shantaram (2003). At 880 pages, this book will take even a fast reader like me a while! Set in Mumbai, India, it continues the story of an escaped Australian prisoner who finds a new niche as a passport forger—but also a better self—in the underbelly of the South Asian crime world. Engrossing and beautifully written, I think it’s the perfect companion for marathon flights. Even if you did manage to finish it mid-flight, you can spend the rest of the trip wondering how close the story is to the author’s real-life history as an escaped convict. Roberts spent 10 years in India as a fugitive after escaping a maximum security prison in Australia, and his first novel, at least, is rumored to be autobiographical.

CatKingofHavana_coverFor the goal of channeling our more serious selves as autumn approaches, how about a fun read by the peripatetic Latvian author Tom Crosshill (he spent several years studying and working in the United States, as well as a year learning traditional dances in Cuba). Crosshill will release The Cat King of Havana (2016) this month. The eponymous Cat King is a half-Cuban American teenager who gets his nicknames from the cat videos he posts online. When he invites his crush to Havana to learn about his heritage and take salsa lessons, he discovers Cuba’s darker side…

Beth Green is the Booklust, Wanderlust columnist for the Displaced Nation. Her bio blurb appears below.


HELENA HALME, novelist and expat

Murder in Aix_coverFor a last hurrah on the beach, I’d recommend Murder in Aix (2013), Book 5 in a mystery series by Susan Kiernan-Lewis, an ex-military dependent who is passionate about France, travel and writing. One of my secret pleasures in life is to settle down with a cozy murder mystery; I also have a passion for the South of France. So when I found The Maggie Newberry Mystery Series, consisting of nine books that featured an expat protagonist-sleuth who solves mysteries in and around Aix-en-Provence, I couldn’t wait to download the whole series onto my Kindle. In the fifth book, Maggie Newberry is heavily pregnant but that doesn’t stop her as she finds herself scrambling to prove the innocence of a dear friend arrested for the murder of an abusive ex-boyfriend. Her partner, a ruggedly handsome French winemaker, doesn’t approve of Maggie’s involvement in the case. “It’s too dangerous,” he tells her.

The novel is pure bliss—a feeling enhanced if you can read it by a pool or on a beach, preferably accompanied by a glass of chilled rosé!

TheBreathofNight_coverFor those inevitable airport delays, I’d recommend The Breath of Night (2013), by Michael Arditti, a much-neglected English author. The first book I read by him, Jubilate, said to be the first serious novel about Lourdes since Zola’s, is one of my all-time favorites, so I was delighted when The Breath of Night came out soon after. This is a story of the murder of one Julian Tremayne, a Catholic priest from England who was working as a missionary in the Philippines in the 1970s. Since their son’s tragic death, Julian’s parents have pursued a campaign to have him declared a saint. The story is told partly through letters from Julian to his parents and partly through an account by a friend of the family, Philip Seward, who has gone to Manila 30 years later to find out the truth about the miracles he is said to have performed. Did Julian lead “a holy life of heroic virtue”—one of the conditions for canonization? While telling an intriguing and captivating tale of life in the Philippines, the book provides a broader commentary on love and faith.

TheParisWife_coverWhen the time comes to settle back into your routine, I would suggest a read of The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain (2011). It’s a fictionalized story of Hemingway’s first years as a struggling writer in Paris in the 1920s, told from the point of view of his first wife, Hadley, a naive Southern girl who suddenly finds herself suddenly plunged into a life of drunken debauchery in the French capital. McLain’s writing is precise and beautiful; her background as a poet comes through in her careful choice of words. Her descriptions of Hemingway when Hadley first meets him are particularly ingenious:

“He smiles with everything he’s got…”

“I can tell he likes being in his body…”

“He seemed to do happiness all the way up and through.”

It’s a brilliant read that will take you somewhere completely different and keep the challenges (boredom?) of work or school at bay a little longer.

Helena Halme is a Finnish author of Nordic women’s and romantic fiction. She lives with her English husband in London. Her works include the best-selling autobiographical novel The Englishman (reviewed on the Displaced Nation), its sequel The Navy Wife, Coffee and Vodka (about which she wrote a guest post for us) and The Red King of Helsinki (for which she won one of our Alice Awards). The Finnish Girl, her latest novella, is the prequel to The Englishman.


MATT KRAUSE, writer and expat

A Time of Gifts_coverFor any of those circumstances, I would recommend A Time of Gifts, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (1977; reissued in 2011 with an introduction by Jan Morris). At the age of 18, Fermor dropped out of school to walk from the heart of London to Constantinople, and his account of that journey—which started in December 1933, not long after Hitler has come to power in Germany, and ended just over two years later—is hailed as a classic of British travel writing. Hitler’s abuses were not yet evident, and Fermor describes drinking beers with Nazis once he reaches Germany. But I particularly enjoyed his account of a luxurious extended weekend in Geneva (or some city, I don’t remember) with a couple of girls he met along the way. I read this book as part of my research before walking across Turkey in 2012–2013, and really liked it.

Matt Krause is a communications coach based in Istanbul. He is the author of the memoir A Tight Wide-Open Space (reviewed on the Displaced Nation) and is working on a book about his walk across Turkey.


ANNIKA MILISIC-STANLEY, ATCK, expat, painter, campaigner and writer

two more book picks_Aug2016When I am on the beach, I get no longer than half an hour of uninterrupted reading time. For that reason, I took a book of short stories with me this year: Angela Readman’s Don’t Try This At Home (2015), which has stories set in the UK, USA, France and elsewhere. Brilliantly engaging, with an amazing use of language, alternately fun and fantastical, this debut, award-winning collection is well worth a read.

Some of you may not be short story fans, in which case I’d recommend The White Tiger (2008), by Aravind Adiga. The “white tiger” of the book’s title is a Bangalore chauffeur, who guides us through his experience of the poverty and corruption of modern India’s caste society. two book picks_Aug2016_515xThe novel won the 2008 Booker, but don’t let that put you off. It is surprisingly accessible and a real page-turner: funny, horrifying and brilliant.

For an agonizing airport wait, I have two suggestions: Atticus Lish’s Preparation for the Next Life (2015) and Sanjeev Sahota’s The Year of the Runaways (also 2015). Both feature immigrants describing their former lives, their motive for departure from their countries of origin, and the harshness of life in a new country as illegals.

CentresofCataclysm_coverAnd once you’re back at the desk, I would recommend giving Centres of Cataclysm (2016, Bloodaxe Books) a try. Edited by Sasha Dugdale and David and Helen Constantine, it’s an anthology celebrating fifty years of modern poetry in translation—full of beautiful gems from poets from around the world. Profits go to refugee charities.

Raised in Britain by Swedish and Anglo-German parents, Annika Milisic-Stanley has worked on humanitarian aid projects in Nepal, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, India, Burundi and Egypt as well as living in Tajikistan for several years. She currently lives in Rome with her family. In addition to writing and painting, she works as a campaigner to raise awareness on the plight of refugees in Southern Europe. The Disobedient Wife, about expatriate and local life in Tajikistan, is her debut novel and was named the Cinnamon Press 2015 Novel of the Year. Annika invites you to like her book page on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.


PAMELA JANE ROGERS, expat and artist/author

Saving Fish from Drowning_coverFor that last trip to the beach, I’d recommend Amy Tan’s Saving Fish from Drowning (2005). A group of California travelers decide to go on their planned trip to the Burma (its southern Shan State) without their (deceased) travel director, and in their total ignorance of the customs and religion of that part of the world, create havoc—and commit what is considered a heinous crime. I was directing a travel group in Greece when I read it, which may be why it seemed quite plausible, as well as darkly hilarious.

If you haven’t read it yet (though most on this site probably have), an absorbing read for when you get stuck in an airport is Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible (1998)The Poisonwood Bible_cover, about a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. Between the evangelical Christian father wanting his converts to “gather by the river” in Africa for their baptisms, to the chapters written by his wife and daughters at different ages—the reader is in for a rollicking, sometimes absurd, sometimes sad and sobering, ride.

And when it’s time to face work again, I recommend the book I’m reading now: Passage of the Stork, Delivering the Soul (Springtime Books, 2015), by Madeleine LenaghPassage of the Stork_cover, an American who has lived in the Netherlands since 1970. This is her life story. [Editor’s note: Madeleine Lenagh and her photography have been featured on the Displaced Nation.]

Pamela Jane Rogers is an American artist who has adopted the Greek island of Poros as her home. She has written a memoir of her adventures, which she recently re-published with a hundred of her paintings as illustrations: GREEKSCAPES: Illustrated Journeys with an Artist.


JASMINE SILVERA, former expat and writer

The Best of All Possible Worlds_coverFor the beach I would recommend The Best of All Possible Worlds (2013), by Barbadian author Karen Lord. It’s what many people call “social science fiction” because the story is less obsessed with technological advances than with their interpersonal ramifications. The book opens after a cataclysmic event destroys the home planet of an entire civilization, rendering everyone who managed to be off-world at the time of destruction displaced. It follows the journey of a leader of a group of survivors, who decides to team up with an “assistant biotechnician” to find a suitable replacement home on a colony planet. I know what you’re thinking: it doesn’t sound like a rollicking good time! But it reads a bit like a “he said, she said” travelogue; and one of the two narrators has delightfully funny moments (I’ll let you decide which one). There is humor and sweetness, a bit of intrigue, and a satisfyingly happy ending.

The Pilgrimage_coverFor an absorbing read suitable for a long wait in an airport lounge, try The Pilgrimage (1987), by Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho. [Editor’s note: He was once featured on the Displaced Nation’s Location, Locution column.] I’ll be honest, my experience of the Camino de Santiago was nothing like the one depicted in this book (more technical fabrics and guidebooks, less overt mysticism); but I still find Coelho’s account evocative and moving. Like the work considered to be his masterpiece, The Alchemist, it’s part engaging adventure, part allegory—and a wonderful story. It’s a good one to transport you elsewhere when you’re “stuck” in a place you don’t want to be in.

Committed_coverIf the Way of St. James isn’t your thing, then I might recommend Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed (2010) for an absorbing read. I can’t imagine what it would be like to attempt a follow-up to a book that was a huge commercial success, let alone a direct “sequel.” But that’s what Gilbert did with Committed. People love or hate the book for all sorts of reasons. But it’s a good one to stick with, IMHO, because it explores not only the byzantine banalities of bureaucratic regulations (something all displaced persons deal with at some point in their adventures) but also the innermost workings of one’s heart as you navigate knowing when to go and when to, well, commit. And while Gilbert occasionally allows herself to navel gaze in less charming a fashion than in Eat, Pray, Love, overall this book is an honest, thoughtful exploration of what marriage and commitment means in a world of divorce, infidelity, and the “best friending” of one’s partner. The book starts out with a decision made and then backtracks through the process—but it’s the journey that counts, after all. [Editor’s note: Hmmm… Will she write a sequel now that she is divorcing her husband of 12 years?]

Kinky Gazpacho_coverFor getting back into your groove at work, I’d recommend Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love & Spain (2008), by Lori Tharps. There are relatively few travel memoirs written by people of color, so a book full of observations around how race is experienced in different cultures is a rare treasure. As a black woman from the United States, I have found race to be an intrinsic part of my experience in traveling and living abroad. From being stared at, to being touched, to stumbling on some unexpected bit of exported racism where I least expect it, I would say it’s an oversimplification to think that race is something we only struggle with in the land of my birth (that said, I’ve known a few African Americans whose decision to live abroad was based in no small part on the gravity of the struggle for racial equality in America). Nowhere is perfect, and Tharp explores what happens when the fantasy and the reality collide during her year of study abroad in Spain, as she attempts to reconcile that country’s problematic past with its present. She also extends her adventures beyond those of a traveler to become an expat (this is not a spoiler: she marries a Spaniard). I enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love, but this book resonated with my personal experience of travel and life abroad much more deeply.

A world traveler and former expat who remains a California girl at heart, Jasmine Silvera will release her debut, Prague-inspired novel Death’s Dancer in October (it was recently selected for publication by Kindle Press). Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

* * *

Thanks, everyone, for participating! Readers, what books would you recommend? Let us know in the comments!

Till next time and happy reading!

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

booklust-wanderlust-2015

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?

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 7.33.56 PM
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!

* * *

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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For this peripatetic Sardinian writer who has settled down (for now) in Rome, a picture says…

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAGreetings, Displaced Nationers who are also photography buffs! “A Picture Says…” columnist James King is still away, so I am filling in again.

My guest this month is Angela Corrias, a well-traveled freelance writer who was born in the Italian island of Sardinia.

There’s a lot about Angela’s story that captivates me. For a start, there’s this photo of her on her Chasing the Unexpected blog’s About Me page, where she’s wearing a head scarf and looks Middle Eastern.

I had seen her “I heart my city” article on the National Geographic Traveler‘s site, which was all about Rome (where she now lives), so I assumed she was Italian… But was my assumption incorrect?

I also knew from her NatGeo article that she has traveled extensively and been an expat several times.

Hmm…that still doesn’t explain why she’s wearing a head scarf.

As I read more about Angela, I became even more intrigued. “[W]hat I like the most when I travel,” she writes on her About page, “is to dig deep into other countries’ culture, traditions, social customs and explore them in all their idiosyncrasies. I’ve always tried to avoid filling my posts with the basic information available by performing a simple Google search, and strived to publish more personal impressions instead.”

Something new I learned from her blog was that she is also a “wannabe photographer.”

It was at that point I knew that we had to feature Angela in “A Picture Says…,” and luckily she was “angel” enough to oblige!

Angela Corrias in Jiasalmer, India, one of the many stops in her travels (photo supplied)

In front of India’s Golden City, Jaisalmer, stands Angela Corrias, the woman who finds gold in all her travels. (Photo supplied)

* * *

Hi, Angela, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. I’d like to start by asking: where were you born, and when did you spread your wings to start traveling?
Hi, ML, and thank you for inviting me to take part in this column. And just to clear up your confusion, no, I’m not Middle Eastern. I was born in Sardinia, Italy’s second biggest island off the coast of Rome, and while my first international trip was to nearby France to visit relatives when I was just three years old, I’ve always considered my travel initiation to have been the first time I crossed the equator at the age of 13 to go to Brazil. It was my first long-haul flight and very first immersion in a culture different from mine. Maybe that’s why I’ve always had a soft spot for Brazil.

Now, I know from reading that Nat Geo article that, since reaching adulthood, you’ve traveled far and wide and also been an expat. What are some of the countries you’ve been to, and which have you actually lived in?
I’ve traveled extensively around Europe, living for two years each in Dublin and London. I’ve visited countries like Spain, France, Germany, Poland, Finland, Romania, Turkey and even Monte Carlo (once). In the Middle East, I’ve been to Lebanon, the UAE and Iran (many times). I’ve also spent a great deal of time in Asia. I lived for one year in China (Shanghai) and was able to travel around visiting countries like India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Singapore and Cambodia. And I mustn’t forget Brazil. I’ve traveled there many times with a quick jaunt to Argentina once—the only two countries I’ve visited in South America so far.

Ah, so THAT explains the head scarf! All those trips to Iran… Where are you living right now and why?
After almost ten years of the expat and nomadic lifestyle, I decided two years ago to come back to Italy and live in Rome. While I’m not ruling out completely another expat/nomadic experience, I’m liking it here so far. The city is extremely lively and constantly inspires me for writing and taking pictures. And it has an international airport, which makes it easy for me to book flights to any destination.

“To one that watches, everything is revealed.” —Italian proverb

Moving right along to the part we’ve all been waiting for: a chance to appreciate a few of your photos. Can you share with us three photos that capture some of your favorite memories of what has clearly been for you a “displaced” life of global travel? And for each photo, can you briefly tell us the memory that the photo captures, and why it remains special to you?
I’ll start with a photo that I took last year at the beautiful Imam Square at the center of Isfahan, Iran, a city that boasts an amazing history, impressive architecture and one the world’s most beautiful bazaars. Recently Iran has become for me one of the countries where I feel most at home—not just because locals actually mistake me for an Iranian and refuse to believe that I don’t speak Persian, but because I feel I can just unwind and enjoy what the country has to offer, from its stunning art to its beautiful and diverse nature to the warmth of its people.

The vast Iman Square in Iran, an important historical site. Photo credit: Angela Corrias (supplied).

The vast Iman Square, an important historical site in Iran. Photo credit: Angela Corrias (supplied).

Another place where I feel at home is my actual home, Sardinia. I left it some 17 years ago and go back far less than I would like to. I took this photo in the lovely coastal town of Bosa this past August, when I treated myself with a full 12-day stay after years of never visiting for more than a week. Sardinia is actually the kind of place where many people, including foreigners, can easily feel comfortable, and eventually settle down. A quiet, laid-back and relaxed lifestyle, its own cuisine, and a hospitable atmosphere—these are just a few of the features that can make anyone feel at home.

Fishing plays an important role in the economy of Basa, Sardinia. Photo credit: Angela Corrias (supplied).

Fishing plays an important role in the economy of Basa, Sardinia. Photo credit: Angela Corrias (supplied).

I took this third photo at a tea market in Shanghai, when living in China. For me it represents a truly traditional Chinese moment. Before moving to China, I had lived in Dublin for two years and in London for another two years, but neither of these cities made me feel I wanted to stay, and from the beginning I knew I would leave once I’d had the experience I was looking for. This changed in China. Despite the initial culture shock, once I started Chinese-language classes and began to speak with the locals, who are always very happy to see foreigners making the effort to learn their extremely difficult language, I instantly felt comfortable and as though I could settle for some time.

Sampling Chinese tea culture in Shanghai. Photo credit: Angela Corrias (supplied).

Sampling Chinese tea culture in Shanghai. Photo credit: Angela Corrias (supplied).

Wow, you’ve taken us from a vast square in Iran to an intimate setting of a tea house in Shanghai, which gives me a clear idea of the breadth of your travels. And that photo of the insides of a fishing boat in your native Sardinia—it seems so intimate. I can tell how much you know and love your homeland, or should I say “homeisland”?

“It all ends with biscuits and wine.” —Italian proverb

Having seen these first three photos, I expect it’s a bit of a tough choice, but which are the top three locations you’ve most enjoyed taking photos in—and can you offer us an example of each?
Everywhere I go, one of the first places I visit are the local markets. I took this photo at a market in the town of Roulos in Cambodia, near Siem Reap, where most vendors lay out their products and merchandise on the ground. Witnessing this feast of fruits, veggies and different local fish being sold by locals to locals was a great way to soak up the local atmosphere and sense of community.

The market in Roulos, Cambodia. Photo credit: Angela Corrias (supplied).

Roadside market in Roulos, Cambodia (not far from Ankor Wat). Photo credit: Angela Corrias (supplied).

Iran is also a place where I very much enjoy taking photos. First of all, the people are always willing to be photographed and they often take it as a chance to strike up a conversation, which is the best possible outcome of a day out as a traveler. Secondly, it’s not very hard to take nice photos thanks to the beauty of its historical landmarks, architecture, parks and bazaars. Finally, Iranian style has a certain opulence, which translates into lavish meals, sophisticated art and loud gatherings. I took this photo at my friend’s house in the city of Lahidjan, in Gilan Province, Iran (on the Caspian Sea). Her mother had prepared some traditional dishes so that I could sample the local cuisine.

An Iranian feast. Photo credit: Angela Corrias (supplied).

A sumptuous feast of traditional foods in Lahijan, Iran. Photo credit: Angela Corrias (supplied).

Maybe because I live here now, but Rome is also one of my favorite places to capture with my camera. It offers many diverse subjects and situations, ranging from ancient Roman baths and villas to the traditional life of the Garbatella area, the industrial archaeology of the Ostiense neighborhood or the urban pop art that is gradually turning Rome’s suburbs into open-air museums. The photo I chose is from an area called Quadraro, once mainly considered a working-class district and now revamped thanks to a street art project that has taken over most walls around the neighborhood.

Street art livens up Quadraro, a neighborhood in Rome’s southeast periphery. Photo credit: Angela Corrias (supplied).

Street art livens up Quadraro, a neighborhood in Rome’s southeast periphery. Photo credit: Angela Corrias (supplied).

Wow, that last one makes me think of an Italian Alice in Wonderland! And the two food photos were amazing, each in their own way.

“When in Rome…” —early Christian proverb (now universal)

I wonder: do you ever feel reserved taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious of your doing so? How do you handle it?
Yes, I do feel I need to be cautious when taking photos of people as I’m essentially capturing a moment of their life. I must admit, I love taking photos of the locals as they add to the value of the image and give a great sense of place, but obviously if I’m close and have the chance to converse, I always try to get familiar and make them feel more at ease. I also try not to point my lens directly in anyone’s face.

In Cambodia, for example, I had the opportunity to visit two floating villages, Kompong Khleang near Siem Reap and Phsar Krom on the way to Phnom Penh, and while I understand that tours are organized to make visitors experience life on the water and show them how Cambodians live, I sometimes felt as if we were invading their private space. I could imagine the locals wondering why tourists were so interested in their daily life—a life that seemed to me a never-ending struggle for survival.

Here is a photo from that trip, which perhaps helps to demonstrate my point:

Kompong Khleang, considered the most authentic of the three floating villages around Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo credit: Angela Corrias (supplied).

Kompong Khleang, a floating village near Siem Reap, Cambodia, and home to around 1,800 families. Photo credit: Angela Corrias (supplied).

“Take pleasure in your dreams…” —Giotto di Bondone

When did you become interested in photography?
Ever since I decided to work as a freelance writer, I’ve taken photos to accompany my articles. Gradually, however, especially after I took a course on reportage photography in Rome, photography has became more of a passion and a source of inspiration, so much so that I’m starting to think about focusing on photography alone and having an exhibition one day. I enjoy devoting a whole day to taking pictures. And of course, the more I take photos the better I do with my writing. It gives me ideas for blog posts.

What is it about this art form that drew you in?
Sometimes with a camera you can capture moments, looks, colors that maybe you don’t notice and you realize only afterwards, when looking at the photos. I also like the way images can be interpreted differently depending on the viewer’s perspective. We need words, too, to avoid misunderstandings, but when it comes to art forms, an image can convey emotions and a kind of poetry that speaks to other people.

And now switching over to the technical side of things: what kind of camera, lenses, and post-processing software do you use?
After seven years of Nikon D50, I upgraded my photo gear with a Nikon D7100 last year, and I love it. I have four lenses: the normal 18-55 that I bought with my first camera and that I’m about to replace with one with bigger aperture; a Nikon 70-200; a Sigma 10-20; and a Nikon 50mm. While I started as a self-learner, I eventually felt the need to take a course, during which I improved a lot, especially when it comes to choosing the appropriate lens for particular subjects and situations. For post-processing software I use Adobe Photoshop—an early version, though, which I might need to upgrade.

“Either learn, or leave.” —Roman proverb

Finally, can you offer a few words of advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling the world or living abroad?
My advice would be to take time to interact with locals as much as possible. Understanding the host culture is crucial in order to take the pictures that will capture the essence of a place. Another piece of advice that I always try to follow myself, even though I know it’s not as straightforward as it may sound, is to get out of your comfort zone, even if this means feeling confused at first. You will adapt eventually; human beings always do. Finally, never be so arrogant to travel with the idea of imposing your own lifestyle and values on others, because it’s hardly ever the case that one culture is superior. It’s always better to travel with the idea of learning rather than teaching.

Thank you, Angela! I appreciate your sharing a selection of photos that show us how deeply you connect with the local scenery and people on your travels into various parts of the world. You seem to take the opposite approach to that of the Roman statesman Julius Caesar, he of veni, vidi, vici (I came, I saw, I conquered) fame. At the same time, you clearly feel a strong connection with your native Sardinia and your new home of Rome. Your travels appear to have made you appreciate Italy’s own brand of beauty. Thank you again for doing this interview. Essere uno stinco di santo.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Angela’s peripatetic life and her photography advice? Please leave any questions or feedback for her in the comments!

If you want to get to know Angela Corrias and her creative works better, I suggest you visit her author site, where if you sign up for her e-newsletter, you’ll receive a free photo ebook on the Venice Carnival. Going to Rome any time soon? Visit Angela’s other site, Rome Actually, about her Roman adventures. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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

STAY TUNED for more 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 and SO much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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And the January 2014 Alices go to … these 3 international creatives

 © Iamezan | Dreamstime.com Used under license

© Iamezan | Dreamstime.com
Used under license

If you are a subscriber to our weekly newsletter, Displaced Dispatch, you’re already in the know. But if you’re not (and why aren’t you? off with your head!), listen up.

Every week, when that esteemed publication comes out, we present contenders for a monthly “Alice Award,” most of whom are writers or other kinds of international creatives who appear to have a special handle on the curious and unreal aspects of being a global resident or voyager.

Not only that, but this person tries to use this state of befuddlement as a spur to greater creative heights.

Today’s post honors January’s three Alice recipients. Starting with the most recent, they are (drumroll…):

1) AMBER PAULEN, American freelance writer and copyeditor based in Rome, and blogger at Descriptedlines

For her post: “Paesaggio Interiore” (Interior Passages)
Posted on: 17 January 2014
Snippet:

Dreamers are thought to be opposite of the practical, yet I see no difference. Imagining is a practicality that we use in order to survive—an imagined outcome may prevent us from a certain action—but it also makes our lives better. Imagination is the begetter of empathy and the foundation of utopias. It is also, on a minute basis, a way of interpreting the world—the wider these interpretations span, the farther the imagination sees, the more adaptable we are, one of the human race’s single best attributes. Try to find an intelligent mind with a small imagination.

Citation: Amber, we could not agree more with you about the practicality of dreaming, and about the need to put greater value on the life of the mind. Scrolling through the endless photos of man-made and natural scenery that occupy so many travel blogs and Pinterest boards these days can have a numbing effect, reducing life to a set of exterior images—in denial of the fact that each of us possesses some pretty vivid, not to say revealing, internal scenery. What’s more, we believe that the imagination is an extremely powerful, as well as much under-rated, survival tool for expats—the key to our adaptability, as you might put it. On the days when your new life in X country is looking rather grim or mundane, you can always slip into a fantasy land, pretending you’re a royal or a hungry hyena, just as Lewis Carroll’s Alice was wont to do:

And here I wish I could tell you half the things Alice used to say, beginning with her favourite phrase “Let’s pretend.”

She had had quite a long argument with her sister only the day before—all because Alice had begun with “Let’s pretend we’re kings and queens;” and her sister, who liked being very exact, had argued that they couldn’t, because there were only two of them, and Alice had been reduced at last to say, “Well, YOU can be one of them then, and I’LL be all the rest.”

And once she had really frightened her old nurse by shouting suddenly in her ear, “Nurse! Do let’s pretend that I’m a hungry hyaena, and you’re a bone.”

2) DRAKE BAER, contributing writer at Fast Company and co-author of Everything Connects

For his post: “Why weird people are often more creative,” in Fast Company
Posted on: 10 January 2014
Snippet:

In a 2003 study, Carson found that eminent creative achievers were seven times more likely to to have low rather than high latent intelligence scores. That insight prompted her to form a hypothesis: that cognitive disinhibiting allows for way more info to enter into your conscious mind–which you can then tinker with and recombine. The result: creative ideas.

Citation: Drake, we commend you for marshalling the evidence to support something that Lewis Carroll knew intuitively, without the benefit of Carson’s (or anyone else’s) study. Indeed, the world Alice discovers when she steps through the looking glass is teeming with flaming weirdos who, while they may seem rather dim witted at times, let’s face it, are super creative. Take this encounter with Humpty Dumpty, for example, in Through the Looking Glass:

“You seem very clever at explaining words, Sir,” said Alice. “Would you kindly tell me the meaning of the poem called ‘Jabberwocky'”?’

“Let’s hear it,” said Humpty Dumpty. “I can explain all the poems that were ever invented—and a good many that haven’t been invented just yet.”

3) MILDA RATKELYTE, writer, photographer and a budding filmmaker based in Singapore

For her post: “Lessons from 2013,” in her blog, Milda Ratkelyte Photography
Posted on: 1 January 2014
Snippet:

This year I am starting with one simple resolution—slow down and find the time every single day to smell the roses. Although 2013 was probably the hardest year in my life, I am grateful to all the strength it gave me and all the invaluable lessons I’ve learnt along the way…Never take your loved ones for granted, because life is so fragile that you never know if you will get a chance to see them again. Pick up the phone, tell them you love them NOW, not tomorrow or next week. Trust me it will make a huge difference.

Citation: Milda, we have appreciated your lens on the wider world ever since we featured you and some of your photographs in our monthly column “A Picture Says…” And now that you are learning the price of a peripatetic life—living far away from your loved ones, who may be suffering—we appreciate your emotional honesty. As Alice herself discovered when parted from her beloved cat, Dinah:

Down, down, down. There was nothing else to do, so Alice soon began talking again. “Dinah’ll miss me very much to-night, I should think!” (Dinah was the cat.) “I hope they’ll remember her saucer of milk at tea-time. Dinah my dear! I wish you were down here with me! There are no mice in the air, I’m afraid, but you might catch a bat, and that’s very like a mouse, you know.”

While Alice’s concerns are trivial compared to those currently confronting you, we wish that like her, you discover a garden of red roses (only in your case, may they not smell of fresh paint!).
 

*  *  *

So, readers, do you have a favorite from the above, or have you read any recent posts you think deserve an Alice Award?  We’d love to hear your suggestions! And don’t miss out on the shortlist of Alice contenders we provide in each week’s Dispatch, which are sources of creative thought if nothing else! Get on our subscription list now!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, an interview with some American entrepreneurs in Senegal.

Writers and other international creatives: If you want to know in advance the contenders for our monthly Alice Award winners, sign up to receive The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with news of book giveaways, future posts, and of course, our weekly Alice Award!. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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The artichoke of cross-cultural love: Italy calls!

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

— ML Awanohara

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

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

Loving the individual

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

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

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

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

But being South African, I had it.

Loving the family and culture

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

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

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

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

Loving a language

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

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

Loving the modus operandi

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

Now I know: one good lie deserves another.

Becoming the other

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

Listen to what readers of her book had to say:

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

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

Amazon reviewer:

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

Amazon reviewer:

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

Amazon reviewer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Images: All photos supplied by Estelle Jobson.

RANDOM NOMAD: Patricia Winton, Crime Writer, Expat in Rome & Lover of La Dolce Vita

Place of birth: In a farmhouse belonging to my paternal grandparents near Pelham, Tennessee, on a snowy December night
Passport: USA
Overseas history: Italy (Marina di Pisa, Livorno, Rome): 1969-70; 1970-71; 2002 – present.
Occupation: Crime Writer. My protag is an Italian American journalist rebuilding a career as a food writer in Italy. She first appeared in “Feeding Frenzy,” one of the mystery stories in Fish Tales: The Guppy Anthology, edited by Ramona DeFelice Long (Wildside Press, 2011). She’s waiting in the wings in an as yet unsold manuscript, set in Rome. She will solve another crime in the novel I’m beginning next week (for National Novel Writing Month), set in Florence.
Cyberspace coordinates: Italian Intrigues — Notes about life in Italy, food and wine, mysteries and crime (blog); Novel Adventurers — Seven writers blog about their passion for culture, travel, and storytelling (collaborative blog); @patriciawinton (Twitter handle); and Novel Adventurers (FB page).

What made you abandon your homeland for Italy?
I had the opportunity to come live in Italy when I was quite a young woman, and I lost my heart to the land, the people, and the cuisine — not to mention the wine. I talked about coming back to live for years, but life intervened. Following 9/11 (I worked a block from the White House at the time), I really felt my mortality and decided it was time to make the move. Or to stop talking about it.

Was anyone else in your immediate family displaced?
One of my sisters lived in Panama for three years. Another lives in New Mexico, a state that many people think is a foreign country. One classic example: New Mexicans had trouble trying to get tickets to the Atlanta Olympics and were told to go the the Mexican consulate. The situation is so ridiculous that New Mexico Magazine runs a monthly column called “One of Our 50 Is Missing.”

Tell me about the moment during your various stays in Italy when you felt the most displaced.
“Bureaucracy” may be a French word, but the Italians invented it. If you don’t believe me, I invite you to consider the Biblical story of Christmas: a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed, each to his own city.

Getting together the paperwork to file for permanent residency was a nightmare. After almost a year of compiling documents, it all came down to what the Italians saw as a discrepancy: my passport lists my place of birth as Tennessee while my birth certificate, issued by the state of Tennessee, listed my place of birth as Pelham. Getting that sorted out took six months. During the interregnum, every document including my permission to stay expired. I couldn’t renew anything until the residency question was settled.

When did you feel the least displaced?
It’s always at table. On the edge of a Tuscan vineyard enjoying homemade pasta and good wine, sharing laughter with friends. Before a roaring fire in a chilly stately home with simple chicken and salad, but more laughter and wine. With a group of strangers in at a local market luncheonette, querying a table-mate about her meal and being offered a share.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from each of the countries where you’ve traveled or lived into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
A morsa di prosciutto (prosciutto holder). While most prosciutto crudo sold in Italy as elsewhere is machine-sliced, traditional purists want it cut by hand. To hold the ham steady, it’s placed in the morsa, a large clamp that hold it, while a knife is used to slice.

Hmmm… I hope it won’t be deployed by the murderer in one of your crime novels as an instrument of torture! I understand that when you first went to Italy, you learned to make pasta by hand, and then took a pasta machine back to the United States, where you taught many others how to make it, while also writing a food column for a newspaper. We are therefore looking forward to the meal you are invited to prepare for Displaced Nation members, based on your travels. What’s on the menu?

Indeed, I’ll be serving a traditional Italian meal:
Antipasto (appetizer): Fiori di zucca faraciti (zucchini blossoms stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies, dipped in batter and fried)
Primo piatto (first plate — traditionally the pasta, rice, or soup course): Gnocchi di Zucca alla Gorgonzola (pumpkin dumplings with gorgonzola sauce)
Secondo piatto (main course): Grigliata Mista di Pesce (mixed fish grill)
Contorni (vegetable accompaniment): Finocchio (fennel)
Frutta: Pesca (peach)
Dolce (dessert): Tiramisù
Bevande (drinks): Acqua minerale frizzante (fizzy mineral water); and Falanghina (white wine made from one of the oldest grapes grown in Italy)
.

And now can you please suggest an Italian word or expression for the Displaced Nation’s argot?
One that I’m currently enjoying is in gamba, meaning “in the leg.” In general, it means “to be an expert” or “to be good at what you do.” But it means so much more. I wrote an extensive piece about the phrase at Novel Adventurers recently.

Halloween is nearly upon us, and many of our posts of late have been about horror and that sort of thing. Tell me, do you keep up American Halloween celebrations in Rome?
I haven’t really celebrated Halloween since I was a child. I spent much of my adult life working on political campaigns. With Halloween falling days before the election, I never seemed to get organized for it. Here in Italy, it’s a relatively new holiday and more for adults than children, really. Children dress up for carnival, wearing their costumes to school for days before Martedì Grasso (Italian for Mardi Gras).

There are Halloween-related items for sale (plastic Jack O’ Lanterns and such), but no pumpkins for making Jack O’ Lanterns. Those are reserved for cooking. If I do anything to celebrate, I cook pumpkin, either as a vegetable or as part of the primo piatto.

Also in keeping with the season, we’ve started exchanging expat horror stories on the site. What’s the creepiest situation you’ve encountered on your travels?
The creepiest thing that ever happened to me occurred many years ago on a train from Munich to Florence. It started off pleasantly enough. I shared a compartment with five or six other people. A couple of them spoke only German. One woman spoke Italian and German, a man spoke German and English, and I spoke English and Italian. We had a polyglot conversation, with people translating for others and listening to see how much of the foreign tongues we could decipher. It was lots of fun. They all left the train before I did, and each warned me to be careful on my long journey as they descended one by one.

Alone, I moved near the window, and the rocking of the train lulled me to sleep. Quite some time later, I was awakened by the conductor turning on the lights to check tickets. I discovered that I had been joined in the compartment by a man who was in the act of pleasuring himself in the dark while I slept.

Now THAT’s creepy! Readers — yay or nay for letting Patricia Winton into The Displaced Nation? Not only can she cook, but she can tell a shocking story! (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Patricia — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another horrifying Displaced Q by Tony James Slater!

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Img: Patricia Winton (author photo)

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

Readers, we’re getting goosebumps and our blood is curdling. Horror novelist, former expat and Third Culture Kid Sezin Koehler is here to remind us that, however glamorous the life of an expat or world traveler may seem, it has a netherworld — one that horror movie makers are fond of depicting. To proceed is at your peril.

As if moving or traveling abroad isn’t scary enough, there is a whole host of films that would put the kibosh on even the most adventurous of people. For today’s guest post for The Displaced Nation, I’m breaking down these tales of terror into three groups:

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

What follows is a rundown of some of the best horror films that will make you never want to leave home again.

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

1) Ils (Them) (2006), dir. David Moreau and Xavier Palud.
In this terrifying French film, two expat partners, a teacher and a writer, living outside Bucharest in Romania are terrorized and psychologically tortured by an unknown group for days before their murder. Based on a true story, the villains — who were apprehended in real life — turn out to be even more shocking than the events they perpetrated.

My big question: Why on earth do you choose to live out in the middle of nowhere in Romania? Tragic story indeed, but really, they should have known better. Now you do.

2) Suspiria (1977), dir. Dario Argento.
Considered one of the classic horror films and what many now consider to be the father of the arthouse horror genre, Argento’s dark and twisted tale features a ballet school in Rome full of young girls from all around the world who live and study within walls haunted by a chilling presence that picks off the girls one by one. The score by Goblin is enough to give you nightmares and make you reconsider sending your children away to school. Ever.

3) & 4) Red Dragon (2002), dir. Bret Rattner; & The Silence of the Lambs (1991), dir. Jonathan Demme.
In Red Dragon Dr. Hannibal Lector is just a British expat living and practicing psychiatry in the United States. In fact, he’s helping the police with a brutal series of murders in which specific body parts had been taken as trophies. Detective Will Graham eventually discovers that not only is psychiatrist-to-the-stars Dr. Lector responsible for these grisly killings, he’s also eating the missing pieces.

The next time we meet Hannibal the Cannibal is in The Silence of the Lambs, where he is safely tucked away in a maximum security prison until the FBI needs his profiling assistance in uncovering the identity of a man who is kidnapping and skinning women.

Maybe Dr. Lector is a reason why locals are so wary of expats around the world?

5) The Omen (1976), dir. Richard Donner.
It’s hard enough being the wife of the American ambassador to the UK, but when Lee Remick discovers that there is something very wrong, very evil with her son, Damien, matters only get worse.

In many ways this is the kind of expat horror to which we can most relate: being in a foreign country, going through a difficult time, and not having the kind of support one might have at home. Even though the Thorns are wealthy and have a full staff at their beck and call, Mrs. Thorn cannot confide in them her misgivings that her son is the Antichrist — nor can she with anyone else since she’s the ambassador’s wife. In the end she goes mad from fear and frustration.

As expats, we’ve all been there. Luckily, though, we didn’t have the incarnation of Satan as our son. At least I hope not.

6) Freaks (1932), dir. Tod Browning.
This magnificent film follows a group of sideshow circus performers in Dust Bowl America — the majority of whom are European expats from all over the continent. As foreigners as well as displaying physical deformities of all kinds, this group is the marginalized of the most marginalized in America not just at that time, but even today.

The gorgeous German and “normal” trapeze artist Cleopatra finds out that Hans, the midget, is fabulously wealthy and sets out to steal him away from his same-sized girlfriend Frieda — with disastrous consequences as the group of freaks tries to bring the wicked Cleopatra into their embrace. Cleo finds out well and good that one does not mess with members of the sideshow.

The message here? Respect your local customs, even if you think them freakish. It could be what stands between your body as it is or being turned into a human-chicken hybrid.

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

1) Hostel (2005), dir. Eli Roth.
A group of backpackers passing through the Slovakian capital city, Bratislava — it has no semblance to the real place whatsoever — gets kidnapped by an organization that sells young people to the highest bidders so that they can be tortured and murdered in the Slovakian outback with impunity. While the film is rife with cultural and geographical blunders, it nonetheless preys on a legitimate fear of kidnapping and/or human trafficking while traveling, especially for young women as we see in the two follow-up films in this gory franchise.

Kids, don’t fall for the local pretty girl/handsome boy who picks you up in a bar. You have no idea whom they could be working for.

2) American Werewolf in London (1981), dir. John Landis.
Two American backpackers (uh-oh) in the Scottish highlands stray from the road and are attacked by a wild beast. One dies, the other is in a coma for three days with horrible gashes across his chest. When the doctor informs him he was attacked by a madman he’s confused, claiming it was a wolf that had killed his friend and wounded him. Come full moon, young David Kessler finds out it was neither man nor wolf, and he’s becoming one.

There’s nothing like a story about a horrific accident taking place while traveling, especially when said accident turns you into a monster. Always remember, STAY AWAY FROM THE MOORS/MUIRS!

3) The Descent (2005), dir. Neil Marshall.
After the tragic death of Sarah’s husband and daughter in a wicked car accident, her fellow British extreme-sporting friends decide to take a trip across the pond to Appalachia for a spelunking expedition. Why anyone would think that crawling around in caves would be a good idea I haven’t a clue — let alone choose to take an already-traumatized woman into that scenario. But hey, they do. And not only do they find themselves in an unmapped cave system that has no way back to the surface, there are others down there in the dark who’d like to ensure the girls never leave.

Dear People Traveling to America: For Pete’s sake, avoid the US’s back country! Monsters are above and below.

4) Wolf Creek (2005), dir. Greg Mclean.
Two British tourists in Australia pair up with a local to check out a supposed alien-landing site in the middle of nowhere. All is fine until their car battery dies. Stranded in the badlands of Oz, grateful are they when a mechanic rolls up and tows them to his place to fix their vehicle. But oh, he’s not a mechanic at all. He’s a serial murderer who waits for tourists to come out to the Wolf Creek Crater, and takes his good time torturing them before their slow death.

The film is based on a true story — one of the British girls actually survived and made it to the authorities. It turned out the man had killed hundreds of people over decades, and nobody even suspected a thing. Shiver

5) Primeval (2007), dir. Michael Katleman.
During the Rwanda-Burundi conflict, bodies were dumped into the Ruzizi River at such alarming rates that the crocs began eating human flesh. One of these crocs, nicknamed Gustave by the locals, gets a taste for human flesh and begins hunting humans inland. An American team of journalists are sent to capture and bring back the beast amidst an ongoing civil conflict between warlords and villagers.

The best thing about this movie is that there really is a 70-year-old, 22-feet-long croc named Gustave who swims the Ruzizi. He was last sighted in 2008, but I know he’s still out there. I can feel him.

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

1) The Amityville Horror (1979), dir. Stuart Rosenberg.
As if moving doesn’t suck enough, can you imagine moving into a house that not only was the site of a brutal family murder but is also haunted? I don’t even know how many whammies that makes the scene. Also based on the true story of the Lutz family, who were terrorized by their house to the point where they fled without any of their belongings and never went back to collect them.

Word to the wise: Always check about the house’s history before you move in, and always remember to burn sage throughout, even in cabinets and drawers, before you move anything in anything at all. Trust me on this one.

2) Se7en (1995), dir. David Fincher.
Heralding a promotion to detective, Brad Pitt gets transferred to an anonymous city with a reputation of being among the worst in America. *Cough* Detroit *Cough*. His wife is miserable as she wants to have a family, but cannot imagine raising children in that town. The first case he lands is a serial killer murdering people based on the Seven Deadly Sins — one that quickly sucks both him and his wife into a horrific spiral of torture and murder.

Women, don’t let your husband drag you to a horrible city. Just don’t. Your life very well may depend on it.

3) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), dir. Marcus Nispel.
A group of friends on a road trip through Texas and — oh crap! — their car breaks down. It’s just their luck that the person who finds them is the patriarch of the psychotic and inbred Hewett family, known for killing and cooking their victims. There are no happy endings here, people.

If you’re going on a road trip, stick to the main roads, for God’s sake! I mean, jeez, everybody knows that. And while you’re at it, stay the bloody hell out of Texas!

4) El laberinto del fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth) (2006), dir. Guillermo del Toro.
Set in 1944 fascist Spain, the film tells the story of Ofelia, a young girl who accompanies her mother to live with her new stepfather, a barbarous Spanish general. Amidst the horror, Ofelia discovers a fairy world underneath the very grounds of their home, a place to which she escapes when the torture around her becomes too much to bear. But even fairy worlds have their horrors, as she soon finds out.

Moms, jeez, don’t marry jerks and then don’t agree to live in their military camp. Seems like logic to me, but I guess it needs to be said.

* * *

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

And do you have any other films you’d add to my best-of abroad horror list?

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

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, which has Kate Allison continuing our horror theme.

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Images: From MorgueFile: Cinema; Hat and suitcase;  Bridge from biplane.

Photo of Sezin, from her newest FB page, ZUZUHULK, used with her permission.

TRAVEL YARN: A second date with Rome

Kym Hamer, an Australian expat in London, joins us today as guest blogger to share her version of a Roman Holiday — one of several trips she has made since having the continent of Europe and all of its history on her doorstep. Notably, for Kym, Rome doesn’t need Gregory Peck to be irresistible!

After 12 years away, I recently went back to Rome.

My only previous dalliance with the Eternal City was part of a “12 cities in 20 days” type tour that at the time, seemed to be the best option for getting a taste of Europe in the three weeks of holiday I had available from my job in Australia. You see, when you’re coming from the other side of the world, the flights are long and expensive, so there needs to be a pretty high rate of return for the time and money invested.

It was an amazing holiday. I visited a whole range of places — some hotly anticipated, some moving me unexpectedly, some not quite what I had hoped for. Each got 1-2 days with an experienced tour guide who made the queues disappear, added humour to the gruelling schedule and brought each city to life with her own blend of historic narrative and personal storytelling.

But each stop allowed no more than a brief and flirtatious encounter, the faint ripples disappearing almost as quickly as they were made by the time I’d left. Each major European city, Rome included, made its impression but was quickly over-run by the next.

Living the dream in London

When I moved to London from Melbourne more than eight years ago, it was the third time I travelled to the UK’s capital in four years. The first time I had been drawn for a week and the second time for four days — both times before a longer “whistlestop” tour of the sort just described. And on both of these visits, I split my time between “tourist” and “traveller,” between the seeing what I wanted to see and the aimless wandering: immersing myself in the city streets, using the local transport and chatting with the natives. One way and another, I got the true taste of the city that was to become my home just a few years later.

I love history and I’ve read it — beginning in the guise of historical fiction (by the likes of Jean Plaidy) through to Simon Schama, Alison Weir and several others — since my very early teens, always trying to imagine what those real worlds, leaping off the pages in front of me, were actually like.

Once I’d moved to London, suddenly I felt I was living the dream (albeit one never particularly aligned to that city). I still stand on Waterloo Bridge at night, gazing at all that history along the riverbank reflected in the Thames, pinching myself and wondering: “Wow, how did I get here?”

Was it a love of history that had tempted me across the world? Not really…there were other candidate cities, but the “right” circumstances conspired with a passionate fling to bring me here. And just as you never know where things might lead in life, the fling came and went, yet London had captured my heart.

The grass still looks green(er)

But my yen to explore means there’s always a sense of looking over the fence (so to speak) with curiosity. What’s it like over there? Would I like it? Be disappointed or even worse, nonplussed?

Which leads me to Rome and some of the other cities I’ve visited since living in London. Being able to hop on a plane (or train — the Eurostar is a pretty fabulous way to travel) and, in just a couple of hours, walk the historic cobbled laneways of a completely different place is an extraordinary experience for any Antipodean. Only a few short hours is required to separate oneself from the familiar and the habitual.

European travel has an especially strong hold on my bucket list. For the most part, Australia’s history is both inextricably linked to and considerably newer than anywhere on the Continent, even though some of the names and boundaries may have changed since I first learned of these faraway lands in the schoolroom.

Of course, nothing can ever take you back in time to know truly what it was like standing at The Green at the Tower of London or inside Newgrange passage tomb in Ireland’s Boyne Valley or atop Hadrian’s Mausoleum — now known as Castel Sant’Angelo — in Rome.

But in the Eternal City, there’s a deep sense of generations past, not just battles won and lost and the rise and fall of the empires that at one time or another shaped “the world” — but also everyday trifles, evidence of the “day-to-day” living of previous generations (take, for instance, Trajan’s market, the “shopping” centre where people went to buy their fresh produce). Both strands of history — the extraordinary and the quotidian — are accessible and visible everywhere.

Second-date nerves

There’s always a part of me that feels a little nervous when I first arrive somewhere new — a piece of me that says, “You could stay in the hotel room tonight, read your guidebook a bit more and be really sure when you set out tomorrow morning.” And it takes some mustering of courage to stop dawdling and plunge right in.

I’m always glad, invigorated actually, once I set off but I guess that essential human-ness in us wants to avoid the risks and keep ourselves safe and sound.

The Rome I had encountered on our first date, before moving to London, had grown faint and unfamiliar. But on this second Roman Holiday, I surprised myself by diving right in to its sights, sounds and smells. I was out the door just an hour after checking in to my hotel. Not for me the lolling about to “recover” from my travels. No way. I had only four days and I wanted to fill it with…well, Rome. It was an immersive experience I was after.

So I walked down from Quirinale in the darkening streets as night fell, map in one hand, camera in the other, my eyes filled with wonder and excitement. A stranger in the night if you will: with no local knowledge, limited lingo (si and grazie get you only so far) and quite frankly no idea where I was going. Tingling and a little breathless with the thrill of discovery somehow I found my way through the warren of streets to the Fontana di Trevi.

And the four days flew by. I walked and bus-sed and walked and Metro-ed and walked and cruised and walked some more. Compact and exuberant, Rome spreads its charm around every corner. The noise and busy-ness were energising although the traffic in some of the piazzas less so.

(I always imagined piazzas to be intimate and bustling, even green, rather than spacious, concrete or filled with litter. So the Piazza Navona and Campo de’ Fiori — the latter translates into “field of flowers” — were amongst the few “oh, is that it?” moments.)

A piece of my heart

From my coin toss into the Trevi on that first night to my final morning meandering in the warm rain through the gardens of the Villa Borghese, my second encounter with Rome has moved us beyond the acknowledgement of two passing strangers. But while we are not yet close friends, there’s a piece of my heart that’s indelibly stamped with a sense of delightful possibility.

Will I return to the Italian capital for a gentle kiss, for one more embrace perhaps? I don’t know but it’s exciting, exhilarating, a little self-conscious and filled with promise.

Just like Rome.

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

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s Random Nomad interview with an American who has taken the “phile” in Anglophile to an extreme.

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Images: Some enchanted moments from Kym’s second date with Rome. Clockwise from top left: Off peak at the Trevi Fountain (“busy, yes, but somehow still magical”); the Vatican from the battements of the Castel Sant’Angelo; sunlight pouring into the Pantheon; the Giardino del Lago at the Villa Borghese.

Kidding yourself over La Dolce Vita

As you are doubtless aware, this month’s theme is la dolce vita, an Italian phrase meaning the sweet life. It would be remiss of us to choose that theme without referring to Fellini’s 1960 masterpiece of the same name.

Regular readers of The Displaced Nation may not be surprised to learn that I was a somewhat pretentious teenager. A thin youth, callow and pallid, I could be found most nights ensconced in my bedroom reading the novels of Thomas Hardy or writing in a notebook my own cringe-worthy poetry. However, I would sometimes, late at night, usually on a Friday, descend from my literary lair and head down to the living room where I would turn the TV to BBC2 or Channel 4 to watch some classic foreign film that I felt I ought to know about.

Though my teenage years aren’t that far behind me (the late 90s, if you must know) they exist in another epoch, a time of old media, where nobody normal blogged, where there was no twitter and there was most definitely no streaming online of every movie you could ever wish to watch. Instead my cultural endevours were rationed. The northern town that I grew up in had no bookstore (unless we rather generously classify W.H. Smith as a bookstore) or cinema, so I found myself spending a lot of my time in my local library or scanning the Radio Times to see what (if any) interesting examples of world cinema where being shown on either of the two niche channels (BBC2 and C4). Invariably, something was being shown late most Friday nights. It was in these circumstances that I first came across Fellini’s La Dolce Vita.

I can’t in all honesty say that I “got it” when watching it for the first time that night, but on a superficial level, I loved it. More particularly, I loved the effortlessly cool, brooding Marcello Mastroianni who anchors the film. This, I reasoned, was how manhood should be, how I should live my life: apertifs in the cafes, dances at the Cha-Cha-Cha Club, a midnight wade into the Trevi Fountain with an Anita Ekberg figure, two lonely souls enjoying a fleeing moment of warmth.

So I pondered about how one goes about affecting a similar style to Mr Mastroianni. The problems quickly became apparent. My clothes came from Marks and Spencer’s men’s department and gave me more the appearance of a Mormon missionary than Italian heartthrob. Then there was the impossibility of finding in Hartlepool a Cha-Cha-Cha Club that played the music of Nino Rota — now, the Bikini Fun Bar played 2Unlimited, but between you and me that wasn’t quite the same. Most disappointingly, I had no Anita Ekberg; none of the girls in school would take up my invitation to wade with me in the duck pond in Ward Jackson Park.  So the attempt to give my teenage years a Fellini spin were dashed. I couldn’t recreate the Rome of 1960 as seen through Fellini’s lens in the Hartlepool of 1998 (hardly a surprise).

But if I stopped pretending to act like I’d stepped out of a Fellini film, still I think this might have been when I was unknowingly inoculated with wanderlust — and the thought that somewhere out there is a place where cafes serve apertifs, not sausage rolls, where the club plays Nino Rota, not 2Unlimited, and where Anita Ekberg is waiting. That’s the sweet life.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, Kate Allison’s review of Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore, by Barbara Conelli — the book that inspired this month’s theme!

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