The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

Tag Archives: Switzerland

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

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

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

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

The moving monument

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

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 In Moscow, a square surrounded by buildings and a name that no longer represents the present (Red Square, in memory of communism) is the main reference.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Translated by James Mulholland

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

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

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

STAY TUNED for next week’s posts!

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

CAPITAL IDEA: Vaduz: A quick guide

Welcome to another “Capital Ideas”—our somewhat idiosyncratic, ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek guide to various world cities, perfect for the ever discerning readership of this blog.

We know our readers are always visitors, never tourists (an important distinction). Do feel free to contribute your own ideas or suggestions in the comments section, we’d love to hear your thoughts, too.

Capital: Vaduz.

Umm . . . I think I’m going to be saying this quite a bit, but why?  Because great things come in small packages.

No really, why? Why not?

No seriously, why? The element of surprise is wonderful, isn’t it?

It is? Oh, most certainly. Did you expect me to suggest Vaduz?

I have no idea what Vaduz is or if it’s real. Precisely. What a surprise that is!

I was rather hoping that you might do Rio this month. I’ve been watching the Confederations Cup and, civil strife to one side for a moment, my appetite is very much whetted for next year’s World Cup. I’ll bear it in mind, but today I thought we could discuss Vaduz.

Venezuela? Ha! That’s Caracas. You’re not even close continent wise.

Okay, clearly I have no idea. Just tell me where it is. It’s in Liechtenstein. Isn’t that exciting?

Not particularly, no! Oh, come on, it is a little bit.

Little seems to be the operative word. Vaduz must be one of the smallest capitals in the world. It’s certainly not large. It has a population of under 6,000.

So a pulsating nightlife must be on offer, then? Apparently, you could try a Club Z, Liechtenstein’s premier nightclubI’m sure it’s wild! But be warned: it does not have a dance ring.

Hmm. Was there any ulterior motive in your choosing Vaduz? Ulterior motive? Me? Why the very idea! Of course not!

Apologies for impugning your good name. That’s okay, you’re forgiven. I can assure you that there are no ulterior motives here. I absolutely was not struggling with a deadline and thought that a small city would mean that I could quicker meet that deadline.

A-ha, the plot thickens. Are you trying to shortchange me by fobbing Vaduz off me. Smaller city means less work for you. Unfortunately, it’s not true. A smaller city does not mean less work. There’s enough reason to visit Vaduz to more than fill up a post here. There’s charm and history aplenty. Who doesn’t want to stroll around a small town filled with medieval and baroque architecture?

Please, never ever use the word “aplenty” again. So how do I even get there? I’m assuming that there isn’t a direct flight from Heathrow or JFK. And you’d be right, but you can get a flight to Zurich and from there get the train from Zurich to Sargans where you can then hop on to a bus to Vaduz. More information can be found here.

And once there, do I need to worry about getting round town? No, this isn’t one of those entries where I tell you about how to navigate the local subway system. This is a town of five and a half thousand, after all.

What is there to see in Vaduz? Well, wherever you are in town you can’t really help but see Vaduz Castle. (You can see it in the above photo.) Set in a hilltop overlooking the town it really is picture postcard pretty. It’s the home to the reigning Price of Liechtenstein, Hans-Adam II. Unlike other European monarchies, the Prince of Liechtenstein has an extremely large amount of political power – he has, for instance, veto power over the government.

So I can’t visit the castle? No, and as the Prince of Liechtenstein is Europe’s wealthiest monarch with an estimated fortune of $4 billion, there’s no pressing need for him to open the castle up to get those tourist coffers in. But given that its presence in the city is all pervading, you’ll be able to take some wonderful shots of it from every street corner; and if you were to take a tour of the city – you know how much we love our walking tours here on The Displaced Nation – you’ll learn lots about the castle’s history.  Some more information can be found here.

What else can I do. Under six thousand residents? Sounds like it’s really a village in name only. Well even if he’s not letting you into his castle, you could always go and visit the wine cellars of the Prince.

I’m always up for some wine tasting, but I don’t recall ever having wine from Liechtenstein before. Is it any good? Liechtenstein actually has an ideal climate for wine. They’ve been growing wine in that region for over 2,000 years so it’s not entirely surprising that a bunch of grapes can be found on Vaduz’s coat of arms.  If you’re traveling by car, take a trip into the countryside and visit one of the many wineries. Sit back and have a refreshing glass of gewürztraminer – it’s a favorite of mine. Plenty of information can be found here.

And for a more cultural suggestion? Hey, I would contend that you can’t get more cultural than a wine tasting, but if you’re after something more artistic then you should visit the Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein (Liechtenstein Museum of Fine Arts). An interesting piece of architecture in itself (an intriguing black cube, it has been voted one of the world’s ugliest buildings, but I absolutely don’t agree with that assessment), it houses an extensive collection of modern art from around the world as well as Liechtenstein’s national art collection. So to your earlier suggestion that Vaduz was a village in name only, this is precisely the sort of thing one would not expect to find in your local village. Vaduz offer more than a duck pond and a Spar shop. You could also visit the National Museum (Liechtensteinisches Landesmuseum). This is rather less imposing than the Kunstmuseum. Unlike that with all it’s modern architectural pizzazz, the National Museum is housed in a former tavern and customhouse. Covering the folklore and history of the principality, it’s well worth your time, particularly if you aren’t planning on doing an historical walking tour. Finally, if – like me – you are a sucker for visiting old churches, then you should pop into the neo-Gothic Cathedral of St. Florin.

What should I read? Normally I use this part of a Capital Ideas post to expand from merely writing about whichever featured city we’re looking at so that I can highlight a larger national literature. This month that isn’t quite so easy. For why that’s the case I refer you to an interview with the Liechtenstein writer Stefan Sprenger, who was featured in the 2011 edition of Dalkey Archive Press‘s acclaimed Best European Fiction anthology series. In an interview translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman, Sprenger declares: “There is no Liechtenstein literature, and never has been.” Also worth a read is this interesting blog post on the subject.

What should I watch?  Again, I’m cheating a bit but as it’s about a small European nation still far too enthralled to a crusty almost farcical form of government that combines absolute and constitutional monarchy, but as it may be somewhat relevant, I’d suggest The Mouse That Roared, starring Peter Sellers, who plays both the Grand Duchess and Prime Minister of the fictional Duchy of Grand Fenwick. It’s a fun little British comedy from the late 1950s, which was based on a 1955 Cold War satirical novel by Irish-American writer Leonard Wibberley.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another installment in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Como é?
Wie war es?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are many, many more.

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

For travel & shutter bug Ildrim Valley, a picture says …

Collage_1000words_Ildrim_dssWelcome to our new series: “A picture says …”, featuring interviews with displaced creatives for whom a camera is a mode of artistic expression for the sights and people they encounter in their nomadic wanderings.

To kick off the series, I have the pleasure of conversing with Ildrim Valley, an intrepid adventurer who is also an economist(!) and travel photographer. It is, of course, this last point we’ll be focusing on, so to speak…

But first a few of Ildrim’s vital statistics:

Place of birth: Baku, Azerbaijan
Passports: Canada; Azerbaijan
Overseas history: From least to most recent: Azerbaijan (Baku); Switzerland (Geneva); Kenya (Nairobi); Canada (Vancouver, British Columbia); Hungary (Budapest); France (Toulouse)—2012 to present.
Occupations: Graduate student of economics; travel photographer; amateur snowboarder; adventurer!
Cyberspace coordinates: Curious Lines (photography blog)

Without further ado, let’s find out more about Ildrim and the way he uses photography as a creative outlet for his international adventures.

Peripatetic from an early age

Hello there, Ildrim. Welcome to the Displaced Nation. Let’s begin by having you tell us a bit about your travels. What inspired you to set off and what has motivated you to keep on going?
My first travel experiences come from traveling with my mom and brother. My mom is eager to change her surroundings, so thanks to her I was lucky to move around and travel early in life. At an early age I’ve been amazed at how life can be so different for people elsewhere than my hometown.

I think that this early fascination developed into a strong curiosity about lifestyles. Now that my mom no longer takes me on adventures (she gets herself into trouble without me!), I try to find my own means of traveling and satisfying my curiosity about places around the world.

You are a self-described adventurer. Do you prefer going and going, or do you sometimes settle in one place for a time?
As I travel more, I realize that it’s not just about seeing a new place that excites me the most. As fun as it is to keep going and going, simply being somewhere new isn’t always satisfying. Settling somewhere for a time gives me an opportunity to live through something different and possibly understand it.

I understand you recently moved to Toulouse, France?
Yes, I moved to Toulouse in September 2012 for graduate school. I felt like grad school would open a few doors to pursue some of my other interests, and it presented a fairly easy way to move to another country. So I set out to look for good schools around the world that fit my background as well as academic interests. At the time I was interested in southern Europe, and Toulouse offers the right kind of balance: it’s a great school with welcoming people and fine landscapes to be explored. Plus an opportunity to finally master French was very appealing—though I have to say I’m not doing a very satisfactory job so far.

On your photography blog, Curious Lines, you say:

Photography for me isn’t just an art form, it’s a way to share experiences.

When and why did you start using DSLR cameras?
I got my first DSLR in 2010, shortly before moving to Budapest. I got it in order to document the move.

Does the process itself of capturing a place or moment affect the relationship you have with that place? For example, does capturing a good set of photos increase the fondness you have for that place?
The process of capturing a moment does affect the way I experience a place, which in turn affects my relationship with it. But how I feel about a place has a lot to do with how I feel about the people from that place. So when I spend enough time in one spot, I get to meet people and build relationships. However, when the stays are short, the camera has a more significant role as it facilitates a connection with others. It helps me get a reaction, an emotional response—a smile or maybe a conversation.

But it’s important to point out that in some places around the world, carrying a camera can have a negative affect. People are fast to judge you on how you look. In Kenya, for example, I have a lighter skin tone, which results in the locals treating me differently, not necessarily in a positive way.

Likewise, having a large camera around your neck or in your hand will send a different signal and will be interpreted in a different way depending on where you are in the world.

I would just like to add that one way in which camera affects my experiences is that it taught me how to look at things differently without a lens. It helps me appreciate things differently and it’s important to know when to put the camera away and enjoy things with your own eyes. It’s easy for me to get sucked into continuous photo taking when I’m in a new place. Though I enjoy it, there are still other things to be enjoyed behind the lens, which is even more true when you’re traveling with someone else. But it doesn’t have to be one or the other; with time I’ve been learning how to balance the two.

For me, the camera has to be an extension of the adventure and not the purpose for it.

Looking back on all the places where you’ve taken photos, which have been your top three favorite places to shoot?
Although my opinion changes with time, my top spot for now is Mongolia. Last year I spent about a month there. The people and their lifestyles around the country fascinate me. The landscapes are pure and surreal. When you have such a keen interest and curiosity about your subject, shooting becomes that much more enjoyable. I’m actually redesigning my Website to present more content via other channels than a blog. One of the new sections will be about my experiences in Mongolia. The other two places that I love for photography are coastal British Columbia and Croatia.

An eye for the London Eye

On your blog you also say:

Once I started using a DSLR I’ve realized that scenes that come out on my computer screen don’t reflect the whole beauty of the moment. They don’t transmit the same type of emotion I felt standing behind the lens. So I tried and am still experimenting with different techniques to bring myself and others closer to how it actually was, at least in my mind. I don’t always try to achieve the most “realistic” looking photos, but rather try to transmit the feeling of the scene.

the-london-eye_dropshadowI notice that one of the techniques you’ve used is High Dynamic Range Imaging (HDR), an example of which can be seen in this striking image of my hometown London (original here)—by the way, you’ve now made me feel a little homesick! Tell me a little about HDR and how a novice photographer like myself can go about trying to achieve similar effects with a DSLR camera.
I have a very basic example of what High Dynamic Range (HDR) does in one of my blog posts. In a nutshell, cameras don’t capture the range of light the same way our eyes do. Our eyes adjust to both bright and dark spots in the same scene while for cameras it’s always a trade off.

HDR photography allows you to capture more light by taking multiple shots of different exposures. I take three: one normal, one overexposed bright photo, and one underexposed dark photo. By combining these three shots together you get a higher range of light information available to play with. Some people take five or even seven photos, but three is enough in most situations.

To achieve this HDR effect, I take my three shots bearing these points in mind:

  • The auto-bracketing option on modern-day cameras helps you take three photos with a single click.
  • Set the camera on Aperture priority mode (“AV” or “A” on most cameras) to have the same aperture and depth of field in all three shots.
  • Ensure that the three shots are as identical in composition as possible. A tripod could be useful. (The surroundings or simply holding your breath will do in many cases.)
  • Use software* to combine all three shots together and then let your imagination take charge.

*Some of the most popular softwares are Photomatix Pro, HDR EFEX PRO and HDR Darkroom. Then there are options like Luminance HDR, which is free (open source) but will take some time getting used to. Whichever software you choose, it will help you combine all this light information into one image. Then it’s almost always a good idea to take it into your preferred photo editing software and continue working as you would with any other photo.

People pix

Streetvendor_drop shadowTell me about this recent photo you took of a street vendor in Kiev (original here). How did you find yourself in Kiev?
I was on a long earthbound trip in 2012 from Budapest to Hong Kong, which took me through Kiev.

How did you come across this street vendor? Did you converse with him before taking his photo?
There was no verbal communication. Rather, I nodded at the guy while moving the camera in my hand slowly, indicating that I wanted to take his photo. His face was blank in acceptance so I went ahead and snapped the photo.

Do you always try to try get permission from people when trying to take a photo?
I prefer to ask for permission, but sometimes it’s the spontaneity that makes the photo and asking would yield a different result when they prepare themselves for the photo. Either way, I make sure the subject knows I’m taking their photo.

Is it difficult to obtain permission when facing a language barrier?
It’s important to learn how to communicate with your facial expressions and your body as well as being able to read others. In my experience, regardless of whether your communications are verbal or non-verbal, the more confident and subtle you are, the more likely you are to get approval.

One thing about the street vendor picture that really stands out for me is the boldness of the colors. Can you tell me why and how you set up the shot like this?
Initially, I tried to achieve an effect that would provoke an emotional response akin to the one I had in that moment. A new environment can be emotionally overwhelming—a feeling that can be difficult to capture. First impressions are special. So when I first started editing it was the exaggeration of colors that made me feel the closest to “re-experiencing” the place. Although you can never really re-live the moment, you can come up with something that reminds you of it.

In a way it’s like when a friend tells you a “you really had to be there” story—and exaggerates the details to make the point. It’s not that the true story needs any exaggeration to be interesting, but you need to have the exaggeration to translate the feeling.

Many of these aspects of photography are, of course, a matter of experience and taste. Believe it or not, my earlier photos were even more color crazy. With more experience I’m leaning away from it and trying to express the moment in other ways. I really like black-and-white photography and the subtlety of its expression. I find it trickier and am experimenting with it more at the moment.

Parting shots…

When you take a look at the two photos mentioned above, what’s the first thing you remember?
The London photo reminds me of my host, a friend I haven’t seen in years.

The photo of the Ukrainian street vendor reminds me of a young violinist I met on the train and spent the day with. It also reminds me of how hot the day was and my craving for kvass (a fermented drink made from rye bread). Believe me, a hot day in Ukraine can make you crave kvass as a refreshment.

Are you hoping that these photos will evoke similar emotions in other viewers?
The intent is not always to prompt the same reaction I had. The same photo can prompt many different reactions. I like it when visitors to my site send messages expressing how my photos reminded them of their own experiences.

Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad, on getting started?
I’d say to take photos for yourself first and not to think about what others would want to see or to try to meet their expectations. The first person your photos should move is yourself.

Thank you, Ildrim! Readers, what do you make of our first photographer post? Some wise words here, and who knew that autobracketing could be so useful? So, any further questions for Ildrim? Please leave them in the comments!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post from expat author, Helena Halme, who is giving away THREE COPIES of her latest novel! 🙂

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

Related post:

Images (from left): Camera lens from MorgueFile; Ildrim Valley (on right) with a traveler he met last summer in Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia. Says Ildrim: “He was originally from Slovenia but didn’t like being associated with any particular place. He’d been traveling on his bicycle for about four years at that point.”

12 NOMADS OF CHRISTMAS: Iain Mallory, English adventurer (7/12)

Current home: Salford, UK
Cyberspace coordinates: Mallory on Travel | Making Everyday an Adventure! (blog) and @MalloryonTravel (Twitter handle)
Recent posts: “The ABCs of Travel — Reflections on a Wanderlusting Life”; “Adventure in Lucerne, Switzerland — Travel Journal”; Cologne: The Bridge of Love Locks (December 2011)

Where are you spending the holidays this year?
I have two trips planned before Christmas: Lucerne for a week and then Cologne for just a few days. That does not leave a lot of time to help with getting the dinner ready for the main day, so I guess Christmas will be spent in the doghouse.

What will you do when you first arrive?
In Lucerne, I’ll be exploring. Cologne is more of a social visit so the Christmas markets will get a battering — along with copious amounts of glühwein and bratwurst.

What do you most like doing during the holidays?
If in Europe, meeting friends for laughs and drinks on a cold evening at a small town Christmas market. But if anything goes, then careering down a piste on two planks of carbon fibre with a group of friends followed closely by plenty of après-ski.

Will you be on or offline?
This year as I’ll be home, I’ll be spending time online, though a little quieter on Christmas day.

Are you sending any cards?
My closest circle of friends will receive a card, handed to them personally at sometime over the festive period when we meet. As for those that I have gotten to know online, hmmm…anybody know a good online card site? I would need some news to produce a newsletter.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
During my travels, I’ll be staying at a veggie house so most definitely looking forward to the turkey although I’ll have to go out for it myself, a day or so before the big day.

Can you recommend any good books other expats or “internationals” might enjoy?
I’ve always loved The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, about Scott’s final Antarctic expedition (Cherry-Garrard was the youngest member of Scott’s team and one of three men to survive the notorious Winter Journey). Any of the mountaineering books by Joe Simpson is worth reading. These days I don’t have that much time to read but when I do, I prefer mountain or exploration literature. I’m looking forward to finding some time to read The Mammoth Book of Adventures on the Edge, by Jon E. Lewis — a collection of 28 eyewitness accounts of climbing adventures on the world’s greatest mountains.

If you could travel anywhere for the holidays, where would it be?
Mount Everest or maybe Mount Erebus (in Antarctica) for skiing. And I really have to bring in the New Year in Sydney one day.

What famous person or persons do you think it would be fun to spend New Year’s Eve with?
Billy Connolly or Peter Kay would be the funniest people to party with over New Year; David Attenborough and Ranulph Fiennes would provide the most fascinating stories.

What’s been your most displaced holiday experience?
I like to think that it is possible to adapt to most cultures and environments and therefore fit in well, but if I had to pick anywhere, it is hard not to feel a little alien in India. Every day seems to throw up a new surprise that often can be quite shocking.

How about the least displaced experience — when you’ve felt the true joy of the season?
Any time when I’m surrounded by friends, it doesn’t matter where I am. The feeling is one of belonging and being completely at home.

How do you feel when the holidays are over?
Excited; the New Year always offers new opportunities and the potential to be an amazing year.

On the first day of Christmas, my true love said to me:

STAY TUNED for Monday’s featured nomad (8/12) in our 12 Nomads of Christmas series.

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CLASSIC DISPLACED WRITING: Joy in the place — Elizabeth von Arnim

The novelist Elizabeth von Arnim (1866-1941) wrote many enchanting books, all of which were autobiographical to some extent, linked to persons or places she knew.

But does that necessarily mean that Elizabeth — born Mary Annette, nicknamed May, she called herself “Elizabeth” upon becoming a professional writer — led an enchanted life?

Yes and no. By all accounts, she was an enchanting person herself, constantly delighting other people with her sharp wit.

She also kept enchanting company: E.M. Forster was tutor to her children, Katherine Mansfield was her adopted cousin, and H.G. Wells was one of her lovers.

Displaced almost from birth (she was born in Kirribilli Point, Australia, and then moved to England at the age of three), she made a life-long habit of flitting from one enchanting locale to the next.

Having spent her formative years in London, she moved to Pomerania in Prussia (Germany) for her first marriage, where she raised five children.

Upon the death of her husband in 1910, she made her home in the Valais, Switzerland, living in a glamorous house, Chalet Soleil, which she’d built from her riches as an author.

With the failure of her second marriage, Elizabeth zigzagged between homes in the United States and Europe.

She died in Charleston, South Carolina.

A full measure of sorrows

But a peripatetic life isn’t always a charmed one, as many of us expats and former expats can attest. As her life progressed, Elizabeth experienced a full measure of sorrows.

Her first marriage — to a domineering Prussian count — wasn’t particularly happy. She nicknamed him the Man of Wrath, and they separated several years before his death.

Her second marriage, to Frank Russell, elder brother of Bertrand, was even more miserable (he proved to be a despotic egoist).

Her only true love she met when she was 54 — and he was nearly 30 years younger. (They never married.)

She also suffered the grievous deaths of a daughter and a brother.

By the time she died, Elizabeth was estranged from most of her children, crippled with arthritis, and almost forgotten by her adoring public.

Her only devoted companion was her dog, Billy.

Escape artist par excellence

But despite these tribulations, Elizabeth remained throughout her life, in the words of gardening writer Deborah Kellaway,

a steadfast hedonist, firmly suppressing sorrows. … Her journals and letters repeatedly record moments of happiness, usually associated with sunny days.

As Elizabeth once wrote in a letter to one of her daughters,

“What I really am by nature is an escapist.”

Thus what we can learn from Elizabeth’s life — and from her many autobiographical books — is the art of escaping into happier worlds.

As Kellaway explains:

[The heroines of her novels] escape from richness into the simple life, or from conventional home life into foreign travel; they escape from houses into caravans.

The most famous example, of course, is Elizabeth’s 1922 novel, The Enchanted April — from which we’ve taken our theme of enchantment on the blog this month.

As everyone knows who has read that book — or, more likely, seen the 1992 film or the 2003 Broadway play — four women who share only their unhappiness and a love of wisteria flee 1920s London and converge in Portofino, Italy, on a magical medieval villa overlooking the Mediterranean.

Simple pleasures are the best?

But while Italian castles can certainly be a tonic — if offered one, I’d be off like a shot — what most people don’t know is that Elizabeth was equally fond of much simpler escapes. In the first two books that made her reputation as a writer, the heroine escapes her marital, motherly and household duties by venturing into a German garden, set in a wide landscape.

Here is the most lyrical passage from the second of these, The Solitary Summer (1899):

Yesterday morning I got up at three o’clock and stole through the echoing passages and strange dark rooms, undid with trembling hands the bolts of the door to the verandah, and passed out into a wonderful, unknown world. I stood for a few minutes motionless on the steps, almost frightened by the awful purity of nature when all the sin and ugliness is shut up and asleep, and there is nothing but the beauty left. It was quite light, yet a bright moon hung in the cloudless, grey-blue sky; the flowers were all awake, saturating the air with scent; and a nightingale sat on a hornbeam quite close to me, in loud raptures at the coming of the sun. …

It was wonderfully quiet, and the nightingale on the hornbeam had everything to itself as I sat motionless watching that glow in the east burning redder; wonderfully quiet, and so wonderfully beautiful because one associates daylight with people, and voices and bustle, and hurrying to and fro, and the dreariness of working to feed our bodies, and feeding our bodies that we may be able to work to feed them again; but here was the world wide awake and yet only for me, all the fresh pure air only for me, all the fragrance breathed only by me, not a living soul hearing the nightingale but me, the sun in a few moments coming up to warm only me…

A lovely garden at just the right time of day — as I know from my own experience of enduring many city summers*, that’s all it sometimes takes to escape into happiness.

*On that note, I’d like to recommend a walk on the High Line in early morning or late afternoon, to anyone living in or traveling to New York City this month…

QUESTION: What does it take for you to escape the dog days of summer into happiness: a trip to Italy, a walk in the garden — or something else?

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