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EXPAT AUTHOR GAME: What score does Paul Shore earn on the “international creative” scale? (2/2)


Readers, I’m happy to report that Paul Shore passed the algorithm test for his memoir, Uncorked, with flying colors. He will therefore be throwing out the jack (so to speak) for the second round of the Expat Author Game.

I am, of course, using this terminology because of Paul’s affection for the quintessentially French game of pétanque, as reported in his book and as illustrated above.

During this round, we’ll be trying to see how closely he measures up to the Displaced Nation’s (admittedly somewhat quirky) notion of an “international creative.”

On the face of it, Paul’s claim to be “international” rests on having spent a single year in Provence. Can 12 months be long enough to qualify as displaced? On the other hand, it was an important, life-changing year. The book in fact came about at his wife’s suggestion, when he was immobile after a recent surgery (hm, is that the reward for all those sports?). Why not dust off his notes from that period of living in in Saint-Paul de Vence, she said, and write about how much it meant to him, a kind of Bildungsroman.

Furthermore, I think it’s fair to call Paul “creative”. After all, it’s not every day we hear of a computer geek charming their way into an ancient French village. Plus he has received compliments on his writing style as a “wry cross between Bill Bryson and Dave Bidini“. (Dave who? He’s a Canadian musician and author of Around the World in 57 1/2 Gigs, among other travel works.)

So let’s see how Paul does with this round, where points are scored for intangible indicators of an expansive, global outlook and the ability to take a creative approach to exploring the world.

Welcome back, Paul, and now let’s get started. Many residents of the Displaced Nation have had a moment or two when they’ve felt like a character in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, myself included. How about you? Please illustrate, if possible, with a quote.

QUEEN OF HEARTS TO ALICE: ”Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Breaking into a foreign culture may seem impossible, though with persistence and respect it is very possible. Now, my experience was back in ’99, at just the very start of the digital age and before mass Internet interconnection; but even with enhancements to communication, I suspect it is just about as difficult still today to break into French life in a small town, as it was then. I spoke only terrible elementary school French when I arrived, which I’d learned growing up in Ottawa, Canada, so it didn’t endear me much to locals, at least not until I improved after several months of working with a tutor.

Moving on: According to George Elliot’s Maggie Tulliver, the best reason to leave her native village of St. Ogg’s would be to see other creatures like the elephant. What’s the most exotic animal you’ve observed in its native setting?

A polar bear on Baffin Island in the arctic of Canada. Some indigenous guides were taking us on a boat tour. As we travelled near the shoreline, we spotted it. It was awe inspiring to see such a beautiful, rare, and dangerous animal from a safe, yet close, distance.

Last but not least on this series of literary challenges: We’re curious about whether you’ve had any Wizard of Oz moments when venturing across borders. Again, please use a quote or two.

GOOD WITCH GLINDA TO DOROTHY: “You are capable of more than you know.” I tend to live by a “why not try?” attitude and truly believe that we are all capable of so much more than we typically are willing to attempt. Thus, when I was told that I couldn’t learn pétanque because “you aren’t French”, I didn’t take “no” for an answer and persisted. Eventually I convinced a neighbour to teach me—though he only agreed to do by in the darkness of night, so as not to embarrass himself or his culture. I had to earn my stripes over several weeks of play in the dark before I was invited to play in broad daylight. And eventually I became quite good and was accepted playing with locals and even complimented and invited to join the local private club…a very high compliment.

Moving on to another dimension of creativity: telling tales of one’s travels through photos. Can you offer an example?

I like this photo of a green light moving on the calm ocean water at sunset…telling me to move ahead in a calm manner, while recognizing that so many aspects of life are circular in nature. It was taken in Lund, where we have a vacation rental home—we’ve been there quite frequently in recent years. It is an extremely peaceful, ruggedly beautiful, remote part of Canada that is relatively accessible from Vancouver.

And now for our interplanetary challenge: Can you envision taking your exploration of other modes of being beyond Planet Earth? How about a trip to Mars?

Only if I could take my family and friends. If I can’t take them along, I’d prefer to remain on earth, where I have more things to explore and share with the people who are special to me.

* * *

Congratulations, Paul! You have reached 13 points (hahaha) so may declare yourself the victor of our Expat Authors Game. I for one appreciated your jovial style in playing it, which I imagine you picked up from all those pétanque matches. Readers, are you ready to score Paul Shore’s performance on Part Two? How did he do with his literary references? And what about that animal of his: rather magnificent! And don’t you like that black-and-white photo of him up top, on the pétanque grounds of Saint-Paul? What’s more, as that photo of Lund suggests, his creative talents appear to extend to photography!

Finally please note: If you’ve given Paul Shore a high score on international creativity, we urge you to check out his author site. You can also follow him on Twitter.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a biweekly round up of posts from The Displaced Nation—and so much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Photo credits: Photo of Paul and the ocean supplied; all other photos from Pixabay.

EXPAT AUTHOR GAME: Paul Shore’s algorithm for “Uncorked: My year in Provence studying Pétanque, discovering Chagall, drinking Pastis, and mangling French” (1/2)


Hello, Displaced Nationers. When I introduced our Expat Author Game series last October, I had no idea it would take until June to play another round. I have no excuse except to say the Game of Life intervened.

In any event, I am thrilled we are picking up the series again this month and I can introduce you to the next player, Paul Shore. He recently published a memoir, Uncorked, about the year he spent living in southern France, in a quaint place called Saint-Paul de Vence.

Just how did he, a Canadian techie, end up landing in a medieval walled village in Provence, you may wonder? Back in the late 1990s, he was working for a start-up software company in Vancouver, and the founder asked if he would move to Nice to open their European sales and marketing office. He agreed. And being an adventuresome sort, with a “Why not try?” attitude, he eschewed the idea of living in an expat enclave, opting instead to be the rare outsider within a Provençal village.

When Paul readily agreed to play the Displaced Nation’s Expat Author Game, I was pleased and flattered…that is, until it dawned on me he has yet to encounter a game he wasn’t eager to play.

My goodness, he even learned how to play pétanque, an obscure (at least to me) form of boules (you’d think boules would be obscure enough!) while living in Saint-Paul. In fact, that’s one of the principle ways he “uncorked” traditional French culture—the other ways being working on his French, navigating a sporty car through roundabouts with the confidence of a Grand Prix driver, and drinking pastis at 9:00 a.m.

Pourquoi ne pas essayer? Time to roll the boule so to speak and see how he does…first, with the task of creating an algorithm for his book. Please note that while Paul may seem like the archetypal nice Canadian, he’s a fierce competitor. Pétanque is just one of many sports he has played to win. And, although he says he originally wrote his book for his kids, it recently hit #1 on Amazon in travel books about Provence!

If we like Uncorked, which movie/musical/play/TV series would we also like?

The film Under the Tuscan Sun, based on the memoir by Frances Mayes of that name, because it is also an evocative, heart-warming story based in Southern Europe. Although I wasn’t escaping a cheating spouse and I didn’t fix up a house, I did achieve a breakthrough into the traditions and culture associated with living in an ancient village in south Europe by learning how to play the game of pétanque. This adventure proved to be both humorous and life-changing.

What meal or dish would go well with reading your book?

Tarte Tatin (French upside down apple tart), a sweet, delicious, comfort food that I first ate in Saint-Paul in a small cafe that I came to frequent. As my book explains, not only did I indulge in this upside-down pastry while living in Saint-Paul, but as a result of living in this ancient village, I began to see that flipping the priorities of work-life balance more towards the “life” side of the ledger leads to a more fulfilling lifestyle and general level of happiness.

If your book had a signature cocktail, what would it be?

Given the subtitle of the book, that one’s easy: Pastis on ice.  It’s the go-to drink of the region and tastes refreshing on hot, humid summer days.  When the anise-flavored liquor mixes with the ice water, it becomes cloudy…much like I found the process of finding my way within local French culture.

Are there any special clothes/headgear/costumes/accessories we could wear to put us in the mood for reading your book?

You might think about donning a pair of open-toed leather sandals, especially as summer is now approaching. Sandals are popular footwear in Provence on hot summer days.

If we wanted to take a mini-trip to understand your story better, where would you recommend we travel and which one or two sights should we take in?

In Saint-Paul de Vence, you cannot miss Le Café de la Place. At the foot of the village ramparts, it has a terrace overlooking Place du Jeu de Boules. You can watch locals play pétanque and absorb the French culture all around you. The other must-see is Fondation Marguerite and Aimé Maeght. Here you can take in the French modernist works of displaced Russian-French artist Marc Chagall (he settled in St. Paul for the remainder of his life after returning from New York) and those of other famous local artists.

* * *

So, readers, tell us: Has Paul come up with a winning algorithm? Does the thought of slipping into a pair of open-toed leather sandals and sipping pastis on ice while watching a rousing game of pétanque make you want to buy Paul’s book? How about feasting on some freshly made tarte Tatin while recalling the joys of reading/watching Under the Tuscan Sun and/or contemplating Marc Chagall’s Saint-Paul years (most of his paintings from that period were vibrant odes to love)? If so, be sure to check out his author site. You can also follow him on Twitter. And be sure to tell us: do you want to see Paul move on in the Expat Author Game?

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts. Hm, but will they include Paul’s next test?

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a biweekly round up of posts from The Displaced Nation—and so much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Photo credits: Book cover (supplied); sandals from Pixabay; other photos from Flickr creative commons.

THE ACCIDENTAL EXPAT: As an expat spouse, I had a ticket to explore life’s infinite possibilities

THE ACCIDENTAL EXPAT
With this post, Indra Chopra wraps up her account of life as a privileged expat spouse, which she found just as enriching in Asia as she did in the Middle East. Hm, can a memoir be far off?ML Awanohara

To continue where I left off in my last installment: Expat life in Hong Kong spoiled me. There was such a range of things and experiences to try, whether it was the cuisine, from street food to sumptuous banquets; apparel, from local brands to top designers; or sightseeing, from standard to offbeat adventures.

My one regret was that I was at least a decade late to the party. Hong Kong feels like a young person’s habitat. It’s a land of opportunity and, when it comes to activities, one is spoilt for choice.

My old stomping—or is it dawdling?—grounds in Hong Kong

While I’m not exactly a doddering dowager, over the years my priorities have changed to something more staid. In the initial months following our arrival, I would dawdle away several hours along Nathan Road, Kowloon’s main thoroughfare. I would start at the iconic Peninsula Hotel, which flaunts its large fleet of customized Rolls-Royce Phantoms (painted “Peninsula green”) and an afternoon tea that is served in the aristocratic ambience of colonial times—features that have earned it the epithet “Grande Dame of the Far East”.

I studiously avoided the blatant commercialism of the shopping arcades and new malls, the ubiquitous sellers of “genuine fake” watches, the touristy gift shops, and the crowded dai pai dongs (open-air food stalls).

Instead I would meander towards the quirky neighborhood of Yau Ma Tei and then would move on to Jordan, an area full of countless small shops, which also has a seedier side. One can sometimes glimpse dimly lit stairways to massage parlors or off-limits clubs with bouncers ready to bounce you back into the neon-lit pavement and the dense pedestrian and vehicular traffic, not to mention the continuous projection of entertainment, things for sale, and cultural attractions constantly trying to lure you in.

Indra’s stomping—or is it dawdling?—grounds in Hong Kong

Getting from A to B has never been easier!

We soon acquired our Permanent IDs and Hong Kong driver’s licenses, which provided a feeling of security. Every six months or so, we would review our plans to purchase a car, only to be dissuaded by well-meaning friends, who would point to the traffic and exorbitant parking fees.

As it turned out, our flat didn’t come with a parking space—or maybe it did but the landlord rented it separately.

Another reason for dithering was that Hong Kong’s public transport system is convenient, reliable and always-on time. I still feel embarrassed thinking back to an occasion when I was meeting with some friends for a day out. New to Hong Kong, I gave myself a margin of one hour only to arrive in 20 minutes flat (and that was after a couple of changes, from the hotel shuttle to the Mass Transit Railway, or MTR, and from one subway line to another). My friends were surprised to hear I’d set out so early. I was calculating by Indian Standard Time, a euphemistic expression that acknowledges we Indians are always late.

Another advantage of public transport was that it helped me hone my pronunciation skills, providing a chance to reify such fuzzy place names as Fung Yuen, Ting Kok, Tai Mei Tuk, Sha Tau Kok, Wo Keng Shan, Yuen Po Street, Yuen Ngai Street, Yim Po Fong Street, Hak Po Street, etc. I would jot down these names in my iPhone but the words would soon fade.

For a long time I thought Pok Fu Lam was a pork dish until someone pointed out it is one of Hong Kong’s high-end areas! Landmarks were easier to remember except on the occasions when the store/café/cha chaan teng (tea houses)/dai pai dong/fish stall in question had disappeared overnight.

Knowing that one could rely on the MTR (or other public transport) for my escape was a welcome thought whenever I would become overwhelmed by Hong Kong’s busy cafes, book stores, convenience stores, posh shops, popular hiking spots, beaches…

The joys of riding the MTR

Exploring to my heart’s content

As an expat, I am more inquisitive than acquisitive. I did not want to waste energy in “keeping up with Joneses” and relished my anonymity, a status that permitted me to explore to my heart’s content. I would amble through neighborhoods, mysterious alleys, busy and deserted city streets, temples and pubs, the promenades (Tsim Sha Tsui, West Kowloon), Central Hong Kong, Aberdeen, the outlying islands, mountain paths… I would hop on to ferries/MTR/buses in search of the unfiltered and unlisted.

I never felt self-conscious venturing out on my own, nor did I look over my shoulder. It felt safe and normal to be a solo female in pursuit of my own little adventures.

At the beginning I would seek advice from friends, but in due course I could plan a day’s outing by using guides and maps. I would select a destination that was manageable for my walking level, from the crowded to the remote. Hong Kong is blessed with hundreds of islands, and I wanted to cover as much as I could.

So much territory to cover, so little time!

In the expat life, wonders never cease

Life was a kind of party for me until 2013, when we decided to move back to our home base: Gurgaon, India. After that we had a life of reverse travel, staying in Hong Kong for stretches in furnished apartments. I missed the continuity of expat life and the opportunity it provides for participating in local events and other activities only insiders would hear about.

Some say that a major limitation of expat life is that feeling of dépaysement, the sense of disorientation that can come from being outside of your home country. To be honest, I never experienced this feeling in my long stays in Hong Kong or Oman, simply because to me home is, as my favorite travel chronicler, displaced Indian writer Pico Iyer has said, “not just the place where you happen to be born. It’s the place where you become yourself.”

In fact I often wonder how my personality would have developed had I stayed at home in the place of my birth/marriage and missed out on interactions with different nationalities and sensibilities, and been denied all the knowledge I obtained from other countries, all the many learning opportunities. There were times when I felt frazzled with the packing and unpacking and would envy friends and family living in their family homes and mansions, going for vacations and shopping abroad for a few months in a year. For them, “worldly possessions” always meant luxury.

But, then I would recall chance encounters I would have missed out on—for instance:

  • My encounters with a fellow walker in the Qurum Natural Park Rose Garden, located in the heart of Muscat (Oman’s capital city). The lady would stop me to gush about my “luck” in speaking English, the idea being that English-speaking Indians were India’s biggest export, and about how she wanted her children to study the English language. After several such encounters, I stopped going to the park as I knew where it was headed…to an invitation to coach her children.
  • The time in Salalah, Oman, when an acquaintance patted my stomach in show of remorse that I have “only two children” when she was expecting her sixth. I felt like telling her: “Lady, I am fortunate”; but desisted as we were her guests. Different countries and different takes…
  • The time in New York when a giant (to me) 6+-feet-tall African American jogger stopped in his tracks and exclaimed: “But you are so small!”
  • Countless times In Hong Kong when the super slim sales girls made me feel fat, even though I am considered “petite” in the western world and my country.

Like many of us expats, Indra sometimes felt as though she’d fallen down the rabbit hole

My husband and I have also encountered hostile reactions to our presence in foreign lands. That has been its own kind of learning process. Those who’ve taught us harsher lessons have included:

  • A churlish waitress in Shanghai who insisted on serving us beef despite our telling her we do not eat beef—my friend even drew a chicken and made flapping sounds.
  • The impassive adults in Mainland China and Hong Kong who refused to sit next to us on public transport.
  • Salespeople in a watch/perfume or brand apparel showrooms in Hong Kong who made sarcastic “no cheepo” comments simply because we happened to be from the subcontinent.
  • Someone in San Francisco who responded to my presence with a racial slur…

We travelers need to have resilience, and I’ve always been able to brush aside these unfriendly receptions. To quote Pico Iyer again:

“…I’ve always felt that the beauty of being surrounded by the foreign is that it slaps you awake.”

Repatriated, for now

For the past five months we have been living in our home city, Gurgaon. The reason: my husband is helping a friend from Mainland China set up a business in India. I am in my own house and can hire full-time help 365 days a year or have an army of part-timers doing specific tasks. I have opted for the latter: they return when they see the doors ajar.

We are back to where we ended/started. I see the shift as an opportunity to conclude my the travelogue I’ve been writing for the past four years. Whenever I tell myself “this is the last entry,” fresh new flashbacks wait to be uploaded.

In spring, the gardens here are in full bloom: mango blossoms and frangipani flowers. It’s also the time when we have the Holi festival of colors. Whenever I hear the warbling of a koel, it transports me to my hometown of Allahabad: I am surrounded by mango trees, taking an early morning dip in the River Ganges.

In short this is the best season to be in India. It is also the season for flu and since I was late in getting my flu shot, I’ve had a scratchy throat, hacking cough and fever these past couple of weeks(!).

Spring has sprung in India

Some parting thoughts

I’ve reconnected with my book club, and somewhat to my surprise, this month’s book is A Long Way Home, by Saroo Brierley, which as you probably know, has been turned into the movie Lion. The story tells of five-year-old Saroo’s harrowing train journey from somewhere in Central India across the plains to end in Kolkata on the Eastern shores. He saves himself from hunger, rape, murder and the adoption home in this story of grit and ingenuity.

I fully empathized with Saroo as I find Kolkata (Calcutta) the filthiest city in India. (I first visited Kolkata in 1979, and that was my last because I refused to set foot in the city despite its historical and literary past.)

Saroo is adopted by an Australian couple and taken to Tasmania. But eventually he is consumed by the desire to find his real family and, using Google Earth, tracks the place of his birth and early childhood. Twenty-five years after his departure from India, he returns to his hometown and is reunited with his biological mother and sister. The story has a fairy-tale ending: the two families are united and everyone lives happily ever after.

Reading this novel has rekindled another memory—of an afternoon spent with a friend in Guangzhou, China, in 2011. My friend had taken me to a city park and I was surprised to see nearly a dozen Caucasian parents with identical prams containing Chinese infants. I had read about the adoption process being a large-scale industry in China; but I found I had mixed emotions at the sight of these innocent babies, oblivious about their soon-to-be-taken journeys to far-away lands. On the one hand, it’s a blessing for these children to find homes where they’ll be loved and cared for. On the other, I wondered whether these children would someday seek closure like Saroo did.

The picture of these prams comes to mind whenever I read about adopted children returning to their “homes” to find their real parents. It must be a good thing that China has now ended its famous one-child policy that made so many parents opt to keep the boys or “Little Buddhas” and give away the girls for adoption or to relatives.

And speaking of adoption, I now look back on the life that I led in my adoptive city, Hong Kong, through the privileged eyes of a global citizen. True, the island country has problems with increasing population, pollution, traffic and rampant materialism. But for me it will always be a rainbow land, where I was able to lead a charmed existence.

Reading about an adopted Indian child in A Long Way Home, Indra’s first association takes her back to her adopted homeland…

* * *

Thank you, Indra! I appreciate your ability to see the bigger picture in all of this. Despite setbacks, despite coming to the party a little late, as you put it, you made the most of your expat opportunities and always understood how privileged you were to have places like Muscat and Hong Kong as your personal playgrounds. I also really appreciate your story about reading A Long Way Home with your book club back in India. It often strikes me that one of the biggest legacies of expat life is having a different set of associations to most people in your homeland! I take these instances as little reminders of the enriched life I have led, and I suspect you do as well… —ML Awanohara

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

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Photo credits: Opening visual: Airplane photo and India photo via Pixabay. Other photos supplied or else downloaded from Pixabay.

WORLD OF WORDS: On a Mary Morris-inspired kick down in Mexico, writer Marianne Bohr feels entirely at home

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about words?

Columnist Marianne Bohr in her World of Words

Cinco de Mayo is fast approaching, a holiday that is virtually ignored in Mexico but, for some reason, has evolved into a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage in the United States. Here, Marianne Bohr tells a rather different story of heading to Mexico to celebrate her Mexican heritage in situ—an adventure that of course involves immersing herself in a world of (Mexican Spanish) words. —ML Awanohara

Me llamo Mariana Cañedo. My name is Mariana Cañedo.

“Did you know that Mayan Indians have crooked fingers?” my grandmother asks as she rubs my oddly shaped adolescent pinky. “It’s true,” she says as I wince and look at her quizzically.

“Your grandfather was born in Mexico, so you never know. You could be an Indian princess.” She gives a quick laugh that ends in her characteristic snort.

My Midwestern grandmother has a penchant for coming up with all sorts of interesting, random tidbits of information.

“Don’t cha know,” she says, “one day you’ll go to Mexico and find out for yourself.”

* * *

Going to San Miguel de Allende is a calling. The city has been tucked away in a cobblestoned corner of my imagination for 25 years. Mary Morris’s courageous chronicle Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone put it there. Her soul-baring tale of living in San Miguel, 6,400 feet high in the Sierra Madre of central Mexico, captured my heart and gave me even more courage than I already had to travel alone.

And now I’m finally here, lucky girl that I am, on my own for a week-long writer’s conference.

Mary Morris’s soul-bearing tale of living in San Miguel captured Marianne’s heart at an early age.

The place is everything I’d pictured, painted in vivid, brilliant color: greens and golds; mango, mustard, and lemon; and of course, every shade of red imaginable—burgundy, cayenne, paprika and raspberry. Ceramic pots filled white, purple, and blue blossoms set off the pueblo colors.

Brimming with boisterous gardens and with a temperate, year-round climate of brisk mornings, warm afternoons, and cool evenings, San Miguel is eternally spring. With more than 140,000 residents, it can certainly be labeled a city, but deeper down, at its heart, it’s a delightful, lively village.

There are many places in the world others consider lovely but leave me feeling cold. San Miguel, on the other hand, embraced me the moment I arrived. I feel I belong here, with these people of my tribes.

“The place is everything I’d pictured, painted in vivid, brilliant color…” (Photos supplied.)

At home with her two tribes

One tribe is the writers I commune with during the day—novelists, poets, essayists, playwrights, memoirists, and screenwriters. And when I escape into the long shadows and crystalline light of the late afternoon to wander narrow lanes between high, painted stucco walls and monumental wooden doorways, I find my other tribe, the people who look like my father and my grandfather before him.

The men are short and the women shorter. Just like my Dad and just like me. I recognize my siblings’ body types in those of the flower vendors and musicians on the square in front of the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel. The features set in their silky brown complexions—heavy-lidded eyes and full lips—are the very same features that look back at me and my easily tanned white skin in the mirror.

These people are my ancestors, those in the sepia picture of my grandfather’s 1906 First Communion, his mother and his sister beside him, multiple aunts and cousins in the background.

Yes, indeed, I feel at home here.

The faces of people in San Miguel remind Marianne of the photos of her ancestors. Photo credit: San Miguel de Allende, by Christopher Michael via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

What if my Mexican grandfather…?

I stop for breakfast one morning on San Miguel’s central square. I choose a table in the shade, the breeze already warm. My mouth waters as a beautifully arranged platter of fresh fruit is set in front of me—mango, melon, banana, pineapple, and papaya, with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkling of granola.

The waiter could be my brother with his sturdy Cañedo silhouette. My years of Spanish classes serve me well as he and I chat, even though I admit: “Comprendo mucho, pero hablo solamente un poquito.” I understand a lot but I speak only a little.

Fruit juice drips from my chin and my thoughts drift to a “what-if” of my family tree. What if my Mexican grandfather and my American father after him, hadn’t both married Irish women, Mae Duffy and Mary Darby? I would likely look just like her, this woman who passes by in a hot pink dress and turquoise apron—traditional dress worn to help sell the handmade dolls and woven flowers spilling from baskets looped over her arms. My long, dirty blond hair, while still long and straight, would be lustrous and dark, just like hers. Mi hermana mexicana. My Mexican sister.

My new friend clears my empty plate and asks if I’d like more coffee. “No, gracias,” I answer and smile. It’s time to get back to my other tribe—my writing tribe—but I’m reluctant to leave this comfortable spot where it’s so easy to watch the world of San Miguel pass by. I pay la cuenta and leave a tip worthy of family.

“Hasta mañana?” he asks as I swing my bag over my shoulder. Will I see you tomorrow?

“¡Claro que sí, señor, hasta mañana!” Of course you’ll see me tomorrow!

I step from behind my table, my crooked pinkie waving goodbye in the sunshine.

* * *

Marianne, I understand that San Miguel has thousands of Canadian and American expatriate residents as well as an untold number of snowbirds in the winter months, many of whom simply use English, which is widely spoken in the city. I love it that you went to that part of the world for creative purposes and to explore your roots. And of course you spoke in Spanish! (I’d expect nothing less…) —ML Awanohara

Readers, have you ever had the experience of recognizing the faces of your ancestors in a foreign country? Do tell in the comments!

Marianne C. Bohr is a writer whose book, Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries, was published in September 2015 with She Writes Press. She married her high school sweetheart and travel partner, and with their two grown children, follows her own advice and travels at every opportunity. The couple has taken early retirement in Park City, Utah, where Marianne is now working on Book #2. She has an author site where she keeps a blog, and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

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Photo credits: Top of page: Marianne Bohr (supplied); world map via Pixabay. All other images via Pixabay except the one of red tape: Tied up in red tape, by James Petts via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

A valentine to kindred creative spirits encountered in far-away lands

Expat life has a transient quality that is not always conducive to making close friends. Thus when two people reach out and find a connection, it feels very special, as we learn from this guest post by Philippa Ramsden, a Scottish writer who until recently was living in Burma/Myanmar. Philippa has been on our site before. Her story about discovering she had breast cancer shortly after her arrival in Rangoon/Yangon was one of the dragonfruit “morsels” that Shannon Young, who contributes our Diary of an Expat Writer column, chose to share with the release of an anthology she edited in 2014, How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia. I must say, it is a pleasure to have Philippa back in our midst. Not only is she doing much better health-wise, but her story of friendship makes a perfect read for Valentine’s Day! —ML Awanohara

As I was eating my breakfast quietly this morning, in this peaceful retreat, I was joined at the table by another couple. We started chatting a little, enthusiastic about the day ahead and our various plans for exploring, relaxing and creating.

That’s when I saw the plate of dragonfruit in front of them! I hadn’t seen dragonfruit since leaving Asia, I did not even know it grew in South America*.

It was a striking coincidence given the special place dragonfruit holds in my creative heart. The first time I had my writing published in a proper book was when it appeared in the How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? anthology, which came out in 2014. What’s more, something unexpected emerged from the process of refining the writing in preparation for publication, which ultimately led to my present surroundings.

* * *

We were a team of 27 women, including and guided by our editor, Shannon Young, towards producing a collection of stories from our lives as women in Asia. Stories of our lives in countries where we were essentially guests, for a shorter or longer term. From a dozen different countries, we varied enormously in our situations but were tied together by the fact that we were all, or had been, women living in Asia as expatriates.

It was fascinating to get to know each other through our stories and through email connection as we were kept up to date on the decision of the title, the reveal of the cover art and the lead-up to publication.

Just after my writer’s copy of the anthology arrived, I received an email from one of the other writers, Sharon Brown. She had read my account of moving to Myanmar and being diagnosed with cancer. I, meanwhile, had read her story, “Our Little Piece of Vietnam,” in which she recounted hurtling through the streets of Hanoi on the back of a motorbike while being in the throes of labor, reaching the hospital just in time for the (safe) arrival of her daughter.

Sharon had reached out to me because she and her family were moving to Yangon!

“Once we’re settled in, if you have time, I would love to meet with you for tea one day,” her email said.

And indeed we did. Just think, had it not been for our Dragonfruit connection, it is highly unlikely that our paths would have crossed in Myanmar over the two years of their stay. We would not have enjoyed those cuppas and chats, writing together or being part of the same book club.

A wonderful connection, thanks to the Dragonfruit anthology.

cuppas-and-chats

Fast forward two years, to May 2016. As it turned out, Sharon and I were both preparing to leave Myanmar. I was packing to leave Asia for Africa, and I learned that she was leaving Asia for South America: Ecuador. Along with her husband, she was embracing the opportunity to take on a new challenge. They would be running an eco-lodge in Ecuador, something close to their hearts, values and beliefs. They were filled with enthusiasm and zest for their new adventure.

Sharon said:

“You should come to the lodge. It would be the perfect place for a writing retreat. Do come.”

What a fascinating thought—but hardly a likely venture. Ecuador is further west than I have ever travelled. It is more than a day’s travel from Africa. Would it be rash to travel such a distance when the year has already seen such intensity, change and indeed long-distance travel? Would it not be wasteful given that there is so much to explore on my new African doorstep?

These are sensible questions, but my mind is not so wise. The thought kept returning that this is an opportunity which might not arise again. That it is probably better to travel when health is reasonable as nothing can be taken for granted. And the sneaking reminder, that if I did visit Ecuador, then incredibly, this would be a year which would see me on no less than five continents. (I do believe that I have not travelled to more than two continents in any year in the past.) How many grandmothers are able to do that?

* * *

So here I am, in the beautiful La Casa Verde Eco Guest House, nestling in the hills of Ecuador. I am sitting on the balcony of what is now being called “The Writing Room”, tapping away at the keyboard with the steep green hills right in front of me, the sound of a donkey braying in the distance, the trees swaying in the breeze and in the company of blue grey tanagers. The creative silence of the past months is being lifted gently in these inspiring hills.

I could not resist the temptation of visiting such a new part of the world to me, and of bringing the year to a close in a peaceful and inspiring place.

Had it not been for our Dragonfruit connection, I might never have made it to this fascinating new land. Serendipity and the friendship of a kindred spirit have enabled this retreat to happen.

Like so many journeys, the one to get here was not an easy one, but I am powerfully reminded of the importance of making that effort and seizing the day. These opportunities are to be embraced and treasured. And will surely be long remembered.

Thank you, Dragonfruit!

Editor’s note: In fact, dragonfruit, or pitaya, is native to the Americas.

serendipity-and-friendship

* * *

And thank YOU, Philippa, for such an uplifting story! Displaced Nationers, do you have any stories of friendships that blossomed because of creative pursuits, and if so, did they lead you to new parts of the world? Do tell in the comments.

And if this excerpt has made you curious to about Philippa Ramsden, her blog is Feisty Blue Gecko, where a version of this post first appeared. You can also find her on Facebook and twitter. She has written several meditations on the challenges and joys of life in a foreign environment—and they are all fascinating. She is currently working on a memoir.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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Photo credits:
Opening visual: (clockwise, from top left) Dragonfruit anthology cover art; the photos of schoolgirls in Baños, Ecuador (where the eco-lodge is), of the two young women in a field in Myanmar, and the two kinds of dragonfruit are all from Pixabay.
Second visual: The photos of the cups of tea and of the two women making a heart with their hands are both from Pixabay. Image on the left: Inside The Strand Hotel & some of their gift shops – Rangoon, Myanmar (Burma), by Kathy via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); image on right: downtown Rangoon with Sule Pagoda in distance, supplied by Philippa Ramsden.
Last visual: The photos of the green hills of Ecuador and the eco-lodge balcony view were supplied by Philippa; the photo of the blue grey tanagers is from Pixabay; and the rainbow image should be attributed as: Ecuador, over the rainbow, Baños, by Rinaldo Wurglitsch via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

WORLD OF WORDS: When words fail you: i.e., you have a throbbing toothache in a foreign country

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about words?

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about French words?

Columnist Marianne Bohr traveled to Corsica last summer to do the GR20 two-week hike across the island, said to be the most grueling long-distance trail in Europe. (She was also, btw, collecting material for Book #2!) When she told me this, I remember thinking: she’s chosen such a curious location! As some readers may recall from Lorraine Mace’s interview with novelist Vanessa Couchman, Corsica exudes a sense of displacement. Annexed by France in 1769, it retains a distinctly Italian flavor. Marianne told meshe read Couchman’s novel, The House at Zaronza, which is set in Corsica, when preparing for her trip. But nothing, readers, could have prepared her for the adventure she shares with us below. —ML Awanohara

My worst travel nightmare has materialized: a throbbing toothache in a foreign country. From experience, I’m sure it’s a dead nerve and I need antibiotics tout de suite.

After two days of downing pain relievers—I am miles from a town of any size on Corsica—I know I must deal with this immediately. Certainly before boarding a ferry from France to Sardinia, Italy—if there’s going to be any chance of me communicating with the doctor.

Readers, as you know I love immersing myself in the world of words. Can you imagine how I felt being in a situation where I was about to have no words?

throbbing-toothache-nightmare

We arrive in Bonafacio, a striking city with a stout hilltop fortress and stunning white chalk cliffs on the southern tip of the island. France is famous for its red tape and I’m ready to tackle it with respect to healthcare.

We reserve a late afternoon ferry for my emergency journey to Italy. Close to tears from the ache, I tell our hotel desk clerk what’s wrong and ask if she can get me a medical appointment. She picks up the phone and dials the local doctor whose office is down at the port. “Yes, he is seeing walk-in patients this morning. Here’s his address and our shuttle will take you.”

We enter his bare-bones, second-story walk-up office in a pastel 18th-century building overlooking the sparkling harbor. I wait ten minutes until his current patient comes out and then in I go. All he asks is my name. No ID, no insurance paperwork, nothing else. I’m in need and he’s treating me. A couple of questions, a quick look in my mouth, a few taps on my teeth, and he writes two prescriptions: one for an antibiotic and one for pain (a drug not available back home). Total damage: $33.

We head to the pharmacy next door, shell out a whopping $16 for the meds, and we’re on our way. Less than an hour after my plaint at the hotel and just shy of $50 for an impromptu doctor’s consult and the cure for my pain. I pop the pills and by the time we board the ferry hours later, my jaw is no longer on fire.

I can only imagine how long visitors to the US would wait, what documents they would be required to provide, and how much they would pay for the same treatment. Red tape and unconscionable fees in France? Not when it comes to healthcare.

french-health-care

* * *

What a harrowing tale, Marianne! But the happy ending reminds me of the first time I went to a doctor in Britain. I was astounded that there weren’t any bills and the doctor simply tried to help me. After that, I became a national-health-service convert. It was a formative moment. It’s also a timely reminder of what we may be giving up in this country—I’m thinking of our post-election debate! —ML Awanohara

Readers, have you ever had this kind of nightmare in a foreign country? Do tell in the comments!

Marianne C. Bohr is a writer whose book, Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries, was published in September 2015 with She Writes Press. She married her high school sweetheart and travel partner, and with their two grown children, follows her own advice and travels at every opportunity. The couple has just now taken early retirement in Park City, Utah, where she plans to spend her time working on Book #2. Marianne has an author site where she keeps a blog, and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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Photo credits: Top of page: Marianne Bohr (supplied); world map via Pixabay. All other images via Pixabay except the one of red tape: Tied up in red tape, by James Petts via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

EXPAT AUTHOR GAME: What score does Lisa Morrow earn on the “international creative” scale? (2/2)


Readers, I’m happy to report that Lisa Morrow aced the algorithm test for her latest book, Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul, and will therefore be advancing to the second half of the Expat Author Game.

For this second round, we’ll be looking to see how closely she measures up to the Displaced Nation’s (admittedly somewhat quirky) notion of an “international creative.”

On the face of it, Lisa most certainly qualifies as “international”. Originally from Australia, she nurtured a passion for Turkey for many years, to the point where she and her husband finally took the leap to become full-time expats in Istanbul (they live in Göztepe, on the Asian side—extra points, Lisa, for that!).

Likewise, I think it is fair to call her “creative”. In addition to her latest book, recounting the couple’s permanent move to Istanbul, she has produced two books of essays:

But let’s see how Lisa does with this series of challenges on less tangible, but equally important, indicators of international creativity. Is she truly, madly, deeply “displaced”?

Welcome back, Lisa, and now let’s get started. Many residents of the Displaced Nation have had a moment or two when they’ve felt like a character in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, myself included. How about you? Please illustrate, if possible, with quotes.

Sure, I welcome this new series of challenges. Here are my top two picks for Alice quotes, with explanations:

1) ALICE TO CHESHIRE CAT: “But I don’t want to go among mad people.” What is madness anyway? Some people might define it as packing up all your personal belongings and moving to the other side of the world where you don’t speak the language, share the religion or properly understand the culture. A lot of my family and friends certainly thought my move to Turkey was risky, but if I’d stayed put in suburbia, where I’ve never ever felt at home, I’d have slowly wilted under the burden of trying to conform and eventually drowned in a rule-bound, limited life, before succumbing most definitely to madness.

2) ALICE TO MOCK TURTLE & GRYPHON: “…it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” I’ve met more people in six years living in Istanbul than I’ve met in the whole of the last twenty years. The majority of them have been Turkish, and as I worked through the cultural differences to develop close friendships with some, I’ve had to question who I am, how I relate to people, and what I want in all my relationships much more intensely than at any other time in my life. I did the same when I struck up friendships with foreigners. Such ties are equally fraught because you have to push past the tendency to think you have a common bond just because you all live in a particular country and aren’t natives of that country. Along the way, I’ve had some of my beliefs, in particular my tendency to think everyone is naturally generous and supportive, rather painfully disproved. That said, it’s been a positive experience overall because by being exposed to so many different people, beliefs, behaviours and lifestyles, I’m a very different person now than when I first came to Turkey, much more confident in my judgements of people—and that makes me happy. Nonetheless I’ll always be a work in progress. Feel free to ask me this question again in ten years’ time!

Moving on: According to George Elliot’s Maggie Tulliver, the best reason to leave her native village of St. Ogg’s would be to see other creatures like the elephant. What’s the most exotic animal you’ve observed in its native setting?

muffin-of-istanbulThat’s easy: Muffin the Street Cat. Part untamed domestic tabby, part savage cheetah, Muffin prowled our Istanbul neighbourhood in search of prey. Whenever I came back from doing the shopping he’d be waiting for me, drawn by the rustling of my plastic bags. Brought up never to feed wild animals, I’d fend off his ferocious claws before running for the front door. (That’s him in the photo: it’s as close as the beast ever allowed me to get. A very camera shy breed!) Even more spectacular than Muffin was his former pack mate Son of Satan, last seen struggling to get through the front gate after eating too much kibble. They breed them tough in Istanbul.

Last but not least on this series of literary challenges: We’re curious about whether you’ve had any Wizard of Oz moments when venturing across borders. Again, please use a quote or two.

For this challenge, there’s really only one quote I can use:

DOROTHY (WHILE CLICKING HEELS): “There is no place like home.” As well as being a writer I’ve worked as an ESL/EFL English teacher for many years and know how to teach the difference between the word ‘house’ and the word ‘home’. I teach that the former is a concrete structure of bricks and mortar and wood, while home is a conceptual idea of place and belonging. I can say that one gives solid, quantifiable shelter and protection, while the other gives, what? This is where I come unstuck because I have no meaningful comprehension of the idea of home. I can list what it’s not. It’s not my country of birth, it’s not the place where I spent my childhood, it’s not a house, apartment, flat or condo I’ve lived in. My furniture and belongings give me comfort but they aren’t home. Of all my possessions, my private library that packs up into 30 boxes and spans more than thirty years of my life, is the one thing I can’t imagine doing without. And yet I am still at home when my beloved books are in storage and I only have a poorly stocked public library for sustenance. I have to conclude that home—be it in me, a person or a place—is where I am most myself.

Moving on to another dimension of creativity: telling tales of one’s travels through photos. Can you offer a couple of examples?

My writing is fueled by the desire to examine the way tradition and modernity clash in Turkey, and meld to form something new. I’m also keen to dig behind the popular tourist images of mosques and beaches, to show the little everyday oddities that make Istanbul in particular such a fascinating place—like these goats I took a photo of in the Eminönü neighborhood:
goatsin-eminonu_lisamorrow

The photo below is from a street in Paris, which seemed unremarkable from the pavement but when I looked up I was rewarded by finding something extraordinary in the ordinary—another theme I explore in my writing.
parisstreetart_lisamorrow

And now for our interplanetary challenge: Can you envision taking your exploration of other modes of being beyond Planet Earth? How about a trip to Mars?

To answer this I’m going to borrow a line from Wendy Fox’s new novel The Pull of It, which is set in Turkey. She writes, “What kind of person doesn’t wonder about other people’s lives?”—and I have to say too many kinds of people. The two types that bother me most are those who run the world and don’t seem to care what others suffer, and those who write, vlog, tweet and Instagram their travels as lists of countries they’ve ‘done’, devoid of any reference to the actual inhabitants of whatever city or place they proclaim themselves expert. If ever our planet is left with just these two types of people—and no one is writing, thinking, exploring, documenting, experimenting, painting, and creating work based on wondering about other people’s lives—then I’ll go to Mars. My only caveat being that non-wonderers aren’t welcome.

* * *

Congratulations, Lisa! You have reached the end of the Expat Authors Game. I like the way you played it, not always giving us the obvious answers. Readers, it’s time to score Lisa Morrow’s performance on Part Two. How do you think she did with the three literary references? That was an interesting comment she made, about preferring the madness of Istanbul to the Sydney ‘burbs, and she even came out with her own non-definition of “home”! And what about that animal of hers, did you find it exotic enough? (Are we sure there aren’t any cats like Muffin in Sydney?) Still, that photo of the Istanbul goats more than makes up for it…!

Finally please note: If you’ve given Lisa Morrow a high score and her formula for international creativity appeals, we urge you to check out her author site. You can also follow her on Facebook (she adds photos, tips and vignettes about Istanbul and Turkey to the page nearly every day) and let’s not forget Twitter.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a biweekly round up of posts from The Displaced Nation—and so much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Photo credits: Photo of Lisa supplied; her comment: “Although I look happy in this photo taken in Bayonne, France, I don’t speak a word of French. It’s like being two years old and no one can understand you, but because you’re an adult you can’t throw a temper tantrum to get what you want.” All other photos from Pixabay.

EXPAT AUTHOR GAME: Lisa Morrow’s algorithm for “Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul” (1/2)


This month I am delighted to welcome Lisa Morrow to the Displaced Nation as the very first guest in our new author interview series, which, in my inimitable style, I’ve devised as a kind of game expat authors can play.

I told Lisa that her first challenge would be to supply an algorithm for her latest book rather than leaving it up to Amazon: if we like Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul, what would we also like?

Then, assuming she comes up with the goods, her next challenge would be to take the Displaced Nation’s “test” to measure how well she qualifies as an “international creative”—the results of which will be published in a second post.

It’s to Lisa’s everlasting credit that she was “game” to be the first to take on these considerable challenges. For those who haven’t read it yet, her most recent book, Waiting for Tulips to Bloom, tells the story of what prompted Lisa and her husband to pick up and move from their native Australia to Göztepe, on the Asian side of Istanbul, in 2010. Now, Lisa’s decision to move to Turkey was a long time in coming. She’d first developed a passion for the country and its people when living and working in London many years before. She’d visited Turkey for the first time as a tourist and somehow found her way to Göreme, a town in Cappadocia (central Turkey), where she’d ended up staying for three months. That first stay marked the start of a period of traveling back and forth between Sydney and Istanbul, living between both places, culminating in the “permanent” move almost seven years ago.

Given Lisa’s long exposure to Turkey, the transition to full-time expat life in Istanbul wasn’t as smooth as expected, and her new book recounts both the “drama and the joy involved,” to use Lisa’s words.

And now let’s roll out Lisa’s algorithm, beginning with…

algorithm_entertainment

If we like Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom, which movie/musical/play/TV series would we also like?

One film that closely mirrors some of the major themes in my book is The Dressmaker, based on the novel by Rosalie Ham, directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse and starring Kate Winslet. After making herself into everything her mother wasn’t and escaping the stifling norms of Australian society, Tilly Dunnage (Kate) returns to her hometown. Once there she’s tested by living in a community bound by strict rules governing social intercourse and an unquestioned social hierarchy. Although The Dressmaker is set in Australia, with a main character who’s a native speaker born into the culture, Tilly is as displaced in the fictional town of Dungatar as I have often been in the real world of Turkey. Though a long ways away from 1950s small-town Australia, Turkey is equally rigid about social interactions and power structures. To live here I’ve had to get a handle on them or risk forever being ostracised. However, in order to be comfortable in both my new home and myself, I’ve had to learn to what I’m capable of, and what principles I’m not prepared to relinquish. I’ve also had to be flexible enough to incorporate different ways of seeing and living into my own perspective and daily practices. In both The Dressmaker and my book Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul, belonging, and feeling happy as a result, isn’t predicated on living in your place of birth. It’s about understanding that being displaced is a point of reference from which to start living, regardless of where you find yourself, and not a condition to be cured.

What meal or dish would go well with reading your book?

The dish that would go best with reading my book is Çerkez Tavuğu, or Circassian Chicken as it’s known in English. This dish doesn’t require infinite culinary skill, just a lot of time and patience to prepare it. What results is a cultural and historical delight harking back to the complexity of Turkey’s multicultural past. It reflects my experience of coming to live in Turkey, where I learnt that what I thought was important to know wasn’t helpful, and only by being patient would I ever get what I wanted. I particularly like the inclusion of walnuts in the sauce because they’re a symbol of strength and power. I’ve come to realise I have a lot more of both than I ever knew.

The recipe is quite long so here is a link to the website that gives the closest version of the one I cook. Naturally I make it using a whole chicken because if I’m going to this much trouble, I want to share the results with all my friends. I also add bay leaves to the chicken when I cook it, and freeze any leftover stock to use in soups and casseroles later on. (You never know when you’ll need it!)

drink-algorithm

If your book had a signature cocktail, what would it be?

It would have to be a champagne cocktail. According to the International Bar Association:

“A champagne cocktail is an alcoholic drink made with sugar, Angostura bitters, champagne, brandy and a maraschino cherry as a garnish.”

I prefer mine with just a sugar cube at the bottom of a chilled champagne flute, two or three drops Angostura Bitters or cognac when available and then filled to the top with brut champagne. It’s the perfect signature drink for my book because like the champagne cocktail, Turkish culture, although bound by regulations, is extremely versatile and adaptable. Few people actually follow the rules and when things go wrong, which they often do, they’re very good at finding alternative ways of doing things. As a person prone to getting hung up on details and subsequently unable to creatively problem-solve, living in Istanbul and constantly having to re-negotiate ways of being stops me falling back into old habits.

fashion-algorithm

Are there any special clothes/headgear/costumes/accessories we could wear to put us in the mood for reading your book?

Definitely a scarf. Not because I live in a predominantly Muslim country, although I do cover my head to show respect when I enter a mosque, but because I’m never without one. For the early chapters of my book a light cotton number in strong summer colours will put you in the mood for my optimism and enthusiasm as I pounded the pavements in Istanbul in search of a new home. As autumn sets in and things start to go pear-shaped, you’ll need something with a bit of body to wind around your neck and shoulders to give comfort when none is on offer. Winter brings biting cold and overwhelming stress, so wrap up tight in a shawl that covers the outfit you’re likely to wear day after day as you battle your fears and doubts. Spring passes in a minute so when summer comes around again choose something to wrap around your hips. Make sure it’s sewn with coins, so you jingle with delight when you join me as I dance for joy.

travel-algorithm

If we wanted to take a mini-trip to understand your story better, where would you recommend we travel and which one or two sights should we take in?

It would have to be to Istanbul, because it’s a city without substitute. Come on a Friday and head straight to Kadıköy, on the Asian side of the city. It’s a place to experience rather than see, so plunge straight into the crisscross of streets and make your way through the crowds of Friday shoppers, skirt the overflow of devout congregants praying on rugs rolled out onto the sidewalks, take in the scents, sight and sounds of Fish Street, and eat spicy lahmacun with parsley and lemon at Borsam. You’ll see plenty you want to photograph but first just stop, look and feel the energy swirling around you. Living in a city with so many people can be overwhelming, so I always try to balance the mania with more peaceful days out along the shores of the Bosphorus. Two of my favourite neighbourhoods are Kuruçeşme and Arnavutköy, because they offer a glimpse into Turkey’s multicultural past under Ottoman rule. You can find out more about these neighbourhoods in the Discover Istanbul section of my blog, Inside Out Istanbul, and from my book of travel essays with that title, recently updated.

* * *

So, readers, tell us: Has Lisa come up with a winning algorithm? Does the thought of wearing a jingly scarf, sipping a champagne cocktail and feasting on Circassian Chicken, watching Aussie flicks, and traveling to the Asian side of Istanbul (at least from your armchair!) make you want to buy Lisa’s book? At the very least, does it make you want to keep in touch with Lisa and her adventures? If so, be sure to check out her author site You can also follow her on Facebook (she adds photos, tips and vignettes about Istanbul and Turkey to the page nearly every day) and let’s not forget Twitter. And please leave any questions for Lisa in the comments.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts. Will they include Lisa’s next test? (You tell us: do you want to see her move on in the Expat Author Game?)

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a biweekly round up of posts from The Displaced Nation—and so much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

  • LOCATION, LOCUTION: An expat life in Istanbul frees Oliver Tidy to write crime novels set in places he knows well (and Turkey, too!)
  • Ten years after “Expat Harem,” foreign women will have another say on expat life in Turkey
  • BOOK REVIEW: “Perking the Pansies — Jack and Liam move to Turkey,” by Jack Scott
  • Photo credits: All photos from Pixabay; book cover (supplied).

    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!

    Related posts:

    WORLD OF WORDS: The travail of travel abroad with a group of middle schoolers (2/2)

    Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about words?

    Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about French words?

    What is it like to tour France with a bunch of American middle schoolers? It involves travel, for sure, but also no small amount of travail, as Marianne Bohr, who besides being a writer is a teacher of middle-school French, discovered this past spring break. This month we present Part Two of her lively travel/travail-ogue; anyone traveling with kids this summer should appreciate. (Miss Part One? Find it here.)

    We are now four days into April and my students and I have been to Paris and to several chateaux in the Loire Valley. Amid some moans, groans and yawns, I’ve been reminding them that the English word travel comes from the French word travail. Work. Yes, travel can sometimes be a lot of work.

    That said, we’ve already had plenty of enjoyable moments, including the rare sight of a rainbow over the Château de Chambord. Our French tour director, Nathalie, suggested this as the title for my next book: A Rainbow Over Chambord.

    And now we’ve made it to gentle, lovely Normandy and Brittany. Apples and butter, Camembert and cows. No drama, no high emotions today—not until we reach the D-Day beaches tomorrow. We’re in the land of crêpes and galettes.

    And what would our nine days be without a rude French waiter—actually quite difficult to find these days.

    Monsieur Méchant, my students call him. They’re using one of our vocabulary words! Mr. Mean.

    While they’ve learned to appreciate some French delicacies (poulet confit, profiteroles, pork rillettes, chicken liver pâtéun croque monsieur), they occasionally fall back on the familiar.

    “That may be the worst sandwich I’ve ever had.”

    “Ah, so you’ve learned an important lesson, non? Never order a baguette called The American in France!”

    We have reached Mont Saint-Michel, a spikey medieval stronghold and pilgrimage destination jutting out into the English Channel. I revel in the calm of its cloister, three arches of which are open to the sea.

    This place looks like a French Hogwarts, and this would be the dining hall. Perfect.

    Dozens of seagulls soaring overhead—look how cute they are up close!

    So, Mont St Michel was first built in the 700s? That’s over 1,000 years ago!

    “Your math skills astound me,” I say with a smile.

    We amble down the steep, corkscrewed lanes of the abbey and then through the village below. As I point out the rustic La Mère Poulard Café, famous for its fluffy omelettes Normandes, we manage to bump, very literally, into a working film crew. They push us aside. Make way for the star.

    “Hey, they’re shooting a film—wow, a French actress!”

    “Do you know her, Madame Bohr?”

    “I think it’s just a commercial or there would be more cameras, right?”

    We stand and watch two takes, gawking from the sides of the cobblestoned footpath, as the thirty-something beauty performs a soliloquy on a cell phone. Our brush with Gallic fame for the day. I google the actress that evening—redheaded French actress with blue eyes. How many could there be? And there she is: Audrey Fleurot, of Les IntouchablesMidnight in Paris and a yet-unknown film shot on Mont St. Michel.

    “I had no idea you spoke so much French, Madame Bohr. You can ask directions and read the signs and talk to our guides and order food. And you can even order wine!”

    Thank God for that. J’ai la patate (I’m in the mood).
    Brittany and Normandy

    Our longest day

    “I thought our room was on the first floor. She said premier étage, didn’t she?”

    “Why do we need the elevator?”

    “Because in France, the first floor is on the second floor. We talked about it in class, but now you’ll remember,” I say. 

    Our coach puts dozens of kilometers of narrow country roads behind us, weaving past stone buildings in various states of disrepair. They’ve been here for centuries—long before World War II came close to obliterating them all. Houses, barns, stables, outbuildings, storage sheds, churches. Some appear to have come through the war unscathed, their bucolic charm intact. Others lie in pieces, barely recognizable under gold and milky lichen, thick grasses and specks of blue spring wildflowers.

    Who were the people who lived here during the war? French country homes are rarely sold, customarily passed down through families, so it’s likely those who live here now, lived here in the 1940s, or at least their forebears did. Stories of Allied sacrifice and bravery were shared across generations, thus, many yards fly both French and American flags.

    “Madame Bohr, it feels like we’re at the seashore.”

    “We ARE at the seashore. We’re in Normandy, close to the D-day BEACHES,” I say. “Don’t you remember what Nathalie told us and what we discussed this morning? D-day, Jour-J, to the French, took place on the English Channel, La Manche. You’ll see where the battles were fought as soon as we get off the bus.”

    I find the beaches of Northern France melancholy by nature: cold, gray, rocky. Add the D-day landings and my heart wants to break. There’s salt in the air, and humidity. Remarkable humidity. Seagulls scream overhead. The landscape at Pointe du Hoc, virtually untouched since 1944 and pockmarked with deep bomb craters, is dotted with dense, low-slung bushes of tightly packed yellow beach blooms. A tiny ginger-breasted European robin twitches its head in the brush, trilling morning song. The inexorable persistence of nature on such a blood-soaked bluff.

    Do my spring-breakers understand what happened here seventy years ago? For that matter, do I or any of us truly understand?

    It’s an emotionally gloomy day, despite blue skies and a crisp wind. We arrive at the Normandy American Cemetery, honoring the Americans who died in Europe during World War II, and the yellow roses have changed to spiky mauve and burgundy heather. I’ve visited this sacred spot multiple times, yet it never fails to make me cry. How could it not? Seeing the black and white photographs of the fresh, young faces of men—boys, actually—displayed on the walls of the Visitors Center is all it takes.

    I reiterate to my charges Nathalie’s suggestion that each of them find a soldier from Maryland, or the state in which he or she was born, take a picture of the grave marker and research him when they return home. Say a prayer, be grateful, say thank you to him and his family.

    My students gaze out over Omaha Beach to the English Channel and I wonder what they’re thinking, dreaming. Are they imagining a war that seems so very long ago? What was I thinking at their age? As I recall, it was always about the future. About all that lay ahead. Life yet to unfold. Now, however, with decades and so many of life’s major decisions behind me, I’m in the present, appreciating the privilege of sharing history with students, watching it come alive in their eyes.

    As we stand on this promontory where what happened changed the world, my wish for my charges, as it is for my children: put the important things in relief and let the trivial falls aside. Appreciate what they have and what was secured for them on this cliff in France.

    Omaha Beach

    “Do my spring-breakers understand what happened here? For that matter, do I or any of us truly understand?”

    In the end, what will they remember?

    The end of our nine-day trip looms.

    I recall being enchanted, smitten, after my first taste of France. Have my students fallen in love as well? Have they caught the very same Francophile bug?

    “Are we taking the metro or the RER into Paris?”

     “Bravo! You know the difference.” I applaud their progress.

    There has been plenty of hilarity and silliness followed by moments of reflection and illumination.

    Our final evening in Paris. A cruise on the Seine. Notre Dame soars, the river banks crawl with revelers, the Eiffel Tower glitters. My students shout with glee, their voices echoing, each time we glide under one of Paris’ many bridges.

    “I’ve never laughed so hard.”

    “I can’t believe I ate chicken liver. I really can’t believe I actually liked it!”

    “This is the best meal I’ve ever had.”

    “I’ll remember this trip for the rest of my life.”

    “I’ll never forget how beautiful Paris is. I’m so sad we leave tomorrow.”

    “I want to stay. When I come back to France…”

    French music to my ears.
    Eiffel Tower by Night

    * * *

    Brava, Madame Bohr! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this account of your travels/travails with your students. C’était très drôles! Like you, I also wonder whether this trip will have a long-lasting effect. If only we could track your charges over the next ten years: how many will take gap years, become expats? You’ve certainly done your bit to point them in the right direction! —ML Awanohara

    Readers, have you ever had this kind of adventure with a group of young people abroad, and if so, were your travels full of travails? Do tell in the comments!

    Marianne C. Bohr is a writer, editor and French teacher whose book, Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries, was published in September 2015 with She Writes Press. She married her high school sweetheart and travel partner, and with their two grown children, follows her own advice and travels at every opportunity. Marianne lives in Bethesda, Maryland, where after decades in publishing, she has followed her Francophile muse to teach French. She has an author site where she keeps a blog, and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

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    Photo credits: Top of page: Marianne Bohr (supplied); world map via Pixabay. First collage: (clockwise from top left) Audrey Fleurot à l’ouverture du Printemps du cinéma à l’UGC La Défense, by Georges Biard via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0); Normandy cow and glass of wine via Pixabay; Tidal Plains from the Cloisters Mont St. Michel Abbey France, by amanderson2 via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); La Mere Poulard, Mont St Michel, by John Mason via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); and view of Mont Saint-Michel via Pixabay. Second collage: Normandy American Cemetery via Pixabay; and [untitled – Pointe du Hoc], by Scott via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). Photo of Paris by night via Pixabay.

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