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


Readers, we had a long pause in this episode of the Expat Author Game, for which I heartily apologize. Christmas and New Year’s intervened, and the Displaced Nation has been hibernating during January. But it’s February now and we are back again, in time for Valentine’s Week! It seems appropriate that in this post we will be playing the second round of our Expat Author game with Apply Gidley. Her debut novel, Fireburn, is, at heart, a love story—for a man and an island.

For those who are catching up, in Round One Apple came up with a winning algorithm for Fireburn, her debut novel that takes place in the Danish West Indies in the 1870s. During this round, we’ll be trying to see how closely Apple measures up to the Displaced Nation’s (admittedly somewhat quirky) notion of an “international creative.”

On the face of it, Apple has one of the best claims we’ve ever heard to being “international.” Born to an Australian mother and a British father, she spent her childhood in Nigeria, the UK, Australia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea. She met her husband in Papua New Guinea, after which her travels continued as his career in oil took them all over the world. Their two children were born in the Netherlands and Thailand, and nowadays the couple calls two places home: downtown Houston and the US Virgin Islands: specifically, the island of St Croix, where the action of Fireburn takes place. Apple says she enjoys the contrast between the vibrancy of city life and the relaxed pace of the Islands.

Furthermore, I think it’s fair to call Apple “creative”. You can read about the many roles she has played on her author site, but what I’m most curious about is what caused her to don Kareni headdress in the above photo. Was she paying a visit to the hill tribes of in northern Thailand? Perhaps she’ll enlighten us in the comments.

I am also rather impressed that, although her only formal training was as a secretary (she attended secretarial college in the UK), Apple now serves on the Advisory Board of the University Museum at Texas Southern University, one of the premiere museums celebrating African American art and artifacts in Houston. One should never underestimate Ms. Gidley! No sooner has she landed somewhere but she can be found immersing herself in the local history, community and culture.

Without further ado, let’s resume the Expat Author Game and see how Apple manages Round Two, 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 to the Displaced Nation, Apple. As you may know, many of our residents, myself included, have confessed that the expat life has made them feel like a character in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. How about you? Are there any lines from this classic work that resonate with you?

Having lived in 12 countries, relocated 26 times and now living between two places, I’d have to pick

“Who in the world am I? Ah, THAT’S the great puzzle.”

One of the joys of global mobility as an accompanying spouse is the opportunity to reinvent oneself—something I have done many times, as you mentioned in your introduction. I’ve sold diving equipment in Texas, edited a magazine for an international charity in Singapore and Thailand, sprung Brits from jail in Equatorial Guinea and decorated pubs in Aberdeen—and now I’m a writer! I have occasionally wondered which hat I am meant to be wearing at any given time.

Which leads onto the next quote:

“..it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

One of the hardest relocations is the final one—repatriation. Perhaps that why I live in two places.


Moving on to the next literature-related challenge: 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?

In South Africa, at Mala Mala, I watched a leopard prowl around the base of a tree. Her kill—an impala she had hauled up into the fork of the tree—was being eyed by a hyena lying nearby ready to pounce if any part of the mutilated antelope fell. The leopard’s strength and perseverance was humbling, as was her beauty.


Last but not least in 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. You can also pick quotes from other literary works if you like…

Saying goodbye is one of the most underrated things in a nomadic life but if we don’t say “goodbye” well, it is hard to open our hearts to saying “hello” to new people, new cultures, new adventures. The Wizard of Oz got it right:

“It’s not where you go but who you meet along the way.”

It’s always about the people, both local and other expatriates. It is they who make the place, who share their customs (some of which we might not like but of which we must always be respectful even if trying to make changes to long held traditions), their foods, their belief. And some of those people we will, inevitably, lose touch with even in the age of the internet. That’s okay, because we have had the pleasure of knowing them in a certain time and place.

And secondly, I love the following quote from The Magic Pudding, an Australian children’s classic (it was first published in 1918), by the wonderful author and illustrator, Norman Lindsay. It is a story about how Bunyip Bluegum, a koala bear, meets a grumpy pudding called Albert. My mother was Australian, and this is one of the books I remember her reading to me as a child. This is quite long but it says it all, even if I have lugged around a great deal more than suggested!

“The fact is,” said the Bunyip, “I have decided to see the world, and I cannot make up my mind whether to be a Traveller or a Swagman. Which would you advise?”

Then said the Poet,

“As you have no bags it’s plain to see
A traveller you cannot be;
And as a swag you haven’t either
You cannot be a swagman neither.
For travellers must carry bags,
And swagmen have to hump their swags
Like bottle-ohs or ragmen.
As you have neither swag nor bag
You must remain a simple wag,
And not a swag or bagman.”

“Dear me,” said Bunyip Bluegum, “I never thought of that. What must I do in order to see the world without carrying swags or bags?”

The Poet thought deeply, put on his eyeglass, and said impressively,

“Take my advice, don’t carry bags,
For bags are just as bad as swags;
They’re never made to measure.
To see the world, your simple trick
Is but to take a walking stick
Assume an air of pleasure,
And tell the people near and far
You stroll about because you are
A Gentleman of Leisure.”

“You have solved the problem,” said Bunyip Bluegum, and, wringing his friend’s hand, he ran straight home, took his Uncle’s walking stick, and assuming an air of pleasure, set off to see the world.


Moving on to another dimension of creativity: telling tales of one’s travels through photos. Can you share with us a favorite photo or two you’ve taken recently that in some way relate to your creative life, and tell us why these photos have meaning for you?

Here is a view of Christiansted Wharf today. Christiansted was the capital of the Danish West Indies. Apart from a couple of new buildings in the background, this scene has not changed much since the 1870s when Anna arrived back on St Croix from her ten-year exile in London. It was the history all around me—the Danish architecture, the ruins of sugar mills, the skeletons of plantation houses and slave quarters—that helped me formulate the background for Fireburn.

My second photo shows my desk in Houston. It has all my favourite books within grasp, and my favourite photos on view. My excuse for a cluttered desk is that I am a firm believer in Einstein’s theory that a clean desk represents an empty mind.


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?

I wouldn’t! I’m rather fond of planet earth and think we need to concentrate on saving it before readying ourselves to destroy a new one.

* * *

Congratulations, Apple! As anticipated, you aced Part Two of the Expat Authors Game. I absolutely love the idea of a magic pudding named Albert telling a koala bear named Bunyip Bluegum that if he wants to see the world, he should carry a walking stick and assume an air of pleasure.

Readers, are you ready to score Apple’s performance on Part Two? How did she do with her literary references? And what about that animal of hers, of which she even supplied a photo! Speaking of photos, that photo of her in a headdress is quite something, and I have to say, I agree with her about having a messy desk: writers need to create nests!

Finally please note: If you are burning (so to speak) to explore the world Apple conjures up in her novel (which her other photo, of Christiansted Wharf in St. Croix, illustrates), be sure to visit her author site. You can also follow her on Twitter, where she announces her next book readings.

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

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

Related posts:

Photo credits: All photos supplied by Apple Gidley; photos in section heads are from Pixabay.

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EXPAT AUTHOR GAME: Apple Gidley’s algorithm for “Fireburn” (1/2)


Welcome to the fourth round of our Expat Author Game, in which global creative Apple Gidley has agreed to be the participant. For some of you, Apple requires no introduction. She has been on our site before, when Displaced Nation co-founder Kate Allison reviewed her memoir, Expat Life: Slice by Slice.

Apple also fits right in at the Displaced Nation. On her author site, Apple brands herself as Nomad | Author. That “nomad” comes first reflects the way she has lived almost since birth. Her Anglo-Australian family moved to Nigeria when she was just one month old. After that Apple assumed the mantle of global itinerant: she has lived and worked in countries as diverse as Papua New Guinea, Thailand, The Netherlands and nine others. She currently divides her time between downtown Houston and St. Croix.

Spending time in St. Croix, which is now part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, fired up, so to speak, Apple’s imagination. She recently produced her debut novel, Fireburn, a book that readers say transports you completely and totally to another place and another time: to Caribbean life in the 1870s. The book’s name derives from an actual event that took place in 1878, when St. Croix was part of the Danish West Indies. Fireburn was the name given to a slave uprising that was led by three Crucian women, who are today considered heroines throughout the islands. Houses, fields, sugar mills and stores on nearly fifty St. Croix plantations were set ablaze. Over half the city of Frederiksted was left in ruins.

But if the book takes place against the backdrop of a slave revolt playing out in acts of arson—in fact, Fireburn came out on October 1, 2017, to commemorate Fireburn’s anniversary—it is also a love story. The protagonist, Anna, an Anglo-Dane, returns to her beloved home, a plantation called Anna’s Fancy, after her mother dies, only to find that her father has let it go to seed. She makes a disastrous marriage to her neighbor, Carl Pederson, after which she realizes that the man she truly loves is her black foreman, Sampson. As one reader says of Anna and Sampson: “They are oceans apart not just in status but in cultures too.”

Now let’s play Part One of the Expat Author Game and see what Apple comes up with as an algorithm for her novel, for its burning story of passion and rebellion.

* * *

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

Jean Rhys’s wonderful book about the first Mrs Rochester, Wide Sargasso Sea, was made into a BBC movie about ten years ago. Although it was based in Jamaica, the sultry setting would give readers a feel reminiscent to 1870s St Croix where Fireburn takes places. Add inappropriate relationships (for the time), the sights and sounds and tastes of the Caribbean, the relief when the Trade Winds return after the brooding heat of mid-hurricane season and you’ll be right in the mood for …


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

A cassava chicken croquette (a dish Emiline, Anna’s black servant-cum-cook, makes)—but remember, if not cooked properly cassava, known in the US as tapioca, can produce cyanide. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:
1 egg, beaten
2 cups well cooked then mashed cassava
1 cup cooked, diced chicken
1/2 cup finely diced onion
1 tsp salt
pinch of pepper
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1/2 cup milk (or you can use coconut milk)
1 cup breadcrumbs
oil for frying

Method
Mix egg, cassava, chicken, onion, salt & pepper, parsley and a little milk to make the mixture firm but not soggy. Make croquettes, then dip in remaining milk and roll in breadcrumbs. Fry until golden. Drain well. Croquettes can either be “meal” sized or finger food…


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

It should be washed down with a rum punch—preferably Cruzan Rum!


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

Emiline is fond of wearing colourful scarves wrapped around her head—she often matches the cushion covers and curtains as she tends to use left-over bits of fabric!


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

Well that’s easy—you must come to St Croix! Though now part of the US Virgin Islands, it used to be owned by Denmark and formed part of the Danish West Indies, as you explained in your introduction. Much of the Danish architecture lines the streets of Christiansted—foot-thick walls, shuttered windows, galleries and inner courtyards. Frederiksted, on the west end of the island, has some buildings left—but much was burnt in “fireburn”. As you mentioned, Fireburn was the name given to the 1878 slave uprising that took place in the Danish West Indies. You can also visit Fort Christiansvaern and Fort Frederik, both of which were constructed between the mid-1700s and mid-1800s to protect Christiansted and Frederiksted from smugglers, pirates, and European invaders; to collect taxes on exports and imports; and to deter slave rebellions. Both forts are open to the public and give a real feel of what it was like to serve in the military then—a hard life for the common soldier/sailor. Then you absolutely must take a maxi-taxi to St George Village Botanical Garden—recovering after damage sustained from Hurricane Maria—where you will get an idea of the layout for the plantation at Anna’s Fancy.

* * *

So, readers, tell us: Has Apple come up with a winning algorithm? Does the thought of sipping rum punch while munching on chicken croquettes, your head wrapped in scarves, in a sultry setting akin to one depicted by West Indian novelist Jean Rhys, make you want to hold Apple’s book in your hands—or are you afraid your palms might burn? Can you almost feel the heat of the fires burning, both outside and in your heart, as you make your way down the streets of Christiansted, lined with Danish buildings?

Assuming that by now you’re burning with curiosity about the history of the Caribbean and the contents of Apple Gidley’s book, I suggest you check out her author site. You can also follow her on Twitter, where she announces her next book readings.

And STAY TUNED for Part Two next week!

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 and other photos (supplied).

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


Readers, I’m happy to report that Chandi Wyant came up with a winning algorithm for her new memoir, Return to Glow: A Pilgrimage of Transformation in Italy. She is therefore proceeding to the second round of the Expat Author Game.

During this round, we’ll be trying 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, Chandi has a solid claim to being “international.” Not only has she lived in Europe (Italy, Switzerland, and England) but also in South Asia (India) and the Middle East (Qatar).

That said, she recently confessed to one interviewer that after spending so much of her life abroad, she developed a huge appreciation for her native California:

I see it now as one of the most beautiful and healthy places in the world to live. Not only does it have every kind of stunning landscape you could want, it has an abundance of organic food, and an abundance of educated people who know how to think critically. I’m not too impressed with the US right now—but if I look at California just on its own, it’s a darn close second to Italy.

Furthermore, I think it’s fair to call Chandi “creative”. She was encouraged from a young age to paint and draw a lot, with the result that she often “sees photographs” in the world around her. (Notably, she shares one of her actual photos below.) Writing is also important to her. While in Qatar, she taught history at a local college and got to know a lot of young Qataris. She conducted interviews with some of them and some day hopes to turn those interviews into a book. That’s in addition to the memoir she just produced about her pilgrimage along the Via Francegena.

Even the title of her personal Website is creative: Paradise of Exiles, which is what the Romantic English poet Shelley called Italy.

But now it’s time to see how Chandi manages Round Two, 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, Chandi, 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? Or if you’d prefer, you can use a quote from another children’s book.

I’ll choose this quote from Dr. Seuss:

“You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.”

The feet in the shoes and any direction you choose reminds me of the time I got lost on my solo pilgrimage in Italy. My feet in my shoes were not doing well. I had developed plantar fasciitis and had bought arch supports but they were sliding around in my shoes. It was super hot, it felt like there was a gremlin in my shoes stabbing my heals, and I was lost in stark wheat fields somewhere south of Siena. Then I simply chose a direction, and by making a choice, I was able to stop being anxious about how to find my way.

Moving on to the next literature-related challenge: 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?

An oryx in Qatar. It’s a large species of antelope that is native to the Arabian Peninsula. It nearly went extinct due to poaching but has been reintroduced.

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.” Definitely the capability thing comes up a lot when I travel alone (or move alone) to far flung places, both of which I seem to do. I didn’t necessarily set out to travel alone and move abroad alone so many times in my adult life. It all started when I was 19 (that was in the 80s), when I did a budget backpacking trip in Europe with a friend. After four months of travel together, we split up in Istanbul. In my first 24 hours of solo travel, all kinds of crazy things happened and I quickly learned that as soon as you cut through the fear and embrace the world, that it embraces you back. (These stories are recounted in more detail in my book.)

Moving on to another dimension of creativity: telling tales of one’s travels through photos. Can you share with us a favorite photo you’ve taken recently that in some way relates to your creative life, and tell us why it has meaning for you?


This one I took recently in Lucca, Italy (where I now live). It has meaning because doorways like these symbolize for me an opening of consciousness, and an invitation to step into mystery.

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?

I don’t want to offend anyone who is super into Mars but I have no interest in going to Mars or any other planet. I am awed by the planet we have and how special it is, and it’s an enormous shame that we’ve not learned to respect it and take care of it. I am much more interested in how we can better appreciate and take care of planet Earth, rather than attempt to get to Mars, which clearly is vastly inferior to Earth, as far as sustaining life.

* * *

Congratulations, Chandi! Just as I suspected, you easily rose to the challenge of Part Two of our Expat Authors Game. Personally, I found your Dr. Suess citation inspired! Readers, are you ready to score Chandi’s performance on Part Two? How did she do with her literary references? And what about that animal of hers: rather unusual! And don’t you like that photo of her up top, looking so joyful in an Italian setting? She says she hasn’t mastered the technical side of photography, but that photo of the doors in Lucca suggests otherwise…

Finally please note: If you want to keep cultivating your inner glow under Chandi’s influence, be sure to check out her author site and its companion Facebook and Instagram pages.

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: Chandi Wyant’s algorithm for “Return to Glow: A Pilgrimage of Transformation in Italy” (1/2)


Hello, Displaced Nationers—or should I say ciao in honor of our special guest, Chandi Wyant, player number three in our Expat Author Game?

Born in California, Chandi has lived in Qatar, India, Italy, Switzerland, and England, but of these, Italy easily stands out as her favorite. Her passion for the boot-shaped country began when she lived there in her late teens, a commitment that has only deepened over the years. Having learned Italian, she went on to earn a master’s degree in Florentine Renaissance history (giving her an excuse for plenty more visits).

And now she’s living in Italy again! Back in America for a while, Chandi relocated to Lucca a few months ago, a city on the Serchio river in Italy’s Tuscany region.

I ask you, who wouldn’t want to be displaced in Lucca? As Lonely Planet puts it:

“Lovely Lucca endears itself to everyone who visits.”

But life for Chandi hasn’t always been an Italian idyll. When she reached her early forties, her marriage of 10 years imploded, and she was struck by a debilitating illness from which she nearly died (in an Italian hospital!).

Her solution to this mid-life crisis? To take a 40-day-long walk along Via Francigena, the historic pilgrimage route that runs from France to Italy. She reasoned that, although she had been weakened by illness, she could still walk. And, like pilgrims of long ago, she hoped that trekking over the Apennines, through the valleys of Tuscany until reaching Rome, would help to restore her in body and spirit.

To find out what happened on her solo adventure, I urge you to read her newly published memoir, Return to Glow: A Pilgrimage of Transformation in Italy.

Hm, for an author who has withstood so much pain, including having to do most of her epic walk while suffering from plantar fasciitis (that’s what walking on asphalt for several days, with a pack on one’s back, will do to the feet), I wonder if Chandi might find our Expat Author Game a bit of cake walk?

In any event, let’s see how she handles Part One: namely, developing an algorithm for her new book. (Part Two is available here.)

If we like Return to Glow, which movie/musical/play/TV series would we also like?

The first two movies that come to mind are Wild and The Way. In Wild you’ve got a single woman on a long-distance walk, so that’s the same as my book, although mine takes place in Italy and is on an ancient pilgrimage route. So then The Way comes in because it is on a European pilgrimage route—albeit in Spain, not Italy, and the protagonist is a man. Now, to add a movie that honors the sensuality of Italy, I would choose Stealing Beauty. It’s about an American girl’s summer in Tuscany and it’s very visually lush. Bertolucci is masterful at bringing alive a sensual and sybaritic Tuscan summer. My pilgrimage was not at all sensual or sybaritic, but what Bertolucci captures in this film is also what captured my heart when I first fell in love with Italy at age 19, and what kept me returning there for the past 30 years.

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

If I may, I like to reference a post I wrote for my blog, Paradise of Exiles, about the three best dishes I ate in Florence last year:
1) Arista di maiale con salvia e rosmarino (roasted pork loin with sage and rosemary)
2) Tagliatelle con porcini e nepitella (pasta with porcini mushrooms and calamint, aka basil thyme)
3) Pizza bianca con asparagi, cipolloti primaverili, fiordilatte, e pecorino Romano (pizza with asparagus, spring onions, fresh mozzarella, and pecorino cheese)

Any of these three dishes would go wonderfully when reading my book!

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

Vin Santo, Tuscany’s dessert wine.

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

In a museum on the pilgrimage route I saw a replica of what a pilgrim from the middle ages wore, including the long staff that was carried with a gourd tied to it (the medieval Nalgene bottle!). You need a cloak, a seashell hanging around your neck, and a long staff with a gourd.

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?

Pick any location on the Via Francigena in Italy! Or take my suggestions in this post of four small places found along the route, that are perhaps less familiar to tourists, and that contain historic sites worth discovering:
1) Pontremoli, a town at the base of the Apennines, on the Magra River.
2) Bagno Vignoni, a town in southern Tuscany where the main piazza is a pool of steaming thermal water!
3) Bolsena, a town in the region of Lazio, near the shores of Lake Bolsena.
4) Sutri, a town in northern Lazio that was one of the last strongholds of the Etruscans.

* * *

So, readers, tell us: Has Chandi come up with a winning algorithm? Does the thought of slipping into a medieval travel cloak and taking a swig of Vin Santo from your gourd while trekking along the Via Francigena make you want to buy Chandi’s book? How about supping on pizza bianca while recalling the excitement of reading/watching Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and/or imagining yourself immersed in the relaxing thermal baths at Bagno Vignoni?

If by now you’re starting to feel your inner glow, be sure to check out Chandi’s author site and its companion Facebook and Instagram pages.

And STAY TUNED for Part Two next week!

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: Book cover and other photos (supplied).

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.

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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.

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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).

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