Spinning Out Of Control

I’m sure some of you reading this were born in the late 1980s and 1990s. The era of which I write about in the novels is therefore in a real sense “history” to you. It pre-dates either your consciousness of the wider world…. or even your birth itself! ;-)

Strasbourg, France. Home of the European Parliament. [Photo by me, 1996.]
Strasbourg, France. Home of the European Parliament. [Photo by me, 1996.]

It’s trite to point out that one can’t hope to begin to understand the present without understanding the past; yet it’s absolutely true. And trying to appreciate the human outlook of any “past” is a vital aspect of that effort. This article in Die Zeit about Germany’s attitude and approach to the world since 1989 could in large measure apply elsewhere in Europe as well as to the U.S.A.:

A quarter of a century after the fall of the Berlin Wall … we’ve woken up and it feels like a bad dream….

….Crisis has become the new normal. The years between 1990 and now were the exception.

The psychological repercussions of this fundamentally new situation on Europe’s political elites are both brutal and curious at the same time. Those aged 45 to 65 currently in positions of power have only known growing prosperity, freedom and cultural sophistication. They were, and to a large extent still are, predisposed to exert themselves only modestly, act responsibly and expect that they could enjoy the fruits of their labor. And suddenly history has unceremoniously grabbed them by the scruff of the neck. Do we really need to fight now? More than ever? And what does our cardiologist have to say?

I’m sharing that article and writing this post because that piece hit me hard. I fall into the “early part” of that age group; but I was certainly not “powerful” in 1989. (Nor am I now!) Speaking here only for myself, of course, I also vividly recall the post-fall of the Berlin Wall atmosphere: it fills my novels and is meant to do so.

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Coming Tomorrow!

Happy Sunday. I’m having a rest today. So no profound, thought-provoking travel, expat or literary blog post. Sorry.

While “relaxing,” I should finish The Winds of War…. TODAY!

I merely want here to offer a coming attraction:

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a megaphone and announcement text.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a megaphone and announcement text.

I want to invite you. While certainly in line with what this blog revolves around overall, tomorrow – on Monday at 8 am UK time/ 3 am ET US – I’ll share a post that is rather different. Here’s my only hint:

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No Plans To Evacuate (At This Time)

In 2006, the U.S. State Department helped organize a mass evacuation of U.S. citizens from Lebanon during the Hezbollah-Israel war. However, currently, there seems no similar urgency on the part of the U.S. to evacuate a far smaller number of U.S. citizens from Yemen. Lawsuits have even been filed challenging the government’s not doing so.

As of April 11, this is what the Department of State has to say:

Yemen Crisis Update, April 11, 2015
Yemen Crisis Update, April 11, 2015

The page continues in sharing how Americans can perhaps leave courtesy of “third party” assistance, such as India’s:

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Our Warmest (And Coolest) Feelings: 25 Countries

USA Today tweeted this yesterday:

USA Today screen capture.
USA Today screen capture.

I enjoy polls such as that one. And that one makes for something of a change too. Usually it’s about who hates us. ;-)

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And Something About Llamas?

While I was working yesterday, I did what I normally do: I had Twitter open to the side on my iPad. I check it occasionally. Usually I do so when I stop for a writing break, but sometimes I just glance over at it.

That latter is a bad habit.

What a strange “social media” day yesterday was (to me, anyway).

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“And where are you from?”

On our way out of church this morning, the priest asked me, “And where are you from?”

He may merely have been asking where I was from in the U.K. It wasn’t our “regular” church. Nonetheless, I was startled.

I thought: Gee, do I look like I’m not from here? I’m sure, to some extent, I don’t.

As we shook hands, I replied, “I’m from New York originally.”

The look on his face indicated that answer was a surprise. I suppose he had indeed figured I was going to say Bristol or something.

But I often don’t know how to answer that question. I was born in New York City, and when asked where I’m from that’s my initial answer. I grew up on Long Island, in Suffolk County; but most Europeans haven’t a clue where Suffolk County is, and they usually associate “Long Island” either with the Hamptons or The Great Gatsby. And, here in England, there is a Suffolk county too – the “original” Suffolk, of course.

US Embassy London on Google. It's closed today, Sunday.
US Embassy London on Google. It’s closed today, Sunday.

I’ve also spent much more of my adult life outside of the U.S. than inside of it. But I always feel American, and like a New Yorker. And I even still feel like a Long Islander – even though I have for years had no ties to Long Island whatsoever.

I don’t think I’ll ever not feel that way. We can move wherever in the world, but is where we are born and reared imprinted on us for life? Seems so.

Just a little “quiet reflection.” Hope you’re having a good Sunday. :-)

“Don’t look into their eyes! You’ll be turned into stone!”

I don’t like to talk U.S. party politics here, really (as you know, it’s about writing and expats, etc.); but this is interesting in terms of media. And it this isn’t just an Americans’ issue. It’s also an international one given how U.S. domestic politics can resonate around the world:

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I don’t watch Fox News with any regularity. The article also addresses Fox’s left-wing opposite number: MSNBC. MSNBC is not available here in Britain, but, similarly, I wouldn’t watch it much either even if it were.

I find both Fox News Channel and MSNBC to be essentially unwatchable yell and snark fests. However, back in the States, my mother must be one of the few who revels in both channels. “I like to hear what both sides are screaming about,” she laughs.

There’s a program on Fox I’ve seen a few times called “The Five.” My Mom likes that one for amusement; but to me, frankly, the less said about it the better. One minute chattering hosts hold forth on ISIS (“The Middle East is so complicated, and Obama won’t do anything!”), or global economics, and after a commercial break on some celebrity’s award show outfit.

My Mom often has MSNBC on as background noise in the kitchen. In my mind, it’s mostly a blur of predictably left of center opinions. A few times, however, I’ve also overheard anchors/ presenters getting so carried away I expected hammer and sickle flags to be unfurled on set at any moment.

From U.S.-based TV news channel offerings – and I know I’m a minority, and I know it has its own issues – I still much prefer CNN. Here in Britain, we see CNN International. Above all, it has Hala Gorani:

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Choose your viewing carefully. Also create a list of varied web sites from at home, and from around the world. Spending “quality time” on news is far more worthwhile than sitting through Fox and MSNBC doing their TV impersonations of “talk” radio.

And life’s too short.

Have a good day, wherever you are in the world. :-)

Coinage Of A Distant Land

Last week, my mother told me someone had slipped her this coin in change in one of her northeast Pennyslvania local shops. She was annoyed when she got home and discovered it. She then asked me if I could at least maybe identify it:

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I was stumped. As I don’t like being easily stumped, I resorted to a Google search on coins and the years “1987” and “1407.” After a few clicks around, I found the source country: Morocco.

When I told my Mom that, she laughed. “We get Canadian coins all the time. Morocco? In backwoods Pennsylvania?”

I shrugged and reminded her, “Increasingly global world nowadays, Mother.” :-)

Hope you’re having a good Monday….

Shopping Till They Drop

Our house in the Catskills has no internet. (When we’re in Britain, I suspend it.) That should not have been a problem. We knew we could rely on T-Mobile wifi.

But when we got there Sunday, T-Mobile failed for some reason (although it has worked before). Over the few days we were there we managed to get flashes of internet via our “suspended” line (and I have no idea how that could have been), but that was all. So I was “silent” on here for a few days. Sorry.

Although maybe you liked the quiet? ;-)

With a snowstorm due today, en route to my parents’ in Pennsylvania yesterday we did some Christmas shopping among the Woodbury Common crowds pre-Thanksgiving…. alongside half of Europe and half of Asia:

Screen capture of NYC tourist's Woodbury Common page.
Screen capture of NYC tourist’s Woodbury Common page.

Many of those shoppers are seen wheeling around newly bought luggage with which they will carry their purchases home. I’ve always found it hilarious: the existence of those shopping outlets in a non-descript location off of I-87 in upstate NY, about a hour and a half from our house. It is about as “international” a location you can find north of Manhattan. (A niece of a friend in Ireland has even been there during a visit to the city.) Hearing an American accent among shoppers is something of an oddity.

We’re now back with my parents in Pennyslvania. I may well stay for my Dad’s December 8-9 surgery. We are still talking about that…. as the forecast 12 inches of snow begin to fall.

With no internet of consequence at our house, I couldn’t publish Frontiers as I’d hoped. Moreover, it still awaits my toughest critic’s final approval: we’ve been unexpectedly busy and she has been unable to read the finished product, but once Mrs. Nello has given her nod, and now with internet again, I can wrap it up. I’m hoping to do that over Thanksgiving…. while we remain trapped visiting with my parents during a snowstorm. Ahhhh! :-)

West Country Wanderings

We may soon be relocating within here in England. After a stint in London following years in Christchurch, we could be heading to the West Country for the first time.

Nothing’s firmed up yet, though, and it may not happen. Still, thinking ahead while returning from Bristol on Tuesday morning, given we were in the area we took the opportunity to have a drive through parts of Wiltshire, which is a possible relocation general destination. We meandered through several towns to get a sense of the housing, local amenities, look, and overall “feel” of them.

Free Stock Photo: A road in a small town
Free Stock Photo: A road in a small town

We also stopped in at one letting agent to put our name down for notifications when new rentals come on the market. We explained what we are looking for and our price range. Hearing my American accent, the agent joked, “You understand, most of our properties don’t have big, American rooms at any price.”

“Oh, we’re used to that,” I told her.

Homes here are usually well-built (and often brick) and comfortable. Yes, most English houses are not “McMansions.” But who really needs all that wasted space? You gotta pay to heat it, furnish it, maintain it, and dust and clean it, etc.

The only thing I don’t like is when you can’t get off-road parking. (We could probably park a small English village on what might be termed our “big, American” Catskills driveway.) In our house in Christchurch, which we owned for ten years, we had no driveway of our own. Usually it was a non-issue, but on rainy days (or even snowy days – they do have those in southern England very occasionally) you don’t want to get home with a car full of shopping and find you need to park around the block.

In our wanderings, we didn’t bother with Bath (in next door Somerset): it is monstrously expensive and traffic-snarled about 24 hours a day. (We well-remember that, having driven – more like did 5 MPH – through it several times years ago.) Warminster is a military town (maybe the name’s a giveaway?), but not a bad place to look at, although what we saw of the town center seemed a bit tired. Bradford on Avon is set in gorgeous hills, with winding streets, and looks like something out of a film; but, like Bath, we suspect that given that appeal it is probably also massively expensive.

Trowbridge has possibilities. It has a variety of housing and attractive areas. Surprising in England nowadays, we also discovered it even has a town center multi-story car park with FREE PARKING for 2 hours!

We discovered that only after we drove inside the building. We were so incredulous how that could be so that even seeing a large sign on the wall announcing “2 hours FREE,” and spotting no pay machines, we still didn’t entirely believe it. We actually scoped around just in case they were hiding them. My wife even double-checked with a local shopper strolling to her car, “This car park isn’t pay and display?”

Before that, after couple of hours’ driving around already, we had both needed to, ummm, shall we say, find somewhere personally important.

Now, here is one for you to file for future driving in the West of England travel reference. If you are ever in dire need, Tesco Extra in Trowbridge has them. We were so pleased and uh, relieved – if that latter is the right word? – we rewarded that supermarket with some purchases.

By the way, an Aldi a mile or so away did NOT. We found that out to our disappointment after we had stopped in, thinking, given its size, that it would. So, we didn’t buy anything in there. ;-)