Monday, May 23, 2016

Venice from Another Perspective

Piazza San Marco from the Cruise Ship
I've written some fairly mean posts about Venice. What an awful place. Too many tourists. So unfriendly. It stinks. The sewage. The mediocre overpriced food. The jaded, bored gondoliers who just don't want to sing anymore. Just another example of Italy's indifference towards the never-ending flow of tourists (Florence and Rome tie for first place in the We-Don't-Have-to-Provide-Quality-to-Tourists-Because-We're-Ancient-and-Everyone-Has-to-Come-Here-Once Award).

Actually, I'm reluctant to be nice now, but last week I experienced Venice from another perspective: At first, from the eleventh floor of a cruise ship. Looking down at Venice, I could see all the places I'd never been (although I've lost count of how many times I've been to the world's most beloved tourist trap). I'd never been to the park along the southwestern tip of the island. I'd been to Lido, but there were lots of islands that I'd not been to. Here's the thing: I was judging Venice on the tourist-trap center where millions of tourists hoard like maggots on a carcass every year. I was hating the Venice that Venetians hate.

There is so much more to Venice than Piazza San Marco. You will enjoy Venice more if you resist being a typical tourist. Resist doing what you're expected to do. Take the water bus a stop further than Piazza San Marco, to Arsenale, and explore the part of Venice where few tourists bother to go.

Did you know that Venice is divided into six neighborhoods? In Italian they're called i sestieri di Venezia. This graphic makes it look like seven, but Giudecca--itself made up of eight islands connected by bridges, which the graphic also doesn't show (way to choose a great graphic, Chris)--is part of Dorsoduro.

On our trip last week, we concentrated on Castello, or the skinny part of the Venetian drumstick, as I like to call it. This is with certainty the greenest part of Venice. There's a park with a residential area on its northern border and a military zone at its westernmost tip.

Another place I've never been, or don't remember walking through, is Cannaregio with its important history. Did you know that our word "ghetto" comes from this neighborhood of Venice? And did you know that geto was the Italian word for foundry or iron works in the fifteenth century? With time, as the Jewish population was concentrated in this area, the word became synonymous with the Jewish quarter in all Italian cities (at first not as negative as one might imagine); but because of the history of discrimination and antisemitism, the word became more and more pejorative.

Me sporting a new mask with six dots for the
six neighborhoods of Venice
The meaty part of the drumstick--Santa Croce, San Polo, Dorsoduro and San Marco--is where tourists mope along through narrow alleys like ants in an ant farm. I guess you have to do this once, but don't bring a weapon along if you tend to get antsy in crowds. I avoid these areas unless I want to go to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum or unless I want to buy a mask to add to my collection. This time, I bought a Casanova mask with the six dots to represent the six neighborhoods of Venice--to remind me that I have not seen all of Venice.

I must be off,
Christopher

Have you entered the 2016 I Must Be Off! Travel Writing Competition? It's free. Read the guidelines HERE

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Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Eclectica Magazine's 20th-Anniversary Best of Speculative anthology, Indiana Review, Night Train, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly: the Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, [PANK] blog, Necessary Fiction, Word Riot, Bootsnall Travel, and lots of other good places. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice.


 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Boycott The World!

If you look hard enough into the politics of any country, you'll find a reason to boycott it. For an obsessed traveler, being conscientious is hard. Plain hard. When does it make sense to say No, No, I won't go? Recent events in Turkey have got me thinking about this a lot. With Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish President, filing lawsuits against anyone who dares to criticize or satirize him--apparently he has filed a lot of these against private citizens, but he has also tried to silence the media in Turkey as well--it's hard, maybe even dangerous, to explain here why it might be a good idea not to travel to Turkey.

The fact that I love Turkey--the food, the people, the landscape, the fresh pomegranate juice from street vendors--makes it even harder to consider boycotting the country. And why should I?

A decade ago, some of my friends and students here in Germany said they'd never visit the USA while George W. Bush was President (and I applauded them). A few years ago, some of my US-American friends said they'd never visit France, let well alone Russia during its Olympics of Hate. Of course everyone loves Canada and Italy--but even they aren't safe from criticism. Canada gets flack for its treatment of indigenous people; Italy, rightfully so, gets flack for serving tourists awful, overpriced food. And then of course there's the blight of Berlusconi and the scandals of the Vatican (technically not Italy, but try getting there without going through Italy; I guess you could parachute in).

There are at least 50 reasons to boycott travel to the US--one, I suppose, for each state starting with Mississippi (boo!) and North Carolina (boo!). Our gun laws, the death penalty, fracking, pollution, Kanye West, our foreign policy, and our police brutality, our (often for-profit) prison system that incarcerates more people per capita than any other country in the world. We gave the world Monsanto and Two Broke Girls (I'm not sure which one is worse).

If you want to see Africa, you have to leave your conscience at the door. Corruption is rampant. Tiny islands of opulence are surrounded by seas of poverty. If you want to visit Israel, you might also want to do some research into the Palestine issue and accusations of human rights violations. If you're enamored of Thailand--where I was in November--and think it's a happy paradise of smiling, gentle people, you might want to dig a little deeper. There's quite a big movement out there to boycott Siam. Planning a trip to Australia? You may want to look at this. And there are dozens of reasons to boycott Spain (where I just came back from, oops): the running of the bulls, bullfighting, and a horrible record of cruelty to animals. Romania kills dogs. South Africa allows hunting of endangered animals, so why do we go there? For the wine. Brazil, China, India, Sweden--wait, Sweden? What on earth has Sweden done wrong?

To the Swedes' credit, the boycott against Sweden is sponsored by its own people. I love the Swedes. Human rights abuses, the sale of arms, "involvement in CIA kidnappings and renditions." OK, I get it. If even Sweden has its skeletons, am I wasting my time trying to find a destination without blame or blemish? Is there any place on earth where I can go without coming back with a bruised conscience?

Chile? I've been there. The Chileans have lots of reasons to dislike the US, but we're good the other way round. I'm sure there are Chilean boycotts against the US, but if you can endure a bit of criticism, Chile is a beautiful place. Iceland? Can you believe it, Iceland and Norway defy the 1986 moratorium on whale hunting. Iceland, why? Now I have to boycott you--of course until I book a trip. I can find a babysitter for my conscience.

Are you boycotting a country? Why? Would you boycott the US if Trump became President?

I must be off,
Christopher

Have you entered the 2016 I Must Be Off! Travel Writing Competition? It's free. Read the guidelines HERE

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Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Eclectica Magazine's 20th-Anniversary Best of Speculative anthology, Indiana Review, Night Train, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly: the Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, [PANK] blog, Necessary Fiction, Word Riot, Bootsnall Travel, Chicken Soup for the Soul and lots of other good places. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice.


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Announcing the Fourth Annual I Must Be Off! Travel Writing Competition!

It's that time of year again: time to type up those travel articles, travel anecdotes and travel reflections. If it's about travel, we want to read it. We want to read about that place that changed you.We want to read about the experiences you can't wait to share with other travelers. Whether your work is humorous, informative, quirky or profound--we want to read it. We're looking forward to your best writing.


Previous Winners and Placers:

"A Leaf on the Wind" by Joel Hindson
"Burning My Boots in Cabo Fisterra" by Gabriella Brand
"Discovering Hến Rice in Central Việt Nam" by Chris Galvin
"Oh, Calcutta" by Paola Fornari
"The Scarlet Mile" by Gillian Brown
"Bodrum, Turkey's San Tropez" by Jack Scott
"The Children of Chitwan, Nepal" by Hannah Thompson-Yates
"God's Own Country" by Saahil Acharya


Travel Writer Paola Fornari
The 2016 Judge -- Paola Fornari

Travel writer Paola Fornari was born on Ukerewe Island in Lake Victoria, Tanzania. She has lived in a dozen countries over four continents, speaks five and a half languages, dabbles in several others, and describes herself as an expatriate sine patria. In every new posting, her curiosity leads her to explore every corner of her host country, and experience as much ‘real life’ as she can.   

Her travel and lifestyle articles have appeared extensively online, and in print magazines as diverse as Cycling World, Practical Fishkeeping The Oldie and The Buenos Aires Herald.

She has judged several writing competitions, and was co-judge in Expatclic’s prestigious Travel Reflections competition in 2013.

In 2013 she won the Senior Travel Expert travel writing competition, and was third in the Go Walkabout competition.

Her relationship with I Must be Off goes back a long way. Apart from having several interviews published on the site, she was highly commended in the first I Must be Off travel essay contest in 2013, and won in 2014.

She recently moved from Dhaka, Bangladesh, to Accra, Ghana.




Submission Guidelines:
  • Maximum 1200 words
  • Edited to the best of your ability for spelling, grammar and punctuation
  • Up to three photos may be submitted with your entry. Photos not necessary to win.
  • Previously unpublished work only! Blog posts are considered published (and I research all finalists).
  • No entry fee. Yes, that's right. You have nothing to lose.
  • Open to anyone worldwide, but you need (access to) a PayPal account
  • Entries must be in English
  • One entry per person
  • Deadline for submissions: July 31, 2016
  • Send entries with a 50-word third-person bio to christopher@imustbeoff.com with the heading TRAVEL WRITING CONTEST. Entries will be read blind by this year's judge and travel writer, Paola Fornari. It is not necessary to delete identifying information from your entry. If your name appears anywhere, it will be removed before it's forwarded to the judge.
  • Word doc, docx and rtf files only. 
  • Finalists announced in August 2016. Winners announced and published in late summer 2016.

The Prizes: 
  • The Top essays will be published at I Must Be Off! (Authors retain copyright.)
  • Second place prize: $50
  • First place prize: $200
  • Readers' Choice Award ($50) based on unique hits and comments tallied on September 30.

Good luck and happy writing!

I must be off,
Christopher

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Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Eclectica Magazine's 20th-Anniversary Best of Speculative anthology, Indiana Review, Night Train, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly: the Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, [PANK] blog, Necessary Fiction, Word Riot, Bootsnall Travel, Chicken Soup for the Soul and lots of other good places. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Kathy Fish Interviews Me!

Kathy Fish
Kathy Fish--one of the most solid and exciting voices in flash fiction--has asked me a few questions about my writing process for Mary Aker's r.kv.r.y quarterly literary journal. I hope you'll check it out. It turns out to be quite a personal look at my writing.

Recently, Fish and her co-author Robert Vaughan, published the flash fiction collection RIFT. If you haven't already ordered it, you can HERE.

And that's all I have for you today. I know you're thinking "Why hasn't Christopher posted a story about his travels lately? This blog is after all called I Must Be Off! not I Must Stay Chained to My Chair in my Dusty Office! Well, as soon as I find the key to the chain, I'll be off again. Soon. To Spain! But in the meantime, you can check out Kathy Fish's interview with me.

I must be off,
Christopher

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Christopher Allen is the 2015 recipient of the Ginosko Literary Journal's award for flash fiction. His work appears in Indiana Review, Eclectica Magazine, Night Train, Camroc Press Review, Contrary and over 100 other journals. Read his book reviews in [PANK], The Lit Pub, Necessary Fiction and more. A former finalist at Glimmer Train, Allen is also a multiple nominee for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. Originally from Tennessee, Allen now splits his time between Munich and Dublin. He is the managing editor of SmokeLong Quarterly.  

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Expat Author Interview with Christopher James

Christopher James
Christopher James, originally from London, England, lives in Jakarta, Indonesia. Recently James has launched Jellyfish Review, an online journal devoted to innovative brief fiction.

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IMBO: Christopher, welcome to I Must Be Off! You live in Jakarta. I've been to Bali a couple times, but never anywhere else in Indonesia. Tell us about your typical day in Jakarta. 
James: Hi Christopher, thank you for having me at IMBO! I’m delighted to be here.
Your first question comes at a strange time, because only a few days ago in Jakarta we had a dozen gunmen and suicide bombers attack the centre of the city. By all accounts they mostly failed in their attempt. Some of them got lost on their way to one of the city’s busiest malls, stopped and asked for directions, and exploded themselves in the mostly empty parking lot.
Sadly, that’s not the entire story. Several innocent people were killed, and some twenty or so are in critical condition. But Jakarta has been through a lot in the last thirty or so years. They overthrew a corrupt government. They suffered bomb attacks. The entire city is literally sinking into the sea, and they keep building new skyscrapers and multi-storey malls that exacerbate the problem.
I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this, except to say that there isn’t really any such thing as a typical day in Indonesia. People enjoy boring things here like sleeping in and visiting the shops. I teach a little every day, edit a little every day, write a little every day, swim in the sun a little every day. I grab some street meat for lunch. Everything’s covered in hot, spicy sambal. It seldom rains, but when it does it floods the streets. Most things are routine, and that extends to the things which change everything.
By the way, only a few hours after the suicide bombers came, life in Jakarta returned more or less back to normal. A line trended on Twitter – kita tidak takut. We are not afraid. 
IMBO: Where are you from, and how did this place shape you?
James: I’m from London, England. A lot of the old Londoners can, and do, complain about how their city has changed – how they can’t walk down the street anymore without hearing a thousand foreign voices. For me, that was the best thing about it. I’ve long been a traveller, and London is one of those special places in the world where you can trot the entire globe without leaving the city limits.
IMBO: I lived in London for a few years, so I was one of those foreign voices (American, very much from the South but mellowed over the years). I used to walk the Thames Path for hours and think; I miss that. What do you miss about London?
James: I get childishly excited whenever I see London in a movie. Those Georgian house-fronts. I miss the free museums and art galleries. I miss the outdoor performances. London is a cultural powerhouse, and it has something for everyone. I miss the second hand book markets along the Thames. I miss cheap whiskey and wine, and live music. I miss the graffiti and I miss walking through London after dark.
IMBO: How has being an expat in Indonesia shaped how you see the world? And how you write?
James: You’re unique and sexy in Indonesia if you have a pointy nose, and mine is especially fine in that regard. You’re popular if you’re tall. Everyone wants to be your friend if you can teach them the difference in pronunciation between beach and bitch, sheet and shit. There’s no doubt living here has been a bit of an ego-booster. But truthfully, I don’t know how it has shaped my writing. I like to think it has made me a better writer, but I couldn’t say for sure.
IMBO: I hear that from so many expats: that feeling of being exotic. I feel it here in Munich, Germany as well. But with that feeling comes also a twinge of alienation and discrimination. Not a week goes by—after 20 years—that I don’t have to field some comment about fat Americans, gun-toting Republicans, or weak coffee. What’s hard about being an expat in Jakarta?
James: I think it’s been easy for me, aside from some bureaucratic nightmares organizing visas and whatnots. But sometimes it’s hard for my girlfriend walking through the city with me. She’s Indonesian, and there’s always somebody who makes assumptions about us, which is not pleasant. However, I imagine that would happen anywhere, and Jakarta – or at least our little corner of Jakarta – is probably better for that than most places.
But there are times when anti-immigrant sentiment rears here – normally when the economy is struggling. When that happens it can feel like something to ride and hope you don’t fall off.
IMBO: You've recently started a literary journal devoted to flash fiction. Tell us a bit about Jellyfish Review. 
JamesJellyfish Review is amazing, if I do say so myself! We were interviewed recently for Six Questions For, and there’s something we said in that interview that I’d like to repeat and elaborate on here.
There’s an island in Kalimantan, nearby, called Kakaban, which once upon a time was shaped like a C and was home to many jellyfish. The earth shifted, and the C became an O, and the jellyfish were trapped in a lake cut off from the ocean and all its predators. The jellyfish had nothing threatening them, and over thousands of years they thrived in numbers. However, they also lost their sting. If you want, you can go to Kakaban and jump in the lake and let the jellyfish swarm all over your body. They’re entirely harmless. You’re advised not to wear sunscreen, as it can kill them.
Picture by Rian Castillo
We think that flash fiction needs challenge and change as much as the Kakaban jellyfish do, or it’s in danger of losing its sting. Of becoming vulnerable to sunscreen. Most flash fiction magazines are read by flash fiction writers. There are great venues – SmokeLong is one of them, of course – but even the best flash fiction venues cater to a relatively small crowd. We set up Jellyfish Review to try and publish some great flash fiction, but also to push flash fiction into places it rarely goes. 
It might work, it might not. We hope to have fun either way.
IMBO: Well, I wish you much success. You’ve already published some excellent work by some great writers. What have you been writing lately? Care to share a couple stories with us?
James: Since starting the magazine, my writing has slowed down a lot. I’m growing more aware of what I like to see in stories, and what an editor might look for. I used to write very quickly and send things out without an enormous amount of thought, and that’s something I’m doing less of.
These are a few of my most recently published pieces, from before the magazine. When I read them now, it feels like they were written by a different person!

"Of Small Talk at Parties and Everything Else"
"Jumping in and Falling Out"
"Brds, Shds, Gns, Plcmn"
IMBO: Thank you for sharing these stories with us, Christopher! And thanks for taking time to share your life with the readers of I Must Be Off!

I must be off,
Christopher

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Christopher James lives, works and writes in Jakarta, Indonesia. He has previously been published online in many venues, including Tin House, McSweeney’s, SmokeLong, and Wigleaf. He is the editor of Jellyfish Review.

Christopher Allen is the 2015 recipient of the Ginosko Literary Journal's award for flash fiction. His work appears in Indiana Review, Eclectica Magazine, Night Train, Camroc Press Review, Contrary and over 100 other journals. Read his book reviews in [PANK), The Lit Pub, Necessary Fiction and more. A former finalist at Glimmer Train, Allen is also a multiple nominee for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. Originally from Tennessee, Allen now splits his time between Munich and Dublin. He is the managing editor of SmokeLong Quarterly.