Monday, October 31, 2011

Autumn at Achensee

I wasn't in the mood for an excursion this weekend. I was just getting over a bad cold, and I have something called a Schleimbeutel Enzündung in my left shoulder, which simply means inflammation of the bag of mucus that serves as a cushion between the bones in my shoulder and my left arm bone. It hurts. The doctor said I needed to keep it cold and keep my arm hanging down. Actually a walk around Achensee--Achen Lake in Austria--was probably not a bad idea.

Walking is a lost art for many people who live in cities where you can't walk anywhere. In Nashville, where I'm from, there aren't even sidewalks in many parts of the city. A good friend of mine, Julie Spain, still finds a way to walk several miles a day. She inspires me. I'm sure she knows how walking frees the mind. I have some of my less awful ideas while walking.

On sunny autumn days, the mountain lakes in Bavaria and Austria are overrun with families and couples and elderly hardcore walkers trying to get their last walk in before winter. Many of these people will then strap on their cross-country skis and do essentially the same thing...just a bit more quickly. This weekend was an exceptionally beautiful one, so the trails were packed with loud kids.

For a few minutes we walked behind a boy and his father playing with their shadows. The boy--six or seven?--was really getting a kick out of stomping on his father, the long dark apparition of his father on the ground of course. The father would trot ahead of the boy, making it more and more difficult for his son to catch him. At one point it was an all-out race, but the boy finally won--and stomped all over his dad. I don't take pictures of people I don't know, so the only picture of this I have is in my words.

I think--no I know--that writers need down time when we aren't trying so hard to come up with the perfect phrase or an original plot. I know that when I start walking I'm giving my mind permission to wander. I feel the same about cooking. Not long into the wandering, my mind will work out a problem in my writing, and I'll think, "Man, why didn't I think of that?" Hmmmm.

Strangely and counter-productively, my camera often inhibits the freeing of my mind. You know the adage If you want to find something, you should stop looking for it? Is that an adage? Or did I just make it up? Well. Always looking for a perfect photo motif is like always looking for that great idea. You could drive yourself crazy looking. Fortunately this weekend, since most of the fall foliage was already a brown sludge on the ground, I had lots of time to let my mind relax.

I've been thinking a lot the last few days about what inspires me and why I write. I remember last fall how reflective I was. Maybe fall is my time to re-evaluate myself as a writer. What inspires you? What frees your mind?

I must be off,

Monday, October 24, 2011

Expat Author Interview with Foreign Flavours: a New Anthology from Writers Abroad

Today's interview is with a book. I know that's odd. Books don't normally talk, but this one took time out of its busy schedule to answer my questions. And to make things even more amazing, Foreign Flavours was born today--October 24. Talk about a prodigy. 

IMBO: Let's talk about talent. What exactly are you, Foreign Flavours?

Foreign Flavours: First, Christopher, thank you! I've been waiting all my life to speak to you. I'm a collection of stories written by 64 expat authors from around the world.

IMBO: All of the stories are written by expat writers? That's fascinating. What's the theme of the anthology?

Foreign Flavours: Glorious food! From exotic to simple, from moving to quirky. Fiction and creative non-fiction. I'm bursting with short, entertaining reads about food from all over the world. You might say I'm tasty. And spicy.

IMBO: I might say that. Actually, if I'm honest, FF, I've read all your stories already. I'm part of the group who made you.

Foreign Flavours: Really? That's kind of spooky. Are you my mother? Joke. So what'd you think of my stories? Give it to me straight, Christopher.

IMBO: I loved them. I'm a bit of a foodie myself, so I enjoy reading stories with exotic cuisine at the heart. I found the non-fiction incredibly informative and the fiction engaging.

Foreign Flavours: You're sweet. And adorable.

IMBO: Well, you're not the first to recognize this, but thank you. So I suppose you'd really like to be bought, right?

Foreign Flavours: Oh yes. I want to make oodles of money. But it's not for me; it's for The Book Bus. All the proceeds from me are going to The Book Bus, a registered charity whose aim it is to improve child literacy rates in Africa and South America. I'm thrilled to be able to bring the joy of reading to kids.

IMBO: That thrills me too, FF. I'm going to buy my copies tonight. Here's the link for anyone else who wants to join me. Great cause, lovely stories, polite--and oddly chatty--book. I'm not sure what could be better. If you're unable to buy the book (we all know times are tough), you could still share this post with your friends on Twitter, Facebook and Stumbleupon. Anything you do to get the word out would be appreciated. Here's the link:

Foreign Flavours: a New Anthology from Writers Abroad

I must be off,

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Robert Vaughan Reads Me!

Hello, pretty IMBO reader. I've been in London this weekend without very much internet access at all, but I've found an internet cafe so that I can bring to you something I'm very proud of.

My story "The Pain Taster," which originally appeared at Marcu Speh's Kaffe in Katmandu, has now been featured on Flash Fiction Friday and read by the wonderful Robert Vaughan. Please stop by and listen to the show.

The Pain Taster at Lake Effect's Flash Fiction Friday

I must be off,

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Year in Signs 2011

(Important! If these pictures are cut off at the end by the homepage pictures, try reloading this page. This usually works.)

I heart signs. I love the concept of a piece of metal hanging around somewhere for the sole purpose of telling me where to go, how to get there, why I should go there or why I shouldn't. Taking pictures of signs is a significant obsession of mine. Some signs are humorous, some are art, and some are humorous art. No sign rises to the niveau of art like the stop sign. It evokes so many feelings. It's a warning. It's for your own good. And as a barrier between you and the fragility of nature, it's for nature's own good as well. Stop . . . in the name of Love.

You have to Love the politeness of this sign. Have you ever seen a NO TRESPASSING sign with a "please"? I want to meet the person who added cordiality to this one and marry him. Please covers a multitude of sins, in my book. Take Get out of my face! and then Get out of my face . . . please! There's such a difference. This sign is smiling slightly---and warning you, of course, that you might have to pay 2000 Canadian dollars if you trespass.

No, this tree isn't smiling. Well, maybe it is. If it is, it's a subtle, satisfied smile. It's telling you you're on the right path. Actually, these markings--at least in Austria--are usually red and white, so this one confused me just a bit. Come to think of it, we got lost and ended up slogging through mud for a while. Hmmm. Does this sign mean "Muddy Path Ahead" to the good people of South Tyrol? Maybe it's not a contented smile after all; maybe it's one of those smiles that says smugly, "You don't know what I'm saying, do you? You no speaky my language?"

Signs that encourage group participation have always thrilled me. I'm not really a joiner, but I'd like to think I could one day be enthusiastic enough to jump in and shoot dirty with everyone. This must be a fun crowd. That said, how you interpret this sign is completely up to you (and you're Dirty mind); but I'll give you a hint: it's a movie at an independent cinema in NYC.

What is a testicle festival? I refuse to Google this because I think my interpretation of "Testicle Festival" must be more hilarious than the real thing. It would be a shame to ruin it. My version: A celebration of the testicle as the generator of life. I imagine testicle sculpture-making and balloon-tying contests. Booths selling all manner of famous testicle reproductions of yore. David, for example would be in big demand. A concert by Jerry Lee Lewis, for obvious reasons, would drive the audience nuts.

This signs says Stop Laughing, Life is not Funny, How the Hell Did you Wind up Here? There's nothing but barley fields here. Nothing here to see, folks. Turn around. Rethink. Check your GPS. Stop and ask the locals the way back to civilization. Or wait. This sign could be saying Rest a Second, Bub. Turn Your Motor Off and Listen to the barley growing. You don't have to be roaring down the road your whole life toward a goal, toward a through road. Sometimes it's nice to just sit here at a dead end--let's call it a culs-de-sac, which sounds so much nicer--and think. You don't always have to be on the right road, you know.

I think the rangers put this sign up simply to keep people from tramping all over the delicate landscape of The Badlands (South Dakota). It's much more effective than a sign reading "Danger! Eroding Soil! Will Be Gone in 500,000 Years!" People tend to be much less afraid of eroding soil than rattlesnakes, which, according to my mother, are evolving to lose their rattles (which weren't such a grand idea anyway when you think about it).

This is obviously a souvenir shop, right? It's in the town of St. Ignace on Lake Michigan where thousands of people each year catch the ferry to Mackinac Island. Do you get the joke? You do if you speak German, but for those of you who don't: Gift in German means poison in English. The German-speaking owners of this shop are having a laugh. Goodness, I hope they're not actually putting poison in their fudge.

As intelligent as "Das Gift Haus" is, the singular woman for the plural Damen is pretty sad. This sign was outside a toilet at Oktoberfest. Maybe it's a one-holer? Which reminds me of something a man said as he was coming out of the John somewhere in Montana this summer. When he opened the door, I noticed there were actually two stalls, so I said, "I wish I'd known there were two stalls." He replied, "There's three . . . counting the sink." Um, yuck? But funny. Funny guy.

Some signs are so bare in their truthfulness. Yes, the footpath to Dorf Tirol, in South Tyrol, is practically straight up. It's a workout that your legs and gluts never stop thanking you for. They're so thankful, in fact, that they don't say a word when you order a second glass of wine at the top of the mountain (which is a good two-hour walk past Dorf Tirol--immer bergauf).The word bergauf has positive connotations in German. It can mean that things are looking up--and we all know a steep path often leads you to the best view.

Stop! Wait! If you haven't read my POST on Foreign Flavours, the new Writers Abroad Anthology, please do HERE. The proceeds from the anthology go to The Book Bus, so I hope you'll buy this excellent collection of stories and articles--or share the post with friends who might. 

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type. Allen writes fiction, creative non-fiction and of course this here blog. His work has appeared in numerous places both online and in print. Read more about him HERE.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Expat Author Interview with Rose Hunter

Poet Rose Hunter
(Important! If this post is cut off at the bottom, reload the page. This usually solves the problem.)


The poet Rose Hunter has lived in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for about two and a half years now, which to Rose seems both long, and not that long. Originally from Australia, Rose spent ten years in Toronto before moving south of the borders. She speaks German – her mother is German – and Spanish – which she describes as a work-in-progress – but she publishes only in English . . . for now.

IMBO: Buenos dias, Rose! I love the old town of Puerto Vallarta, as I think I’ve told you several times. Someday we’re going to share some guacamole and a few margaritas – but until then, how about telling us a bit about your writing.

Rose: I don’t know how to describe my writing except that at the moment I’m writing mostly poetry, and it mostly comes out of my life experiences because I don’t know how to do it any other way. I mean everything is a life experience. I don’t understand what I think are called “writing prompts” and the like, is what I’m trying to say.

I’ve written short stories and whatnot in the past (and articles, etc.) and will probably go back to doing that as well, eventually. But I’ll always write poetry I hope, if I can. That’s the writing I enjoy the most, and that makes the most sense to me.

IMBO: How has being an expat affected what, and the way, you write?

Rose: Where I live has an enormous influence on what I write, and the way I write. It’s about writing, but it’s also about more than that. It’s about being happy, generally, with where I exist, and feeling simpatico with the culture around me. I don’t feel that in Australia for example. There are a lot of reasons for that, and cultural differences I could get into and probably bore everyone, and maybe offend a few people. I wrote somewhere that it’s like Australia is written in a code I don’t understand. I get very depressed there. There’s nothing for me to write about there. That sounds dramatic, but, well, there you have it. Whereas here there’s plenty of living, and therefore plenty of writing.

IMBO: Let’s say you’ve just boarded a transatlantic flight. As you make your way to your seat, adrenaline shoots through your chest. You’ve dreamt about this moment with this person for years. He/she is sitting in the seat next to yours. Who is it and, assuming you get the nerve up, what will you talk about—for nine hours?

Rose: I never know how to answer this type of question. There are lots of people of course, authors or maybe spiritual teachers, etc. But I’ve probably read their books and most likely they say more in those books than they would to a stranger on a plane. I think I’d prefer a chance to be thrown together with someone I used to know. Maybe someone I can’t get up the nerve to contact again, or wouldn’t know how to find. I’d like to know what happened to certain people, and what they’re doing now. Yes. I can think of one or two people like that. I won’t say who, here. PS I realize I am turning down an opportunity to talk to Jesus or something. Oh well.

IMBO: No one ever says they’d like to sit next to me, but OK. Onward. Care to share some of your work with us?

Rose: Well, I’ll give you the link to the book of poems I’ve just published, which is like a long story too, in a way. Here is the info, at my blog. There are links to the book at Amazon on that page, as well as some blurbs, and links to poems from the book that have been published in various journals. The book is called A Foal Poem.

It came about I suppose, like my stuff usually comes about, as some kind of compulsive urge to make sense of my experience and (in my mind) record it so it’s not lost forever. I’m sure that’s what most of my writing is about: not wanting to lose things. The attempt is futile of course, but at the beginning of a book I seem to think this time it’s going to work. I haven’t written so many books. But I completed another manuscript recently and I realized the same impetus must have been behind it, because I noticed the same disappointment, afterwards. This period of lived time, this experience, this person, whatever it is – no, it/they, are still lost, after you’ve finished spilling the words. This is something most reasonable people understand I think. But I don’t think writers are reasonable people. I think a lot of us are, as I remember Martin Amis putting it one time, people who are “flummoxed by first principles.” At least I know I am. The word “recovery” (in the epigraph of A Foal Poem) works on a few levels, I think/hope.

A Foal Poem is coming out as an eBook shortly, but prior to that if anyone wants a free PDF copy, I’ll send it to them. Just email me: No strings, or commentary required/expected. Just a free book.

IMBO: Wow, Rose, that’s a sweet offer. How about a link to a story written by another expat?

Rose: A poem again, for me? I like Arlene Ang’s stuff. Here’s one, in Juked (which is also one of my favourite journals). It's called 
Manic car driving is not a door stop

This poem has so many things in it I like. A red light and a fish market, for a start. Place! Salt! And a tooth at the end…. People who know me a bit know I can get obsessed with teeth. I also like salt, and, although I don’t drive, gas pedals and steering wheels:

…. She knew
the steering wheel by its salt
margins, its strange salt
sweat on her hands.  When did the foot
become a note, a tic that knew 

and what images, right?

This was how 5 AM felt in her grip, like salt
in a footbath, a painful tooth abstraction.

IMBO: Has your concept of home changed since you’ve been an expat?    

Rose: Mexico is the first place that’s felt like home, really. So I guess my idea about home is that sometimes you have to look for it; you’re not necessarily born in it. 

Rose, it's been very interesting catching up with you. Congratulations on A Foal Poem! I hope it's a grand success.

I must be off,


Links to Rose Hunter's writing can be found at "Whoever Brought Me Here Will Have To Take Me Home." Her book of poetry, to the river, was published in 2010 Artistically Declined Press. Poems of hers have been published in such places as PANKkill authordecomP, elimae, The Nervous Breakdownanderbo, Juked, Metazen, The Toronto Quarterly, Bluestem, Escape Into Life, and others. She just published a new full-length poetry book, A Foal Poem. She is the editor of the poetry journal YB, and lives in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. She also keeps a photo blog at Fotos del Día. 


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire).

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Bunt! Color! Free Photo Friday...on Saturday!

Today at I Must Be Off! I'm feeling colorful, so I want to celebrate it and share it with you. Wherever I travel around this wonderful world, I'm amazed by color. What a gift. I'm serious about that--no sarcasm or humor there. These photographs remind me that the world needs variety to exist (that's a fact; you can look it up if you want). We need a range of opinions, beliefs and even hairstyles to make the world go round.

The German word bunt means colorful or many-colored. I don't know why, but the importance of eine bunte Welt--a many-colored world--has been on my mind the past few days. Here are my pictures on this theme. As always, take them. They're yours. If you use them, I'd appreciate your mentioning I Must Be Off! but I won't come running after you--unless you're really slow.

Paper globes in Bangkok. I would have taken them all with me if I'd had room.

Beads in Istanbul

A sacrificial offering on Bali

Flowers outside a pub along the Thames in London

Beads at the Stables Market in London. The salesman was really angry that I took this picture. Hmmmm.

Picante! A market in South Tyrol

The Eastside Gallery in Berlin

Art in a small town on the Mosel. I was drinking too much Riesling to remember the name.

I must be off,

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Long Night of Museums

(Important! If this post is cut off at the bottom, reload the page. This usually solves the problem.)


This is difficult, but I need to confess something to you. I hate museums. It's not that I'm particularly uncultured--I'm so cultured I'm practically bacterial. Museums make my legs hurt. If it were possible to run through a museum, I think I'd enjoy them much more. But you can't run in museums. Mr. Bean-like guards stop you. I know.

The Louvre is right up there at the top of my list of Museums That Make My Legs Hurt. I understand the need to visit the most famous museum in the world, but The Louvre is like an enormous corporation that has lost its focus. It tries to do everything and nothing. It was featured in The DaVinci Code, a miserable book. And the Mona Lisa umbrella I bought broke the second I took it out of its plastic. How do you say I'm disgruntled but still adorable in French? I'm looking it up right now. Here it is: Je suis mécontent, mais toujours adorable. So true.

Here's a picture of me at Musée D'Orsay in Paris. I'm having a sit-down while my friends enjoy the impressionists. Actually, as I remember it, I enjoyed the impressionists too--once I elbowed my way around a billion tourists, mostly children (who were running! And no guards were stopping them!).

The Tower of London is my kind of museum. First of all, you have a Beefeater to tell you everything you need to know--why the ravens can't fly away, how many bodies were found under the church, and who is Guy Fawkes anyway? Oh, and then there's Vinopolis, London's wine museum, which is a real winner. OK, I don't hate museums. I may even be a convert.

It might even be time to give Munich's Lange Nacht der Museen a chance this Saturday night. I did it a few years ago with several people who insisted on visiting the MTU Aero Engines Museum. That's right. Airplane engines. And at one o'clock in the morning. The only thing duller would be, um, a telephone book museum or a golf club museum maybe.

If you're going to museums on Saturday night, you might find me running around--or maybe just jogging in place--at the following places...

Hotel Mariandl looks doable with 13 international artists occupying two floors of the hotel. I can run up and down the staircase if I get bored--which I'm sure I won't.

The Museum of Hunting and Fishing, in Munich's pedestrian zone (Kaufingerstrasse near Karlsplatz) does not look interesting at all, but it's high time I strapped on my boots and paid them a visit. After all, they have the world's largest collection of tackle! What has kept me away?

In 1879 a fellow named Friedrich Bodenstedts published a travelogue entitled Eines Königs Reise (A King's Journey), which depicts--apparently quite wittily--King Maximilian II's five-week tour of southern Bavaria in 1858. At 8p.m. actor Hans Jürgen Stockerl will be reading from the travelogue, and I might just be sitting in the audience. Or jogging in place. Haven't decided. It's at Monacensia Literaturarchiv and Bibliothek.

With more than 90 venues participating this year, Die Lange Nacht der Münchner Museen is well worth a few lost hours of sleep (which you will never get back, so choose your museums wisely). The fun costs only 15 euros (which includes your public transport ticket and four children). I wonder if you're allowed to choose the children. 

I must be off,

P.S. In 2012-13, this post has started to get hundreds of hits, mostly from Russian spambots. If you are a Russian spambot, please let me know why you love me. Are you using me to conduct really cool espionage? Will I be in the next James Bond film? 


Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type

Monday, October 10, 2011

Expat Author Interview with Kate Brown

Writer and Filmmaker Kate Brown
(Important! If this post is cut off at the bottom, please reload the page. This usually solves the problem.)


Kate Brown, a British film-maker and writer, has lived in Berlin for a year now. Before that, she lived in Amsterdam for almost eleven years. Speaking Dutch has made learning Deutsch a bit confusing, but she’s enjoying the challenge.

IMBO: Willkommen! Schön dass Du da bist, Kate! How did you get started writing?

Kate: Publishing, for me, started out in the realms of broadcasting. Screen rather than page. I've worked as screenwriter and film director, for the last ten years. In practice this has meant I've spent most of my time writing. A large part of that time has been taken up with writing screenplays which I got paid to write, but which haven't got money to go into production. A frustrating lot, often referred to as 'development hell'. That hell pushed me to start writing prose. 2010 was a good year for me as, after quite a few online publications, I was shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize and ended with one short story in their anthology and another in an anthology published by Cinnamon Press. I've got a literary agent now (Jamie Coleman) and I'm putting the final touches to my first novel so that he can approach publishers with it.

I've always written in English, but when I was in Amsterdam, if I made a film based on one of my screenplays, having written it in English, it would then be translated into Dutch, for me to direct it in that language. Strangely enough, I never really had a problem with the process. If you're curious, you can watch my film 'Absolutely Positive' HERE. It's in Dutch, without English subtitles, but the dialogue is sparse, so it's fairly easy to understand.

IMBO: How has being an expat affected what, and the way, you write?

Kate: This in an interesting question. Being an expat has definitely affected me. But it makes me wonder about degrees of expatriatism. My mother's side of my family have always been pretty itinerant and my parents moved to France when I was in my twenties. France is, in its way, as much of a home to me as anywhere else. I lived in Amsterdam for a long time, without ever really coming to terms with the culture. But now I've left, I see how much 'Dutchness' has wormed its way under my skin. And Berlin, well, Berlin is very new to me. I'm quite certain all this movement makes me who I am. And yet, the longer pieces I write often have teenage central characters and I spent my teens in England. So, the things that happened to me personally, at the age I'm fascinated by, happened when I still lived in the country I was born in. And I do think that doesn't go away. 

Place can inspire me, too, but it doesn't always. I've started working on a couple of ideas for films in Berlin since I got here. It's quite possible a part of my next novel will be set in 18th-century Potsdam. While I lived in Amsterdam, I made films set there, but the setting wasn't that relevant. I'm writing more about the Netherlands since I left. My first novel is set in 18th-century France. If nothing else, living in all these places has given me scope, I suppose.

I think I write very much from the perspective of an outsider. One of the things I disliked about Holland was that belonging is so important to the culture. I don't know how to belong; I find it a threatening concept. So that influences what I write about, and how.

IMBO: Let’s say you’ve just boarded a transatlantic flight. As you make your way to your seat, adrenaline shoots through your chest. You’ve dreamt about this moment with this person for years. He/she is sitting in the seat next to yours. Who is it and, assuming you get the nerve up, what will you talk about—for nine hours?

Kate: I think the idea of sitting next to someone and having to talk to them for nine hours is… well… kind of terrifying. If I were in awe of someone I'd probably be scared to open my mouth. I read Janice Galloway's novel 'Clara' recently. It's about the pianist Clara Schumann and her life. I was really enthralled by the book and, that, in combination with your question makes me think it would be fascinating to have a dialogue with a woman like Clara Schumann, someone from the past who 'created' for a living, too. I'm not sure I'd want it to be on a plane, though.

IMBO: Care to share some of your work with us?

Kate: "TwoGirls Under an Apple Tree", shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize, was inspired by a painting called 'Twee kinderen onder een Appelboom' by Ferdinand Hart Nibbrig. I've never seen the painting itself, but I found the postcard in the shop of the Krüller Müller Museum in the Netherlands and was drawn to it. I put the postcard on my desk and looked at it every day, knowing I was going to write something. I was intrigued by the the way the older girl seemed to dominate the younger one. The proportions of the girls seemed exaggerated. It made me think about them, who they were. Why the elder one was so much larger than life? What might the little one do to right that. This was one of those stories I waited for, then when I wrote it, apart from a few details, it came almost whole. This almost never happens, by the way…

"Place de la Revolution", I wrote in Paris. I was on the Faber Academy's first writing workshop and we were sent out to follow people. I came across two people selling sandwiches in a rather quaint, rustic caravan near the Louvre. It was owned by a chain you see selling sandwiches all over Paris, but I didn't know that at the the time and, for a number of reasons, the set up, and the two people working there, made me ponder the nature of identity. Names, expectations. This is what came out – not very quaint or rustic. I'm very happy to have a recording online, because this piece had it's first run as a spoken story and it feels like that's the way it should be.

IMBO: How about a link to a story written by another expat? (If you want, give a short response/review of the story, around 30 words.)

Kate: Unfortunately I can't link to the story itself as it's not online as far as I can tell, but Tania Hershman's short story "Express" in her collection The WhiteRoad perfectly captures how I feel about language, as someone who lives outside the country of her mother tongue. You don't realise how hard you struggle to get your tongue round foreign words, even when you get good at them, until you come home. That sense of trying to fit into another skin, and of hiding your loss of self from yourself, come to life in this story. 

IMBO: Ever get homesick? Has your concept of home changed since you’ve been an expat?  

Kate: Absolutely. I'm not sure I could ever live back in the UK again, but I do get homesick. There was a time back in Amsterdam when things were going badly and I'd think to myself "I want to go home". I soon realised, though, that I didn't know anymore where home was. It was very unsettling. 

I was in London in April of this year, when the weather was great, and I went to visit a friend outside the city. I kept staring at the horse chestnut trees in bloom and thinking "Wow. This is like it was when I was a kid" – the nearest a non-belonger can feel to belonging, perhaps.

Thank you for stopping by and sharing a bit of your life with us, Kate. I wish you tons of success with your career!

I must be off,


Kate Brown is a British film-maker and writer, living in Berlin. Her films 'Julie & Herman' and 'Absolutely Positive' have been shown at festivals and on television in Europe and the USA. Her short stories are published online and, in print, by Cinnamon Press and in the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology 2010.

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type. Available to sweet people everywhere HERE

Friday, October 7, 2011

Free Photo Friday...Famous Places

Ever needed a picture of The Eiffel Tower but you were afraid to swipe one from someone's website? Or what about the leaning tower of Pisa? People have all these pics of famous places, but they're stingy (and probably professional photographers). Not me. I'm sweet (and not professional). I'm giving you all of these pics below to do with as you will. You could Photoshop a smiley face on the Sphinx or squiggle in your own Nessie in the Loch. The sky air up there? It's just air. Get to it. Just remember: Give your readers the link to my blog.

You're not reading anymore, are you? You're looking at the pics. That's OK. Who am I talking to? I must be off, but you can stick around for a while...

Spooky. Old Faithful above looks like the Gherkin in London.

This is my picture of Nessie. Yeah, OK, it's a boat. But I did see her.

And then with the Mother Ship

The most helpful spire in the world.

Does this building look unfinished, or is it just me?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

How do you say "Gluten-free" in French?

The Eiffel Tower is Gluten-free
(Important! If this post is cut off at the bottom, reload the page. This usually solves the problem.)


I speak very little French. It's a joke among my students that I learn one French word a day: some useless word that I'd never use, like la hérisson (hedgehog). Although I've had a hérisson in my garden before, I rarely talk about him. And, if I decided to talk to him, I'd call him an Igel (a hedgehog in German). Point is: I rarely need to speak French.

But then I found out I had Celiac Disease. I'm a traveler, as you know; and, like most people, I'm an eater. Traveling in a country where people adamantly refuse to speak English--the nerve--can be frustrating for a person with CD, so I asked my students for help--which they gave me. I didn't ask them to laugh at my awful French pronunciation, but they gave me that too. Generous folk. Actually, they're all very sweet and wonderful folks.

Here's a primer for getting along in France with CD:

You can practice and practice the following (any native-speaking French person can correct the spelling if you want; the French sentences below are meant merely to show the pronunciation. Yes, my students can chime in and tell me where my accents and little hatty things are missing):

"Avez vous du pain sans gluten?" Do you have gluten-free bread?
"Ess cu se fer avec du blé?" Is it made with wheat?
"Ess cu se fer avec saulement du poix chiche (pwah sheesh)?" Is it made only with chickpeas?

Chickpeas? you ask, and I'm glad you did. We don't talk enough about chickpeas. If you're in Nice, you'll be happy to know that one of their traditional treats is gluten-free. It's called socca and you can find it in the old town at several places that serve local food. These are typically very informal establishments with outdoor seating. Get in the queue with all the other people from Nice and just say Socca when it's your turn.

Socca is a thin chickpea pancake that you eat with olive oil, pepper and salt. It's simple but tasty. If you're hungry in the middle of the day, socca is a perfect--and filling--snack.

And Socca again . . . and again . . . and again
If you're hungry for something sweet, try a macaroon or a marzipan treat (an almandine?). They're relatively expensive, so practice your numbers 1-5 before the salesperson asks you how many you want. I was nervous, so I ended up asking for eight (the only number I could think of). It was over 10 euros.

I must be off (to practice my French),


Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Expat Author Interview with Paola Fornari Hanna

Paola Fornari Hanna
Paola Fornari Hanna is the trailing spouse par excellence. She's been been following her husband around the world for thirty-three years -- before that she was a trailing daughter. She was born in Tanzania — then Tanganyika — where her father was a doctor. Her parents moved house, and often village, twelve times when she was a child. With her husband, she has moved a further twelve times and has covered four continents. At present they're living in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

IMBO:  Paola, how did you get started writing?

Paola:  Montevideo, Uruguay, where we were posted in 2004,  was our first posting without children. When I wrote to them describing my experiences, they suggested I try getting published — so I did. Then it became a fun challenge to have my articles accepted by 'different' magazines: I have managed to get into Practical Fishkeeping and Cycling World.  My present niche is The Oldie,  but I feel I need to crack something new. I wouldn't say I've published a huge amount...but maybe, one day, there will be a book...or two.

I am Italian, but I always write in English, which I consider my mother tongue, although it's not my mother's tongue. I speak other languages, but I wouldn't trust my writing skills in them.

My writing, I suppose, comes under the category 'travel and lifestyle'. I observe what's around me, chat to people, and write everything down. I am always ready to penetrate beyond 'classic' tourism: wherever I go, I want to get as close as I can to learning about other people and how they live. At the moment I'm keeping my Banglablog, an account of my experiences in Bangladesh.

Besides writing, I do loads of things. I used to be an interpreter/translator, then I trained to teach English as a foreign language to adults. I dabbled in suggestopedia and N.L.P. 

Now I am an examiner with the British Council. Many people who wish to emigrate to the UK or Australia, or want to study abroad, need to sit an exam called IELTS (International English Language Testing System). I trained to be an IELTS examiner about three years ago. It's a great way of meeting local people. 

I also give training courses in Presentation Skills, and  CV Writing/Interview Skills. 

I work freelance, so I have time for my other interests: yoga, swimming, old-fashioned skills like knitting and cross-stitch — and exploring. It's the exploring that forms the basis of my writing.

IMBO:  How has being an expat affected what, and the way, you write? 

Paola:  It must have done, somehow, but I can't tell you how — I have never not been an expat, though I don't have a pat!

IMBO:  Great line! I'll have to use it one day. OK, let’s say you’ve just boarded a transatlantic flight. As you make your way to your seat, adrenaline shoots through your chest. You’ve dreamt about this moment with this person for years. He/she is sitting in the seat next to yours. Who is it and, assuming you get the nerve up, what will you talk about — for nine hours?

Paola:  Ah, now this is not an easy question. I would not like to end up beside someone famous: I would feel intimidated and not know what to say. And anyway, I can see famous people any time on TV, or find out about them on the Internet. 

The Bangladeshi Wetlands

I have had brief meetings with so many interesting people over the years, and would have loved an opportunity to chat with them for nine hours. In Tanzania I met a beggar who ended up going to the Special Olympics in Manchester. In Uruguay a taxi driver told me he healed people with magnets. Just yesterday I met people living in the Haors. These are the Bangladeshi wetlands where for six months a year monsoon rains drown the paddy fields, and people are isolated on teeny islands, which they struggle to protect from the elements. One group, who had been homeless, had been given the opportunity to build their own island, and can now be self-sufficient. Give me an interpreter, and just one of the new island inhabitants: nine hours would not be enough.

IMBO:   Care to share some of your work with us?

Paola:  Okay, I'll give you an early piece and a recent piece. Click on this link:   

Horseback Riding in Chiloe, Chile

This is one of the first pieces I had published: it's about a trip I made with my niece to Chiloe, in Chile. It took three and a half days to get there by bus from Montevideo. I gave my niece Graham Greene's book 'Travels with my Aunt' to read on the way. The weather was wet and cold, and it was one of those experiences that teaches you that you don't need to be comfortable to have fun.
Doin' Dhaka is a recent story about a trip to the heart of Dhaka. My friend Anette and I try to go out and discover something new every week: this was the first of our Monday Adventures.

IMBO:  How about a link to a story written by another expat?

Paola: "Working the Windows" is a recently published piece by  Susan Carey. That's her pen name. Her real name is Angela Williams and she's a fellow-member of the online writing group, Writers Abroad.'  I found it interesting because when I read it I had just watched a National Geographic documentary about prostitution, which covered everything from the 'high-end' brothels in Sydney to trafficked women in Bangladesh. Here's the link:

Through her interview with a woman right there in the sex trade, Susan's article gives a close insight into a world many of us are so unfamiliar with. Unfortunately, not many prostitutes can control their fate like Mariska. 

One of my recent 'Monday Adventures' was to see a project in Dhaka which helps women who have been trafficked start a new life: these women are among the lucky few: getting out of prostitution in Bangladesh is extremely difficult. 

IMBO:  Ever get homesick? Has your concept of home changed since you’ve been an expat?    

Paola:  I don't have a permanent home, so not really. I miss my kids and grandson, and I miss certain feelings. Here in Bangladesh I miss freedom: the freedom to walk, cycle, or drive where I want, the freedom to be alone. But I know that I can just take a break and go elsewhere if the traffic, noise and pollution get to me.
I am incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity to see the world, so I try my best to make the most of it. 

Paola, thank you for sharing your world with us. I've enjoyed getting to know you over the last few months. The world needs lots more people like you.

I must be off,



Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type