Friday, March 27, 2015

Small-news Friday

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Winding down the week – few plans for the weekend ahead yet.  Forecast for rain and wind getting heavier through Sunday, so perfect sailing and walking climate.  The orchid has even sprouted a new set of flowers since taking it back from the window, while the chili is thriving on less water.

I suppose I could finish grading and start the VAT, if motivated, but am more likely to binge on Blacklist or House of Cards.

The new Nexus 9 tablet arrived this morning.  I’ve had a gap in my accessories since my ‘7 went toes-up a couple of weeks ago.  My 2-year business phone contract came up for renewal and O2 offered a free tablet for renewing my contract.  The device is lovely: thin, light, bright, and happily setting itself up in the corner all afternoon.  It feels awkward in my hand, the extra two inches makes a difference, but I think I’ll like the bigger screen.

DSC01772 (1300x931)And, new roommates arrived at 5-Woodside this evening, a Greek couple with little English language fluency.  They seem nice and their cooking smells wonderful: I can see a multicultural food night is in the near future.

KanavapeThe Dutch company e-njoint is offering an electric joint, basically a cannibus –infused e-cigarette in the vaporizer version (it only smells like pot otherwise).  Inevitable inventiveness, I suppose, complete with the strap line  Taking vaping to the highest level.  KanaVape is a similar version coming to the UK. 

DSC01768 (1300x975)I managed to lock myself out of my room yesterday, only the second time ever.  I need to copy the key, it’s too easy for a door to blow shut.  I always leave the window unlocked, though, and my neighbor, former editor of a Dorset yachting magazine, had a ladder available. We were up and in and nobody notified 112 that two guys in ties were breaking in. 

beaneBilly Beane, the  Oakland A’s manager who inspired Moneyball, is coming to the Netherlands.  He’ll be the technical advisor for the AZ Alkmaar football team.  he’s been analyzing Premier League teams in the UK informally and this will be his first try at seeing whether number crunching can be as transformative in soccer as it was in baseball.

I’ve been following a number of ‘photo of the day’ sites, pretty much a constellation of Faces or Humans of  ‘London’, ‘Amsterdam’, or ‘New York’.  Always interesting, it reminds me of how unique and universal people are.

Faces Londonhuman amsFaces New York

The similar ‘Street Art’ pages are creative and eclectic, but not quite as compelling.  ‘Unless they mash up with people, of course.

Art NYBlend NY-AMSAms street art

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Midweek expat reading – Cardiff

WP_20150325_003 (731x1300)I’m making an early trip to Cardiff, a couple of hours’ direct train ride across the Bristol Channel into Wales. The day’s meeting place borders on the Roath Basin, since 1874 a protected anchorage and transit point for coal mined in the north.  During the First World War, the city exported more coal than any other port in the world, but labor strikes during the Depression, bombing during the Second World War, and changing patterns of global commerce eliminated the trade by the ‘60s.  Major redevelopment in the 90’s led to redevelopment of the harbour: establishment of a permanent home for the new Welch National Assembly (Senedd) and of the Life Sciences Hub incubator.

aerial photograph by Senedd cardiff

Wales encourages inward development through a variety of EU and UK funds, and we’re exploring whether, where, how we might relocate the company within the country.  It’s sort of another expat-within-an-expat-within-an-expat opportunity.

And. in that  theme, I’d been catching up with recent expat lit on the train, so it’s a good time to curate some of the best articles.

DSC01989 (974x1300)The Wall Street Journal runs an Expat blog on the free side of their paywall that is well worth subscribing to.  Recent articles have discussed tax policies, estate planning, entrepreneurship, and making scouting visits before moving overseas.  There are also lots of good human interest stories that will resonate, from buying a car in Rome to weird restaurant foods I Asia.

The blog recently stirred controversy with an article asking In Hong Kong,  where everyone seems to be from somewhere else, just who is an expat, anyway?  The answer was that privilege defined the expat: Expats are free to roam between countries and cultures, privileges not afforded to those considered immigrants or migrant workers.

‘The Guardian ran a critical column asking whether the WSJ was saying that only white people can be ‘expats’, while everyone else was an ‘immigrant’.  Top African professionals don’t gain the term “expat”, they are highly qualified immigrants, to be politically correct.  The WSJ argued back that expat refers to global citizens based on shared experiences, rather than ‘rich-white-person-moving-abroad-with-no-desire-to-integrate.’

‘Really an interesting debate about identity, culture, and the economic class.

DSC01993 (1300x975)Medium can be a difficult site to use at first, but once you set up some good keywords and find some authors and curators to follow, it regularly delivers thoughtful essays.

Cody Delistraty’s essay, The Existential Conflict of the Modern Expatriate, is a small gem.  The tradeoff is between freedom and loneliness, isolation and integration. To understand what it means to be alive, go somewhere entirely new and foreign, a place where even the most basic actions — a trip to the grocery store or the pharmacy, ordering at a restaurant, or even negotiating the language — become deeply fascinating, trying, difficult.

It’s so true: I remember the days spent trying to figure our where to buy housewares (Blokker) or mousetraps (the pet store), the frustrations of idiom and visas, the doubts amidst the daily wonder of living in another culture.

DSC01991 (1300x962)Finally, an essay by Andrea Pisac, Travelling to Find Home. She focuses on the problem of liminality, being in transition between cultures without having a firm foot in either.  Che catalogues the  characteristic feelings:

  • you often feel a bit nostalgic for ‘home’: a place that is both here and there.
  • you understand and appreciate things about your own and other cultures even if sometimes they annoy you
  • you can do what the locals do and at the same time explain to foreigners what it is that you’re doing
  • you can decide not to do what the locals do and feel OK with that
  • you feel out of place and deeply connected at the same time
  • your experience of living between cultures is the source of your biggest anguish and your biggest joy

DSC01988 (1300x973)For me, these themes all converge along the historic bay in Cardiff.  I’m pitching to a government not my own for a very personal project that I am passionate and confident about.  I’m reading their local history of mining while angling to be part of their future vision of healthcare.  I’m wondering at the signs in Welch (Iechyd da i chwi yn awr ac yn oesoedd) while appreciating the sentiment (Good health to you now and forever).

Inside-outside: choosing when and where to belong.  As Pisac observes, that liminality, as confusing and challenging as it may feel, is the most creative time in a person’s life. When you’re a nobody, when you don’t belong to social hierarchy, you can become anybody.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Between Eton and Windsor

DSC01971 (1300x973)Dorset mornings are frosty, with feathery accents along the eaves and translucent shimmer on the  glass.  It disappears at the first touch of sunlight, with the first sips of black coffee.  ’not yet spring, but something that reminds me of it.

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Today, I’m along the Thames path where Eton and Windsor straddle the river: history, tradition, and swans in abundance.  Eton is one of the foremost preparatory schools, closed to the public today so that students can prepare for exams.  Windsor is the home of the Royal Family, in residence today beneath the raised flag on the serrated tower.  Between, families are strolling the islands, picnicking on the banks, and cruising the waterways.

DSC01970 (1300x975)Its always a question whether the people inhabiting these institutions actually deserve to be there.  The monarchy is hereditary and the gauge is whether they discharge their roles competently, rather than their merit in being there.  A recent article cataloguing what will happen when the Queen dies (in short: Massive disruption too everyday life) highlights the dilemma.  Charles will likely take the role even though many might question that, for the good of the House and the Country, it should pass through to William.

DSC01937 (1300x958)And, across the river at Eton, what is the equivalence between merit and money?   People could argue that the most capable and motivated children should have priority for places at the  best schools.  But how to choose?  It’s easy to argue that first-generation money is hard-earned and that that the second-generation of that wealth self-selects the most capable students.  But I’m not comfortable with the conclusion,  fear losing the overlooked middle-class student who might change the world.

The Contemporary Fine Art Gallery eludes me this morning.  I stop into a bookshop for directions, noting that it’s American History shelf is filled with books about the European discovery of the New World, and nothing else.

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The gallery turns out to be smallish and derivative, a mix of stone and wood sculptures, thoughtful and grotesque paintings.

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‘Better an afternoon spent along the riverbank, sending instagrams and enjoying relaxed conversation over a citrus tart, letting the afternoon unwind, lazy as the river alongside..

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

That 60’s vibe

Julie FelixI don’t meet many liberals these days.

My neighborhoods lean politically rightwards, barbers and taxi drivers grumbling that they’ve lost benefits to which new immigrants seem entitled. 

Business colleagues trend libertarian, debating the degree of responsibility people have for their circumstances and the social consequences of free markets and labor unions.  

US Facebook friends are vocally Republican, so we parry concerns about net neutrality and the cost-benefit of health care spending. 

Everyone takes a snowy winter and a cold spring as direct evidence that climate change is a hoax.

It was thus nice to spend an unreconstructed evening with Julie Felix.

Doubly good, actually: I’d worked hard all week on business plans and funding contacts, so my Saturday devolved into washing, housecleaning, food shopping, packing and unpacking suitcases yet again.  The meetings, the travel, the emails eat into the evenings, and I’m not getting that time back at the weekends.  DSC01621 (1300x963)I know that I’m falling further behind in grading papers and reviewing manuscripts. My list of unread articles in Pocket and the unwritten reflections in Evernote grows daily.

It was time to set all of that aside.  A twilight drive up through the New Forest for an evening of live music, red wine, and close company sounded like a superb idea.

Julie Felix is an American folk singer, expatriated to the UK long ago where she became a resident singer on David Frost’s show, performing on tour with Cohen, Dylan, and McCartney.  Her personal life was politically engaged and romantically complicated.  Today, at 76 (76!) years old, she still tours extensively and her voice remains as clear and confident as the young 60’s.

She’s a delight in concert, self-effacing and full of small stories ahead of each song.  She’s generous with her audience, encouraging people to sing along the familiar tunes and staying late to complete all of the requests.  Her age only shows in how her knees bend when she walks across stage to change guitars.


But the politics were nice too: messages about people’s social responsibility, world peace, taking care of the less fortunate, the environment.  Twain travelShe apologized for sounding out-of-step retro a couple of times, laughed about how the world seemed to have grown away from her positions after the 70’s.  But the audience, mostly children of the sixties themselves, were with her. 

As a musician, I felt kind of like a troubadour - someone to spread the news. I feel all artists have the ability, if not the responsibility, to spotlight certain areas in our cultures that need balancing.