Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sail On, Sailor

Students, lucky ones, enjoy a semester or year abroad in another country, school and culture. That's one thing I will never get to check off my bucket list; the time has passed. I think that such a year would yield not only educational but psychological benefits that would outweigh those of the other three years. Or any other years.
Your alternative is to travel along with those more fortunate and adventurous via books. I followed the post-WWI "Lost Generation" through the literary artifacts of their struggles to develop their art, selves and careers. Joyce, Hemingway, Pound... the early works of their vagabond youth are gems: brilliant, compact, hard and pure. I'm grateful to have finally realized part of the dream to follow them, see what they saw, be where they were, when we took our two-week trip to the Mediterranean. It should have been a month and included France, but we did find Ezra Pound's "love nest" villa on a secluded side street in Venice. I'd been wanting to be there, and breathe the ancient air he and Olga Rudge did, since high school. Maybe Hemingway and Paris next time.
Unwillingly landlocked for six decades, I've always wanted to live abroad, if for just a year. Somewhere with history and sun, between the extremes of the too-cold and gray North and the sophisticated but too demanding Paris or Rome -- what about Sicily, Portugal, Rhodes or Crete? Or Spain, for a less daunting language barrier: the exquisite Balaeric Islands, Seville or that endless feast, Barcelona. The cost-of-living factor and tourist hordes eliminate the first and last; better a long visit there.
I've never been further west than our west coast, but Asia has places that are not sickly or dangerous, but those are very expensive: Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Hawaii. The best choice would be Singapore, judging from my brother Ron (and his wife Claire)'s multiple visits. But bustling crowds and humidity are considerations. You'd have to be daring in the culinary area, too.
Canada is rated the best among expatriates for integrating oneself into the local community. A tiny bit of slang to learn for English speakers takes down the language barrier; less than one-third of worldwide expatriates make the effort to learn the local language (the survey result I'm citing was not from true immigrants).
What you are, age, health and wealth-wise, determines how well you will do overseas (just like at home!). Single expats have the least luck finding love in India and Qatar, for obvious cultural reasons; those with children say Belgium is best except for the fattening foods. Australia is considered safe for families, if they stay away from snakes and crocs.
I've read several memoirs by people who moved to Italy, Sicily and France. One perceptive thought from a Los Angeles-to-the-Chianti-region transplant: living there is harder than in the U.S., but it's easier. Getting pretty routine things done which are for us easy (by phone, computer, etc.) require face-to-face arrangements in Italy with people in offices who are usually absent, derelict in duty and completely uninterested in simplicity or efficiency. But the essences of life itself are far superior, once you get the phone in and the taxes paid. The rose is sweet, but know there are thorns.
Five and a half million Britons live abroad. The Empire used to send civil servants, businessmen and soldiers to sunnier places; now people cash out their expensive homes and head south. They like English-speaking places, South Africa and Spain the best. Canadians like the Caribbean, balancing high cost against balmy weather. How do they replace their comprehensive health care, though? I worked with an electrician, a Phillipine native and either a citizen or permanent resident of Canada, on the new Harrisburg Airport project, and he explained that after 19 working years there, he qualified for their social security program, and would probably return to Manila after that. Americans of eastern European, Greek or even Armenian heritage retire in those countries and collect U.S. Social Security; I wonder if the costs of living and housing now going up radically in Poland and the Czech Republic have derailed their plans. I wonder about a lot of things.
Ecuador, Costa Rica and Panama seem good choices in this hemisphere: except for the coastal gated-community developments (yes, they have them for the Texas and California millionaires now), they are considered to be stable and inexpensive, with mild climates and friendly people. It's somewhere...over the rainbow, across the sea.

1 comment:

  1. The writers, artist, and life adventurer only had a passion without interruption of television, internet, or regular job. A few dollars to sit in a cafe, discuss ideas and share the day without restrictions.
    But this can be done anywhere at any time. The grass is not greener on the other side of the fence or the pond.
    But dreamers dream.