Ode to an Expat: Bart Calendar, 1969-2022

Being an expat is a life-changing experience borne of privilege and humility in equal measure. Cognitive dissonance is a constant companion, as is a unique brand of loneliness.

It’s not only because you’ve forged a new life in a new place alone. It’s not even the language barrier. It’s because you don’t realize how much the bonds you form with other people largely depend on a shared cultural past.

My first few years in Europe I lived in Rome, and I remember learning that in Italy Peter Gabriel is known not for the quintessential love song “In Your Eyes,” but the inscrutable “Shock the Monkey.” Gen X Italians didn’t have the experience of John Cusack hoisting aloft a boom box outside Ione Skye’s bedroom window, thus defining true yet problematic love.

Peter Gabriel’s discography is hardly cause for an existential crisis. But it’s an example of a million small moments that form the intricate shorthand of lifelong relationships. It’s “AH’LL BE BAHCK.” It’s agreeing that Han shot first. It’s Seinfeld and Sally Ride and Snuffleupagus. It’s a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square versus Mussolini hanging from his feet in Piazza Loreto.

In the expat world, the chasm of cultural differences is profound and ever widening. Going back home for a visit, the reverse culture shock forms another chasm with people you’ve known your whole life. I had resigned myself to this dynamic as the price I paid for living my dream.

And then in 2004 I met a guy from New Jersey who was living his own dream in the South of France. Despite the enormous difference between us – I was exit 25, he was exit 109 – what I found in Bart was someone who understood all of me, from my Jersey Shore childhood to my then-current reality of being undocumented in Europe. Our bond was immediate, and intense, and together we believed we were invincible.

It will not come as a surprise to anyone who knew Bart to hear that our relationship was complicated. My God, he could be infuriating. He broke my spirit more than once. But as I write this final account, only the simplest times shine brightest for me.

Scarfing down loaded nachos at the Hard Rock in Barcelona without irony or apology. Seeing his favorite Bosch painting at the Prado in Madrid. So many concerts: Chuck D in Paris, Metallica in Padova, and The Cure in Montpellier, the Stones in Nice. Going to a midnight Harry Potter book launch in New York. Replacing July 4th picnics with Bastille Day fireworks. Dodging tear gas at protests. Hosting a “waifs and strays” open house every Christmas Day. Long summer days at Mediterranean beaches. Long autumn afternoons at a pub reading the latest thriller. Long winter nights bingeing West Wing and Buffy and Alias. Heading out at sunrise for Champagne and croissants after election results came in from back home. Always, always picking me up at the train station when I’d return from months away in Rome, no matter the time.

Without Bart’s influence, his worldview, and his unshakeable love for me, I would not have these and so many more incredible memories, and I would not be living the life I am now. Thank you, Bart. To paraphrase James Ellroy: I loved you fierce in danger. And I hope you are at peace.

November 16, 2022

Pietracupa, Italy


A Sunday Morning in America, October 2018

DpeBg4HXgAAg2Ik.jpgFresh coffee and a cig on my parents’ porch. Marveling at the big sky, the mighty Atlantic, the salty autumn air. I can hear the Big Band music my dad’s playing in the bait shop behind the house, and organ music from the church on the corner.

A burst of laughter from a house down the block, one of the few with year-round residents here at the south end of the island. Other homes are closed up for the winter, leaving behind the hulking silhouettes of covered grills and a few lonely beach toys under patio tables.

My parents, now in their mid-seventies, have changed in the four years since I last saw them. I’ve missed personal evolutions and devolutions, and the political revolution I’m grateful they #resist. I’ve missed their smell, their hugs, their accents, their cooking.

I’ve changed, too. My hair is greyer. I’ve gained a few pounds, a second nationality, a third language. People, places and things that I’ve held as constants in my life in Europe have been altered almost beyond recognition, throwing me off my axis.

The dozens of photos in the hallway of my parents’ house span generations. There are graduations and birthdays and vacations and Sears portraits and moments that would have been forgotten if not for the camera’s eye.

In these photos I see the origins of my dimpled smile and my thick ankles. I see people who have died after long, epic lives, and I smile; others were taken from us suddenly, shockingly, and I flinch with guilt for not being here to bear witness to their passing. I miss them all.

I am the salty air and the old music and the reruns and the photos in the hallway. I am home.

How to Travel Like A Spy

“Mr. Bourne, your luggage is waiting for you in Baggage Claim.”

Last December, WikiLeaks did one of its notorious document dumps and revealed some information that frankly thrilled me. The WikiLeaks document release included two reports from the CIA whose titles sound like pitches for summer blockbusters: “CIA Assessment on Surviving Secondary Screening at Airports While Maintaining Cover” (dated September 2011) and, even more up my alley, “CIA Advice for Operatives Infiltrating Schengen” (dated January 2012).

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A New Year’s Eve

I went to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. My curriculum involved a grueling schedule of “studio” classes, eight hours a day, three days a week, on Manhattan’s Theater Row. In between classes the various studio groups would gather in a kind of green room to eat or rehearse or whatever people did in the late ’80s before everyone started looking at their phones. My sophomore year I noticed there was one particular guy whom people would gather around in that moldy carpeted room. He wasn’t loud or attention seeking, like so many of my classmates; he simply sat on the floor and received guests in a kind of regal way. One day I went over to him and said, “Hello. I’m Christine. I’d like for us to be friends.” He said, “Well then, I guess we’ll be friends” and from that moment on, we were. Continue reading

What It Feels Like To Explore A New Place: Favignana, Sicily

Ed. Note: Hi! I’m reposting this while I’m getting ready for a massive post. Enjoy!


I just realized that in my heated fervor surrounding an epic day trip to Levanzo last year, I forgot all about poor Favignana. It’s one of the three Egadi Islands accessible by boat from Trapani, Sicily (the third being Marettimo). If you’ll recall, last year during a visit by my friend Mr. Pants, we got a 10-euro round-trip flight to Trapani from Rome and then randomly hopped on boats to venture farther out into the Mediterranean.

This is the story of our trip to Favignana.

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On Embracing Your Preconceived Notions



Did you know that I went to Berlin two years ago? I did. I spent a little over two weeks there, on the cusp of winter. It was unbearably cold, and dark; it looked like 9:30am all day until night fell in mid-afternoon.

I arrived in darkness after an 11-hour train ride, during which I tried and failed miserably to commit to memory the incomprehensible combination of letters that is basic German vocabulary. From the magnificent wall of windows of the Berlin Hauptbahnhof I saw the lit dome of the Reichstag, and for the first of many times throughout my stay I said under my breath, “Holy shit, Berlin.”
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On Homesickness


Ed. note: I’m reposting this after a wave of recent homesickness, but it was originally posted on June 28, 2011.

There are these weeds in Rome – I’m sure they’re in other places too, but I’ve only ever seen them in Rome – that have long stems that look furry, but they’re prickly. If you grab them without thick gloves it feels like your hand was dipped in acid for about two minutes, which is a long time when your hand feels like it’s been dipped in acid. During those two minutes you’re running to wash your hands and then you’re washing your hands and you can’t think of anything else except the blinding pain. And then the pain subsides and it’s hard to remember how badly it hurt.

This is what homesickness feels like, except the blinding pain is inside you so there’s no washing it out; you’ve got to ride it out until it subsides. Continue reading

Um… Why Isn’t Everyone Taking A French Barge Vacation?

Note: I’m reposting this because my friends could use more visitors to their Canal du Midi vacation barge, so if anyone you know is looking for a truly unique French vacation experience, GET ON IT!

Colombiers + Barge

Mel and I bade our sad goodbyes to Hotel d’Europe in Avignon, and armed with pastries and coffee from our guardian angel Fernando, we set out for our next adventure. But first – a pit stop in my adopted hometown, Montpellier!

Mel met Ladybird, who gave her some much-needed snuggles; and Cal, who proudly showed off the city he’s called home for more than 10 years. We walked through the Place de la Comedie and the Esplanade, and then took her on a tour of one of the oldest toy stores in France. Mel was thoroughly enchanted, and after a tasty lunch we were off again – this time to Colombiers, a small hamlet on the famous Canal du Midi in the Languedoc region.

After some helpful directions from an impossibly filthy mechanic on a forgotten street outside of town, we were greeted by my old friends Domi and Gwennie, and welcomed into – or rather, aboard – their home, Peniche Oz.

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On Meaningful Road Trips

Me & Louis

In January 2004, Fabulous Cousin and I rented a car in Rome and drove to the east coast through the Apennines. They were breathtaking, with snowy caps and tiny mountainside villages and long tunnels and vertigo cliffs. We arrived in Pescara and drove north along the coast for a while. At one point we got out of the car and walked across the beach to the edge of an angry, stormy Adriatic. I love winter beaches.

We ambled our way blindly up to Città S. Angelo, where our great-grandfather was born. Two dogs followed us through the city walls to a town sitting precariously on the top of a hill. Down every side street there are sweeping views of the Adriatic on one side and mountains on the other. Continue reading

Photos Of The Alps, The French Riviera, And Nice From An easyJet Flight

OK, I know I just said that I prefer trains when traveling between France and Italy. But I did take a low-cost flight from Rome to Nice on easyJet in December, and as blessed with a stunning view of the Alps, the French Riviera, and Nice during our descent. So make sure your seats are in the upright position, fasten your seat belts and prepare for some of my favorite pictures from last year.

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Celebrating Father’s Day From Far Away


My father is the original foodie. He’s not the most verbose man on the planet – I’ve always maintained that he says five things a day, and they’re all hilarious – but he lives to eat, and doesn’t mind telling you all about it. Whether it’s the crappy excuse for a hoagie he had in New Mexico in 1981, his much-adored pescatore recipe or the latest “chow-down” with my parents’ friends, he can recall almost every meal he’s ever had with an impressive clarity and describes them with sometimes overwhelming passion.

In fact, sometimes he’ll call me simply to talk about food. I’ll know food is going to be the topic, because he starts with my name instead of “Principessa,” which is how he starts when he’s just calling to chat.

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Nothing Says Summer Like Pictures Of Eastern France In February

Les Deux-Fays

I got slammed with work again and since no one’s paying me $400 to write my pithy missives here (yet?), I need to go back to the dark side and finish up this assignment. However! I made a vow to keep posting regardless of my work load, and that is what I shall do. So while you’re holding for the next installment, which I promise you is a doozy, please enjoy these photos from the time I spent pet sitting in Eastern France this winter! And by winter, I mean I wore layers of heavy clothing and the owner’s rag wool socks and made a roaring fire every single day.

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Being Driven Around The French Riviera For A Day Is Pretty Awesome

between Tourette and...

Kensington Tours generously arranged this daylong tour, but all opinions are my own.

As anyone who’s asked me for travel advice knows, I’m not a big fan of tours. Large group tours are useless; it’s hard to pay attention, usually you don’t get to see the thing the tour guide is talking about until after they’re done talking about it, and also it’s mortifying to be herded around like sheep. And although none of these things were an issue on a very small tour I took of the Vatican a few years ago, for example, we were required to practically jog the entire museum complex – twice – in order to get through everything before the REALLY big crowds showed up. I was exhausted. And when I’ve spoken to other people who’ve done small tours, the majority unfortunately have had the same experience.

But seeing as how three of the four of us had never been to the French Riviera before, and that Kensington’s proposed itinerary featured places I’d never been to either, I decided that this would be a good way to get as much in as possible – for work and for pleasure. And so it was that on a warm and sunny morning in Nice, we found ourselves walking with Pierre, our driver and guide for the day, to our comfortable, roomy, air-conditioned minivan for an adventure.

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