I’m Eeeeeeating, On a Jet Plane…

NCE-FCO

I first flew to Paris on TWA flight 800, which some of you will remember had been thoughtfully renumbered sometime after it went into the sea off Long Island. I was traveling on Famous Designer‘s dime to Semaine du Cuir – the leather and suede exhibition where I was to meet vendors I’d known only via phone and fax (hi, I’m old), and hopefully pick up some new sources.

Before I left, I asked the designers for direction in choosing samples to bring back from the show. I will never forget their responses:

  • “I’m thinking…sherbet.”
  • “Bring me back beautiful things.”
  • “I love horsey leathers.”
  • “I want the Marc Jacobs jacket that’s at Barney’s.”

Fashion people aren’t like you and me.

But I digress. Continue reading

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Family Reunions

My family uses pretty much any reason they can find to get together and hang out. I’ve attended the usual family functions – christenings, weddings, graduations – but we’ve also had shindigs for the birthday of my aunt’s Mustang and my grandmother’s VW Beetle; sunrise at the beach; relatives visiting from far away; twice, my grandparents won small sums in the lottery, which prompted family trips to Disneyworld for all the kids and grandkids.
Continue reading

Offshore Banking

I’ve done a lot of work recently for a company that arranges for their clients to conduct their finances in offshore jurisdictions. I must be writing great copy, because I’m starting to believe my own hype: I want an offshore bank account. I WANT ONE SO BAD.

The hilarious thing about this is, I don’t make a lot of money. I don’t make a lot of money by normal checking account standards, let alone the kind of cash one would need to possess in order to logically conclude that an offshore bank account is a sound financial decision.

I’m not sure what about it attracts me so much. It could be the Jason Bourne fan in me; I have previously written about how jazzed I would be if I found a Swiss bank account number embedded in my shoulder that gave me access to a dozen passports and enough currency to say to a perfect stranger, “I’ll give you ten thousand dollars to drive me to Paris.”

I’d actually have to say this, since I don’t drive. But that’s a story for another time.

The self-absorbed, snobby brat in me would love to pull out a completely blank debit card and say, “Oh, this? It’s linked to my anonymous offshore bank account.”

The travel addict in me wants any excuse to make frequent visits Vanuatu, or Mauritius, or the Caymans, or any of the other dozens of offshore havens there are out there. “Sorry, I won’t be available next week. My bank manager in the Seychelles wants to have a word with me.”

A number of offshore tax havens cater specifically to those who have recently come into a lot of money, whether by inheritance or the lottery or whatever. As I’m cranking out page after page of SEO-heavy drivel, I’m fantasizing about calling up this same client one day and saying, “Hi, remember me? I need an offshore bank account – fast.”

The thing I love best, though, is a service that companies like my client offer – the Virtual Office.

For many offshore banking activities, a registered address in that offshore jurisdiction is necessary. Because these companies are establishing themselves as experts in offshore banking, they have offices in these offshore locations that clients can use as official addresses. Which, OK, that’s pretty cool. I imagine – again, with the Bourne thing – Julia Stiles sitting in a charming apartment with a mother of a back room hooked up to every conceivable network on the planet, waiting to collect my L.L. Bean catalogs and letters from my dad.

But they can also send and receive faxes for you; answer a dedicated phone number as if they’re your secretary and either take a message or forward the call to you while you’re on your yacht or whatever; and, should you find yourself needing to completely fake someone out and pretend that your offshore shelf company is in fact operating at that address, you can use their conference room and auxiliary staff.

Yes, please!

Where to Eat in Florence – Another Reader Weighs In

OK, OK, OK – I get it. Florence is awesome.

This is the overwhelming response to my recent post, in which I had to recruit an honorary member of the Gay Mafia to school my readers on the joys of Florence – in particular, the cuisine – to stave off the legions of readers asking for information about this (apparently) charming city.

Who knew this would garner even more chastising emails? Jeez, people; I get it: FLORENCE IS AWESOME.

I’d like to add to the previously given Florentine advice with one of the few printable responses to that post – and you gotta take this one seriously, as it was submitted by a family friend with the following surname: Maccaroni. I mean, come on. You know she’s got the good information. Anyway, here it is:

We highly recommend a place called Il Latini on the Via del Palchetti. Being our first time in Florence, we were novices when it came to finding good places to eat. It was recommended to us by the bartender in our hotel. It was rather crowded and it took a while to get a table, but they served wine and cheese while we waited outside [Ed.: Yes please! Also, check out that site – they’ve posted recipes!] – food was fab, the wait staff were very funny and extremely capable – we chose the fixed menu (they frown on using the menus) – they kept bringing food, food and more food – one of the most delicious meals we ever had. Maybe you can pass this along to your readers – or check it out yourself!

I’ll be in Rome again in April – oh, how your Miss Expatria suffers to bring her readers the best! – and this time, I believe a mini trip to Florence is in order to sample these choice gastronomic tidbits. I’ll be sure to issue a full report upon waking from what will no doubt be a heavenly food coma.

If anyone else has excellent Florence advice – WITHOUT THE YELLING AT ME FOR HATING FLORENCE PLEASE – feel free to send them in. I’ll post them, lest we further disrespect this lovely town on the Arno.

Begin the Beguines: Belgium’s Beguinages

Thanks to the divine Ms. Bleeding Espresso, I’m inviting myself to a party – The Ultimate Blog Party, if you must know – hosted by the wonder twins over at 5 Minutes for Mom. You’re invited, too!

Ultimate Blog Party 2008

I guess this is where I introduce myself. I’m not a mom; I’m better known as the Eccentric Eurotrash Auntie to my friends’ kids. The one who sends them esoteric picture books in other languages for Christmas, or a telescope, or a bug collecting kit, or whatever strange thing I find in my travels. (But nothing that makes noise. I need a place to crash when I visit the States, and I’d like to still be invited!)

And where am I that I need to visit the States? Well, that depends on what week you ask me. Since 2002, I split my time between where most of my clothes are, in Montpellier, France, where I live with my dear sweet boyfriend Cal and a cat named Ladybird “Squirt” Johnson; and where most of my heart is, in Rome, Italy, where I am the doyenne of my very own gay mafia and promoter of all things sybaritic. Feel free to check out my page tabs, above, for some highlighted musings about my kind of surreal expat life.

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In honor of my first all-girl party and to welcome an amazing bunch of women to my world, I’d like to tell you about something I recently discovered and find extremely fascinating. A tidbit:

Beguines — most likely derived from the Flemish word beghen, which means to pray — were women in the Low Countries who, beginning in the 12th century, chose to live neither under the care of a man nor the vows of the church.

Theirs was, in essence, a feminist movement and its remarkable architectural legacy is still evident in cities across the Netherlands and Belgium. But nowhere in greater splendor than in this old university town.

The Leuven beguinage (called a begijnhof in Dutch) was founded in 1230. Exquisitely restored in the 1960s, it is today a quaint little town of tiny gabled homes and gardens that spreads across 17 acres.

The entire article is definitely worth a read. The part of the Beguines’ story that touched me so was the fact that, while prayer was a part of their lives, they chose not to live within the confines of organized religion. Prayer means different things to different people – from reading a Bible or saying the rosary to watching a sunset or playing with a child. If you’re thinking about and thanking God for whatever you’re experiencing in a particular moment, you’re praying.

But prayer is also a thing that can be regarded as rigidly structured, even in this day and age – which is why I found it so forward-thinking of these women to discard societal norms in order to follow a quiet life of prayer.

When I’ve spoken to other women about the Beguines, I’ve been surprised at the level of passion with which they invariably say, “I want to be a Beguine!” It seems for these women, and perhaps for women everywhere in the modernized world, there is an overwhelming need for this type of retreat from what is considered a “normal” life. They don’t want to give up their lives or their loves; but they seem to want a place and a time for reflection, prayer, or just plain quiet.

So, now I’ve added another thing to my list of “million dollar” dreams: A modern-day beguinage for women from all walks of life. A large place, preferably by the sea (my own personal church), with simple accommodations, plenty of space and light, group meals, and scheduled times for individual prayer – whatever prayer means to you. Stay for however long you’d like. No partners, no kids, no Crackberries, no phones, no TV, no Internet. Just your fellow women, good food, and beautiful surroundings. The rates would be on a sliding scale. There would be no spa facilities.

Would you find succor in a place like that? What elements would you include at your beguinage? What does prayer mean to you?

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I’m including other links here if you’d like to know more, so please feel free to peruse to your heart’s content!

Beguinages are World Heritage Sites! Who knew?
Great pictures here.
Wikipedia lists other beguinages worldwide.
Belgian Beguinages on Google maps.
Even better pictures, and a murder!

Miss Expatria’s 2008 Wish List

Follows my ultimate wish/goal list for 2008.

Reality be damned. I’m shooting for the stars here.

1. I want to get my book published as part of a two-book deal, with me a hefty advance to write the sequel.

2. I want to move to Italy. I’ll let the universe decide where in that country, since I clearly can’t.

2A. I keep having this sneaky feeling, however, that the universe is conspiring to make us move to some other place, not in Europe or the U.S. If so, bring it on.

2B. Just get me out of France, universe.

3. I want to travel to someplace I’ve never been, someplace utterly foreign to me. I’m tired of knowing everything about the places I visit.

4. I want to spend a month this summer living in Barceloneta.

5. I want a new wardrobe, every piece of which I love and makes me feel beautiful.

6. I want a maid to clean my home once a week.

7. I want to view something of breathtaking beauty every day.

8. I want to drink more champagne.

9. I want to go on a real vacation on a beach for one week.

10. I want to eat only delicious things of extreme freshness.

Travel in Entertainment – Miss Expatria Reviews

Hello! I was thinking I’d start a review day of my favorite travel-related entertainment obsessions. I’d like to kick off this series with perhaps an unusual choice:

The Jason Bourne Collection. It’s an action film, smartly done, and Matt Damon is easy on the eyes. But, let’s look at the things I absolutely fetishize about these films.

1. “I’ll give you ten thousand dollars to drive me to Paris.”

I wish every day that someone would come up to me and say that – and I don’t even drive. It’s the best line, ever.

2. Bourne retrieves a Swiss bank code from INSIDE HIS BODY and when he is shown to his private room to view what is in his account, he is handed a metal box containing a dozen passports all bearing his photo but different names; cash in a dozen different currencies; a loaded gun; and various other implements of disguise. Where is my metal box?

3. He can speak any language fluently. Yes please!

4. He gives Run Lola Run – yes, I know that’s not her name, but that’s what I call her – money to get away and she uses it to open a scooter rental place and cafe on a beach somewhere. Smart girl. Me, I’d open a bookstore; but the location would be the same.

4A. AND BOURNE TRACKS HER DOWN AND FINDS HER THERE. Fabulous.

4B. AND THEN THEY GO LIVE ON THE BEACH IN GOA. Sigh.

5. Because of the depth of Bourne’s obsession to find out who he is, no matter where it takes him he sees every location in terms of exits, vantage points, sniper’s nests. This is travel-jaded taken to a whole new level. I’ve had to watch every film twice, just to get the plot down because the firs time I was too busy coveting every amazing apartment, farm house, beach-side residence and outdoor market.

6. Julia Stiles’ character. I keep tapping on my walls, hoping to find a hi-tech room hiding behind the charming French stucco. I want to be part of an elaborate trap involving the tram system in Berlin. And as my mother well knows, nothing would please me more than walking away from a cafe table while dismantling my cell phone and leaving it in pieces behind me.

Miss Expatria’s book and movie reviews. The Roger Ebert for the travel addict in us all.