The streets are walkable again! Edinburgh festival round-up

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The festivals are over, and Edinburgh is starting to shake off its hangover and get back to work. There are still plenty of tourists in town, but nowhere near the numbers of the past three weeks. It’s nice to be able to stroll around without being constantly stuck in a crowd.

That said, I was surprised to find myself really enjoying the festivals this year. It’s hard to predict if I’ll be able to enjoy things without Scott, since everything brings up memories and feels different without him, especially everything about life in Edinburgh. And sometimes, a wave of grief will hit, and I’ll find myself crying as I wander around George Square trying to decide what I want for dinner and wishing I could tell Scott about the covfefe stand. But the wave will pass, and later I’ll be clapping along to 9 to 5 at Margaret Thatcher Queen of Game Shows.

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The book festival held its place as my favorite again this year. Continue reading

Death at the Book Fest

Edinburgh Book Festival

One of this year’s themes at the Edinburgh International Book Festival is ‘Reading the Final Chapter‘, a collection of events centered around death. This feels very well-timed for me, as much of my recent reading (and writing) has been on this topic. I appreciate the open and frank discussions that are being held. Death and grieving are nothing to be ashamed of, so why not speak about them freely?

On Sunday I went to see Richard Holloway, a well-known local writer and the former Bishop of Edinburgh (who has since left the church). I found his mix of thoughtfulness and kindness very appealing. He spoke of the importance of living in the present, rather than in the past, even as one approaches one’s own death – also good advice for the bereaved as well as everyone else, really.

Holloway declared it a tragedy to die without knowing who you were. An audience member suggested the exercise of writing your own obituary from other points of view – how would others sum up who you are? I don’t think I really know the answer to that.

Today I went to see Julia Samuel, a psychotherapist who specializes in grief counseling. Many people in the audience had gushingly positive things to say about her book Grief Works, sharing how it had helped them. She spoke in part about the history of grieving in the UK, how in the Victorian era mourning was fashionable but sex was taboo, but the reverse is true today.

I confess I’d never given much thought to how we talk about death in today’s society before Scott died. Now I’m confronted with the topic daily, never knowing when/if/how I should bring up my recent widowhood. Some people seem to be uncomfortable when I mention Scott at all, even when it’s to relate a memory that has nothing to do with his death. Part of me always wonders – am I talking about him too much? How can I make people more comfortable around me? Am I doing grief wrong? These events at the book festival haven’t relieved me of my ongoing social awkwardness, but they have definitely made me feel less alone in my grief.

August is Edinburgh is Festival

A Woman's Place artwork by Julie Galante

I once heard a comedian (it may have been Ed Byrne) talk about how amongst comedians, the month of August is simply known as ‘Edinburgh.’ ‘What are you doing for Edinburgh?’ ‘Oh, I’ll be spending it in Florida.’ Here in Edinburgh, August often just gets called ‘the festival.’ Locals discuss their festival plans, whether or not they involve any actual time at festivals. If you’re in Edinburgh during August, the festivals will be impacting your life whether you attend them or not. They are inescapable.

This year most of my planning for August has involved preparing for a large art exhibition I’ll be putting on. (If you’ll be in town, please come see it!) It has been good to have something to work towards, a way to focus my energy in this post-Scott reality where I am still finding my feet. I’m kind of impressed with myself that I’m doing anything productive at all these days.


Purrcules was as excited about the arrival of the Book Festival programme as I was!

My favorite of all the August festivals is the Book Festival. I haven’t gotten around to acquiring any tickets yet, but I have scoured the programme and used it as inspiration for my summer reading choices. The big names (Zadie Smith, Paul Auster, Ali Smith, Alexander McCall Smith) will have sold out on the first day. (One of the things I love about Edinburgh is the around-the-block queue which forms in the wee hours on the morning the Book Festival tickets go on sale.)

I’ve spent four Augusts in Edinburgh so far. Scott was receiving chemotherapy during two of them, but even those years we managed to see a couple Fringe shows together. I will miss him most during the nightly fireworks at the end of the Tattoo, which we could see from our kitchen window. Whatever we were doing when the first booms sounded, Scott would insist we run to the window and watch them, every night of the festival.

Guest Post: So you want to be an expat writer

I recently met Saskia Akyil, a fellow American expat in Munich. She was giving a presentation on how she self-published a novel. Having had a mostly-finished novel living on my hard drive for years, I was impressed. Inspired, even. That book of mine just might see the light of day after all. One of these days.

I asked Saskia if she’d be interested in guest posting on this blog, and to my delight she was happy to share some of her wisdom about life as an expat writer. Here’s what she had to say:


I had always wanted to write a novel, so I did.  Once it was (self) published, I started hearing from other expats who:

  1. Wanted to write a book.
  2. Were in the process of writing a book.
  3. Had written a book.

Upon further thought, I realized that there are some pros and also some cons to trying to make a career of writing as an expat.  I think that so many expats (especially trailing spouses) write because in many ways, it does make sense.  Continue reading

David Sedaris reading in Munich tonight!

I barely heard about this in time, so wanted to post it here in case there are any other crazy fans of David Sedaris in Germany who are interested in going to see him read (along with the guy who does the German-language audiobooks – I can’t even imagine DS in German!). Amazingly, tickets are still available as of this morning. Go get ‘em! (ie, call the number listed under Kartenvorbestellung.)

For those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure, David Sedaris is the author of numerous books, including the essential-reading-for-expats Me Talk Pretty One Day, and is also possibly the funniest man alive. His latest book (which is apparently coming out in German around now… but I’d go for the English) is When You Are Engulfed in Flames. We spent our long bus rides in the Lofoten Islands laughing so hard we peed ourselves*, listening to the audiobook read by the author himself. The people around us must have thought we were escaped mental patients.

Folks in other parts of Germany can see him, too! Here‘s the schedule for his German book tour:

  • 10 November 2008: Munich
  • 11 November 2008: Cologne
  • 12 November 2008: Hanover
  • 13 November 2008: Leipzig
  • 14 November 2008: Berlin

He will also be making appearances in Zurich and Paris next week, and after that he’s off to delight North America. See David Sedaris’s appearance schedule here.

ETA: Two things. First, whomever I lent my copies of Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day, I hate you. I know, I probably told you there was no hurry to get them back, but obviously I lied. I need them back right now. Given that I only have audio download copies of his other books, I have absolutely nothing to bring for David to sign.

Second, I have spent the afternoon wondering what interesting/crazy/fun/deranged thing I could say to David Sedaris to make sure I end up being a story in his next book. Any ideas?

*Not literally

A little German leisure reading

So, in my quest to improve my language skills, I have switched most of my leisure reading over to German. So far I have finished two novels in German, and I’m looking for more.

The first novel I read, at the suggestion of Heza and Alex, was Der Vorleser by Bernhard Schlink. It started out a bit slow, but the pace picked up before I lost interest. The level was great – I was able to read and understand almost everything without stopping to look words up, although there were definitely new words in the text (for when I was in the looking-up kind of mood). What I particularly liked about the story line was that it was uniquely German, drawing me into parts of German history I had not thought about before, at a level I could easily follow and understand. I see that Mr. Schlink is a prolific writer; perhaps I will give another book of his a go.

The second German novel I read was the infamous Feuchtgebiete by Charlotte Roche. Although I expected my knowledge of German slang to be challenged, I have to say that I ended up being almost disappointed at the lack of new and scandalous vocabulary it offered. I suppose all those issues of Bravo (link possibly NSFW) I read during my Halle days really paid off! The book was also a bit of a let-down in the content department; based on all the uproar it has caused, I expected it to shock and offend my prude American sensibilities much more than it did. Although the book did make me physically gag on a couple of occasions, my reaction was more to the hygiene elements than the sexual ones.

Despite these disappointments, overall I’ll call Feuchtgebiete a decent read. The pace was quick, and for the most part the plot was interesting enough to keep me entertained on the plane to California. It might have been less interesting to read in my native language, since it would have lost its educational appeal (although, I suppose, it does have something in the way of education to offer on the topic of raising avocados, too), but as a German-learning tool I’ll give it a thumbs up.

Any suggestions for what I should read next? I prefer to read in the original language (ie, I’m looking for books written in German). They don’t have to be novels, but my other preferred genre is humorous nonfiction (ala David Sedaris and Bill Bryson), and I’m not sure my German sense of humor is sophisticated enough to tackle that. I like novels that are quick reads but with some substance – no romance novels or Sweet Valley High, but also no War and Peace. Think good airplane reading.

I’m a stranger here myself

Greetings from America! No matter how many times I come back to the US, there are some things that always confuse the crap out of me for the first couple days, leaving me wondering if I really am from here. Depending on how long you are away and how much you integrate into your host country, these things could happen to you, too….

Top 5 symptoms of reverse culture shock

1. You are repeatedly surprised that everyone around you is speaking your language, and you can’t stop eavesdropping (it’s just so gosh darn easy!).

2. You are thoroughly delighted by free refills and free water in restaurants. You are confused when your waiter brings the check, without prompting, half way through the main course.

3. You can’t get over the fact that groceries can be purchased at night and on Sunday.

4. You go up to the coffee counter and order something that costs $2. First, you go into your change purse expecting to find $2 coins. Then, once you have figured out you need bills and proudly procure them, you find out that your $2 coffee actually costs $2.16.

5. Everything, from beverages to people to cars to bottles of ketchup, seems GIGANTIC.

What kind of reverse culture shock do you get? My list is very US-specific; I’d love to also hear what happens to expats from other countries when they return home – are the Swiss confused about how efficient the public transport is? Do Italians jump for joy to rediscover fabulous food?

The title of this post is taken from a fabulously funny book by Bill Bryson about his experiences with reverse culture shock when he returned to the US after living in England. It was extremely comforting in the months after I moved from Germany to Arizona several years back.

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