Wednesday, July 14, 2010


This blog has its origins in letters I wrote friends from Ireland, initially when we made annual visits to my husband’s family and, from late 2007, when we moved there to live. In the letters I tried to describe my experiences not only as a tourist sightseeing but also as an American married into a large Irish family with complex relationships.

The emphasis has shifted, naturally, as what I write is made public in posts here and as I write from Austria, which was completely unknown to me until I arrived here to live.

The foreign nature of Austria is exciting, turning me into a child, after a fashion. It also presents difficulties in writing. As I wrote in one of the first posts, I am bewildered at times in writing about places, architecture, landscapes and people that still seem exotic. I lack the visual vocabulary, at times, to understand what I am seeing. Some times the writing constitutes a kind of exploration as I try to find words – vocabulary of a different sort –  to capture what I see and experience.

In the June 28th issue of The New Yorker, Oliver Sacks explores briefly the mechanics of visual recognition.  

‘Although seeing objects, defining them visually, seems to be instantaneous and innate,’ he writes, ‘it represents a great perceptual achievement, one that requires a whole hierarchy of functions. We do not see objects as such; we see shapes, surfaces, contours, and boundaries, presenting themselves in different illuminations or contexts, changing perspective with their movement and ours.’

So it is, to an extent, with seeing and coming to know the Austrian landscape. As I discover the different textures, shapes and boundaries of the experience, my perspective constantly changes. I struggle, trying to find an aesthetic or experiential entrée so I can communicate the gestalt: what it is to be here, as the person I am, in a foreign country.

Sometimes I’m pleased with the result. Other times, I am frustrated and discouraged with what I produce. The experience of travelling in the Italian Alps was visually and emotionally overwhelming. It was also compressed, challenging my ability to process and then communicate it. The result feels flabby and unfocussed.

Other posts seem excruciatingly self-revealing: My reflections on my birthday, for instance, or the portraits of a self-conscious woman meeting strangers and considering how to connect with them. Still, I promised myself I’d post what I come up with, and I try to post with some regularity in the hope that those of you who seek me out will keep reading.

If you do, thank you very much indeed. It’s nice to know you’re out there.


  1. I don't know if my name shows up because I don't have an account, but it's Carson. I think you do a wonderful job of painting a mental image for me to see what you see. After having been to Salzburg, the way you describe it is exactly what I remember seeing.

  2. You're very sweet to say so, Carson. Thank you. It means a lot to know you see it in the words.

  3. Delightful how you quote Oliver Sacks in connection with the expat experience! Thank you.

    Moving to another culture makes us aliens, turns us into creatures from a far away planet. We explore and compare, try to find anchor points, cling to the few impressions that make sense, because we can connect them to what we know from our old life, and gradually build our world from there. This can be exhausting but also exhilarating, as learning always is.

    In the end the story of Sacks' Howard Engel might just show what life is about (and not only for the expat): balancing the need to change with the wish to stay who we are. That we are able to do so is also a testament to the adaptability of the human spirit.

  4. ...what I meant to say in my last sentence was a testament to the strength (!) of the human spirit...