Category Archives: media

the great beauty

The SF Chronicle’s  picky movie reviewers are notorious for being tough as nails when awarding their highest rating –  the image of the little man jumping out of his chair and clapping. But today’s review of just-released Italian film, “La Grande Bellezza” – or “The Great Beauty” for the American market –  did just that. The little man is smiling, he’s clapping, he’s jumping and ecstatic. His hat even falls to the floor. I’m ecstatic too and I haven’t even seen the movie yet.


Toni Servillo stars as Jep Gambardelle, turning 65, jaded from early success as a writer and experiencing an “awakening.”

“The Great Beauty” is directed by Paolo Sorrentino and was a big favorite when first previewed at the 2013 Festival de Cannes.

Lovers of Italy can spend more than two hours falling in love (again) with Rome (with all its decadence, beautiful and ugly) while immersing in the language since the movie is in Italian with English subtitles. The reviewer notes that you can’t watch “The Great Beauty” without thinking of Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” with Rome as the movie’s focus.

Like “La Dolce Vita”, this movie is going to throw more at you than just a tour of the city’s sights and high society. An excerpt from the SF Chronicle review reads (you can read the review in its entirety here):

“Toni Servillo plays Jep Gambardelle who wrote a masterpiece of a novel in his youth but has been unable to repeat the success. He’s become a journalist and bon vivant, living in an incredible apartment overlooking the Colosseum. He’s popular in his circle but jaded, and, having just turned 65, is starting to look at the big picture. When news arrives of an old girlfriend’s death, he continues to make the rounds of high-end gatherings and nightspots in the Eternal City, but in a “what’s it all mean” frame of mind. He informs us that once he wanted to be the king of Rome’s extravagant night world. But he no longer wholly buys into his cynicism, if he ever did. Delivering acerbic witticisms at over-the-top parties isn’t much of a purpose in life. The plot is…. a running account of what Jep sees and says during his often surreal urban wanderings. “

Something to put on the holiday movie list? You got me at Fellini.


lavazza love

Watching Wimbledon gets better with this playful Lavazza commercial (“Enjoy the real Italian espresso experience at Wimbledon” reads the tagline). Take a look, it’s very clever.

If you are up at 4 am to catch the finals this week, Lavazza- a big Italian coffee brand in Italy found in many parts of the world – makes its case to be your espresso of choice to cozy up to. (North Americans can take note of the cup and portion size.) When I can’t find Lavazza stateside, Illy and Peet’s Espresso Forte stand in quite nice. What’s your favorite coffee brand and style?

( While I’d sure like to be, I’m not a Lavazza brand ambassador, just a fan of good Italian coffee, Wimbledon tennis and clever marketing.)

Video credits: Lavazza

the great fitzgerald

“The Great Gatsby” is out on the big screen and a good time for fans of fellow     ex-expat F. Scott Fitzgerald to focus again on one of his greatest works.

If you are like me and can’t separate the man from his works – where he draws much from his personal life and even has character Daisy quoting his wife Zelda –  you, too, may have held your breath at the movie’s rolling credits waiting for “based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald” to appear. (It appears, although third or fourth down. I’d argue he deserved to be first.)

grgatsbyThe movie, from Baz Luhrmann, stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby. Movies rarely imitate its novel perfectly and “Gatsby” is no exception. While the modern adaptation to a classic story was entertaining (over-the-top music and performers and lavish party visual effects, for example), I was pleased it mostly followed the novel’s themes – the decline of the American dream, social class differences, and 1920s jazz age. It features symbols like the dock’s green flashing light and Dr. Eckleburg billboard in the Valley of Ashes. On the other hand, Luhrmann’s Daisy I found confusing as deeper and more complex than Fitzgerald’s deliberate one dimensional, superficial character. But a key question remained the same –  what role the past plays in dreams of the future – a sentiment Fitzgerald and his fellow Lost Generation expat friends, like Hemingway and Sara and Gerald Murphy, shared.


Remember, Fitzgerald found fame and fortune early on, he then lived mostly a tragic life, struggling with alcoholism, and struggling in Hollywood writing scripts and short stories to meet the expenses of his wife Zelda’s psychiatric bills and his daughter Scottie’s education. “The Great Gatsby” received mixed reviews and sold poorly. He died believing the book and his career unsuccessful.  His earlier days in New York, Paris and the Riviera were an enchanted past he remembered often and expressed in his correspondence a wish to return to.

Reading or re-reading “The Great Gatsby”  helps you get the most of the movie and fill in the blanks. To dig deeper, I recommend the recently released historical fiction of his wife “Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald” by Therese Anne Fowler ( NY Times review can be found here ) and “F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters”.

Additional Bringing Travel Home posts on the Lost Generation can be found here:

Discovering Expats of the 1920s

Living Well is the Best Revenge

sugar sammy

Last week Public Radio International’s “The World” featured  Canadian Comedian Sugar Sammy.  Sugar Sammy has found a way to poke fun at the hot issues surrounding the French and English language conflict in Montreal and other regions in Quebec, from the perspective of an Indo-Canadian living in French Canada.


Francophone – Anglophone tensions are up in Quebec right now (the only Canadian province where French is the sole official language – English speakers represent the minority) and have been highlighted with the latest news frenzy over an incident dubbed “Pasta-gate.” The international news has targeted the region’s well-funded language law enforcement that cited a restaurant for using the Italian/English word “pasta” instead of its French equivalent and tried to ban it. (Click here for a good article about the incident from The Guardian.) Last time in Quebec, when exasperated that I couldn’t find someone who spoke English  (It’s still hard for me to get used to a French-speaking region a short drive from our U.S. borders),  I was quickly reprimanded for the belief that they should speak English. Why shouldn’t I speak French? Point taken. Resistance to the global move towards English language supremacy is nothing new. And there is a long history involved with the Quebec conflict, much more complex than language alone.

The Quebec-born son of Indian immigrants, Samir Khullar – or Sugar Sammy as he goes by – has found a way to get the dueling French and English speakers of that region laughing at each other and themselves –  at least during his shows.  I think it’s brilliant – it may not change policy today, but laughter is always a good icebreaker and I believe begins the process of compassion and understanding.


Sugar Sammy believes in a demographic in Montreal that live in French and English on a daily basis. After years of doing separate French and English shows, he has started to do bilingual stand-up comedy shows – something he was told would never work – to French and English-speaking audiences. He has experienced much success, with sell-out shows. He even has the politicians playing along.

Sugar Sammy can make you laugh in four languages – English, French, Punjabi and Hindi . He now does four separate shows: in French (En français, svp!), in English (Illegal English Edition), the bilingual show (You’re Gonna rire) and a new show aimed at Quebec’s Indian immigrants and their offspring (Indian Edition). As a half Mexican/half German with a French first name, I’m intrigued. I’m crossing my fingers that our summer trip may coincide with an Illegal English Edition show because, sadly, we don’t know French. Yet.

I remain convinced that bilingualism is a true gift – I send my kids to full Spanish immersion public school in California. I just hope we can all get along and appreciate our capacity for speaking different languages. In a place like Quebec it might be a long shot. But Sugar Sammy might just make it a little easier and a lot more fun.

Photo credit: CBC

You can learn more about Sugar Sammy here. 

on my bookshelf

In the past year since I’ve started blogging, I’ve posted about my favorite books that will take you places and provided book suggestions to discover Paris expat life of the 1920s. The latter is one of my most widely read posts, thanks to the 2011 published “The Paris Wife” that has brought Hemingway renewed popularity (well deserved, in my opinion) and what appears by my blog statistics to be a mob of readers with an intense interest in his first “Paris Wife” Hadley.

As I take a breath from my fixation on the Lost Generation, and I reluctantly return to the library the completed biographies  “Hemingway’s Boat” , and several on Gerald and Sara Murphy, I  turn my eyes up to the bookshelf to ponder what will next fancy an expat, ex-expat or version of.

My top three picks are:

The Expats by Chris Pavone

The first time this title appeared in The NY Times Book Review, I thought it was an espionage thriller, which really isn’t my thing and I passed.  But then the title reappeared by email from my sister (“read it!” she wrote).  I noticed it was set in curious Luxembourg ( a place our dear friends lived, so I know it without actually having been there) and is much more about the experience of expat life than I originally thought. In this first novel by Pavone, a husband and wife have the opportunity to move to Luxembourg when husband gets a new job. She, a burned out ex-CIA operative who has left her job, finds herself disoriented, embracing a new identity in a community of expat wives and mothers organizing domestic chores and finding ways to entertain themselves.  The plot turns, when wife becomes suspicious of husband and his new hush-hush job and she begins to investigate him. Expat experiences, a fantastic setting and sprinkles of espionage fiction. And with a name like that, what’s there not to love?

Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman

Being a mother and having had my first child abroad in Europe, this book about an expat American mom raising her kids in France finds its way easily onto my reading list. I posted recently about this book which outlines differences in parenting she sees between France and the States – particularly those areas she believes parents excel with in France. She’s predictably gotten loads of criticism from all sides, but I’m interested in reading the book because of the cultural differences I, too, experienced when abroad,  not necessarily to find the secret french formula to teach my kids manners or sit at the table through dinner (though I imagine many young mothers will be doing the latter as witnessed by the length of the wait list at the library for this book).

I doubt this author will meet the standard set by Adam  Gopnik’s “Paris to the Moon” about parenting in Paris that shines with his intellect and New Yorker-style wit as he manages to wrap together brilliantly multiple subjects and observations of life and food and kids in Paris. But I look forward to another opportunity to slip in  – unseen –  to a family room in Paris through this book.

Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner

Another first book for this author and reviewed as “very funny” by the New Yorker, today’s essay in The NY Times Book Review by Gary Sernovitz somewhat convincingly draws comparisons and contrasts between this book and Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.” While the book apparently makes no mention of this, the essay explores the differences between the inner struggles of the lost generation during the 1920s and the generation of today (you see, I couldn’t stay away from Hemingway for too long.)

In what The NY Times Book Review describes  “a precise, reflective and darkly comic voice” and “a revealing study of what it’s like to be a young American abroad”, the main character, an aimless but intelligent and earnest poet, has bluffed his way to Spain and struggles with the idea to live authentically and capture and represent life truthfully (in foreign and native tongue)  “beyond snapshots of localized events”.  “A book soaked in references to art and literature”, it features the American far from home, alienated, in search of meaning…..while making it clear that “a gulf separates their (referring to Hemingway’s characters in “Sun” and the character in this book) experiences and point of view.” I’m looking forward to reading about a lost generation of today, which could be more lost than ever before.

french parenting lessons

Last week I discovered the Wall Street Journal article “Why French Parents are Superior,” by American expat, journalist and author Pamela Druckerman. It wasn’t more than two paragraphs down when my head began shaking up and down uncontrollably – like a marionette doll at the Luxembourg Gardens – in agreement and recollection from my time abroad.  The article discussed her book released last week,”Bringing up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.”

Druckerman, raising her children in Paris, describes the French parent’s ability to achieve outcomes so many American parents seem to have such difficulty with. Like teaching our children to sleep through the night, eat and sit nicely at meals (no ginormous bags of pirate booty and pretzels every half hour might just help, dontcha think?), properly and politely greet adults, avoid interrupting and play on their own. The French practices of teaching respect, patience, self-control and delayed gratification – with easy, calm authority (“big eyes” she calls them), and being involved with the family without being obsessive are key points, according to Druckerman, and hard to come by in my parts these days.

Our baby was under a year old when we returned  to the States, yet I still got a small taste of the parenting style in Northern Italy. And I do say Druckerman’s observations are not just a French thing.  I encountered some similar characteristics with many families there. At  birthday parties, children played happily together while parents sat on chairs – not down on the floor  – and enjoyed a glass of wine. Down the hill from our house was a part playground/part outdoor cafe (Awesome Idea. Why has it not caught on here?). Moms chatted and drank coffee – guilt-free- while the children played. At pick-up time at the local Italian preschool, parents were not even allowed in the playground area. The kids were having so much fun together they hardly noticed. Finally, the children knew they were expected to greet adults. As Judith Warner writes this week in  “Why American Kids are Brats” for, saying hello and goodbye helps them to learn that they aren’t the only ones with feelings.

Parenting styles will come and go. I’ve tried them all. I’ll admit it, after reading one book when I was desperate, I even followed the advice to roar (yes, roar) with my toddler as she melted down – giving voice, I guess, to the temper tantrum. Some experts say feed their ego or they’ll grow up with no confidence. Others say don’t feed their ego – if you do, they won’t be prepared for life’s hard lessons. Be their best friend. Be not their best friend – show who is boss! But the article suggests that amidst helicopter and other kinds of current popular  parenting styles, some core, common sense lessons have gone lost and forgotten – like setting boundaries and teaching manners, good behavior and respect for who’s in control.

Even though she makes the point that French parents aren’t perfect, I imagine this book, like all others on parenting, could ignite a heated debate. But it makes a lot of sense to me. Maybe I’m an example of a new kind of American mom, who went to too many Positive Parenting workshops early in my mom career, and years later, hear myself telling my kids “No means no because I said so!”  Then realizing this is exactly the message I want to send them.

To read more about Pamela Druckerman and her new book,  “Bringing up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting,” visit

UPDATE: “Teaching Self-Control, the American Way” is a fantastic NY Times editorial that came out in response to the attention this book has been getting.