January 10, 2014 § 1 Comment
I just finished reading a cool little book entitled An Extraordinary Theory of Objects: A Memoir of an Outsider in Paris. It was a Christmas gift from my son, the one who got a Moleskine Journal from me.
An Extraordinary Theory of Objects is a series of vignettes by Stephanie LaCava about her move to France as a twelve-year-old in 1993, her years there growing up, and then her visits back again after attending college in the States.
On the cover of my copy of the book are romantically filtered and tinted photos of the Eiffel Tower, and on the pages inside, her writing style evokes the same kind of mood. If stories could be sepia-toned, this is how they might sound.
Actually, the filter through which LaCava encounters the world is her attachment to things. First, there are the small, curious relics—a skeleton key, a mushroom, an opal necklace found in the mud—that she gathers and places on her windowsill. Initially they replace her old collection, “everything that represented [her] past life and its predictable ways,” which is on a container ship making its way across the ocean from New York.
And then there are the objects she encounters from day to day, common things that she illuminates in copious footnotes often taking up more than half a page. Cataloging these objects gives her security and makes sense of her life in a new city . . . as she faces depression and what she calls her own “kind of crazy.”
Some might find her footnotes distracting, but they cover just the kind of obscure topics that intrigue me, such as a Japanese smuggler of black-market butterflies, a photo book dedicated to Salvador Dali’s mustache, and the origins of the tea bag. And they are replete with references to a variety of figures, from Pliny the Elder to Kurt Cobain, from Anne Boylen to Kate Moss.
Much of LaCava’s narrative is about time spent with her father, often searching flea markets for items to fulfill their eccentric tastes. At other times, she talks about her classmates at the international school. She says she was “mostly alone” her first year there. Even among these other outsiders, she doesn’t fit in.
I rode the bus to school and listened to my Discman while the girl in the back row threw gum wrappers at my head. The girls at school didn’t like me very much. They had never given me a chance, decided immediately that I didn’t belong, which was funny, as they didn’t either—at least not in France. They made me feel as if I had done something wrong, and they spoke badly about me to each other. Through my own odd rationalization, I decided excommunicating me meant they belonged to something, simply because I did not. . . .
Come the new academic year, the old class would be replaced with another set of students who had just moved overseas. Only a few remained year after year—and still the same insensitivity.
One day, a classmate tells her that she looks like Angela from the TV series My So-Called Life.
“I haven’t seen it,” she replies.
“Everyone’s seen that show,” he says. “Don’t you have friends in the States? They can send it to you.”
In a footnote, LaCava delves into the significance of the series, quoting Matt Zoller Seitz of The New York Times, who writes, “What the series’ narration does best: it shows how teen-agers try to control their chaotic inner lives by naming things, defining them, generalizing about them.”
That’s what LaClava does, as well—controlling the inner chaos of her life in a Paris suburb by naming the objects she encounters. Then, years later, she examines them even more closely and writes about them so that she can share with us her own kind of strange . . . and her own kind of normal.
(Stephanie LaCava, An Extraordinary Theory of Objects: A Memoir of an Outsider in Paris, New York: Harper Perennial, 2013)
[photo: “Eiffel Tower,” by charley1965, used under a Creative Commons license]
December 20, 2013 § 3 Comments
It’s not easy being shortlisted for the Academy Awards, but that’s what Rahul Gandotra did in 2011 with his live-action short film, The Road Home.
A Hidden-Immigrant Story
Gandotra was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and grew up in eight countries, spending time in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and the US. He attended the University of Michigan and then got an MA in film directing from The London Film School. For his master’s thesis, he returned to Woodstock, a boarding school in the Himalayas, to shoot The Road Home. When Gandotra attended school there in the 10th grade, his class of 52 had students from 26 countries.
The Road Home tells the story of Pico, a Woodstock student who runs away from the school, hoping to get to the airport and return to London. Pico looks Indian on the outside, but on the inside, he is British. He doesn’t speak Hindi, and the culture is foreign to him. He is a “hidden immigrant” who desperately wants to escape this assault on his identity.
In an interview with Jedda Blog, Gandotra says that while he was filming in India, he was introduced to David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken’s book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up among Worlds. “That book described me really well,” he says.
I realized these are the type of people I am making the film for and that this film is for anyone who questions where they are from, at any time of their life. Any one who has had an outsider experience or has left their country can relate to this movie.
Later, when Van Reken previewed The Road Home, she wrote the following on the film’s IMDb site:
Just three weeks ago, I watched as two people watched this with tears of both joy and sadness streamed down their faces. Joy that what they had felt but been unable to articulate for their whole lives was finally given voice. Sadness as they identified so deeply with the pain Pico feels when others assume who he is by outward appearance rather than by his life experiences.
They also understood only too well how the frustration Pico felt of not being known by other [sic] as he knows himself to be and how that frustration comes out in a way others see as anger instead of pain. . . .
Best of all, The Road Home reminds us of one of the most fundamental truths for our globalizing world: until we know each person’s story, we cannot make judgments of who that person is regardless of skin color or apparent ethnicity. That’s why this film is so needed and important.
Watch The Road Home for Free
At the film’s website, you can enter your email address to receive a “sampler” packet of commentaries, interviews, web resources, and—best of all—a link to watch the entire 23-minute film online.
In Gandotra’s “Welcome” clip, he tells how Van Reken was instrumental in getting the packet put together. When he sent the video to her, he was, he says, “floored and shocked by what she said.” She wanted him to put the film on DVD so everyone could see it, and even though he was busy with the film-festival circuit she persisted. “She felt,” he says, “that she had the right to literally push and harass me into making this DVD. . . .”
He demurred, but it did no good. On her own, Van Reken recruited people from around the world who created a set of resources for the sampler packet. The final result is the full professional version of the DVD (available for purchase here).
One of the highlights of the packet is a 5-minute commentary on the film, with Van Reken, Gandotra, and Third Culture Kid expert Heidi Tunberg talking about TCKs. The professional DVD includes an additional 92 minutes of commentary.
Gandotra is currently working on a feature-lengh film based on the story of The Road Home, calling it a “a coming-of-age, adventure road movie.” In the new version, Pico runs away from Woodstock with Rachel, an American female classmate. The two come to the attention of a terrorist organization that wants to kidnap them. As they are pursued across India, Rachel discovers the nation, while Pico discovers his own identity.
Gandotra’s “Feature Preview” page says, “Although the feature script is faster paced than the short, it stays true to the ‘flavor’ and themes of the original film.” I look forward to hearing more about this longer version, and I hope to see it someday.
I also hope that amid the chase scenes it does, in fact, hold on to The Road Home‘s poignant insights. Because it is Pico’s inner journey—as he tries to reach the airport—that brings the most power to his search for home.
(Emily Rome, “Oscar Shorts: An Autobiographical Journey in ‘The Road Home,'” Los Angeles Times, January 14, 2012; Zareen Muzaffar, “The Road Home. An Exclusive Interview with Director and Film-maker Rahyl Gandotra,” Jedda Blog, October 2013; )
[photo courtesy of The Road Home / Rahul Gandotra]
July 14, 2012 § 2 Comments
What makes a city international? Is it the foreign cuisine? The languages spoken? The diverse cultures celebrated? One barometer is the number of foreign-born residents, and the top city, Dubai, is winning by a landslide. With 82% of its population born outside of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai is well ahead of the next city, Miami, which has 51% of its residents foreign born. Following is a list of the top-10. (All figures are dated 2002 or before.):
- Dubai 82%
- Miami 51%
- Amsterdam 47%
- Toronto 45%
- Muscat 45%
- Vancouver 39%
- Auckland 39%
- Geneva 38%
- Mecca 38%
- The Hague 37%
The authors note that 7 of the top 25 cities are in the Middle East, due to large guest workforces and the drawing power of religious centers. They also mention some “surprises,” mega-cities that didn’t make the top 25: Tokyo and Seoul, with about 2% each (ranked 92 and 96); Sao Paolo, 1% (100); Jakarta, .9% (105); and Mexico City, less than .5% (109).
Of course,the world’s expats include children, and while many attend typical, national schools, others get their education at international institutions. According to ISC Research, the number of international-school students worldwide has grown to over 3 million, attending over 6,000 institutions in 236 countries. Providing the education at these schools are over 290,000 staff. It’s probably not surprising that the country with the most international schools is the United Arab Emirates, as its national population mirrors that of Dubai, its largest city, with the country having 83.5% of its residents foreign born. Here’s a list of the top 10:
- UAE, 372 schools
- Pakistan, 349
- China, 327
- India, 317
- Japan, 219
- Spain, 183
- Indonesia, 173
- Germany, 170
- Hong Kong, 165
- Thailand, 161
The number of students attending international schools has tripled over the last 10 years, but not all of the current number are expats. In fact, the great majority, 80%, are local citizens. And as more and more people raise their children outside their passport countries, as more and more locals seek the best track for the world’s best universities, the demand for international schools is increasing. ISC Research’s prediction is that the number of international-school students will grow to 6 million in the next 10 years, and the number of schools will reach 10,000.
(Lisa Benton-Short, Marie Price, and Samantha Friedman, “Global Perspective on the Connections between Immigrants and World Cities,” part of a research project funded by the GW Center for the Study of Globalization; Andy Sambidge, “UAE Population Hits 6m, Emiratis Make Up 16.5%,” ArabianBusiness, October 7, 2009; Suzi Dixon, “International Schools: Now more than Three Million Children Get a Global Education,” The Telegraph, March 23, 2012)