70 Books, Movies, TV Series for Escape Now and After Quarantine

Deshaies view in Guadeloupe
Deshaies view in Guadeloupe, a region of six islands in the French Caribbean  Photo Credit: Rachel Heller

Disclosure: SouthernGirlGoneGlobal has an affiliate relationship with Amazon. If you make a purchase from Amazon from one of the links in this post, I will receive a small commission which does not affect your cost. Amazon is my first go-to for videos and books, whether shipped with Prime or downloaded for Kindle or Audible, but I have included links to Netflix and other sources as well. More on what’s available on Prime Reading–including  what’s free–here.

So we’re on global lockdown. Whether you’re in the trenches working even longer hours in healthcare facilities; at home all day with restless children; one of my English students bored that campus is closed, and/or anxious about when or how this will all end… cue  “Come and Run Away with Me” by my Nashville singer/songwriter friend, Carole Earls and check out the list below.

These works are by authors and screenwriters who are the best escape artists I know. Books, movies, and television series have the power to transport us now to dream locations and inspire us to go there for real one day. Helping me with this list are pro travel bloggers who were moved…literally…to explore a place abroad they’d experienced on the page or screen. Some of us were supposed to be in Catania, Sicily at the Travel Bloggers Exchange last week. Though grounded, we’re finding ways to make the best of staying home. Here’s hoping these suggestions take you away for awhile from stress and cabin fever. Please add to the list in comments below. Whether mysteries, memoirs, romances, comedies, or classics…what books, films, or tv series sweep you beyond borders to a happy place? (The US travel book, movie, and television list is coming soon…stay tuned.)

Guadeloupe

  1. Death in Paradise –TV series

The BBC series Death in Paradise is a murder mystery set on a tropical island, filmed in Guadeloupe. Watching it, I was so mesmerized by the setting that I often stopped even following the story, just enjoying the view. That’s why I chose to go to Guadeloupe a few years ago: to visit this stunning place, which, it turns out, really is as beautiful as on the show!–Rachel of Rachel’s Ruminations

See Rachel’s feature, “Deshaies, Guadeloupe: the Paradise in Death in Paradise.

Also see her blogpost, “Travel-addicted but can’t travel? 3 ways to deal with your wanderlust.”.

Spain

2.  The Way –film

I’ve been harboring a secret desire to walk the Camino de Santiago (the Way of Saint James) which starts in the Pyrenees of southern France and then traverses northwestern Spain before reaching the cathedral of Santiago de Compostella in the Spanish province of Galicia. The cathedral is a shrine said to be the burial place of St. James, the patron saint of Spain. I’m worried Mr. Excitement might notice that it’s a mere 476.8 miles longer than the Milford Track —-  and we’re 14 years older. To subtly introduce the idea, I cajoled invited him to join me in watching the film, The Way –Suzanne Fluhr of Boomeresque.

 Read the Boomeresque review of the film to understand why so many travelers have followed the Way to the Camino de Santiago, too. 

3. Vicky Cristina Barcelona –film

Two friends on a trip to Spain fall in love with the same painter (no wonder, it was Javier Bardem). LOVED the entire cast of this film, which includes Penelope Cruz, and the city that inspired Woody Allen to direct it. The year it came out my friend, Kim, and I did a girls’ getaway  in Barcelona.

Gaudi 's Park Güell in Barcelona
Gaudi ‘s Park Güell in Barcelona

4.  The Trip to Spain –film

Oh how I love the wit of British Comedians Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan as they banter (on this trip they are Don Quixote and Sancho Panza) taking us on a journey through beautiful landscapes, hotels, and food.

Italy

5.  Bread and Tulips –film

This was the first movie that made me fall in love with Venice and want to live an expat life. I love the main character and her desire for something different–simpler, sweeter. She inspired me to wander, so full of questions about my future, too.  Here are the secrets Venice shared. Currently it’s available on Youtube movies in Italian with English subtitles.

Venice
Bringing in a new year in Venice

Books–Travel and Expat Memoirs:

6.  Bella Figura: How to Live, Love, and Eat the Italian Way–Kamin Mohammadi

Memoir of a London journalist who flees heartache and career woes to write a memoir while living a year in Florence. Her story of finding a better way to live and love is entertaining and endearing.

7. and 8.  A Thousand Days in Venice and A Thousand Days in Tuscany–Marlena de Blasi

I am such a fan of chef, journalist, and lyrical memoirist Marlena de Blasi. I just ordered The Umbrian Thursday Night Supper Club. I’ll let you know how it is.

9. An Italian Affair—Laura Fraser

My friend, Sara, is not a fan of this book because after reading it, I spent our trip to Italy almost twenty years ago dragging her about in hopes of finding a love interest of my own.  Laura Fraser is one of my favorite writers (see the other work of hers recommended below). She coached me on the first chapter of my Morocco memoir and attending her publishing retreat in the artist colony of San Miguel de Allende is top of my Bucket List though the writing retreat in Tuscany would be amazing, too.

10.-11.  Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany–Frances Mayes

Frances Mayes is another one of my all-time favorites.  See another book of hers I recommend below. Finding out she is a southern girl and reading about her childhood was an unexpected surprise. More on that book and other southern favorites coming soon…

12.  Too Much Tuscan Sun: Confessions of a Chianti Tour Guide–Dario Castagno 

Dario’s tales of leading Americans on tours in Tuscany’s Chianti regions made me laugh out loud.

13.  An Italian EducationTim Parks

Englishman Tim Parks entertains with an amusing story of raising his family in Verona, Italy.

Novels:

14.  Beautiful Ruins–Jess Walter

A love story spanning 1960s Rome and Cinque Terre to modern Hollywood that made me. add Cinque Terre to my Bucket List.

15.  A Room with a View—E.M.Forster

1900s period comedy of manners/classic in the vein of Jane Austen depicts a young woman torn between her upbringing in Edwardian England and her heart’s home in Italy.

More Films:

16.  The Tourist

Johnny Depp plays a math teacher/bumbling tourist who meets a mysterious fashionista (Angelina Jolie), in this romance- action film. The even bigger star here is Venice providing escapism at its finest.

17.  Enchanted April 

Before anyone used the terms “girl’s getaway” or  “journey of self-discovery,” Elizabeth von Arnim wrote a best-selling 1922 novel about frustrated English housewives who travel to Portofino, Italy. The film adaptation, a period film about rejuvenation and reinvention, is timeless.

18.  The Trip to Italy

Brit wits Comedians Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan trace the steps of the Romantic poets through Italy.

19.  Under the Tuscan Sun

This adaptation of Frances Mayes’ memoir with Diane Lane has launched many-a-divorced woman on an expat life abroad. My first night after moving to Marrakesh solo, I unpacked my DVD and watched it under a Moroccan moon.

20.  Only You— A romantic comedy with Robert Downey, Jr., Marisa Tomei, and Bonnie Hunt that will make you fall in love with Rome, Tuscany, Venice. The shots of Positano on the Amalfi Coast in this movie and Under the Tuscan Sun make the city Top of my Bucket List.

21. The Talented Mr. Ripley

A sociopath (Matt Damon) charms his way into the life of an heir (Jude Law). Though a dark thriller, performances by actors, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Blanchett, are as stunning as the scenes of Italy.

22.  The English PatientMichal Ondantjee

One of my favorite films, the story of a forbidden love in northern Africa unfolds in the ruins of an Italian monastery in Tuscany during World War II. I was thrilled to visit the set on a girls’ getaway to Italy.Tuscan Monastery where The English Patient was filmed.

Tuscan monastery where English Patient was filmed
Tuscan Monastery where The English Patient Was Filmed

France

My favourite Netflix show and books transport me to the place I can’t stop traveling to: France. They provide some of the best stories about the culture, food, and sights of this beautiful country.– Janice Chung of Francetraveltips

I asked my Canadian friend, Janice Chung, who is. guru of all things France for her list. She has been to her heart’s home 34 times. She said the film that made her want to travel to and through Paris for the first time was Two for the Road.

Jan’s Booklist:

23.  100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go–Marcia DeSanctis

Guidebook, memoir, and meditations for the serious Francophile.

24.  A Year in Provence–Peter Mayle

The classic tribute to the country that became home to British expats Peter and Jennie Mayle.

25.  Almost FrenchSarah Turnbull

I had this true story of Australian journalist who falls in love and makes Paris her home on my list, too.

26.  Me Talk Pretty One Day –David Sedaris

In this collection of personal essays, the one for which the book is titled is a must-read for anyone who has struggled in a language class. Sedaris’s description of moving to Paris and taking a course in French is hilarious. My university students who have struggled with learning foreign languages as I have enjoy this.

27.  L’Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making Paris My Home and 28. The Sweet Life In Paris –David Lebovitz

Expat memoirs of a chef renovating his apartment and life in Paris.

29.  French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure —Mireille Guiliano

Known as “the ultimate non-diet book,”  the author is full of life wisdom.

30.  Call My Agent (French-Dix Pour Cent) –tv series

Comedy series about a Paris talent agency trying to keep their stars happy and business afloat. French language with English subtitles on Netflix.

My Booklist:

31.  A Moveable FeastErnest Hemingway

Though his novels are more popular (my Moroccan students enjoyed The Sun Also Rises set in Paris and Spain, and my Dominican Republic students loved For Whom the Bell Tolls about the Spanish Civil War), this memoir, A Moveable Feast, is my favorite Hemingway work. It’s a sensual portrait of 1920s Paris that inspired a successful journalist risking everything to write his first novel to fulfill that dream.

Paris

32. What French Women Know: About Love, Sex, and Other Matters of the Heart and Mind-Debra Ollivier

A comparison of cultural differences between American and French women, the book begins with this:

It’s not the shoes, the scarves, or the lipstick that gives French women their allure. It’s this: French women don’t give a damn. They don’t expect men to understand them. They don’t care about being liked or being like everyone else. They generally reject notions of packaged beauty. They accept the passage of time, celebrate the immediacy of pleasure, like to break rules, embrace ambiguity and imperfection; and prefer having a life to making a living. They are, in other works, completely unlike us.

33.  ChocolatJoanne Harris

With magical realism Harris paints a French village of colorful characters who become chosen family thanks to pirates and a single mom with a gypsy soul.  My interview with the author who is as fascinating as her works is here.

My French Films

34.  Chocolat

The Oscar-nominated film adaptation starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp ties for my favorite movie-of-all-time.

35.  Before Sunset

I mention here a binge-worthy trilogy about cross-cultural romance starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy because the 2nd film, Before Sunset, which is set in Paris, is my favorite. The first film, Before Sunrise, was filmed in 1995 when the young couple met in Vienna the night before she must return home to Paris and he to the US. The third film, Before Midnight, was released in 2013 and set in Greece.  All are character-driven– smart dialogue against backdrops of some of the most beautiful places on earth. The soundtracks are cool, too.

36.  Midnight in Paris

Writer Owen Wilson time-travels to 1920s Expat Paris where he meets Woody Allen’s take on Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dali, Picasso, and the rest of the Lost Generation.

37.  A Good Year

A Wall Street Wonder (Russell Crowe) inherits his uncle’s vineyard in a French village where he visited as a child. There he meets a beautiful local woman (Marion Cotillard).

38.  Le Divorce

A Romantic comedy about American sisters navigating love in Paris, starring Naomi Watts and Kate Hudson.

39.  French Kiss–Ok, I can’t find this anywhere. If someone does, please let me know. It’s an all-time favorite. Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline star in this romantic comedy set in Nice, Paris, and the vineyards of France.

Greece

40.  The Durrells in Corfu –tv series

Based on naturalist Gerald Durrell’s novels, a financially strapped English widow takes her children to live on a Greek island in the 1930s.  Seasons 1-3 are available with Amazon Prime. Season 4 or the entire season is available through PBS Masterpiece.

Films:

41.  Shirley Valentine

An unappreciated housewife–a bit like an older version of Bridget Jones– escapes to Greece.

42.  My Life in Ruins

Nia Vardalos plays an American-Greek tour director whose life changes on a final excursion.

43.  Mama Mia

Meryl Streep stars in a musical about a mother and daughter set in Greece.

44.  Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

Nicholas Cage plays an Italian officer stationed in Greece where he falls in love with a local (Penelope Cruz).

45.  The Trip to GreecePut this one on your watchlist if you like the others. Just out this month, it’s getting rave reviews.

Germany

46. Mostly Martha

When a stubborn chef has to take custody of her defiant niece, the Italian sous-chef she hires becomes a buffer. The romantic comedy is in German with English subtitles.

England

47.  Downton Abbey –film

The movie sequel to the beloved series.

Ireland

Films:

48.  P. S. I Love You

Gerard Butler plays a dead husband who left behind letters to encourage his wife to go to Ireland and move on with her life.

49.  Dear Frankie

A single mom hires Gerard Butler to play  the role of her son’s father for one day.

Kenya

Film:

50.  Out of Africa

Oscar-winning film set on a Kenyan coffee plantation where Meryl Streep is an aristocrat  who moved to Africa with an unfaithful husband. There she falls in love with an adventurer played by Robert Redford. This film is a favorite of my friend, Sally, a nurse and jewelry designer who lived in Africa over 20 years.

Morocco

Books

51. Hideous Kinky

Esther Freud, great-granddaughter of Sigmund Freud, wrote this autobiographical novel about moving to Morocco with her mother and sister in the early 1970s. I watched the movie starring Kate Winslet before moving to Morocco ; the hardships of the family’s bohemian life are softened in the novel because they are relayed from the viewpoint of a curious child. The descriptions in both prepared me for the Marrakesh Medina–chaos that stirred me, exhausted me, thrilled me like no other place.

Marrakesh Medina

Marrakesh Medina

52. Travels: Collected Writings 1950-1993 Paul Bowles

A master of describing place, Paul Bowles lived many years in Morocco and writes about them here. These essays also include time spent in Paris, Thailand, and Kenya.

Movies Filmed in Morocco (Just a Few for Now)

53.  Queen of the Desert

The story of Gertrude Bell, explorer of the deserts that would become The Middle East. Filming was done in Morocco in Marrakesh, Erfoud, and Ouarzazate.

54.  Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, Season 1

Set in the Middle East but filmed in Marrakech, Tensift El Haouz, Essaouira, El Jadida and Chichaoua.

55.  Sex and the City 2

Though set in Abu Dhabi, filming was done in Marrakesh. The girls’ suite is here.

Film Site of SATC2

India

56.-57. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

British retirees make a new home in India–a place I so want to visit too.

South America

Ecuador

58.– 59.   Love in the Time of Cholera –Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Set in the author’s Colombia, the novel and movie starring Javier Bardem testify to the power of lifelong love.

60.  The Poetry of Pablo Neruda

The “People’s Poet” of Latin America, Pablo Neruda’s work calls us to his beloved Chile and beyond.

61.  The Motorcycle Diaries

Based on the memoir of 23-year-old Ernesto Guevara, who would become revolutionary Che Guevara, and his 1952 trek across South America with his friend Alberto Granado, the film is a coming-of-age story that shaped his future politics and the world.

62.-63. The House of Spirits , Of Love and Shadows–Isabel Allende

Though her material is sometimes dark, I love works by this prolific Chilean author.

Multiple Countries/Cultures

Books:

64.-65.  Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia –Elizabeth Gilbert

This journey memoir started a revolution of solo female travel. Also watch the movie, too.

66.  All Over the Map–Laura Fraser

On a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, to celebrate her fortieth birthday, Laura meets The Professor (from An Italian Affair) and realizes she’s ready for a home and family. In her gut-honest memoir travel journalist Laura Fraser seeks answers across Argentina, Peru, Naples, Paris, and the South Pacific.

67.  A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveller –Frances Mayes

She describes the art, architecture, history, and culinary delights of Spain, Portugal, France, the British Isles, and to the Mediterranean world of Turkey, Greece, the South of Italy, and North Africa as only a now-retired university professor and lifelong student of other cultures  can be.

Portugal

68.  The Alchemist–Paulo Coelho

A fable about following our dreams. Santiago travels from Spain to Morocco to Egypt and as inspired many to travel and create new lives in new places, too.  Here’s how my Spanish friend, Moni, and I bonded over this novel which launched a cross-continental friendship and expat lives.

Films:

69. Hemingway and Gelhourn

Love story of Hemingway meeting his match in his 3rd wife who was the first world-recognized woman war correspondent.

70.  Beyond Borders

One of my Top 10 of All Time movies–a love story filmed in Africa, Thailand, and Canada of an American expat living in England and a Doctor Beyond Borders.

Check out photo galleries at cindymccain.photoshelter.com for more dreamy places like Venice.

70 Books, Films, TV Series for Escape

70 Books, Films, TV Series for Escape

Top 10 Romantic Movies for Celebrating Valentine’s Day

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Below are my classics–tried and true– for celebrating Valentine’s Day, romantic as much for their settings as for their stories. While living abroad since 2014 I’ve seen most of them broadcast repeatedly in English on television stations in Morocco and the Dominican Republic. Valentine’s Day Movie Marathons are as popular in these two countries—one Catholic, the other Muslim– as they are in the US. It seems Cupid, son of Venus born on Mt. Olympus in Greece, is a global citizen and the universal language is love.

#1 Chocolat 

Nominated for 4 Academy Awards, this movie is hands-down my #1 V Day choice—this year more than ever—with its redemptive message that even the most polarised can unite with grace, real  relationship, and love. The film is adapted from the novel written by Joanne Harris. Interviewing the author, born to a British father and French mother,  who was once an English teacher and who lives in Yorkshire, Bronte country, was a thrill for me.  See it here.

The film is delicious: a dream cast including Judi Dench, Juliette Binoche, and Johnny Depp; sensual cinematography focused on the making of chocolate in a French hillside village in the 1950s; magical realism from Latin American culture; and a challenge to change and choose love over legalism for the sake of family, friends, and community.

Movie lovers and house hunters, for more on the locations where Chocolat and Under the Tuscan Sun (below) were filmed, check out Julia Sweeten’s blog, Hooked on Houses.

#2 Beyond Borders

I wonder, do we all know where we belong? And if we do, in our hearts, why do we so often do nothing about it? There must be more to this life, a purpose for us all, a place to belong. You were my home. I knew from the moment I met you, that night, so many years ago.

Angelina Jolie and Clive Owen star in a romance fueled with chemistry of a couple committed to a cause greater than themselves. It’s the story of a woman who leaves her London home for Ethiopia when made aware of the needs there in a refugee camp. Forever changed by what she sees and who she meets, she supports the ones she loves from home and on trips to Cambodia and Chechnya. The film is dedicated to relief workers and victims of war and persecution—another timely choice. Jolie adopted her son, Maddox, while in Cambodia during filming. She brought to the part experience working as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador.

Inspired by the movie, I tried to rock the heroine’s hat on my trip to Russia.

#3 Slumdog Millionaire

As art, this one ties with Chocolat and Life is Beautiful for my three Favorite Films of All Time. When I first saw it before the Academy Award nominations, I knew it would sweep the Oscars. Here’s why. I long to go to India, but in the meantime, I take trips there in my apartment by dancing to the bonus material at the end.

#4 Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Also starring Dev Patel and Judi Dench, this film made me cry every time I watched it until I moved abroad because it made me long to try on the expat life. Having done so, I’ve quoted it often on this blog because I now know living outside your home country is what Glennon Doyle Melton, author of Love Warrior, calls a “brutifal” (brutal and beautiful experience). I’ll be forever grateful for this movie moving me to live in  Marrakesh for two years.  The plot has more than one love story, but the greatest one is making choices in life and learning to love them.

#5 Under the Tuscan Sun

So anyone who has known me for awhile knows the influence this film had on me and other women who have moved abroad.  The first night after arriving in Morocco,   I unwrapped this DVD (one of 5 in my “survival pack”) and watched it for the twentieth time.   I needed to remember that things probably would not go as I planned but love always prevails even if it comes in a package we never expected.   So if you are lonely–in a relationship or without one–watch this and please go to my Instagram to get inspired  to decorate your own life.

#6-#8 My Favorite Trilogy: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight

Starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, Before Sunrise, filmed in 1995, is the story of a young couple who meet in Vienna the night before she must return home to Paris and he to the US.

Before Sunset, the sequel, was filmed in 2004 when the couple meets in the City of Lights, followed by Before Midnight released in 2013 and set in Greece.   For anyone who has or is open to finding love abroad or cross-cultural relationships; loves character-driven, smart dialogue or backdrops in the most beautiful places on earth; or appreciates soundtracks you’ll want to download and listen to forever…this is binge-worthy.

#9 Out of Africa

I admit that until last week I had never finished this film.  Although the second half moves faster that the first, the whole is an epic love story and worth the time investment. At first Colonial  Kenya sent me to Victoria magazine again—my favorite publication in a past life now online– as I saw the comfort china and crystal brought to the main character so far from home.  But better, it causes us to question anew the values of that period and our own.  I was moved to download the book on Kindle and read the memoir from which it was taken.   I didn’t need more reason to do a safari since it already tops my Bucket List, but examining  the relationship of the characters played by Meryl Streep and Robert Redford is a Cinema Bucket List must-do.

#10 The English Patient

This one would have been farther up the list a few years ago (I kept the DVD close and watched it often) based on the fiery passion between the characters played by Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas. Maybe actually riding a camel across the Sahara Desert in scorching heat and not looking like Katherine whose scarves always blew  beautifully behind her in the breeze did it.  Maybe  I’m just getting older, wiser, and suspicious of that much intensity because in real life it too often turns to burn (no pun intended). Still, I love the film—especially the backdrops of the desert, Cairo, and Italy where Juliette Binoche teamed again with Fiennes years after they played Catherine and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, based on my favorite romantic novel of all time. My fav stop on my trip to Tuscany last year was seeing the church below featured in the film.  In this case, reality was as beautiful as fiction.

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What are your go-to romantic movies?  Please tell us in the comments below.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

You might also want to check out my  Weekend Escape series to inspire travel and connection.

 

New WEEKEND ESCAPE Series to Inspire Travel & Global Experiences at Home: Dinner and a Movie

I’m starting this series to inspire real life travel, celebrate global culture found at home, and feed the soul. In the summer of 2014 just before I moved abroad from Nashville, I saw Chef at the theater and loved it. Although the soundtrack has been on my plane playlist since I rushed home and downloaded it, I hadn’t seen the movie again until last night. A great getaway, Netflix and Chef took me on a food tour that stopped in Miami, New Orleans, Austin and Los Angeles.  (I’ve been considering a streamline retro trailer life in the US for awhile now.)

I had no idea after two years in Morocco I’d end up living in the Caribbean, but given my love of Latin culture in Nashville—the music, dance, food—it makes sense. Last fall the Santo Domingo Food Truck Festival felt like home. In fact, downtown workers in Music City say the best part of the workweek is Street Food Thursdays.  But this movie, starring Jon Favreau as Everyman Chef Carl Caspar, serves up more than culinary masterpieces and comfort food– a grilled cheese sandwich turned art, a Cubana this carnivorous girl raised on Western Kentucky pork craved.  It’s for those who fancy food…eaters and cooks…and those who love a good story.  (Foodies can check out this space with recipes from the film (and other films) thanks to Judie Walker’s story here.)

Most will be able to relate… wanting to do what you felt you were put on this earth to do but feeling held back in (or from) the dream job…parents co-parenting across two households… dads and sons wanting to connect but not sure how …the bullying and blessing of social media… a career crisis that can rend or mend a family. Performances, funny, real, and warm, are given by an interesting cast— Emjay Anthony (Percy), compelling ten-year-old son of Carl and Inez (Sophia Vergara); Marvin (Robert Downey, Jr.) as the first husband, Riva (Dustin Hoffman) as the creativity-crushing boss, Molly (Scarlett Johansson) as faithful friend, and Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), the callous, caustic food critic who ignites a Twitter War and change. An added treat is live performances of “Oye Como Va” and “La Quimbumba” by legendary Cuban singer, Jose Caridad Hernandez, who plays Abuelito.

The film written and directed by Favreau  with the help of consultant/food truck Chef Roy Choi of Kogi Korean BBQ  won nods including Audience Award for Best Narrative at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival and in 2015 Best Comedy given by the AARP Movies for Grownups Awards.

Be prepared to plan a southern road trip to NOLA for beignets from Café du Monde, Little Havana for Cubanas at Hoy Como Ayer, or some blues at Franklin Barbecue.  Even better, the film will help anyone who feels he/she may have lost his/her way or is simply afraid to turn in the direction to which we’ve been called for a long time.  E. E. Cummings said “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” Growing pains are real no matter our age, and change for the better usually comes after we are pushed from our comfort zones and, thus, really scared. For years I’ve taught literature students the hero’s quest  which is all of our journeys. When called to adventure–our bigger story and unique purpose God put us here to do–we often, at first,  back away from the call.  When we do accept it, there will be obstacles, but I believe it’s the way out of living the lives of quiet desperation Henry David Thoreau said sadly most people accept.  Carl is faced with a choice though he feels he has none.  Sometimes it takes a lot for us to heed our hearts.

Carl: “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ve always known what I was going to do and now I’m lost.”

Molly: “I think that’s a good place to start.”

Food Truck Fest in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic…

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From the Desert to the Daily: First Three Months

Morocco Independence Day 2014

November 18, was Morocco’s Independence Day, the 58th anniversary of freedom from the French Protectorate lasting from 1912–1956. It was a milestone birthday of my cousin, Annette, a loving lady who hosted our family reunion in Kentucky last summer.  And it was a marker for me.

Three months ago I landed in this country and began a new era in my life. I’ve thought a lot about freedom—independence I’ve gained and lost with this move. Much has happened on this continent and across the world since I decided last April to come. Morocco, vigilant to safeguard against Ebola, decided not to host the African Cup. I walk past military police daily guarding against terrorism; and while machine guns, dogs, and other precautions first frightened me, I am so thankful for the constant presence at home, work, and around town of these men in service. No doubt I have grown in faith as I trust God for wisdom, peace, and protection from without and within. I’ve thought about FDR’s epiphany: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” and Paul who said to pray and fret not, to think on whatever is true,  honorable,  right,  pure,  and lovely.  I try hard to focus on the good people I’ve met, natural beauty in this diverse place, and opportunities for adventure.

Life keeps all my senses on high alert here. I have never experienced—smelled, tasted, seen, heard, felt, and, bit-by-bit, learned so much in ninety days about the world and myself. Last month I checked off one of two Bucket List items for North Africa–reasons for choosing this job placement. Though I still haven’t made it to the pyramids in Cairo, I rode in a caravan to a tent where I camped out in the Sahara. Sharing a meal by candlelight with fellow nomads, listening to Berber guides play drums and sing by the fire under a black canvas studded with stars, leaving camp under a full moon and arriving at sunrise at our van before the 15- hour ride home were scenes in the sand I’ll never forget.

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From Marrakesh to Merzouga: Destination Desert

Though the two-day trip to Merzouga was long, the stops along the way were worthwhile in themselves.  The first was in the Medina of Marrakesh where Monica, visiting me from Spain,  and I were taken from the Le Caspian Hotel whose tour company organized the trip.  I love their restaurant and trust their service.  (Monica and I went there the first night she arrived for a rooftop drink and we ate lunch there the day we returned from Chefchouen at the end of this fall break.)  The cost for 3 days/2 nights–transportation, breakfast, dinner, hotels, and camel campout–was 90 Euros–about 850 Moroccan Dirhams or $100 USD when we booked. From the hotel we were told to board another van where four of my coworkers were calling my name.  They had booked through another company, none of us knowing we’d end up on the same trip that day. I’m so glad we did.

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Amy, Annie, Annie, and Lexi

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Crossing the Atlas Mountains which surround Marrakesh was surreal as watercolor peaks in the the distance came into sharp focus. Hairpin turns on cliffs’ edges summoned the same thrill I felt crossing the Swiss Alps and the Andes in Ecuador.

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Tea Time at a Roadside Stop
Tea Time at a Roadside Stop

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IMG_3649Ouarzazate, the Door of the Desert, is where films Cleopatra, Lawrence of Arabia, The Mummy, Gladiator, Babel, Kingdom of HeavenRomancing the Stone: Jewel of the Nile, and Season 3 of Game of Thrones were shot.  Being there was another dream come true.  We climbed to the peak of the ksar , a fortified pre Saharan castle, Aït Benhaddou, which lies along the river where caravans traveled from the Sahara to Marrakech.  UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) lists it as one of 1007 World Heritage Sites (places of outstanding natural or cultural importance to the common heritage of humanity).  There are more UNESCO sites in Morocco and Ethiopia than any other countries in Africa.  Of the nine UNESCO sites n Morocco I have also experienced thus far the Medinas of Marrakesh, Fez, and Essaouira.  Within Aït Benhaddou is an adobe Jewish synagogue; Jews and Berbers lived together in this region. Morocco has the largest Jewish community of any country in the Arab world.  The Marrakesh Medina also has a Jewish Quarter. IMG_3656

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Where Michael Douglas landed in a new world in Jewel of the Nile.

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10408079_10152754148009034_8745146245809452435_n After the two-hour tour of the city on the hill, we had lunch and continued our drive to the Dades Valley.  The rocks and gorges reminded me of the American West and my favorite tv show when I was a child, High Chapparal.   Over the miles of the fall break road trips, memories of my childhood traveled with me.  I hadn’t eaten Pringles since a kid at my Mama Sargeant and Granddaddy’s house, but after rediscovering them at roadside stops they became my comfort food.  (Later that week they’d become survival on the nine-hour public bus trip to Fez where the driver went seven hours without a food or bathroom break). When I arrived at our amazing hotel in the Gorge, I called my sister to tell her about all I’d seen. Turned out she was visiting my mom in Kentucky.  They were looking at Mama Sargeant’s recipes and watching… yep, High Chapparal.  This wasn’t the first time we’ve marveled at how we’ve stayed connected across the continents.  Before I left, Penny said to remember every time I look up at the moon she’s looking up at it, too. IMG_3714
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IMG_3683   IMG_3682             At the Hôtel du Vieux Château du Dadès located in the Dadès gorges, we had a traditional dinner–tajine–and breakfast before heading to our final destination.  Sipping coffee alone in the crisp, cool air as the river ran over rocks below was a welcome change from the day before when late October temperatures were in the 90s.     IMG_6001

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IMG_6010 IMG_6015 Day 2 we stopped in a Berber village in the Dades Valley.  We saw how carpets are woven and learned to tie scarves turban-style to protect from sand and sun in the desert. IMG_3711 IMG_3709               IMG_3713
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Workers took a break in the field for mint tea from a silver service. Moroccans traditionally have tea with bread and olive oil for breakfast, afternoon tea, and any other time during the day they desire. Men in cafes drink tea in towns while people or soccer-watching.
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Fertile fields of alfalfa and fruit groves above the riverbank
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My dad and his parents who once farmed and always loved nature would have liked this place.
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We saw women washing clothes in rivers here and along the highway

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At sunset we arrived at the main event.

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Amy and Annie
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Lexi

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In our caravan were Australian newlyweds and two French couples–one who had a little girl who preferred running in the cool sand and tumbling down dunes to riding a camel.

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Thanks to Lexi Guthrie for this great shot.

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My camel was crazy and codependent, throwing a hissy fit when he thought we were leaving the camel assigned to Monica. Though she’s a world traveler and possibly the most independent woman I’ve ever known, she said she wouldn’t have ridden mine. When I asked the guide for a different one the second day he said the camel was used to me and I could handle him. He was thin and cranky but settled down. My sister said we were a good pair—skinny and feisty.

Since moving to Morocco I am thinner and have been cranky sometimes too–the first from walking everywhere and the second from Moroccan food overload and carnivore cutback (meat sold in groceries can be tough). I quickly tired of tajines (like pot roast but with less seasoning than this Southerner uses).    But thanks to the supportive community of colleagues, I continue to discover the treasure trove that is Marrakesh. In the past week… a new bakery, butcher, and expat restaurant where I attended my first Inter Nations social.   Before that, a hamam on a hidden back alley. Thanks to my friend sharing her maid, I have more free time.  Twice a month Saida cooks enough vegetable and chicken couscous for two weeks of lunches, cleans my apartment, washes my clothes, and organizes my life. She is a blessing.  And though I’ve missed having a car to run to Kroger–open 24/7–and the freedom to go anywhere alone after dark, next to my apartment is a hanut–a one-room “minute mart” where my friendly neighbor rings up items from breakfast to late night from behind a counter. It’s a Moroccan version of country stores like the one my Uncle Henry had in Fairview.

Home. Maya Angelou said, “I long as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.”

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Though I’ve missed a Tennessee fall (though 70 degrees today was nice) and the house my children and I still call home and I plan to return to one day, I will be at home Christmas when I meet Taylor and Cole in England. I am home when I Skype with my mom in Kentucky and my sister and friends in Nashville.  And when I returned to Marrakesh from fall break, eating with friends at my three favorite places —Chez Joel, Casa Nova, and Beyroute —made settling in after a week on the road feel more like home.

As Thanksgiving approaches I’m thankful for the travel I’ve done but also  for the “little things”–like discovering the closest thing to Target—the “big” Carrefour– where I bought a soft blanket and house shoes and a juicer to fresh- squeeze the oranges that grow big and delicious.  Strawberry season just started.   Last Sunday I volunteered with an amazing organization for girls (more on that later), and Mondays are fun thanks to my dance class with Moroccan colleagues that involves jangling scarves and Persian music.

It has been a challenging three months.  True freedom doesn’t always mean independence.  It’s about asking questions and not worrying if they sound stupid.  I’m learning to reach out and ask others all the things I don’t know and help others who are struggling too.  Not speaking French or Arabic  makes me vulnerable, but it also helps me understand firsthand how the Mexican moms I taught in my Nashville English class felt.  When I depend on God for wisdom, strength, and love I live from the desert to my daily life in wide, open spaces.

I Am Love…a Two-Sided Tale

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Tilda Swinton and the movie model high fashion and more in I am Love.

*For those who love movies about Italy and France and enjoy (or want to try) foreign films, you can catch I Am Love through Sunday at Belcourt or see it on DVD in September.

Juxtaposing industrial Milano and rustic Nice, I Am Love makes good on its publicity as a moveable feast. The sensual cinematography is stunning, and the plot definitely moves viewers… to one camp or another. To Romantics the resolution is revolution, rallying the ranks. Realists/Classicists may find the whole thing a shallow affair and be relieved when it’s over. But whatever our take on the movie, we take away questions…always a good thing for people who think and feel.

Like classic books, fine films realistically portray struggles of the human heart. I’ve long agreed with Brent Curtis and John Eldredge who in their work, The Sacred Romance, asserted that we are created for love, adventure, and beauty. How we meet these needs…or cope when we can’t…is at life’s core, determining our course, and causing consequences.

I am Love is the story of Emma (Tilda Swinson), a Russian immigrant who marries into the Recchi family, a dynasty of the textile industry. Her conservative husband, Tancredi (Pippo Delbono), makes her manager of the household. Though pragmatic and sometimes stoic, he loves his wife and children. Their marriage, once passionate, has settled into more shared affection and mutual respect, perhaps as expected of people “of a certain age.” The perfect wife and mother, Emma manages the servants and nurtures her children with unconditional love. Knowing only her mother would try to understand her change of career and sexual preference, daughter Elisabetta (Alba Rohrwacher) confides in Emma her lesbian lifestyle. Visibly torn in a scene where Emma sits in the shadow of a cathedral, Emma resolves, as many mothers do, to lovingly support her daughter despite her choices and the church’s sanctions. Likewise she supports her son, Edoardo (Flavio Parenti), who disagrees with his father on the family business they jointly head. When Edoardo wants to open a restaurant with his friend, a chef named Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), Emma supports the venture. The central and tragic conflict comes when Emma falls in love with this younger man.

To some I Am Love (Lo Sono l’Amore ) will seem another feminist manifesto and thus evoke polar reviews. From women’s lib movies of the 1970s where women had extramarital affairs to “find themselves” to classics like Chopin’s The Awakening and D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover, I Am Love’s protagonist (fatalistically with the same name as Flaubert’s Emma in Madam Bovary) is fairly familiar. For many viewers the kind and gentle woman, a loving mother, is a sympathetic, likeable character much like Diane Lane’s in Unfaithful who also fell for a young Frenchman. But because both have successful men at home—caring husbands and fathers– many moviegoers may dislike Emma. Her husband is a decent man. Though their exchanges are now discussions about the kids, we learn that when they met they “made love all night in a cab.” But more telling, we also discover that Tancredi changed his wife’s name to Emma when he brings her from Russia into the Rechhi clan. Thus, he changes her identity. And she allows it. Classicists who crave conformity will find this acceptable; romantics, as fierce individualists, will not.

But what does Romanticism vs Classicism have to do with a 21st century film anyway? Since Romantics place the individual over institutions, since they are about emotions and experimentation…everything.

The Romantic bent, whether labeled today as the “artistic temperament,” a melancholy personality, or a right- brain thinker, defines many-a-modern man and woman. Historically the Romantic era’s official launch was 1798 with the publication of Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, but the movement had been brewing long before the French Revolution. Tired of funding French kings’ extravagance, choked by the Industrial Revolution which produced overcrowded, polluted cities, and stoked by Locke and Rosseau, Romantics asserted the rights of common men, left urban centers, and returned to rural living. They appreciated the simplicity in nature and forsook materialism. Wordsworth’s words, “High thinking and plain living” were echoed in Thoreau’s call to simplify our lifestyles so we might go to the woods to find a deliberate life. Fueled by Locke’s premise that man is born as a tabula rasa (blank slate), Romantic idealism blamed society for evil, exalting man’s natural, primitive state. Romanticism was a reaction against the Classical order, the Old Regime of 18th century Europe that valued upper class lifestyles of wealth, tradition, decorum, and restraint. Classicists today continue to value institutions over individuals, logic over emotion, conformity over experimentation, control over release, status quo over change. Polarization of political parties can possibly still be traced to these inherent differences.

Some will see the film as a midlife crisis cliché or condemn it on moral grounds, but all will appreciate its cinematography. But even in its artistic portrayal the clash between the classicist and romantic couldn’t be more pronounced. Like Martin Scorcee’s filming of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence (where a man must choose between the woman who society accepts and the one who his heart desires) which captures the Victorian decorum that suffocates Newland Archer, Luca Guadagnino’s attention to details symbolizes the world that chains Emma —formal place settings vs delectable dishes prepared with love by her lover; the ritual with which Emma’s maid dresses and undresses her as if she’s Marie Antionette vs the way Emma sheds her clothes, hair, and makeup with Antonio as a child of nature. Tancredi clamps Emma in a golden bracelet and strangles her slim neck with heavy strands of pearls. Antonio frees her statuesque body, causing her to remember her real name and return to her natural self. In liberation she asks her maid to dine with her; though obviously she loves her mistress, bound by social class the lady-in-waiting can’t free herself to accept. The most sensual scene is when Antonio and Emma mate in a montage of bodies, birds, and bees, throbbing with life, freedom, essence.

In the vein of 19th women who shed artificial wigs and cumbersome clothes to 1970s feminists who burned their bras, Emma finds release. But unlike Chopin’s Edna who strips herself only to drown herself in the sea, Emma copes with the greatest loss imaginable, then chooses love over self-sacrifice. Some will see her as a survivor. Others will call her selfish or victorious. But all will be called to consider the film’s central, universal struggle that perhaps haunts us all…whether to choose duty over passion, romanticism over realism, head over heart…and how to live with the consequences. The core question seems to be, “How much is personal happiness worth?” Should we sacrifice ourselves and settle if the cost of claiming our heart’s desire comes at the expense of others? Is loving ourselves selfish or sacred? Is it a prerequisite or hindrance to loving others well?

The movie was eleven years in-the-making. It raises questions that have plagued us for centuries. As the intensity crescendos toward the climax and the resolution resonates with the deafening score, we’re moved to look at our lives to be sure we’re not one of Thoreau’s “mass of men (and women)who live quiet lives of desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” We’re left to decide how to hear our true song…whether by our heads, our hearts, or both…then sing it.

The Twilight Years of Benjamin Button


As an English teacher who has taught The Great Gatsby for 25 years and started an annual Twenties Day where students celebrate F. Scott Fitzgerald’s achievement, my cloche is off to Eric Roth. Accomplishing a rare classics coup, the screenwriter of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button improved upon the canonized author’s 1921 short story.  Granted, an epic almost-three-hour film should be more developed than the germ that inspired it. But changes in setting, plot points, characterization, and even dialogue have earned the film five Golden Globe nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director (David Fincher), and Best Actor (Brad Pitt).  Pushing the story past the Twilight Zone, the movie is transformed from a merely bizarre tale into a piercing masterpiece of Everyman’s mortality.

The Lost Generation’s icon began his tale in 1860, just prior to the Civil War, while Roth gave birth to his Benjamin on the day WWI ended. Perhaps the movie’s Benjamin is so amiable because he is born at the dawn of peace rather than on the cusp of war.  Moving him from Fitzgerald’s East Egg to The Big Easy works.  Though Forrest Gump’s gait was that of a racehorse, his slow storyteller’s pace was fitting for Southern Savannah. Likewise, Benjamin picked up his step once he shed his cane, but his N’awlins drawl lulls us throughout.  An as “old soul” he persuades us to patiently “sit and stay awhile.”  Both boys were loved by their mamas—strong, single women, though I preferred Benjamin’s Queenie.  Gump and Button were shoved through rites of passage–work, women, whiskey and war– by drunken, tough talking, good-hearted sea captains, Lieutenant Dan and Captain Mike.

Like Gump’s never knowing what he’ll get in a box of chocolates, Button’s mantra is, “You never know what’s coming for you.” And as with Gump, Benjamin is made richer with historical characters and allusions.  Benjamin is briefly a lover of Elizabeth Abbott (Tilda Swinton) who dictates he must never see her in the daylight.  Like Blanche DuBois, her aging beauty threatened her confidence.  Decades later Benjamin sees her on television interviewed as the first woman to swim the English Channel, validating the adage that age is just a number.  And characteristically, Benjamin smiles.  As long as it is in his power, he tenaciously and graciously survives–even thrives.  And as a bonus, like the floating feather that frames Gump, Button‘s  reccuring symbol is the small but fierce hummingbird which ties together the two main characters and the theme.

Brad Pitt delivers a more sympathetic Benjamin than Fitzgerald’s Brain Child. The audience feels sympathy for the old man in a baby’s body who is abandoned by a cowardly father.  While Fitzgerald’s protagonist is also born with the wrinkled visage of an elderly man, we first see him just after birth in the hospital nursery– in the body the size of a sixteen year old. (I have to wonder if Fitzgerald wrote this after a late night of jazz.)  Though Benjamin’s father is not much of a sympathetic character in either work, in the short story when Benjamin refuses to walk home in a blanket and sends Dad off to a department store to buy him proper clothing, I envision a Saturday Night Live‘s Best of Will Ferrell skit where a woman delivers a fully grown man who comes out swinging–sassy and grotesque.

In contrast, for most of the film, Benjamin’s mental development is in sync with his age, making him more likable than cocky.   Though precocious, young Benjamin is as endearing, optimistic, and sweet- spirited as Simon Birch.  We watch him play with his toy soldiers from his wheelchair with much the same delight we felt at seeing Tom Hanks dance on the piano in FAO Swartz.  And like the main character of Big, Benjamin falls for a woman who only briefly is “age-appropriate.”

The name of Benjamin’s love interest is changed for the movie to Daisy, an unfortunate choice since it’s the name of Gatsby’s fickle and shallow suitor. It’s a relief that Cate Blanchett’s Daisy may be a ballerina, but she’s no prima donna.  She’s as true-blue as her eyes.  Physically, she fits Fitzgerald’s description: “slender and frail” with “honey-colored hair.”  And in the movie and short story she tries to seduce Benjamin first.  In the latter Daisy boldly declares: “You’re just the romantic age…fifty… I’d rather marry a man of fifty and be taken care of than marry a man of thirty and take care of him.” (The antithesis of  Ivana Trump who said of  dating younger men:  “I’d rather be a babysitter than a nurse.”)  My favorite movie moment is the scene in the 1960s where Benjamin and Daisy take care of each other.  Obviously the time’s they are a’changin…

In the short story, Fitzgerald apologizes: “And here we come to an unpleasant subject… There was only one thing that worried Benjamin Button; his wife had ceased to attract him.”  He couldn’t have known that today 50 is the new 40 for women and men and that an AARP poll shows 34% of women over 40 are now dating younger guys.  Fitzgerald’s Benjamin finds his wife no longer pretty or interesting, “devoured already by that external inertia which comes to live with each of us one day and stays with us to the end.”  Benjamin  considers his wife simply too old–a crone at the age of thirty-five.

Thankfully in the movie, Benjamin adores Daisy—body and soul.  Defying aging himself, Pitt looks as handsome as he did in Legends of the Fall.  ( I was thrilled to see his former leading lady, Julia Ormond, also in this film.  She plays the aging Daisy’s daughter–a role similar to the granddaughter of Titanic‘s Rose.) Pitt is as beautiful in his t- shirt in Benjamin as he was in Thelma and Louise, and in one beach scene he channels Robert Redford’s Gatsby.   Through it all, Benjamin and Daisy are soulmates.  Their core–their love for each other– slips the bonds of time.  They face obstacles we can’t imagine…but I cried more because of the ones I can.

Like everyone else leaving the theater, my daughter and I didn’t speak until almost to the car.  We talked of my mom’s caring for her ninety-three year old mother.  I thought of a couple of guys for whom I have cared deeply.  Is love just a number or are some age-related differences too insurmountable to scale?  Is real love sometimes leaving someone in the flesh while still loving them in spirit from a distance?

I loved the lines: “It’s a funny thing coming home.  Nothing changes.  Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same.  You realize what has changed is you.”  I’m reminded of Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay” and left wondering which  are The Wonder Years?  I think of William Blake’s Organized Innocence and Wordsworth’s proverb, “The child is father to the man.” I appreciate that in the movie, Benjamin grew up in a retirement home (much like the one my mother worked in) where death is natural and residents realize for the sake of what really matters–relationships–we must “let things go.”  According to one of my favorite books, The Sacred Romance, God created all of us to embrace beauty, intimacy, and adventure.  Beyond that, as Daisy said, “We all end up in diapers.”  But the sweet part… we can’t wait for dessert.

Slumdogs and Soulmates

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I always enjoy hearing my friend Adam play in The Diggy Band–almost as much as I enjoy talking books and movies with him.  Last weekend when he stopped by the table on break, he gushed about Slumdog Millionaire…by saying almost nothing.  The look on his face when he asked if I had seen it… what he didn’t say, couldn’t say because he was so moved told me this must be some movie.  Truthfully, though he’s a discerning critic,  I expected him to like it.   He and his wife, Amy, had gone to India to meet their sponsored child.  Over a span of years and countless plates of The Cuisine of India’s Tiki Marsala, the three of us had discussed the country they so love.  Still,  I’d never seen Adam as awestruck as he was by this recent release.

Based on Vikas Swarup’s debut novel, Q & A, and nominated for Golden Globes for Best Picture, Best Director (Danny Boyle), and Best Screenplay/winner of Best British Independent Film and Best Newcomer (Dev Patel), it is the story of an Indian street kid arrested for cheating on India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Through his interrogation, we learn by flashbacks how he had the answers and why he wants to finish the game show despite his seeming indifference to the money.

I’ve always had a thing for gritty underdogs whether Heathcliff, Scarface, or Aladdin, so slumdogs were barking my name.

Gritty I got.  Some of the first few minutes made me consider waiting for Kim in the lobby.  I can’t stomach graphically violent torture scenes. The intensity/suspense of pending cruelty or bullying usually makes me run.  But the movie was her pick and my treat (her birthday was the next day), so I shut my eyes and hung on. I’m so glad I did.

Like a hearty Biryani, Slumdog is a rich mix of classic fare.  As Dickens’ Oliver Twist and Great Expectations condemned cruel class disparity in Victorian London,  Slumdog reveals  staggering social injustice in modern  Mumbai.  And like Oliver and Pip,  Jamal, the quietly courageous, ever determined, and longsuffering hero is a soulful survivor.   Facing the trash heaped literally and figuratively in his life–at times with a pragmatic “It is what it is” and at others with a fierce romanticism– Jamal is a foil to his brother, Salim.   On many levels Jamal and Salim parallel The Kite Runner’s Amir and Hassan, and East of Eden’s Adam and Charles Trask. And told in flashbacks, Jamal, Latika and Salim’s saga have similarities to the back-stories of Sahid and Mr. Eko of Lost.  We pull for Jamal and Latika who fall in love in childhood as we did for Pip and Estella, Cathy and Heathcliff. The prejudice of the police who are convinced a poor kid would have to cheat to succeed made me as angry as the Educational Testing Service in Stand and Deliver.  And yet in one scene there’s a dance as joyful as that of Olive and Company in Little Miss Sunshine. I can’t imagine a stronger Academy Award contender–not only because of comparisons that place it in the company of greatness, but also because of those twists and truths we don’t see coming as moviegoers and Westerners–the resolution which I won’t spoil–the homage paid to the human condition and faith.

Slumdog is brain and heart food.  Though there’s some comic relief and a storyline built around game show trivia, its issues are in no way trivial. The genius crafting of the plot is much like that of Shakespeare in Love or Life is Beautiful—truly a triumph.  More importantly,  not since Hotel Rawanda have I been so moved to do something about injustice and poverty.  When I was younger I’d ask why God allows such misery.  Now I wonder why we allow it when He has given us the means to alleviate much of it.  Watching Slumdog in the Green Hills theater—one of the most privileged parts of Nashville–I thought of the money I’d spent on the Super-Sized popcorn and Coke I couldn’t finish.  I thought of how for the second Christmas in a row I was secretly disappointed not to find a pair of Uggs  under my tree.  I thought of how much most of us are blessed, and that while the US does a lot for some third world countries, we don’t do nearly enough about worldwide poverty, child abuse, human rights.  I don’t do enough.  The movie was hard to watch because I felt overwhelmed with guilt in going about my daily routines while so many are perishing.   I again wish I could do more than just sponsor a child as I have in Brazil.  I want to meet her more now than ever.  Though my own children are almost grown, I fantasize about adopting a child to give her a better life.

I had coffee this morning with a former student.  After a mission trip in Africa last summer where she saw children dying of malaria, she plans to use her biology major for global responses to epidemics.  Maybe as a teacher I can influence more young people to consider global involvement when choosing a career.  Maybe I can get more involved politically in the belief that we’re here to make a difference…and to believe.

It was good being reminded again that faith can move mountains.  To never give up.  To concentrate on what’s good while going through what’s awful.  That love is redemptive.

Slumdogs and soul mates.  Nothing better than that.