Best Retreats 2022: Wilderness Road Experience with Author Angela Correll

All great stories start with “What if?”Author Angela Correll

After the rush of the holidays, winter is a time to slow down, to get still, to sit by a fire in a quiet place where we can listen to longings and hear our hearts speak. For many of us, this requires getting away. We need a respite to reflect, recharge, reset. And if there’s been a stirring in our souls, if we’re seeking something different, a place to consider new possibilities. A place to ask, “What if?”

In mid-December, I drove into a town that had inspired the book I was reading. It looked like the set of a Hallmark Christmas movie and the community described sounded Hallmark-close and friendly, too. I couldn’t wait to meet the author who has created a one-of-a-kind experience. I did. After the weekend I drove out of town feeling rested and inspired to take on whatever the new year brings. 

Please listen to this conversation I had with Best-selling Author Correll in this special edition of Travel People: Living Authentic Lives, Finding Kindred Spirits, Fulfilling Dreams.

In a new year when we try to focus on the positive, she inspires us to see problems as possibilities, to create something for our souls and others, to remember what matters most, and to embrace our roots and spread our wings. 

We met  in Stanford, Kentucky where she lives on a farm with her husband, Jess. The novels of her May Hollow trilogy –  Grounded, Guarded, and Granted– are based largely on life in this small town with a big heart. She and Jess are the creators of the Wilderness Road Hospitality Group that has built a stronger sense of community here. In Part 1 of the interview she explains how they went from milking goats to saving and renovating historic homes. How they built two restaurants, an Inn, and are building another. Angela talks about the importance of close community not only in Kentucky but in a Tuscan village, Montefollonico, where she and Jess have a home and are renovating rentals for retreats and vacations.

Like Annie and Jake in her trilogy, Angela and Jess have quite the love story. Their travel experiences are the stuff of fairytales, and they enjoy the best of all worlds with homes in Kentucky and Tuscany.  What I love most is that while she was still a single woman who lived in Lexington with good friends and  a job that provided amazing travel experiences, she felt a pull toward another life. She wanted to live on a farm. She knew that nature feeds her  soul. She says she knew God was turning her in a new direction, but had no idea how she’d get there. God fulfilled the desires of her heart in ways she didn’t expect.

Lisa, our mutual friend who is also a writer and Italophile, introduced us by email because she though we had a lot in common. Angela and I both went to The University of Kentucky, lived in Lexington, and lived on farms. Our grandfathers were farmers. We grew up in small Kentucky towns. For her, it was Danville. For me, Hopkinsville. She strives to write about the “good, true, and beautiful” for a mainstream audience. No matter how much we love travel and exploring other countries, we recognize our native language — SouthernSpeak.

Angela’s books have been adapted to the stage for sold-out performances at the Pioneer Playhouse, Kentucky’s oldest outdoor theater. Their themes — navigating family, romantic love, purpose and passion, our need for community— are universal. Like Thornton Wilder’s classic, Our Town or Jan Karon’s Mitford series, her books are timeless.

We’re not super easy to get to. We’re an hour south of Lexington’s small airport but we think that’s part of the charm. When you come you’re going to pull away from everything. You can let your blood pressure drop, be fully present, and receive peace. –Angela Correll

I finished Grounded while I was on her stomping ground. Spending time with her characters felt like Old Home Week (a southern church tradition of my childhood that meant dinner on the ground or potluck in the fellowship hall). I recognized some of Annie’s grandmother in both of mine – one that fried country ham, then simmered it in water to make it tender every Christmas morning. Another who watched Billy Graham specials and tucked me in under quilts.  I recognized generational struggles over the need for dishwashers, cable, and the internet. Over expressions like “You can’t expect a man to buy the cow if he is getting the milk for free.”

Her grandmother’s farmhouse with its creaking floors took me back to the homes in the country of 3 great-aunts. They, too, gathered eggs from ornery hens and didn’t lock their doors. Stripping tobacco, guns and gardens, Blue Willow China, Bluegills and the Farmers’ Almanac. “Widow Women,” “young folk,” “up North,” “down South”… all reminders of my childhood. The comfort food sent me back to Nashville on a mission to make break green beans, cook them with new potatoes, fry up some crappie, bake a chess pie, and chase it all with sweet tea. 

Her reference to Genuine Risk, the 1980 Derby winner the year I married, took me back to Lexington when I lived on a horse farm. So did this description of Wildcat Mania.

The restaurant walls were covered with black and white pictures of local celebrities. Featured prominently were the University of Kentucky basketball and football coaches, and some of the players, both past and present. Even Hollywood stars like Ashley Judd, George Clooney and Johnny Depp were proudly featured Kentuckians. The fare was fine Angus steak, grass-finished and locally grown, served in an atmosphere of dark paneled walls and white table linens.

A romantic, I cried and was satisfied at the end of her first book, but I appreciate that the story didn’t stop there. She wrote a trilogy as if to ask, “What if … a fairytale ending of boy gets girl isn’t the end of the story? Aren’t relationships more complicated?”

Career struggles, abandonment issues, financial troubles, gossips, family secrets, depression… it’s all here. But there’s something about this place that is so familiar and comforting that I listen to the Audible versions as bedtime stories. Maybe because I spent a weekend in the world of the novel where people care for each other, stop and talk on the street, remembered my name. Maybe because in a world of troubles and negativity, I need to stay grateful and focused on the positive this year.

The Stanford Inn includes the cottages but in the works are additional lodging spaces including more hotel rooms (larger than the current Inn rooms) on Main Street. 

If you need to finish an artistic project– book, painting, documentary–on your own or want the direction/support of a group, listen to Part 2 of the interview where Angela discusses her writing journey and options for retreats and creative community in Stanford and Italy.

Part 2 of Podcast Interview with Angela Correll on Writing and Writing Retreats

May Hollow Trilogy by Angela Correll in her Soaps and Such Store, Main Street, Stanford, Kentucky
Esther’s Wellhouse
Amy at Esther’s Wellhouse gave me a great massage. See her in video. She drives an hour from Lexington to work because she loves it here.
I grew up on Rutland’s Barbecue in Hopkinsville, KY. My dad brought it home from work. I’ve been partial to Western Kentucky Barbecue but this at the Bluebird Restaurant was AMAZING.
Sara, House Manager of Bluebird, who made me feel at home every time I dropped in.
Savannah was my sweet server at Bluebird. She lives in Pulaski County but drives to Stanford. Since the renovations of the Wilderness Road Group, the town has changed. She said there wasn’t much here when she was a kid, but now “everything is in Stanford.”
Sarah with Hot Cider at Kentucky Soaps and Such
The store was full of people of all ages gift shopping and catching up.
Many books by Kentucky authors (and many selections from Italy)
The weekend lives on… loved my coffee cup from this collection and the soaps at Kentucky Soaps and Such
I wrapped these soaps from Kentucky Soaps and Such and used them as decorations/gifts on my Christmas table. Inside each, I placed a question the recipient asked the other family members and answered. We all learned new things about each other.

Thank you Angela and Wilderness Road for incredible hospitality. As always, opinions on this blog are my own.

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

Classic Movie Offers Words of Comfort for a New Year

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When choosing a book or movie, I ask, “Where do I want to go?” emotionally and   physically. Films and travel memoirs have shaped my Bucket List, transported me back to places I love, and moved me–literally–to live abroad for three years. Two of my first posts on this blog were movie reviews–one on Slumdog Millionaire set in India, and the other on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button set in New Orleans. I’m preparing to return to NOLA, so I just watched the latter again.

Souls knowing no age, the only constant being change, and life’s demand that we constantly let go are truths that have always intrigued and often frustrated me. At year’s end we nostalgically look back on what has passed and hopefully or anxiously look forward at what’s to come.  The movie’s message is that because nothing is permanent on this earth, beloved relationships that last a lifetime, the ability to be grateful and present in fleeting moments, and the freedom to change our course and start anew are precious gifts.

I couldn’t believe as I watched the movie again that the words below were spoken first by Benjamin Button–a voiceover as the character traveled the world.  I’d found them on a poster somewhere online which I bought and hung in my classroom in Morocco. Two of my students, inspired, drummed and sang them to a beat. They were headed to universities in the US, Canada, and Europe, and my colleagues, international teachers, changed schools and countries every two years.

These words are what I hope for my own children, for us all in the new year. 

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From Eric Roth’s Screenplay The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Top 10 Romantic Movies for Celebrating Valentine’s Day

chocolat1-1

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.

 

Relax in Nashville Like a Local

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Before moving abroad, I lived in Nashville from 1987-2014.   This year I plan to move back to Tennessee and the place I call home.  Most tourists come to Nashville for offerings in the  downtown area –country music, sports, special events–but for lazier days wandering urban neighborhoods like-a-local is relaxing and fun.  Over Thanksgiving weekend I had an amazing meal  in  East Nashville at Lockeland Table.  I had to try their Southern Girl Cocktail.  The Tennessean shows how it’s done here.   Two other favourite places I love to roam and relax are  Hillsboro Village where I did some Christmas shopping, and 12th South where I stayed a couple of nights before returning to the Caribbean.

HILLSBORO VILLAGE

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At Pangea my daughter, Taylor, and I love to shop for clothes, purses, and other global goodies from Asia, India, and Central America.  We found unique Christmas gifts–an antique brass compass and magnifying glass, a book on Southern cocktails, a leather wristband band–and a necklace and earrings for ourselves.  Through the years I’ve loved birthday surprises from here–a book on literary lore, gift cards for vintage clothing or bedding.

And if you want to play around with a new look, stop by SEE.  Here truly all that is old is new again with retro- large- lens-a-plenty. I saw my eye doctor there and picked out new specs for a new year.

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The Belcourt in Hillsboro Village

A holiday highlight was a mother-daughter day at The Belcourt which was closed for renovation when I was home last summer.  Although I missed this old familiar face , sinking into the seats of the historical hub of independent films felt like home.  The nonprofit first opened its doors in 1925 to show silent movies on the city’s largest stage, but its vital voice in the community rallied supporters to make needed structural upgrades and add a second floor for a third screen and classroom space for educational outreach. For steering its expansion/revival Stephanie Silverman was named 2016 Nashvillian of the Year.  Last fall in addition to the beloved weekend classicsnew releases,  midnight moviesSaturday family films, and offerings by Vanderbilt University faculty, local ladies benefited from Strong Leads: A Film Seminar for High School Girls, a six-week-after-school program on films about or made by women. And speaking of strong female leads…

Fans of Camelot, Taylor and I saw Natalie Portman in Jackie.  I’ve always had a thing for the Kennedy story–probably because  I remember though only four-years-old watching As the World Turns with my mother (I named my little sister after Penny, the main character).  When Walter Cronkite interrupted the program to announce the President had been shot in Dallas, my mother called her mother.  It was the first time I saw her cry.  The film focuses on the seven days after JFK’s assassination from Jackie Kennedy’s perspective shared exclusively with  Life magazine writer Theodore H. White.

Though heavy for the holidays, we appreciated the film’s honesty.   Portman’s performance, a raw and rare portrayal of a very real wife, mother, woman, pushes past previously guarded and gilded glimpses at the most private-forced-public of First Ladies. Today a new generation reads What Would Jackie Do?   inspired by her iconic taste in apparel, home restoration, and social graces.  As with many women of her era, it wasn’t her style to take charge of her life until after Jack’s death when she became the Leading Lady of his legacy and her children’s future.  Like Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, the story of King Arthur’s Camelot from the queen’s perspective, the movie is more interesting than the original fairy tale because–like many women–Jackie helped create it to protect the ones she loved.  Intelligent writing and exquisite cinematography merge historical details documentary-style with high art. The result is gut-wrenching. Although her prominent position exacerbated her tragedy, women who have lost children or raised them alone by death, divorce, or default can relate to how alone she felt.  Taylor was impressed with Portman’s portrayal of strength and loyalty.  She observed of Jackie’s tortured and tenacious planning of the burial: “She wanted the funeral to be perfect, but funerals are really more for the living than the dead.”  Portman is expected to be nominated for an Oscar and the movie for Best Picture.  It has already won Critics’ Choice Awards for Best Actress,  Best Screenplay and Costume design, and Hollywood is still abuzz about Portman’s Jackie-like couture on the Golden Globe Red Carpet.  If you are into history or empathy, see it no matter where; but if you can catch it at The Belcourt, bonus.

Other places locals like…

Fido  coffee/cafe 

Jackson’s brunch and drinks on patio (for specials like 1/2 off bottles of wine go here)

Cabana nightlife

Pancake Pantry for those who don’t mind a line and a long wait

12TH SOUTH

Just a few streets away from Hillsboro Village is 12th Avenue South flanked by new high rise apartments, historical craftsman cottages, and locals’ long-time hangouts.

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Once upon a time this building was a cheese shop where I took Italian lessons upstairs. Today it is Five Daughters Bakery, home of the legendary cronut–a donut/croissant hybrid that takes three days to craft.  Read about the adorable family behind the business here.

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Last summer when I stayed in the 12th South area,  I couldn’t get into bartaco for dinner.  Crowds spilled out the doors and draped over the patio walls waiting for a table, so my sister, niece, daughter and their guys met there for lunch instead.  The food was fresh, the music fun, the atmosphere relaxed–much like beach bars in Samana province of The Dominican Republic where I was headed the next day.  The baja fish and sesame ribeye tacos, corn, guacamole and sangria were excellent.  My only regret is not trying the black bean salad and a mojito, but I plan to be back…

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So fun to have Andres and Emily, our “Texan tourists,”and Penny with us.

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Taylor, Ben, and me

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Borrowed from Five Daughters Bakery for Two Sisters & Two Cousins Below

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Sprinkles cupcake ATM...every neighborhood needs one.

It was nice to finally check out Draper James,  Reese Witherspoon’s place.  The southern girl is from Nashville so this one is the flagship store.

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Below is my friend, Carol’s home, where I stayed last summer and last week when in town. You can book her upstairs suite with a separate entrance on AirBnB here.  Just off 12th/ down the street from Five Daughters Bakery and Mafiaoza’s Pizzeria, it is central to all Nashville offers including her southern hospitality.  While her home is now a quiet retreat that stays booked most of the year, back- in- the- day I danced under the stars at many-a-salsa-party in her beautiful backyard.

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Separate side entrance to suite–see Air BnB link above for all photos

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A reader’s paradise above and below

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Ms. AirBnB, Carol, and our friend, Kim

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Places locals like…

Frothy Monkey–one of the coolest coffee shops in the city

12 South Taproom  A recommendation from Carol for live music and fresh oysters (on my Next Time list)

Epice–I’ve had dinner here twice and love lingering over their delicious Lebanese food at marble tables on the patio

Urban Grub–large round booth to gather friends left of bar; best grits in town; oysters and craft cocktails their superpower

Walking in Carrie Bradshaw’s Shoes: Sahara Palace Tribute

So glad I did what I’ve told my students to do every year since I first saw, then began showing to them, Dead Poets Society. This move to Morocco is about “seizing the day.”

Before moving from Nashville, I finally looked up from grading papers to see my teens standing on their desks and saluting me with an “Oh Captain, My Captain.” Teaching is fulfilling. But because, like writing, it is hard work, I have to remind myself–even here where the majestic Atlas Mountains surround me– to take a break, look up, and be thankful for unbelievable beauty.

Thus, one of my first  Must-Do-Weekends in Marrakesh was heading out with my friend, Jasna, to a destination I’d put on the Must-Do-Weekend- Fun- List months ago. Since 2010 when my girls and I went to see The Girls in Sex and the City 2 I’ve never forgotten the exotic setting of the movie.

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Seeing Abu Dhabi for real, I thought, would be one of the perks of taking the teaching offer in Dubai. But a day after I signed the Morocco contract instead, I read the movie was actually filmed at the Sahara Palace (formerly called the Taj Palace) in Marrakesh. As we headed there in a cab, we realized it’s near my school.  I asked the cab driver if it’s nice.  “It’s like heaven,” he said.

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The manager allowed us to pay to use the pool and offered me a tour of the SATC suite when I said how much I loved the movie. Though we weren’t staying there, the staff treated us like Carrie and Charlotte. From bringing me a Mai Tai Saturday while I was in the pool to serving sushi- with- a- smile that night under a full moon, they graciously and kindly responded, “As you wish,” to our every word.

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These women came in behind me and were in awe, too.

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My gracious guide who showed me panoramic views from the famous suite which rented for $5600 per night.

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Dining room where girls in Sex and the City Movie 2 ate

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Had Monet moved to Marrakesh, he’d have painted sunsets rather than haystacks.

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