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

Downton Abbey Exhibit at Biltmore

IMG_0099

Fans have until April 7, 2020 to still enjoy Downton Abbey: The Exhibition at Biltmore. Unlike Glamour on Board: Fashion from Titanic the Movie, costumes are not displayed throughout the mansion for context. The Exhibition is housed at  Amherst at Deerpark and The Biltmore Legacy at Antler Hill Village where you can enjoy a complimentary glass of wine at the estate’s winery. Entrance to the Exhibition is included with a daytime admission ticket or an overnight stay that includes daytime admission.  Allow extra time if you plan to tour the mansion, gardens, and two Downton Abbey exhibit locations.

Relive…

ICONIC SETS 

IMG_8271

IMG_8272

IMG_0117

History, Romance, Elegance

IMG_0115

IMG_0105

I’m not a romantic, but even I concede that the heart does not exist solely for the purpose to pump blood.–Dowager Countess

IMG_8280

IMG_8282

In my opinion, to misquote Doctor Johnson, if you’re tired of style, you are tired of life.
Carson, Downton Abbey, Season 3

IMG_0121

IMG_8284

IMG_8294

IMG_8293

IMG_8285

IMG_8286

IMG_0129

IMG_8306

IMG_0126

IMG_8299

Aren’t we the lucky ones to have loved.
Isobel Crawley, Downton Abbey, Season 4

IMG_8292

IMG_8291

IMG_8304

IMG_8287

IMG_8341

The Estate, Beautiful in Any Season

My son, Cole, and daughter, Taylor, had never been to Biltmore.  We were in Asheville celebrating his birthday and made a stop at the Vanderbilt home, one of my favorite US destinations, and Cole was glad we did. Here’s a few photos from our tour. See MANY MORE from my previous visit here and here.

IMG_0141

IMG_1859

IMG_8350
My favorite chimney
IMG_8318
All I need is a book.

IMG_8315

IMG_8316

IMG_8351

Biltmore His Lordship and Her Ladyship shirts
Gifts for Father’s Day and Mother’s Day
IMG_8330
LOVE these guys and the view

IMG_8325

IMG_8322

Thank you, Biltmore, for another amazing visit. As always, the opinions here are my own.

2020 Vision from Lessons Learned

Reflect, then project. For those of us who thought we’d be farther along in 2020 in some area(s) –education, career, relationships, health, finances, savings, freedom, peace–think again. Rather than be discouraged, let’s look back with gratitude at how far we’ve come! Make a list of what you did accomplish in the last decade. Identify steps you took in the direction of where you want to go and what you’ve learned along the way. Just as important as getting to destinations/ outcomes for the lives we want is moving closer to the people we want to be. 

Girls get a sports, arts, and health education at Project SOAR in Marrakesh, Morocco.
Project Soar, featured by Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn Initiative, is a Joy Zone in Marrakesh, Morocco. Volunteering there and writing their story was one of many blessings the country gave me.

What words best sum up your last ten years? For me they were change, journey, faith, and let go. Before 2010, I spent 17 years in the same house 3 streets from the school where I taught/my children attended K-12. After 2010, I fled my too-silent, empty nest; lived in 2 countries abroad; traveled to 15 more; taught at 7 schools; and became a travel blogger, writing coach, and full- time university lecturer. During this time of transition, I thank God most for relationships; for my time in Morocco; and for other travels–Christmas with my children in Marrakesh and London, New Year’s Eve in Venice, Easter from Prague to St. Petersburg, and springs and summers in Spain.

Christmas Break with Cole and Taylor in Marrakesh Medina

 

New Years Eve in Venice

 

St. Petersburg, Russia with the Model UN delegates from the American School of Marrakesh

 

Canals in Amsterdam
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

 

Cies Islands off coast of Vigo, Spain

 

Bratislava, Slovakia

 

Belgium Waffles
Brussels, Belgium
Montemartre, Paris

 

Surfer in Portugal
Miramar Beach, Portugal

Our Maker customizes journeys each of us need for seasons of life. Whether they require us to cross continents or make discoveries in our own backyard, all lead home– to the people we were uniquely created to be. God gives us the desires of our hearts when we delight in Him (Psalm 37:4) so He can fulfill them. He delights in giving us good gifts (Matthew 7:11). What dreams has He given you? In ten years, where do you want to be? What’s your word for 2020 that expresses what you most desire to be or do? Is it a noun–courage, strength, laughter, vulnerability, hope–or a verb–enjoy, explore, create, focus, dream?

I share some lessons I’ve learned/relearned/am still learning over the past decade as invitations to reflect on your own. Please share in a comment what life has been teaching you on your journeys and where you hope to still go in the new year and decade ahead. 

Lesson #1: “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”–George Addair

In January of 2014, my friend, Julie, started a blog. She was moving to Belize to dive, and posted the quote above. I knew those words were true. I’d battled Fear, Fiercest of Dragons, all my life. Studying the Enneagram over the last few years taught me that everyone does. A personality test profiling nine types according to strengths and struggles wasn’t that new. What was new was finally understanding why we are the way we are. Each number is driven by core values/desires/needs and fears. Everyone has fear, but we don’t all fear the same things nor deal with those fears in the same ways. Recognizing and appreciating our differences can help us navigate and deepen relationships. (If you haven’t taken the test, this one costs $12 and is probably the most thorough, but there are other good free ones online like this one.)

When, like heroes in books and movies, we set out on a quest, we meet Fear spitefully guarding the treasure– joy, confidence, freedom–whatever it is that we seek. Sometimes the dragon looms large before us, stradling our path with the breath of a blowtorch trying to force us back. Angst and Anxiety, fear’s more subtle forms– can be harder to identify although more people than ever say they suffer from both. Stress can also ambush us from within, threatening our mental and physical health. It can literally short-circuit our nerves, causing them to burn through our skin. This Christmas I experienced this condition for the second time — “Jingle bells, Jingle bells, SHINGLES all the way!” (I also learned that this can happen at any age. Three of my friends were diagnosed with shingles while in college.)

When anxiety gets me down, I get frustrated with myself because it seems by now I should have mastered the whole fear thing. Maybe that’s because over the last decade, I was more determined than ever to slay fear once-and-for-all. 

In 2013 I booked a bedroom in a Costa Rican jungle beach house owned by Lisa Valencia, an expat who’d left her empty nest in Montana for a more economical, adventure-filled life. Her book, like Under the Tuscan Sun and Eat, Pray, Love, inspired me to believe I could change my life, too. I’d always wanted to live abroad, and with an empty nest and bank account I was curious about a place where healthcare might actually be affordable. I’d traveled with students and done service trips in Europe and South America, but this time I’d go it alone.The trip didn’t go as planned, but it prepared me for an expat life a year later.  Steps we take in faith toward a dream can lead to unforeseen, scary territory, but rather than detours, they are necessary legs of the journey. They don’t throw us off course but help us stay the course and find the desired destination.  

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Over the years my friend Sherry, who I visited in Ecuador, and my friend Sally, a nurse who raised her family in Niger, sent me Matthew 11:28-30: Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. I wanted that.

Braving waves and living freely/lightly in Costa Rican surf

I also wanted to be the woman in Proverbs 31:25: She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.  In Morocco, like few times in my life, I fully experienced both. Moving solo to Africa sight unseen and trusting my most precious gifts–my grown children and other family members 4400 miles away– grew my faith. I had to trust God with all because (other than our choices and despite our best efforts), we humans control little. Most days, I felt my faith cutting through fear like a lightsaber. Even when blind-sighted, I was able to sing in the dark and when sad, I could find joy

Bird in Morocco
Birds abound at Marrakesh’s La Mamounia. Even when life grows dark, there’s comfort is knowing His eye is on the sparrow and me.

I thought I’d defeated fear for good. Then I moved to the Dominican Republic. I felt I was drowning in two tsunami waves–one the first month after I landed, the other the last month before I left. After moving home to Nashville, I also felt afraid. The supernatural peace I felt in Morocco couldn’t be sustained. Life is seasonal, and I realize now that this side of heaven, we will never be permanently fear-free. Just when we think we’ve beaten fear like in a video game and moved onto the next level, a stronger version of the monster appears. But with each bout we can grow stronger. Grace enables us to ride fear Queen Daenerys-style.  In darker seasons I find peace in the 365 forms of “Fear Not” in the Bible, and test my thoughts with 2 Timothy 1:7: “God doesn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.” I trust His character and protection, the One who over the last seven years sustained me through earthquake, illness, a mugging, a van accident, a hurricane, and an assault. We can’t see what lies in wait, but He can. 

Lesson #2: Each of us has a life story and gets to be the leading lady or leading man of it.

In the movie The Holiday, an elderly friend and famous Hollywood producer, Arthur Abbott (Eli Wallach), advises Iris (Kate Winslet) to let go of a man who doesn’t love or respect her. 

Arthur: So, he’s a schmuck.

Iris: As a matter of fact, he is…a huge schmuck. How did you know?

Arthur: He let you go. This is not a hard one to figure out. Iris, in the movies we have leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason you are behaving like the best friend.

Iris: You’re so right. You’re supposed to be the leading lady of your own life…Arthur, I’ve been going to a therapist for three years, and she’s never explained anything to me that well. 

Palais Namaskar in Marrakesh, Morocco makes walking in one’s own story feel epic.

We are free to live our own story– to choose where to live and how to serve others with the gifts God gives us. I’d taught Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey for years, but it wasn’t until teaching Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist while in Marrakesh that I recognized each stage in my own journey. Like heroes in books– Ulysses, Frodo, Luke Skywalker, Mulan–we real folk are sometimes called to adventures that require us to leave everything familiar. Unchartered territory is daunting and can cause us to refuse the call. Coelho, in his introduction to the 10th Anniversary Edition, gives four reasons why: 1) We’re told since kids what we want is impossible. 2) We fear the defeats we’ll experience on the path. 3) We fear success. 4) Love–for me, the obstacle. 

Coelho explains: “We know what we want to do, but are afraid of hurting those around us by abandoning everything in order to pursue our dream. We do not realize that love is just a further impetus, not something that will prevent us going forward. We do not realize that those who genuinely wish us well want us to be happy and are prepared to accompany us on that journey.” I am forever grateful to my daughter and son who supported me 100% when I told them I wanted to apply for teaching jobs abroad, my sister and brother-in-law who gave me a sendoff party with family and friends, and my Mom who kept in constant touch the three years I was gone.

When moving abroad we cross the threshold into a new world with the help of mentors–those like my friend, Dana, who’d taught in Casablanca and blazed the trail before me. On the path we meet allies and traveling companions. And ordeals. (See Lesson #1.) But if we stay the course, we find our treasure–an elixir–that transforms us, and we return to share what we’ve learned with others, inspiring them to follow their dreams, too. Coelho said, “People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.” I’m a romantic but know realistically that finances, family responsibilities, and illnesses can put dreams on hold. Some of my coworkers in Morocco raised their kids, then began international teaching as their second act. Others chose to raise their children in international schools where they taught abroad. Travel blogger friends now work their way around the globe as digital nomads; others use Trusted HouseSitters and Mind My House to country-hop. The world brims with possibilities to live the lives we want.

Lesson #3: Let go.

One of my greatest struggles has been with the empty nest. Moving abroad forced me to create a new normal so I could outrun it for awhile. School breaks–that Christmas in London and summers at home–we spent quality, intentional time together. I wasn’t prepared for the delayed pain that hit full force when I returned to Nashville–the place we’d lived together.  Releasing my children was HUGE because, as a mom, I’m a Stage 5 Clinger as much as a Gypsy Soul. The last decade I’ve also learned/am learning to let go of…

  • Expectations of how life and people “should” be. Plans are great, but life can derail them. How we react is the only thing we can control. Decades earlier, divorce made me let go of my idea of a “perfect family.” For years I feared my children and I weren’t just on Plan B but benched for life as the B Team. We realize now how close we became as the 3 Musketeers. I’m also learning that basing our happiness on how others act and react is a setup for frustration and disappointment. We can know our limits, respect other people’s boundaries/choices, and choose with whom to be in relationship and to what extent. 
  • Judgement–Travel teaches us flexibility. Living cross-culturally makes us let go of rigid constructs of what life should or should not be. I’ve taught behind what some, sadly, would call in my polarized home country ‘enemy lines.’ Working over the last decade with colleagues, students, and families in a Bible Belt Christian high school and university, a Caribbean Catholic high school, an international high school with coworkers from 20-something countries and students who were mostly Muslims,  a liberal public high school, and a public community college and university has taught me one thing. Our same Maker creates us more alike than different. Regardless of where we live on the map, most people love their families, value faith, and want to live happy and free.  
Ladies I met in Vilnius, Lithuania on my Birthday in 2015

 

Players in Prague
Children at Cologne, Germany Christmas Markets
Russian Performer in St. Petersburg
Ladies and children in Chefchaouen, Morocco
Sledding in the Atlas Mountains an hour from Marrakesh, Morocco

Learning to play basketball at Project SOAR
Watching Die Hard3 in El Fna Square at Marrakesh Film Festival
  • Material things–Downsizing the amount of “stuff” in our lives clears space for what we really want. Living out of 4 suitcases for three years taught me how much I really need. I like Thoreau’s approach to minimalism and simplicity: The cost of a thing is how much of life I’ll be required to exchange for it– now or in the future. 
  • People–Family is forever but time spent with friends can be seasonal. This is especially true in the expat community where friends bind fast and furious. International teachers by nature want to see the world, so after serving a two-year contract, many move on. Likewise, while expats are abroad, friends at home are also transitioning through new seasons. Priorities, addresses, interests change. Thankfully technology can keep us in touch, and I was able to reconnect with these friends when I returned to Morocco Summer 2018.
  • Old Stories–Some old stories–the ones we laugh about– keep us connected, and some connect us in shared pain. However, some stories we tell ourselves or others tell about us are unhealthy. They block us from moving forward. People can victimize us, but unless we are physically restrained, we can break free. Once we do, internalizing what the perpetrator did still holds us hostage.
  • Assumptions–We all have bad days or seasons when we speak or act from a place of pain. As discussed in the The Four Agreements, our lives are happier when we only believe what we know to be true and refuse to take things personally.  
  • Perfectionism–Though some life experiences follow the journey model, most are not linear. They spiral. We find ourselves confronting over and over our most challenging issues, and sadly, we still sometimes fail. Growth is learning from past mistakes, knowing our triggers, and adding to our skill set so we can better handle adversity. When we do mess up, we can make amends and treat ourselves with the kindness and patience we extend to others.  We can lean on God and give ourselves what we need when depleted– H.A.L.T. when feeling hungry, angry, lonely or tired–rather than demand others fill these needs.

Lesson #4: Embrace.

Once we’ve let go of what we don’t need in our lives, we have free hands to hang onto what we do. Hang onto…

  • Beauty breaks for the soul. Most of the women I know live with passion and purpose. They are what southerners call steel magnolias–curious, creative, courageous. They contribute and grow. I know, too, they often feel overwhelmed. Exhausted. Stretched to the limit. Whether in our backyard or on an extended getaway, we need time to listen to our hearts–to explore, breathe, just BE. Self-care was foreign to me until I became a single mom with two young children. Wise women advised me to take timeouts–to put on my own oxygen mask– when my son and daughter were away. The solo travel and moves abroad I did in the last decade wouldn’t have happened had I not learned how to make the most of time alone decades prior.  I started with baby steps– lunch out with a book on a pretty patio, exploring a museum, or seeing a film in the theater alone. In the 2000s those moves became strides–an annual overnight stay at a B and B, learning Latin dance, leading students and volunteering on trips abroad.  Beauty and adventure infused me with superpowers I needed as a mom, teacher, and creative. All of those mile markers moved me to Morocco. Wandering and dwelling in beauty creates calm. So do centering practices like yoga, meditation, prayer. 
  • Creative Community. Spend time with people who inspire you to do what you were put here to do and realize fully who you were created to be. Releasing a book or album or any other project creatives feel called to do can be a long, lonely process without traveling companions to remind us of our mission and cheer us back to the path when we lose our way. Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way and in The War of Art advised well— stay away from chaos and  ‘crazy makers’ who distract us from our work. 
  • Curiosity. T. H. White in his The Once and Future King, a retelling of the King Arthur Legend through the lens of WW2, explains the gift of education. In it, Merlin tells young Arthur: “The best thing for being sad is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old … you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting… Look what a lot of things there are to learn.” Online courses, podcasts, and audio books make learning-on-the-go possible. Exploring new territory, like Josephine Baker’s Moroccan home, taught me about a woman who is now my hero. 
  • Your True Identity/Value. My friend-since-I-was-five Sally, created a jewelry line based on photos of my adventures. She knew me when high school dances ended with Chicago’s “Color My World,” and we prayed that one day someone would be our happily-ever-after. After both of our marriages ended, we saw God make mosaics from the shards of our lives. An Italian friend told me once I was meant for a grande amore. We all are. God calls us to a love story–one with Him full of adventure. The jewelry line she created is called Chérie, which in French, the language of Africa, means “cherished by God.” Thanks to Sally, women can wear the lessons I learned on my journey–Choose Adventure, Walk in Faith, Seek and Find, Follow Your Heart– and feel connected to a global, cross-generational sisterhood of seekers. See the line here.
Cherie jewelry line
Cherie line on Etsy

Lesson #5 Expecting the unexpected, enjoy the moment. Our health and that of our loved ones is not a default blessing. Without health, our dreams— like travel— can die. Take your shot when you have it. For many of us, that’s between when kids leave the nest and parents need our help. Most things cost more than the price tag, but experiences, unlike things we eventually Goodwill, we take to the grave and are priceless. And that old adage—“You find love when you aren’t looking”— for me proved to be true. I am thankful someone I hadn’t laid eyes on in over 30 years found me, has made me laugh like no other, and also values roots and wings. 

Fort Meyers Beach January 2020

For 7 More Life Lessons Realized in Venice, go here.

Share on Pinterest:

Life Lessons for 2020

How to Spend a Chill Weekend in NYC: Soho, Greenwich Village, Chelsea

On three layovers and six proper stays in NYC, I’ve marched in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, herded students from Central Park to the Statue of Liberty, had tea at The Plaza, took an elevator to the top of the Twin Towers, volunteered after 9/11, celebrated my sis’s birthday in Times Square, found writing mojo at the Creativity Workshop,  introduced Manhattan to my daughter when our connecting flight was cancelled, and  dashed in an Uber to Queens’ Don Peppe restaurant on a long wait for a connecting flight.

Whether I have just a New York minute or several days, the island’s eclectic energy always recharges me. I love the city for its icons, like the Empire State Building and Broadway, and for its diversity. I love traveling in Europe, Africa, Central America, South America and the Caribbean, but when I don’t have the money or time to go abroad, a quick trip to the Big Apple IS a global getaway. 

“I love New York because within its borders you can travel the world.” —Dennis Gonzalez

This fall I experienced NYC in a way I’ve wanted to for years–a stay in the Soho area to relax like a local. I met my friend, Kate, who’d flown in from Morocco. Unlike our previous annual reunions since I moved home from Marrakesh, this one was short– only 48 hours-– so our agenda was no agenda, my favorite way to catch up with old friends.

We sauntered, savored, and (as Kate calls it in her Australian accent) popped into boutiques to “have a snoop.” We enjoyed slow travel and serendipity in a town that never sleeps and found, truly, that less is more. Here’s how we kept it simple and you can, too.

STAY LOCAL

We decided to venture no farther than Chelsea.  (Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment–should you want to stalk the fictional character on Sex and the City and her girls as I’ve done for years— is  at 66 Perry Street between Bleecker and West 4th.) Kate enjoyed scouting the neighborhood while staying in this Airbnb before I arrived. She then joined me at an apartment in Nolita, “North of Little Italy,” owned by my friend and former student, a graduate of NYU who became a resident.  As she headed out of town, Cayce  graciously handed over her keys to her fabulous studio apartment with a list of what to do and where to eat in the area. Laughing, she wished us luck with the crowds at the Feast of San Gennaro just around the corner in Little Italy and gave us alternatives if we wanted to avoid Mulberry Street and the line at Prince Street Pizza. She also pointed us to places to roam and dream… McNally Jackson , Sezanne, and Elizabeth Street Garden. Local hosts are the best! 

*If you are into annual celebrations where locals and tourists converge, you can plan your trip around this list and find an Airbnb rental nearby. 

SAVOR GLOBAL

Cayce’s list included La Mercerie for French cuisine, Baz Bakery, run by a local Italian/Jewish family, Osteria Morini,  Rubirosa, Aunt Jake’s  Pepe’s Cellar (Italian) and YN Bar (Italian-influenced); La Esquina (Mexican), and Sel Rose (beautiful oyster bar in the tradition of artist salons in early 20th century Paris) for drinks. She also suggested Two Hands, a local favorite for coffee.

Friday night we did join the celebration on Mulberry Street at the Feast of San Gennaro, but as warned, by Saturday we were ready to escape the crowd for a more relaxing Italian dinner. We found it on Mott Street at  Pepe Rosso Social.

IMG_1317.jpg
Good food, gorgeous ceilings, and chill atmosphere at Pepe Rosso in Nolita, NYC.

Discovering two hubs of Spanish food —one like Madrid’s food halls and the other an intimate family-owned restaurant–was a treat. We exited the High Line (see below) at Hudson Yards and checked out Mercado Little Spain, which The New York Times raves “offers more delicious things to eat per square foot than anywhere else in New York.” Chef José Andrés, named twice on their “100 Most Influential People” list and awarded “Outstanding Chef” and “Humanitarian of the Year” by the James Beard Foundation, has created a delicious gathering space. Inside the connecting mall are cellphone lockers for recharging while you eat or shop.

IMG_1309

IMG_1310

IMG_1311

Serendipity led me to another Spanish haven when I had only an hour before heading to the airport. While Kate packed, I decided to enjoy music at the Italian Fest one last time and hopefully find an Aperol Spritz  as delicious as the Spritz Veneziano I’d had New Year’s Eve in Venice . Instead a discovery transported me to another one of my favorite places on earth, Galicia, Spain—  seafood capital of the world, final destination of  pilgrims on the  the Camino de Santiago  , and home of my friend, Moni.  My only regret of discovering  Tomino Taberna Gallega,  owned by a family from that region, was that I had no time or room left after brunch (see below) for their Pulpo á Feira (Galician-style octopus ), my very favorite dish on earth. I did enjoy their sangria and tapas and hope to try their octopus on a future trip one day.

IMG_1387
Spanish restaurant located on Grand Street between Mulberry and Mott

IMG_1383 (1)
CROQUETAS: Jamón y tomate asado (serrano ham & roasted tomato) and Marisco y alioli rosa (seafood & aioli)

IMG_1378
Stepping inside Tomino transported me back to Spain.

LINGER OVER SUNDAY BRUNCH

Silverware clanging in the kitchen, mahogany floors creaking as waiters weave around guests, coffee gurgling from silver pots into china cups, crystal mimosa glasses toasting to jazz, sunlight streaming through the windows, friends laughing. Sunday Brunch is my favorite meal out, especially in NYC.

Lured by the menu we walked a  few blocks to Lafayette , a French grand café and bakery in NoHo.

IMG_1334

IMG_8018

IMG_1338

IMG_8009

IMG_8006

IMG_8004

It was hard choosing between craft cocktails, cheese plates, oysters, and omelets. We decided on the Nicoise salad with rare tuna, anchovies, and eggs so we wouldn’t feel so guilty about also ordering the Bananas Foster French Toast with Vanilla Ice Cream, Rum, Caramel, and Almonds. About that dessert…no words.

IMG_1339

IMG_1188

We had a coffee at Balthazar, a beloved French cafe in Soho just to see the gorgeous interior. I found more delicious, diverse options for brunch, like Cafe Clover   in the East Village and The Butcher’s Daughter in Nolita for vegans like my son.  In the West Village, Seinfeld fans can eat at legendary Katz Delicatessen, loved long by locals and featured by Anthony Bourdain.

I saved Shoo Shoo , an Israeli restaurant in Nolita serving Mediterranean cuisine on a gorgeous marble bar and tables on the terrace, for a return visit. I hope to try their Octopus Alla Plancha (grilled on a metal plate like I had enjoyed here) and Moroccan Cigars, beef and lamb with dry mint and pine nuts served on grated tomatoes, tahini, and tatbila sauce someday. 

STROLL 

Ok, locals we saw Saturday along the Hudson River on our way to the The High Line, a 1.45 mile greenway built along a former New York Central Railroad train track , were sprinting –not strolling. Guess this  explains how they stay fit despite Sunday brunches and amazing food available everyday, everywhere in Lower Manhattan. Getting there was a hike, but we took our time through the Village and Chelsea, stopping in boutiques and at farmers’ markets along the way. 

IMG_1296

IMG_7967

Our favorite find was NOMA Boutique Paris at 321 1/2 Bleecker Street, home of handmade French and Italian shoes. We enjoyed meeting owner Jean-Christophe Grand and hearing the story of his bringing Paris to the West Village.


IMG_1314
Flea Market Finds

Screen Shot 2019-11-19 at 11.20.31 PM
Hare Krishna in Washington Square

Atop the High Line, the pace slowed even more. We passed weekend readers and nappers on loungers as we photographed our way to Hudson Yards

IMG_7990

IMG_7988

IMG_7970

IMG_7972

IMG_7973

IMG_7975

IMG_7993

IMG_7982

IMG_1330
Saturday stroll from Nolita to Hudson Yards and back

Sunday after brunch we did more of the same, wandering down shady streets… stopping by Li-Lac Chocolates, NYC’s finest since 1923, where I won their monthly box of chocolates giveaway…and enjoying a very cherished,  almost-secret garden.

Beautiful and Peaceful Elizabeth Street Garden

On another visit I hope to get to this Soho art gallery where Charlotte on Sex and the City worked. What else did I miss? I’d love to hear your favorite places and experiences in Lower Manhattan or any other area that’s a must-stay, savor, and stroll. 

 

 

Moonstruck over New York’s Feast of San Gennaro

Months ago when my friend Kate asked me to meet her in New York City, neither of us had any idea we’d be there for the Feast of San Gennaro. Nor when another friend offered her apartment to us in Soho did we know we’d be staying one street from the celebration. Lasting eleven days, the moveable feast of food, music, and family fun continues this weekend…see details here .   If you aren’t in town, make plans to join the event honoring the patron saint of Naples next year.  As one who has always loved Italian people and culture, I was in heaven… and when a harvest moon shone over my rooftop, I felt like Cher in one of my favorite movies, Moonstruck.

IMG_1183

IMG_1268

IMG_1259

IMG_1223

IMG_1181

IMG_1268

IMG_1183

IMG_1198

IMG_1179

IMG_7930

IMG_7939

IMG_7931

IMG_7935

IMG_7941

IMG_1215

IMG_1202

IMG_1227

IMG_1229

IMG_1228

IMG_1242

IMG_7936

IMG_7937

IMG_1219

IMG_1214

IMG_7950

IMG_1252

Nashville Escapes: The Westin Rhapsody Spa and Rooftop Sunsets

6B360D8C-7763-4AF2-AC6B-D0B96B1ED1B8

While living in Morocco I wrote about beauty breaks for the soul—beautiful places and experiences that calm the nerves and stimulate the senses. In Marrakesh when we tired of dodging scooters, taxis, and donkey carts, we escaped into regal riads, palatial pools, and spas as sanctuaries. We watched sunsets from rooftops high above the fray. Nashville can be crowded and crazy, too, these days, so finding a place to rest and relax alone or with friends here is truly a treasure.

Recently I was invited to try a new service at the Westin’s Rhapsody Spa, a CBD massage with eight herbs and pure Himalayan salt stones. Benefits include rejuvenation by reducing muscle soreness and nerve inflammation. From sweating in the sauna to melting into the table to sipping Prosecco in the relaxation room, I savored a perfect afternoon. There and at my next stop, the rooftop, I met people who take pride in what they do. Superior service–making guests feel welcome—truly makes The Westin special.

Bonus was discovering a hotel with design architectural features that remind me of some of my favorite respites in Morocco. On the rooftop at the L27 Lounge (check schedule for live music) I enjoyed a  quiet afternoon with a cheese plate and returned on the weekend to toast a summer sunset over cocktails with friends.  

IMG_7461

IMG_7463
Signature Nashville– belt buckles fashioned into a chandelier

IMG_7459

IMG_7460

IMG_7467

IMG_7465

IMG_7470

IMG_7493

IMG_0244 (1)

bnawi-rhapsody-spa-3566-hor-wide
Photo credit: Westin Hotel

bnawi-rhapsody-spa-3568-hor-wide
Photo Credit: Westin Hotel

IMG_0266

IMG_0280

IMG_0294
View off the elevator

IMG_7472
L27 Lounge

IMG_7474

IMG_7475

IMG_7473

IMG_7485
Cabanas, surrounding the Infinity pool, are great for a group.

IMG_0290
Kenny’s Norwood, Awe Brie, Sequatchie Coppinger–local cheese plate

IMG_7480
Details make the difference.

IMG_7484

IMG_7477
People like Allison (here), Shannon, L27 hostess, and the Rhapsody Spa staff offer superb service.

IMG_0414
Craft cocktail experts, creative and fun, offer signature drinks, like their Gin and Tonic with Fresh Botanicals (here), Hemingway’s Legacy (rum, Prosecco, lemon juice and cherry liqueur), Steeplechase Julep, Summer Sidecar, and Spicy Paloma.

Version 2

IMG_0421

The Cayman Islands, Argentina, and Nashville Meet at the Victory Cup Polo Tour

Once upon a time, I lived on a  thoroughbred farm in Lexington, Kentucky, where I saw foals born and horse sales break records at Keeneland. Not so long ago, before moving back to Nashville, I had a farewell brunch with friends at The Selman in Marrakesh, Morocco where Arabian horses danced for us and were featured in the movie, Queen of the Desert. Last weekend I enjoyed horse-watching again, this time on a field in Tennessee.

The Victory Cup, one of the largest equestrian events in the US (over 75,000 attendees in 2018) and celebrating its 15th year, came to Nashville on a twelve-city tour. If you missed the event here, check out their schedule which includes cities in New York and Connecticut this summer, Charleston, South Carolina and Houston, Texas this fall.
The private, for-profit event features hot air balloons, polo, food, fashion and family fun. The Victory Cup chose as their 2019 Charity Partner Purple Heart Homes , an organization benefiting disabled veterans.

Panoram Imports , passionate about their Argentinian meats and wines catered an authentic asado served to guests in the VIP Golden Mallet and Founder’s Lounge. Sponsors  of the event include The Cayman Islands, Whispering Angel from Chateau d’Esclans in Provence,  and Vineyard Vines clothing.

Victory Cup in Nashville

Polo Match at Victory Cup Nashville

Polo Player at Victory Cup

Polo players from Cayman Islands at Victory Cup

Polo Players from Cayman Islands Team Victory Cup Nashville

mother and daughter at Victory Cup Nashville

Women having drinks at Victory Cup Nashville

Family at Victory Cup Nashville

Lady and children at Victory Cup Polo Match Nashville

Food served at Victory Cup Nashville

The Victory Cup

Colombian ladies providing food at Victory Cup Nashville

Lady with Dalmation puppy at Victory Cup Nashville

Dalmation puppies at Victory Cup Nashville

goats at victory cup nashville

IMG_7511 (1).jpg
Premiere Transportation invited guests to  climb aboard and gather a gang. They offer day trips which include Tennessee wine and whiskey tours, The Kentucky Derby, Keeneland, sports events, and Dollywood.

April Richards in Premier Transportation RV at Victory Cup
My friend, April, was first on the bus ready to ride.

IMG_7515

People searching for Vineyard Vines hidden diamond ring at Victory Cup
A search for a $10,000 ring donated and hidden on the field–Vineyard Vines hats required

Best Dressed people at Victory Cup polo match

Polocrosse at Victory Cup
Bonus was a game of polocrosse, a combination of polo and lacrosse.

Polo players at Victory Cup

IMG_7559

Hot Air Balloon at Victory Cup Nashville

Tennessee Renaissance Festival a Lifelong Quest

CastleGwynn_FullMoon
Photo courtesy of Tennessee Renaissance Festival

Once upon a time… before watching Game of Thrones or touring castles in Europe… I taught my  children and literature students tales of fairies, dragons, and knights. That chivalry must never die and dreams do come true. 

IMG_7412

IMG_7438
Love of history, fantasy and escape is alive and well at the Tennessee Renaissance Fest. Here you can feast on turkey legs like a king, see fairy houses, or hunt for dragons’ eggs.

We’d then travel to The Tennessee Renaissance Festival to wander Covington Glen, a 16th Century village located outside of Nashville.

IMG_7442

There I tried to teach my son and daughter archery as my dad had tried to teach me. I still remember the archery tournament in Kentucky where he’d won the “Robin’s Hood Award” for hitting the bull’s eye with his first arrow, then splitting that arrow with his second shot. He wanted me to compete in contests, too. No pressure. 🙂

IMG_7449

Two decades later… a couple of weeks ago my daughter chose to celebrate her birthday at the Fest where we watched jousting and my son handed me a bow and quiver of arrows to see if I could still hit a target. Last weekend I returned to finally meet the man who created the beloved tradition that throngs of folks enjoy–many in costume–yearly. 

joustingPass
Photo courtesy of Tennessee Renaissance Festival

IMG_7400
Fans dressed as mythical creatures line up at Tennessee Renaissance Fest

IMG_0125
Great Family Fun at Tennessee Renaissance Festival

Renaissance Festival
Fest Fans

IMG_7448

IMG_7453

IMG_7452
Outlander fans will feel at home at the Tennessee Renaissance Festival, too.

majesticCastleGwynn
Photo courtesy of Tennessee Renaissance Festival

 

 

 

 

 

Mike Freeman greets guests outside Castle Gwynn, located on forty acres he bought in 1976 near Triune. Friendly, fun, and sincere, he tells the inspiring story of a lifelong quest:

The first two most commonly asked questions are, ‘Do you live here?’ Yes I do. For the last 31 years I’ve lived here with my wife, Maggie, and our 2 dogs. The 2nd most commonly asked question is, ‘When are you going to get it finished?’ The answer: ‘When one of you wins the lottery, please remember me!’ I’ve been doing that for the last 34 years. It hasn’t worked yet. (laughs)

In 1970 I was a senior in high school who drew my dream house, a castle, in architecture class. Being a poor boy from Flat Rock, the only way I could do it was to build it myself. I am proud to say I built something from scratch, which means I started with zero. I did have a lucky break. By chance I got into photography my senior year of high school. My next door neighbor had been in Viet Nam and won a camera in a poker game and had forgotten how to work it. The deal was to learn how and teach him.

He did, and by graduation of his senior year, he photographed senior prom. Next he worked for a photography studio that needed 13 high school composite shots done in a month.

I got it done for them, and it only took me only 360 hours—90 hours a week. I used to think that was a lot of hours until I went into business for myself. (laughs) It you are willing to work 12-18 hour days, I guarantee that you can do absolutely anything in the world if you want to bad enough. I proved that, but to say I did this all by myself would be a gross exaggeration. I had a whole lot of help from a whole lot of people to make this dream possible including yourselves for coming out to the festival this year.

IMG_7416
The color of Castle Gwynn, Welsh for “White Tower,” is typical of medieval castles. Anyone trying to scale these fortresses would have been seen in the dark.

He gives credit to his wife, Jackie Harmon, who he married in 1988, the first wedding held at Castle Gwynn; to his parents, and to a master mason and his four sons who worked with him weekends for almost two years laying the brickwork in the kitchen. They started with 8 brick arches, but by the time they finished, they had 60 of them. 14,000 bricks Hosting four weddings helped with the cost. For the full story and credits of building the castle, go here.

 

 

 

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I asked Mike what inspired a high school senior to want to build a castle. He said when he was five, his father returned from WW2 with a book of postcards of castles along the Rhine River. I asked if any movies or books were influential, and he immediately said Charlton Heston’s The War Lord, a 1965 film about Medieval warfare in 11th century Normandy. His interest in history and sense of humor can be seen throughout the property.

IMG_7423

IMG_7419

IMG_7420

IMG_7421
My favorite hero is in the top left corner.

No costume? No worries! But if you want one… there are many on site.

IMG_7454

IMG_7431

IMG_7434

 

 

 

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I confess I returned, too, to stop by the Lady Smith Jewelry booth to look again at her cameo mermaids and sterling silver Celtic pieces.

IMG_0120

IMG_7439

The Fest runs yearly every weekend of May through Memorial Day. Check schedule for jousting, shows, and castle tours. Vendors for food, beverages, rides and games accept cash only though the admission gate and some vendors accept credit cards. Other Rules of the Realm are here. Stop by, sit a spell, and enjoy the magic.

IMG_7443

IMG_7445

IMG_7455

IMG_7446

IMG_7447
For a magical perspective, stop by the Tennessee Renaissance Festival.

 

 

Women’s History Month Celebration at Le Skewer

53008469_2496029900410616_3159183612847325184_o

Saturday, March 16 from 6-8 PM, Le Skewer in Brentwood is hosting a Women’s History Month event: “Celebration of Spirit.” I’m so honored to be part of the special program organized by Pablo Garzon who will provide music with his Serenatta Romantic Latin Ensemble. I’ve been a fan since interviewing Pablo for HispanicNashville.com years ago and appreciate the effort he and Le Skewer owner Ghada Fawaz  have put into the planning which includes a special menu prepared by Chef William Zaitz.  

Jill Melton, founder and editor of Edible Nashville, a magazine telling the story behind Music City’s local food movement and green living and Viki Mammina, local artist who will display her work and unveil a special painting for the occasion, will speak about their journeys as women of passion and purpose. I will share from my adventures of living two years in Morocco where I encountered amazing women from the past, present, and future, such as Josephine Baker and the precious girls of Project SOAR.

Ghada wants this night to be about women recognizing their strength. Recently I stopped by Le Skewer to talk with her over the most delicious, relaxing lunch. The sea-blue hues, Spanish guitar, and comfortable conversation made me feel I was in a cafe on the Mediterranean again. It seemed I’d known Ghada forever, probably because parts of our paths have been similar.  For a long time she was a single mom, too. We credit our faith for surviving and thriving. We both tried to raise strong girls. And when we were girls–her in Beirut, Lebanon and me in my hometown in Kentucky–we loved to watch General Hospital

Ghada (1)
Girl Power (Photo courtesy of Ghada Fawaz)

Ghada says she’d always dreamed of having a place of her own. Like a lot of women, she had to wait until her children were older to pursue it. She is the only daughter in a family of three brothers and says her father wore the same five suits ten years to give his kids a good education. She learned to cook by watching her mom whose recipes are the foundation of dishes served at Epice and Kalamata’s restaurants owned by her brother.

She says it is her husband, Executive Chef of 35 years, Will Zaitz, who helped her understand food–how to combine flavors. She assists him in bringing Middle Eastern flavors to their fresh cuisine. She says, “He is part of my success and I appreciate it.”

She started her restaurant in 2008 during the recession and says with all the recent change– construction of new eateries and so many choices–it’s hard in her industry to keep up.  But as you’ll hear below, she’d determined to do just that–to make Le Skewer a destination–and, no doubt, she’s doing it. Listen below to Ghada’s story in her own words…

Creativity, courage, and strength to move forward in changing, challenging times will be themes Saturday night.

Trial and error…I watched…I learned…I became a creator of my own things…I love it.–Ghada 

Join us Saturday at Le Skewer at 330 Franklin Rd #904d, Brentwood, Tennessee 37027.