Tag Archives: #expatlife

That Comfy Feeling

JoJo and I are still in Zurich and will – if all goes well – make this our long-term home base. At the moment, I’m dealing with a lot of bureaucracy and it is as of yet unsure if I’ll be allowed to remain in the country. All will depend on me finding a job, which – so far – is proving as much of a challenge as it was in France. However, I am confident that with every week I’ll get a little closer to a solution. And, hopefully, at one point soon, I’ll be delighted to hear someone say, “We’re interested in offering you a position.” Keep fingers crossed.

Other than working on applications, I have started studying remotely at university which brings me a lot of joy. I love learning new things. I am also still with one foot – or rather one ear – in Montpellier to keep studying Le Francais.

One thing that is wonderful about returning to Zurich is that it has helped me to bring things into perspective. It used to be my home. A place I felt comfortable in and always loved returning to. Then, a few years ago when I moved back for three years with my ex-partner, I didn’t feel comfortable anymore. I just wanted to get away. What I have come to realize now is that it wasn’t Zurich that bothered me. I was under a lot of pressure at the time, financially and emotionally, and somehow (to protect myself and my partner and to be able to go on) I had shifted all the blame to Zurich. Projected all that was weighing heavily on my shoulders to a place, rather than searching for the root cause.

Now that I am back, with the wisdom of hindsight, I understand that Zurich was never the problem. My life had just been difficult back then and the pressure I had been under had been too intense.

This is something I’ll need to remember. Major note to self: If I ever begin complaining too intensely about a place again, I’ll need to stop and ask myself the question: “Ok Liam, what is wrong in your life? What do you need to resolve?”

So, hello Zurich. Third time is the charm, they say. I still don’t like everything about you, but no place is ever entirely perfect. What is important is that I have that comfy feeling again, as if I have just found an old pair of shoes in a long-forgotten suitcase. And I’m slipping into those shoes ever so easy, wiggling my toes, feeling good, simply thinking “ahhhhhhh.”

Bonjour Zurich… a New Chapter Begins

In German, we have the word “Kopfkino”, which directly translated means “Head-Cinema”. And, admittedly, I had a lot of that before going back on the road. What if the cat won’t get over the border? What if I didn’t think of all the papers he needs? What if I won’t get over the border? What if strange, expat Germans are not welcome right now in Switzerland with all that is going on? What if JoJo and I will get separated? What if the roads in the mountains will be blocked by snow? etc.

I often take great risks and follow my instincts. Because of that, many people may think I am not aware of the risks. What they might not realize is I that worry a lot, I reflect a lot, and my mind is conjuring up more risks than actually exist. Every time. I am always nervous before making another bold move, always scared before beginning a new chapter. But, if my heart tells me it is the right path to take, then I’ll take it anyways. Every time. Hands shaking as I go. Most likely with a plan B, C, D, and E already brewing in my mind, in case disaster strikes.

This time, yet again, my “Kopfkino” was far worse than reality. My lovely, old, feline partner JoJo and I rented a car and embarked on a 9-hour roadtrip from Montpellier to Pontarlier. I set the GPS to “avoid all toll roads” which added 4 extra hours to our travel time. But it was so much more picturesque and relaxing. All went smoothly and JoJo, who had most likely never traveled in a car before, was surprisingly calm. He was curled up on the passenger seat for almost the entire trip. He watched my every move and head-bumped my right hand or shoulder for cuddles every now and then.

After Lyon, the landscape got ever more diverse. Soon, little sprinkles of snow could be seen as well, covering the landscape like a thin frosting on a rather large cake. It is beautiful how defined all lines in a landscape become when snow highlights all shapes and edges.

The closer we got to Pontarlier, the more JoJo and I entered into a winter wonderland. By that time, he was fast asleep and didn’t react to my continuous exclamations of “Uuuhhhh”, “Ahhhhh”, and “Wake up JoJo, you have to look at all this snow!”

We returned the car in Pontarlier, where two Swiss friends picked us up in their car. As we drove towards the border, I thought, “This is it. I hope we won’t get stopped.” We didn’t get stopped. In fact, both the French and Swiss border stations were closed and we just drove on through with no one bothering us at all. Et voilà, from one moment to the next my French street cat turned into a Swiss cat.

We spent the night in a romantic old farmhouse in the mountains. I was spoiled with cheese fondue and the good company of fabulous friends. JoJo was spoiled with tiny morsels of pâte. He was also very excited by the sound of little mouse feet within the walls of the ancient building. Overall, I was in awe of how Zen old JoJo was. When he wasn’t running after potential mice, he just looked at me with big eyes and purred.

Now we are back in Zurich. We have covered a distance – that had taken me two months on foot – in only one day by car. We found a beautiful new home with a friend who has space for both of us. Currently, JoJo and I are on the couch, breathing deeply. We are glad that at least the “roof over our heads” part of the equation is covered for now. The next few weeks will be devoted to an extensive job hunt (For me. JoJo gets to relax on the couch and gets to watch birds in the courtyard).

If I find employment in Zurich, if JoJo and I get to stay in the country for a longer while, much of my free time will be spent on shorter hikes, exploring the wonderful mountain landscapes of Switzerland. Also, during vacation times I want to get back on the international trails. For example, I am still itching to do that gorgeous hike from the Strait of Gibraltar to the South of Portugal.

Wherever JoJo and I are, wherever we go, the journey continues. Stay tuned for more trails and adventures!

A Bientôt Montpellier!

Alright, this is it. One more sleep in Montpellier. Then, tomorrow morning, I’ll hop into a rental car and drive north, towards the Swiss border. All luggage is in the car already, so we can get a running start. All I’ll need to do at 6 am is to throw some cold water into my face, drink a coffee… and off we go.

As you can see, I am leaving with quite the little family in tow: a fish, a stingray and, most importantly, little JoJo, the sweetest old street cat in all of Montpellier. Most likely in all of France ;).

Today was a full and exciting day for JoJo and me both. In the morning, I said goodbye to yet another new friend I am grateful to have crossed paths with. We went for a walk in the old town and got my favorite donuts one last time. Sooo good. Afterwards, JoJo and I went to the veterinary to make sure his travel papers are in order. I wanted to go get a Covid test, but the line was about a mile long. After one hour, I gave up waiting. Hopefully, this won’t cause a problem tomorrow… but that’s a bridge – or rather a border – I’ll cross then. Bottom line: Cat is ready. I am not.

In the evening, I went to get a rental car, maneuvered it through all the narrow one-way streets, broke out in a cold sweat while doing so, and finally found a parking space. It’s a great little car, and I’ve already prepared lots of cozy sleeping spaces for JoJo.

A bientôt Montpellier!

No Great Expectations

Happy New Year everyone!

I still can’t get over these brilliant, azure blue skies here in the Occitanie region. I’m glad to be here for a few more days and, after that, am content to let my Wonderweg take me onto whatever trails lie ahead in 2021.

If things go at least halfway the way I’d like them to, then you’ll read about a mix of hiking journeys, relocations, and inward journeys over the course of the next few months.

Other than that, today is just a day and tomorrow is another day as far as I’m concerned… not a magical barrier we have reached after which everything will get better. I have no great expectations of 2021 and will just do the best I can with whatever challenges it’ll throw at me.

As a good friend of mine always says (right Matt), “It’s all an adventure!”

So Many “Thank You”s To You All

As we are nearing the end of this year, I’d like to say thank you to all of my friends near and far, old and new, for their support. Thank you for believing in me. There were so many acts of kindness… ranging from that little “like” of support for one of my posts, to sending notes and messages enquiring how I am, to chatting and trusting each other with our latest news and developments, to actively lending assistance. Thank you for caring and being there.

Special thanks go to all those of you who went out of your way to help me survive and find a fresh start this year. To protect people’s privacy, I won’t name anyone, but you know who you are.

Thank you for the many messages I received with links to job offers across the globe. I applied to all of them. No luck yet, but I so appreciate all your efforts and pointers.

Thank you to all those who gave me shelter for hours, days, or even weeks and who invited me to the odd free meal. It meant a lot and I just hope one day I will be in a position again to pay it forward and be able to do the same for someone in need.

Thank you to my parents for helping me on their already tight budget with the costs of studying and staying in Montpellier.

Thank you to the wonderful team at Alliance Francaise Montpellier, who were rather friends than teachers. They chauffeured me around to buy cat provisions, kept their eyes open for job and apartment opportunities, and never gave up on me no matter how slowly my French progressed.

Thank you to my good friend and almost-room mate for being there and also for spoiling JoJo et moi with the coolest impromptu Christmas buffet ever.

Thank you to old and new friends alike for offering to help me survive financially. To that regard, I want to thank two people especially. One is one of my best and oldest friends who is struggling herself this year but still lent me part of her savings. The other is a new friend who has never even had a real face-to-face conversation with me but still entrusted me with some of her hard-earned money. I am in awe and forever grateful to you both. Thank you for your trust. And thank you for being patient with my clumsiness. I am not used to need to ask for so much help.

Thank you to so many of you around the world who contacted me and offered me shelter whenever things got a bit hairy this year. Were it not for Covid travel restrictions and now being responsible for an elderly street cat, I might haven taken some of you up on your offer.

As it so happens, I did take one of you up on your offer and want to thank you so much for your help with little old JoJo as well as for letting us come stay with you soon.
As for plan B, thank you to yet another dear friend who might have a whole house for us to take shelter in, should JoJo and I not be able to cross the border from France to Switzerland in January.

Thank you in general to the surprisingly overwhelming amount of people who were true to their word in every regard.

I apologize if I have not mentioned everyone and everything. The list of incredible kindnesses this year is a long one and will most likely fill an entire book. I will always remember.

Even the kindnesses of strangers were enchanting on a daily basis.

One memorable encounter was a cashier at the Carrefour supermarket around the corner who sent me twice to get a new box of mandarins. The second box still met her disapproval. When I looked at her, my eyes above the face mask big orbs of confusion, she opened both packages, and fished out the moldy mandarins I hadn’t seen hidden at the bottom. Then she began rearranging both boxes (with a long line of patient customers waiting behind me). I ended up with one box overflowing with Vitamin C goodness, while she kept the almost empty second box with the moldy remains. “Au revoir et bonne soirée” she said, eyes above her face mask twinkling, and sent me on my way.

One very special thank you goes to the little street cat who has chosen me as his new family. Your gentle purring at night soothed my nightmares which before you arrived disturbed my sleep so profoundly. Now, it is you disturbing my sleep, which I greatly prefer. Also, your paws trampling all over my face in the morning put a smile on my face and into my heart. You are a bit rough around the edges but you help me appreciate the things that ARE instead of mourning and feeling the loss of things that were. Thank you my little lion.

Et voilà, many hugs around the world from JoJo et moi!

And Then All Changed Again

Where do I even start… well… as you know I was looking for a job and an apartment here in Montpellier. I was even looking with a friend. She has a French passport but is not registered in France at the moment. I have an EU passport. And we wanted to find something affordable together, to share. Can’t be that hard, we thought…

It’s incredible how many bureaucratic walls we ran into. This was even more surprising to us since we have both lived in multiple countries already. Neither of us has ever encountered so many bureaucratic barriers before. Anywhere.

To sum up weeks of going from Pontius to Pilatus in two sentences:
Basically, no one wanted to rent anything to us unless we had our tax revenue in France first. And no one wanted to give us a job unless we had an address in France first.

A conundrum which might have been funny had it not completely destroyed all hopes of my friend and I being able to begin a new life here in beautiful Montpellier at this time.

I pondered for a while if there was a workaround, because I really wanted to stay in Montpellier. Start a new life. New country, new city, new language, new job, maybe even a new profession. But, since I am by now already living on borrowed money, it didn’t make any sense to rent AirBnBs until I’ll be able to find a loophole in the local bureaucracy.

So, with a heavy heart, I decided to let go of Montpellier.

Immediately next came the question of where to go instead. Move onwards to maybe Spain or Portugal? But there as well I will be faced with extreme uncertainty and no idea of when and how I’ll be able to get a foot on the ground and find a roof over my head… and a job.

Instead, I have now decided to go back to the place which has already been my home twice for altogether 17 years: Zurich. In fact, each time I moved there, Zurich became my safety net after great turmoil. This will be the 3rd time. And, third time is the charm they say, isn’t it?

I have an amazing network of friends and acquaintances in Zurich. People who are close to my heart. That’s a definite plus. The climate is a definite minus. Brrrrrr.

So, onwards I go, in hopes of finding a better future. My little feline buddy JoJo and I will rent a car and drive to the Swiss border on January 10th, 2021. There, good friends will pick us up with their car. JoJo is now a registered French “cat-izen” and this will be his first ever time to cross a border as an international cat. Not bad for an old toothless street survivor.

Once in Zurich, I want to continue studying Le Francais, because I am still aiming to become fluent. And, I will begin another determined job hunt. Hopefully more successful than my last. If I can’t find anything in Zurich, in these Covid-stricken times, I might head towards other destinations after all. Malta, one of my favorite places on Earth, and a place I’ve already lived and worked in, has crossed my mind as well.

We will see. There is not much more JoJo and I can do than move forward with hope and as much confidence and positivity as we can muster.

We have roughly three more weeks here and JoJo and I both aim to enjoy our little rooftop flat which we will miss dearly. We’ll watch the golden sunsets together, and wave at our pigeon neighbors every night. I’ll miss those two love birds. So heartwarming to see them returning every single evening.

It’ll be a good Christmas. With JoJo, two love-struck pigeons, and my human friend, before she retreats to a bureaucratically friendlier locale as well. I believe a bit of French wine will be involved as well.

Merry Christmas to you all! JoJo, the pigeons, and I are sending many hugs around the world xxx

What a Year

It was.
What a year… found myself completely homeless, unemployed, and penniless for the first time in my life. Embarked on the Oasis of the Seas in the Caribbean to manage one of the most beautiful aqua theatres in the world. Called my first high-risk acrobatics show. Went to Germany to help my dad during the 1st lockdown. Went on a long-distance hike from the mountains of Switzerland to the Mediterranean Sea. Discovered Montpellier. Learned a new language (work in progress). Found peace of mind again (also work in progress). Crossed paths with the most loving and gentle feline. And experienced incredible kindnesses from friends, old and new, around the world (thank you!!!).
I don’t think I have ever learned more in one year.
And I am profoundly grateful.

You Never Know Until You Go

Hiker by Pavel Pesek on Unsplash

by Pavel Pesek, Unsplash

Last year, in one fell swoop, I lost everything… the love of my life, my family, my home, my cats, my job, and all my savings. I did my best to survive. Then, just as I thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse, the Covid19 pandemic hit us all.
During lockdown, I had time to think about what had happened. As the enormity of it all began to fully sink in, I crashed. I worked through the pain. And I decided to not only survive but to keep remembering fondly, to keep being kind, to keep following my dreams, and to keep making the most of things.

So what do you do when you’ve lost everything and you’ve got nowhere to go? Why not take the time that is given, embrace the homelessness, and get walking?

After some research, I decided on the the E4 European Long Distance Path. I will start my hike in Brugg, Switzerland on 6th of July 2020. And then, we’ll see…
The goal is to enjoy the journey, travel slowly, be aware, and completely open for whatever may come. I am a stage manager by trade. I miss working for shows (a lot!). Getting back to doing what I love is one of two goals. The other goal is to enjoy walking and living on the road for now until I do get that job offer. This may mean walking for one week, or two…. walking for one month, two months, or six months… or even longer. If no job offers are forthcoming this year at all, then in January 2021, I should reach the garden of my good friends in the Quinta do Chocalhinho in Odemira, Portugal. In this case, I might spend the winter in Portugal… and write a book about this journey.
Who knows… these are all just ideas, not definite plans. I’ll take things day by day, step by step. I’ll be super flexible, always ready to continue walking or to, at a moment’s notice, take a bus/train/plane towards my next professional challenge backstage.

I am as curious as you as to how this will unfold!

Make the Best of It

boo on bed ready for more snuggling

Update from the Lake Constance Writing Front:
Over the last few months, I’ve had so much to process, learn, and overcome, I ended up being not by far as productive as I’d have liked to be. Still, I alternated writing short stories and articles for various platforms, worked on my blog, kept developing the story of my 2nd book, watched stage management webinars, and sent application emails out into the world. All this whilst sharing this comfy couch with little Boo who always faithfully waited for me to return and get back to work whenever I left our shared living space for a moment.
As a stage manager, like so many of my peers, I’m out of luck at this time. Nobody is hiring… yet. But I’ll keep writing emails, just to remind people I exist… in the great hope that one of these days, this year, or next year, when shows open up again, I’ll get an email saying, “Hey, are you still available. We want you!”
In the meantime, now that European borders are slowly opening, I am planning a long-distance hike.
There is the idea of a final destination, but I want to keep my options wide open. I’ll most likely start walking beginning of July. If the pitch for my new book gets accepted, I’ll write on the road to meet deadlines. I’ll take walking breaks when I find cozy, affordable shelter and will keep working on that book. Even if my manuscript does not get accepted at this time, I want to keep writing whilst on the road. Continue with my articles for TheaterArtLife, continue with my second book…
A travel blog comes to mind as well…
Plus, I am wondering if I can combine doing something good for myself with doing something good for others… maybe do some crowd funding and donate money to performing arts organizations around the globe who really need it. “Walk for the performing arts” or something like that… (let me know if any of you have any practical suggestions and ideas for this. Please PM me).
What I will definitely keep doing as well is to keep writing applications to shows worldwide whilst I am exploring the great unknown.
And thus the duration of my hike will largely depend on when a backstage job will become available to me. I might walk for only a month, then get an offer, and head to wherever it is I am needed. Or I’ll be walking for four months, five, six… who knows. It really isn’t so much about reaching the final destination as it is about letting those feet and thoughts roam freely, as it is to knock something off my bucket list (a long-distance hike has been on my mind for decades), as it is to stay active and creative.
At the moment, everything is so greatly uncertain and even more unpredictable than usual. Many of us have no idea when we’ll be able to get back to work. Some of us, like me, are homeless on top of it and have been couchsurfing for many months. I’ll embrace that homelessness and make the best of it… and in case I get injured or I’m just not up for it, I can stop walking at any time, and get back to couchsurfing somewhere… Continue from there…
Everything is possible.
I’ll do the only thing I can at this time, and do it with vigor:
I’ll go with the flow.

Masks

IMG_0506

The German tendency to have everything well-organized and structured has irritated me ever since I can remember. To be fair, amazing things come of this kind of ingrained discipline. German craftsmanship, efficiency, and timeliness, for example are indisputably amazing.

I see my German roots in my own behavior. Always on time. Perfectionist. Disciplined. Hard working. Stubborn. Overexplaining. Straight forward. Many of those things not bad things at all. However, my free spirit bristles when I observe people following everything the authorities decree. Growing up, how often have I heard the sentiment, “Yes, it’s not good and it’s annoying. But the government is keeping us safe and we are so well taken care of. It’s ok. Let’s just go along with it.” Me, personally, I’d rather have a bit of discomfort and less security, but have my life less regulated in turn.

When it comes to apocalypses and pandemics, however, I must admit the German sense of obedience comes in quite handy. For the last few weeks, the local populace in my dad’s county (and the rest of Germany, too, according to the news) followed all new rules to a T. Everything deemed mandatory was dutifully adhered to.

Recommendations, however, were largely ignored. My fellow countrymen and women are precise even then. Words matter. Be careful how you phrase them. Be clear. Because they’ll take you at your word. Which, again, isn’t a bad thing at all.

Masks were one of the recommendations. Because we Germans have a thing about masks. Even politicians. They didn’t want to wear them either. So, they only recommended them as a voluntary precaution. Masks make us feel uncomfortable. We are not used to wearing them. So why should we do so now? Or so the thinking goes. And, anyhow, masks don’t help at all. It’s just a myth. Right?

Having traveled extensively through Asia, as well as having lived in Hong Kong and Macau for many years, I try to explain to people that, no, Asians in general are not paranoid. They are not strange for wearing masks. For decades now, they have gotten used to wearing them. It’s not even to protect themselves from someone in the crowd who sniffles and coughs. No. Most times it is quite the opposite. As soon as a person feels ill, they put on a mask. Immediately. To protect others.

I have only the deepest respect for this level of thoughtfulness and politeness. Taking responsibility not only for your own life, but also for the lives of the human beings you meet and, possibly, infect, on a daily basis.

We Germans, well Central Europeans in general, can learn something there.

None of the positive arguments presented by anyone were enough to break through the inherent German stubbornness though. People were religious about the two meters distance as soon as it was so ordered. They gave each other dirty looks if someone came too close. I was surprised to not see them carry measuring tape to make sure the distancing was adhered to as precisely as possible. Astonishingly, in this case, eyeballing it seemed to work well enough for all involved.

But masks, no. Endless discussions on TV argued the pros and cons. I got so exasperated, I wanted to build my own cabin in the woods. On the other hand, it was a mirror, helping me to better understand my own need to repeat myself. Or, rather, I had to admit I was far more German than I’d like to be. This is exacerbated by growing up with parents who always lived so much in their own world that we didn’t have proper conversations. Rather, I grew up listening to monologues. My own thoughts and opinions mostly discredited. It’s a work in progress. Training myself to overcome. To allay my need to be heard. To not regurgitate things over and over. To simply say them once and trust them to be acknowledged in a conversation. Or not. In the end, what I have to say doesn’t always have to reach everyone. Or it will be received by the right people. Trust is key.

But I digress. Thousands of discussions later, masks became mandatory in Germany. A week ago, actually, to be Teutonic and precise. And… lo and behold… everyone is wearing masks now.

For the first time, I am glad to see German obedience in action. Because even though the majority of the population still hates wearing masks, this needs to be done. I don’t like wearing them either. I feel constricted and dangerous somehow when I do. Like I won’t be able to restrain myself from robbing a bank if I just wear the mask long enough. But, if I can protect someone else as well as protect myself in the process just now, it’s well worth wearing it nevertheless.