Friday, May 20, 2005

WA and The Global Staircase

A last meeting of the Women’s Association for Summer was on a boat,

If I am honest, my first experience of this group was off-putting I had worn a shirt and pants, and jewelery. It was elegant enough, and I had taken into account the fact that we were walking Boulac straight afterwards with no time to change. One glance at the range of black suits with Hermes scarves, or Chanel suits in tweed with little fringed edges, and I realised that I was badly underdressed. In all the elegance I also felt grey, short, and dumpy. This really didn’t help, and I cowered in a corner to some extent, feeling out of place. Those who have met me would never believe that I am often shy – but I have, over the years, managed to create a veneer that smoothes over the surface and I find I can apply a coping persona with my makeup. As I have met more of the women I have realised that they are just like every other group of women – though better dressed. A lot of them are now very dear friends.

The Imperial, moored (permanently) at the edge of the Nile beside one end of Zamalek. It is a big mistake not to eat breakfast before these things, but, knowing it was lunch I was answering emails in a desultory fashion at 9.30 am, assuming I had plenty of time. When I was about to sign out I pulled up the information from an email to find that lunch started at 10.00am. I barely had time to pull on some slightly more formal clothes and find a cab, and had not bothered to eat.

Then I had to walk the gamut of a huge variety of tiny sweet treats, each about two inches across, tiny almond meringues, or macaroons, tiny tarts with a dark chocolate filling, éclairs the length of your little finger in coffee and chocolate, little tarts dredged in icing sugar with a hazelnut filling, cubes of checkerboard cake glued with thin sharp cherry jam, tiny fruit tarts. What is it about tiny food that is so delicious? Perhaps it is the fact that every flavour blends in the intended proportions in your mouth as they can go in whole!

Mary MacKinnon launched her book about adjusting to international moves. This is never ever an easy process. I have now had six international postings, and I recognized each stage she talked about – the decision making and the pack, the farewells, and grieving for friends and family and the loss of your network and identity, the arrival, settling, and the honeymoon where you are a perpetual tourist. Then the frustrations that start to creep in and the point where you (in my expression) ‘hit the wall’. This is a point where you are so utterly miserable that you think you can never recover, never settle, never like the new country. It always happens. I warn friends who are moving to expect it, as for me knowing it is coming is less devastating.

Then the rebuilding of an identity, often through work, sometimes through friends. Then the stage where you are relaxed, settled and at ease. Then the final dislocation of knowing you are going, slowly withdrawing from new activities, farewelling friends, and then the pack, the move, and the most unsettling move of all – going home. This is often the worst of the lot as you know exactly how it is going to be – but it is never what you expect. The problem is usually that in the time away you have changed as a person because of what you have done and seen, and don’t drop easily into the same hole.

The book is highly recommended, The Global Staircase, for anyone who has a friend who is moving overseas for more than a trip.

Lunch was delicious too. A light fresh salad with shreds of smoked salmon to start, then thin pieces of steak and vegetables, perfectly cooked, but the dessert was amazing. I thought as it came out that it was biscuits or brownies cut in long diamonds and radiating out from a paper cup of something. It turned out to be dark chocolate crepes with a chocolate patisserie cream filling, rolled into long cigars, then cut diagonally into four inch lengths, and radiating out around a patty pan made of white chocolate and filled with with vanilla patisserie cream. Ladies at my table were moaning softly as they ate.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jenny I enjoyed your description of adjusting to a new land,as an airforce wife who travelled and moved frequently the stages you describe were so real. What wonderful letters you are writing and I feel that I am almost with you when you describe your adventures

8:12 am  

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