Brett Hetherington

Banner photos: Cornelia Kraft

Living the reality

 

[This review was first published in Catalonia Today magazine here.]

 

[Writer Carrie Frais: Pic by Poppy Maidment]


Who are these people? “Immigrants temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than the one[s] in which they were raised.”

This to me is a much better explanation than the word expat (or expatriate) which I dislike and so does Carrie Frais the editor of a new book titled “#LivingTheDream: Expat life stripped bare.” 


Her preferred definition of herself and the other ten women who contributed a chapter each is stated in her introduction, inside a publication with a cover photo of broken sunglasses. (It reminded me of Yoko Ono’s album cover for “Season of Glass” showing John Lennon’s bloodied specs after his murder in New York in 1980.)

 

The book explores “grief, loneliness, Brexit, motherhood, identity, belonging, single parenthood, rootlessness and integration” but these are just some of the issues that are ranged over. The nebulous concept of “home” is also touched on in various distinct ways.

 

As an author, Frais focuses especially on the emotional baggage of her relocation. Her timeline of the last decade and a half jumps between London and Cabrils (not Cambrils) in Catalonia and moves between themes of parental illness and death, the power of memory and ultimately the Covid 19 pandemic. Wisely, she both recognises and reconciles her status as an outsider: an adventurous one, open to challenges.

 

Deborah Gray, Managing Director of Canela Public Relations in Barcelona has some specific advice. She finishes her chapter with a title taken from a century old quote from Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata, saying “exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is: many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.”

 

Her own life experiences include managing a private life (including children) and running offices in Madrid and Lisbon as well as the Catalan capital. She has been navigating the rough seas of European business conditions since 2006. Gray states, “Don’t define yourself by what you do for a living because it can all disappear overnight through no fault of your own.” Millions across Catalonia and the rest of Europe could relate to that.

 

Mother of three, teacher, writer, designer and Associate Director of MumAbroad.com Jane Mitchell, lives in El Masnou on the Maresme coast just north of Barcelona. Her part of the book is called “Becoming Me (Again)” and talks about how she made happiness a priority ahead of her career. She believes her previous years in Cairo taught her about acceptance and adaptability but didn’t fully prepare her for a new role as a mother in Catalonia.  

 

Sue Wilson of the Bremain in Spain organisation is another highlight, writing about the legacy of Brexit for her, living in Valencia.

 

A great strength of this book is that it avoids most of the cliches that surround those who relocate. In several places it confronts them face on to dispel fanciful dreams and watery eyed romantic projections of Europe as a land of sunny, easy plenty. I, too, think this needs to be done.