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Thoughts on Exile, Kansas, and Silver-lined Clouds

Posted by MrNatch3L on Thursday, September 25, 2008

Back in 1997, when my wife and I decided to stay on in Russia rather than return to the US after a sort of sabbatical year, I knew one thing for sure... I wasn't gong to be in Kansas, Toto. That sort of thinking, combined with a lot of work at open mindedness and tolerance, has stood me in good stead in the years since. I've had some wonderful experiences as a result. But here in the last couple of weeks, I've had a real job to keep that frame of mind alive. Picture this...

You've made a home with your family for over 10 years. Suddenly, bureaucrats change the rules and you find that you have less than 10 days to relocate yourself for 3 months, and to go and be separated from your family. That's basically what happened to me long about the middle of September. They had already changed the rules for my business visa so that I could not stay more than half the time. Not a big deal... I'm married to a citizen and and entitled to a residence permit, so we began applying for that. The problem with Russia is that the lawmakers pass a lot of laws, but nobody produces any regulations instructing the bureaucracy on how to implement the law. So it's pretty much chaos and every local office decides how things work... even different officials in the same office. OK, we're not in Kansas anymore, and I knew the job was dangerous when I took it. During 6 chaotic months of getting all the right documents together and having the requirements change almost weekly, we were assured repeatedly that upon acceptance for processing I would receive a temporary permit that would entitle me to stay on while the actual permit was in process... which takes between 3 and 6 months depending on who you talk to. Not Kansas.

So on the day they accepted all the documents, they informed us that they do not do the temporary permit. One person even denied they had told us any such thing. I had less than 2 weeks left on the stay allowed by my visa and so I was forced to make hasty arrangements to depart and find somewhere to live - away from wife and family - for 3 months. Nice, huh?

I could probably have come over to the US and sponged off relatives. One little problem with that: after 35 days I would owe Uncle Sam taxes for the entire year... which was definitely not planned and budgeted!! So I put out some feelers among contacts and started looking into some of the cheaper locales of the world. I had about settled on Montenegro... I was in the process of sorting out an internet connection... when a miracle came and landed right square on my noggin.

About 5 years ago, my wife and I started buying what we hoped would be our retirement home. A truly idyllic old stone house in a small hamlet in the heart of France. A slice of heaven on earth if there ever was one, I can tell you. Two years on, I got laid off and we sadly decided the better part of valor was to sell and regroup. A Belgian-American couple bought the place as a holiday rental property, and we became friends and have stayed in touch. I've done some pro bono internet consulting for them, and I built the first version of their web site. Check out www.francedreamvacation.com. Anyway, it wasn't long before I got an email from these folks offering me the use of the house til the end of the year for just the cost of utilities. I mean, knock me down with a feather!

So here I am, ensconced now for almost 2 weeks, a lone spook rattling around in a big old 5-bedroom house where you can almost reach up and touch the stars at night.. I'm separated form home and country, but lemme tell you folks, it could be a lot worse! If you have to go into exile, this ain't a bad spot for it. Of course it could be a lot better- I was not able to bring a banjo. I think I could get along without my wife for 3 months. I could get along without my banjo for 3 months. But getting along without both is going to be a challenge, I can tell already.

But the weather's nice, the air is clean, the wines are fine (and cheap!) I am blessed with a job that I can do from anywhere with an internet connection. I've started jogging through the pastoral lanes around. The neighbors remember me and are helping out with transport to the grocery on weekends. One daughter lives in Paris and will maybe visit after she finishes a seminar she's doing in Germany. So yes, I've had a big dark cloud come and hover over my head here lately, but talk about the proverbial silver lining!

If anybody would like to come and spend a weekend pickin' in a very lovely spot- I'm here until mid-December and there's loads of room. Just bring an extra banjo or guitar or something!  I'm serious - email me!

A toute a 'lheur mes amis.

P.S. - show this post to your kids. Kids: listen to your Uncle Natch and learn to speak a foreign language! I'd be up the creek without a paddle right now if I didn't speak French!

3 comments on “Thoughts on Exile, Kansas, and Silver-lined Clouds”

Louisiana Rose Says:
Thursday, September 25, 2008 @9:10:12 AM

I am pleased that it all worked out for you, I learned basic French at school but i certainly don't think I could get by on it if I ever went to France, maybe it's time I brushed up on it

MrNatch3L Says:
Friday, September 26, 2008 @7:32:03 AM

It's always fun the first couple of weeks. French is my 3rd language, Russian is my 4th, and for about the first week in France I always end up using some Russian words in place of French. Opposite happens for a while when I go back to Russia. I don't have that problem with Spanish, which I learned as a kid. Kids are just little foreign language sponges. It's a shame we lose that ability when we grow up.

So- Merry Olde England, eh? I've always wanted to visit. I've read a lot of English lit and would love to visit some of the places. Been most everywhere else in Europe and vicinity but never the UK. Well, my wife, who's a Russian journalist, has had several very nice trips at your expense... er, I mean, at the invitation of Her Majesty's Government. :-)

Banjov1 Says:
Wednesday, October 22, 2008 @4:00:01 PM

Hey Robert,

Great Post! I'm glad you're keeping a positive attitude through all this. Hopefully things will work out for you in Russia soon. In the mean time, I'm sure you'll get a couple visitors to stop by and bend some strings with you.

Good Luck

Tony

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