History

The Global Niche Muse: Out Of Place And Mistress Of Her Domain

Take a plunge into metaphor with us as we explore the meaning behind a graphic muse you'll recognize from Dialogue2010 Mapping the Hybrid Life podcast and the Hybrid Ambassadors blog-ring. At GlobalNiche.net we love this image -- part photograph, part 2nd generation photocopy, and part Photoshop -- a whimsical pioneer woman peering out from the center of her own personal compass point. We've incorporated her into the logo for our new work-life initiative, and below we discover exactly how she embodies creative enterprise for the global soul.

(You can see this story of how I made our mystery woman in my isolated Kuala Lumpur office in 1998, where she comes from, what she's survived -- and also, circumstantially, why she's so well-coiffed -- in the proper Tweet-and-commentary format at Storify.com)

  • I spotted this whimsical woman on a fading coiffeur signboard in Sarawak, Borneo

Photography is a now-not-so-secret love of mine, and it was a saving grace of my first long-term expat stint in Southeast Asia. Seeing everything with a photographer's eye made my surroundings endlessly fascinating and ripe with opportunity, no matter what else was happening or how I was feeling. It was also a key to orienting myself, following leads, making connections between the past and the present cultures.

The quickly-disappearing antique commercial signboards of the Straits Settlements (Penang, Malacca and Singapore) were a particular favorite of mine. You can imagine when I landed in the East Malaysia state of Sarawak I went straight to the old town to see the remnants of what establishments had once flourished there.

Although the inevitable lag of fashion around the world might be at work here, from her hairstyle I guess the sign went up in the 1930s-40s.

  • the compass superimposed over her eye (self-image, get it?) is from an around-the-world cruise line ad

...and with her eye on the world, the image represents her unique perspective.

  • the round-the-globe ad was published during the Golden Age of Travel. I found it in the National Archives of Malaysia

I was an absolute microfiche *bandit* at the National Archive....here you can see some of the Straits Settlements newspaper gossip items and police blotters I captured. Hilarious, tragic, telling stuff no matter what the subject (whether it was Somerset Maugham's buttoned-down planters going nuts/running amok, or infectious diseases being passed around by the Chinese laundry services, or opium dens being fined for admitting ladies, the place was off-the-hook).

The steamer-trunks-and-servants Golden Age of travel was also an interest piqued by the region, and I explored it for a web venture Flaming East.

  • in land of White Rajas (Conrad's early heartofdarkness?), she seemed 1) out of place 2) possibly mistress of her domain
  • The White Rajahs were a dynasty of Brits who ruled Sarawak for about a hundred years during the mid-19th-20th century.

Joseph Conrad, author of the novel Heart of Darkness, had earlier written Lord Jim, which may have been based in part on the pirate-filled sea experiences of the first White Rajah James Brooke.

To that setting of personal, mini-empire building, add the coiffed nature of this woman and you get someone who seems like she's holding it together somehow. She's managing to take care of herself.

At GlobalNiche.net we're not all about personal grooming -- nor are we conquering anything except perhaps our situations (setting up our own private rajs?).

...but this specific and historical background was swirling around the image of the coiffed lady when I snapped it as a displaced Western woman in the tropics myself. To me, the context was captured along with the image.

Being yourself *and* at home in a place very different than what you've known or been prepared for -- out of place, and mistress of our domain -- that's the GlobalNiche combo!

  • GlobalNiche's muse is a woman in the wild following her personal compass where ever around the world it might take her

And in conclusion...just as the Golden Age of Travel revolutionized the possibilities of exploring the world with confidence

at GlobalNiche.net we're operating globally with the ease of digital nomadism and with the precision of a unique sense of who we are

...suddenly our incidental heroine is thoroughly modern, and appropriate for today's unbounded age.

  • our muse is a #pioneer centered by her personal compass in an age when traveling with speed/style/grace is perfected

Tell us what you see in the wild-but-coiffed woman of Borneo. What name would you give her? (I think we're going to need one!)

Disposable Liaisons Of The Traveling Class

It's that time of year -- for what's euphemistically called "Romance on the Road." Getting your groove back in foreign zipcodes. Shirley Valentine’s Day. In 2006 I reviewed for Perceptive Travel a somewhat academic book about the controversial practice of "sex pilgrimage", traveling for the purpose of sexual adventure. I'm no proponent of behavior that often falls outside the bounds of a traveler's own culture as well as severely straining mores at international destinations. I warned the assigning editor he probably had more optimistic reviewers in his stable of cutting-edge travel writers. But he couldn't find anyone who wanted to be associated with the dense “history & how-to cum memoir” ROMANCE ON THE ROAD. Shipping it from Nashville, Tennessee to Istanbul was his best option.

Viewing the situation from the sex-toured Near East and my five years in South East Asia, it’s clear that one forgettable fling has the power to affect systems far larger than the person, family, village or region which witnessed and absorbed the behavior.

Plus, the environment of sexual predation many Western women face overseas is bound to be heightened by the wanton choices of sex pilgrims. Travelers and expatriates like me strive to modulate our behavior to find social acceptance with native friends, families and colleagues, aware we must differentiate ourselves from sexual opportunists who don't have to lie in the messy bed they've made.

Which cultural product are sex tourists exporting? Is the practice of hot-and-bothered globetrotters empirical evidence that Western culture is morally corrupt?

+++ Here's my full review from Perceptive Travel:

Romance on the Road Traveling Women Who Love Foreign Men

By Jeannette Belliveau (reviewed by Anastasia M. Ashman)

Jeannette Belliveau was a "sex pilgrim" for 12 years and now the 51 year old former erotic adventuress reveals all in this dense volume of travel sex history and how-to cum memoir.The author got her groove back after a divorce by sleeping with men in Greece, the Virgin Islands, the Bahamas and Brazil. Of French Canadian descent, she is currently married to a younger man of color she fantasizes looks like a 'pharaoh'. In ROMANCE ON THE ROAD she attempts to place her actions into wider context.

As an American expatriate living in Turkey, this reviewer senses a motive of authorial self-preservation: to normalize controversial sexual behavior which not only falls outside the bounds of her own culture but severely strains mores at international destinations.

Creating what she calls a geography of sex and love, the newspaperwoman from blue-collar Maryland examines a social phenomenon that may have involved more than 600,000 Western women in the past 25 years: travelers who engage in flings or long term affairs with foreign men, vaulting over cultural boundaries. While intercultural love and marriages are a subtheme, the book's focus is hedonistic sex with virile strangers."Travel sex by women is revolutionary," Belliveau declares, a rebellion barred from polite conversation and insufficiently chronicled by social scientists even if its roots are deep in Victorian travel.

The Western world might not deem it noteworthy but the buzz is growing in remote Central American fishing villages, sandy strips of West Africa, and the tiniest towns in the Himalayas. The author suggests that today's feminine voyagers are "stumbling into a major life experience without a map."

Does Romance on the Road provide a compass for the heartbroken (or hot-and-bothered) globetrotter looking for a distant cure? It can get a gal started.

Prurient interest will be dampened however by the charts, graphs, survey results, and Modern Language Association-style citations of more than 800 bibliographic sources from Henry James' Daisy Miller to a British newspaper feature entitled "My Toyboy Tours".

There's a global chronology of the trend, a summary of related books and movies, and basic ethics and etiquette ("remember the man is real, not an actor in your fantasy"; and "do not use him as a sperm donor").

She has done an admirable job of combining veteran intelligence on each locality with a profile of an adventurous Western woman and a timeline of foreign female exploits in the region. Much like the book itself, these geographic chapters are not all fun and games. In Latin America, "sex is a parallel universe of magic" yet gigolos may sport "a breezy attitude toward the truth". A sex pilgrim profiled has a bleak history, found murdered on the side of a Mexican road, "presumably left by a cruel pickup".

Clearly an optimist, Belliveau argues that despite obvious risks the lustful practice can be psychologically healing, fulfill a woman's urge for sexual connoisseurship, or address situations like involuntary celibacy.It can also be a road to discovery.

Erotic adventure may not be on the agenda but can be inspired by the act of travel itself. Wandering women have the opportunity to "reclaim pagan freedoms lost since the advent of civilization" Belliveau waxes, since they exist in a liminal zone, a reality unconnected to their usual existence. A traveler may view the people around her as social equals, think of herself as anonymous, feel unburdened by expectations of social propriety, be more playful and suggestive. Novelist Rebecca Brown is quoted discovering her sexuality on a trip abroad: "Like Stein, Toklas, and other women who have traveled away from home, it took leaving my native land to realize I was a lesbian."

Even so, it is difficult to approach Romance on the Road, or know who would, besides social scientists who might wallow in its surfeit of statistics or old hands who will identify with the insider dope, and buoyant we-can-all-get-it-on (and perhaps heal the world by having international children) conclusions. It's hardly pleasure reading nor something to openly peruse on a crowded subway. Some may not want to get caught reading it at all. This reviewer's Turkish husband handed it over saying "You got a trashy book in the mail."

It's unfortunate that Belliveau's concentration on ecstasy abroad overwhelms her scholarship on ethical and economic questions as well as cultural and social ramifications in sex-host cultures.

The few harmful consequences she includes are female tourists being perceived as "man-stealers" by native women in the Mediterranean, the Caribbean and Africa; the new role of hustler that thousands of foreign men have adopted; and a rise in STDs and incidents of harassment and assault. Soon enough she is making the case for positives like liberated Scandinavian women spurring sexual revolutions for their sisters in Spain, Greece and Mexico.

Belliveau doesn't seem concerned with the cultural factor freespirited sensualists export.

Writing from the sex-toured Near East, this reviewer suggests the damaging potential of each disposable liaison is empirical evidence that Western culture is morally corrupt. One forgettable fling has the power to affect systems far larger than the person, family, village or region which witnessed and absorbed the behavior.

The environment of sexual predation many Western women face overseas is also bound to be heightened by the wanton and culturally inappropriate choices of sex pilgrims. Travelers and expatriates striving to modulate their behavior to find social acceptance with native friends, families and colleagues must struggle to differentiate themselves from sexual opportunists who don't have to lie in the messy bed they've made.

Without apology Belliveau admits this detrimental byproduct of her Shirley Valentine amusement (or was it healing?): "At first I was appalled at the smothering level of harassment I encountered in Athens. Then I succumbed to these temptations, with the likelihood that my sex partners became further convinced about the ease of seducing any lone Western female tourists to later cross their paths."

On behalf of thousands of traveling women hoping to explore the world unmolested -- thanks for nothing.

My Forgotten Footnote To The Haghia Sophia

The Byzantine world claimed another devotee when I discovered the architectural gauntlet thrown down by a scorned princess.

My Near Eastern archaeology baccalaureate program ended with Constantine founding New Rome at Byzantium.  I left the Byzantine world undiscovered when I forgot my college diploma in a rental car and professionally drifted toward pop-culture...tv, music, film. Later when I married a Turk and moved to Istanbul it was natural to neglect Constantinople’s first millennium since Ottoman civilization felt much closer to home.  Then in the summer of 2007 near the aqueduct of Valens, I stumbled over a patch of lumpy turf and found a forgotten footnote to the world’s most famous Byzantine landmark.

Opposite the glass Istanbul Municipality building, a triangular plot of land on Atatürk Bulvarı was inexplicably not developed. Perhaps I could use it.  I needed another attraction to round out the Süleymaniye-area walking tour I was creating for National Geographic Traveler. Travel historian Saffet Emre Tonguç confirmed the overgrown archaeological site above the Haşim Işcan underpass was indeed notable if not much to look at. The sixth century remains of Anicia Juliana’s palace church, Haghios Polyeuktos. I needed more detail. Not for me of course, for National Geographic.

A sensational, gossipy twist:

My friend Edda Renker Weissenbacher, author of books on the Chora church and Iznik tiles, added that the massive ruin, mostly unexcavated, represented a social grudge of royal proportion. A little research showed that the obscure-sounding princess Juliana of the Anicii (462-529) was the wealthiest and most aristocratic resident of Constantinople. She could trace her roots to Constantine the Great and counted other Western and Eastern Roman emperors in her lineage. But the glory was coming to an unbearable end. Offered the throne when a revolt seemed likely her husband, a general, ran off in fear. Her only son had married into the ruling emperor’s family yet the commoners Justin and his nephew Justinian ascended to the throne instead.

Juliana struck back with the most patrician of socio-political weapons: faith-based art and architecture patronage.  By 527 she had enlarged her ancestral church, making it the capital city’s vastest and richest. Carved with pomegranate flowers, cherubim, palmette -- and peacocks, the symbol of empresses –  in pointed ways it proclaimed her fitness for the throne.  At the 2006 Byzantine Studies Congress art historian Matthew Canepa described Juliana’s use of Oriental motifs as the kind of “cross-cultural political savvy” that could only spring from an imperial background, someone familiar with diplomatic gifts and spoils of war from the East.

The project also conveniently sunk her fortune into her own legacy. New peasant dynasts planned to expand the empire but they wouldn’t be doing it on her dime! Kateryna Kovalchuk, a Byzantine doctoral student in Belgium I stalked online, directed me to a 6th century story told by Gregory of Tours which describes Juliana receiving the young Justinian on a fund-raising mission. The princess pointed upwards.  Her gold was pounded into tiles and affixed to the church roof.

Recalling that the adjective ‘byzantine’ characterizes elaborate scheming to gain political power, I checked the date of Juliana’s architectural ultimatum. Polyeuktos, described by scholars as perhaps the most decorated building in history, predated the world-changing Haghia Sophia by ten years. Justinian’s response, and response it was indeed, had a much sparer design and was fifty percent bigger. Other irresistible facts: The emperor’s wife and co-ruler Theodora was the daughter of a bearkeeper and a scandalous carny if ancient historian Procopius was to be believed. He sniped in his Secret History that she raised her skirts “to show off her feminine secrets”.  My scorned princess -- yes Juliana was now mine -- built a pious hot-seat for a low-born ruler and his checkered-past queen!

Why hadn’t the pivotal Juliana and her provocative church lived on in the general imagination? A special-permission visit to the library at verdant Robert College in Arnavutköy showed it wasn’t for lack of trying.

I was now officially losing money on the National Geographic assignment as I pored over dig reports in A Temple for Byzantium by Martin Harrison, head of Harvard University’s Center for Byzantine Studies.  Mysterious relics are often uncovered in Istanbul but when foundations were dug at the civic center in 1960 the marble arches found were unusually explicit. Greek inscriptions identified a ruin known through literature to historians since at least the 10th century. (The grandiose verses, from the Palatine Anthology’s collection of classical and Byzantine poetry, recounted the construction and dynasty of its patroness.)

Houseguests came to town.

I spirited them to the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, whose Turkish archaeologists also took part in six seasons of excavations at the site. The small H. Polyeuktos section was crowded by a marble column inlaid with amethyst and green and gold glass that once held a canopy over the altar, as well as epigrammed arches decorated with acanthus vines and feathery tails of peacocks. Preeminent Byzantine historian Steven Runciman detected immense meaning in these few Juliana commissions. He thought they display the elusive origin of Byzantine style: the first combination of Roman craftsmanship, Greek balance and Oriental ornamentation, for the purpose of Christian ritual.

If the technique of Polyeuktos was mid-6th century zeitgeist, Juliana upped the ante with its decidedly nostalgic form. Laid out in the Biblical measurement of royal cubit, the floor plan matched a Holy Writ account of King Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem – a legendary structure intended to house the Ark of the Covenant and itself modeled after Moses’s moveable Tabernacle. A supremely tough act to follow, even for an emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.  It’s no wonder when Justinian dedicated his Haghia Sophia he exclaimed ‘Solomon, I have surpassed you!’  He meant to best the Queen of Kings down the road.

Anicia Juliana has never really been lost to history, or to us.

Along with the throngs, I’ve unwittingly admired her pioneering handiwork scattered in the gardens of the Haghia Sophia and the Topkapı Palace, as well as in the Piazza San Marco in Venice.  Three deeply carved basket weave capitals from the Polyeuktos adorn the western façade of the Venetian basilica, while a majestic duo of pomegranate-flowered piers guard its south door across from the Doges Palace – all plundered during the Fourth Crusade.  Those knights failed to reach Jerusalem to wrest the Temple of Solomon from the Muslims, but returning with Juliana’s inspired replicas I imagine them rationalizing a mission complete.

My own mission has just begun. Juliana awaits underfoot.  Who wants to sign my petition to have the municipality building relocated to a new site?

 

See my Byzantine princess board at Pinterest, and my Ottoman & Byzantine board.

Heartbroken (or Hot-and-Bothered) Globetrotters

My review of Romance on the Road: Traveling Women Who Love Foreign Men by Jeannette Belliveau Jeannette Belliveau was a "sex pilgrim" for 12 years and now the 51 year old former erotic adventuress reveals all in this dense volume of travel sex history and how-to cum memoir.

The author got her groove back after a divorce by sleeping with men in Greece, the Virgin Islands, the Bahamas and Brazil. Of French Canadian descent, she is currently married to a younger man of color she fantasizes looks like a 'pharaoh'. In ROMANCE ON THE ROAD she attempts to place her actions into wider context. As an American expatriate living in Turkey, this reviewer senses a motive of authorial self-preservation: to normalize controversial sexual behavior which not only falls outside the bounds of her own culture but severely strains mores at international destinations.

Creating what she calls a geography of sex and love, the newspaperwoman from blue-collar Maryland examines a social phenomenon that may have involved more than 600,000 Western women in the past 25 years: travelers who engage in flings or long term affairs with foreign men, vaulting over cultural boundaries. While intercultural love and marriages are a subtheme, the book's focus is hedonistic sex with virile strangers.

"Travel sex by women is revolutionary," Belliveau declares, a rebellion barred from polite conversation and insufficiently chronicled by social scientists even if its roots are deep in Victorian travel. The Western world might not deem it noteworthy but the buzz is growing in remote Central American fishing villages, sandy strips of West Africa, and the tiniest towns in the Himalayas. The author suggests that today's feminine voyagers are "stumbling into a major life experience without a map."

Does Romance on the Road provide a compass for the heartbroken (or hot-and-bothered) globetrotter looking for a distant cure? It can get a gal started. Prurient interest will be dampened however by the charts, graphs, survey results, and Modern Language Association-style citations of more than 800 bibliographic sources from Henry James' Daisy Miller to a British newspaper feature entitled "My Toyboy Tours". There's a global chronology of the trend, a summary of related books and movies, and basic ethics and etiquette ("remember the man is real, not an actor in your fantasy"; and "do not use him as a sperm donor").

She has done an admirable job of combining veteran intelligence on each locality with a profile of an adventurous Western woman and a timeline of foreign female exploits in the region. Much like the book itself, these geographic chapters are not all fun and games. In Latin America, "sex is a parallel universe of magic" yet gigolos may sport "a breezy attitude toward the truth". A sex pilgrim profiled has a bleak history, found murdered on the side of a Mexican road, "presumably left by a cruel pickup". Clearly an optimist, Belliveau argues that despite obvious risks the lustful practice can be psychologically healing, fulfill a woman's urge for sexual connoisseurship, or address situations like involuntary celibacy.

It can also be a road to discovery. Erotic adventure may not be on the agenda but can be inspired by the act of travel itself. Wandering women have the opportunity to "reclaim pagan freedoms lost since the advent of civilization" Belliveau waxes, since they exist in a liminal zone, a reality unconnected to their usual existence. A traveler may view the people around her as social equals, think of herself as anonymous, feel unburdened by expectations of social propriety, be more playful and suggestive. Novelist Rebecca Brown is quoted discovering her sexuality on a trip abroad: "Like Stein, Toklas, and other women who have traveled away from home, it took leaving my native land to realize I was a lesbian."

Even so, it is difficult to approach Romance on the Road, or know who would, besides social scientists who might wallow in its surfeit of statistics or old hands who will identify with the insider dope, and buoyant we-can-all-get-it-on (and perhaps heal the world by having international children) conclusions. It's hardly pleasure reading nor something to openly peruse on a crowded subway. Some may not want to get caught reading it at all. This reviewer's Turkish husband handed it over saying "You got a trashy book in the mail."

It's unfortunate that Belliveau's concentration on ecstasy abroad overwhelms her scholarship on ethical and economic questions as well as cultural and social ramifications in sex-host cultures. The few harmful consequences she includes are female tourists being perceived as "man-stealers" by native women in the Mediterranean, the Caribbean and Africa; the new role of hustler that thousands of foreign men have adopted; and a rise in STDs and incidents of harassment and assault. Soon enough she is making the case for positives like liberated Scandinavian women spurring sexual revolutions for their sisters in Spain, Greece and Mexico.

Belliveau doesn't seem concerned with the cultural factor freespirited sensualists export. Writing from the sex-toured Near East, this reviewer suggests the damaging potential of each disposable liaison is empirical evidence that Western culture is morally corrupt. One forgettable fling has the power to affect systems far larger than the person, family, village or region which witnessed and absorbed the behavior.

The environment of sexual predation many Western women face overseas is also bound to be heightened by the wanton and culturally inappropriate choices of sex pilgrims. Travelers and expatriates striving to modulate their behavior to find social acceptance with native friends, families and colleagues must struggle to differentiate themselves from sexual opportunists who don't have to lie in the messy bed they've made.

Without apology Belliveau admits this detrimental byproduct of her Shirley Valentine amusement (or was it healing?): "At first I was appalled at the smothering level of harassment I encountered in Athens. Then I succumbed to these temptations, with the likelihood that my sex partners became further convinced about the ease of seducing any lone Western female tourists to later cross their paths."

On behalf of thousands of traveling women hoping to explore the world unmolested -- thanks for nothing.

+++

This appeared in Perceptive Travel, July/August 2006