Archives For USA

Finding the IRS

February 14, 2017 — 5 Comments

As an inveterate browser of all things decorative, I was thrilled to find an ornately carved teak door, partially hidden by statuettes of worthy Asian deities. I am particularly drawn to all things Oriental, having spent a large part of my life in South East Asia. Including the frame, the door measured ten feet high and five feet wide. This I know because an arsenal of facts would be required if I were to persuade my long-suffering husband these doors were indeed entirely necessary to our future.

I was rebuffed with the words, “But, love, we don’t even know what country we will retire to, and we are not going to buy a house to fit around some doors.” I have never forgotten those doors and, more importantly, the questions they raised. His words were the start of an intense search. Finding the IRS…. the Ideal Retirement Spot.

My life has been nomadic since birth – countries as diverse as Papua New Guinea and the Netherlands have been home. My husband started his global wanderings when 23 and, whilst enjoying returning to England to visit family and friends, did not envisage returning to that green and pleasant land. Pubs, cricket and rugby notwithstanding.

Contrary to popular belief, a peripatetic life does not make the search for the IRS easier.

After spending holidays as a teenager with my parents in Provence, on the outskirts of villages with names like Draguignan and Mougins, I had romantic notions of finally mastering French and spending our leisure years sipping rosé by day and cognac by night. But the area had become expensive and not quite as inviting as my childhood memories.

An intense affair with most things Italian, including grappa, sent me scurrying to the Tuscan and Umbrian hills. Palominos gave an equine serenity as they merged into sizzling summer landscapes, reminiscent of an Impressionist painting. Hungry hogs, foraging in the undergrowth as fireflies came out to play, added an element of danger. Remote villas as old as time. Villages perched on hilltops, narrow doorways tempting us into darkened interiors offering culinary delights – pecorino, salami and vino; cafés spilling onto Fiat-wide streets with the ever-lyrical sound of Italian – what more could we want? Less laments! Utterances, from those expatriates already living la dolce vita, about the lack of a favoured cereal or the slowness of service – so different to home.

Living for a time in a small, despotic, sub-Saharan West African country honed our Spanish. How about Spain? High up in the hills behind Malaga, away from beer-bellied Brits thronging the malecons along the Costa Brava. A vineyard, perhaps? An olive farm? The idea of producing our own appealed to my taste buds. Following garbled instructions along remote lanes, ditches on either side ready to swallow the unwary driver, we viewed several – both grape and olive groves.

And then it hit us. What would we do once we’d trodden those grapes or picked those olives? Did we want to spend our retirement working the land – something neither of us had every done. We appreciate the countryside but really we are water people. A babbling brook would not be enough. Who would we socialise with? Driving half an hour along rutted roads for the daily paper, a cafe con leche or a glass of wine in the local hosteleria, and driving back, held little appeal and would not allow for easy integration.

Our focus changed. Perhaps we needed to consider towns. Barcelona and Tarragona appealed, but prices didn’t. And then we lost our way again. How about living on the beach? Grenada? Beautiful, friendly, too difficult to navigate, too far. Belize? Barrier islands seemed risky when considering the possibility of hurricanes. Let’s try on the mainland. How about Corozal? Jaguars and jacaranda ticked environmental boxes, but difficulty in obtaining basic necessities – fresh produce, cheese, good bread, wine – put us off.

Baja California was next. Not the more usual Cabo san Lucas, but what about the capital of the province, La Paz? A charming old town with a Friday night parade of cars driven by love-lorn Lotharios, looking for the girl-of-their-dreams tossing coquettish smiles as they sauntered along the palm-fringed malecon. Affordable. A good produce market. Interesting history. The sea on our doorstep. But. That intangible but. It didn’t feel right. We were forcing the issue.

Subdued, I returned to Houston to pout and ponder. For a number of years. I gave up house hunting around the world, and concentrated on writing. Until one rainy Sunday afternoon, a golf tournament on the television keeping my husband engrossed and me less than, I restarted the search for the IRS. Trolling through websites in lesser known Caribbean islands, I came across a West Indian house in dire need of love.

“Look,” I said, blocking my husband’s view of the 16th hole. “What about this? It’s in town. We loved the island. Easy to get to. And it’s American, so our investment would be safe.”

“We haven’t been there for thirty years,” he reminded me. “There’s a reason for not showing photos of the bathrooms. And the kitchen looks as if its made of balsa wood.”

“Look at the views. Ignore the clutter, the bones are good. It just needs attention.”

“Interesting, I suppose,” he said, his eyes straying back to the 17th hole. “Why don’t you go and have a look?”

Three days later I landed on the island of St Croix, USVI. I came, I saw, I bought. It felt right – the IRSview-of-the-bvi

April 7th, 2010

November 9, 2016 — 4 Comments

I looked around the school gymnasium and was humbled. We were a polyglot of tongues and colours, from many cultures – all immigrants. I stood with all the other immigrants to swear my allegiance to the United States of America. A country which I thought stood for decency. For equality for all. A still young country to which many others in the world looked to with hope.

In 2014 the population of America was 318.9 million and it seems, in the bleary light of a dull Houston morning, as if Secretary Clinton will win the popular vote by a squeak. America, though, is a representative republic as opposed to a direct democracy, and it is this that has allowed Donald Trump to win the Electoral College. The system whereby the number of electors for a state is based upon the voting membership of that state in Congress.

The system put in place by those who wrote the Constitution. James Madison, considered the pivotal writer of the Constitution, believed “factions” of the public with a common interest could arguably harm the nascent nation as a whole. I would argue that system has just irredeemably harmed the now 241 year old nation.

This is not the first time the popular vote has been defeated by the electoral system. George Bush beat Al Gore in 2000, and the same has happened on three other occasions in the 1800s. I wasn’t able to vote in the Bush v Gore contest but I cared, and was disappointed in the outcome. I was not, though, riven with a feeling of utter horror. Mr Bush might not have been my choice but I never questioned his belief in his country or his inherent decency.

The man-who-would-be-president in January 2017 fills me with such disgust and distrust that I feel truly ill. And almost worse, my anger at the millions of people in this incredible country who have turned their back on progress. Who have accepted the slogan “Make America Great Again” – when the merest glance over the border to the chaos in many countries in Central and South America, across the oceans on either side of us, would see just how great America is.

Fed on fear, much of America has shown the watching world just how ignorant we are of what is happening in the world. We are in danger of being considered an inward-looking, inbred country of misogynistic men and cowed women, uncaring and uninterested in life outside our borders. Unwilling to take a stand for the rights of people everywhere.

And everywhere includes the United States. Mr Trump has denigrated so many people here – women, African Americans, Muslims, the disabled, immigrants, those who have fought and died for this country, those who love someone of the same sex – and I suppose, as I wipe the tears away, I am shell-shocked at the gullibility of people through broad swathes of this country. People who have voted for a man who is proud of not paying taxes, a man who holds women in staggeringly low esteem, who sneers at climate change and believes coal extraction is a good way to increase jobs, a man who brags of business acumen but who is alienating many trading partners with his rhetoric of slashing international trade deals, won through diplomacy and patience.

Diplomatic and patient – two words never used to describe the man we the people have elected to the White House. To fill the rooms of that venerable mansion with crass flamboyance, and crude utterances. To replace a family who have lived there with grace, humour and courage.

And I am shell-shocked at the blatant disregard by women in this country of a man who threatens their very wellbeing, and that of their children, particularly their daughters.

The markets settled slightly after Mr Trump’s acceptance speech, more gracious than expected, but how can a country become “great” when the person leading it has such a low opinion of so many of its citizens, and the world outside its borders?

On April 7th, 2010 I proudly became a citizen of this incredible country. On November 9th, 2016 I am beyond dismay.