One expat eyes another, 100 years in the past

Immersing myself in the late 19th and early 20th century life of a bourgeois Jewish woman in San Francisco might seem like a strange thing to do while living in Istanbul, but I jumped on the chance to investigate little-known writer Harriet Lane Levy for California magazine.

Though at first I found it hard to relate to the cloistered childhood she depicts in her autobiography, I became fascinated by how someone who grew up in such a small, closed-off world could make the leap to a larger one -- and eventually saw some similarities to my having caught the travel bug so badly when no one else in my family even has a passport. My expatriate life is pretty different than what we know of Levy's -- more cheap beers with fellow journalists in dive bars and fewer swanky soirees in famous artists' ateliers, and, of course, no family wealth to live off -- but the journey into the past provided worthwhile insights.

My article on Levy appears in the Summer 2010 issue of California, part of the theme of "Shelf Life."