She may hail from fair Verona, but we lay our scene right here in Singapore, where Jennifer Gargiulo has just become the island’s most famous expat blogger after the publication of her book, Diary of an Expat in Singapore. Verne Maree dropped in to her four-bedroom Amaryllis-Ville condo in Newton for cappuccino and a chat.
The coffee is made in a little moka, or stove-top espresso-maker, that Jennifer and her husband Michele have had since their wedding 15 years ago. And Jennifer especially went out to buy a rainbow assortment of macaroons to match the ones pictured on the cover of her brand-new book, not-so-casually displayed on the coffee table.
Tell us about your background and your expat trail.
My mother’s American, my father’s Italian, and I grew up in an English-speaking household in Verona, Italy. I went to an Italian school, and then studied philosophy at Vassar College in New York State. I also had a stint in Italian television production – a crazy time, but that’s for another crazy book!
Michele is Veronese; I met him straight after college and we’ve been together ever since. I thoroughly enjoyed the four years we spent together in Dublin; less so the two subsequent years in Sydney. That may be partly because we lived smack in the centre of the city, in Elizabeth Street: not ideal when you have a two-year-old! The second year was better, when I was doing my PhD in literature studies and comparative literature at the University of Sydney.
What brought you to Singapore?
Again, Michele’s career. We moved here in March 2006 when Eliot was just five months old. I wasn’t at all keen on another move, and was dragging my feet terribly.
I said I’d give it a year, but it turned out to be a wonderful move.
We soon made awesome friends that we’re still in touch with. It was easy to do that in a condo, and I’d recommend condo life to any expat family. Even after all these years, I still have the expat mentality; being here always feels temporary to me, and somehow exciting
Tell us about your much-blogged-about children.
Our son Alexander (12) is at the UWC East Coast campus at Tampines and loves it. Daughter Eliot (8) is at the Chinese International School, very near home, and she loves it there too. I take her to school myself, drop her off and walk home. Right now, she hates the idea of spending an hour on the school bus, but I suppose she’ll eventually join her brother at UWC.
Their having completely different term times has in fact turned out to be a blessing in disguise. When Alexander is on holiday, we spend quality time reading together and going to the movies; and when it’s Eliot’s turn, we do what she likes to do.
How do you feel about Singapore?
I love it – so many good things have happened here. After my graduation, I was offered a position at SMU teaching academic writing. That would never have happened so easily in Italy, unless you knew someone who knew someone.
It was a big job, though: I had two classes of 30 students, which required a lot of preparation, reading and grading of papers. I’ve flirted with a lot of other teaching offers and projects.
Another high point was buying and renovating our own home about three years ago.
I started the blog soon after that, and in January this year an editor from Marshall Cavendish stumbled across it and asked me to write a book. Where does that happen? In the real world – or the old world – writers have to first find agents and then persuade them to approach the publishers.
How does one become a blogger, especially such a successful one?
It’s been great fun for me; and if I could start a blog, anyone can, because I am the least techie person you’ve ever met. I went to a site called Blogger, picked a picture, chose a domain and was off.
Once I heard people were reading it, I got a weird kind of writer’s block based on the thought that maybe I should be writing about important stuff, rather than the minutiae of everyday life. But you can’t come up with great ideas every day. My advice is to keep at it: the more I write, the easier it becomes and the better it is.
What was your reaction to Marshall Cavendish asking you to write a book based on your blog?
I was flattered, but I wasn’t convinced there was a book in it. Initially, I couldn’t see how a list of Ten Reasons You’re an Expat Kid could be turned into a chapter. It was really my editor Justin Lau’s vision: he was sure it would work.
Together we decided which were the 25 funniest posts, and then I had to expand each one. Actually, I don’t always have a handle on my publishers’ sense of humour: there are bits that I find only mildly humorous, but they find utterly hilarious.
It can be really difficult to be funny on demand. And over the summer break, when I was in Italy, they insisted that I add a chapter about the haze. I wasn’t even in Singapore, and how on earth was I going to be funny about the PSI Index? But I had to do it, so I did. Maybe I am a writer after all.
How happy are you with the published result?
Except for bearing two children, I’ve never waited for anything with such anticipation. And I’m a bookstore junkie, so seeing my book at Kinokuniya for the first time was a wonderful moment for me.
But even if no one were to read my book, it wouldn’t have been a waste of time: being so full of my own authentic experiences and reflections, it will always be a great memento of the time we spent in Singapore.
Tell us about your lovely home.
We’ve been in Amaryllis-Ville since we arrived here, renting at first. And then, three years ago – ready to make an investment and tired of paying the outrageous rent – we decided to buy our own place.
I’m a creature of habit, so we decided on an apartment in the same condo; I love its facilities, including the gorgeous lap pool and freeform pool: the kids’ slide is a large part of the reason our children have friends. Michele makes good use of the tennis court, too.
In any couple, there’s usually one who is more interested in home décor, and in our case it’s Michele. He took on the renovation in a big way, knocking down a wall to open up the living and dining area and let in the light. We kept the pale marble flooring, but laid parquet in the bedrooms and decking on the patio.
He designed the floor-to-ceiling shoe closet in the entrance hall. Once, he brought home a glossy book devoted entirely to doorknobs!
Just like him, my mom has very definite tastes. But as their tastes are diametrically opposed – she’s into Rococo chandeliers and he’s into contemporary minimalism – we had to make very sure she didn’t visit us around this time.
My only request was that the TV not be in the living room. Now we can put the kids in the TV room and close the door, and enjoy a glass of wine in peace.
This drum table in the TV room is from Just Anthony; we use it to display wedding and other photos. I saw it in Expat Living. I’m not that big on magazines, but every time I open yours, I think it’s like a really good friend in Singapore who is trying to make your life better and never disappoints you. I love the home articles, the people interviews, the book reviews (of course) and the travel.
The kitchen cabinets have Blum fittings, which we read about in Expat Living. And all Italian women want one of these Bimbi food processors, although it’s actually German. It’s Michele’s pride and joy. Sadly, he’s a weekend chef who has no interest in cooking for the kids – all week long I’m cooking pasta, pasta and more pasta.
All new furniture?
Most of it is new, yes; Michele gave away our old stuff, piece by piece, and then went out and bought what he liked.
I think the living room has the ambience of a contemporary hotel lobby. You’ll see there’s no clutter: I have to hide my books in my closet, or arrange them artistically on the low wall unit in the TV room. I was very suspicious the day my husband bought me a Kindle; I knew he had an ulterior motive.
The living room couch and the low wall unit in the TV room are from BoConcept; the dining table and chairs are from XTRA; and the outdoor furniture is from OHMM. The living room rug, lamp and pouf are from Space: they must have been pricey, because Michele wouldn’t let me see the receipts. All the artwork was commissioned, and there’s a Murano glass chandelier hanging above the dining table.
Our antique four-poster bed is from a shop in Ann Siang Hill in Chinatown; I can’t remember it’s name, but I loved this bed and had to have it. The mosquito netting is from Java. The red chair came from Barang Barang in Tanglin Mall; it’s a pity they closed down.
What’s next for Jennifer Gargiulo, author?
There’s a hint in the last chapter of my book. It’s titled The Expat Bucket List, and I’ve yet to tick off even one item. I still have to try durian, eat ice cream between two pieces of bread, get a fish pedicure, and so much more!
290 Orchard Road
6736 0777 | boconcept.com
9 Penang Road
#01-01/02-01 Park Mall
6336 0688 | xtra.com.sg
30 Merchant Road
#03-09 Riverside Point
6836 2747 | ohmm.sg
77 Bencoolen Street
6415 0000 | spacefurniture.com.sg
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