When you ask some people how long they’ve lived here, they’ll say, “Oh, I’ve lived here all my life.”
Try asking that question to Meg and David Graves, and they’ll answer, “What month is it?”
David’s family has deep roots in South Pasadena. His grandparents moved to South Pasadena in the late 1930s and his parents lived on Meridian Avenue, just above the high school.
You may have bought some of Meg and David’s art when they lived here or nearby on three separate occasions — in Alhambra, Sierra Madre and South Pasadena from 1979-86; from 2010-2015, when they also had a small place in Santa Barbara; and, finally, when they returned for a year in 2019. That’s when I got to know them and bought some of Meg’s pottery.
They lived in Maui for 20 years from 1986-2006 and the Hawaiian influence can be seen decorating some of Meg’s artwork. She and David met in Alaska while working in the fishing industry.
I told you these two people liked to roam.
“We decided to live overseas in spring of 2016,” Meg said.
They decided to return to France, where they had once owned a place in Antibes. They spent three months there and then decided to go to Mexico for six months. They then spent six months more in South Pasadena before reinvigorating their dream of living in Europe.
“We never thought of ourselves as people who chose to move around. It just worked out that way, as we’ve always both been interested in other cultures,” Meg said during our online conversations.
I told them they’d be getting a lot of emails, since I ask a lot of follow up questions. I’m sure they woke up every morning, looked at the computer and said, “Him again?”
“The experience of traveling as a couple has increased our ability to deal with and express different opinions and approaches to our plans,” said Meg, who is 63; David is 71. “Sometimes, we are in agreement about these plans, sometimes not. We work it out together. The challenges of travel, especially during these times, has made us stronger people both as a couple and as individuals.”
Their travel in Europe introduced the couple to the European Union’s Schengen Agreement, which allows for no more than 180 days in the zone per year for non-EU natives and not more than 90 days consecutively. There are 26 Schengen countries, including much of mainland Europe.
“Long-term travelers, which we’ve now become, refer to this as the “Schengen shuffle.” It is still concerning — more so now, of course, with COVID rules different in each country,” David said. “We’ve both developed a very high appreciation and respect for other cultures. In our daily encounters, if there are misunderstandings with people, it is almost always due to something lost in translation or differences in how to respond to certain situations.”
The Graves decided to come back to South Pasadena in 2019 after being contacted by a former landlord that an apartment was available if they were interested.
“After traveling for three years, we wanted to try returning to the States to become involved with our art careers again and to stay in one place longer than three months,” David said.
The problem was that there was a serious fire in the apartment next to them. They also noticed the venues selling art had diminished and Meg wasn’t able to find space to make pottery.
“We had become used to and liked the fact that, in all European countries we stayed, there are many people out walking to attend to daily errands,” Meg said. “We like this way of life for the opportunities to be around a lot of people on a daily basis and for the daily exercise. Public transportation is excellent in Europe, so everywhere we’ve stayed we didn’t need to rely on a car. It’s harder to live without a car in the States.”
The couple is fond of the tree-lined streets of South Pasadena, the friends they made there and the chance to make and sell their work. They were able to travel and visit relatives — a treat that they miss overseas.
“I don’t miss the general quality and prices of living compared to living in Europe (generally),” David said. “For example, here in Zagreb” — the capital of Croatia — “where we are now, we pay about $800 a month for a fully equipped and furnished 900-square foot apartment in a nice area downtown which includes all utilities. Food is inexpensive, a large daily green market is nearby; public transportation is excellent and the people are exceptionally friendly and helpful. Amazingly, most Croatians speak American English.”
“What we appreciate the most,” Meg added, “is the slower pace of life, better quality of just about everything at more affordable prices and the amazing people. Our favorite country is Croatia.”
The couple estimates that they halved their costs for lodging and food, and by staying longer in each place the costs are less since utilities are usually included. Expenditures are about 25-30% less, they said.
They have both been doing artwork, and David still gets an occasional check for the rental of his pieces for the film/TV business from ArtPic, a gallery which has rented his work since 2012. He had an exhibition in Montenegro of his work in May 2020. Meg does not have the time or space to set up a place to do pottery, but is now drawing.
Starting out together, they worked summer jobs in Kenai, Alaska, for 10-12 years in quality control at a cannery. Meanwhile, they continued university studies and worked at the Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center — Meg as a secretarial assistant, and David with cancer control studies.
Later, in Hawaii, David had jobs in construction, archaeology and with UPS. Both expanded their art careers until it became their main jobs. David describes his drawings as “quasi-surreal nonsensical images that can challenge a viewers’ preconceived notions of meaning.”
The pandemic looms over the Graves’ travels and they never know when they will face some change in bureaucratic rules which might cause them confusion at a bus or plane ticket counter or at a border crossing. The shutdown found them nestled in Montenegro, where usually busy streets were empty.
They have continually tested themselves for COVID and have remained healthy. Both have medical conditions and continue to worry about how various governments are dealing with the disease.
“We’ve come to appreciate our lives abroad,” Meg said. “It has taken a lot of work, but we’ve adjusted to it so at this time, we will keep going. We will continue as long as it’s sensible and enjoyable. At some point, we will stop traveling and will develop a home base and pick up our art careers more actively once again.”