Nomad at Home

Nomad at Home author Hilary Robertson visits artist Liselotte Watkins’ citrus-hued 19th-century Rome apartment and finds a sunny vibe in homage to her grandmother’s Swedish summerhouse.

After consulting numerous nomads, I have discovered that a certain mindset is required for a successful transition; dithering or clinging, however limply, to home will only end in a half-lived adventure. Nothing but full immersion will do. If you don’t speak the language, learn it fast. Open up! Join in! Make a fool of yourself! Otherwise, you risk hovering on the edges of the new place or creating your own expatriate island.

Liselotte Watkins’ nomad story is one that I have heard many times. It’s the “leaving early” story of a youthful iconoclast, a “throws-caution-to-the-wind” type of gypsy, who picks up their bags and follows something or someone without a backward glance, too young to question the sagacity of such a move. Imagine leaving Sweden for Texas at 17, with “no money, no plan”. “The worst-case scenario was going back,” says Liselotte. “I was a sponge ready to soak it all up.” A full-immersion nomad indeed.
Quitting Texas, she headed to NYC while her then-boyfriend went back to Sweden, promising to return. She landed at the YWCA on 14th Street opposite the Chelsea Hotel, a hip-adjacent address ideal for a neophyte New Yorker. Chance meetings, surviving from day to day, from gig to gig, meant operating in the present tense. “Days went by and you were a winner for still being there.”
In terms of colour temperature, I think of Sweden as monochrome and Italy as a rainbow. Considering Liselotte’s Rome apartment, which throbs with citrus yellow and tangerine, it’s clear that she feels exuberantly at home in her Roman setting.

Her roots may have grown in Rome, but recent events have allowed the family to spend time in the Tuscan countryside near Siena, where they are renovating a house. Like many others temporarily set free from metropolitan life due to the pandemic, they have thrived in a bucolic setting; Liselotte’s daughter is able to ride horses there and she paints in her spacious studio, easing the transition of her work from commercial fashion illustration to fine art. In fact, the family has adapted so easily to country life that they plan to give up city living for this version of la dolce vita, another colourful full immersion.  (Abridged)