Friday, February 12, 2016

I woke sore

My chest muscles were sore this morning when I woke...


I'd giggled and laughed too hard last night watching my husband vote in the Texas primary. Voting is not usually funny but in the weird 2016 election nothing is normal.

"Have you ever heard of Elizabeth Gray?" He was sitting at his desk. I was on the couch.

"Any relation of Meridith's?" We'd been watching an old Grey's Anatomy.

"She's running for president?"

"Of what?"

"The US. Along with 13 other unknowns and the biggies. I'll see what I can find out about her."

My husband is a journalist. Digging up info is one of his loves. The tapping of computer keys were interrupted by reports.

"No website." tap tap tap

"Lives in Taylor." tap tap tap

"I'm writing the local Republican committee." tap tap tap

"I want to write the political editor of the local newspaper." tap tap tap

"He's still in New Hampshire." tap tap tap

I start laughing watching his concentration. "Try the editor-in-chief," I say.

tap tap tap "I'm trying the local librarian."

tap tap tap

Before the evening was out, the librarian and another paper has gotten back to Rick. We've researched Taylor which was the home of actor Rip Torn. Pictures on Google images show the town as a nice place. We find images of her house which is very modest. We've learned which reality sold the house but nothing about Elizabeth herself.

Do we feel guilty looking for info on her?

No. If you run for president you are a public figure.

We know to get on the ballot it can cost $5,000 or 300 signatures from a certain number of places.

Rick's face is a study in happiness with each new fact gleaned, each response back. I keep laughing at his pleasure especially when he says, "An on-line paper says they are trying to interview her."

Elizabeth has become a real presence in the house as we try and determine why she might have put her name on the ballot.

"I think I'll vote for her. She'll get at least one vote," Rick says. His ballot is added to the pile of mail he'll take to the post in the morning.

We are in bed and Rick has switched to his iPad. With no more information or responses coming in he turns out the light. "Good night, Love."

"Good night Rick Boy," I say. "Good night Elizabeth."

This is a dueling blog.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

History repeats

The first day of January 1939 and Argelès-sur-mer, France had a population of a few 100 people. By the end of the month it was over 100,00 as war refugees from Franco poured in from Spain, a proxy war by the great powers, a training ground for WWII. They were herded into concentration camps along the beach in inhumane conditions.

The Retirada as it is called is now "celebrated" in mea culpas, movies, marches with some shame.
Fast forward to 2015, 2016. Other peoples are being forced from their countries by wars as the "great" powers find a place to sell their weapons. 

The response is no less shameful to these victims.

History repeats itself. 

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Spelling woes

"I fully expect Donna-Lane to have a secretary," Principal Miss Graham told my mother who'd complained my spelling could be improved. I was in fifth grade.

"And how will she know if her secretary is correct?" my mother asked, went home an enlisted my grandmother to work with me.

It helped.


At 16 I was a cub reporter for the Lawrence Eagle Tribune. My mother was a full reporter.

"So Dot," George Gellineau, another reporter, asked my mom, "How do we know you don't write most of your kid's copy?"

From the back of the city room Editor Fred Cole, who could have been a stand-in for Spenser Tracey at his grumpiest called. "Kid writes own copy. Kid can't spell. Mother can spell."

I did improve but with my first job in Switzerland I was expected to write British English. My second post was a combination with most English spellings but with the s and (zed) z being American.

At the University of Glamorgan in Wales where I did my masters in creative writing I had permission to write the novel in American English, but my thesis, Repeated Symbolism in John Irving's Books had to be in English. By then word offered spell check in a variety of national Englishes. Thank goodness.

When my agent wanted two manuscripts, one in English-English and one in American-English it was easy to change curb to kerb, theater to theatre. Global changes can be tricky as I had learned when I changed a character's name from Lou to Gino and came up with spellings like bginose  where blouse had been and Ginoisiana for Louisiana so an extra proofing was necessary.

For seven years I published a newsletter for Canadian clients in Canadian-English as I was writing novels in American-English. Sometimes I'd forget to switch the spell check and end up with tons of red-lined words.

I've also battled French spelling. For a long time I had a written and a spoken French. I'd say "tempe" too bad but there was another phrase I used"tant pis" until someone explained they were one and the same once they stopped laughing at me.

And I've more or less mastered which address has one or two ds in each language.

But this week my heart stopped when I read that the French are changing the spellings of some 2000+ words. Worse the circumflex that cute little hat perched on vowels will disappear in many, many words. I've used it as a guide that it usually means in old French there was an s. The é at the start of a verb means in English there is an s thus étage becomes stage and so on.

It's not fair.

Both English and French are spelling nightmares with many letter combinations for the same sound or the same spelling but different pronunciations. And with spell check it is easy to get lazy.

I like lazy.

Friday, February 05, 2016

History is everywhere

Today's life hides yesteryear's.

The Argelès-sur-mer church is just one example.

Notre Dame del Prat (Our Lady of the Meadow) was built in the 14th century although a chapel was said to have been on the site from the 1100s.

Imagine the number of births, marriages and funerals that have taken place over the centuries. The stories of people's lives as the village grew from a few hundred to the almost 10,000 it is today would fill thousands of books or be fodder for plays and movies.

Throught the years the church has gone thru repairs and today there is yet another preservation underway.

To the left, is a plaza where dances are held and marché vendors set up their stands on Wednesdays and Saturdays. How different that is from when it was a cemetery. Early Aregelesians stood and cried as their wives, husbands, children and parents were lowered into the graves. They came by with flowers and prayers. All of them has vanished into time.

The cemetery existed when the village was walled in to protect itself from the pirates that would come thru the swamp or from different battles between waring Catalan counts viaing for territory. Those swamps became fields and vineyards and are now houses varying in age from several hundred years to modern apartment buildings.

In 1341 bakery incomes were given to the church. Jean-Marc, our local historian explains how the apse's direction was changed after part of the church collapsed but the date is uncertain. Today's arrangement dates to the 1700 hundreds.

And I have my own miniscule  history with the church,

When I first walked into the village in 1980 two angels flanked the front door. After one reconstruction they were moved to the plaza.

Vandals have twice broken the wings as if they are anti angel adding another bit of history. I wonder if I can come up with a story about a handicapped angel and the kids that hurt it. 

I've attended Easter Mass at the church with my beloved stepmom. She was amazed when the statues were marched around the church and out to the steps. "It's like a religious square dance," she whispered. Not only is it a church memory, it is a mom memory

I was a witeness to my wantabe brother's wedding. We walked out to "Oh Happy Days" and it was.

I've attended concerts, one of the most painful was the the Gospel Chorus the first time my late friend Barbara wasn't singing her heart out on the far left.

The church when it comes to history is nothing unique. I grew up on an Indian burial site where arrowheads could still be found. I walked on Straight Street to buy nuts in Damascus, the same street mentioned in the Bible. The battlefields of Lexington, Concord and Manassas are today peaceful. A chapel in Garmish is covered with photos of German youth dead for the other side, but no less deas long before their time. There are almost no place I've been that there wasn't life centuries before me.

It is reminder that we ourselves will one day be history remembered first by those we knew than we will be forgotten history, but we still have existed.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Brit vs.French

A houseboat in Amsterdam, a flat overlooking Monaco yachts an architect's loft in Cambridge, MA and a farmhouse in Andorra are just a few of the BnBs Rick and I have stayed in on our wanderings. 

We prefer them to the sterility of hotels chains. It gives us a chance to meet "real" people, check out different decorating styles in "real" homes, do our own cooking if we tire of restaurant. Each new BnB becomes an adventure and we are supporting the locals not some anonymous corporation. Privately owned hotels accomplish the same thing.

I also love two television programs which are almost identical in format but with subtle cultural differences.
  • Four in a Bed - English
  • Bienvenue Chez Nous -French

The premise is the same. Four BnB owners visit each other's BnBs and rate them according to:.
  • Hospitality
  • Facilities including cleanliness
  • Activities
  • Value for money (they pay what they think it is worth)
Nasty and nice

Some of the owners from either country were just warm, friendly people. 

Some were cutthroat. 

Some were weird or out of touch with general expectations.

The Scottish ex military man couldn't understand why women would want "toiletries" any more than an elderly French woman who thought wifi would ruin the ambiance of her place.

There was one British woman who could have won an Oscar for her performance of being disgusted at having to eat in an Indian restaurant. No meals pleased this woman. A French vegetarian acted as if being in a room with meat could cause everyone to drop dead.

One of my favorites was when a French woman whose room in château would have satisfied Marie Antoinette sniffed, "I don't care much for châteaus."

Expectations vs.reality

How someone could go to a BnB in the middle of a city and not understand that traffic was not under the control of the owner is beyond me. The same could be applied to not liking bird song in a country BnB as if a host would go into the garden and ask the birds to not sing before eight. And every now and then, a contestant, usually French, will complain there was too much food at a meal although no one force fed him or her.

The activities were as varied as the host's interest and imagination. A visit to an oyster farm, making sausage, story telling, walking a battlefield, paintball... No matter what was chosen, someone wasn't happy. A common complaint was that the contestants might have liked to see more of the region...except when they did.

The delight when either nationality found a hair on a sheet, dust on a high shelf for chandelier was limitless. 


Both French and English would say, "It's not my cup of tea" or "Ce n'est pas ma tasse thé" or call criticism strategy, sometimes justified sometimes not.

Major cultural difference


The English owners take their fellow contestants to a restaurant. The audience seldom learns what was eaten. They talk on myriad topics. The meal doesn't seem all that important.

The French host it responsible for preparing not just a meal, but a wonderful dinner. S/he gets kudos if it has some regional representation. 

Both the French and the English care about their breakfasts but differently. 

The French want regional and fresh. Better the host has made the pastries himself as well as the jams and jellies. A selection of cheeses and meats go a long way for people to be happy.

The Brits on the other hand expect a typical fry up and tend to ignore the set-out buffet. They don't expect the home made jams and pastries, but the definition of a perfect poached egg becomes paramount. 


As a literature major at university, we were taught to judge a work by its period. Beowolf and My Last Duchess could not be looked at with the same criteria. A play by Shakespeare and one by Oscar Wilde may have some things in common but each needs to be looked at from its own perspective.

The contestants seem to have a problem doing that. When two star and five star establishments are in the same contest one criteria can not be used across the spectrum. Cleanliness yes, hospitality yes, but the breakfast offerings need to be cost effective for room price.

Still, the programs are a wonderful study of character and allows me to go to a BnB without having to pack a suitcase. I only wish I could eat some of those French dinners and English breakfasts. I can get a good French breakfast around the corner.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Marriage and me

I never played house when I was little. 

My mother’s friends’ lives seemed to have too many limitations. Once they said “I do” they didn’t. I played archaeologist, journalist, cowgirl, Greek and or Roman goddess, etc. Much more interesting. I was going to have adventures not be a wife.

Nevertheless I married at 20 my high school sweetheart despite my mother having me arrested to try and stop it. I adored him. It was not his fault that the man I loved existed only in my mind. He gave me a wonderful daughter.

My late friend Barbara laughed when I told her that in ending my second marriage, I divorced a dead man I had never been married to. How was I to know there was already a wife? And although my mother had heard of his demise, she still let me go thru the divorce procedure as a lesson.

My lesson was my skills in husband-choosing was limited so I wasn’t going to do it anymore. I would never marry again, but that didn't mean there would be no men in my life.

When I was still in Boston there was a decent man. Power games pulled us apart. I refused to even call us a couple. For many years after I moved to Europe there was a lovely Swiss business man that I shared weekends with. Our relationship more or less dribbled away painlessly.

Then for a decade I didn’t even want to date. I was totally emerged in happy singledom until I received an email “I’m in Geneva, want to have a cup of coffee? Rick”

I’d met him in the late 70s at a conference and it was a coupe de foudre. Because of our personal circumstances we stomped on every spark left by the lightning bolt. We stayed in touch professionally until I moved to Europe in 1990.

This time, it was a lightening hurricane. And four years later it is still is. Instead of marriage closing doors he opened even more of them for me and vice versa.

Maybe the difference is that we are both writers with PR and journalistic leanings. Maybe it is open-mindedness. Maturity anyone? Probably not.

Why we are willing to ignore or laugh at each other quirk’s, I’ll never understand. Maybe because we don’t embarrass each other over stupidities. The words “your husband/wife is an idiot,” fall from our lips often usually followed by laughter. How was I to know that the 40 decorative snail shells I brought home still had their occupants hidden inside? It all becomes part of family lore.

I encourage him to play golf. He makes sure he doesn’t become between me and my friends’ quality time together. We read to each other, share our writings, rush to the lake to catch the latest sunset or sometimes sunrise. We learned things we didn’t know, broadening our already wide range of subjects. Sometimes we just share space. It just feels good being together. We can also be alone together.

Until last June all problems were external usually involving a stupid bureaucratic. Then they became internal, at least physically as I had two surgeries and chemo. Even with the most optimistic of prognosis. It was more fun spending a week on a houseboat in Amsterdam than logging hospital waiting room hours.

In neither our commitment ceremony (photo) nor our civil service did the words in sickness and in health play a part. It didn’t matter. He has provided wonderful care. I have been able to accept TEMPORARILY loss of independence.

He offered to shave his head when I shaved mine. Sometimes I cringe at how unromantic all this is. But marriage isn’t just about romance. And it isn’t just about having your partner’s back.

I am still not sure what it is. All I know it became something I couldn’t imagine as a kid and thru most of my adulthood I found. 

Or it found me.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


Tummy, the landlords' pet is often cat non grata for miscellaneous reasons.

Thus, when we saw paw prints all over their car, we thought we would help him stay in good graces by removing them.

We told our landlady.

"Those are weasel prints," she said.  "They like to eat any rubber parts from a car." 

There is enough wild land around to support wild life.

I remember a writer friend, Mighty Mom on her blog, who was a neighbor in the next village having to have rubber parts replaced on her car many years back.

Maybe they will leave our car alone if we give them a McDo gift certificate.