Sunday, December 21, 2014

More taxi encounters of the third kind

One of the great things about riding in taxis is delving into the drivers lives and personality. I've added three to my collection.

Taxi No. 1. Mary O
House to Westport Train Station

"I was warm in my house. It's nippy this morning. I'm glad I didn't shave my legs."

Mary O was not only cheerful but a cheerleader for the wonderful village of Westport Mayo Ireland. She had her doubts about the new statue in the center. "It claims to be a man on a horse, but it doesn't look like any man on a horse, I've ever seen." Still her tone was one of it being more than okay for a place where she loves living.

Taxi No. 2 Wayne
BnB to Dublin Airport Arrivals

Wayne explained how the taxi system in Dublin works with each driver owning their own car but
belonging to a cooperative and how the rides are divided up. He also is a member of the credit union and how easy it is to get loans. With almost every town and parish having credit unions and my writing about credit unions for the past 20 years, we could share a lot of information. He told me a couple of things that I had written about.

When he found out we would be going to the airport at (gulp) 4 am on the 23rd, he called the dispatcher and arranged for us to be picked.

The Greek islands are a wonderful place to visit, he told us. Rick and I have added that to our travel list.


Taxi No.3 James
Dublin Airport to BnB

Rick:    How are you this morning?
James:  What are you a doctor?

We didn't follow up much. Llara and I were too busy catching up on her flight, her family (my ex-side of the family) our adventure in Westport, etc. 

The best Christmas present

Scene: Dublin airport Arrivals

Observations: Rick notices that pilots long black bag contains golf clubs. (He can spot a course, club or golf ball at about two miles.)

Sign: The best Christmas present is about to walk through these doors.

Reunion 1: An Irish family, husband, grandpa, four kids including a baby on the shoulders of the father are waiting for for their family now living in Florida.

The doors open and the Florida family comes out. One is a child of three pulling a suitcase. She sees her cousins, screams, drops the case and runs as fast as she can to the waiting arms. A KLM stewardess picks up the case and takes it to the family.

Reunion 2: The doors open and Llara comes out and sees Rick waving Scooby.

We hug. I cry.

"Is there something you want to tell me?" she asks.

"I'm pregnant," I say.

She knows it isn't true. 

We pass Santa and she agrees to pose with him with the eye rolling that is so much a part of our family communication.

Christmas has begun. The best present has arrived.


My mother's face

Another essay I found while cleaning emails.

Twenty-eight young sepia faces stared at me from a composite photo. It had been sent to celebrate my 60th birthday by a friend with whom I’d shared secrets for at least three-quarters of my life. 

On it was a Post-it. “My uncle is in the top row, can you find your mother? It’s the fifth grade class at Highland Street School.”

A quick calculation put the year at 1927, two years before the Great Depression. Some of those boys with the jagged haircuts would fight in World War II. One women would be crippled in the 1953 polio epidemic and spend the rest of her life in an iron lung.  Another would have a son, my classmate, who would die in Vietnam. One ended up an alcoholic. 

I don’t know which face belonged to which future, but I’d heard enough stories from my mother about her school chums to know hard lives awaited them. But in the photographer-conscious smiles none of those young faces showed any fear.

In the middle of the second row from the bottom was my mother. I knew my grandmother had made the dress my mother wore, because, I’d heard stories that my grandmother made all her clothes. My mother coveted store-bought clothes, but her first off-the-rack dress was in junior high, two years away. 

And I also knew that my mother had been driven to school that day in a Black Ford. My grandparents were the first people in town to have a car, and my grandmother was known as "The Lady with the Ford."


I had never seen pictures of my mother as a child, but I still recognized her. The face was my face and my daughter’s face. To double check I took the sheet across the hall to my Syrian neighbor. “Can you pick out my mother?” I asked.

Without hesitation Marina touched the woman I’d identified. “She looks like the Kid.” 

Both my daughter and Marina are in their thirties. Because Marina was my friend first, she thinks of us as contemporaries and my daughter as “The Kid” or “The Brat” both names, which I use with greater love than the words imply.

Afterwards I went home and put the photo on a shelf. My mother’s eyes followed me. I thought about the face shared by three generations of women. I wondered how many other women through the years looked like us. The genes had to be strong to keep reappearing.

Would we have recognized, Elizabeth, our first known relative who died in Maine in 1636? 

Did our face wait for a soldier to come home from one of Oliver Cromwell’s battles? 

Did it witness the carnage at the Battle of Hastings or watch a pagan solstice at Stonehenge?   
I want to know more about them, ask them questions about their lives.

I saw nothing of the bitterness and anger that would mark my mother’s face in years to come in that ten-year old girl staring at me. 

I have long since forgiven her for trying to annul my marriage and take my daughter away from me. 

Finally out of the bad times have come good memories of sitting and treating ourselves to smoked sausage and strawberries as we played Scrabble, buying clothes and eating baked stuffed lobster at the Oat & Anchor. 

I use her good ways to build my relationship with my daughter, and I have enough friends who have promised to hit me if I copy the bad. It has worked. When my daughter comes we laugh, tell stories and secrets.

My daughter, who shows no interest in making me a grandmother, still won’t be the last owner of this face. My brother’s daughter is the face’s newest owner, sharing the chubby cheeks and the high forehead. She will probably lead a more conventional life than my daughter and continue our genetics to future generations.

As I climb into bed, my mother still looks at me as she did when I was little. Only this night she won’t read The Bobbsey Twins or Thornton W. Burgess to me. 

For the first time since she died over 14 years before, I want to call her and say, “Guess what I have,” but I know there are no phones there. 

I realise that my friend, a half a world away, has given me a far greater gift than an old photograph for my birthday. She has given me a new past, one that was always there. 

I just didn’t’ know it.

Saturday, December 20, 2014


 Another essay found.

“Five continents? There are seven,” my best friend of thirty years said. We were sitting in her Boston bedroom. Although I’ve lived in Europe for over a dozen years, we’ve been able to maintain a close friendship. Nevertheless, from time to time we bump heads on our different experiences and our different chosen cultures, each of us digging into stances that waste both our times and energies.

Oops, here’s another landmine, I thought. Still, I went on. “In Europe they teach five,” I said.

            She looked at me. “Name them.”

            “Er, the Americas, Eurasia...” My assurance vaporized with the steam of the tea we were drinking. How did others classify the continents? I had no idea.

            “In Germany they teach five,” my daughter said. She’d done most of her university degree in Mannheim and a 13th year of high school in Munich.

            “That’s only one country’s point of view,” my friend snapped.

            Before taking too strong a stance, I decided to take a survey by emailing my friends, colleagues and neighbors back in Geneva. One of the advantages of working for a small international organization with coworkers representing 47 different nationalities is that it is easy to check out different perspectives.
The next morning I ran to my email to see if anyone had answered. My inbox was full.

            “Goooooooodmoooooooorningamerriiiiikkaaaa,” my Romanian colleague wrote. “Europe, Asia, South America, North America, Australia. The others are ice thingies.”

            Okay, I thought. I was wrong about the Americas being grouped as a single continent. I then opened the email from my Ukrainian coworker. “Six,” he said. He grouped North and South America as one, but added one of my Romanian friend’s “ice thingies,” Antarctica. 
            When I was first living in Europe, he had taught me to look beyond my beliefs. An ardent Democrat, I resisted going for his jugular when he claimed that “Reagan was one of America’s greatest presidents.” Only after he explained, that he felt that it was Reagan’s Star Wars that helped break up the Soviet Union giving sovereignty to his country, did I look at that particular president from my co-worker’s point of view. The ability to see the other side, I still haven’t mastered, but am closer, thanks to him.

            “Five,” my Syrian neighbor, who works for the World Council of Churches, wrote. “Of course,” she added, “with all the new countries what I learned in geography has changed. What about subcontinents like India?” I’d never thought of India being a subcontinent and I didn’t want to get into it either.

            “FIVE,” was the opinion of my Swiss German colleague. The” naturally” was implied by the capital letters.

My Swiss-French colleague, who is the secretary to our secretary general, showed her normal political acumen that our boss so appreciates. “I learned five,” and then she cited the source. However, detail person that she is, she checked another source that claimed seven.

            My Brit buddy, a person with a degree in psychology, came up with her usual response. “You need to define your terms. Is a continent an unbroken landmass…?” Then with her usual sense of humor she added, “We got rid of your continent and all those gum chewers centuries ago.” She never named a number.

            Suddenly, I saw the silliness in the situation. Puny mankind could count and define these land masses as they want. It changes nothing. I then imagined how we who live for only a few decades, try to control by naming and counting what has existed for millions and millions of years. I pictured two Alps talking. “What’s your name now?” one mountain would ask the Matterhorn.

            “Some call me the Matterhorn, some Zermatt, among other things, ” the Alp would reply.

            I closed my email. My friend and I are meeting my daughter for lunch, three friends, despite differences in age, chosen life styles, professions, or belief in number of continents. We will order good food, share memories, plan the upcoming holiday, which is why I am in the States. The rest is detail, unimportant in our lives.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Last day housesitting in Westport Ireland

Between rain showers (but no rainbow) we made one last trip to the beach with Rooby.

The dog was our main responsibility and we've taken some 60 walks on the beach and in the woods. She is a lovely, lovely, loving animal.

We had about five heating glitches, two shower glitches and electrical challenges.

The plants have survived me, the mail has been collected, and the trash emptied.

It's been a wonderful experience with many rainbows, book store wanders, pub grub and Irish music.

Today we cleaned and made sure the Frigo has food for Rooby's people when they get back tomorrow.

Tomorrow we head for Dublin, to meet up with my Kid for a couple of days and then back to Southern France for the holidays.

Eventually we'll make it back to Geneva.

Will we housesit again?

I hope so.

I know some people go from housesit to housesit and thus avoid the rent/mortgage trap. Not sure we're ready for that yet but getting a chance to live in a different place is truly a holiday gift before the holiday.

Rocks and Buddy Hackett.

This is a rock we see each time we go to the beach. I used if for haiku earlier this month. Today I saw the face of Buddy Hackett: Two eyes and the mouth off to the side.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Line dancing in France

I'm in the process of cleaning and organizing all my files, paper, photo, electronic. I came across this story that I had published in Travellers Tales, a series of anthologies that share adventures of people who've gone all over the world. The books make a fun read and a chance to see places from the comfort of your living room.
 “I’ve a surprise,” Christian said as soon as I stepped off the train in Lyon. He drove me up to the hills behind the city, pointing out the yellow buildings and telling me the history of Charlemagne. His wife was at the door of their home. She ushered me into a meal that only the French can whip up with little or no effort. There was a salad with walnut dressing with self-picked walnuts, a chicken with olives, rice with seasonings, and green beans with tomatoes and onions and an herb I have yet to identify.

“Voilà,” Christian said as he brought out a bottle of Nouveau Beaujolais with a flourish that would make a wine steward weep.

“How wonderful. A great surprise,” I said feeling like a real insider to be offered Nouveau Beaujolais three days before the unofficial unveiling of the wine.

“That’s not the surprise,” he said. “It comes after lunch.”

After the last morsel of homemade tarte des pommes disappeared, we piled into his car. Exhausted from my trip and too much good food, I feel asleep and woke to discover myself in a tiny medieval village in Provence. Christian parked the car and we wandered through the streets that a normal-sized American car could not have gone through without scraping both doors. At a church he stopped and threw open the door.

The church, which has been built sometime in the 1200s, had been converted into the Salles des fêtes. Most French towns and villages have such a meeting place for any local event. The inside of this one was as modern as the outside was old.

But it was not the architectural ingenuity that left me gaping. The entire village was inside, all dressed as cowboys and all line-dancing.

“Surprised?” Christian asked.

“Flabbergasted,” I said, and then tried to find the French words that expressed my shock. I couldn’t.

The word quickly spread that a “real” American was there. One man came up and handed me a Budweiser. Another came to ask if I could teach him some steps. I blushed as I admitted I’d never line-danced, and making explanation about being from New England didn’t seem worthwhile. However, the man quickly offered to correct this. Within a few minutes I could sally and keep my hands in my back pocket as well as the next person.

While I was eating a saucisson, which was billed as an American hot dog but much tastier, several people came up to tell me about their visits to the States. Those who had not been there asked about this or that place, mostly the West, where I’d been on business trips, but did not know nearly as well as I knew the East Coast. I found myself talking about Greyhound buses, car rentals and the Grand Canyon, which I had seen.

The live country and western band was from Perpignan, a city near the Spanish border. They were good. They were also very loud. The leader began a series of announcements to thank the organizing committee and talk about where they would be next appearing. Then came the fatal words. “We’ve an American here with us tonight. She’s going to sing for us.”

I knew I was the only American in the room. I also knew that when I sang to my small daughter, she asked me to stop because it hurt her ears. And she was my kindest critic. The door was too far away for an escape. Even running would have been impossible because the crowd carried me to the stage.

I looked down at a sea of eager faces. All my life I had fantasized about being a singer as only a tone-deaf person can. I imagined cheering crowds.

“What would you like to sing?” the leader asked.

“Me and Bobby McGee?”

Maybe he didn’t know it.

He did.

“What key?”

Key? I knew keys existed in music, keys that apparently had nothing to do with doors. I racked my brains for one that sounded real. “C?”

“C it is,” he said, handing me the mike and picking up his guitar.

I looked at the mike. I imagined tomatoes being thrown, big flavorful, juicy ones that deserved local fresh-pressed olive oil and fresh picked basil, not the rejection of bad singing. I imagined the end of any decent Franco-American relations based on the auditory torture of the entire population of a French village. Then I saw the little button on the mike that switched it off. I did just that.

I indicated that the band should start and I started belting out, “Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waiting for a train…” I waved for the audience to sing with me. I strutted up and down that stage like I had in a million earlier fantasies, smiling as I went. The band was great.

The crowd went wild with applause. I bowed.

The bandleader came up to me. “I’m sorry, but the microphone was off.”

“Ce n’est pas vrai?” I lied hoping my shock was as great as my fake singing.

“Do you want to sing again” he asked.

“I’d rather dance,” I said.

Christian lifted me off the stage. “You were great. I was so surprised. I didn’t know you could sing.”


Whenever I'm in a new country I want to check out the cemeteries. One can learn a lot about a people from the way they bury their dead.

It is also a great source of names for a novel if I were writing one based in that place and time.

Today was the day for Westport Ireland's Aughavel Cemetery between lunch and rain.

There is an old and new section. The old graves go back to the early to mid 1900s. The new are new including this year. They style has not changed greatly.

At one time the cemetery had a medieval church, but little remains today.

Like in France, we learn a little about the people from what is written on the stone, but this is the first place I've seen an address given. There was one woman who died very old, her address was given, and the name of a family who erected the stone was given.

In another, we are asked to remember Kim who lies elsewhere.

Not many flowers were in the cemetery, but between the rain, wind and cold it is little wonder. However, anyone wanting to plant flowers or evergreens for Christmas can find water here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Find and replace

I did my thousand words on my novel Murder in Edinburgh, today. What a pleasure to write without the pressure of the newsletter.

And like every novel I've changed a character's name part was through using find and replace. This has drawbacks.

When Lou became Gino in Family Value I had the state of Ginoiana and women wore Ginouses.

This time I changed Rob to Duncan so I had pDuncanplems and pDuncanably, Robert became Duncanert.

Global find and replace again and then a page by page look through to make sure that I caught all the redlines, which also picked up a couple of other typos... if they gave medals in typos I would qualify for at least a silver.

Photo: The wonderful, wonderful city of Edinburgh where my next murder takes place. Others are listed at  Rick brags that I write murder mysteries and I add that I kill people all over the word. People warn him he should be nice to me, because I know how to kill people. But I only do it in print.

Kid for Christmas

"Quality time in the bakeries. Slaughtering the French language." That was what my daughter wrote that she was looking forward to this Christmas in Argelès.

She will meet up with us in Dublin this weekend. We'll have an exploring day before going to France.

Christmas with her will always be special and never guaranteed.

When she was little she was with me Christmas eves but after Christmas morning, she would go with her father, a decision negotiated during our divorce. Only later did I learn that she would have preferred not to split the holiday, but thought she didn't have a choice. 

Parents listen to what your children don't tell you as hard as it may be.

And as an adult when Llara lived in Europe, I was able to share Christmas after Christmas after Christmas with her. That was wonderful. Sometimes we were in Switzerland, sometimes in Germany with cousins.

For a few years I was able to go to Boston or Washington DC where she lived at different times.

And we also had phone-call Christmases. Her voice was a gift. My imagination supplied the face.

She is too old to leave milk and cookies for Santa...but I suspect that a mocchino at La Noisette will not go amiss as we share precious time together.

My best present will be having my daughter within hugging reach.

Photo: Our tree from 2013 with some ornaments Llara and I made when she was three. A friend is getting the tree for us and we'll put it up as soon as we are back with these ornaments and others as we did through her childhood.