Thursday, February 02, 2023

A 24 or 12 hour clock and bubbles

 


 At 19 I was living at university but an overprotective mother was still controlling my coming and goings. I needed to check in every day when I got back to the dorm. I did get grounded when she called back once later after we'd talked to see I had left again.

My then boyfriend wanted to take me to Attleboro to meet his parents, about an hour and half drive.

"Absolutely not," my mother said. I didn't go.

Why am I telling you this.

Because one year to the day I didn't go to Attleboro, my father and stepmom kissed me goodbye on the deck of the ship USS America. I was off to two years in Germany to join my army husband stationed in Stuttgart, Germany. 

Perhaps if I'd gone to Attleboro, I wouldn't have married the man who would have opened the door from the protected atmosphere where I was raised.

To someone who couldn't even go into Boston, 12 miles from my hometown, never mind the drive from Lowell where I was in School to Attleboro, crossing the Atlantic was incredible.

During that first trip when I'd never been in Boston on my own, I found myself in Paris train station after a train trip from Le Havre. I managed to buy a ticket for the night train to Stuttgart. It was leaving at 23:00H it said. I did understand the word "depart" on the ticket.

What the hell was 23H?

After telling a Frenchman, I spoke French but he didn't, he patiently explained in a sexy accent about the 24 hour clock. One after noon was 13H, two was 14H, etc.

That was my first realization that things I thought were the same the world over weren't. Alphabet letters have different names, a typewriter keyboard is arranged differently for different languages, Playing cards are not the same, 8 and a half by 11 paper is rare in most of the world which uses A4 as the standard. I wasn't 5 foot 1 but over here I'm 153 centimeters and on and on.

Many decades later I live in Europe and have hopped across the ocean more times than I can count. Where my first trips were exciting later ones are something to be gotten through. 

I forgot the first European trip is still a big deal for others until I was on a Boston-London flight with  a group of American teenagers who were making fun of the way things were spelled. I pointed out that this was a British airplane and that the words were correct British spelling. "You mean they don't spell the way we do," one gasped. This is why everyone should get out of the bubble they live in and see things taken for granted aren't global. 

I'm glad my bubble burst.

 

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Lexington: Anatomy of A Novel Chapters 34 and 35

 

              Governor Gage's mansion. It was torn down in the 1930s.

Chapter 34

Geneva, Switzerland

I WASN’T SURE how to bring Dr. Benjamin Church’s spying into the novel. A private in the Army would have little or no reason to meet Church. It confirmed my decision to have General Gage make James his orderly. With his closeness to Gage, James would see all the major players and events from James’s point of view.

I know I will make some historical mistakes because I didn’t dig deep enough, or I wasn’t aware that I should dig more deeply.

Originally, I had thought of having James billeted with a family whose father was a Sons of Liberty member. James then could spy. I gave up on the idea of a love interest where James would have been billeted. Although there were legal provisions for this practice, it was almost never implemented. I had the choice of using a historical inaccuracy that would boost the level of conflict or to go for accuracy. Accuracy won.

I didn’t want to make Church a major character but his providing information to Gage was important, thus I have James sitting in on Church-Gage meetings. With three plots going, the novel doesn’t need a fourth.

The historical Church fascinated me. He was born in 1734 into a prominent family. That he was a student at Boston Latin, the same school my daughter attended two centuries later, made me smile. During that period almost every leading well-educated patriot went to Boston Latin before going on to Harvard.

Not only was Church a Sons of Liberty, he worked with the Committee of Supply that bought guns, food and other equipment for the patriots. He reported this to General Gage, which allowed me to add it to the story.

One of his letters to the General was intercepted. He was punished and put on a ship that disappeared in the Caribbean Sea in 1778. I probably won’t use that because it comes after the novel ends.

As General Gage gets more and more desperate to find the cannons that were stolen from under his nose and the pressure from London increases. Church’s spying serves a vital role in the novel as it did in reality in 1774-1775. If Gage hadn’t worked so hard to find those damned cannons, the battle at Lexington might never have happened. Would there still have been a revolution? Would I have grown up singing “God Save the Queen” instead of saying the “Pledge of Allegiance."

Chapter 35

Boston, Massachusetts

December 1774

 

 DR. BENJAMIN CHURCH carried himself like someone who knew his own importance, whether real or imagined. He did not wear a wig but pulled his wavy hair into a low ponytail and tied it with a black velvet ribbon.

 

His clothing was immaculate. His shirt was either new or had been bleached with urine for a virgin whiteness. Every wrinkle had been removed.

 

Recognized as an excellent doctor, he had some reasons to think well of himself, which gave him good standing with the locals, but less so with the pro-English government.

 

General Gage briefed James on the man before they joined him in the reception room. “He comes from, if not the highest echelon of local society, he is well placed. His family had arrived with the Mayflower, his grandfather had been with the force that killed the Wampanoag Chief, King Philip.

 

“His father was a successful merchant and a deacon of the Hollis Street Church.”

 

“It isn’t just his pedigree.” Gage adjusted his own topcoat. He wore civilian clothes. James wondered why Gage decided to forgo his military uniform.

 

Gage continued, “His academic credentials are impressive: Boston Latin School then Harvard University. He studied medicine in London and when he came back here, he became a respected surgeon. If my wife or children needed a surgeon, I’d trust him. As an informer, I’m far less sure.”

 

Gage finished the last sip of his tea and put the cup on the tray. He went to the door but before opening it and added, “His membership in the Massachusetts Provincial Counsel gives him standing as a patriot, but he might be feeding us false information. Let’s go meet the man. I’m curious what you think.”

 

The reception room had a couch and stuffed chairs upholstered in a baby blue silk fabric arranged around a coffee table. Smaller chairs were upholstered in a variety of blue fabrics. An oak bookcase went from floor to ceiling and a ladder was attached to help readers reach the top three shelves. The books were mainly law, military and religious texts bound in fine leather.

 

When the General entered the reception room followed by James Holloway, the doctor showed no deference other than to stand, considered polite regardless of status.

 

Pleasantries were exchanged. The maid served tea.

 

“I suggest it be the two of us, no disrespect to you, Private Holloway,” Church said.

 

Holloway was astounded at this challenge to the General.

 

“Holloway is here to take notes and write reports of my meetings.”

 

“Do you want to discuss your medical history in front of a low-ranking soldier?”

 

The General frowned. “James, would you wait outside, please.”

 

James wasn’t sure what to do next. Should he eavesdrop? Take notes? Walk away? Medical? The General showed no sign of illness. The doctor had asked for the meeting. A doctor doesn’t instigate an appointment for his patients.

 

The solution?

 

Eavesdrop.

 

The reception room had two doors. One went to the hallway, which was how Dr. Church had entered and would leave by. The other was attached to the dining room. As he entered the dining room, Mrs. Gage appeared.

 

“May I help you, James?”

 

“I don’t know how I can take notes of the meeting. I left my paper, ink and pen in there.” He pointed to the door between the dining and reception rooms.

 

Mrs. Gage indicated that he should move a chair next to the door. She disappeared, and in a moment returned with paper, a pen and a full ink well which she put on the chair. “Sit on the floor,” she said. “Use the chair as your table.”

 

Even with his ear against the wood, it was difficult to hear what the men were saying.

 

He picked up words like Safety Committee, powder, Cambridge, and storage. Villages outside of Boston were mentioned. He also heard the word cataract that would have seemed more out of place had James not read that the doctor had found a way to remove cataracts. None of the Gages had cataracts as far as he knew, although he had never thought about it.

 

The voices moved further away. The door to the reception area opened and closed.

 

James wasn’t sure if he should rejoin the General, who probably didn’t know where he had gone when he had left the meeting. His fears were for nothing because the General came into the dining room.

 

“Were you able to hear much?”

 

“Some.” James showed the General his notes.

“Let’s not worry about documentation. Let’s just say Dr. Church is a valuable ally, but we can’t let on that this is the case.” He turned to leave. 

 

“Good thinking to come in here to eavesdrop, Holloway."

Blogging and...

 

What's a blog, I wondered. 

It was 28 November 2004. I was visiting Boston staying with the couple with whom I lived with for years in the same house we had owned together. I was there for Christmas. Having retired, I didn't have to worry about getting back to work.


I read about them and set one up, calling it the  https://theexpatwriter.blogspot.com/ Afterall, I was an expat and I was a writer about to publish my first novel: Chickpea Lover: Not a Cookbook.

The subject of my first blog?

The Christmas crazies and buying frenzies.

In the 19+ years until the end of last year, I've written 4,670 blogs.

My blog is eclectic: personal observations, politics, recipes, short stories, serializing my 17th novel, flash fiction, poetry, whatever fits my fancy. I use it as a writing warm up many days. 

There were happy blogs and sad blogs, like when my brother died. That had a happy outcome. My ex-sister-in-law left a comment. I had lost touch with her and we reconnected after years and years. What a relief to know she had a happy life.

When a beloved teacher died, I wrote about how much he meant to me. He was a major influence in my life. His son responded in a comment that made me choke down sobs.

I learned to add photos, change type sizes, developed an avatar.

I created another blog that included my writing newsletter W3 http://wisewordsonwriting.blogspot.com which was picked up by a now defunct British writing magazine.

 


My mother, also a writer had written a cookbook. She died before she could get it published. Stove Stories tells the history of some of the recipes. http://stovestories.blogspot.com/ was the blog I created to make sure her work did not totally disappear. I also have a reference when I want to cook something from my childhood.

When I developed breast cancer, I cerated another blog. http://thebreastisyettocome.blogspot.com/ I later turned it into a book The Cockeyed Nipple as a give away to Geneva women going through the same thing in a country that was strange to them and in a strange language.

A friend turned up after decades of no contact, As Charlotte Bronte wrote in Jane Eyre wrote, "Reader, I married him."

He developed his own blog https://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.com/ and sometimes we do duelling blogs on the same subject.

When I met him at the train station one time after a business trip, I asked him how it went. "Read my blog," he said.

Other friends have started blogs. Some no longer write them and I miss them. Others have kept writing and I enjoy reading them.

My readership?

It can been anything from two to four digits for a total of and had 762121 hits as of today. I haven't been able to determine which topics bring in the most readers. I'm sure if I weren't eclectic, I could have a greater readership ... or not.

For me writing is almost an addiction. Words, sentences, paragraphs and stories are almost always bouncing around in my head. Blogging is certainly less expensive than pills and psychiatry.  

Tomorrow and later this week, I'll return to serializing my 17th novel Lexington: Anatomy of a Novel and who know what else will catch my fancy.

Check out my website: dlnelsonwriter.com

 



Sunday, January 29, 2023

Shopping Styles

                                     

Before you read this, please be aware how grateful I am that Rick does most of the grocery store shopping when we are in France and when we are in Switzerland.

versus

He buys more from a grocery store than I do. I try to get almost everything we need from the baker, butcher (no candlestick maker) and green grocer. 

Canned goods... I would keep a couple of canned tomatoes on hand maybe  with a couple cans of corn and peas. Everything else I would prefer to buy fresh. Daily is easy in France but needs a little planning in Geneva. We do need some products from the grocery store such as bottled herbs and spices such as cinnamon.

Meats...direct from the butcher. They wrap the meat in paper not plastic. Some will even discuss recipes. They remember what I like too. We have two we use in France, one Muslim, one not. In Switzerland our butcher's shop was closed for construction, but he should be reopening soon. 

Bakery...I want to know my bread was in the oven shortly before I walk into the bakery. There is an exception of hamburger rolls. Pita bread when I can find it is wonderful. One bakery in Switzerland has chestnut bread and another at the train station a sweet bread that reminds me of the bread I used to find in Providence, Rhode Island. No, I didn't drive from Boston just to buy it, but always bought it when I was in Providence.

And speaking of plastic...I try to buy nothing in plastic, almost impossible. In most cases I would rather do without. If I have to put veggies in a plastic bag, I try and use one bag and put the price tags on that one bag. It doesn't work all the time and I have no choice. 

Once when a cashier said I should have a separate bag for each veggie, I lectured her on the damage plastic was doing around the world. She rang up the tags. 

And yes, I know the one bag policy won't save the planet. In some Swiss supermarkets they plastic wrap the veggies including bananas that Mother Nature has already wrapped. Just one more reason to use the green grocer.

Price...in the supermarket I compare prices but the cheapest is not always the best. Best quality for money. Probably the small green grocer and butcher are more expensive, but I'm supporting my community.

Ingredients...I read the labels for additives. If it is a frequently bought product I know them and don't bother.

Cheese...we have several cheese dealers who measure the exact amount we want of a great variety. Swiss or French cheeses are fantastic and I have yet to find one I don't like.

Olives...I used to buy them more often, but Joël our olive dealer is my first choice when I do. He is also the grower and processor. The same with olive oil that I can buy in jugs large enough that if one was filled with gas for the car we could go at least 100 kilometers. We need to bring a jug from France to Switzerland next trip.

Social buying...There are companies who are bad citizens. I am a social buyer and want to know that the manufacturer is responsible to its employees and the planet. My not buying something won't change them, but I won't feel guilty that I'm hurting others. And I will admit if I really adore, really, really adore, I put my social leanings aside,

Products like ketchup, mayonnaise, sugar, flour, spices (if the marché doesn't have a stand with a good selection) soft drinks,etc. need our chain grocery store.

Rick always brings home a plethora (love that word) of cookies, pretzels, chips etc. In the past I've bought maybe one and eat sparingly. When it is gone, I'll buy another. I will admit if it is in the house, it is harder for me to limit my nibbling. If I see him eating it, my will power is gone like a feather in a hurricane.

It's not just weight control, but the enjoyment is greater when it is special. I do love the surprise of which cookie Rick brings me with my morning tea. I never claimed to be consistent.

Soaps, shampoos...I try to avoid anything in plastic. Sometimes it is impossible. 

If we shop at La Halle de Rive and buy lasagna, Chinese food, meat, cheese, etc., they use plastic containers. I suppose I could bring my own, but buying different meals for Rick and me is usually a last minute decision. 

One stand owner of Mideastern delights knows Rick from his frequent stops when he was studying French at the school across the street. Last time thru, he gave me a rice-filled grape leaf. Yum.

In the context of our marriage, our shopping style variations doesn't register on any scale of importance. More often it is something to laugh about.


Saturday, January 28, 2023

Should you go to a writer's conference

In 2005 this was  a column I wrote about writer's conference for a British writing magazine. It is still true today, maybe more so after the isolation of Covid.

THEORY 

Writing is a lonely occupation. Non-writers, even those who are the most understanding, can’t fully comprehend what a writer is doing and why.

Conferences are excellent opportunities to mix with other writers as well as a chance to learn from established writers. Since most writers’ pocketbooks are shallow, picking a conference needs thought. Here’s some thoughts.

ADVANTAGES
1. Mixing with other writers at all stages of development.
2. Learning from developed writers.
3. Meeting with agents (depending on the conference).
4. Refreshing your mind.

DISADVANTAGES

1. Cost
2. Intimidation: some starting writers find the developed writers scare them although others report they are inspirational.

CHOOSING THE CONFERENCE


1. Timing: make sure it doesn’t conflict with home and/or job responsibilities or your mind will be elsewhere.

2. Location: with limited funds a conference near to you saves travel costs. But one far away can offer a mental refreshing experience. If you have the funds an international conference can really be exciting.

3. Housing: are attendees living together which adds to after-session networking opportunities or are they spread out throughout the area.

4. Does it have a critiquing element? Some conferences place the attendee with an established writer that reviews X number of pages of your work.

5. Size: conference size can vary from under a hundred to several hundreds.

6. Contests. Are there writing contests attached to the conference.

7. Age of the conference: Some well-established conferences have been going on for decades and have the system well perfected. Others are newer, but can be just as good.

8. Workshops: what are the subjects? If you are a fiction writer and all the workshops are poetry-related, it might not be useful UNLESS you are trying to expand into poetry or improve your poetic use of language.

9. Instructors: What are their credentials? A great writer might not be a great workshop leader, but there is no way to judge in advance even if the writer has teaching credentials. Most conferences have an evaluation sheet which helps the organizers not invite a workshop leader back a second time. But even with under-wonderful teachers it is usually possible to glean some information. Some great writers come merely to read and may or may not intermingle with the attendees.

10. Format: some conferences place an attendee with the same person for the entire conference. Others allow the attendee go from workshop to workshop.

Good luck.

Life as a lucky accident

Accidents can be lucky. Not the kind that leaves one hurt or dying, but those things that are totally unexpected and creates good things.

To find a job in Europe I sent over 800 CVs or resumes.

  • I  flew to France to get want ads in those pre-internet days. 
  • I scoured directories for names of PR, Marketing Directors and sent my CV.
  • I subscribed to a help wanted newsletter for France.
  • I handwrote the French ones as that was the preferred method.
  • I went to Harvard Square for the International Herald Tribune on the day they posted want ads.
  • I contacted overseas members of the International Association of Business Communicators.

Then in IHT I saw an ad for a person who spoke German and French and knew Digital Equipment Corp. My German was weak, my French limited, but I had worked with Digital for years. The job was in Switzerland. 

I sent a fax and two months later I was working in Switzerland, a country I was told was impossible to get a work permit. Lucky accident I saw the ad and didn't believe what I'd been told about the impossibility of getting a Swiss permit.

In 2006 I became Swiss.  Today I read an article about the best countries to live in. https://studyfinds.org/best-countries-in-the-world/ Switzerland was number one.

"Switzerland is a small country in central Europe known for being one of the wealthiest and most scenic countries in the world. Their economy is one of the best. “Switzerland has low unemployment, a skilled labor force and one of the highest gross domestic products per capita in the world, according to the CIA World Factbook,” writes U.S. News. “The country’s strong economy is powered by low corporate tax rates, a highly-developed service sector led by financial services and a high-tech manufacturing industry.

Switzerland is a wonderland of snowy mountains, flowery fields, lakes, and other picturesque landscapes. “Crammed between the ancient regions of France, Germany, and Italy, Switzerland is a natural wonder made up of mountains, lakes, and medieval landmarks. Across the board, and especially in security, Switzerland scores top marks in citizen contentment,” says World Atlas.

“The people of Switzerland enjoy impressive health, including long life expectancies (82 years for males and 85.9 for females) and a relative lack of fatal diseases,” notes World Population Review. “While Switzerland’s cost of living is high, so too is its overall standard of living.”

And I had ended up there by accident because of one CV. Before that Switzerland was the photo on the jigsaw puzzles I did  as a child, not a place I would ever live.

My lucky accident holds in flat finding. I'd heard too many horror stories about finding flats in Geneva with the REGIS, huge agencies dominating the rental market. In a market with too many applicants for each availability can be a long-term nightmare.

In a free newspaper I saw an ad for a flat. I called. "You can speak English," The woman said. From 1993 it led to a flat, later sharing a house and sharing a friendship I hope is forever.

When marrying, I needed a place for my husband and myself. We had rented a BnB from a Swiss/American for a couple of nights. We asked about making it permanent. That was in 2015. It was a wonderful place complete with garden and lovely landlords. Only because they are downsizing in retirement and selling their house were we once again faced with the dreaded REGIS. 

Then a friend gave us information that put us in contact with a house owner who had a separate flat on their property. We talked about what we wanted, but never expected to duplicate what we had now. We saw the flat and will move in March 1. Again we escaped the dreaded REGIS with another lucky accident. 

There were other lucky accidents. I met my husband in Missouri at a conference in the late 70s. Of course we didn't get together until 2012 after losing contact for several decades. He found me through modern technology and another conference that brought him to Geneva.

It's finding Sherlock, our male puppy, at a rescue center when we were looking for an older dog for someone else.

We do try to plan our lives but remain open to the unexpected. A friend's favorite saying, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." I may not be a believer, but if there's a deity, he must be sore from laughing at me.



 

 


Thursday, January 26, 2023

Disgusting treatment of vets

 

They honor vets with parades, medals and even a folded flag that rested on their coffin in an emotional ceremony.

But let these vets need something after putting them through the horrors of war, many times based on a lie such as weapons of mass destruction or if Vietnam fell there would be a domino effect as more and more Asian countries became communism. and it’s tough luck, buddy. Nothing was ever discussed how it could have been prevented in the first place..

And let bad water on a base that sickens service families, tough to them too. 

These are reasons to never join the US armed services. They will demand everything from you, turn you into a killer or disabled and once they don't need you, throw you away. 

I remember being on a train between Lyon and Geneva. A young couple sat opposite me. He was on leave from Iraq and he was so proud of fighting to keep those nukes away from the U.S. I told him, he was doing his service for what he thought was a patriotic reason but that his country lied to him. I hope he lived to discover I was right. 

The U.S. has the same relationship to its armed services as an abusive husband has with his subservient wife who believes the lies she's been told and feels honored to help the husband.

This was not always true. WWII veterans were given benefits, education, medical care, disability.

After an unusual delay, the Supreme Court finally issued its first opinion of the term on Monday: a unanimous decision in Arellano v. McDonough siding against disabled veterans who seek compensation for disabilities related to their service. 

Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s opinion for the court denied these veterans (and their survivors) the ability to obtain benefits retroactively if they filed a late claim—even if the delay occurred because of their disability, or some other factor beyond their control. 

It’s a painful blow to military members who were injured while serving their country, and a puzzling one: At oral arguments, the justices sounded divided, yet all three liberals lined up behind Barrett’s harsh opinion. Maybe they genuinely believed that Congress intended to impose an exceedingly stringent deadline on disabled veterans. Or perhaps the three-justice minority is so outnumbered that it has decided to pick its battles, and Arellano was not worth the fight.

There are times when people do sacrifice and should. The first responders in 9/11 did what was necessary. They were heroes. They were lied to about safety and they had to fight in Congress to get the money for treatments that they needed based on their exposure to dangerous chemicals at the site. In a situation like 9/11 if you are a caring human being, you can't wait for a study on the long term dangers of helping.

Better that people work hard on making America what it claims to be, what it should be but isn't.