Saturday, April 16, 2005
I was in the American Library loading up on my regular supply of books, although this was a different day than I usually went in and the volunteers are different. “I write,” I said. The library is small and is tucked away in a corner of the American Church. Three tiny rooms are packed floor to ceiling with books that keep me in affordable English reading and provide a cozy reading place.
“You wrote The Chickpea.”
“I loved it,” she said.
I thanked her and answered her questions about my new book coming out in October and the one I am working on currently. She checked me out
As I headed to the Bus Stop, I heard footsteps rushing behind me. Even though Geneva is safe, after years of living in Boston which isn’t, I am constantly aware if is someone is around me and pounding feet.
I turned to see a woman who had been in the library the same time I was.
“Please forgive me, but would you give me an autograph?”
“Of course,” I said hoping she didn’t mean on a check. She produced a paper and pen; I asked her name and wrote a brief message.
She thanked me and headed back towards the library.
It felt so strange, because I in no way think of my celebrity whose autograph means anything. I am a writer who has often signed her books at different gatherings, but to be asked for my autograph was frankly a bit thrilling.
It is also the red light district.
When former neighbors visited, since he was a minister I took he and his wife first to see the Reformation Wall, a stone wall with Calvin and other Protestant Fathers carved in stone. I hate it. Their faces are hate-filled. The first time I saw it I came home and showered. I was curious to see Gary’s reaction. “Makes me shudder,” he said.
We then walked across the city ending up in Paquis. A hooker with breasts that had to be artificially enlarged stood with her short skirt and boots as we walked by. Gary looked at her. “I think I like this part of Geneva better,” he said. His wife agreed.
Yesterday hookers of all ages were hanging out, reminding me of the day I came down to have lunch only to see a colleague walk off with a hooker. Although we saw each other, we never mentioned it. I was curious how much he’d paid, but that wasn’t a question I’d ever ask him.
One woman who could have been a Hollywood starlet with red boots and a matching mini-mini-mini skirt was waiting for a customer as was the woman who solicits with her Westie in tow. Sometimes they dress in matching outfits. The Thai restaurant, which is below ground but visible from the street and where the hookers take breaks, was full of working women.
I have often been tempted to stop and ask them about their lives, where they come from, why they chose this kind of work, what about their families, friends, what they do in their spare time, but never have anymore than I asked my colleague on costs, although I just read a book in French about a Brazilian woman who came to Geneva and worked as a hooker until she could buy a farm back home.
As I approached Rue de Bern, I saw a nice looking blond man standing next to a hooker that was neither young nor beautiful, although the starlet was clearly visible. I heard her say, “100 CHF.”
A question has been answered.
Jean-Pierre also gives one hell of a great haircut so much so, that my daughter tries to postpone her own cuts until she is in Geneva, although I suspect she likes to tell her Boston friends that he hairdresser is in Geneva. In fact he gives three great haircuts, dry, wet, and dry. And there is the head massage that leaves me almost unable to walk it is so relaxing.
His choice of beverages surpasses some tearooms and his selection of music in the background is some of the best jazz I’ve heard.
Jean-Pierre and his brother also make his gallery, er salon, er gallery available to the Geneva Writers Group for readings.
While he cuts my hair we discuss films, music, writing, art, vacation spots, food. When we finish I have a haircut that will fall into place for months, or as my daughter says, wash and wear hair and a cultural experience all at the same time.
When I rented my Grand Saconnex flat next to the airport and within walking distance of all the alphabet organizations, ILO, WIPO, HCR, ISO, IEC, UN, WHO, etc., I thought it would be for three years. I lived their eleven, longer than anywhere else I’ve lived in my adult life. However, wonderful neighbors, being able to walk to work, stroll to the airport or France, made it worth while.
When I was no longer working, and the latest batch of neighbors had moved, I decided it was time for a change. I moved to the other side of a lake where I am sharing a house with the owner of the old flat. Although I loved my old commune with its painted buildings, regular festivals, I also love being in a country village. Horses clop by, the fruit orchards are coming into bloom, the postmaster recognizes me whenever I walk in. I do not miss the planes flying overhead.
In the old flat most of the people were internationals: English, Syrian, Indian, Russian, Belgian, Iraqi, Lebanese, Japanese, Kenyan, Czech to name a few. Although it is fascinating there is something also nice about living in Switzerland with the Swiss as I did the first three years in this country. Living with internationals you know that they will move. Some people feel it isn’t worth spending the time getting to know internationals because just when you are getting really close they are reassigned somewhere else in the world, but I would not have given up for anything finding fresh bread flown in on the diplomatic pouch from Prague, borscht, or being taught how to hold chopsticks, I suppose a variation of better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all. Better to be friends for a while and share than not to have shared at all. However, although I am an international, I do not intend to go back to my native country. My roots may be shallow compared to people whose families go back centuries, but they are roots.
In my new village I love the smell of the earth as it is turned over for the spring planting. Although to get home it takes longer, the ride by the lake with its many moods, the Alps playing peek-a-boo with weather conditions, is well worth the change.
“Do you want red, white or blue?” he asked.
I wasn’t sure if he were talking about flag colors until I saw the area of red wine, white wine and a clear liquid. Being adventurous I chose blue. I watched him pour a small amount in a glass that resembled an ice cream soda glass and place a filigree spatula over it. On that he put a sugar cube and poured water over that. The liquid turned milky white, not blue. I sipped. Yuck. Mega licorice. I hate licorice, but I drank it.
Using my dictionary I asked what it was.
I learned although it was illegal to make or transport and carried a heavy fine, it wasn’t illegal to drink. This vile concoction had been invented in the next town and had been a major source of income for the entire valley until it was made illegal in 1905. It had a number of names: blue fairy, green fairy, boversee tea, etc.
Likewise across the border in France it was also being produced and even led to the discovery of a hidden river. When a Pontalier absinthe distillery burned down several miles away a river that no one thought was connected to the river that flowed by the Pontalier distillery was milky and smelled of licorice.
France made it illegal in 1912.
I saw cultural differences when I looked at two posters. The Swiss had a scraggly tooth minister, his foot on the body of a dead blue fairy, a Bible in his hand pointing to a clock and a calendar showing the time and date that absinthe was made illegal. The French poster had the stone entrance of Pontalier (resembling a mini Arc d’Triomphe) with a funeral cortege, a bottle of absinthe on the highly ornate carved hearse, drawn by beautiful horses. Behind the dead bottle the blue fairy floated, her arms sheltering her eyes in mourning.
The drink of the Impressionists has now become legal again in both France and Switzerland.
I still hate the taste.
The bus system, even out in my country place is never less than two an hour, although in my old flat it was more like every seven minutes. I can live with the difference for it means that I gave up owning a car years ago, saving a small fortune in payments, insurance and maintenance.
The other advantages are that buses and trains don’t get lost, I can read and sleep when I ride them, and they never lack for parking spaces.
From time to time I find people to talk to. Yesterday it was Cambodian man that was reading about the lack of salary increases in the US. We started talking and compared it to the high salary increase of CEOs. We both said we would never buy an HP product again because we would be paying for the $27 million golden handshake of their ex CEO.
On the way to Ferney one day everyone in the bus ran to one side to share a rainbow.
And there are friends you run into on the bus.
When the woman whose house I share went to visit her mother for three weeks, she left me the use of the car. I mostly took the bus. In fact one of the few times I used it was to pick her up at the airport.
What I didn’t realize was that I was speeding and got caught by radar. The fine for 8 Ks over the speed limit was 120 CHF. I just found another reason to love trains and buses.
Monday, April 11, 2005
The rest of the weekend was spent at their flat in my old apartment complex on the other side of the lake from where I currently live. Their place is like a second home, for I shared their apartment while I was transitioning between the two places. Their more than gracious welcome transformed what could have been a nightmare move into a series of pleasant memories.
Before the move we often shared meals, endless cups of teas, short and long visits and support of our various activities. Nandita often came to my flat to watch The Weakest Link. We made cookies more than once and even carved a jack o’lantern. Her friends would stop by to be shown my penguin collection or one morning she and a friend and I shot rainbows through a prism from my own childhood at each other until the sun reached a height where the sunbeams were at the wrong angle.
As I watched the Funky Peacock take her well deserved applause, I realised I have seen her grow from a stage where she couldn’t reach the buttons on the elevator to reach our floor to a height that will pass mine probably within the next two years (If I am lucky to have that much time).
This family and I am from two different continents and cultures, living in a third, yet forging bonds that I know makes my life as rich as the colours on those peacock feathers.
Despite the fact that my second novel is about to come out and my first novel has just appeared on Amazon.de with a wonderful cover, I have been going through a period of fragility where my writing is concerned.
The novel I am working on (temporary title -- Triple Decker) is developing, I am finding twists and turns in the plot that seem right, the characters are deepening, but the writing is still uneven. Some 60,000 words into it, I know I some parts are working well, but in others I haven’t found the words I want to weight the text. Considering I only started the novel when I was in Boston at the first of the year, I should be satisfied, but I was beating myself up over it.
Enter the Geneva Writers Group stage left. This group has nurtured me for well over ten years with monthly lessons and moral support. Unlike many writing groups, there is no room for backbiting thanks to the leader Susan Tiberghien.
If I had not let myself miss March’s session, I suspect the confidence crisis wouldn’t have occurred.
As I waited at the bus stop I ran into another writer who I have coached and who attended my workshop on Freelance Writing. She thanked me because of some advice I had given her and told me as the result of an article she had placed an editor had called and she ended up writing six articles for the magazine with more on order. I felt slightly better, even though this was more a comment on my editing and teaching skills, where I wasn’t suffering a confidence crisis.
Then we went into a master class on character. The teacher had come to Geneva from the States and as he talked, I felt the surge that I so often feel during these sessions. In a writing exercise I was able to write a segment that went to the depth that I wanted to go. This does not mean the novel is anywhere near to finished, but thanks to the session, I can sit at my computer with a renewed attitude.
I have gone into Starbucks to be polite because people I am with have wanted to go. I have disliked their chichi flavours, Styrofoam or plastic cups and the idea whatever I have should be drunk or eaten as fast as possible and leave. Likewise, I don’t want to wait in line, I want to be served and I want someone else to clean up after me. Why should I save them on their labour costs? Maybe I by cleaning up after myself I am even keeping someone from holding a job, albeit a badly paying one.
Saying that their hot chocolate and mint isn’t too bad, but why in God’s name would I order a combination dreamed up in some corporate kitchen thousands of miles away here when less than a three minute walk from the Starbucks, I can get an Auer hot chocolate, which is mixed in the kitchen behind the tea room and is one of the best hot chocolates I have ever tasted? The treat is added to by its mass unavailability.
Likewise I want to have my tea or chocolate in place where the décor is original, I can get the newspaper on a bamboo stick and sit for hours if I so choose, reading, writing or observing the world. I want china and metal spoons not plastic. In some cases I even get fresh flowers on the table. As one person said, when you buy a coffee in Europe, part of the price can be considered as real estate rental.
The many tea rooms in Argelès take trays of coffee to nearby merchants. The coffee is always in a china cup and saucer and usually has a bit of chocolate (sometimes made by the tea room). Later the merchants return the crockery if the owner of the tea room is too busy to pick it up.
Now least I be accused of being consistent, I do find occasional overwhelming desires for a Junior Whopper or a Big Mac even though I rarely eat meat and even less often beef. However, these American exports are American and the Europeans have not mastered burgers so these chains bring something that the locals can’t do better. In this case the paper containers seem appropriate. And if a Dunkin Donuts came in with raison cinnamon bagels and munchkins (with apologies to the cat of the same name where I live) I would be delighted.
I feel the same way about chain restaurants in general. In the US I wouldn’t dream of going to a Red Lobster if I could eat at the Boston Union Oyster house. And this desire not to be like everyone else is neither new or limited to food. In high school when white tie bucks were the rage, mine zipped. My penny loafers had nickels. I am told my large glasses aren’t chic, except by my hair dresser who is thrilled to see someone who dares to be original. I won’t wear brand names unless the company who has its name branded on my apparel pays me to be a walking billboard. I did solve the problem of a beautiful branded sweat suit that someone gave me by covering the brand name with a cut out of three cats. I now have sweat suit that is comfortable, more beautiful than it was originally, and several people have asked me where I got something like that, because they wanted one too. I tend to buy my clothes from someone who makes original designs.
Perhaps that is why I am a minimalist, not giving into pressure that advertising tells me I must buy to be (fill in the blank). My happiness is not thing-related, but creativity-related, which doesn’t stop me from buying things that I determine I want and in someway can enhance the quality of my life.
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
To fill the hours of drivel on the Pope’s death the newscasters reach far and wide. Seeing my old neighborhood on television brought a pang of homesickness not knowing when and if I will ever walk there again. The connection was the sexual abuse by the priests scandal.
At one point in the hours of broadcasting wasteland I half expected a five-minute interview with a primitive tribesman rounded up in the African bush where it took two days to reach via non existent roads who said something like, “Pope? Pope…I think I heard something about a Pope,” as Richard Quest waxed poetic about the only people in the world who didn’t know the Pope had died.
CNN hit a new level of bizarre when they interviewed a couple who had been married yesterday in
Of course the cliché about the happiest day of life was uttered. I always hated that phrase because it meant a woman who married at 18 and lived to be 86 and three months spent most of her life moving downward on the happiness scale, which makes me why anyone would marry only to reduce the quality of life forever and ever. But when the "happiest day" in a woman’s life was juxtaposed against a funeral of a world leader, it simply boggled my mind. I clicked the off button on my remote.
Monday, April 04, 2005
For my birthday my daughter and I went up to Chamonix in the French Alps. It was summer and we hiked near the glacier, had a nice lunch, a nap and then decided what we really needed to do was to get champagne.
We found a quaint little restaurant with outdoor tables next to a river where the water ran Coke bottle green. The bridge and barriers to the river were covered with flower pots filled with pink and purple petunias.
Whenever Llara and I are together we laugh and talk. I noticed a woman probably in her 90s hobbling with a cane. She was with a woman in her 60s, and they looked like mother and daughter. I pointed them out to Llara and said, that could be us in 30 years.
We talked some more and then I said. "I like the idea of a cane. I'll be riding on a bus, see a handsome young man and can trip him or poke him in the butt. Who would think a little old lady would do that?"
"Mother, mother, mother. You definitely will not have a cane. Maybe a walker."
"Better. With a walker, I can pin 'em to the wall."
Llara who mastered eye rolling at five, eye rolled. "Great I can see all the calls I will get from the Argelès and Geneva police. "Ms Nelson, we have your mother again. Oui, she attacked yet another young man."
It has become a joke between us. Although I know needing a cane or a walker is not a matter of choice, I do hope no matter what happens to me, I can turn it into a positive. If Llara doesn't allow me a cane, I wonder if there are any wheelchair races to enter?
Saturday, April 02, 2005
Anyone who knows me at all, knows I rail against creeping corporate culture that infects our society with mass consumer values destroying individuality as well as the planet. When people tell me it is about choice, I tell them the choice is between one giant corporation’s wish to encourage you to buy this product (or idea) or another.
Corporate news with their feeding frenzies, as shown once again in these past few weeks with Terri Shiavo and the Pope’s approaching death. I hated the movie atmosphere of CNN’s titles in March 2003 with Operation Iraqi Freedom. They too limit our choices, by only presenting a select portion of the news.
As a writer I know the choice of words affects the results e.g. Freedom fighter vs. insurgent is just one example.
Argelès has a tiny local movie theatre www.cinemaginaire.org manned by locals with a wide selection of films, including shorts,
Argelès http://www.argeles-sur-mer.com/ is a village, recently swelled by retirees from all over
That is why when last night I stumbled upon Peter Watkins as part of a two-film and workshop www.mnsi.net/~pwatkins/Intro_medCr.htm at the local theatre I was taken back. The theatre is showing two of Watkins films. The workshop is the media crises we have in the world, a battle Watkins has shouldered.
Friday, April 01, 2005
8:00 wake, even though I was up late because RB2 helped me with my printer and other computer stuff till after midnight. I now have a beautiful series of photos on my screen and all sorts of fun things.
12:00 Lunch is fresh asparagus with newly made aioli from the charcuterie, broccoli, a tomato, avocado and lettuce salad with sesame-soy dressing and the bread. One of the hardest things I find about being in the States is that I don’t get enough good vegetables. Here and in
Saying that, I do miss Dunkin Donuts blueberry muffins, raison bagels and Stouffer’s welsh rabbit. It is also good knowing that my food here is GM free and the few times I do eat meat I it’s hormone-free. 90% of the time I eat multi servings of fruit, vegetables and grains each day not because they are good for me, but they are so good. The tomato smell burst into the room when I cut into it, and I compare it to all the fruit I brought for a Christmas fruit salad, that was almost flavorless. Interestingly, I find US food getting more expensive while the quality goes down.
I’ve lost the three kilos I put on when I was in the States, the fact I attribute to the healthier diet here, although I am eating more and still give into desserts and raison bagels have been replaced by other breads.
When I finish I do the dishes and give a quick clean to the flat. I hate having dust anywhere. Neurotic…oh yes. I made the mistake of having an almost white floor and crumbs jump up and down to scream at me. A studio has to be kept free of things because of the size. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to move.
1:30 Work on my new novel and contact people on stories I am working on. Also give into a computer game, one only.
3:30 Go for a walk. I could say it is for the exercise, to lower my blood pressure, to activate the vitamin D in my system, all of which is partially true, but the real reason is that the sky is almost royal blue. The wind is blowing at about 25 mph and if I shut my eyes it sounds like a Nor’easter. When I pass palm trees, the fronds sound like they are clapping, and when I pass the bamboo grove they sounds like sticks in a percussion section of an orchestra. I really use the walk to work out the next scene in my book, when my heroine Peggy goes to the
4:30 Read French News, a paper for expats, curled up on my couch. Although I try and read LaMonde and the Tribune de Genève daily, English will always be easier. I decide to eat the apple pastry I bought earlier before going back to work. Then back to emails and writing.
7:00 Watch The Doctors on BBC. The soap is no better than before, some characters have disappeared.
7:30 Make dinner: beans with onions, tomatoes and a huge bunch of fresh coriander.
8:00-midnight Watch TV, News, Keeping up Appearances, Julie Lescaut. Do needlework while I am watching. On the news I hear a woman say that the
12:00 Pretend to read a novel until I fall asleep. Pretend, because at some point I wake, shut off the light and put my glasses to one side. Tomorrow is another day