Monday, September 26, 2005
The mountains are only a mile or so from the village. Roads turn to paths. Houses, except for a few multi million in any currency homes, the area is all vegetation. Cork trees line the paths. Some are blood red where the bark has been harvested recently. Other trees are in various stage of regrowing their bark.
The air smells of pine and wet dirt from the night’s rain. There is no smell of exhaust.
François kept going off the path to gather mushrooms. We joked how he would prepare us all omelettes for lunch. Mushroom gathering can be a French/Swiss family pastime. Although the pharmacists help identify the good from the deadly, Sylvie is convinced that the safest mushrooms are bought from green grocers or supermarkets.
The scenery included mountains. The Pyrenees are old mountains, folded in on themselves, craggy and tree-filled. We ended up at one point at the goat cheese place where Barbara buys our goat meat. We chose a different path back, one winding through the vineyards. Most of the vines had been stripped of their fruit, but there were a few bunches of grapes, which we sampled.
The walk took three hours. When I returned to the village, I decided I didn’t want to cook lunch. Although most of the restaurants are closed on Monday, there is small one next to a fountain that is open 7/7. After three hours of walking and discussing omelettes with mushrooms, I ordered an omelette with mushrooms, not with the exotic cêpes or morilles we had seen, but plain old fashioned champions des Paris. It was good.
Friday, September 23, 2005
Now people in Europe can tell their children to eat their dinner. Children are starving in America.
Some stats and their sources.
More than one-third (38%) of families leaving welfare reported that they ran out of food and did not have money for more. (Urban Institute - 2001)
Approximately 7 million different people receive assistance in any given week (America's Second Harvest - 2001)
96,000,000,000 pounds of food is thrown away each year by the Food Service Industry. (Source: FoodChain)
33.6 million people including almost 13 million children live in households that experience hunger or the risk of hunger. This represents approximately one in ten households in the United States (10.7 percent). (Bread for the World Institute - 2002)
My girl friend recently had to go to the doctor. Here are the total costs/insurance pays in Euros.1 Euro = US$1.21
Doctor’s visit 20/16
Blood work 48/38.40 (this is a complete blood work up)
Medicine 20/80 pain killer one month, one month cholesterol medicine, gel,calcium
Therapy 400/300 5x a week, 1 hour each for 4 weeks
There was no waiting. There are two ways to pay.
Either you pay everything to your supplier and they swipe your health insurance card. The next day the insurance payment is in your bank account. Or when they swipe your card through the machine you merely pay the difference between the insurance and the total cost. In that case the pharmacy is paid within 48 hours through.
Needless to say such automation reduces a lot of the administration costs. Paperwork is kept to a minimum although there has only been one brown and white form for medical reporting for years. Everyone has healthcare that is affordable.
There are problems. Doctors feel underpaid. People tend to use doctors and want medicine more than necessary. However, one never, ever, ever, ever has to worry they won’t be able to be taken care of if they are ill.
No wonder the World Health Organization considers it the best system in the world.
‘How much should I offer?’
He named a figure as he stirred his café allonge.
I nibbled my spice biscuit. ‘Sold.’
I had notified my Danish friends of the availability of the apartment, but they haven’t responded. When I told my friends, they told me I’d be crazy not to buy it. Today I dropped off the signed paper. Now I have to wait.
The flat has been empty for years, because under the French law, the inheritors of a place are predetermined. In this case there are eight people that have to sign off on this. You cannot disinherit your children, something my daughter tells me whenever I threaten her with disinheritance (joking of course).
A couple of hours later Gérard, the Argelès workman angel who shows up when he says he will, does great work and is fairly priced, pedalled up on his bike to give me an estimate on repairs. We found beams under the ceiling that is falling down, but I have got it in my mind what it will look like fixed up.
I will rent it of course until I am too old to climb the stairs to this place and then will rent the top floor. This is assuming the inheritors agree to sell it. If they don’t I will go back to the idea of buying a place in Geneva.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Small businesses close Sunday at noon and reopen Tuesday morning. The feeling is sad without neighbours exchanging greetings. No old women carry baskets filled with carrots and cabbages over their arm. They stocked up. Tuesday the bustle will be back and for the Wednesday marché the bustle will be doubled.
Still I like the downtime. There is something nice knowing the people I deal with have time to do laundry, clean their houses and maybe put their feed up and read a book.
Sunday, September 18, 2005
Tim is RB2’s son. RB2 is the brother I always wanted and long-time friend who married Sylvie, the Argelès girl next door, after he bought a house in this village. Their new home is just outside the village. Off their terrace is a swimming pool and beyond that are the Pyrenees, one of which is topped with a medieval tour used by the Spanish, French, Catalans and Majorcans all to defend themselves against the other. To the left is an olive orchard heavy with fruit. Because the wind has removed the dust from the air, the scenery sparkled.
Inside it was good to see RB2’s mother, visiting from Holland, Sylvie’s sister, brother and misc. Tim cousins that I have met on the many other events we've shared. The languages spoken were French, English, Dutch and Spanish in order of use.
Sylvie’s mother had made a Spanish salad of fish, potatoes, olives, tomatoes and eggs to go with the barbecue. Champagne (including a non-alcoholic for the kids) toasted the birthday boy. He is a lovely little boy, who has been taught to have good manners but it doesn’t stop the natural liveliness that a five year old should have.
His cousin Margerie, only slightly older than Tim, has Diabetes 1. Without any pomp at all she measured her blood sugar and injected herself with insulin in the same way another child would brush their teeth.
Because I had writing to do, I was the first one to leave. When Sylvie offered a doggie bag, I had no problems accepting.
Ruth and Robin brought three of the series with them. We needed to read them fast because they are leaving at the end of the week.
Barbara gave me The Full Cupboard of Life after serving me dinner (a dish of fall vegetables baked with apples and nuts). The temperature has dropped into the sixties. The Tramontane is back with winds gusting to 75 mph.
It was a night to bring out the terry cloth sheet, the duvet and my new blue flannel pajamas. Snuggling in bed with a book, toasty warm in a cool room is one life’s great pleasures.
Propped up on pillows I read how Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni chased a snake from the Orphan Farm.
Reading about or seeing on TV snakes immediately before sleeping is a nightmare guarantee. When my eyes grew heavy I thought about leaving the light on as nightmare prevention.
The big question was where to put the book. If I left it on the bed, the snake could escape and lord knows, I didn’t want to sleep with a snake. And of course on the floor it could get me during a pee stop.
The only solution was to put it in the frigo, the fridge. Snakes move slowly in the cold. Fortunately few people open my frigo and those who do know my idiosyncrasies, so they would say nothing about finding a book between my container of locally-made mayonnaise and the melon hand-picked for me by Babette.
I slept well safe from snake dreams.
Friday, September 16, 2005
I still remember Hillary being asked what she would do if Chelsea, became a Republican. ‘Gosh, I’d miss her,’ she said. I have said the same to my daughter, and I think the reverse is equally true. We both may vote Republican in some elections, but our values are far more progressive than conservative. However, I doubt if she’ll abandon her Republican fuzzy ones.
The cow herders are trying to round up all cows so they bring the same number down from the mountains that they went up in the spring. Unlike in Switzerland, the cows are not decorated with flower crowns.
The Swedish couple who are renovating Antoinette’s old house came for an apero. He loves working with his hands and has gutted the inside of this old Catalan house. Antoinette died last year and was somewhere in her nineties. She wore her hair in a black chignon and was always dressed in black. Each day she visited her husband at the cemetery. Her daughters claimed that she was nicer to him in death than she was in life. I wonder what she would think of the changes. The couple are looking forward to moving here full time.
I keep checking sites for property to buy in Geneva. It is a toss up between the practical Geneva and the beauty of the mountains in Ste. Cergue. This is assuming that my age does not disqualify me.
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Sipping tea at La Noisette’s (Franck’s and Louise’s) and watching the marché march by made a good break from writing. A little girl in a black handkerchief hem skirt with her light blond hair in a pony tail stopped at the table where the man sells spices and hand made soaps. Whatever she wanted was in a box and he knelt down to get it leaving his head at table length. He must have crawled because his head moved a foot left and a foot right, looking like a target in a shooting gallery.
Wednesdays are no school days, a nightmare for working parents.
I poured myself a second cup and remembered all the good teas in my life starting back when I lived on
Then there were the teas at our neighbor Hiram’s. He often served cucumber sandwiches and one with pepper and other spices that he and his family had invented when money was tight. We were never sure which of his stories were real, but they were all interesting. Discussion of food was almost a rule as we bounced recipes back and forth.
He introduced us to Earl Grey and he mixed it with a gunpowder tea. When I told my neighbor Christina about the combination she tried Earl Grey with a smoky tea creating one more memory.
For close to a year, my girlfriend and I did monthly teas, adding special cakes or sandwiches and setting a nice table.
It was only after I moved to Europe that I realised that when some English talk about tea, they mean supper versus a cuppa to starve off hunger pains before dinner. Probably one of the most used phrases in British drama, even more than "I love you," is "I'll put the kettle on."
When it was time to go back to work, I brewed a second cup of tea. Writing is easier if a cup of tea is handy.
CNN showed men playing chess in the center of
I walked by that spot almost daily when I lived there as a new bride back in the sixties.
I loved the fashings with its costumes and fests under tents where the Army band that my husband was in played, but to this day I cannot look at sauerkraut, because when you eat sauerkraut five nights a week for several weeks, you build almost an allergy.
I’ve forgotten most of my German, although when I am there each day is a little better. I will never forget my pleasure at living there.
Sunday, September 11, 2005
Saturdays are normally the day for weddings at the church around the corner built in 1300. Neighbors check out the bridal party, far simpler than those in the
I use to hate it when any of my staff, no matter how intelligent, got engaged. Women’s IQs disappeared as they emerged themselves in menus, music and color of shoes and dresses and forgot copy deadlines, meetings and anything work related. Only when the chemicals in their wedding ring reversed their mental reduction did they once again they become efficient.
A reception for neighbors and casual friends will have simple nibblies and perhaps sangria with one champagne toast. When Caroline of the second green grocer's I frequent was married, the customers were invited. Then those close to the bride and groom will have a sit-down dinner.
This Saturday instead of a wedding, we had the second funeral for the week. Friends sign the guest book on a table outside the church. If there is no church service the table and book is left outside the house. After the service the coffin is put into the hearse and attendees walk behind it to the cemetery (about a five minute walk. If it is an old Catalan, the men will walk first, followed by the women.
French cemeteries often have above ground burial houses. The name of the “defunct” is often marked with ceramic books, showing their photos and messages: Love from your children, Thoughts from the team, Regrets, etc. The saddest are the young, when ceramic books from school mates are added to the families’. Walking through and reading the different plaques tells a bit of the history of the person to those who never met him or her, and if one can’t guess at the dynamics behind the family, there is ample room for imagination.
This Saturday,the church steps cleared of the mourners to make way for a wedding. Maybe tomorrow their will be a baptism, bringing the song the Three Bells of Piaf (and later Tina Arena) to life.
My ticket to
When people ask me how I can live without a car, I wonder how people can put up with the annoyance of a car.
I have to admit that I do use Barbara’s car, although I hate having to need a car. This week I wanted to drive
Although the gauge worked this time, I decided to put some gas in anyway as a precaution. When I pulled into a station, I needed to call Barbara to check what kind of gas the car took. As I put it in the hole, it ran out behind the tire. We called a taxi for
The biggest disadvantages of driving that never happen on public transportation is getting lost and not being able to sleep and read.
Viva la transportation publique.
The Pan Saga isn’t over. My friend Marina looked at my unlined copper pans and said she knew craftsmen who could reline them. The catch – they are in
Saturday, September 10, 2005
Leaving the house at nine thirty to do a couple of errands I thought I’d be back in twenty minutes. When I next turned the key in the lock the church bell was pealing twelve times.
Granted it was the marché which meant chatting with Joel, the olive seller, who is also starting his own line of perfume in hopes that Argelès will become the new
Visiting with Barbara in her store left me talking with couples from
Dani, the fishmonger, had to give me a recipe and Leo, the cheese maker, told me his wife who sells us the goat mean was okay.
Of course as long as I was there, I needed to check out the fall vegetables. Mushrooms from the mountains are beginning to appear.
Jean-Pierre helped me choose two bottles of wind, reminding me that I should open the bottle at least a half hour before drinking them.
Jean-Pierre helped me choose two bottles of wind, reminding me that I should open the bottle at least a half hour before drinking them.
Later this afternoon when I go to buy a train ticket for
Later this afternoon when I go to buy a train ticket for
Norm Coleman is calling for a
However, if he were to call for an investigation against Bush, I would support that. Just a few areas of investigation for Bush’s incompetence.
*Billions missing in
*An illegal war based on faulty intelligence where the
*The appointments of unqualified people to FEMA
*The gutting of budgets for our infrastructure shows him totally incompetent
*Worsening of the environment
*Loss of civil rights in the
*A mounting debt
*Increasing child mortality
Thursday, September 08, 2005
One might say no one can control a hurricane, but poor Cuba with almost no resources had a category 5 hurricane and thanks to preventative action not one person was killed.
Although we can’t prove that global warming is responsible, we still aren’t taking action having passed a (non) energy bill that does nothing to increase standards for conservation on gasoline in vehicles, nothing to expand public transportation.
That we gutted budgets for the infrastructure of the country isn’t limited to the lack of care of the levees. What other disasters await us? The cost of rebuilding New Orleans will exceed ten times the cost of having invested in the levee reinforcement.
When I listen to some of the people in New Orleans speak, I want to ask how did so many people slipped through the cracks and did not receive the education to speak in an understandable English never mind learn the skills that would mean that they could get jobs beyond the poverty wage. The statistic that 30% of Louisiana citizens make poverty level salaries is a national disgrace. We are the only country in the world debating if intelligent design should be taught in school as a science as our children fall further and further behind other countries in basic skills such as reading, writing and math. We won’t even mention anything as important as geography or history. Without a massive overhaul of the educational system the US has no future.
The police superintendent talked about how often they were shot at, but our gun laws lets people own guns. The violence is unimaginable reducing us to the level of anti-social animals. But why did rescue operations stop to stop looters? Everyone I know who heard that asked that question – is property more important than people? And shoot to kill? Good God, how primitive are we to kill people over a pair of sneakers?
Why didn’t we accept the help instantly offered? Planes filled with equipment, food, water, and aid workers were ready to fly from Germany and Sweden. Likewise Cuba was ready to send doctors (considered as some of the best of the work). Why wasn’t Chicago aid accepted immediately? And I go could go on and on and on…
The death toll is still unknown, although reporters aren't to take pictures of body. Maybe people will not think people died if they don't show bodies just like they don't show the coffins coming back from Iraq. But with or without photos there are too many dead. We keep talking about 3000 that died in 9/11 but how many will be killed by neglect? We turn a deaf ear to 30,000 killed by the heat in 2003 in Europe or 800,000 massacred in Rwanda. But then what are numbers of dead unless we can use it as an excuse for an illegal war when 3000 become more important than any other number.
I recognize there are many people fighting hard and heroically to overcome this disaster, but unless the United States uses this tragedy to examine its core values, its government, and every other aspect of its life, I believe it is doomed to degradation far greater than the levees that failed.
When I am not feeling angry, I am sad to the core of my being.
The employees of the YWCA fed the kitten taking turns checking her on weekends and making sure she had the necessary veterinary care. When a new director general was needed one of the tests was to make sure the candidates saw the cat, by then fully grown. If the candidate reacted with horror, they dropped on the list. The woman hired was cat friendly.
I knew Lola from the Unitarians who met at the Y headquarters. She seemed to enjoy our sessions not so much from a spiritual sense but just more laps to sit in and more people to admire her beauty.
Argelès’ library is in renovated several-hundred years old red brick building. The second story is the home of the Centre des Arts et Loisirs, an association the for 30 Euros a year, a member can take lessons in sewing, embroidery, silk painting, pottery, painting, mosaics, stained glass, and bookmaking (not the betting kind). This building too has its own cat, a large tiger tom who can be found mornings curled up in one of the chairs in the library reading room. He shows no preference for the liberal Le Monde or the more conservative Le Figaro.
Afternoons he devotes his time to inspecting the various art projects going on. After eating whatever he has been fed in the corner that has been set aside for him, he will wind himself around various ankles or jump on one the work tables.
They say cats are not owned by people, that people are owned by cats. These two cats seemed to prefer to own buildings.
Sunday, September 04, 2005
1. The best thing in my life was my daughter, although raising her wasn’t the thing I did best.
2. I count myself blessed that I am able to divide my life between Geneva and Argelès
3. From the time I was four I wanted to be a writer. My friend Susan, tired of hearing me say it, pushed me into doing it by demanding what was stopping me. The answer was me.
4. I didn’t know or love my father until I was adult.
5. My mother was my worst enemy in my 20s, 30s, 40s but now I can let some of the earlier good memories come in.
6. Learning French was the hardest intellectual thing I ever did and I am not through. Although I would love to make Arabic my next language, I doubt that I will ever be able to do more than basics.
7. I still wish I had blown the whistle on my ex when he was spying on our neighbors for the government in the late 1960s.
8. I have loved two men unconditionally, but I am happiest single. My quality of life is higher when I am single.
9. The best job I ever had was starting the Digital Credit Union.
10. The worst job was with Interskill, but it allowed me to live in Switzerland.
11. I love doing freelance journalistic work, but not all the time.
12. I match colours to the point of being neurotic, but it is funny teasing my daughter about it.
13. Growing up in Reading, MA gave me strengths that I never realized until just a few years ago.
14. My grandmother, Dar, was the most important adult in my life growing up. I still use her as a moral guidepost.
15. I would love to have dinner with Garou, Queen Elizabeth I and Abigail Adams.
16. I take friendships and commitments very seriously.
17. If I ever have to own a car again I will feel like I have failed at a major goal, to be car free.
18. I hate having my life cluttered with things.
19. My computer will never be a thing.
20. It is s hard to come up with 20 facts.
Friday, September 02, 2005
Notebooks, not blue lined but with quadrangles would be in there too, one for each subject. The kids do all their work in the notebooks and neatness counts. Teachers write notes to parents, and parents have to sign the notes with their own comments.
During the day the quiet is strange after a summer of children’s voices, but once it is five o’clock when school gets out, their voices will once again float through my window from the street below. What a welcome sign of life that is.
In Canton Vaud the kids went back to two weeks ago, forcing some parents to reduce their August holidays. There was no change in the school hours, despite complaints from many parents, who resent that if they have three children in one school the starting hours, coming home for lunch, going back and coming home again can be different for all three meaning 12 separate times. A working mother must have household help to make sure their children have someone to watch them and run back and forth with the many trips. However, as one friend living in St. Cergue found out when she tried to start a school canteen, so her children wouldn’t interrupt her writing day, many mothers want to see their children at noon time and like knowing they are giving them a good meal with quality family time. There is something to be said for both.
“I don’t like this.”
“This doesn’t please me.”
“This isn’t original.” (Barbara had designed and made the pants herself)
Despite working for Barbara, I said, “Perhaps you would like to try the store up the street.”
She tried on a poncho and as I helped her out of it, I could smell the Banyuls sweating out of her pores. She eyed two necklaces. Both times her hair caught in the clasp and I had to extricate her.
“Your clothes are ugly,” she said.
I didn’t say, “Perhaps you would prefer to wear them inside out like your dress.” I was afraid she would strip. The strap had already slipped once exposing her breast.
“How much for the poncho and two necklaces?”
“I’ll be back tomorrow. The bank is closed. I’ll be back tomorrow.”
I glanced at my watch. The banks would be open for another hour. She floated out of the store. This is now the next day and she didn’t come back.
We sat on the stone bench built into the house outside wall and had sangria and blueberry sized olives as Froed told about his winter in Uganda where he is producing a film. Gertrude emerged grey-haired – two years ago she was still dying her hair and the grey looks good – and slim. She is a writer who also does a lot of work nationally and internationally on HIV.
We worked our way inside to the kitchen where I’d played lots of card games, ate many great meals, talked with friends, put down a bowl of steam water mixed with decongestant for my cold-ridden mother and fallen in love with Michel. The table was set next to the window which was filled with flowering plants.
They gave us a grand tour of the place. They’ve removed walls, but kept the original beams. A clay pig head still supported the living room beam. I am glad they kept it. It makes me smile everytime since I was reading under it, and lookedup to really see it for the first time.
A bath and toilet on the third floor would have been appreciated earlier having made my way downstairs more times than I want to count in the middle of the night. There is also the memory of my first night in bed with Michel, a sequence adapted in The Card. I shared this with Gertrude and she said she would buy the book, since her house has been fictionalized in the book.
Froed was the cook, and produced steaks in a nice sauce and to-die-for crisp potatoes baked in oil and spices, and snappable green beans, salad, a selection of cheeses, good wine, mouse/raspberries and ice cream.
The conversation ran a gambit of topics from life in Africa, AIDS, Literature, movies and politics. With all the Danes in town, I try and keep up on their politics so it isn’t only US and EU politics under discussion.
Froed also owns the house directly across the street from me and a grange that he is renovating as well as a place in Barcelona. When he retires he will come back and forth and rent out his misc. places probably to more people in the Danish entertainment industry.
Years ago when I bought my studio in Argelès I thought I would be living in a Catalan community. Instead I have found an artistic community. My friend Bill often accused me of being a cake eater, but in this case, I have my cake and I eat it too. I have a local culture plus an international art community. Life is good.