Sunday, October 30, 2005

Florent Pagny Concert

I fell in love with Florent Pagny’s and voice when I saw his video Savoir Aimer (to know to love). You can watch it as he signs the lyrics. Later when he sang Libertes des Penses (freedom of thoughts) and Happy Days I was equally entranced. His voice was better than most pop stars. Then on one of the many French variety shows he sang a duet with Pavarotti. Tiens tiens, as the French. He’s had some really good training.
Then on one of the pop stations I heard someone singing opera. I don’t think anything is strange these days including opera on a pop station. It was Pagny who risked by putting out an album of arias. It became a best seller. He took a show called Barrytone on the road. I missed it in Paris.

When I got back to Geneva in August I saw a poster for a Geneva Barrytone performance October 28th. I went directly from the train station to the ticket agency before going home.

I wasn’t disappointed. He was accompanied by the Prague Symphony orchestra. The opening was a giant sized screen where he said he was often asked if he ever got bored in Patagonia where he spends part of his time. ‘You can decide for yourself’ he said. The opening shot was of a log cabin where he wakes to his morning matei before he goes on a hike, canoe trip and horseback ride against scenery which makes Switzerland look ugly in comparison.

Pagny long ago gave up conventional dress for gaucho clothing. The concert was no different as he strode on the stage in clothes that looked as if his horse was waiting outside. The arias were beautiful. He brought on a Turkish contralto. When she finished the audience couldn’t react for a moment before they broke into a standing ovation.

Pagny took a break by walking through the audience and talking to people. Take pictures if you want he told the crowd and joked although he would like to kiss a pretty women except he had promised his wife not to.

‘I’ve a problem,’ he said later. ‘Usually the orchestra is in the pit. He pointed behind him where the orchestra was on the stage as if it were possible to miss a 70-piece orchestra. ‘The prompter just broke down.’ He repositioned himself where he could watch the conductor.

He and the contralto sang about making God cry in English. The backdrop was the planes going into the WTC, logging, kids with guns, and all the other horrors of the modern world. The next song was a contrast to West Side Story’s Maria. He then did a ‘triptych’ of his hits including Savoir Aimer.

Interesting Swiss audiences tend to be non reactive. This was no different. During the pre-program warm up, only a small part of the audience participated in the clapping. Likewise, Swiss audiences usually demand only one encore. I remember years ago when RB2 and I went to a Dixieland concert in Neuchâtel no one clapped or tapped their feet. The lead trumpet finally said unless they clapped they were going home. He gave clapping lessons. It was done with humor. I wonder if performing artists who play in this country know they’ll get out early without having to go through repeated encores. In this case I could have listened to hours of encores.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Halloween est devenue totalement has been

The Tribune de Genève says that Halloween is over.

During the first ten years I lived in Switzerland I celebrated Halloween once in 1993 and that was because an American couple threw a party. They had to explain what it was to their Swiss guests. A real culture difference was shown when the Americans turned up in home-made costumes and the Swiss in rented ones.

Then suddenly four years ago the stores were full of witch and skeleton costumes. Black and orange decorations were all over the place. Even the Geneva flower clock was a pumpkin and for the first time pumpkins were displayed in grocery stores.

As one of the three Americans in my workplace people came and said, ‘M’explique Halloween, s’il te plait,’ in almost as many numbers who asked me to explain the Clinton controversy. My accountant took 45 minutes of a 30-minute appointment (the numbers are right) to try and understand that one. I expliqued away telling of the Irish traditions with turnips, my brother and I going to farm stands to find just the right pumpkin for carving, bobbing for apples, preparing Halloween cookies (before the fear of poisoning) and wrapping them in orange napkins for trick or treaters.

However, this year there is barely a witch costume to be found. Stores are devoting very little space to it. It was mainly a merchandising ploy people felt and the celebration didn’t catch on. In Geneva especially it is too close to the Escalade, the celebration of Mere Royaume throwing her cauldron of hot soup off the walls scalding the French soldiers trying to attack and buying enough time for the local militia to repel the attack. For the Escalade, kids dress in costume and sing the Escalade song in exchange for coins, grown ups have their costumes from the era, soldiers in armour ride on horseback and cannons are shot off. Stands sell vegetable soup and hot spiced wine. Chocolate shops sell chocolate soup pots filled with marzipan vegetables. In households the youngest and the oldest smash the pot together and the contents are devoured. It is a treasured and uncommercial time.

Pumpkins are still for sale, however. Recipes for pumpkin soup are in the paper. I’m glad that part caught on whether or not I carve a jack o’lantern.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Julius Caesar and Lunch

Lunch with Catherine was a true pleasure. She led me through the streets of Nyon to the école Migros, the adult education center of Switzerland’s leading supermarket. The ground floor was called Tea Room Bibliothèque, but it was better than any tea room I’ve been in for a long time even my beloved La Noisette in Argelès. Two Dutch women run it. They have mismatched easy chairs placed around tables of different styles, woods and colors. The walls are covered with book-filled shelves. Patrons can borrow the books for nothing.

Our waitress/owner recommended the broccoli soup. She was right. With just a hint of curry it was great along with the fresh bread. The chocolate cake and good cup of tea after the meal was equally good.

The dishes were unusual. A water pitcher was a clear glass O, flattened on the bottom of course. The tea pot was better than some sculptures I’ve seen.

As we complimented the w/o on the tea room’s atmosphere she said some of her friends had suggested she open a Starbucks. She wanted something totally original. Then they suggested she franchise it and get great deals on mass produced furniture in Hong Kong. ‘And what would I be doing?’ she asked. She answered her own question by saying how she would be looking for financing and dealing with business instead of doing what she loved doing, being in the kitchen, talking to clients, enjoying herself.

Interesting that her idea of success is not how much you can grow but how creative you can be while creating a great product while making enough.

After lunch we strolled through the cobblestoned streets of Nyon. We passed moss-covered stone walls and when there was a break we could see the lake, the Alps. Mont Blanc so far was the only the mountain with snow on it. There were tree-lined paths. The trees were shedding their yellowed leaves some almost a foot across. Many flaked their way down. Catherine wanted me to see the statue of Julius Caesar, who was the founder of this town. Here and there a Roman ruin added to the ambience.

As we headed back to the train station, she pointed out to me the place where the marché is held each week. ‘Imagine,’ she said, ‘There’s been a marché here since the Roman times.’ Now that’s continuity.

Although Nyon is only 20 minutes outside of Geneva, I felt my lunch and visit with JC had been a vacation. Long ago one of my clients who lived in the beautiful city of Annecy told me he was spending his vacation at home. ‘I’m already here,’ he said referring to the mountains where he could ski and hike. I knew the feeling. I am already here and daily life holds the joys that some people need to travel hours instead of minutes to find.

Cell phones on the train

Had I not been joining a friend I would have stayed on the train to hear the end of the conversation on the cell phone two seats ahead of me.

A man with an American accent was saying things like, ‘Stop…I thought we agreed we’d decide in another two months…that isn’t fair…listen to what you are saying…we agreed we would decide together…can’t we have dinner and discuss it…I do appreciate your research…but that would cost double what we agreed…’ His tone was soft as if he were trying to be reasonable, but really wanted to yell. Sadly I couldn’t hear the other end of the conversation.

At the same time the man in the seat across the aisle was working on a spreadsheet on his laptop. He kept getting phone calls. He spoke American English and Vaudoise-accented French so his nationality was impossible to guess. He talked of les reunions et les contracts but it was okay to do it tomorrow, mais il a pensé ce n’est pas necessaire. Sadly his words sometimes drowned out the conversation of the distressed other man.

When I rested my head on the window I could see the hand of the man who was trying to convince the girl of something. He waved it back and forth to make his points as the train pulled into my stop. I did get off, but I’ll never know what happened. The problem with cell phones so much isn’t that the conversations are intrusive, but that you don’t get the end of a good story. It can be like leaving a good movie before the end.

The little girl on the bus

The little girl’s feet barely made the edge of the bus seat. Her ruffled socks peeked from her brown corduroy slacks. Dark circles lined her eyes, much like my daughter had when her allergies were the worst. However, the child’s face was radiant as she chatted with her mother. No emotion could be hidden. Sometimes she tilted her head, other times she grinned. Her mother asked her something and her face grew serious as she pondered the answer. Then it lit up as she shared the information. Her mother clapped in pleasure and the child mimicked her. Their complicity was a joy to watch.

As I got up to leave I asked the mother, ‘Quel age est votre fille?’ The woman asked the little girl. ‘Trois,’ she said but held up only two fingers. The mother held up three and the daughter copied her and let loose another one of her killer smiles. I couldn’t help but smile myself.

Sunrise gifts

‘You’ve got to go outside,’ Scott said. He is the son of the woman whose house I share and is battling his way into adulthood. I could put both my feet in one of his boots and still have room, although trying to move from point A to point B that way would result in a painful accident. He is an extremely handsome kid with blond wavy hair and a cherubic face.

I was in the basement office checking my email. When I began it was still dark, although next week after we change the clocks, it will be light at the same hour. I looked at him.

‘I mean it, you have to go outside.’ He picked up his mother’s camera. She was waiting for him the car.

I ran up the stairs not understanding. The sun was just rising. The sky exploded in pinks, roses and reds. I gaped at the beauty.

When I lived on the other side of the lake, I used to issue rainbow alerts to my neighbors. My view was the best to see the sometimes double and trouble rainbows and the neighbors would stand on my balcony oohing and ahhing. This celestial show was as good as any rainbow.

Scott was right. I did have to go outside. Making me was a gift.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Crones Birthday Party

Bring something to read and a positive symbol of aging, Karen told those were invited to her 41st birthday party, a celebration of crones. At 41 she’s a crone in training. Karen is one of those women who not only dreams the impossible they accomplish major parts of those dreams. If there were 1000 Karens in the world there would be justice and peace throughout the planet.

The party was supposed to be in her office where she runs a crusade to improve legal systems in the world. An employee met guests directing them to Karen’s home a few blocks away. She had started labor pains, six weeks too early and was confined to bed. (Confining her anywhere probably involves chains) Her naked three-year old welcomed us. He has grown since the last time I saw him and is much more vocal. Being early I helped him dress as Karen’s mother-in-law and husband tried to do things before she could. ‘Sit down, Karen,’ was heard more often than Happy Birthday. As typical in any Geneva gathering there was a mixture of nationalities (including one vicar’s wife).

The men and children were relegated to the park across the street. The women gathered in a circle. Crones were defined as women who know and appreciate what to do with their age, power and wisdom. The Queen Crone was 79, and I was the second oldest crone.

Each guest introduced their symbol and read. One woman brought a small statue of an elephant, not much bigger than her thumb. Elephants are her family’s lucky symbol and the gift was something she had kept with her for years. Another brought a branch with three white flowers symbolizing the love within her family. Another woman gave a candle from a place that had special meaning to Karen. The poem When I Am Old I Will Wear More Purple printed in purple ink was handed out to everyone. At the end of each presentation the person lit a candle until the table was a blaze of light, perhaps lighting each one of us on our individual paths to power, age and hopefully wisdom.

You're from where?

Place du Molard in the Geneva Shopping district has fountains and flowers. Saturday the beat of American Indian music echoed. Five men with long black hair and dark skins dressed in fringed buckskins, war bonnets and with painted faces danced traditional American Indian steps, maybe with a bit of disco thrown in.

I love American Indian (Also Indian-Indian) music. It bring back memories of a vacation in Colorado Springs when Llara was five and Bill and I took her to the Garden of the Gods. Among the huge red pillars Indians from many tribes met to dance and sing. I already have a CDROM of Sacred Spirit Indian music which is wonderful to write to. This was bought in Lake Placid when I was visiting my former boss in jail.

The backdrop behind the musicians was a tepee and a painting of a wolf. They had a CDROM for sale called Mohicans, a Northeastern American Indian tribe. As one of the musicians passed by to sell the CD, I asked in English where he was from. “Peru,” he said. The tribe migrated further than I thought.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Chestnut time

The first smell hitting me as I got off the train in Geneva was roasted chestnuts. The smell signifies falling leaves, nouveau Beaujolais and signs in restaurants telling that they serve dishes supplied by hunters.

Stands are dotted through out the city. Most are wooden chalets, although the one by Bellaire overlooking the river has murals of woodland scenes.

The chestnuts are roasted in big metal washtubs. Burlap bags full of unroasted chestnuts are stacked near or in the stands.

The men running the stands, usually wearing blue coats, scoop the hot chestnuts into a paper cone, serving a hand-warming as well as palate pleasing experience.

I did bypass the train station's vendor, but I will buy chestnuts regularly as the fall goes on.

At the Café du Soleil

The Café du Soleil has been painted, upstairs and down, but the same colour. The only difference is how bright it is. The cheeriness is at the same level. Olivier, the manager, greeted me literally with open arms and a three-cheek kiss.

I was there with a good friend and we were busy catching up on all our news. She is at a happy point in her life, which is wonderful to see. As we delved into our lives a voice behind me said, ‘You’ll never know who’ll you meet.’ It was a colleague back from my Neuchâtel working days. He claims I am responsible for his living here, which is based on some truth. He knocked at the office door and I did let him in and introduce him to the boss, who hired him. Now he is married with two kids, not the one he had when I went to his fortieth birthday which was a cruise in on a lake ship.

He told me he had seen our old boss the same day, one of the most compulsive people I have ever met. Working for him was a nightmare.

‘What’s he doing?’ I asked.

‘Executive coaching.’

I didn’t faint. That’s a little bit like having a person with no legs run a marathon. Granted the man was brilliant, but his nitpicking had totally demotivated a bright eager staff, although everyone who left admitted they learned a lot from him including never wanting to work for him again.

IHT vs. me

I’ve always liked the IHT. However, they have a limitation on articles that web readers have access too. You must be a subscriber. This would make sense except for one thing. Most of the articles they limit have already appeared on other web sites.

Each time one appears I email them article along with the note I don’t need their subscription I can get it elsewhere.

What strikes me is how stupid can they be? It’s a little bit like limiting air people breathe. It can’t be done in this connected world. If they limited exclusives that were only on their site it would work. Now if they are not bright enough to realise this, how good is their reporting? Hopefully the same dummies who made this totally unrealistic policy aren’t the same people putting the paper together.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Apartment update

I should be a detective. I traced down the attorney who is representing the inheritors’ interests. I was able to get his phone number from Franck, the man who owns the middle two flats in the building. This is not the Franck of the café. He had no idea where he was located. However, using the name and number I was able to get his address in Lyon and wrote telling him the problems I was having with the agency, that they had a firm offer even though they said they still didn’t have a firm contract and said I would be happy to buy it either through the agency or directly.

I will follow up after I get back to Geneva. I have the attitude that if it works, it works, but if it doesn’t it won’t be from my lack of effort.

Civil war and Cathars

I headed for Franck’s on Sunday to have a big English breakfast. I still miss those Bill Breakfast’s on Wigglesworth Street. Cooking one on my own isn’t just the same. At the next table a couple was wondering about the camps where the Spanish Civil War refugees had come over the border to stay in Argelès and I knew the answer.

One conversation led into another and they were researching the Cathars. I invited them to my place so I could print out a list of sources. He is a writer as well and they invited me to dinner Tuesday night, which is good, because I will be able to clean out my frigo in the afternoon and unplug it. Even better will be an evening of interesting conversation.

Apple Pie without country and motherhood

Crisco makes the best pie crust. Tarte des pommes may be wonderful but it isn’t a good New England apple pie. The other is true. When I was in Geneva two weeks ago I paid an exorbitant amount for a tiny can of Crisco (the price is only slightly less than that for my first and only born child) at the American Store. Today I made the pie and shared it with Barbara who gets apple pie cravings too and Marina the young Catalan woman who we are helping with English. Usually we meet at Franck’s but he closes on Monday. I made a pot of real tea, where you hot the pot, before putting the tea in.

Christina stopped by to have me look at some publicity material and resisted the pie until she sat next to it. Her conversation added another accent to help tune Marina’s ear.
Even now, close to bedtime, the smell of cinnamon lingers in the air

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Catch up

The outdoor metal heaters standing six feet high or more were probably always outside Paris cafés, except I never noticed them. This year I did when one allowed me to do the Paris thing of sitting and watching people outside the café. The high price of coffee is low if you consider one cup can rent you a heated space for a morning of observation or even writing. Franck has bought one for La Noisette, although the need is borderline.

After days of rain, the sun daned to make an appearance. Although the storm made writing time cozy and productive it was wonderful to take a walk along the river. River is a loose time. I had come here for over a decade before ever seeing water. Today the river was racing, bubbling and gurgling. Several entrances to the village were cut off by water flooding over the road.

SNAKE…As I walked along a river, a small brown viper no more than a foot long twisted leisurely across the path. I must have scared him? her? Although there was no way to tell, but it trebled its speed and disappeared. I hope it has nightmares of giant women tonight.

The olives trees in the groves are ladened with fruit. Some are the size of large green grapes, but on the same tree others are ripening into pretty shades of purple as well as dull black.

I am getting ready to go back to Geneva for the winter where I have much to look forward to. There’s friends to see and I feel I NEED a fondue at the Café du Soleil. Chitra has a dance recital and Nandita will appear in her play. This group is run by a man and each year he works with young kids who write, design and direct the production. For anyone who had sat through terrible Christmas pageants, forget any resemblance. Not only will I see one with the family, I told them I would drive Nandita to the one up in the Jura. The performance is over before there’s any desire to check a watch. And there is the rock star, who will do a concert of operatic songs. The Library will hold its book sale which reminds me so much of Reading’s Church of the Good Shepherd Christmas Fair with its sandwiches and desserts. I am to go to Bern or Zurich to line up with Christianne, a former coworker from the first few years in Switzerland. And in between I hope to get some writing done.

Two inheritors still need to sign off on the sale to my flat and I am trying to get to the notaire who is in charge. I don’t trust the real estate agent, but for the notaire dealing with all those people trying to get this place off his books must be a nightmare.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Life is good

This morning the drum beat of rain woke me before the alarm. My bed was toasty warm. I watched dawn spread its misty grey light over the red roof tops outside my window. Last night I hadn’t drawn the quilted drapes that keep the place cool in summer and warm in winter without using as much energy.

At the same time as I was snuggling for the last minutes before starting my writing day, I read about Margaret Mead in Written by Herself edited by Jill Ker Conway. One of the true luxuries about working full time as a writer from home is being able to read before getting up. The pressure to rush out to work is non-existent. That does not mean I am not busy. By seven I’d exercised, ironed my slacks (although I might not leave the flat today), taken my shower and had my breakfast cooking.

Now I as I sit at the computer I see how shiny the rain has made the tiles. The woman across the street has her window open, which makes me want to shiver. I still have not put on the heat because I am cozy in my heavy slacks, sweater and thick socks. Probably this year with rising heating prices others will be doing the same.

I am incredibly grateful that I can work as I am working. A cup of caramel tea is on the table next to my desk. The writing is going well. Life is beyond good.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

French Language Logic

Buying saucisse and saucisson at the marché this day, the vendor corrected the gender I was using. The saucisse are long and thin are feminine, he expained. The saucisson, short and squat and decidedly phallic looking are masculine. I chose UNE saucisse de canard, long, thing and good although the U saucisson de sanglier covered in herbs would have been good too. Using memory tricks certainly helps remember gender.

Monday, October 10, 2005

A usual and unusual train trip

The train ride started out almost ritually. M Karmel, the Algerian taxi driver who drove me to the Gare du Lyon greeted me warmly. As usual we discussed current events: the Parkistani earthquake, the civil war in Iraq, his children’s latest exploits. I took my usual petit déjeuner at Le bleu Express. French men were huddled over their espressos while reading Le Figero, L’Equipe and Le Monde. Tourists’ head swivelled as they soaked up the atmosphere. As usual the croissant was hot, the orange juice freshly squeezed and the hot chocolate really chocolately.

As usual the station looked like an impressionist painting but with the same difference. Instead of steam belching clunky engines, sleek-nosed TGVs waited for passengers to board. As usual the posting of the quai was late while riders waited in front of the departure announcement boards, although most guessed correctly it would be quai I.

My seat was in the middle of car 18, which meant two people faced me. They were a couple about my age both wearing beige sweaters and we nodded politely. Sometimes the train rides involve seat mates each locked in their own world. Sometimes it involves great conversations.

This time our conversations were anything but usual.

A blond woman, wrinkled but still beautiful came to take the fourth seat. She carried a sponge mop, but instead of a flat sponge it had a roller. This started a conversation on mops. The woman said it was gift for her sister who couldn’t find one like it in the south of France. The beige sweater woman said she had one. She said she had tried one where she constantly had to buy some kind of cover until she realised that it was just a connerie (something bad) on the part of the manufacturer. ‘Une betisse,’ (another word for something bad) she said. ‘One time you bought products that were useful but they were one time purchases. Now the companies trick you into thinking you constantly need replacements.’ She gave another example of anew coffee maker than only works with little canisters supplied by the manufacturer of the machine.

We went on to joke (faire à blague) that the woman with the mop could be a modern witch. She said she wanted a blue pointed hat to match the colour of the mop.

As we made our way through the foggy country side the mop woman told us she had been a trapeze artist with Ringling Brothers Circus for 15 years than worked in their production department. Finally she had returned to France. Her parents had been deported in WWII and killed at Auschwitz. She and one of her sisters had been hidden in the country side and although the woman there was mean, they survived.

She opened her pocketbook and pulled out a photo. In it, she was leaning out a window with two other women. ‘It was a miracle,’ she said. She pointed to the woman on the far right. ‘Last January we got a phone call. This woman turned out to be our missing baby sister. She didn’t know she was Jewish until a few years ago and then when trying to get a passport for the first time learned her true identity. She then went on a search to see if any of her family had survived. The picture was taken at their reunion.

Tired of talking, the trapeze artist pulled out several issues of France Dimanche and Paris Ici, weekly papers like The National Enquirer. The husband buried himself in his book, while the three women read about Johnny Halliday not attending his grandson’s baptism, Michel Sardou’s new hit CD and the chances of Brad getting married soon, the latest news from Star Academy.

The train pulled into Perpignan in what seemed like a half hour trip but in reality had taken almost five hours. I recently read a book describing a journey from Paris to Lyon, half the distance as taking three days during WWII, the time the trapeze artist was in hiding.

As we left the trapeze artist congratulated me on my wonderful French. I hope her stories of her life were truer than her compliments.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Some thoughts on community

The Paris suburbs are supposed to be a nightmare of crime and desolation but not Puteaux the one I am staying in. Yes, it is working class and also multi-cultural. Women in African dress and long braid walk the same streets as veiled women. The number of shops with Arabic indicate enough of a population to support them. Oriental restaurants abound.

The City Hall is surrounded by fountains, flowers and playgrounds where mothers sit and watch their children slide and swing. The streets signs are not just the ubiquitous blue on the sides of buildings but are four-color artistic shields with a silhouette symbol perched on the top. Street lamps that could have been used for ornate gas lamps two centuries ago hang on curlicue wrought iron holders.

There are no lawns. Apartment houses are next to one families with no space in between so there is no chance to confuse this with America suburbia. Rentals and property purchases are on the low side by Paris standards.

There are many community activities. Last month a sports day drew 8000 residents. The police department is offering a solve-a-crime day. The school cooks have come up with a week of gourmet menus for the children that include things like lamb curry and duck salad.

The graffiti is minimal. What was there my last visit is gone and only one building is marked.

Why? Is it the obvious care given to the environment by the city officials? Is it the many activities for its citizens that bond a community together. I am sure if I lived here I would see that this suburb has problems like all others, but the young female mayor and her counsel have made this a pretty community with the word community being strong. I am not enough of a sociologist to preach when the flowers come in the crime goes down, but isn’t it possible when someone begins to take care of property and places that it will catch on the same way neighborhoods become downwardly mobile? Isn’t having communal places where mothers can meet while children play a way to break down barriers? And can you hate someone who’ve you tossed a ball to the Saturday before?

My daughter and I will spend Christmas here. I am already looking forward to some of the activities as well as the decorations. Last year’s theme were the Russian nesting dolls.
I am looking forward to this year's.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Pondering smiles

Smiles are happy things, quick automatic almost. Pondering is heavy, slow moving. We talk of someone moving ponderously and we imagine elephantine. Ponder implies weighty decisions.

Arriving back in Geneva I found myself as usual whenever I happened to make eye contact smiling. Instead of smiling back, most people lowered their heads and some frowned. I hadn’t been gone that long. My behaviour hadn't changed. I was confused.

Then in Paris I found the same thing. I was beginning to think that instead of smiling I was making mouth attacks and thought of taking surveys on which city had more negative smile reactions. In other words I was pondering the politics of smiling.

However, that did not stop me from enjoying Paris. I visited The Red Wheel Barrow book store, wandered around the surrounding streets. I especially appreciated the middle aged men with their graying locks grazing their collars. They seemed to be in some kind of uniform: turtle neck sweaters, jeans and blue suit jackets. All had flat tummies. Oogle is more fun than ponder.

Two cats acted as watch cats at different boutiques sitting in the middle of their doors.
Although we all know I am not a shopper, I love the imagination behind these shops. Two had clothing made by the owners and I admire the courage of the women designers to set themselves up.

Then my telephone rang. It was my hostess arranging to meet me at Notre Dame so we could wander the Latin Quarter. All around me people were passing me and smiling.

It startled me until I realized. My natel(cell) phone is in a white and black spotted fuzzy dog case. The pup’s head sticks over my hand and his back legs and tail are below. They were seeing an older woman chatting into the stomach of a stuffed animal. How this will work into my smile survey I do not know, but somehow I will build this parameter into it.

Relief is spelled R E V I E W G O O D

*STAR* Nelson, D-L. The Card. Oct. 2005. 308p. Five Star, $26.95 (1-59414-417-6). Every Christmas, for 20 years, two former college roommates, Diana Bourque and Jane Andrews, exchange the same card, summarizing their lives that year in one sentence. The two friends couldn’t be more different. Jane is domestic, and pins her hopes on becoming the wife of handsome medical student David Johnson. Diana is the adventurous one, hoping someday to take over her father’s newspaper. After graduation, each woman discovers that dreams and real life often take two entirely different roads. Although men, employers, and the world in general spin out of control, Jane and Diana hold fast to the knowledge that they will always have their friendship, no matter what. As time passes, Nelson expertly captures the essence of each era with a few well-chosen, tantalizing details. Poignant and witty, this story drives home the point that although everyone’s feelings and experiences seem unique, they do share universal patterns. Readers who enjoy such emotionally textured books as Iris Rainer Dart’s Beaches (1985) or Kathleen Gilles Siedel’s Till the Stars Fall (1994) will love Nelson’s novel, too. —Shelley Mosley, Booklist

I want to be sooooo wrong

I want to be so wrong

For a person who loves being right I want to be so wrong about this. Bush’s announced that if bird flu hit the U.S. it might be necessary to call out the military. Everyone I know in the States has poo-poohed my fears of a suspension of the Constitution and the military take over by this current government mentally patting me on my head and saying ‘paranoia’ behind my back. Never mind that General Tommy Franks said in the event of another terrorist attack we would suspend The Constitution and go to a military government. Now Bush has floated the concept again in what I believe is a trial balloon.

The Jews in Germany in 1939 didn’t believe what was going to happen could possibly happen and complacently stayed in Germany.

However a government that stole two elections, that routinely has lied about issues like the environment, social security, torture and more, that illegally invaded a sovereign nation under false pretenses that resulted in the deaths of 1000s of people (theirs and ours) and whose friends have benefited financially from that attack would have no compunctions about doing whatever they needed to stay in power.

Even if I am wrong on this, financially the US has to implode. Although bankruptcy is now harder for the small consumer, the amount of debt carried by the government exceeds all reason. Economists around the world keep shaking their heads talking about when not if it comes crashing down. US economists offer mixed views. The housing bubble will have to burst (little non economist me predicted both the savings and loan and the busts.)

I believe anyone who has the wherewithal to sell what they have now and move to another country should while they still can while there is still value and before the government becomes a military dictatorship. I truly envision the day when I will not be able to see to my loved ones because I cannot enter and they cannot leave the US.

Talking with many over the weekend at an international conference, I could break down those who couldn’t believe it might happen (they lived in the US) and those who believed it could (those who lived outside the US). I throw the concept out timidly only to find those outside the US jump on the idea, saying, Í thought it was only me.’

As I said, I so want to be wrong.

Geneva Notes

Nandita is almost as tall as I am. I suspect in another year she will pass me. When she does we need to do some kind of celebration. Even at seven she was lovely to talk to and mature at a level where I often forgot she was a child. However the older she gets the better she gets. What a pleasure it is to know bright kids. She goes to the new International School, a glassy bright building. As nice as it is, I kinda liked it when sheep grazed in the field. There is still a farm across the street where horses munch grass under shady trees. Considering there are so many alphabet organizations within a few minutes walk, the juxtaposition (one of Nandita’s vocabulary words) is amazing. Some of them are the UN, HCR, ITU, ILO, IEC, ISO, WHO, WIPO, OMO and lots of others.

Had a lunch with the people who live in my old flat at his workplace WHO. He signed us in. His mother was visiting from Arlington, MA. His wife was leaving that night for the Philippines. Sadly her father had died. One of the hardest things about being an ex-pat is not being there for this type of thing and having to wait for flights.

I noticed in the Auer Café that they offer the kind of soap in the toilet that many older restaurants do. A spike is above the sink and goes through the soap. This lets it dry without it getting all mushy on the sink.

Once all the buses were orange. When the new ones arrived they have been painted aqua orange and white in a modern and graphic pattern. Some now carry advertising so it is possible to write a Coca-Cola bus. Happily I now qualify for the 45 and not the 70 CHF monthly bus pass. Since a day pass is 6 CHF with the railroad abonnement and 12 CHF without it pays for itself even faster. There are advantages to aging.

My Danish/Swiss dental hygienist turned in his green card.

The American Library was closed this week because everyone was training on the new computer. I am looking forward to their booksale.

I found memories of my daughter living with me heavy on my mind. It was so nice when I could say to her ‘Do you want to try this restaurant’ or ‘meet you at the Café du Soleil.’

The dirt on some of the farm land near the house has been turned over leaving big black clumps. The soil is rocky, much like New England soil.

French Strikes


I love the French who strike at the drop of a flash of a thought that maybe someone might be considering maybe thinking about reducing one of their rights. Within seconds they are out on the street yelling don’t mess with my social contract be it health care, education, four weeks vacation, difficult in firing, etc.. October 4th over one million French brought public services to a standstill over issues relating to their well being.

There are times when the strikes (grèves) can be a pain. I wanted to go to Paris on the 4th but no trains were working. Instead I went on the 5th. But I prefer that to the American people who have seen the number of those without health insurance go up, the infant mortality rate soar to third world standards, job insecurity increase, the value of their salaries remain static or decrease without even a bleat of protest. It seems that as conditions deteriorate in the US more and more lie down and write welcome on their chests for people to walk on. We let our leaders pass legislation that sends jobs out of the US and helps keep us in an ever increasing state of poverty while limiting our basic freedoms through the Patriot Act. We believe their bullshit about fighting terrorists at home if we don’t fight them abroad.

And I also admit that it is a bit over the top when those on welfare ask for a 13th payment to match the 13th payment salaried workers receive each year.

Part of being a citizen of any country is actively participating by voting, by boycotts, by fighting back to everything not in the general interest. It is paying attention how actions, purchases, etc. affect not just an individual but the enlarged community. It keeps a balance between those in power and those who need to band together to not be over ridden.

The French do it very well pains in the ass and all.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Going to bed

As a child going to bed was horrible. I was missing out on what the grown ups were doing down below. Plus wrinkles in the sheets and the Kleenex my grandmother stuck under my pillow could work its way down to my feet and become creepy crawlies. King Kong could be waiting outside my window waiting to carry me off to New York, a city I wanted to see, but I wanted to go in more conventional transportation modes. I vowed when I grewup I would only go to bed when I wanted to.

Now going to bed is a treat, especially in cold weather. The shutters are closed for in Europe shutters work. I even admit to owning a hot water bottle, albeit hidden in a fluffy polar bear cover. Getting dressed in flannel pajamas and proning my body is a joy as I wait for my body heat to begin to create an oven on low.

My daughter claims I pretend to read, for I often fall asleep still wearing my glasses, but there are the nights that I am still turning pages at 2 a.m. not wanting to wait until the morning to find out what happens next.

Last night was the first real night of winter sleep. The wind was blowing and I could hear the trees talking to teach other. Environmentally and economically the house is kept cold. It is healthier to put on another sweater. I wore sweats but left my polar bear water bottle on the shelf. I had a book on women’s lives and read from the autobiography Harriet Jacobs and was content that nothing jarred with the slave diary I had created for a still unpublished life. Sometime during the night Munchkin was purring in the room, but not on my bed.
We went out to breakfast in the morning and separating my body from the sheets was a dite traumatic, but the cocoon awaits for me tonight.

However, I did keep my childhood vow on going to bed when I wanted to.

Character development

My bean/cassoulet friend (a woman who matches my New England/European experiences which increases areas of understanding ten fold) and I have been discussing character development and will continue to do so as a planned activity. Between her work/writing and mine it is not mere gossip when we examine why so and so said this or that, but a tool for other aspects of our lives.

Over the weekend we were discussing the French novel ALBERTA and she said she did not understand why the character Camille (French pronunciation Ca-mee) wasn’t more aware.

On falling into bed but not asleep last night I wondered what influence culture plays on novel characters not on the superficial level of a Frenchman saying ‘Voilà and sitting in a brasserie with a glass of wine, but deep within their emotions and the emotions of the writers themselves. I suspect it runs so deep that there is little awareness.

Those of us living as internationals with partners and friends of other cultures refer to this or that habit as French, Italian, Japanese or whatever. We shrug when someone says or does something we feel is out of sink for our roots but natural for the one doing it.

A scene in the movie PEINDRE OU FAIRE AMOUR (Paint or Make Love) bounced into my brain. A couple buying a house from another couple stayed for dinner. The pretty blond potential buyer asked to use the bathroom (in most French houses the bathroom is just that and the toilet is in a separate room) She asks the seller to stay as she washes in the bidet. She strips and when she stands in all her glory after washing her privates he reaches for a towel and dries them all with less discussion than which cheeses to serve after dinner.

I read an essay by Susan Tiberghien, the force behind the Geneva Writers Group. She lives in two languages: How she acts during the day depends on which language she is living in. If she is speaking French she dresses more formally, eats proper meals and talks less to strangers on the street. Activities are preplanned. If it is an English day she might be in sweats, have snacks, gab to the woman next in line at the post office and call a friend to see a movie the same afternoon. (This paragraph does not do justice to the essay).

Somewhere in this all is a doctoral dissertation on character development and cultural influences and the comparison between the novels from two countries. It would go beyond whether a character bought a baguette at the bakery each day on his way down rue Emile Zola in the 15em arrondissement in Paris before mounting to his apartment in an iron grill elevator or opened a package of Wonder Bread and spread peanut butter and jelly as a snack. The next step might be talking or not talking to a woman in line at the post office. However it goes far, far deeper.

It is not a dissertation that I will tackle for I don’t want to do the background work in anthropology, sociology, linguistics, etc. that it would take. But at the same time, I want to explore more deeply what cultural aspects influence people.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Street Cleaning

Picking up after a dog is not uncommon in Geneva. People walk their animals with small plastic bags attached to the leashes and do the socially responsible thing when the dog does what is required of it. However, I live almost in the country. There is one area of sidewalk that I have to be careful where I walk. It is not a problem with a dog, but the horses that clip clop up and down the street. I do like to imagine the size of plastic bag for the contribution donated by these creatures.

Back home in Geneva

I’ve been back less than a week. I’ve already seen many of my friends, had the final (I hope) interview for my Swiss nationality, had Jean-Pierre cut my hair and gone to the dentist and attended a weekend writing workshop.

I’ve spent special time with my writing mate who is on her way to Austria via Australia and steeped myself in the beauty of the lake and the mountains.

The corn fields and sunflower fields of summer have given way to turned over soil, rows of large clumps of stone-filled black, rich soil. Some of the cow statues have disappeared, but a few remain.

Only one chestnut stand is open and I still have not smelled the roasting nuts nor held them in a paper cone to warm my hands. In lieu of that, I have bought my first pair of gloves for the season, cheap so I won’t feel badly when I lose them. I still remember the beautiful $75 pair of fire engine red leather gloves with delicate scalloped edges bought from the Sunday leather market in Florence. They were soft making me want to caress them. They smelled of sweet tanning that new shoes have.

RB2 and I were on one of our exploratory routes in France and stopped for coffee. Only a couple of hours later when we were back home (Môtiers, Neuchâtel at the time) did I realise I had left the gloves in the café. We couldn’t even remember the name of the village we had stopped and since we tend to travel by lets-see-what-happens-when-we-take-the-second-left-and-third right, there was no way we would ever have found it again. Whoever ended up with the gloves, I hope she enjoyed them as much as I would have.

At Manora there were some beautiful gloves, some costing less, some costing more than those red gloves. I settled for CHF 9.50 pair. They are classic. When I lose one, I will buy another identical pair. Hopefully I will alternately lose right and left hands and can create new pairs.

Calvin's Musée

Geneva is Calvin’s city. His church, St. Pierre, dominates the skyline. The Reformer’s Wall dominates a park. The statues of the reformers always upset me. The sculptor missed severe leaving them with hate-filled expressions. I always take long showers to wash off the depression I feel after I have seen them. I only go when guests ask to be accompanied and politeness over comes personal desire. I say nothing of my feelings, but often they report that the statues made them feel creepy or sad or other similar descriptions. None have ever reported being uplifted by these religious leaders.

I am just beginning research on a book to be set in present day Geneva as well as in the Geneva of Calvin’s time. I have already been able to find out that that in Calvin's time despite the lake, water in homes could only be found by carrying it up a hill to the Vielle Ville. A Jew from Avignon was hired to build wells, but the town fathers only wanted to pay for one. A fountain is still in the same spot.

The city has opened a new Reformation museum. The young man selling tickets was more than helpful, telling me what times films could be seen and the highlights. He wore his hair over his ears and had a thin moustache.

The musée is in an old mansion behind St. Pierre. Between the cobble stoned street off limits to cars and electrical wires and the old houses made of thick blocks of stones, it is impossible to know which century you are walking it. Calvin and Knox could as easily stroll by as Lenin, George Sand, or David Bowie, President Clinton or John-Paul Belmondo, all who have been in this city at one time or another.

The exhibits are interesting with an Guttenberg type press, trays of lead type letters, old Bibles, maps, dishes and other artefacts from the period. Even more fascinating was an indulgence sold by the Catholic Church. That I had read about indulgences since I was a history-loving child, I never expected any were still extent, much less that I would actually see one.

One room has huge windows, old fashioned floor to ceiling velvet-like drapes and ten two foot across round tables with gold trim that would be at home in any antique shop. The rug was thick and classic. That’s where the 16th century atmosphere crashed. On each table was a slightly raised flat screen where the musée showed a film about the Reformation. At one point the picture faded and the same moustached guard called attention to the mirror over the unlit fireplace where the paintings of the heads of Martin Luther and Jean Calvin were projected. The heads talked to the audience.

What was disconcerting was when the paintings talked their lips moved the same way Conan O’Brien projects talking celebrities on the Late Show on MSNBC. Equally jarring were the chairs with beautifully rounded backs, arms and legs that look like Queen Anne Style meets Hepplewhite. Three were around each table for people to sit to view the film. The problem was that in this old house in this old room they are made of totally clear plastic, clearer than any freshly washed window. There is a modern beauty about them, but I wonder if Calvin would have found them too frivolous.

The dining room, furnished in style for the 15th-16th century, was set up for meal. Each plate ready to be served with filet des perches from the lake bore a portrait of a different reformer along with his name. The seat of the grey wooden chairs had been hollowed out and letters or books written by the person’s whose place we are at were placed inside and covered with glass.

The musée has accomplished its goal of showing a vital part of the religious history of the world. Back at the entrance, the same guard showed me different source material, telling me which was in English (preferred) or French (acceptable). I will return as I go deeper into my research. I will take the tour that will show me more. I will look at the school Calvin founded. I will read and read. What I don’t want to do is to look at the statues with the hate-filled faces.

How can I remain silent?

Someone called it the U.N. of Writers Conference (wish I’d thought of the description) referring to the 2.5 day conference at Webster University in Geneva run by the IWWG and the Geneva Writers Group. Of the 95 participants 31 countries were represented. People were from all continents that are inhabitable. No penguins waddled through to take up paper and pen, but they would have just added one more continent.

All the normal writing conference workshops were there with differences of opinion on the best way to write. I went from one session where the facilitator didn’t believe women should write from a male point of view or vice versa to a workshop where we wrote first from the point of view of a man about to commit suicide and then from the POV of a new hooker going out on the street for the first time.

Unlike other conference this had a heavy political feel. I am used to maybe 75% of my conversations being about politics with people taking various activist stands, but in the past conferences politics were scarcely mentioned.

At least two of the participants were from New Orleans. One was an American married to a Dutchman. They had tried to live in New Orleans but found life too hard and returned to Europe. Their return did not stop the sadness at the devastation of the city. The young woman wrote, despite the rawness, captured her pain in words.

A woman from Lisbon who was so upset about the war that last weekend she flew to America to participate in the Cindy Sheehan March in Washington, D.C.

There was talk about the environment, the American economic model which more and more countries are disputing as the ideal to follow.

The story of the 82-year old Englishman wrestled to the ground at the UK Labour meeting when he cried, ‘Nonsense’ to the rubbish Jack Straw was spouting came up. The man was taken away under the terrorist act. If saying ‘nonsense’ is a terrorist act then every English citizen is in danger.

When the war was mentioned, people shook their head and the news of the new Bali bombings brought looks of resignation. These conversations bounced around as the participants weighed words and ideas more traditional to writer conferences.

One instructor was from South Africa and grew up in Soweto. As part of the discussion a woman mentioned the photo of the baby girl Prince Harry held. The baby had been raped because a man with AIDS believed that rape would save him from dying. The instructor talked about how her writing addressed these issues and encouraged us to speak out, write out, on the injustices all around us, encouraging us to vanquish all timidity.

‘How can I remain silent?’ she asked. I wonder how many people can remain silent and if they do what price we will all pay.

I'm just going to drop D-L off in Switzerland

When I opened my eyes the wooden armoire in the corner and the maroon star pattern patchwork quilt I was under both looked unfamiliar. Then I remembered my baked bean/cassoulet friend and I had sneaked out of the writers’ conference early to catch up on news over a dinner her husband had bought of poulet roti, salad, bread and cheese. Their house is in the mountains overlooking Geneva and even on the misty night as we talked we could see the outline of lights across the lake. We nibbled fruit from oval shaped bowls fired in volcanic ash giving them blue and brown hues. They had bought them in Japan when they were visiting their son, and we had listened to music of a New Zealand singer popular in Japan. That CD was the present from the same son.

The next day found us back in the conference, but because our various wanderings had kept us out of Geneva at the same time, we decided to do another sneak – this time to drink lots of tea and make a bigger dent in topics we had only begun to probe. Besides sharing many ideas and dreams, one of the bonds in this relationship is that we find so few internationals who grew up in the same time period with a good New England background.

We were able to arrange a date later this month to meet before she takes off again, but as she prepared to drive me home she called her husband on the phone who was meeting their English-based son in Bern.

‘I’m just going to drop D-L off in Switzerland, then I’m going home,’ she said just as if she was saying, ‘I’m dropping her at the grocery store not in a different country.’

We crossed what my daughter called the non-serious border. No one even asked us if we had any merchandise to declare, but four bus stops later I was officially dropped off in my country and ready to head to my home on the other side of the lake.