Friday, December 29, 2006

Leaving on a jet plane

With only two days before I go home, I said good bye to my adored cousins who drove down the state of Florida to see me. There were other cousins in the area but the distance was such that I felt it would take too much time from my mom, the reason I was here in the first place. I feel sad that I couldn’t get them all in. And my trips to the States will now most likely be limited to emergencies.

One of their gifts was a CD with movies from different events in the family, including all the aunts and uncles who are gone and cousins who look decades younger probably because they were decades younger when the videos were taken. Of course that was on an old fashioned camera and the films have been transferred from technology to technology.

I listened to one of my late aunts tell how her mother sent her off the Nova Scotian island where she was living on because she was a handful, how she moved to the States and had to learn English. She pushed her 70+ years into about three minutes not thinking her life was interesting. Now she is gone both family and social history are forever lost. Yet I suspect the few details she singled out were the markers of her life.

We talk about our childhoods and our parents, how they mellowed, the mistakes they made with us, the mistakes we made with our children, which were different but still mistakes. We speak with pride of our children as we were bragged about by our parents.

The bittersweet feeling of being with people I love, people who share DNA, people with whom time is much too rare is mixed with the feelings of not belonging to the culture surrounding them. There is also the feeling of the time lost, because I never knew my cousins as I was growing up so when they reminisce I can only picture myself popping in and out of Aunt Aggie’s house or playing in a barn or rushing around the streets of Weymouth.

Despite what I missed there is a past I can not recapture. And for two weeks I have lived in a present where I do not belong with people I belong with.

Thus, inshallah, on Sunday night I will get back onto a plane and back into the place that has become home. I won’t miss seeing medical or legal ads on TV, I won’t miss Miss USA hysteria I won’t miss miles of shopping centers and gated communities and land devastated by overbuilding, but I will miss the physical lifelines of being able to hug someone I love. A voice on the telephone, skype or voipcheap will have to suffice.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Shopping news

Not to be confused with the book Shipping News. Okay, I am a news junkie, admitted and unrepentant. And it has been two years since I’ve spent anytime in the States. And yes I have heard that the US doesn’t get real news, but I was hoping the reports were exaggerating.

They weren’t. Most of this morning’s and most of the past week’s newscasts have dominated by shopping news, how much we are buying, where we are buying, what we are buying. Gift cards, return policies, interviews with shoppers. I think one newscast covers more shopping news than all the European news stations put together.

This morning’s broadcast of Today covered people returning merchandising and after Christmas shopping although they delved into James Brown’s death, his widow being locked out, and the tornados in Florida.

What they didn’t cover is Iran’s internal meetings and their decisions on nuclear continuination, Somalia and Ethiopia’s battles, Nigeria’s pipeline blasts, the problems in Lebanon, the fact that Olmert is releasing some of Palestine’s money to Palestine and the opening of one gate between Palestine and Israel to ease the flow of traffic. Nothing about the power changes in Turkmenistan, which could lead to more upheavals in that part of the world. Nothing about the Taliban gains. Nothing about British troops storming an Iraqi jail and rescuing 127 prisoners. Nothing about the $2 billion in fraud estimates over Katrina. Nothing about the disappearance of Lohachara island under the rising seas.

Driving to the library where I have internet access to the outside world I passed shopping centre after shopping centre filled with shoppers. Years ago these were filled with palm trees and natural beauty. Sometimes I see American consumption as the old pac man game eating up the environment. But mostly I see that I am not visiting American citizens and the entire nation has been transformed from citizens to consumers and only that is newsworthy.

At least the shopping news is a break in the ever-ending cycle of medicine ads for illnesses that the rest of the world ignores.

Meanwhile people can listen to what really counts, the rules of their gift certificates.

Flight Patterns

My mom and I stood at her bathroom looking toward the lake and watching the hundreds of birds gathered at the waterline near where the dock used to be. I don’t know the name of the species but most were white with long graceful necks. The others were grey and duck-like, but they weren’t ducks.

In the middle of the lake is an island with brown bushes. In the spring they will be green.

“Have you seen the alligator lately?” I asked.

She shook her head.

Together we watched as one by one the birds floated across the water to find a night time perch reminding me of airplanes on a runway waiting for clearance to take off.

“In a half hour they will all be over there, there on the island.” my mom said, “one by one.”

Like so much in life that she has told me over the years, she was right.

In the country of my birth

For a long time I said my country wasn’t my home and my home wasn’t my country. Not that it was all that unusual for an ex-pat like myself. Now with my Swiss nationality sworn to and my passport and identity card safely in my pocketbook, my home and country are one in the same. I describe myself as a repat.

Still being back in the nation of my birth raises other issues of belonging. Florida was never where I lived, but where I visited my parents after they retired. My dad was in his own paradise living there years before he died. He brought his brothers and sisters with him until the area was more like a family compound. For him it was a life long dream.

My dreams do not include a retirement community. I want to be with people of different nationalities, different languages and different ages. Although I understand not wanting to have the noise of children playing, I love hearing them and in this over 55 only community, they are absent. Thus I have made other decisions of where and how I want to live. The people here that I meet are as happy with their living arrangements as I am with mine and this is good.

My mom’s home feels like my home when I walk through the door. I know there are brownies in the fridge for me. Hugs and warmth are two of the rules of being together.

Equally when we go out to do errands the people are friendly, but I feel a disconnect. We need to drive everywhere. I am drowning in a dearth of international news, which for a news junkie like myself is enough to send me into the DTs. Now that’s a mixed metaphor I know. I do get a fix when I go to the library to use the internet and can check out what is happening in Gaza and Lebanon by brining up papers from those countries and others.

There are ghosts here. I can’t pop into my Aunt Bert’s, and Uncle Pat still in his tennis shorts won’t pop in the door on his way home from a match. My Aunt Alma is no longer here baking apple pies and taking me to the Crow’s Nest. Aunt Evelyn and Aunt Bert won’t quarrel over a prom dress worn decades before. Other people live in their house because my aunts and uncles are all gone, which reminds me how very, very precious the time with my mom is and I want to wrap these moments in silk.

As I wait for my daughter’s arrival from DC, I am so grateful that it was her idea that we spend Christmas together down here.

I read the books I brought slowly rather than “eat” them as I usually do. I have yet to find a bookstore after frequent forays, and I have forgotten to ask at the library. My mom doesn’t have a library card, shutting off this source of reading material.

The Vision of Emma Blau by Ursula Hegi, a favourite writer, is the one I am rationing at the moment and it talks about a German who returns home for a visit after living in America. There are several quotes that resonate. One of the characters talks about going back to the place of their birth as well as living in a different country.

“For me feeling foreign goes deeper than language…into values…customs…Being an exile in the world…You come back and everything has changed. Even if it still looks the same.

“People, too, they’ve changed. Those who stayed. They don’t understand that when you come back, you’re not the same. And neither are they…you enter a foreign county and sometimes you don’t come back.”

So in many ways I know I can’t go back to the US, I can only go forward. And although I am happy with my choices, thrilled with the way I am living, as in everything there is a price and that is a sadness of what is no longer, but even had I not changed countries, the natural flow of life and death would mean the same loss, it is only heightened by the difference in cultures.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Deprived of tomato juice

On the flight to Detroit on Northwest from Paris I had tomato juice when they offered cocktails. I had water with my meal and then with the snack served before landing I asked for more tomato juice. I had one of those cravings so strong that it could be attributed to a pregnant women, except that I am far too old to be pregnant.

“I have orange,” the attendant said. He was polite.

Orange juice causes my skin to become teenaged bumpy, and I do succumb sometimes when it is fresh, but I am not going to risk acne for packaged juice.

“Apple?” I asked him.

“I can only serve orange,” he said.

“The others must be popular,” I said.

“Oh we have them, we are only allowed to serve them during the first service.”

I made a mental note to not fly Northwest again.

Multi-lingual for multi-lingual situations

At Charles de Gaulle as we waited in line for the buses to take us to the plane down the tarmac a woman complained loudly that she was so glad to be leaving. She came to Paris to see her grandkids, but with her long blond straight hair, white boots and sweater and beige corduroy slacks over hips that models would die for, she didn’t fit any stereotypical grandmother.

“Imagine,” she said, “When I came they promised me a bus driver that spoke English.” She didn’t say who “they” were or what bus but she talked about being left not knowing where she was. “No one speaks English here.”

I resisted telling her that when I start in French most Parisians come back in English to me. I have never decided that if people want to practice their English or they can’t stand my accent. Probably both along with the appreciation that a foreigner has made an attempt to speak their language. Long ago I learned that if you demand English you will guarantee that the person who is being spoken to will immediately forget every word of English they know. One friend, an American who lived in Paris, for years will even refuse to speak English when a rude Anglophone approaches her. She hides behind the language of her chosen city.

On the Northwest flight to the US there was only one of the attendants who spoke French and that wasn’t fluent. It has been a long time since I have flown an American airline, and on the others be it Lufthansa, Syrian, Air France or even BA the staff are multi-lingual moving back and forth between the linguistic needs of their passengers.

I was tempted to find the blond-haired grandmother and point out to her that the francophone passengers were in the same predicament she had been in. I didn’t. She might have said “good.”

Meeting place

The statue at St Michel hovers over the people mulling around. The dragons, one each side of him, spout water. The spot has become a meeting place for my girl friend and me because it is half way between her apartment where I stay with her whenever I am in Paris and the hospital where she works. Also it is only a block or so from the Latin Quarter where we stroll down ancient cobblestone streets with their restaurant windows filled with Gourmet-magazine photo quality windows filled with fish, meats and veggies on ice.

There the owners try and entice us in, promising the best meals ever.
But before we can decide on a restaurant we have to meet, and although the metro’s regularity in either of our directions is Swiss-clockmaker perfect (except in times of grève—strike) I usually arrive first and find myself waiting.
I like to wait, because I find myself surrounded by other waiters and half of me hopes that they find their friends before mine arrives because I like guess who it is that might be theirs.

Thus two Tuesdays before as I stood in the too-warm December air, I watched a businessman, his long black coat open, his hair more tailored than his suit pace back and forth between the dragons. Aha I thought, it must be her as a woman with ankle boots, a tweed skirt and black leather waist-length jacket strode towards him. They would be a perfect couple, but no, she walked past stopped and looked around. She was a waiter too.

Other people came and claimed those that were standing around, kissing on both cheeks and talking animatedly. They wandered off, some to the metro, some towards Notre Dame, one to the bookstore across the street.

Finally my friend appeared with apologies of being late. No matter. We crossed towards the Latin Quarter with a stop at the book store so she could check for a text she needs. When we emerged from the book store I looked over to St. Michel. The man and woman were still there, still waiting. Hunger is more important than discovering who they were waiting for, and I resisted the temptation to go back to them and encourage them to introduce themselves. However, if this were a French movie, it would be the start of a love affair.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Details are merely a detail

When I worked in Neuchâtel my control freak boss expected no detail to go unobserved. I was expected to know a potential contractor had a grandmother dying of leprosy in India. I learned to quadruple check details, although rather than list 3000 potential problems I used the question “If you are offered the contract is there anything that will stop you from taking it?”
Thus I now double check more things than others. Why I didn’t check that my train ticket ordered for the second Sunday in December was printed out for Monday I do not know; but I did check Saturday night. Too late to change the reservation on line and with proposed strikes on Monday and not wanting to tell my friend I would be delayed I got on the train Sunday morning taking seat 88 in car 5 (which the internet showed to be free).
Just as we were pulling into Paris the conducted bustled up and growled his way through the car.
“You have no ticket.”
“I know. I have an emergency and had to go a day early.”
More growls.
“I know you want to help me so please tell me how to regulate this.”
He charged me 20 euros for a new reservation just as we pulled to a stop.
“I do hope someone is helpful to you today,” I said smiling my sweetest smile, wishing him growls.
He even smiled back as I reached for my laptop.

Ho ho ho polar bears away

The theme for decorations in Puteaux this year (a town touching Paris) where I visit a good friend regularly is polar bears. Each year they go all out with special designs and this year it is as beautiful as the last three years. I wonder if Santa’s reindeer are French and went on strike and polar bears will pull the sleigh this year. If he needs them, all he has to do is come here.

Friday, December 08, 2006

A dancing cloud

The cloud was like a long and thin string of unrolled cotton batten skimming along the entire length of Lake Geneva. The cloud was almost transparent with peaks sticking up like the way you test to see if egg whites are whipped.

The water glistened, as if diamond dust had been sprinkled evenly across. The Saleve and mountains were clearly visible against the bright blue sky.

I was on my way home after dropping my housemate at the airport. By the time I was at the other end, the cloud instead of resting on the water was about ten feet above the lake, still shimmering.

Beauty is no stranger in Switzerland, but even after 16 years, there are new phenomena that startle the eyes.

Crying for his child

In talking of his son Jeb, Bush 41 cried.

Years ago when I worked at NFPA I found a former president of the group in the library. He was in his late 70s and he was crying. He said it was a terrible thing to be useless.

This is not about aged men being emotional. I wonder if Bush 41 was crying about his other son, Bush 43. What must it be like to be the father of a son who has single-handedly almost destroyed the United States financially, undermined The Constitution, and failed miserably in Iraq.

Although I was never a big Bush 41 fan, he did know when he had to go back on his no new tax pledge and when to stop the Gulf War. He is a man who as a part of the Carlyle Group as well as an ex-president, has close relations with the Arab movers and shakers who must have told him of the damage his son was doing.

I wonder if Bush 41 was crying, not because of Jeb, but because he has stood by, and watched Bush 43 do so much damage and could do nothing.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Christmas spirit Part II

She lives in an old grange that once was used for making wine. The house has been converted but in the center of the living room is the old wine press, a square stone that if you put a mattress on it would make a good double bed (you have to ignore the equipment suspended above).

She has used the stone for her Christmas decorations combining real holly, evergreens, giant pine cones with the figures of the traditional crèche. She told me that she had bought the figures from a convent where nuns used moulds that were at least 500 years old.

To one side she had a wicker basket filled with four dividers. Each was filled with a different type of seed, not tiny like apple, but some as bigger than 50 cent pieces. These were dark brown, often heart shaped. Their silkiness in my hand was sensual and I knew that inside they contained new life if I were to plant them, rebirth.

One corner of the stone had a brown pod, beautifully in its mixtures of browns and beiges with indentations.

I was struck by the textures, colours and the beauty of nature.

She hadn’t planned to have a tree, but there was no need. Having decorated with real greens she captured what I need for the sense of spirituality at the end of the year, a reminder of life continuing that has nothing to do with the hysteria of presents and my soul felt good.

I am sooooo rich

I have three friends found from the Geneva Writers Group. The friendships have gone beyond the common interest. I met all three within the last five days. One was by accident, at the tea of volunteers for the library. Despite frequent lunches, neither realised that the other was a volunteer.

The other two I met because we were working on their writing.

Regardless of the reasons for meeting I am always stunned by the richness of our conversations, be it writing, politics, sociology, creativity or anything else that crosses our minds.

As I was sitting in one of my friend’s living room today, the rain falling outside through the birch trees and drinking hot tea, and we were dissecting the motivations of one of her characters, I felt so incredibly lucky to be able to share time and ideas with these creative women, so lucky to be able to stretch my mind and my creativity with them, to explore thoughts and concepts.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The longest bench in the world

Although there are other claims to the longest bench in the world, Geneva has claimed its since the 19th century.

See and take a minute to look at the other pictures of this beautiful city that I love so much.

Last night as part of the Trees and Lights festival each bench had four red jars with candles flickering inside. In front of it a series of large (Five feet across) white-lit circles were suspended from the trees. In other parts of the city artists had created different light displays. Over the next few days I hope to catch all of them.

I was sadden by this

A friend sent me a piece from the American Family Association Action Alert which says in part.

“Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress, has announced that he will not take his oath of office on the Bible, but on the bible of Islam, the Koran.
He should not be allowed to do so -- not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization.”

I question in a country where there is supposed to be a separation of church and state if any oath should be taken on a holy book of any religion.

My personal belief is the bible is a series of ancient tribal writings, codified by religious leaders and often modified (especially after the 1st century) by church leaders to meet their power and political needs. Although it contains some wisdom there are some horrible things like okaying slavery. I am willing to take oaths to things I hold sacred but for me swearing on a bible is no different than swearing on a Robert Parker mystery. At the same time I recognize that others consider these books the word of God (or Allah) and I respect their right to believe. I also wonder if those afraid of anyone taking an oath on the Koran realise that much of the two books are the same or similar based on the same religious heritage.

What frightens me is not an oath taken on the Koran, but people who see it as a threat and want to stop it. Give me a good Muslim any day over a bigoted Christian. However, it is not a choice I often get to make. I have friend who are good Christians and I have friends who are good Muslims. The operative word is good.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Lost and found

Unlike most late Novembers my Christmas spirit had not arrived in the mailbox, the living room or my heart.

Part of it, although I am looking forward to being with my beloved daughter and stepmom, is the dread of a too-long flight, going through US customs and spending it in Florida, low on my list of preferred destinations.

I can appreciate that my dad found Florida his Mecca with its snow-free winters and year-round golf. He settled into his life-long dream believing the world had given him everything in the world he wanted. Each generation has its own dreams.

I kept telling myself I had one of the two things that make Christmas, Christmas for me. Being with people I adore and with the additional hope of seeing cousins, a rarity that is all the most precious because of the few times it happens.

The other? Making sure real evergreens are brought into the house on the night of the winter solstice giving the hope of renewal in the coming year. (My elderly stepmom will not want the falling needles, nor would I ask. I want my daughter’s and my time there to create only lovely memories for her.) Plastic, no matter how well done, doesn’t cut it. However, most of my American Christmas’s have lacked that and I have happily feasted my eyes on the real greens with red or gold bows trim the metal fences around Boston, felt the chill air snap at my cheeks, gone to the Pops or the Revels and been filled with the good will of the season.

Last year Paris’s Christmas had it with the real tree decorated with hand-made decorations of photos of my hostess’s loved ones (including my daughter and myself) probably one of the most meaningful trees I have ever seen. The three of us had a cozy celebration sharing the quiet times together with only minor forays into the City of Lights. But then again, Paris is not a new experience for any of us. My friend works there, I am there regularly and my daughter has done the major sites so the operative word was togetherness at a time when there is never enough infusing us all with the season’s proper feelings.

Back in Geneva this late November day, we are celebrating Thanksgiving late, a treat because it is not a holiday recognized here although some restaurants cater to the large American ex-pat crowd and make good meals at prices that necessitate selling your first born child to pay for. A few years back a book store/restaurant used to have wonderful dinners, but the new owners don’t follow the tradition.

Because I share a home with an American widow, she decided to do the dinner, albeit on Sunday not Thursday, and made the several forays needed to locate a whole turkey small enough to feed us yet would still fit in the undersized ovens here. Each of us (including her son) chose our favourite vegetable to include. Even cranberries were located. We talked off the importance of leftovers.

Last night the bird was thawing in the refrigerator. My housemate decided this was the time to start Christmas cookies. We sat in the kitchen or I sat and knitted as she mixed and dropped batter onto baking trays. She had brought her CD Player and the sound of Hark the Herald Angels Sing and the Little Drummer Boy made a soft backdrop to our conversation and the wonderful smells of baking chocolate and sugar.

And with the sharing, the music, the smells, a dollop of Christmas spirit entered my body.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Yet another

Philippe Noiret Has Quit the Stage…

Was one of the obituaries headlines on the actor’s death. The other was “The French Cinema Cries for Noiret.”

I began once again to wonder if I were famous and when I died, what they could use: Here’s the latest ideas.

Nelson’s Friends Don’t Have to Think of Penguin Gifts Anymore
Nelson’s Pen Has Run Out of Ink

But my favourite so far is
Nelson est fermée son ordinateur
Nelson has closed her computer.

Twice in one day

I talked to my kid twice yesterday, once when she was caught in traffic on her way to Boston, one of the 38 million heading home for the holidays. The second time was even better. She was talking from our homebase on Wigglesworth on Skype with webcam so I could see her. Granted it is less than flat screen perfect, but still very, very nice.

Although I couldn't go with them for dinner to the Wayside Inn which I had frequented when I lived in New England, Thanksgiving didn't seem as far away as before we talked.

Here in Corsier there is a turkey in the frigo and we will do our own Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday.

Giving thanks for the richness of our lives doesn't have to be on only one day, although on that day I did give thanks for two telephone conversations.

Chocolate cauldrons

The chocolateries are filled with chocolate cauldrons marked with 1602 and filled with marzipan vegetables. It means the Escalade is here. I will be here for the Escalade, my favourite festival. The tradition is for the oldest and the youngest in the family to hold hands to break the cauldron and then everyone shares the chocolate and marzipan.

The cauldron is just a small part of the festivities. Escalade celebrates the 1602 routing of the French from the city. Vegetable soup stands and hot wine stands are throughout the old town which is peopled with people in period costumes.

Oh and the reason for cauldrons…that marks Mère Royaume pouring soup over the walls and scalding the French soldiers that were trying to climb into the city unnoticed. and

Meeting up with M

For well over two years we have been saying we had to get together without pinning down a time and place, but this week we finally did it. M worked for me when she was in high school, but that was over 13 years ago. We often chatted during breaks and I was constantly impressed with her poise and sense of self.

She had been one of my references for my nationality and had told the person who checked I was one of the best bosses she ever had. I replied she was one of the best employees I ever had.

We met at Confederation Centre and opted for Globus’ restaurant which was closed. Instead we went to their bar with its long black shiny tables and stools that make me feel like a child climbing up on furniture.

M is one of those friends that even when time goes by we feel like we saw each other yesterday, except our news takes longer to relate. Hers was a biggy…she had gotten married the Wednesday before.

She made some of the comments my daughter has made about my retirement not being retired in the normal sense.

We parted promising it wouldn't be as long between catch ups.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Another Francophone Obit

Robert Altman's death gave me another obit that was written in the francophone flamboxyant style e.g. Arthur Miller has joined his Marilyn.

This one -- Robert Altman will devour no more film.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Book Recommendation

If you read only one book in the next 12 months read Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.

Of apple tarts and fall leaves

My baked bean and cassoulet friend decided a trip to the tea room along the lake the Versoix was a perfect end to a perfect afternoon that was marked by a glass of nouveau Beaujolais, a Vietnamese meal, a walk in the woods along a babbling brook that had saturated our sense of smell with the odour of fall leaves and pine and saturated our eyes with colour. Some of the fallen maple leaves were larger than our hands held thumb-to-thumb with our fingers spread to the maximum. Periodically we picked up one leaf or another to admire the pattern of colouration.

A tree had small beige mushrooms running up the side, and more mushrooms were nestled in moss. Although we knew, we could gather them and take them to the local apothecary for identification we passed them by as dogs running lose followed by their owners passed us by.

I remembered all the walks with “my boys,” free of their leashes who on these walks did six times the distance I did. As my gentleman friend said, when he had to wake them up after the ride home to get them in the house, “Ils sont cuits.” They’re cooked. Today they would have been cooked again.

The tea room had a perfect view of the snow-covered Alps as they changed from white to pink in the setting sun.

Our desire, as we told the young waiter, was one hot chocolate, one menthe tisane, a carafe of water, and one serving of apple tarte in a hot vanilla sauce. The walk had not diminished our fullness, but we had seen the tarte on another table and the sense of lushness and luxury that we had indulged in all afternoon needed to be extended. Besides there are no calories in split deserts, right?

The waiter misunderstood. The tisane and hot chocolate were fine. However he brought one glass of water and sat down two dishes of tarte.

If there is a goddess of goodness with sub-goddesses of apple tartes, we felt they had been at work. We exchanged a quick look, each picked up our forks and plunged in.

Friday, November 17, 2006

"Le nouveau Beaujolais est arrivée.”

The last symbol of fall has arrived. The signs are in the windows "Le nouveau Beaujolais est arrivée.” This is right up there with the signs about the hunt having arrived (pheasant, deer, etc.) served in restaurants and the roast chestnut stands that give off such wonderful smells that even if you don't like roast chestnuts you buy them in their brown paper cones to warm your hands and sniff.

I prefer the sound of the wine Bow-jo-lais to the taste. Still there is something too ceremonial about sampling it to pass it by.

So I will have a glass in the next few days as I will go out on the street for some leaf-kicking and enjoyment of the smells, tastes and feeling of autumn.

I have them I have them I have them I have them

The letter came seven days before predicted. I hopped in my housemate’s car and drove through the rain that caused yellow leaves to litter the street.

The Mairie is a tiny stone building in the Centre of the village. The young man who had taken the information for my identity card and passport wore a Burberry scarf around his neck (Europeans with any respitory illness or one threatened always wear scarves around their necks) and was blowing his nose.

“Avez-vous un rhum?”


His cold did not stop him handing over these precious documents. My passport is beautiful, not just because I waited so long and went through so much to get it. On the VISA pages there are drawings of buildings in each Canton along with the Coat of Arms for the Canton.

As I drove back down the hill with the vineyards to one side, the lake below, I shivered, as I have so often these past few days whenever I realise that I am actually a citizen of this democracy.


Caran D’Arche, the Swiss colored pencil maker, always has an animated window at Cornavin, the Geneva train station. Usually polar bears or teddy bears frolic, paint pictures with the product or live some other adventure. This time a number of penguins row a boat in tandem.

Years ago, as a joke I sent penguin anythings from Boston to my Florida uncle. Friends helped me find interesting drawings and knick knacks. Somehow others seeing these things thought I collected penguins so they began giving me penguins things as well.

I developed a respectable collection, so much so that the little girl down the hall when I lived in Grand Sacconex would bring her friends in to see it.

My daughter, as part of our Christmas tradition, always includes one penguin gift, taxing even her good imagination. Thus I am sitting here typing wearing a sweater with a penguin on the back. I have used her penguin salt and pepper shakers, worn her penguin night gown, put penguin decorations on the tree, etc. Ebay has been a blessing to make her chore easier.

Fortunately she lives in Virginia. She might be tempted to kidnap the penguins in the window.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Happy Birthday

The lights went off last night at the Café du Soleil. Blackout I thought. Then I saw a candle on a profiterole. Everyone started singing happy birthday and of course I joined in. The waiter came my way and placed the plate in front of me. My birthday is in July.

My girl friend, a person’s who creativity and twists and turns always impress me, was treating me to a fondue as a new citizen had ordered the candle. When she explained it was a celebration of my nationality the waiter said it was almost the same thing. It was my birthday as a new citizen.

I love my friend for the thought and I have filed the meal and the candle under special memories

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A very Swiss day

“She is a new Swiss citizen,” my baked bean/cassoulet friend said to the waiter. We were having a celebratory lunch at the Château des Penthes

As we pondered between the hot mushroom salad with smoked duck and pine nuts and a lamb dish, the waiter suggested we choose as a starter the vegetable soup. “All Swiss grown for the new Suissess.” He said it with a grin. The same with the wine. He wanted me to be sure I had Swiss wine, which is not a hardship. And the bread was Swiss. I asked him about the brown, wicker basket.

“Bought in Switzerland,” he said and I saw him swallow a giggle.

Our meals topped off with tarte des pommes and vanilla ice cream with specs of vanilla pod, we walked in the park, savouring the fall air, the smell of fallen leaves. Some of the trees were so beautiful in their size and bough structures that I wondered if there were some cosmic tree sculptor responsible. And having the lake and snow-capped mountains didn’t hurt either.

The park wasn’t a new exploration. I had walked all my dogs there before they went to the great dog biscuit factory in the sky. Unlike those times, my baked bean/cassoulet friend made no request to be picked up and carried.

Thus we meandered and talked and talked an meandered among the Swiss trees, the Swiss grass, the Swiss stones, the Swiss Château, a very Swiss day.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Fall firsts

Fall symbols may include coloured leaves, flannel pjs, crisp cold and other things. One of those other things happened yesterday – twice.

At lunch we ate in front of the first fire of the season. Then at night when I was visiting with friends, the host made a fire. While Mom cooked, the two little girls carried in enough wood to keep the fire going, although the three-year old kept a small piece of kindling to decorate with magic markers and sparklers.

The fire provided warmth, light and the cosiness that is only possible in late fall.

But then it got even better. Marshmallows, skewers, pieces of chocolate and crackers, not quite graham but fine enough to make more than respectable s’mores. We ate them by candlelight enhancing the firelight. S’mores are much more than gooey fingers and sweetness. They hold memories of other fires and other s’mores, each to be treasured in its own way. Thus I added this evening to the night Sam, Eva, Bill, Susie, Llara and I made s'mores on Tavern Road in Waltham with Nikki the German Shepherd hoping for her share and the time Llara and I used a candle during a black out to toast marshmallows.

No wonder fall is my favourite season.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The book sale

Once again I volunteered to help set up for the Library Book Sale at the American Church. The sale reminds me so much of the church fairs of my youth, albeit it with one product, books.

The efficiency of the all-volunteer staff is amazing. All year they take donations, catalogue and price them so by the time we volunteers arrive they are in boxes under the tables marked fiction, non fiction, self-help, etc. I wouldn't begin to guess how many, but the books out number many small libraries.

Calls, of "who has the scissors," are matched with thumping of books ontp the tables, the smell of paper and eventually coffee as the workers were given a break for coffee and cake.

This year I was extra tired, not having slept the night before. Well maybe I dozed as I flipped between BBC, CNN and MSNBC. One can only take so much of the blond haired guy who was constantly being corrected by his interviewees. I prefer the more scholarly interviews by BBC. CNN fell somewhere in the middle between MSNBC and BBC with its calm and often scholarly approach. None of the pretty graphics and expensive stage sets. I prefer the dignity of BBC when we are dealing with issues that not only affect the American future but the world's.

Tired was matched by exhileration. As I walked into the library Wed. morning a woman I had seen Tuesday morning raised her hands in victory. We did a small celebration dance then went back to work. May Congress work as hard.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Je jure

I wore the green suit inherited from my daughter and my late grandmother’s black jet beads. I wanted the essence of these two adored women with me as I took my oath for Swiss citizenship. My late grandmother has given me my strength, my values and my perseverance. My daughter taught me how strong love can be and both are in every eon of my being. So by wearing their things they were with me on this, the second most important day of my life.

The reception room to the Hall of Oaths in the hotel de ville had stone arches and red tile floors. People of all nationalities mulled around recreating the sounds of Babel. Before we could go in to be transformed into Swiss citizens, we had to present our invitations and give up our Permis C, the document that has allowed me to live such a high quality life all these years. In the ancient hall surrounded by symbols of the ages, it seemed strange to jettison that treasured permit into a cardboard box that for the past 16 years meant I could walk the streets safely in a city that is routinely considered one of the best ten in the world to live in. I was able to have six weeks holiday mandated by law and I never had to worry about health insurance. I was surrounded by incredible beauty, although I have never learned to take it for granted.

A man in a green livery uniform ushered each of the 91 future citizens to their assigned place in red leatherette chairs arranged in a U-shape. Before us were polished wooden desks, modernized with a microphone and buttons marked, oui, non, abst. At the open end of the U shape was a raised dais. The walls were marble and eight large windows, four on each side of the hall were decorated with stained glass symbols of the different cantons interspersed with frosted glass, but not in square panes but in different geometrical shapes: trapezoids, triangles and shapes with no names.

A man with a floor-length red cape and a tri-corner black hat led in the official who after taking his place high above us on the dais, explained the oath we were about to take. We stood, raised our hands as he read it. Then he read each of our names and we responded either with Je jure or Je promis. I chose to swear, thinking that stronger than promising for anything as important as upholding a constitution and respecting the tradition of Switzerland and the Canton of Geneva. In because in becoming a Suissesse I also became a Genevoise, which is far stronger than just becoming a citizen of say Massachusetts.

Our oaths given we sang the national anthem, mercifully only the first verse and backed by music piped in.

As instructed we stayed in our seats while each person was given an envelope with the necessary documents to get our passports and identity cards (which can be used as passports throughout the EU), our certificate of nationality, a certificate with a real ribbon and separate seal from the Canton and our first voting package for the election to be held November 25th.

We marched out to shake hands with the officials and to have a choice of wines and juices. Large pain surprises were strategically placed. They are large round loaves of bread hollowed out, sliced and made into various sandwiches which are replaced and then covered by the dome of the bread, a typical Swiss accompanment to any apero. As we left the hall we were given a coffee table book about Geneva.

In the cold sunlight on cobblestones and streets I have walked a hundred times before, I was now in my own country. I passed the old buildings with their plaques telling of who lived there and what they did over the past 300 to 400 years.

I walked through the Place du Bourg with its fountain ablaze with yellow mums. I wanted to do a Mary Tyler Moore type circle and throw my beret in the air, except I had no beret and my hood was attached to my coat. I made my way down to the new town where I bought chocolate for my returning housemate and sushi, another symbol. When I filed my dossier at the Bureau de Naturalisation, three years, eight months and three days before, I had wanted sushi. I was late getting back to the office and the stand that sold it, still wasn’t ready to serve. It was only fitting that today I have sushi even if a fondue is more in order.

My final act before heading home, and my first official act as a new citizen, was to stop at the bank and pay my taxes. I paid them happily.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Washing Shed

The Washing Shed

The washing shed cooks in the sun.
Women stand by soapstone sinks
scrubbing stains from clothes
as their great grandmothers did.
The smell of bleach and soap
mingles with sweat.
They brush hair from their eyes.
Children play underfoot
as the river flows by.

They talk of Pierre beating Marie,
Sophie’s new job in Toulouse, Michel
cheating on Chantal, fresh garden
basil, the price of apricots.
Some own washing machines
white and shiny in lonely kitchens.
Better to carry baskets and powders
To the shed where gossip steals time
as the river flows by.

A simple question, complicated answer

Rosie O’Donnell and David Letterman have recently been asked on television if they want the US to lose the war. Although it is doubtful I will ever be interviewed on US national television, my answer to that would be another question, “If you had a much-loved child that was a serial killer and mass murderer, would you want him locked up?”

The US has become a serial invader and mass murderer. Whether you accept the estimates of Iraqis deaths at 30,000 or 650,000, these are people who would be alive if the US hadn’t invaded, which makes our paltry 3000 9/11 deaths seem very small indeed. And we shouldn’t forget the 3,000 soldiers who have died avenging those 9/11 deaths right now a one to one ratio.

If this were the US’s only war crime, because invading a sovereign nation is a war crime, we might be able to blame it on the shock of 9/11, but we have invaded other countries, toppled other rulers, sent death squads to help dictators.

After WWII both the UK and US seemed devoted to establishing a better world built around multi-national rules. The US has thwarted many of these proposals and treaties with their itsUN veto or agreed to them only if the US is exempt. (A good book on this is Lawless World: American and the Making of Global Rules from FDR’s Atlantic Charter to George W. Bush’s Illegal War by Phillip Sand, an international lawyer.)

Getting back to O’Donnell and Letterman, our national discourse has become so limited that saying outright “I want the US to lose,” would prevent any discussion on the immorality of the war just like Kerry was jumped on for pointing out the fact that most of the nation’s elite do not participate in today’s armed services. His alleged insult of the troops drowned out the class and economic implications that are behind the phrase. Another sound byte killed the opportunity to delve into a very real national problem.

So yes, if my child were a serial killer and mass murderer, even though I adore her, I would want her locked up so she could do no more harm. I also want the US stopped from continuing to fight and kill Iraqis and American soldiers and if losing in Iraq helps, so be it. I want my country to stop harming and killing others. Perhaps if we are soundly defeated, the American people will not be so easily mislead the next time.

Panic, panic, panic

One of the advantages of being a minimalist is that it is harder to lose things. Right? Wrong?

Although my oath-taking as a new Swiss citizen isn’t until tomorrow morning (Monday) I woke today (Sunday) and prepared all the papers that I needed. I had my invitation, my permis C that will be replaced by an identity card and red passport with the white cross, and the music and lyrics to the national anthem that I will sing (whisper) along with the other 90 people scheduled to take the oath with me.

What I couldn’t find was the seating plan with my place marked in a neat red cross. I looked through all my papers. I checked the papers the cleaning woman had put out with the recycling. I wondered if I had filed it with my insurance papers that arrived in the same mail. Nothing.

Getting Swiss nationality was not something lightly done. How could have I lost this paper? Could I wait at the hall until everyone else found their place and sneak into the one empty seat? Could I confess I lost the seating plan?

Then I turned the invitation over. The seating plan was on the back. I hadn’t lost it.

Relief. I put it back in the purple closed folder a type that exists in Europe but not in the US and sat on the bed almost shaking but laughing at myself as well. A few minutes later I got up prepared the green suit borrowed for the rest of my life from my daughter, my black blouse, shoes and stockings.

I am ready for the second most important day of my life. The first was my daughter’s birth and the third was the day I heard my first novel would be published.

Most importantly I put the purple folder where I can find it easily in the middle of my desk where it will wait until tomorrow morning.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Bise tests and other musings

Bise test: Not having found a duvet coat long enough to replace my old one, I had bartered the price of a beautiful slate green coat from 300 Euros to 180, but the question I had would it be as warm. Buying a coat on a warm September day, didn't provide a good test. Today was the real test: 4° C and the bise blowing surfable waves in the lake. The coat held. I was toasty with my hood and gloves.

Javel Mt. Blanc: Mt. Blanc rising above the Salave, above the wave-filled lake into the royal blue sky looked as if each snow flake covering it had been bleached in Javel, the French answer to Clorox.

Babel: The father and the little boy of about seven or eight were talking animatedly testing out a new telephone. I would say there was nothing unusual about a father and son sharing a good moment, except the father was speaking Spanish and the little boy was answering in French. There was any doubt they both understood the other totally. In Geneva multi-lingual families are the norm, and as we rode through the dark Geneva countryside I tried to think of a uni-lingual family and I couldn’t. With the multi-nationals it is guaranteed and even my Swiss friends usually speak at least two languages. We won't discuss the friends who speak four to seven languages.

Paranoia: Not just I and my friends are paranoid. We often talk about our fears going into and getting out of the US and look around wondering how insane we are. However, today, I was at Mañana, scoffing down guacamole and refried beans and eavesdropping on the people at the next table, also American. I would say they were perfect strangers, but I don’t know about their perfection, but they were total strangers. They were saying they weren’t sure if it would be safer to go to the US if the Republicans win or the Democrats and asking how much more dangerous is it if the Democrats win before they take office in January. Like my friends they were talking about renting cars and escaping through the woods into Canada. Like my friends they had made calls, sent emails and letters to support policies totally opposite this administration’s. One had a copy of today’s Guardian with the story of the international poll naming the three most dangerous people in the world. Bin Laden was number one, Bush was two, and the bad-hair guy from North Korea was third. Like me they have relatives they want to see over the holidays. I don’t know if I feel better or worse in my paranoia knowing it is shared by others.

Splurging: The photographer that took a photo of Llara and I a few years back for my mom took the photos today for my new passport and identity card that I will apply for next week as soon as I take my oath as a new Swiss Citizen. I could have spent 31 CHF less by going to a booth, but I wanted a good photo. The problem was my hair. Having just come in from the cold and having washed it that morning static electricity made it stand out from head a bit like the woman character in Frankenstein. He kindly waited until a water-dampened brush made it lay still. He could do nothing about the colour that will clash a bit with the cover of the passport.

Bonus Material: I saw the movie Queen today in V.O. at the theatre where with my 30 CHF card all entrances are 10 CHF for a year instead of 16 or 17CHF. One of the problems of being in a theatre is that there is no bonus material afterwards. I know there are several movies that I want to rent just for the bonus material including Mrs. Henderson Presents, Paris Je T’Aime, and now this to name a few. Of course, I could wait for the DVDs, but it is hard to walk by a marquee advertising something I really want to see.

Foreign Affairs: No, it is not a confession about a lover of a different nationality. It’s a publication I miss. I used to read it regularly when I waited for my daughter to finish work at the Brookline Public Library and also when I taught at Webster.

So I was extremely happy to see copies being given away when I went into the American Library. Although it is a 2005 edition I am looking forward to Wars and Public Opinion by Melvin Laird, The Battle Within Islam by Zeyno Baran, Dangerous Democracies by John Owens, the Politics of U.S. Bases Abroad by Alexander Cooley, but the one that I am looking forward to the most is the one by my favourite economist Joseph Stiglitz (even more than Krugman) on the Morality of Economic Growth.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

There is a reason Wolf Blitzer

Wolf Blitzer asked why Iraqis aren't more appreciative of the Americans who have sacrificed for Iraq.

The answer, Wolf, is simple. The same reason Americans don't appreciate the sacrifice the 9/11 pilots made.

People don't appreciate having their country attacked.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A truthful cliché

Three friends of mine have walked the Camino to Santiago, an 800 mile trek/pilgrimage through Northern Spain, Barbara’s husband, a Geneva writer, and May, a Scottish friend living in Argelès. The concept always intrigued me, so I jumped at May’s invitation to come and watch a DVD and look at slides.

Another couple was there, and a quick conversation determined they spent much of their time in Argelès but returned to England frequently. The normal questions of what followed such as which town.

They are from Beckenham, which was where a friend had lived for three years and I visited often. Although I couldn’t remember the name of her street, I was able to situate it by the train station and St. George’s church. I had obviously walked by their house on my visits.

I mentioned she was active in the little theatre there.

“We always go to their plays,” the woman said.

“I saw On Golden Pond. My friend had the Katherine Hepuburn role,” I said.

They saw it, although we couldn't determine if we were in the theatre on the same night. I forgot to mention how she had won best actress in a competition among little theatre groups. When I see them at La Noisette, I will mention it.

The cliché phrase, a small world, is based on reality.

139 to 1 Another Anti-Peace Vote

The lead on the BBC Friday morning news and is below...
“A United Nations committee has voted overwhelmingly to begin work on drawing up an international arms trade treaty.

The measure would close loopholes in existing laws which mean guns still end up in conflict zones despite arms embargoes and export controls.

“It could also stop the supply of weapons to countries whose development is being hampered by arms spending.

“Only the US - a major arms manufacturer - voted against the treaty, saying it wanted to rely on existing agreements.

“A total of 139 states voted for the motion.”

I could find no mention of it on the CNN site, and as of 7:30 no mention of it on CNN international. Although I fell asleep before the end of NBC nightly news, I saw no mention of this important story on the msnbc website, which seems as an important story in this war-torn world.

Of course no treaty will stop arms smuggling such as Aegis, the Private Security Company under Tim Spicer as reported by Malaysia Today. “AEGIS: In June, the Pentagon's Program Management Office in Iraq awarded a $293 million contract to coordinate security operations among thousands of private contractors to Aegis, a UK firm whose founder was once investigated for illegal arms smuggling. An inquiry by the British parliament into Sandline, Aegis head Tim Spicer's former firm, determined that the company had shipped guns to Sierra Leone in 1998 in violation of a UN arms embargo. Sandline's position was that it had approval from the British government, although British ministers were cleared by the inquiry. Spicer resigned from Sandline in 2000 and incorporated Aegis in 2002.”

However, back to the problem of too many guns, killing too many people, once again we find another example of the US trying to block a step that would give a form for a more peaceful world. Nothing will accomplish it completely, but treaties that work toward it is a step that humans can’t afford not to try to make and keep.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Flour OR sugar

From her front gate to the door the left side of her front garden was ablaze with a flower that had both orange and yellow blossoms on the same plant. The white-haired woman, middle-aged thick, with an apron was clipping back any leaf that wasn’t perfect.

Here people don’t have yards they have gardens, even when flowers are non existence. Grass is not popular, stones, flag or otherwise, potted plants or statues.

In French I told her that her garden was magnificent.

She smiled. “Do you know, all this,” she swept her hand over the yards and yards of flowers, “came from a single plant?” With her shears she cut a single blossom and offered it to me in her gloved hand. “Put it in water with a spoonful of farine ou sucre. You will get roots.”

“Flower and Sugar? I asked, quite touched by her offering.

“Un ou l’autre. And let me know, how it works.”

The blossom is now in a glass of sugary water in the middle of my blue placemat on my table. I am not sure it will root in time for me to plant it one of the large blue pots that flank my front door before I return to Geneva for the winter. I hope so. However, my 18-inch circular garden will never hope to be as beautiful as hers.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Purry Weather Forecaster

Some people foretell cold weather by the furry caterpillar. I have a more sound method. I use a four-footed, grey and white, fuzzy purr machine.

During the summer, Munchkin can barely be found. She is out wandering, keeping company with her feline friend Goose and living up to what I think of as her nickname, Mouse Breath.

However these last few days, out is for necessity and time is spent holding down sunbeams on my bed. I don’t need to look when I enter my room. The constant purr defines her location.

I am a dog person, not a cat person EXCEPT for certain cats. When my daughter lived with me, the antics of the Lady Gwen and Morgana kept me entertained, although Morgana slapping me in the morning to get up and feed her lacked relationship-building tact. I actually missed them when they moved back to the States. Our pets in general are probably better travelled than many humans, carrying their own passports (a nice little booklet with all their shots and certificates).

Munchkin is one of those special cats. When she is not around I miss walking along and suddenly feel her head under my hand as she keeps pace with me as she walks on her hind legs. Today when I go out, I know I need my coat. The sunbeam in my bedroom is occupied telling me that it is coolish outside.

Monday, October 16, 2006


Tea…I drink it like others drink coffee, starting my day with it. Often I am drinking tea while my Brit friends drink coffee, creating a cross-cultural cacophony.

Tea has been a ritual, with different pots properly preheated and the tea measured with concentration then left to brew. Tea has been a catalyst to conversations, serious sometimes and funny others.

Most mornings one of the first things I do is make myself a cup of tea be it brewed in a pot or a bag thrown in a cup. The tea can be my new favourite, Prince of Wales, or the hard to find Bengali Bay, or Earl Gray served in a bowl like the French do flavouring the air as much as the palate.

One of the real pleasures of staying with friends of mine, which I often do, is that mornings I hear a tap on the door, and the gentleman of the house comes in, still in pyjamas, carrying a cup of hot tea that he puts on the table. It happened this weekend. The cup was a smoky blue, the colour adding to the pleasure. However, on Sunday morning, a second treat awaited me when he returned with a second cup that had cardamom added.

In its brew I remembered the Arabian mint teas I have enjoyed poured high in the air into small glasses, the mateis of Damascus sipped through silver spoons while sharing with the women friends of my friends, the Christmas tea served in Paris by a Tibetan woman.

Sometimes the best gifts are as simple as a cup of tea brought to you in bed before the day starts.

Wimping out/Finding joy

A weekend with friends is always a treat, but this Sunday, there was an impromptu suggestion to go hiking in the Alps of the Valais. Proper shoes and a jacket were located that fit me and my host and I were off to catch the train.

After 16 years here I should be immune to the scenery. No vaccination against beauty exists and if it did I wouldn’t take it. Both my host and I oohed and ahhed pointing out mountains, apple orchards, quaint villages. We shifted trains, changed plans and finally ended up at a trail. All over Switzerland walking trails are marked including the time to the next destination on small yellow arrows.

That I love to walk is not a secret. I think nothing of walking across the city, or taking walks in the mountains or parks at the drop of shoelace. That I love the mountains is less of a secret. I am a latecomer to this terrain, always having thought of myself as an ocean person, but only after moving here did I discover mountains have as many moods as the ocean.

What I don’t like is height. In fact it terrifies me. I always stay far back from any precipice. The path we had found started with a railing that stopped the drop to the village below. This okay. I can do a trail with a barrier even when the barrier is made of tree tops. However, the rail and tree tops disappeared leaving a path barely two people wide with a rock ledge on one side and nothing on the other to keep me from plunging below followed by an area with more protection.

I did the first exposed path and the second bit and was rewarded with a waterfallette, trickling down the mountain. After the third and not knowing what was ahead, I found myself clinging to the ledge unable to turn around.

My host was kind. He suggested going a few more feet where the ledge receded and I did.

I have often said it is okay to be scared, it isn’t okay to let it stop you. Then on the other hand, maybe there are times when stopping is better. I encouraged my host to go on. He needed a little urging, but after leaving me with chips, a book and apple juice headed onwards.

I found a pile of rocks and sat as far back from the edge as I could. My geology long forgotten, I suspect the rock was slate and I found myself using one piece of rock to draw a ship on the flat surface of another rock. The smoothness of the stone was silk-like and warm under my fingers. Among the rocks were small plants, some turning fall colours, some still green.

The sun was warm. When I looked into the distance I saw white peaked mountains, green lush hillsides spotted with yellows and reds and wooden chalets.

The only sound besides an occasional train or airplane was the wind and even that was more the rustle of the leaves.

The sun, warmed me, and instead of fear or disappointment in myself at wimping out, I was filled with a moment of unmatchable joy that I was there in that spot, totally alone surrounded by incredible beauty.

My host returned, I forced myself through the scary parts on our return route with less fear than before, but in no way was I comfortable. However, the feeling to total and unlimited happiness carried me beyond that fear.

Had I gone on would I have felt that wave of emotion? Would I be less afraid of heights? I don’t know. What ifs aren’t ever knowable. What I do know, is that I pushed myself a little, but I still wimped out, but my wimping brought me a gift. It is enough.




July 4, 1776 – September 28, 2006

The USA has its first birth pangs July 4, 1776 when the principles that have formed the framework of our country’s core beliefs were put forth. It died September 28, 2006 when the Military Commissions Act was passed gutting the Constitution.

Over the last 230 years of my country’s history we have done some wonderful things. We have done some terrible things, but good or bad two things stood…the framework of our principles and The Constitution.

We have had bad presidents. The framework stood. The Constitution stood. It stood through Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

Over the last five years I have watched as we as a nation have done terrible things: attacked and destroyed a country for false reasons, tortured people directly or had them rendered to torturers. Held people with no recourse to law, violated the privacy of our citizens. I don’t have to mention names like Gitmo, Abu Ghraib we all know them. We have seen the photos and read the articles.

Still the framework stood. The Constitution stood. The principals even if not followed were there.

September 29, 2006 they were no longer there. My country died. There will be an entity that continues, called the United States of America, but what was good and right and just, at least in principle, are no more. And if part of The Constitution goes down when will the rest follow?

I weep, I mourn for the death of a loved one.

I am told that the Military Commissions Act will make us safer from terrorists. Who, I ask you, will make us safer from ourselves.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Musings while walking to the post

As I walk to the post, I pass grape vines freed from their fruit, a field plowed and ready for the next year’s seed. I smell fresh mown hay still in clumps that will be rolled into cylinders.

A Muslim women, veiled from her head to toe but with her face showing walks by pushing a baby carriage with a bonny, smiling infant. We smile as we exchange bonjours. Her accent is better than mine.

I think of the brouhaha created by Jack Straw who said he could communicate better with women constituents when they weren’t veiled. I think of the put downs on the choices made by Muslim women. I have talked to some and listen to their reasons for the scarf, the veil, full hijab. Agreeing with them is not required. Appreciating their point of view is. I hope I do. I’ve tried.

Still as a western woman, a feminist, part of me will not let go of the idea that women should not need to protect themselves from men’s eyes. That implies men are weak, stupid, etc. Equally I am annoyed the morality is usually synonymous with sexuality.

My sexuality is my own: it is not my father’s, brother’s, lover’s. What I do with it is my choice, although I may decide to enter into agreements of fidelity and if I break those agreements, then my morality is in question.

At this point in my thoughts I have reached the blueberry bushes and my thoughts drift to other questions of morality.

People can get hysterical over Bill Clinton’s or Mark Foley’s sex life (although if it brings new faces into Congress, there's an upside). They are quiet about the immorality of the 650,000+ estimated dead Iraqis and the almost 3000 dead American troops -- all for a lie. They don’t scream about the morality for our bought and paid for Congress by corporate America who put power before their constituents and play with the lives of the citizens of America. They say nothing about the morality of the war profiteers who have stolen American money in Iraq but worry that a gay couple might marry.

Maybe it has to do with something I witnessed as a cub reporter where a New England town meeting voted a multi-million school construction budget without a peep and argued for hours about a $300 town decoration scheme. Small things can be understood more easily than big. $300 is understandable, millions aren’t.

I have reached the post. I chat in French with the people in line. It is a friendly village. An aristocratic woman, her silver hair in a bun, her black dress on a body that most women would die for, says “Have a good day,” to me in heavily accented English.

“You too,” I say and turn to the older man in front of me. “Funny no one thinks my accent is Swiss.”

He and his buddy laugh. They are probably about my age. “Maybe it is Vaudoise, not Genevoise.” We don’t discuss morality.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Bomb threats

There are two bombs at Cornavin, the voice on the phone told the Geneva police. Last night the train station was shut down for almost three hours as the bomb squad went over the station. Another bomb threat was received for the Globus Department Store (don’t worry Llara, the cheddar is safe). Likewise the UN lockdown their security after attack threats.

Nothing was found and today things are back to normal.

If a terrorist wants to hit a spot nothing will stop him or her. Smart terrorists won’t use telephones or email to discuss their plans. They will just do it. Of course any country can check who gets on airplanes, what is in cargo, make sure their nuclear plants have proper security, but there is no way anyone can patrol an entire country. A quick vial of a chemical in water, a bomb hidden and detonated, easy-peasy.

Meanwhile The Guardian has quoted a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study in Baltimore, which was validated by four separate independent experts that over 640,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the war. Maybe that gives reason to the claim by 16 US intelligence agencies’ claim the war has increased terrorism. After all if the US was so angered by the death of a mere 3000 people on 9/11 can you imagine how annoyed the Iraqis and their friends must be at 645,000 deaths not to mention the 350,000 that died prior to the war from our sanctions (substantiated by Madelein Albright). I understand why anyone would want to become a terrorist after watching the death and destruction that the US and the UK have poured onto their countries, their people and their families.

I know it is not a popular point of view and I apologise to those Americans whose loved-ones died thinking they were protecting their country. Their motives were good. Sadly, they died making their country less safe. But then again, all is not loss. Think of all the companies servicing Iraq like Halliburton and have made tons of money (war profiteering was always good business) while creating a situation that can in turn further hurt the US. Thank you Halliburton and all those other companies who have made us less safe.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A profile of Edith Hall

When Edith Hall, a childhood hood chum of my grandmother, sent out Christmas cards she used the cards she had been sent, crossing out the name of the sender, obliterating it to a point that she almost tore through the paper. One would have thought she was poor, except the cards often included checks written out for anywhere from $100 to $1000, no small amount in the 40s, 50s and 60s.

Hall was an old maid when the term meant just that. She owned a two-apartment house on High Street in Reading that she crammed full of everything imaginable. There wasn’t a surface free of books or papers and sometimes even as a child I had to work to manoeuvre my way around. To my ten-year old eyes the piano bench seemed especially dangerous as books were piled higher than I was tall.

My grandmother and Edith had cooked up the idea that Edith should give me arts and crafts lessons. Unlike today when children are programmed for every lesson under the sun after school, my afternoons were free to run in the forest near the house, read, write, skate (ice or roller depending on the season) and do a 1001 things all of my own choosing. I liked it that way. Still for several Fridays dutifully I was dropped off and made my way through the thicket of things.

Edith was clever, and in retrospect I suspect she was a real artist, and she showed me how to make pink rosebuds from crepe paper. Hers looked real even close up. Mine looked unreal even from a distance.

After a number of Fridays, I rebelled. My grandmother pleaded saying how much the lessons pleased her friend. I won and I don’t know what excuse my grandmother made, but I am sure it was tactful.

Years later, freshly back from Germany with my new husband, we rented the upper story apartment as my parents had done when they were newly married. Only the paint had changed. The gas stove even in the sixties was from another the depression era, black with white oblong ceramic handles. The bathtub had claw feet. Because the rent was low we stayed there two years.

By this point Edith was convinced the previous tenant was breaking into her house and stealing things. The stacks from my childhood had grown, and both my husband and I were sure she lost things in the morass. He often helped her look, sometimes finding what was missing, more often not.

I avoided the apartment as much as I could. To save money, for I was still a university student, we used her telephone, and the passageway to reach her telephone was through a cavern of possessions. Even going in made me claustrophobic. Yet, I heard from my grandmother how pleased she was to have us (and our German Shepherd Kimm) there.

Finally, tired of her constant fears that assaulted us each time we came home, we moved. Once again, I suspect that my grandmother soothed the waters, for we did not want to hurt her feelings.

I am curious if today anyone but myself remembers this woman, a combination of eccentricities and kindness mixed with artistic talent. It is like when my brother and I are both dead no one will remember my grandfather, my Uncle Gordon. People live their lives on this planet and die, then disappear after the last person who knew them is also gone. But for a few minutes more anyone who reads this will know of a strange woman named Edith Hall who reused her Christmas cards.


November 6th. I will take my oath and become a Suissesse and a Genevoise for your canton is considered almost as important as the country. It will be three years and eight months since I filed my application and will be the second most important day of my life. The first is the birth of my daughter.

I look at Geneva in a new way. I am not a visitor, an ex-pat or even a re-pat. This country, this cantonm, this city now feels like it is mine. Today was a medley of the beauties of this ancient city.

The Hotel de Ville (City Hall not part of a chain of hotels like I thought before I learned French) is in a building from the middle ages marked with Romeo and Juliet type balconys around a cobblestone courtyard. There are no stairs between floors, but ramps pebbled with small stones and as you walk up you see patterns including a large heart. I peeked into the special hall where the ceremony will be held.

Later, waiting for the bus to take me to lunch at WIPO with my former neighbour, the early autumn sun warmed my face. The buildings around the stop were a mixture of new, old, ancient. Underneath the bridge where the number 5 stops the Rhone swirled Coke bottle green and its clean water smell mingled with that of the roasting chestnuts coming from the stand next to the stop.

A woman played the saxophone, My Way, which unlike most believe was not written by Paul Anka by Claude François. If you don’t believe me listen to an interview with François in English

The notes faded away just as the bus arrived but the feeling of contentment rode with me.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


Don’t tell me the sale price of peaches.
Tell me if you bought them at the green grocers
where the woman chats about recipes
while her fingers dance on cash register keys?
Or were they stacked high between
apples and apricots at the supermarket?

Had you been searching for peaches or
were you looking for carrots
when peaches caught your eye?
Did you fight temptation
thinking yourself weak to give in?

Tell me about their perfume
I want to know if fuzz tickled your hand
when you dropped them into a plastic bag.
Did the first one taste sweet
when you bit into it,
or was it tasteless,
over engineered,
travelling well and
looking pretty in a bowl,
but never meant to impress taste buds?

And when you finished,
did you want another?