Monday, July 24, 2006

What a great birthday

I had huddled in the house most of the day to avoid the horrendous heat outside, but about five I figured I would treat myself to a birthday ice cream at Frank’s café – two boules of café avec sauce de chocolate.

I wasn’t all that excited about my birthday. 64 is not a milestone like 60 was. I had calls from some of my nearest and dearest, and two wonderful donations to organizations have been made in my name. I prefer donations to peace or health research organizations which are gifts that don't have to be dusted and do far more good than anything else and I am thrilled that my friends humor me.

"Bonne anniversaire," Sophie said, as soon as I settled in my place. Sophie resembles Penelope Cruise and is not only a great waitress, but a loving person with a good sense of humor.

"Barbara t'y dit," I said and she admitted that Barbara had indeed mentioned she was to wish me happy birthday when I came in.

I finished my ice cream and was working up the energy to stand up when Kay came by with a chocolate cake and a candle. I shared a piece with her and Sophie. Soon Barbara appeared and Kay’s husband. Then Valerie joined us. Within a short time we had a table that was made up of Americans, French, Swiss, English and Dutch. One of the Swiss, a professional musician who plays the cello brought a saw and played me happy birthday. It is the first time I have been serenaded with a saw. Frank brought out complimentary champagne for all of us and of course we invited him to join us.

We stayed until closing. On the way home I dropped two of the three remaining pieces of chocolate cake off at Jean-Pierre and Babette's and the kid downstairs was lucky enough to get the last small piece.

Meanwhile I share my birthday with Jennifer Lopez, Ruth Buzy, Bob Eberly, Amelia Earhart, Alexander Dumas, Simon Bolivar and Bella Abzug, Steve Grogan (NE Patriot –haven’t lost all my Boston connections) Jennifer Anniston’s father, Oriana Fallaci, King oF Sardinia Victor Emannuel I.

It was a great, great birthday.

Cat control

Four of us strolled down the street in the heat to Flowers, the restaurant with the fountained terrace perfect for a simmering night's evening meal. The street is narrow. An SUV would not make it through without tearing off its sideview mirrors on both sides against the houses that were built centuries before.

Not many cars use the street, but one tiny one (that’s what most people have) was inching its way up. The reason it was driving so slow, was a Siamese cat was ambling up the middle of the row blocking any progress of the vehicle.

I tried to shoe the cat to the side where a small sidewalk would have let the car pass without creating a kitty crepe. The cat looked at me as if to say, “in your dreams lady, this is my road.”

I finally picked her up and held her. She was obviously pregnant. When the car passed, I put her down on the sidewalk. She returned to the center of the road to continue her journey. We went on to the restaurant.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The power of words

I was reading a novel about a woman in her forties with a retired husband in his early sixties and her friend comes to her for permission to have an affair with her husband. You want to F-word my husband?

The word does not shock me any more than Bush’s shit, although the lack of his diplomatic behavior does. What was interesting some one had crossed out the word with a blue pen.

What is it that makes an arrangement of letters so powerful to some people. My mother rather than hearing that word would rather be stabbed, which made the word far more powerful to be used against her, and I have to admit I did from time to time. A professor I had used it every other word, which gave it all the weight of the likes and you knows that dominate so much American speech that if you take them out of a fifty word speech, ten words that only aren’t like or you know will be left.

I wondered why the previous reader felt she had to get up, find a pen and cross the word out several times with impressions so hard it dented the paper.

I also wondered if she would have reacted so strongly to the word bomb, kill, war, words that mean death, versus the word for an act that brings pleasure and possibly new life.

cambriolage -- a professional job

The bijouterie a eu un cambriolage…a robbery…in the middle of the night. Crooks in terrorist black ski masks pulled up, pushed a hole in the grill and emptied the window of diamonds, rubies and emeralds. Looking up they saw Babette watching from her apartment window. She had wakened by the noise of the grill snapping. They brandished a gun at her. She had already called the police, who came fast, but not fast enough to stop the get-away. Today the store is closed as Nathalie, the owner cleans up the mess, fills out forms, and tries to get on with her work.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

As I was writing my blog, a pop up told me Truthout had sent me an email. I feel smug. I know I have made a contribution to continue their good work of balancing the news without ever opening my pocketbook (although I have often in the past). This year for my birthday a donation has been made for me in place of a present. Not only do I not have to dust the gift, find a place for it, I know work I respect for its improve-the-world quality might go on for a few more minutes.

When I opened the message, I read that the service is down because they have been hacked. I am doubly glad for the donation.

Damascus, etc.

I make no secret of how much I love that city and even less how much I love the Damascenes that I have met there and in Paris and Geneva. This morning CNN had many shots of the old city, including the place where I bought Arabic CDs, the mosque where I put on a burka for the first and only time, the streets that I walked to outline a future book.

What bothered me is not the open support of the people interviewed for Hezbollah. That I do understand. I wonder if CNN had only chosen people who agree with Hezbollah to further “the case” against Syria.

But I do know the Israeli violence only sparks more hatred and more violence by Hezbollah which sparks more violence by Israel. No one is winning: no one can win.

Bush looks at a camera on BBC and says as if he were talking about a movie he’s seen that the Syrians want to use the war to get back into Lebanon. He says Hezbollah is the root cause of this conflict not looking for the root cause of Hezbollah. I worry that it will further demonize those that do not march to the US’s wishes.

I have no illusions about the Syrian government, but like Saddam's was it is secular and it does keep the people in balance. And if Syrians aren’t thrilled with their rulers, I can’t imagine one of them exchanging their daily lives for people in Baghdad.

I worry about the students I had from Lebanon. I worry that the war will expand to Syria. When I know people who I like, respect or love from a place, war photos are not merely the news but personal.

I sit with my ideal summer life in the South of France knowing my other rest-of-year life on Lake Geneva is equally peaceful. The “problems” I face is which restaurant to eat at, do I write or go out for tea first, what kind of olives should I buy from Joel at the marché. I do not worry about my house being bombed. I am not like the taxi driver who looked into the camera as he stood in front of the rubble that was his home a few hours before and his multi-pieced taxi. “I fed my family by driving that taxi,” he says. Now he had no place to live, no way to work.

By fate I have been dropped into a good place, but I cannot help but feel pain and worry for the other places (and people) that aren’t safe and I am angry at the Western leaders for not only not stopping it but for playing with it for their own games. This is not new in world history and this conflict is another blip in time, but when I think of souk in Damascus with its bullet holes in the ceiling from another war, I want to scream when will we ever learn?


Suffering in the canicule (heatwave) of 2006 is better than in the canicule of 2003. I no longer am at a desk being brought water so I can continue working, although they did let us go early. There is no death toll this time. Last time figures varied from 15,000 to 25,000 people who were killed by the heat in Europe. Or maybe they haven't started reporting it yet.

This year I can turn on my air-conditioning. I can go to the beach or the pool. There are a couple of cafés that seem to have a direct line to order breezes.

The US is suffering too. We are killing the planet.

Less and less I understand why humans are so self-destructive.

Meanwhile I hear the word canicule roll off the tongues of my franco-phone friends and neighbors. Such a pretty sounding word for such an unpleasant condition.

Good table manners

My mother was a manners freak. At one point she took in foster kids, teens and pre-teens many who had major problems from abuse, drugs, violence and being bounced around from place to place. My mother was most concerned about their grammar and their manners. When they left her care, they still may have been emotionally scarred but they were definitely more polite.

Although a devoted Republican all her life, I wonder what she would make of Bush being shown at dinner. The open mike remarks wouldn’t interest, but the fact he chews his food with his mouth open and talks with his mouth full, would have made her furious. After all, when I was growing up, bad table manners was a punishable offense. She might even have switched to the Democrats.

Monday, July 17, 2006

A tool to calculate the damage I do.

Those who know me, know that part of my minimalist life style is thinking anything I don’t own is one less thing to dust or take care of, but part of it is environmental, which is one reason I refuse to own a car and have chosen to live where public transportation works, which doesn’t mean from time to time that I use others’ cars and even take an unnecessary ride with them into the mountains or an interesting spot.

I don’t use paper towels, paper napkins, plastic bags, cling film, etc. and don’t miss them in the least. Less junk to mess up my kitchen. I figure if the world got along without them until about 60 years ago, I don’t need ’em. Never is a light left on unnecessarily and I shut off all electronic products that sleep. I just figure I am ahead of time and our throw-away society will have to conform as resources disappear although perhaps not in my lifetime. And of course, I gain with really low electrical bills.

However, during this canicule when the flat gets so hot (over 90) so I can watch my energy drip out of my body puddling on the floor in front of me, I reach for the air conditioner click it, and yell “DIE PLANET!!! Die that I may live.” It is a good thing no one is around to hear and call the mental medics. Not only that I am grateful to my daughter for pulling a wobbly to convince me to buy the air conditioning, so any attempt at superiority at my eco-friendliness has to be tempered with imperfection if not a sense of humor at my own limitations.

What I didn’t realize that there’s a new industry cropping up and that is responsible ecotourism where you can offset your emissions. For example when I go to Dublin later this month, for business my emissions from this flight will be: 0.31 tons of CO2.

I figured that out from a great web site. a great tool to measure my personal responsibility in destroying the planet.

It also shows how much damage I did by driving a total of 500 km. last year which was to create emissions of 0.11 Tons of CO2. However if the car I used got only 18 MPG instead of 35 it would be .47 tons. When I look at the numbers, it is a mathematical way to help me decide how I get my body from place A to place B.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Another wonderful holiday night

This holiday is so wonderful, it could almost be booring. The excessive heat is the only thing negative, but that is forgotten with the comings and going of year-round and summer residents.

The street was blocked by all the tables of the neighbors who were eating their evening meal on the street prior to the fireworks being shot off the roof of the church on the eve of France's national holiday. Wending my way from the green grocer on the corner to my door was like walking through the UN. There were Dutch, English (The Swedish have not yet arrived), my fellow Swiss, French, Danes galore, and of course Catalans.

Wine, sangria, champagne, coffee, tea, breads, vegetables were in abundance as was conversation, salads, meats, cheeses.

The French teacher had a new kitten or at least I assume there was a kitten under all the beige fur. All pet owners moved their animals indoors before the fireworks were to start. In past years when I had my chins, I would watch the fireworks from the Château Valmy far enough away that with the car windows closed and the radio blaring, they did not react to the booms and bangs.

Someone handed me a nectarine, picked from a local tree earlier in the day. The juice exploded all over my hand when I bit into it, but it was as sweet as the evening.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

concert on the plaza

Someone said that they had a reading of 51°C degrees in their yard, but a refreshing breeze was blowing as the English blond and the French woman with brown hair in a Flamenco-style bun sang blues and jazz. They wore the popular handkerchief hems skirts. The keyboard was played by the daughter of the French woman and since it was the girl’s birthday the audience sang Bonne Anniversaire. The blond played an electric violin. I had never seen one and thought it looked more like an iron bar sculpture.

Different friends stopped by and our group grew including Fleur, the Westie.

Sophie ran back and forth with drinks. We asked the owner of the café, Frank, who had been to the doctor because his eyes had been itchy, how he was.

The concert ended. The singers and keyboard player sat down. Then it was time to wander home, but before we did, everyone picked up their chairs and carried them back into the café. We are more than customers, we are friends.

More than a cup of tea

A friend came for tea, giving me a chance to use my new Art Deco tea set. As I placed the cups and saucers on the table and poured hot water to hot the pot, I was transported back to childhood tea parties. Then my cups and saucers were so tiny they only held a swallow of tea, and usually it was Coca-Cola in the pot, my preferred beverage. Sometimes my guests were other little girls, sometimes they were dolls and we would talk about whatever jobs I assigned them, archeologist being one of the most frequent, when we weren't Roman matrons or Greek Gods, or cowgirls with our next chore to be rounding up cattle, imaginary of course. Not a lot of cattle in Reading, MA.

When I did drink tea during my childhood, it was laced with milk and probably had more sugar than the sugar-laden Coke.

On Wigglesworth Street we had several teapots. One was a ceramic lion face bought in a souk-like store in the underbelly of Quincy Market. If it had been a bad day, it was hard to stay depressed using it. The sky blue pot with the puffy clouds also changed the mood from tense to relaxed.

Across the street Hiram Manning, an artist, would also serve us afternoon tea with everything from cucumber sandwiches to little sweets. He had one sandwich made with butter and cracked spices that his family created when their finances were down. We talked about his specialty, the decoupage that he taught, food, renovations on our respective houses, food, friends, music, food, the ballet, food, books and food.

After I moved at least once a month I would get together with my girlfriend and we do special teas and talk about food, friends, music, food, the ballet, food, books, dogs, work and food.

And there are the less formal teas, the cuppas, a bag put in a mug hot water added.

Whenever I watch a drama on BBC, at least 50% seem to have the line “I’ll put the kettle on.” I wonder if the words are stored in someone’seach writer's computer and put on top of each page to be pasted into the manuscript at the right moment. However, the playwrite is correct: hashing out a problem is easier over a cuppa. Or sharing a joy, or having a good conversation, or using it revive oneself, or to have near at hand while reading a good book, or next to the computer while I write…Excuse me, I need to pour myself a second cuppa before I hang up the wash.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The new service

The proprietor of Le Vieux Cinema, the antique store where I picked up my Art Nouveau tea and coffee service, was reading a book about a bureaucrat in South Vietnam who goes wandering in North Vietnam. I told him about Word of Honor, the book about a Vietnam massacre by Nelson DeMille that I am reading. Transactions are more than business in this store, but are about relationship building.

The atmosphere of the building makes it possible to picture in place of the antique tables, chairs, beds, cupboards, dishes and bric brac, movie seats and filled with people waiting for the show to begin.

Although it is only a short walk to my nest, I carried the box gingerly looking around to make sure my footing was sure on the uneven pavement. Johnny Halliday’s music was blasted over the public speaker systems as other tourists selected melons, fresh tomatoes, chicken and bread for their lunch from the boulangerie, chacuterie and green grocer’s. I made it without a clumsy move. Whew.

Upstairs one-by-one I shed the newspaper wrappings, glancing at the stories as I did. Nothing earth shaking. One-by-one I washed the tea pot, the coffee pot, the sugar and creamer, the two saucers and the cups. I had rearranged my china cabinet and experimented with the best arrangement.

The set meets my buying criteria: It is beautiful, useful, and brings up memories not only of the nice buying transaction but a trip to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts when they had an exhibition of Art Nouveau and Art Deco pieces as well as a night at the Hotel Radio last year in Clermont-Ferrand where everything made me think I had changed eras to the 1920s. I wonder who owned this set before me and who before them. What did they discuss as they poured milk into their coffee and stirred sugar into their tea?

I will put new memories into the porcelain.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

It's a long, long way home...

After a nice meal of grilled goat chops and potato salad, chez Barbara, I headed home, a little after nine. Now my place is a mere fifteen houses (all connected and none much wider than 20 feet) down the street. It took well over three hours to make the trip.

Why? Two Danish groups, one family belonging to my friend Christina-- the one with the art studio -- and one as part of the entertainment industry crowd who I know better each year were on the street with their chairs and wine and good conversation.

This is not a complaint. The sharing of culture, politics, memories, is the best part of the holiday. So when I crawled into bed at 12:30 I could only smile myself to sleep.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Day of Rememberance

BBC and CNN International are playing up the day of rememberance of 7/7, one year since the London bombings. I will never minimize the death of anyone, but the Iraqis could have a day of rememberance every day marking the death of their citizens created either directly or indirectly by the UK and US invaision. Why is it that our deaths are worth more than theirs? Maybe if we could answer that as they have the same value the need for our side to kill their side and vice versa would diminish and disappear all together.

Babel Street

Out my window as I write I hear the neighbors talking on the street. Because the houses are close together and have been since they were built in the 1500s give or take a few years there is a lot of calling back and forth. In less than five minutes I have heard the same people switch from Danish, German, French and English. I am not sure I could ever live in a one-culture society again.

I am amazed at how many people who when the list traits they want in a spouse now put bilingualism high on their lists.

When I was little I used to dream that I could speak many languages switching from one to another. I haven't acheived it, but I was pleased that I could understand what was being said in three of the fourth tongues I was listening to, although I have to admit, the German was simple, simple, simple.

Book earrings

The package from my Baked Bean/Cassoulet friend had a MA return address. I opened. Besides postcards from Emily Dickinson’s museum there was a pair of earrings, two tiny books, with real paper pages perfect timing for that evening when I was going to do a reading from my novels for the English and Danes who know I write but have never had an opportunity to know my work.

It reminded me of the Phyllis Diller joke: The woman had the biggest earring I ever saw, bronzed baby shoes with the kid still in them.

I will definitely wear them to the meetings of the Geneva Writer's Group along with the pin that says WRITE.

Lemon or milk?

I didn’t need it. It goes against my no-buy philosophy, but one of my standards to own something is that I must love it. I am now the proud possessor of a white and silver Art Deco tea service. If I decide it is too much I can always resell it. Meanwhile I have the water boiling.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Theater festival

The St. Andre theatre festival is one of the major highlights of my holidays. A stage and seats transforms a field located on a river where the water has long since evaporated in the summer heat. The field is surrounded by giant trees. Little theater groups from all over the region vie for prizes.

Last night’s performance was a disappointment, not because it wasn’t well acted. The two actresses strutted their stuff beyond reproach. And it was well blocked. Nor was it that I couldn’t understand the French. I couldn’t bloody hear half the play.

A wind was blowing overhead rustling the skyscraper-high trees above me glistgening in the moonlight but drowning out the words. Then the wind would die down and I would catch what was being said, but since the play relied so heavily on dialogue, I no longer could follow the action although I could hear when one roommate revealed to the other that her lover was married and had three children causing a breakdown.

Still the atmosphere with people eating at the café set up next to the theatre, old friends greeting each other, the cool air after the hot day, and people plying their love of the craft made the evening more than a success.

I will forego the Wednesday night performance because how can I be in France without going to my favorite café to watch the French play in the semi-finale of the World Cup? In a way I feel sorry for the troup that will perform and I suspect they would rather be watching the game themselves.

Books and roots (honest, there's a connection)

In the last four days I have read four books, but two stand out. Isabelle Allende’s An Invented Country speaks to me as a writer and as a repat (someone who will most likely never live again in her home country—much more positive than ex-pat which implies running from rather than running to). Besides politically sharing many of my views, which isn’t necessary to make a good read, she speaks of codes in her adopted country. By now I feel comfortable and even love the different codes of Switzerland, but they took a long time to learn and to have them become part of my nature so that anything contrary seems strange and out of place.

The other book was Come Tell Me How You Live by Agatha Christie, which is non-fiction about her trips to Syria with her archeologist husband. Although Christie has the obnoxious imperialist attitude, my Syrian friend who loaned me the book cautioned me to remember it was pre WWII. If she, as a Syrian wasn’t upset, why should I be? On another level her insights are a treasure of a country I have learned to appreciate and a people I have learned to love.

Both show a writer being in a place cut off from their roots. For those who live outside their home area, I describe it like being a transplanted bush. The first layer of roots are from the home soil, but then the bush grows new and longer roots as it grows up. If you were to cut them back to the original, the plant would not survive, and if you cut out the original roots, the plant would also die. It needs it all.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Early morning trips

As a news junkie, the first thing I do is to flip on BBC when I wake and watch the news as I do my morning exercises. BBC has this wonderful service (also seen on other stations) where they life-photograph cities around the world. What makes me feel good, is many times I know the exact spot they are showing in cities around the world.

I’ve seen Geneva, the quai Mt. Blanc, which is definitely an ahhhhhhhhhh moment as they pan my well-walked and well-loved path. Today it was Stuttgart, the city I lived in as a bride near the schloss where I walked Kimm, my German Sherphard and where I developed my love of this continent and living outside my own culture (when you live outside your culture long enough, some of it becomes your culture).

When it isn't a city I've visited, I get a mini tour of the world before I do my first sit up.

Monday, July 03, 2006

The holiday season has begun

It’s holiday season in Argelès, and I am looking forward to the next three weeks. As I walked down the street, I saw another summer resident, also newly arrived. As I told her about my train ride from hell and how I wanted a hot shower, she ran upstairs to bring down some bath gel she had brought me from the UK.

Walking down my street, I was greeted by someone I knew. As we talked I heard. “Donna-Lane, do you want some coffee and a pain au chocolate.” The voice was from on high and feminine. God was either a woman speaking from on high or my neighbor who has a kitchen on the second floor. She cannot see out. I went up to her terrace and enjoyed a breakfast with her daughter visiting from Denmark.

Across the street, another annual holidayer, back from Copenhagen, waved to me. He is 14 this year, much bigger than last.

Starting tomorrow night is a theatre festival in a neighboring town. I discussed which plays we would go to with my friend Barbara over tea at La Noisette, my favorite tearoom down here.

Other old friends from previous summers wandered by.

The season has begun.

The train ride from hell

I walked the entire length of the train at Gare Austerlitz. No car 47. I asked the one of the two SNCF conductors checking tickets at the entrance of the voie. “Ask him,” one said pointing to a young man with a crew cut coming my way.

I did. He said it was there, sweeping his hand along the train. Despite being tired and dragging a suitcase full of my holiday stuff, I walked the entire length again. Nothing. I found five other people all looking for the same car.

Back to the conductors.

“It’s between 46 and 48,” the same young man said.

“Five people can’t find it,” I said wondering why as the only non native French speaker I was spokesperson.

He rolled his eyes and pointed to a man with a Salvador Dali mustache. “Ask him, he’s the chef.”

I did.

The man picked up a piece of paper. “It’s here.” He rattled it at us.

“You have the paper, not car 47 on the train.”

“Ask her.” His moustache quivered as he pointed to a young woman not more than 25.

She at least believed us and called someone on her walkie-talkie. “He says it is at the head of train.”

We all walked back to the head of the train.

No car 47.

I decided to jump on a car that had only seats rather than the wagon lit that would have given me a comfortable bed for the night.

I don’t mind someone messing up and not attaching a car. I do mind rudeness, lying, and the lack of willingness to solve the problem.

The car was air-conditioned to a point that would have thrilled a penguin. I pulled a long skirt from my suit case and wrapped myself up as best I could. Finally I dropped off to sleep only to wake to a woman who felt the need and didn’t resist it singing La Vie en Rose.

Maybe it wasn't the train ride from hell, but only because of the temperature.

The family along the Seine

The Seine snaked by the grassy park in Puteaux, the suburb touching Paris’s La Defense. We arrived too late to find a free green and white lawn chair, but we were content to sit on the grass under chestnut and maple trees and listen to the long-haired woman singer give a jazz interpretation to the songs of Brel, Lama, Aznavour and Piaf.

We could not help but notice the family next to us of a mother, father and two little red-headed girls. The two-year old sat on her mother’s lap, pouring small amounts of water from an Evian bottle onto a cloth and then washed her face over and over. The five-year old, dressed in a yellow-green sun suit ran up and down the hill between the brick gazebo where the singer and pianist performed and where her parents sat. She joined the singer on the stage along with other little girls.

The mother chatted and laughed with the girls, poured water in the Evian bottle to control the flow of what her younger daughter could do. The father sat in his yellow shirt, his legs outstretched. Although the distance between him and his wife was not much more than two feet, the distance emotionally was huge. They never spoke to each other, exchanged a look nor mentioned the singer.

So often when I see situations like that, I want to go up and ask what is wrong. Of course, I didn’t. It wasn’t a matter of language, but of courtesy, darn it.

My copper pans

My first copper pan has been returned from Syria, new tin inside and the outside polished to a mirror finish, assuming I want to know how I would look either jaundiced or as a jack-o-lantern.

Two more pans from the set sit on the top of the dresser waiting for the next Syrian to go to Damascus. One will come back relined with tin, one will be given to the tinsmith who was fascinated by the French design. The set has more than I need.

The pans were bought at my favorite antique shop. After reading about all the bad chemicals that Teflon launches into your body, I’d been looking for special pans for sometime. These were beautiful hanging from my kitchen beans, but without the tin inside would be more dangerous than the Teflon.

The retinning craft no longer exists in France or Switzerland or if it does, I can’t find anyone to do it. Thus my pans are becoming very well traveled one by one.

Parisian windows

The gauze curtain danced in the early morning breeze, not a like frantic rock and roll, nor a sweeping tango, but like a quiet, dignified waltz. From my bed I could see the closed shutters on the building across rue August Blanche under the red tile roof and the cylindrical chimney stacks. The shutters did not mute a newborn’s cry or the sound of a piano playing.

The night before the sounds were very different coming through the window. Marina, our 4-star guy guest and I were tired from tromping around the Latin Quarter and Montmarte despite a restful picnic at the feet of Charlemagne’s statue in front of Notre Dame.

France was playing Brazil and our guy guest had fled to the nearest bar with a wide screen television while we watched a movie. We could follow the game as cheers and screams drifted in the window. Just to make sure we checked the BBC web site who updated the results every two minutes of this World Cup game.

There was no mistaking the “Nous gagnons” followed by screams of joy, honking horns and laughter.

The window transmitted very different sounds in the few hours between the game and early morning. Both told their own stories.

Saturday, July 01, 2006


The DVD of the movie Ararat whirs in its player. Outside the late evening suns makes the red tile Parisian roof look redder. The sky is still blue at 9:30.

Christopher Plummer playing a customs official holds up a pomegranate. “You can’t bring this in,” he tells Charles Aznavour playing a film director. He is about to make a film of the Armenian massacre of 1915.

Aznavour cuts it open and eats part offering the customs official a piece. “The seeds bring me luck, I carry them in my stomach.”

My hostess carries a blue and yellow checked plastic tray into the room piled high with parsley for tabouli that she will make the same way as generations of Syrian women make it.

As she arranges each stalk, a softer filter on the camera lens shows an Armenian artist in New York painting. His inspiration is a photo taken of him and his mother taken shortly before the death march, who tells him to hold flowers over the missing button on his coat. Throughout the film in a number of vignettes he cannot get her hands the way he wants them, the same hands that sewed the button back on. Finally he whites them out.

As my hostess chops the parsley their subtle fresh aroma enters the room. As her knife clicks against the board, on the screen Turkish soldiers stab victim after victim after victim. “No one will remember,” an actor from the set says. "It is now, the past isn’t important."

Now. Somewhere as I sit in the comfort of this adorable apartment, an American is killing an Iraqi or vice versa. In Tamil a family is dying. When I watch a rape of an Armenian woman with her daughter hidden under a cart, I know a rape is going on in Dafur of a woman walking back from gathering water. I have seen their faces on CNN.

Aznavour is on the way to the film’s premier in a limo with an actor, director and consultant. He shares pomegranate seeds. “When my mother was on the death march, she had one pomegranate. She ate a seed a day and pretended it was a meal.” They each take a seed from a round silver box and eat it as if it were a meal.

The movie ends. We sit at the tiny table eating the tabouli. “I don’t understand how people who survived, survive.” I mean it for all the needless tragedies caused by man.

I know so many people who are trying to make the world better. Edgar who has helped people in the jungles of his native Philippines and is now working in Afghanistan. Karen who is working on legal issues in Asia or Linda who is begging old computers for schools in Africa. I am angry at myself for my luxuries. I walk along Lake Geneva, the Mediterranean or the Seine at will. I do not worry about being dragged from my bed in the middle of the night. At the same time I know I have not called enough Senators with their smug faces safe being driven in their big cars from their homes to the capital where they will appropriate more money for more deaths.

“It doesn’t begin with governments, it only begins with what each person can do,” my friend says. But it also begins with what each person doesn’t do, including myself.