Tuesday, January 31, 2006

I bought a pencil

I bought a pencil today. Usually I prefer pens. As a writer my fountain pen is more then a pen, it is a tool, holding the secrets of future writings. My pen is a beautiful iridescent royal blue mixed with one part white. However, because I have finally knuckled down to improve my French grammar, I need a pencil for the exercises in the lesson book. I correct with the pen so I have a permanent record.

The clerk, a woman dressed in dark pants and vest, took me to a stand with numbered holes stuffed with pencils. She asked if I wanted one that was more and less gras French for fat. They were all the same size so I assumed she was referring to the content of the lead.

She brought me a paper so I could test out the different pencils. Since they all felt the same, I wanted one that would erase the most easily with my treasured knead eraser. I took my selected pencil to the cash register. It cost 60 centimes about 90 cents.

Although I have stated I want a life where I want everything I own has meaning and nothing is casual, I never expected that would go to pencils. However, this new-leaf green pencil is imbued with a memory that I never expected a pencil to have.

In university I read a medieval play about Gammer Gurton who had a real treasure, a needle. I now know how Gammer Gurton felt.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Muddy rivers

“I saved the car,” Barbara said from Argelès. It was parked next to the riverbed that is usually dry. The banks are about twelve feet high. However, a snow storm and torrential rains brought the water to the top of the banks in less than 24 hours. The village police took down license numbers and called the car owners.

The racing muddy brown waters made me think of Al Grierson www.utahphillips.org/al/ and www.iww.org/culture/biography/AlGrierson1.shtml the folk singer that visited me in Geneva. He had also walked along the river bed in Argelès with me.

He lived in a bus on an armadillo farm outside Austin, TX. Al was swept awayin a flash flood coming back from a gig in his truck that his friends contributed money for so he could buy it.

The last time I spoke to Al was the night of the last Gore/Bush debate. Had he lived, he would have been horrified at the turn the world has taken. Known as the poet laureate of Luckenbach I can only imagine what he would have written had he not drowned.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Les duos impossible

“Emotion guarantée,” Jean-Pierre Foucault oozed into the TF1 camera.

French television has long drowned in variety shows, which I appreciate because I can listen passively and hear some good French music. Thus I’ve watched song/talk (usually with the performers having their backs to the audience), X ans déjà – X years already – a tribute to a dead performer x number of years after they died, Stars à la Domicile, where a well know star appears at someone’s home to their consternation and happiness. Of course, there is the regular garden type variety shows.

However, Foucault’s new show Les Duos de l'impossible, borders of the bizarre. Current stars are teamed up with dead singers for duets. Special edits are made so often it looks as if filmed at the same time. In one number the dead star rests “his hand” on the shoulder of the live one.

I watched Julian Dassin http://www.joe-dassin.net/ sing a duet with his son who was only five when his father died. Dassin was an American whose parents fled America during the McCarthy years. He became an anthropolgist and then singer. As I type this his song is playing on the radio although he died decades ago.

I love listening to Brassens, Piaf, Brel, Trenet, C.Jerome -- all gone, disappeared as the French say. I love listening to Lara Fabian www.lara-fabian.fr, Tina Arena www.tinaarena.com/home.htm an Australian who has finally mastered French, Richard Cocciante www.richard-cocciante.com/ writer of Notre Dame de Paris and Dave www.stars-oubliees.com/les_chanteurs/dave/rubrique186.html but the way the duet show is done carried bizarre to new levels as Foucault asked why people agreed to do this, and they babbled about the honour.

When a very young Brel sang If You Only Have Love, I couldn’t stop laughing, not at the performance but at an old memory.

The year was 1972. I was about to commit one of the stupidest acts of my life by marrying a second time. I had fallen in love with If You Only Have Love when I saw Mort Shuman’s Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.

I asked my roommate to learn the song for the wedding and told it was the last song of the disk. She agreed. Periodically she questioned my decision, reminding me my mother would be there and saying my mother might faint. I knew she didn’t like my intended (how right she was), but I reassured her.

There were two disks. She learned the song with lyrics not about the power of love but about a broken romance where the lyrics talked about “the hotel where we played games” and the last line was “But, you see I’ve forgotten your name.” Considering the results, her selection was far more appropriate. That was a duet impossible.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Fake Coffee Real Memories

Years ago when Llara was little my roommate and I bought International coffees as a treat thinking how sophisticated it was that we were drinking what was being drunk in Vienna etc. At the time we lived in an apartment complex with streets named for poets.

Only later when I lived in European did I realize what a phony thing those coffees were, that no respecting Viennese or any European would deign to let those pale imitations pass their lips.

As I watch the snow fall I am drinking hot tea made by heating the pot and using real leaves, the advertising manipulation causes amusement. The memories of anticipation of a treat on our limited budgets and the sharing weren’t phony. It is always the small pleasures that create joy.

Remebering Zimmy

At the Belaire tram stop in Geneva, a stout woman with frizzy grey hair walked by the tram’s window. She looked like Zimmy, Dr. Helen Zimmerman, my biology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology teacher. Now that’s going back a way.

Imagine a doctor teaching high school biology, although I don’t really remember her ever teaching it, yet when I faced college biology, I breezed through the course. Phyla and bones popped into my mind. What I do remember is her talking about all sorts of things, rabbits in Australia and the problems of environmental balance.

Already old when I took her courses, she lived with Elizabeth Bachelor, another single woman who taught business subjects.

Having the raging hormones of most teenage girls and dating the handsome trumpet player, I knew I was destined to marry and felt sorry for this women without a family.

Years later, divorced I was talking with Mardy, my high school chum, and we were saying how much we had learned from Zimmy. When I hung up, for no reason, I called Zimmy to thank her. She and Miss Bachelor had long retired at that point.

She said the call meant a lot to her. Miss Bachelor had just died and she was feeling lonely.

Now some years later, hell -- some decades later, I no longer feel sorry for either woman. The wisdom of the years has taught me that they did lead full lives with meaningful work and meaningful relationships. I could speculate what type of friends they were, since neither married, but it isn’t important. They were two women who bonded in friendship and gave to the next generation new knowledge.

Dr. Zhivago land

The train plowed its way through the mountains, but outside the landscaped looked like the countryside where Dr. Zhivago and Lara passed as they left the dacha for the final time. Snow kept falling off the trees and landing on the train roof to huge plumps. Passengers’s eyes moved upward as one.

This morning, warm under my new penguin flannel duvet cover I looked up at the skylight to see only white. Outside as I write the roof across the street has a good eight inches of snow. Inside my cup of caramel tea is next to the computer. Celine Dion is singing about her man and I must get back to my novel.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Mikado, the resaurant not the dog

My baked bean/cassoulet friend introduced me to a new Japanese restaurant in Paquis.

Paquis is Geneva's red light district, but without the raunchiness. There are playgrounds for children and a rich community as well.

One of the wonderful things about living in Geneva is that once again I have access to restaurants of all nationalities. In Paquis you can also find grocery stores of all nationalities in case you are tempted to cook your own international cuisines. Indian? Naturally. Thai? Obviously. Ethiopian? Not a problem. Balkan? Around the corner.

Mikado, which was also the name of my ill-fated Japanese chin, used to be only a take out and grocery store. They have added twelve tables and a three stand-up places as well as continuing their old business. The place is mobbed. The price is lower than the other Japanese restaurants I’ve found. They did over 34 covers in the 20 minutes I was there and I came late into the lunch hour. It is not a place where people linger during lunch hour, although when my bb/c friend and I were there later in the day, we were able to stay and chat. Although people were constantly coming in, there were spare places so we didn’t feel like hogs.

Security is knowing where to get your sushi fix


FEMA is putting out disaster games for children. I remember ducking under my desk in case of a bomb attack. Why have we not progressed?

When Bush says we are at war, why don’t people tell him it was us that chose to go to war so if we are attacked, maybe people are fighting back against their aggressor?

Why don’t people say, the war on terror is stupid. When 9/11 happened there might have been 30,000 terrorists in the world operating in many countries. So we attacked a sovereign country that had nothing to do with it. We can never fight terrorists by being the aggressor. Just like you can’t treat the head ache of a brain tumor with aspirin and expect the tumor to go away. Or in Bush’s case it is more like he operated on a second patient’s head, and that patient had no tumor while telling people that operation would help the first patient.

Why is anyone surprised that we are exporting more and more? If we export manufacturing jobs and we still want the products from those jobs, we are going to import them.

Why do we fight the war on the sale of drugs and not for the treatment of drugs?

Why don’t more people get more upset about domestic spying?

Why aren’t people up in arms about the torture that is going on?

When will the sick feeling that my country is doomed go away?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The mountain chapel

My host had no intention of leaving the warmth of the house for a walk in the mountains. Their house, where I spent the weekend, is nestled in the Jura. A cloud stopped at their gate iding the view of Lake Geneva and the Alps. My hostess and I decided to g6 anyway.

We only had to drive a hundred meters up and we were in brilliant sunshine. We stopped at a snow-covered path that had both tread marks from boots and bird tracks. At the top was a small chapel, relatively new for this part of the world, having been built in the mid 1880s.

Outside the chapel a couple with two small children had set up a telescope to see if they could penetrate the fog below.

Inside the chapel I took one of the long tapers and lit it for Jack, my stepmom’s father. He and I were both born July 24th albeit many years apart. I remember her lighting a candle when the two of us were in Carcassonne shortly after both Jack and my Dad died. Although I am far more pagan than Catholic, I said a prayer for him, feeling his god would understand. My gods don't really have much interest in the foibles of individuals. The Hail Mary was written in French on the wall and was also on sheets of paper to take away. I slipped one in my pocket to send to my stepmom.

A notebook was next to the candles where people had left messages as well as a box covered in a faded yellow fabric where people had deposited prayers. My hostess and I read the messages, wondering if Sylvia recovered and did Anne-Marie find work. Despite the breath-seeing cold, a feeling on comfort pervaded us and the building.

Outside the family had packed up their telescope and began the trek down the path. We lingered near the apple trees that looked like they were in bloom. The tips were covered in such fine snow that it was possible to see the outline of the flakes. Above, the sky was almost royal blue and the sun felt warm on our faces.

The man walked back up the path, his eyes scanning the ground. He wandered back and forth where his telescope had been. “I lost my keys,” he said.

We helped him look sometimes kicking the snow aside with our boots. Nothing.
“Is it your car keys too?” I asked. He nodded.

His wife joined us. Then he bent over and scooped up the keys.

“He is always loosing them,” the wife said.

“Key hunting should be an Olympic Sport,” I said.

Together we made our way back down the mountain and went our separate ways back into the fog.


This was a film going week. Mid week I slipped into a theatre to see The Constant Gardner, sad, frightening in the possibility of its truth of immoral testing of drugs on innocents. Power and money, money and power, a dangerous combination for the planet, but great for a movie.

Friday night Julia and I decided we needed a feel-good movie. Even if the reviews of Rumors (French Title) hadn’t been good, we decided anything with Shirley MacLaine was worth 12 CHF. To make it even more like Friday night movies of old we bought popcorn and a drink, and we both have retained to our Americaness enough to insist on salted not sweet popcorn. We weren’t disappointed.

Bonsoir et Bon Chance, Good Night and Good Luck, was wonderful. I was with three English and one English/Belgian friend. I remember watching Edward R. Murrow interview Liberace and I remember my mother watching and believing McCarthy was protecting our country. All right -- I was more upset that the HUAC preempted my children’s programs, but what I did watch didn’t feel right to me even at eight. Interesting the only music in the film’s background was the singer. Between the singer, the subject, the memories and the black and white, I was truly moved and saddened that we have learned nothing. Bless you George Clooney for this.

There are several other films that are out that I want to see: Mrs Henderson with Judy Dench, Jeune Homme, a Swiss film about a young Swiss German who becomes an au paar in Geneva, a French movie about a father who left his money to his children on the condition they walk the St. Jacques de Compostalo trail and even the remake of Dick and Jane, although that might be a wait for it on DVD.

So many films, so little time.

Boston Magazine

A friend brought two issues of Boston Magazine to me when she returned from Massachusetts. This was a publication that I used to love reading. I thumbed through the pages and pages and pages of advertisements. The editorial content couldn’t have been more than 25% of the pages and that was often only one of three columns. What I had was a glossy shopper. When I did find the editorial was shallow at best. Poor Joan Kennedy doesn’t need another exposé of her problems. I am sure they make money. What I can’t understand why do people buy it to look at ads.

Friday, January 13, 2006


“Brrr” was the email title. The attachment’s subtitle was Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Inside the attachment pictures revealed a fairyland of ice-coated benches, cars and trees. However, I didn’t need to see a license plate to know it was Lake Geneva. I have walked along that spot too often and love it too much not to recognize it as I would recognize my own daughter. However after last year’s storm which turned the area near the lake into an ice palace with iced gardens, there was no walking to be done. Where the ice froze flat it was too slippery and where the wind had blown the ice into large chunks with lethal points, any misstep could have led to serious injury through impalement.

Just looking at it causes shivers, but I never shiver when I think of the sender, a pen-friend of thirty years. He started as a professional acquaintance when I began haranguing him over the ERA. Then he became a pen pal as we exchanged letters. Professional topics gave way to puns, jokes and miscellaneous subjects some light-hearted, some serious. We haven’t spent much time together but those times have been all over the map: San Francisco, Boston, Zurich and Florida.

Professionally he was my hero, not just for his competence but for his stances. If all business was run under his ethics there would be no need for law suits, and if all the world treated people as he does, centuries-old problems would melt away.

Whenever his name pops up on my email, I smile and even if there is ice outside my window on Lake Geneva I feel warm.


Sunday, January 08, 2006

King Kong Rides Again But Not Near me

One movie I won’t go see is King Kong. When I was ten, the producers brought back the original and advertised it on television. Night after night when I went to bed, I knew, just knew, that the ape was outside my window ready to take me to New York in his giant hand. Although I would have loved to see New York, which was impossible because of my travel-phobic mother, I wanted to travel by more conventional methods.

I would sneak out of bed and crawl to the top of the stairs where my mother would find me and drag me back to bed. Although she tried to explain how King Kong was made, and no matter how unscary he seemed during the day, at night in bed I was sure he was stomping outside drowning out the country night sounds.

Like all movies, the advertisements stopped and King Kong went on to terrorize other little girls. And although it might be interesting to see how special effects have improved in showing errant apes, this is one movie I can do without. Besides, King Kong just might decide to swim Lake Geneva and show up outside my window in Corsier ready to carry me off to the Eiffel Tower.

Ghana Skiers and Dreams

Jamaica had a bob sled team…now Ghana has a skiing team, albeit it of one man. Although he started skiing late, an Italian town is putting him up free so he can pursue his dream. A friend of mine would say, “HOW GOOD IS THAT?” I’d say real good.

Over the years I’ve pursued lots of dreams, some with better results than others, some that came true far later than my hopes. I had the daughter I always wanted. Some dreams tumbled and broke irreparably. My marriage to a man I adored died leaving me in lots of pieces, but friends held the glue pot for me to put myself back together. Time taught me that the fracture of that dream opened the way to others from my childhood: writing books and newspaper articles, living overseas and speaking other languages. Sometimes it is good NOT to get your dreams or to have them for only a short time.

Somewhere I learned along the way that it is not achieving the dream that is important but the way to making the dream a reality.

So I’m thinking of the Ghanaian in Italy, who is probably zooming down the slopes as I write this on the train from Payerne to Geneva. I hope he will be able to ski in the Olympics. Although he has been told he has no chance to win, his dream of being there will fulfill his dream. How good is that?

Friday, January 06, 2006

Tram Panic

On the way to Plain Palais the Tram made its normal stop at Stand right outside the restaurant La Truffe Noire where if I were easily embarrassed I would have died at a dinner several years ago. The owner showed me the box of truffles one of which would be included inmy meal and not knowing any better I touched one. However, he didn’t take my photo and I waited long enough to go back that he had forgotten me and my faux pas.

This time I wasn’t going to the restaurant but was on my way to see a friend and to drop into say bonjour to Florian’s son.

Suddenly there was a stampede out of the bus and instead of going straight ahead the tram turned left. A bomb? A man with a gun? All the headlines that routinely put us ill at ease flashed through my mind, but not as fast as my feet moved me out.

I asked everyone standing waiting at the stop what had happened. No one knew. There is nothing in this morning’s papers. One of life’s mysteries.

Hair Cut

The last time I had my hair cut into a Catherine Zeta-Jones Chicago bob, when my hair dresser finished we looked at each other and began to Charleston. Yesterday he restored the bob that had since grown out into a Barbara Streisand or Diane Keaton page boy.

This time didn’t we Charleston around the blue twisted sculpture left over from his last exhibition. He uses the beauty shop as a gallery or the gallery as a beauty shop, I am never sure which. We had business to conduct, because I will use his place to do my first Geneva Reading of The Card.

Jean-Pierre with his talk of art, music, movies, the head massage that he gives, makes going to the hairdresser a joy.

A member of the last generation

IBM is the latest company to announce doing away with pensions and replacing them with the risky 401Ks (ask Enron workers what they think of 401Ks). IBM is talking about what it will save the company, but not what it will cost their employees.

I suspect, unless there is major increased action on the part of the population, my generation is the last one to enjoy any sense of security. And if the whole bubble breaks we will not be safe either.

The US population is suffering the results of the same economic ideas that the IMF and World Bank are contaminating the rest of the world with, in what the IMF calls world stabilization(?) policies that that include: privatization (read sell off of national assets: oil, gas, forests, water – or trying to privatize things like Social Security), opening capital markets (where capital more often then not flows out of the country as in Brazil and Indonesia), then comes marketing-based pricing. To get an IMF loan a country must accept these and other draconian policies.

The results for the general populace include: reduced salaries, reduced pensions, more working hours, no job stability and less employment. Look around does this seem familiar? And it isn’t always in countries like Brazil, Ecuador and Tanzania just to name three who have followed these policies that have seen the number of their poor increase and the quality of life go down as large corporations rape their natural resources when following IMF rules.

Brazil just paid off its IMF loan ahead of schedule but had to almost strip its treasury to do it. The overall movement in Latin America is away from these policies by governments that prefer to use their resources to support health, education and other quality of life payments for its citizens rather than to support stock holders of foreign corporations.

However, these same policies are being foisted on the US in the name of globilization. For those who think – there she goes raging again – look at Joseph Stiglitz, former insider and Nobel Laureate in Economics, Greg Palast, London Observer columnist or Paul Krugman.

As one of the last generation I wonder when others will wake up and realize that they are part of accepting being the screwee.

An unusual envelope

I opened the large envelope to find my mammogram, not that I can read it, but it had a letter that the results had been sent to my doctor. The mammogram was free and I will qualify for another in two years. Both in France and Switzerland my X-rays are my property so if I change doctors I can easily show my history. My friend Barbara tried to bring X-rays back to France from treatment she had received in the States only to be told despite paying for them they belonged to the medical center. I don’t know if that is the policy everywhere. Meanwhile, I wonder if I can find a pretty blue frame for the mammogram.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

CNN manipulates with a symbol

The anger of my Arab friend grew palpable in the room as CNN showed baby Noor’s spinal defects. The four-month old child is being sponsored by a Texas church to be air-lifted from Iraq for a life-saving operation in Texas. The child touched the heart of an America soldier.

My friend, whose heart melts at any child, did not want the baby to die. What bothered her was all the other children who have died, the 300,000+ in our Iraq bombings during the Clinton administration and an unknown number since March20, 2003. Those are the deaths that Madeline Albright said was worth it.

This child’s life will not eradicate all the others deaths. It made the killers of those children look like saviours.

I too was angry. I felt manipulated. I asked my daughter what would happen to all the children in the US without medical insurance with the same illness. Would a church sponsor each of their surgeries?

We won’t even go into the child defects in Iraq from the uranium bullets or unexploded cluster bombs and land mines that are still to come.

I resent that one child who is having a chance has become a symbol for children that have no chance either in Iraq or in the US.

I wish for the success of the operation for baby Noor. But she is one child saved against the deaths of too many that should never have been put in danger.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Another Taxi Ride

Another Paris cab ride, another conversation with M. Kamel, the Algerian taxi driver that has been chauffeuring me from Puteaux to Gare du Lyon or Charles de Gaulle for the past three years. Our conversations have been all over the map, but this time he called his sister so the three of us could chat together. He was also most concerned that my daughter, whom he took to the airport the day before, had reached her destination safely.

Paris is supposed to be one of those cities where everyone is anonymous. He has invited me to his house on my next Paris visit for couscous.

Somewhere there is a short story in all this.

Photo phones

Standing in front of the St. Michel fountain, just down the road a piece from Notre Dame with Llara as we waited for our hostess, I noticed that there were thousands (okay maybe 20) cell phones in the air. I suspect that Llara and I are will be in hundreds of photos snapped by the phones. The same thing happened at the Florian Pagny concert as he wandered through the audience. Phones replaced swaying lighters.

The photo taking is replacing the endless chats on phones. BBC did a program on the citizen reporters. They have used the cell phone photos on every breaking story. They also reported that Americans are not using the technology as much, but I haven’t been there to verify.

My phone is so old that it doesn’t even text. I can’t play games, It hasn’t got email. Maybe someday I will replace it, but I still have a love-hate relationship with it. I only want to use it when I am lost, late, or need a taxi. I don’t want people calling me on it.

The photo aspect is nice IF one liked taking photos. I seldom think to take photos at all and I don’t miss them. In fact I haven’t even bothered to download some I took well over two years ago. This goes back to my stint as a cub reporter/photographer at 16 when I had an old fahioned Graphflex that was 25% of my body weight. Because it was so heavy most photos had motion because I couldn't hold the camera still. And we won't mention the time I asked James Garner to light a match so I could take his picture. That one came out really terribly.

However, I even if I don’t want to use it, the technology is wonderful.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

It's over

Quiet has descended on the small Parisian apartment where I spent the holidays. Everyone has gone: my hostess to the hospital where she has a 24-hour guard and as I write this I imagine my daughter at Charles de Gaulle waiting for the boarding call to take her back to Virginia.

Tomorrow I leave for Geneva where I have a full schedule of writing and catching up on unfinished business. Florian and I have social plans for the next few weeks.

The last few days have been like a continuous pajama party in this small apartment overlooking red tiled Parisian roofs. Although we did some sight-seeing and have had a couple of good meals in restaurants including my beloved Le Train Bleu and a favourite vegetarian restaurant, we also spent time in looking at the falling snow and watching movies. I finally saw Shrek I and our hostess was able to see both I and II. Llara "pulled a Robbert" and couldn't walk by the Virgin shop without looking over the DVDs and CDs.

Llara continued her tradition of coming to Europe for a good haircut, much more jet setty than she is in reality.

Time was suspended as we all escaped for a few days from our regular schedules that are too cram packed. In a way it is a renewal before we throw ourselves back into our lives where we aren’t able to sit and drink tea and coffee on the couch or in a café as we share the secrets of our lives.

The Christmas tree will be thrown out, the decorations put away, the days will grow longer. Life will begin again.