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.