Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year

The forced gaiety of New Year’s Eve has never been appealing to me. In fact it is a holiday that I prefer forgetting by going to bed in one year and waking up in the next. For me the year really changed at the Solstice and the bringing in of the tree.

This year I had planned to be in Argelès but having been felled by the flu I found myself in bed from Christmas night on. The only good thing I can say for the flu it waited until the last guest had left, the last present opened, and the last dish tucked into the dish washer before it hit. The amount of energy after being in bed for the week made the simple act of taking a shower equivalent to an 18-hour work day. Slowly I was becoming more functional able to get my own medicine and food even if it was exhausting.

My lovely housemate had taken my ticket to the train station and brought back the refund at least allowing me the pleasure of knowing money hadn’t been thrown away. She then took off for the UK guilt-free as she should be to spend the holiday with friends, knowing that I was now able to take care of myself.

Feeling better allowed me to at least catch up on my credit union newsletter work www.cunewswire.com

As evening was nigh as the song says, the young man of the house who is planning to go out for the evening decided we should have a mini New Years Eve before he left. Out came fois gras, salmon and champagne. The pretty poinsettia napkins were laid beside plates. Toast popped from the toaster. We had a special salt left from Christmas that combined Merlot wine with sea salt turning it purple. Lemons were cut.

And for a precious hour we sat and talked.This is a New Years Eve without the forced gaiety. It is one that will be special and I am smiling as I prepare for bed to sleep into the next year and he is getting ready to head for the Veille Ville.

Something is missing but isn't

One of my favourite bloggers wrote of her Christmas with her husband and children saying because she was so far away from home that something or more important several someones seemed to be missing.

She is right.

Years ago I discovered that Christmas carries the past with it, not just one holiday but them all. I tripped over the discovery when I was emailing to a friend in the States as she was decorating her tree and we were sharing memories of annual tree trimmings at her parents’ house followed by a take-away Chinese dinner. Although they were deceased, they were there with her and, despite an ocean’s separation, with me.

Each year, although it broke in childhood, the pink Venetian glass bird’s nest nestled in gold mesh is silently put on my tree in memory. My grandmother, Dar, who died shortly after my daughter was born, is there in her apron and housedresses admiring the decorations each year before she goes to baste a turkey.

My step-mom’s father Jack, rushes upstairs to get the jar of pennies for the poker game with my aunts and uncles, a tradition in my father’s house, although I suspect if there is a heaven they are up there playing with Jack winning as he chews on his stogey.

Somewhere nearby is the green and white ring thing, a kazoo that my ex-husband bought and drove me crazy with hints and even if our marriage ended badly, it wasn’t so bad that some good memories don’t come in.

Also present from a year long ago is the gingerbread house we made, or the year that Nikki the German Shepherd ate its corner. The house had gone throuhg several Christmases. In fact that first year sugar was expensive and money was tight, so it was not entirely decorated. Each year thereafter new decorations were added. Nikki’s snack made it the first year the house was decreased.

And it is the people still living that are far away that shared past Christmases that are also missing and with me at the same time.

So my young friend is right, something or someone is missing, always missing. Her girls are too young to know that yet.

The secret is to realise how precious each minute is as we take out the past memories and let them fill the space we occupy now. Not quite as good as being able to give them a hug, or reach out and touch a hand, hear a laugh or the sound of the rum-ta-ta-tum of Sam singing Little Drummer Boy, but it will do.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Can three alpha women survive together



The table is set for an international meal as three women share preparations without a cross word.

Can three alpha females, all good cooks, survive in one kitchen and prepare a Christmas dinner? The answer is yes, and very well. Fred, the turkey, came out of the oven and fed the guests, which were German, English, American, Swiss and Syrian. Clean up was equally effective. Whoever said women can’t get along in the kitchen, never saw our team in action.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Feasting with Friends

What’s left of the profiteroles, meringues and double crème and mousse au chocolat, shared by all at the Café du Soleil.

It is Christmas Eve but the feasting within circles of friendship, began on Saturday. My Syrian friend arrived from Paris Friday night and we spent Saturday evening with our Indian friends, a reunion as well as a meal laden with all our favourite Indian dishes (especially the yoghurt coated white lentil balls).
Not that long ago we all lived on the same floor of an apartment building with lots of shared meals, cups of teas and conversations in the early evening. There were movies and events that one or the other were participating in and the others in attendance for encouragement.
We entertained each other guests with our different cuisines. Did we ever take it for granted when we could just pop up and down the hall to say hi? I doubt it, but I also miss it, which made that evening even more special for us all to be together.
Then on Sunday, there was a Syrian feast chez moi and my house mates. I am used to these meals my friend prepares, but for my housemates it was rare. Two hours after the dishes had only small amounts of tabuli, cheese pies, and scraps of fish almost too little to even interest the cat, we were still at the table, talking about everything from art, to literature, from poison to the meaning of life. Age wise we represented four different decades of life lending yet another dimension.
Sunday night found us at the Café du Soleil with two of my Syrian friend’s friends, whom I also know and care about. How can anyone who has used the Café du Soleil as a treat, come back to Geneva without stopping there? The answer for us is no way.
Despite or maybe because of ordering one less portion of fondue than mouths to eat it, we decided on dessert.
But which one? The perfect solution was to order the three favourites and all share. Now that’s having your cake, or maybe your profiteroles, mouse and meringues and eating them too. Here too the conversation was lively in three languages: English French and Arabic.
Christmas Eve will arrive in just a short time. We are having people in. The shrimp and smoked salmon are ready. The champagne is on ice.
Tomorrow we still aren’t sure of the headcount but the mix of nationalities will cut a swarth across the planet: American, Swiss, English, Turk, Syrian and who knows what else. The turkey, the one not used at Thanksgiving is almost thawed. The Bell’s seasoning mixed that my daughter brought when she visited last month, will get used. We’ll eat in the winter garden with the carved chess pieces watching…
It has been a long time since I have had a traditional Christmas dinner and even longer since I have had one in a place I live. And that is another gift, one most precious.

What is it about George Clooney

I give up. I can’t figure out what makes 99% of the female population of the planet with access to movies or television drool over George Clooney. And I am part of that 99%.
The Geneva Gare Cornavin has posters of his Omega ad in strategic places and I’ve observed more than one female slow their pace, and cock their heads. Even women coming from the opposite direction will turn around and walk backwards a couple of steps.
On the way into the movies, the woman in front of me said to her friend, “I hope they show the Clooney ad.” The full length Nespresso ad has been running in many of the theatres, probably half advertising revenues and half a present to female customers.
See: www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8RtUJwLl-s&feature=related
Although he is good looking, good looks and Hollywood actors are not a rare combination. Watching the rolling credits of Michael Clayton with the close up of his face, I can see he is aging, but well. His eyes aren’t identical. I prefer blue eyes to brown. Nothing there answers the questions what it is about him…
But then again, when he appears on a talk show he appears intelligent, funny and fun loving. That he could mourn the passing of his pet pig makes him sympathetic. That he takes a stance on political issues such a Dafur or does films like Good Night and Good Luck mark him as more than a pretty face.
Year ago when John Kennedy was still a Massachusetts senator he rode by in a Fourth of July Parade in Wakefield MA and despite being from a fanatic Republican family I felt as if I were drawn into his car. A friend, who saw Bill Clinton ride by and waved, said she felt pulled into him. People call it charisma, but no one has yet to define it for Clooney or anyone.
I would love to meet Clooney, believe it or not, to talk to. I want to ask him how it feels to be such a sex symbol. But I also want to ask him about Syriana, his writing, his political work. My only problem, should that happen, I would spoil my questions when drool made my chin look shiny.

Friday, December 21, 2007

We have the cleanest groceries in Corsier

Because my housemate has normal standards of cleanliness, I couldn’t understand why when I entered the laundry room she was washing the groceries. I am not talking about things like lettuce or carrots, but packages of coffee, boxes of juice and rolled up NEW garbage bags.
Slowly the story came up. The plastic bag with the laundry detergent had sprung a leak, leaving the shopping bag filled with detergent. She was trying to save everything, although she was grateful that it hadn’t been food. As she told me this, the suds ran off one more juice box. She then laid it with the rest on a towel to dry.
There is trail, a narrow drip of soap between the car and front door, and we are wondering if we’ll have a sudsy driveway during the next rain.
There are no bets on how long it will take for the trunk to stop smelling like a Laundromat.

Sadness and happiness on the shortest day


The sun went into hiding on this the shortest day of the year. Not only are the mountains invisible, but half the lake is enveloped in mist. The boats near the shore look like they are suspended in air with no line of demarcation between the grey lake and the grey sky.

I have bought my tree (shown in the photo) as the dark half of the year gives way to the light half. For centuries many cultures and religions have celebrated the return to light. Under the old calendar, the longest day fell on 24 December. The Romans celebrated Saturnalia for an entire week.
The celebration’s name doesn’t really matter to me. I have my tree.
Granted, it is a tiny tree, but it is real, and hopefully it will survive to find a place in the garden in the spring.
Downstairs is an artificial tree that is beautifully decorated, its lights warming the ambience of the room.
But, still I don’t really feel like I have had a true Christmas unless there’s a real tree. Some years a wreath has been a substitute. Last year we didn’t have anything because my Mom doesn’t bother anymore.

Now that the tree is in I can enjoy the rest of Christmas week activities.

I chose to celebrate the day with mundance chores and with slowness that let me appreciate the time I have and the winter solstice deserves.
As I rode downtown on the bus, the trees in the Christmas tree marché along the quai were thinning out. Above them were the masts of boats, which the trees hid, making the masts look like strange parts of the tree.

As Jean-Pierre cut my hair, I noticed a woman in the apartment across the street sitting in a window. I showed him. “She does that a lot,” he said leading me to the sink for a shampoo and a good ten-minute head message.

She was gone when we went back to the cutting place. I pointed it out.

“She’s gone for a cigarette,” he told me. And he was right. She returned and I could see her hand go up and down to her mouth.

I ran the last of my errands and decided to eat downtown. As tempting as the salmon in tarragon sauce at La Verandra was, I opted for sushi at Mikado. I will be heading back to Argelès on the 28th and sushi will become rare. Salmon will not be.

Many of the small shop windows were posting their closing hours, including all the days between Christmas and New Years. It is what I love about Geneva at Christmas—the sense of total downtime. Not only do many offices (not the multi-nationals, department stores, hotels) close, but so do many of the restaurants. Today Le Bleu Matin, the daily give away paper published its last issue until 4 January. I may never find out what is error number 7 in the two drawings where you have to figure out what the differences are. 1-6 were easy.

A lot of people here take the two weeks off getting the most time off for the least used holiday.*

Back home I looked at www.revels.org (which I loved to attend when I lived in Boston. It too celebrated the Solstice) only to discover that Revels founder John Langstaff who led us from the auditorium into the main hall of Sanders Theatre, which looked medieval as we all sang Lord of the Dance had passed away at 84. I click so I can listen to him sing one last time. He died here in Switzerland. Here is NPR’s tribute. www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5055415 I learned he was born on 24 December and somehow learning of his death on the darkest day of the year, is indeed fitting.

Later tonight I will go to the train station, pick up my friend from Paris and the week of celebrations, of seeing friends, of sharing dinners, will begin…except it already has begun for me with one small tree.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A shop free 2008




¨
These photos of candy and the gingerbread bears have nothing to do with the blog topic. I just love the colours in the photos.

After writing my blog a couple of days ago about what I planned to buy in 2008 I decided to take it further. In 2008 I will not only buy nothing but the three items mentioned, I will try not to bring one new thing into my homes. Nothing, nada…not a paper clip, not a note pad, not a magazine, not a newspaper. I want to make it a totally shop free year. What is different from the earlier blog, is the degree of commitment to a shop-free 2008.

There was a family who did that a while back and wrote a book about it, but they also gave up restaurant eating and movies. I still plan to eat at a restaurant and will buy transportation tickets and maybe even a movie ticket now and then plus travel tickets. Likewise I am not planning to starve over the coming year. And if my computer breaks down, I will need to keep the tools of my trade. And if say my toilet refuses to flush, once again, as it is wont to do, I would certainly replace the innards, but since I think that I have all that I need (except for the three items mentioned earlier)

Hopefully I can discourage people from giving me things as well, without sounding ungracious.

However, maybe the photos do have a connection, because I did think about buying one of the teddy bears, but then I realised, I would never eat it all. The candy strings were easier to resist, because I like the colour, but not the taste.

Now the only thing left to decide, should I take photos of what I don’t buy????

Riding the rails


I don’t care if it’s the German Ice, the French TGV or the Swiss double deckers, I love riding on trains. They are sleek, beautiful and comfortable.
As soon as I got back to Geneva last October I renewed my three year pass for 350 CHF which is good for three years. All trips are 50% off, with two years and nine months left to go I am already 122 CHF ahead. The pass is also good for boats, bus daily tickets and cable cars. I also renewed my French old person’s pass which was 83 CHF and when I bought my ticket to go to Paris, it had already paid for itself.

But it is not just the savings. This time on the way to Frankfort, I met a young man with his 11 month old son, on their way to visit the mother/grandmother. Often on trains to chat, the first thing to determine is which language is best. He was German mother tongue, and although during my trip to Frankfort I was able to make myself understood—barely—we ended up in French then English. Before I changed trains in Bern, we were exchanging books we thought the other would like as his son slept peacefully.

Besides not adding car pollution to the environment, in a train you can read, sleep, eat (how many cars have restaurants?) or as in the case of this trip meet interesting people to chat with?

The German Christmas Market




My cousin’s email said they were coming to Europe. Her professional photographer husband was shooting Christmas markets in Austrian, Czech and German cities. Was there even a remote chance we might meet up? To me it was only when and where. Checking the airlines and train schedules, led to Frankfort being the chosen place.

I stumbled on my first German Christmas Market as new bride. I had arrived in Stuttgart only the month before. My mother, over-protected me, not even allowing me to venture into Boston with people, much less alone, and I now I was wandering around a foreign city unable to speak the language.

In the square in front of Breuniger’s Department store I meandered into a fairyland of tiny chalets rich with the smells of bratwurst and glug wine. Tiny Christmas decorations, hand made gifts abounded, not that I could afford any of them. In fact that year, I used my safety pin collection along with my bright large hair rollers to fashion the only Christmas tree would have.
I’ve spent many Christmases with these cousins in Augsburg, Boston and Garmish where the living room window looked over the Olympic ski slope and a walk up the mountain was a rule for apfel strudel as we waited for the turkey to cook.

We wandered to Romer Platz where Goethe, if he were alive today, might recognize the buildings (even if they have been reconstructed since they were destroyed during WWII, because the town fathers still had the original plans).

All the old familiar smells of bratwurst and glug wine were there along with popcorn and the caramelly scent of cotton candy, but tacos were also on the menu, certainly a new item. A moose head adorned one chalet roof. His mouth moved as he sang in German Have a holly jolly Christmas.

The delicate decorations, the gingerbread hearts, music, carousels all brought memories. Since this was my cousins’ seventh market in two weeks, they were almost marketed out, but as they said, each market has its own ambience.

At one point, chilled, we broke for lunch, a mushroom soup and hot apfelwine, more conversation sitting on benches along long wooden tables. The restaurant could have been a scene from any movie but rather it was a walk down memory lane as well as creating new memories.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My 2008 planned shopping spree

In the photo are ALL the things I plan to buy next year, excluding food and train, bus, plane or movie tickets as needed. And of course gifts, but slowly, I am converting my friends to the idea of giving to charity or letting me give to their favourite charity.

After 20 years, my boots are almost ready to be retired. I’ve seen the type I want and will pick them up in the January sales. These boots have done a lot of walking in the US, UK, Scotland, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Spain. They have slogged through the rain and snow and also on dry pavements on sunny days. They’ve lived in Boston, Toulouse, Môtiers, Payerne, Geneva and Argelès. They’ve been shined up to be dressy and mud caked when the spring thaw comes and when there’s no sensible alternative but to plow through a meadow coming alive with flowers.

The pen has written lists, poems, ideas for short stories, checks (but only in the US and France—Switzerland doesn’t use checks), notes and from time to time it has even done a rough sketch. I bought it for its rich dark blue that reminds me of an iridescent midnight and love the way it feels in my hand. But for some reason, it no longer lets the ink flow, although I’ve changed the cartridge. When I go to France, I will go to the stationary store and find a new pen. Maybe this time I will buy a multi-coloured one, or a ruby red one to match my birthstone. I will know it when I see it. I only want only one pen, one that is special one that will be with me a long, long, long time. Pens that transmit my ideas and thoughts must not be selected lightly.

The agenda is a student’s agenda running from September to August. I used to keep the information on line, but most of the additions to it were done when I was with people and I sometimes forgot to update when I was home again. This agenda I like for its coloured pages. I will not have to buy one until the end of the year because I was given an agenda in soft brown leather, which will carry me through until the end of the year.

I have everything else I want and need including enough paper. I have one pencil. I have more than enough clothes that I love. I even suspect because my pantyhose last so long, spring will come long before they need to be replaced. There is still the possibility I may get one or two more years out of them.

Of course if my computer or an appliance breaks down, I will have to replace it. If a light bulb stops lighting, I will buy a new light bulb, but I look forward to a shop-free year in 2008. I may also need batteries for my camera, but then again I can recharge the ones I have.
Although I am a writer and appreciate the need to buy books, the library supplies 99% of my reading needs when it comes to books. The internet matches 100% when it comes to newspapers and magazines.

And then again, maybe I will take the boots to the cobblers for new soles. Maybe the toes will be able to have taps put on them where they are beginning to wear. In a way I feel if I replace them it is like a wife deserting a loyal husband for a flashy new man.

Tis that time of year


As the song says, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” Or maybe I should say, look, smell and sound a lot like Christmas.

When I come in from the cold I’m greeted by chocolatey smells from my housemate’s mega cookiethon and the The Little Drummer Boy “da da-da dums” from the CD-Player on the kitchen table.

The tree is half decorated in the living room and the candle, longer and thicker than my forearm, is surrounded by pine cones on the coffee table.
It is dark earlier and earlier as we head to the longest night when I will bring in a piece of evergreen to honour the year that is dying and to welcome the year to come.
Outside the wind is blowing, but inside, inside...well inside it is warm.

A different Christmas tale


Guest at the Montbrillant Hotel: Operator, help. There’s a dirty old man peeking in my window.

Concierge: Hello, Geneva police. We have a potential break in at the Montbrillant or at best a peeping tom.
(Sirens. Police car pulls up on the side walk. Policeman 1 shades his eyes to see a man in a red suit hanging from a window.)
Policeman 2: Hey you.”

Man in Red Suit: Me?

Policeman 2: Ya you. Get down.
(Man in red suit drops to roof where there is sleigh with reindeer.)

Man in Red Suit. Not again. (he pats a reindeer) Look, all I was doing was bringing presents to good little girls and boys. This hotel doesn't have a chimney.

Policeman 1: (Examines the contents of the sleigh. He has to jump aside when one of the reindeer gives a kick). Hey watch out. (He opens a package. It is filled with towels marked with the hotel logo. Another package is jewellery.) What about this?

Man in Red Suit: It’s for the hotel. It’s their Christmas present.
Policeman 2: Then how come they’re dirty?

(Policeman 1 continues to empty boxes with jewellery, wallets, a couple of fur coats with people’s names in them.

Man in Red Suit: Goodness, gracious me, I must speak to my elves.

Policeman 2: Tell you what, you can call them from the station.

(They handcuff him and pull him away.)

Donder Reindeer: I told him it wouldn’t work, but would he listen. Oh No.

Angels in a store window


For Rose

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

www.storyofstuff.com/index.html

Before you buy another thing listen to this video and realise the real price of things. Make every one of your children watch it. And think about it everytime you go into a store.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Remembering Uncle Archer

What does knitting while colouring my hair and listening to Karen Akers sing about relationships have to do with my Uncle Archer, dead at least 40 years? If I were being literary I would say stream of consciousness, because when she sang about the good and bad, I couldn’t help but think of him with Auntie Maud and one memory flowed into another.

The woman could not sit on our porch without his brushing off imaginary dirt before her bottom touched down, nor could I forget his rushing upstairs to get her sweater before the temperature thought of dropping.

They were a couple in every sense of the word, and he loved her in a way that I have never been loved by a man.

Thank God.

Admittedly, when I list my successes male/female relationships will not be there, and had a man ever been so smothering one of us would not have survived. Yet he was a good man, and the relationship must have worked for them, although Auntie Maud would shrug off the sweater when he wasn’t looking.

Uncle Archer, Charles Archer Stockbridge, if you use his whole name, was a fussbudget and Dar’s (my grandmother’s) older brother. He was born between Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays in the 1880s. They were devoted. Although he lived in New Jersey, he called her every Sunday using his complimentary AT&T privileges as an executive. She was as regular as he was in sending him penuche and dates stuffed with hard sauce for his birthday.

Twice a year he and Auntie Maud would drive up in his Buick, always black, always spotless. We, my brother and I, dreaded his visits for we had to be on our best behaviour. Dar wanted us to outshine his two grandchildren Joanie and Cynthia, both older than I was. Not that we were bad children, but we had to be extra good and not complain about our routine being upset.
Before he came, Dar bustled around making the house spotless, buying the white eggs and type of toilet tissue that he liked. And if we were really good we could go to the restaurant he loved in nearby Wakefield so he could eat friend clams. I was more impressed with the tomato juice seasoned with a slice of lemon as I tried to make sure I kept my hand in the lap except when I wiped my lips before each sip with the stiff-starched linen napkin.

Whether it is memory or stream of consciousness, I can picture him sitting next to Auntie Maud on the porch after the dishes were done, her white hair in a bun a contrast to his bald head. She would be talking about kittens and their pansy faces, or some other pleasant topic. My brother and I might be catching fireflies or doing anything in the pine grove out front so we wouldn’t have to sit still.

She died first and with her went his will to live.

Even my writer’s imagination cannot comprehend the devotion of their couple and only with hindsight can I appreciate it and him without the understanding. And by the time I thought all that, it was time to wash the colour out of my hair.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Of penguins at exhibitions


Ever since my late uncle and I exchanged penguin jokes, and I asked people to look for penguin items for me to use to tease him, people have continued to give me penguin stuff assuming I was the collector. Thus the perception became reality. My daughter has been the most original in finding unique penquins, everything from penguin PJs to salt and pepper shakers and pens.

This will seem like a diversion in topic but it isn’t. My baked bean/cassoulet friend kept telling me I had to go see the glass exhibit at the Ariana Museum by the artist Marcoville. This museum is a palace next to the UN and features ceramics. When my New York friend came to visit it seemed like a perfect time to go.

Sadly my camera batteries gave out before I could snap all the photos that I wanted to take. One of the creations was a floor to ceiling at least foot thick school of tiny individual clear glass fish that tinkled as a soft breeze from a nearby fan caressed them. To add depth a few of the fish were dark.

Walking through the exhibition with its life sized trees was like magic followed by the giggles produced when we discovered the overly nippled cancan dancers (see web sites)
www.ville-ge.ch/mah/index.php?content=8.2.1.1.1.1.&id_eve=227&langue=frs
www.musee-ceramique-sevres.fr/documents/mnc_t7_DP_Marcoville.PDF

What has this got to do with penguins? Well Marcoville, the artist, also had a glass penguin sculpture and that photo I snapped right before the batteries died. If you look closely you can see some of the fish that escaped from the school to help you imagine the number of fish. The sculpture might look good with the other penguins that I own, assuming of course I had larger living quarters, assuming that I would be able to lift the glass without cutting myself and assuming I could take it home on the tram and assuming that I did not get stopped by the guards. Anyone who visits the exhibition will find the penguins in place. Just too many assumptions.

Rainy days and Mondays

I know the song lyrics are “rainy days and Mondays always get me down,” but as I look out my window at the rainy, leaf-strewn driveway and street this Monday neither the weather nor the day get me down. I am cozy with my cups of tea (and a homemade brownie or two), my writing, and Munchkin, who now that Llara has returned to the States has agreed to honour my room with her presence again.

I’ve a good mystery and some student writing. My slippers keep my feet toasty. The sweater I am wearing I bought on a memorable long weekend in Scotland where more than one adorable redhead offered to give my daughter a “wee” bit of help with directions. Not only that I’ve paid my bills (including stamping the envelopes), voted in the latest Swiss election and the ballot is with the other envelopes ready to go when I decide I might want to stick my head out the door, which will probably be tomorrow. Rainy days and Tuesdays are okay too…

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Marzipan veggies and visitors


The windows of the chocolateries are filled with marmites, soup-cauldron-shaped black and milk chocolate imprinted with the canton seal and filled with multi-coloured marzipan carrots, pea pods and other veggies. The date 1602 is imprinted on all, while some may have ladders. The marmites are part of the Escalade, the celebration that honours Mère Royaume pouring hot vegetable soup on top of the French trying to scale the wall of the old city giving her enough time to roust the soldiers, who went on to defeat the French.


The celebration is held on two consecutive weekends: This weekend was the marathon with 27,500 runners who pound the cobblestone streets as crowds and bands cheered them on their way. Vendors sold hot-spiced win and vegetable soup to the watchers, who stamped their feet to keep warm.


Next week will be the real celebration when the streets will return to 1602 as citizens parade in costumers of the period, horse clip-clop by carrying armoured soldiers. Children, in costume, more reminiscent of Halloween than 1602 (Calvin is probably turning in his grave at the frivolity) sing the Escalade song.

The festive air countered the grey skies, but this year a grey November was unimportant. My daughter spent 10 days on this side of the Atlantic in a super visit that was a reward for every worry I ever had while raising her and a reminder of why I really, really, really like her. And although I was sad to see her return to the US, my attention was immediately distracted by the arrival of a friend from New York.

Ours is as unlikely friendship. Someone who knew us both closely might wonder if it would be possible for a Bush-voting, labour-union derider, shopping lover could be good friends with a labour-union supporter, shopping phobic person who believes that Bush should be tried for war crimes and sentenced to the smallest cell in Gitmo. Well as Banderas sings in Evita… “The answer is yes.”
Sometimes I suspect we think of each other as some kind of exotic creatures with such different lives. But it is not where we differ that brings us close, although it is certainly fodder for fascinating discussions. It is where we are the same: mothers, career women, single women, women with a sense of humour, animal lovers, and the ability to celebrate the similarities and respect the differences. We dip regularly into each others lives, although she has made one or two visits for several years either to Geneva or to Argelès, so I feel as if I know her family and friends as much as if I were sitting in the living room I have never seen sharing a cup of tea.

For the second time in less than a week, a taxi pulled into the driveway this morning to carry someone I care about back to their normal life, leaving me with my normal life. But because of the internet and because of the good will away is not like in the time of the First Escalade in 1602 when a letter exchange could take six months or more. Now these people are just on the other side of my keyboard, sometime exchanges are in seconds sometimes in hours, but they are there.

I wonder what Mère Royaume would have thought about that.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Where is she?

I am a dog person, but there’ve been cats in my life I’ve adored. My daughter, Llara, is a cat person, who sometimes likes dogs. In her early teens she asked for a puppy. Amadeus, a cocky little Japanese chin, joined our entourage, and my daughter was a good puppy mom.

Notice. Puppy mom.

When he became a full-fledged dog, she gave him to me, saying she wanted a puppy, not a dog. I debated giving them both away, but kept them and they both brought me pleasure.
When Llara’s cats, Morgana and the Lady Guinevere, moved to Geneva I did find myself becoming fond of them definitely enjoying their antics.

When I started sharing a house, it came with a cat Munchkin, who I quickly put into my extreme affection category (don’t want to use the l-word). Thus with my housemate in another country, I was horrified when Munchkin dragged herself home the victim of either a car accident or a hefty kick from one of the local horses.

For days we (including the vet) didn’t know if she was going to buy a one way ticket to the big catnip factory in the sky. Her back legs weren’t working correctly, her desire to eat non existent. But somehow she must have sensed if she didn’t respond she might not get a chance and we were able to bring her home and set the foyer up as a kitty hospital. She improved and was given the run of the house, but still kept inside.

Enter, one daughter on vacation from the D.C. job

If this were a romantic movie, I swear violins would have played and Munchkin would have run in slow motion to the new love of her life. She decided to sleep with my daughter. If my daughter went upstairs to watch TV, Munchkin went up stairs declaring my daughter’s desire to do needlework while watching the reruns of programs she’d seen when she lived here, certainly was not as important as holding a purr machine. If my daughter went to the kitchen, Munchkin followed. We started joking about my daughter’s grey and white fuzzy tumour.

Today Llara flew to the UK for a 24-hour look-see carrying her overnight case. With all the comings and goings in this house, suitcases of all sizes as a prelude to a disappearing person are a regular facet of the cat's life life. Munchkin came yowling into my room. I assumed she wanted breakfast, but instead of leading me downstairs she went to my daughter’s bed, jumped onto it and yowled again.

A good part of the morning she has been looking out the window, I suspect waiting for Llara’s return. I haven’t the heart to tell her that when Llara does come back, it will be only for a couple of days.

And when my housemate returns I think I want to talk to her about suing my daughter for alienation of affections (cat variety).

Friday, November 23, 2007

Bejart has joined the stars

And that was the way the death of the choreographer was announced in Bleu Matin, another in the long line of poetic ways to announce that a person has died.

I only saw one of his dances in person in Lausanne but caught several on ARTE. Although I was never a fan of modern dance, preferring the traditional tutu with swans and princes to what a former neighbour called dancers acting as mops rolling around the stage, Bejart’s work was always intriguing and never lasted long enough. There was always a sadness when the performance was over.

However, the Tribune de Genéve had a strange cartoon. Bejart was sitting opposite a desk from St. Peter who demanded identification. On the drawer was a wanted poster of Lucifer who resembled Bejart.

Still, how much more interesting is Bejart has joined the stars to Bejart Dead at 80. And the fact that he worked in something he loved until the week before he died is a model on how I would like to live my life, so whether the headline reads dead or joined the star, he gave one hell of a performance, and I am sad it is over.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Modes of Communication

Elizabeth Somebody or Other said having a child is like watching your heart walk around outside your body. Well my heart is now in the next room, rather than in DC. An almost ten-day visit (with a quick UK break) is truly something to be thankful for in a country that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving as a day. I celebrate it as a way of life, having been given so very, very much.

I once published a poem where I said my daughter was 30, we’ve had 28 wonderful years, 5 and 13 are best forgotten. I can update that to: she is 38, we have had 35 wonderful years with 5, 13, and 36 best forgotten, still an overall good record.

Although my daughter and I talk almost daily over email, sharing the big and little stuff, I doubt if we would be laughing as much these few days if we hadn’t had good communication during most of our shared lives.

And it doesn’t just apply to my daughter. There are several friends I’m in almost daily contact with as we check out what is happening, sharing, sharing, sharing the details that give colour and music to our lives.

The subjects are as varied as the people. Be it my poet friend in Texas, whom I’ve never met but have talked to almost daily for the last 11 years, my baked bean and cassoulet friend who is often on another continent and sometimes across the table from me in misc. countries, my former Chaucer prof, my political friends, or my New York friend who pops across the ocean regularly, communication is important to maintain open lines.

There are others where there is a flurry of conversations, emails or visits when something important or interesting is happening and silence in between, which works well for the level of friendship that we have. And with some I’ve learned to respond to, but seldom initiate, especially if after most of my initiations there are neither answers nor origination of communications. Perhaps others do the same to me and that is all right, because it is impossible to maintain hundreds of close relationships. Friendship levels vary too.

This time together with my daughter, with us eating at her favourite restaurants, showing each other different databases, visiting mutual friends in Geneva, pointing out the changes in the city since she moved back to the US, teasing about how the cat suddenly deserted me for her becoming a grey and white fuzzy tumour attached to my daughter’s body, watching Commissar Rex together…It is all a reinforcement of what has been good in our overlapping lives as adults.

When I first moved to Switzerland, I was thrilled when I received a letter albeit not in one of the mailboxes in the picture (and I still do correspond with an old boss who is now in prison, but that is another story). Then faxes became the mode. Then emailing, Skyping, or messaging.And although I wish my daughter were still in Europe, I am thankful as we approach Thanksgiving how many modes of communication are open to us to maintain that contact that carried us through the good and (the minimal) bad times.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Six kitchens, two states, three countries

As we sat there in the villa, friends from three decades who don’t see each other often enough, it hit me that we have had wonderful discussions over wonderful food in six kitchens (Boston MA, Jamaica Plain MA, Portland ME, Waldenboro ME, Geneva, Switzerland) and now we were together again in Collodi, Italy, a small village in Tuscany.
Perhaps we are wiser, we are definitely older, our children the ages we were when we first met give or take a year.
Although we are in varying degrees of fitness, even the marathon runner among us inched her way up and down the steep grades of slippery stone walks in the medieval village to get to that house that holds the kitchen that added more wonderful meals and more wonderful conversations to our memories. These will be taken out in the future and smiled over. Because of their infrequency they are even more precious.
We passed our time, visiting local spots of interest, checking out cathedrals and piazzas, historic sites which I had only read about. Standing in the centre of Sienna, visiting the hospital from the 1300s, I had to pinch myself to believe I was really there. And when I looked at a room full of medieval musical manuscripts with delicate flowers decorating the parchment in shades of rose and blue interspersed with gold leaf. I could imagine monks labouring over them and then the book holding them, a third my height on a stand in the choir, being used by other monks whose voices rose to the top of the cathedral as they stood leaving the choir seats up with their carved backs visible. I also imagined a monk who spilled ink on a finished page and thought unholy thoughts.
And there was the pleasure of getting there, manoeuvring in a place where I did not know the language beyond simple words like spaghetti and lasagne, and the people not speaking any of the three I have a chance in understanding directions, sussing out the train system when three trains left at the time as mine was, none mentioning the destination where I was going. Victory is mine sayeth the DL when I arrived in the hugs of friendship.
But the real joy was once again finding the three of us in the kitchen with good smells coming from the stove, and just being.
(Anyone can take photos of the famous sites, but the following photos are moments that caught my eye that will bring up far more good memories of special minutes or even seconds. The haikus encapsulate the seconds of experience)

If one thing doesn't work try another

The cat sat, waited
for service that never came
Curled up, fell asleep


In the Garzoni Gardens




Black swans on black pond--
Ruffled feathers like tutus--
Always together

Thursday, November 15, 2007

W's face should be here with a long nose too



Pinocchios are
everywhere. The writer is
from here: Collodi

Olive trees




Olive harvest nets
Spread to catch the fruit. Orange
Read about. Now seen.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Snow and italy

I am packing to go to Italy tomorrow (so friends who read the next blog don't worry) and I see snowflakes outside. I add warmer socks and another sweater. I will be back on the 15th and will not be checking email until then.

the elderly woman

The elderly woman, her light brown hair standing in all directions, lay in the bed opposite mine. I was in the observation ward at the University Hospital of Geneva after once again experiencing chest pains but with no other symptoms of a heart attack. It was the fourth time in six months, and my doctor is working on the problem, but I still ended up once again running through all the tests to be told I have a healthy heart and probably the diagnosis we are working on of esophagus spasms is probably correct. Still rather than throw me out of the hospital they put me in a bed and expressed a desire to repeat some of the tests in the morning as a double-double check.

The woman was probably suffering from Parkinson’s considering her lack of muscle control and upset about the light in her eyes and a number of other things. The staff was patient with her, explaining and re-explaining, following her directions on whether to put the tea bag in the cup or in the pot of hot water, telling her that she had to keep the IV tube in. A small toy stuffed St. Bernard was clutched to her chest and she would not let go of it for anything. When the staff wasn’t there she talked to herself or to the toy Petite Precious, she had named him.

Despite her condition she maintained a certain dignity that the staff tried to honour, without giving into her orders. Sometimes she did not make sense in what she was saying, and I knew it wasn’t my French as the staff also tried to make out what she was saying.

Ready to be released and dressed, I saw her beckon to me just as I put on my coat.

“You have an accent,” she said in French.

"Oui."

"Vous êtes americaine?"

"Oui."

She indicated I should lean down so she could whisper in my ear. “Je detest W.”

She then clearly gave me a rather clear explanation of American politics, including precise events as if she were a regular reader of the alternative news sites that belied her earlier befuddlement.

"D'accord." I agree, I kept saying still amazed at the sudden coherency and knowledge.

In perfect English she wished me luck as I patted her little stuffed dog in farewell and clasped her hand.

On the bus home, I kept reviewing the conversation. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry that the betise of the current American administration had even penetrated the minds of a woman bordering on dementia.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Lie, place, date, lie place, date, lie, place, date, lie, place, date, lie, pl...

After years of jumping up and down screaming “they’re lying” it was refreshing to watch Dennis Kucinich on CSpan read out charges in his impeachment proposal against Cheney. For over twenty minutes it was lie, date, place, lie, date, place, lie, date, place, lie, date, place, lie, date, place…
Of course the fact that the closest step to impeachment did not make all the headlines of every major newspaper in the country in the same way the chronicled every nanosecond of the move towards impeaching Clinton only reinforces how far from reality the United States Corporationcy is in media presentation. Will it come about, the impeachment? I doubt enough people have the courage to point out that high crimes and misdemeanors include lying the country into the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, throwing the Mid East into even greater turmoil and creating a national debt beyond the imagination of people able to count the zeroes, to do anything about it, but one man and the 28 co-signers tried.
And while I was on the C-span site watching Sarkozy’s speech made me suspect he did a focus group prior saying all the things that Americans love to hear about how we saved France and his nation’s gratitude. However, to give the devil his due, he did mention climate change and fiscal responsibility two subjects this current administration has only passing knowledge of…the know it but pass on the devastating results of both.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Haiku to Sunflowers



Sunflowers: all gone
Only the soil is left
Little clumps, big clumps

Beauty helps the soul


When ever I find myself apoplectic over the war both current and looming, mercenaries, torture, climate change, the shredding of the Constitution I find a walk helps bring me back to some sense of equilibrium.

Today’s walk was during a perfect day, a day where it forgot to be grey, a day where parents shooed their little children out of the house, saying it was too nice to be in. I could hear their voices and see them peddling their bikes.

Older children, I’m sure, were staring out classroom windows, waiting for freedom. School runs later in the day here, but I was already free, walking with my face in the sun to the next village. I wanted to see the flowers at the crosswalk and those spilling out of our favourite restaurant.

There is something so simple in the flowers, but the idea of beautifying a cross walk, although so simple, can add so much to the environment and goes a long way towards healing a soul battered by the insanity of our times.

Left behind

Despite the harvest being in, on the last vine of the last row on the vineyard up the street, a bunch of grapes still was suspended. No way will anyone come for it now. The rest of the vendage is already in vats, fermenting into the wines that will go with meals in a couple of years.

If grapes could think, would they have felt like children who were never chosen to be on anyone’s team in kickball? Or are they happy they escaped their fate, having hidden in the leaves as the pickers came closer and closer? If they could feel lonliness did they regret all their kindred were gone, no longer there to discuss the sun, the wind or to worry about hail storm? Maybe they were proud to be different, the only ones to have survived?

I know grapes don’t think, don’t feel, but people do, and those that are left behind by choice or by circumstances do have these feelings. And like Robert Frost's poem about the road not taken, there is always the thought, what would if happened if...

Now they put it up

Heading back to the house, I see that there is a device (I don’t know the word in French or English) that signals speed to drivers who insist on barrelling down chemin du Port at speeds that are unsafe. The only reason the speed is so low, the driver was turning into their driveway.

Having spent the last week worrying about the housecat, Munchkin, who limped home after probably running into a car (although her owner hasn’t ruled out the possibility of good horse kick) I wished it had been there earlier.
The cat is now home from the vet, set up in our equivalent of a kitty hospital in the entry way with her food, bed and litter all within in limping distance.

We are still not 100% sure this cat will make it, but she does have a good chance, although she is rumoured to be on life 10. Meanwhile may drivers might slow down. It is bad enough that they might get a cat like Munchkin or her neighbour Goose, but they could also hit a child.

And speaking of Goose, his owner said, right before I came running shortly after the accident, Goose had come running into the house crying loudly. She now thinks he may have seen the accident. Although she is Swiss, and probably never seen Lassie, maybe he was going for help for his furry friend.

Halloween and new cuisine


The wintry sky and cold lake, the yellowing leaves, shows summer is really over. The view is from the balcony.

Until about five year’s ago Halloween was unknown in Europe. Whether retailers wanted another selling opportunity or not I don’t know, but its popularity is growing. I was eating in an Ethiopian restaurant October 31st with a writer friend, several little witches swept through waving their broomsticks.

It was a first for me, both the food and the restaurant, which had been partitioned into areas marked with brush fences. We chose the menu du jour, which was served on a tray in wicker basket and flat bread that we used to scoop up the fish (with ginger and rosemary) and chicken. With my Indian friends when we eat at their home, I have mastered this technique, just like I have more or less mastered chopsticks, but there was nothing Halloweenish about the meal.

But the restaurant is a digression for Samhain or Halloween, which is supposed to be the most magical night of the year. Some type of celebration has marked this time across the centuries and across cultures.

The Celts saw Samhain as the end of the old year and the beginning of the new, when the cycle of rest would be followed by rebirth. I always thought of this time of year as the real new year, maybe because it was back to school and the time to start new projects even eating at an Ethiopian restaurant. While looking ahead, I looked back on the summer memories, but am happy to have switched from sandals to fuzzy socks, iced tea to hot. And if the leaves in Switzerland are more yellow and less red than the autumns of my childhood, they are still beautiful.

When we get a sunny day, it too is a celebration for they are rarer, and the wheel of life continues on towards the longest night of the year, bringing dark.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bear 1


Every weekday this bear sits outside a children’s clothing store, his little arm going up and down as bubbles blow out on the street. Sometimes children run after them, but mostly the bubbles are ignored even when they catch the light and shiver with rainbows. Sometimes the fluid is all used up in his pail, but optimist that he is the arm, goes up and down and up and down and up and…

Bear 2

I’m a woolly bear caterpillar and I live in Corsier Por,t Switzerland. People say I am a good predictor of weather, but all I know, I want a nice place to hibernate. Okay, so because today was sunny and warm, and I decided to crawl across the grey-black path with the white stripe down the middle to the vineyard.
All of a sudden the sun went out and I saw a shadow of a monster in a black leather coat. At least she didn’t step on me, so I continued my way to the end of the sidewalk.

Whoops. I fell off the curb. That hurt.

The grey-black path looked endless, but I knew on the other side I would be able to find my winter home.

My mother had warned me about the grey-black path, talking about noisy machines with four round thingies that lived to crush little caterpillars like me, but as I always say, “Nothing ventured nothing gained.”

The monster bent down. She put a white something in front of me. I thought about going around it, but that would have been too much work so I crawled on it.

All of a sudden I was flying on a magic carpet of white. My stomach did flip flops, but it only lasted a minute until the carpet came to rest in the grass.

I sat there a moment, not sure of what happened, but the monster tipped the magic carpet and I tumbled ever so gently into the grass.

I still have no idea what happened. My friends tell me I dreamed it, but I know that this morning I was on the other side of the grey-black path, and tonight I will settle into my winter home. I call it a miracle. Now I just want to go to sleep, and when the spring sun comes, I will build the cocoon my mother told me about. She showed me the plans.

You’ll have to excuse me. I’m really sleepy.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

My favourite day

This is my favourite day of the year, the day when I am giving an extra hour. I can sleep in and still be up early. I used my extra hour to go to France to buy shampoo and olive oil, making sure that my housemate’s car gets a run thus keeping the battery alive. I wait to change the clocks until noon.
Alas, then I go back on real time and wait for night fall to come earlier, but at the same time I will wake to sunlight or at least, here in Geneva, mist light.

Friday, October 26, 2007

This blog is brought to you by the letter G




With apologies to Sesame Street.

Gris, Grau, Grey Geneva, Genève Genf all start with the letter G. We’ve entered the grey season where blue skies become rare, the Alps, and even the close by Saleve disappear in the mist. It is the time to hunker down with tea, wear fuzzy socks, read a good book or play computer games. Still it is necessary to poke one’s head out the door, and I need to get the post. Even in the mist the red of this tree with white plume plants (have no idea what the name is) had a certain ethereal beauty.


During the walk up the hill, a mother and daughter walked down the hill with two German Shepherds. Girl and German are G words too. The female growled and lurched at me. I stepped back and told her to stop. The resulting conversation was wonderful. They were from Bremen had been here a number of years. The male was an SPA find and had a thick coat. He carried a stick in his mouth and looked rather askance at the female’s misbehaviour. The female did not belong to the woman, but she was taking care of it for a friend on holiday.


We must have chatted a good ten minutes, neighbours getting to know one another.Good things can happen in grey weather. Good starts with G too.

Graffiti can be more than destruction



Although I’m not into destruction, sometimes graffiti can be interesting as is this drawing on the service box next to the vineyards on the way to the post.


Years ago, Friday night was family night, and we would all end up in Harvard Square where we would eat, catch up on whatever we didn’t have time to share during the week and load up on books. That was when Harvard Square used to be Harvard Square. The last time I was there, it was more like a shopping mall with a number of chains. However, a dogpile.com search revealed that Casablanca www.harvardsquare.com/Home/Restaurants/Casablanca.aspx is still there.


The restaurant is near the Brattle Street theatre and there hot chocolate with mint or their almond drink was wonderful, and although it was wonderful to sit there and watch people play Othello or chess, it was the graffiti that I loved. None of this Sue loves Bob. Their graffiti might say Vita Sackville-West loves Virginia Wolfe, or their would be a debate about different aspects of Stendhal. Even the opening line of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere was found once as if Longfellow was still alive and had walked from his corner around the house to lady’s room to pen his poem.


When I first arrived in Switzerland and was living in another tiny village, my landlord came to see me to tell me of a meeting at the school because of the increased delinquency. Coming from Boston, I thought drugs, metal detectors in schools, but no…the villagers were upset by two examples of graffiti on the school walls. Sadly, the graffiti has mushroomed since 1990, and not all is as clever as the example, which I am sure will be swept away by the village public words department, amusing or not.

The two book covers, two languages same novel



The German edition of my novel came. As I ripped open the package, I was curious what they would do with the cover. They had already told me the would change the name from The Card to the Christmas Card and bring it out in October to capture the Christmas trade. I trust their knowledge of the market, but I don’t like the cover as much as the American edition cover. The baby photo on the cover is almost identical to one I have of my daughter and since my teenage character Kate, although not my daughter, had the same wit and kindness of my daughter, I just was more drawn to the US cover.

Now some people will say I am crazy, but it is only the past few months I have felt like a real writer. Is that laughing I hear out there? I know I’ve wanted to be a writer since childhood. I know I made my living as a wordsmith be it in the corporate or the journalistic world. And yes I spent hours and hours creating stories and novels.

When my first book was accepted half of me thought it was a fluke. Okay, I had submitted it to at least 40 publishers, but wasn’t it just possible that the U.S. postal service paid the publisher to print it so they wouldn’t have to lug the manuscript around? And yes, my agent was able to sell it in Russia and Germany, but that could have been a fluke too.

The second novel, the one in the photo, well that could have been a demi-fluke, but by this summer when I signed the contract for my third novel, I now feel, notice the word feel, I am really a writer not someone who writes.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Comme même

Travelling on the train with my Chins always was a good conversation opener, such as what race, how old, names, etc. Now I’ve found a new opener that requires far less care on a ride than keeping dogs calm so as not to disturb others. Knitting. With four hours on a train to and from Bern, I thought this would be an excellent time to finish a sweater. People asked what I was making, for whom, etc. The questions came from men as well as women, but the nicest was a woman maybe a little younger than I am who came up and patted her blue and yellow plastic bag.

“I just bought yarn,” she said. She pulled out a skein of golden dust. “8 CHF, half price.”

My eyes widened.

She then showed me the maroon alpaca wool and explained how the gold would be used as a highlight. We talked about the relaxation of needlework. Her stop was Lausanne and she got up to leave.

“Thank you for sharing,” with me I said. Until then we’d been speaking French.

“Comme même,” she said. The same. And then in English, “You’re welcome.”

And does it really matter what is the trigger that causes one human to speak with another, to share a moment no matter how simple? The result is the same.

poetry and dessert

I was perfectly content to let the writer I was lunching with in Bern decide the place. La Loupa, she explained was owned by a man who was a musician, poet and photographer. The small basement hide-away was adorned with pastel-colored painting for the vernissage in a couple of days. The writer was greeted by several of the regulars, and as I saw later she was regular enough to go behind the counter to get her own glass of water. They talked about the upcoming Latin music night and she reserved tables.

“You must have the chocolate cake,” she told me. It arrived with three forks, a dollop of cream and cocoa sprinkled on the side. Three forks? One for her, one for me, and the third made by stencilling a fork with the cocoa. I took a photo, but for some reason it didn’t come out, which probably is good because anyone looking at it would have instant chocolate urges.

The man who served our food was trilingual: Italian, German and English. While the writer and I chatted he sat at the table next to us scribbling on a small notebook-sized piece of paper. He handed us the poem he had written in German. I could only translate enough words to understand nothing of the meaning, but she filled in the blanks.

He wrote of the pressure of time, and I was grateful that I had the time to enjoy both a fork stencil in chocolate and a restaurant where poetry is served with dessert.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The lake is my reward

The lake is calmer today, but there are still waves. Yesterday in the bise, the rocks were hidden by the thrashing water, a far cry from the more normal mood which is so calm it looks as if it were possible to stroll across its surface to France. I recommend you don’t try.

Today, walking along the shore, was like walking by the sea with the sounds of crashing waves. White caps were all across the lake, but up close white birds bobbed on the water so at quick glance they looked like white caps themselves. The water, normally blue, varied from teal to Coke bottle green, depending on the flow of the currents.

The lake is 340 meters deep and fed by glaciers and the Rhone. Freddie Mercury’s ashes are said to be scattered in the Lake and Mary and Percy Shelley vacationed along the shore. Frankenstein was written along this lake and it inspired Lord Byron's poetry.

All these things I thought about as I walked along the shore bundled in hat, gloves and scarf. The temperature is a chilly 7° and doesn’t sound much warmer in Fahrenheit at 44°. The walk was my reward because I have caught up on all my paperwork, have all my bills ready to be paid when I go to the multimat (a bank machine where you transfer money to your creditors). It is a chore I’ve been postponing for a while, so now I can feel virtuous for the rest of the day.

Maybe

Forgive me when I get confused about all the apologies about the past. The latest issue, is not really an apology, but the recognition of the Armenian genocide by Turkey. The government that was in existence then doesn’t exist today. I doubt if anyone is even alive that was alive then, and certainly if they are, they were infants at the time. Now that doesn’t mean I think that we shouldn’t call it a genocide, because that is what it was. But the Turks are getting more than huffy about it, and don’t want to say their forefathers did bad things.

My forefathers did bad things. I am sure as early settlers they shot a few Indians here and there. And probably another ancestor or two was on a ship that captured slaves. As an individual I do not feel responsible for their sins, but I have no trouble saying that even though things like murder and slavery were considered okay then, that it wasn’t okay. It was what it was, murder and theft of the worse kind, theft of human life and dignity.

I also wonder if 100 years from now, if the planet survives and the people survive and the US survives, will there be debates about apologizing to whatever the Iraqis have become for slaughtering them. Or will we continue to deny the horrendous things we are doing to that country.

And in no case, will an apology or saying it is genocide or an illegal war or whatever bring one soul back. However, if only we could look at the sins of our forefathers and recognize them for what they were, maybe, just maybe we might not repeat the mistakes and take more innocent lives.

Saving energy

With each bad news announcement on climate change, I try to consume less. I already use the minimum standby appliances or at least unplug them. According to the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab Stand-by power consumes 5 percent of all residential energy use in the United States, which means that electricity bills are 5% higher than they need to be. Also I try and use as few appliances as possible, however what I do use I don’t want to give up. I made a list of the appliances I use in Argelès.

  • Water heater (no way would I give that up)
  • Stove top
  • Stove
  • Food processor (the one non cooking appliance that I consider indispensable)
  • Washing machine
  • Frigo (but with an A rating on consumption and it’s as small as I can find to meet my needs)
  • Lamps (the flat was too dark for too long, although it is only necessary to light where I am and not the other side of the flat. Now I can see my needlework after the sun goes down.)
  • Wall heater/air conditioner used as little as possible I was thrilled that I only needed about three hours of air-conditioning this summer, but had the temperature gone up, it would have gone on in a flash. In cold weather, it is better to wear a sweater than keep it too hot. I find I get less colds too. 65°F is a good level
  • Television
  • Radio/CD player
  • Computer
  • Printer
  • Iron
  • Hair dryer
  • Hair curler

I do not feel deprived that I don’t have an electric can opener, or garbage disposal, although sometimes I would love a fluffy machine dried towel or an electrical kettle so I can say to a guest, “I’ll put the kettle on.” However, the latter, I can’t say is electricity saving. It would take up just that much more space and having my counter top almost empty so I have room when I cook is more of a priority. In fact the less I have, the less there is to worry about, the less there is to keep clean, etc.

There is more electrical stuff in Geneva because it is a house with three people so there is a dryer so I do get fluffy towels sometimes and more office equipment, but even there we try and turn everything standby off, keep the heat low, etc. And on a cold day, there’s always the cat to crawl up your lap and warm us with her purrs.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Hollywood cow


Well, not really. She belongs to an ophthalmologist in Versanez, a couple of villages away. Prior to the shades she sported red-framed specs, but maybe she wanted something more glamorous or wished to be mysterious, or her eyes were tired from the fall sunlight. Or maybe I should have asked for her autograph.

Errands shouldn't be this much fun
















The vineyards on the walk back from the village to the house with the lake and mountains in the background.

I know everything I did this morning was mundane, but it was so enjoyable. Well the 5 a.m. run to the airport to leave my housemate might not have been on the top of my priority list, but it made me ready for an 8 a.m. date with a young writer friend. We zipped to a nearby café for her renversée (Genevian for café au lait) and raisin bun and my tea and almond croissant. Our discussion might not have been remarkable, her future trip to Barcelona and mine to Italy and next year Iceland, kids, parents, writing, but joy of joys she knew where to get a turkey. Bless Canadians for having Thanksgivings earlier than Americans.

My daughter will be here for Thanksgiving and what started as a nudge from a Brit friend to do the meal, has grown into a major feast with several nationalities to join in. And since dinde (turkeys) are usually sold in parts, I was relieved to order a whole one. When the butcher asked for the date I said 20 November.

“Vous êtes en avance, Madame.”

Of course I am early, I am neurotic about stuff like that, and told him so.

The next stop was my bank. M Buck greeted me warmly. Granted my business isn’t huge, but he treats me like gold, another pleasure of doing business with a co-operative.

The weather today is crystal clear, the bise having blown out the dust in the air. It nibbles my cheeks. Cold like this infuses me with energy.

The vineyards looked a bit forlorn, having been divested of their fruit. Too bad I missed the vendage with pickers wearing plastic buckets on their back that are the same shape as the wicker baskets of olden days. Today, one lone man, with his truck, examined the vines.

I walked to the village centre which is about as opposite to a metropolis as is possible to get. At the mairie I stopped to ask for a train pass. The village hall has daily cards, good for all of Switzerland at the reduced price of 30 CHF, a real bargain, but in limited number.

“Quelle date, Madame?” The man behind the counter sported a Salvador Dali moustache and wore a gray turtle neck sweater, and he reminded me a bit of the writer Robert B. Parker, although less chunky and better looking. All were gone for 24 October, but he offered me one for 29 October. Sadly, I need to be in Bern on the 24th. “Desolee,” he said and he sounded so sincere, I reassured him it wasn’t his fault.

The next stop was the local farmer’s market. Literally. The local farmer comes to the school parking lot to sell his produce. I was thrilled to see beautiful gourds, which will decorate the Thanksgiving table. As I chatted with the farmer’s wife, the woman next to me said that she adored my accent.

“Je le detest,” I told her, “mais merci.” As always it is fun to watch people’s faces when I say I am Swiss. Although the woman had finished her purchases, we continued to chat. I said au revoir to all, and she admitted she stayed just to listen to my accent and especially how I would say au revoir. There was no unkindness in her remarks.

My last stop was the post, but I didn’t have the box key. The postmaster, for whom the term Obsessional Compulsive Disorder was invented, did consent to give me the mail, without checking ID and permission slips. This is progress after three years.

As I ambled back to the house, I realised what fun I had with each encounter of human or scenery. Now I am toasty in the house, a cup of tea at my side, watching the trees jump in the wind as I sit down to write on my novel, on my newsletter. Life is so very, very good.



Thursday, October 18, 2007

Signs of fall 2


In New England the first red leaf was a sure portent of fall, but in Geneva the signs in the restaurants that the hunt has arrived…La chasse est arrivée, serves the same purpose. Restaurants add pheasant, hare and venison to their menus brought down from the Alps and the Jura by hunters. Not all signs are as cute as this one in this downtown restaurant. I have never been a fan of hunting ever since reading Bambi, but I can accept that this is deeply ingrained in the Swiss culture, and as one hunter explained it, it does keep the animal population in balance. Still, I do feel sorry for the poor animals.

Signs of Fall I




















Daffodils pop up in the spring, and chestnut stands appear as suddenly around Geneva in the autumn. Their tantalizing smell combines with that of the smokey coals in the iron pots over which they roast. It could make Mel Tormé weep with pleasure.
The pleasure grows on cold days when the seller hands over the paper cone filled with the chestnuts fresh from the brazerie. When I glasp it, it warms my hands as well as my tummy.
On an early winter evening, when dinner is still an hour away, waiting for a bus, it might be possible to walk past, but like in the cartoons, the whiff comes out in unseen smoke and tickles my nostrils, and I dance over to buy 100 grams seems the only logical choice, one I have never regretted.

A natural hideaway


To look at this scene, one would guess I was still in the mountains, but I wasn’t. I was in the Botanical Gardens. Traffic from the main road mumbled its way by. Within a few minutes walk was the World Trade Organization, the UN, the HCR and many other alphabet agencies and NGOs. Yet this tranquil spot provided the backdrop for a lovely morning walk.

Airy Fairy


Airy-Fairy, a lightweight idea, not practical right?
The word implies harebrained scheme. Yet I found this fairy flying through the trees, and it seemed like such a good idea, that she should. And maybe for all those practical people who live sensibly, eschewing airy-fairy ideas, a little magic dust might be good. Peter Pan would approve.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Voting

My housemate and I sat at the kitchen table in the heart of the heart of Switzerland, the mountains outside our window. She was drinking coffee with frothed milk. I had tête de moine tea with its hint of clove. A fresh baked loaf of bread was in the centre of the table and all around us were the elements from our election packages:

The booklet with the explanations, the voting card, and much information were spread out among the advertisements from different candidates as well as the newspaper with the graph showing where the 15 political parties stood left, right, liberal conservative.

Although we are on different parts of the spectrum we cross over on some issues and are much more in agreement. We weren’t trying to convince the other of our point of view, just bouncing ideas off one another to make sure we each understood why we were voting as we were.

The night before we had done the short and long survey on http://www.smartvote.ch/ where we answered questions on our view points and then the computer was able to generate a list of the candidates that most matched our opinions along with biographical information. However, we have to factor our knowledge in of the people themselves.

I should add this is an election year where we elect the equivalent of the Congress which is set up like the American Congress. However from there seven leaders become the equivalent on the cabinet in ratio to the parties and one of those becomes president for a year.
Unlike the American election, money is not a factor. Also the election period is short—a few weeks.

As new citizens we take the right to vote as an almost sacred obligation in this tiny democracy. Our communes, cantons and nation put their faith in us to be responsible citizens, so the weight of voting weighed even more heavily on us.The ballots are due at the voting place via mail by next Sunday. We can always vote in person, but we will make our decisions within the next 24 hours. In some cases we may cancel each other out. In others we will reinforce the other. In all cases we are trying to act in best interest of the country, and in a couple of cases, voted the country’s interest over our own.