Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Relativity more or less

You know the old optical illusion of two lines with arrows at the end going in opposite directions on each line and the question asked is which line is longer? And although it looks like there is a difference, there isn't. I thought about it during my flight from Frankfort to Calgary. The 9.5 hours of air time is approximately the time it takes to go from Argelès to Geneva give or take a few minutes EXCEPT the flight seemed hours longer.

Now granted, there’s waiting time on both trajectories. On the train I change once or twice.
But on the train I can arrive just as the train is ready to leave the station, while for the plane there’s the dreaded check in line. (The one in Geneva was for all airlines and took well over 45 minutes from start to finish because only four windows were open – but that wasn’t included in the 9.5 hours).

On a train you can walk a lot further going from car to car, but on a plane there’s less room to wander even on the jumbo jets, although the new Airbus might make for better hiking trails. Maybe movability is part of it.

Because the plane had three movies (two could have been nominated for the worst picture of the year and the third I had seen) the time should have gone faster. If I wanted to I could watch at least one film on my laptop before the battery wore out on the train, and I often do use the time to write.

Even on a direct train I know I can get off at periodic stops. Taking a walk outside when the plane is at 38,000 ft. altitude is not a good idea. The scenery is prettier from a train, so watching the countryside change could make a ride seem shorter, although looking at the clouds, does produce day dreams.

I came to no conclusion on why the Frankfort-Calgary leg of my trip lasted so much longer in my senses than the Argelès-Geneva trips despite the clock ticking off almost the same number of minutes. It will stay up there with other mysteries like who really shot JFK or where is Hoffa buried.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Sushi and Mika Memories

Usually the first thing I do when I return to Geneva from Argelès is to eat sushi, but this time knowing I was going to another restaurant the evening of my arrival, I decided to wait. I figured the next day, but the next day turned into the next day and the next and then it was next week and then...

Some of Geneva’s Japanese restaurants cost about the same as raising a first born child at least to university entrance, but there is one that sells to other restaurants, is a small Japanese grocery store and therefore about half price of the other place. It has about eight small square tables and is self servcie.

The name is the same as my poor little Japanese Chin who had so many birth defects that his life was shortened, although in between problems he had a happy life, visiting with my Czech neighbors who hand-fed him salami in little bites and lifting his leg against grass blades (whereas the larger Amadeus, also a chin, could do bushes and trees), being loved and pampered.

Both the dog and the restaurant are Mikado, with the French pronunciation of Meek-ah-due not the English of Me-karh-do.

I still miss my chins, who are all in the great dog biscuit factory in the sky, but I travel too much, and I also will remain dogless unless by some miracle I have a garden which does not necessitate walks at weird hours in weird weather conditions.

Today was the day for the sushi, and it was a good thing, because they are closing for their summer holiday and won’t be open again until after the 13th.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

An idea for a new business

My nickname of Bitty Bladder is well earned both from actual measurements in a very embarrassing session with a very handsome French doctor and my frequent trips to the loo.

The nickname dates back to my Digital days where the one man in our five-person management team reminded us that women would never make top managers until they learned to control their bladders. We reminded him, unlike men, when we were in the ladies room where he couldn’t follow, we didn’t make decisions as male managers did in their bonding golf games and poker nights.

The reduction of Coca-cola intake did reduce drastically the often desperate search for the toilet, but not enough that I am not always aware of the closest facility.

Walking up to the bus from home yesterday, I saw the most wonderful thing. A porta-potty coming to me. Well not really. The driver of the truck was in the cab trying to find out where to deliver the thing.

This made me think of the many times I have been a place that it would be nice to be able to Dial-A-Potty, give my address and within minutes much like an ordered taxi. one would appear on the back of a small truck. The alternative would be to have hundreds circling (in hybrids of course) to be hailed over to the curb for bodily needs.

I did not explain my idea to the driver. He did enough eye-rolls when I asked to take a picture.

Stupid Questions

I have had enough of people asking is Hillary feminine enough or Barak black enough. It is nothing new that women candidates get scrutinized in a way that men do not. We would never see and article that says something like,

Senator Chris Dodd appeared in a crisp white shirt,
with a polka dot tie that didn’t quite match his blue
pin-stripped suit… or

John McCain, his hair in need to a trim unless he
has decided on a new style, spoke…

More important questions might be…

  1. How are you going to treat your campaign contributors if you are elected?^
  2. Will you published any decisions you make that would affect your contributors along with the amount of their donations?
  3. Do you really believe the US needs to spend 50% of all the world’s defense spending
  4. When are we going to sign the land mine treaty?
  5. When are we going to sign the anti-child soldier treat?
  6. When are we going to restore Habeas Corpus?
  7. What are you planning to do with the 800 prisons that Halliburton is building?
  8. Britain’s foreign minister is saying it is time to start building and stop destroying. What do you think of that and where would you start building?
  9. Will you annul the executive order just posted on the White House site about freezing property of anyone threatening Iraq's stability...which as lose as it is written could include Cindy Sheehan or anyone carrying a peace sign?

But then maybe those answers aren’t as important as Hillary’s femininity (but she did wear a pink suit) or Barak’s blackness. After all, it is only the future of the US.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A View Compensates for A Hassle

Despite the hassle with the train, the view from Lavigny (sadly the lake and mountains are lost in the mist) and the chance to meet five writers from five countries, was worth a mini adventure.

I was meeting friends at the Tuilleries train stop before we went to Château Lavigny to hear the writers-in-residence read. It is a route I never take. The conductor came up and asked for my ticket which I gave him.

“And your abonnement?”

I realised that I had forgotten it expired. The 350 CHF price is well worth it, but I wanted to wait until I was taking the train somewhere to extend the three years it covers making all trips half price. Unfortunately I had pushed the half-price ticket button when I purchased my ticket out of habit and without thinking.

The conductor pointed to the sign saying there was a 45 CHF fine for not having the right ticket as we pulled into my station. He and his fellow conductor politely offered to get off with me to write up the certificate so the people waiting for me wouldn’t wait in vain. My friends were on the platform a light wind ruffling their hair in the late afternoon sun and bemused expressions.
I tried to explain what happened to the conductors, both men in their late thirties as one whipped out his info box, that looks like an etch-a-sketch but is used to enter data. He also had trouble with my accent so I touched his stylo to the letters on the screen spelling out my name and address. I apologised for my accent as I took out my identity card.

“You’re Swiss?” he asked. If incredulity could drip from words, they would have.

“I know, it’s difficult to believe,” I said then launched into an explanation about expiration and simply pushing the wrong button.

They asked to see my old train abonnement.

I pulled out my bus abonnement folder which also contained my expired train abonnement tucked into a side pocket.

The conductor who hadn’t bagged me looked at the bus abonnement. That costs 45 CHF and is good for a month and is good for all buses in Geneva.

“Why didn’t you show us this? It’s good.”

“Because I was on a train, and its for the bus.” I said.

Meanwhile the two people meeting me were watching. I suspect they were surprised because I don’t look like the type of person who would ride black.

The second conductor went to the board with a plan of the train route. Taking the stylo he counted off the number of stops that the abonnement covered for next time.

They deleted the info on the document and I put my 45CHF that I had pulled out to pay for the fine back in my pocket.

The Referendum Tables

For years I passed the tables with petitions. These petitions are placed in strategic places to get referendums on the ballot for the next votation. This one has to do with the unemployed and not reducing the social contract. Happily, I picked up a pen and signed.

Of course it will get the required signatures. They always do. Then I will spend an afternoon, curled up with my voting book, trying to work my way through the legalese, the different parties view points and look at the chart at the where the yes-nos are merely checked to help me make my decision.

Hopefully it won’t be like the last votation with the UDC (far right) agreed with the Socialists (far left). But, considering the issue, the chances are minimal.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Cappuccino and Cordelia

For years when trapped in a nine-to-five job, I dreamed of being able to write full time. In my fantasies, I would break from my computer (the writing always went smoothly in my fantasy) to lunch or have coffee with other writers in some café and we would talk about our work.
Now my fantasies have become reality with perhaps the exception of the writing always going well. Over the past two days, I have met two writers in cafés and we’ve talked about our work.
However, in my fantasy, Cordelia, the large dog of my writer friend didn’t exist. Still she is a loving addition to our conversations.

Not all our conversation on Friday involved writing. Much had to do with coffee quality and the great waitress. Besides offering a welcoming atmosphere, this village café has cups whose creative shapes add to creative conversations. In Manora’s dish department I saw the same New Wave pattern, but not white. Instead it had famous writers on it. Of course, I didn’t buy it, owning it forever in my memory, like the conversations on a day where the sun and clouds alternated, and the dog was sweet.

Taking photos at Migros

The orange post-it was left on the bar of the shopping cart I pulled out to do my groceries at Migros.

Whoever the list belonged to enjoyed the same things I do with the exception of the milk. And I appreciated she took an orange post-it to Migros. Considering I am a colour co-ordination freak, matching this to that and that to this at the drop of a colour chart, my appreciation went up. I couldn't resist taking out my camera.

As long as my camera was out, I decided to take a photo of the display of patriotic items on sale for 1 August, the national holiday. This will be the 716 anniversary making it one of the world’s oldest existing democracies.

The manager of the store bustled up to me and asked me what I was doing. He wasn’t nasty. Perhaps he thought I was a spy for Co-op.

“I’m a new citizen, and I want to show my family the August 1 celebration,” I said.
At that he smiled. “Congratulations.”
Of course he hadn't seen me take a picture of a very unpatriotic shopping list.

The Power of Water

There is something healing about living near water. Not just healing but water can stoke my emotions and my senses.

In New England, Boston Harbor might not have the same emotional tie as waves breaking over a sandy beach strewn with sea grass, but there was always the feeling I could get to the sea quickly.

Decades ago when I lived in a winter rental a few steps from the Hampton NH beach, I could hear the waves at night. After one storm, the waves threw rocks against the 20-foot seawall above strumming every primitive urge in my body.

In Argelès, the Mediterranean is about 20 minutes away on foot. The moods of the water are sometimes calmer than the Atlantic, but the colours and the waves still vary, like an unfaithful lover who wants to play games with my emotions.

When I lived in Môtiers, behind the village was a waterfall and a stream where on hot summer afternoons the dogs, Amadeus and Albert and I would take a picnic settling on the bank. Ama loved being in the water. Albert loved watching him. The cows in the field behind our spot watched us. As the summer went on the stream would dry up. When the rains replenished the stream the trickle would become a torrent.

With all my time in Geneva, it is only the last three years I have lived in walking distance of the lake, although on forays downtown, or even visiting friends who lived up the mountain, the lake and the jet d’eau were visible enough that I could appreciate the blues and greens, the stillness or roughness, depending on the bise. I have seen the ducks and swans being tossed like a ship in the North Atlantic during a Nor’easter, or so calm that I could imagine walking across the surface.

Now I live seconds from the lake, minutes if I amble. Coming back after my Argelès holiday and walking down the hill, I love the view of the petite stone wall path that leads to the lake peeking through the trees.

Because I tug a suitcase and shlep a laptop I do not go directly to the lake to report that I am back but turn to the left in this photo (if you click on the photo the white square shows up and that is the entrance to the house) at the bend in the tow.

The water will be there for the time I want to take a writing break, to feel the sun reflected on my face, to smell its freshness. Sometimes in winter the angry lake has thrown itself onto benches and trees freezing creating crystal palaces. So many moods to feed my moods, but always, always, to make them better.

Meet Munchkin

A.K.A. Critter or Mouse Breath.
She wants to star in a Richard Attenborough nature documentary, taking the role of a lioness bringing down game, an act we often witness as we sit in the office as she auditions through the window. Stupid Cat. Attemnorough is no where around.
Yet she has been known to invite a mouse home to eat, not for her to eat, but has watched as he devoured her food in her dish.

Although this pose doesn’t capture her sweetness, she can be. Here she is practicing to take over the 90% of my bed after I am sleep. She resembles my daughter’s cat, Morgana, but Munchkin DOES NOT sit on my chest and slap me awake with her paw.
There have been nights when I wake feeling it’s hard to breathe, but it isn’t a heart attack but the cat asleep on my chest.

Of all the things she does that is the weirdest is walk on her hind legs along side of us.

She’s not my cat, but my housemate’s although I often take over cat sitting duties. Not a problem at all.

At the Marrionier Restaurant

The restaurant is in the next village. It has a terrace and antique cars are parked outside.
My housemate and I often go there, alone, together, or with other friends. No matter that we know the menu by heart. Still it is difficult to choose.
Filet des perches…oh yes.
Salmon tartare (shown in the photo) yup yup yup
One of their many pastas…possibility
Pizza also good.
It doesn’t take much coaxing—just a “how would you like…" and we’re out the door

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Anarchist Cookbook Memory

Skyping with my old writing mate, who now lives in Vienna, brought up not just discussions of her soon to be published short story collection or my next novel, but memories. When we finished with her great review, her progress on her Ph.D., her reaffirmation that Running from the Puppet Master was her favourite novel of those I wrote, my contract negotiations and newsletters we delved back into the days when we worked in organizations across the street. Lunches were for discussions about plot, character, description, where this could be stronger and when to switch the order of events.

However, tonight she brought up the best memory of sitting in the lunchroom at the very full convention center near our respective offices with The Anarchist Cookbook in front of us. As I said ‘I don’t want to kill him that way?’ or she said, ‘Try killing him that way…’ we realised that people were giving us wide berth.

It is not a discussion I would have today in public and I am not sure I would even dare carry the book around. It is a reminder of how far we have come in our writing careers.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Not the average holiday activity

This was the second time M&B came to Argelès from the States. I’ve known him for decades and it is approaching a decade when she entered his life and I met her at Chinese restaurant in Cambridge, MA.

He reminds me of my parents' habit of talking to strangers. The fact his French is minimal is only a blip for him.

On the unseasonably cold and windy Sunday night the three of us were the only diners at La P’etite Pause, a restaurant specializing in the cuisine of Haute Savoie: tarteflettes, fondues, etc. Nadine, the owner-chef, was training a new waitress and we began talking in French, English, Franglais. She described how she had done much of the reconstruction work herself and how she planned eventually to add a mural of her beloved Mont Blanc. Before B’s wife and I knew it he had volunteered to do create the mural of her dreams. I was pressed into service as translator to make sure she got what she wanted. A day was set aside for the work (eat your heart out Michelangelo.)

An adventure to find a new art supply store was followed with prayers of thanks offered for the good road signage that is a French specialty.

B painted for 12 hours, plied with coffee and food to keep up his strength.

Nadine didn’t quite believe it. It was unheard of that an American artist would appear at her table then add her dream to a wall and not accept money. She insisted we have an inauguration, an unveiling. Within 48 hours a fête was organized attended by locals, vendors, tourists and friends. Best dress was rolled out as were delicacies from the region and party was on.

As the last person Nadine whispered to me that this was a gift from heaven, but not only that when late at night she walked by the mural illuminated only by the moon through the window, it looked just like the real Mont Blanc did in the moon light from her childhood bedroom window.

And although we visited local sites, ate at good restaurants, talked with people together, and although they beached and biked, painting a mural is definitely not the average vacation pass time, but maybe the world would be just a bit better if it were.

Soap has been around since 2800 BC when fats and ash were mixed together. The first trace was found in Babylonia. Early soaps were harsh nothing like the choices we can find today.

Argelès has increased those choices with a new savonerie, the brain child of a young local woman who wasn’t interested in taking a regular job. For the past few years she has made her own soap selling it at art fairs. This year she opened her own shop offering some of the most imaginative soaps I’ve ever seen. Thin tubes, soap necklaces combined with beads, soap wafers that can be stacked like cookies, all types of fragrances, colours and shapes are on offer. In this photo her father runs one of the machines behind the counter producing spaghetti soap. What a delight to be able to find an item so pretty, and so useful while taking my buy locally efforts to even new heights.

And when I suds up in the shower I have a memory of the pleasure of being in an adorable shop, trying to choose between one pretty thing or another, supporting an individual rather than some anonymous shareholder.

A new man in my life

I’ve a new man in my life, but he doesn’t like to pose for photos so his cute little face doesn’t show. Mostique or Mosquito. He belongs to Nadine, owner and chef at La P’etite Pause. Because she is too busy often to walk him, I have taken on the project, not daily but several times a week. There’s something lovely about walking a dog when you don’t have to. Meanwhile he checks out each leaf and twig his tail wagging happily. Like a grandmother I can enjoy him and give him back.

Friday, July 06, 2007

I once owned a share in this 18th century house and am only sorry that I couldn’t afford to buy it, but not enough to need counselling over. Because it is now owned by a favourite Dane who rents to other favourite Danes, I am often a visitor so I haven’t lost it at all. It is still there.

One of the renters invited Barbara, another Danish neighbour and me to dinner plus their daughter. The hosts filled two bowls full of shrimp. They added a tomato salad drizzled with oil and coated with finely chopped fresh basil.
What was really nice was the kitchen table where we were eating had been in the house when we bought it. The new owner keeps it, along with the pig head sculpture holding up a beam on the first floor.

You can probably measure the table’s age by its need for refinishing, but I measure it by memories: Playing cards, eating, snapping beans, my mom sitting with a bowl of hot herbs inhaling to open her cold-congested sinuses, reading, talking, holding hands, brushing out my daughter’s wet hair, looking at photos, doing puzzles, etc.

And a couple of new memories were added with the varied conversation that night. We ended the meal by ambling over to La Place de la Republique for coffee (and a tisane for me).
The grandson of the host had not been interested in sitting and eating. He rode his bike throughout the evening, stopping to peek in the window in the photo while we on the other side talked boring (in his point of view) adult stuff.
Adding memories to memories...


On the Fourth of July potential new citizens went to a Disney Park to take their oath of office. Having seen a Disney presentation on how the PR people co-op all types of events for free publicity, I was filled with disgust.

Becoming a citizen of a country one is not born into is an honour and a privilege that carries with it rights and responsibilities. It is not to be bought and sold for free TV exposure.

I thought back to my wonderful oath-taking for my Swiss nationality in a historic building going back centuries. The ceremony was filled with the pageantry reflecting the country I had chosen and who had chosen me.

The America I grew up with has been whittled away, not just by this current president, but by corporations that has turned us from citizens into consumers.

What could be more telling of this transformation than to have new citizens take their oath in a corporate environment? Will one day the pledge of allegiance be rewritten to say “I pledge allegiance to (fill in the name of the corporation) and to the consumption for which it stands, one credit card under God with debt for all?

Kiwi Steals Extra Flying Time

Kiwi and Cocoa waited for their handlers to release them from their cage for their part in the Argelès Eagle show. They knew from the hubbub of voices that the green wooden seats surrounding the grassy performance arena were filled.

Then they were carried to their perches ready for take off and take off they did, swooping to the ahhhhs of crowd.
The day was perfect with blue, blue skies and thermals that carried them to their dreams.
All too soon, it was over and their handler whistled for them. Cocoa, always obedient, landed on the MC’s gloved hand to be put away.

Not today, thought Kiwi. She would come close to the handler, who was a great person as persons go, always having an extra treat for her and a caress when she flew

Today she wanted to fly longer, to see the white walls of the Valmy castle, the scrub pines on the mountains, the sea. Let her handler whistle as much as he liked. Let him call her name. Let him hold up a treat. She was going to fly, fly, fly.

The next act came on and the next. The grouchy bald Eagle flapped and pandered to the crowd, as did the vultures with their necks tucked back. Kiki flew around watching, but tried not to upstage them. There were rules she wasn’t going to break. Also she didn’t want to hear them carping at her when they were all back in their roomy cages.

The dozen storks were airborn and performed their synchronized ballet high overhead before descending slowly, sticking out their legs for a smooth landing.

The show ended. Her handler was using the swinging bag trick, a long rope with a ball of meat on the end. Now, she thought, I will play his game. She would soar in but not take the bait and fly away.

A few of the audience remained watching. Kiwi loved the attention.

Finally her handler sent the ball of meat airborne…okay…that was it. She knew when she grabbed it, he would let her eat and then come and put her back in her cage. He wouldn’t be nasty, but happy to have her back. Playing hard to get was a good strategy. Kept her handler on his toes. Kiwi grabbed the meat and flew with it to the far corner of the field and ate as her handler approached.

Back in her cage Cocoa asked if she had a good time.

“Fantastic.” But she knew she didn’t want to be a wild bird. Life was too uncertain out in the wild. Here a cage kept her safe from predators, she had all the food she could eat, Cocoa’s company, and an occasional extra flying time. Yup! Life was fantastic here in Argelés.