Thursday, August 30, 2007

The gratitude rock

“I keep it my pocket,” she said referring to what she called her gratitude rock, something my Scottish friend touches often because she feels she has such a good life that she doesn’t want to take it for granted. It reminds her of all that she has.

We were sitting on Cristina’s rooftop terrace (see photo below) sipping local red and nibbling on olives and pistachios. On the table next to us stood three sparkly glass tumblers and a pink peony blossom that had fallen. I debated going home to get my camera to take not just that photo but the one of the chimney shadow etched in sharp lines on the yellow wall.

I didn’t leave, for the conversation was too enjoyable to break. We were all talking about the choices we had made in our lives and the prices we paid, mostly dealing with being away from those we loved. We weren’t sure what was the mythical and what was real, for when you talk about what you didn’t do, you never think of the downsides.

What we did know were the memories of things done, places seen, adventures—both good, bad and often scarey—but most important relationships built. When you aren’t on home ground, communities do not just happen by your birth and staying in one place, they are constructed carefully over conversations, dinners, and the slowly opening up beyond the superficial.

Thus I sat on the rooftop terrace, in the late summer sunlight beginning to fade, enjoying my created community. I didn’t have a gratitude rock—my rock next to my computer—had touched Collette’s grave stone in the hope that something will be transmitted to me when I write, but what I have is gratitude for my life that carried me through the good, the bad and the scarey.

La reentrée

The streets are quiet during the day. The children have disappeared to the reentrée, their new book bags stuffed with cahier (notebooks). Soon they will be filled with neat homework, reports, exercises and messages from the teacher to be signed by the parent and returned, pencils, pens, erasers zipped in equally new pencil cases selected from the various stores catering to the back-to-school classes. When I walk to the shops, to the cafés, I miss seeing the children playing with their dolls, their balls and bikes spread on the street.

I think of my first few years at school. We were supplied with a new box of crayons, one for each colour of the rainbow plus brown and black, thick crayons, that only later did I learn was to help small muscle co-ordination. I loved their pristeenness, but not as much as I loved the much more graceful Crayolas at home which could give me results with their many shades. But even more I loved the names. Burnt sienna had a magic that a brown would never have. Carnation pink brought thoughts of spring when I was home from a school day cancelled because of a snow storm. Thistle and maize felt good rolling around my tongue. The thin crayons felt better in my hand, looked as if there were unlimited possibilities spread out on the table that the school crayons, stubby and boring just couldn’t provide.

I don’t know if the children, now sitting in desks in the school next to the Shoppi plaza or over beyond the Marie have crayons. Years from now they may remember the backpack bookbags, the agendas with the covers of current heros or floral designs to write down homework assignments, the Mariefountain notebooks with their large coloured square covers and quadrangle insides (lined paper is rare not the like the yellow we used for first draft and white for final corrected copies to be handed in) and the pencil cases.

Living backwards

After my morning read, I flipped on the TV to see if the world has ended during the night and flip through the news stations, BBC, F2, France24, CNN and Aljazerra. This morning I did a double take. CNN was backwards as were the streaming headlines and the anchors were on the opposite sides of which they normally sit. Then the weather came on and instead of being on the left of the map, London was on the right. The same with the US map. California was right, Florida left (and this has nothing to do with politics). Thinking CNN had it wrong, I ran through the channels. They were all flipped. I unplugged and replugged the set. Backwards still.

Then I decided it must be with my satellite provider. Maybe it would be good to spend the day backwards, eating dinner first, breakfast last, taking a shower than getting undressed…etc. Although I haven’t gone there, there’s a restaurant in Switzerland where you start with coffee and end up with your starter.

Then I thought maybe we could run Iraq backwards and the millions the US has killed directly and indirectly would be alive again, the bombed buildings would rise from the rubble, US soldiers that lay under flags would be reunited with their families. Backwards could be good.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


View from the terrace

It’s an annual trek to this lake for a picnic with friends on holiday from the UK (they own a summer home in Le Boulou, a few minutes from Argelès). The lake is almost always deserted, but this year a duck convention was being held right in front of the no swimming sign as if they could read and agreed to follow the rule.
Not all the lake is off limits to swimmers. Three teenage girls had their horses out for a day of fun and they were galloping up and down the path behind the grassy knoll. They took the horses for a long swim. The brown mare especially was in no rush to leave the water, but the dapple gray climbed out and rolled on her back in the grass much like a dog. The laughter from the girls floated over to where we were encamped with our salads, local cheeses, and fresh baked bread, olives and sausages. The horses seemed as happy as the girls and I wondered if they were making comparisons to their ordinary days in a field, versus the chance to swim and run.

Another part of the tradition with this couple is to go back to their place where they serve coq au vin (or in this case poulet au vin) on their roof top terrace and listen to the river that runs by their house.

As we were having the apero, a Siamese cat, probably only a few months old, made her way across the brick red tile roof and made it plainly known that sharing a bit of sausage and a few olives, would not go amiss.

Our hostess, led the cat, which she had named Speckles, downstairs for a bit of tuna.
The cat ate, came back on the terrace, and disappeared over the roof tiles. Some inner sense must have told Speckles what was there, because she raced back to the terrace and was set up with chicken, rice, gravy and even a carrot. Her pitiful meowing for more made us wonder if she was thinking we were stupid not to recognize her demands for more.

We watched the full moon peek over the mountain. It seemed to race into the sky. I mentioned that it was moving up into the sky fast, and my friend said, really the earth was moving downwards away from the moon...Perspective…the ducks probably didn’t care about the no swimming sign, the horses just revelled in running and swimming and the cat thought getting fed was her due. Meanwhile each of us on the terrace had our own perspectives on good food, good friends, good conversations


My writing mate and I used to meet several times a week, but now that she is based in Vienna it more like quick Sykpe conversations. These days she is in Australia with her mom, who just recently lost her sight.
So many of my friends are dealing with moms in various states of disintegration made more difficult by not sharing a continent.
My writing mate’s mom is one special lady, and one of the hardest things about her sight loss was the loss of her many projects. My mate had the brilliant idea of blogging her handicraft wisdom, giving the mom a project. Please check out her waste not want not site, and if you can look at my mate’s mercs world…

On a political note, this is a great video against the government manipulation of the American population on fear.

Lastly,,2157197,00.html George Monbiot who writes on how How the neoliberals stitched up the wealth of nations for themselves

Monday, August 27, 2007

Nature is a metaphor

In Geneva I’m surrounded by nature, but in Argelès there are no fields and I have to walk to water instead of having it on my doorstep. Still looking out the window this morning, I was struck by the shadow of the vines crawling up Froed’s house across the way. One branch was dead, but its shadow lived on bravely in the sunshine, a memoriam of sorts.As I sipped my tea out of my cow bowl, I realised that in a way it is a metaphor for life, so many shades during a day. Sunshine causes shadows, grey days obliterate them

Mornings are wonderful times of day

One of the true luxuries about not working at IEC; Interskill, Digital or anyplace that has variations of the nine to five routine is to wake up with the sun and read in bed. The sun is no longer peeking through the skylight around five, but appearing closer to seven. Even when the days are warm, it feels good to snuggle under the duvet in the early morning air pouring through the open windows.

Then there is the advantage of the leisurely breakfast, making sure the tea pot is hot before adding the leaves, choosing the fruit and again reading as I eat.

Even when I have a full day of writing planned, the ability to juggle my hours is a gift.
For those that believe (know) I’m over the top on colour co-ordination, I DID NOT CHOOSE a blue book to match the décor when I took the photos. I am really, really reading it. And although I don't often do it, I can even go back to bed and read and read and read...

Saturday, August 25, 2007

At the marché

I set out early with my shopping list: eggs fresh from the farm, saucions smoked by the stand owner, a veggie or two. I saw a wonderful array of figs and blackberries brought in by one of the farmers. Blackberries are usually too expensive, but these weren’t. They reminded me of a walk in the Maine woods with my best friend from high school years ago when we picked berries as we shared stories of our lives. I paid my three euros of the berries but he “offered” me the figs for nothing. “Vous êtes trés gentil,” I told him. When he smiled, his wantabe goatee quivered.
And walking up and down the marché, I ran into friends of different nationalities as well as Catalan neighbours, who all smiled and welcomed me back.
Although I didn’t need olives, I ran up to the area next to the church where Joel has his stand.
He is always professing his undying love, but then he does it with most women. Besides his olives, he sells olive trees and produces perfume labelled for the nearby towns, Argelès, Collioure, and Banyuls, and made from flowers from his own fields.
I didn’t need cheese from Leo either, but like Joel he gave me a big wave and smile as I walked by, reminding how much I like personal shopping. The only problem with the marché that it is too easy to over buy and the freshness dissipates in the Frigo. Instead better to pop into the green grocers on the days between the marchés. When I am here I am spoiled in the what do you mean eat bread that isn’t still warm from the oven or mayonnaise where I have to wait for them to finish beating it up.

No room at the inn until...

The couple, no more than in their early twenties, stopped at La Petit Pause where I was having dinner with Nadine, the owner/chef. They wanted to know about hotels. Although they had reservations at one of the many campings, their train had been late and the reception area was closed. Nadine let them leave their gear while they did a foot tour of the hotels in town. Their faces told the story when they returned.

“I’ve an idea,” I said. I led them to my street and received the expected oohs and ahhs. Even after dark the hanging flowers and the full planters look beautiful in the lamp light.
I knocked on my neighbour, Cristina’s door. She rents out apartments. Apologising for bothering her, she asked if they spoke English. When she ascertained they didn’t, we spoke in English.

No, I didn’t know them, but I explained their plight adding the only thing I knew was that they were from Grenoble.

Cristina invited us in, and called the hotels. For the last Friday of high tourist season it wasn’t surprising that no one had a vacancy. The couple stood up and apologised for “deranging” us.
“You can sleep here,” Cristina said, leaving them stunned.
I left hoping they weren’t murderers or thieves, but I saw Cristina on the street. She said that she liked having them in the house, gave them breakfast on her terrace, and they had left only to return with a bouquet of flowers to thank her.

Ducks with a smile

Ducks along the lake wander among the pedestrians. Like Divers in Acapulco they hurl themselves off the rocks into the water. They are quick to find any crumbs as people picnic on the benches and gratefully accept the dry bread children carry down to the shore line.
I couldn’t resist playing with the photo special effects of this darling in the bottom right hand corner. You need to click on the photo to get the full effect.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The lake at the end of the day

After sitting at the computer much too long during the day, taking a walk at dusk along the lake is not only good for my muscles, but for my soul. Dusk is earlier, no longer almost 22:00 but closer to 20:00. It is not something I do daily, but enough. Knowing the lake is so close and is an option at any moment, is a sense of security.

The lake, like the ocean, has many moods, and the night this picture was snapped it was rocking the ducks trying to settle in for the night making them raise their heads often from under their wings. I often wonder if ducks can get seasick, and that, in itself, would make a great children’s story, The Seasick Duck. The sound of the waves was a regular slap, slap, slap as water hit the large stones. The boats bobbed. Other nights the water has been so still that it resembled a carpet ready to walk on, something I knew better than to try. It reminds me of one of my mother's favourite joke with Jesus walking on the water. He looks back at his disciples floundering behing and calls to them, "On the rocks, stupid."

The colder weather is a hint of the fall to come and I’m already thinking of Auer’s hot chocolate, roasted chestnuts, fuzzy socks and sweats.

But then a late summer day will put these desires into limbo, rather willingly for sandals, days in outdoor cafés, and walking with the sunshine warming my face.

This has been the summer that wasn't, with too many cool days, but least it comes as a complaint, give me cool to cold weather over heat any day. And give me a lake or ocean within walking distance.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Psycho Syndrome

I beat the Psycho Syndrome...that is the one that a women is in the shower and she remembers the scene where Tony Perkins slices up Janet Leigh.
Not a woman alive, I bet, who has seen the movie doesn't think of that one time or another.
This morning as I was about to take a shower, my housemate called saying the back door was open to air out the house.
I got into the shower anyway.
Well, okay, I thought about the scene, but I didn't go downstairs to lock the door, nor did I lock the bathroom door.
Now my only two remaining fears are the possibility of King Kong carrying me to the Empire State Building (although in Europe it is more likely to be the Eiffel Tower or those Kachina dolls that come running out of closet, but then they may still be after Karen Black.

Monday, August 13, 2007

I love Trompe d’Œil. A new (to me not to the area) favourite restaurant, became a favourite not just for this wall Trompe d’Œil or the cosiness of the room with the wooden beams, but for their good food.

A friend and I ate lunch there on Sunday, not inside by the painting but outside on the terrace surrounded by grapevines.

The carpaccio of beef with pesto and parmesan cheese sliced to translucence thinness was a wonderful starter followed by a roast chicken in a sauce with morelles (? Spelling), a smoky-tasting mushroom.

Despite the beautiful weather and the pleasure of being on the terrace unlike the other times I ate there when it was cold and we were glad to be in this cosy back room, I couldn’t resist slipping inside to snap this photo. Little did I know that the cat watching the dog scene would be re-enacted later (see next blog).

This old house..

The old building was so sad looking among the pristine ones that make Evian such a charming little village that has nothing to do with bottled water, although there is a museum there about Evian water.

My friend and I were saying that it was probably beyond repair, but what a shame as we speculated about its history. I thought of the old song "This house was once made of laughter..."

Memories get etched into buildings. The arches, the carved slats on the balcony all could be beautiful with some love added.

We’d been meandering around the village, looking at shop windows, remarking on the architecture, the beauty of the lake, what a perfect day weather wise, the joy of just being.

Thirsty, we decided to stop at a crêperie for a coffee or something cold. It was a little after 17h, neither dinner nor lunch time. The two owners, one middle aged, one young and blond, were outside at one of the tables, all of which were empty. The blond greeted my friend’s Irish wolfhound, whose head is bigger than any of my Japanese Chins. She was welcomed with a water dish and a caress, although the cat in the window, was far less pleased. In fact he looked on in horror. The dog never noticed the cat at all, content with her water and affection.

My friend decided she would order a sweet crêpe with coconut. I passed still full from lunch.
However, when it was brought out, there were two plates, two forks and will power fell away like snow in 90° temperature.

The young blond chef was from Brittany and proudly declared himself a Master Crêpe Maker, something we wouldn’t have argued with. He also explained that Grand Marnier and White Rum were included in the batter which is what gave such an exquisite flavour.

He brought out the menu explaining how everything was made from scratch, nothing frozen, only the best ingredients. Although they didn’t make their own ice cream, they bought it from a person who did, again using only fresh ingredients.

Somehow the conversation worked its way around to the sad building across the street. The young man told us it was a centuries old military prison, but it would be restored, because it was part of the French patrimony.

But when it came to his patrimony, he made it clear he was a Breton and when he said good bye, he taught us how to say it in his Breton.

We will go back to see the Master Crêpe Maker, the progress on the renovation, but I have already forgotten how to say good bye in Breton. Maybe not knowing good bye is better because then I don’t have to say it to old buildings or new places to eat.

A lunch invite spurned...

Mrs Sarkozy and her children were not feeling well leaving her husband to go to President Bush’s picnic alone. Was it a political statement or gastronomic?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

On rain and floods

The waters are receding after the floods. I only read about one death. Our house, despite being near the lake, wasn’t that near and the banks were high enough, but both my housemate and I say we never remember the rivers and the lake being so full. The equivalent rainfall for a month landed in three days. Much of the flooding was from streams and backed up drains, water filling basements, etc.

Temperatures plummeted.

I did suggest to my daughter who was sweltering in D.C. that if she could send me 25° we would both be living at a comfortable 75°. Meanwhile I gave in and pulled out my warm winter slippers, wrote away as the drumbeat of the water hitting the roof pounded away.

I have only been in one flood at Fort Knox Kentucky when I was visiting friends who were living in a caravan as they sold merchandise on base. We woke up in the morning to find water about a foot into the van. One was enough.

What's in a name?????

In Swiss Romand the names Léa and Samuel have replaced Emma and Noah or Nathan as the most popular names for new borns. In Swiss Alémanique it is Luca and Anna. And Swiss Italienne it is Luca and Alessandro for boys while Sofia replaced Sara for girls.

One of the great things about being a writer is you get to name so many people. You are not limited to one or two offspring and an occasional dog or cat.

Of course in naming characters you have to be careful to be time and place appropriate. An eighty-year old French woman would never be named Tiffany. Romance writers tend to give unreal names. I have always loved Sandra Brown's Cash Boudreau. The only thing I remember about the book is his name and he was from New Orleans, so she was at least geographically correct. I have been known to wander the graveyard in Argelès for names to add to a scene set there.

Many of the internationals I know who name their children need to find something that works in many cultures, his home, her home, and their next posting and the one after that.

Part of me is still sorry my ex rejected the name Cloud (okay it was the 60s) for our daughter. However, I am sure she isn’t, but Britt, which was never designated to any of our children for we produced no more daughters between us or with others, might not have been too bad.

And although my daughter rejected David for one of chins in favour of Amadeus (see photo of a Chin below) Ama fit his character better. And I did get to name two characters in two different novels David. Both were not nice people, but the real Davids I have known have been lovely.

Meanwhile I must start another novel soon to be able to name more people.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Johnny Halliday Shouldn't Sing English

With my accent I shouldn't criticise, BUT I don't go on national television with it. Check out Johnny Halliday Celine Dion Blueberry Hill. Music and beat is great, but I never found a trill on Blueberry HIll. And someone should tie down Celine's leg.

Speaking of You is possible to watch Little Mosque on the Prairie on You Tube.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Eating in the Garden

The only reason I woke at 4 p.m. was Munchkin, who led me to her empty food dish. Once filled, she ignored it and demanded to go out.
I had slept 13 hours, recovering from the world’s coldest flight from Calgary to Frankfurt.

My housemate had departed for the mountains leaving me a frigo full of goodies from her August 1 National Holiday Party, a loaf of fresh bread from the local bakery and Bill Bryson’s I Am a Stranger Here Myself.

Thus I spent a glorious time sitting in the late afternoon sunshine, nibbling on carrot and celery sticks plus a sandwich, and reading often breaking into laughter. Few days have such perfect weather, neither too cool or too warm. Everything was luminous. The flowers, which had been just a few short weeks ago, seeds huddled in a packet were now debating if they were capable of, with one more little push, to become blossoming trees. The mountains were in the background.
In my last flat I practically lived on my balcony during the summer months, but it has been years and years and years since I have a garden to sit in and relish being there and relish I did.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Meeting Mounties

If I could have met these guys when I was eight, I would have thought I died and had gone to heaven and I told them so. Like most kids of my generation, I chewed Doublemint gum because Gene Autry did, Sang Happy Trails to You with Dale and Roy and wore my Hopalong Cowgirl outfit complete with boots long after they were too small. Two giant rocks dropped by a departing glacier were behind my house were the badlands and I galloped on imaginary horses.

These two Mounted Royal Canadian Police didn’t show up at the conference where I was on horseback, but regular cars. I suppose horses would never have made it up the escalator anyway. They smiled at me, probably had heard it all before, as I took their photo.

The Good Guys Wear White Hats

The good guys wear white hats. The short, squat woman from the Calgary tourist office gave them to the youth group at the conference I was attending. I know, I know, I am not in that category, but I was covering this session for my news service. Despite my years, I was given the hat, taught how to put it on and bonk the top to set it in place just like the others. I took the Calgary pledge.

This is the sixth time I have covered this micro-finance organization’s conference, in places like Ireland, Poland, Italy, France and now Canada. It provides my greatest source of hope for the world when I hear about their work in the developing world to bring hope and independence to the have-less as the previous CEO of the group described. A live feed from Afghanistan where they are running a successful project even if they need bullet proof vests while working reminded me of how lucky I am to be living the life I am living.
Covering credit unions is my way of spreading the word that there is a better way than uncontrolled capitalism and putting money in the hands of the poor does more than a dictator squirreling it away in a Swiss bank.
Listening to other stories about how to protect the unprotected, giving them the means to care for themselves in all countries, always revs me up as balance Over the years I have seen the staff turn over, and this year it was almost a totally new staff in the press department. Each of them expressed how lucky they felt to be able to work for an organization that was making the world better. I met a lot of people this week that make the world better. They wear white hats even when their heads are bare

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

and he sleeps with me but not in the jungle, the restless jungle.

It was cheapness that made me go to a B&B rather than stay at a conference hotel and bless the net, I found one, Lions Park Inn, within a short train ride or slightly long walk to the conference centre. However, cheapness aside, the biggest advantage was the feeling of being in a home. Each morning sitting down to breakfast chatting with the other guests, a personal touch that even in the best hotel is impossible to find. And the lions? Not to fear. They were all of the stuffed variety and inhabited different rooms. These two were in mine.