Sunday, September 30, 2007

My statue collection

Since going to Prague several years ago, I have been fascinated by the functional plastic statues that are used by commercial enterprises throughout Europe. This little chef holds up the menu of the restaurant where we ate in Spain. Now that I’ve a camera I can capture and share them.

Feathers and plumes

Looking at the largest lake in Northern Spain while eating on a terrace in the early fall sun was as much of a feast as the meal. The lake had several shades of blue, the mountains were in the background, the sky was almost royal blue and white birds bobbed on the water.

After the meal we walked along the water's edge and I glanced down to see among the rushes, a white feathers scattered among autumn leaves. It would be possible to recapture the lake, the mountains, the sky in some combination, but never again would I see a collage like this. For several minutes I just watched at the almost imperceptible movement of the water and the contrast of the white against the autumn leaves. And I felt utter joy that I was given this moment in time...

A walk through history

Being raised in New England, history was all around me. Our house was on an Indian burial field and we sometimes found an arrow head or two. The Parker Tavern, the oldest house in town showed what life was like in Colonial days, and we were just a short drive from the place where the shot fired around the world was fired. My family went back to the Revolution.

I loved history in school. In fourth grade when we finished our work we could take pamphlets about famous Americans. If I were good at the dentist I could buy a Landmark Book and thus learned about the Tudors, The Battle of Britain and more. It almost made me want to have cavities.

And what a thrill it was to stand in front of the tomb of Elizabeth I. It was as if I had a personal introduction.

But although the greats of history intrigued me I also wanted to know how people lived in different times not just the kings, queens and generals.

  1. My daughter’s host father in Munich told of being on a hill and watching his town of Nurenburg burned.
  2. A co-worker told of being a little girl and being urged by her mother to work faster as they did errands in Annemasse, France. She delayed and the Nazis grabbed her mother. The war ended days before her mother was due to be shipped to a concentration camp. The papers make it real.
  3. A chapel in Garmish-Partenkirchen where I discovered on a hike with my cousins was covered with men from the town that were killed in WWII: Some were young boys and almost no wall showed. Each one represented pain for their mothers, sisters, daughters.

Thus today I was more than happy to hop into Spain to take another hike, this through a dense wood to see the house above. It was warm, the leaves smelled of fall, a hint of pine sprinkled the air and the ochre earth blended with the fallen leaves.

We came upon this wreck of a house, our goal. Sanchez Maas, a founder of the Fascist Falangist movement had hidden out after escaping a firing squad. His companions were deserters from the Republican movement, which made up most of Catalonia.

It was easy to see why it would be a safe haven through. Had anyone approached the occupants could slip into the underbrush and get away.

I tried to imagine what it must have been like to be in hiding, to live with the danger in your gut, to fight for the cause on either side, and mostly like in most wars to sacrifice your life for nothing. I wonder what the men on opposite sides talked about at night, what did they eat…etc.

A book and movie have been published released about this house and Maas. It is called Soldiers of Salamis.

We don't have to go to Spain to feel history. No matter where we are, something happened there before we stepped foot on the land. One era melds into another.

Perhaps that was brought back when we saw a man on a horse, his hair in a ponytail, looking like he could have been one of the Revolutionaries of the Spanish Civil War. The only thing that would be out of sync was he was talking on a mobile phone.

The Cocks Comb FLower

Whenever I see this flower (only they are smaller) in a flower shop I buy it. It feels like velvet over wood and its colour is always intense. However, I never saw it growing like I did. This is Catalonia, on the Spanish side of the border and I had to photograph it against the farm lands and mountains. I don't know its real name, but any cock would be proud to wear it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Does he not realise...

As I write this Bush is speaking to the UN. He talked about the killing of innocent women and children by those that wanted to force their ideology on people. Didn’t he realise he was talking about himself and the US? We’ve killed thousands of innocent Iraqi women and children, far more than Saddam at this point, destroyed lives in other places where our goons such as Blackwater and other PMCs and goons we train at places like School of Americas.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Does this authorize an attack on Iran?

Below is the wording on the Lieberman-Kyl ammendment attached to the 2008 Defence Authorization Bill being put through the senate? Does this give Bush the authority to strike Iran? And why isn't the media covering it?

(3) that it should be the policy of the United States to combat, contain, and roll back the violent activities and destabilizing influence inside Iraq of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its foreign facilitators such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and its indigenous Iraqi proxies;

(4) to support the prudent and calibrated use of all instruments of United States national power in Iraq, including diplomatic, economic, intelligence, and military instruments, in support of the policy described in paragraph (3) with respect to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies.


It is Mabon, the autumn equinox, the time of harvests. Apples, marigolds, grapes, squash, mushrooms and new honey are in abundance in the local markets. It is still early for the acorns to fall or the annual chestnut bonkings on the head when walking under the trees. What we have sown we now reap to sustain us through the winter.

In the South of France there is less of a weather shift, although sleeves are replacing tank tops and people are digging out sweaters. There are none of the fall colours that I will find when I return to Geneva, which although beautiful, lack the New England brightness.

And although Mabon marks the beginning of the end of the year, I always see this time of year as new, a start of new projects, new ideas, a buckling down to work to write better. It is a time of seeing friends who have been away on holiday. In a way that too is a harvest of relationships long cultivated. My calendar is filling after the ninth of October with Geneva activities. In my mind I am thinking of mundane chores, like buying a new train pass to go to Bern and maybe Glarus, buying a bus pass, looking for the roast chestnut stands, walking by the vineyards bare after the vendage, see the changing moods of the lake in the late afternoon sun.

And although I mad not run out to buy new school clothes, a pencil case and notebooks I still think of the rituals of covering my books to protect them in the plastic covers that I could never get folded exactly right. My mind instead is flowing over with writing ideas, along with the reminder of the clean up of old projects that I have promised myself I would do before I start anything new.

Today as I look out on the tiled roof across the street, I am content. Later I will eat lunch at Franck’s, cover my friend in the store for a couple of hours, watch the Sunday shows and when the dark descends, so early now, I will turn on my computer and write. And when I snuggle under the duvet dressed in my flannel pjs, I will think of the way the seasons ebb and flow through my life as they have for everyone for as long as man walked the earth. I am grateful I have been given so many seasons to be part of the universe that is vast beyond my understanding, and I remind myself to take pleasure in each little part of it.

This is Mabon for me. A reminder of all I hold dear, all that enriches me from what I have sown.

In residence

When the queen is in one of her castles her standard flies high above the structure. When any of the Floyds are in Argelès, the parrot his on his perch. Chris made the bird out of paper marché. The first time it over looked rue de la Republique, its hat was an English flag, but Jean-Pierre who owns the green grocery across the street, convinced him that the colours of the Catalan flag were more appropriate. Meanwhile anyone who looks up to see the parrot smiles knowing that the family is in residence

Four footed fuzzy temptations

The black kittens tumble over each. They are a male and a female and the male tries to get the advantage by climbing on the box, but the sneaky little female pulls on his leg and he loses his balance. These kittens and others are regular guests at the Marché. Sometimes puppies or a baby goat show up. The people with them sell candy and trinkets, not to enrich themselves, but to provide food for abandoned animals until a home can be found. I usually drop a coin or two, a sucker for any four-footed fuzzy baby…

My mate's book

When you share years of writing time with someone, a bond forms like no other. Over a decade and a half ago Sylvia and I sat in the same writing class of the Geneva Writers Group. She talked about her worries of her family back in Australia where her parents still lived.
Since we worked across from each other, we began meeting regularly, comparing writing and offering comments to move the process along.
We shared our disappointments at our all too many rejections, joy at a rejection with a positive comment, ideas on how we could advance our craft, marketing sources. Sometimes I would publish something, sometimes she would. The shared joy of these early successes was never marred by jealousy on either side, we knew if one of us could, the other could.
Now she is bringing out a second short story collection down under. I share her reviews:
Sylvia Petter is a cartographer of dislocated lives. With compassionate precision, she charts the detours, the disruptive incursions of passion, loneliness and loss, the ever-shifting conceptions of home and of the self. Her characters are always on the move through complicated terrain, and the journey is richly rewarding for the reader.– Janette Turner Hospital

In simple, direct and compelling language, the stories reward the reader with a variety of distinct and memorable experiences: from the complexities of love (and unfaithfulness) to those of history and the way it treats, mistreats and selects its victims, building its ironies on the accidents of race, nationality, personality, place and parentage. With its broad geographical span and array of venues, this book would make a fine companion for a journey. Not only does it entertain; it makes you think, it makes you feel, it makes you appreciate the humanity of its many characters.– Thomas E. Kennedy, Advisory Editor, The Literary Review

Sylvia Petter’s second collection is storytelling at its best. Each story presents a mini-world complete in itself—with real-to-life characters, heart-aching situations, and “visions of wings”. Petter takes the reader for a fast moving, eclectic tour around Europe, and back and forth to Australia. Crossing cultures with every page, and shifting between generations, Petter slowly builds a world of human goodness and trust in the midst of shadows. The reader is won over by Petter’s sharp wit, polished craft and honesty. Bravo for this tour de force.– Susan M. Tiberghien, author of One Year to a Writing Life
Her publisher's website:
I am so proud of you Sylvia. Congratulations...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

A poem

The Washing Shed

The washing shed cooks in the sun.
Women stand by soapstone sinks
scrubbing stains from clothes
as their great grandmothers did.
The smell of bleach and soap
mingles with sweat.
They brush hair from their eyes.
Children play underfoot
as the river flows by.

They talk of Pierre beating Marie,
Sophie’s new job in Toulouse, Michel
cheating on Chantal, fresh garden
basil, the price of apricots.
Some own washing machines
white and shiny in lonely kitchens.
Better to carry baskets and powders
To the shed where gossip steals time
as the river flows by.

Clean strawberries

I bought strawberries today from a local grower, an organic farmer. They are medium-sized a beautiful red, rough to the fingers when you cut them up, and so sweet that I didn’t need sugar. They were not grown using Methyl bromide, a pesticide used in America. It was supposed to be phased out of use by 1 January 2005 according to the Montreal Protocol. Why? Because, according to scientists, it contributes to the hole in the ozone layer. Are we in trouble environmentally? Of course we are…Sea ice that would cover Australia and Texas has melted this summer. The US will continue to use it until 2009. Another example of the bully country acting as an international outlaw.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Still no habeas corpus.

The Senate did not restore the right of habeas corpus this week although 56 Senators wanted to. They needed 60 votes. Technically the lack of habeas corpus only refers to terrorists and non-Americans, but if someone is arrested how do they prove they are American? Some 75% of Americans don’t have passports and few carry their birth certificates in their pockets in case the government suddenly mistakes them for terrorists? What happens to dual nationals like myself? Or an American citizen with a strange accent?

For a government that has illegally spied on its citizens, which has tortured against international law, which has done illegal renditions, which has kidnapped people in other countries and sent them to countries that do torture and will torture…why should such a government, who does not follow the rule of law, care if they arrest American or a non-American? And of course without habeas corpus a person can disappear forever much like under any Latin American dictator (but then we trained some of them and their cohorts at the School of the Americas)

I had an ancestor who fought in the American Revolution. The Constitution guarantees the right of habeas corpus. Our government is acting outside the law and not enough Senators care. The vote was not strict party line. Besides Arnold Specter (one of the co-sponsors), five other Republican Senators supported the measure. They were Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, Gordon Smith of Oregon, Olympia J. Snowe of Maine and John E. Sununu of New Hampshire. Senator Bernard Sanders, independent of Vermont, also voted for it. Lieberman was the only non Republican who sided with the Republicans. If there are 50 Democrats in the Senate now that Johnson is back what Senators were missing? (I haven't been able to track down a senator by senator vote) Maybe Obama and Clinton were out campaigning? It is something people should ask them.

Until habeas corpus is restored not one American is safe from their own government.

The frigo is here.

The poor delivery men, who had to struggle with my new frigo up the three flights of stairs and down with the old one, were polite. The problem was not newfor them for they have delivered appliances to me before.
The frigo is smaller than my old one, but not by too much.
I am much happier with the size because it takes up less room and still holds all that I need it to hold. The best part it has an A rating on environmental friendliness. The old one, bought 20 years ago, was made before such things were important. Still this one is large enough to support my oven, low enough that my friend’s needlework of penguins show.

Several I Love Lucy Moments

Why is a bottle of laundry detergent upside down in my sink? It was one in a series of I Love Lucy Moments, where stupid moves spiral out of control.

Normally when I put on a wash I leave the soap bottle on the counter. Then if I get involved in writing or go out, it is a reminder that there’s a load of wash in the dryer.
Now for some reason (Stupid move No. 1), this morning, I put it on top of the stove, which in itself wouldn’t have been so bad, had the burner not been still warm from my morning tea.
The odor of melting plastic laundry detergent bottle will never replace the smell of breakfast bacon. I grabbed the bottle and put it on the counter (Stupid move No 2.) and as I scraped the warm plastic from the stove the contents of the almost new bottle ran from the melted hole down the counter top and onto the floor. It seemed as if three times the liquid that was in the bottle seeped all over the tiles, although the blue colour was pretty.

Trying to save at least some of the soap, I put the bottle upside down in the sink ONLY to knock the top off (Stupid move No. 3) and watch the rest dribble down the drain.
Once the plastic had been removed from the stove top, I turned my attention to the blue soap that covered the floor. The sponge I used was too ineffective on the gluey liquid. Finally I took two bath sheets and let them soak up the soap.

Fortunately I didn’t commit fourth I Love Lucy moment. I was just about to throw one of the towels in the washer, when I realised that if I did, the amount of soap in the towel was equal to at least 100 washes. I imagined opening the washer door and being attacked by the suds that ate Argelès. Instead I rinsed and rinsed and rinsed the towel until the water ran only light-light-light blue rather than the original dark aqua.
I know Lucy had red hair. I have red hair. This morning's activity is enough to make me grow mine out gray or not.

The Guardian on Blackwater and PMCs

The Guardian had a wonderful editorial by John Hillary about The Blackwater scandal. He suggested the rethinking of the outsourcing of combat operations to private military companies and estimates there are at least 48,000 PMC boots in the country. The issue was raised by Blackwater’s massacre of Iraqi civilians last Sunday. These soldiers for cash are immune from all national and international laws thanks to Paul Bremer.

Hillary said: “Far from being an isolated incident, these killings are the latest in what has become an established pattern of human rights violations by private military and security contractors in Iraq, making them the most hated symbol of the occupation to many Iraqis. Widely publicised cases include the "sports shooting" of civilian cars by a Triple Canopy mercenary in Baghdad; the trophy video posted on the internet by an employee of UK private military company Aegis, which has none the less just won a massive $475m contract to provide security services to the US military over the next two years; and the involvement of Titan and CACI contractors in the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. Blackwater's private army was again the cause of a major stand-off between US and Iraqi troops last December when one of its soldiers shot dead an Iraqi security officer in Baghdad.”

His concluding paragraph sums up my feelings exactly “According to commentators more favourable to the continued deployment of mercenaries, our forces are now incapable of carrying out their duties without this private paramilitary support. (Diplomats are now in lockdown in the Greenzone) US and UK troops are so overstretched, the argument goes, that they would not be able to sustain occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan were it not for the private military and security companies operating alongside them. Given the horrors which have been inflicted on the people of those countries, however, that sounds like one of the most compelling arguments in favour of their demise.”

When people tell me I shouldn’t be ashamed to be an American, I only think of the horrors we have inflicted on the Iraqi people, which far surpass what Hussein ever did. So many nights I lay awake in my bed, realising I have so much, I am safe, warm, have electricity and water, but my country has stolen those things from the 27 million people living in Iraq today (figure from the CIA fact book), not to mention the 4 million people who have fled and I cry in shame.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Women writers

The Iranian women writers told their stories on Al Jazjeera. According to the program Everywoman publishing of woman’s works is up 30%, something that would be wonderful in the Western world.

A poet said her husband was surprised besides being a wife, mother and employee she had this other side of her, something for herself. She also admitted her first poems had been written for him when she was first in love with him.

Another a school teacher, said when her students found out she was a writer, their relationship improved. As a writer she had no respect.

But others said people disapprove of their writing either the activity or the content.
Writing in any country is not easy: finding time, finding a publisher, finding readers, all are problems for all new writers, but for women often family demands and social and culture obligations can add to difficulties.

As I watched I hoped that these women would not be silenced by their country nor by bombs with an American flag blazoned on its side.


So the situation in Iraq is better.

If that’s is the case why is there a lockdown in the Green Zone now that Blackwater, the private military company (PMC) cannot guard US personnel outside this small area. If anything the Blackwater shooting of 8 Iraqis and their loss of license to operate in Iraq snatched back by the Iraqi government, called attention to the problems of mercenaries and PMCs in that country.

Why someone should be surprised that they shoot at Iraqis I don’t know. They shot at looters in New Orleans when the protection of property overrode the protection of people. Anyone who has heard of Jeremy Scahill’s book Blackwater; Shadow Army, won’t be surprised. Scahill was most articulate on CNN giving the pros and cons of private mercenaries in Iraq and elsewhere. Brian William’s coverage was more, poor mercenaries in tone, they are only doing their jobs.
Americans should be aware of the danger these groups represent because they do not operate under controls. So far, they have been turned against American citizens only once and in New Orleans.

The number of number of mercenaries (read thugs) estimates vary from 10,000 to one for every American soldier. In any case, one is too many.

Meanwhile we can rest assure that the security in Iraq is so much improved that our people can not leave the green zone without armed guard.

Good God, what disaster the US has wrought.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Summer is over

Summer is definitely over. Unlike in New England no red leaf has floated gracefully to the sidewalk in front of the house. In fact, the days are still hot, it is possible to go to the beach. The nights are a bit cooler, but there is no wood smoke from household fireplaces scenting the air.

Summer’s end is marked by little rituals:
1. The second arrival of R&R.

2. I could hear the zipping of suitcases in the wee morning hours as the next to last group of Danes packed up to return to Copenhagen.

3. Tim’s birthday party (the photo above is shot from his family’s terrace. Besides cake and ice cream, there’s the combined international families and it is possible to hear Spanish, French, Dutch and English spoken depending on which chair one chooses to sit on.

4. The annual dinner given by Froed before he too takes off for his next assignment. This time another Danish artist was present.

5. Shutters on some of the houses, including Chris andKay's, The dutch family, the Swedish family, Heather's, and more.

The village doesn’t die to nothing in the winter, for the locals and year round residents are still here and we settle down to a calmer existence. The calmer hum is pleasant.

Soon I will be getting ready to head back to Geneva for another series of fall rituals.

Buying an Iron

I wasn’t buying an iron. Barbara was. The iron in the photo I had purchased in 1993 at Ferney Voltaire in Champion, one of those big stores where employees know next to nothing about the products.

I now buy all my French products at Groschen, a place owned by two brothers. They know me well, but never remind me of the time I told them the spin cycle on my washer didn’t work and during their repair visit, calmly and without mocking me, suggested if I pushed in the button it would work. Likewise, when one brother installed the air-conditioner/heating unit and I was in agony with a bad back, they considered it routine to help me stand when a trip to the bathroom was necessary and left by giving me a cup of tea.

Thus it was normal we would go there for my new frigo and Barbara’s new iron.
I consider ironing a necessary evil and I do admit to ironing things like pjs because they feel better against my skin. Any old steam iron will do. Barbara on the other hand uses her professionally when she makes her wonderful clothes for sale in her boutique. She needs more out of an iron.

The owner pointed out the pros and cons of the different models, larger holes, smaller holes, placement of the holes, calcaire retention possibilities, pressure (something neither of us knew existed despite decades of ironing. In fact the pressure was written on the iron. Nor did he steer her to the most expensive. Instead by determining what she needed, he steered her to the one that was right for her.

When it came time to discuss my frigo, I am sure he considered the horrible stairs that his delivery boy would have to maneuver, but the concern was not the kid’s back, but my concern that it offer the most environmentally friendly one possible. He knows my preference for half-sized frigos. I only need the two shelves, a mini freezer (which usually holds the overflow from Barbara’s freezer), and the door storage space. I want it no higher than just below the bust line because I place my mini oven on it. He knew the history of the different brands, and laughed when I rejected American Whirlpool for a German brand. Probably both were made in China anyway so probably the quality won't be any better.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Runs on a British Bank

The lines outside the British bank look like photos from the 1929 depression. People want their money from Northern Rock Bank, a victim to the American housing bubble burst although probably stupidity for not realising that you can’t give adjustable rate mortgages to people who can barely pay at the lowest rate without a consequence or two played a part.

When one man in line was asked if his government’s reassurance helped him feel better, he said no, it made him worry further. We (both Brits and Americans) are reaping the lack of regulation and the results of government lies. If US consumers (for we are no longer citizens) suffer, perhaps they are at fault for not educating and informing themselves of the dangers, but the fact that the US is causing innocent people to suffer in other countries is only one more reason that once again I feel fear and shame when I see an American flag.

CNN Hypocrisy

I am angry with CNN who portray the poor little Iraqi boy with the burned face as he moves through the airport to come to America to be operated on, his face to be restored before his attack. Although, I am happy for him, I think of the millions of Iraqi children who have suffered at the hands of Americans directly and indirectly for our ill thought-out war. How many others are maimed, dead, or have lost parents, their education, their youth?

Under 1000 of the million Iraqi refuges are allowed into the US. We rescue on little boy and leave millions stranded (including those who have worked for us directly) or left to flea to Jordan or Syria.

Meanwhile watchers of the program can feel good about how kind America is to “fix” a child and forget the guilt on the millions of anonymous faces we have destroyed with the help of CNN and its bias reporting on the run up to the war with its patriotic music and Operation Iraqi freedom banners

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Free writing: the next blogs explained

One of the free writing exercises* by Nathalie Goldberg is to start with an emotion: I hate, I love, I feel… My blogs are often my free writes, the warm up that gets the words flowing each day, the same way my grandfather used to keep a rusty can next to the garden pump. He would pour rain water from the can into the pump and depress the handle with its terrible creak that attacked the eardrums, but wonderful, clean, cool water would come pouring forth to taste and to splash on hot faces and hands while we dug asparagus or picked strawberries. The next few blogs are these exercises.

*Free writing or timed exercises means you start writing either with a pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and keep going. You don’t edit yourself. You just let yourself say whatever comes to mind, without thinking, if I write this, it will hurt Auntie Maud’s feelings. You can write it, you just don’t let Auntie Maud see it.

I feel nostalgic

Nostalgia hit today. (Okay, so this blog doesn’t start with I feel nostalgic today as I said in the blog above). A young woman carried a Japanese puppy, only seven months old through the marché. She said she bought it in Touraine, fortunately far enough away to keep me from doing anything foolish. My friend Barbara helped with this by repeating “resist, resist,” so much she sounded like a Jane Fonda exercise tape. Had a puppy been on sale…I am not sure the resist warning would have worked.

I feel happy and sad

I feel happy and sad when I look at a bouquet of flowers. As much as I like the beauty, when petals start to fall, I feel sad their life is ending.
I have always been guilty of anthropomorphising things. As a little girl I used to apologise to the paper butter was wrapped in when it had to be binned. It had done its job and then it was discarded. Or I would feel sorry for old socks that had holes, because they must hurt when my grandmother (Dar) mended them.
Thus I never bin an entire bouquet, but as each flower dies, throw it out. I rearrange the remaining flowers as best I can making them last as long as possible.

I love my dustpan

I love my dustpan. I know that’s silly, but because sweeping is one of those ho hum chores, I decided I wanted a pretty dustpan, something almost impossible to find. Then when I visited my mom in Florida, I read about a woman who painted household items with a technique called double brushing. I contacted her and commissioned a dustpan that she mailed to me a couple of weeks later. No way, do I look forward to floor sweeping. My tiles are so light, that each crumb is visible, so it is a frequent activity, but I smile each time I pick up the dustpan. And of course I always wash the dustpan afterwards (I always have) but who wants to treat a signed work of folksy art with disrespect.

I hate my toilet

I hate my toilet…How can anyone hate a toilet? Let me count the ways.

1. It is twenty years old.

2. The first year the only way to flush it was to remove the cover.

3. I have had a minimum of five innard replacements in the last five years.

4. Last year, Gigi (aka Gerard) who is the rarest of French workmen (read reliable, read shows up on time, read doesn’t overcharge, read has a wife that makes a great couscous) found innards that were suppose to last a lifetime.

5. Wednesday night the innards broke.

6. With the new innards, the toilet makes a sound that sounds a bit like a train coming through my studio.

Gigi has keys to my flat so he can come and do whatever needs to be done when I am not there. I came back from the marché to a repaired, albeit it railroad-noisy, toilet. When I called for the cost, I told him. I WANT TO REPLACE THE WHOLE DAMNED THING. He said we would talk about it.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Flags of fear

Watching the people constantly wave tiny American flags behind John McCain as he talked to Larry King last night and commented on the president’s speech, I felt both sadness and fear. Sadness at their blind patriotism and the fear I feel whenever I see an American flag.

I wonder

  • What will be the next sovereign nation we will attack?
  • How many more people will America kill?
  • How many more will we tortured?
  • How many armaments will we sell so others can kill and maim?
  • How many more treaties will we not sign that might make the world more peaceful?
  • How many more of our own citizens be denied the benefits other countries take for granted?
  • How many more directives will go up on the White House web site like the one on May 17th that all but promised martial law in case of another attack or natural disasters or those in July threatening to confiscate property and wealth of anyone helping certain groups with the muddy definition of helping.

When I was a teenager in Rainbow, I asked for the speaking part of Patriotism, purple in the bow. I loved the speech, the pride I felt in not only my country, but talking about it.

Now I only feel fear for those there that they will lose the little they have along with the loss of habeas corpus, freedom of speech, health insurance, decent jobs.

I predicted the and mortgage bubbles bursting. I predicted the disaster Iraq would be become. I only hope I am wrong now that the country will continue down its path of war criminality against other countries and its own citizens.

So I looked at those tiny waving flags, seeing only more spin, and again fear and sadness swept over me.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Another Trompe d'Oeil

This one is at the end of my street and done by English Artist and London Theatre set designer Chris Floyd. Chris is unable to leave any plain surface alone, so his house is always covered with painted flowers, window boxes as the bird forever checks out the street. The only real things are the green vines to the left, the door and the shadow.

Fixing a window more or less

Poor Dani, the fishmonger. Kids, who had too much to drink fought outside her shop, and one pushed another through the glass pane. The kid survived, but is in trouble with his parents and police as he should be. He had run away (break and run?) but a good neighbour had heard the glass break, saw what happened and identified the kid.

Meanwhile Dani hired the men in the photo to replace the glass providing as much entertainment as a Laurel and Hardy film fest. Although they allegedly knew what they were doing, they couldn’t figure out how to remove the glass. When they did finally go into the store and hammer the pane onto the street, they didn’t put anything down on the pavement to reduce sweeping up the glass, which became a greater problem. They had nothing to pick up the glass with, no broom, no dustpan, no shovel. This was okay too because they had nothing to put the glass in. Dani had to give them a Styrofoam container that previously had held her smoked cod.None of these steps in glass replacement were accomplished without much consultation that led to more consultation and head scratching.

One can't help but appreciate the entertainment factor in the process while supplying sympathy to Dani for going through the extra work. Never once, however, did she not smile at a customer, share a recipe or a piece of gossip.

Talking about Maddy at the tea room

“She did it out of love,” Franck’s face is animated but serious.

His wife Louise, rolled her eyes. “He is asking what everyone thinks, today.”

I was at La Noisette, my home away from home. I spend lots of time sitting at tables like this, enjoying the sky, the church, the ambience eating everything from a full English breakfast to drinking a cup of tea. Although I often take my book, I seldom read, because I meet so many people and we get embroiled in conversation. All roads lead to La Noisette, one Englishman said, but it is true not just for the English, but the whole international community and the local community too.

Franck was talking about the Maddy case, the little girl who went missing in Portugal and her parents are now considered suspects. He mentioned the mother was a doctor, that she could have given her too much sleeping medicine before they went out to dinner, then shaken her too to wake her but killed her. He uses his hand to show shaking motions. According to Franck when she realised what she had done, they could have begun a cover-up to protect their remaining children, the reason it was done out of love.

He is sure she could have found a place to hide the body because police were looking elsewhere.

At this point Louise points out that the “nounou” the child’s stuffed animal was left. As a mother she knows anyone would take the nounou to keep the child quiet if she were alive. She also found it strange that the mother washed everything belonging to nounou.

I don’t know if the mother is guilty. I do know that Franck is a proud father, carrying two-year old Toby-toes around the village on his shoulders or playing with him after he comes to the tea room from the creche. If Louise accidentally (this is hard to write) killed their son, I can’t imagine there very strong couple surviving it, with or without media attention.

Another customer came in, and the facts of the case are reviewed again. Louise makes the suggestion that Franck might want to wait on the lunch crowd arriving, which he does.
I go back to the contemplation of the street feeling overwhelming sadness for the people who I never met or will never meet.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A light bulb is not a light bulb not a light bulb

For those who think I think everything in Europe is perfect, you are wrong, wrong, wrong. Frustrations with small details can vary and from country to country and one that supplies regular aggravation to me here is light bulbs.

Yes light bulbs.

Having worked for two standardization organizations, I hate, yes hate, the fact that light bulbs have different bases.

In my tiny studio there are five possibilities. Only three are shown in the photo. I didn’t bother to pull out the neon bathroom light nor unscrew the bulb in my halogen lamp I use for needlework.

And those are not all the choices. The little track light bulb with its cute little stool attachments could have two needle size points or three. Not all stores carry all types, so it is often necessary to go on light bulb safaris to find the correct one to enable me to see after dark.

I suppose I should be grateful I have at least learned the word for light bulb, ampule… When I lived in Toulouse before my French was much beyond bonjour and avez vous…I needed to replace a bulb. I found a clerk and tried…Avez-vous…avez-vous…avez-vous but I didn’t know what came next so I started to act out reading a book, not being able to see, going to a wall to switch on a light switch and nothing happening.

The clerk looked at me, laughed and said in perfect English, “You want a light bulb?” and led me to a large bank. I grabbed the nearest got home and it was then that I discovered that God did not make all light bulbs the same. It has been downhill since then and I am in still in dark to figure out why it has to be so complicated. Maybe somebody can shed some light on the matter.

Who needs alarms?

The sun didn’t wake me this morning, nor did the trashmen nor the street cleaners. It wasn’t the children’s voices as they took a few minutes to play before trudging off to school with their backpacks filled with books.

Coffee woke me, its aroma crossing the street from where Ingoldt and Keega were sitting in their kitchen. Like some cartoon, the smell of the freshly brewed coffee wafted from their second floor window into my third floor window, made its way across the floor and entered my nostrils.
I don’t drink coffee, except for an occasional renversée, the Genevoise answer to café au lait. When I do savour the aroma and taste of anything but heavily milk-diluted coffee, ants enter the top of my head and tap dance. It isn’t the caffeine, for I can consume large quantities of tea and my beloved Coca-Cola without problems.

Sometimes I give in to the renversée like the time I met my writing mate at the Ferney marché and the only thing to do was to sit in the sun at a café and drink a coffee. Nothing else would have been the same. And the amount of frothed milk kept the ants at bay.
Sadly the same day, I had bought flowers for the Madame S., the octogenarian lady who lived on the ninth floor of my apartment building. She was so pleased she had to make me espresso despite my protests and then my best attempts to sip as little possible. She kept filling the delicate gold rimmed demitasse almost after each of my tiny swallows. I returned to my own flat with an colony of ants imitating the entire cast of Riverdance and Lord of the Rings in my skull.
Still not being able to drink coffee does not diminish the pleasure of smelling it brewing this morning. Thank-you Ingoldt and Keega.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Hearings make me sick

Watching the Betrayus and Crooker hearings I think of how many hearings I have watched starting in my childhood with my mother who was so thankful that McCarthy was saving us from the Red Menace in and out of our borders. (I will admit that I found the hearings annoying more because they conflicted with Howdy Doody and Beany. I won’t claim to have been political in grade school, but even then something didn’t make sense to me.)And we all know what an inspirational person McCarthy was.

From then on there was Watergate, Col. North, good old Monica and quite a few in between. The one that thrilled me was the one on C-Span where several Congressmen challenged the results of the 2004 election.

In so many of them, I feel as if I am watching a good fiction program. I often wish what people were saying was true. If I could have faith in the latest it was dashed, when Crooker made one more reference to Saddam’s torture of his own people. Despite the US Mantra we do not torture, saying it doesn’t make it so. Congress rejected closing of the School of Americas, or where Janis Karpinski talks about Abu Grahib or the illegal flights where we sent people to be tortured. It is a variation of Bush’s statement about the terrorists killing innocent women and children. Tell that to those that were under US bombs when they landed and have been killed by US Soldiers. And as for 9/11 a few hours of terror against years and years that the Iraqis have suffered.
So thus I watch another hearing where lies fall from lips, for a war that is killing too many people. Sadly I have read too much to believe.

As I write this Crooker talks about training the Iraqis in preventive maintenance of their infrastructure. Maybe then the Iraqis can train us how to rebuild bridges starting in Minneapolis.

I also wonder what right the US has to demand what the Iraqi government must do after we attacked and destroyed it.

So far no one has mentioned the almost double the number of US Soldiers that we have hired as paid mercenaries.

No one has questioned why we can interfere in Iraq and only our allies can interfere. Doesn’t it make sense that Syria and Iran have more interest in their neighbour than perhaps Australia does?

And part of me thinks the fact that they couldn’t get the microphones to work properly at the beginning of the hearing is a great metaphor for the war. We couldn’t get that right either, but then attacking a sovereign nation can’t be gotten right.

Nor did I hear about the meeting in Finland where Iraqi ministers met with Irish ministers tried to talk about how the Irish solution might be used by the Iraqis. The US wasn’t present.
Likewise the Iraqis invited Iran engineers into the country to help fix the electricity that the US has failed so miserably do.

Why aren’t the questioners asking about the source of the stats and why haven’t they done their own based on news reports?

Overall the war leaves me feeling sick and ashamed and so angry. The hearings only make it stronger.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Vases and Flowers

Ever since I broke the $5 vase purchased some 25+ years ago from George’s Folly ferreted out from the Souk-like atmosphere between incense, bulky jewellery, strange statures and Indian cloth, I have had only had the egg-shaped vase. That I bought for my mother when I was nine. She had liked it when she saw it at Weston’s Greenhouse, a place smelling of flowers and damp earth. I had paid for it from my milk money, no great sacrifice since I hated the milk served in fourth grade. It was delivered in small bottles with paper stoppers early in the morning, left in the hall between the first and second grade rooms with enough ice to puddle but not enough to keep cool.
After my mother died I recaptured the vase and shipped it to Europe when I moved. However, it is not the type of vase to plunk flowers into. It is the type of vase wgere a flower arranger needs to anchor each stem in either that green florist spongy stuff or glass marbles.

The red vase isn’t a vase at all, but a metal Coca-Cola bottle purchased for the special occasion of the 11th birthday of Barbara’s grandson who was visiting at the time. The bottle was more festive in his eyes, I suspect, than champagne would be in the eyes (or taste) of an adult. I scooped the bottle and when I find a rose of just the right colour to match the pattern or the red, out it comes.

Perhaps next year in vide grenier sale on the 1st of May I will find another vase with enough memory potential to make it worth my while to carry it home.

Lost and Found

It is part of Nelson family lore how my daughter and friends spent time in my newly purchased studio. They travelled from Munich, via Toulouse, to pick up my newly-purchased dish set, the Villeroy and Boch Acapulco pattern, visible in other photos on this blog.

One dish was lost. It never bothered me that a dish was lost EXCEPT I never understood how anything could be lost in a one-room studio with absolutely nothing in it, not even a stove or frigo at the time.

Now that the studio is furnished, I find it easier to misplace things, even with my minimalist lifestyle.

The latest was my good Swiss watch, a gift from Florian. It had spent time in the States with my daughter, who took all my good Swiss watches, when I gave up wearing a watch for several years. It had more to do with so many demands on my time, my IEC job, writing for CUT, teaching at Webster, and trying to do my own fiction. The watch on my wrist served more to mock me than remind me of how time was flying much too fast even though savings were mounting for early retirement.

Once I devoted myself solely to writing and not being a 9 to 5 wage slave, I asked for one watch back and I have worn it regularly for the past three years. Two weeks ago, I couldn’t find it. I searched in the obvious places. I searched in the unobvious ones. Finally I decided to do the thing that guarantees the lost will be found—I replaced. Obviously the 5 euro marché watch was too inexpensive to qualify and the watch stayed hidden.

Today, my friend Barbara and I shared a roast chicken lunch, the bird bought from the stand down the street. I explained how frustrated I was.

‘Did you look…’ she named places that it might be. To each I replied yes, and she rechecked.

‘Did you look in your silverware basket?’

I nodded.

She rummaged around and pulled it out.

‘The gold part caught my eye among the silver,’ she said to make me feel a little less dumb.

So now I have a beautiful, classy watch, and a campy wooden one. I will keep the second. It won’t take up too much room. And to RM, no, this doesn't mean I am falling off the minimalist wagon.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Knitting for no reason

I have no idea why I started knitting baby sweaters since I know of no one with babies. My own biological time clock died out about 38 years ago.

Granted I felt like knitting and they worked up fast. I also kept having my own ideas for hearts on pink, putting penguin buttons on snow, etc. Well this is my production for the last year. Maybe I will give them to Barbara to sell or put them on Ebay...


I love it when friends come. Even if they are here for reasons other than to visit with me, it means more conversations, sharing an experience or two in a relaxed atmosphere. I also love having people I know from other places to pop in and out. Popping is good.

This happened recently and they generously invited Barbara and I to share a meal at the hotel where they were staying.The photo shows my starter with a mouth-watering sauce on a crêpe with morel mushrooms and greens. Manners, Swiss, French or American, kept me from licking the plate but just...

Monday, September 03, 2007

Rock art

Some people find the image of the Virgin Mary on peanut butter sandwiches or Christ’s picture on a wood panel. While walking along the beach Sunday, I found a rock and despite the poor quality of the photo, in reality it looks a bit like a painting with waves, a rock and even a cloud. However, without religious significance, I doubt if putting it on E-bay would bring me any profit. In fact right now there is a wood panel image of the Virgin Mary but with no bids. Besides, I prefer to keep the rock as a memory of a nice day, walking along the edge of the waves with Mosquite, the pup, who decided he, too, wanted to put his feet in the water. The only problem was that waves for him were nose high. As for the picture of the rock, I don’t think he was impressed at all.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Social Butterfly

This weekend gives new meaning to the term social butterfly.

It started Friday night with my annual dinner with my pal Barbara where I prepare New England style apple pie and corn chowder.

The pie crust is made with Crisco bought and brought from the American store in Geneva and costing slightly less than a semester at Harvard. Traditionally I decorate it with a bird cut from the pastry with a cookie cutter that my grandmother and great grandmother used and set the piece on a tree branch cut into the crust.

Saturday lunch was at La Noisette with Gertrude and Barbara as we caught up on news. She told us of her award ceremony for her efforts in producing HIV awareness films, her dog, etc. and we planned other events for the month they will be here. Gertrude and Froed are in the house Barbara and I used to own. Of course during lunch, different people came by warranting catch-up conversations including a native who now lives in Pontalier (a place I fell in love with not far from where I used to live when I was first in Switzerland) and has so much history of the region in his head, that talking and walking with him is like being in a documentary.

Then at night, a different group of us, locals and Brits, went to the butterfly farm where Marielle, a native Argelèsian, who we meet for coffee at La Noisette, is cooking.

Before dinner we wandered through the enclosure alive with plants and flowers between ponds. Butterflies flew around us. They were every size and colour imaginable including several that were bigger than both my hands. The most beautiful were a perfect match for my blue folders, but were impossible to catch on camera. As soon as they lit they closed their wings. Their underside is a dark chocolate. I did find a photo on the web done by a photographer with more luck or maybe patience than I have.

Dinner was in the garden, un menu unique de seche, giant calamar, done Catalan style. The sinking feeling of preparing to chew and chew and chew on flavourless rubber disappeared with the first bite which was tender and delicious. I should have had more faith in Marielle

And today I am off to the beach with Nadine, owner of La Petite Pause. Since it is the end of the season she is beginning her autumn hours.

Friends are due down from Geneva although not staying with me, Dinners are planned, more Danes are arriving at the end of the week, no longer content with just their summer stay.

My daughter laughs when I tell her that once I was worried that I would be isolated down here. Instead, I have found a variety of acquaintances in the Catalan, French and international communities.

And although there are days I lock myself to my computer to write either my fiction or my news articles, I know just outside my door are interesting people to talk to, eat with and share new experiences that leaves me all a flutter.