Saturday, November 24, 2007

Where is she?

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

Notice. Puppy mom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 23, 2007

Bejart has joined the stars

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Modes of Communication

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 16, 2007

Six kitchens, two states, three countries

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

If one thing doesn't work try another

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

In the Garzoni Gardens

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

Thursday, November 15, 2007

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

Pinocchios are
everywhere. The writer is
from here: Collodi

Olive trees

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

Friday, November 09, 2007

Snow and italy

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

the elderly woman

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

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

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

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

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


"Vous êtes americaine?"


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 08, 2007

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

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

Friday, November 02, 2007

Haiku to Sunflowers

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

Beauty helps the soul

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

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

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

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

Left behind

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

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

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

Now they put it up

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

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

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

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

Halloween and new cuisine

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

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

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

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

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

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