Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year

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

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

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

Feeling better allowed me to at least catch up on my credit union newsletter work

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

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

Something is missing but isn't

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

She is right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Can three alpha women survive together

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

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

Monday, December 24, 2007

Feasting with Friends

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

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

What is it about George Clooney

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

Friday, December 21, 2007

We have the cleanest groceries in Corsier

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

Sadness and happiness on the shortest day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A shop free 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riding the rails

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

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

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

The German Christmas Market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My 2008 planned shopping spree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tis that time of year

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

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

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

A different Christmas tale

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

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

Man in Red Suit: Me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(They handcuff him and pull him away.)

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

Angels in a store window

For Rose

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

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

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Remembering Uncle Archer

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

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

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

Thank God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 03, 2007

Of penguins at exhibitions

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

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

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

Walking through the exhibition with its life sized trees was like magic followed by the giggles produced when we discovered the overly nippled cancan dancers (see web sites)

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

Rainy days and Mondays

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

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

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Marzipan veggies and visitors

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wonder what Mère Royaume would have thought about that.