Friday, March 30, 2007

Geneva gives climate change new meaning

Calvin talked about an unpredictable God. After almost 17 years in this area, I am sure his theory was triggered because the weather is so changeable. Case in point: I left my Cosier Port home and it was a beautiful spring day, slightly on the chilly side, but the lake was calm and beautiful.

I went to the doctor’s in my old commune of Grand Saconnex on the other side of the lake. Still beautiful.

I was in the office less than a half hour. When I opened the door, the skies let loose. The rain looked like not so sheer, sheer curtains. I started for the bus anyway trying to stay under shelter.

Lightning less than one second before the thunder scared me. I know lightning has often struck the area but I made it safely to the bus, but not before being pelted with hail stones.

The Number 3 left Grand Saconnex for Petit Saconnex less than five minutes away. There the ground was snow covered.

Downtown I met my housemate for a movie. When we came out, the temperature had dropped even lower. The weather was clear until we got off the bus to walk to the house. Then the sleet began.

Geneva weather, you gotta love it…or not…

The chair is back

For years the area in front of the UN in Geneva was patchy grass, but for at least ten years there was a two-story three legged-chair. See photo:

I could always imagine Edith Ann (Lily Tomlin) sitting there and saying, “That’s the truth.”

The chair’s missing leg symbolizes human legs lost in land mines. The chair was supposed to stand until every country signed the treaty. 138 countries have signed (but not the US).

The UN removed the chair while it turned the grubby land into a cement landscape. Ugly got uglier.

I haven’t been by for a long time. I used the number 3 bus instead of the number 5 when I went to Grand Saconnex where I used to live and when I went to my office, I was a block away. However, today late for a doctor’s appointment in my old apartment complex the number 5 came first taking me by the UN

Voilà…the ugly space had been replaced with a series of fountains and in the middle the chair is back.

Some people think the chair is ugly, but then landmines are ugly…and that’s the truth.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Perch and pups

The wall of the auberge restaurant had a trompe d’oeil of two black fuzzy dogs sitting under a window. On the right side a grey tiger cat stared down at the canines.

My writer friend and I ordered exactly the same thing. The salad greens, the first of the season from a nearby field were crisp and tasted of spring freshness. The filet des perches was, of course, from the lake.

As usual we talked about everything from personal to political and back again.

After finishing she showed me a near by nature reserve where we could walk in the air smelling of fresh earth and new grass. On this fine spring day we walked by the pond with ducks swimming. She identified some of the other birds. Wildflowers were everywhere. We stopped to sit on a bench, the trunk of a tree where one quarter had been carved out to make a seat. An elderly man, his French bulldog on a leash, walked by. The animal snuffled at us and he proudly told us of all her good qualities.

Under the blue sky with the snow covered Jura to one side, and the snow covered Alps to the other we continued into the woods. My friend explained there are still lots of wild animals, fox, deer, hares and boars. “Don’t run if you see one, just stare it down,” she said.

She had read an article that said because so many animals are protected in Switzerland, they find animals are moving in from France with no such laws. We pondered on how they knew on one side of the border they were safe from human predators. We wondered how they even knew where the borders were, although it was fun to imagine them strolling by the border guards and being asked if they had any merchandise to declare. We were sure they would have said no.

In the beginning there was fondue

The local paper did a history of fondue. The first recorded recipe was found in Zurich in 1699. I had always suspected that fondue was poor peoples’ food, but the story said no, because for years the best Gruyere cheese was exported with Lyon being one the largest purchasers.

Now, having a fondue, is one those wonderful Swiss stereotypes regardless of the section. French, Germans and Italian Swiss along with foreigners living here, consider it just one of those wonderfully social things that without life wouldn’t be quite as nice.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Movies a cure to backaches...not really but

Despite a backache I decided to see not one but two movies.

Mation Cotillard as Edith Piaf played in La Mome (US Release Title La Vie En Rose) was one of the most amazing acting performances I have seen. She had the speaking voice and the mannerisms down, but she went from a young girl to dying 47-year old wasted by abuse to her body. Of course the music was well it was Piaf.

After a short break I met former colleagues and we watched Herbstzeitloser, a Swiss German film that had us all chortling. Filmed in the Canton of Bern in a small village, a widow in her 80s deeply mourns her husband until her friends encourage her to change his grocery store into a sexy lingerie shop with her making the lingerie, shocking her pastor son and the more conservative elements in the village. Another friend helps the old woman set up an internet business and when orders are too heavy for her to handle she ends up teaching both men and women in the old age home to embroider. It is reminiscent of the film Chocolate. The actress in the leading role was 87.

Now the back pain didn’t go away, but since it hurt anyway, I was well entertained and distracted. Je ne regrette rien...

Monday, March 26, 2007

Pansies and Postmasters

Despite my aching back I decided to walk to the post office, although I could have used my housemate’s car. Ignoring pollution, I felt I was more likely to wrench the back behind a wheel. Besides, the day was incredible.

Passionately purple and golden yellow pansies blanketed the gardens and snowdrops almost hid the new grass. Everything shimmered as if jewellers had blown diamond dust over the entire countryside. Pink cherry blossoms, white apple blossoms and forsythia were everywhere, all against a backdrop of snow on the mountains.

My mission was “pour régler” the name on the mail box for my business account.

Our postmaster looked quite dapper in his brown suit, complete with vest, yellow shirt and brown and yellow stripped tie.

He is a slave to detail and dots every i not once but four times. I’ve taken rolled coins in for my savings account and even when they weigh correctly he takes them out and counts them several times.

Likewise he laboured over the paper work. Admittedly my handwriting is less than grammar school perfect. I am not sure it was a compliment or an insult when he said my French accent was better than my writing. I will say tact-lack and leave it at that.

However, as annoying his attention to detail can be, half of me wishes he could read English. I could use him as a proof reader, another of my weaknesses.

I voted on Sunday

It was Sunday, so I voted. This was the first time I had done it in person, because the other times I used the very efficient mail system. Voters get a package explaining the issues, a ballot, a ballot envelope and an identification card. The same envelope the package arrives in is reused and no postage is required.

However, I arrived back too late to guarantee it would get there in time to be countedl.

The election place is the local school. The young man, who measured me for my passport, was behind the counter and manned the ballot box which was yellow and red stripped reminding me of the Catalonian flag.

Even though the vote was already in the envelope, he wanted to make sure I had done everything correctly and sent me into the booth to check. I did, I had, and he took the envelope and slipped in the box.

One of the candidates for the town council was one of the women who interviewed me for my citizenship and had issued a negative report. Any guesses on how I voted?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Little Mosque on the Prairie

Having read about the Canadian series, I was hoping to get a look when I go to Canada next summer.

Nandita had introduced me to where I could watch TV shows etc. on my computer.
And Voilà there it was two episodes, but in looking at it I saw the source was You Tube which had several more episodes.

It's fun and pokes fun at own narrowmindness.

We aren't citizens but consumers

I came across this in my IWWG newsletter and it echoes what I have been thinking and saying People today are no longer citizens but consumers manipulated for an economic system that is in itself an artificial set up with its own rules and regulation. The question isn’t so much, what the hell are we are doing, is why are we letting if be done to us?

By Ethan Miller in YES

“The dominant story defines the heroes of our market system as the rational, self-interested firms and individuals who seek to satisfy their endless need for growth and accumulation in a world of scarce resources. In this story, we the people are just worker-bees and consumers, making and spending money, hoping for the opportunity to accumulate more, and perpetually dependent on the jobs and necessities that the corporate system allocates to the worthy. Citizenship is reduced to the active pursuit of financial wealth…A community of active, creative and skilled people without money of capital (or the desire to have it) are considered unproductive or backward…

Suppose we try a different story: Instead of defining economy as a market system, let’s define it as the diverse array by which humans generate livelihoods in relation to each other and to the Earth. Extending far beyond the workings of the capitalist market, economic activity included all the ways we sustain and support ourselves, our families and our communities. Peeling away the dominant economic story of competition and accumulations, we see that other economies are alive below the surface, nourishing us like roots. These are not the economies of stockbrokers and economists. These are the economies of mutual care and cooperation—community economies, local economies. They include.

Household Economies meeting our needs with our own skills and work, raising children, offering advice or comfort, teaching life skills, cooking, cleaning, building, balance the check book, growing food and medicine…

Gift Economies—built on shared circles of generosity, volunterr fire companies, food banks, donationg to community organizations, sharing food.

Barter Economies—trading services with friends or neighbors, swapping one useful thing for another, returning a factor, exchanging plants or seed, time-based local currencies.

Gathers Economies—based on the abundance of earth’s gift economy: hunting, fishing and foraging. Also re-directing the waste stream, salvaging from demolition sites, gleaning from already harvested fields, dumpster diving.

Cooperative Economies—based on common ownership and/or control of resources: worker owned and run business, collective housing, intentional communities, community health trusts.

Community Market Economies—networks of exchange build from small businesses and cooperatives that are accountable to their communities through social ties, innovative ownership models and mutual support. Such economies not create to make large profits but to provide healthy, modest livelihoods to their participants and services to the larger communities.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The breakfast guest

Munchkin, the sleek, delicate, grey and white almost angora cat of my housemate, I suspect, pictures herself cast as a lioness in a Richard Attenborough nature film. She can probably see herself pounding across the plain and bringing down a zebra or wildebeest.

In Corsier Port zebras are not common and wildebeests less so, so she contents herself with smaller prey. Occasionally she goes airborne snaring a bird that has the audacity (or stupidity) to fly too low across her garden.

We have witnessed her prowess often because the office window looks out on her hunting domain.

In the house she reverts to a sweet-little thing. Therefore, it was not a surprise to enter the kitchen and see her sitting calmly, not in killer-strike pose and with no clicking of jaws as all cats are prone to do when about to kill. What was totally unmunchkinlike was to follow where she was looking. In her food dish a small brown, apparently uninjured mouse was jawing down her kitty food.

Did she issue a breakfast invitation? Did he turn up unexpectedly and she decided to be a good hostess? Was she fattening him up for a later snack?

Sadly, as bright as she is, her verbal skills do not allow for direct questions and answers.

Munchkin was invited to leave the room and the mouse was invited to leave the house, but not before a picture of the domestic scene had been snapped.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Sushi and Spice Racks

It is no secret whenever I get home to Geneva the first thing I do is eat sushi. The filet des perches, the jet d’eau, the tailleul bread and friends can wait.

This time was no different, except I was in pain and not from hunger. Three changes of train with too much luggage and a lap top had taken its toll on my back.

Unlike aspirin, I believe that sushi has magical qualities of healing, if not back pain at least a taste bud revival is guaranteed. However, rather than lug the stuff to Mikado or Bokey, I settled for the restaurant under the station.

Happy with my tray I sat down to eat, however, this time there was entertainment.

A man, probably in his late twenties, cute and probably a Brit from his accent, was sitting kitty corner, an ear plug draped from his ear to his phone.

‘I don’t care if the spice racks aren’t usually that size,’ he said.

For each bite of tuna, asparagus, shrimp, rice, salmon I learned more and more about spice racks and their measurements, their materials, etc. I never learned why the size was so important to him.

He finished his meal and as he left called Paul to report the spice rack condrum. Out the restaurant window I saw him wandering off talking to Paul as I popped the last morsel of sushi filled with avocado into my mouth.

I cry

As I was watching the morning news, there was an interview of the “raw recruits” bring sent to Iraq. A young man, who looked as if he should be shooting hoops at a high school game, was asked who the enemy was, and he had to think before saying the Iraqis. His voice raised at the end. He seemed to have little idea of why he was going.

A young woman was more sure. She was going to fight the Iraqis because “they hate our values.” Obviously she had heard the line but had never questioned why they hated our values or even if it were true. Obviously critical skills were not something developed in her school system and I suspect she knows even less history.

Both these kids may be killed or maimed. If they come back alive, they will see atrocities that no one should witness. Not only has the US failed them in their education, it has failed them in asking them to fight in this war.

And once again I cried for the horrendousness of what the US has done, which is far greater than anything that was ever done to us.

I cry for the American soldiers who have committed atrocities.

I cry for the American soldiers who have died for nothing.

I cry for the American soldiers who are forever wounded in body and/or soul.

I cry for the millions of Iraqi refugees who are seeking refuge all over the world. Sadly after destroying their homes, the US is doing little to help them. Neither is the UN.

I cry for the thousands and thousands of Iraqi children dead and maimed at US hands. Don’t ever try and tell me the enemy is bad because they kill innocents and children. So do we and more of them.

I cry for the stupidity of the people who believed the lies.

I cry for a war of choice.

I cry for the loss of rights.

I cry for the ignoring of international law.

I do not exaggerate when I say I cry. Real tears flow at the waste, stupidity, the cruelty.

My goal now is to contact every single senator and congressman by phone or email and tell them to stop the war. I always use the line ‘I am an expat and I vote’ whenever I contact our alleged leaders.

Will it do any good?

Probably not, but I have to. I cannot live with myself if I do nothing to stop this catastrophe however limited.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Not enough

When the Iraq war started my daughter was on airplane flying to Geneva. The next Saturday we were at an anti-war rally in Bern not the first time we had attended a protest together. Since then I have protested, e-mailed, signed petitions, forwarded messages to others of like mind, made donations, phoned congressmen on a regular basis on the war, on civil rights issues, on economic issues. I have done much of what Solnit (see article below) did, but it has not been enough.

Yes I know, I have chosen citizenship in another country, and yes I know it offers me a better quality of life, a social contract, safety, and real democracy, but I will never forget that my strength comes from my roots and I remain angry that those roots are being poisoned.

In the news I see photos of the demonstration in Washington. If I’d been in the US, I would have been among the crowd.

I will probably never have grandchildren, but I do think of the question asked of the Greatest Generation, “What did you do in the war Grampy?”

Like Vietnam, once again, my answer would be, “not enough.” I will not have to admit to future grandchildren I have failed as a citizen of a country that gave me so much.

Was I a good American in the time of George Bush?

Too many of us have done too little to stop the crimes of this White House. We are waking up but what took us so long?

Rebecca Solnit
Wednesday March 14, 2007
The Guardian

Was I a good American? How good an American was I? Did I do what I could to resist the takeover of my country and the brutalisation of my fellow human beings? How much further could I have gone? Were the crimes of the Bush administration those that demand you give up your life and everyday commitments to throw yourself into maximum resistance? If not, then what were we waiting for? The questions have troubled me regularly these last five years, because I was one of the millions of American citizens who did not shut down Guantánamo Bay and stop the other atrocities of the administration.

I wrote. I gave money, sometimes in large chunks. I went to anti-war marches. I demonstrated. I also planted a garden, cooked dinners, played with children, wandered around aimlessly, and did lots of other things you do when the world is not crashing down around you. And maybe when it is. Was it? It was for the men in our gulag. And the boys there. And the rule of law in my native land.

Before the current administration, it had always been easy to condemn the "good Germans" who did nothing while Jews, Gypsies and others were rounded up for extermination. One likes to believe that one will be different, will harbour Anne Frank in one's secret annex, smuggle people across the border, defy the authorities who do evil. Those we scornfully call good Germans merely did little while the mouth of hell opened up.

I now know the way that everyday life can be so absorbing, survival so demanding, that it seems impossible to do more on top of it or to drop the routine altogether and begin a totally different life. There is the garden to be watered, the aged parent in crisis, the deadline looming; but there are also the crimes against humanity waiting to be stopped. Ordinary obligations tug one way even when extraordinary ones tug the other way. The Bush administration is by no means the Third Reich, but it produced an extraordinary time that made extraordinary demands on US citizens, demands that some of us rose to - and too many did not.

Periodically, I would speculate on what was the most extreme and radical thing I could do to stop the illegal prison camp at Guantánamo; picture chaining myself to the gates of the Senate, becoming one of those activists who takes up residence outside the White House or takes over a TV station to get a message out. I wanted to do something so epic that it would turn the tide, stop the crime. Then I would consider that the best approaches were probably already being taken, by the heroic lawyers at the Centre for Constitutional Rights and other human rights organisations, and I would write another cheque and some more letters and feel a little futile and a little corrupt.

These days Americans seem to be waking up one at a time, groggy and embittered, from the hypnotic nightmare that was the Bush administration's one great success - spreading a miasma of fear and patriotic submissiveness that made it possible to mount an illegal and immoral war, piss on the bill of rights, burn the constitution and violate international charters on human rights and prisoners of war with widespread torture. None of the sleepers seems to remember that they were part of the legions who obeyed the orders to fear and hate - but we welcome the latecomers into our ranks anyway.

What took them so long? How could people believe that a fairly defanged country, one we had been bombing since the first Gulf war, was an apocalyptic menace in a world where most nations were well-equipped for mass civilian murder? A year ago, the turning point was marked by the comedian Stephen Colbert's volley of (accurate) insults delivered to Bush's face, in the guise of giving the keynote address at the Washington press corps' annual dinner. He was just aggressively ignored by the mainstream media. Perhaps Katrina turned the tide: the indifference, incompetence, and obliviousness of the federal government was so gross that its pedestal melted.

And there were others who were in resistance all along. I remember with admiration the Japanese-Americans who came out in the months after 9/11 to testify that they had been incarcerated en masse during the second world war, not for what they did but for who they were, and they were not going to remain silent as the same treatment was meted out to Arabs and Muslims. I remember the way that 20,000 of us in San Francisco came out to shut down the business district the day the war broke out, and the huge marches before and after. I remember the few congresspeople - mostly African-American - who dared to stand in opposition early on. I went to Camp Casey outside Bush's vacation home in Texas and spent a day with Cindy Sheehan, who gave her life over to stopping the war after it took her soldier son. Others did as she did. Some of them are my friends.

There is resistance. But if it were enough, the crimes would have stopped, the war would have ended. When it does and they do, some will have been heroes. Some will have been honourable but moderate, in times that did not call for moderation. And some will have consented, through inaction, to crimes against humanity.

· Rebecca Solnit is the author of Hope in the Dark: The Untold History of People Power, and Wanderlust: A history of walking

The new bud vase

When I broke my much loved vase bought at George’s Folley in Brookline MA well over 25 years ago, I never expected Coca-Cola to help in its replacement.

Like teapots that have to be selected with expectations of a long relationship endowed with memory after memory, a vase is not a casual selection. Price does not enter into it. In fact the one that broke has cost under $5, but it had held the first spring yellow tulips on my hand painted chest in my much-loved Riverway Apartment, done justice to the bird of paradise spotted in the window of the Brookline Flower shop, and had been the holder of flowers brought by guests in anticipation of uncountable meals or bought from the marchés just because the apartment would be cheerier with flowers.

Thus when my friend, her daughter (the mom) and her son on visit from the US and I celebrated his birthday, the process began. Like me, they love Coke. Unlike me they no longer limit their intake. I used to drink it morning, noon and night and loved every mouthful. People talk about various diets, but I went on the Coca-Cola diet. By severely restricting the beverage I dropped eight pounds.

The mom had found almost miniature Coke cans as the birthday beverage, shaped like the bottles in the normal red, but decorated with pink stars, yellow hearts and a mythical golden city all very subtle. I got to keep my can which is more graceful than most bud vases I’ve seen.

Yesterday at the marché I found a red flower (I have no idea what it is) but it now stands in the center of my table in the Coke bud vase.

So if I tote up the pleasures beyond it looking pretty, I can add in my love of Coca-cola, the memory of the birthday party, standing with the son and mom watching the floats of carnival, getting lost looking for a hotel in Barcelona, walking through a château and some great conversations.

That’s a lot of memory emblazoned in the metal already and more to come.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Pac Man eats Palestine

Each morning I set my alarm for 5:30 to watch BBC’s Hardtalk, which features guests from all over the world all over the political spectrum, not just the same old same old that American talk shows use. Then I do my review of AlJazerra, BBC, CNN and France 24 so I start the day with a knowledge that the world continues to exist and how much trouble it is from a variety of perspectives.

Not that I can do anything about it, although letters to congressmen, newspapers and world leaders flow freely from my email. And I certainly like the hard hitting questions that shame that wuss Tim Russert. On Hardtalk you get the host contradicting false statements with proof and demanding “Why won’t you answer my question,” etc. especially when the guest wobbles and waffles all over the place.

This morning instead of the BBC interview with a Palestinian that was promised... Pacman ate his way across my screen.

It was BBC’s Click. The next half hour was a trip down computer game memory lane from the first Space Invaders discovered at my housemate’s boss’s house sometime to yesterday’s half hour break with Bubble Burst and Crickler which have replaced myriad games through the last three decades. Games don’t get in the way of what I need to do, but they have brought me hours of pleasure over the years. We won’t discuss the night I played Cubis until the early morning and froze my shoulder in the process.

Most of the show can be seen at plus there’s an interview with my hero, the founder of Craigslist who isn’t trying to just earn money but to do a service while earning enough to satisfy his needs, sort of a techie Ben and Jerry’s. Now that’s a novel concept in today’s money grubbing world.

I will try and catch Hardtalk at a later showing.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The hostress gift

The hostess gift for my friend in Toulouse whom I was spending the weekend with was a puzzle. My first thought was a specialty coffee bean because I knew she had an old-fashioned, hand-cranked coffee grinder, but I opted for a geometric necklace made of nacre.

“How do you know she will like it?” my girl friend who owns the shop where I bought it asked. I felt it.

My friend picked me up at the train station. I was wearing my beige skirt with the multi level hem, black sweater and black boots. As if we planned it, she was wearing beige pants that grazed the top of her black calf-high boots and a black sweater.

When she opened her gift she laughed and disappeared upstairs. She came back down wearing the necklace AND the matching earrings her daughter, the person I think of as my French daughter, had given her for Christmas. The jewellery matched our unplanned uniform.

Memory meals and communication

I have known my French Toulouse hostess for 29 years. We met through her then husband. My two housemates and I were in Paris where the couple lived at the time. One housemate was giving a paper at the Palais De Congress. People had told us the French never invite you into their home. We were invited to their home for dinner. We arrived nervous and afraid of making one or many faux pas. We spoke no French. She spoke no English. The husband was fluent in both.

The first thing she served was moules. I am allergic to shelfish, and the husband understood. The second course was rabbit. I exchanged glances with my friends and opted for politeness over reservations about consuming Peter or maybe Flopsy, Mopsy or Cottontail. It was fantastic.

Over the years and many visits, I’ve eaten her couscous, carrots with a seasoning that made me want to lick the pate, chicken with olives and bacon, and one meal she whipped up from an empty fridge when we arrived shortly before midnight. It was eggs, spinach in a cream sauce that was so good I could have cried when I finished it. Picnics would have put articles about picnics in Gourmet to shame.

For many visits our communications were limited by lack of a shared language, although I had a great deal of respect for her creativity, her mothering, her work with the deaf, and Lord knows, her cooking. We tried and it worked, but it never reached the level I had hoped for.

Now many years later when my French comprehension is fluent, my speech is understandable despite grammatical errors and strange pronunciations, and she has begun to learn to English we can go deep into subjects. Combined with many memories and not just of food, time with her is delight.

How to Feel Old

When I first met him he was still a bump in his mother’s stomach. Today I sat at the table with him and his mother reminiscing over the many things we have shared for almost three decades, if not often then in many concentrated periods.

“One Two Three, May I have some Coca-Cola please.”

“Reseau.” I am still not sure of the spelling, but he thinks my pronunciation is better and I now know what it means. I was complimented on my French U, my French R still needs work but since I am from Boston my R needs work in English too. He now speaks excellent English but we went back and forth between the two languages also helping his mother with her English, which is far better then she gives herself credit for.

In my photo album I have many photos of him, one as a baby standing naked at the foot of a bed, riding bikes along the Canal du Midi, a range of others through his growing up.

I had lived with him, his sister and his father when I was in Toulouse, a difficult time for I had sold everything in the US, was trying to find work, learn French and write. I adored both he and his sister and when I had to return to the US convinced my dreams of living and working permanently in Europe were dead but knowing I had to help my mother through her death, I felt the meaning of the words “heartbroken” Leaving both him and his sister was just plain awful. I had a chance to tell him in a way I couldn’t the night I said good-bye to him as he lay in bed, a very bright nine year old, how badly I had felt.

None of these memories made me feel old. When I looked at him he has grown into an adult as handsome as I knew he would (Think John Kennedy Jr. with shoulder length curls). He is as bright as I always knew he was. His sense of humour is even sharper as a mature man.

Nor did I feel old because he is about the same age as his father was when our housemate showed up with the father the night after we moved into a catastrophe of a house we were planning to renovate and announced we had a guest for dinner. Dinner? We couldn’t even find the stove.

What made me feel old was the boy I met as a bump has grey in his hair.

Petit Dejeuner

Sun poured into the dining area. The terra cotta teapot gave off the peppery smell of Earl Grey tea. A warmed multi-grain bread was wrapped in a napkin and a samovar of coffee was heated by a candle. On a tray were sweet butter, honey and an assortment of home-made jams. I was still in my Snoopy PJs and my hostess was still in her night clothes. From the kitchen radio we heard a soprano singing in Italian. And we talked. And we talked. And we talked. And we agreed that we never felt richer.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Pre-read books

At university I preferred used books because they were marked up and I could see what the previous owner thought important. I only wish I could have known the owner to ask what grades they received.

When I lived on Wigglesworth Street in Boston, Hyram Manning, an eccentric but fascinating artist, used to write notes in his books that he loaned out. I loved his comments and still remember his, “not another French twist” remark. Books and food were the main topics of discussion over our frequent afternoon tea breaks where I learned Earl Grey mixed with gunpowder was wonderful. He gave cucumber sandwiches new meaning.

Thus I was pleased when I chose a book at my local English used book shop with light pencil notes and underlined words. The first reader was obviously French because the notes were in French. I could also see that the words the writer didn’t understand were more slang. She didn’t understand stand your ground, cave in, slimeball in the same way when I read a French book, I sometimes get stopped by the jargon.

I’ve reached a point in French books (maybe because I choose the least difficult) where I can go pages without missing a word) that I mark it and then go back all at once to increase my vocabulary, which is good if you don’t take pronunciation into account. I can mispronnounce several hundred French words.

The book itself wasn’t worth finishing. I didn’t care whether Penny ended up with Daniel or Christian, but I should have spotted it as a stupid romance (versus a clever romance). What I did enjoy was the pleasure of being in touch with the previous reader, although she will never know she connected with me.

I suppose I could go to the tearoom around the corner and regularly ask “Who learned what Slime Ball meant from reading (title)? Or not.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Lost in Barcelona AGAIN

Barcelona has some wonderful sights. What it does not have is decent signage. My friend and I were driving her daughter and grandson to the airport after a wonderful visit. I have always liked and respected her daughter and her commitment to making the world better. Her son at 11 is just one great kid.

To make sure they didn’t miss their Monday flight we took them down on Sunday. I have never been in Barcelona without getting lost. This goes back to when my mom and daughter were roaming around. Had my daughter with her unerring sense of direction taken over the path finding chore we might still be circling even if it were 24 years ago. This trip was no exception.

I will admit I am spoiled by the excellent directional signs in Switzerland and France.

Their hotel was less than a kilometre from the airport which we found with little trouble. We spent almost as much time looking for the hotel as we did on the two hour drive.

The reason?


We would see 11 Septembre and an arrow straight ahead. Then we would come to a round about with four exits but absolutely no other signs on which exit would be. Or we would see Ronda Litteral with an arrow. We would drive and the road would fork into two equal roads with no signs.

The TGV is going direct to Barcelona in the future and I can see myself going down to explore the city, BUT I can’t see myself ever willingly driving there again with the exception of the airport. That is marked and if all else fails it is easy to spot planes landing and taking off.