Monday, December 22, 2008

The winter solstice




The longest night has come and gone and now the sun will come back and warm us (which with the cold in D.C. is a little hard to imagine.) Llara and I found our real tree, although even the smallest had to be cut down by about a foot. We bought it from the Optomist Club which means any profit will go towards education, which means a real win/win. Because this is my daughter's first Christmas in her own home, she has limited decorations, but we added 50 candy canes. For me, having a real tree is of major importance for spiritual and symbolic reasons, although a real wreath or other evergreen boughs have substituted in the past.

Llara and I also spent the day with Framily (friends who also serve as family).

Now we are just waiting for my French daughter to arrive, but for me the tree and the winter solstice is the holiday and the rest is just gravy...this year it won't be turkey gravy but the ham is waiting for us.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sundance

Holed up in my daughter's cosy apartment* with her needlepoint covering the walls, furniture I've handed down from my grandmother and great grandmother as well as from the Grand Saconnex apartment and two I use the cold rainy weather and my cold as a good excuse to not explore the neighborhood and walk.
What I discovered is the station Sundance and a documentary that covers small towns trying to rebuild Main Street and which substaniate my earlier statements that money spent at chains flies out of the community, where money spent in local stores stays.

This is not just a US problem. In my little village in Argeles, the store Carrefour located just outside of town, along with the bad economy has hurt local merchants. I will never buy anything there I can get locally. I don't care about their share holders, but I do care about Jean-Pierre, Babette, Nathalie, Elisabeth, Marcel, etc. so I will patronize them. And I tell others, who say, "hmm I never thought of it THAT way."

The tell of a store in Powell Wyoming that all the residents paid into and carries all the brands and is making good money that goes back to the residents. Yes, co-ops do work. Yup Yup Yup... I feel good.

*I love places that when I go in even if no one told me who lived there, I would know. Llara is one. The first time I experienced it was with my longest friend from high school. Despite having little money, she always fixed up her apartments so creatively and warmly that even if you didn't know her, just being there would make you want to.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Contrasts

I staggered off the plane in a terrible mood, despite it being the ONLY flight from Europe that I had run into NO turbulence. Still, the cold I that I thought was almost over, decided to come back in force. My drippy notice almost met its aspirations to become Niagara Falls and the ear problem I often encounter on long-distance flights left me feeling for five-straight hours like a dentist was drilling my eardrum without Novacaine. Landing in the heart of the country that has been responsible for millions of deaths and the destruction of lives all over the planet, that still does not have habeas corpus did not improve my mood. Unlike my last visit, the customs people were pleasant and waved me through. The man who stamped my passport promised to buy my book. But then, I saw my daughter and it was worth it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

How to feel young




Attend a Glenn Miller Concert at Victoria Hall in Geneva. Canes and grey hair were the order of the day. Okay, truth in advertising makes me say, I'm not as skinny as my avatar, I can't get a note out of a sax, and if I ever let my hair grow out it would be at least partially grey

Glenn Miller's music was that of my parents' time, but my ex-husband played in a this era big band in the late 1950s, and I learned to love the music along with jazz and classical.

When my daughter was in her teens we were at my stepmom's in Florida and a radio station was playing big band music. "This is the music of your lives," the announcer oozed.

"Not my life," my daughter said.

Well I didn't live during Bach's time either, but I love his music, and Glenn Miller, and Garou... it's all music of my life.

The concert was even more pleasant because the trumpet player could have been George Clooney's kid brother...combine that with Harlem Nocture on a snowy winter night and all I can say is ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Mittens





I was crossing the street near Rive when I dropped my orange mittens without realising it. Safe on the other side a man on a motorcycle called to me and pointed to my mittens just as the light changed.

I love my orange mittens bought at H&M. They are lined with a soft fabric and keep my hands toasty even on the coldest days. However, I do not love them enough to die for them as the light traffic roared by.

The motorcycle driver, scooped them up and zoomed away but instead of going on with his trophy, circled around and presented them with a flourish that would have done one of the Three Musketeers proud.

"Vous êtes incroiable. Merci mille fois," * I said. I think he smiled by the way his eyes crinkled. His helmet hid his mouth. He waved and took off.

I'm thinking of putting the mittens on a string and threading them through my coat sleeves as my grandmother did when I was in kindergarten. One cannot count on the kindness of strangers in mitten retrieval forever.



*any mistakes in French spelling, please ignore.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Happiness is...

Geneva's festival of lights this year are especially beautiful and creative this year. The tower is in the center and the staircase like arrangements flanks the tower at each corner of the grassy corner. At night it is lit and looks like a crystal palace where fairies might like to dance in the glow. However at day, much like Cinderella, it becomes clear that it is made of old plastic water bottles.

As I was walking to take the pictures of these bottles I kept thinking I'm happy, happy, happy, and then I remembered my grandmother saying how when I was a child, I went around singing (off key) "I'm a happy little girl."
But then why shouldn't I be happy? Memories of the weekend, and especially the wonderful smells of the Christmas market (ginger, vin chaud, cotton candy, grilled wursts) lingered in my head. I was invited to a good Indian meal for lunch as I worked on a special project with an Indian dancer. A tea for library volunteers (I do their monthly newsletter on new purchases), followed by a wine tasting at home brought in by the vendor. I've a movie scheduled for this week and a Glenn Miller concert. Next week, inshallah, I'll be with my daughter.
Happiness is easy when so much good is around...

Falling off the wagon

Okay, I fell off the no buy wagon when I was in Stuttgart, although technically the money I spent was what I set aside for the trip. Here's what I bought and why.

1. Four sandwich boards. I was deliberately looking for these...my last I had stupidly given away when I moved out of the Grand Saconnex flat. They are great for sandwiches, desserts, nibbles in place of plates. It was a toss up between the striped ones and one with blue and penguins, but I opted for the ones that picked up the colour of my Acalpulco Villeroy & Boch pattern. It fills all three of my reasons to buy criteria: beautiful, useful, memory.

2. A blue water bottle. This will pay for itself at 12 Euros. I normally buy water for train trips in plastic bottles. Since everywhere I live has good drinking water and since I can even fizz the water in Corsier, it is a waste of money and the plastic hurts the environment. Plus I love that colour blue. It has two of my criteria: beautiful and useful.

3. The poster with the Underwood typewriter. The man selling them tried to explain to me in German how this was used before computers. "Ich weisse. Mein vater hat für Underwood gearbeit." I was not up to explaining that my father held the West Virginia franchise at one point so it was enough to choke out that my Dad had worked for the company that made the typewriters, but between that and being a writer this was definitely a memory piece and I know right where I will put it in Argelés. Unable to change my 20 Euro bill I watched his stand while he ran into one the nearby stores. When he came back, I said, "Es tut mir lied, Ich hatte nicht gekauft keine. " (I wanted to say quelque chose). He laughed I am not sure at whatever mistakes I made in German which certainly leaves much to be desired or that I was sorry I hadn't sold anything. It has three of my criteria: beautiful, useful, two memories (Stuttgart and my father).

Now that the no buy year is over, what have I accomplished? One thing is I haven't added stuff I don't need to my homes. I probably haven't saved a lot of money, because I am a terrible consumer anyway. Most of my disposable income goes to things like travel, eating in restaurants and entertainment such as theatre, concert and movie tickets.

I know next year I have a list of things I want...the rod to finally hang my daughter's tapestry, new bed linens and curtain for my Geneva bedroom. There's a pair of blue palazzo pants my friend Barbara made that she hasn't sold. Off hand, I can't think of much else I want. Oh yes, incense. I may be tempted to give in more often for a magazine or a book or not... But sitting here I can not honestly think of anything at all I want to buy, the difference being that if I have an impulse like the Underwood poster, I will give in.

The no buy year has reaffirmed that every purchase is a political decision. Will what I buy hurt the planet (in many cases the answers is yes just like every time I drive I am killing the planet)? Who made the product...were they beaten in a sweat shop for example? What huge irresponsible company am I helping when I buy something in a mega store vs. helping out a local merchant? I know that less than 20% of the profit stays in my community when I buy from a chain rather than the 65% that stays in the commuity when I buy from a local merchant. And yes I know trade is necessary to keep an economy going, but we have gotten so out of whack where consumerism is not only destroying the planet it is destroying the consumers themselves who have been fueling the economy by ever increasing levels of debt. This system cannot go on forever locally, nationally or globally.

Ah well, I cannot solve the problems of the world.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

(Re) Stomping around Stuttgart

I fell in love with Europe when I moved to Stuttgart as a young Army wife. A year to the day of my sailing for Europe my mother had forbidden me to visit my then boy friend's parents in Attleboro because "it was too far away from Reading" less than 50 miles from my home and here I was, about to live one my dreams -- not only visit Europe but to live there some 3,000 miles away. One of my first sights --when I arrived after a harrowing trip where I told a French man he didn't speak French but I did and discovering the 24 hour clock just in time to not miss my train and refusing to get off and have dinner with a French soldier -- was the Mercedes Benz medal on top of the bahnhof and that would become my beacon as I prowled around the city. When our tour ended I feared I would never again be able to escape Reading, never again see Stuttgart, never again come to Europe. I've been back to the city several times, but this weekend was a corny stroll down memory lane. My feet knew exactly where to go: the schloss garten (where Bill and Susie and I watched a goose chase a woman who wasn't feeding him fast enough), the new schloss, the old schloss (where my daughter at nine was bored almost to tears as a guard proud of his heritgage wanted to show her every toy in the place).
I ran into my first Christmas Market shortly after arriving those many years ago, a few stands, not unlike this one in the platz in front of the department store Breuningers. The market has been not doubled, not quadrupled, but increased ten fold. Back then I could not have afforded even a one mark ornament, for we often ran out of money long before we ran out of month. In fact that first Christmas we had to decorate with silver safety pins and red plastic hair curlers made into a makeshift tree.

My favourite display was the model village set up with trains, not just the ICE but smaller trains constantly running. The restaurant in the building behind has gone out of business. When I was there with Susie and Bill, Susie and I were in the ladies' room and one of the waiters came in and sprayed us with perfume. The Mad Perfumer, we called him, but he was gone when my daughter and I ate their a year later. What pleased me all weekend I was able to communicate in my German, much diminished from when I lived there and from university when I wrote a paper for a directed study in German comparing the German and English Faust plays.

My feet took me automatically to the apartment building where we lived (middle windows, second floor--European). How young I was still believing that I could make the marriage work, that we would fight for what each other wanted, that love could carry us through. As I sat on the stairs opposite, I wondered what other lives have been lived in those rooms. Did their marriages work out? Of course, no one who lived there is still there. I could almost visualize my German Shepherd Kimm, bounding out the door and our little Spitfire parked out front. I wondered if they now had central heating instead of this wierd oil stove in the living room.
Every one of my generation remembers where they were when they heard that Kennedy was shot. I was surprised in this time of mobile phones to see the phone booths, although modernized still there. I had gone there to call my husband who had all night duty. The purchase of the Spitfire negated any chance of a telephone too. Maybe not the wisest decision we made, but certainly one of the fun ones. My husband told me that Kennedy was dead. It wasn't until a week later at the Jayhawk movie theatre on base that we saw the extended films of the funeral, although our neighbour Günther, did invite us in to watch the television news. I still remember the candle light parade up the mountain, and how many people, knowing we were American stopped us to tell us how sorry they were.
Coming back to the States and despite terrible homesickness for Europe I finished my degree, went on to have my daughter, get a divorce, developed a career, and only many years later was I able to live out my dream of being a full-time writer and journalist living in Europe. Those years before I moved over here were neither wasted nor empty. They were good years, they were all part of the quilt that makes up my life to use a Mary Catherine Bateson analogy from Composing a Life. Every now and then it is good to look at one of the patches and remember the cloth it came from, which is what I did as I stomped around Stuttgart.

three phrases/one day

I love the way we can express ourselves in English.

These three verbal gems came my way all in one day:

Waiting quickly...this is from a writer friend in Bern.

The future is not what it used to be...Howard who I met on a train from Nyon to Geneva used this phrase.

Death is mandatory, happiness is optional...George Higgins-

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

They cared, they stopped

I was having breakfast with a talented young writer in a café in Collonge. The owner's cat was also at the table with us, a tiger angora whose colouring matched the wood grain in the table. As usual we talked about writing, family, ideas, etc., not bad for a day when the clock still hadn't hit nine.

As we waited at the counter to pay the owner disappeared. Only by turning around to look out the window, did we realise that a woman had fallen. The owner rushed back in for clean napkins to tap down her bloody cuts. From somewhere, someone produced a blanket. Another person called an ambulance. Because the other writer knew CPR she went out to see if it was needed. It wasn't.

By the time we left the café the Tsche Tsche Tsche of the ambulance could be heard. One woman was holding the hand of the fallen, another was signalling to the ambulance that they had reached their destination.

They cared, they stopped, they helped.

Monday, December 01, 2008

four leaf clovers

Riding downtown today with my housemate we were talking about four-leaf clovers and I told her about my old boss at NFPA, Walter Masson.

He was my professional father. Although I quit NFPA in 1975 20 years later I would still ask him what he thought about this or that and always took his advice because he was always right. He was a mentor before the term became important. He never quite understood why women wanted careers, but if we did he would helps us be as successful as we wanted to be.

He had his own syndicated garden column that he continued after his retirement. My first year working for him, he gave me and Chris, our secretary, amarylisses for Christmas. They looked ugly but when I followed the directions it bloomed into something incredible. He turned my black thumb green, or at least light green.

Even after I moved overseas we corresponded, and from time to time he would put a four-leaf clover into the envelope. The times between our correspondence grew longer and longer and I thought of him less and less until today.

I checked the web and found his obituary at 91 over four years ago. I wish I could tell him how sad it makes me, and I can see him sitting at his desk saying, "It's all right. It is the way it should be." I found his column on the four-leaf clover on the web too. http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/science/topics/flowers_and_plants/index.html?offset=30&&s=oldest&&&&&

A fin


Finally, the last document stolen in Barcelona has been replaced: my driver's license in time for my trip to D.C. so I can drive my daughter's car with the family 49T plate, a family tradition.
Trips to the MA DMV were usually fraught with frustration because of the grouchiness of the clerks, probably decreed from above THOU SHALL NOT SMILE. The Geneva clerks have no such rule and are downright pleasant. Holy Shmoly. This chore was fun, accompanied by my housemate who was replacing her old blue paper one with the credit card size modern one. There was a stop for her eye appointment which absolutely meant we HAD to eat breakfast at a cute café.
But then again, so much of our daily lives are fun. Last night as I was catching up on news on my computer, she launched a chocolate safari for missing syrup for a late night sundae, her son was filming a birth to life sequence in the bathroom for one of his art classes, the latest toilet paper decoration was in the bathroom (we are trying to think of different ways to leave the toilet paper in amusing designs--don't ask) and the cat was stomping around just because she could. Not that any of this is special, but it makes life lively and ordinary chores worth doing.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving

APERO
Homemade cheese sticks
Artichoke spread on crackers
Carrot and celery sticks with ranch dip
Fluted cumin bread sticks
Cheese quiche slices
Pretzels
Normandy cider (okay New England Cider is
impossible to find), sparkling water, juices

THE MEAL
Mashed potatoes and gravy
Brussels sprouts in a vinegar/bacon sauce
Red cabbage
Homemade cranberry sauce
Roasted turkey

Stuffing
Appropriate wine


THE DESERTS
Homemade apple pie with smiley face (a) balloon decorations (2)
Chocolate chip cookies
Pumpkin cake

Clementines
Walnuts
Ice cream


NATIONALITY OF GUESTS
American
Swiss
German
Italian
French
Indian
Philippine
(Number of languages spoken minimum 10 with English/French the common)

MISC.


Preparation time two days, two women working in perfect harmony…

Small slices of the Macy’s day Parade were available on Breithbart TV.

I learned Boston Latin beat Boston English 36 to 0 and Reading beat Stoneham 28 to O without standing in the cold.


The turkey was named George after George Clooney who deep fries his.

A lot to be thankful for.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Living in a chequeless/checkless world


Canada and America pass billions of dollars in cheques/checks but in Switzerland they are almost non existent. Although I still have an American checking account, with a credit union of course for American bills, and my Canadian clients pay me in cheques much to the amusement of my banker, I've been living almost checkless/chequeless for 18 years.
How do I pay my bills, you may ask?
First all bills arrive with a standard format pink slip--nothing to do with being fired. A corner of the pink slip is in the lower right hand corner of the photo as it gets ready to be read by the Multimat. On the pink slip is all my account information with all the account information of the biller. From there I have three alternatives.
1. The most old fashioned way. Take all the pink slips and the amount owed to the post office. The postal clerk takes over (a slight alternative is to transfer money from my postal bank account, but I use that account just for savings of coins collected) registers payments, stamps one tearoff part as your proof of payment and sees the money is transferred to the proper person or company. And the postal account does offer a variety of interest rates, mostly dismal, and a debit card if you want to use a postal account in place of a regular bank account.
2. Use the Multimat machines like the one pictured above. They are in all bank offices and now in various grocery stores. I can use the machines to pay my bills by inserting the pink slip and transferring from my account directly to the account of the person/company I owe the money to...I can also get account history, set up standing orders, send money to other countries, etc. It doesn't iron, make lunch however.
3. The most modern way: do it on line from my computer.
Switzerland became the world's banker centuries ago mainly in Geneva because it was at the crossroads. Even the French King Louis XVI had a a Swiss bank account. There are some 300 banks in Switzerland. Before I ever thought about even dreaming of living in Switzerland, I, like many others, assumed meant having a Swiss bank account meant you are rich.
WRONG!
Still, rich or poor, the system's effieciency is as good as the country's chocolate.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I'm a winter kinda gal

Meez 3D avatar avatars games

I admit it, I'm a winter person, which makes no sense because I am always cold. When others are running around in t-straps, sandles and shorts I wear slacks, socks and shirts. In winter if they sleep in cute little sexy nighties, I have on socks, flannel pjs, a turtleneck, etc. as I burrow under layers of covers.

Today I walked to Marronier for filet des perches for lunch. The snow-covered Jura glistened, the bise took chunks of my cheeks, but I was snug in my leather coat and layers of sweaters, lined mittons, scarf and hat. It felt wonderful.

Then again winter is:
*Thick sweaters

*Fuzzy socks
*Reading in bed
*Pots of tea (preferably with a chocolate something)
*A fire in the fireplace
*Cinanmon toast
*Fondues
*Raclettes
*Kicking snow (notice the S word doesn't come in and for those thinking nasty, shovel)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Neuchatel visit--during the first snow

I discovered the first snow of the season when I opened the shutters at the house where I was spending the weekend near Neuchâtel, my old stomping grounds. The lake of Neuchâtel looked cold and grey, a whole different colour from Lake Geneve.


When I worked in Neuchâtel the train station was often my second home as I went out to visit clients around the country, headed for the airport or met contractors. I always liked the murals on the wall.

We headed up to La Chaux Fonds and the higher we went the deeper the snow. We wanted to go sledding and stopped at a farm/restaurtant/ski area. The farm part was authentic to the smell of cattle. Inside the restaurant was almost a Swiss cliché with the checkered curtains and panneled walls. The food was great, but the waitress had earned a certificate in surliness.


Back in Geneva there was only spitting snow, with no accumulation... sigh... I really love winter weather in Nov, Dec, Jan.




Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I wanta come in



Munchkin checks out windows and cries until someone lets her in. I am often interrupted when I'm at my desk. The thing is this is the SECOND floor American and FIRST floor European. She has to shiny up a tree and walk onto the roof over the front door, then stretch just in case I missed her
M E O O O O W ! ! ! ! !
What is especially pleasing, is that a year ago she was hovering between life and death after either being hit by a car, kicked by a horse, or attacked by some weapon. What a difference a year makes.
Too bad there's no sound on the blogs because her PUUUUUUUUUUUUUUURRRRRRRRRRRR next to my elbow as I write this shows a contentment with my decision to go let her in. We won't discuss she's on my scarf or shedding.

Better than Nyquil







After hanging around the house for almost a week with a scratchy, sneezy, coughy cold a lunch at Marro with my housemate and a trip to the garden centre to find fall plants for the walkway into the house on a beautiful fall day is better than Contact and Nyquil and even Neocitrin.

Friday, November 14, 2008

I ordered our turkey



Thanksgiving isn't a big thing here in Switzerland. But it is the one holiday when homesickness sweeps over me.

Some years it just passed. One year I had fondue, a combining of past and present. Another year a colleague knowing how I felt made her idea of pumpkin pie.

For two years I took advantage of The Bookworm, a used bookstore and tearoom and put on a feed that was as good as my grandmother's and that's saying a lot. The tables were crowded in among the bookshelves, and each time I found myself seated next to a stuffed Peter Rabbit. People, whether they were strangers or not, talked until no one was a stranger.

A memorable year was over a decade ago when friends came from the US, my daughter came from Germany with friends, another friend from Holland and my partner at the time invited all our Swiss neighbours for a huge feast in his entertainment house. That year included all the typical decorations. At the request of my girlfriend's husband I tried in French to explain to the Swiss the traditions behind the tradition. I was able to link all nationalities somehow to the feast: Calvinists for the Swiss, Puritans living in Holland until I came to my daughter's then partner, a Finn. At a loss, I decided he was the one who drove the turkey down from Mannheim.

In France my girl friend has done chicken.

Last year we were going to do a meal, the turkey was bought but technical difficulties led to a replacement meal in a Chinese restaurant. The turkey later made a great Christmas dinner.

However, this year we have 18 people invited, my housemate has brought the decorations back from California, and discussions of menu are in full swing.

I just ordered the turkey(s) from the butcher in Collonge. He has a lovely little shop with the meat laid artistically in trays in shining glass cases. We will eat on the 28th not the 27th, but I don't care. I am giving thanks for a Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Memories of poinsettias and rings

My housemate brought home a mini poinsettia for my desk, a sign of the winter season to come. With the bise blowing at full tile it seems like winter has arrived. I love the little drops of water nestled on its intense red.
My mind went back to the poinsettia my mother called Jerry after her lawyer boyfriend who gave it to her. It looked nothing like my cute little plant. For 17 years it grew and grew until it would have been successful in a staring role in a horror film about swamps and trees with long tendrils. As for blooming, usually one or two leaves stuck out at the end of the long branches. She couldn’t quite bring herself to throw it out. When it disappeared I don’t know—sometime between when I moved to Toulouse and moved back when she was dying of cancer.
This led to another Jerry/mother memory.
Jerry had given her a beautiful ring, with a gold leaf turned up at the edges and the veins finely etched on the surface. On the rib were tiny diamond chips.
When she died I got the ring.
Everytime I wore it, something went wrong: a fight with my then boyfriend, a flat tire, a lost sale. I told a friend who said to put it into salt to purify it. I did.
The next time I wore the ring, I was in a rush to get to work. The car keys were missing. I searched and searched.
Nothing.
I took off the ring, and the keys appeared.
Was my mother cursing me from the grave?
Figuring my mother and I had a tortured relationship and my mother and my daughter had a good one, I gave it to Llara.
The first time she wore it she had a battle royale with her partner. She never wore it again. Somewhere in her moves it disappeared.
Maybe it ended up with poinsettia.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Only in Carouge

Only in Carouge, might one find a bottle of champagne thrown in the trash in place of Coke cans. I was with my “Ladies who lunch” writer friend. We meet two or three times a year, find a restaurant or a place of interest or both, talk about writing and other stuff. This time the conversation was about her trip to Syria, and the fact that she and her family loved it as much as I did.
Even though Carouge is a suburb of Geneva, it doesn’t FEEL like Switzerland. Maybe because it was designed by Turinese architects somewhere in the late 1700s when it belonged to Sardinia.
I love the pastel buildings, the boutiques with handmade jewelry, designer clothes made by the artist who owns the shop, antiques, etc.



Sunday, November 09, 2008

Misc.

Two signs of fall in Geneva...

are fallen leaves on the sidewalk and the American library book sale (below) held in the American Church with its bottle glass windows, wooden arches and stained glass. The church could belong as easily in New England as it does looking out on the lake. Thousands of books are available most for under 10 CHF, people mill around the tables, the café sells sandwiches (egg salad with mesclun lettuce, and I pretend the apple juice is cider) and all kinds of home baked goodies.
It is almost impossible not to run into friends. Despite 99% of the books being in English there is still a murmur of many different languages. As I mumphed down my chocolate cupcake and tea, the couple sharing my table were probably just slightly younger than I am. She spoke in Italian, he in English.
This year I again volunteered to help pack up the unsold books and cleared the classic table, books that I have set up for previous sales.
By the vast number of books being carried out in bags and boxes it was a success, which is great, but I would hate to lose this resource.













Bumper stickers aren't common in Switzerland, but I had to take this one. I don't know the nationality of the owner of the car from Canton Vaud, but I like his/her sentiment. Click on the photo if you can't read it.


The three-legged chair has stood in front of the UN. It was supposed to stand a short time until all the nations signed the anti-land mine treaty. The US has not signed. It is now representing the anti cluster-bomb treaty. The US has not signed, but for both treaties over 100 countries have pledged to end this horror. I do hope the new president will think about being a good global citizen and work on peace iniatives as hard as we've been working on making war against innocent people.




Phone 3,117 DL 30
When I replaced my stolen natel with a new phone, the manual was almost useless, although I could have guessed not to use it on an airplane. The demo on the Nokia site was somewhat more helpful, but mostly I learned by trial and error, as my Indian friend learned from the Xth+ SMS's I sent by accident as I was trying to learn how to do it. I have the basics down now.
And two parting thoughts from the book The Good Citizen
"Nurturing spirituality is so difficult today because we are bombardedby a market culture that evolves around buying and selling, promoting and advertising. The market tries to convince us that we are really alive only when we are addicted to stimulation and titillation."
"These days we cannot even talk about love the way James Baldwin and Martin Luther King, Jr. did. Nobody wants to hear that syrupy, mushy stuff. James Baldwin, however said love is the most dangerous discourse in the world. It is daring and difficult because it makes you vulnerable, but if you experience it, it is the peak of human existence."
From the essay by Cornel West
Let's hope that we can put our lives and planet in balance with love.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Election hangover

I decided to lie down on my bed to read as the day was growing to the close before I would go back to back to editing my fourth novel.
I fell asleep only to wake as I thought it was getting dark.
I was wrong.
It was a new day; I had slept over 12 hours.
I had not realised how heart paining, bone-crushing nor soul-destroying tired I had been for the last decade, nor the release the election would bring.
My mail box was deluged with e-mails from other Americans and friends around Europe. They said everything from “yes we can,” “yes we did,” to “maybe we can go home again some day.” At each of them I wept.
I wept as I passed the headlines on different newspapers. Two can be loosely translated as “Election: We can all breath again” “America has returned.” They all carried the same message: the nightmare is almost over.
On the bus coming back from lunch with a friend, I bumped literally into another woman, who was American. She mentioned the election, tears streaming down her face. “I can’ stop crying, I am so happy,” she said. Two strangers we hugged as if our lives depended on not letting go.
I am not alone. If I am crazy there are others like me.
This morning I read this from Haaretz.
“This is the time to let go for a moment of all the anti-American feelings that have spread among many of us throughout the world for the past 10 years. A moment before the United States itself became the axis of evil - it was already very close - a moment before it became a hated and ostracized power, the American people proved to the whole world on Tuesday that there is another America.” Haaretz
We still have to get to January 20th. There are still huge problems ahead, but we are facing in the right direction—at last.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Letter




Dear President Elect Obama...

At 5:00 CET, I cried with joy when CNN announced you had won. It was the first time since March 2003 that I have not been ashamed or frightened when I saw an American flag. In fact those behind you on the stage as you stood there with your family reminded me that I once was proud to be an American.

When I was a child, I used to write to Santa with my wish list. Here's my wish list for my country.

For our personal safety
1. Restore Habeas Corpus
2. Dismantle the batallion assigned to NorthCom and make sure that posse comitas means that U.S. troops will never be used against American citizens.
3. Stop people's homes from being stormed by police without warrants and then imprisoning the occupants without charge for several days as happened in St. Paul this summer.
4. Stop spying on our citizens without the legal procedures that worked prior to the Patriot Act.
5. The past few years have proven that self-regulation is an oxymoron. Regulate the financial industry, along with the food industry. No longer leave the foxes in charge. They only direct the chickens to their mouths.
6. Rework the FDA so it isn't the drug companies paying for the tests of our medicines.
7. Pass strict environmental laws.
8. Bring jobs back to the US.
9. Develop a new health care system. My preference is single payer. People if they want something more can always buy their own insurance. Most people have to supplement whatever their employees offer anyway.

For the world
1. Close Gitmo
2. Get us out of Iraq
3. Remember, never in the history of the world has any army defeated the Afghanis. Negotiate and develop.
4. Work with the UN. For over 30 years the US has vetoed over 130 resolutions that could have led to a more peaceful world. Usually we voted alone or with one or two countries. It can't be us against the world.
5. Make sure our own greed does not harm the world economy as we have witnessed in the last few weeks. We did to ourselves and the industrialized world, what Bin Laden couldn't accomplish with his bombs.

I am sure like Santa could not bring me everything on my list you cannot accomplish everything on my list. Likewise, unless our food, water, medicines and bodies are safe from ourselves, we will be in as much danger if not more than from any terrorist. Americans are not used to sacrificing, but I trust you can make them realise that our planet cannot support our consumption, the answer to all problems is NOT violence, and we should seek common ground instead of conflict.

And when you get that puppy for your daughters, I do recommend Japanese chins.

Wishing you all the luck possible.

Donna-Lane NELSON

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Bilingual




I know you can't read the sign on the bus unless you have wonderful eyesight or double click to blow it up.

The part on the left tells the next stop(s) The one on the right is an advert for a bookstore. It says it has the largest collection of English books in Swiss Romand.

I giggled to see it in French. I will admit on some buses I've seen it both English and French, but this time it was French only.




It was like coming home


A sleep over at former neighbours.
I arrived in time for a cup of tea before we went to our different destinations. (Theirs was a celebration, mine was a dinner where instead of just people from different countries, we were from three different continents making for even more interesting conversations than normal). And by the time I got back to their flat, they were asleep, but my bed awaited.
Hanging around the next morning in pjs, as each of us did our things together and separately: reading, a movie, chat, some music, the computer, a lunch and I was off.
Walking by the grassy patch above, a place I walked by sometimes many times a day over eleven years, I almost saw Melanie at two learn the word for moon, remembered playing ping pong with Yara, and somewhere on the grass Albert, Amadeus and Mika frolicked, my daughter waying goodbye on her way back to Manheim -- nice memories.
Yet I know there are more to be made starting Tuesday night. I've booked my friends' couch because they get news stations I don't for election results.

Every Child is Special


The Indian movie on DVD was about a little boy, creative but dyslexic, who is misunderstood and miserable in his failures to learn until an art teacher recognizes his problem. Well acted, beautifully shot and with a message for those that have children not performing. Mighty Mom, I thought of you and wished you were there to show the parents how to do it.

Friday, October 31, 2008

October no buy -- I cracked

I cracked this month and bought a black turtle neck plain for 19.90 CHF. I've been looking for a plain one for about two years, and there it was hanging out, waving it's sleeve at me, in front of a store.

I also bought boots (which were on my replacement list in my original no buy blog) for 35 Euros and they are beautiful leather and lace up the back.

The last purchase was a replacement telephone for the one stolen in Barcelona. That one was so old it didn't have sms capacity. This one does, but so far I can't figure out how to use it. I didn't get one of the fancy-dancy models just a 29 CHF model that receives and makes calls and SMS. Considering I may make a call a month if I'm unlucky, it is enough. What I miss more is the doggie suit that my old telephone was dressed up in. There's something about talking into a fuzzy dog that puts cell phones in perspective.

There is a demo on line that I have so maybe I will figure out how to use the phone. The manual was great in telling me not to use it in airplanes etc. and change the card, but not a word about how to make/send calls or sms's.

However all these purchases just reminded me I basically do not like to shop and consider every second in a store stolen from the good things that could be going on in my life while I am having to walk the aisles to select something that I usually have to hunt for, stealing even more time from my life. Even when my no buy year is over, I doubt if much will change. If this were a money saving exercise I would have to give up restaurants and ticket events but that would be another whole exercise.

The great part of this exercise has been, not having to figure out where new things have to go -- with the exception of that black turtleneck which will go under my itchy black sweater...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The present




It was raining cats, dogs, ponies and calves when I left the house this morning to join a writer friend. The original plan was to take a cruise across Lake Geneva to Yvoire, which claims to be the most beautiful village in France. The lake was choppy (okay, not even close to the one in the illustration but this was the best choice I had), it was raw and windy.
Plan B was tea, chat and lunch.
Within the warmth of first a tea room and later an Indian restaurant we forgot the weather as we explored topic after topic.
Today was her birthday, but I was the one who got the wonderful gift of a morning and early afternoon spent sharing our thoughts.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

How can we sleep

At the U.S. latest attack on a sovereign nation I feel sickened once again by the actions of the U.S. (I wonder what we would do if Canada crossed our border and killed eight of our citizens?) while chasing what they claim are criminals. But we only see our point of view, which is filled with violence and destruction.

"Despite a collapsing economy and complicity in a system that is devouring the embers of a burning planet, the privileged carry on with their lives, "unaware." But everyone knows. Even the most ardent supporter of the powers that be is aware of what the government of the United States has done and is doing to Iraq, to the world, to the planet ..."

"... Now, as I write, on October 25, 21 Iraqis and another US soldier are killed in Iraq, along with an additional 17 wounded Iraqis. These facts hardly garner mention in the American corporate media, because the "surge" has been a "success." You and I are the intended beneficiaries of this "success," as our lives grind on in this twisted Disneyland, while half a world away an occupation grinds on, carrying out industrial scale slaughter, with the unfailing support of our tax dollars."

"... It would hardly seem so, considering how even much of the "antiwar" contingent believe corporate media drivel about the "surge" being successful. Would Americans call it a success if it translated into a thousand American citizens being killed or disappearing every month, as they do, on average, in Iraq? Thanks to the "success" of the "surge," today approximately one-quarter of the total population of Iraq are either refugees or dead."

"...This latest manifestation of bread and circus has the American public enthralled. Our slavish faith in the media renders us unwilling to demean ourselves to the point of hearing the truth within. Millions in the country are transfixed by a politically inexperienced, religious fundamentalist hate-monger from a small Alaskan town known for its meth labs, marijuana growers, four-wheelers, snow-machines and a Wal-Mart Supercenter with the distinction of selling more duct tape than any other in the country."

"...The question I ask myself is what will protect our country from collapsing under the burden of this enormous guilt of having systemically wrecked and destroyed another nation with such impunity? What will protect us from the awareness of being complicit in such unlawful and willful destruction? As the truth becomes impossible to ignore, are we to be transformed from a nation of sleepwalkers in to a nation of insomniacs?"
Dahr Jamail The Cost of Slumber

Monday, October 27, 2008

It is enough to make you proud?

Not!

UN: Financial Inequality Rapidly Grows in US
A new United Nations report has revealed major US cities, including New York, Washington, Atlanta and New Orleans, have levels of economic inequality that rival cities in Africa. The report found that the United States had the highest inequality and poverty after Mexico and Turkey, and the gap has increased rapidly since 2000. The life expectancy of African Americans in the United States is about the same as that of people living in China and some states of India.

What countries have the least inequality? Socialized countries, or maybe just civilized countries, because with statistics like this, I question using the word civilized with the US.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

At the restaurant


Every table at Marrioner was filled. I had walked to the restaurant in the next village, partially because I was too lazy to cook and partially to celebrate the extra hour I (and the rest of Europe) were given as a gift today.
I've never minded eating alone in a restaurant, in fact I enjoy it, finding I pay more attention to each bite than when I am engaged in conversation (although I love that too and it isn't an either or). Eating alone gives me a chance to people watch.
A young couple with a boy, so young he needed two pillows to reach the table, entered. They produced a silver box about the size of a tissue box that held crayons, a miniature car and a rocket. The child was content. Although he looked askance at his father's mixed salad, he wolfed down his share of their pommes frites and filet des perches.
Next to me two Swiss matrons discussed their children and grandchildren. They were dressed in matronly style in wool suits that spoke of quality and timelessness.
A young couple entered with a white haired woman, dressed immaculately in brown slacks and a brown striped sweater (grandmother of one of them?). She laughed as she pointed to the blue French street sign, Rue Andre de Citroen, one of the restaurant decorations that includes street signs, advertisements for car races and license plates from all over.
They helped seat her and the young woman carefully tucked a green napkin in the neck of the old woman's sweater and then cut up her meal that was served in an extra large bowl.
The three talked with the same sharing as the other young couple with the little boy. When the old lady grew restless, the woman with her brought out a small stuffed animal.
As I walked back to Corsier, I wondered if she lived with the young couple or is she were in a home for the elderly. Had they just taken grandma out for the day?
I will never know.
When one people watches, it is bad form to go up to the person being watched and ask for more information, so imagination has to suffice.
I would like to think when they dropped the old woman off at whatever home she was staying in, she would remember her day out with people who loved her.

Absence of the letter i

In reading short stories by Carol Shields I came across Absence. She tells about a writer, who when she sat down to her computer discovered the key for the letter I was broken so she proceeded to write without using the letter.

To any of my writing students, it is an excellent exercise to try and write without using a particular letter. I would suggest N or X, and certainly not E.

And as I read the story, I realised there wasn't an I in it.

Here's a pargraph: "The woman grew, as the day wore on, more and more frustrated. Always the word she sought, the only word teased from the top row of the broken keyboard, a word that spun around the centre of a slender one-legged vowel, erect but humble, shoe dot of amayement had never before mattered."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Bits and Pieces


1. The ponies are back in one of my favourite fields on my walks around my village.
2. The clocks go back tonight, my favourite night of the year, although the winter solstice is right up there in the top 2. My daughter has promised me we can have a real tree or at least a real wreath and that alone makes my Christmas complete. Although I have had great Christmases, without that greenery on the 21st of December, something will always be missing. For me it is the promise of life for the coming year, and although intellectually I know that the clock will continue ticking and the days will lengthen, emotionally, the real tree renews my soul.
3. The 80 electors, who will create a new Geneva constitution, have been selected.
4. Sister Emanuelle's death (she was a 99-year old French nun who spent her life working with the poor) was announced with this headline. "We are all orphans now."
5. The students at Lausanne University are pushing for the dropping of all tuition. They pay about 1000 CHF. I wonder what they would think of US tuitions which even at state schools run at least 5 times that and at private anywhere from 20 to 40 times that. The students say that the tuition eliminates the possibility of university for some youth and the country suffers by the loss.
Students here get a monthly allowance, up to age 25, and there is a university in Zurich that pays their masters degree candidates in engineering 25,000 CHF a year to study.
At the same time in the US Obama is being accused of being a socialist.
There are no screams here of socialism for the support students get. It might even be seen as an investment in the future of the country.
The people who seem to fear socialism the most in the US are the ones who would benefit the most, the ones who need health care and education for their kids, things that are out of the reach of millions and millions of Americans.
Sweden, Denmark, Norway are all considered socialist countries and they are also countries with the highest standard of living and the countries with the lowest poor-rich divide. The Swiss standard is far from shabby with three of its cities being considered the best places in the top ten to live. And yes there are poor here and incredibly rich. But I have yet to see a U.S. style slum.
So give me a socialist country any day as place to hang my hat.

Munchkin


I am a dog person, but boy has this cat wormed her way into my heart...and often my bed. We did come to an agreement on the computer chair. Rather than sit behind me, she can have the chair next to me. Also, although I appreciate her desire to edit my word on the computer, I prefer she dictate her thoughts not walk on the keys.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Retirement







My daughter said yesterday what would really scare her would be if I changed and spent my retirement rocking on a porch. She brought it up when I said I was doing some writing for the Library in English.
Another one of her phrases is "My mother retired? HAH!!!!!"

I am living the life I always wanted to live: Live in Europe and write full time. What I have gained from quitting the nine-to-five routine is a chance to arrange my time. If I am in the middle of writing a chapter or getting my newsletter out and ny housemate calls "Sushi" I can stop and if while we are out we decide to go somewhere after, I can do it. At any moment I can shut the computer down and go watch a DVD with Brothers and Sisters being the current favourite, I can.
I never envisioned spending my time in a retirement community. I want to be where there are all ages.
Life is good.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Robacalls to my computer



I may not be getting election robocalls, but when my internet comes up I hear an advert for a Disney film. I have not been a fan of Disney since they sued a nursery school because the school had a picture of their characters on a window and also since I saw a demonstration of the way they manipulated the news media at an IABC conference thus taking up time that should be devoted to real issues, but to suddenly have an audio advert come through my computer with no way that I can see to shut it off, is really pissing me off. So let me imagine the punching bag is Mickey.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Going to the dogs

A writer friend and I had lunch today at our neighbourhood restaurant, along with her dog, which is the size of a pony. The three of us have eaten there often (and for those Americans reading this, dogs are allowed in restaurants).
I'd reserved a table in a corner so the dog would be out of the way. When we arrived, a new waitress looked at the dog and said the dog was too big to come in. I told her I had booked a corner table for that reason. She acted like the principle who caught a student defacing school property.
This is a restaurant where I've eaten regularly. My housemate and I are there probably about once a week. We take friends there, and guests too.
Fortunately the owner was nearby and over ruled the waitress, who periodically walked by where we'd been stashed and rolled her eyes, scowled and hurumphed. As much as I love Switzerland, the concept of client service is often that the client is there to service the store, restaurant or what have you. However, this restaurant has always had exceptional service.
I suspect she will not have a long career there.

Here's a piece I had published in the anthology It's a Dog's World from Traveler's Tales. The grumpy waitress could take a lesson from the woman in Germany.

Dogs' Night Outby D.L. Nelson
Two canine brothers find a little patch of dog heaven in a Heidelberg restaurant.
"Bring the boys," Llara said. Normally when I visited her in Heidelberg, Germany for a quality mother-daughter weekend, my Japanese chins, Albert and Amadeus, were canine non-grata.
That was because of Waterloo, her rabbit. The first time the boys and waterloo met, the rabbit dived under the bed and spent the rest of the weekend tapping out danger warnings to all the non-existent bunnies in the building.
"What about Waterloo?" I asked.
"I got tired of her chewing everything." My daughter was talking on a new telephone. Waterloo had eaten her old one. "I found a family that promised not to turn her into dinner."
Unlike in America, many public places happily accommodate dogs. At the Café du Soleil, my favorite Geneva bistro and a regular stop for fondue, the owner welcomes them and always stops at our table to say, "Bonjour Albert. Bonjour Amadeus." Only afterwards does he add, "Comment-allez vous Madame Nelson?"
Last month when I was in the French Midi, I ducked into a museum, half to escape the rain and half to look at the exhibit.
"We don't allow dogs," the cashier said, "but you can check them with your raincoat and umbrella." When I returned from a shortened visit, I found Amadeus playing with another checked dog and Albert asleep on the lap of the woman running the coat room.
So knowing travel and dogs presented no problem, I grabbed an overnight bag, their leashes, and passports. These are issued by my local vet and contain a complete shot record, although for all the years I've lived in Europe, I have never been asked to show them at a border crossing. Five hours of driving time later we pulled into a parking place in front of Llara's student apartment house.
After the normal greetings, my daughter, who claims cooking causes pimples, suggested we go out to dinner. Having eaten her attempts, I agreed.
We wandered through the old section of Heidelberg, looking into windows and admiring the lighted castle above. The dogs trotted along, leaving their marks at appropriate spots.
"Let's eat at the Kupfer Kanne," my daughter said. We had both dined there several times on earlier visits and had enjoyed the warmth both from the ceramic stove as we entered and the woman who we had guessed was the owner.
We were never sure if her, "Nice to have you with us," was because she remembered us or because she was friendly.
"Is it okay to bring the dogs in?" My daughter asked in German, as the same woman, dressed in the traditional aproned dirndl, bustled up with menus in hand.
The woman looked down for the first time, turned on her heel, and led us to a small alcove off the main dining room. We'd never noticed it before. Ours was the only table, but it was set with the same linen as the others we'd passed and decorated with similar fresh daisies.
"Probably doesn't want anyone to see the dogs," my daughter said.
The boys settled in as we studied our menus. The woman reappeared and waited as we selected a white wine. I wanted trout. Llara chose pork chops. After taking our order, the woman listed what I took as the daily specials because I recognized the words for lamb and beef. It seemed strange to do that after we had ordered. My confusion didn't last long.
"She's naming dog food. She's going to feed the boys," Llara explained. "Is lamb okay for them?"
Within ten minutes all four of us were happily eating, the dogs at their usual vacuum-cleaner speed and Llara and I more slowly. The woman poked her head into the room and asked if the dogs wanted seconds.
"Nein, danke," my daughter said.
After we finished the main course, Llara and I both gave into apple strudel and espresso. The dogs were almost asleep when the owner brought the equivalent for them--a bowl of water and doggie candy.
As we finished our coffee another couple, who had been eating in the main room came by to meet the American dogs that the owner had told them about. Llara found herself answering the usual questions.
"No, they aren't related. One has English parents, the other has French."
"Fourteen and eight years old."
"They've flown the Atlantic eight times. In the baggage compartment. Without problems."
We ordered more coffee as the rest of the diners came in to say a few words and tell us about their animals. By 10:00 P.M. interest in the boys and us had waned, and we were finally alone.
"What do you think she'll charge for the dog food?" I asked as the woman disappeared to add up the costs.
Under the table Albert let out a long burp.
The woman returned, presented us the bill and opened the black money purse ubiquitous to all German waiters and waitresses. I scanned the numbers. Only the human meals were on it.
"Fur die Hunden?" I managed. The woman said something I didn't catch.
"She says they were her guests," my daughter translated.
From under the table, Albert burped again.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sudoku Monday

The driver was obviously not having a good start to his week. How he managed to drive his car so his front tires were suspended off the two stairs near St. Peter's Church, I have no idea.
Was he upset?
As I walked by, I saw him, a man in his fifites, balding, calmly doing the sudoku in the throw away paper 20 Minutes as he awaited help.
Coming back from the dentist an hour later, I saw the same car properly parked more traditionally in the slot to the right of the second car in the photo. How he did on the sudoku I have no idea.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Walk


A beautiful Sunday calls out for a long walk through and around the village. And the circus is coming to our tiny village with tickets only 15 CHF.



Today is the final day of voting for the 80 people who will rewrite the Geneva Constitution. Although it is possible to vote in person, I'd mailed my ballot at the beginning of the week, being careful to choose journalists, constitutional lawyers, historians and artists among others. Interestingly, very few businessmen were running. The voting is always held in the school.



And this is the place where I can drop off my bottles, batteries, papers, unwanted clothes.




And on a long walk, it was wonderful to talk with this woman and to pat her old dog, who was more than content to lay down in the grass and rest his hips.


And after ambling through fields I came out on the upper lake path and could look down on the vineyards, there leaves yellowing. Not all the fruit has been picked. Some branches are heavy and waiting for the men and women with baskets on their backs to finish the harvest.