Friday, February 29, 2008

Fish Cloud

I've looked at clouds from both sides now, from win and lose and I still see a fish

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Lunch in the mountains

Lunch in the mountains was worth the drive up the narrow, curvy road with no barriers that would prevent a wrong flick of the wheel leaving the car careening into the valley below. When I say narrow, an SUV would be wider than the tarmac.
The house belonged to a writer and sculptor. They had bought it when it was a ruin and had transformed it into an estate with studios, guest houses, a pool, and landscaping that both displayed his sculpture and the plants that lived with minimum demands for water.
The whole area was bathed in the scent of the mimosa, the blooms on the trees so bright that sunglasses were almost required.
We were able to eat on the terrace. Her fresh baked bread, laden with nuts and seeds, was still warm from the oven, some of the best I’ve tasted in a country that makes wonderful bread. Because they are so far from stores, she bakes her own. The rest of the meal (pasta with salmon and wild asparagus in a light cream sauce) and salad tasted even better in the fresh air. The mountains looked as wild, rugged and deserted as they must have when the Neanderthal man roamed the area.
After lunch we walked up the road until we came to a dirt path and continued walking up, up and up until we came to a dolmen. As we walked we talked about our writing, until our characters seemed as real as the “real” people we know. At the dolmen we speculated what certain marks meant and marvelled that one of the supporting rocks was heart shaped and our writers’ minds could picture sacrificial virgins breathing their last.
The afternoon ended all too quickly, followed by another prayerful trip back down the mountain road. The drive home was pink from the flowering apricot and cherry orchards in between the twisted branches of the grape vines that still have not begun to leaf.
Lunch in the mountains had given all my senses and my muscles a good workout.

My second no buy month

The second month of my no-buy year has gone with an interesting set of decisions.
The first was the hardest: Books at the Geneva Writers Conference. In principle I like to support writers, especially ones I know. However, I did jot down the titles of the books I wanted and will order them next year.
This was the month I was going to buy new boots. Well I went through the shops and what was left didn’t fit. That was one of the three planned purchases—a pen (bought) boots (not bought) agenda (not needed yet).
The third was the necklace in the photo. I couldn’t get a clear picture, but it is a bunch of grapes with leaves in three-colour gold. The chain, not the necklace is the problem. My (late and favourite) Uncle Pat gave it to me. When he had cancer, I kept sending him jokes (often with penguins) and the necklace was a thank you. He survived the cancer, but was felled by a heart attack in the middle of a tennis game, the best way he could have possibly died. (Probably a French death notice would read, he returned his last volley).
I thought I’d lost the necklace, which disappeared after I cat sat Taddy, a black sweetheart whom I suspect knocked it off my night stand. I looked all around. I hoovered and went through the dustbag…I even checked the kitty litter in case it passed through her system. Then when I moved two years later and the nightstand was carried out, there it was. I put it on and hadn’t taken it off until it caught on my sweater, which, when I pulled it off, tore the clasp. I could get a new clasp, but that too will wait till next year.

Now to go to the ridiculous, I seriously considered the Mercedes for 11,000 Euros…me who has refused to have a car since 1993…me who feels guilty the few times she does use a car when there were public transportation alternatives feels for every second the engine runs I am killing the planet.

I could picture myself driving up the French autoroute on my way back to Geneva (no matter that gas and tolls cost more than a train ticket, no matter that reading and sleeping in transit can’t or shouldn’t be done when behind the wheel, no matter I would be killing the planet).

In the end I came to the conclusion that the car, although affordable, would need repairs, insurance, gas, and a place to leave it…all costs I don’t want to assume. And if it were like the last car I owned that would be untouched for weeks at a time the money invested didn’t make any sense. To own a Mercedes and maybe drive it 300 Kilometres a year is stupid at best.
I did break down and buy two small gifts, but that was because I was invited to two homes for meals and I needed hostess gifts.

So that was my non-consumer month for February. I wonder what will tempt me in March.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Maiboxes with attitude

English Breakfast

Armed with two Geneva newspapers, Le Bleu Matin and 20 Minutes hand carried to Argelès last week, I headed to Franck’s for a good English breakfast. The papers don’t replace The Boston Globe and NY Times for the best Sunday read, but the Geneva papers sufficed.
Of course, reading (or writing) at the tea room is almost impossible. Sylvie (French), Douglas (Canadian and called DUE-CLASS by the French) and Mike (American) were there. Later Carol (English) showed up. Conversation is better than reading.

Franck was a little worried. As a Frenchman, he is never 100% sure he gets the English breakfast exactly right, but I reassured him…and he worries that a Swiss/American doesn’t know much about English food traditions. Then again, as good as it was I can only eat about half. There is just too much food. Half the bacon, half the sausage, one piece of toast and one egg would have been more than filling. I had asked for half, was willing to pay for whole, but Franck wanted to make sure I wouldn’t leave hungry.
Instead I sent half back and probably will need no more than a light snack later in the day even with that. However, every bite was enjoyable.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A semi writing day

Although I couldn't photograph the typewriters themselves I could photograph the poster advertising the exhibition. Each machine I looked at made me love my laptop more. I still remember how hard you had to push at the keys and how fast the reporters typed with two fingers in the city room of the Lawrence Daily Eagle, where I worked as a cub reporter at 16. To get a better look at the poster, right click on it.
Not an exciting day, but one I thoroughly loved even if it wasn’t the most productive from a writing perspective. The human element is far more important to me than number of pages. If not, I could have always said no, and locked myself to the computer.

8:00: I wake to the television, having left the TV on to watch the Clinton/Obama debate, which I slept through. Rather than get up I finished the last chapter of Spanish Fly. Reading in bed in the morning, is the ultimate luxury. I actively enjoy not rushing to iron clothes for the office.

8:30: Make a fresh pot of tea and start to write.

10:00: Phone call. Robin is at Barbara’s and want’s to know if I want coffee and could I return the hat he left when the three of us had dinner Tuesday night. I throw on clothes and take the hat and Spanish Fly which both Barbara and I think he’ll enjoy.

10:15-11:15: Robin and I decide it is warm enough to have coffee outside at Franck’s. His wife Louise, her tummy bulging with son No. 2, stops and talks as does Franck, Ken, Leaila, Christine, Cristina and Michel. There’s a reason they say all roads to lead to Franck’s. The real name of the tea room is La Noisette, but most of us just say Franck’s ignoring it is also Louise’s. In between chatting with neighbours and friends, Robin and I talk about American, English, French, Middle Eastern, Serbian and Swiss politics and his old organization and a hundred other topics that pop into our heads. The sky is bright blue over the church. He leaves to catch the bus, which is really a series of open tourist cars back to the port. However, on the way, we stop to see the painting of Mont Blanc, an American friend did last summer at the restaurant La Petit Pause. He decides it is a good place to eat some time in the future. As an ex-Geneva resident he must miss the cooking of Haute Savoie.

11:15-noon: At the green grocer’s the owner Elisabeth introduces me as the writer to a French elderly man who also writes and he tells me how, although he has a computer, he still likes to write by hand. His face reminds me of Hume Croyn, who appeared years ago in Cocoon.
I buy asparagus, the green cultivated kind. Both the white and wild are sold out. Then I go to Babbette’s and Jean-Pierre’s for some staples. They comment on how I no longer buy Coca-Cola. I launch into a detail of how my favourite beverage aggravates my esophagus. I don’t tell them, I think of it as E. Sophie Gus to joke away my annoyance at it bringing me pain. A quick stop at Barbara’s shop reintroduces me to a French woman who is renovating a house across from the church. I haven’t seen her for a couple of years, and still can’t remember her name.

Noon-13:30: Watch the replay of the debate on CNN and make lunch. Pasta with mushrooms, red onion, celery and asparagus in a cream-cheese-tomato sauce. For dessert there’s fresh strawberries and apples dipped in cinnamon and cream.

13:30-16:45: Work on my credit union newsletter and get ready to send it out.

16:45-18:00: The day is still beautiful and I walk breathing in the sun and warm air. I make a quick stop at the marie to see if I can vote in the local election. The man at reception smiles when I say, “I know I don’t sound it, but I am a Suissess.” The French allow Europeans to vote in local elections. Unfortunately, Switzerland is not in the EU. Sigh… Still it is civilized that they allow foreigners to vote on local matters that concern them.

I head for the exhibition of old typewriters. I see a Remington like the ones my father used to sell when he owned a franchise in West Virginia, an Olivetti model that I used in college and lots of old IBM golf balls. I tell the woman who oversees the exhibition (she is also an actress in the local little theatre group) about the time two vice presidents of IBM came to the house after we complained about service in a letter to the IBM CEO, probably thinking of a huge enterprise. They asked next time to contact them directly. Although I would like to take a photo of one of the machines, the owner did not want it done. Instead, I walk to take a picture of the poster advertising the exhibition.

Suddenly RB2 appears. We have missed each other for months although we message and email. He asks if I have time for a coffee. I sit with him in one of the sidewalk cafés which are rapidly filling up with people who want to stop for a drink or tea before heading home. He has photos of the house he and his family have rented near Neuchâtel.

18:00: I go to see the movie Enfin Veuve…a woman in an unhappy marriage and with a lover loses her husband. Relieved to be alone, she discovers her family leaves her anything but alone. A chuckle film in the French tradition of comedy.

20:00: Head home to write until bedtime. I test the newsletter and wait until it is completed before sending it to my subscribers. I also email back and forth with a couple of people in Canada and friends in the States.

At no time during the day have I wandered more than a half a mile from my front door. At all times my contentment meter is over the top.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Shopping as a Personal Relationship

Going to the supermarket is the pits, wandering up and down aisles with people rushing by.

Food shopping, by contrast, in Argelès is a study in personal relationships. Sure I could throw a box of Lipton tea bags in a shopping cart at Shoppi, but how much better is it to approach the tea and coffee shop and smell the coffee beans roasting. Inside Carlos pushes huge burlap bags closer to the roaster and greets me with a smile.

Although I’m not a coffee drinker, I do keep coffee on hand for my friends, and the odour is tantalizing.
Usually I buy tea from one of his green canisters. We discuss merit, fair trade, etc. before he measures them out into the red bags marked with the name and seals them with a gold band.

His wife, pregnant with her second son, sits at one of the tables. The little boy is playing on the floor. His toys are scattered around between the tables where people can test out which coffee they want to buy.

That’s not shopping, that’s having a human relationship…and I end up with great tea too.

House Almost Envy

For years those who know me laugh at my imaginary farm house. I have furnished and refurnished it. The farm house that was my prototype was outside of Pontalier near a cliff and a gurgling river even during the hottest summer, but deep down I know that I don’t want a place where I can’t walk to everything I need, food, restaurants, movies, exhibitions, library, dry cleaners, etc. (even in Geneva it is possible and if I don’t want to walk, the bus gets me to these places quickly). But then, if it is imaginary, the morning bread can appear freshly baked without having to go to the village to get it. In fact, the bread will still be warm from the boulanger’s oven.
One of my writer friends blogged about her house envy, and I have to admit that I have looked at certain houses over the years and imagined them as mine. Envy might be too strong, but again, I imagine what I would do with them: form a writers’ centre, decorate, entertain, have a small garden, etc.
This is one on those houses. The area over the smaller door is a terrace larger than my current studio, and there is a small yard where a Japanese chin would play. (Since I will never own it, I never have to worry about cleaning up the pup’s poop.)
I also picture how I would set up the house with the kitchen on the other side of the big door, the living room and bedroom/study above where the two large windows. The living room would be peach, green and aubergine.
As for the terrace, I imagine sitting there on summer nights eating my dinner, some kind of fresh veggies with the dessert of fresh in season peaches. And I’d read until the sun set.
In the morning I could walk a block for my fresh bread…
In winter it would be cozy, and like where I am now I would have a fireplace, that I would set up my laptop in front of and course of all my first drafts would be perfect—we are talking fantasy here.
I took the photo and went home to my own flat, still happy with it. I decided I wouldn’t sell it, ever, for my nest has buried itself into my heart.

I love the colors

This is not an example of house envy, but as I was walking down my street, I was touched by the yellow against the pink trim. Besides, my neighbour would never want to sell it.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Just because

The only reason this photo of a silk flower is on my blog was that it amused me. I only wish I could ask the person that stuck it in the stone wall, why.

Watch Kitties

The lions with one paw on a shield are not original to either the US or Europe. Thousands and thousands adorn gateposts on both continents. In fact, I had a pair in front of my Boston fireplace. I found them in Brewster on Cape Cod in an antique shop. Autumn leaves filtered down from a nearby tree and the smell of salt air added to the memory as the dealer pocketed his money. These weren’t white lions, but a steely gray blue.
How well these statues guard a home or a fireplace is debateable, although the Boston house never burned down while they were on duty. Of course, it wasn’t a working fireplace either.
One house on the Route de Notre Dame de La Vie has watch kitties. These felines, just don’t seem to have the same gravitas as the lions.

The book of life

Death doesn’t fascinate me…but how different cultures treat it does. Whenever I visit a new country, I like to visit a graveyard and a supermarket.
What has always intrigued me about French graves are the plaques. Some are simple with the names of the deceased their dates of birth and death, often with a photo imbedded as on the shot to the right, making me feel like I met them. They can be simple polished stone, metal or ceramic.
Some are fanciful. A farmer’s name might be inscribed next to an etching of a man on a tractor, or a motorcycle enthusiast might have a bas relief of a motorcycle.
Other family members, friends, associates also buy plaques with messages. In one graveyard I learned that the deceased was 19, killed in a car accident and was a local football hero.
This one talks about the book of life, of how we can’t go back or change what it is written.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

If I am paranoid, I am not alone

Many of my friends and relatives say I am nuts to be terrified of the government of the US. They question why I do NOT want to return until habeas corpus is restored, not that I have done any plotting to bring the government down except by election...however, I am not alone... this is an article from the San Francisco Chronicle...
Rule by Fear or Rule by Law?
By Lewis Seiler and Dan Hamburg
The San Francisco Chronicle

Monday 04 February 2008

"The power of the Executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious and is the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist."

- Winston Churchill, Nov. 21, 1943

Since 9/11, and seemingly without the notice of most Americans, the federal government has assumed the authority to institute martial law, arrest a wide swath of dissidents (citizen and noncitizen alike), and detain people without legal or constitutional recourse in the event of "an emergency influx of immigrants in the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs."

Beginning in 1999, the government has entered into a series of single-bid contracts with Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) to build detention camps at undisclosed locations within the United States. The government has also contracted with several companies to build thousands of railcars, some reportedly equipped with shackles, ostensibly to transport detainees.

According to diplomat and author Peter Dale Scott, the KBR contract is part of a Homeland Security plan titled ENDGAME, which sets as its goal the removal of "all removable aliens" and "potential terrorists."

Fraud-busters such as Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, have complained about these contracts, saying that more taxpayer dollars should not go to taxpayer-gouging Halliburton. But the real question is: What kind of "new programs" require the construction and refurbishment of detention facilities in nearly every state of the union with the capacity to house perhaps millions of people?

Sect. 1042 of the 2007 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), "Use of the Armed Forces in Major Public Emergencies," gives the executive the power to invoke martial law. For the first time in more than a century, the president is now authorized to use the military in response to "a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, a terrorist attack or any other condition in which the President determines that domestic violence has occurred to the extent that state officials cannot maintain public order."

The Military Commissions Act of 2006, rammed through Congress just before the 2006 midterm elections, allows for the indefinite imprisonment of anyone who donates money to a charity that turns up on a list of "terrorist" organizations, or who speaks out against the government's policies. The law calls for secret trials for citizens and noncitizens alike.

Also in 2007, the White House quietly issued National Security Presidential Directive 51 (NSPD-51), to ensure "continuity of government" in the event of what the document vaguely calls a "catastrophic emergency." Should the president determine that such an emergency has occurred, he and he alone is empowered to do whatever he deems necessary to ensure "continuity of government." This could include everything from canceling elections to suspending the Constitution to launching a nuclear attack. Congress has yet to hold a single hearing on NSPD-51.

U.S. Rep. Jane Harman, D-Venice (Los Angeles County) has come up with a new way to expand the domestic "war on terror." Her Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 (HR1955), which passed the House by the lopsided vote of 404-6, would set up a commission to "examine and report upon the facts and causes" of so-called violent radicalism and extremist ideology, then make legislative recommendations on combatting it.

According to commentary in the Baltimore Sun, Rep. Harman and her colleagues from both sides of the aisle believe the country faces a native brand of terrorism, and needs a commission with sweeping investigative power to combat it.

A clue as to where Harman's commission might be aiming is the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, a law that labels those who "engage in sit-ins, civil disobedience, trespass, or any other crime in the name of animal rights" as terrorists. Other groups in the crosshairs could be anti-abortion protesters, anti-tax agitators, immigration activists, environmentalists, peace demonstrators, Second Amendment rights supporters ... the list goes on and on. According to author Naomi Wolf, the National Counterterrorism Center holds the names of roughly 775,000 "terror suspects" with the number increasing by 20,000 per month.

What could the government be contemplating that leads it to make contingency plans to detain without recourse millions of its own citizens?

The Constitution does not allow the executive to have unchecked power under any circumstances. The people must not allow the president to use the war on terrorism to rule by fear instead of by law.



Imagine the word Pantyhose being yelled out of your radio as you drive to work. If you can, then you commuted in and around Boston during the 60, 70s and 80s and had your radio tuned to WHDH and were listening to Jess Cain. During coffee break someone would say at least once a week, "Did you hear Jess's sketch on______ this morning and others would say "yes" and launch into a description of something else they found amusing...

Scanning The Boston Globe this morning I saw his death notice at 81 and with his passing, a bit of my past has been consigned to history. I suppose if his notice were in the French papers, it would say, Jess Cain has run out of pantyhose.

Friday, February 15, 2008

New way to say he died

In the on going series of unique ways to report a death, the local village magazine reported that a citizen and former mayor had gone to the other side of the mirror.

Why would I polish away memories?

“I do have copper powder,” a one-time guest said about my copper pans hanging from my beams. It is not that I don’t like shiny copper pots. For me their patina is made of memories and to polish them would erode their history.

I bought them at the local antique store even though they had no tin lining. Attempts to find a tin smith in France or Switzerland were useless, until I talked with my Syrian friend living in Paris, who said this craft still existed in Syria.

Thus began a pan-by-pan excursion to Paris and the pans were transported on individually with different Syrian friends going to Damascus. None questioned my sanity to my face. The pans came back tin-lined to Paris and eventually made their way back to Argelès to be hung on my beams and to cook my meals.

Well one pot stayed in Syria. The tinsmith was intrigued by the French design, so I sent him one to keep.

These are my memories of the pans, but they had their own life before I found them. I wish they could tell me stories.
Did a little boy run in from playing and peek in a pot only to discover peas when he was hoping for potatoes?
What sauces were stirred up to flavour a Christmas roast?
As a woman sautéed onions, was she angry at her husband? Proud of her daughter’s notes at school? In a hurry because she had other things to get done?
Was one ever thrown in anger or dropped spilling its contents on the floor to be eaten by the dog?
In a way their patina is like my own face, with its smile lines, which also tell of my memories. Thus the pots will remain silent and unpolished as I make new memories with new meals.

Literary Feline

He has no known name, but every morning he appears at the library and settles himself in his chair to snooze and holds court for those who want to pat him. He will stretch out, making his tummy more available for rubs.
At noon, he leaves, but is back in the afternoon, where he goes upstairs to the Club des Loisirs. There local members learn to throw pots, sew, paint, bind books, knit and improve their hobbies, one of which is to make sure the cat is fed.
He disappears at night to perhaps a real home, perhaps to wander down by the river. He doesn't say.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Wild Asparagus

Not only did I not get my camera out fast enough to photograph the pheasant (see blog below) on my afternoon walk yesterday, but the wild asparagus I was hoping to find, was equally elusive. Then today when I went into my favourite green grocer, tucked next to the till was a plate of asperges sauvages with their thin stalks and delicate heads.

I asked for several stalks, and the owner, Elisabeth, added them to my artichoke, apples and spinach. “Jean-François brought them in just a short time ago.” That is a common name, but she held her hand at a height that told me school child. In this region children have Wednesdays off.
“You must eat them today. Lunch would be better than tonight.”

“Have no fear. From this plate to mine.” I lied. They had to rest on my fridge for the few minutes it took to boil the water.
Usually I love hollandaise with asparagus but these were too good to corrupt with anything. So thus I sit writing this and nibbling on tiny bites of asparagus to make it last as long as possible. It is not a treat that I can experience often.

Do you see a pheasant?

That's because he ran across the road and into the bushes so fast, that I almost thought I imagined his florescent blue head.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I only wish they were joking

I know I have said I don’t want to go to the US until they restore habeas corpus, but this is another reason I do not want to go back to the country of my birth. Will the EU cave? Who knows. However, I can see that no matter how cheap the shopping, a great drop in tourist and business trips by Europeans. As for the flyover they think a passenger is going to open a door and drop a bomb out, then go back to the in-flight movie?

From the Guardian

“The US administration is pressing the 27 governments of the European Union to sign up for a range of new security measures for transatlantic travel, including allowing armed guards on all flights from Europe to America by US airlines.

“The demand to put armed air marshals on to the flights is part of a travel clampdown by the Bush administration that officials in Brussels described as “blackmail” and “troublesome”, and could see west Europeans and Britons required to have US visas if their governments balk at Washington’s requirements.

“According to a US document being circulated for signature in European capitals, EU states would also need to supply personal data on all air passengers overflying but not landing in the US in order to gain or retain visa-free travel to America, senior EU officials said.

“And within months the US department of homeland security is to impose a new permit system for Europeans flying to the US, compelling all travellers to apply online for permission to enter the country before booking or buying a ticket, a procedure that will take several days. (DL--sure hope no European has to visit a relative that is on the verge of dying and needs to get there quick)

“The data from the US’s new electronic transport authorisation system is to be combined with extensive personal passenger details already being provided by EU countries to the US for the “profiling” of potential terrorists and assessment of other security risks.

“Washington is also asking European airlines to provide personal data on non-travellers - for example family members - who are allowed beyond departure barriers to help elderly, young or ill passengers to board aircraft flying to America, a demand the airlines reject as “absurd”.

Absurd is the word...To make America safe perhaps we should stop starting wars all over the planet, do away with the World Bank and the IMF policies, stop our economic terroism and raping other countries of their resources.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Show off colours

Cristina showed me the water colours she had done when she was in Denmark over Christmas. A river was in soft gray and rushes lining the banks were in shades of beige, the same colour combination as the clothing she wore. “These are the colours I grew up with,” she said and added that sometimes she found the bright colours of the south of France unsettling.
We talked about the importance of colour and the influence it has on our individual art forms, our moods and our lives.

Anyone who knows me well knows that colour is important to me. I see matches where others don’t: I revel when I am surrounded by dusty roses and soft blues.

Later in the day I took a walk and thought about what Cristina had said. Strong colours were all around, the red of the English telephone booth outside a restaurant, the blue sky, dark green palms and even a delicate colour like yellow, comes in sun-strength on flowering trees. Although the houses tend to be pastel, everything around them is vibrant like the railings to matching the sky and this tree of the photo I snapped. I thinkit is mimosa, but don’t quote me on it.

It is true, here the colours show off their pigment with a pride and a complete disregard for the subtle. I can live with a flamboyant environment, but am equally glad that the world has room for the greys and beiges.

Pansies and good neighbours

In one of the two blue Spanish pots that flank my front door were two pansy plants, one yellow and one purple.

“Not me,” Barbara said when I asked her if she’d planted them. She was ready to help me shlup my suitcase up the three flights of stairs to my flat after our traditional welcome-back-to-Argelès dinner.

The neighbour next door, who had contributed to my pathetic attempts to keep up with the flowers on the street, had moved back to Spain. I had brought back my tiny Christmas tree to plant in the pot, which I was sure was empty. By some miracle the other pot was filled with some green leaf thingie he’d planted last spring, and it had flourished over the winter despite my absence…or maybe because of it.

Walking through the marché the next day greeting people I hadn’t seen for months, Madame Martinez pushed her way up the street, a straw basket filled with artichokes, carrots and a baguette over her arm. As usual the little woman, a true Catalan, wore a housedress with a thick sweater over it. Despite a sombre appearance, she is at every street party and almost every dance or concert in the square. She also waters my plants when I am away, part out of pity for them, part out of good neighbourness. I bring her Swiss chocolate.

When I had left in the fall, she’d been in the hospital, and no one had diagnosed her problem. They had to transfer her to Montpellier. Over the winter I thought of her frequently. I hadn’t seen her husband or her sons since I’d returned and even if I had I would have been afraid to ask.

We kissed on both cheeks, and I told her how pleased I was to see her. Sometimes when we talk my American accent and her Catalan one make repetition necessary. I asked if she knew who had donated the pansies.

She put her hand to her chest. “My son gave me a lot. I thought you would like two.”

I thanked her profusely, wondering if she knew she would be in charge of them on my return to Geneva.

She and I may have different accents, but we do speak good neighbour language. My Christmas tree can wait to be planted.

Saturday, February 09, 2008


I just missed the E bus at Rive for Corsier Port. It was 21:30, and it was cold, although I was still basking in the warmth of my writing mate’s book launch at La Faim. As all evenings in Geneva, politics, although mixed with writing chatter, was prominent. One of the attendees worked in Jordan with the Palestinian refugees, and we talked about how he kept up his spirits working daily with devastating odds against him.

The G bus with the destination of Corsier Village sat at the curb, its motor running and more importantly, its heaters on…a glance at the schedule gave me a choice. I could wait in the cold for the next E bus that would drop me two minutes from the house or jump on the G and have a ten minute walk in the cold and dark, something that I don’t like to do at night, but be home before the next bus left Rive.

The G bus dropped me in the Village by the darkened Post and boulangerie. I started down the hill. Where the lake lay before me was a dark hole but across the lake a row of yellow lights glittered like altar candles all along the shoreline.

Half way home there is a vineyard on my left and an open field where people throw balls to their dogs during the day on my right.

Very seldom am I in a place so open. Trees, buildings press in almost everywhere I am. Looking up, I saw the black sky with gray, puffy clouds in eerie outlines going on indefinitely. I felt propelled through the universe, almost flying up, up, up leaving me dizzy with the sense of my own insignificance, with the insignificance of all of us on this tiny speck we call earth.
Only when a lone car passed by, did I begin to resume my walk down the hill, having been dropped back to earth.

A sense of overwhelming peace descended. Maybe if I were religious, I would say I was born again, but I am pagan and not even very spiritual. Instead I just felt grateful for all that I had and have the hope I won’t lose the perspective of those few minutes travelling through eternity that whatever significance there is in my life, I make it.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Train Transitions

I thought she was my age with her smooth skin and beautiful hair, but she confessed to being 84, and she was on the way to visit an old friend from Montpellier, where they had grown up. She was worried she would miss her stop, because she had trouble hearing the announcements. “I’m not used to riding trains,” she confessed. I promised to tell her when we pulled into her station.

“I made confiture (jams and jellies), but not the type that were sold in the grands surfaces (big groceries). Mine were for deluxe specialty shops.”

If only I had a tape recorder to take down her descriptions of her confitures: the marrons glacé suspended in a Grand Marnier jelly, the whole strawberries (“so sweet, that I barely needed sugar I left many berries whole.”).

“And I played with colours. Imagine the green of kiwi layered with a yellow citron confiture, one very sweet, one tart. They sparkled. Each year I created a new product.”

Her pots (jars) were special too, searched out in Italy with special shapes. Some were cut glass.
Her daughter had taken over the business, and she was pleased the business continued, although she was equally pleased to be doing less. “I’m too old to work that hard, now.”
Suddenly her blue eyes opened wide as she peered over my shoulder and out the window. “Look, there’s the château, and the cemetery. We are coming into Montpellier.”

I offered to help her with her luggage, but she said she could manage.

For the rest of the ride to Argelès I imagined those confitures on a piece of bread for breakfast.
This morning, I woke. I had some pain berger, stocked by my friend and neighbour so I could eat without having to go out. I had some excellent confiture made by another neighbour. It was good, but I still wished, I could have tasted the woman's who didn’t look 84 and had a passion for her work.
I almost think I could do a whole book of fascinating people I have met mainly travelling between Geneva and Argeles, although there's been a couple on the Paris, Zurich, Frankfort and Italian trips. It's like putting myself into this silver cylinder that will be hurled through the country side and in some of the seats is a treasure waiting to be found.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Don't Go Without Me

The house is in a semi-uproar…with one returnee from a couple of years in California and two of us preparing to leave--one to California, one to Argelès--normalcy (whatever that is) is unrealistic.
The suitcases have come out. Things are being brought out, put back, and my housemate and I are rushing to do unfinished odds and ends to the point we suspect life is an odd and end.

However, Munchkin, who is used to our tooing and frooing has made a decision: we aren’t going without her.

At least it is better than my Japanese Chin Amadeus, whom when I wasn’t looking would unpack my suitcase often hiding things.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

$2 Billion for a Fence

Today I may run over to France while a friend picks up some odds and ends. It is about five minutes by car. At the border there are two buildings, one for the French and one for the Swiss that are sometimes occupied.

The land surrounding is mainly farmland, woods and paths and an easy stroll from country to country. I am back and forth between the two countries a couple of times a week.

Tomorrow, I will go to Argelès. The train station is in the centre of Geneva. Quai 8 is for French-bound trains. The waiting room has been redone in DayGlo colours for the Football tournament scheduled for this summer. Passengers stroll through a corridor that is used by both the Swiss and the French border guards. Usually they nod at you. There is no other check.

When I am in Argelès I have gone to Spain for lunch. There are border guards who usually wave me through, but it would not be impossible to hike over the mountains and change countries.

I compare that to entering the US with their draconian measures. Yes, yes, I know about 9/11, but most countries have had some kind of terrorist attacks over the years, perhaps a little less spectacular, but on going and soul wearing. I suspect the average Iraqi who has lived through shock and awe followed by five years of daily danger, would trade a few hours of attack against five years of siege.

I have American and Swiss passports that let me enter most countries at will. By accident of birth I am one of the lucky ones.

Now Bush wants to spend $2 billion for a border fence, but can’t increase children’s health care.
Yes Europe has illegal immigrants. Most are economic refugees as are most of the illegals in the US, who have been forced off their farms by the cheap food thanks to the NAFTA treaty. Few benefit from the jobs taken from American workers and put into Latin America.

The Red Cross printed a story about one man’s journey, where he was robbed and beaten on his trip north. He wanted to work in the US long enough to afford a few goats to help his village.
His leg was infected and grew worse as he waded through contaminated water. He was caught and sent home. He was one of the lucky ones. He didn’t die in an overheated truck or be shot by some patriot protecting the homeland.

Danger and dying are not just limited to Latinos. Many African illegals drown on small ships as they try to come in.

$2 billion to build a fence to keep out people many of whom live on less than a $1 a day.

The problem is not the illegals, the problem is the economic conditions that result in the haves and the have nots.

There are so many better places that money could be spent, on that child care, on the breaking American infrastructure, on updating the air control system, on education, on micro finance so people can earn a living in their home countries, on, on, on, on, on, on, on, but $2 billion for a fence?

The white board

The white board hangs in the kitchen and is used for the usual telephone messages, notes to buy apples, etc., and times expected back or destinations. That’s because it is possible that we go several days without overlapping for any amount of time and everyone knows to look at the board for information that might be needed. There are the nights like last night when four of us were here. On was one computer in the basement Grey’s Anatomy season 1 was playing, on another Grey’s Anatomy season 3 was playing, and on the third floor Grey’s Anatomy season 2 was on the TV.

Back to the white board. Sometime last year it became the backdrop for sketches, mini jokes as well as the routine.

Today’s happy washing machine message about it’s returned health replaced yesterday’s drawing for a sad washing machine and the message “get well quick.”

In the laundry room the machine cheerily churns away as the Washington Machine's doctor, not Dr. McDreamy or Dr. Burke from G.A., truck heads up the hill for his next house call.

The Rolling Commute

When I lived in Boston with my daughter and two housemates, they had a two, three and four block commute. I would get in my car and drive 45 minutes to an hour out of the city, depending on traffic. The beautiful old New England houses along Route 117, the fields of purple leifstreif in the summer, the red leaves in the fall, and the snow swept fields made up for some of the wear and tear.

When I was first in Switzerland it was a 20 minute drive, often in a car pool and again the scenery was beautiful as we drove up and down the mountain roads.

In Geneva I either jumped a bus for four stops or walked twenty minutes by a field with horses and several alphabet agencies of the UN.

In Argelès I walk across the room and in Geneva I either work in my room, in the winter garden or down in the basement office.

However, this morning I reduced my commute to the shortest in the world. I woke early ready to tackle the day. The sun was planning to sleep in for at least another two hours. I rolled over and picked up the laptop. A roll-over commute has to be the world’s shortest.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Book Exchange

We exchange books, my writing mate and I. She gives me her collection of short stories Back Burning (review at the end of today's blog), and I give her The Card. She is staying with me for the Geneva Writers Conference, putting up with non-breakfasts and rides stuffed in too small places to the other side of the city where the conference is being held. We have little time to talk falling into our beds when we get home, exhausted from the constant hum and flow of the conference, but we snatch bits and pieces in both places when we can.

In our alleged retirements, she flies from Vienna to Sydney and where her writing commitments take her while I keep one foot in Geneva and the other in Argelès. Freed from the daily grind of jobs we can put our words together when we want and explore our crafts more deeply. It is a gift to our souls in the same way our friendship has been a gift to our craft.

Only after she leaves do I have time to pick up her book. Many of the stories are familiar. I was there at their birth. We sat at her organization’s cafeteria, a view of the mountains and lake out the window, plates with the remains of our lunches pushed to one side, going over a phrase, discussing why the characters did what they did. (She did the same for my writing).

I pick up her book as I lay in bed Monday morning, delaying the day’s beginning with a half hour’s read, the ultimate luxury of my life not rushing to iron clothes, put on a suit and be out of the house to do a series of work tasks I don’t want to do.

I select the story Matroshki. I remember the garlic being peeled and put into oil, a wife’s uncertainty, but I had forgotten the beauty of her words, the “muslin of clouds” and “red feathery brush strokes made patterns...” among others. I have been dropped into a lush world, so vivid I can smell the characters, the clematis, the garlic.

I scan the other stories and decide I will read one a day. I want to savour them in the way I would a box of Auer chocolates, where you pick one up and nibble it to make the flavour last.

Winner, IP Picks 2007, Best Fiction
Sylvia Petter’s collection flings the reader across the globe in its bold exploration of love, death, passion, relationship, and family. Echoing her own life experience, Sylvia Petter’s award-winning stories explore universal themes through lenses of distance and separation. Back Burning spans continents, zooming in on snapshots of relationships from childhood and young love, through adulthood and career, political pursuits and history, to awakening in old age. Powerful stories of loss and rejuvenation emerge from this patchwork in unexpected ways. ‘I want to tell them about timing, how a new fire can burn once an old one has died. I also want to tell them about back burning and fires that are lit to quell bigger flames.’

Voting again

The posters are out for the next votation: I dropped my ballot in the mail. Among the things we voted for this time: whether to form a committee to rewrite the Geneva constitution, should smoking be banned in all public places, should the public transportation system be free, should dangerous dogs be outlawed, and should the federal government support small and medium sized enterprises. This was shot during a rain storm from the Number 3 Tram

We are the...

Writers take time to enjoy the sun between classes.
Some 170 writers from 34 countries ended up at Webster University for the 6th Writers Conference of the Geneva Writers Group. After years of people asking questions like “How much will you make?” or “How can you spend so much time doing something when you aren’t sure anyone will pay for it?” or worse saying, “I want to write a book, so I’m taking a couple of weeks off” it is wonderful to be surrounded by people who share my passion.
Had it not been for the GWG it would have taken me a lot longer to develop my craft. And even if I am published, I remember an idiot boss I had who didn’t want to attend a Direct Mail seminar because he said he knew it all. Of course, the guru of Direct Marketing took the opportunity to go to every program he could because there was always something he could pick up. I knew there were ideas and techniques that I would be introduced to.
I did not expect to be so totally inspired that I suspect ten years from now, I will be able to recapture the emotion of one workshop.

I hadn’t signed up for Kwame Kwei Armah’s* session. I don’t write plays, and don’t want to. But when seeing the emotion on people’s faces as they left his classroom, I did a no-no and slipped into his workshop. To be honest the full 20 people hadn’t subscribed, so I only felt mini-guilt slipping into his class. Another five writers, having heard how wonderful he was, did the same.
And within five minutes, I understood why one writer was crying coming out. His commitment, his passion, his ability to understand human nature if not to put into perspective the importance of art in culture from cavemen to today was the point he tried to drive home to those who put truth to humanity, “We are the honourable ones,” he said and I pledged myself to living up to that honour in all my writing.

*Kwame Kwei Armah’s triptych of plays—Elmina’s Kitchen, Fix up, Statement of Regret—premiered at the National Theatre 2003-2007. Elmina’s Kitchen transferred to the London’s West End, making Kwame the first African Caribbean playwright to have that honour. Winner of the Charles Wintor Award, Kwame has just directed his latest play Let there be Love, at the Tricycle Theatre in London.