Saturday, May 31, 2008

Six Random Things about a repat

Taking up the trend from Mighty Mom and Earth to Danie being tagged only are six things about my life living away from my natal country where I feel like a total alien whenever I have to go there. It is not something I would ever do if people I loved didn't live there.

1. I am no longer an expat, but a repat having fought for and won Swiss nationality. I believe in this country as a democracy because we vote on issues like whether to buy airplanes for the air force, the age of retirement, how much to give kids as the government allowance, etc. I take this very seriously because it marks the high quality of life we have here. I don't always agree with the results, but at least the decisions were made by the people more than the politicans.

2. Learning French was the hardest thing I ever did intellectually, and like Mighty Mom I much prefer speaking in person then on the telephone. However, every time I finish a French book or have a day of just French conversation (even with my bad accent and unique grammar) I feel a sense of pride of reaching beyond my limitations.

3. In Switzerland I found my voice as a writer with the Geneva Writers Group. Their support and encouragement pushed me to continue when discouraged. I am glad Susan Tiberghien, the founder of the GWG exists. I also have been able to share with other writers in away that once was only fantasy.

4. I share the late Utah Phillip's belief in "making a living not a killing" and that money and things are not important other than to allow the freedom of choice. I need no money to walk by my beloved Lake Geneva or enjoy the flowers. To buy farm fresh vegetables, to not have to have a car, to look at the snow-covered mountains, to live in the slow lane, to know and be friends with people of so many nationalities from all the continents, is truly a gift.

5. I don't really feel as if I am in Switzerland until I leave Geneva because of the high percentage (around 47%) of internationals. Yet I relish the time I spent in two Swiss villages Payerne in Vaud and Môtiers in Neuchâtel. I would find it boring to be around just one nationality and one language now. Most events I go to are multi-lingual with English, French, German being the most common mutual languages although Czech, Dutch, Spanish, Arabic are also sometimes in the mix.

6. I wake up every day and feel blessed that I have been allowed to live this life as a writer in two places I love (Geneva and Argelés-sur-mer), have a daughter I adore, friends that warm my heart and soul, and the good sense to realise how incredibly lucky I am.

I am not tagging anyone, but if any expat who reads this wants to pick up the thread, please do.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Falling off the no buy wagon

May as a no buy month was full of temptations and I fell off the no buy wagon three times, twice on the same day.

The first was for a lettuce dryer that I have been wanting for a long time, but not enough to actually step into a store to look for one. I found it at the vide grenier for 1 Euro.

The copper pan was also at the vide grenier. All my pans are copper, bought from an antique dealer, then sent one by one with friends to Damascus to have them tin lined. This one was already tin lined and cost 5 Euros. I saw it in the morning and decided if it were still there at the end of the day I would buy it. It was, I did.

The third was the rug for my bathroom. The one I had I bought my first weekend in Switzerland for the flat in Môtiers in 1990. The colour was perfect to go with the green leaves in the tiles holding my mirror. However, 18 years of use left it tattered at best. I had been checking for a chocolate rug whenever I was near a place that sold bathroom rugs. I did find one two years ago, measured wrong (I can do celsius easily, but metres still confuse me) and ended up with a rug large enough to cover my living room, which I didn’t want. I gave it to the lovely couple who gave me my table set. Thus when walking through Co-op, a short cut to the sushi restaurant, I saw this rug. I grabbed it. My housemate agreed the colours would be perfect. I did say I would replace things and one bathroom rug every 18 years is not extravagant even at 39 CHF. And it will save me being on the prowl for a rug next year.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Did you say Dr. Spock?

No not the doctor..

Mr. Spock?
No, not the Vulcan with the pointy ears, although I am sure he would find this Swedish SPORK practical to eat with as he floated through space on the Enterprise.
My housemate found this spoon, fork, knife all in one handy utensile. The serated edge on the fork does not quite show up in the photo. Not only did we discuss the merits of the SPORK, we discussed how to blog it.
I wonder how many other houses on the street have their own S(poon)F(ork)K(nife)...?

When my housemate suggested that she and I and her sons go eat sushi I realised it was the 28th, my Coca-cola day, the one day in the month I allow myself my favourite beverage. As for the sushi, which I can't get in Argelés, it is mandatory to have it at least once before I go south for the month of June.
The white board in our house is used for all kinds of messages, jokes, drawings and a bit of philosophy now and then.
I put up a countdown until it was time for the sushi and Coke, with bad drawings of maki and a Coke can. (Only the younger son is a true artist). Little by little the maki improved, others were changing the countdown and additions were made. As I write this I need to go down stairs and change it to 4 hours and eleven minutes until sushi and Coke.

Afternoon walk

My reward for writing is almost always a good walk and heading for the lake is even more special. The temperature didn't live up to its promise to be 30° which would have left me melting and rethinking the walk. As it was, I was happy to have a sweatshirt.

Although some might think it is the same old same old, each time I do it, I find some delight to make me smile. This walk was especially joy-filled starting with a pair of siesta ducks that weren’t bothered at all that I crept close. Good thing I wasn’t a fox.

Afternoon walk (cont.)

The water is so clean that on a walk last year with friends from Damascus, one of them had trouble believing it wasn't an artificial lake. The German Shepherd had no trouble believing it. At sixteen months she thought it was great to wade, bite it and check back to make sure her owners were watching. Years ago I bred shepherds until lack of space and a Japanese Chin came into my life. As for my last Shepherd, Nikki, she was like this dog and never passed up a chance to go into the water clean or not.

Afternoon walk (cont.)

Flowers along the path

I love this peek holeout into the lake.

Afternoon walk (cont.)

The creek is just a few steps into the next village and gurgles its way under a small bridge.
Each rose was brighter than the one before, and even with my eyes closed I could smell their scent.

Afternoon walk (end)

Even the grafetti in a village where grafetti is non-existent has its own flair.
None of the photos capture the smell of the water, the feel of the breeze, the bird song, a variets of tweety, phoebes, clicks, trills and too-wits.

Garou Garou Garou

Okay, so I told myself after seeing Chris Rea with RB2 that never again would I go to another standing up concert that the Europeans are so fond of. It is so much better to sit. When will I learn never to say never?

The Garou concert was a stand up concert. And I happily climbed up the Lausanne hills to stand for 2.5 hours that passed in minutes.

From the first time I saw Garou sing Belle in the middle 90s till now, he has been my favourite singer. To use a trite expression, he electrified the hall combining some of his French hits with his new English album.

I’ve gone to a lot of concerts, but never have I see a performer that so connects with his audience. (I saw him as Quasimodo in Notre Dame de Paris, in a middle-size concert at the Arena, and then in this small intimate venue). Whether its rock, blues, jazz that he performs his entire being is in his performance and his music enters my blood and muscles.

For anyone who wants to see some of what he performed (except for Celebration,) there’s youtubes below. Anyone who wants to see Notre Dame de Paris, the youtubes are below.

Je suis le meme
Piece of my soul
Roadhouse Blues
Sous Le Vent Any one who gives their heart a break and then unfolds their sails into the wind without forgetting their love can sing to me anytime.
Celebration Garou doing Swing as Darren and Sinatra
Blue Suede Shoes
Belle from Notre Dame De Paris
Notre Dame de Paris You can watch almost the entire musical starting here. Some videos have an English translation.

Monday, May 26, 2008

I was lost

But now I am found.

The purchase of this sweater bought a couple of years ago met all my criteria for a purchase (usually it takes one, two is better, three is the best).
1. It’s useful
2. It’s beautiful
3. It has a memory
A fourth is that isn't made by a corporation but a craftsman... this is extra. Useful and beautiful go without saying. And it was even made by a craftswoman.
The memory is special. It was purchased in a boutique next to my favourite hotel, a converted 13th century jail in the medieval town of Mirepoix. Each room has charm that the former prisoners could not even begin to imagine: canopy beds, antique furniture along with all the accruements of modern bathing and toileting one needs. Outside wooden gargoyles carved at least 700 years ago guard the archways leading to the entrance.

I was convinced (arm almost twisted) to buy it by my Alpha-Shopping friend.

When I couldn’t find the sweater last fall in Geneva I assumed it was in Argelès, but when I checked my wardrobe and my summer clothes it wasn’t there either. Although I told myself I couldn’t have thrown it out, I couldn’t think where it might be.

Saturday when I grabbed a small suitcase for my trip up to Geneva, there it was. For some reason I hadn’t removed it the last time I used the case. My three(four)-criteria sweater was no longer lost.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Puttering and Chicken Soup Philosophy

Puttering around my kitchen is one of my greater joys. By American standards it is tiny, less than a two giant steps in any direction, and under equipped, but it has the things I need most: good knives, spatulas, potato masher, two wooden spoons, 2 ladles (one for serving), stove top, oven, whisk and food processor, the later being the major necessity.

Some of my French friends produce five-star meals with the same or less. Although I don’t claim to be as a good a cook as they are, I can hold my own. None of them who have eaten my cooking have spit it out, and usually have taken seconds.

Today I decided to make chicken soup because of lots of leftovers: the roast chicken from Sunday lunch, the eggplant Catalan, some ginger, and misc. veggies that were in the frigo. Taste testing I find it’s good and will be a once in a lifetime eating experience: this combination will never be duplicated.

As I watched the liquid bubble, I realised there a story about everything on the stove top.
The teapot was given me by cousins as I was about to move to Europe hand carried from their home in Tennessee by my daughter who had visited them.

The casserole was a birthday present from my girlfriend. Usually this brand costs a small fortune. She found it brand new at a vide grenier for 5 Euros. It has held spaghetti sauces, soups, veggies, casseroles that both of us have shared and even more I’ve eaten by myself.

The dish behind the casserole has bittersweet memories. The lovely man I was living with at the time on the Riverway in Boston in an apartment I adored. It was a cold February morning and we wandered into Brookline Village with its almost English feel to one store that featured unusual household kitchen items. We saw it at the same moment and headed for it. As the French say it was a coupe de foudre. No debate was needed to buy it and the six matching bowls.

Sadly, although he was lovely and we loved the bowl, we were not meant to be a loving couple, more my fault than his. His loveliness was demonstrated in letting me keep the bowl. He has disappeared into another life, and I hope he is as happy as I am.

So today is the day that I will write, putter around my kitchen making chicken soup until it is time to run errands, maybe stop at the café, talk to friends and enjoy puttering in a life I’ve chosen and has far exceeded my expectations.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

That's how crazy...

“How crazy are you?” My roommate asked as soon as I answered the phone “Oui, allo.”
“Why?” I asked.
She explained she was in the process of ordering two tickets Monday night for Garou’s concert in Lausanne. I am in Argelès.
For those that don’t know who he is, I have adored him as a singer since he appeared as Quasimodo in Notre Dame de Paris. I saw the stage production in Paris and I saw Garou in concert once.
Tomorrow I go to the train station to buy my train tickets for Geneva.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Even if I am a good cook...

some things are not worth doing. I learned and relearned this. Once we put on a great Christmas Eve supper of Chinese food made from scratch. However, considering the labour involved and the cost of the ingredients and the clean up, it would have been cheaper and easier to do take-away for the same results.

The same thing happened with croissants. We rolled the dough and buttered and rolled and buttered and rolled and buttered for an evening. And the smell when they baked the croissants for breakfast was wonderful BUT the taste was only equal to those we bought.

Roast chicken is one of those things. Buying it freshly roasted with the juice, onions and potatoes ladled into the bag makes more sense than roasting it myself. I can still make a great salad and veggies to go with it at the same cost and less effort.

Thus I ordered a chicken for Sunday lunch to feed my cousins…without an ounce of guilt.

Her name is Lola

And she’s a show cat…

Sorry Barry Manilow…but Lola is certainly showing herself off as she perches on the boxes outside her owners’ store. Babette is mad about her. In fact, if it came to be a choice between Jean-Pierre and Lola, I suspect we would see Jean-Pierre walking down the street with his suitcases.

Lola’s kittenhood was not that easy…Her joy at taking the toilet paper and pulling until none was left on the rolls, getting her head stuck under a door which necessitated that the door had to be replaced because of the damage in rescuing her was only met with murmurs of how clever she was from Babette while Jean-Pierre remained silent as he patted his poodle Mr. Bill.
Lola’s plaintiff cries could be heard up and down the street before she had her shots and could be allowed to claim her part of her territory outside, which is not willing to share with Ptah II, my friend’s cat who only appears on market days but was regularly chased back into my friend’s store. If Ptah II, who is all white and triple the weight, sat on Lola, I suspect the cat would look like one of those cartoon cats flattened into one dimension by some tragedy. It will never happen because he is always running away.

Tintin, a dog of dubious parentage, walks by her looking the other way. I suspect they have some kind of pact of –If-you-don’t-look-at-me-I-won’t-scratch-your-eyes-out.
Bianca the tiger cat and Lola also seem to have some sort of agreement.

As a mature cat, most shenanigans are behind her. Maybe there was a television show she watched showing Queen Elizabeth’s regalness. In any case she has a developed a dignity that only accentuates a royal attitude. When Lola gets tired of posing outside from her box throne, she will enter the store, and find a sleeping place near the tubes of mayonnaise and please do not make too much noise, folks when an order is being rung up. "We royal cats need our sleep you know."


Nuts to you, you’re nuts, it’s nutty, nutso…

When did nuts get to be so derogatory?

There’s nothing negative about nuts when my cousins carry a large and delicious bag of pecans from New Mexico.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

My new book cover

I love it...
I want to start doing the publicity but the internet line is still down in my part of town and I find myself in the café (not a hardship) trying to get everything done before the battery wears down.
I think of all my books (he he he) this is my favorite cover.

Waiting for Godot...

Not quite...

but I was at the train station for the first possible training coming up from Barcelona. There would be three and I planned to meet each one. My cousin and his wife were coming and said they would catch the first train they could after their plane landed.

Although we’d talked by e-mail it had been a good twenty years since I’d seen him. I wasn’t sure I would recognize him…

But then up the stairs came a version of my father who said, “Do I look like a Boudreau?”
The answer was yes. And thus started a wonderful visit that it is still going on.
Eat your heart out Samuel Beckett.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Yeh(s) Boo(s)

A Yeh Boo week if I’ve ever had one. My desk top tells it all.

Boo 1: See the white book with the orange dot. That’s my Livebox, which is dead. It is also my modem. It is not dead because it is broken. My outside line is defective. It doesn’t matter why, I can’t connect to internet, my lifeline for my work and my friendships if not my news. The man at France Telecom told me (at lightning speed and repeatedly until he got the idea that 100 words a minute would work better than if he tried to talk to me at 300 words a minute) it was an outside line and maybe just maybe by next Wednesday they would be able to fix it. Fill in your own expletives then yell them several times for me.

Yeh 1: My favourite café has wifi access.

Boo 2: See the medicine. I hate taking any kind of pills, think most of them are more dangerous than the disease, however, when shingles (called Azone in French and pronounced Ah- zone-ah) have caused my left eye to close, those pills look outright yummy. And the cream is as soothing as ice cream on a sore throat.

Yeh 2: The French health system. When I first checked with the doctor he wasn’t sure, so he had me come back (it’s a three minute walk from my flat) four times over three days. The cost was one visit 22 Euros and a man who was determined to get it right before giving me an incorrect treatment. The medicine however was 111 Euros which makes it Boo 2.5

Yeh 3: The program for Cinemaginaire film festival at my local movie house, another three-minute walk. This year they are concentrating on movies about the senses. I’ve seen Huston’s Reflection in a Golden Eye, Tous les hommes sont des Romans (All the men are novels) a French film about two women, one who lives in her head, one who is sensual and how their friendship makes them incorporate). The director talked about the technical and budgetary problems in making the film (he had a walk-on roll to save a salary). The French director Luc Besson did make the comment that film making in the US is a business, in France it is an art form. I agree, although some French films fall far short of art, but then many US films fall far short of good business deals.
They also had a series of shorts done by the local film studio. Considering it was the first time any of the pupils had ever done film making, the shorts were anywhere from adequate to quite good. Of course, there was the fun of seeing Marike’s goats and Danielle, my fishmonger in supporting roles. Today I will see films from the US and Argentina. So far this will cost a total of 16 Euros.

If you add up the yehs and boos the yehs are ahead by .5, which I can live with.

Trying a French Haiku

L’artichaut avec
L’huile d’olive et moutard
Oui, un bon répas

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Good News

The UN has enough fuel to be able to deliver food into Gaza for two days. About half the population relies on this aid to eat.
The blockade by Israel has left the residents of Gaza in desperate straits much like the Warsaw Jews felt during WWII.