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


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


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


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 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.

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.