Saturday, January 31, 2009

Resist...Not a Chance

The no buy year is over, which still won't turn me into a consumer, but when I find on the marché a real suede, completely lined suit in my size (30 Euros/ US$38) and an avocado green that goes with my hair and a violet leather jacket (2 Euros US$2.50) I am going to buy them without thinking. Like all my wardrobe, I hope these clothes become my friends for the next ten of more years.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Conversations while shopping

1. A the bank the teller told me if I transferred money from one account to a new one I would earn 4% interest instead of nothing. Since when I worked at Digital Credit Union I ran a sales program to encourage tellers to sell other accounts, I complemented her on her technique.

2. At Elisabeth's, for spinach, gingeroot, Fuji apples, Pink Lady apples, swiss chard and salad, the woman at the head of the line was about to buy cronin, ordered by another client who did not pick it up. The small box was expensive, 10 Euros and the woman, who had grey hair, but was dressed in jeans, asked how to cook it. Elisabeth said in broth, and they should be washed with a tooth brush, but gently. No one else in the green grocer's had heard of this, but Elisabeth explained that they were popular in the North of France, almost unknown here. We learned that it was root vegetable and a delicacy. The buyer promised to report back on her experiment with a new food. The conversation on food and recipes continued with the four women in the shop.

3. At Babette's for bananas, butter, potatoes, an onion and oranges. I told her I hadn't forgotten the cat last night. We are sharing the care of Ptah II while a neighbor is away and I was busy interviewing people in Canada until almost 18h an hour after I normally went to my cat cuddle. I found Babette already upstairs, the key in the door, so I couldn't relieve her. We also discussed what we should do about the food in the frigo because of the loss of electricity. Because the street lights have been off for repairs from the storm, she also said that her husband Jean-Pierre had closed the grill fully as a precaution.

4. At Danni's where I bought salmon: A woman who had bought mussels to take to her daughter was complaining that the girl was pregnant and she, the mother had just spend 100 Euros for a pousette (stroller/push chair) Then she launched into a series of complaints on the girl's partner. After she left I said to Danni that she must know a great deal about all her customers. She said she was part psychiatrist, part counsellor. "Too many people are alone and have no one to talk to, so I serve as a listening board and friend, along with my fish." Danni is almost as wide as she is tall, although tall is not a word I would ever use to describe her. We then launched into what it is in the character of someone that integrates into a new community or even makes contacts in a community where they've lived all their lives.

Now if I had gone to a supermarket, I would never, ever have had all these human contacts, the glimpses into life, learning about a new food, the problems of others. Instead of rushing through my errands, I shared in the community as well as coming home with my lunch for the next two days.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Today was my Coca-Cola day, the one day a month I allow myself a Coke, be damned E. Sophie Gus, get ready to swallow. A great deal of planning goes into this day...which restaurant will I go to? If I'm in Geneva it could be Manora, Mikado, Marionner, Manana, or others, some of which don't start with the letter M. However, I'm in Argelès.

I decided today I would go junk food all the way. McDo here I come for a Big Mac, Fries, and a giant Coke without ice.

The McDo is outside the village, about a 20-30 minute walk, which would also justify the extra calories. Certainly too close to justify driving...

Just as I arrived at the door THE MANAGER LOCKED IT.

Zut Alors!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It had their electricity cut, still a common occurence after our hurricane 2 force storm over the weekend.

Decision time. I could wait in the chance the cut would be short but then I would be too late to eat at the village restaurants OR I could walk back and find another place.

I ended up at Les Flowers in the village about ten minutes before they stopped taking customers with a grilled magret de canard in a Banyuls, and small rondels of potato gratin, spinach, fennel, brocoli, tomatoes and an onion-cabbage compote. hmmm mmm. So good, I almost, but not quite, forgot to drink my monthly Coke.

Don't cry for me Coca-Cola...

The truth is, I never left you...

All through my wild days

My mad existence

I kept my promise

You kept your distance

I had to let it happen, I had to change

Couldn't stay all my life down at heel

Looking into your window,

out there in the sun

McDo was an illusion

Not the solution it promised to be

The answer was here all the time

I love you Flowers, and hope you love me

Monday, January 26, 2009

The light flickered

then went out. A new bulb did nothing. Then I realised I'd lost electricity. The fuses worked. My neighbors also had lost electricity as did the town, the department and all of Southern France...over one million people in a wind that blew 180 miles and hour and killed 20 people by last count on France2.
A 180 KMH wind outside sounds a bit like a full-speed train in my apartment.
As a child in hurricanes or thunderstorms or during electricity losses, the family lit candles, played games and enjoyed it even as we hoped one of our 38 pines would choose not to hit the house as they swayed. One blackout my daughter and I toasted mashmallows in the candle flame.
I realised that by being alone it wasn't as much fun. Candle light is too dark to read and knit by when the pattern is complicated. However, as a writer I can use my own imagination to entertain myself.
I'd thought of going to one of the neighbours, but I knew without a doorbell and the way their homes are arranged they would not hear a knock even if the wind weren't screaming. So I hunkered down and and finally fell asleep grateful there were no bombs falling like in Gaza or this outage would be short lived not like in Baghdad which has had intermittent electricity since 2003 and feeling guilty that I am one of the lucky ones not to be trapped in those places. I also realised that of the 400 odd years this building has existed electricity has been in place only for the last 70 or so. Because I'm in the grenier, I also wondered if anyone had ever come up here, and laid among the straw to make love during a wind and if so who were they. Okay, I said I let my imagination amuse me.
The next morning the wind had passed, but the phone and internet didn't work.
Out on the street, I talked with Marcel, Pascal, Nathalie, Babette, Jean-Pierre, Nicolas and a couple of people stalking up on carrots, onions and other staples...the phones were not working, not even the natels worked although SMSs could be sent. Bizarre.
At night the electricity went out again. This time I used my natel's flashlight (apologizing for all the nasty things I ever said about cell phones) to make my way to a neighbours. Since she had gas we had a hasty candlelight dinner with wine and cheese, a good dessert and a lovely talk.
Today, everything seems to be working.
Touch wood, ignore wind.

Something even R

can almost agree with me...I bet.

I want the US to be a world leader, but not abroad. Riding the train from D.C. to N.Y. we passed slum after slum after slum. I want us to be a world leader at home by...helping our ciitzens have:
  • An education that allows everone to get a job at their level
  • Enough jobs to get
  • Health care
  • Safe roads
  • Safe food
  • Safe drinking water
  • Safe bridges
  • Decent housing
When we are a world leader in those things, then we can worry about the rest of the world, but since we've failed so miserably in all of the above let's concentrate on building our own building first...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hunting for Tarragon, etc. life is calm these days, but the days still fly by.

So here was my day...probably a bit boring BUT enjoyable.

8:30 oops didn't wake up early as I wanted. I read while the flat heated up. Les Fleurs Neige, a translation of an English book by Lisa See. I have read several French novels lately and the style seems to be dialogue to a point it is almost like reading a play.

9:00 ate multi grain pancake and headed to Franck's for tea where I had a lovely conversation with my Scottish neighbour. She told me the Algerian family, whose kids I loved listening to play on the street, have moved to a house near the fire station. I will miss them. Also played with an 18 month old half English/half Catalan boy who is visiting with his parents from Barcelona.

9:30 started the great tarragon hunt...I finally found it at the third green grocers, but enjoyed a chat with Elisabeth who is taking her kids to Disney in Paris. Elisabeth works more hours than are in a day running her stand so this is great news. Then talked to Danni, the fishmonger, who wanted to talk about Obama (as did the baker who gave me free pastries to eat during the inagural on Tuesday and almost everyone else I run into. I'm being told the world needs him, etc. etc. etc. If I weren't so happy it would be boring. I'm tempted to put my response on tape and play it). Had no luck locating sesame oil.

10:45-15:00 came home, read, listened to Larry King, made lunch: fish with tarragon and onions and green beans, garlic, nuts in a soy sauce. Also played a few computer games and caught up on newspapers around the world. Wrote a couple of letters, yup real letters, the kind that need a stamp and everything. Did the crickler and meez trivia puzzles.

15:00 went for my walk and ended up at my neighbour's where I am cat caring. Ptah II decided reading AND patting him wasn't enough so he arranged his body so I had no choice but to hold him in my arms. He rewarded me with loud pours. After I locked up her place, I reported in to Babette who is sharing cat caring duties. She does the morning cuddle and leaves the Catalan radio station on so he will have voices. I wonder if the cat will learn to do the Sardane dance...

17:00 Made an appointment to have my French level tested. If 2008 was a no buy year than 2009 is a French improvement year. Yes, I can read it. Yes I can speak. Yes I understand it. Yes, I think in it. I dream in it and sometimes I forget which language I am in but I still make too many mistakes. As for pronunciation...the teacher is optomistic I can improve and I didn't say "fool" when she said this.

17:30 on Talked with the travel agency in Geneva to try and arrange tickets for Damascus...have tentative reservations. The cheapest flight is Alitalia, but the agency warned not to book since they might not be in a business. Doubled checked arrangements with my Syrian friend, and then emailed the agency with changes. Talked with my mom in Florida about the inaugaration. I am trying to talk to her every few days...with my VOIP cheap I have 90 free days if I use the computer or phone although on the phone there's a 5 centime connection free and then it is free. After the 90 days it will be 1 centime a minute.

Decided finally to go to work on my newsletter. I am doing an edition on the economic crisis and put out about 60 emails asking different CEOs for their comments...meanwhile Skyped with my kid who had a great time in Bermuda, wished her happy birthday --I'm too young to have a kid that just changed decades -- wrote Diane Feinstein that Dennis Blair was involved in a massacre in East Timor (I had known about the massacre, not his part). I doubt if she will vote against his appointment, but I had to make it known...and cried as I listened to a Palestinian talk about the death of his two brothers during the war. Also arranged two interviews for tomorrow night. They are in Vancouver.

Okay, so it was a boring day to read was a pleasant day, not spectacular but nice to live.

Monday, January 19, 2009

I forgot he was black…

I know that is hard to believe, but when I looked at Obama I didn’t see the colour of his skin. I heard only what he said. Somehow the African-American words ran over my ahead until the pre ignaugaral announcers kept saying that the first African American would walk up the Capital steps that were built by slaves and live in a house that was built by slaves.

Then that part of the history of this past election hit me, totally outside of what he said and what he might to do.

Today the U.S. celebrates Martin Luther King Day, now considered an American hero. What no one said that Obama will be protected by Secret Service which is part of the FBI which spied on King…

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Again and again

One of the downsides of living in Geneva is the disgusting regularity where friends move. Some people deside not to deal with transients being of the school I'll-never-get-a-new-pet-because-it-is too painful-when-they-die.

Although I am not of that school I still dread hearing the words, "I'm moving to (Blank)" again and again and again and again and now it has happened yet again.

A neighbour and young writer with two charming daughters is being transferred to the States. I'll miss the coffees at a nearby café and conversations, the quick trips by her house, the rides to this and that event. No matter that much of the time I am not in Geneva, it was nice having her there when I was. I thoroughly enjoyed watching her change from wondering if she could write to producing a novel that is worthy of active consideration by agents. I've loved seeing her daughters grow and watching her creative mothering that should be turned into a how-to book.

I am practised at people leaving. Just a couple of examples:

The Couple Czech lived on my floor and soon we were spending much time together. Often a half loaf of bread, baked in Prague that morning and flown in on the diplomatic pouch, would be hanging from my door when I came home at lunch. Meals would be shared. Mika, my Japanese chin, loved the man more than me. If the man were home when we walked past, the pup would stop to scratch at his door only to be let in, given a place of honour on their couch and hand-fed salami. I sometimes got treats too. Then there was the day they, their son and daughter helped me with my flower boxes using French, English, Czech and German and laughing until we hurt, not because anything was funny, but it was just silly.

Then they retired back to their home country.

My Syrian neighbour and I would knock on our common kitchen wall signalling whatever, watch movies in PJs, make sure the other had food in their frigo after a business, trip, entertain each other's families and guests and share the frustrations and joys of our daily lives.

She moved to Paris to continue her medical training.

On the positive side of people moving away, I've had a tour of Prague with the couple as guides. They let me see a side of their country no ordinary tourist ever does. We had a catch-up chat just last week on the phone. And I now have a place to crash in Paris whenever I want. In April I will be making my third trip, Inshallah, to Damascus to visit with her family because they also have become part of my life, albeit distant. And so it goes...

I am sure the young writer and I will email, we'll read each others blogs. She'll go on with her life and continue to accomplish great things, some of which she could not do in Geneva.

If I had not had these people (and others) in my life, there would be less colour, less music, less laughter, less happiness. It is worth missing them when they move on. And if you ask why I haven't replaced a dog, it is more to do with the practicalness of trying to go back and forth on a train and hurting Munchkin's, the cat, feelings, then escaping the pain of losing. In fact I haven't lost anything when people move for the memories are always there.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

I am becoming a COW

Cranky Old Woman

I had to buy a new telephone. The last one, a name brand lasted only three years. Once phones lasted almost a life time. Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

Monday, January 12, 2009

A tale of two checkbooks

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...whoops wrong story.

My friend who was in the states asked me to deposit a check and 50 Euros. She gave me the name to the account manager. I went to the bank with her checkbook and mine because I'd forgotten to take it out of my bag. Simple??? WRONG.
The check even without a signature went into her account no problem, but the following dialogue occured between the teller and me when I wanted to put the 50 Euros in cash into the bank.
T: "You can't sign for the cash deposit. You must use the (ATM) card.
M: "The card is in the States."
T: Then you can't put cash into the account without a signature."
M: "Can I sign my name?"
T: Non
M: "But I didn't have to sign the check?"
T: "But you do have to sign for cash."
M: "Cash is liquid, why do I need a signature?"
T: "You need a signature."
M: "Is M. Clerc here." (name of the person I was suppose to go to for problems.)
T: "Non."
I put on my mittens and prepared to leave... Then an idea struck.
M: "Can I put the 50 Euros in my account and then transfer it to my friend's."
T: "Mais oui."
Transaction completed. Sense not found...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

It takes a village

but not to raise a child this time but to care for a cat. Meet Ptah II. His mistress is in the U.S: for six weeks visiting family and he's being looked after by me and Babette and Jean-Pierre the green grocers, who make sure he gets food, water, clean litter and several love fests a day. The other people on the street know we are doing this, and would fill in if needed.
The photo was taken while he sat on my lap, purring his little heart out and showing his "squidgy eyes," the squint he has perfected when he is happy.
We suspect he would trade us all in for his owner who is there much more than we are, but until she comes back, he has no need to call the French Society for Protection of Cruelty to Animals.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The bouncing S

Thoughts while on an hour walk in the cold...

Why do the Brits do sport and mathS while Americans do sportS and math? Personally I try and avoid both.

CNN showed the ice around Lake Geneva. I wish I had seen it, but not enough for a train ride.

To R: the bio store has Hymalian crystals big time. No need for a U turn or a handover of beverage.

Is 1°, sunny and windy in Argeles equal to -4° degrees and grey in Geneva? Both can be defined as brrrrrrrrrrrr

Like last year this year was my no buy year this is my year to improve my French. I write out verb conjugations daily (there has to be a devil to have created French grammar) have signed up for a three week intensive grammar course in August, watch more French programs and try and think only in French on my walks (that is working really well, unless I'm trying to plan my writing). I've a great vocabulary, can read comfortably, and even dream sometimes in French but grammar and accent are weak. Fluent? Never! But I would like to sound a bit more educated. Unfortunately better language skills did no come with my Swiss passport.

I want to invite two friends for a raclette next week. Will there still be 6th night pastries in the store for dessert? I can use the cups my housemate gave me for Christmas that match my antique tea set for coffee and tea. I'm looking forward to sharing with these two intelligent creative, women. One who is my age, just climbed Mount Sinai. The other is a talented artist.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

When People Know...

that one collects something, they find interesting gifts for the collection. I never set out to be a penguin collector. Years ago I had a running joke with an uncle in Florida who compared me with a penguin for living in the north. I asked for help in finding penguins to send him. Thus some people thought they were for me, and even after the uncle died, penguin gifts kept coming and a tradition was born.
Each year my daughter finds a special penguin or penguins. Some years it is easy...other years cause a bit of a trauma as December 25 comes nearer and she has not located the gift. This year's penguin slippers will be doubly appreciated when they make Argelés because the tile floors are cold and the slippers make for toasty feet even on the chilliest of morns.
Not all are present-presents. My housemate donated a penguin tissue box and is tucking penguin toilet paper into my suitcase for the trip to Argeles.
As for Munchkin, the slippers hold no interest unlike Domino and Mikado, the cats I met in New York. They stalked, them thinking perhaps they were intruders or pets that would compete for their mistress's affection.

Friday, January 02, 2009

"Your flight has been cancelled"

Despite the harrowing two hour drive into New York through snow, I hadn't expected my flight (the only direct flight I'd ever had from the States to Geneva in 18 years of international travel) to be cancelled because of bad weather in Geneva.

A surly clerk put me on stand by to Zurich and promised to guarantee the next flight.

"When is that?" I asked.


"And what do it do in the meantime?"

She shrugged and indicated the next person in line should come forward.

"What about routing me through Paris."

In the end she put me on an American Airlines flight to Zurich, and I think called the airline and asked all the cabin crew to continue with her surliness.

Time was short to change terminals and check in and I arrived with a full six minutes to spare, but this clerk forgot to be surly. He was from Beckingham, where I'd gone to see a friend perform in her little theatre group a while back and he was so pleased to meet someone who knew his home.

Once on the plane we sat for three hours waiting for a bag to be removed, the plane to be towed out twice (the first equipment broke) and to be de-iced. I missed my Geneva connection when we landed at Zurich. The next flight was later in that afternoon.

Although I didn't have my train pass, for a mere 5 CHF I was given the half fare by a smiling clerk named Hansjörg and had a ride through a twinkling, snow-covered country side.

Home again, home again, jiggety jig...well almost.

Ducks, Deer, etc.

If you're fond of sand dunes
and salty air
quaint little villages here and there
you're sure to fall in love with
Loooooong ISland
And I did as R. showed me around her stomping grounds. I had wanted to see the duck in person, having seen a picture of it in the Tribune de Genéve. It was built as a shop in 1931 by a Riverhead duck farmer who thought it would encourage motorists to stop and buy his ducks. In the gift shop, the soft-spoken clerk heard my accent and didn't say "Are you Swiss?" but asked if I were from Beverly MA. Reading was close enough.
We explored places I'd read about in tons of books, such as the Hamptons and Jones Beach, where a sea gull questioned our sanity on being out on such a cold and wind day. But the treat, even more than the little tea room with its Norman Rockwell posters, antique stoves and portabello roasted pepper and mushroom melt, was when the deer at Jones beach ambled by our car. I felt smug when on the plane home I read about a concert in the IHT that Bernstein had given at a spot I'd just seen.
But the best parts were the long conversations over scrambled eggs and muffins, pancakes or chicken in her lovely kitchen, curled up on the sofa still talking, or in her office still talking.
And we talked all the way to the airport and I suspect when we meet on either side of the pond we will not have to search for more topics.

Sightseeing in D.C.

Here's where Mr. Evil lives. Sadly, these are the only bars he'll be behind. They were building the stands for January 20th. With the expected crowds
I will be thrilled to watch it from my couch.
II gave this man the thumbs up. He was singing.

We also stopped at a souvenir shop. The owner told me that prior to the election Obama souvenirs were outselling McCain 10 to 1. Palin came next and poor Biden ranked a distant, distant fourth.

My French daughter bought me a mug with the bill of rights printed on it. When you pour hot liquid into the cup, they disappear, sorta like the Bush administration. I resisted buying a mug for my next hostess that said "Friends don't let Friends Vote Republican." Strangely our values are the same, we just don't agree on how to get there.