Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Talking to people

Years ago I learned to talk to janitors, secretaries, service workers, gas station attendants, waitresses, those that many consider invisible or not worth paying attention to. I do it for one reason—sharing a conversation warms the day.

At the WOCCU Conference I’ve found several people who’ve become part of my daily life, albeit it temporary.

Eduardo is the guard at the entrance of the conference centre. There is strict security this year and a badge is necessary. He is at least six three, dark haired. The first day before the conference his uniform was more janitorial, but during the conference he wears a good quality black suit, black shirt and sky blue tie. “You’re looking dapper,” I told him the first day he was so dressed. We had already established he had excellent English (always a good ice breaker). On my second entry into the building he had recognized me from the first time. It might be at that point not many people were present outside the WOCCU staff, or it might be I was the only aging, short red-head, a description that has led to most people locating me based on those four words. Eduardo likes his job and his favourite place is at the entrance rather than patrolling the corridors. Now each morning as I enter, he always has a special hello. I must ask how the football game he was playing tonight went when I see him tomorrow morning.

Raoul works at the hotel and stands between the elevators and internet cafĂ© a good part of the day helping people as needed. “Do you get bored?” I asked. “Sometimes,” he said. He works one weekend on, one off, but there are advantages to having days off during the week, he says. The beaches are less crowded and so are the stores. Raoul looks like a short Telly Sevalas, sans lollipop for readers old enough to remember the TV show, Streets of San Francisco. He agreed to forget that I couldn’t find the light in the ladies’ room and had to show me, and kindly said that I wasn’t the only one. The light was at thigh level.

Guillermo (?Sp) is behind the registration desk. He is handsome, with a skin that most women would die to have. Originally from St. Lucia, he has lived in Barcelona for several years, but misses the part of his family that is still there. Everytime I walk by he waves.

Marco was my favourite. He brought my frizzy green salad with walnuts, apples and feta cheese. I thanked him and said I was hungry but too tired to go out. “Where are you from?” he asked. “Switzerland,” I said. “You speak English wonderfully,” he said. “I was raised in America, but your English is good too.” He confessed he watched a lot of shows on BBC to improve his accent. Noticing the books on my bed, he said, “You like to read.” We talked about our favourite authors for a few minutes and he was surprised that I knew that Cervantes recently had his 400th anniversary. As he left, I told him, he was one of the nicest room service people I had ever met. His dark eyes crinkled. “And you’re one of the nicest guests I’ve served.

As a child I noticed that both my parents talked to every one, and often I thought they knew them well. I am not sure my habit of doing it is genetic, or just that it makes my day a little brighter and I hope whatever stress they are under might be a little lighter with a friendly person rather than a grouchy one, for they surely get their share of those.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


I love the WOCCU conference. There's only 1054 people but they are from 62 countries, the deepest national penetration ever but low numbers. However, considering the economic crisis, it is good. So many people working so hard to bring financial services to the unbanked, who believe that part of running a financial institution is to work in the best interest of the members who are also the owners and investments should be local.

The big credit unions, the multi billion dollar ones still are leaders in green sustainability, balancing the needs of employees, the community and the members so everyone benefits. They talk of values not to talk about values but to live them with specific details on how. Caring for others is expressed as a value over and over not to be altruistic but as making a better society for everyone. Inclusion not exclusion.

Of course some of the people working in the field risk their lives. The man in Afhanistan that has opened 18 credit unions travels with two cars of body guards, and another woman in Eastern Europe had helicopters firing bullets outside her apartment window during a failed coup. But those workers who aren't in mortal danger also find themselves riding hours on bad roads to bring financial services to the poor. A new hand held devise allows them to offer services that include instant accounting back in a main office hours a way and for the first time people can save, earn interest and borrow to start small business, send their kids to school, fix their houses, or do things we take for granted.

Another aspect of the conference, is seeing people I've talked to over the years and met in Dublin, Kilarney, Warsaw, Rome, Paris and Calgary. Some I won't see again because they are retiring or changing posts.

There is no doubt that the conference is stressful. I attend sessions, meetings, do write ups. I've gotten out three newsletters and three days and am also covering the conference for my old paper.

I will miss next year's but 2011 is in Scotland. I am looking forward to it already.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Camera, a new hero, conference and panic

Meez 3D avatar avatars games

This was the first week in almost five years I've felt under mega pressure. I wanted to get a newsletter out and 33 articles fell into place. A weekly newsletter of that size is not unusual, except usually I can decide the day it goes out, but I wanted it out before I leave for Barcelona on Friday for the WOCCU conference I'll be covering. Usually it takes 4-5 days. This took 2.5 BUT IT IS GONE! A little less pressure.

The problem happened with the camera. Since I'm covering the conference for not only my CU Newswire, I'm also covering it for my old trade journal and I've promised photos. The battery needed recharging. Holy Moly. The charger was in Geneva.

The local photo shop ordered a new one, it arrived, but the battery didn't recharge. Back to the shop. The man got a new battery in it and is making sure it is fully charged. He is truly my hero. I've never been a happy photographer, esepcially when I do it professionally. Snaps are something else. Okay pressure went down once I knew the camera would be workable.

I picked up the painting of Sardane dancers done by my neighbour that I will put into the silent auction. The money goes to support micro finance projects in developing countries. Annie had framed it so it won't bend. Pressure went down.

When I finished the necessary stuff I ALMOST beat a regular Scrabble opponent. I used to think I was a good player until I started playing with him. He scores in the 500-700s. So impressive, I don't mind being schmuckled ALMOST

I am packed except for the computer. Tomorrow is almost a free day. We've plans for dinner and then tickets to see Julien Clerc

I love covering this conference. WOCCU does so much good work spreading micro finance opportunities throughout the world. 1100 people are expected from 62 countries, including many old professional friends. It will be hetic. I usually start at about 7 in the morning and finish at midnight. It will be doubly so writting for both journals and tweeting at @CUNewswire but if the past conferences that I've done are any example, I will feel so alive.

Monday, July 20, 2009


Thirty years ago it was a hot July in Boston. My housemate and I were stoop sitting at our Wigglesworth Street (Love that name) home. A white haired man and a tall woman were carrying box after box after box of books as they moved into their home. With all those books, I knew I wanted to meet them.

I did and we became friends.

Although the couple divorced (see the Dan entry below), the woman Barbara and I have shared support, pain, joy, broken dreams, fulfilled dreams, silliness and just about everything else. We bought a house together in France, then I sold my interest. I also owned a condo over hers while my mother was dying and she coached me through the difficult days that has probably saved me years with a shrink. She kept my two dogs, Albert and Amadeus, when I moved to France but had not allowed enough time between rabies shots and departure. She later sent them to me. I have since baby sat her cat Ptah II.

Neighbours once again in Argeles, we still share meals, stories and little things, like when I'm due to arrive she'll turn on the heat in winter, or open the windows in summer. I'll sit in her store if she has another commitment. And there are the meals shared...some especially cooked and those that start with "I've too many leftovers of (fill in the blank)." The list of automatic support is endless, but at the same time we share difficult truths when needed.

Thus we decided to have a celebration chosing the Tunesian restaurant Poivre et Sel, located at the beach. Its leaf canopied terrace, Tunesian ceramic dishes, friendly greetings have always been a favourite, but it also served incredible couscous and tangines.

We had several of our friends join us, a Swiss couple with a vacation home down the street that we do things with, a couple from her gospel group and the lovely lady from Scotland.

We walked in, sat down, the champagne arrived but every one turned to me and sang "Happy Birthday."

Boy, do I have a sneaky friend.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

40 years later

The July night that Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon was hot. My daughter can say she saw it, because she was there, but at six months and teething, she was fussy. We were in Stoneham at a couple’s house. The woman would later become my babysitter when I went back to work.

My marriage was ending. When I conceived my daughter, I thought it was sound and we would present her with a stable family life with a happy father and mother, a life I did not have as a child.

I was wrong.

Also early in my pregnancy, Vietnam was exploding and Martin Luther King was killed.

Than I dreamed that Robert Kennedy was killed only it wasn’t a dream. The clock radio had gone off and I was listening to real events in California.

Although it was illegal, I seriously considered an abortion. What kind of world was I bringing a child into? One with war, assassination, the denial of civil rights to a large portion of the population. I knew the Clergy Council regularly sent women to Canada for safe abortions.

I couldn’t.

I already loved the life inside of me, a love that would expand until it became immeasurable. And I thought she would have that stable family life to nurture her.

Then when my marriage dissolved shortly after her birth, my worries about supporting her, going back to work and not being able to give her enough of what she needed to become a healthy adult seemed almost too much to handle. My weight was down to 85 pounds. Where would I find the strength to go on?

My hostess dipped my daughter’s iced pacifier in whisky. Whether it was the cold or the whisky, she stopped crying and watched the movement on the television as we all did.

Neil Armstrong descended from the space craft. What my grandmother had pooh poohed as impossible two decades before when I played spaceship using my grandfather’s tool bench as the dashboard of my space craft was happening before our eyes. Man had done what was thought impossible from the beginning of time.

I looked at my daughter sitting in her push chair, one foot through the leg hole, one bare foot on the bar, her favourite position and for the first time in almost a year, I saw the other side.

I saw hope.

Monday, July 13, 2009


When someone dies at 91, you can't say it is untimely. When that someone used to be a neighbour and friend that you no longer see regularly, that doesn't stop you from feeling sad and remembering not going to Algeria together because we couldn't get a visa to travel through the dessert to search for cave paintings, but travelling around Europe instead and still having a good time.

You can remember exchanging writing, having meals together, and his telling you the history of the bas relief on a column in a convent in Elne.

It doesn't stop a flood of memories when we had rented a grey car in Southern France and we decided to remember that the last two numbers of the license were 66 only to discover that all plates in the region ended in 66 and walking around and around the parking lot and putting a key into every grey car that faintly resembled our rental and laughing about it.

It doesn't stop me from sitting with his ex-wife tonight who also feels sad and remembering how both of them didn't make anyone chose sides in the divorce and that the sadness of the divorce was that they both wanted such different things that the sacrifice of the other would have destroyed what remained of a love.

It doesn't stop the memory of his phone call to France when he remarried to a woman when they were both in their sixties to share the news and his laughing when my lover at the time asked "Do they HAVE to get married? Is she pregnant?"

It doesn't stop the memory of meeting him and his new wife at the Lausanne train station and a great weekend in Payerne with my Swiss lover.

It doesn't stop the memory of his ringing my bell when I lived on The Riverway and announced himself as a character in a book I was writing.

What does stop is the chance to share just a bit more silliness and ideas and that a little piece of the past is gone never to return and that makes me sad.

National Holidays

Technically I can celebrate three national holidays. If I were in Geneva on the 4th of July I could have gone to the Bout du Monde for a typical holiday, but I wasn't.

However tomorrow is France's birthday and we are having fireworks. There are at least three street balls and a couple of concerts and I can just wander around.

On August 1 it's the Swiss birthday celebrating almost 720 years of democracy. We're planning an open house and I have my train tickets ready to get back in time to help my housemate all the goodies.
Hopefully the neighbours will do their firework display like last year over the lake, but even if they don't the 14th will have enough ooooos and aahhhs to hold me.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

La Tour de France

La Tour de France is coming through Argeles today.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Okay I was wrong

Years ago, while driving from NJ where my daughter had spent part of the summer turning her white skin into a colour darker than one of my African-American friends and her hair white, we were listening to a concert broadcast live.

The perfomer?

Michael Jackson.

"Ten years from now, no one will remember him," I said. That remark had the same wisdom as the then Digital President Ken Olson, who said he could see no reason a person would want a home computer.

As much as I enjoyed Jackson's music and found his videos fascinating, I do not understand the media hype around his death. Yes, exceptionally talented. Yes a breakthrough artist. Yes, a dedicated, hard-working performer. Yes a tragic life despite his success. But with the world in crisis there has to be other stories that need more air time. I keep thinking of Roman bread and circuses.

Maybe I lack passion. I can think of no one outside my family in friends where I would travel for miles to stand outside their home if they died. Even Garou. Even Margaret Atwood. Even, dare I say it...George Clooney? Don't those who consider the death of a celebrity, any celebrity, a personal tragedy have something better to do or real people in their lives to care about?

My daughter, who that summer did a temporay reverse change in skin colour to Jackson's reminded me of the remark.

I can admit it.

I was wrong. He will be remembered and should.

Friday, July 03, 2009


fuzzy socks, sweats, a turtle neck, a pot of hot tea in my penguin tea pot, fat sloppy snow flakes ambling by my window. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH