Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Price of Love

A lizard, no bigger than my little finger runs by the library window. I am using the internet anxious to get my newsletter done for my clients, the work sandwiched in between other chores. A few minutes before a large lizard, who would have won a part in a Grade B movie called the Monster that Ate Englewood, had ambled by and last night my mom and I were on safari for the baby lizard that lives behind the fridge. He does not want to be evicted.

I am grateful for the air conditioning. This heat makes me nostalgic for last week’s Geneva’s milder canicule when my housemate and I fantasized about winter, with the need for coats, fuzzy socks. The humidity is energy zapping, when I cannot afford not to marshall my strength for the many chores I need to accomplish.

Last night we ate at Howard’s filled, with oversized people and oversized meals. Some of the diners feasted their eyes on two little girls. The family is the only one in this large restaurant under 65. Also missing are any black faces, any language but English, any meaningful differences.

“Are you sure this is all right?” My mom is anxious; worried that she has uprooted me from another continent. We have spent the day working through various problems. Her frailness saddens me as much as her worry.

Around me are ghosts of my father, my aunts and a favourite uncle. I have come to Howard’s on various trips to Florida to visit my parents since they moved here in 1975, albeit the owners have changed and prices have gone up including the Early Bird Specials.

“It is wonderful,” I say.

The waitresses are loud, call everyone honey and sweetheart, a far cry from the soft Madame and Monsieur I am now used to.

I appreciate the waitress, who shares my name. She knows what my mother wants for a meal the same way Patricia at La Noisette in Argelès automatically brings me green tea in the morning and doesn’t put Chantilly on my coffee ice cream with chocolate sauce.

I also appreciate doggie bags, rare to non-existent in Europe, and look forward to another two meals out of our crabmeat stuffed baked shrimp. It has nothing to do with the children are starving in China theory of waste on which I was raised. The food tastes wonderful.

As we drive home we pass cookie cutter strip malls, one after another with the same stores. We pass deed restricted housing developments equally undistinguishable.

At my mom’s the birds have gathered in the back of the house as they do each night. One by one, as if directed by some air controller, they take off for the island in the lake to settle for the night.

We watch the Kennedy Memorial on television. It will seem strange not to have him as my Senator. Whatever his personal failings, he voted like I wanted him too. I’ve been to the Kennedy library, and the church where the funeral will take place is in my old neighbourhood. I remember a few Christmas Eve Midnight Masses there. I have read about the old neighbourhood in The Boston Globe where they talked about Flann O’Briens where we ate Sunday night Pub Grub and the ethnic diversity, which I love(d) being part of.

The Boston Patriots are playing next. My mom oohs and ahhs over Tom Brady. It has been a long time since I’ve watched American football, although I’ve read about the Pats many Superbowl victories with a smile.

The activities are a respite from the work still before us to try and improve her quality of life, new memories after years of only good memories. She is my stepmom, a woman who forgot to read the ugly stepmothers manual. I am the only surviving child of a mixed family that never had his and her children just “our kids.”

She falls asleep, and I see not an elderly woman, but the beautiful young woman who was always there for me. I do not want to be here dealing with these issues. I do not want to be anyplace else. I realize that this is the price of love and it is a privilege to pay it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I should never have said it

As my roommate and I rode downtown for sushi, I made the mistake of saying "this is the first normal work day in seven weeks, I'm getting back to a normal life."


Tomorrow I will be on a plane to Florida because of an emergeny with my mom. I'm not sure what to expect when I get there. I'm not sure how long I'll be there. I just know how lucky I am to be able to go at the drop of a phone call.

Nature's symphony

In bed last night, nature played a sympathy with wind, rain and thunder, conducted by lightnin illuminating the slats between the Rolladen.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Consistency can be overrated

Starbucks often makes me shudder (despite their espresso brownies and chai), another example of corporations overtaking a real culture replacing it with the artificial.

Yet, today I found myself sitting in the Rive Starbucks waiting for a writer friend my daughter's age. Jimmy Durante was sinking Inky doo, or how ever you spell it, in the background making me feel as if I were in a time warp as well as a national warp. Any number of teenage girls to young women seemed to be dressed in a uniform of short short dungaree shorts and white tops fastened with a belt. A couple of young men in business suits and expensive briefcases looked as if they were pretending to be adults.

My friend arrived and we spent the next couple of hours in a wonderful discussion of everything from writing, to politics, to national differences. There are only a few friends that I have that have both the American and Swiss/French experience to understand both while admitting we are outsiders in both cultures. And the longer we spend as "internationals" the harder it is to find people who understand us. Those who do, become real friends, whether they are Swiss or American.

We discussed those around us and their "uniforms" and she said in NY it seemed in Starbucks the employees were black and the customers white with only a few exceptions. This women, trained as an anthropologist, often has insights that ofen opens my eyes. This lead into class differences in the US and Switzerland, the acceptance of immigrants in both cultures (US no, Swiss yes) and on and on and on.

The time together ended too soon. If I were inconsistent in being willing to spent time in a Starbucks, I can live with that, but next time we meet, which will be several months down the road maybe we'll got Auer's, with its special family recipe hot chocolate and locally made croissants... The place isn't important...the sharing is.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A cat is a cat is cat

Would a cat by any other name smell as sweet?

Munchkin takes refuge in the cool earth of the rosebush pot during the canicule.

There's a Strange Man in the House

My roommate called upstairs.

Strange man? Her voice didn't sound panicky at all.

I rushed downstairs to find her number 2 son dressed in a suit ready for a wedding. Jeans, shorts, bathrobe are normal but a suit?

What a pleasure it has been watching him go from sulky teenager to lovely adult with or without a suit.

The dream

It was at a university and I was rushing to catch the lecture given by Ernest Hemingway. The hall was the type with the students' seats rising upward like an amphitheatre with the professor, or in this case, the writer down below. We were at the back and to the right.

I whispered to a friend even though I didn't like his writing he was doing a great job for a dead man.

The next lecture we were waiting for the English celebrity Randy Sparks. (There is no Randy
Sparks) A young kid came out riding an animal train. He had a Bob Hope type nose and later he was talking to us in the audience. He was Randy Sparks Jr. and his father had black hair graying at the sides. (checking I did find out there was Randy Sparks who was a new Christie Minstrel). The father had the same nose.

Then my Scottish friend May and I were sitting int he lower left hand corner,s he was a couple of rows behind and we discussing buying concert tickets for ourselves and two friends. We weren't sure whether to get inferior or superior seats and those were the words inferior and superior. We decided to get two and two and then let them chose but we were willing to pay extra even if they weren't.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The missed shot

Every time that I leave my camera home, I discover the most wonderful shot. Monday when walking through the park, the wall of sprinklers were framed by trees and highlighted by the sun. I had to stop and just watch the light play on the water. Today this was second best.

Mystery metal men

Strange metal men are appearing throughout the city. Like the cows a few years back, the decorations vary. I have no idea why, but it is fun.

The last class

In my ongoing war with the French language, there was a truce in the battle with one part of my three-week intensive French course at the University of Geneva. The professor who taught the section on French sayings was not only funny, his humour made it hard to forget the lesson. Our last class was also his last class, because after 40 years of teaching he is retiring.
Not content to just walk off the stage, he wore his Swiss T-shirt, waved, the flag, had us stand for the national anthem (I’ve forgotten the words since the day I had to sing it as part of my swearing in as a Swiss citizen). Obviously frustrated by the interruption of cell phones in his class over the years, his last act was to have us all have our phones go off at the same time.
His last moment in the classroom was marked by applause and a standing ovation.
If all professors taught like he did, there would be less ignorance in the world.

And then to come home and find a lovely plant, a matching card with a photo taken by my housemate from my housemate with a congratulatory note along with a message that we weren't going to switch to French at home, even though we do use it frequently. Also appreciated was how close she matched the flowers to my duvet cover.

As for my French? The war is ongoing but I'm a few more skirmishes to the good.

I ate a scallop

Now that shouldn't be earth shattering but it was the first one I ate in the last 47 years? And it was by accident. I was eating with a friend who said, "try this," and popped it into my mouth.

I used to love scallops. Then I ate some and was violently ill. It happened a second time, and a third time I could barely breathe. I stopped eating them.

Clams, snails, oysters, shrimp and worse lobster used to produce the same result. I would risk it with lobster. Now I can eat lobster and shrimp but there was no way I was going to risk a scallop test.

I was able to breath. I did not develop a close relationship with the water in my toilet bowl for hours on end. Obviously something has changed in my body.

Glory Halleljah

Friday, August 14, 2009

Are they ashamed? Sad?

Most years when I pass the sunflower fields their heads are held high. This year, they are bent, no matter the weather, sunny, rainy, windy. I want to tell them jokes, that the world really is a beautiful place, except sometimes I don't believe it myself. The planet is beautiful, there are some beautiful people and if I stay just with the ones I care about, it is all right. but when I look at the crazies, like those issuing death threats to legislators that are voting for health care, or the people on Medicare (a government program) who say keep your government hands off my health care, or those 12% of North Carolinas that don't know Hawaii is part of the US or or or, I wonder if maybe those sunflowers are right.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Popular Swiss Names

No more Jean-Françoiss, Marie-Claude's...the new list of popular Swiss names have an anglo ring. The top winners in Swiss Romand the names topping the list are Emma and Nathan...
Other popular names are Chloé, Eva, Llara (with one L), Luca, and Tim. However the Italian part have kept an Italian flavour. the most popular names are Julia and Alessandro.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Taking the Long Cut

One of the pleasures of the French course is the early morning walk from Rive to Uni (15-30 mins.) This morning I decided to take a long cut through the Veille VIlle with its cobblestone roads, cafés and old buildings. From the Westie waiting for his mater to finish his morning cup of coffee to the building where George Eliot lived, each step was a pleasure. Short cuts are not always the best thing to do. Sometimes the longer route is the smartest.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Calvin comments

The first time I saw the Reformation Wall with Calvin, Farrel, Beze and Knox I went home and took a long hot shower to wash off the sense of depression I felt. To me their faces were marked by hate and anger and carried none of the joy I feel religion should bring. And the more I read about Calvin in research for a future novel, the more he makes me shudder. His burning of Michael Servatus near what is now the Hospital de Geneve, because Servatus wanted to debate the trinity is said to have been so badly received that it marked the beginning of religious tolerance which is still too weakly developed. How many people have died in the my-god-is-better-than-your-god battles down to the modern day right down to this week's implication of Blackwater's Eric Prince, for wanting to murder muslims just because they are muslims and not Christians.

I try and avoid the wall whenever I'm in Place Neuve. The rest of the park is beautiful and I can wend my way to the university without seeing it. However, it is on every computer in the language lab. I doubt that I can use it as an excuse to avoid the lab, for a quick click and those faces disappear.
And maybe it is the idea of walls in general that bothers me. The Red Cross musuem did an exhibition on walls and the horrors they lead to, be it the Berlin Wall, the Gaza Wall or the Texas Wall. To quote Vincente Fox last month in Barcelona, "We should be building bridges instead of walls."
None of those faces against the Reformation Wall look like they are interested in bridge building unless it is to enclose those who endorse their beliefs without question.
I'm not alone in my reaction to the wall. A minister friend and his wife, former Bostonian neighbours visited, and I felt that the wall was a good thing to show. We stood for a few minutes and he suggested we go.
A little later we were walking through Paquis, where the prostitutes hand out and more than one was hanging out that day both in position and wares well displayed. The minister told me he preferred the hookers to the wall and his wife agreed. To deny the joys in the world, is a denial of whatever dieties or powers have brought forth.

My mother used to say

It looks like someone tried to do something and couldn't. I think this solid chocolate statue was meant to welcome the Dalai Lama to Geneva. Yet the fineness of the hand position has to be given some credit. Of course the final test of any chocolate product is the taste. I am writing this at 21:47, no chocolate in the house, no way to find any in this land that closes shops at night and a craving that makes the brown desk top look almost tasty. So maybe the chocolatiers did accomplish something after all.

Not a subtle message

One of the joys of going to classes at the University of Genéve is to walk through the Place Neuve Park. And one has to smile at the not so subtle message on keeping the place Swiss neat. You might have to click on the photo to read the message on the pots.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

My first day at school

When I was young up to the time I married, whenever I started school or faced something hard such as finals, my mother would draw a cartoon, sometimes a similar drawing, sometimes a full strip. They were always relevant to my life and made the tnesion of whatever I was facing bearable. (I continued the practise with my own daughter).

Now I am starting a three-week intensive French course at the University of Geneva, and I suspect if my mother were to do a drawing, she would somehow illustrate that this university is older than my country of birth (probably with a dig that I left).

When they passed out the placement test I remembered one I took at Lowell University long ago and I had to leave it blank. That was when I had a teacher that in three semesters covered ten pages of the book, but we had a complete blow by blow description of his life. This time I did very well.

The program looks like I will be able to make some progress in this life-long battle with the language.

I've always loved

watching people play chess with the huge pieces at Place Neuve.

How nice of them

To hold a complete festival for my late departed Japanese Chin.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Corsier Cow & Celebration

The Coursier roundabout has a new cow with the commune seal on its sides. As she stands among the flowers I wonder if she gives yellow plastic milk...

The commune had its regular August 1 celebration with a cortege, buffet lunch and bonfire.

We had an August 1 open house. About 30 people from eight countries
wandered in and out of the winter and summer gardens with amyriad of topics. Then as the fireworks started in several communes along the lake we watched them from J's bedroom balcony. Because there were so many rival displays we benefited from them all.

All in all we lucked out, for Sunday is rainy and damp.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

A pair of angels has been outside the Argeles church dating back to the 1300s since I first arrived in the town in the late 70s. When the front of the church was redone they were moved from the doors that they flanked, to the open space next to the church.
Vandals broke off one wing of each angel.
I do not understand the pleasure in vandalism.

Rose, I thought of you.

Penguin - guin = pen

My penguin collection began by accident. It was a joke between my uncle and myself. To tease him about the heat in Florida I kept sending him anything with a penguin. I asked friends to look for penguins for me. Many started giving me penguin-themed gifts, the originality of which boggles the mind.

Last year I found a beautiful blown glass pen that writes beautifully. I couldn’t resist despite it being a no-buy year.

This year at the WOCCU silent auction I saw this silver engraved plume pen. I put in a bid. Someone bid over me. I watched it mount. Five minutes before the end when most people were in sessions, I went in and doubled the price. I figured if anyone bid higher than me, at least the money would go to a good cause (helping co-operative women leaders in developing countries). I won it.

I now have a collection of two beautiful pens and will be on the outlook for more ink pens, but I want to be very, very selective.