Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Day 4

The trip is going wonderfully. Yesterday we toured the island and got a feel of where the bodies washed up on the beach. When we saw the triangular stones over the graves, we didn’t understand, but at the museum this morning they explained that the prisoners, even the Jews, didn’t wear the Star of David, but the triangle with the colour explaining what type of prisoner they were.

The women at the museum greeted us warmly. This is where we came last year to pick up my housemate's painting done by a local artist and loaned for a special exhibition.

One of last year’s employees, who just retired came back to help us. At coffee break time, she’d brought ribbon and we worked on making Christmas decorations.

My German is so rusty but I caught about 1/3 of what was being said. My housemate was invaluable in the other 2/3rds.

The man Julia had worked with last year over the transport of her painting came with his wife to take us to a fish restaurant for lunch. His father had taught the artist who had done my housemate's painting and he showed us the house where the artist had grown up.

His wife had been raised on a huge farm, which was confiscated by the communist government, but the current government has made retribution by giving all five sisters a piece of a forest.

Interestingly, I always thought of the shape of the island as a lobster claw, but if you look at it another way it looks like a Gorilla with its hands on the ground.

The island didn’t get electricity until the 1950s and most was provided by wind power.

What seems out of place is the number of thatched roofs some with solar panels.

And as my housemate said, travel is broadening. When she said it we were eating a German breakfast with the fish, wursts, käse und brotchen

Monday, November 28, 2011

Day 3 was for the birds

We were learning the island, driving from one small town to an even smaller town. We’d visited the site where the bodies had washed up on the beach after the British bombed the Cap Arcona were buried.
As we turned into a country lane I thought the bush had strange flowers or puffs. They turned out to be a flock of birds.
“Stop,” I said.
My housemate slammed on her brakes.
As soon as she saw what was there, she reached for her camera. None of the birds seemed upset when we rolled down the window to take photos.
Routinely, 50 or so would take off, circle and then come back to settle in the bush or stop for a drink in the puddle below. Suddenly their normal tweeting took on a higher pitch and the birds buried themselves among the branches. A hawk swooped over them then flew away. The birds remerged, their numbers intact.

Day 2 Insel Poel

We arrived to the same place we stayed last year and where the next novel was set. But instead of a studio we had a two story house at the same price we paid for the Best Western hotel in Göttingen. The luxury seemed almost obscene after the camp.

Neuengamme Concentration Camp

The door wouldn’t open. Several people tried it until it gave.
I’d felt more than a moment of panic. I was at the Neuengamme Concentration Camp in Bergdorf, Germany and had spent the last two hours listening to survivor stories and looking at photos.

I’d seen the basement cave where prisoners were crammed together to make cloth.
The cold parade ground where prisoners had roll call every day was cold and wind swept. Even in my duvet coat and winter hat I felt the cold. What had the prisoners felt in their striped uniforms without any protection from the elements? The handwritten death book brought home individuals who died.

The medical lab was used to experiment with tuberculosis on children. They were murdered at the end of the war to keep the secret of the experiments.
A weeping willow still stood near one wall. The French prisoners were forced to raise food, although their own meals were coffee and a roll of breakfast, watery soup for lunch and coffee for dinner. Many died for causes related to malnutrition.
Concentration camps have been written about for years. It is another thing to see one and feel one. And the reason I was there was to get background for my next novel which deal with the Cap Arcona, a ship where inmates were taken with the idea of scuttling the ship. Instead the British, not knowing who was on it bombed it.

The door was finally open. Unlike the prisoners I could leave and return to my comfortable world.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

German research project day 1

We logged 800K more or less and are installed at a Best Western in Gottingen.

Mack, our Tomtom (GPS) had a bit of a temper tantrum and refused to program itself even for Basel, but after Lausanne it behaved admirably. It helped us find the hotel, and we opted for the first possible to top driving/riding as soon as possible especially because we've at least another 400 K tomorrow and we want to stop at the concentration camp in Hamburg to research where the victims of the Cap Arcona came from.

The hotel in Kirchdorf has confirmed our reservation.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A tender moment

I saw the woman walk to the Rue Du Lac bus stop from my bus window. She held the hand of a little boy, three at the most.

The bus stopped.

A man jumped out, gave the little boy a hug and kiss, waved good bye and hopped back in the bus.

The little boy with a huge smile waved and blew kisses as the bus pulled out.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What I'm thankful for

Today is the American Thanksgiving. I'm thankful for...

1. My health
2. The wonderful Swiss medical system
3. My daughter who is healthy, happy and living in Scotland
4. My housemate/friend/editor of the 20 pages
5. My friends at all levels from those I have a cup of tea with to those whom we share our hearts and souls.
6. The people I've lost because I had them in my life. (I still wish they were here in body, but nothing takes them from my memory)
7. The absolute natural beauty that greets me each day and makes my eyes happy.
8. My writing
9. My journalistic work
10. The right to vote on so many things--from the unimportant to the very, very important. It's being a full participant in the democracy in which I live.
11. My curiosity
12. My sense of humour and/or the ability to laugh, a gift from Mardy and Susan
13. Enough pain, worry, sorrow to make me realize that each minute is a blessing to be treasured.

Happy Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Crisco and security

"We are doing a Thanksgiving dinner," my daughter told me on Skype. "Can you get Crisco at the American store for the apple pie."

Never thinking, I happily packed the can in my suitcase until we hit security and my carry on (all Easyjet allows) was pulled aside.

The security man, who was probably in his 20s pulled out the can and held it up. "What is this?" he asked in French.

"It's for a Thanksgiving apple pie. I'm taking it to Scotland where my daughter is cooking the meal for her friends."

The conversation went on including the recipe.

He put it back in the suitcase and zipped it up.

"Have a nice Thanksgiving," he said.

Moving cow

The Corsier Cow gets around. She is now in her third grazing place in front of the post. Although if we have two cows we could refer to them as "kine" according to my roommate who could hardly wait for a chance to use the word after she learned it. The Corsier cow didn't give her a chance, but the two cows on my daughter's dorm bulletin board did.

Scotland Weekend

Visiting my kid in Edinburgh was truly a gift.

However a second treat was meeting The Major, owner of our hotel which is also the club site for the Guards. He was dressed in kilt, tie, shirt and vest and we talked for just under an hour as he told me how as a tyke he had sailed from Newfoundland to Norway only to have the Germans confiscate his father's boat.

Another boat was lost to his family when the builder went bankrupt. And his father's suggestion about putting him in school was not impressive.

We spent most of the time enjoying pub grub, scones, walking around the city between construction projects (even more than in Geneva if possible) and having a great meal with her flat mates.

We've booked the hotel in May when my daughter will do a half marathon.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

A Zurich belly dance lesson

My housemates’ sons give us Smart Boxes for Christmas. Depending on the type, they contain a series of things to do, see, stay or go to in Switzerland and the surrounding countries.

We’ve enjoyed nights in a castle and other fancy hotels.

This year on top of the hotel Smart Box we received a wellness (massages, etc.) and an adventure Smart Box.

On the adventure one we eliminated elastics that dropped us distances, anything with water where we might drown. Horses had some potential as did paintball, except between my cancer treatments and both our travels, expiration dates abounded.

Trying to decide what was left we spied a Belly Dancing lesson. Belly dancing is not new thanks to Arab friends, but a lesson? Sounded like fun.

The lesson was in Zurich. We debated staying with a friend’s, staying at a hotel but a crowded schedule and with two trips planned for Scotland and Germany in the next couple of weeks, the idea of sleeping at home was almost a luxury.

Bless the Swiss train system. We picked up the noonish train, had a wonderful lunch of Alpine macaroni and cheese in the dining car then had time to wander around Zurich for a couple of hours before locating the class.

The teacher was a smiley women of an indeterminate age dressed in aqua. Six other women and one man were suitably dressed. We were almost suitably dressed. The teacher provided us with bells on pretty cloth to tie around our waists. We jingled and jangled as we moved.

For 1.5 hours we shook things not often shaken, moved our arms in fluid motions and watched ourselves in the mirror with the growing realization belly dancing as a profession was a route that was closed to us.

The other dance students were impressed we’d come all the way from Geneva to the class. We were too.

Buying a pretzel was a necessity for the trip back.

Twelve hours after we left we were tucked in our respective beds, smiling at a day that we rated nine on a scale of 10.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Clock Changes

Clock Change 1

“I’m confused. I’m not sure how to change the time,” my Mom says.

I look at my clock. 17:15. Outside clouds hover over the lake. She has told me that the lake behind her house in Florida is bigger, maybe as big as mine. I don’t contradict her. Her lake will never be Lake Lehman in Geneva. “It should be 11:15 your time,” I tell her.
When her bedroom clock is correct, I suggest she change the other clocks, or wait until Mary her caretaker arrives to help. She decides to wait.

“The tree hasn’t fallen on my house yet.” She is worried about the tree, but as I remember it is not close enough to the house to hurt it.

“Your husband, no your father bought it when we first moved. I told him to get a tiny tree and he did. It grew.” In thirty years it should be bigger.

“The tree will be fine,” I tell her.

“Your daughter sent me a card. From Scotland. Hold on.” She gets the card and reads it to me several times. She loves my daughter. The card has brought her great happiness.
When we hang up I want to cry.

Clock Change 2

My clock reads 8:42. It is really 7:42. The time change mechanism doesn’t work, but I don’t mind it being wrong half the year. The radio still works. I listen to NRG (The French letters are pronounced energy).

I pick up my book to read a chapter before starting the day.

I snuggle under the warm duvet.

Autumn: my favourite time of year as we hurtle toward the winter solstice. I appreciate the warm bed especially after I get up to let out Munchkin or make a morning run to the toilet, knowing I do not have to get up permanently.

As the days get shorter, the house gets cozier. But outside there are the wonderful smells of fallen leaves (not quite as colourful as their New England counterparts, but pretty nevertheless) that are good for kicking as I walk down the street. The ones to be raked, maybe a little less appealing, and the acorns bonking me on the head as I sweep up their brothers and sisters, strike me as cheeky at best.

As the French say, Je suis bien dans ma peau. I feel good.

Family myth

One of the real luxuries of not having a regular job is being able to wake up and read rather than rushing to get out of the house.

This morning as I was walking in the wonderful autumn sunshine by 8:30 and later over my morning tea, a certain sentence from Tess Gerritsen's Silent Girl kept rolling around in my mind.

"Family mythology has far more meaning to us than the truth. It helps us cope with the sheer insignificance of our own lives."

I realize my identity is tied up in my family history, my WASP grandmother's devotion to her husband, her brother's persnickety demands to only eat white eggs, the death of her one-year daughter in her arms, my great-grandmother's husband's desertion, the importance of being able to join the DAR.

Likewise there's my father's Franco-Canadian background being raised on a lighthouse island off the coast of Nova Scotia, my aunt being sent to a relative because her mother couldn't cope with her daughter trying to scale the lighthouse walls to life-threatening heights, their their move to the Boston area for a better living. There's the aunt who made beautiful clothes and the one who had a life-long affair with the married owner of the restaurant where she worked.

How many of the stories I was told as a child are true, I really don't know. Maybe they've been enlarged over the years either by the teller or my memory.

Whatever the truth, they are the foundation, on which I built my own identity and myths. My life is insignificant to most of the world. Hopefully to my daughter and some close friends, it has significance. Even if it doesn't it is significant to me.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

My idea

Brian Williams reported on a faster way to board airplanes, which I thought of years ago.

After the first and business cards and people who need board all those in the window seats starting back to front, then all middle seats back to front, then all aisle seats, etc.

Ah well...