Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Waking up

When I was working, one of the things I hated was jumping out of bed.

Now that I'm allegedly retired (okay,  if you don't count running a business or writing books retired, I do because it is a choice) mornings have a new meaning.

I usually wake somewhere around 7:30. At this season, the outlines of the trees slowly become visible through the sheer curtains.

The bed is toasty warm under the duvets and I can read a few chapters before separating myself from the sheets.

Such luxury.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Magic moment captured on canvas

After my daughter’s graduation from Napier University in Edinburgh last autumn, she and I took a tour around Scotland. The bus stopped in the country side and everyone poured out through a field and down a muddy slope to come to a waterfall with a little house.

The breeze was just enough to play with our hair. The aromatic clean water burbled and bird song filled the air. Being with my child albeit a very adult child, in that beautiful spot was pure magic. My camera could not capture the sounds and smells, but it did capture the memory.

In Argelès, I have a very talented neighbour, Pauline Stonehouse, who paints as furiously as I write. Different métiers, but the same passion. She captured the photo on canvas.

Annie, the local framer, along with myself and R spent a good amount of time trying to find exactly the right frame. Many were almost right, until R found the one that picked out the green. No matter that it was one of the most expensive. It was perfect and had I chosen any other I would have wished for that one.

The painting, which I picked up this morning in its frame, was immediately given a place of honour over the fireplace. 

Now I’m looking forward to having Pauline see here work in its new home.

But mostly, I have a vivid memory in front of me for that magical moment with my daughter.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A mamie gets arty

Argelès still has mamies, usually older Catalan women, who are in house dresses and aprons as they walk about the town with their baskets to buy vegetables at the green grocers. Mamie is often what children call their grandmothers. They take care of their children's children, meet on a bench to share their stories whenever they are free.

These are friendly women. One, when she was in better health, watered my plants when I was away without me asking, and even shared her pansies one year. Another knits on her doorstep and talks to passers-by. She always has a smile and a few words for me in her thick Catalan accent.

Maybe the mamies are younger than I am, but they seem older.

However, today at one of the mamie's houses I found a new decoration: A drawing of a donkey in a field along with butterflies. And above the garage doors was the announcement that this was the house of a burro.

I can't wait to talk to the mamie about it to see what the story is behind it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Opening a bank account

Opening a bank account shouldn't be difficult...right?


It is in France. This was to be a joint account. I had to be the main owner, because I'm the Argeles person which I had to prove. Chloë was ready to serve us. She was an attractive young woman and efficient.

How one may ask?

Have a utility or phone bill.

I did.

Several but all of them were 2012.

Part I of the problem. I didn't have the latest bill.

I went on line and got a PDF version of the latest bill but it said on the bill that a new one was to be issued on a date that just might have made it to my post box before I went to the bank.

Part II of the problem...the PDF file would not print out, so I put it on my USB key. The lovely customer service rep did look twice when I took out a pig, but my USB key is a pig that can be pulled apart with the head inserted into the port. I think it is cute.

I promised Chloë I'd look for the newer bill but often I think the postal service considers the addresses a suggestion of where to leave a letter, not necessarily a directive to be taken seriously.

Then there was the problem of my birthplace. On my Swiss Identity card (which is official enough to get me into an country in the EU) there is no birthplace listed. If I had born in Switerzerland the Canton and village would be considered my birthplace. There is no alternative line.

At the moment this bank is not refusing Americans and there was only room to indicate I was Swiss. But the birthplace presented a problem. Chloe agreed that I would bring in my birth certificate and my emancipation certificate from American nationality when I return in March. "Please," she said, her dark eyes shining. "I'll get in trouble if I don't."

The next step was to deposit US dollars. Oooopppppsss.  No bank will take US $ in the village. It is necessary to go to Perpignan to do it at the main branch.

Chloe called to make sure of their hours, which was only afternoons and she gave us directions.

We signed at least 20 documents with lu et apprové above our signatures along with other pertinent words so not only they could open the account but would send us a check book and 2 debit cards.

We left with a ton of paper to file. All those trees dead... sighhhhhh

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Anyone who knows me, knows I'm neurotic about things being neat ON THE OUTSIDE. My closets seldom stay neat longer than a day or two after being arranged.

This morning my love and I woke up to do an ordinary cleaning. However, he spent the day arranging everything not just in my closets but in the storage area.

Really lovely...

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Two Paris signs

Sunday morning there was a long line at my favourite boulangerie near where my friend lives in Paris. Normally, any line and I would decide I didn't need whatever was at the end of the line, but the desire for pain au chocolat was too great. The sign on the door said that Blé (wheat) had gone up 36% in the last three months. However the taste was worth the wait and the higher prices.

At the coffee shop at the Gare de Austerlitz asks people to put their trays away because of the pigeons. As I read it a pigeon landed on one of the tables and removed a crumb or two while I watched.

What in a number?

Poor R.

When he came to join me at a friend’s house in Paris I gave him the address and number 91. My mobile phone was dead, but he did have the land line number.

The phone rang.

His taxi driver couldn’t find number 91. Now R had seen the building’s triangular shape on Google. His driver spoke English so he could relay information to the driver about the flower shop and the intersection where the main shopping street was as I briefed him.

I waited and waited. We are not talking a long street here. Even at 10 MPH and waiting for a parked car to move from the middle of the street it shouldn’t take five minutes to go up the entire street.

Another phone call than another. I described the building across the street.

I finally said I’d go down and wait in the street, which I did.

I looked up over the door. Number 31.

Ooops…I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stayed here over the last decade. I can’t tell you how many things I’ve mailed to this address. Why I deducted 60 from the number I have no idea other than I’ve always been numbered challenged.

A taxi came up the street. My love got out. The driver looked at the number and me. I said in French, “I know, I know, I hope he doesn’t kill me.”

The driver looked like he thought if he did rub me out of existence, he would be justified.

And as for R…he wasn’t angry, but I do think there’s a certain contentment that he can tease me about it until the end of our days.

And the flower shop? It had gone out of business.

Taxi drivers

I collect taxi drivers. Or at least memories of them.

I enjoy talking with them and finding out whatever I can. Of course none can top M. Kamalt, the Algerian who used to take me from my friend’s house in Paris to whatever train station or airport I was going to. We had so many conversations on all topics imaginable and once even he telephoned his sister to introduce us. He’s no longer around working another area. Sigh.

I had a driver in Berlin who sang opera to me, and one of five Greek taxi drivers who could have auditioned for the father’s role in My Fat Greek Wedding.

The taxi waiting line at Gare du Lyon was long and it was raining. My taxi driver this time was from the Ivory Coast and he had a program about Burkina Faso on the radio. He had been a teacher but when he moved to France he couldn’t transfer his credentials.

Another driver to my collection.

To Paris by train

The view from the TGV window from Geneva to Paris

The French train system is totally weird. If I buy a ticket Geneva to Paris and take the train Geneva to Belgarde, get off and get on the TGV Geneva/Paris train that left Geneva about 45 minutes after the Geneva to Belgrade train it’s 30 CHF less. And the train Belgarde to Geneva is the same train I would have been on if I’d taken if from Geneva to Belgarde, stayed on until Paris and paid 30 CHF more.

Is that clear? 

So of course, I chose the cheaper option. EXCEPT the Geneva Belgarde train didn’t come and I ended up on the 30 CHF more expensive train in the seat I’d reserved from Belgarde to Paris.

I like the one constant fare in the Swiss system, 50% off with the annual or tri annual abonnement no matter what time or day.

With the French system time of days, time of purchase and probably what sweater I’m wearing all influence the price. 

Once on a TGV to Paris an American woman was furious that the group was in second class when they'd been promised first class. "The view is better in first class," she kept saying.

The view on this ride was beautiful with the snow-covered pines and little villages.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

On its last tires

I don't own a car. I haven't since 1993. There was a period of several months once, I wasn't even in a car thanks to the great public transportation system in Geneva.

However, my housemate, who lives about 20 minutes outside the city, does.

In its 13th year, the car is on its last tires. The driver's window may decide not to go up. The clutch considers engaging optional. There are knicks and the fender is hanging a bit like a sagging woman's breasts.

The mechanic has ruled it terminal.

Since the car is due for its costly inspection, now is the time for her to replace it.

I've lived almost 10 years with the car and although cars hold little interest to me, this one is an old friend. I have driven it from time to time, although before my eye surgery I didn't because my sight was limited. When I did drive it, it was a lovely handling car, that didn't seem to mind my infrequent times of being behind the wheel.

So many memories in the car and to name a few and smile before the car disappears forever:

  • The sudden sushi attacks and the ride  into town rather than wait for the bus
  • The long trip to Northern Germany to research my book
  • The mountain curves on the way to a chalet
  • The trips to the airport to collect this or that person
  • The radio playing nostalgic songs or DVDs of Il Divo, Streisand and Elton John
  • Picking up No. 2 son after music lessons and getting lost in the wilds of Corsier
  • The times after a train ride from Argelès when it was waiting for me behind Starbucks.

Scooby in the bidet

Every family has some silly tradition and if they don't, maybe they should have.

Scooby became a family joke. My daughter claimed that when she made any under-intelligent decision or even didn't wash the dishes, it was because she was traumatized as a child when I didn't buy her a Scooby stuffed animal.

Later I searched for a Scooby, but at that point no one was selling them. In the 90s, I got a call in Switzerland from one of Llara's friend who had been told the story of Scooby deprivation. He said that he'd found one, I think at Quincy Market in Boston.

"Buy it, I'll send you a check," I said.

It was a scam, which both admitted to later.

In all Llara's moves from Boston to DC, from Scotland to Switzerland to Geneva Scooby goes too. He is well travelled.

When she spent 2003/2004 with me in Geneva whenever she went out, I did something to and with Scooby. He stood at the ironing board, played cards on the balcony, read a book, was kidnapped (complete with ransom notes), etc.

Now Llara is back with me temporarily and so is Scooby. Thus she found him using the bidet.

My housemate caught on too. When Llara went to bed last night, she found a small package of Auer chocolate in Scooby's mouth.


Of course, but family silliness is fun. Of course, I have to keep on thinking original "adventures" for him.