Saturday, February 28, 2015


In Italy an official paper needs not only a stamp-stamp but a printed stamp on top of the stamp.

Right now we need some official documents, including Rick's birth certificate. He has two copies, an original and a copy, but the certificate has to be less than six months old. Maybe they are afraid he wasn't born again or if you take the religious connotation afraid he was.

We won't discuss that his state has privatized the process which included them claiming the certificate didn't exist. So much easier and cheaper when one just called city hall of the birth places. Those who say that privatized is always better, never dealt with many of the companies that take what was confusing and make it more confusing. 

A friend needed a death certificate for her husband, gone many, many years, but it too had to be just six months or less. As she said, "He's still dead."

Then in many countries in Europe, executives are given letters to sign, presented in a book, with each letter between different pages. Not only do they sign but they also stamp them with the company stamp.

Dumb. Anyone can make up a stamp.

I'm waiting for a stamp on top of a stamp on top of a stamp that must be applied within a few hours of issuance.

Maybe the stamp lobby is responsible for the excess of stamps required.

And French for stamp is tampon. Probably good. They are bloody annoying.

I'm a sock thief

My name is Donna-Lane and I'm a sock thief.

It started when I lived on Wigglesworth Street in Boston. B's socks were better than mine. Also he pinned them before putting them in the wash so the sock monster wouldn't eat one during washing. Made them a lot easier to steal, because not only am I a sock thief, I'm a lazy sock thief.

I started pinning mine to keep them together through washing and in the drawer. I always left the pins in while I wore them so I wouldn't have to look for something to hold them together when I took them off each night.  

However, my housemate didn't like that sometimes the pins would come loose so she bought me a set of plastic sock holders for Christmas. They are pretty and easy to use, which I will do happily to keep her happy. At least I didn't have to go into a store (or worse more than one) to buy the holders.

In Argelès I will continue to pin mine.

I bought pins for Rick so his socks would stay to together, but I've decided there are sockpin people and non sockpin people. I'm the first category, he's in the latter.

My sock drawer has only matching pairs fastened together. His has none floating around in a sock quagmire.

Now, just maybe, he doesn't pin to prevent his socks from being stolen. Before our commitment ceremony, he and my daughter had a heart-to-heart with her telling him what to expect from me (and what to avoid). She warned him about my sock-theft addiction for his own good, she said.

Meanwhile, I've bought new socks, but I was out of safety pins. He gave me the ones I'd bought for his socks.

Still I do see he also has some nice new socks, that I have my eye on. If only I can find a pair.

Sarko and me

I know I have vivid dreams, but to dream about the former French president Nicholas Sarkozy?

I was travelling and I received a love letter from him. There was a second, hidden in a book, that he left in a ladies room for me. It was on white-lined paper and several pages long. I had it in my hand, but whenever I tried to read it his wife came up, not Carla Bruni but a blond dressed in Disney Cinderella style.

I never did find out what was in the letter.

As for Rick when I told him there was a new man interested in me, he just shook his head. Then this morning he had that bad boy look in his eye. "If you hadn't been sleeping so peacefully last night, I would have whispered in your ear, "It's me Darling, Niko."

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Point of view

As a writer who reads and reads and reads, I sometimes move away from the story without meaning to and get caught up in the technique. It happened today with point of view in a novel.

Handling various POVs was part of learning my craft.

First person was simple. I was in one person's head. However, it limited me in showing the motives of another character and although it is always better to show not tell, inner dialogues from various people were not a tool in my story-telling. On the other hand, it could sharpen conflict by having my character misread others' actions that I could make obvious to my reader.

Second person can get wearing. Too many yous. But there are writers who do it well.

Third person allowed me to get in many characters' heads BUT transitioning can be difficult.

Going back and forth from first to third is also possible but better done in different chapters or at least with some kind of transition.

In a few rare cases alternate paragraphs work.

I found sometimes if I was writing in third, it would help to put it in first. I learned more about my character that way.

I'm currently reading Next of Kin and the author handles transitions wonderful. We are in one person's head, she is on the phone, she hangs up and we switch to the other person. We walk into a room with one character and walk out with the other.

Non writers might not notice the technique, but I stopped reading to enjoy it, another dimension to reading.

I do find it interesting that American and English covers are different.

It was NOT a good day

The first inkling of a problem was water near the washing machine. I run the machine after 1 a.m. because the electricity is cheaper.

Then Rick noticed the toilet was not flushing properly but it was working but slowly, ever so slowly.
As a single woman for decades, incompetent in fixing much, my first response is to call in a plumber or whoever can fix it. (My housemate J. is good at fixing stuff). Rick is a competent male, who can fix things. For years when I lived with B. 

he always wanted to fix things like the muffler on the car rather than go to a garage. Five mufflers later I took the car to Midas. That was one example of many.

Rick went out and bought a declogging  something or other. Instead of helping, water backed up into the shower.

About this time a man came to analyze the electrical efficiency of the apartment for our landlady. He was running around the flat putting a red instrument to the wall and writing notes on a tablet.

Meanwhile I went upstairs to use my landlady's toilet and wondered when I could fix breakfast. It was 10:30.

There were glug glug sounds coming from the bathroom sink and the kitchen sink.

Water, not clean water, was now running out of the shower drain.

Despite Rick's frantic bailing, the water went out of the bathroom into the foyer and into the kitchen.

The street out front was filthy with the water from our house.

At this point a friend came in and said she had a problem. She couldn't remember any names even people she talked to yesterday.

I had her lie down and went to call SAMU (the ambulance service). Only the phone wasn't working.

Because of the thick stone walls (almost a foot) we couldn't get any bars on the mobiles.

Fortunately La Noisette, the café, is only a few doors down the street.

Sophie, the waitress, dialed the SAMU number and they understood everything I said except for the name of the street. Vermeille. Sophie took the phone and said Vermeille then handed the phone back to me.

Back at the house the local government service that cleans out pipes had arrived and started cleaning out the main drain pipe outside the front door. Its clogging was the problem nothing within the house. He also washed down the street which had resemblance to a running sewer returning it to its normal almost pristine state.

He left and shortly after the ambulance arrived. The two attendants only spoke French and it was a hodge podge of languages.

Rick by this point had fixed the telephone. How is a bit of a mystery.

The drivers, thanks to wonderful French system, were able to call back to the central office, who had all my friends records, including the name of her doctor, whom they contacted. He said he would meet them at the hospital.

While Rick sanitized the floor, I went to a mutual friend to update her. Attempts to telephone the hospital meant being on hold and on hold and on hold and listening to messages thanking me for my patience (what patience?) in French, Spanish and English. Finally someone reported that my friend was still in Urgence and put me thru to a phone that rang and rang and rang and rang.

We gave up and our mutual friend has headed off to the hospital to check out the situation.

I started to cook but couldn't get the stove top turned on. Sometimes I wish for an old-fashioned one where you turn the nobs, rather than the kind I have where you have to massage it, beg it, or light candles and incense to it to get it to work.

It finally did condescend to heat up so that I could prepare lunch having given up all hope of breakfast. By 15:30 we did eat.

We are now waiting news of our friend, the house is back to normal and Rick is working against his deadline.

It has not been a good day.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The caveman of the Fat Kitty Klan

Once upon a time there was a caveman named Ulk. He was a member of the Fat Kitty Klan. The Klan lived in a valley.

Ulk was a hunter, not a great hunter, but one that could contribute some mammoth meat from time to time to the good of his Klan. Sometimes he hunted with his Klan, sometimes he went out alone. He also helped plant some seeds and the plants he shared with his Klan.

One day he saw a saber tooth tiger and he followed it out of his valley into another.

Before Ulk could kill the tiger, he saw this beautiful cave woman. Her name was Clena. He fell in love at first sight and she fell in love with him. He decided to join her Klan, The Have Enough Klan, even if it was far less powerful than his Klan.

They had three beautiful children and were living very happily. Ulk went out to hunt with and for his clan. He planted seeds and shared those with his new Klan. They all did their share of maintaining the cave...


The Fat Kitty Klan had destroyed much of their valley with over hunting. They needed more food. One of the chiefs remembered Ulk. They knew where he was because he had visited his parents back at his old cave and showed off his beautiful wife and lovely children.

They sent a message to Ulk. "You are still and always will be a Fat Kitty Klan member. Therefore, a portion of anything you catch or grow must be sent back to us. Not only that a portion of everything any of your children catches or grows must come to us, because as your children it doesn't matter that they only spent five suns in our valley, they are still members of the Fat Kitty Klan and they owe us a portion of whatever they have for all their lives even if they never come here again."

Ulk didn't feel as if he still belonged to his old Klan. He was part of the new Klan. His children didn't even remember their visit to his old Klan.

The chief of the Have Enough Klan also received a message from the chief. The message said "If you don't make Ulk give us part of what he catches and grows, we will have to come and take 30% of everything in your klan catches and grow. We have bigger spears than you so you must obey us."

The chief liked Ulk. They loved his family, but they couldn't afford to lose 30% of all their food. Still he had the rest of the Klan members to think of. So with great sadness, he had to tell Ulk and his family to pay or leave.

Thus the family had a choice, go back to the Fat Kitty Klan or go into the wilderness. Cleana didn't want to go to the place where they had threatened her husband, her children, her Klan and her food supply.

They talked it over and decided to go into the wilderness and start over and with great sadness, they packed their spears, their furs and their flints they left in search of safety from the Fat Kitty Klan.

(A FATCA allegory. I can't call it a Fairy Tale but it isn't. There's no happy ending for the 7 million American expats being thrown out their banks all over the world.)

Monday, February 23, 2015


Petite Cougar and Lady Leopard try and catch up with all the news since they last saw each other.

As Herr Hare, Honey Bunny, Lady Leopard and Petite Cougar chat about life in general, Scooby 2, who has introduced, Thé Noir, Miel, and Angel to C-Bear and Y-Bear tries to get them involved in a plot to run down to the lake without telling the grown-ups. Angel (the brown little dog) will probably rat them out to Petite Cougar.

Congratulations Laura Poitras

Snowden gave up a six-figure salary, his family and the right to move around the world to tell the American people that everything they did was under scrutiny by the NSA supposedly to keep them safe from terrorists. The NSA did not get search warrants.

Some call Snowden a traitor for telling the truth.

Some say why should it bother a person if they have nothing to hide. I'm sure if they have nothing to hide, they would be willing to publish the transcripts of all their phone conversations, bank account statements, emails etc. in the local paper.

Some alleged leaders who are also being tracked, could be subject to tremendous pressure to go against the interests of the people they are suppose to be serving if their transgressions (and very people don't have a transgression or two lurking in the closet) were to be revealed.

Laura Poitras made Citizens Four, a documentary about Snowden. 

It won an Oscar last night.

Congratulations for your courage Laura, Ed and also Glen Greenwald and all who work to make American aware of what is being done to them, not for them. 

If we don't protect our civil rights we are safe from nothing.

TCK Kids and Adults "Home is Here"

My mysteries feature a TCK heroine, Annie Young-Perret.

TCK stands for Third Culture Kid, a term describing a person whose roots are in one culture but has moved to another and thus is part of neither 100% and forms a third.

I'm currently reviewing a book, The Words Within for Summertime Publishing which includes poems, stories and drawings by TCKs of many ages.

I think of myself as a TCK, or maybe a TCA, Third Culture Adult. My New England roots go deep into my soul, but I've lived in Europe almost a third of my life. I'm a composite neither totally a New England Yankee or a Swiss.

I can look into some one's eyes when I toast or not, keep my hand in lap or on the table during dinner, do a hug, two-cheek kisses, or three.

I sometimes find comfort with other TCAs such as my friend J who is also part of both worlds. I love Veronica Ferauge and her blog The Franco-American flophouse. She may actually be a Fourth Culture Adult. An American who lived in France for years with her French husband and children (Frenchlings) she now finds herself in Japan.

The beginning of the book I'm reviewing says, "Home is Here" and that is true. Home is where I am. New roots are added to old nourishing the plant I call me.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Part I: Expats are not ... Expats are ...

Whenever an article appears about expats giving up their nationality, comments almost always include the words "don't let the door hit you on the way out" or "pay your fair share" and a few go so far to call us traitors.

The misconceptions about the problems of expats by homelanders currently are huge. The major problem is FATCA, a US requirement to which foreign banks have caved to report all American accounts to the IRS to catch tax dodgers.

So far banks around the world have spent around and estimated $6 billion trying to comply.

Why do they?

Because if they don't the US will grab 30% of their profits. I am not a fan of banks, don't understand why anyone does business with them rather than a credit union, but I can sympathize with them.

One solution is to cut Americans off from all accounts: no loans, no savings, no investments, nothing, rien, nada. Mortgages are called in. Just imagine if your bank called you and said, "We would like your full mortgage payment now and all your accounts are closed."

From experience I can tell you it is embarrassing to sit in front of your bank manager to be told you are persona non grata.

As a result American expats are having to chose between:
  • Returning to the US giving up lives they've built abroad
  • Never having the ability to borrow, invest, have regular banks transactions or save
  • Turning all their financial resources over to their non-American spouse in name if married
  • No longer being American if they are dual citizens
Expats do pay taxes where they live. America is only one of two countries that requires every cent earned be reported and taxed in America no matter where the American lives. The penalties for mistakes are huge.

An Fbar is also a requirement reporting all bank accounts. Penalty for not doing so is a 50% fine for each year missed. There has been almost no publicity for years so many Americans didn't know about. If a person didn't file on a $10,000 account for five years, they would have a fine of $25,000. If they didn't have the money to pay the fine, they couldn't borrow it because banks will not make loans to Americans.

The only way to be safe from reporting mistakes is to hire expensive accountants. One person over the past five years has paid close to $45,000 and he owed no taxes.

We expats and repats (those who have renounced) have tried to explain that if a little boy was born in MA and moved to FL, every cent he earned would be taxable in both states even if he never set foot in MA again. And then because MA pressured FL banks to report the accounts of those who had once been MA residents the FL banks decided to close their accounts. That poor boy wouldn't be able to bank in MA because he has a FL address.

Talk about being between a rock and a hard place.

Part 2: Expats are not ... Expats are ...

There are many misconceptions about expats.

All rich. Especially Swiss expats.

American haters


Are people who have had an opportunity through work or marriage to live in another country as office workers, missionaries or in the armed forces.
Have families.

Do things ordinary people do like household chores, wash the car and take out the garbage.

Are goodwill ambassadors.

Have the ability to send business back to the US.

American expats are 7 million strong. If they were a state they would be the 13th largest, but they have no representation as a group.

two mountains, two loves

Yesterday Mont Blanc was out in all its glory creating more than an ahhhhhhhhhh moment. I had a boss that once told me to come to his office fast. I thought I'd done something wrong and rushed down the hall, but all he wanted to do was to show me Mont Blanc, which had been hiding for weeks in winter gray.

I tell Rick that Canigou is his mistress. It is visible as we drive to Perpignan or even as we walk in certain places in the village. It, too, has a beauty with its snowy peaks.

Both mountains remind me of how lucky I am to live in such beautiful places. I am in love with Geneva. I am in love with Argelès.

Friday, February 20, 2015


On the platform at Gare Cornavin, two pigeons were fighting over bread crumbs. While they were fighting, another pigeon finished their bread.

Last night as we were watching The Chase, Clea and Babette started a fight, rolling on the floor, legs kicking, ears back and fur flying. It stopped as suddenly as it started with both cats feeling a large need to wash themselves immediately, although they may not be speaking.

I am not good at fighting, name calling, sulking. It is such a waste of the precious time we have.

Discussion, negotiation yes--fighting no!

Who will tell the pigeons, the cats, the armies?

Dear NSA

Maybe my cell is too old to be affected by the new report of your access to SIM cards, but I did make a rare call on it today to make a reservation for lunch at the Café du Soleil. Now we didn't have their famous fondue, but we did reminisce about our first meal there when we met up for the first time in 24 years.

At that time the waiter didn't look like Robbie Williams.

If any of you are in Geneva, I recommend you go there. The Malakoffs are good too.

The first paragraph story about the cards from The Intercept is below. I haven't seen it in the major US papers but I haven't checked them all. It is in some of the international papers.

"Explosive new reporting by The Intercept published Thursday, based on documents obtained by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, reveals how the U.S. spy agency and their British counterpart, the GCHQ, worked together in order to hack into the computer systems of the world's largest manufacturer of cell phone SIM cards – giving government spies access to highly-guarded encryption codes and unparalleled abilities to monitor the global communications of those with phones using the cards."

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Titles and vultures

As a writer with creative friends, writers or not, we often will say something amusing, clever or thought-provoking and then add, "That would make a great title."

I even have a book to jot down titles of books I'll never write and sometimes, but not often enough, do I remember to add the title mentioned earlier to the book.

This morning, Rick and I were chatting before starting our day. The topic was humans as meat. "Imagine a vulture who wanted to be vegetarian."

"Great title for a kids' book, The Vulture that Wanted to be Vegetarian."

I don't write kiddie lit, but maybe some of you writers out there want to run (or fly) with it. It's yours.

Let me know.

Toothpaste can't fly

Nor can penguins.

I'd forgotten toothpaste on J's and my adventure to Basel. Better organized than I am, she had some.

I was still full from lunch but she left our hotel to forage for food about 19:00.

When she came back she tossed an Elmex box at me.  I didn't look closely until the next morning. She'd stopped at the antique store to add to my penguin collection. He was carefully wrapped in Kleenex in the box.

Bless her.

Photo: a drawing of our hotel.

Sunday mornings are special

Even if I no longer work in an office and have to get up Monday-Friday to run out of the house with Saturday as chore day, Sunday mornings, which were a total contrast to the daily hectic with PJs, extra cups of tea, reading time, are still special. Looking back at some.

Wigglesworth Street, Boston

B. would go out for The Boston Globe, The National Enquirer, and the New York Times and often bring back bagels, lox and cream cheese as well. Other times he would make breakfast, after his paper run and we could smell the bacon and coffee coming up through the heating grates. No rush, a chance to read and chat or even fall back asleep.

François Lehman

I lived alone and I would sit at my kitchen window and look at the château across the street as I ate a leisurely breakfast drink tea with fresh mint or hot chocolate while reading a book.

Or there were the Sunday mornings where my Syrian neighbor and I would pad down the hall, often still in our PJs, and have a breakfast made by our Indian friends.

And there was that one extra, extra special Sunday, their daughter came in with her friend. They were about eight. I had taken breakfast and book back to bed that day. She wanted to show her friend my prism, and told her how my grandmother would line up the prism to turn my oatmeal into a rainbow. The three of us shot each other with rainbows using the prism.


Rick does Sunday breakfasts. We may eat in the kitchen or out on the patio. Slow and relaxed, time to read and talk even if we still have writing to do.

Last Sunday

J. and I were visiting a friend of 25 years, her husband and multi-lingual, well-mannered, creative, intelligent almost six-year old daughter. (photo at the top is out their kitchen window). They live in Schwyz, one of the three original cantons, the seed of the world's second oldest existing democracy in 1291.

Sundays are sacrosanct for them, too. A good breakfast, a chance to read and relax. What a spread they put out. And of course the boiled eggs needed a cover, according to their daughter, whom I suspect is powered by the Energizer Bunny.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Meeting an old friend in Basel

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

When I lived on Wigglesworth Street, a few short blocks from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, it was not unusual as a member to pop in to see a couple of paintings to renew my spirit before going home at the end of the day. 

Gauguin's painting in the photo above was one that I might make a detour to see even if I browsed some other gallery.

The first of hopefully four adventures with J. in 2015 and I was to Basel to see the Paul Gauguin exhibit (to eat well, wander around, check out the statues and the architecture).

Many of the works I knew. 

Some I didn't. I hadn't realised he had done ceramics for example.

The guided audio tour taught me a bit more about him, but then I entered the room and there was the painting that he considered his masterpiece work, my old friend from Boston.

Fasnacht and other celebrations

When we lived in Germany, my ex, who was a trumpet player with the 7th Army Band, a public relations group, playing Fashings night after night for the season beginning 11 minutes past the eleventh hour on the 11th of November and ending at Rosenmontag (Rose Monday) on the Monday before Ash Wednesday.

As wives, we were expected to go along to show Americans were normal people.

Rosenmontag was an all day, all night fest with parades, costumes, music that engulfed all of Stuttgart and other Southern German cities.

Fasnacht is the Swiss equivalent and Basel’s version has gone back forever although some of the traditions moderated after the Reformation. Its current form in Protestant Basel begins the Monday after Ash Wednesday. At 4 a.m. all the city lights go out and participants walk the streets wearing:
  • ·         Big nosed masks
  • ·         Bands play (photo shows Fasnacht figurines)
  • ·         Floats
We were ahead of the Fest this year, but already mini celebrations have been held and confetti could be found everywhere.