Tuesday, March 31, 2015

geezer lit

There's chick lit, kiddie lit and now geezer lit.

I've long thought older people (read over 50 and up) don't get a fair shake in books.

I like young love stories, but so many of the people that I know of the troiséme age, as the French call it, are not sitting around home rocking away. They are out visiting exotic places, finding new careers or at least hobbies that they are passionate about.

The woman who is the heart and soul of the Geneva Writers Group is 80 and still going as strong if not stronger than ever before.

We can't forget Granny D who at 94 walked 2,300+ miles to call attention to the need for campaign reform.

Grandma Moses painted over 1,500 canvases in the last three decades of her life -- she died at 101.

So in geezer lit we can have people doing stuff that is interesting..

There's a geezerlit.com web site.

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A week of laughs

It's been a week of laughs with J. here. Be it writing sessions with L., tapas at a local restaurant, doing chores, café sitting, watching a movie about Iceland, or reading in different rooms every minute has been a pleasure.

One of our goals, if vacations need goals, was to get through a season of The Good Wife. We didn't quite make it, but we did enjoy boiled garlic, olives, fois gras, fresh bread, local cheeses, local sausage and champagne.

And even if we didn't finish the DVDs before she has to go home (sigh), there's always the future promise of Good Wife Festivals in Geneva.

There is something so wonderful about good friends.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The unbanked and Jubilee

Many credit unions and especially the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) work with the unbanked, those people who are so poor, that banks have no interest in their measly little collection of pennies, if that.

When organizations like Jubilee, which does some wonderful work among the poor, came out for FATCA with the mistaken notions of what it is and what it does, they had no idea FATCA was threatening 7 million American expats around the world who can no longer bank where they live and have to make horrible choices such as moving back to the US, losing power over all their funds, closing their businesses, losing their homes. I suspect they did not understand the implications. No moral organization would put so many people in jeopardy.

However, right now seven million Americans, those that live overseas, are in danger of being unbanked as well.


FATCA, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.

Congress was convinced that some $120 billion in taxes is not being collected from expats. That figure has never been verified. It has become gospel. Like the number of expats who have renounced and are not listed in the official State Department figures, it is very likely bogus. Math experts more competent with numbers than I figure it is impossible.

The US and Eritrea are the only two countries that tax citizens for everything they earn no matter where it was earned, no matter that is has already been taxed where they live. Although there is an exemption for earned income, unemployment, capital gains, pensions, insurance payments are double taxed.

Expats spend several thousands each year to make sure they are in compliance. A large majority end up not owing US taxes at all because all their income is salary. Expats pay taxes where they live so despite the claims about no double taxation, that too is a myth.

Expats are also expected to file FBars, reporting their overseas bank accounts. The fine for not doing it is 50% per year not filed. Thus, if there's an account with $30,000 and the person hasn't filed for five years because they never heard of it (which is why all expats should use highly trained accountants who know the ever changing US requirements) Their penalty would be $75,000. Few expats can afford that despite the myth they are all rich.

Banks around the world are closing accounts of American expats. They are calling in mortgages. Those expats with spouses who are not American can sign everything over their spouse to have access indirectly to banking. People are scrounging around trying to pay mortgages in full that are being called.

Only dual citizens can renounce and the question is when not if when a group of duals are together. They are afraid of their birth country which has the power to destroy them for all the wrong reasons.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Once upon a time

There was a pot that lived on a ledge. It had a beautiful plant, which made the pot very proud of how beautiful he looked. But during the winter,  the plant died.

The pot was very, very lonely. The other pots on the patio lived way, way below. Because they were sheltered from the cold, they still had plants.

The pot was jealous.

Then there were days and days of rain. The pot was so unhappy. Not only was he alone, but he was wet and cold.

But one day the pot woke up and felt something was a little different. At first he thought it was just because it had stopped raining. Then he realised.

He wasn't alone.

A baby mushroom had moved in.

A few days later, one of the branches in the pot decided to keep the little mushroom company.

The pot no longer felt alone and he was happy once again.

A human flash

"Language is a flash of human spirit." I was in bed this morning, the sun shining outside my window on the patio flowers, well aware that the time had changed last night and it was an hour earlier than my body said it was.

I'm helping a non-writer (although he writes well) with his memoirs. I've insisted he get and read Lee Gutkind on creative non fiction. I did a workshop with Gutkind years ago and he has influenced my fiction writing as well as my non-fiction ever since. I wanted to make sure I reinforced Gutkind's message on our next draft.

As a writer I never stop trying to perfect my craft.

Thus with the sentence "Language is a flash of human spirit," I went "oooohhhh yes."

On the other hand, writing is more than a flash. Words are building blocks that can be taken down, rearranged, discarded or added as needed. Unlike the spoken word, they stay for the writer and any number of readers to examine. They might be read or not. Like the spoken word, they too can disappear with the shredding of a paper, a coffee spill or a finger on the delete key.

Words have power in either form to make us laugh, cry, change. They can be ignored, but never can we be truly human without them. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Another wordsmith.


My housemate blogged her experience about joining my writer friend and me for one of our weekly or more free-write sessions. We had enjoyed a breakfast at La Noisette after taking up our customary position in the window on the right so we could see our targets/victims/bodies. 

When the Tramontane isn't blowing and the temperature is high, we might be found at any of the tables outside, but this day was too cold.

She explains how we select the topic and the fun is seeing how three people take the same subject and what they do with it and reproduced our three exercises.

My housemate edits my work and very well, too. 

She says she isn't a writer. 

She's wrong. 

She can write which doesn't surprise me because she's good with words in three languages.

If you can read the three stories about the woman in the raincoat and scarf leaving the church after early morning mass.

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Why I love him

Robert Browning wrote, "How do I love thee, let me count the ways."

One of the biggest surprises of my life is my love for this man, not because he's handsome, although he is, but for who he is.

My friends were skeptical.  After all, I was passionately single, not even wanting a date. 

Then I introduced this man, an American for God's sake and worse a Texan. Right or wrong, the European image of Texans are those whose speech is not understandable and they are ignorant religious nuts and crazy conservatives that make even the European far right look liberal.

He won them over almost instantly with his warmth and charm...and they could understand him when he talked (maybe because he grew up in New York and didn't have that drawl that Europeans swear they can't understand). He has developed a circle of friends quickly from many different nationalities.

Now let's begin the count.

1. He has a great sense of humor. Our landlady upstairs says it makes her happy just to listen to our frequent laughter.

2. He's kind. He is always willing to help someone from animal feeding, flower watering, trips hither and yon or whatever is called for. He carries heavy parcels for the mamies which have them telling me how wonderful he is.

3. He's intelligent and can hold his own with everyone we've met: diplomats, artists, writers, economists, historians, secretaries, doctors, engineers, mamies (although the French/Catalan can be a challenge), teachers, etc.Although his French has a long way to go, he does contribute to the conversations and my friends say his accent is much, much, much better than mine.

4. He's creative not just in writing but in our daily life. I loved how he took the Scooby game with my daughter and expanded it and because of him it was expanded to others that we know. He is creative in discovering fun things to do. He's creative in finding solutions to those daily glitches.

5. He understands that I would rather go to the dentist than go to a shopping mall. He will do it for me. Of course, I have to accept what he buys.

6. He's willing to try things at least once. In fact, if it is physical trying he's braver than me.I'm happy to cheer him on from the sidelines.

7. He likes our new no pussyfooting rule. We can tell each other everything even the hard stuff.

8. We don't fight. We negotiate in such a way that neither of us feels as if we have lost.

9. His work is fascinating. I love listening when he interviews people. Not only is he good at it, I learn so much about what he does. I also see the respect he has in his field and it makes me proud even if I had nothing to do with his success. He is modest about how good he is.

10. He loves history and is willing, if not the one to stop before me, to read all those historical plaques. He loves historical research as much as I do.

11. He loves museums. Also theater, movies and concerts.

12. He loves to explore the places we go, be it a big city with interesting little alley ways, small towns, or nature. We always find something besides the normal touristy things.

13. He will coming running in to get me to share a sunset or wake me up to watch a sunrise over the sea.

14. He is in love with Canigou. I love watching him get so excited about its snowy peaks. He will climb it this summer. When he gets back we need to ride to Ceret to see the cherry blossoms along the route with Canigou in the background.

15. He doesn't care about things and certainly has no interest in keeping up with the neighbors and, like me, thinks a logo is okay to have if the company pays us to be an advertising billboard for them. 

16. He is learning to cook.

I reason I was so passionately single, I didn't think a relationship like this was possible. Built on mutual respect and making sure we are there for each and helping each attain what we want. 

For a woman who would look at couples, happy and unhappy and be grateful that I wasn't in a couple relationship, this is shocking but in the best sense possible.

About the only problem we have is my single friends, hold us up as the fairy tale ending. I'm not worried about letting them down, but it is a reminder of how incredibly lucky I am.

I could go on and on and on, but I'll stop. 

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The Good Wife Festival

My housemate J. is down from Geneva for a week. We get along incredibly well sharing some things, going off on our own for others no matter where we are in the world. We've been thru three of the DVDs already.

The week will include good food at home and out, café sits, a film on Iceland that will let us relive that wonderful holiday we shared, writing exercises with a friend, seeing other mutual friends, marché ambles, walks, etc.

But the best part is our own private Good Wife festival. For years we've gotten into DVD series to watch at the end of the day. It was many, many months ago that we finished a season. J. ordered the next season but between our travels, we've never been able to see it together.

So, Thursday night she arrived complete with the last season out.

Last night, we were ready helped by snacks of foix gras, local cheeses and champagne. Nibbles are a part of our DVD nights, although they can include shrimp, popcorn, veggies with or without hummus, crackers, nuts, flutes, soup or whatever seems right at the moment. 

The couch was comfortable, the DVD worked (we have a multi-zone which are almost impossible to get) and we caught up on Alicia, Will, Diane, etc.

More fun and DVDs to come over the next few days with or without champagne.

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Friday, March 27, 2015

Not again

How many little stickie things do you need for an EKG...?

I'm still finding them on my body this morning after a day in the hospital.

Once again I was knocked down by a spasming esophagus, scaring all those around me. The pain is unbearable and there's always the fear of a heart attack. I've been doing this off and on since I was pregnant with Llara but there were years between attacks. Now they come more often.

For people like Julia, it's ho hum we'll take her to emergency just to make sure it's not a heart attack. One of my attacks we really appreciated because the doctor that came to the house (yes this is not uncommon in Europe) made George Clooney look unattractive in comparison.

Only yesterday when the attack hit I was at the florist to buy welcoming flowers for Julia, who was on a train down here for a few days of relaxation. The last time she was down here was for support on the death of a friend.

I barely made it to the doctor's surgery and he called an ambulance in case.

I realised that no one would know where I was. He called a friend who said she'd meet me at the hospital. She could also call my landlord and let her know Julia was coming in.

Like all attacks, a bit of TNT makes it go away but that had to be postponed to not mask the symptoms.

Love the French health care system even with Swiss insurance.

My friend arrived. She had her iPad and we listened to a BBC4 with Bryan Stevenson, a truly remarkable civil rights activist. EKGs, and two blood tests, several hours a part and I was told, "Pas de problème avec votre coeur."

"Je vous aime," I told the doctor and added that I was happily married.

We went home with a beautiful pink-streaked night sky highlighting snow-capped Canigou.

Julia had arrived.

My landlady had made wonderful fish soup with salmon and shrimp. She had fruit for dessert.

There was one good part.

When my age was given the ambulance driver and the nurse opened their eyes wide.

They thought I looked much too young to be 72.

There has to be an easier way to get a compliment.

Petite Cougar directs

Petite Cougar was directing a sing-along. At first I thought "How cute!"

Then I listened to the words.

Scooby you're going to get it.
You've run away

Scooby you're going to get it.
Grounded 100 days

Scooby you're going to get it
Bad boy you'll pay and pay

I imagine when he gets back from Dallas, he'll be greeted by the animal chorus.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The book I didn't write.

Then I applied to Glamorgan University in Wales for my masters in Creative Writing, I was thinking of a historical novel.

Having read about the possibility to the (non) Virgin Queen having a child by Robert Dudley, I planned to write that little girl's biography. However, learning that the market was not good for historical novels, I switched to what would become The Card, a story about two women friends who shared the events of the past year through a single line of the same Christmas card sent back and forth.

Browsing our library for something to read I saw The Queen's Bastard, among Rick's books. Maxwell wrote the book I didn't. Good for her.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Church bells/Easter

The Argelès church bells ring every fifteen minutes: once for the quarter hour, twice for the half hours, three times for three/quarters and four for the hour followed by the correct number of rings for the time.

They ring for funerals.

This morning I woke to it ringing, ringing, ringing, ringing...but not in the same way they do for funerals.

Later when I asked Laurent why, "Paques," he said.

It is the start of the Easter season. There'll be a lot bell ringing.

Good Friday will bring the Sanch Procession in Perpignan where statues will be paraded on the streets with men and woman dressed as if they were Ku Klux Klan members who were bored with their white clothes.

This robes of this Medieval tradition are really are to hide the identity of prisoners (from revenge by those wronged) being led to their town's annual execution. (Executions are no longer part of the ceremony.)

The red robe is worn by the leader and he taps a tambourine along the silent parade route where the statues from the different churches are carried thru the streets.. Penitents, some barefoot, some on their knees, follow.

I've only seen the Sanch once. I cannot shake the American southern barbarism of the Klan to be comfortable watching to see it a second time.

On Easter Sunday during the Easter Mass the statues will be brought outside then brought back into the church.

And there will be bells, lots and lots of bells.


It's winter again in Argelès with the tramontane blowing. The marché was half empty of both merchants and clients. I offered to buy the sausage seller a coffee, but he turned me down because he didn't like the café where I was going, although he was polite about it.

In La Noisette there were four friends to chat with over a hot cup of tea. These people are particularly interesting because they've lived in so many places. The couple literally has had their family spread on four different continents at the same time.

The son of one of the tea drinkers came in. He looks enough like Edward Snowden that I would worry if I were him that the US might cut him down. He is getting used to people saying, "Are you him?" or "When did you leave Moscow."

One of the waitresses came up for a translation of the French word for lentils so she could tell an English couple. As soon as I left I wanted to double check to make sure it wasn't the word for contact lens she was looking for. It was the food, although we agreed that the correct word would become apparent quickly by its usage.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

another strange dream

I needed to catch a bus to the airport from my hotel where I was staying. My destination was Washington, D.C. I have no idea which city I was in.

But when I got to the bust stop I realised that I'd left my suitcase in the hotel. As in real life, I'd allowed so much extra time that going back to the hotel for it represented no problem. A bus came almost immediately.

At the hotel, my IEC boss was there, only he'd aged and had lost his beautiful blond hair. We were talking about what we'd been up to.

My suitcase was the blue one I was given as a graduation present.

Time to make the flight was getting tight, but I was aware that I could get a later flight.

Meanwhile Rick was hoovering the hotel carpet. 

What happened next I'll never know. The rain pounding on the skylight woke me.

Monday, March 23, 2015

52 week budget challenge

YEARS ago, I remember being late to a time management seminar. I needn't have bothered at all. Seems I already was doing or knew how do do everything they recommended. The problem was that I had too much to do that couldn't be eliminated.

I'm beginning to suspect the 52-week budget challenge will turn out the same way.

Week 1: Plan meals for a week. I already do that.

Week 2: Drink at home. Well except for an occasional glass of wine, beer or champagne, we don't drink all that much. We don't go to bars, although sometimes if we go out to a restaurant we'll find a wine that marries well with the meal.

Week 3: Cut back on your dog budget. Although we've talked endlessly about getting a dog, we keep putting it off. So this won't be the week we get a dog.

Although that face makes me content to know that I didn't see any Japanese chin pups for sale when I looked a week or so ago. And I suppose by NOT going to the libarie and by NOT buying dog magazines, this week will be another easy budget week. However, if when I run around the village I ran across a cute pup for sale . . . maybe I could ask them to wait till next week.

Hans Erni (1909-2015)

To live to be 106 is not an opportunity given to many. To be able to work with your passion until you die is even a greater gift.

My housemate had often spoken of how much she liked the artist Hans Erni, someone I had not come across. Coming back from the mountains last October, she stopped at a church and told me to go in. This was about as expected as her putting me on a space ship, but I did.

I was faced with the unusual work of Hans Erni. We talked about him on the way back, and I’ve continued to research him and his work.

He had illustrated postage stamps and murals. However, his design for Swiss money was turned down because of his communist sympathies. It is impossible to highlight all of his accomplishments.

The Museum of Transport has a large collection of his works, and I’m hoping that I can convince my housemate that this would be a great place for one of our adventures.

This is his website.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Abby Martin is alive and well and fighting the good fight

I first learned that the US press didn't always cover the full story in the late 1980s when the US shot down the Iranian airbus. I was horrified by the pictures of nets scooping up bodies from the sea that were shown on French TV where I was living.

When I talked to my US-based friends, none of them had seen the photos or videos.

My second awakening was watching reportage of the First Gulf War on British, American, French and German TV. One would have thought they were four different wars because the perspective of the coverage was so radically different.

Although I'm not as much of a news junkie as I was, but I still check out the media in several different countries, liberal and conservative from places like China, Japan, Britain, France, Switzerland, Israel, Palestine, etc. depending on the issue. Each, of course, has its own slant. Maybe, just maybe putting them together and reality seeps in.

RT was a station I enjoyed and really felt badly when Abby Martin left. She was a kickass type of woman who seemed to not be cowed by much.

I was right. She has created mediaroots.org

This is how she describes it.

"The root system of a tree is five times more extensive than the tree itself, and reaches far underground to form a solid base for growth and nourishment. Just as this root system is integral to the survival of the tree, media is integral to the foundation and survival of a democracy. Media Roots is a citizen journalism project that reports the news from outside of party lines while providing a collaborative forum for conscious citizens, artists and activists to unite."

Go Abby...

River rising

The Massane, the river running through town is usually dry, so dry even the grass dries up.

This is a river rising song.

The river yesterday morning after a night of rain.

The river when I moved the car in case it overflowed its banks. 
Alain, my neighbor said it broke its banks last night.

 Remember this is a road.
 And another road.

And another.
 Detritus left by the river

Flowers which want help. 

More rain expected today and tomorrow.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Rainy Day Photo Essay I

Some people think rainy days are wasted. I just think they are a different way to have happiness. Mine was bubbling over this morning.

Put on lentil/veggie soup in the slow pot cooker. Thank you Clare again and again for the pot.

Made a pot of green tea.

Crawled back into a toasty bed to check emails and read a book set in this area during WWII 
by a woman in my Spanish class. Always good to have another writer nearby.

Admired the rain glistening on the rubber tree on the patio outside my window.

Watched Max.

Rainy Day Photo Essay II

 Watched Thé ou Café. Interviewee Arthur H. Sometimes the rain was so loud,
I couldn't hear the conversation.

Made breakfast of eggs, homemade oatmeal/molasses bread and grapes.

Decided to go out even if it was raining. The water in the gully in the street 
was racing toward the drains.

A few hardy souls still set up their stands and there were people buying. 
This is the man who sells huitres.

The tables outside La Noisette were empty of even the bravest smoker. 
Laughter and lights inside.

Rainy Day Photo Essay III

The artist Miloud sheltered his paintings. His adorable grand daughter was inside and was beginning to paint a dog her grandfather had drawn for her. 
Well-mannered but not retiring four year old.

 Walked down to the river to see how high it was. Still safe.

The car was parked by the river after our friends drove Rick to Barcelona to catch a plane, but after the floods last year, if the river did the same thing, the car would become a boat.

 Stopped for some white asparagus. I hadn't planned to buy anything, but it looked so good. This is the same merchant that has incredible strawberries later in the season.

The rest of the morning will be working on the new novel and a book I'm editing.

Rainy days can be as wonderful as sunny ones.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

How do you answer

 The mamie's front door features a plant with attitude.

How do you answer your favorite mamie when she asks, "How do you keep getting prettier and prettier?"

When I look in the mirror,I see my grandmother. The mirror doesn't break from the shock of my face, but pretty was how I would have described myself twenty years ago, not now. I told her my age. She is four years older than I am and looks a lot more. I wonder what a makeover would do for her because she has wonderful bone structure. Since I consider myself a chipmunk, her bones give her a beauty that a hairstyle other than a gray ponytail would enhance.

But it isn't about looks. Every time I chat with her, despite the heavy Catalan accent, I learn something.

"I'm writing about my life," she said.

She said she thought of her life as a peach. There's a seed, pulp and skin, in another words different depths. The trees, the leaves, the peach blossoms and leaves all contributed to her development. And we can't forget the bees.

The woman has the soul of a poet.

Love is a towel rack heater

I shower first.

When I go into the bathroom, Rick has put my towel and robe on to heat.

When I get out of the shower, I do the same for him.

Today he left for two weeks in the States, but he warmed my towel and robe before he left.

I missed him when there was no point in warming his things.

Love isn't shown in the big things, but the little considerations that say "I care."