Sunday, February 28, 2016

Found Sunday

We are facing a charged week with five medical appointments, one an all-day trip to Bern, a hair cut (Rick's obviously), misc. administrative stuff, normal writing deadlines. A dinner with friends at the end is much looked forward to.

Thus when I woke at 3:18 after falling asleep to Midsummer Murders I realized I hadn't set the alarm. I would miss my early Monday morning physio if I overslept.

I couldn't find it my phone that I use as an alarm. I forced myself to stay awake until Rick woke to tell me, it was Sunday, not Monday.


No matter where I lived, no matter whether I've been working or not, Sundays have been my favorite day of the week.

There were the bagels and Boston Globe in bed mornings as roasting coffee smells came thru the heating grate. Or those mornings in PJs sitting at my kitchen table drinking hot chocolate and watching snow fall on the château across the street.

Or the Sunday walks with the chins Albert and Amadeus along the Muddy River or having a picnic with them by the waterfall where Rousseau contemplated life and cows chewed their cuds.

There were the wonderful Sundays watching Providence and Friends with neighbor Marina, or when my little Indian neighbor would knock on the door to give tours of my flat to her sleepover friends and we would shoot rainbows thru my prism.

And there are the Sundays where a Chinese buffet in France seems wonderful, or going on a photo safari thru the shutdown streets in Argelès.

Through-out the decades, the Sundays have a common theme. No obligations. I could read all day or not, visit friends or not and it was the or not that I loved.

"Really? Sunday?" I asked Rick. He wouldn't lie to me about Sunday. I rolled over and fell asleep thinking how lucky I was to have found a Sunday.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Bank safari

"We were once proud to have Americans as clients. C'est triste." 

The bank teller shook her head and glanced downward to show, yes, it was sad that my husband would have to go thru all kinds of hoops to open an account where I'd had both a business and personal account for ten years. And even then there was a chance he wouldn't be accepted.

He's already been turned down by the Postal Service Bank. We've done one appeal and may try for another.

We've learned that when one bar is met, another appears than another and another and...

The problem?

He's American and banks all over the world are refusing American accounts because of FATCA, Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which says banks around the world must report all American account holders to the IRS or face fines of 30% of US assets and/or be shut out of the international banking system.

Their reaction after spending trillions in compliance is to close all American accounts, call in mortgages, not open any new accounts, etc. (Expat Americans are also denied access to investments and pension funds.)

To the IRS these are "foreign" banks.

To us?

They are local. I can sit down and have a cup of coffee in the early morning with one of the tellers, who has gaily-painted fingernails, if we are both at the tea room across the street from the bank at the same time which happens often.

What's more local than that?

I was allowed to keep my account at this bank and another but after I showed them my Certificate of Loss of Nationality. I had to give up my American nationality to bank normally. Even then my bank called me to ask why I was sending $300 to my daughter in the US. They did accept my reason rather than close my account.

That bank employee, too, was apologetic and vented her anger at the US for all they had to go thru and the tremendous cost. Harassment of their legitimate clients by US decree, she termed it.

I am no fan of banks, but they are spending a fortune to do another country's bidding under bullying.

My husband could put his money into my account which creates a power structure that is not healthy for any marriage. Chances are I won't run away with a toy boy but if I die he would have no access to his own money, and although I am not planning my demise in the near future, this is not in my control.

I am waiting for an email from the gaily-nailed teller. She called and rattled off a long list of documents that he will need including proof of residence in the village where we live and copies of FBar filings, and probably his 1-12 grade report cards.

If this fails we've heard of another bank that has a department to deal with Americans but we've also heard of high fees. And unlike the false idea that all American expats living in Switzerland are wealthy tax cheats, we are neither. 

Meanwhile the safari for a bank account continues.

Friday, February 19, 2016

I've kept my reputation

It is no secret that I am doing everything possible to fight FATCA, the treaties that threaten banks all over the world with huge fines if they don't report American accounts.

The result of FATCA is that expats all over the world have been denied normal banking services among other hardships. They are also losing jobs or being denied jobs, investment opportunities, losing mortgages and more but that is another blog.

I am part of a lawsuit against the US to declare FATCA illegal.

FATCA is the major reason I am not a US citizen. It was a blue passport or a bank where I was going to live the rest of my life.

I've also blogged about it as part of my normal blog here.

I've been interviewed over the years by media from the US, UK and Switzerland including by Sophie Yan of CNN.

This morning I found that she had picked up some of my comments from an earlier interview in this article

The part she picked up went back to my statement that the need to renounce my birthplace so I could lead a normal life in Switzerland upset me to the point that I vomited immediately after leaving the Bern embassy.

Because of that statement when I meet with other expats including renouncers and non-renouncers they often say, "Oh, you are the lady who vomited." Even my new landlady made the connection.

It is a strange reputation to have, but one I carry happily if anything can be done to help people who have been hurt. Some people will ask why I care now that I am safe with my bank.

Well, I'm not. My bank called me in and threatened to close my account unless I could explain why I was sending $300 to the US. Since I renounced I married an American. He has been turned down for bank accounts because he is an American in Switzerland. 

My reputation along with the problem continues.

Sushi, sushi, sushi

I refuse to be thought of as a little old lady, nor does my friend J.

However we do have current practice in physical limitations between her broken arm and my numb feet and hands from the chemo. We are limited in what we can do, but it is getting better.

Today was a thrilling day as we went for sushi. I hadn't been able to have any since I started chemo in case bacteria attack my low-white-blood cell body. She has been more or less housebound although well fed by friends bringing in meals.

Prior to our misc. maladies, sushi was a regular part of our lives...all one of us had to go "su..." and the other would be in the car waiting to go.

We joked about how our temporary handicaps were practice for a decade or more down the road.

It became even stronger when I couldn't open my Coke bottle. It took two of us.

On the other hand, it proves that working together, we can still conquer the world, or at least a Coke bottle. It's a start.

At least I could handle chopsticks and left only one maki on the floor.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A Tale of Two Typewriters

A typewriter in the lobby of the Hotel National in Bern with a Swiss keyboard.

The typewriter that Rick used when he started his newspaper career. An American keyboard

I lied.

This will be more a My Life in Typewriters blog, but that doesn't have the nice alliteration of A Tale of Two Typewriters.

The summer I turned 15 my mother told me I was going to learn to type. It bore the same weight of being told to remain a virgin until I was married (this was the 1950s). Being a virgin, according to my mother meant that I could get a higher quality mate, and knowing how to type meant I would always be able to earn a living.

The second reason has proven to be true more than once, although I didn't appreciate sitting at the machine typing ghkj over and over and then hgjk using the corect fingers over and over when it was a beautiful day, a hammock and a good novel awaited outside.

Mother was right at least about earning a living. I would never have been hired as a cub reporter at the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune at 16 if I couldn't have typed. Those keys on the newspaper machine required power to strike.

And more than once I temped between jobs to keep money flowing.
 For high school graduation I was given a Hermes portable typewriter.
I loved its easy touch. It got lots of work outs especially at exam times. My method of studying was to retype my notes. It also produced countless papers. I even became proficient at estimating how much room footnotes would take.

Hermes eventually merged with Olivetti. I was thrilled when I moved to Switzerland and going thru  Yverdon by train saw the deserted plant where my typewriter had been made. The last time I was by the building it was being converted into what I guessed was an office complex.

 My first job was reporting on business development using an IBM proportional spacing typewriter.

It's touch was delicate. Had I used the same touch as I had with the non-electric typewriter, I'm sure I would have broken the machine. At one point I interviewed for another job with a man who claimed one needed three to five years to become proficient on the proportional spacing, something I'd learned in a morning. No way would I work for an idiot like that.

Later a friend and I started a home business. We lived within walking distance of at least eight major universities and colleges and by offering to type professors' papers we were never without some work for extra money.

We rented and IBM proportional spacing typewriter and invested in several golf balls giving our clients a choice of type. All was well until IBM upgraded its machines and the rental company insisted that we return our model for the new which would require buying new golf balls. 

We refused. 

They got nasty.

I wrote Tom Watson, IBM's CEO. Imagine our surprise when a few days later two VPs from IBM stood at our front door, a three-story townhouse in a middle-income area of Boston. They had flown in with instructions from Watson to make us happy. A call to the rental company not only confirmed we could keep the typewriter we had but it was ours forever and ever.

As they left, they asked if we were unhappy again, could we please contact them directly and NOT the CEO. I can just imagine their conversation flying back to New York about the wasted day.
Word processing with its cut and paste, self-correcting spelling, etc. was a joy. Because I worked for Digital Credit Union servicing DEC, my first computer was a Rainbow.

There were many word processing programs out there, some more complicated than others. A friend working temp knew them all and told one head hunter that "Word processing programs are like men's pr--ks, basically the same with minor differences."

In the 1990s, I had two Apple Macs, one for my Geneva flat bought across the border in France and one in Payerne where I spent weekends. They had different keyboards:

 French above and Swiss below.

I would move from one to the other in the same day when I changed locations. Rene, our good- hearted IT man, came into my office one day at a time when we were upgrading our system and all our computers. "I've good news. I can order you an American keyboard."

I thanked him and said no thanks. Three keyboards in a day, no matter how flexible I am, was more than I wanted.

I've had several laptops since then all with Swiss keyboards. My iPad stays with its American keyboard.

Scarcely a day goes by without my typing: I write journalistic articles, novels, blogs, emails, letters, etc. I claim I have verbal diarrhea of the fingers.

If I lived in the time of quill pens and ink wells I doubt if I would have ever written. Instead I've seen life thru technical developments that makes getting my words from brain thru to paper easier and easier.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

This time was different

Argelès-Geneva...we've done the 6-8 hour route so many times, the car might be able to do it on its own. We decided to leave Saturday complete with worries about the predicted rain and snow in Grenoble. That route has mountains that dress in beautiful colors no matter the season, but would not be fun with ice on the road. And we thought we probably would overnight in Valance, almost half way.

We decided to leave one day early. And instead of being on the road no later than 9 it was close to 2 before we pulled out of the village. The sky was blue-blue-blue and Rick was able to get a great view of his "girlfriend" Canigou.

And long before Pepignan, I was able to see a mimosa tree. Each spring they make me so happy but we hadn't gotten out in the country side on this trip.

"Do you think," I asked Rick, "We could stop and get a photo of Khadfi's plane?" It has been marooned there since Mach 2014. He, Rick, not Khadfi, pulled off at the airport exit and found a side road that let him take the photo out of his window.

There was no easy route back to the highway and we found ourselves in Rivesaltes, where much of the wonderful muscat is produced.

We did rejoin the autoroute and spent some of the ride planning an Elizabeth Gray presidential campaign (see and giggling.

Once in Valance I became the hotel spotter, but the roads were clear and Rick wasn't tired. We decided to take the Lyon route rather than Grenoble, less mountains.

"We can find a hotel in Lyon," Rick said. Except in Lyon it became after Lyon at which point we were close enough to Geneva to finish the trip.

And the rain or snow?

In a tunnel 50K from Geneva one of the overhead signs flashed "pluie" and it was raining and did all the rest of the way to Geneva.

In Geneva we became thoroughly lost but decided that it just gave us a chance to discover a new part of the city.

So different from our other straight autoroute trips...such a pleasure.

Friday, February 12, 2016

I woke sore

My chest muscles were sore this morning when I woke...


I'd giggled and laughed too hard last night watching my husband vote in the Texas primary. Voting is not usually funny but in the weird 2016 election nothing is normal.

"Have you ever heard of Elizabeth Gray?" He was sitting at his desk. I was on the couch.

"Any relation of Meridith's?" We'd been watching an old Grey's Anatomy.

"She's running for president?"

"Of what?"

"The US. Along with 13 other unknowns and the biggies. I'll see what I can find out about her."

My husband is a journalist. Digging up info is one of his loves. The tapping of computer keys were interrupted by reports.

"No website." tap tap tap

"Lives in Taylor." tap tap tap

"I'm writing the local Republican committee." tap tap tap

"I want to write the political editor of the local newspaper." tap tap tap

"He's still in New Hampshire." tap tap tap

I start laughing watching his concentration. "Try the editor-in-chief," I say.

tap tap tap "I'm trying the local librarian."

tap tap tap

Before the evening was out, the librarian and another paper has gotten back to Rick. We've researched Taylor which was the home of actor Rip Torn. Pictures on Google images show the town as a nice place. We find images of her house which is very modest. We've learned which reality sold the house but nothing about Elizabeth herself.

Do we feel guilty looking for info on her?

No. If you run for president you are a public figure.

We know to get on the ballot it can cost $5,000 or 300 signatures from a certain number of places.

Rick's face is a study in happiness with each new fact gleaned, each response back. I keep laughing at his pleasure especially when he says, "An on-line paper says they are trying to interview her."

Elizabeth has become a real presence in the house as we try and determine why she might have put her name on the ballot.

"I think I'll vote for her. She'll get at least one vote," Rick says. His ballot is added to the pile of mail he'll take to the post in the morning.

We are in bed and Rick has switched to his iPad. With no more information or responses coming in he turns out the light. "Good night, Love."

"Good night Rick Boy," I say. "Good night Elizabeth."

This is a dueling blog.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

History repeats

The first day of January 1939 and Argelès-sur-mer, France had a population of a few 100 people. By the end of the month it was over 100,00 as war refugees from Franco poured in from Spain, a proxy war by the great powers, a training ground for WWII. They were herded into concentration camps along the beach in inhumane conditions.

The Retirada as it is called is now "celebrated" in mea culpas, movies, marches with some shame.
Fast forward to 2015, 2016. Other peoples are being forced from their countries by wars as the "great" powers find a place to sell their weapons. 

The response is no less shameful to these victims.

History repeats itself. 

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Spelling woes

"I fully expect Donna-Lane to have a secretary," Principal Miss Graham told my mother who'd complained my spelling could be improved. I was in fifth grade.

"And how will she know if her secretary is correct?" my mother asked, went home an enlisted my grandmother to work with me.

It helped.


At 16 I was a cub reporter for the Lawrence Eagle Tribune. My mother was a full reporter.

"So Dot," George Gellineau, another reporter, asked my mom, "How do we know you don't write most of your kid's copy?"

From the back of the city room Editor Fred Cole, who could have been a stand-in for Spenser Tracey at his grumpiest called. "Kid writes own copy. Kid can't spell. Mother can spell."

I did improve but with my first job in Switzerland I was expected to write British English. My second post was a combination with most English spellings but with the s and (zed) z being American.

At the University of Glamorgan in Wales where I did my masters in creative writing I had permission to write the novel in American English, but my thesis, Repeated Symbolism in John Irving's Books had to be in English. By then word offered spell check in a variety of national Englishes. Thank goodness.

When my agent wanted two manuscripts, one in English-English and one in American-English it was easy to change curb to kerb, theater to theatre. Global changes can be tricky as I had learned when I changed a character's name from Lou to Gino and came up with spellings like bginose  where blouse had been and Ginoisiana for Louisiana so an extra proofing was necessary.

For seven years I published a newsletter for Canadian clients in Canadian-English as I was writing novels in American-English. Sometimes I'd forget to switch the spell check and end up with tons of red-lined words.

I've also battled French spelling. For a long time I had a written and a spoken French. I'd say "tempe" too bad but there was another phrase I used"tant pis" until someone explained they were one and the same once they stopped laughing at me.

And I've more or less mastered which address has one or two ds in each language.

But this week my heart stopped when I read that the French are changing the spellings of some 2000+ words. Worse the circumflex that cute little hat perched on vowels will disappear in many, many words. I've used it as a guide that it usually means in old French there was an s. The é at the start of a verb means in English there is an s thus étage becomes stage and so on.

It's not fair.

Both English and French are spelling nightmares with many letter combinations for the same sound or the same spelling but different pronunciations. And with spell check it is easy to get lazy.

I like lazy.

Friday, February 05, 2016

History is everywhere

Today's life hides yesteryear's.

The Argelès-sur-mer church is just one example.

Notre Dame del Prat (Our Lady of the Meadow) was built in the 14th century although a chapel was said to have been on the site from the 1100s.

Imagine the number of births, marriages and funerals that have taken place over the centuries. The stories of people's lives as the village grew from a few hundred to the almost 10,000 it is today would fill thousands of books or be fodder for plays and movies.

Throught the years the church has gone thru repairs and today there is yet another preservation underway.

To the left, is a plaza where dances are held and marché vendors set up their stands on Wednesdays and Saturdays. How different that is from when it was a cemetery. Early Aregelesians stood and cried as their wives, husbands, children and parents were lowered into the graves. They came by with flowers and prayers. All of them has vanished into time.

The cemetery existed when the village was walled in to protect itself from the pirates that would come thru the swamp or from different battles between waring Catalan counts viaing for territory. Those swamps became fields and vineyards and are now houses varying in age from several hundred years to modern apartment buildings.

In 1341 bakery incomes were given to the church. Jean-Marc, our local historian explains how the apse's direction was changed after part of the church collapsed but the date is uncertain. Today's arrangement dates to the 1700 hundreds.

And I have my own miniscule  history with the church,

When I first walked into the village in 1980 two angels flanked the front door. After one reconstruction they were moved to the plaza.

Vandals have twice broken the wings as if they are anti angel adding another bit of history. I wonder if I can come up with a story about a handicapped angel and the kids that hurt it. 

I've attended Easter Mass at the church with my beloved stepmom. She was amazed when the statues were marched around the church and out to the steps. "It's like a religious square dance," she whispered. Not only is it a church memory, it is a mom memory

I was a witeness to my wantabe brother's wedding. We walked out to "Oh Happy Days" and it was.

I've attended concerts, one of the most painful was the the Gospel Chorus the first time my late friend Barbara wasn't singing her heart out on the far left.

The church when it comes to history is nothing unique. I grew up on an Indian burial site where arrowheads could still be found. I walked on Straight Street to buy nuts in Damascus, the same street mentioned in the Bible. The battlefields of Lexington, Concord and Manassas are today peaceful. A chapel in Garmish is covered with photos of German youth dead for the other side, but no less deas long before their time. There are almost no place I've been that there wasn't life centuries before me.

It is reminder that we ourselves will one day be history remembered first by those we knew than we will be forgotten history, but we still have existed.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Brit vs.French

A houseboat in Amsterdam, a flat overlooking Monaco yachts an architect's loft in Cambridge, MA and a farmhouse in Andorra are just a few of the BnBs Rick and I have stayed in on our wanderings. 

We prefer them to the sterility of hotels chains. It gives us a chance to meet "real" people, check out different decorating styles in "real" homes, do our own cooking if we tire of restaurant. Each new BnB becomes an adventure and we are supporting the locals not some anonymous corporation. Privately owned hotels accomplish the same thing.

I also love two television programs which are almost identical in format but with subtle cultural differences.
  • Four in a Bed - English
  • Bienvenue Chez Nous -French

The premise is the same. Four BnB owners visit each other's BnBs and rate them according to:.
  • Hospitality
  • Facilities including cleanliness
  • Activities
  • Value for money (they pay what they think it is worth)
Nasty and nice

Some of the owners from either country were just warm, friendly people. 

Some were cutthroat. 

Some were weird or out of touch with general expectations.

The Scottish ex military man couldn't understand why women would want "toiletries" any more than an elderly French woman who thought wifi would ruin the ambiance of her place.

There was one British woman who could have won an Oscar for her performance of being disgusted at having to eat in an Indian restaurant. No meals pleased this woman. A French vegetarian acted as if being in a room with meat could cause everyone to drop dead.

One of my favorites was when a French woman whose room in château would have satisfied Marie Antoinette sniffed, "I don't care much for châteaus."

Expectations vs.reality

How someone could go to a BnB in the middle of a city and not understand that traffic was not under the control of the owner is beyond me. The same could be applied to not liking bird song in a country BnB as if a host would go into the garden and ask the birds to not sing before eight. And every now and then, a contestant, usually French, will complain there was too much food at a meal although no one force fed him or her.

The activities were as varied as the host's interest and imagination. A visit to an oyster farm, making sausage, story telling, walking a battlefield, paintball... No matter what was chosen, someone wasn't happy. A common complaint was that the contestants might have liked to see more of the region...except when they did.

The delight when either nationality found a hair on a sheet, dust on a high shelf for chandelier was limitless. 


Both French and English would say, "It's not my cup of tea" or "Ce n'est pas ma tasse thé" or call criticism strategy, sometimes justified sometimes not.

Major cultural difference


The English owners take their fellow contestants to a restaurant. The audience seldom learns what was eaten. They talk on myriad topics. The meal doesn't seem all that important.

The French host it responsible for preparing not just a meal, but a wonderful dinner. S/he gets kudos if it has some regional representation. 

Both the French and the English care about their breakfasts but differently. 

The French want regional and fresh. Better the host has made the pastries himself as well as the jams and jellies. A selection of cheeses and meats go a long way for people to be happy.

The Brits on the other hand expect a typical fry up and tend to ignore the set-out buffet. They don't expect the home made jams and pastries, but the definition of a perfect poached egg becomes paramount. 


As a literature major at university, we were taught to judge a work by its period. Beowolf and My Last Duchess could not be looked at with the same criteria. A play by Shakespeare and one by Oscar Wilde may have some things in common but each needs to be looked at from its own perspective.

The contestants seem to have a problem doing that. When two star and five star establishments are in the same contest one criteria can not be used across the spectrum. Cleanliness yes, hospitality yes, but the breakfast offerings need to be cost effective for room price.

Still, the programs are a wonderful study of character and allows me to go to a BnB without having to pack a suitcase. I only wish I could eat some of those French dinners and English breakfasts. I can get a good French breakfast around the corner.