Friday, August 31, 2018

I drove today

That I drove shouldn't be that unusual, but it is.

I gave up my car in 1993. Since there is such great public transportation in Geneva and Europe, I didn't need a car. At one time I went over a year without even getting in a car.

Probably between 1993 and today, I may have driven two dozen times and that's being generous in my estimate.

When I moved to a village outside of Geneva, I sometimes/rarely (read almost emergency) drove my housemate's car. When I was in Argelès, I could walk everywhere including doctors, dentists, bakers, movie theatre...everything. I could travel around Europe by train.

I almost gave up my license, but people persuaded me not to.

We bought a car new to us. Thus, I decided I wasn't going to be one of those women that won't drive. Afterall, before I gave up my car in 1993 it was nothing to drive all over Europe or the US.

My husband is not a good passenger with anyone, but he swallowed hard when I drove home from the beach (about 10K).

There were no problems. It felt good. I told my husband I want to drive at least weekly, which may be hard because often we have no need to drive anywhere for weeks at a time.

If you are looking for my husband, he may be in the church praying for strength over all this.

Monday, August 27, 2018


Coming from a family that believed if you went more than two towns away you might fall off the edge of the earth, that I now consider myself an international citizen and fairly well traveled (but not as much as some of my friends) often leaves me smug that I succeeded in my childhood wish of being able to travel.

Thus this morning when I was reading Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (R.K. Rowling) the author mentioned fat rascals served at Bettys Tearoom in Harrogate. Its history goes back to 1919 and its pastries and meals have a Swiss influence.

Here's where smug comes in. I had a fat rascal at Bettys on the one day I was in Harrogate. A friend and I were in Yorkshire taking a sheep herding course. That's another story.

I am smug because I knew of the tea room from personal experience.

I was equally smug when flipping channels and saw Bab Tooma, the entrance to the old city of Damascus. There were other street scenes in Syria that I knew.

Less smug was watching a George Clooney movie filmed in Geneva. He turned at the end of the Quai du Mt. Blanc and was suddenly in an another part of the city without fighting the traffic between the two places. Oh, to be able to do that. Movies and TV shows from other cities in the UK such as London, Oxford, Edinburgh flash by and I can say, I've been there and in some places several times for extended periods.

There's still much of the world I have yet to see, and probably will never see. Still, they are more than two towns away from where I grew up and I haven't fallen off the edge of the earth.

And the fat rascal scones. Since I began writing the blog, I wish I had one. Maybe someday I will be Harrogate again only this time with no sheep herding.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Paper towels, etc.

My dog lunged across the coffee table upsetting a water bottle. My husband rushed to get handfuls of paper towels to sop it up. I cringed. We have cloths for that, although he points out that I need to wash the cloths.

Years ago a guest in my Nest (my studio) left me a roll of paper towels that she'd bought. I never bought them. I took over 2 years to use them up and that was only when I cooked bacon that I used them.

I never bought cling film. In the Nest my glass bowls had saucers that covered the bowls, sealing the food. Now we use mason jars or we have the bees wax covers.

To line the compose bucket, I reuse the plastic bags I get at various stores.

It won't save the world. It won't save a fortune either but there's too much of my New England Yankee heritage to waste stuff that doesn't need to be wasted.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Being an International

My daughter is packing to go to Sweden for a month to take an intensive Swedish course. This will be the sixth country she has lived in from a month to several years. They are:
  • US
  • Germany
  • Switzerland
  • France
  • Scotland
She speaks two languages fluently and hopefully will be functional in Swedish by late autumn.

I've lived in six countries anything from a month to decades:
  • US
  • Germany
  • France
  • Switzerland
  • Ireland
  • Scotland
I speak French and English and am working on getting my German back to where it was long ago.

Something happens when one lives in more than one country. It becomes okay to open windows differently, line up or not for entrance to anything, shake hands or not, kiss on one, two, three cheeks, keep your hand in your lap at dinner or don't. Take off your shoes when you enter a house, expect public transportation to be faster and better than your car, have universal health care.

These are tiny examples of things that one finds different when countries change, but more important they are symbolic of different life styles which eliminates absolutes forever. I remember years ago being asked why I lived in Europe. I replied, "universal health care." The person responded "No country could afford that." Every other industrial country except the U.S. does. Living in other places increases knowledge of the world.

During my citizenship hearing for Switzerland, I was asked if I would give up my American citizenship. I replied "no" although later I had little choice if I wanted to stay in Switzerland forever thanks to FATCA and the American pressure on banks all over the world. It became a choice between my birth country and a bank account.

I explained that if I were a plant the roots closest would be American or maybe even New England Yankee. But after moving to Switzerland, the plant continued to grow and put down longer roots. If the new roots were cut off, the plant would die because the plant now needed deep roots. And if you cut off the roots that had grown after leaving the U.S., the plant would die because it needed the longer roots to survive now that it was bigger.

I am thrilled to be Swiss, but I realize that I can never be 100% Swiss. Part of me will always be American and because I've spent so much time in Germany and France, I've absorbed some of their cultures. And everywhere else I've lived I've taken some things into my heart soul while shaking my head at some cultural idiosyncrasies.

I will never truly belong in any of the places I've lived.

That's all right.

Over all, I think of myself as an international with a Swiss passport.

Bye Bye Tourists

The New Yorker cover of people showing up in droves then leaving could describe summer in Argelès-sur-mer (ASM) as well.

We are in the last week of the tourist tsunami. When we were at the marché on Saturday, no salmon swimming to their mating grounds could have felt more surrounded. Next Saturday. people will be packing up their cars and heading home. School will be starting in many places.

ASM has tons of camp grounds. The one we were on last week to use its restaurant had over 4,000 people. This is not rough camping. The grounds boast stores, pools, caravans nicer than some homes, tennis courts, other sports facilities. There are camp grounds that provide complete musicals such as Lion King or The Blues Brothers.

All kinds of activities take place in the camps, beach, port and village. Stores are often open 7/7 instead of closing Sundays and/or Mondays.

There's a buzz I love, but by mid-August the buzz becomes a bit tiring.

At the same time many of our friends from Canada, Denmark, Sweden, England, Ireland, Belgium, Scotland, other places in France and elsewhere are here during the summer crazies. Moments with them are to be cherished.

September isn't tourist free. Often people without children come, relishing the slower pace and cooler days although there's still much to do, eat, see. And over the year during holidays such as Tousaint, Christmas and Easter, many of these same people come down to get a booster shot of the pleasures that ASM brings. Many take advantage of a special offer from one of the economy airlines that service the area. We love seeing the surprise of them knocking at the door waving us over at a café as we walk by.

Some cities like Amsterdam and Barcelona want to reduce their tourist traffic. I understand. At the same time local merchants earn most of their annual income during the two summer months. And although there are entertainments, dances, exhibitions, film festivals outside tourist season, there's less of them.

Being a New Englander and loving the seasons, I see the tourist flow a bit like the change of season. Instead of a red leaf falling from the tree, La Noisette stops dinner service, the lines at the chicken seller during the marché are one or two people instead of ten. It is the reverse of the end of June which was marked with the cries of joy when Ingolf, Will, Clare, Pamela, etc. appeared.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Shopping Styles

Buying a car demonstrated once again Rick's and my shopping style variations. He had done a dueling blog at

Our almost 20-year-old car was beginning to show its age and the canicule showed the need for air conditioning BIG TIME!

I contacted the dealer where we bought the old car, someone I trust based on our experiences and friends' experiences. I told him we were looking for four-doors and air-conditioning and anything but grey, black or white. He said he had a car.

It was was a 2011 Renault Modus, with four doors and air conditioning in excellent condition. It was a little more than we wanted to pay.

My reaction?

We'll take it and I got out my checkbook.

The only thing I didn't like was that it was grey, but hopefully we can find someone to decorate it. And dragging out the process to get a different color makes me shudder at the thought when we found one that met almost all our requirements.

Rick's approach would be to look at several cars, compare prices. He had checked about the model already so that reassured me that it was a good decision. The car dealer is trustworthy where another one might not be.

When we bought a couch, I walked into the store, saw the one I liked within the first two minutes. It didn't look like anything I had imagined but I could check "need new couch" off my to-do list and never have to think about it again. Had I not seen anything after a quick look I would have left and probably decided we really didn't need a new couch. I certainly would never, ever, ever gone from store to store to find a perfect couch. I'd strangle my much beloved Sherlock first.

We need new Venetian blinds. The one store I went to didn't carry them. I found out who sells them but have not been able to bring myself to go after them. At least there's a sushi place nearby that might make the trek bearable when we do go. But I worry that the new place won't have them which means two horrible experiences with no success.

When I furnished a flat in Geneva before Rick, I walked through IKEA and in under two hours had everything I needed. It was delivered. Within two days the flat was set up and I lived there 11 years without having to shop again.

I will admit where I lived (an area near the UN and NGOs so there were lots of turnover of tenants) people threw out great stuff that I sometimes confiscated. Like the red rug I wanted (but certainly not enough to ever enter a store for it) and within two days someone had thrown away exactly what I wanted. And there was a pretty tea set left in the basement that I took upstairs and used, but again, I would never have been willing to go shopping for it.

When I have to buy anything in a store, there are a couple of places that I go regularly and hope they haven't rearranged anything. I try and go straight to what I want and try not to look right or left. All that junk even in an expensive store depresses me. If I can't find what I want within 5 or 10 minutes, I rethink if I need it. Usually I walk out and never buy anything. If I do find it, I stop looking, pay and get out of the store as fast as I can without looking right and left.Whew! I can breath again.

I am more apt to buy something I see at the marché or if I pass a store window and something is on display. I remember one Saturday I needed new boots and after four stores, none had boots in my size, I went home and cried that I had wasted a valuable free afternoon shopping. My feet stayed wet until I saw a perfect pair at a marché. No way would I have gone into another shoe store just in case they might have what I wanted.

When I buy something I want to keep it until it dies. I don't want the latest model. Maybe I would be willing to upgrade say a tea kettle, it if could do amazing things like clean the whole house.

I can go months without wanting to buy anything. I have everything I need and want with maybe the exception of a dust ruffle for the bed in the snore room to hide the boxes under the bed. My first preference would be to get rid of the boxes.

Today when we were sitting at a café talking about shopping, my husband said something about the fun of the hunt?

Fun? Hunt? Shopping? These words together?

I don't think so.


Shopping is stealing from my precious time on this earth.

He wants to get things for our patio such as a fireplace and statues. We will go a ceramic factory outlet town in Spain. It's a pretty drive, a togetherness day. A chance for a nice lunch.

If he doesn't find what he wants, he can continue to hunt, but alone. I trust him to find something we will both be happy with.

Oh, and because I am frugal and don't buy unnecessary stuff, if things cost a little more than I planned, I will pay it. After all since we pay cash for everything we never pay interest. I think it balances. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Baked beans

Today I am making Boston Baked beans in my great grandmother's bean pot. It was later used by my grandmother and finally by my mother before it ended up in my hands. It is not just a meal but a journey through three centuries of personal, regional and national history.

I wish the bean pot could talk and tell me all the conversations that might have been held over the regular Saturday night dinners, where the beans were staple. I can imagine they might have mentioned:
  • The election of Grover Cleveland in 1892
  • The first World Series in 1903
  • The flu epidemic and the barn full of coffins down the street in 1918. The coffins disappeared all too fast.
  • The depression in 1929
  • My mother's elopement in 1940 
  • Pearl Harbor 1941
  • My Uncle Gordon's death and my birth 1942 
As a child I remember the discussion of world events and family plans as we eat the Saturday night beans. The pleasure knowing dessert was a blueberry pie made with blueberries my brother and I had picked that afternoon from the patch next to the house. Saturday night dinners were often followed by the family playing games that varied over the decades until I left home at 20.

Along with the bean pot I have a copy of my Grandmother's New England Yankee Cookbook published in 1939 by Coward McCann of New York. It says it is "An Anthology of INCOMPARABLE RECIPES FROM THE SIX NEW ENGLAND STATES and a Little Something about the People whose Traditions for Good Eating is herein permanently recorded BY IMOGENE WOLCOTT from the Files of Yankee Magazine and from Time-worn Recipes Books and many Gracious Contributors."

A bit of history is thrown in along with recipes using cornmeal, an early staple. There's a Boston style clam chowder recipe from the still existent Parker House where my brother was conceived.

Mrs. George W.P Babb of Roslindale, MA contributed her recipe for Cape Cod chicken and more important for dumplings, a recipe I've used often through the years.

There are recipes for brown bread, which I am tempted to make as well as Johnny Cake that goes back to the Puritans. There's a Johnnycake Lane in Chelsea, VT.

I think this fall, I will cook many more of the recipes, not just for the nostalgia, but because the food is plain good.

Thursday, August 16, 2018



A man in debt is so far a slave,” American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson once reportedly said.
In light of this statement, I contend that I don’t need to have a college degree in economics to tell you that our current financial system enslaving the entire world is not sustainable – and headed for one hell of a spectacularly ugly crash.

Last month, the Washington-based Institute of International Finance published their latest statistics indicating that global debt had reached $247.2 trillion by the end of March this year, an increase of 11.1 percent from last year alone. In other words, since the start of this year, global debt rose by a whopping $8 trillion in just three to four months.

"Americans’ total credit card debt continues to climb, reaching an estimated $911 billion — a nearly 6% increase from the previous year — according to a NerdWallet analysis. 

"And the average household that’s carrying credit card debt has a balance of $15,432. Households with any kind of debt owe $133,720 (including mortgages), on average, the data analysis found."

I can't imagine it.

Let me say I was a single mom. My salary was never huge, middle management at best. Only one time in my life was I in debt and that was when my mother was dying and between her bills, my inability to work full time as part of her care, I ended up hugely in debt. 

As soon as I could reestablish  myself after her death, my whole focus was on getting out of debt. It took five years.

I was lucky enough to live in Geneva where I didn't need a car. Over the years that let me not only pay off my debts but buy a small income apartment for cash. My retirement studio in France I had paid cash for earlier because I bought it at a time that the franc to dollar was 10 to 1. 

I make it point never to charge something I can't pay off in 30 days. It means my money isn't going to interest payments. The average household pays $904 annually in credit card interest.

The idea that something is on sale and a bargain, use a credit card is an easy trap to fall into. But if you wait by the time you add in interest it probably cost much more than the original pre-sale price.

Right now my total debts are 0. Only regular living charges are part of the outgo. If I can't pay cash, I won't buy it and that includes the car we just bought. Yes it is a used car. I will miss the 20 year old car my husband and I bought five years ago for 2,500 Euros. It served us well and I blessed no car payment with interest. It got us from point A to point B and beyond. 

I liked the green color. It meant I could spot it in the sea of grey, white, and black cars (my husband is thrilled I used an Oxford comma in the last phrase). Yesterday in a huge parking lot with thousands of cars it was the only one that had a color. Sigh.

Back to the question of debt. Part of staying out of debt, is not buying to impress others, buying what you need (and sometimes when your heart and soul need something), buying what you love but not buying what you can't pay off immediately.


What to do?

I have several friends of different nationalities living in the US and have or in the process of becoming US citizens. If they are going to stay forever in the US, this is a good idea.

However, their mates work for international companies which means they could be transferred outside the US borders, which represents the threat of severe economic damage to any American expat.

Do I warn them? Most are middle class. We are not talking about the rich.

1. If you have property in another country and sell it you will have to pay capital gains in the US and meet whatever tax obligations in the country where the property was located.

2. Anything you earn anywhere, any way is now US taxable

3. If you have any foreign accounts, you must report them on the FBAR or face huge penalties. Depending on the circumstances, the fines could exceed the balance many times over.

4. If you have a current bank account overseas and they find out you are American, the account could be closed. Check out FATCA

5.If you plan to retire to your original country or another country, your retirement income could be double taxed.

6. You will have great difficulty opening a bank account in another country. Many things like mortgages, car loans, life insurance and investments could be impossible to get.

7. Plan to spend a minimum of four figures for US tax return to make sure you are in compliance with all the changes that happen and carry huge fines if ignored.

Problems do vary from country to country. And problems can be retro-active. The new tax reform to encourage businesses to bring money back to the US also has affected small American overseas business owners because their tax obligation goes back to 1986. Many were using retained earnings for retirement only to find a large portion is now due to Uncle Sam.

So, if people want to go for their American nationality and they will live in the US forever, forever and forever, go for it. But if there is a chance you might end up living outside the US borders just be aware that it is financially dangerous.

But my dilemma remains. Do I but in and warn them or not?

Wednesday, August 15, 2018


15 years ago at the Fête De St. Jean

Two giant saints were sitting to one side of the area where the crowd had gathered after being paraded around.

The children had entered the circle, singing and carrying faggots to add to the bonfire.

A flame had been carried from the top of the mountain Cangiou and used to start the bonfire, now merely embers.

People had sung and danced the Sardane.

The ball had yet to start.

In the distance I heard drums beating out an urgent message. 

They grew closer and closer and closer.

The drummers were followed by men and women shooting fireworks off their bodies as they danced.

The pace continued.

They entered the circle.

For twenty minutes they danced with fire.

I'd experienced my first correfoc (the fire runners).

Since then I've seen it many times, but it never stops thrilling me in every atom in my body.

Saturday night there will be a correfoc in Argelès. I can hardly wait.

Watch a video here

Wikipedia describes the correfoc as "
Correfocs (Catalan pronunciation: literally in English "fire-runs") are among the most striking features present in Catalan festivals. In the correfoc, a group of individuals will dress as devils and light fireworks - fixed on devil's pitchforks or strung above the route. Dancing to the sound of a rhythmic drum group, they set off their fireworks among crowds of spectators. The spectators that participate dress to protect themselves against small burns and attempt to get as close as possible to the devils, running with the fire. Other spectators will watch from "safe" distances, rapidly retreating as necessary."


Sunday, August 12, 2018

Women in Work

When my mother married in 1940, she was fired from her secretarial job. She was an incredible typist at 125 words a minute without errors. She bragged her shorthand was equally good.

The reason for her firing was that her husband could now support her.

Growing up in the fifties and sixties, the only mothers who worked were divorced or widowed. Like my grandmother's generation, the rest made homemaking a full-time job including cookie baking, sewing clothes, cooking nutritious meals and keeping a neat house. It was a bit of a scandal that one of my mother's friends usually had a filled-basket ready to be ironed in the living room.

Women in my mother's circle had time to be Brownie or Campfire Girl leaders, play golf except on Wednesday afternoon and Saturdays when the course was left to the men, meet for bridge or whatever they felt like.

Betty Friedan not withstanding, many of the women were happy. Their lives were like they were supposed to be.

My mother was not one of the content. Freed from regular domestic chores by cleaning women and my grandmother, she ventured beyond the ordinary role.

In the early 40s she developed a toy business. She designed cloth dolls, cats and bean bags that were sold by direct mail through magazines like House Beautiful. She marshaled women around town to sew the toys together. My grandfather, a retired engineer, did the silk screening of the toys. When he died, she closed the business.

She sold Peggy Newton cosmetics when we lived in West Virginia. Coming back she ran the country club we belonged to rental program and acted often a wedding and event planner.

When my parents divorced, she started a women clothing business, operated on a party plan. She would go into Boston get samples and soon was doing so well she only had to work six months a year. It left her free to take us to school, be there when we were home, and participate in our activities as well as her own. She would put on fashion shows for organizations, but best of all, I had an incredible wardrobe. She felt I was a walking advertisement and who was I to argue.

She became a journalist by accident. The Boston newspapers were on strike. The Lawrence Eagle-Tribune saw a chance to capture a market, and advertised for a journalist. She wasn't but she applied anyway and got the job.

Waking the next morning she decided, she could never do it. Before she could say call to say she changed her mind, friends telephoned to congratulate her. Her joining the paper had been on the front page. She was a great reporter. Through her I was able to get a job as a cub reporter at 16, something I'd dreamed about since I was about eight. She wrote for several papers right up until her death at 71. It became her passion.

When I was growing up women did not have many choices: teacher, secretary, nurse, hair dresser, store clerk. There was factory work, but that was not an alternative for the range of a middle-class teenage girl. Besides, the goal was to get a husband who would support one and in return, he would receive a well-run house and happy children.

My mother was never trapped by the myth of the happy homemaker. She refused to accept its lies and its limits.

If I had problems with my mother on other levels, it was not for the role model of going for what you want...don't accept the limits--go over them, under them, around them, barrel through them. For a woman born in 1917 this was extraordinary.

Today women have unlimited choice but not without barriers. They also have increased pressures that women of my mother's generation never had.

Is it better? Worse? Perhaps it depends on the person.

My mother's last writing was a cookbook that was never published. It was begun as a newspaper column. I turned it into a blog. I think she would have been pleased.

Friday, August 10, 2018

2 anniversaries

Anniversary No. 1

Five years ago Rick and I exchanged vows in front of 40 friends from seven countries. It has been a wonderful five years, with the only problems external ones not between the two of us.

As part of the anniversary I reread our vows. We've lived up to them.

Donna-Lane's Vows

Rick …
I cannot give you my heart today for you already have it. You came back into my life when it was full and you made it even fuller.
I know you’ve made tremendous changes so we can blend out lives and every day in every way I promise that I will make you glad you did.
I want to encourage you in your great strengths: your kindness, your lovingness, your creativity, your warmth.
I will be there for you when dark clouds cross our horizons and together we will find the sun even on the blackest days.
I loved you, I love you, I will love you.

Rick's Vows
Donna-Lane ...

You are my soul mate, my life partner. I believe I have loved you from the day I met you. We have been given a unique second chance to be together.
And I intend to devote the rest of my life to making you happy.
You did not need me in your life. You have an abundance of people who love you, and whom you love.
You have welcomed me into that very special circle and I will do everything I can to be worthy of your trust.
I want to bring you joy and laughter.
I want brush away tears, to comfort you in sorrow. I promise to support you in your aspirations, challenge you to be the person you want to be, and to honor and respect your individuality with my whole heart and soul.
Je t’aime ma chérie, je t’aime. 

Anniversary No. 2

Perhaps this anniversary is not of the same scale, but this four-footed bit of fur has certainly changed our lives.

Today, Sherlock is 11 months old. We still adore him, although his biting a hole in the quilt in the photo that my grandmother made caused me to realize that I loved him for better or for worse, but could we keep the worse to a minimum.


Thursday, August 09, 2018

Less is more

New writers are often told "Less is more."

This afternoon I am reading The New Yorker on my bed.

Reading and reclining! A luxury.

An article referred to Pierre Bourdieu, a name and work I know slightly. I reach for my Kindle and round out my knowledge.

It has been a quiet day, ironing, chatting with friends, lunch at a walkable local restaurant where we eat frequently. A happy surprise was mac and cheese as a side dish (yum) with the menu du jour.

Sherlock, our beloved dog, is beginning to act normal After a vaccination, he had just wanted to sleep and to be left alone.

The canicule (heatwave) that has gripped Europe for weeks has broken.

The thunder booms, rolls, repeats. Rain hammers the skylight. A symphony. A fantasy from the middle of the canicule when I thought of thunder and snowstorms, pops into my mind. The snowstorm will come later. The water smell seeps in through the open patio door.

Sherlock who quivers at fireworks, stands at the patio door staring at the sky. No sign of fear, just curiosity. I melt, not from heat, but my love for his six kilos of doggyness.

My husband is writing in the other room. Sooner or later I will write, too. I straighten a painting on the bedroom wall.

Nothing earth shaking has happened. Nothing has been added to our household. But I'm drowning in contentment at the slowness and richness of the nothingness. The less is more.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018


For years, with its origins in my daughter's childhood, we've been playing with our stuffed animals, photographing stories that we make up as the pop up in our imaginations. We even married Petite Cougar to Slap, the Canadian beaver with cake, champagne and human guests.

Over the years my friends have taken part. My former housemate took Scooby Sr to the mountains for example and made sure he was photographed with the wooden St. Bernards at a restaurant.

Once we had Sherlock, a real dog, the adventures became less.

We drove all night from Geneva and arrived at Argelès at 5 in the morning. When I walked through the kitchen I noticed two of our animals were on the toaster. We confirmed all the animals were missing.

Hmmmm...must have been our plant waterer and good friend.

We started a hunt.

Slap, the beaver, was communicating with Canadian maple syrup. Maybe he wanted a touch of home.

Petite Cougar was being sick. I hope she's not pregnant again.

Honey Bunny was in the rainbow basket, two of the other rabbits were standing on the bed post.

Shamrock, our transgender Bostonian lobster, was stuck in a candle.

We searched and searched and couldn't find Scooby II and Giggles. I was wondering if our plant waterer was holding them for ransom.

Exhausted we flopped into bed and looked up. Giggles and Scoob 2 were the two animals that got into the most trouble. There they were -- on the chandelier.

Any friend who can do this is more than a friend. She is a treasure, May we always be playful no matter how old we become.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Helen Dunmore

When I was working on my masters in creative writing at Glamorgan University in Wales, Helen Dunmore was one of the eight readers.

She wasn't mine, but I was able to benefit from her criticism.

The way the program worked we would spend all Saturday critiquing each others' writing as a group, the four fiction writers and the four poets. We each had our own reader who was also critiquing all our work in those long, sometimes painful sessions.

In addition, one at a time, we would go with our own reader for an in-depth analysis of what we had produced since the last session.

Mornings, Helen would breeze into the room, her long blond hair flying.

It is fairly easy to notice something that is glaringly bad writing. Helen had the talent to pick out the phrase that was almost there. She could diagnose a hairline crack in a plot better than any bone surgeon could find a break that an X-ray had trouble seeing.

When she made a comment, I listened. My work was better because of her. Her observations carried over into my other writing.

This was before she won the Orange Prize in 1996.

For some reason I never read her work until I saw Birdcage Walk at the English library in Geneva. They talk about books you can't put down, and this was one. She drew me into the lives of the characters and the period. When my husband spoke to me, I had to cross a couple of centuries to answer.

Now, I need to order The Siege, about a family trying to survive in Leningrad in WWII.

Helen was supposed to give a workshop at the Geneva Writers Group. Sadly, the cancer that would kill her at 64 was too advanced to allow it. Even though, I've published 11 novels since then, I knew I would still have benefited from her wisdom.

And it would have been lovely to see her breeze into the Press Club where the sessions held, her long blond hair, flying around her face.

Her other works are:

Thursday, August 02, 2018


As soon as I entered the Montreux Jazz Cafe, I saw her, my former Syria neighbor, now a doctor in Paris and author of books. We held our arms for the cheek kiss wasn't enough. It had been a year since we had seen each other in person.

William, the waiter, was between us. He held out his arms for a hug and we did.

And then it was my friend's time and me to hug.

We were with another friend and my husband and for the next two hours we played catch up in a way you can only do face-to-face despite things lik email, Facebook and Skype.

She and I had lived across the hall from each other for several years, sharing keys, meals, guest, worries, hopes, frustrations. Never did I come home from a trip that my refrigerator wasn't stocked and vice versa. I may have had the better deal with her Mideastern assortment of goodies.

She gave me her family and a knowledge and appreciation of her country far beyond what any tourist could discover. Some day, when things are quieter, I want to go back to see them. Until then, I am so grateful they've survived. If hours of worry would guarantee their safety, it would explain why they are still alive, only I know I am not that powerful. If I were the war would have been over years ago.

As is so typical in Geneva, people move on. Geographically, it is no longer possible to drop in on each other, BUT, our friendship to the level of family of choice, has stayed as strong.