Tuesday, December 31, 2013

It was a dark and stormy night ...

... Suddenly a shot rang out ... A woman screamed ...

So begins the classic novel, as written by the world-famous wannabee author, Snoopy, banging away on his manual typewriter atop his doghouse, which sometimes doubles as a virtual Sopwith Camel WWI aeroplane.

And so I've started to take the plunge, again, as a wannabe novelist.

With the encouragement of the accomplished murder mystery author, D-L Nelson (www.donnalanenelson.com), I have started to craft a novel incorporating some of the things I think I know about - particularly golf and aviation - and a few of the places I've been like Montreal, and maybe a couple we'd like to visit for research such as Edinburgh, Scotland.

Have written more than 2,000 words thus far. Only 70,000 or so to go. But not on my classic Royal manual typewriter, the kind I used when I started my writing career as a sportswriter on the now-defunct Binghamton Sun-Bulletin. It has no spell check or find/replace function for when I change a character's name and want to make sure I change it throughout the manuscript.

Years ago, more than 20, I got about a third of the way through a very different novel. Even got positive feedback from Dr. Samuel Hynes, then head of the English department at Princeton University and father-in-law to my good friend in the UK, Anthony GM Preston. Dr. Hynes compared my style to EL Doctorow, best-selling author of Billy Bathgate and other novels which I had not heard of until his comment. Was writing that one on an Apple IIe, so you can tell how long ago that was.

Now my inspiration has shifted from EL to D-L, and I've got a feeling I'll actually finish this one. Unlike 20-odd years ago, if I cannot convince a publisher to print it, Kindle self-publishing is always an option. But it would be very satisfying if a publisher thought it worthy of spending their money to print a few hardcover copies.

Tomorrow, New Year's Day, I'm going to take a plunge of another kind: http://www.anglophone-direct.com/New-Year-s-Day. My video to come.

Right now, it's time to party!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Climbing the walls

"Scooby Two, where do you think you're going by climbing up there?" Petite Cougar demanded.

"I want to meet my dad!"

Two had managed to shimmy up the wall, all the way to the skylight, but once at the top realized that there was no exit, just solid glass. Herr Hare and Hunny Bunny had done their best mountain-climbing imitation to try to rescue him, but became stuck themselves. This was a dilemma.
"I tried to contact your father, Scooby Doo, to ask him for financial support": http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/2013/12/puppy-payments-pupamony.html. "He's living in Boston, in the US, on the other side of the ocean. But he sent word that he's currently unemployed, and Shaggy embezzled all the money he made shooting movies and from product endorsements. So you might as well forget about seeing him or getting any help, at least in the near future."

"Besides, we have it pretty good here. We have a warm place to live, you have plenty of room to romp around the Warren with the bunnies, and D-L and Rick take good care of us. Sometimes you even get to sleep in the big bed with them."

"Yeah, but Rick stuck me in the refrigerator in Geneva, and it was freezing!"

"Oh, it was only a joke, and it wasn't for long. J found you rather quickly."

"He stuck me in the fridge here in Argeles," added HH. "But it was okay; I ate one of his carrots."

"Well, get down from there, all of you, if you can without hurting yourself. Otherwise you'll have to wait until Rick gets back from the marche or the beach or the golf course or wherever he went because he's the only one tall enough to reach you," PC said, climbing down from her perch on the dining area chair and curling up in front of the radiator.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Smug ... at least for a moment

I'm feeling a bit smug today. I succeeded in purchasing something, in French, on my own, which D-L had not been able to do.

Okay, I had help from my pocket anglais-francais dictionary. And she's not been feeling well (cold), so not fair to expect her to walk all around the village searching for something that wasn't today's priority.

She's been my translator for the past year and a half, and I would not have survived in France and Switzerland were it not for her. Actually, I'd have survived, but likely on a diet of Starbucks, McDonald's, and chocolate eclairs - things I was capable of ordering.

So only a little bit smug - lest she start speaking to me only in French - forcing me to learn the language much, much faster.

While I picked up some ingredients at the green grocers and the small chain grocery store, Donna-Lane headed to one of the charcuteries to pick up some boeuf hachette (ground beef) for today's lunch or dinner with returning friends.

Since we had also talked about having a sliced ham with honey for our Christmas dinner, she also asked them for a slice of jambon. Non, was the response of the man in the apron.

D-L and I rendezvoused at the Warren and compared notes on what we'd bought ... and didn't buy. I headed back out for a couple of missing items on my list.

And just to test my French - okay, and in the hope of gaining a brief, minor smug advantage, and because I really have my taste buds geared up for ham for Christmas - I went to the same charcuterie she had visited and asked for jambon fumé. Non, monsiuer. 
 
Not one to give up easily, I headed for the other end of the street and the charcuterie/boucherie near the flower shop where we'd purchased our Christmas tree. Voila! They had a lovely shank of ham right in the corner of the display case. I felt like Tiny Tim spotting the Christmas goose! I ordered une tranche (one slice) un centimetre epais (one centimeter thick) ... I've also had to get used to the metric system here. The last time I was in that charcuterie/boucherie, I tried to order 400 kilograms of boeuf hachette - about 880 pounds! They thought I must be having a party, and enjoyed a good chuckle before politely correcting me to 400 grams, a bit less than one pound.
 
I proudly marched home with my Christmas jambon tranche, took a photo, and called D-L over so I could gloat about my triumph.
 
Now it's time to make my famous Catalan Rice (a localized variation on the Spanish Rice my mother taught me how to make) for our friends who have been traveling all day in lousy weather. 
 
That's one of the many things I love about this village - often when we arrive back in town, someone has made us dinner so we're not scrounging to eat whatever dried food we left in the Warren or the Nest two weeks or two months before. This time when we returned - and rather late at night - the landlady had turned on the heat for us, as well as a few lights, placed a lovely poinsettia on the table, and invited us upstairs for a hot, three-course meal (complete with a Scandinavian version of Baked Alaska dessert). What a lovely, friendly place to live.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Needles and Pines

It's been a long, long, long, long time since I've had a real tree for Christmas. The kind where the needles get all over the place. And the pine scent starts several feet away, getting stronger as you approach closer.

When I was growing up, we always had real trees, or at least that's how I remembered it. One year, Dad had to cut the top off so it would fit in the family room he built. And he was always putting water in the bowl in which the trunk sat so the tree wouldn't die before the holiday was over.

The tree was right inside the back door that we always used to enter the house and, when we returned home Christmas Eve from whichever of Dad's relatives was hosting that year's rotation, my mother would hustle my brother and me past the tree and up to bed - so we wouldn't see what presents her side of the family had snuck in and left so they'd be waiting for us Christmas morning. After Larry and I were allegedly asleep, my parents would add their own gifts to the stash.

Donna-Lane had purchased a pine log stand with a pre-drilled hole, and together we bought a well-shaped 6-foot tree, which I carried home to the Warren and placed on the patio in a copper pot with water to preserve it until we were ready to trim.

Early Sunday morning, I sawed off some small branches near the bottom of the trunk, then picked up the tree to position it in the stand. Ooops - the trunk was a good bit larger than the hole in the stand. About a centimeter or more larger. I didn't have anything to make the hole larger, so the only option was to make the end of the trunk smaller. D-L asked if I was going to use the Swiss Army Knife she gave me, but this was a job for the bigger (though rather dull) saw. After about 30 minutes of hacking, I reduced the trunk diameter sufficient so it would fit and hold.

After lunch, we donned our holiday hats, and to the music of Mannheim Steamroller set about to trim the tree for our first Christmas together in Argeles-sur-mer.

D-L's blog about the ornaments can be read at http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/2013/12/our-first-christmas.html. And here's a little time-lapse video of this historic event:

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Oh, to be that limber again

video
As if we ever were able to perform some of these moves. (We've been practicing a few of them ... but not the leg splits ... and we don't have a copier to dance on.)
 
By request, I am posting here the animated holiday greetings we earlier posted only to Facebook.

For those who don't recognize the images, the black-and-white faces represent what Donna-Lane and I looked like when we first met, now 35-plus years ago.

Keep an eye on the Gingerbread Man and the Snowman.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Shutdown Day

What a pleasant, peaceful day. Did not turn on the computer. Did not check emails. Did not scroll through Facebook. No tweets. No news sites. No Skype.

Okay, did fire up the Toshiba - but only to play some soulful Kenny G as background music.

After D-L taught me how to make poached eggs (hadn't had one, I don't think, since my mother made them when I was a kid), we cranked up Barbara's facsimile of a car and rolled up to Perpignan to talk with Patrice about Perspectives. Then we had a leisurely lunch at Cafe Vienne, including liver - which I also had not eaten since the one time my mother tricked me into eating it (when I thought she was feeding me another piece of cube steak).

One of the highlights of the day was walking to the florist - the one at the corner with Argeles-sur-mer's lone traffic light - and buying our Christmas tree (an authentic tree, not a 'perfect' plastic pre-lighted imitation).

The other highlight was spending the entire day with Donna-Lane (she didn't turn her computer on either) ... talking, cuddling, talking, watching a couple episodes of Downton  Abbey while eating some of the Redenbacher's Cheddar Popcorn J gave us for Christmas, talking, reading in bed (while wearing silly holiday hats - no, there are no photos), feeding each other chocolate, talking ...

Sometimes, you just need to take a day for yourself ...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Fiction Character Come to Life

When fiction writers create a character, they usually have a real person in mind on which the character is based. Or perhaps a composite of people. Appearance, attitude, mannerisms.

On Sunday afternoon, Donna-Lane got to "meet" the heroine of her more recent novels -- Annie. Or at least someone who looks very much as D-L pictured Annie in her mind: striking red hair in curls, some with a mind of their own ... and a spirited, outgoing personality.
The fictional Annie is the lead character in Murder in Caleb's Landing, Murder in Argeles, Murder in Geneva, and the most recently published Murder in Paris. By the way, Murder in Paris is available in hardcover and as an Amazon Kindle download.

Here's the direct link to order the Kindle edition of Murder in Paris:
http://www.amazon.com/Murder-Paris-Five-Mystery-Series-ebook/dp/B00EUGGOBE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1387277002&sr=8-1&keywords=D-L+Nelson+Murder+in+Paris+kindle

Here's a link to D-L's website with descriptions of all eight of her novels:
http://donnalanenelson.com/
We came across "Annie" at L'Escalade celebration in Geneva. She was giving out "free hugs" and clearly having a wonderful time perking up people's spirits.
D-L explained to her about Annie's role in the novels and, of course, that prompted another hug.

Now we'll have to keep an eye out for Roger, Annie's fiancee. Or perhaps her former lover, Luca, who invites her to Paris ... where Annie ends up in the middle of three murders ...

Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas repast

We're heading down to Argeles-sur-mer today to be there for Christmas, New Year's, and beyond, so we had an early Christmas breakfast in Geneva. Lady Leopard, Herr Hare, Scooby Two, Petite Cougar, and Hunny Bunny were thrilled that we found a dog bone-shaped cereal in the American Food Avenue market in Cologny (http://www.afoodave.ch/). The cereal is named after Two's father, who is living it up in the States and continues to ignore PC's child. Nonetheless, PC and Two obviously have a supportive network.

Parting will be hard. LL will remain in Geneva (she, too, was jilted by Scooby the elder), while the others get stuffed in a suitcase for the train ride to France. They are already thinking of new mischief and places to hide in the Warren and the Nest.
Meantime, the adults had their own festive repast, prepared by Chef Rick. You can read the details in D-L's blog: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/2013/12/pinpoints-of-pleasure.html ... or in J's blog: http://viewsfromeverywhere.blogspot.ch/2013/12/dark-days-light-events.html.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Dungeons and Dragoons

On a substantial rock at the end of Lac Leman, a couple kilometres from Montreux, sits Chillon Castle (http://www.chillon.ch/en/), a fortress that was built, section by section, stone by stone, over several centuries on a strategic site thought to have once hosted Roman Legionnaires. 

The castle is best remembered as a prison for François Bonivard, immortalized by Lord Byron’s poem, The Prisoner of Chillon (https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Sonnet_on_Chillon#Sonnet_on_Chillon). I particularly like this line: “Freedom's fame finds wings on every wind …” 
Bonivard was “a lover of independence, a child of the later Renaissance,” who “threw in his lot with a band of ardent reformers and patriots, who were conspiring to shake off the yoke of Duke Charles III of Savoy,” and convert Geneva into a republic. The Duke confined Bonivard in Chillon’s dungeon, chained to a post and so unable to move about, from 1530 to 1536. After his release by the Bernese, Bonivard became a scholar, author, and reformer. 

Geneva established itself as an independent republic in May 1535. 

In 1602, another Duke of Savoy, Charles Emmanuel, attempted a surprise attack on Geneva, but was repelled by the Geneva militia – an event celebrated by the annual festival of L’Escalade (which comes up this weekend) - http://www.lake-geneva-switzerland.com/geneve/see-l%E2%80%99escalade-festival-and-celebrations-in-geneva-in-mid-december/. 
Donna-Lane and I had walked to the castle from the Montreux marché, only to find that the Christmas presentation at the castle would not occur until the weekend (we were there on Wednesday). So I ended up instead with a fascinating history lesson, including how to design a fortress to ward off would-be attackers (if we ever buy a house outside the village, I may consider a moat.)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Mist, Marché, Mercury, Poutine, and Glühwein

Mist on Lac Leman, snow on the Alps
Even though she had been there multiple times before, Donna-Lane wanted me to see the Montreux Christmas Marché (http://www.montreuxnoel.com/en-1-christmas-market.html). It's one of the best in Europe, and there are many very good ones. We've already planned where we're going the next two years for holiday marché - Strasbourg, France and Freiburg, Germany.
The marché features long rows of little chalets filled with holiday (and non-holiday) decorative items, clothing, toys, food, and drinks.  There are street performers, such as a dancing bear (whom we had seen in the train station on a previous trip to the famous Montreux Jazz Festival - http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.fr/2013/07/iconic-singer-songwriter-in-idyllic.html), a ferris wheel ride, and this year a series of topiary bushes depicting the Smurfs (which Donna-Lane posted in her Facebook photo album - https://www.facebook.com/donnalane.nelson/photos_all)
"Do I look like a tour guide? The ferris wheel is back there."
Near the ferris wheel, there's a statue of rocker Freddie Mercury, who led the band Queen, so of course when we got home I had to pull up the YouTube video of Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey singing "Bohemian Rhapsody" at the start of Wayne's World - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7nOO4BeG54. Only Queen song I think I know.
We walked down to Chillon Castle, which will be a separate blog, a pretty fair hike, so took the bus back - a mini-adventure in itself (http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.fr/2013/12/honey-bail-jail-part-iv.html).

J had gone with us to the marché, but passed on our castle trek, so we separated and made our own ways back to Geneva.
I was thrilled to see a chalet selling poutine - one of my favorite treats from Canada. The proprietor is a Quebecois who flies over just for the Montreux marché, so business must be good. Before we left for the day we shared some - D-L had never had the "heart attack in a bowl" concoction of french fries, shaved cheese, and gravy. We washed it down with some vin chaud (hot wine), otherwise known as glühwein because of the added spices. 

Glühwein is mentioned a number of times in D-L's forthcoming new mystery, Murder on Insel Poel, which will publish in March - http://www.amazon.com/Murder-Insel-Poel-D-L-Nelson/dp/1432828150/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1386411401&sr=8-1&keywords=D-L+Nelson+Murder+Insel+Poel. Not long after she arrives on the northern German island of Insel Poel, a handsome young man tries to hit on the book's heroine, Annie, by offering her a warm glass of glühwein "to help you sleep."
 
As we were finishing our poutine and glühwein, the sun was setting on Lac Leman and the French Alps to the south in a kaleidoscope of pinks and purples.

All in all, a mystical, magical, fun day.

There are more photos in my Facebook albums: https://www.facebook.com/rick.adams.39589/media_set?set=a.10200657693714799.1073741835.1534256330&type=3.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Honey ... Bail ... Jail ... Part IV

I purchased two travel tickets yesterday, and screwed up both times. The second one nearly cost Donna-Lane and me a bunch of Swiss francs.

The first ticket, purchased in a machine for the train from Geneva to Montreaux, I overpaid, instead booking to Lausanne via Montreaux. Got me where we were going, but for a few francs more than was necessary.

The second ticket, purchased in a machine for a short bus ride, almost came with a hefty fine because I underpaid.

In Switzerland, France, and I expect other places in Europe, the public transportation is on a semi-honor system. You buy a ticket - machine, online, or ticket seller - get on the bus or train ... and you may very well continue the entire way to your destination (even several hours hence) without being asked to show your ticket. There is no TSA-style pre-boarding security ... in fact, the busses and trains typically do not stop for very long at a station, so be ready and get on board!

Randomly, 'controllers' check passengers for tickets. For example, on the train between France and Switzerland, which requires three separate legs, we will usually see controllers on the second leg between, say, Montpelier and Lyon.

Yesterday, we had walked from the Montreaux Christmas Marche (more on that in a separate blog later) to Chillon Castle (more on that in a separate blog later) - a hike of about 3 kilometres (about 2 miles), so we decided to take the bus back to the Marche ... which is where we needed to get the train to return to Geneva.

The busses in Montreaux use a different ticket machine than the ones in Geneva, and I was having some difficulty figuring it out. I knew that in Geneva, D-L qualifies for a senior discount, so I chose the 'reduction' option for two tickets. It was about 2 francs, 60 less than full fare.

No sooner had I sat down and the local controllers - 3 of them - got on at the next bus stop. A very large controller took our tickets and started asking us for our 'proof' that we were entitled to a reduction - in French of course, which I did not understand in the least. D-L referenced her Geneva discount, but apparently that was not valid in Montreaux.

But instead of offering us the option of paying the 2,60 difference, the large controller instructed us to get off the bus with them. As we were standing at the bus stop, waiting for the next step, an older controller was pulling out a pad and preparing to write up a fine of perhaps 100 francs or more.

Then the bus driver saved us. Not sure why he had gotten off to assist, but he approached the controllers and told them they were having problems with the ticket machine.

The controller then handed our tickets back to Donna-Lane, and told us to go ahead and get back on the bus.

Moral of the story - when you ride public transportation, be sure you understand (beforehand) how to purchase a ticket, have plenty of coins in case it's a machine (bus machines sometimes don't take bills - only coins and special pre-purchased cards), and purchase your ticket as soon as you get onboard.

In case you're interested, here are some other recent times I've almost been fined or gone to jail (and not always in Europe ... so it must be me and not the locale):

http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.fr/2013/10/you-stole-what-from-where.html

http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.fr/2013/09/can-you-bail-me-out-of-jail-part-deux.html

http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.fr/2013/08/hi-honey-can-you-bail-me-out-of-jail.html

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Master of Complications



Ever since I’ve been coming to Geneva the past 4+ years, I’ve driven past (or ridden the bus past) a shop that sits on the little island in the middle of the Rhone River along the Rue du Moulins.  

The theme above the shop name declares, “Master of Complications.” And as a communications/branding professional, I always wondered what they meant by that.
 
I thought I might be able to use such a theme, but in my case it would mean one who makes simple things more complicated.
 
Looking at the displays in their windows, it wasn’t even clear what they were selling. For example, today they were displaying old-fashioned grammarphone-style record players, painted in different bright colors. (I’m pretty sure they aren’t selling retro grammarphones.)
 
Whenever we rode past the Franck Muller store, I commented to Donna-Lane that I wanted to take a photo of the sign sometime. So this afternoon, enroute to Rue de la Confederation, where D-L was going to get her new glasses adjusted, we got off the bus at the Bel-Air stop and backtracked a bit to the Muller store to snap our curiosity shots.
 
D-L suggested we ask Herr Muller, or his people, what “Master of Complications” means, and in she marched.

When I caught up with her, D-L was speaking with a nice young man, who introduced us to a very pleasant woman, who seated us at an elegant table and took the time to explain that Franck Muller is a watchmaker, and that “complications” are essentially any feature in a watch beyond the simple display of hours, minutes, and seconds. The more complications in a watch, the more difficult it is to design, create, assemble, and repair. A typical date-display chronograph may have up to 250 parts, while a particularly complex watch may have a thousand or more parts. Ultra-complicated watches – such as those by Muller, Patek Phillipe, Breguet, and Vacheron – are produced in strictly limited numbers. 

You won’t notice any prices on the Muller website (at least I couldn’t find any) – http://www.franckmuller.com/en/home/  – and if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.

The Muller saleswoman told us they have produced the wristwatch with the most complications in the world (http://professionalwatches.com/2010/01/worlds-most-complicated-wristw.html), and it’s available for only 2,700,000 Swiss francs (about US $3 million). 

I asked Donna-Lane if she’d like one for Christmas.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Boy King, Tut

Donna-Lane and I toured the exhibit, “Tutankhamun, His Tomb and Treasures,” this afternoon. 

It runs through January 12 at Geneva’s Palexpo: http://toutankhamon.ch/?lang=en.
Amazingly well presented. This was not a mere display of a few artifacts. The exhibit first provided the context, via multimedia and film, of what we would view – an outline of the Egyptian ruling dynasties of the time, so you could see where Tut fit into the lineage, as well as the background of Howard Carter, the man responsible for discovering the tomb.

Then they showed replicas of how things were in the tomb when they found them – before leading you into the display areas where the full-size artifact replicas were positioned in ways that helped you understand their significance in the Egyptian religious and burial scheme.

The signage was in both French and English. And there were audio guides, not just in multiple languages but also with versions tailored to children. (We shared the tour with a group of fourth-graders and a few senior citizens.)

Tutankhamun ruled as pharaoh in Egypt about 3000 years ago - from the time he was eight years old until his death at 19, likely from a chariot race accident.
His tomb was discovered in 1922 by Englishman Carter, who first went to the Nile at age 17. Appropriate, somehow, that a boy with a passion for Egyptology would discover the tomb of the Boy King. 

Carter’s dig was funded by The Earl of Cornarvon, who lived at Highclere Castle, which is where the British TV series – Downton Abbey – is filmed. Since we have been watching the 1st three seasons of DA on DVD, it was a nice connection. 
The person credited with opening up Egypt for such explorations was actually Napoleon. But he didn’t do it for the purpose of sharing historic treasures with the world. He wanted to control Egypt both to disrupt Britain’s connection to India and to flow trade revenues from the East and Middle East to his French empire. (Power and money – things don’t change much, do they?) 

After the exhibit and before catching the No. 10 and E busses home, we celebrated the day at a pastry café at the Aeroport, which adjoins the Palexpo centre. D-L had a decadent chocolate-on-chocolate pastry and I had, what else, a Napoleon.  (Donna-Lane's blog may have more on that soon - http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/)