Monday, May 26, 2014

Glasses Safari

I looked high and I looked low;

Where or where did those glasses go?

I looked in the drawers and under the bed;

Aha, found a pair! Alas, they were red.

I pulled back the bedcovers and what did I see?

A paperback novel that was sleeping with me.

I checked out the upstairs, the downstairs, the stair-stairs;

I scoured the car seats and pawed at the stuffed bears.

I searched through the closets, the linens, and books;

(Some good things to read there, or so it looks).

There, there's another pair! And, yes, they are black;

Unfortunately it's not those, the pair that you lack.

I found sunglasses, two pair, and two pair of mine.

We do this a lot, I was wont to opine.

I redoubled my efforts, looking hither, gazing yon.

I checked in the compost, and the fence it hung on.

I dug through your suitcase, once neatly folded;

(Nice undies, I thought) for which I'll be scolded.

Winter garden, laundry, shower, and frigo -

Did they grow legs and walk? And where would they go?

Watching this spectacle with growing concern,

Lady Leopard suggested I look in Lucerne.

(Hey, it rhymes.) (And it's Swiss.)

You might have expected a grand happy ending,

Something so lyrical, like music crescending.

You'd be wrong.

On this glasses safari, I failed in my quest;

And I know to you writers, this poem's not the best.

So it's back to the keyboard, to news and to features;

I've given up (for now) on finding those creatures.

When D-L comes home, we won't be surprised

If we see the black glasses in front of her eyes.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Laundry Saga, Part II, or No, I Don't Have Your Pants

Our laundry balls look like this but are blue.  
Before you read this blog, please read Part I at J's blog:
http://viewsfromeverywhere.blogspot.ch/2014/05/doubly-washed-clothes-or.html.

No, I don't have J's pants, or as she calls them, 'trousers.'

When I returned from the EBACE business aviation conference and the grocery store, I went down to the basement to put some items away in the backup refrigerator in the bomb shelter (the shelter's another story altogether - maybe D-L or J have blogged it at some point.) I noticed in the adjacent laundry room that the dryer was on '0' indicating a load of clothes was done. D-L was still home, getting ready to go to meet a friend for dinner. She was surprised when I told her the dryer was done; she didn't think it had been long enough.

So after I walked her up to the bus stop and returned to the house, I checked the clothes in the dryer. Not quite dry. So I re-started it. Then went up to the attic bedroom to take a nap - the 4-day conference was pretty tiring for someone who's most strenuous activity tends to be a walk to the beach and back or a stroll around the village in Argeles-sur-mer.

After the nap, and a little post-nap nap, I moseyed down to the basement to retrieve the dried clothes. There were a few other clothes, which I assumed were yet to be washed, in the plastic laundry basket, so I dumped them on the floor and used the basket to transport the just-dried ones upstairs. I folded the clothes in the basket and started putting them on D-L's bed when I remembered J told me a few days ago that they dump them on the guest room bed and grab from there.

There was already a pile of clothes on the guest bed. And a lot of little bits of paper. One of us had left some paper in a pocket, and the paper got washed and shredded. (Wonder who that could have been?)

I picked the bits of  paper off the bed and off the clothes, folding the ladies' stuff and taking my stuff upstairs, eventually to find its way into the closet.

Took the laundry basket back down to the basement and set it next the small pile of 'dirty' clothes.

For Part  III, you're going to need to read D-L's blog when she posts it: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Are You Listening?

Donna-Lane says I sometimes don't listen to her. She's right.

I have a marvelous ability to totally focus on one thing, which is great when I'm writing a feature article or playing a golf tournament. Athletes call it being "in the zone."

Problem is, sometimes my mind is focused on another zone when D-L is telling me something. I may hear her words, but they don't always penetrate my brain.

I also have a tendency that, if I don't expect to use certain information right away, I subconsciously defer that info (ie, forget it), figuring I can find out what I need closer to the time I need it. So for example, when we're in the car on the way to who knows where, and I ask her where we're supposed to be going, and she's a bit incredulous because she told me three times previously.

In my defence, those three previous times may have been the day before (I've slept since then, not good for retention) or a few days or even weeks before (the deferral thing). Her psyche about planning is the polar opposite of mine: she wants to get things done as soon as possible - train tickets, hotel reservations - whereas I tend to be more a just-in-time planner.

I could always default to the hearing-aid defence. My hearing is impaired in one ear. And sometimes the battery goes dead. But that wouldn't be fair; sometimes I simply don't listen well.

She does pretty good making sure she talks into my 'good ear,' and when we're walking together I try to make sure she's on my right side. But if my mind is back in the office on a project I've been working on, she could stick a megaphone against my earlobe and what she says probably won't register.

Once in a great while it works the other way. Like yesterday when I talked with her about scheduling something for today. Don't know if she heard me or not - she's been very zoned to publish the week's CUNewswire - so today when I reminded her about the proposed event, other circumstances had already superseded it.

By the way, she has blogged about the same topic, but I have no idea what she wrote (either she didn't tell me or I didn't listen, not sure which). We can all read it at http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Dinner with a Mystery Woman

Two years ago, I had dinner with a mystery woman. A redhead with the spirit to match. Petite but self-confident, comfortable with who she is.

I had known an earlier version of this woman, a quarter-century before. The hair was different, the personality more young career girl going places.

And she did, professionally and physically. When she moved to Europe, I lost touch with her until I learned she was in Geneva, at least some of the time. Fortunately, when I sent her a message that I was in the city, briefly, she was there and not at her other home several hours away in the south of France, or perhaps traveling somewhere for business or mystery novel research ... or, or, or ...

I invited her for coffee. When we met, she changed it to dinner at one of her favorite restaurants. She does that sort of thing - makes plans without asking - and she knows I'll like the new plan as well or better than the original because I trust her implicitly.

At dinner, we did our best to catch up on 50 years of life, her 25 and my 25 since we'd last talked. But there was a lot left unsaid, feelings unexpressed. She had to catch a bus; I had to pack to catch a plane.

So we of the generation which is supposed to be intimidated by all new things electronic resumed our relationship via email and Skype.

We caught up with more of each other's lives. Established a ground rule of complete openness. Expressed long-suppressed emotions.

It was never a mystery to her that I was in love with her. The heart feels these things without the words ever slipping past the lips.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Giddyup in Geneva

I love my 'ropers.' If you're from Texas, you know those are simple cowboy boots. Nothing fancy. No exotic ostrich or alligator skin. Rounded toes, not pointy. But when I first moved to Dallas 20 years ago, a guy told me the ropers would be the most comfortable thing I'd ever wear on my feet, and he was right. Ever since, I've had at least two pair of Justin ropers, and I wore them so much I'd go through the soles in about 6-8 months.

Before I moved to Europe, I 'stocked up' on ropers, since I'm never quite sure when I'll get back through Texas to buy a new pair. But with our laid-back, un-corporate lifestyle, I also don't wear them too often, so the ropers I now have will likely last at least a couple years or more.

If I should need an 'emergency' pair of ropers, I now know I can buy them in downtown Geneva, Switzerland at "Cowboy Kurt's" western wear store, which I stumbled across today while searching for the American Diner and store.

Cowboy boots, hats, shirts, jeans, belt buckles, and country/western music in sophisticated, international Geneva? I would have expected, at best, a little hole in the wall store, not much more than a front for internet ordering. But this place was large and every inch stuffed with American southwest paraphernalia.

A bit pricey, as you'd expect in Geneva, one of the most expensive cities in the world. The cheapest pair of ropers (not Justin) were nearly 400 Swiss francs (about US$450), whereas I pay a little over US$100 per pair in Dallas.

There must be a clientele in Geneva for cowboy kitsch, though, because Kurt's been in business for 25 years.

Right next door is the 50's style American diner, which I've blogged about previously, as has Donna-Lane: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/2013/11/time-and-place-warp.html.

I picked up molasses for D-L, some Hellman's lite mayo for a friend, and a package of original Chewy Chips Ahoy to fuel my late-night writing sessions. Oh, and three cans of A&W root beer - wonder if we can do our own frosty mugs?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Voltaire, Rousseau, and Donna-Lane

D-L outside her 1st home in Switzerland
I got a glimpse Saturday into why Donna-Lane loves her adopted country of Switzerland so much.

We drove out to the north side of Lac Neuchatel, a couple hours from Geneva, to Peseux and Motiers. Peseux was the town where D-L first landed a job in Switzerland, which is no easy feat for someone not from Switzerland and especially if you're from outside the European Union and need someone to sponsor a work permit. Motiers is the village where she lived during those three years when she worked at Interskill.

For those of you who don't already know, D-L had wanted to live in Europe from the time she read the Beverly Gray mystery novels (http://www.series-books.com/beverlygray/beverlygray.html) as a young girl. Beverly Gray traveled the world having adventures.
When she left the Peseux office each work day, D-L drove over the mountain and through the picturesque Val de Travers (http://www.myswitzerland.com/en-ch/val-de-travers.html) to the village of Motiers, home to probably fewer than 1000 people,  of which Donna-Lane and her two work companions may have been the only 'foreigners.'

The 20-25 minute drive is incredibly peaceful with views of the majestic Jura mountains, the deep valley, rolling pastureland where cows graze, a couple other small villages enroute. This indeed is a very different Switzerland from the international city culture of Geneva. More like the village of Argeles-sur-mer, where we live in southern France, yet even smaller.

D-L showed me the building where she had her 1st apartment in Motiers ... the streets and fields where she used to walk her two Japanese Chin dogs ... a store selling absinthe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absinthe), a highly alcoholic drink which originated in the area and was banned for many years ... a cave in a former monastery where we purchased some award-winning Mauler family champagne ... and the building "where Voltaire slept" when he visited Rousseau.
Voltaire slept here
Geneva-born Jean-Jacques Rousseau was one of the great political thinkers of the 18th century, called "
one of the most eminent enemies of hypocrisy." He promoted a society in which people are free and can have their say. For this and other views he was vilified by the ruling elite, and for a time he fled to Motiers, then part of Prussia. While in Motiers, Rousseau was reportedly visited by the French philosopher Voltaire (the pen name for François-Marie Arouet), who advocated freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and separation of church and state.

While she lived in Motiers, D-L wrote portions of her novel, Running From the Puppet Master. The lead character, Leah, lived in Motiers for a time when she was on the run from a tyrannical and politically connected husband. Donna-Lane showed me where the fictional Leah crossed the border into France on foot in her attempt to flee to freedom. 

D-L showed me as well a stream that worked its way down from the mountain and the dirt path alongside where she often walked the dogs. Near the source of the stream at the base of the mountain, there was a small waterfall where the rushing water splashed across moss-covered stones and into a shallow, crystal-clear pool. She told me how she would have a picnic on the bank of the stream, sometimes with her daughter Llara when she visited, sometimes with a friend, often with just the dogs.

During a very challenging time in her life, Donna-Lane found great peace by this simple stream in a remote and movingly beautiful part of Switzerland that few people have ever seen. She told me that this is the place where she'd like her ashes to be scattered (though not anytime soon).
High above the stream on a rocky outcrop, someone mounted a representation of the Swiss flag. So if you ever pilgrimage to Motiers to remember the great writers who are associated with the village - Rousseau, Voltaire, and D-L Nelson - the flag on the stone will confirm you're in the right place.

Taking a different route back, as we often do in our adventures, we passed beneath the Château de Joux, which dates to the 11th century as a fort, in Pontarlier, France. D-L said during WWII, the Germans used it as a base from which to launch raids into Switzerland.
As we crossed the Jura back into Switzerland and descended toward Lausanne, we were treated to spectacular views of Lac Leman and the snow-flecked Alps beyond.

Donna-Lane has been a Swiss national since 2005. It took her 15 years to earn her Swiss citizenship, and she cherishes her adopted country and nationality with a passion.

She took a chance on a little place she'd never even heard of in a country she'd never even visited. Both she and Switzerland are the better for it.

*
For a quick summary of Donna-Lane's life and career, visit our website at http://donnalaneandrick.com/Donna-Lane.html.

To learn more about D-L's novels and other writing, check out her website at http://donnalanenelson.com/D-L_Nelson_Mystery_Writer.html.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Grocery store willpower

To me, there are two purposes to grocery shopping: (1) to buy the things I need to eat between then and the next time I can get to the store, and (2) to test my willpower regarding things I like to eat but maybe don't need.

This afternoon, on the way home from a lovely lunch at a friend's home, Donna-Lane and I stopped at Manor, a combination grocery, pharmacy, and mini-department store.

By the time I searched in vain in the pharmacy for a razor and navigated the aisles to find D-L, she had collected everything she wanted and was ready to check out.

She's definitely a git-and-run shopper.

Not me.

I'm more of a look-at-everything-just-in-case-I-see-something-I'd-like-but-forgot-to-put-on-my-list shopper.

For example, I like to swing by the ice cream freezer. After checking all the brands and flavors offered, I'll settle on one of them. Then I'll walk away, telling myself I don't really need ice cream, and even if I do change my mind, I want to grab the ice cream last so it doesn't melt while I'm dawdling around the store checking out other things.

I'll do much the same with the cookie aisle. The other day, at the American store, which has only two short aisles of imported goods, the cookie display had several varieties of Chewy Chips Ahoy, but in flavors I've never tried. Had they offered the regular ones, the kind I've often shared with my grandkiddos, I'd have grabbed them in a heartbeat. But I passed, and as well skipped the Oreos, which only offered mint filling. However, after scanning all the goods on both aisles, I doubled back for one more "make sure I didn't miss something" look.

Same with potato chips. Check out the flavors. Nothing that excites me, but maybe one or two flavors I could live with. Look at the price. Nope, don't need chips.

I suppose I could not walk by the ice cream, the cookies, and the chips at all - that's a form of willpower in itself. But I like to challenge the temptation. If I resist, I feel the stronger for it. If I give in and buy the treats ... they still taste really, really good.

To compare what D-L and I tend to buy, check out her blog: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/2014/05/chocolate-is-salad.html.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Waking Up in Unfamiliar Places

Much as I love Geneva, it always takes me a couple days to get acclimated. Sort of like when you travel on business a lot, and it takes a few minutes as you start to wake up and realize what hotel in what city you're in that day.

Here, for example, I have to remember - and usually forget at least once - not to rise up out of bed too quickly ... because the top-floor ceiling is slanted and very, very low, and I'm sure to crack my head.

I should have remembered that the climate in Switzerland is still cool in May, and perhaps I should not have stored my bomber jacket in the closet in the Nest (in Argeles, about 700 kilometres away).

I need to munch any snacks sparingly, even healthy snacks like carrots and celery, because there's no green grocer within easy walking distance.

I also should try to remember to keep some Swiss francs in my wallet because they don't use Euros here. I also have to mentally calculate that the prices I see are not necessarily higher just because the numbers are bigger - there are about 1.2 Swiss francs to a Euro (about 1.4 US dollars to a Euro). Ie, the flowers I bought for 15 francs would have been about 12 Euros or 17 USD.

On the other hand, the lake is less than a two-minute walk down the hill. Manor has a really great grain bread that J introduced me to. And a wonderful crunchy muselix cereal with bits of fruit (can't get anything quite like it in France). You can get around by bus to anywhere in the city. And the chocolate is, well, it's Swiss - what else is there to say? 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Living in Two Places

Corsier Port on Lac Leman, Switzerland
We're fortunate to live in two wonderful places: the south of France and Switzerland. Well, to put it more accurately, Donna-Lane lives in two places, and she allows me to live with her in both. Or even more accurately, her housemate J allows me extended visits in Geneva.

I love both places, though Argeles-sur-mer is 'home' and Geneva is a marvelous change of pace that I get to visit regularly. D-L comes up to Geneva more often than I do, for example to do her Swiss taxes in February and in March when she and J went on a long-planned trip to Malta.

One challenge in being in Geneva for a month or so is what to bring with us. I tend to need more clothes than D-L, in part because I'm attending the EBACE business aviation conference for four days so I need to bring my 'corporate' duds. I also bring far more papers for projects I'm working on; D-L has mastered the art of putting most everything on her computer (with backups too).

This trip we drove, in part so I could bring my golf clubs. Last time in Geneva I had spotted a little 9-hole course just over the border in France. Hoping the weather will cooperate.

Having the car will also enable us to bring some copies of D-L's novel down to Argeles -- too heavy to bring very many on the train.

And we can do some research / sightseeing that is not on the train route. On the way up, the Abbey at Fontfroide. On the way back, perhaps Avignon.

When you finally arrive, of course, it takes a good half-day to get things put away, and get acclimated to working in the alternate surroundings. Another big difference is grocery shopping. In Argeles, we can walk down the street to an abundance of local butchers, bakers, and green grocers; in Geneva, it's a 10-minute ride or bus trip to the nearest supermarket. No big deal - just have to plan accordingly. (However, Geneva does have a couple of 'American' stores where we can get 'essentials' such as cheddar popcorn that are not available in French or Swiss stores.)

Now that we're settled in and bought groceries and chocolate sufficient to last a couple days, looking forward to seeing our friends in Switzerland - Geneva Writers Group, the bizav conference and other professional colleagues who live here, and and and ... 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Musical wind


We went through the Tramontane, the Mistral, and the Bise -- the strong winds of southern France, the French Alps, and Switzerland -- on the drive from Argeles-sur-mer up to Geneva. The orange-and-white wind socks along the side of the road (the same kind as they use at airports) were straight out all day.

Our poor little Peugot was frequently pushed sideways, or at least would have been if I didn't have a tight two-handed grip on the steering wheel.

But the strangest thing was the sound.

After we left the Abbey at Fontfroide (which I'm sure Donna-Lane will blog about: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/) and headed up the A9 highway above Narbonne, we started to hear strange noises. Not mechanical noises, though my first instinct was that there was something wrong with the car. More musical-style noises.

Just to be sure, I pulled into a rest stop with a gas station and popped the hood (took me about 10-15 minutes to figure out where the hood release is located - the car is new to us). All the fluids checked out, so we continued on.

More noises, actually more frequent. So awhile later, another rest stop, and added oil just to be on the safe side. The noises continued.

We were pretty sure it wasn't mechanical. There was no pattern to the noise, other than the sounds occurred in areas of the strongest winds. We took a vote, and unanimously decided the 'music' was caused by the way the wind worked its way through the car's undercarriage and grill.

About 2/3 of the way to Geneva, we ran through the first of about three brief rainstorms. After the rain, the winds calmed in that area, and, surprise, no more car 'music.'