Thursday, December 31, 2015

Thursdays and Tuesdays

Thursdays, lately, have been the best day of the week. Tuesdays have been the worst.

In between, on Wednesdays, Donna-Lane receives her weekly chemo treatment.

By the way, the treatments are almost done. Depending on how the doctors interpret her condition, next Wednesday could be D-L's final chemo. Fingers crossed. It would be what I'm calling a super chemo, the equivalent of 3 or 4 treatments in one - with a different chemical than she has been receiving - and will likely make her very tired for days or even weeks afterward. But it should not have the side effect she is having now of burning hands and numb fingers and toes.

The day after each chemo treatment, Thursdays, tend to be relatively good days. D-L has reasonable energy for much of the day and sometimes into Friday. That may be due in part to the slight dose of cortisone they give her with the chemo drip.

But by Friday afternoon, certainly Saturday, the cortisone is probably worn off because the fatigue catches up with her. She'll be able to sit at her computer and work for maybe an hour or so, but then she hits a wall and needs to crawl into bed and pretend to read, often falling asleep within minutes.

By Tuesday, a week after the chemo treatment and the morning we head to the hospital for the weekly blood test and oncologist consultation, Donna-Lane's energy level is at a low ebb. One time, a few weeks back, she passed out from low blood pressure and we called the paramedics. By the time they arrived, she was back in bed resting, and her vitals were sufficient so there was no need to go to the hospital. This past week, she had the severe light-headed sensation again but fortunately did not pass out.

It was good that Christmas Eve was on a Thursday. We spent a great day in Hermance strolling through the village and along the lake. Christmas morning, Friday, was pretty good too.

Now it's New Year's Eve, a Thursday, and we're hoping to spend it with friends. Maybe not as late as midnight, but that's okay. The new year will arrive whether we're awake to celebrate or not.

It's been a challenging year in several aspects. There have been positive developments - my Permis B, a new job in Geneva for someone very dear to Donna-Lane, a publication date for her new novel (Murder in Schwyz), and during treatments she managed enough energy to finish editing a non-fiction book for a former colleague. Instead of traveling around Europe, we've found joy in driving along the edge of the lake or along a ridge where we can see a panorama of the lake, the city, and the mountains beyond. 

Most important, D-L is beating the cancer ... for the second time. 

We're looking forward to a return to 'normal' in 2016, as if the two of us could ever do 'normal.' Certainly we're eager to spend more time in our other home in Argeles-sur-mer and to seeing, in person, friends we've only been able to keep up with online. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Prince of a GIft

"I have spent lots of time with grown-ups. I have seen them at close range ... which hasn't much improved my opinion of them."

Donna-Lane surprised me with a Christmas gift I had not asked for, but which encompasses such richness of meanings, perhaps more than she might have realized when she chose it.

From time to time over the past couple of years, she has pointed out some imagery or reference in popular culture as deriving from Le Petit Prince. I had never read the book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, which is the third most translated book in the world - more than 250 languages and over 140 million copies sold worldwide.

Clearly my literary education has been lacking.

The novella is an allegory; each reader will interpret it differently. To me, a key message of The Little Prince is that it is essential to look at things with your heart and not just your eyes. Your eyes may miss the hidden meaning of what's truly important, whether an unseen sheep in a box or a flower that represents friendship and love.

D-L thought I might like the book because Saint-Exupéry was an aviator, and the setting of the story is from an emergency landing in the desert.

What she may not have realized also is that, as a writer, Saint-Exupéry's work habits seem to very much parallel mine: "The French author frequently wrote at night, usually starting about 11 p.m. ... he related to his American English teacher, Adèle Breaux, that at such a time of night he felt 'free' and able to concentrate, 'writing for hours without feeling tired or sleepy.' Saint-Exupéry stated it was the only way he could work, as once he started a writing project it became an obsession."

Next time we come across a Little Prince reference, I'll have a context. Next time I am writing about aviation in the middle of the night, perhaps a little of Antoine's spirit will be with me.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Terrorist Standing Next to You

What would you do if you knew the guy standing next to you in line at McDonald's was a terrorist?

This week there was a terror alert in Switzerland, one of our two homes. At least four, maybe more, men who are believed to have connections to the terrorists who struck Paris last month were thought to be in the Geneva area, perhaps to target the United Nations offices here. Or perhaps the annual Escalade event through the streets of Old Town, commemorating the city's independence.

Two men were caught and arrested. The car they were using allegedly had traces of explosives.

Where were they apprehended? The parking lot by a McDonald's - about 2 kilometres from where we live, about 6 km east of downtown Geneva. We don't go to McDo's very often, but when we do it's usually the one in La Pallanterie.

More often, at least once a week, sometimes more, we stop for fresh bread at the boulangerie that is less than 100 metres from McDonalds.

The terrorist in the queue or brushing past you on the sidewalk or filling the van with diesel at the gas pump next to yours is not just a European phenomenon. Just ask folks in the Middle East, Africa, Mexico, California, Colorado, Oregon. (Terrorists can be old white guys or drugged up teenagers too.)

With the spectre of violent, indiscriminate attacks so possible close to home, how should we cope?

Saturday we attended a writers' workshop in a building not far from the UN. Beforehand I found myself mentally rehearsing the layout of the building, possible exits, how I/we might react if thugs in black masks with AK47s burst in while we were discussing writing techniques.

Afterward we went to lunch at a restaurant nearby, having to drive past the UN building to get there.

You cannot stop living. You cannot hide under the bedcovers and hope the boogeymen will pass you by.

But neither can you be blissfully unaware of your surroundings. It's not unlike being vigilant for criminals. You avoid places where the likelihood of danger is high. (Not just inner cities; I would not shop in a suburban Texas WalMart that allows people to openly carry weapons in the store.) You pay attention to the people around you. You don't allow your car to get boxed in with nowhere to go - whether on the Spanish highways where road pirates lurk or at a traffic light in a city. Now I tend to have my Swiss army knife on me at all times - no match for a Kalashnikov but maybe I could do some damage. Emergency numbers are pre-programmed into my phone. I've always kept my hand on my wallet as I walk in crowded places. Donna-Lane's pocketbook and my manbag have the long straps that can go over our heads, not just on one shoulder where they could easily be grabbed.

We're not paranoid, just prudent. Certainly we don't want to die, but neither do we want to simply exist and not 'live.'

I don't have all the answers to solve the global terror problem. I think if the US and its puppet friends in the UK-France-Germany stopped drone-bombing the Middle East, that'd be a start. Stop selling arms to the Saudis and other barbaric regimes. Stop the mass accumulation of wealth by the few that leaves millions in poverty and despair and serves to breed contempt ... and terror. Maybe elect a couple of honest politicians who are not in the pockets of the oil and weapons companies.

There are no more 'safe zones' - not on the grassy campus quadrangle with a homemade sign, not behind the high hedges of a gated, guarded community, not standing in line for a McFlurry. But every one of us can, and should be, more attuned to those around us.

Above all, continuez à vivre.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Pillow Talk

"Are you on Windows 10?" she asked, as we snuggled under the covers on a chilly winter morning.

"Not yet. I've downloaded it but haven't installed it yet. I may try it on the old computer first to see what it's like."

She nestled closer into my shoulder and, I forget exactly why, stumbled to use the word analysis in a sentence. "I can never remember how to spell that word." I suggested a little memory device to help.

Then a little later, she used the term paralysis. I asked her how to spell it.

She pushed back the covers, and I thought the snuggle session was about to come to an end. But instead she stretched her arms in front of her and curled her fingers as if typing on a keyboard.

She spelled the word perfectly.

Wonder if her 'air typing' used the US and Swiss keyboard?

Ain't we romantic?

Friday, December 4, 2015

Open a Bank Account - Simple, Right?

I recently received my Permis B, which entitles me to reside in Switzerland.

The next logical step is to open a bank account here. Pay the rent, buy groceries, gas for the car, maybe save a little - all those exotic things that normal people do in the local currency. In this case, the Swiss franc, or CHF.

If I were in America, I would be checking out websites, comparing fees and rates, to determine which bank (or more likely credit union) to put my money in. The choice would be mine, and the bank/credit union might even offer me a toaster or some other welcome gift for allowing them to process my financial transactions in the coming months and years.

It won't be like that in Switzerland (or any other country that is not America). Thanks to the myopic US politicians, who assume any American who chooses to live overseas is automatically considered a tax cheat until proven otherwise, I may not be able to open a simple bank account at all in the place I now call home.

Because of a US law known as FATCA, passed in 2010 but which began to be implemented just in the past year - which requires overseas banks to report the accounts of Americans to the IRS ... or face heavy fines - many banks have decided that any person connected with the US is toxic. They are summarily closing the accounts of Americans who have lived overseas for decades, and they are refusing to even consider opening a new account for US citizens.

I can't say that I blame the banks for their position. They have been bullied and blackmailed into signing agreements with the US Treasury Department because the US currently dominates the world financial transaction systems. Currently there are more than 75,000 banks around the world who have bowed down to the malevolent masters of the IRS.

So, rather than having a freedom of choice of where to do my banking, I'll be lucky if I can get ANY local bank in Switzerland to open an account for me.

We're not talking about a proverbial secret Swiss numbered account here. Double-digit thousands, not millions or billions. Just enough to get by day to day and hopefully get over to the States to see the grandkiddos once or twice a year.

My quest to open a basic personal bank account begins next week. I'll let you know how it turns out.
 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Europe (and America) at a Crossroads

I have been reading a lot of news and opinion about the Friday the 13th attack in Paris. Perhaps too much.

It is certainly a very personal tragedy for those killed, those wounded, those who survived, and their loved ones who are trying to cope with the senselessness of it all.

It is numbing to the thousands who live in the vicinity of the attack sites, including a friend of ours who frequents one of the cafes which was suicide-bombed. Will it ever be possible to walk those streets again and feel the same spirit that they loved about living in Paris?

Will we ever be able to go to Paris again, or London, or any city of significant size or symbolism in Europe without regularly looking over our shoulder, being ready  to run for our lives, even at a car backfire?

The same can be asked of cities in America. Did people in Boston ever imagine a pressure-cooker bomber would attack during the Marathon? Did soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas think one of their own would gun down dozens? Do students expect to go to school and hide under their desks from a drugged-out psychotic?

The reactions from political leaders and pundits are predictable. France's Hollande, in classic Bush-Obama fluster-bluster, wants to bomb ISIS into dust. But is it possible to eradicate radicalism the world over? Can you kill an ideology? Or do you just fuel the hatred further?

Trump thinks if some of the concert-goers in Paris were armed, they could have fired back at the gunmen. Perhaps so. Maybe fewer people would have died. But what other risks are there from pistol-packing patrons who get hopped up on heavy metal music and maybe some meth as well?

Le Pen and other right-wingers in Europe, as well as several governors in the States, are lashing out at the migrants, most of whom are trying to escape the extremist destruction of Syria and other countries. Could there be jihadists hiding among the refugees? Probably. But what do you do with the millions who have flowed into the eastern and central parts of Europe and who have no shelter ... with winter coming? Tex Cruz said the US should only allow in "Christian" Syrians. Really? Are you going to check baptismal certificates? And do they need to be notarized by a priest?

I think, too, of the Halal meat merchant in Argeles, our home in the south of France. There was word of racial slurs when he first set up shop, so we've patronized him when we can. He has a wonderful, friendly personality. Is he now suffering from the Islamophobia backlash sweeping France and other Western nations? If we continue to buy our sausages and chickens there, will we too be ostracized in the community?

Should I start carrying my Swiss Army knife wherever I go? Avoid eating at sidewalk cafes? Pass on concerts and any other crowded events? Stay off the streets at night? Maybe just hide at home for the rest of our lives and order groceries online?

I don't know if stopping the bombing of Syria and Iraq and stopping the drone killings of civilian "collateral" elsewhere will encourage ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other radicals to back off on their retaliatory strikes against innocents in the West. I think it's worth a try. Get the US, UK, France, Russia, etc. out of the Middle East and let the Shia, Sunnis, Kurds, etc. fight it out among themselves.

Surely we can't be fighting there anymore for oil. Maybe we're doing it to fuel the Western war machine which lines the wallets of defense contractor executives who in turn buy off politicians.

If we think "fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over here" is the strategy, think again. That's obviously not working anymore. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Wish I'd Known the Chateau Ruins Are Haunted Before I Crossed the Moat

It was a beautiful sunny, warm day, most unusual for mid-November in Geneva, so Donna-Lane and I headed for a walk through La Pallantrie nature preserve, which we had been talking about doing for some time.

One of the 'attractions' in the preserve is the ruin of Le château de Rouelbeau, a 13th-century fortress which lasted only a couple hundred years. It was one of the first historic sites designated by Switzerland.
 
The chateau was built in the middle of the swamps of Seymaz, and included an artificial moat.

The moat is still there, though there's almost no water in it. But D-L didn't care to navigate the moat mud and the slippery hillside leading up to the ruins, so I ventured across alone -- accompanied by Scooby Two and Shamrock, who insisted on climbing the rocks of the former entrance.
When we returned home, of course, I needed to research the site, and kept seeing headlines on Google using the term 'paranormal.' Apparently, a "lady in white" haunts the ruins on nights with a full moon. She's reported to be the first wife of Humbert de Choulex, who built the chateau/fortress in July 1318. She was rejected by the chevalier (knight), and she's hoping for his return -- summoning up the former inhabitants to live again. Swiss zombies?

The next full moon is November 25th. Anyone up for a Scooby Two and the Haunted Chateau adventure?
Is that Humbert returning?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

City or Village?

I have never lived in a city. I've mostly lived in small towns or suburbs of cities, close enough to venture into the skyscraper jungle only occasionally but not having to deal with urbanity for more than a few hours.

Donna-Lane grew up in a smallish town as well but has lived in Boston, so she has some experience in the benefits and drawbacks of true city life.

We have decided to try to find an apartment in the heart of Geneva. Granted, not a city on the scale of New York or Paris, but a city nonetheless.

I have to admit, I find the prospect exciting. I like the idea of being able to walk to most of the places we need to go: grocery, bakery, restaurants, marche. Take the bus or tram when we need to venture further afield such as the hospital (let's minimize that, if we can), writer's group meetings, concerts, museums, the airport. No need for a car, and too much hassle (and cost) to find a place to park it, not to mention the traffic -- Geneva has a spaghetti network of streets that go every which way, and usually only in one direction.

We'll leave the car, for as long as it lasts, in Argeles-sur-mer, our other home in a very small village. Which is another lifestyle I had not experienced before a couple years ago. Village life is also very walking-oriented. Everything close by.

Somewhere down the road we'll probably  choose one or the other. City or village. But for now, we're fortunate to be able to live in both. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Stress-less

Thinking you might be ill is not as bad as actually having something wrong with you, but it can be wearing on your psyche.

I went for a stress test today. Haven't had one in some years. Part of that has been moving to Europe, jumping through hoops to secure residency, and then maybe thinking about getting settled with doctors, dentists, etc. (I did take out some health insurance to cover emergencies, as Obamacare doesn't do me much good over here ... nor will Medicare, for that matter.)

Donna-Lane had noticed, a few weeks back, that I was breathing heavy after coming up the stairs. That was not new, but that it was a relatively short flight of steps was.

After that, I started to become hyper-aware of every ache my body was giving off. Did my left knee feel worse - the one I wrenched when I fell through the garage attic ceiling several years ago ... and had previously only hurt when I twisted it a certain way? Is the pain in my arm and elbow from resting it too much when at the computer, or propping it on the open window when driving, or holding too many books while reading in bed? Or all three? What about those occasional tick in my chest - just gas? The lower back pain, well, that's rather constant and varies only in intensity. Definitely too much time at the computer.

At D-L's urging, I went to see her doctor in Geneva. Tennis elbow was one diagnosis. Nothing else obviously out of kilter, but he wanted me to do the stress test and get an EKG just in case. So today was the bicycle pedaling; tomorrow is the chest x-ray.

Anticipating a stress test can itself be stressful. There's always the possibility of a problem. And then what? They wired me up, and I got on the stationary bike and began pumping. Set a pretty good pace. Not going to do the Alps in the Tour de France, but felt good. Then they increased the tension, Still good. Another increase. Maintaining the desired speed, but breathing was becoming more difficult. I pumped as long as I could before my mouth went completely dry and I didn't think I could push any further. Blood pressure had started at 11/8 and risen to 15/8 before settling back as I lay on the examination table.

To my surprise, the doctor said no anomalies in the results. The word "normal" never sounded so good.

Now maybe I can ease off noticing every twitch. And D-L can stop worrying that she'll need to schedule the rest of her chemo treatments around my heart surgery.

How is it that my physical condition is no different than yesterday ... but I feel so much better?

Monday, November 2, 2015

Getting Our Bearings ... Again

The first time you get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom in a new place can be rather disconcerting. It's not only a question of 'Where am I?' but also 'How do I stumble my way there when half asleep and the light's on the other side of the room?' (Aha! A flashlight by the bed.)

There are the basics, of course. A key to the apartment. How does the stove operate? Did we remember toothpaste and toothbrushes? A trip to the grocery store. Oh, yeah, what's the WiFi code? Probably the most essential piece of information anywhere we are.

But a few wrinkles as well: the electric outlets are all 3-round-prong Swiss, and with the exception of our new computers, most of our electronics have either 2-round-prong European or 2-square-prong American. So before I can even turn on the computer on which most of my files are stored, a trip to FNAC to pick up a couple of adapter plugs.

Hmmm. No toaster in the kitchen. And we really like toast every other day or so. Picked one up at Co-Op. Along with an electric tea kettle - tea's pretty much an everyday thing.

As we've been alternating between a couple of friend/guest-type accommodations in Switzerland, we also move clothes back and forth (and to/from our place(s) in Argeles-sur-mer, France) - so there's the unpacking and organizing of drawers and hanging stuff.

There's often a search for something, whether Switzerland or France, and the conclusion that we left it in the other country. For example, couldn't find D-L's phone in Argeles ... because she'd left it in Geneva. Still can't find the (detachable) car radio, though we did get the broken antenna repaired.

It takes Donna-Lane about an hour to get settled into a new place. She always gets right to it. Wants everything organized and neat as soon as possible. I'm usually content if I get things put away within the first three days. (She's become more tolerant of my 'transition' pile as time goes on.)

At some point, we plan to get a permanent apartment in Geneva, ideally in the Carouge or Plainpalais area of the city. Nothing very big. Enough room to sleep, eat, and both work at the same time. Walk to the grocery and restaurants. Take the bus around town. The train back and forth to Argeles. No car necessary in Geneva.

The goal is to slim down from two living places to one each in Argeles and Geneva. One set of winter clothes and one of summer in each place. Pots and pans, etc. Pictures representing memories on the wall and magnets of where we've been on the frigo door. And two sets of bed warmers - probably the second most essential item on our list, especially the next few months.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Tiramisu Under Glass


Donna-Lane and I stopped in Grenoble (site of the 1968 Winter Olympics) enroute from Argeles-sur-Mer to Geneva. It was lunchtime, and my body needed a stretch break from several hours of driving. The total trip typically takes us about 8-9 hours, depending on sightseeing stops, about 6 1/2 if we barrel straight through.

We had lunch in a very pleasant and very small bistro, Brasserie des Fleurs, located in the heart of the city, after examining the menus of several nearby eateries.

Though we were both full, we opted to split a tiramisu, and I joked before it came, "Wonder if it comes in a mason jar?"

The last time we had tiramisu was on the 2nd of our honeymoon trips to independent principalities, this one to Monaco. I had picked up some take-out around the corner from our AirBNB rental and noticed the dessert in a glass cooler. It came in mason jars and I bought two servings for 5 euros each.

The next evening, I went back for more, but this time a young woman waited on me instead of the young man the night before. She didn't like the idea of me taking the mason jars (which were perhaps worth more than the dessert), and I explained how I'd done so previously, pointing to the young man. I wasn't about to eat it there, as D-L was a block away and up four flights of steep stairs. Finally the woman agreed to sell them to me, provided I bring back the jars.

After paying the 10 euros, I turned around to leave, and the automatic glass doors weren't as quick as I was. Walked right in to them, face first. Managed to cut my nose with my glasses.

Think I returned the mason jars?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Just Follow the Tracks

I went against my better judgement. I listened to Donna-Lane on directions.

I know, I know, men are supposed to be terrible about asking for directions. But you need to understand that for at least the past 25 years, D-L has mostly taken public transportation or rode as a passenger in a car. Such experience is not necessarily conducive to being able to navigate - especially the convoluted street spaghetti system of Geneva (which is way worse than Boston).

I will concede that, one time, we were looking for an historic site, and she advised me to follow the No. 3 tram. She was right because that's how she had gotten to that site before.

This morning, we were headed to the canton offices in Onex, a part of town we rarely venture into. I had printed out the GoogleMaps directions and maps the evening before as potential reference ... though even that is tenuous because the street signs in Geneva are on the sides of buildings: small, not always visible, not always there at all.

I had a good idea how to get halfway to our destination but could have easily become confused the rest of the way. One reason we left almost two hours before my appointment to process my Permis B residence application.

Before we got to the Quai Dore and the Pont du Mont Blanc, which has been a construction bottleneck the past couple weeks, Donna-Lane suggested we turn at Eaux-Vives and parallel the Quai in order to get to the Bel Air bus/tram interchange. My gut said no, but I turned nonetheless. Weaving past the early morning delivery trucks, we arrived at Bel Air.

"Okay, you're on your own now," D-L announced.

"What do you mean?"

"Just follow the tram tracks."

Not only was I well off the map I had printed out, after just a couple of blocks the tram tracks made a wide right turn - down a street which cars are not allowed to enter! Now what?

We made a couple guess-turns until we came to an area I was familiar with - Plainpalais, a huge open park large enough for the annual circus. Found a parking spot to get out of traffic (a small miracle in itself) and started examining the maps we had available (which are not great).

Aha! We also had the TomTom GPS, and (another miracle) it had the canton office address already programmed from the previous time we visited there. Between Tom (actually Thomasina for the female Brit voice giving directions) and the street signs for Onex and Chancy, we managed to work our way to familiar territory. Arrived with time to spare, so we popped into Co-op for a pain du chocolate and tea.

On the return, actually heading for the hospital so Donna-Lane could have yet another blood test, we discovered a part of the city I had never been in with a beautiful fall view of the River Arve. (And quite close to the hospital, so perhaps a strolling destination in the future.)

Friday, October 16, 2015

86 the 5-FU

Cyclophosphamide compound
I like to know what's going on, the details, the rationale behind why something is done the way it's done. In French class, I'll often ask the derivation of a word, which I find often helps the context and helps me relate it to English root words. (Sometimes there is no context, other than "It's French!")

I thought I wanted to know the details of the chemotherapy drugs Donna-Lane is being given, the ones that are making her so lethargic about 2-3 days after the chemo session (she characterizes herself as a 'slug'). After reading a small mountain of medical jargon and laundry lists of potential side effects, I'm not so sure now that I might prefer not to know.

I'll share with you a little, but not so much to scare the shit out of you (yes, diarrhoea - Brit spelling - can be one of the side effects).

For the first three chemo treatments, spaced three weeks apart, the chemical "cocktail"is known as FEC: Flourouracil, Epirubicine, and Cyclophosphamide.

In reverse order,  Cyclophosphamide is sort of derived from mustard and works by inducing the death of certain "T cells" or T lymphocytes. When they operated on D-L, they found cancer in 10 of the 17 lymph nodes they removed. One of the possible side effects is infertility, so I guess we won't be having any children together.

Epirubicine is supposed to make cancer cell DNA "get tangled up" - that's the technical term one medical website used - so cancer cells can't divide and grow. Epi is a red liquid, so it's easy to see flowing through the IV tubing; it also makes you pee pink for a day or so. And it's the drug that makes your hair fall out, including all body hair.

Flourouracil, the 5-FU in the title, can also cause alopecia (hair loss), vomiting, the d-word, and a bunch of other stuff, including persistent hiccups (fortunately not for D-L), and mood disorders (not touching that one).

The 5-FU can also lead to "neutropenia" - in essence, an abnormally low number of white blood cells. After her 2nd treatment of FEC, Donna-Lane's white cell count was off the charts low, and she was extremely fatigued, so the oncologist decided to take her off the "F" and just use the "E" and "C" chemicals for the 3rd treatment. (We won't know how that's affected her white cell count until the middle of next week.)

After a brief break, during which we plan to go down to Argeles-sur-mer for a few days, D-L will enter the 2nd phase of chemo through Nov-Dec with yet another toxin injected into her body. Not sure of the name of that one, but I think it's made from the needles of the yew tree; we'll let yew know.

We remind ourselves this is all preventative. The doctors were confident they removed all the cancer with the operation. This 3 months of chemo, followed in Feb-Mar by 6 weeks of radiotherapy, is all just in case there's a stray cancer cell anywhere in her body. It's intended to prolong D-L's life ... but in the meantime, with low energy levels and tethered to the hospital every week, life is a struggle for her to enjoy to the fullest, as she normally does.

I invite you to read how she copes; check out her blog: http://breastisyettocome.blogspot.ch/

If you are being treated for cancer, or know someone who is, her blog (and positive attitude) may help you as well.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Exotic Soup

I was thrilled that Donna-Lane felt good enough to cook lunch, the first time in quite a few days, as she's been struggling with fatigue brought on by her chemo treatments.

She'd made a soup using a package of assorted veggies purchased yesterday at the Co-Op. I hadn't paid much attention to which veggies, though I remembered carrots being in the package.

"What's in the soup?" I asked, before scooping my first spoonful.

"Bali, carrots, celery, leek ...." she rattled off the ingredients.

"What was that again?" I'm a bit hard of hearing, though I did have my good ear pointed in her direction.

"Bali, ......."

Hmmmmm. She's been searching recipes on the internet. Must've come across a recipe for some South Pacific-themed vegetable soup.

Then I looked in the bowl. "Barley!"

"Yes," she replied in her Boston accent, in which they don't pronounce 'r's': "Bahley."

Guess there won't be a floor show of Indonesian island dancers after lunch.

By the way, I love bahley. 
D-L's dueling blog on the subject can be read at: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/2015/10/the-look.html
 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Busted!

Donna-Lane caught me cheating on her.

As we crossed paths in the hallway and kissed, she gave me a knowing look. Then we both started laughing.

She smelled the chocolate on my breath.

And I hadn't offered her any.

Neither of us said a word. I knew what she was thinking just from the look.

Not long ago, when we were in separate rooms, I broke a piece of chocolate off a larger bar. She heard the crack of chocolate.

No sneaking around on her when there's chocolate involved.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Today, Much Better

Today was an overall good day. Not perfect. But productive.

First, Donna-Lane's heart is fine. Nice young cardio doc took some scans, including showing D-L the blood flowing through her veins. No worries there. Even found a lone street parking space into which I deftly parallel parked. The karma kontinues.

Stopped for a pain au chocolate noir and tea at the cafe at Manor. D-L waited for me while I did the grocery shopping, but by the time I finished she was fatigued again and lay down as soon as we arrived home.

Fortunately, J returned from the mountains, which enabled me to drive around to Montreux (home of the famous jazz festival) for an interview with a fascinating guy who's Swiss company has come up with a radical new seat design and a customized approach to business aircraft cabins.
Drove home the other way, through Evian (home of the famous bottled spring water), so in effect I drove around the entirety of Lac Leman - 176 kilometres. Traffic was a crawl at times, but that just gave me a chance to enjoy the spectacular mountain and lake scenery. At times, I could see successive mountains, the nearest one fairly clear and dark, the next less clear and less dark, the third and fourth even lighter and hazier as in a painting.

The lake view was quite ethereal - pale blue water with streaks of navy and mottled with a hazy pinkish-white sky, which yielded to even paler blue sky. As I rounded the promontory and came through Evian, though, there was a bright yellow sun setting, flashing vivid orange ripples across the water. Over time as the sun dipped below the line of the Jura mountains, the sky and clouds above evolved into hues of salmon and ivory. (The photo does not do justice to the mood of the lake I observed.)
Returned home to find Donna-Lane feeling stronger.

Good day. Good day.

Yesterday Was a Merde Day

Pardon my French, but it was one of those rare shitty days. We don't have many. We have a lot of very good days, and quite a few in the wonderful category. But yesterday was an accumulation of frustrating, annoying, irritating crap.

Started with a trip to see Donna-Lane's oncologist. We're averaging about three trips a week to the hospital, plus occasional home nurse visits, plus weekly physical therapy. Our Peugot is almost like a driverless car and all we do is program in the destination.

D-L was feeling really drained from chemo treatments. We went to the wrong floor at first for the breast cancer centre, neglecting to check in at their reception, so back down then back up. Only to be told she needed a blood test before seeing the doctor. It wasn't on the schedule we'd been given, as were previous blood tests. Nurse said it was supposed to be automatic every time. News to us. Walk out of the building, around the corner to another building, upstairs, prick the finger, get the lollipop (the blood tests are in a children's wing), downstairs, around the corner, down the hall, up to the 2nd floor again. More tiring, unnecessary movement for my wife.

So D-L saw the doc, who wanted her to get a cardio scan in case the chemo has damaged her heart. First we'd heard of that possible side effect. Fortunately the doc got an appointment for the scan the next morning (though at 10 til 8; I'm not big on early mornings and counting the two-day conference I attended this would be three 6am wake-up calls in a row).

After discussions with the doctor about possibly changing the chemo cocktail, we left but Donna-Lane needed to check with the nurses regarding future schedule. I found a seat in the hallway (the salle d'attente was full) and tried to fix my iPad, which has been weirding out for a week. I wasn't aware, then, that D-L had gone back to see the doc because they had given the doc the wrong blood test the first time. White cell count was even lower. Not good. Now she's really fatigued.

She waits in the hospital lobby while I retrieve the car from the parking garage about 3-4 blocks over. Takes me 20-25 minutes to get back to the hospital because it's now rush hour and another hour or so to get home, even weaving our way through communes (Swiss suburbs, not hippie havens) away from the city centre.

On Facebook we learn the latest bad news about a relative in the States who has some serious health issues from a recent accident. We're concerned too about the spouse and others who are very close and anxious. We're also waiting on medical test results for another relative. And we learn that a friend in the expat community has a, hopefully temporary, medical issue serious enough to keep them offline.

As I'm cleaning up the kitchen, I rub against something rough, thinking it's dried spilled food on the stove. Closer inspection, the cooktop is cracked. No idea how it happened, and the owner of the house is in the mountains. We'll buy a new one.

We receive word that the Indiana federal judge has denied the requested preliminary injunction in D-L's lawsuit against the US government (with six other expat plaintiffs) to throw out the onerous FATCA financial information reporting scheme which is causing overseas banks to arbitrarily close the accounts of any Americans. Kinda tough to live day to day without a bank account, eh? The lawsuit will continue - somebody has to stand up and speak out against bad laws and regulations.

All of this, though, doesn't begin to stack up against what our relative is going through. Or migrants forced into barbed-wire camps like animals because they seek a better life in Europe. Or the poor people still in Syria who are being bombed daily by at least 10 different countries, reducing that beautiful country to piles of rubble.

Hope your day was better than theirs. And ours.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Time on My Hands

What to do when you've set your alarm clock wrong so you wake up, get dressed, and discover it's an hour earlier than you expected? Though it would be nice to miss most of the morning rush traffic, that means getting to the conference at least an hour, maybe closer to two hours because of no rush, before the speakers begin. Can only consume so much tea and croissants - certainly not enough to fill all that time.

Could check Facebook. That'd kill an hour ... or two ... easily.

Could read the Colin Dexter Inspector Morse novel that I'm halfway through, but it's getting to the really good part so I'd have to put it back down to leave and be wondering what happened to the murdered Swedish Maiden.

Worked a bit on my to-do list but had done that a couple days ago so only slightly different. Can cross off new watch battery; did that yesterday down at a little shop on Confederation. Another occasion when I had unexpected time on my hands.

And why is the idiom time on my hands? Why not time on my shoulders? Or does that imply more a burden and less a "freedom" to do something useful with the time?

If you say it of someone else, it's usually "too much time on his/her hands," as in they're using their time to get into some sort of mischief.

I've decided to "split my time," part to these thoughts, part to leaving a bit earlier than planned so as to miss some of the Geneva traffic grind. Wonder what time they set out the croissants?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Dear NSA

I have to assume that the US National Security Agency (NSA) has me on one of their watch lists, probably has had for some time. After all, I have been consorting for about three years now with a former American who renounced her citizenship and occasionally posts tweaky-cheeky "Dear NSA" blogs; no doubt they started monitoring our emails when I was still in Texas and she in France and Switzerland - at the time, the NSA was already tracking any electronic communication between US-based persons and anyone outside the States. Now, of course, I am also in Switzerland, once the bastion of secrecy (no longer), so what clandestine activity might they suppose I / we are up to?

Recently, as I am a freelance journalist (specializing in aviation-related subjects), I have been conducting extensive internet searches on topics at the top of the NSA's radar: Iran, Cuba, Turkey, Ukraine, Russia, China, hacking and cyber attacks, aircraft tracking, passports, wildfires, drones, military training, and, from time to time, golf. (Golf, without question, is a code word.) It seems that aviation tends to be in the middle of world economic and political activity, and of course is a prime target for terrorists. (I also get to have some fascinating conversations with world aviation leaders.)

And I tend to look up internet sources with other cryptic code words: most recently breast cancer, migrants, FATCA (a lot of FATCA).

Oh, and there's those cute dog / cat videos - with their embedded secret messages.

Just a minute ... I think I hear a knock on the door ... 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Close Shave

It wasn't quite O Henry's 'Gift of the Magi' short story - she sold her beautiful hair to buy him a chain for his watch while he was selling his watch to buy her combs for her hair - but we couldn't miss the bizarre irony that we had walked out of the Manor department store five minutes earlier after buying a hair dryer ... and now Donna-Lane was having her head shaved.

We definitely had not planned the timing of the two events. 

The hair dryer had been on our to-buy list since the last time we had been in Geneva in early August. We just hadn't yet been near a store where we might buy one, and there didn't seem to be any urgency since we towel-dry much of the time.

When we decided to go to the wig-maker today ... because D-L's hair had begun coming out (a little), now 15 days after her first chemo treatment ... we sort of expected Michel - le specialist en perruques medicales, recommend by the hospital - would take measurements, select a hair style from one of his hundreds of mannequins, match Donna-Lane's hair color, and create her custom wig over the next few days.
We didn't expect Michel was going to go ahead and shave her head today.

I like her response: her hair didn't fall off; she had it taken off. The timing was her decision.

The shaving process took a little less than two minutes. Once it started, it would have been a little difficult to change her mind, unless she wanted to try the mohawk look for a few days.

So now she's got a new 'do, which looks rather like her old 'do. Except this one has no roots to color and does not need to be trimmed periodically. So that'll save a few francs over the next several months.
Despite all she's been through since April, seeing her bald, to me, was one of the first visible confirmations of her battle with cancer. Yes, I've seen photos of lots of bald women on the internet, holding the heartwarming "last chemo" poster. But those women are not my wife. And until today, she's weathered the two surgeries, numerous shots, and a heavy dose of toxic chemicals dripped into her system with remarkable good spirits and varying degrees of fatigue.

She won't show it, at least not yet, but I think her hairless head is quite beautiful. It's a courageous head. Goes with her caring heart.

No doubt, she'll be blogging the experience, either on http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/ or http://breastisyettocome.blogspot.fr/.

Where Would You Like Me to Stick It?

One thing the doctor advised us to watch for during Donna-Lane's between-chemo-treatment weeks was that she doesn't get a fever. After all, the chemo is not only destroying potential cancer cells, it severely reduces her white blood cell count and her immune system. Ie, stay away from potential sources of bacteria, people who are sick, etc.

So I bought a thermometer.

Couldn't find one of those new digital roll-it-across-your-forehead versions, so settled for the traditional stick that they had at the pharmacy.

Alas, someone in the house picked up a contagious, short-term illness. So we decided to start taking D-L's temperature periodically as a precaution.

Opened the thermometer box. The directions were in French, German, Italian (the three official Swiss languages) and maybe one or two other languages. None of them English.

I started trying to read the French, with which I'm somewhat familiar.

"Is this for oral or rectal?" I asked her.

She lost it. Odd combination of bent-over laughter with oh-my-god facial horror.

Turns out, it could be used in either cavity. As well as under the armpit.

Next thing we need to figure out is how much is 98.6F in Centigrade?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Mouse That Snored, Part 2

Laying awake in bed last night, I recalled a somewhat strange incident earlier in the evening. When I let in the sister cats, Clea and Babette, for their evening moist meal, Clea became quite interested in S's sneakers on the floor by the door. She was pushing and pushing at them, and even stuck her snout inside, which I thought thoroughly disgusting. (Don't be rubbing that snout on my hand in the future.) I finally had to pick her up and carry her downstairs to supper - most odd, as she usually leads the parade, and even scarfs Babette's uneaten food (whether Babs is trying to eat it or not). I couldn't imagine what sneaker aroma could possibly be so interesting.

Thinking back, I now suspect our visiting baby mouse (http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.ch/2015/09/the-mouse-that-snored-part-1.html and http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/2015/09/mouse-safari-ii.html) was inside the sneaker, and from there later tip-toed into the living room while we were watching the telly.

Twice during the night I staggered downstairs to see if the cats had dismantled Mortimer. Not a chance. The first time, I found Babette casually lounging on the couch. The second time, Clea was enjoying the soft chair.

The mouse was no doubt holed up somewhere safe, hopefully having nightmares about being trapped in an old sneaker.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Mouse That Snored, Part 1

D-L will be blogging about this as well: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/.

We were watching an episode of House of Cards, Season 2, our fifth in two nights, when I noticed some movement near the chair next to the stairs. My first thought was that it was the gray swish of the tail of Clea, one of J's two cats, which we are watching for a few days in Corsier Port. I expected her to come over to the couch looking for some stroking, but she wasn't there.

I noticed another movement, but about that time S, J's younger son, was emerging from the kitchen, so I assumed the flicker in the corner of my eye was the shadow of his motion.

Shortly after he ascended the stairs, more movement - this time the distinct shape of a small gray mouse, scurrying blatantly across the carpet between us and the television and ducking between the soft chair and the end table. I warned Donna-Lane: "We have a mouse."

There was no way to get at the critter without major furniture moving, and there were plenty of places for him to hide.

"Cheese," D-L suggested, so we went into the kitchen. There were several choices in the frigo. "What kind do you think he'd like?" "I'm sure he'd like the gruyere," she said. Switzerland's finest.

I sliced off a small piece, opened the door to the winter garden, and tossed the cheese on the carpet, hoping to lure the little bugger outside.

(My insinct is to smash the thing dead. Donna-Lane doesn't like to kill living things, including bugs.)

After a few moments, I spotted Mickey padding across the length of the carpet - in the opposite direction from the winter garden and the cheese. Our luck to get a mouse with a sinus problem. He snuck under the big antique desk before I could intercept him.

For several minutes, we hovered around the desk. I saw the mouse scoot one way, then the other, but along the wall and with too many obstacles to get at him. I got the sliver of cheese and put it on the carpet with enough room around it to give me a chance to drop a towel over the unsuspecting mouse should his cheese-sniffer kick in.

Our strategy wasn't working. It was time to get the cats and let them earn their keep. (A few weeks ago, Clea brought a bird in from outside, which we rescued, though it was too injured to live. I understand Clea and her sister Babette have also had some mice conquests as well.)

The cats were outside, so we rang the bell to call them in, and shunted them into the living room instead of downstairs where they sleep during the night. "Okay, girls, do your thing."

Babette spotted the open door - the one intended for the mouse to exit - and promptly trotted back outside again. Clea, less adventurous, stayed inside.

I placed Clea in the vicinity of the desk behind which the mouse was hiding. She wandered to the other side of the room, completely unaware of the potentially tasty intruder. (Actually, my plan was to let Clea capture the mouse, then snatch it from her before she could eat it, and toss it outside to freedom.)

I picked up Clea and again placed her near the desk. She noticed the gruyere and calmly ate it.

Maybe the mouse protested because finally Clea became interested in the area around the desk. She managed to get the mouse moving back and forth but even she couldn't get an angle to put a paw on him. One by one I moved some of the obstacles.

Then Mickey made a dash around the corner and under the huge china cabinet. Clea pursued him underneath but then seemed to lose the scent. I tried poking underneath with a broom handle, but there was no detectable movement.

Eventually we went back to our program, Clea crawled up on the couch as well and tongue-bathed herself, and Mickey probably curled up in a box under the cabinet.

Rather than lock the cats downstairs, we left them access to the living room for the night, hoping they might get hungry for a Mus Muris midnight snack. We went to bed, all the bedroom and bathroom doors shut tight.

Part 2 tomorrow.