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 ch√Ęteau 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


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?