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.