Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Musings

We're in Argéles-sur-mer for Christmas, which is where we most like to be. It's peaceful, as there are relatively few people here through the winter, mostly locals, yet enough to be festive and cheerful.

The village has really outdone itself this year with a Christmas village, street decorations, parades, an evening soirée at our favorite café ... and the best part is that it's not at all commercial. There's not a shopping mall for miles. Just local merchants, whom we patronize as much as we can, and itinerant sellers of inexpensive goods who make the rounds of the marchés in the region. There are seasonal foods such as vin chaud, roast chestnuts, foie gras, mince pies from our English baker friend, and of course the bouche noel.

We have a Christmas/Solstice tree that's one step up from a Charlie Brown model. There are no lights to untangle or find the burnt-out bulb, just hand-painted wooden memory ornaments by my stepdaughter when she was three years old. She made the needlepoint stockings in the photo as well, when she was somewhat older. We'll open the presents in the stockings tonight on Christmas Eve while watching the classic White Christmas movie and save the gifts under the tree for Christmas Morning. We don't exchange anything expensive; we have everything we could need or want (and no storage left). But the gifts have great value simply from the affection that each package represents.

Our bed is adorned with a beautiful Christmas quilt made by my mother. Another, just arrived, blankets the snore room bed. Both are cherished heirlooms. D-L calls my mother "an artist in cloth." A local retoucher is repairing a treasured family quilt made by D-L's grandmother, completed after she had lost her sight; we bought cloth for the replacement squares at the country store in the States where my mother gets her supplies -- a perfect marriage of family traditions and American and European artisans.

We think of friends who are off in the mountains, those on an island, others back in Geneva, the UK, Denmark, Austria, around France, and elsewhere, family and family of choice in the States, and of those who are no longer physically with us but live on in our spirit.

A year ago, so very different. D-L did not have the strength to travel, so we remained in Geneva as she prepared for the final rounds of chemotherapy, including a quadruple dose which almost completely sapped her energy. Yet we did take a short journey on Christmas Eve, along the lake to Hermance, which has a peninsula park extending into the water. There too, in the solitude of a Swiss winter sky, we experienced a calm and peace that together we could and were dealing with a temporary adversity.

As we arrived at our door after touring the Saturday marché, the church bell tower, just a few steps down the street, chimed 12 times. We could still hear the brass street band quintet, its members dressed as a duck, a giraffe, and who knows what else. There's snow on the distant peaks of Canigou, but not down here on the plain, which is just the way I prefer it.

There's no place like being with your life partner and best friend for the holiday.

We hope you too have a peaceful and cheerful Christmas with someone you love.  

Friday, December 9, 2016

I'm Stubborn

Okay, make that obstinate.

I don't take no for an answer easily, and I only give up on something when all options are exhausted. Especially when I sense someone trying to put obstacles in my path.

I wanted to open a bank account in Switzerland, where I am a legal resident. I knew - as an American citizen - it would be difficult at best. The FATCA law passed in 2010 and enforced beginning in 2014 has made all but the richest Americans totally toxic to banks outside the US. The threat of draconian penalties by the US government (the government that is supposed to care about my well being no matter where I choose to live - after all, they tax me no matter where I earn my money) has led banks to dump basic banking accounts of Americans and refuse to open new accounts.

I was told La Poste was perhaps the easiest Swiss bank for Americans to do business with.

If they are easy, I'd hate to experience hard.

At first, it seemed a breeze. Walked into the main La Poste office in downtown Geneva, filled out the paperwork with a nice young man, and walked away thinking I would receive my account info in the mail. (I thought it a bit odd that he wouldn't allow me to make an initial deposit.)

A few days later, I started to get a sequence of letters from the bank office that handled "foreigners." One thing they insisted on was a copy of my Swiss Permis B, my legal license for living and working in the country. When I provided it, they said there wasn't sufficient time before the expiration - I had about 5 months remaining before renewal, and they curiously required at least 6.

When my Permis B renewal came through, this time good for two years, the bank required additional documentation.

After I had furnished all that I thought was necessary, they came back with another one - I needed a Certificate of Residence, ie proof that I actually live in Switzerland, and it had to be dated within one month of sending it to them. (The certificate I had from a year ago apparently not good enough.)

One day last week I walked up to the mairie for our commune. They couldn't provide me such a certificate, unless I was Swiss. Foreigners (etrangers) had to go through the Geneva office in Onex on the other side of town. (I could have applied online, after paying a fee at a bank machine, and received the certificate in the mail, but it would not arrive in time to meet the bank's deadline.)

So today, I walked up the hill to the bus stop, took a bus and two trams to get to the communal office in Onex, got a number for the queue, waited three hours for the 60 or so people in front of me (for various services), and secured my certificate. Then another 90 minutes working my way home on the buses/trams. About 6 hours total for one lousy piece of paper.

I could have blown off the certificate and the account. After all, in the meantime, another Swiss bank had kindly opened an account for me. But I was not going to let La Poste beat me down with their flurry of obstacles. Obstinate, remember?

Let's see what happens when I send in the residence certificate.