Monday, July 9, 2018

We've been De-Matriculated and Kbis-ed into Oblivion

Trying to get a replacement for our stolen automobile registration in France has to be about the 3rd most frustrating experience of the past several years.

The new online "carte gris" system is totally bolloxed. (I'm trying to be polite here in mixed company. What I really want to do is scream obscenities en français at the top of my lungs.)

It's been since December … now into early July … that we have been without an official registration since ours was stolen when the driver's window was smashed by some a** or a**es who did likewise to more than a dozen cars in the village.

It so happens that was the week the French government decided to take a very functional process -- go to the local mairie, make your request, give them your tampon (company stamp), and off you happily go. They launched the online system with virtually no warning and no training, turned it over to 3rd-party vendors, and immediately there was a 100,000 backlog. Car dealers trying to sell new and used cars were especially livid. I can imagine their blood pressure now that the backlog is about 300,000.

The vendor we are dealing with allegedly lost our paperwork after the initial wait of 3-4 months. So we had to repeat the process.

They called yesterday, and said they need a different piece of documentation for the business, what's know as a Kbis. So we copied the Kbis from when the business was initiated in 2013, and drove in the 90-degree F heat (no AC in the car) to the vendor. Oh, no, they said, the document has to be current within the last two years.

Back home, ordering the updated Kbis via the web took only three tries. Seriously, the bank needs to provide an authorization code for a €4.62 transaction?

In other downbeat motoring news, on 1 July the French reduced the speed limit on secondary roads (without centre barriers) from 90 kph - about 55 mph - to 80 kph, or about 50 … and drivers are irate. Appears to be mostly an extra revenue grab, as France has installed thousands of highway speed cameras and even provides private contractors with speed guns to shoot their fellow motorists.

Maybe we'll take the train more … wait, are they on strike today?

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Who Rides a Bicycle Into a Lake?

Were they drunk? Was it a prank gone bad? (Sorry, dude, I didn't realize it was so deep.)(Or ... Désolé, mec, je ne me suis pas rendu compte que c'était si profond.)

The bicycle was perhaps the most interesting discovery from the bottom of Lac Leman, as 1,200 volunteers (including me) did a "Grand Nettoyage" cleanup effort. It takes place every two years at locations all around the huge lake.

As I was walking along the shoreline, which is  reinforced with huge stones, picking up the detritus of piggish,  inconsiderate people, I wondered - are the bad people of the world balanced out by the good people? Probably not. Tomorrow, cigarette butts, plastic bottles, and sandwich wrappers will likely be back.

There were 40 of us at the Colony Tour-Carrée spot, which is opposite what D-L and I have taken to calling the "ghost barge."
The early morning looked ominous. A thunder and lightning storm over the Jura appeared headed right for us. And a large body of water is not the best place to be when lightning bolts are crackling. But the storm shifted to the west, and we ended up with only a few sprinkles here and there.
The stars of the effort were the plongeurs, the scuba divers, who scoured the bottom of the lake, bringing up the bike, a pile of glass bottles and plastic, and assorted other metals. I was surprised how many of the divers were young women.
We were all given bright yellow-green safety vests so cars and cyclists wouldn't run us over, or perhaps so they'd see us better if we fell off the rocks into the water. And, if we wanted, a "grabber" tool - which went a long way to saving my back from constantly bending over.

I chose to work in Group 4 along the Quai de Cologny, from the rather unpretentious Yacht Club de Genève to Genève-Plage. I opted to search for poubelle on the lake-side of the retaining wall, where the rocks were slippery at times, but it was the best way to reach anything that had been tossed over the wall.
This is a photo of my bucket filled the first time. After they emptied the contents into a wheelbarrow, I nearly filled it a second time as well.

I picked up:
* Beer bottles and cans, as well as bottle tops
* A corkscrew / bottle opener
* Energy drink can
* Pieces of glass
* A rod which might anchor a boat to the rocks
* Food wrappers, yoghurt cups, plastic bottles
* Pieces of a balloon
* Ribbons
* A toilet-paper holder type wire
* The emblem from a Fiat 500 series hubcap
* A small pile of coins - a 2-euro, 1-euro, two 10-centime euros, a 10-centime Swiss franc, and a 5-centime franc (perhaps a frontalier with a hole in their pocket?)
* A chicken bone
* Cigarette cartons
* And perhaps 200-300 cigarette butts
I am amazed at the inability of people to toss something in a garbage can which is no more than two feet from a bench. The majority of butts I picked up - with the grabber - were lying around the permanent wastebaskets along the quai.

Once in awhile, I paused to enjoy the views: the cruise ships that carry tourists up and down the lake, skiers, paddlesurfers, cyclists, joggers, airplanes landing across the way, the Jet d'Eau ...
Communication was in Franglais. Did what I could in French, but often when folks hear my accent they switch to English.

By the way, there was less trash in and alongside the lake than I would have expected. And, as we have repeatedly observed, Lac Leman (aka Lake Geneva) is one of the cleanest lakes I have ever seen.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Hog Heaven

Fat and Happy
This is a dueling blog - see Donna-Lane's view at http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.fr/2018/05/pigs.html.

There were piggy banks. Thousands of them. Stuffed toy pigs (a pyramid of). Pig figurines. Pig art. Pig advertising. Pig porn (makin' bacon). Flying pigs. In all, about 48,000 piggy thingys.

We had our choice of museums in Stuttgart: natural history, modern art, Porsche or Mercedes-Benz, a Zeiss planetarium (where we stopped for directions). We choose the uber-kitschy Schweinemuseum (https://www.stuttgart-tourist.de/en/a-pig-museum).


You might call it the third in our offbeat museum slumming, after the sex museum in Prague and the prostitution museum in Amsterdam.

Cuddle piggies
The concept of all things pig was conceived 30 years ago by passionate collector Erika Wilhelmer, whose orange hair we spotted in an anteroom when we paid our 5,90 Euros entrance fee. As the collection grew, it found a home in - irony - an old slaughterhouse, and is now the world's largest pig museum (there are others in Linn, Missouri, population 1459 - but they do have a golf course nearby; another near Seoul, Korea, complete with live, hurdle-jumping oinksters, costs extra to see sausage-making; and a Bay of Pigs museum in Miami, but I don't think that's quite the same topic).

Yes, there's a restaurant at the museum, and yes, they serve all manner of pork. We had desserts.

World's Largest Piggy Bank?
Getting there was half the adventure. Googlemaps recommended we take the U-Bahn train from the Staatsgalerie station near our hotel to the Schlachthof station, then a short walk to the museum. The Staatsgalerie was supposed to be near the planetarium; however, they've ripped the former park area apart for a construction project. So we turned around at the planetarium, tried to detour around it, and were advised to just go back to the Hauptbahnhof main station.
Once-beautiful park is gone
Having established a pattern, we are now searching for more oddball museums to visit (preferably in Europe). Suggestions?
In the restaurant, be sure to look up

Friday, April 27, 2018

Not Every Day in Paradise is Perfect

Today was most frustrating throughout. Though we did accomplish a couple of things despite.

First, after a couple years of being on a waiting list for an apartment in a new complex in Switzerland, we received a notice of the unit sizes and prices. There are three that are quite small, though larger than D-L's Nest in Argéles sur Mer, and priced under 1,000 CHF, including parking. Donna-Lane emailed for an appointment on one of the two days they are interviewing, though it will require us to alter our travel plans. They asked her to call, and when she indicated we were two adults and a dog they said no, the units we desired are too small for the three of us. Alas, all the larger units are more than 2,000 CHF, much more than we care to pay.

Next, I was trying to research mobile phone providers. Our bank has a quirky system such that they send an SMS code when I try to make an online purchase. Except the code never gets to me because I have a Swiss phone and their system only takes +33 French country code phones. Therefore, I need a French phone.

Websites kept dropping out on me, or wouldn't come up, because our WiFi has been running incredibly slow since it was restored (after more than a week out of service). Couldn't find an email address or phone number to call for help online - only endless FAQs. Finally, I tweeted and facebooked to SFR Assistance, and amazingly got a response. Even more amazing, the tech tweaked our system twice, and the second time the speeds more than doubled to the approx 12 Mbps we're supposed to be getting. Alas, that's the limit, as there is no fiber optic service in the village yet.

As I was checking the options for SFR mobile phones, the international dialing page suddenly switched from one showing 30 Euros a month to one showing 45 Euros a month. Did they switch prices in the middle of my search? That's something the airlines tend to do.

So we decided to go to the SFR store in Perpignan and deal in person. Long story short, we got two new mobile phones, paid much more for the phones than what I'd expected, but at least we have French phones and will be able to connect with each other if the WiFi is down.

We also managed to get the type of flea/tick/mosquito collar recommended by our vet ... in the next town, as none of the local pharmacies seem to carry that brand. Sherlock is not thrilled. But at least he's safe, especially when he bounces through the long grass along the river.

Monday, April 16, 2018

#FlightFromHell, Part 1

Yes, I do my own stunts
I am not sure what possessed me to throw my suitcase over the rail, then jump after it - from a moving escalator. Maybe I've been reading too many spy and mystery thriller novels. (The phrase, "It seemed like a good idea at the time" comes to mind.)

I was desperately trying to catch a connecting flight at Orly Airport -  Paris' "other" airport - a place I've never been before (and never will again ... they no doubt have me on at least three different videocams). After exiting my arriving flight from Toulouse - which was more than an hour late - I had come to a stairs/escalator choice - going up. Too many people on the escalator, so I hoofed it up the stairs, huffing and puffing from carrying my bag, which was mostly electronics and papers, When I got into Hall 1, another stairs/escalator combination, this time going down. At this point I was not seeing any more "Flight Connections" signs, but I spotted one that read "Transfers." The escalator was relatively empty, so I figured I could both ride and walk down, getting there faster.

To my horror, the escalator was going down 2 levels! I only wanted to go down 1 level to the main concourse area. Realizing the escalator was the wrong choice and would take way too much time to go all the way down then find a way back up, I looked for escape. I had ridden down too far to try to walk back up - against the flow of people coming down the escalator.

That's when I noticed I was nearing the bottom of the adjacent stairs, the concourse level I wanted. Hasty decision time. Hoisted the suitcase over the rail, and it clattered to the floor, startling several people nearby. Then over the rail I followed - in rather ungainly fashion (hey, I'll be 67 this week - not exactly James Bond, or even Jackie Chan). I landed, got up, grabbed the suitcase, and searched for someone who could direct me to Gate 31E.

Getting directions, I raced down the shopping corridor, OJ style, only to be delayed slightly at customs and a security scan checkpoint. Had a heck of a time trying to get my boots back on - they're new and not broken in yet.

I had been led to believe that Air France would "hold" the JFK flight for me (and perhaps others on the flight from Toulouse). I was misled. When I arrived at 31E, out of breath and parched, the gate attendant matter of factly told me the boarding was closed. Couldn't get on. Her sympathy was underwhelming. When I told her they indicated, on my incoming flight, that they would hold the JFK connection, she acted like I must be nuts to even think such a thing.

Resisting the urge to swear at the top of my lungs and throw a tantrum that would get me arrested, I went in search of someone who could get me re-booked quickly on another flight to the States.

Long story short, Air France has only one flight a day to JFK (or anywhere in the States, for that matter) and flights from the alternative, Charles de Gaulle, were all overbooked, in part because of the rolling strikes this spring by disgruntled AF employees. My only option was to stay overnight in Paris and take the next flight from Orly to JFK - the same one I missed, only a day later.

Oh, they lost my bag too.

 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

How old was he?

Why is it that when you mention the news that a famous person, or even a not-so-famous person, has died, the most common response is, "How old was he?" Or she?

Maybe that's just the response of seniors like me and many of my friends. Are we silently comparing the longevity of the just-deceased with our own? Oh, he was only 62; I've already outlived him. Hmm, he died at 67; I'm going to be 67 later this month. Or, he was 77; I've got a good 10 years before then.

We also compare our current age with the age at which our parents died. My dad was 90. My mother is nearly 95 and still going strong. Those are encouraging numbers.

When we hear of someone who has lived to be 100 or more, it inspires hope. We think that maybe, maybe we'll live that long. Of course, it's also a question of quality of life in those later years. One of my favorite lines is from French Smith's character in the alien sitcom "Third Rock from the Sun"; told that smoking would take 10 years off his life, he responded, "Yeah, but those are lousy years anyway."

A huge factor in quality of life is the people in your life. Without certain of them, the quality severely diminishes.

Health and mentally stimulating interests are factors too. People who become couch potatoes when they retire tend to die sooner than those who remain active.

I admire people who live full lives right up to the day they die. I admire people like our friend who went to India just for the experience, even though doctors told her not to fly so soon after a major operation. I also think about our friend Barbara, whom I was privileged to know for a little while, who told a joke to her doctor then died instantly where she sat - we'd all like to go that quickly and painlessly, I think.

I don't know how many years, or days, I have left. Or which of our loved ones and friends will precede us. No one does. 

The chart suggests, as a non-smoker, I should live another 17 years. D-L another 14. But actuaries are averages, not forecasts. They don't take into account genetics or lifestyle (such as my plans to do a parachute jump) or even the will to keep living. Will alone won't keep you alive, but if it did I plan to be around for a long time.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Balls

Dueling blog: D-L's view can be found at: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.fr/2018/04/castration.html
Nutz. Bollocks. Testicules.

Whatever they're called, Sherlock's are gone.

Our male puppy is now a eunuch.

Part of the contract with the rescue centre where we got him in December is that we would have him neutered. Donna-Lane didn't want to do it to him. When the rescue vet told her it was obligatoire, her instinct was to grab the dog and run. Would they come after us? After all, they know where we live.

Certainly there was no point in breeding him. He's a melange, a mix, a mutt. One of a kind. And they certainly don't need more dogs at the rescue centre; there are far too many who cannot find a home and just end up being put to sleep.

He was pretty groggy when we picked him up after the operation. His expression said, "What the hell did you do to me?"

He's been paying us back by peeing in the house ... rather frequently.

Going into the operation, I had two concerns. One is that he will chew his stitches. So we bought one of those plastic cones to go around his head. Except it's too big and he pulls it off rather easily. My other worry was that something would go wrong with the operation and he'd never wake up from the anesthetic. That's not something you voice in advance, but it is a possibility whenever a living thing goes under the surgeon's knife.

After being home for a day, he has been steadily gaining energy and appetite. I'm hoping the castration will dampen his aggression/enthusiasm a bit, especially when he encounters other dogs or children.

Next week we expect to start sessions with a trainer who goes by the name "Psychodog." Despite the name, I don't expect Sherlock to go nuts.  Those are gone for good.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Pajamas Diplomacy

One of our favorite times of the day is early morning, after the dog has been walked, when we crawl back into the heated bed and solve the world's problems by expressing likes, laughs, and anger on Facebook and posting our opinions on social media.

It's the modern version of reading the morning newspaper. Except we get to read stories from around the world, some well written and documented, others disjointed and pure hyperbole. NYT, WSJ, WaPo, smaller town papers from around the US, the British press, French and Swiss journals, German, RT, Al Jazeera, the Intercept, Common Dreams, China Post, India Times, Australia, economic publications, aviation magazines, tekkie journals, and of course the oftentimes breathless commentary of friends who range from the almost far right to the almost far left of the political spectrum.

We love it when friends from one era of our lives connect with friends from another era, even if one is conservative, the other liberal, and it's a textual joust.

We're amused when someone leaps to the erroneous conclusion that we support some politician or other because we dared to question the veracity of an online story about them ... when our only purpose was to question the veracity. Even more amused when one person thinks we support one candidate and someone else thinks we support their opponent - when, in fact, we support neither. (That veracity thing again.)

I particularly like to play devil's advocate, stir the pot, as they say, and chuckle at the vitriol that follows. (Did those of you who attack me or my views personally realize you are merely providing entertainment?)

Unfortunately, our words and images on social media probably won't change the world. They may, however, drive Zuck's Facebook algorithms crazy, which is some solace.

Then, when we get out of bed each day, we try to take some concrete action to make the world a bit better in ways that we can.

Oh, I almost forgot. Love animal videos. Snippets of sanity in the media maelstrom.

See you online.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Devil(s) Made Me Do It

Hillary Clinton believes she lost the 2016 presidential election because white men told their wives to vote for Donald Trump. Those devils. Really, Hill? It was a vast white whinge conspiracy? If I tried to tell my wife to vote for anyone, much less Trump, she'd probably stuff me in a ballot box.

Others believe Putin did it. Name a problem in America or Western Europe - election meddling, hacks of DNC emails, poisoned double agents, dirty water in Flint, murders in Baltimore, dogs dying on airplanes (oh, wait, that was United), snow in Scotland ... well, pretty much everything is Putin's fault.

Now there's a story that the election was manipulated by Steve Bannon and his Cambridge Analytics associates, who borrowed data from Facebook to - gasp - target messages to American demographic groups and individuals based on their social media personality profiles.

This is shocking? That the American people are being manipulated?

Advertisers have been manipulating the minds of consumers for years. Now, thanks to Mark Zuckerberger and friends, who freely sell the information you provide to them for nothing, the manipulation is more sophisticated, perhaps a little more subtle. But manipulation nonetheless.

Your vote - ie, your "purchase" of a candidate for office - is just another target of consumer marketing. The candidates' manipulators use every means possible - TV, print, social media, and disinformation spread by the media ... and through your own word of mouth in the office or among friends.

What I find more insidious is the manipulation of events, groups, and people. Infiltration of otherwise peaceful groups by thugs paid to incite violence and bring disrepute on the group. It might be a conservative group or liberal. From BlackLivesMatter to the current students against guns movement. The thugs may be hired by George Soros, Charles Koch or the government. The ultimate aim is to create a news narrative that promotes one agenda or discredits another, and the underlying objective of that narrative is to get you to vote for or against a candidate or party. (I would not be surprised if the spy poisoning was not done by the British government as a means of shifting attention from their Brexit dilemma to their convenient Russian bogeyman.)

I doubt the manipulation tsunami has truly changed many minds. That really only comes from analyzing all the knowable facts of a situation ... not just jumping to an hysterical conclusion based on the first fact-thin manipulative story in the media.

What the pervasive social media era manipulation has done, I think, is ramp up the polarization. Amped up the anger. Solidified people in whatever belief they previously held.

Yes, Putin did it. And Trump's people. And Hillary's people. And the Koch Bros. and Soros and Adelson and ... it's no longer may the best man (or woman) win; it's may the best manipulator win. And when we believe their twisted messages, we all lose.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Easy Pleasy

DUELING BLOG - Read D-L's at http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.fr/2018/03/poubelle.html/
My wife has mellowed a bit in the five years we've been together. She's keen on neatness and order, but she has come to tolerate my penchant for, shall we say, controlled chaos. I prefer order, too, but with me it's more irregular.

Such as yesterday. At the end of the day, all was in order in the apartment. But during the day, wanting to sort through my clothes - so I could take some of them to the donation bin - I brought down four suitcases of stuff from The Nest (D-L's studio apartment around the corner) and emptied all the clothes onto the bed. Plus the clothes from my closet. Plus summer clothes that had been stored under the bed.

Donna-Lane went into her office and closed the door for much of the day. She was allegedly working on her German pronunciation.  (Either that, or cursing me out in three languages.)

Not really. She knows by now that I (almost never) leave the place in a mess overnight. And that my disorder is (usually) a pathway to order.

So now my closet is ready for spring and summer (with a couple winter things, just in case). Most of the winter stuff is under the bed. There's a suitcase packed for Geneva. And there's a bag ready for donation. I even got rid of a couple of clunky radiators and some old satellite boxes in The Nest.

But the real message of this brief blog is that two days ago, I bought something for my wife which made her ecstatically happy. Not a diamond necklace. Not a gold bracelet. Not the $45-million business jet she's been hinting she'd like.

I bought a $10 waste basket for the car. Yeah, she likes order there too. No food wrappers and soda bottles on the floor when we travel. For awhile we had a plastic bag for trash, but I guess I trashed that at some point. So she wanted a more permanent solution. Thus, the gray bucket - complete with flip top - you see pictured on the hood (or bonnet, if you prefer).

This is not the first discussion we've had about trash bins. We used to have one under the sink, which our landlady had rigged to open when the door was opened. But it was tough to empty and clean, and it took up valuable space. I acquiesed on that one, but managed to save it elsewhere for glass recycle bottles.

And my open-top bin by my desk - for paper recycle - has been replaced with a flip top ... because Sherlock kept stealing the paper and shredding it all over the place.

Now that the trash problem's solved, there's only one point of disagreement between us. (Wouldn't you like to know.)

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Shoveling S***

DUELING BLOGS with D-L and J - http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/2018/03/snow-day.html and http://viewsfromeverywhere.blogspot.ch/2018/03/snow-day-in-switzerland.html

To me, snow is a four-letter word.

1. You can't play golf in the snow. 2. You can't drive in the snow. 3. The only way to get rid of it is to shovel or wait until Spring. (Oh, wait, yesterday was the first day of meteorological spring - https://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/whats-the-difference-between-meteorological-and-astronomical-spring/70000979.)

Arriving late by train from Paris the night before, and with sparse wifi connections, I was not aware that a storm was expected. D-L was too sleepy groggy to warn me that the white stuff was coming. I hadn't even bothered to put the tarp over the car because I figured any windshield frost would melt before we needed to leave for our lunch appointment.

Quelle surprise! I woke to a blanket of white about 4-6 inches deep and rising.

Of course the dog needed to go out.

Sherlock loved it. I think he thought he was at the beach and the snow was the sand he loves to dig in and burrow his nose under. At times he hopped around like a rabbit, nipping at the chunks of snow he kicked up.

He stayed out much longer than I would have preferred. Every ... time  ... during ... the ... entire ... day. (By the way, kids, don't eat yellow snow.)

Our lunch was cancelled, and we weren't going anywhere, so we decided to chill and make it a real "snow day."

Of course, I can't be idle for long, so I bundled up and went looking for a shovel. The landlord's car was gone, and the gate was open, so I thought perhaps they used a plowing service to come and clear the driveway. Nonetheless, I found an old small pushbroom in a shed and used that to brush the snow off our Peugot. The broom didn't work as well on the ground, so back to the shed where I found a rake. That worked better, but not entirely as the snow was too deep.

I wandered out to another shed off the front yard, found an old broom lying next to it ... then the motherlode inside - an actual shovel, and a sturdy one at that.

D-L expressed the opinion that, at my age, I shouldn't be shoveling snow at all. She had read something that said men over 50 should refrain from the strain - http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/shovelling-snow-heart-attacks-cardiac-arrest-research-bmj-deaths-winter-a8103166.html

It took me about four sessions to almost completely clear the driveway and the steps leading to our garden apartment. Judicious rest in between.

I'm glad I did, though. After a mild thaw through the day and the cold air returning overnight, the snow would have been impenetrable ice today. And we do have to go out on some errands.

I must admit, the crystal stillness of the day was beautiful. The airport was closed, so no aircraft engine noise reverberating across the lake. Almost no traffic on the roads. You could distinctly head individual birds trilling. The conversations of people walking by. And when Sherlock and I stepped out for his Noon romp, the church bells rang and rang as clearly as if we were standing next to the bell tower.

I'll still be glad when it melts.  

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Polite Conversation

Donna-Lane and I almost always have lunch together, at least when we're in the same place. It's an important time for us because it ensures we have an opportunity - during an otherwise busy day when we're both running in different directions - just to talk.

Our conversations range across a wide gamut - social engagements upcoming (in which I try to keep mental track of friends of hers I've met, or maybe not yet met), travel plans and travel dreams (such as our next honeymoon trip), writing projects, things that need to be done around the house, Facebook videos of cats we've laughed at, and of course politics and world affairs and our ongoing crusade against FATCA, CBT and the USG.

In the past two months, we've added several new topics of conversation: for example, the relative moistness of the crap Sherlock just took (too hard, is he constipated?: too runny, what are we giving him that's different?). When was the last time he peed, how much (D-L sometimes counts), which pole he chose, and whether he left some extra "pee-mail" messages for other neighborhood dogs to sniff. What do we need to have in the car in case he vomits on the long drive to Geneva.

We might warn each other that there's a fresh pile of shit on rue Vermeille, and it's approximate location. This is especially helpful to know for the one who has night dooty duty. (Yes, there is sometimes doggy-do on the streets of Argèles sur Mer; not every owner is conscientious - especially if their dog has diarrhea. Fortunately, the village public works comes through periodically with a power washer.)

We talk the walk, ie shouldn't we take Sherlock for a long walk/run to drain some of his excess energy so he's more likely to sleep for an extended period when he's back home. (So we can work in peace, of course.)

And we describe any encounters with other dogs - the snarling bulldogs to avoid, the friendlier pups that might be playmates. (The other day, Sherlock had a play-date with a Jack Russell terrier in an enclosed garden - they had a great time, and Sherlock was wonderfully exhausted the rest of the day.)

Yes, we still discuss all the other things that catch our interest in the villages where we live and the world around us. Let's just say Sherlock has added a few juicy new topics to our agenda.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Channeling My Dad

"Oh, for crying out loud!"

I had spilled some moccachino (coffee, chocolate, whipped cream) down the front of my shirt ... a fairly long drizzle in fact ... as we sat in the back room of La Noisette on  busy marché day.

As I wiped up the spill, I wondered briefly, where did that phrase come from? I had uttered it reflexively, almost automatically.

Of course, I realized. That's something my Dad used to say regularly. It was his way of cursing, in a sense, because he never mouthed a profanity. And when one of his five boys would use a euphemism such as "jeepers creepers," he would let us know this was unacceptable as well, borderline blasphemous.

Today, across most age groups, though it seems especially with younger people, vulgarity seems more the rule than the exception. And not just for something they don't like. Even positive comments are sprinkled with F**, S**, A**, and similar. The re-invigorated gun control movement is popularizing the phrase "We Call B*S*."

My two cents, I think profanity and vulgarity tend to diminish the message, whatever the message. It also diminishes the messenger. It's lazy language. Be a little more creative. If you want people to help carry your banner, come up with something everyone can say without cringing.

Unlike my Dad, I am not a saint when it comes to cursing. Used sparingly, though, I think it has more effect for its rarity.

The same goes for temper. If we are constantly outraged at every issue, major or minor, every day, how does someone else distinguish what is important to you? Choose your battles. And choose your words well to fight those battles.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Freedom (and Responsibility) of the Press

I started my career writing for an independent daily newspaper (the Binghamton NY Sun-Bulletin), and those days remain among my favorite time. I loved the atmosphere of the reporters' "bullpen" with writers covering politics and government, police and courts, sports and business. There was an adrenaline rush to chase the story and pull it together in time for the daily deadline. It was an era when there was a competing newspaper in town -- the despised Gannett corporate-owned Binghamton Press (for whom I would also later work - the summer they merged with the S-B).

I loved the underdog spirit of the Sun-Bulletin, the camaraderie in the newsroom. And I especially loved the printing process: working with the page makeup guys who set the lead type into the forms ... we had to be able to read upside down and backwards in order to tell them where to cut a story that ran too long. We joked that our motto was similar to the New York Times, "All the News That Fits We Print." Then the page forms would be converted into huge curved printing plates and mounted on the giant presses. When all the pages were in place, they'd push a button and the rolls of paper would whirr through the complex machine, spilling out completed and folded newspapers at the other end.

Donna-Lane and I went to see the "Pentagon Papers" movie today, and the scenes of the Washington Post newsroom, the linotype operators, and the triumph of printing an important story evoked wonderful memories for both of us. (She has a dueling blog at http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.fr/2018/02/pentagon-papers.html)

This year marks 50 years since I started my professional communications career (at age 17) and 60 since she started hers in Reading MA (at age 16).

The crux of the movie, though, was about press freedom -- whether a newspaper had a constitutional right to print information from leaked classified documents. Daniel Ellsberg, initially vilified as a traitor, came to be regarded as a brave hero for exposing the US government's decades of lies -- starting with Truman, through Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon -- about the war in Vietnam. Because of those lies, tens of thousands of American boys and Vietnamese died for nothing.
One dynamic that the movie brought out was the coziness, especially between Washington journalists and politicians. They all like to party together. So oftentimes important stories get ignored because otherwise the invitations will stop coming.

If the movie is accurate, Post Editor Ben Bradlee took the difficult but necessary position that the story should be published, the truth should be made available, against threats of jail and ruin. A somewhat shakier Katherine Graham, who inherited the newspaper from her father and husband, also made the right decision despite the contrary pressure of her male-only board who seemed only interested in their financial interests, not in freedom of the press and certainly not in the best interests of the country.

I'm afraid as I look around today, there are very few courageous journalists who are willing to write the truth and damn the consequences. Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras come to mind - the ones whom Edward Snowden sought out when he revealed the sinister inner workings of the NSA.

Most editors and journalists today seem more focused on pushing an agenda, whether right or left, and they ignore any evidence that does not support their viewpoint and trumpet the flimsiest of unnamed source innuendo that will help sell papers or generate clicks.

We hear a lot about "fake news," and it's certainly out there. But that does not justify the moves being taken by Facebook, Google, and others to stifle those voices with which they disagree. If we are only spoon-fed the news the government or the megamedia corporations want us to hear, then it's all essentially fake and biased.

I am predisposed to be cynical about almost anything I read or here, regardless of source. I am especially annoyed when reading so-called news which offers no hard facts to support the sensationalized headline. Time permitting, I will call out such journalistic weakness on social media ... and some of you will presume in such a challenge that I am opposed to or supportive of the person about whom the baseless allegations are made. Nothing to do with that person - I just despise shoddy journalism.

Even though we knew the outcome, the Supreme Court decision in favor of a free press was an emotional moment in the movie. Maybe it almost brought me to tears because of the nostalgia for a time when some press still had backbone.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Scotland and Hickories, the Essence of Golf

My borrowed “set” of hickories for playing Musselburgh Links.


The first few shots I hit with hickory-shafted clubs, I was afraid I might break them. Plus, the grips, what was left of them, were slippery. So I eased off my normal swing.

On the first hole, for comparison, I hit a modern ball, as well as the circa-19th century gutta percha the pro shop had provided me with. Not much difference in feel actually.

I nearly lost the gutty on the first shot at Musselburgh Links (http://www.musselburgholdlinks.co.uk/) – aka Old Musselburgh, the oldest golf course in the world (Mary, Queen of Scots, is reputed to have played the layout in 1567). My half-swing with a somewhat-battered brassie started low and caught the high rough preceding the fairway. I didn’t realize how high the grass was until I started looking, and I was in a panic over losing the antique ball. I couldn’t bear the humiliation of going back and asking for another … not after only one swing. With relief, after 3-4 minutes, I found the ball and proceeded up the fairway, picking up my “provisional” Titleist along the way.

It was a cool, damp morning, as were most during the month we spent in Scotland. I hadn’t been out in the week since playing the Old Course at St. Andrews, and I was excited when I learned Old Musselburgh offered a hickory option. I love the history of the game, and I’m also one of those who thinks today’s equipment is destroying the classic courses (while still appreciating that, as a senior, I can still hit a drive as far as I did when a teenager). At 2,971 yards, from the tips, it would seem sacrilegious to overpower Musselburgh with modern clubs.

Old Musselburgh hosted The Open Championship six times between 1873 and 1889 in rotation with Prestwick and St. Andrews. Musselburgh native Willie Park Jr. won the ’89 version in a 36-hole playoff with Andrew Kirkaldy, and Park still holds the record for the nine-hole layout with a 2-under-par 32.

The course is situated mostly within the oval of the Musselburgh Racecourse, and on days when the horses are running golfers must let the steeds and riders pass before playing the 1st, 4th and 6th holes which cross the track.

When I arrived around sunrise on an early October morning, there was no one else on the course. But by the time I reached the second tee, a local gent, also a senior, caught up and asked if he could join me. I was delighted.

As I gained confidence with the hickories, I started using my usual swing – though still holding tight to the grips. I moved the ball back in my stance a bit to catch it early, as I’d learned from St. Andrews’ hard-packed, sand-based fairways. I managed to hit quite a few good shots, and even figured out what distances I was getting with the three clubs: brassie, niblick and mashie niblick. No birdies – almost on the shortish (479 yards) par-5 7th hole – but enough pars to satisfy. And no more nearly lost balls; I hit most tee shots in the fairway.

I was hooked. I had noticed some news about the World Hickory Open, held the week before at Kilspindie golf course in nearby Aberlady. I found the Society of Hickory Golfers website (https://www.hickorygolfers.com/) and discovered that there are hickory aficionados not only in Scotland and the US but in Switzerland and France, the two places where we live.

I’ve always been a competitive player, but have not entered a tournament since moving to Europe five years ago. Hickory, to me, seems an opportunity to satisfy my competitive urge while reveling in my passion for golf history and travel.

I’m now searching for a set of clubs and any events I can reasonably get to. Hope to see some of you soon.