Sunday, May 12, 2019

Marcello, Street Chess Champion of Stockholm

DUELING BLOG: Read Donna-Lane's version at http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.com/
We were on our way back to the hotel after a fascinating afternoon at the Vasamuseet, perhaps the best museum I've ever visited, focused solely on a ship that sank in the 17th century on its maiden voyage (after sailing only about 100 feet). We'd figured out what combination of buses and trams to get us back within walking distance of the hotel, and had treated ourselves to waffle cone ice creams (pistachio for D-L, cookies and café for me), when we came upon a street chess match like the ones they have in Place Neuve in Geneva.

What struck me at first was the intensity in the face of the old man who was playing the giant black pieces. His younger opponent, the one with arms crossed across his chest, was equally focused.
We became transfixed by the competition, staying at least 45 minutes, perhaps an hour, even though it became colder and started to sprinkle. We found ourselves discussing the players' strategies, sometimes suggesting (between ourselves) what moves they should make, even though neither of us has played chess in decades. (I quit when my then-three year old brother beat me in about five moves.)

As the duel progressed, a larger crowd gathered to watch, including a couple of people who could probably be classified as mentally ill. One old dude was chased away by the man playing black, but quickly returned, performing calisthenics against an electrical box. Another guy walked across the middle of the chess board and stamped his feet on one of the empty squares. The man playing black admonished a couple of young men that their talking was interrupting his conversation. (We kept our voices to a moderate whisper.)

At times, there would be two or three rapid moves in succession, the players obviously anticipating the other's move and knowing how they would respond.

The man playing white neatly lined up the pieces he had taken off the board. The man playing back tossed them at random. (Reminded me of D-L and me; you can guess which is which.)

As it got colder, I offered to Donna-Lane that we might leave, but she wanted to see the outcome. We huddled together on a park bench for warmth.

The man playing white seemed to be the aggressor, attempting to move his queen into position to capture the black king. But the man playing black was cagey, and had a spare bishop to protect his king. They seemed at an impasse, sometimes repeating a sequence of moves. It looked like neither could win. But then the man playing black began moving his lone pawn, on the far side of the board, forward, in between defensive moves, reaching the end of the board and then - with a flourish -swapping the pawn for a previously captured castle. This seemed to change the game dramatically, and his opponent suddenly acted as if he was late for a meeting and walked away with a friend.

We applauded the victory.

The man playing black came over to us and told us his name was Marcello. Said he was the champion of the city. Complained that people in the crowd would talk and smoke on his side of the game board, but not on his opponents' side. Clearly people were jealous of his success.

But he had proved once again, at least in the game we watched, that he is the Grand Master of Kungsträdgården. We walked back to the hotel in the rain, laughing at the humanity and absurdity of street theater.



Sunday, May 5, 2019

Gasping Through Airports

I knew I had booked a tight connection, only 95 minutes between flights (they recommend at least two hours), but EasyJet doesn't have many flights a day from London Gatwick to Toulouse, and I didn't want to waste the whole day getting home.

My Virgin Atlantic flight was due to arrive at 0650 from Orlando, and the EasyJet to TLS scheduled to depart at 0825.

However, in between, I had to get off the plane, go through customs, back through security, then do the duty-free slalom before reaching the North Terminal gate area. My friend, on a similar tight timeframe, was landing at South Terminal on BA and had to retrieve his checked luggage as an extra step. I had only carry-on, and my main challenge was getting the overstuffed bag past the baggage nazis.

Oh, by the way, the Virgin flight, which I would have thought might arrive early with west-east tailwinds, was 25 minutes late, slicing my available transfer time to 70 minutes max.

If I missed the flight, I would have found another way to TLS. But my pet peeve is surrendering bottled water at the security gate.

I was fortunate to be seated in the exit aisle near the stairs of the 747, so as soon as the plane landed I grabbed my suitcase and manbag and was the third person off the aircraft. I scurried as fast as my 68-year-old legs would take me, and fortunately had saved some water I could swig when I got parched.

Until I got to security of course. Where the idiot in front of me couldn't figure out how to get his digital boarding pass on his "smart"phone screen, losing precious minutes. Once through the first gate, I asked the attendant where the "fast pass" lane was, and she directed me without checking my ticket (no, I was not "premium eligible.")

Surprisingly -- no shockingly -- they did not shunt my bags aside for manual checking, as they had done when I left Orlando, and as they almost always do because of all the wires and cords which show up on the xray. But by the time I made it through the total waste of time duty-free stores, j'avais extrêmement soif, and with no time to buy another bottle of water.

Next surprise, the EasyJet flight was delayed an hour. Good news that I would make the flight. Bad news that I thought I might die in the process. Wish I had known of the delay before I nearly died of thirst and did the OJ through the airport maze.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Disconnected

This is a dueling blog. D-L’s perspective on the topic can be found at http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.com.
Some days, we go off-grid by choice. No internet, no email, no TV news.

Today was not our choice. Swisscom failed us. And I’ve been sitting here wondering what people ever did with themselves all day before Al Gore invented the WWW.

Well, there’s reading. There’s eating. There’s sex. (Has the birthrate declined since the introduction of the internet?) There’s eating. Oh, I already mentioned that.

I’m looking at my to-do list, most of which I cannot todo without an internet connection. Call the hotel in Stockholm to extend our vacation; need the internet for their phone number. Write a magazine article; need the internet for further research. Apply for media credentials to a couple of aviation events; need … Download documents sent to me; need … Put out a call for Sherlock sitters for a couple of future travel dates; need … Check out the hearing test records sent by the ear doctor – which require a network connection to access. Send a design to be made into a t-shirt so I can pick up the shirt on Friday; need … Play some mood music; yup, need that connection.

I have had limited access to email, social media, and web browsing, but only on my smartphone, and only if I go outside to get a decent signal. I had a phone call with an AP reporter who needed some leads for a story on aviation training, and I had to sit in the car to stay warm enough to make the call.

At least I know the world has not imploded. Theresa May’s world is imploding though. Rachel Maddow’s collusion delusion world is imploding. Clean air, clean water, and safe food in the US are imploding. And my buddy Alan is still keeping us informed about the latest news from Washington and Barcelona.

The TV is also out. Which means we can’t watch the Swiss “Coleurs Locales” (https://www.facebook.com/couleurslocales) programme or the 19h30 Swiss news, both of which keep us informed and help me learn French. Alas, we will also miss the ITV English dramas to which we usually fall asleep between the second and third murders. (We don’t have a DVD in the Geneva apartment.)

So we’re left with limited, but nonetheless pleasant, choices. Reading, eating, sex and eating. Not necessarily in that order. Welcome back to the 70s.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Madame Smith Goes to JC


The best memory I have of French class in high school, perhaps the only memory of the class, was the day I left early to go play in a golf tournament.

Madame Smith was not happy.

From some of the comments of my Johnson City (NY) High School classmates, Madame Mary Smith was not often happy with her students. A few of them related stories in which she kicked a student out of class, or multiple students, for not answering a question the right way.

Almost 50 years later, I’m in French class again, in Geneva, Switzerland. And our teacher hasn’t thrown anyone out of class. Nor is she likely to. Indeed, she is a very upbeat, well-informed young lady (young enough to be my daughter, whereas Madame Smith was old enough to be my grandmother – one of my classmate’s fathers had her as a teacher.)

Attempting to learn the things I never learned five decades ago (and would have forgotten anyway from disuse) has me going back to basics – nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs – grammar that I hadn’t consciously thought of for years while writing millions of words in English … plus the French twists of gender, passé compose, toniques, etc. This week, reviewing a French translation for this blog, I realized I had made an error in the document in the English! I’ll count that as progress.

Okay, the other memory of Madame Smith is that she drove a “Jheeep” from her home in the countryside, and she had attended the Sorbonne, probably France’s most famous university. (The park between the Sorbonne and the Cluny Museum is the setting for my wife’s novel, “Murder in Paris.” - https://www.amazon.com/Murder-Paris-Third-Culture-Mystery-Book-ebook/dp/B00EUGGOBE/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_1?keywords=d-l+nelson+murder+in+paris&qid=1552484507&s=books&sr=1-1-fkmrnull.)

A couple of people mentioned her bringing in French cheeses (Brie, Camembert, Roquefort), their first exposure to something other than the faux American processed spread, Velveeta.

Classmates also described apparent episodes of dementia and a final meltdown by Madame Smith in which she walked out of her class in mid-semester, never to return. This would have been after I had served my required two years to qualify for a Regents diploma, so not part of my memory bank.

She was a small woman who, shall we say, had plenty of “esprit farouche.”

***

Le meilleur souvenir que j’ai de la classe de français au secondaire, peut-être le seul souvenir de la classe, c’est le jour où je suis parti tôt pour aller jouer dans un tournoi de golf.

Mme Smith n’était pas contente.

D’après certains commentaires de mes camarades de classe de l’école secondaire Johnson City (NY), Mme Mary Smith n’était pas souvent heureuse avec ses élèves. Quelques-unes d’entre elles racontaient des histoires dans lesquelles elle expulsait un élève de la classe, ou plusieurs élèves, pour ne pas avoir répondu correctement à une question.

Près de 50 ans plus tard, je suis de nouveau en cours de français, à Genève, en Suisse. Et notre professeur n’a jeté personne hors de la classe. Elle ne le fera pas. En effet, c’est une jeune femme très optimiste et bien informée (assez jeune pour être ma fille, alors que Mme Smith était assez âgée pour être ma grand-mère – un des pères de mon camarade de classe l’avait comme enseignante.)

En tentant d’apprendre les choses que je n’ai jamais apprises il y a cinq décennies (et que j’aurais oubliées de toute façon de la désuétude), je suis revenu aux notions de base – noms, pronoms, verbes, adjectifs, adverbes – grammaire à laquelle je n’avais pas pensé consciemment depuis des années en écrivant des millions de mots en anglais… plus les rebondissements français de genre, passé compose, toniques, etc. Cette semaine, en examinant une traduction française pour ce blog, j’ai réalisé que j’avais fait une erreur dans le document en anglais! Je compterai ça comme un progrès.


Quelques personnes ont mentionné qu’elle apportait des fromages français (Brie, Camembert, Roquefort), leur première exposition à autre chose que la fausse tartinade américaine, Velveeta.

Les camarades de classe ont également décrit des épisodes apparents de démence et une dernière crise chez Mme Smith, au cours de laquelle elle a quitté sa classe en milieu de semestre, pour ne jamais revenir. Cela aurait été après que j’aie purgé mes deux années requises pour être admissible à un diplôme Régents, donc pas une partie de ma banque de mémoire.

C’était une petite femme qui, disons-le, avait beaucoup d’esprit vaincu.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

One Thing at a Time

I can't multi-task.

I do one thing at a time (and generally do that thing pretty well, whatever it is … though not always).

I can be totally focused on one thing, but not if I try to add a second thing.

For example, I can't write and listen to D-L … at least not well enough to remember everything she said. If I have put something in the oven or on the stove to cook, and I leave the kitchen for awhile, and maybe get back on  the computer … this is not a good habit. (At least in ASM we have an oven that turns itself off.)

The other day, D-L kindly brought me a cup of ice cream. I thanked her, vaguely aware that she had set it on the table near me. Then I continued to deal with whatever I was researching or composing. After a bit, when Sherlock indicated he needed to go out, I realized I had not touched the ice cream - quick, put it back in the freezer until I returned with the dog. Then eat the ice cream (and do nothing else until I finished it).

I have been blessed with the ability to be totally absorbed in something. One something. Writing an article. Hitting a golf shot. But don't bother trying to talk with me when I'm absorbed. It won't penetrate.

I have a favorite tee-shirt. So much so I bought a new one when I wore out the lettering on the first. It reads: "I live in my own little world. But it's okay, they know me here." When my daughter first saw it, her reaction was: "That is so you!"

And you guessed it. While I was writing this blog, I have no clue what else has been happening around me. But it's okay, they know me here.

(My blog triggered a dueling blog from Donna-Lane: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.com/2019/02/differences.html)

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sudden Life

I've decided to develop a 25-year plan for my life, our life. The things we'd like to do, people to spend time with, places to see, tomes to write.

Yes, such a long-term plan is audacious. Especially at nearly 68 years of age. The plan would take me to age 93 in the year 2044. (For that matter, maybe a 31-year plan to 2050 and age 99. Why not. My mother is nearly 96 and going relatively strong.)

Truth is, none of us knows if we'll have even 25 more minutes on this slowly spinning orb.

A few days ago, someone I have known many years had a stroke. In almost an instant, they went from a normally functioning person to losing motor skills and even a sense of who they are or where. They may be confined to a wheelchair for whatever is left of their life, relying on someone else to take care of them.

Living of itself is not necessarily a goal. Quality of life is important. Having a reason to crawl out of bed in the morning. Making a contribution to the societies you live in.

I am not sure I would want to have someone burdened with taking care of me daily, hourly, if I had a stroke or Alzheimer's or something equally as mentally debilitating. I might tolerate having to roll around in a wheelchair if I still had the mental faculties to be somewhat productive. Maybe even learn to play golf on wheels.

We just simply do not know whether life will continue as we know it, or take a radical turn.

When my mother was a nine-year-old girl, her Uncle, my Great Uncle, pioneering aviator Richard Bennett, was preparing to leave for an air race in Niagara Falls. He wanted a kiss good-bye, but she was too shy. He died in the race when his plane's engine exploded. When my brothers and I were growing up, my mother insisted that whenever we left the house, we gave her a kiss.

Kiss and hold the ones you love. Today. And everyday you have them.

Transitions

The transition time between the two wonderful places where we live has its share of challenges. (I know, first-world problem, right?) Which clothes to take, based on anticipated ranges of weather, including any travel while in the "other" place - for example, winter in Switzerland with perhaps a trip to Florida or Texas. Which papers to take, ie notes for writing projects, and in this timeframe bank statements, receipts, etc. for tax preparation (including a third country, the US). I know, I should scan everything and not haul paper over the mountains. Which electronics, and cords, and adapters. And don't forget the autoroute tolltag device.

Perhaps the trickiest challenge is eating up whatever's left in the refrigerator … because we turn it off when we're not going to be around for several weeks. It can lead to some creative menus. Donna-Lane used up some leftover chicken by combining it with fruits and nuts in a tasty salad (which would work well without the chicken). She also cooked a delicious soup with a gourd/pumpkin, which we had happened to transport from Geneva because we hadn't used it there.

This morning, we had no bacon for my traditional Sunday morning breakfast of bacon and eggs. "How about corned beef hash instead?" "No, that's reserved for lunch." Oops, also forgot to get crème fraiche for the scrambled eggs (itself a substitute discovery one time when I had no milk) … so I used some of the remaining whipped cream. Sweet. Oh, and tossed in some leftover cheddar cheese.

What we don't eat in the next couple of days, especially frozen potatoes, cheese, etc., we'll give to a friend in the village.

When we get to the other end of the trip, we'll start all over stocking the other frigo. And at the end of the sojourn there, repeat the process.

At one point, we almost were going to live in three places, the third being Oxford in the UK. Never quite got there. Disappointed not to have ready access to the Bodelian Library at Oxford University, but relieved we don't need a third set of clothes, papers and refrigerator.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Three in a Bed


New York. Paris a couple of times. Orlando twice. Texas. Stuttgart, Strasbourg and Neuchatel. Madrid. Lucerne. Annecy and Chamonix. We slowed down a bit on the travel in 2018; Sherlock complicates the logistics, requiring sitters, but he's worth hanging around home with. He's all energy during the day, and he's maturing enough to let him off the leash when we're well away from cars. Love the sight of him running back and forth at full speed, doing "zoomies."

The best news of the year - no major health problems for either of us. Yes, lots of aches and pains, and going back into the house 2-3 times to retrieve whatever we forgot before we go somewhere (but that's not age - always been like that).

Donna-Lane published her first non-fiction book, and it's a significant work of research. "Coat Hangers and Knitting Needles" chronicles the tragedies of abortion before Roe v Wade, and we've sent it to all the members of the Supreme Court and many Senators and Congressmen/women to remind them that making abortion illegal again will only kill women; it will no more stop it than prohibition stopped the consumption of alcohol. The timeline and bibliography alone will be great sources for students and others who explore the topic. https://www.amazon.com/Coat-Hangers-Knitting-Needles-Tragedies-ebook/dp/B07DHYJ26L/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1546505786&sr=1-1&keywords=coat+hangers+and+knitting+needles

At the moment, we're putting the finishing touches on her "Triple Decker" novel, which is about an extended family in Boston and the impact of a grandson's death in a Middle East war. She's found a new publisher, who may also produce her new "Murder in Edinburgh" (probably the last in the Annie / Third Culture Kid series) and maybe even some of her earlier novels which have gone out of print.

I played less golf during the year, but was surprisingly more productive. Our team won the IITSEC tournament, first time ever I think, though we've won the WATS scramble 3-4 times on the same course. And our team won the Scottish Cup, staged on a mountain course in the French Alps. My next quest is to buy a set of hickory-shafted clubs and begin playing in hickory tournaments around Europe, including perhaps the World Hickory Open in Edinburgh.

The Lucerne trip was to research a book I'm writing on the history of aviation in Switzerland. Long-term project, and I hope to have it translated into French and German. As far as I can tell, no one has covered the topic comprehensively, certainly not in English. The inspiration was a small monument down the road from our house outside Geneva, honouring the Dufaux Brothers, the first to fly across Lac Leman and pioneers of the tilt-rotor concept: https://www.airspacemag.com/history-of-flight/the-birthplaces-of-aviation-35726318/

We bought a new (to us) car, a silver Renault Modus, and covered it with butterfly stickers, which makes it easier to spot in a parking lot. More important, it has four doors - easier for friends to get in and out of. And air conditioning - the last trip to Geneva in the old Peugot, with no AC, we drove late at night so as not to overheat Sherlock … and at 3 am, got stopped and breathalyzed by the gendarmes (we were about the only car on the autoroute); my Coke Zero blood level was quite high. 

Had the apartment in Argèles sur Mer painted and added a wood-burning cheminee to the patio for cool spring and fall evenings.

Now it's really getting mundane.

A wonderfully unexciting year, just the three of us and the ebb and flow of hundreds of friends.

Oh, and there was the wild boar and the TGV.

Wishing you an interesting, healthy, happy 2019.