Thursday, March 28, 2019


This is a dueling blog. D-L’s perspective on the topic can be found at
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” ( 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.” -

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.