Sunday, May 21, 2017

Vote

It's Sunday in Switzerland.

Let's vote. It sometimes seem like voting happens every Sunday but in reality, it is four times a year when citizens cast their vote for initiatives and referendum.

The Swiss vote on almost everything from dog muzzles to buying airplanes for the air force. They vote to cancel out a parliament vote or they vote to tell parliament what to do.

Sometimes the votes can be as stupid as any parliament. Other times they show great wisdom. Often the Swiss German part of the country over rules Swiss Romand, the French part. They call that that the Rosti Graben, referring to the hash brown-type potato dish popular in the Swiss German section, but in reality eaten in all parts.

This time we were voting on:
1. The future energy policy of the country (Federal yes)
2. Bus rates (Cantonal yes)
3. The house of associations (Cantonal no)


Normally, I get my ballot by mail, study the pros and cons, check out what the many parties think (scares me when the far right and far left agree), and get my ballot into the mail in plenty of time.

I missed the mailing deadline. Thus at 10 a.m. when the church clock struck we were at the voting place doors when they opened. It was in the local primary school.

There was a warm greeting and I was pointed to a long table with several people siting behind it. I was told that only the blue envelope with the ballot was to go into the yellow box. The young man behind my slot checked my identity card and kept my signature card.

I dropped the ballot into the box.

"Have some breakfast," the young man said pointing to a table filled with croissants, cookies, juice, coffee and tea.

I found my husband chatting with the official greeter in French. I chatted with both of them for a few minutes, took  cookie and we left.

So civilized. I may vote in person from now on. That cookie was good.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Roads and toilets

After driving over major NY state highways and roads that should have been repaved decades ago, I really, love the A9 when I go from Geneva to Argelès. And unlike NY where the only usable restroom is a tree, the toilets are lovely whether in one of the frequent well-fitted out stops, or just a parking place with toilet, picnic tables, and play places.





Stops have a variety of restaurants, although often changes where one can get anything from MCDos to a full meal.

There places to play for kids and exercise courts. Some even have historic information.


Cleanliness is encouraged.

Stores offer basic things, souvenirs and local products.

Meanwhile in New York, leaves make good toilet paper.







Monday, May 15, 2017

Mistake

My way of shopping, is to go in and if I can't buy it in five minutes I am outta of there.

Friends I know, check out several stores, do Consumer reports, weigh each advantage and disadvantage.

I thought they might be right.

Our induction stove top, which always was emotionally challenged at the best of times, decided only two of three burners should work. The one in the Nest* is ceramic.

I decided to do the thoughtful way of shopping even though I thought that the ceramic one in the Nest had the advantage of always turning on and off something the induction one did not. There were moments I believed it wanted some kind of cooking rain dance or magical chant to cook my meal.

I went into where we buy all our appliances. I listened carefully to the clerk explain, less use of electricity and a timer on the induction. A couple of safety features were appealing if and when a small child (never has there been a small child in the flat in four years, but there might be) sounded good.

It wasn't a matter of price. And he threw in an induction stove top Italian coffee pot. Prior to that my old Italian coffee pot was useless except in The Nest's ceramic top.

I bought the induction.

The installer had a hard time with the wiring and space, not the stove top's fault. This is a 400-year-old house, although the wiring is under ten years.

He broke the dishwasher's door under the stove stop which we discovered the next time we opened the dishwasher, which although a new and a top brand name never dried properly.

My perfectly tin-lined copper pot I bought at the vide grenier will not work on the new stove top. It can go to The Nest.

It is NOT the stove top's fault that I misread which on switch button operated which burner.

This morning I discovered my favorite tiny fry pan won't work.

My goal is to have a stove top that you put a pan on with food in it, the food cooks, you shut the burner off and eat the food.

Instead, I am checking the internet to determine which magical dances, chances and herbs will make the new stove top do the same.

I am going back to my old method of shopping: in, I want, you have it, but it I buy it, if you don't I'm outta there in minutes.

It was my mistake and I'll live with it or maybe -- hmmm -- seems like every thing that goes wrong in the US is Russia's fault.

When my stove top annoys me, I will blame Putin.

*The Nest is the 18 sq. meter studio I bought for my retirement home and is perfectly set up for me. However, when I married Rick is was much too small so we rent a flat two doors down and we use the Nest as a guest room.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Dreams

Martin Luther King and I had a dream.

His were based on a just world.

Mine?

Not so much.

Last night I dreamed in French, in itself not strange. If I watch a French program, read a book in French or spend the evening more in French than English before going to bed, I will most likely dream in French.

Yesterday was almost totally an Anglo day after a long café sit in the sun with Brit and American friends.

My French had been limited to a quick chat with one of the marché merchants. Then I spent a good part of the day in English working on my new project Coat Hangars and Knitting Needles and reading a American detective story for work breaks. I watched an episode of West Wing, season 1 with my husband.

In my dream three French-speaking males were seated around a table, much like in a police station. Two other men came speaking another language. I did not recognize the language. It did not have the music of Oriental languages, the gutturals of Germanic tongues, but seemed more Slavic.

I woke before figuring anything out.

Maybe subconsciously I speak that strange, unknown language.

Or not.






Saturday, May 13, 2017

Lunch in two cultures

SWITZERLAND THEN

In my Swiss life, luncheons with friends of my then partner were formal affairs, often planned weeks if not months in advance. We dressed up to at least business casual standards.

Six to eight people were in attendance and each time someone new came in, they shook hands on did the three-cheek lip kiss. People were on time making the shaking and kissing a bit chaotic. Most had been friends since childhood. I was the new kid on the block.

As guests, we would bring wine, chocolates or flowers.

An Apèro was always served in the living with small nibblies.

After an appropriate time we moved to the dining room to a table that would not have been out of place in any life style magazine with linen, crystal and silver. I never went to a luncheon (or dinner) where there wasn't a beautiful knife holder to protect the table cloths.


Never was I served a bad meal. Imaginative courses included:
  • Appropriate wines for each course. Often the bottle was dusty, signifying the bottle had come from the host's wine cellar
  • Salad
  • Main dish and multiple vegetables
  • A minimum of three cheeses, often local
  • Dessert
  • Coffee or tea 
  • Digestive after lunch drink
Conversation  was lively. In the beginning until my French improved, the guests spoke more slowly, but as I became more fluent, the speed increased. In general, thank goodness, the Swiss speak French more slowly than the French. I learned a lot about local politics but any topic was trotted out.

They were often surprised that I was familiar with Swiss/French popular and classical cultures as well. Between being a writer and despite being American, my intellectual level was accepted.

My partner had schooled me on Swiss manners which differed from those my New England grandmother had drilled into me.
  • I waited for everybody to be served before beginning to eat.
  • I murmured "bon appetit" before food grazed my lips as did the others.
  • I waited for my host to offer the toast, chinked my glass with everybody at the table and looked into each person's eyes before drinking.
  • I kept my wrists on the table (a punishable offense as a child), but never my elbows. 
  • My hands were NEVER in my lap.
  • I said, s'il vous plaît and merci.
  • A knife never touched my French bread and I tore it with the best of them. I did not expect butter.
  • I used my left hand for the fork and the right for my knife to push food onto my fork. This I love. It makes it easier to eat.
  • I cut any cheese served as a wheel, cut from the center into slices much like cutting a pie.
  • When I finished, I put my knife and fork parallel to one another on my plate to indicate I was finished. And I never left anything on the plate, taking only what I could eat. Many hosts would keep heaping food on my plate and filling my wine glass, and I needed to be quick to not eat or drink too much and demur politely. See number six with the word, non before it.
We would leave shortly afterward, making sure that I had shaken or cheek-kissed every other guest. Within two day I wrote and mailed a formal thank you note, making sure it was personal by mentioning something special. I needed my French checked.

FRANCE NOW


It is my day to cook and I am just about to stop writing to prepare when Rick says, "Will Facebooked me and wants to have lunch in the sun."

A quick exchange of emails and we amble down the street to meet him and his partner at La Noisette which has a new sign.

We do a double-cheek kiss, although I am now the only Swiss in this anglophone group. "I hope you don't mind," she says, "I included Robin."

Wonderful. I haven't seen her since I returned from our latest trip and I see her hustling down the street.

We are all dressed casually.

Anna, the waitress, takes our orders.

Our conversation has to do with my trip to Congress, Brexit, chairs (Will has almost a museum and is an expert), our writing, tennis, golf.

It is casual and heart-warming and impromptu.

The life styles are so different--not better or worse--just different. I am happy to experience both.

One difference--the food was/is good in both.





Friday, May 12, 2017

The battle continues

FATCA is the agreement that the US has bullied countries into accepting where banks/insurance companies/investment house are required to report American accounts to the US government which fears that people are hiding money. 

Also affected is any business where an American can sign off on a bank account and any organization. If an American is married to a foreigner the non-American spouse's info is also reported to the IRS. 

Failure for the banks/insurance companies/investment house means huge fines and the possibility of being shut out of the international banking system.

Banks and employers have a solution. Don't do business with American expats and that includes accidental Americans (people who had the misfortune to be born in the US and leave as babies/children or those born of an American parent overseas whether or not they have any continuing connection to the US. They are hunted down.) 

This leaves a potential 8.7 million expats with no way to bank, have mortgages, save for retirement. Employers have no way to pay them. Not all the bad things have happened yet, but each day more and more expats are being caught up in this law

Countries have been told to change their privacy law and they've caved.

In Canada a lawsuit was thrown out. The 30th is when a US judge will decide whether to issue an injunction against the end of the month injunction on FATCA, but the US said they will delay the formalities if the countries demand it.

It is a bad law. I am not going to go into the fact that the US and Eritrea are the countries that have Citizen Based Taxation and for CBT the Eritrean ambassador was thrown out of Canada and the UN has condemned the practice for the African country. Well, okay I just did go into.

More important it hurts Americans who live outside the US borders making ordinary financial lives impossible.

Unless something is done, it will get worse before it gets better.
 

Tea

The knock on the door would be gentle. "You awake?"

I would be having a sleepover with my Indian friends. We might have had our own Bollywood Film Festival, a good meal and definitely good conversation.

"Yes."

"May I come in?"


"Yes."

My host, still in his PJs, would open the door. In his hands would be a cup of tea. What a way to gentle myself the day no matter if I had early or late obligations.

Having been single for decades, I reveled in it.

One of my Brit friends told about her start of the day with her husband bringing her tea in bed each morning. Although I was beyond happily single, a modicum of jealousy snuck in. I wanted the morning tea BUT not the husband.

Life is full of surprises.

A man from my past came into my life and made a very happy life even happier than I ever thought possible.

I never mentioned cups of tea, but now, every morning, a cup of tea and often a chocolate covered biscuit appears on my night table. Sometimes, I might still be asleep, or reading a chapter before getting up, but that cup of tea holds the promise of a "wicked" (Bostonian English for wonderful) day ahead.




Thursday, May 11, 2017

Aquarium

I am being punished by the universe for being smug about jet lag.

Two weeks ago we flew from Toulouse to Washington D.C. I hit the ground running without feeling jet lag including:
  • Having dinner with the Anti-FATCA team.
  • Visiting with six congressmen to convince them they should repeal FATCA
  • A congressional hearing on unintended consequences of FATCA
  • A press conference
  • A date with my husband at a German restaurant where the accordionist played Morgan for me
  • Amtrak to Boston
  • An afternoon wandering around Boston with a good friend I see too little of
  • Getting a new cat with my daughter (for her not me)
  • A week of solid work on a new book
  • Getting my nails done
  • Quality time with my beloved daughter
  • Watching Handmaid's Tale 
  • Eating a huge lobster at Legal Seafood
  • Taking an emotional tour of a city that I love but will probably never see again
I had conquered jet lag.

I was all powerful.

I was Wonder Woman.

On Sunday we flew home making our connector flight from Paris with seconds to spare and a two hour+ drive to Argelès where I slept part of the way. Good thing Rick was driving.

Jet lag then hit big time.

Trying to do simple tasks like walk and talk, order from a menu has become a major chore never mind I sleep when I should and stay awake when I should sleep.

I did have a moment of respite when I had a cup of espresso at l'Hostalet. However, I still feel like I'm walking thru the bottom of an aquarium.

And I can't swim.