Sunday, December 31, 2017

Magic





Merriman Webster defines magic as something that seems to cast a spell: enchantment
I feel leading up to Christmas I’ve been living in a magic world. The village’s main street is under construction. Huge pieces of equipment have torn up the streets leaving gaping holes.

Then as if by magic, the holes were filled and Christmas trees, logs, Père Noël’s sleigh and reindeer appeared. Shop windows had painted scenes and good wishes. Parades, music were everywhere. Buying bread or carrots was no longer an errand but an enchanting walk. It was magic.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is quieter. The chalets that sold gifts, roasted chestnuts, candles have been taken down, although the rest of the decorations are still up. Some of the summer people are coming for a winter visit and it will be good to see them.
 
The sense of magic that I've felt over the last few weeks, reminded me of the many times I felt magic, not the big things like hearing my daughter’s first cry, but the smaller things.

Magic is that moment when you know it is so special it can never be recaptured and your entire being swells with happiness.

One such moment was in Lexington with an artist friend, a special friend. We picked up the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. We took turns reading each stanza.

Another was sitting on the beach with my husband and watching the sky turn from black to stripes of pink, coloring the water and our souls.

And that is what magic does--it colors our souls.



Friday, December 29, 2017

No sense



Our car is old, 17 years. It is green which means I can always find it among all the gray, black and white cars. I love the color. It also means other people can find it easily.

In Argelès with its tiny streets we park in public lots.

Imagine our annoyance to find the driver's window smashed. They stole two neck cushions, a blanket and some change. Also our carte grise, French for registration. 

Until recently to get a new carte grise, one went to the mairie (town hall). A clerk would fill out the necessary papers in minutes.

Now it has been centralized. There is an on-line form. Three computer literate people could not make the site work for about four hours.

Back to the mairie. This time I took a friend, a mother tongue Francophone for comprehension security. The clerk said I needed to go to one of the garagistes.

The garagiste was one of the places that buys cars. The man who said he would help us was in his mid twenties, cute with a warm, warm smile. And try he did until he gave up and called his boss, who had the day off. The good man came in. 

Although I understood what they were saying, I didn't understand the technical terms. My Francophone friend was also confused at some points.

It took the two men almost two hours to get our request for the carte grise registered. They also had extra sites they could go to that weren't available to the general public. 

Voilà!!! It finally worked. Sighs of relief echoed through the small office from all four people. 

The garagiste said it would take about a month to get the official form.

The cost was 40 Euros.

We aren't alone. Seems our village, other villages and even Perpignan are under siege of some type of gang that spend their evenings smashing car windows. Most won't involve replacing carte grises because most people do not keep them in their cars. We won't either in the future.  

The problem with new system of getting originals and copies of carte grises, however is major. A newspaper article said that the system was backed up by at least 100,000 requests.  

Our little village doesn't want to post cameras. They don't seem to want to stake out where the window smashers work almost every night. 

I adore living in France and I realize that this is a cross cultural problem so a couple of head bangs against a wall, I go get some vin chaud, cheese and freshly baked bread and think of all the good things I love about being here.

My husband has a dueling blog.

http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.fr/2017/12/another-good-use-for-duct-tape.html



Sunday, December 24, 2017

Cookies

In the early 90s I was in Mannheim, Germany visiting my university student daughter and her Finnish partner. His mother had sent some spice cookies. It was all I could do not to grab the box and run back to Switzerland, but I knew that wouldn't be good for their relationship. As it turned out it wouldn't have mattered.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I discovered good spice cookies at Ikea. Sometimes when my housemate was there, she'd pick up a box.

Now no Finish boyfriend and no nearby Ikea when we are in France. Even in Switzerland it is not convenient.

Thus when my Swedish friend, a talented artist, walked in with a Santa Claus (jultomten) box filled with homemade spice cookies for our Solstice celebration, there was no debate...As much as I liked all my guests, I was keeping them for myself -- and Rick.

I am not usually selfish, but rare Scandinavian spice cookies, are so special. Guests could have anything else in the house which was filled with all kinds of savory and sweet holiday goodies, but the cookies are off limits.

I guess as a generous person, my limit is a spice cookie.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Under the bed

Our new puppy, Sherlock, was in heaven. There were tons of goodies stored under the bed.

For those that don't know me, I'm a minimalist. I see no sense in keeping anything that we might use some day. Experience taught me that if I haven't used something in a year, if I do need it, I won't remember I have it. And as for keeping things in case I have guests, well if they like me enough to come, they can use the everyday things.

The items under the bed were my beloved husband's, including suitcases. (I have only used one small carry-on size suitcase and a computer case for the past decade for trips that have included up to a month's stay. I do admit long trips in multi climates present a challenge.) My husband has begun to realize that much of what he keeps isn't necessary unless one considers making a puppy happy a reason to hang onto something.

As for the found golf glove in the lower right corner of the photo, the two of them can hassle that one out between them.

And for the things we got rid of, thank you Sherlock.



Saturday, December 16, 2017

Who cares




I get so tired of people who get their knickers in a twist about saying Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas.

There are many religions and many of them  celebrate holidays at this time of year. 

I have decided on my Facebook page, I will wish my many friends who are of a different nationalities and religions the appropriate greeting in their own languages.

Thus:
  • I will wish those whose religion I don’t know happy holidays (this includes my Arabic friends who will have time off during the period and will use it as a holiday—so many businesses close in Switzerland between Christmas eve and Jan. 2 and it is not part of the minimum 4 week guaranteed vacation).  
  • I will say Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish friends 
  • Joyeux Noël will be sent to my French friends
  •  Feliz Navidad is for my Spanish friends
  •  Frohe Weihnachten works for my German friends
  • Veselé Vánoce to my Czech, although each year they laugh at my pronunciation. 
  • And Merry Christmas of course to my Christian friends 
  • To my pagan friends I'll send Samhain, Yule and Solstice greetings. Most societies have some celebration around this time of year and the Christians borrowed from the pagan tradition for Christmas.
  • Etc.
The point is to share good wishes and to come together rather than build walls. How narrow my life would be without so many people from so many places in my life. And whatever people say to me that brings good cheer, thank you, shukran, danke, merci, gracias and and and...


Friday, December 15, 2017

Sad



I have come to the conclusion that the U.S. government is not of or by the people but against it.

Our multi-year battle against FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) both in the courts and in Congress has been useless so far.

For those that don't know what FATCA is legislation based on the goal to catch money stashed off shore to escape taxes, not a bad cause in and of itself. However, the government bullied governments all over the world to sign agreements where they must under threat of draconian fines to report every American account.

 While many of the sought of tax dodgers live in the U.S., nine million American expats do not. What the government calls "foreign" banks are their local bank down the street.

Afraid of fines that could put them out of business, banks around the world have spent millions ferreting out American customers, closing their accounts, calling their mortgages, forbidding them to invest, cancelling their credit cards--in other words making it impossible for them to have ordinary financial lives. Even insurance companies were cancelling policies. Employers were not hiring Americans who might have fiduciary responsibilities and who could not participate in the company pension plan, merely for being American.

Congress has referred to expats as tax dodgers, slave traders, drug dealers. Maybe a few are. Most are ordinary people leaving ordinary lives until they were indirectly attacked by their own government.

It is not just expats. The alleged tax reform bill will make life more difficult for ordinary people in the States.

The government sends its youth to phony wars allegedly to protect the homeland, where people are not safe from bad water, oil spills, crumbling roads and bridges, health issues, guns, food, etc. The items on the list is more apt to kill them than any terrorist, just not as directly.

Net neutrality elimination is the latest attack against ordinary Americans.

There is little doubt that congress is bought and paid for by the corporations where the bottom line overrides almost every criteria of human decency.




Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Breed

"I know what breed Sherlock is," my husband said.

We were told at the rescue center his mother was a Yorkie, his father a Griffon and many other things.

"He's a Homing Terrier?"

"A Homing Terrier?"

"I take him out to do his business, carry him around the corner and he heads straight for home."

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sherlock


Rick and I have been talking about getting a dog since we got together almost five years ago.

There were many reasons to delay including our travel. We thought we might this summer and even arranged for friends to dog sit for the almost five weeks we were in Edinburgh during autumn. They ended up with an easy sit, just the flat.

Rick has been looking at rescue sites.

Then a homeless man who has an old, old dog, with him all the time whom we give a biscuit to when we give the old man a coin, was dogless.

I asked almost afraid.

"C'est la fin," he said.

I assumed he meant the dog died.

"Do you think we should get him a dog?" Rick asked. He started looking at rescue sites which he had been looking for us all along. Later that day we saw him with the dog totally wrapped in a blanket against the Tramantane blowing at full force.

Rick kept looking at rescue sites: We found one, Mila who met all our criteria:
  • Female
  • 12-20 pounds
  • Older
  • Housebroken
We were open to many breeds, but Mila was a Griffon. Why not? We headed to the animal shelter near the airport. Despite a map we traveled up and down streets finding nothing, finally stopping at a restaurant.

"We don't have a Mila," the young woman told us.

Of course, they didn't. Mila was at a different rescue center.

"We have other small dogs," she said and mentioned a Jack Russell. I love Jack Russells for their intelligence but their energy level was more than we wanted.

"And there's Spider." She put this bundle of part Yorkie, part Griffon and part question mark in my arms.

Okay so the dog was:
  • Male
  • About six pounds 
  • Eight weeks old
  • Not housebroken
I knew it, I knew it. I knew it. It was what the French call a coupe de foudre, love at first sight. It was going to happen.

Spider was renamed Sherlock, because I have a good friend who is afraid of spiders and I don't want her uncomfortable around him if and when we are together, is now asleep right outside my office door having:
  • Eaten
  • Investigated the flat and seemed to approve
  • Drunk water
  • Played with a toy
  • Taken a nap on my husband's lap
My husband has a dueling blog at http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.fr/2017/12/wrong-place-right-mutt.html

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Icons


Johnny Halladay died last night a little after 1:00.

President Macron issued a statement about an hour later.

The rocker was 74 and had sold over 110 million records. In France you only needed to say Johnny and everyone knew who you were talking about.

Most of the major stations preempted broadcasts with the story of his life and music.

It has been suggested that there be a national day of mourning, although I doubt that will happen.

The next issue of Paris Match will be filled with photos past/present.

And the type of headlines that dramatize death that the French love so much said "France has been left an orphan by Johnny." It doesn't quite have the same emotion for a non-French, American born me as the one that said, "Arthur Miller has joined his Marilyn."

At the same time writer Jean d'Ormesson died at 90. His death was eclipsed by Johnny, although France treats many of its writers with reverence. They even have TV shows about books.

In England Christine Keeler died at 75. She was the mistress of a British Secretary of War John Profumo and caused a massive scandal. She was an icon of another kind. The British stations rehashed her life.

Neither D'Ormesson or Keeler will get the shock and tears that Halliday will get.

I wish I could think of something profound to write about the different levels of reactions to icons or near icons or even well knowns. I can't. Like all of us, they will have walked thru their lives and others and like every living creature will end their time on earth marked by various degrees of sorrow.



Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Airline meals

Flying today is no pleasure, especially the long hauls. The security lines are long and frustrating as we take things out of our suitcase to push them thru the conveyor belt and then shove them back in. Once getting patted down in Frankfort, the security guard grabbed my crotch and her name wasn't Lauer, Weinstein, etc.

Of the hundreds to trips, there are a few bright moments.

I was amused the time, security told me to take of my jacket, only to stop me when he realized I had nothing on under it except my bra.

And I wonder if the Swiss security guard ever made the American apple pie recipe I gave him when he questioned my can of Crisco being taken to Scotland because my daughter was making a typical Thanksgiving dinner for her friends.

Mostly getting onto and seated is a necessary pain if I want to get to my destination.

The pushing and shoving to get on board (what if they called all window seat holders board first, then the middle, then the aisle?) means I will step on or be stepped on, hit by or hit someone with my carryon,

When my company paid for it, I sometime had first and business class seats but no way would I pay for them myself. If I find the seats in economy tight at 5 foot one, I wonder what taller people suffer.

The one thing I love about flying is the meals. Granted they do not match a gourmet restaurant, but they are as good as anything we get in many food courts or chains. I start looking forward to them when we arrive at the airport. When I'm standing at line at security or customs, I am wondering with anticipation what the meal will be.

The attendant puts the tray in front of me. Many little dishes are tinfoil covered. If the airline does not give the menu in advance (a thrill to see), it is like opening Christmas gifts. Even if I know what the main course is, I don't know what kind of roll, salted or sweet butter, what kind of cheese, etc. Because I am a grown up, I can take a bite of the dessert before I finish my meal, even if I'm an adult or maybe because I am an adult.

The low cost, short haul airlines don't provide meals, but you can buy a sandwich, which is not that interesting. But going from Toulouse to London, Geneva to Prague is a few chapters in a book or barely a nap. I can grab a snack before boarding.

Going intercontinental is when those marvelous, silver gift trays come out with the surprises inside. It doesn't quite balance the inconveniences and the discomfort, but it helps.