Thursday, September 14, 2017

Just Leave Me at a Bookstore

One of the experiences I am looking forward to by being in Edinburgh, Scotland for a month is exploring the bookstores. https://www.buzzfeed.com/chelseypippin/edinburgh-has-the-best-bookshops?utm_term=.ai6JkY2GN#.mnXGPvbR1.

In our small village in the south of France, there are no English-language bookstores (though the neighborhood bistro has a leave one / take one shelf where other anglophones offload a few titles, and there's a similar irregular setup on the nearby street started by one of our neighbors). The formal second-hand English bookshop with hundreds of titles disappeared a couple years ago with the passing of our dear friend, Barbara.

In Geneva, there's Payot, which has a good selection mostly of fiction, but it's down in the city, expensive, and we don't get there perhaps once every 3-4 months. Another option is the English Library, of which we are members; their annual used book sale is fantastic - if we happen to be in town at the time.

My daughter mentioned to me she had been in Barnes & Noble in Frisco, Texas, recently, a place I would spend hours perusing the shelves - the new titles, the magazines, history, fiction. It also helped there was a Starbucks inside ... or my favorite place, the easy chairs downstairs by the technology and sports sections.

I also loved Half-Price Books with its musty paper smell and titles that you could no longer find elsewhere.

Yes, I know, we're in the age of Amazon and Kindle, and I do download books there from time to time. But those are mostly "backup" books, something to read when I don't have a worth-reading paperback on hand. I love holding a real book, turning the pages, breaking the spine so the pages will lie more flat, bending the corner of a page to mark my place.

There are few pleasures that exceed lying in bed or sitting on the couch late at night with a well-written whodunit.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Tunnels of Life

On the drive from Geneva through Lausanne, Bern, and Basel to Colmar, France, then back via Biel/Bienne and Neuchatel, we must have passed through about 50 tunnels.

The Swiss love tunnels. There are 1,329 of them in the country, according to the Swiss Tunnel Database (https://www.swisstunnel.ch/en/tunnelling-switzerland/tunnel-database/). The longest, of course, at 57 km (35 miles), also the longest and deepest in the world, is the new Gothard Base Tunnel, a rail trail from Erstfield to Bodio. It took 17 years to build the 153,500 metres (503,608 feet) of tunnels, shafts and passages.

The tunnels we went through were long, short, curved, and sloped up and down. Kind of like the tunnels in life.

The problem when we enter a tunnel in life, a dark period, is that we don't know how long it will last, nor what we will find when we get to the end. If we get to the end. 

At times on our trip, we would exit one tunnel only to immediately enter another. And sometimes another. At one point there were five in succession in less than 2 km.

The Swiss tunnels are generally well lit, so are not as intimidating as some of the dark, dank tunnels we've been in elsewhere. They are even well marked, showing the direction to the nearest (pedestrian) emergency exit.

Quite often, as we emerged from a tunnel, we were greeted with some spectacular oooh-ahhh scenery. (A lot of that in Switzerland.)

In my life, there have been multiple tunnels - job losses, for example. Times when I didn't know when the next job might come, what it might pay, even where it might require me to be. Not knowing in the meantime whether we could keep the house, the car, or even have something decent to eat. Through most of my life, I had confidence that the jobless tunnel would end, that I would surely find the next decent position, and it often turned out the new role was ultimately better than the one I'd left. But as I got older, recognizing the age discrimination of many companies, I became less sure of the future.

Others have gone, or are going through, longer and darker tunnels than have I - the prolonged illness and eventual loss of loved ones is perhaps the worst. I've done the prolonged illness part but thankfully not the loss. I can only imagine the pain that someone suffers; it must seem like tunnel after tunnel with rare glimpses of light.

The tunnel metaphor appears frequently in literature, music, film. Swiss author Friedrich Durrenmatt's short story "The Tunnel," depicts a student who boards his usual train to the university, except the small tunnel doesn't end ... 10 minutes, 15, 20. The other passengers are blissfully calm, but the conductor is evasive, and the student learns there is no engineer in the locomotive. The story ends with the word, "Nothing," a possible commentary on the ignorance of society in the face of imminent disaster. (It was written 65 years ago.)

Or perhaps you prefer to think of movie scenes in which a train enters a tunnel just as a couple burrow beneath the sheets. We are left to our own imagination what happens in the tunnel (at least in older films). Hitch's ending in "North By Northwest" is one of the better ones: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPt-4Nwght0.

Tunnels are inevitable in life. Let's hope yours are mostly like the Noirvaux in Neuchatel (15 metres, or about 50 feet - built in 1843), and that the scenery on the other side lifts your spirits for the rest of your journey.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Nocturnalism


I am often up not only late at night but into the wee hours of the morning. It seems that's the time I write best. I can immerse myself fully in the material without phone calls or email interruptions.

During the cadence of the writing process, I occasionally take a mental break and check Facebook or the Drudge Report for news on the latest terrorist attack or political scandal.

The diversions I enjoy most, though, are messaging exchanges with my daughter or friends in the States or Canada. They're six or seven hours behind me in Europe, so when it's 2 am for me it is only 7 pm for them in Texas. I might be sitting at my desk in Geneva or Argèles sur Mer, wearing headphones as I transcribe an interview, and I'll hear a telltale 'ping' that a social media message has come in. I usually pause at the next logical stopping point, read the message, and respond. (It's my nature that if I don't respond immediately, I will get absorbed in something else and possibly completely forget about the message.)

The middle of the night exchanges reminded me of a syndicated program that used to be on the radio station where I worked in the early 70s - http://www.nightsoundsradio.org/. Bill Pearce had the most mellow voice I've ever heard, something of a white Barry White, and the program's theme song - Claude Debussy's "Beau Soir" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mkl4kR40D8) - would almost put you to sleep, as Pearce played it for a full minute before speaking a word. Nightsounds came on very late (I checked the radio station website, and they still play it at 1030pm), and I was usually alone in the station on top of a mountain outside Syracuse NY. It was also the time of night when I, as DJ, was supposed to be playing music that had a deliberately slower pace ... though once in a while I'd slip in something upbeat (usually prompting an irate call from the chief engineer).

The sonorous Pearce died several years ago, but lives on of course in syndication. He was also an accomplished trombonist, beginning at age 10 mimicking Sousa marches and Tommy Dorsey, later playing in Marine Corp bands. ("You Needed Me" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZd9ghZV1LU). He had to give that up in the mid-90s with the onset of Parkinson's disease.

Whatever you think of Pearce's religious views, he could certainly play and he certainly had the voice of a confidant of we who are confirmed nocturnalists.

Un conseil d'être heureux semble sortir des choses.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

I Would Be Rejected By Donald Trump's Immigration Criteria

I'm not a Nobel Prize winner.

I'm not an Olympic medal winner.

I'm over 50, and I do not plan to invest at least $1.8 million (in foreign currency) in the U.S.

So Donald Trump doesn't want me in his America.

Under current White House occupant Trump's proposed RAISE Act "merit-based" immigration system, I can't muster the minimum 30 points needed to even begin the application to move to the States. Not even close. I only get 20 points - 12 points for English fluency (well, it is my native language) and 8 points for a Master's degree from a U.S. university. Oops, just noticed, the degree has to be in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. That drops me back to only 12 points total.

Some of the criteria are ludicrous.

For example, a Nobel Prize is not quite good enough by itself - only 25 points. Barack Obama gets to apply, though: 25 for the NP and 12 for English fluency.

And 15 points if you've won an Olympic medal in the past eight years? What, for the gold content of the medallion? Or so Trump can have his photo taken with you? What does winning an Olympic sports event possibly have to do with the merits of immigration and responsible citizenship?

The "meritocracy" also perpetuates the myth that a U.S. university education is inherently better than a degree from a foreign university - an extra point for the American bachelor's and master's and three bonus points for a doctorate. (Note: only three of the top 10 engineering universities in the world are in the U.S. - the others are in the UK, Switzerland, Singapore and China - https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings-articles/university-subject-rankings/top-engineering-schools-2017.)

At 50-plus years of age, I get zero points toward the minimum, even though Trump himself is five years older than me at 71. (Maybe he shouldn't be allowed in the country. After all, his ability in English is sadly lacking - maybe not even a "moderate" rating of six points.)

Donnie, since I don't live in the US, and I clearly don't qualify to ever be admitted (even if I came up with that $1.8M), can you please stop requiring me to pay taxes?

If you want to see if you qualify to apply to be allowed into Donald Trump's America, take the quick quiz here:
http://time.com/4887574/trump-raise-act-immigration/

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Dress Codes

This is a dueling blog. Donna-Lane's version can be found at: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.fr/2017/05/preplanning.html.

Years ago, I read the popular book, Dress For Success, by John Molloy. I see he now has a companion book for women, as well as a blog - http://www.thedressforsuccesscolumn.com/.

I don't read any of them. Don't need to. I'm pretty much out of that corpo-rat race, except when I speak at or attend a conference. For such occasions I still keep a suit in Geneva, another in Argèles sur Mer, a blazer and slacks at each, a couple of dress shirts, and a few ties, most of which have some sentimental value. The biggest decision I have to make for such events is whether to trim my hair ... a little ... so as to not be mistaken for homeless. (I prefer Bohemian.)

The one piece of advice I remember from Molloy's book was to not wear a green suit, so I never have.

Green pants, yes, on the golf course. Green shirts, too, with Masters logos. Though not at the same time. I'd look like the spokescartoon for Green Giant veggies.

Donna-Lane will tell you she plans her wardrobe well in advance. That she doesn't get out of bed without knowing what she's going to wear - including underwear and earrings.

My approach, once I'm out of bed, is to grab some clothes to throw on the couch just before I take my shower. That's about as advance planning as I get. Sometimes I wait until after the shower to choose.

My decision tree starts with ... is it warm enough for a tee-shirt? If so, what tee-shirt is on the top of the stack? Is it big enough to hide my belly? If not, go to the 2nd shirt in the stack. If it's too cool for a tee, segue to the golf shirts or something warmer. If it's really warm, shorts instead of jeans and sandals instead of sneakers. As a bonus, I can wear the same tee-shirt to bed that night. Or nothing.

I have started to build a small collection of French language tee-shirts so I'm less anglo when walking around France and Switzerland. But I'm never giving up the now-threadbare WHWK "The Hawk" radio station shirt I've had since the 80s.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Kool Aid and Bubbles

Years ago I read an article that talked about the "circles" people lived in -- the circle of the immediate family, the circle of co-workers, the circle of social friends, and so forth -- and how these circles intersected where there were common interests.

It doesn't seem that people's circles intersect much anymore.

With the increasing incivility brought about by political differences, the widening inequality gap, religious wars, and other polarizing influences, most people now live in isolated bubbles, echo chambers, talking only with those with whom they agree, drinking the ideological kool-aid and not bothering to listen to anyone with a contrary viewpoint.

Inside the bubbles, the pontifications of anonymous bloggers or blowhard pundits are eagerly embraced, even though they may not offer a shred of hard evidence or attribution to a source willing to be named.

Democrats and other liberals are so desperate to understand the astonishing collapse of Clinton, for example, they are willing to embrace and cling to the phantasm that Putin must have done it. Surely there can be no other explanation, and no tenuous alleged link to alleged link to Russians shall be discounted. If it wasn't the Russians, they'd have to face the reality that Hillary was a terrible candidate who ran a pathetic "it's my turn" campaign.

Every day as there is a new outrage from the White House, they sign petitions, and boycott, and march. And get ever more frustrated to the point of spontaneous combustion.

In the other bubble, the Trumpsters seem willing to ignore the vileness, the obvious ignorance and incoherence, and the unsubtle schema to further enrich the wealthy, the Donald first among them, by manipulating the government to their own ends.

For those of us who occasionally attempt to referee by playing devil's advocate, requesting hard facts and credible sources, we are readily assumed to favor the other bubble. When in fact we favor neither.

Having been involved in political campaigns and having recently met with several people in office and their minions, I have no illusions. There are no civil servants, at least not among elected officials, who are interested one whit in the lives of regular people. They are all out to "win," ie get re-elected time and again, and that requires sucking up to those who fund their campaigns. They "win" by destroying the opposition, and oftentimes the opposition blithely provides the ammunition for their own demise.

I have zero faith in Crooked Trump or Crooked McConnell or Crooked Ryan. Nor in Crooked Hillary, Crooked Schumer, or Crooked Pelosi. Or for that matter, in Crooked Macron or Crooked May or Crooked Merkel.

Yeah, I / we have taken on the government in selective battles. Key word, selective. I only have so much energy. I prefer to focus it where I think it can do the most good for those I care about. Not going to waste time on rants about things I have little or no power to change. That approach eats at the soul.

Pardon me, though, if I attempt to burst your bubble from time to time. Il n'est pire sourde que celui qui ne vent pas entendre.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Yes, With My Eyes Closed

I can tell which city I am in with my eyes closed. Not from the aromas (because my sniffer doesn't work so well). Not from the sounds (because my hearing ain't too good). I can tell from the water pressure in the shower.

Just stepped out of what I would rate Shower of the Year - Boston. L has one of those adjustable shower heads, and the pulse setting provides an amazing massage. Could have stayed in there until my toes wrinkled. Especially after two weeks on a near dead run from France to Washington DC to Boston to Orlando to Boston ... and back to France tonight.  (You might check out my three blogs, Madame Nelson Goes to Washington, about D-L's testimony before Congress on tax reform - http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.com/2017/04/madame-nelson-goes-to-washington-i.html.)

The water pressure in the very upscale hotel in Orlando was on the disappointing side. And no option for adjustment. Did the job, just. And helped steam the wrinkles out of my dress shirts.

The previous best pressure, at least in our world, is in Geneva. J's shower is a torrent, so make sure the sliding glass doors, which meet at the corner, are snugly closed, or you're mopping the floor after. And don't forget to squeegee the glass when you're done.

The pressure in our apartment in Collonge-Bellerive is about as strong. Even better, there's a sauna lamp to heat up the bathroom so when you step out you're not immediately chilled.

In our Argèles sur Mer flat, and in D-L's "Nest" studio, the water pressure varies from barely adequate to trickle, the latter when 100,000 vacationers invade the village in summer. The shower is on the cramped side, requiring me to turn the shower head to soap up then turn it back to rinse. The best feature in ASM is our wall-mounted towel warmer. I love the feeling of putting on a warm terry-cloth robe, then burying my face in a soft, oversized towel that's been toasting for an hour.

Weak water is about the only drawback to living in Argèles, so we can deal with it. Everything else about the village is wonderful. (Okay, not the cell phone reception, but that's another blog sometime.)