Saturday, March 17, 2018

Easy Pleasy

DUELING BLOG - Read D-L's at
My wife has mellowed a bit in the five years we've been together. She's keen on neatness and order, but she has come to tolerate my penchant for, shall we say, controlled chaos. I prefer order, too, but with me it's more irregular.

Such as yesterday. At the end of the day, all was in order in the apartment. But during the day, wanting to sort through my clothes - so I could take some of them to the donation bin - I brought down four suitcases of stuff from The Nest (D-L's studio apartment around the corner) and emptied all the clothes onto the bed. Plus the clothes from my closet. Plus summer clothes that had been stored under the bed.

Donna-Lane went into her office and closed the door for much of the day. She was allegedly working on her German pronunciation.  (Either that, or cursing me out in three languages.)

Not really. She knows by now that I (almost never) leave the place in a mess overnight. And that my disorder is (usually) a pathway to order.

So now my closet is ready for spring and summer (with a couple winter things, just in case). Most of the winter stuff is under the bed. There's a suitcase packed for Geneva. And there's a bag ready for donation. I even got rid of a couple of clunky radiators and some old satellite boxes in The Nest.

But the real message of this brief blog is that two days ago, I bought something for my wife which made her ecstatically happy. Not a diamond necklace. Not a gold bracelet. Not the $45-million business jet she's been hinting she'd like.

I bought a $10 waste basket for the car. Yeah, she likes order there too. No food wrappers and soda bottles on the floor when we travel. For awhile we had a plastic bag for trash, but I guess I trashed that at some point. So she wanted a more permanent solution. Thus, the gray bucket - complete with flip top - you see pictured on the hood (or bonnet, if you prefer).

This is not the first discussion we've had about trash bins. We used to have one under the sink, which our landlady had rigged to open when the door was opened. But it was tough to empty and clean, and it took up valuable space. I acquiesed on that one, but managed to save it elsewhere for glass recycle bottles.

And my open-top bin by my desk - for paper recycle - has been replaced with a flip top ... because Sherlock kept stealing the paper and shredding it all over the place.

Now that the trash problem's solved, there's only one point of disagreement between us. (Wouldn't you like to know.)

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Shoveling S***

DUELING BLOGS with D-L and J - and

To me, snow is a four-letter word.

1. You can't play golf in the snow. 2. You can't drive in the snow. 3. The only way to get rid of it is to shovel or wait until Spring. (Oh, wait, yesterday was the first day of meteorological spring -

Arriving late by train from Paris the night before, and with sparse wifi connections, I was not aware that a storm was expected. D-L was too sleepy groggy to warn me that the white stuff was coming. I hadn't even bothered to put the tarp over the car because I figured any windshield frost would melt before we needed to leave for our lunch appointment.

Quelle surprise! I woke to a blanket of white about 4-6 inches deep and rising.

Of course the dog needed to go out.

Sherlock loved it. I think he thought he was at the beach and the snow was the sand he loves to dig in and burrow his nose under. At times he hopped around like a rabbit, nipping at the chunks of snow he kicked up.

He stayed out much longer than I would have preferred. Every ... time  ... during ... the ... entire ... day. (By the way, kids, don't eat yellow snow.)

Our lunch was cancelled, and we weren't going anywhere, so we decided to chill and make it a real "snow day."

Of course, I can't be idle for long, so I bundled up and went looking for a shovel. The landlord's car was gone, and the gate was open, so I thought perhaps they used a plowing service to come and clear the driveway. Nonetheless, I found an old small pushbroom in a shed and used that to brush the snow off our Peugot. The broom didn't work as well on the ground, so back to the shed where I found a rake. That worked better, but not entirely as the snow was too deep.

I wandered out to another shed off the front yard, found an old broom lying next to it ... then the motherlode inside - an actual shovel, and a sturdy one at that.

D-L expressed the opinion that, at my age, I shouldn't be shoveling snow at all. She had read something that said men over 50 should refrain from the strain -

It took me about four sessions to almost completely clear the driveway and the steps leading to our garden apartment. Judicious rest in between.

I'm glad I did, though. After a mild thaw through the day and the cold air returning overnight, the snow would have been impenetrable ice today. And we do have to go out on some errands.

I must admit, the crystal stillness of the day was beautiful. The airport was closed, so no aircraft engine noise reverberating across the lake. Almost no traffic on the roads. You could distinctly head individual birds trilling. The conversations of people walking by. And when Sherlock and I stepped out for his Noon romp, the church bells rang and rang as clearly as if we were standing next to the bell tower.

I'll still be glad when it melts.  

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Polite Conversation

Donna-Lane and I almost always have lunch together, at least when we're in the same place. It's an important time for us because it ensures we have an opportunity - during an otherwise busy day when we're both running in different directions - just to talk.

Our conversations range across a wide gamut - social engagements upcoming (in which I try to keep mental track of friends of hers I've met, or maybe not yet met), travel plans and travel dreams (such as our next honeymoon trip), writing projects, things that need to be done around the house, Facebook videos of cats we've laughed at, and of course politics and world affairs and our ongoing crusade against FATCA, CBT and the USG.

In the past two months, we've added several new topics of conversation: for example, the relative moistness of the crap Sherlock just took (too hard, is he constipated?: too runny, what are we giving him that's different?). When was the last time he peed, how much (D-L sometimes counts), which pole he chose, and whether he left some extra "pee-mail" messages for other neighborhood dogs to sniff. What do we need to have in the car in case he vomits on the long drive to Geneva.

We might warn each other that there's a fresh pile of shit on rue Vermeille, and it's approximate location. This is especially helpful to know for the one who has night dooty duty. (Yes, there is sometimes doggy-do on the streets of Argèles sur Mer; not every owner is conscientious - especially if their dog has diarrhea. Fortunately, the village public works comes through periodically with a power washer.)

We talk the walk, ie shouldn't we take Sherlock for a long walk/run to drain some of his excess energy so he's more likely to sleep for an extended period when he's back home. (So we can work in peace, of course.)

And we describe any encounters with other dogs - the snarling bulldogs to avoid, the friendlier pups that might be playmates. (The other day, Sherlock had a play-date with a Jack Russell terrier in an enclosed garden - they had a great time, and Sherlock was wonderfully exhausted the rest of the day.)

Yes, we still discuss all the other things that catch our interest in the villages where we live and the world around us. Let's just say Sherlock has added a few juicy new topics to our agenda.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Channeling My Dad

"Oh, for crying out loud!"

I had spilled some moccachino (coffee, chocolate, whipped cream) down the front of my shirt ... a fairly long drizzle in fact ... as we sat in the back room of La Noisette on  busy marché day.

As I wiped up the spill, I wondered briefly, where did that phrase come from? I had uttered it reflexively, almost automatically.

Of course, I realized. That's something my Dad used to say regularly. It was his way of cursing, in a sense, because he never mouthed a profanity. And when one of his five boys would use a euphemism such as "jeepers creepers," he would let us know this was unacceptable as well, borderline blasphemous.

Today, across most age groups, though it seems especially with younger people, vulgarity seems more the rule than the exception. And not just for something they don't like. Even positive comments are sprinkled with F**, S**, A**, and similar. The re-invigorated gun control movement is popularizing the phrase "We Call B*S*."

My two cents, I think profanity and vulgarity tend to diminish the message, whatever the message. It also diminishes the messenger. It's lazy language. Be a little more creative. If you want people to help carry your banner, come up with something everyone can say without cringing.

Unlike my Dad, I am not a saint when it comes to cursing. Used sparingly, though, I think it has more effect for its rarity.

The same goes for temper. If we are constantly outraged at every issue, major or minor, every day, how does someone else distinguish what is important to you? Choose your battles. And choose your words well to fight those battles.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Freedom (and Responsibility) of the Press

I started my career writing for an independent daily newspaper (the Binghamton NY Sun-Bulletin), and those days remain among my favorite time. I loved the atmosphere of the reporters' "bullpen" with writers covering politics and government, police and courts, sports and business. There was an adrenaline rush to chase the story and pull it together in time for the daily deadline. It was an era when there was a competing newspaper in town -- the despised Gannett corporate-owned Binghamton Press (for whom I would also later work - the summer they merged with the S-B).

I loved the underdog spirit of the Sun-Bulletin, the camaraderie in the newsroom. And I especially loved the printing process: working with the page makeup guys who set the lead type into the forms ... we had to be able to read upside down and backwards in order to tell them where to cut a story that ran too long. We joked that our motto was similar to the New York Times, "All the News That Fits We Print." Then the page forms would be converted into huge curved printing plates and mounted on the giant presses. When all the pages were in place, they'd push a button and the rolls of paper would whirr through the complex machine, spilling out completed and folded newspapers at the other end.

Donna-Lane and I went to see the "Pentagon Papers" movie today, and the scenes of the Washington Post newsroom, the linotype operators, and the triumph of printing an important story evoked wonderful memories for both of us. (She has a dueling blog at

This year marks 50 years since I started my professional communications career (at age 17) and 60 since she started hers in Reading MA (at age 16).

The crux of the movie, though, was about press freedom -- whether a newspaper had a constitutional right to print information from leaked classified documents. Daniel Ellsberg, initially vilified as a traitor, came to be regarded as a brave hero for exposing the US government's decades of lies -- starting with Truman, through Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon -- about the war in Vietnam. Because of those lies, tens of thousands of American boys and Vietnamese died for nothing.
One dynamic that the movie brought out was the coziness, especially between Washington journalists and politicians. They all like to party together. So oftentimes important stories get ignored because otherwise the invitations will stop coming.

If the movie is accurate, Post Editor Ben Bradlee took the difficult but necessary position that the story should be published, the truth should be made available, against threats of jail and ruin. A somewhat shakier Katherine Graham, who inherited the newspaper from her father and husband, also made the right decision despite the contrary pressure of her male-only board who seemed only interested in their financial interests, not in freedom of the press and certainly not in the best interests of the country.

I'm afraid as I look around today, there are very few courageous journalists who are willing to write the truth and damn the consequences. Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras come to mind - the ones whom Edward Snowden sought out when he revealed the sinister inner workings of the NSA.

Most editors and journalists today seem more focused on pushing an agenda, whether right or left, and they ignore any evidence that does not support their viewpoint and trumpet the flimsiest of unnamed source innuendo that will help sell papers or generate clicks.

We hear a lot about "fake news," and it's certainly out there. But that does not justify the moves being taken by Facebook, Google, and others to stifle those voices with which they disagree. If we are only spoon-fed the news the government or the megamedia corporations want us to hear, then it's all essentially fake and biased.

I am predisposed to be cynical about almost anything I read or here, regardless of source. I am especially annoyed when reading so-called news which offers no hard facts to support the sensationalized headline. Time permitting, I will call out such journalistic weakness on social media ... and some of you will presume in such a challenge that I am opposed to or supportive of the person about whom the baseless allegations are made. Nothing to do with that person - I just despise shoddy journalism.

Even though we knew the outcome, the Supreme Court decision in favor of a free press was an emotional moment in the movie. Maybe it almost brought me to tears because of the nostalgia for a time when some press still had backbone.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Scotland and Hickories, the Essence of Golf

My borrowed “set” of hickories for playing Musselburgh Links.

The first few shots I hit with hickory-shafted clubs, I was afraid I might break them. Plus, the grips, what was left of them, were slippery. So I eased off my normal swing.

On the first hole, for comparison, I hit a modern ball, as well as the circa-19th century gutta percha the pro shop had provided me with. Not much difference in feel actually.

I nearly lost the gutty on the first shot at Musselburgh Links ( – aka Old Musselburgh, the oldest golf course in the world (Mary, Queen of Scots, is reputed to have played the layout in 1567). My half-swing with a somewhat-battered brassie started low and caught the high rough preceding the fairway. I didn’t realize how high the grass was until I started looking, and I was in a panic over losing the antique ball. I couldn’t bear the humiliation of going back and asking for another … not after only one swing. With relief, after 3-4 minutes, I found the ball and proceeded up the fairway, picking up my “provisional” Titleist along the way.

It was a cool, damp morning, as were most during the month we spent in Scotland. I hadn’t been out in the week since playing the Old Course at St. Andrews, and I was excited when I learned Old Musselburgh offered a hickory option. I love the history of the game, and I’m also one of those who thinks today’s equipment is destroying the classic courses (while still appreciating that, as a senior, I can still hit a drive as far as I did when a teenager). At 2,971 yards, from the tips, it would seem sacrilegious to overpower Musselburgh with modern clubs.

Old Musselburgh hosted The Open Championship six times between 1873 and 1889 in rotation with Prestwick and St. Andrews. Musselburgh native Willie Park Jr. won the ’89 version in a 36-hole playoff with Andrew Kirkaldy, and Park still holds the record for the nine-hole layout with a 2-under-par 32.

The course is situated mostly within the oval of the Musselburgh Racecourse, and on days when the horses are running golfers must let the steeds and riders pass before playing the 1st, 4th and 6th holes which cross the track.

When I arrived around sunrise on an early October morning, there was no one else on the course. But by the time I reached the second tee, a local gent, also a senior, caught up and asked if he could join me. I was delighted.

As I gained confidence with the hickories, I started using my usual swing – though still holding tight to the grips. I moved the ball back in my stance a bit to catch it early, as I’d learned from St. Andrews’ hard-packed, sand-based fairways. I managed to hit quite a few good shots, and even figured out what distances I was getting with the three clubs: brassie, niblick and mashie niblick. No birdies – almost on the shortish (479 yards) par-5 7th hole – but enough pars to satisfy. And no more nearly lost balls; I hit most tee shots in the fairway.

I was hooked. I had noticed some news about the World Hickory Open, held the week before at Kilspindie golf course in nearby Aberlady. I found the Society of Hickory Golfers website ( and discovered that there are hickory aficionados not only in Scotland and the US but in Switzerland and France, the two places where we live.

I’ve always been a competitive player, but have not entered a tournament since moving to Europe five years ago. Hickory, to me, seems an opportunity to satisfy my competitive urge while reveling in my passion for golf history and travel.

I’m now searching for a set of clubs and any events I can reasonably get to. Hope to see some of you soon.