Monday, September 29, 2014

At the drop of a hat…


I will change my plans. Sometimes I think that my middle name is “flexible”. People ask what I am doing next week – or enquire about such and such several weeks later to which I usually have to reply, “oh, that was the intended plan, but actually I did …” I also have recently caught myself saying on a rather regular basis: I no longer plan on a weekly or sometimes even a daily basis as things have been known to change 360° on an hourly basis (hmmm… should that perhaps be 180°? 360° would bring me theoretically back to my point of departure, or the intended plan).
 
Yesterday I had planned another great walk (weather almost as good as the day before, few very vague smudges of upper-level cloud wisps, instead of totally clear skies), catching up on all those things that I didn’t do yesterday due to that walk and perhaps even start that which I intended to do when I arrived 4 days ago. 

All wiped out with the appearance of my landlord and her tentative question: “I have a proposition: how do you feel about having La Brisolée?”  The Valais canton in Switzerland has an autumn meal of roasted chestnuts, cheeses, seasonal fruits, walnuts etc. The largest event – totally dedicated to La Brisolée is held in Fully! (Where the motocross champion of yesterday’s blog lives). http://www.fetedelachataigne.ch/fr/Deguster/La-brisolee/ (the site is in French, but I am sure that if you need to, I can help translate).  

As is so often the case, I am very difficult to convince – like all of a two-second pause and then it’s to heck with what I had planned, this is so much more interesting, more delicious, more exciting, simply more whatever.

Since I missed it last year (o.k. the wedding that I attended at the Presidio in San Francisco was more than a worthy contender) and since I wasn’t at all sure to be able to get it this year, I’m like “where shall I be, when”?   

She went to call the restaurant and even managed to talk them into taking us – as long as we came early and would promise to leave by 14:00. After all two are almost always possible, even on a beautiful sunny Sunday.  That meant a very short, quick walk during which I managed to trip on stones three times and roll on sticks another two, but actually remained upright! 

Then we were off on an adventure: a lovely meal of roasted (on coals, none of this electrical stuff for us) chestnuts, 8 different cheeses and the local dried meats: the all washed down by the first press of the grapes with dessert being apricot or apple pie: hard to take, I know. Not only the once-a-year meal, but on a terrace overlooking the vineyards and the city of Martigny: I can recommend Café Plan Cerisier (http://www.myswitzerland.com/en-ch/cafe-restaurant-de-plan-cerisier.html) to any and all.

Café du Plan-Cerisier


The wine "pressers"

The restaurant's terrace - we had a table overlooking the valley


Option Brisolée Royale

8 different, local cheeses and dried meats


typical rye bread of the Valais

chestnuts roasted over coals

Dessert - either apricot and hazelnut tarts or apple, together with seasonal fruits

Swiss flag visible through the canape of the chestnut trees

The vineyard two feet from my seat

 
View of Martigny from my seat

But then it got even better: she took me off to see the vineyards that she and her husband had tended for many, many years (inherited from her husband’s father) and the Mazot ( a stone hut used to store hay, cereals etc. in many areas, but also used as live-in huts whilst tending the vineyards: the name “mazot” is often now used for restaurants selling typically Swiss foods) in which they spent nights when they didn’t have the time to go back up to the mountains (the trip today only took a half an hour, but it did involve leaving the mountain, crossing town and back up another slight mountain). All the years that I have lived in Switzerland I have never been able to wangle a look into one of these so was more than interested.  We got lucky as the couple who had bought it from her daughter were actually there and again, the wonderfulness of the small villages, the neighborhoods where everyone knows their neighbors, they invited us in, offered us coffee: ensued a discussion on the various persons and families still occupying the other huts, who had sold, who had come. History as it should be transmitted. I didn’t want to be too intrusive so didn’t take pictures inside, but did love the fun of stonewalls, low ceilings with beams saying 1700s redone to modern standards, i.e. the small wooden table in the living room held two laptops; plugs were in abundance and the coffee was from a Nespresso machine.

View from the restaurant. Their mazot is in the distance
A neighboring mazot


A typical mazot - yet another neighbor

The front terrace of their mazot

typical slate roof and stone chimney

Another view from the restaurant of Plan-Cerisier



Change my plans at the drop of a hat – always game, never disappointed.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Supporting a sportive


Friday night was the annual dinner in honor of and support for a young Swiss Motocross champion: Kevin Biffiger. (http://ktl-team.ch/)

Kevin Biffiger with his grandmother
 
In the past it has been in February or March and I have always returned to spend that weekend with my landlords to attend (he is my landlord’s grandson), staying with them and we often had a group of 10. This year they waited until the season had ended – unfortunately he had had a bad accident on the circuit and broken his leg necessitating staying out of the races for some 18 months – to make sure that things were going “normally”.

Returning after such a long absence wasn’t easy, but he had managed to get back up to the 8th place by the end of the season.

A lovely evening of delicious food, great entertainment and a tombola with many prizes -including a week in Sardinia (one of the friends of the family is an Italian who has a hotel in Sardinia: they spend time in Italy preparing for races and he, Piero, regularly attends the dinners).

We bought many tickets hoping to win that particular trip, but in the end it was a young man. I wasn’t unhappy not to win the roller blades or hedge cutter! Never mind, next year is another year.



Off the grid - an experiment


Of course, right at the very beginning I have to admit that I wasn’t really “off the grid” as I did still have and use my cell phone, my e-mails and internet. I just left out one composant thereof: Facebook.
I have travelled before where I only checked e-mails once a day, one famous trip my housemate and myself both decided to not even take our computers: and were actually pretty good – only checking e-mails 4 times in hotels that had a computer for public use. However, that is not my usual life as even supposedly “retired” I find myself spending a great deal of time seated in front of said computer (e-mails, Facebook, book keeping, the client-from-whom-I-resigned but have not yet been able to turn over all the information to my replacement, blogging, working on my photos and (most precious of all) keeping in touch with family via Skype.
However, I realized that I was becoming addicted to Facebook. As it is one of the tabs that is permanently up (Facebook, the client’s data base, Blogger, Earthquake information - that one went up when my younger son was in Peru – Fitbit, Jacquie Lawson’s card, Apple comparison chart – need a new computer eventually – whatever topic I did research on last and – must I admit it – at least three computer games), it was all to easy to consult it every half hour or so, especially when the messages popped up that so and so had posted or like or in any other way inter-acted on FB. Most people at least have the possibility of checking at one point in the day and seeing most of what their family and friends have posted in one fell swoop: I living in a different time zone from many of my friends and family, can happily check at any time of the day – or my night – and still see new postings.  I said to myself, enough is enough; can I do it? Can I actually consciously turn off Facebook for a week?
I took the plunge last Sunday (Saturday still needed to interact with I-forget-whom, which shows you how important that was.) I am sure of two things: one, no one probably remarked my non-presence during that week (o.k. I warned my sister) and two, am much less stressed having not spent the week trying to think of ways to convince the world at large that my way of thinking is the correct way: sometimes you just can’t reason with some people.
I would add a third thing: maybe most of my presence was just that – a presence to show that I exist – we humans are certainly egotistical beings: I post therefore I am could be the new motto for many of us.
Did I even miss it? Not really – the main reason I joined all those years ago was to kind of keep in touch with my son’s lives – and neither posts more than a handful of times per year. Also, I have to confess that the bloggers that I follow land conveniently in my e-mail inbox so didn’t have to do without them.
I know that a week from now I will probably be as involved as ever, but am going to try and cut down a bit – perhaps checking only every hour – and maybe I’ll take the real plunge and unhook one whole day a week: which shall it be? While I’m at it, I am also going to close several of those always-open-tabs. If I need (and this will be my decision as to the necessity: I mean, really, sometimes one just has to know what the current status of earthquakes is, right?). If I want the knowledge I can always re-open the tab.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A tribute



The following phrase appeared several weeks ago in  A THOUGHT FOR TODAY  (part of wordsmith.org’s http://wordsmith.org/words/today.html )

« There are stars whose radiance is visible on Earth though they have long been extinct. There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world though they are no longer among the living. These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark. They light the way for humankind ». -Hannah Senesh, poet, playwright, and paratrooper (1921-1944) 

My little sister would have been 62 today – she shared her birthday with my sister-in-law’s mother – and both of these women qualify for the above statement. I miss them both, but their stars still shine brightly.

A double-delight rose, my sister's favorite and that's what these two were: double delights!

Friday, September 26, 2014

They say...

that a picture is worth a thousand words.

here's my 1'000 for the day

Thursday, September 25, 2014

On the way to… or from


From various remarks over the past year or so, I realize that what I see as being totally normal  - to the point that I sometimes no longer even “see” it – is for others extraordinary. Today on my trip to the mountains I decided to consciously drive, to knowingly remark upon the beauty of my surroundings: not that it is all beautiful or even all interesting.

The drive is a very leisurely 2 hours from door to door, but today I stopped, took pictures, walked around, try to imagine seeing it all for the first time. It wasn’t a superb day, but also at least wasn’t raining either: a normal day in short.

Along this road (through France for about half of it), there are old wooden chalets, manor houses and small castles even, together with the 50s ugly and the box modern. Scenery is much more entertaining as I pass through fields of hay, corn, some with horses, some with cows then drive along the lake front for some 20 miles: small harbors, new parks, villages of all sizes (and interest). 

School & City hall Sciez

Fish fountain in Publier/Amphion


Evian is along this route and so scenes include the widest point of Lake Leman, the Olympic sized pool with a diving board into the lake that is higher than I ever want to stand on, the Casino, an old bell tower, the spa and the new Hilton (not on this particular road through Evian is the golf course and several very luxurious hotels).


They keep adding to their art work of old wood

The church tower behind an apartment building

There are parts, which are fairly wild, others entirely sleepy-little-village-in-the-sun and yet others new modern bungalows. There are the hidden beaches, the off-the-track churches (every time I drive through one small village I think someday I have to go see the Jean-Jacques Rousseau church – some almost 40 years later, still haven’t).

Fisherman off the "Petite Rive"

New lakefront park in Petite Rive

There is a difference in the feel – and even in the roads – in between France and Switzerland – only the trees, flowers and lake remain the same.

Looking across towards Montreux from St. Gingolph

At the end of the lake a sharp right turn brings me through a transitional valley with the French alps invisible behind the lower pre-alps on the right and the higher peaks of places such as Leysin, Les Diablerets and Villars in Switzerland to the left.  Here also there are winds so usually see hang gliders, real (airplane) gliders (there is a small airport), but today there were also a couple of military jets doing maneuvers. Plenty of water inland as well as I crossed the Rhone twice.

The vineyards at "Evouettes"

Left side mirror

Right side mirror

I had debated stopping off at the spa: Lavey-les-Bains, but in the end just wandered on to Martigny and went to the Giannada Museum instead to see the Renoir exhibition. From there I came across the newly renovated protestant temple where all the windows were changed into stained glass windows by a renowned Swiss artist: Hans Erni – the last of the windows he did at 105! He must be doing something right.






Up to my mountain abode and a short walk to see what’s new – just the setting sun bathing the mountaintop. I could actually see the Matterhorn from the farthest point, but my camera’s batteries decided that they had done enough for the day and quit on me: some memories are meant to just be mental.

End of the day

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Things happening all over or…


Whoever said that nothing ever happens in Geneva, wasn’t in town this weekend!
 
Saturday I had to dash into town to pick up a map that had finally arrived at one of the local bookstores. As luck would have it – the Genevan police were celebrating their 200th anniversary: one could watch them take care of a suspicious package; parade some of the more spectacular cars and motorcycles; attend “rescue” operations; sign up to become a policeperson or listen to the music – now I would love to have those policemen on duty in some of the neighbourhoods – the singer even had a decent voice!




In the afternoon I went down to the next village where they were also officially opening the bypass tunnel to the population and celebrating with the usual drink, hotdog and dessert stands. Didn’t stay long as hadn’t properly gotten off the ground yet.

Sunday I needed to pick someone up at the train station – and wow a Geneva I have never seen. The new station was being officially opened to the public (inauguration with the politicians had taken place some time before) and they had invited the Music School to provide the entertainment – chorales, ensembles, musicians of all sorts all over the place: I enjoyed some great jazz/gypsy music whilst waiting (www.maurice-klezmer.com) – almost regretted not being able to check out the other spots around town.

Monday – now talk about what is usually a totally dead day: it was. Only made the mad dash all the way across town to check out sofa beds for the attic. On the return as there was going to be traffic anyway, made a small detour and picked up burritos: yes you read correctly, we finally have a sort of Tex-Mex fast food that actually resembles that which we know and love.

Today, I needed to again go into town (for much less entertaining, excuse the pun, reasons – the dentist). Afterwards I went down the main tramline to do a couple of errands (o.k. to get some card stock and pick up chocolates to console myself!). On one of the main squares a pianist who’s goal is to compose and play in public: a cross between classical music and what I believe is now called a “happening” or artistic “performance”: A lovely interlude. www.julianlayn.com

Julian Layn, Swiss composer and pianist

Julian Layn, Swiss composer and pianist

Julian Layn, Swiss composer and pianist
 
Who knows what’s on for tomorrow – I intend heading back up to the mountains where the main entertainment is cows in the fields and clouds in the skies.

Lakefront in Corsier, Switzerland

Monday, September 22, 2014

Music soothes


A quote frequently misattributed to Shakespeare :  "Music has charms to soothe a savage breast," is also just as often quoted as soothing the savage beast (and I am part of those or at least was, until I researched the phrase). Actually it is the first line of a play written in 1697, The Mourning Bride by William Congreve (and I, like you, had never even heard of him!), spoken by Almeria in Act I, Scene 1.
 
Another phrase, which is just as wayward, is  "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned," spoken by Zara in Act III, Scene VIII, again in The Mourning Bride. But I digress: just making sure that everything I learn is also in turn spread far and wide.

Congreve’s first phrase, regardless of whether one reads it as soothing a savage breast or a savage beast, is certainly true (unless perhaps one is talking of Hard Rock, Electronic music and others of today’s ilk that seem to stir rather than soothe, but presumably back in his day there only the classics in Western Europe and America, most probably Baroque classical. 1700-1730: Bach, Purcell, Vivaldi, Handel; 1730-1775: Handel, Gluck, Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi; 1775-1790: Mozart; 1790-1810: Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn; 1810-1840: Schubert, Chopin, Weber, Schumann, Rossini, Mendelssohn; 1840-1850: Mendelssohn, Liszt, Verdi, Schumann, Wagner. Along with these composers the traditional regional folk songs, religious hymns and opera.)

I experienced this myself Friday night when I attended the first of this year’s series of concerts (I sat out a year due to too much travel, but missed it so subscribed again this season – and luckily got my old seat back – approx.. 10-15 feet from the performing soloists and on the same level!).
A world-renowned conductor: Neeme Järvi, directed the OSR (Orchestre de la Suisse Romande: http://www.osr.ch/) in Franz Liszt’s Preludes from “Poetic Meditations” from Lamartine; Joseph Haydn’s Symphony n° 83 in sol minor then Richard Strauss’ Don Quichotte, symphonic poem opus 35. The soloist for the latter was Gauthier Capuçon on the cello and Frédéric Kirch on an alto violin.

Watching Mr. Järvi conduct is always entertaining: a raised eye brown, a shrugged shoulder or a minute movement of baton or hand communicates his passion to the orchestra.

A rapturous rendition of the Don Quichotte, the cello soloist was superb: a Kaleidoscope starting in black and white with sharp-edged squares, triangles and lines, it metamorphosed into brilliant colours, rounded circles, oblongs and ovals – all bright but softened in form transforming sounds as sharp and bleak as hard grey stones birthed in stridency to smooth stones shimmering in placid pools.

I left the concert hall, after a bad day, whole again, in peace in mind and soul.


Lac Léman, le 19 septembre 2014
Flowers along the lake


Friday, September 19, 2014

In Memoria

Les larmes dans mes yeux
Rejoignent celles des cieux;
Ton absence me rend triste,
Comme j'aurais aimer que 
ta presence persiste.
Bisous petite soeur,
Tu est toujours dans mon coeur

Patricia J. Aitken
 27 septembre 1952 - 19 septembre 2012
 son dernier "selfie"

Sunset, Sunrise


Dents de Morcle, VS, Switzerland, Sept. 18, 2014

Dents de Morcle, VS, Switzerland, Sept.18, 2014

Dents de Morcle, VS, Switzerland - Sept. 19, 2014

I know, one usually writes sunrise, sunset, but sometimes the beauty of the order is that it can be reversed: this is how it happened for the above three pictures.

One follows the other in any case, in a never-ending process visible from anywhere in the world: some are beautiful, some ugly, both exist; we only have to notice.

There is a certain comfort in the thought that we are so finite, that something larger than ourselves, an order from the chaos, does continue in a never-ending cycle, regardless of our presence.


I still miss you little sister!

Patricia J. Aitken
September 27, 1952 - September 19, 2012

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Would you sign this document?


I (mostly) avoid speaking or writing much of anything political in my blogs – saving it rather for Facebook. However, as the French would say, “It lies heavy on my heart” today. Yes, after over 40 years my main language of communication is French and sometimes I have to look for an equivalent English word or phrase.
 
Anyway, anyone not willing to read about FACTA or what is happening to Americans who live overseas – for whatever reason (marriage; born in the USA to foreign parents who returned to their home; those sent by their companies; those who simply ended up living there) – don’t bother to continue.



I received the following document today requesting my signature.

Take a good look at it.





Now think about it – would you sign a document for your bank giving away any and all rights to protection under the law of the country in which you live?  Realize, please, that Americans living in the USA are not required to sign anything of the sort, nor are they even liable to file the amounts they hold in their bank accounts: they simply file interest if it is above $10.00 (which leads to another set of problems for me as mine never have that much so I don’t get a bank statement and here I am required to stipulate all income earned, regardless of amount as well as the balance at the end of the year – again something no American bank will supply).



Simply don’t sign it, you say: if one doesn’t, one receives a polite letter telling one to let them know where to transfer your account as your relationship with XXX bank has been terminated.



This is what FACTA (The Wikepedia explanation is simple enough to understand: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreign_Account_Tax_Compliance_Act) has accomplished.

We now live not only in fear of forgetting something minor on our tax declarations to the IRS, (I do pay an IRS authorized agent approx. $3’000/year to do my tax declaration) but also that we will no longer be able to function in the country in which we live, at least financially: I have yet to see the person in today’s world who manages without a mortgage, a credit card or bank account at all – oh yes, some of the third world countries.



Why should I be penalized simply because I was taught to work hard, save hard, lay something by for my retirement years? I can no longer make any provisions for my latter years, I can no longer make investments improving my financial situation, all these simply because I am stupid enough to have maintained my USA citizenship?



Never mind that my children, should I die suddenly, will lose a great deal of what their father, a German citizen, earned and invested in Switzerland – the country where he spent his entire adult life and where he passed away. Had I preceded him in death, they would have inherited the entire amount without deductions – only the USA holds its citizens hostage to taxes regardless of where they live and work.









The ACA (American Citizen Abroad) has been very active in bringing the problems that overseas Americans are having due to  FACTA to legislators and committees in the USA  as well as presenting and pleading for a Residence based tax (RBT).

Many articles are to be found on their “News and Events” page http://americansabroad.org/news-and-events/media-articles/



The more of us make known our ongoing problems due to FACTA, the more strength we gain to make our voices heard. 

Tomorrow I will go back to being my usual amiable self - today I am enraged by the injustice of it all.
And I ask you again, would you sign this document?