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Monday, December 31, 2012

Moments of Kindness

Throughout the day how many times do you catch yourself with a negative thought or comment about someone? The driver in front of you. The driver behind you. The driver who steals your parking spot (perhaps he didn't see you reserved sign). The kid with the droopy jeans. The old person taking too much time to do whatever it is they are doing.

During my visit to Alberta this Christmas, I planned a day out with my mother. I knew there would be challenges, because she is in a wheelchair and needs quite a bit of help to get from chair to vehicle. We were going shopping and then to lunch, both of which would require some maneuvering.
Mom modeling one of 25 ways
to wear her new scarf

At some point during the day I began to notice the number of people making the day easier than I would have anticipated, starting with my sister who loaned me her vehicle with 4 wheel drive and said to come back whenever, one of the 250 nice things she did for me during the week. Actually the nicest thing of all was sitting with our mother earlier in the month to extract stories of her memories of each of us, and then typing us each a letter from Mom full of those stories. Oh and cooking dinner for 18 Christmas Day. But I digress...

My sister Angie baking pies for her 18 guests Christmas day

When I arrived at Mom's residence I was able to park right in front and the nurses had Mom all ready to go, another nice thing. The shopping center had no obvious handicapped parking, but I pulled right up to the main door and a nice young man opened the doors for us. When we were leaving the mall another young man offered his strong arms to hoist Mom into the vehicle. At the restaurant a young woman rushed out and held the doors for us.  A young man did the same as we were leaving, and a second man in the parking lot helped us do the transfer to vehicle smoothly. Small gestures make a big difference in such circumstances.

Back at my sister's, after giving me their bedroom for the week, my sister and her husband loaned me ski pants, a jacket, socks, boots, a warm hat and gloves, and best of all, a skidoo! Yes I am Canadian and no I have never driven a skidoo before. With hundreds of acres at our disposal we played on the back field, and then proceeded to cross roads, fences and fields to visit neighbors.  What fun! 

Then  back to get ready for an evening of visiting with more friends, all of whom went out of their way to make me feel welcome and eventually suffer from post -laugh syndrome, typically caused by long sessions of uninterrupted laughter. Oh and we had delicious food throughout the evening. My final gift that day was an education on cow calf operations in Canada, so I can finally answer the questions posed to me by my French boyfriend about the where why and how of Canadian farming vs. French methods. Thanks Tracey and Yvonne.
His and her cattle paddles with rattles 

Jeannine showing me a cow counter

As usual I will finish by issuing you a little challenge. Pick a day and count the number of kindnesses offered to you throughout the day. Then try to be grumpy. Bet you can't!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

What will you remember?

What does December represent in your life? Regret for things unfinished and pride in your accomplishments? Christmas with its mixed bag of loneliness and joy?

For me it is a dose of reality. No matter the pleasant surprises up to now, it is truly winter. And whatever is left unstated/unfinished is likely to remain so.

Of course I feel very strongly the desire to be with friends and family. And even though it means leaving my wonderful man behind this year, I will spend a few wonderful days with Mom and my sister and brother in Alberta. And it will be great. And still there will be others missing.

But what a year it has been!

May midnight celebration of Alison's birthday
at DaZavola Paris

March Andy visited me
in Southampton, UK
Sept with Alison
Potato Head Beach Club Bali

April search for a decent
Bloody Mary in Paris
Sept Bali with Alison
April discovery of discount shopping
in Marne la Vallee
Aug visit Berlin with Annie

August walk with Serge
Parc Monceau

January started tradition of Sunday market shopping
(eating) Place Monge Paris

February first time in Shanghai

July wildlife with Angie

September Happy Hour in Paris
July visit included a day at the cottage
with Mom Alberta

January Daycap became a formal practice
Park Hyatt Paris

Dec Christmas window
BHV Paris
July Bastille Day

July Alberta visit
Harold and Amaya

June Bike tour of Bourgogne
Alison, Simon, Carole, Melanie

June Chez George

June with Serge
Jardin de Luxembourg

One day trip to Madrid
May Capri with Angie
March Paris

March Barcelona with colleagues
May Johannesburg

May Rome with Angie

May Naples with Angie

May Pompeii
May Sorrento

May Positano

May Cape of Good Hope South Africa

May my first wild penguins in South Africa
November back to Shanghai

October Chris Isaak concert

Zurich wine tasting

October Daycapping
in Paris

September quick trip to Vienna

November Susan visited me in Paris

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Memory Sense

My father should have smelled like ink or paper
from devouring every book in reach
Often chosen by size rather than subject

I imagine him once again perched at the kitchen table
coffee and cigarette side by side
in triumphant if futile denial

If it was summer 
a finch tap tapped at the window
Only they two knew the secret code

Melanie Brown
Inspired by Bentlily's prompt to write about how my father smelled

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Be Well in France

Having been recently hospitalized in Paris, I am sharing my impression of the French Health Care system compared to the US or Canadian versions. 

  • There are lots of good doctors, but finding one that is right for you takes some effort.
  • The doctors and nurses in both places were kind, professional and competent.

  • In Paris I was encouraged to stay in the hospital until I was well enough to go home. Compare this to the U.S. where I went home the day after heart surgery. 
  • Everyone here was very casual with the medication instructions. Even asking for several repetitions and posing detailed questions left me pretty much in the dark. Thank God for WebMD.
  • Patients here typically go home with several types of medications, and an option to ask for more or different.
  • The doctor here prescribes significant time off work. Paid-for time. 
  • Patients here should be prepared for a "surprise visit" from L'Assurance Maladie to make sure they are unwell and at home.
  • There are public hospitals (basically free with insurance) and private clinics (not free at all). 
  • Even in the private clinic here I received a hospital bill lower than I eceived post surgery in the U.S. where I was fully insured. 

Although I do not recommend being sick anywhere in the world, if you have to be sick, Paris takes good care of you.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

What happens in Shanghai

View of Shanghai from breakfast window

A calm lunch spot

Not everything is modern

On my recent trip to Shanghai I felt we were all in a dance. Every conversation was circular. Formal. Oh oh so polite. Meals had a protocol, not always visible but revealed like the lace beneath the skirt, slowly and carefully, if you were paying attention. (I admit at times to being too distracted by my inability to keep the slippery food, including cow's stomach, on my chopsticks to pay full attention at all times.)

Rush hour on the metro, where people might display their worst manners, was quite pleasant. Yes one must move quickly to avoid being run over, but there was no pushing and shoving like we often see here in Paris. When the metro was comfortably full the remaining people waited for the next one. No one held the doors open in order to squeeze into an impossible space.
Night view before they turn off the office buildings at 8PM

In the midst of such politeness however I did see some rather unpleasant behaviour. While having a nightcap in the hotel lobby bar one evening, I could not help but notice (i.e. hear) the group of American men at the next table. They managed to insult each of the beautiful servers in turn, apparently believing it was within their rights to do so. They propositioned each without grace (or effect). Their approach included asking where they could obtain a massage "with a happy ending". And following their lack of success with such classy moves, they expressed their disappointment in Shanghai's level of entertainment.


So I wonder: is this the typical behaviour of these men at home in the US? Or is this behaviour reserved for Asia, and based on some opinion about Asian women? Is it possible that the manners of this trio adjust as they travel throughout the world, and if so, how do they choose the behaviour best suited to that place? 

What a shame if the actions of this small group reflect more generally on a larger population. Although unrealistic as an expectation, it would have pleased me greatly to see the other men in the bar speak up, even if just to distance themselves from such inappropriate talk. Perhaps the lack of success with these tactics will be enough to change future interactions for the trio, but I would have been more reassured if they were set right by their peers.

This post is not intended to be a comment on American men. I am sure that many of us manage to insult others during our travels, hopefully without bad intentions. I wonder too if we have lost our ability to enforce good manners, now that we are so separated from others in our daily lives.

What do you think?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Airport Express

While wandering through Paris this weekend my friend and I discussed the pros and cons of making eye contact. Because she does not generally make eye contact with strangers, she rarely has to refuse the street vendors and shysters pretending to conduct polls for a good cause. On the other hand; I believe I have a more rich experience by connecting with people throughout the day, sometimes being rewarded with a spontaneous conversation or something else unexpected.
Today she may have scored a point.
While standing in a long line for passport control, surrounded by a tour bus full of people, I made eye contact with a security person. He invited me to leave the line and join him in a non-line, so I did.
At this point one point is scored for making eye contact.
He then asked me to place my carry on bags in the measuring device, and made a face because I had one bag plus my computer bag. I reminded him that I am allowed to do so on international flights.
So far, everything is okay, kind of. But I was considering giving a point to my friend's side of the debate.
He then weighed my two bags together and told me I was 4kg over the limit. Would I consider lightening the load a bit?  Well I could not think of any way to do so, since I was headed to Shanghai for 4 days and was quite proud of bringing only carry on.
He checked me over carefully, I suppose wondering what of the articles of clothing I was wearing I would be willing to leave behind. Okay I thought this but laughed at myself for my belief that this young whippersnapper had any such interest in me.
He then  told me I would almost certainly need to check my bag. Okay point for non-eye contact moving forward.
Then he asked when I was returning.
You arrive Thursday?
Okay have dinner with me Friday and I will let you pass.
Seriously? This works?
I politely declined, laughed a bit to show there were no hard feelings on my part for being pulled out of line unnecessarily, and proceeded through passport control as if this were all a little joke.
So, will I stop making eye contact?
In fact I had a nice chat with the officer at passport control and received a warm smile, almost unheard of from these guys, and won back at least a point for my side.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

One smart cow

Today I am not writing about Paris or Rome; I am writing about a  much more rural setting in central France.

We have all heard stories or had experiences with very clever pets. Just think of "Lassie", or the animals in "The Incredible Journey".  We marvel at the smarts and skills.

Which brings me to a story recently told to me by my friend. He comes from a family of cattle farmers, in a community of cattle farmers, in a region of cattle farmers since way back in history. In this part of France you say his last name and people say, "I once bought a cow from him". This family knows cows.

One day my friend's father, Gabriel, bought a cow from his brother, He kept her for a few years and all was well. The day came when he decided to sell her, to none other than the original owner, Jean. Yep  sold and repurchased by the same man.

Jean showed up on the appointed day to escort said cow back to his farm, a journey of 16 kilometres he (they) would cover by foot. Mid journey he stopped for a rest, (aka lunch and an adult beverage)  and left the cow grazing contentedly outside the local establishment. When he got ready to leave (and there is no clear answer on how much later this actually was), the cow was gone.

Jean was not particularly worried. He set off for home as planned. Upon arriving at the farm he discovered the cow, waiting in her original stall from 5 years before, just as if she knew where she was going all along. 8 kilometres she walked by herself that day. Along the way she would have crossed multiple intersections, making a choice at each whether to turn right or left. It seems she never faltered, always picking the road that would take her home.

Based on this story alone, I think I may have underestimated the intelligence of cows. Or is the urge to be home so strong that she was driven by a greater need even than Jean's? 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cooking in Paris

For two years living in Paris I was happy to eat in restauarants every night, except the times I managed on fresh baguette, delicious cheese and yummy ham all from shops mere steps from my home. Oh what a trial it has been to eat well in Paris! Finally this year I thought - maybe I could cook something.

Let me remind you here that I am dating a restaurant owner. And I decided to cook for him, in my kitchen the size of a table. Easy, right? Oh and without an oven. Think soup, stew, sauteed things.

It all went pretty well, with the exception of the salmon which was overcooked and the spinach which was overcooked and a few things with spices he doesn't like. But he was grateful and I was enjoying myself, finding replacements for things like beef broth and baking powder and sour cream.

One day I was looking through the very detailed manual my landlady left me on every aspect of the apartment, and saw directions for the combined microwave-convection oven. Wait a minute - this is also a convection oven? How the heck does that work? Today was my day to find out.

  The instructions say, "if you are using the square dish and the rack  you should let the round tray in the oven".

Okay, here we go, I am only doing convection so I need the rack. Do I need the square dish? Don't know. And do I just let the round tray in the oven by itself or should I help it in? And how does this work, since the instructions say to put the round tray on the bottom, the rack on the bottom, and the square pan under the rack? Can everything really be on the bottom?

Okay I guessed and put the square pan and the rack on the bottom and "let" the round tray out.

Next, "Set temperature, time and press depart".

Temp should be 250 Fahrenheit. What is that in celsius? And how  do I adjust for convection vs. regular oven? I have 9 pages of instructions but this topic seems vague. Hmm let's just pick 160 celsius.

Can't set the time because this is something that should cook all day and I don't see that option. Okay press depart. Depart. No button here is called depart. Maybe I am supposed to depart and when I come back it will all be cooked beautifully? Hmm I will just keep pressing buttons and see what happens. Okay that made a lot of noise for about a minute. Next try I made it all work for 20 minutes.

Does 20 mins in a convection oven equal 4 hours in a regular oven adjusted for fahrenheit, latitude and language translation? Let's see.

Not even close to cooked.

Back to the stovetop method for this beef stew, where it turned into a delicious concoction.

Back to Math/Chemistry/Engineering/French classes for the cook!