Up in the air

Disclaimer: Not me.

I have been horribly remiss in posting here. No real excuse, other than the fact that I’ve felt sort of…en suspens, hanging, or up in the air. I don’t know about you but I need to feel grounded, to know where I stand in my life, in order to get things done.

One of the reasons I’ve been feeling that way is our future home. It’s a new build, and we’ve been waiting for a confirmation on the delivery date. Initially it was supposed to be sometime this fall, end of the year at the latest. But that’s delayed now, unsurprisingly given everything that’s been going on. Supply shortages of building materials are one of the the consequences of the war in Ukraine (some of which were already happening with Covid, and the energy crisis hasn’t helped). But in addition to that, there have been difficulties with the project itself.

Last week we learned that one of our future neighbours had filed a complaint. I’m not sure why, as their view will not be at all impacted. But it seems this is a very Swiss thing to do and almost to be expected. It ended up costing a few weeks while work was halted to investigate. The building was found to be set 72 cm too high on the terrain compared to the initial building permit. Additionally, there have been complications due to fact that the site is built into a steep slope, with extra reinforcements needed on the retaining wall behind it.

Long story short: our move-in date is now not until the end of May 2023. Which sounds like a long time but at least we will be able to make plans. And I will be able to post about our new place now knowing that it’s really happening (because until now it felt like a dream).

Another reason I’ve been feeling up in the air is that we’ve been planning a big trip in November and haven’t known whether or where travel would be a possibility. But now that Biden has said the pandemic is over (I mean if a US president says something, it must be true, right? 😉) we’re making plans.

The timing has to do with my husband’s work as he is entitled to a sabbatical month but it has to be taken this year. He is a Japanophile (is that a word?), has been there twice, and is learning Japanese. So while we considered different destinations, I knew in my heart that if Japan ever opened its borders, that would be where we were going. Now it’s looking like that is likely, and we have taken the bold step of booking flights. We should find out this week if the rules will be loosened enough to create our own trip or have to use a tour company. I am not a huge fan of international travel but I’m starting to get excited. So far we’re planning on Tokyo, Kyoto, Okayama, Hiroshima and Okinawa. Fingers crossed!

I took the above photos on Sunday, a beautiful late-summer, early-fall day. My favourite kind. When the air, suddenly several degrees cooler, makes you want to wear a jacket but the sun is still warm enough to make you peel it off. It was a clear day and I watched the paragliders circle down from the mountain above. It is incredibly relaxing to watch them. Feeling perfectly grounded from the safety of terra firma.

What’s up with you? Am I the only one who’s not been good at blogging lately? News, please!

The Proust Questionnaire

For years I was an avid reader of Vanity Fair magazine. As is/was my habit with print magazines, those near-dinosaurs of modern publishing, I would flip to the last page. And the reward was worth it: the Proust questionnaire. In which a celeb of some ilk would answer the 35 questions immortalized by the French novelist and critic in 1890.

What fun to read about Ricky Gervais’ idea of perfect happiness! Or to know what Joan Didion regarded as the lowest depth of misery. The answers to these questions give you a glimpse inside a famous head that I always find fascinating.

Why Proust? I found the following explanation here.

In the late nineteenth century, the confession book was all the rage in England. It asked readers to answer a series of personal questions designed to reveal their inner characters. In 1890, Proust, still a teenager, took this questionnaire, answering the questions with frank sincerity. The original manuscript was uncovered in 1924, two years after Proust’s death, and in 2003, it was auctioned off for roughly $130,000. (Credit: Open Culture)

That Marcel Proust went on to become one of the most influential lights of French literature and thinking probably explains why the questionnaire bears his name. Interestingly, it provides the basis for many modern media interviews. And writers are encouraged to use it as a way of getting to know their characters.

A year ago I bought a copy of Proust’s most famous work, À la recherche du temps perdu, or Remembrance of Things Past, as part of a project to do the reading list of a self-driven MFA. That project remains, ahem, in development, but I still intend to read the original text in French. In the meantime, I have decided to seize the opportunity to interview myself. Here you go with my answers to the Proust questionnaire.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
An empty morning.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Impatience.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Unkindness.

What is your favourite journey?
Anywhere on a boat in Switzerland.

On what occasion do you lie?
To make someone less uncomfortable. Mostly about little things.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
WTF, c’est pas possible, merde, hurry up, sorry (like a good Canadian).

What is your greatest regret?
Older self: loss of hearing in my left ear; younger self: not learning to read music.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Language, my family, beer (not necessarily in that order).

When and where were you happiest?
Alone, as a child, talking to nature.

Which talent would you most like to have?
To be able to multitask.

What is your current state of mind?
Time is running out.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Not killing anyone.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Constipation (physical or otherwise).

Where would you like to live?
Right here in Switzerland (yet, in a twist of magic realism, minutes from my family around the world).

What do you most value in your friends?
Listening and loving me anyway.

What is your most marked characteristic?
An opinion on most things.

Who are your favorite writers?
Barbara Pym, Anita Brookman, John Kennedy Toole, Carole Shields, Alice Munro, David Sedaris, Andrew Sean Greer, Patrick Dewitt, to name a few.

Who are your heroes in real life?
I don’t believe in heroes but Volodomir Zelensky comes close.

What is it that you most dislike?
Cruelty of any kind.

How would you like to die?
I wouldn’t.

What is your motto?
Keep it real.

Faits divers

Summer is in full swing here in Central Switzerland. It feels like our first real summer since moving here two years ago. People are back to pre-pandemic life and the lake is buzzing with tourists and locals. Compared to last summer, the weather is heiss. Hot, hot, hot!

We are fortunate to enjoy a bit of cooler air in the evenings with temperatures that are generally a couple of degrees lower than many of our neighbouring cities and countries. My father-in-law in Lyon, France, reports temps topping 39 degrees Celsius, while we are sweltering at only 30-32. Fortunately Raymond has air conditioning in his apartment, although like most French people he uses it sparingly. But at least he can keep cool through the worst hours of the day.

I took the boys out for a walk this morning just after six a.m., when it was still cool enough for them to enjoy sniffing around. They are coming up to 10 years old and, like many seniors, suffer from health problems. Even younger, Frenchies do not do well in the heat so we are careful to keep them as cool as possible.

Not a lot happens in our postcard of a Swiss town. But a couple of Sundays ago a fait divers* saw Brunnen in the news. As we relaxed by the lake, variously known as the Vierwaldstättersee, the Lake of 4 Cantons or Lake Uri, a helicopter cut across the sky to a mountain top and hovered there before taking what looked like a suspicious plunge towards the other side of the lake. In the meantime, we heard the ‘pam pom’ of sirens. Nothing so unusual in that as choppers often bring people who are injured or ill to waiting ambulances.

It turned out that while we were lounging around on our beach towels, a car had gone off the road that runs alongside a rocky cliff on the road to Brunnen and plunged 50 metres into the lake. For several days it remained introuvable, until a week later it was found by a camera boat at nearly 200 metres depth. Needless to say there were no survivors. The wreckage was impressive.

*Fait divers: ‘Brief news stories, as those typically found in some French newspapers, that are sensational, lurid, etc.’

We were treated to some spectacular fireworks off our terrace on August 1st, the Swiss national holiday. I was spoiled, as it also happens to be my birthday. Especially as it was accompanied for the first time by a visit from our grandson. Which called for champagne. And cake!

Happy brithday, old girl!

We are soaking up as much of ‘Sommer’ here in Brunnen as we can. Sadly, it will be our last. I mentioned in an earlier post that we will be moving next year, but I’ve been waiting to have the official date in writing before sharing more. As with most construction projects these days, there have been delays due to the pandemic and supply shortages related to the war in Ukraine. Our builder has assured us we will have the schedule in writing by mid-month but I’m not holding my breath. Best guess is we’ll be moving by early March. Hard to believe as this is what it looks like now:

I will be sad to leave our current location but there are a few things I won’t regret. Our beautiful view here is offset by the noise from a road just below. And my inability to speak the local lingo is definitely not fun (I’d finally started to get a little momentum going last year but when we decided we’d be moving, my motivation to learn German went AWOL).

Our new home will be located in a small town above Lake Geneva in the Lavaux wine-growing region above Vevey, just a short drive from Montreux with its famous ‘smoke on the water’ jazz festival. Also known as the Vaud Riviera, it is famous for its terraced vineyards, which have been classified as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Best of all, we will be close to family on both the Swiss and French sides of the lake.

A suivre…

Il est né

If I were to continue this post in French, the title would be followed by ‘le divin enfant’. I won’t go that far but our newborn grandson has made a much-anticipated entrance.

Vincent Raymond Philippe was born on June 10th, just sneaking in (or rather, out) a couple of minutes before midnight. Not sure whether this was thanks to a Herculean effort on his mother’s part to avoid having two family birthdays on the same date or my advice that Friday’s child was possibly more advantaged than Saturday’s. Or perhaps it was his own choosing.

Anne, Vincent’s maman, fully gave herself up to the process of bringing this beautiful little boy into the world. A midwife herself, she was calling the shots throughout the entire 24-hour labour, which she pulled off with only a little help towards the end. Seems the little fellow was not optimally positioned for an easy birth and despite every effort to help him turn around he was facing the wrong way (not breach but head facing skywards instead of towards the mother’s back).

We finally met our grandson last week. He is the picture of a newborn baby, absolutely perfect in our eyes and those of his parents. To us he looks a lot like our son, Elliott, only a little smaller. Vincent weighed in at a healthy 3.6 kg whereas our son was a bouncing 4.7 kg. A kilogram of weight on a baby makes a big difference (especially to the mother, ha ha). But he also gets a lot from Anne as clearly Vincent is quieter and more cooperative about feeding and sleeping already after barely two weeks. To be fair this may have more to do with his mother’s determination and patience than genetics.

Anne and Elliott live in Aigle, a town at the opposite end of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) from its namesake city, in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. We’ve been making frequent trips to that area lately as we’ve decided for various reasons to move back (more details in a future post). By early next year, we will be living just 30 minutes away from our grandson and his parents, with this beautiful view to boot.

Ain’t life grand?

The only struggle for me was deciding what I wanted to be called. Grandma was already taken by such memorable personalities in our family that I didn’t feel it could ever be me. Vincent’s French grandparents will be Grandmaman and Grandpapa. I thought about various clever and non-traditional options but in the end I have chosen ‘Grandmom’. For my husband, the jury is still out. I jokingly suggested Papito but he just shook his head and said there will be plenty of time to figure it out before the little one is old enough to call him anything.

Please join us in welcoming Vincent!

Les dents de la mer

It was a standing joke. ‘Les dents de la mer’ (literally: ‘The teeth of the sea’) was the French title of the 1975 Spielberg movie, ‘Jaws’. If you’re old enough to remember it, and you’re anything like me, you can still never swim in any open water without imagining the terror lurking below.

Some years ago, when my late Belle-Mère needed to have several teeth replaced and the whole thing turned into a bit of a drama – not just the pain and suffering but the expense of implants – my husband had fun with it.

“Les dents de la mère,” he would say, whenever the topic came up. Mother’s teeth.

Now the joke is on me.

Last week I went in to the dentist to see about having a crown replaced on a tooth that had a cavity underneath it. I knew there were issues as the gum was inflamed, so I was prepared for a bit of an ordeal.

It started out well enough. Even though my dentist here in Switzerland, who speaks English and German, turned out to be French. Which I learned just after telling him that it was no surprise the crown wasn’t great — I’d had it done in France.

“Don’t trust French dentists,” I added.

“I’m French,” he said brightly. “So they can’t be all bad!”

The crown came away with a wiggle and a tug which, while I was relieved, was apparently not a good sign. Then began a lot of drilling and poking around, until the dentist announced that the tooth could not be saved; there was too much decay. It would need to come out and later we would look at an implant, if I could afford it, or a bridge. I wasn’t very thrilled but I was all juiced up with the freezing. Might as well finish the job now, I conceded reluctantly.

Then the real fun began. I’m not sure that dentist knew what he was getting himself into. These old teeth of mine have proven tough to extract before. The last time was a lower wisdom tooth. It finally agreed to come out only after the dentist, a tall man, practically had to brace his leg against the chair. I had a large bruise on my jaw for a week.

This time it was an upper molar, thankfully not visible from the front as it will be a gaping hole for several months. But it was tricky and took a long time to get out. By the time it was over I was a little shell-shocked. They sent me home with an anti-bacterial mouthwash and paracetamol. The dentist advised me that I’ll have to wait three months to see about an implant.

Several days later, sweaty and exhausted, I wondered if an infection had set in. I had a permanent dull headache, swollen gums and pain that radiated into my cheek and jaw. When I returned yesterday, Dr Dents removed the stitches but said I would need antibiotics for the infection.

“You should have called. I could have given them to you earlier.”

Which I wouldn’t have needed to do had you prescribed them in the first place, I thought but didn’t say. I’m all for preventing anti-microbial resistance, but given the tooth was already infected it might have been wiser to get it cleared up from the outset.

I guess the jury is still out on French dentists. But the good news is, I’m already feeling much perkier after two days of meds.

How do you feel about dental care? Have you ever had a ‘dent contre’ (literally, a tooth against, or in English, a bone to pick) with a dentist?