12 days of Covid-19

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…a case of Covid-19.

I suppose it was inevitable. Although he generally wears a mask, my husband is terrible about touching his face. And the rules about social distancing in Switzerland have been fairly relaxed throughout the pandemic. Masks in public places, yes. But restaurants have remained open along with gyms and all the shops. He would come in from shopping and when asked if he’d washed his hands would say, “No, but I’m going to.” Then proceed to touch everything in the apartment before eventually washing his hands, protesting against my ‘maniac’ tendencies. (‘Maniaque’ in French, meaning a clean freak or stickler…)

Suffice it to say that while I hadn’t exactly been expecting to get Covid, I sensed it was less a matter of if than of when. Sure enough, two weeks ago my husband announced he had a ‘slight’ sore throat. Then promptly decided it was nothing and he was fine. Then went to bed and woke up feeling not right. Still, it wasn’t Covid-19, he said. He was barely sick. Two days of feeling poorly later, he went for a test and — bingo! — coronavirus for Christmas.

I got it three days after him. No sore throat, barely a tickle at the back of my throat in fact. For me it started in the eyes, which suddenly felt sore and tired. Went to bed and had the first night of what would be the worst and most persistent symptom throughout my twelve-day ordeal: a sort of delirious anxiety, in which crazy half-thoughts chased each other through my dreams and, while I slept, I did not truly rest. I felt feverish although my temperature stayed normal. The next day I had a slight cough, nothing to speak of, a sense of tightness in my chest, a bit of a headache and crashing fatigue.

By the third day I realized that my sense of smell had nearly gone. I could still smell something really strong, like vinegar, but food had no taste other than salty or sweet. I also experienced a kind of brain fog, like I couldn’t quite think straight.

On day four the palpitations started. This symptom, which makes me feel like my heart is about to pound right out of my chest, was worrying enough to make me call the hotline for medical advice. The doctor advised me to go for a check-up as soon as possible but as I had no chest pain or shortness of breath, it wasn’t urgent. It seems that palpitations are common when the body is fighting an infection.

Days five and six saw some improvement to my overall state, although my stomach became upset and I lost my appetite. Still, the brain fog cleared and I began to feel less exhausted.

Day seven brought a fever, which made the heart palpitations worse. Basically my heart would start to race as the fever began, I would take paracetamol and it would drop; I’d feel better for a while then the whole cycle would start again. This went on for three days. I also had muscle aches and pains and persistent gastrointestinal distress.

Of course by then my husband was over it.

The Covid-tracking app did its job and I got a call from the people at Swiss Covid, informing me that I had been exposed to a certain Stefan who had tested positive. I assured them that I was familiar with the culprit — my husband. And that I also had symptoms.

You will need to isolate, the nice fellow on the phone advised. And get a test to be sure.

But why? I asked. It was entirely obvious I had it. Ah, but they needed proof in order to document me as Covid-positive on the app. And then I would be spared the need to self-isolate again for another three months if I were exposed to the virus again. So off we went to the test centre. Where I failed the Covid test. That is, I was unable to stand the 6-inch swab up my nose. The guy got it one-third the way in and I wimped out. It was excruciatingly uncomfortable Can’t you do it differently? I asked. I’d read that alternatives were available. Shorter nasal swabs that were just as effective. He shook his head sadly. It was all or nothing. Swiss rigour leaves no room for wusses.

I finally saw a doctor for a check-up a few days ago and they took blood for an antibody test instead. Hopefully that will be proof enough. And the meantime they did a bunch of tests and the good news is that my heart and other vital organs seem to be fine.

Twelve days in to my Covid-19 pre-Christmas challenge, my energy has been slow to come back but I’m starting to feel a bit more like myself. My morning clementine smells heavenly: taste and smell are joyfully returning. I’m out of quarantine but for now I’m limiting my excursions to short walks with the dogs.

I decided to share the details of what it felt like to have a ‘mild’ case with virtually no respiratory symptoms so that others might know what to expect. I am 63, in otherwise good health and with no comorbidities. I was less sick than I have been in the past with the flu but it took far longer to get over it. Each day I felt better, and worse. The virus was like a time-release; there can be no doubt that it packs quite a wham.

Ours will be a very simple Christmas indeed. I am simply grateful that we made it through Covid-19. And so very happy, as I’m sure many of you are, to bid ‘au revoir’ to 2020.

I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy, healthy end to this crazy old year. See you in 2021!

Three bags full

I never saw many farm animals up close when I was young. We lived in suburbia, where you got your milk in bladders (it’s a Canadian thing) and wool only ever came in sweaters. Living for years in France and now in Switzerland, some of our closest neighbours are furred or feathered.

Our French bulldog, Humphrey, the one with the wonky ticker, is mildly obsessed by sheep. All farm animals really, but especially the ones closer to his own size. Humphrey stares fixedly at the sheep and goats we pass on our walks. How ridiculous he looks; I feel rather embarrassed for him. Even the cows just look back at him placidly as they chew their cud. Electric fencing means that their relationship will never get beyond a curious stare. Although on one occasion he was surprised when the massive pink tongue of a curious cow came and licked him over the fence.

Now the farm animals have all gone inside for the winter but in most seasons they graze happily outdoors. I wonder if they have shorter legs on one side to keep their balance on the steep slopes?

We had a bit of snow this week which made the dog walks a little tough on the Frenchies’ tootsies. Our boys are getting older and are less excited about going out in the cold and wet. The upside is that when they do their business, which I always pick up faithfully here in the land of civic duty, it is easier to grab in the snow. And even warms my hands! Like most modern dog walkers, I have perfected my technique for picking up dog-do: slipping the bag over my hand like a glove then grabbing the item and turning the bag inside out. Before knotting it, that is; here in Switzerland there is a protocol for everything and one must knot the bag, n’est-ce pas?

Thankfully the bags are thoughtfully provided by the Gemeinde (town council) at poop bins strategically located where people walk their dogs. So I have no excuse, really, and can even be seen after dark with my walking light scrabbling around on the ground to pick up after my pets.

Garbage bags are another story. I’m not sure how it works elsewhere but here in German-speaking Switzerland, you have to buy special pre-taxed bags. Any other kind will simply not be picked up.

“Müllsacks, bitte,” I venture to the woman behind the counter where they sell pricey, taxed items like garbage bags and cigarettes. Thankfully she understands me, even though I think it’s not the correct word. That might in fact be ‘Gebührenkehrichtsack’ (charged garbage bag) but I am far from able as yet to spit that one out.

I am, however, proud to be able to specify the size of bag: “Fünf und dreissig.” The 35-litre bags are the most popular format so perhaps she saw it coming. I fork out 20 francs to pay for my roll of ten red bags. At 2 CHF a pop, it’s a good thing they’re sturdy because you need to amortize each one by filling it to the max. Most weeks we manage three bags full.

It seems the philosophy of making the polluter pay for the costs of waste disposal is deeply ingrained in the Swiss psyche. I suppose it’s an incentive to create less waste and recycle more. Which is all very well and good unless you have a sensitive nose. Those bags start to stink after a few days.

But who wants to be a black sheep?

Ba-a-a-h!

Feature photo by Jared van der Molen on Unsplash

Turn on the light!

I am thrilled to have a story published in Offshoots 15, an anthology of writing from Geneva. It’s my first piece to be published by the Geneva Writers Group, a wonderful group I’ve been involved with for the past several years. From my former home across the border in France, it was eye-opening to be able to join this international group’s events and workshops, all of which have been inspirational and instructive. Now I will be among its many members who travel from across Switzerland and beyond to live events — always assuming we will soon see an end to the pandemic. (I’m a believer!)

I don’t often write about writing beyond what I produce on this blog. But, une fois n’est pas coutume — ‘just this once’ for the Francophiles — let me tell you a few things about the writing I do for work and play.

Writing for me is less about what I do than who I am. Meaning I cannot remember a time when it wasn’t central to my existence. Diaries, journals, lyrics, the odd poem or bit of creative scribbling took me through my early years to higher learning and the inevitable choice of what to do next. Unsurprisingly, I decided to make a living as a writer. Not the romantic life of the novelist but the reality of the paid hack.

I started out in Toronto in PR, writing video scripts for the Ministry of the Environment on the burning topics of the day such as acid rain, air pollution and toxic waste. Then I moved on to advertising as a copywriter, selling anything and everything from fashion to bricks and mortar. In between regular jobs I freelanced and also managed to place a few feature stories in newspapers and magazines. By the time we moved to France I was a seasoned hired gun, willing to turn my prose to whatever paid the bills. While raising kids I worked freelance, translating and also copywriting for clients with international markets. I even spent a couple of years on a team of translator-journalists at Euronews. At one point I transitioned to the corporate world and eventually got into pharma communications. This led to our move to the Geneva area some years ago. I now work as a freelance writer for several different clients who manage to keep me happily busy on a range of topics while leaving me a little time to pursue my own writing projects.

When my kids were still small I began dabbling in writing for myself again. Nothing too ambitious: stories, essays, a memoir. My current work-in-progress is a novel. Nothing of note has been published yet, aside from the odd story. I’ve decided not to go the self-publishing route and traditional publishing is notoriously tough.

And now this: Offshoots 15 has selected my story, ‘Late’, a flash fiction piece that came to me one winter day while waiting and worrying, as is my wont. For those not familiar with the genre, flash is very short so I won’t say more.

I must say it’s an honour to be in the company of the amazing writers in this collection of prose and poetry. The editorial team chose the theme ‘Turn on the light’ to offer some relief in a year of upheaval. It’s a good read if you like snippets of life seen from the lighter side. What’s more, after so long in confinement this little book offers the treat of glimpses into life in faraway places.

Offshoots 15 is available in paperback and on Kindle from Amazon. I’ve already ordered several copies for family and friends.

What about you? I know that some of this blog’s followers are professionals and published writers. Don’t be shy: I’d love to hear about your latest work!

Boucs emissaires

William Holman Hunt: The Scapegoat, 1854.

Although we now live in Switzerland we remain faithful to our former French habits when it comes to watching the news. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, and a monthly subscription to Swisscom, we enjoy access to all the French television channels as well as several from the UK. There are also a few Swiss choices, of course, but except for the odd news program I can’t be bothered. And watching TV in German, even with subtitles, is still a lot of work.

It seems I cling to the familiar at times when things feel new and uncertain. Ever since we moved and I discovered the UK Drama channel, I’ve also been watching old episodes of EastEnders from 1995. It’s funny how a TV soap can take you back. I remember first watching some of those episodes when we lived in Lyon and my daughter was just a baby. Seeing the clothes and hairstyles from another era in your life is oddly reassuring. (And quite hilarious. Phil Mitchell with hair! Ian Beale getting a fax machine!)

Back then I was working as a freelance translator. A fax machine was my life line for receiving work and sending in translated texts to clients. The internet was still new and there wasn’t much available online; I spent a fortune on dictionaries to navigate my way through French texts that were often highly technical. To my dismay, regular dictionaries did not include technical terms and we had no library nearby so I had to invest in specialized tomes to be able to translate texts about electrical gear and high technology.

Back in those days in France my work was just trickling in. So I took on just about anything despite the fact that my specialty was copywriting. I remember on a few occasions reluctantly accepting some interpreting jobs, even though I was only borderline fluent enough to translate live speech. One of my clients, who I think was desperate as her regulars were all off on holiday, explained that it wasn’t the kind of simultaneous translation you see on TV but rather ‘interpretariat d’accompagnement’; meaning that you simply had to translate for someone attending a meeting, so that they understood more or less what was happening. Still, you had to be pretty good and pay attention. No smart phones, no Google translate. And all those dictionaries were too heavy to lug around, although I did bring a few in the trunk of my car for emergencies.

Those jobs were more of an education that any French class could ever be. I remember on one occasion being entirely stumped in a meeting when a term I’d never heard kept popping up: bouc emissaire.

“On va pas chercher des boucs emissaires,” one earnest-looking fellow kept repeating. My client, a nice Israeli man who actually understood quite a bit of French, looked at me expectantly.

I swallowed, then ventured: “We’re not looking for any messenger bucks?”

From a few seats down the table came the sound of choked laughter. Then the heavily-accented voice of a woman, who until then had kept a very low profile, suggested: “I think in English it is called ‘escape goat’?”

Scape goats! Bien sûr. I nodded vigorously, red-faced. Thinking: never again. Translating the written word with the help of dictionaries is one thing. Interpreting is something else entirely. Flying without a net as it were. I vowed from then on to leave it to the professionals.

I was reminded of this incident when watching the news on TV last night. The special guest on France 2 was Gérald Darmanin, the French Interior minister who is in charge of the police. He was being called to account for yet another incident of police violence. A French version of George Floyd (fortunately he survived) in which in a music producer named Michel was severely beaten in his own Paris studio by several cops who didn’t realize they were being filmed by security cameras. The incident further fuels controversy around a new law being introduced in France that makes it a crime to share images of the police for malicious purposes (although in this case no one claims it was malicious).

“Trouver des boucs emissaires, c’est pas ma façon de faire,” Darmanin said in a live interview during which it was suggested that the head of the Paris police should be relieved of his functions. Looking for scapegoats, it seems, is not his style.

I sighed. How familiar it all felt. Yet another French controversy, a new reason for people to take to the streets. Not much ado about nothing but, seen from this side of the border, and with that old chestnut popping up again, it almost felt like home.

How about you? Do you watch TV news?

Thank god it’s Freitag

It’s Friday, not my normal day for posting here but a good excuse for sharing a few things about my new life in German-speaking Switzerland.

There is something about being here that feels right. Not that I fit in exactly but somehow I feel at ease. I suppose because no one here seems to mind about me. And because I’ve gotten used to feeling foreign.

But that’s the thing: I don’t feel foreign. So what if I can’t speak German? Most people will adapt. English is spoken most everywhere, at least a little. A few words of French here and there. And I’m getting to the point where I can pop out the odd German word. A number or the name of something. Brot. Kaffee. Freitag.

I’ve now learned all the days of the week and can do numbers up to a hundred. My vocabulary is growing daily. It’s putting the words all together in sentences that’s the problem. Especially understanding others when they stream them into sentences, even snippets. I nod a lot, that time-worn strategy, and when the going gets tough, I say ‘Kein Deutsch’ and throw up my hands. If it’s a good day I’ll throw in ‘Entschuldigung‘.

Freitag is an easy one as it’s so close to the English. ‘Frei’ actually means free, which makes sense to me. Friday, with the weekend just ahead, feels free and sort of fun. It’s usually the day when I schedule appointments and errands other than work. Today I’m going to the dentist: der Zahnarzt. Not so fun but I’m happy to have found an English-speaking dentist.

I’m also learning a few social norms. There is a thing on Swiss trains where people don’t sit in an empty seat next to you without asking, “Frei?”  And people in shops will wait for you to be finished in a particular part of the aisle before moving in to make their selection. In parking lots they’ll wait for you to move out of your spot. Which is quite strange. I mean, quelle idée! This would never have happened in France.

Still, it makes me feel oddly pressured. In a good way, I suppose. I’d rather feel I have to hurry up to be thoughtful of my neighbours than pressured by people’s anger. But the thing is, you build up a persona for yourself in public places. And for years, I had the French ‘carapace’. A kind of tough shell that you build up in defense. It seems that here the approach is more subtle. It takes some getting used to.

The other news is that I’ve quit my German language course. For a bunch of reasons but mainly because of the teacher. He was a short, macho type with a big belly and little patience for those who didn’t understand immediately. At first I thought it was me. So I tried harder. But I felt discouraged and ultimately that I was wasting my time in class. That on top of the fact that we were stuck inside a small, poorly ventilated room for two hours amidst a spike in Covid cases. And although we were all wearing masks, it felt risky.

To be fair I’ve always had trouble with teachers. I’m just one of those difficult students who can only cooperate if I understand not just what but why we’re doing something. Well, let’s just say this teacher was not a very good communicator. In fact, he was a pretty poor teacher all round. I suspect he was disorganized and made up the plan as he went along. Whatever. It didn’t work for me. Of the six of us students, I was the second to drop out.

So now I’m pursuing German on my own. And I will get there, eventually, at least to some level of fluency.

In the meantime, it’s Freitag. And that brings me to the bags of the same name. I have always loved these Swiss German messenger bags made from recycled truck tarps. They’re sort of a cult thing around here.

Ridiculously expensive. But super practical and made to last, like forever. I got my first one this year.

The feature photo was taken just outside the Freitag shop in Interlaken where we were on holiday last summer. That’s another thing I like about Switzerland. I mean, an old-fashioned gumball machine? How Freitag!

What’s your favourite thing about Friday?