Je t’aime moi non plus

Jane and Serge, who loved to hate each other

I don’t often take an instant dislike to people. But I must say that Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin filled me with loathing when I first came to France and discovered the eponymous song of this post title. It made me cringe, not out of prudishness, but because it was embarrassing and tacky. I won’t share it here, merci, but if you don’t know the reference you can google it. The song is said to have inspired Donna Summer and a whole wave of steamy eighties pop.

I’ve posted before about how the French ‘sense’ each other often by le nez and will sometimes decide, even without speaking a word, that mutual mépris (indifference or disdain) is the only emotion possible. Then they will literally never speak or even look directly at one another.

I must say this makes me uncomfortable. Even people I feel little love for are deserving of at least superficial politesse, for their sake as well as mine. I try to put my best face forward and be kind, as long as I get similar in return. Not everyone has to be your best friend but with a bit of effort you can get along with most people. Besides, nobody wins in hate wars. All that negative energy flies back in your face.

Which is not to say there aren’t people I dislike. Whether by instinct or in reaction to their behaviour (often a combination of both). And sometimes in response to the sense that they simply don’t like me. Let’s face it – life is like that. There are people we just clash with.

Currently there are one or two clients I’m not fond of. Either because they treat me like the hired help (or at least a highly expendable resource to be called upon only when urgent need arises) or because I sense a certain entitlement in their behaviour. Those who think the world revolves around their problems get minimal support from me. Even when they are paying the bills.

Some years ago when I worked in the corporate world, I learned the hard way the truth in the saying, ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer’. A person on our team was proving not to be an ally and, frankly, I didn’t particularly like her. But when it came down to it, we had to work together and so I pushed up my positive energy in order to play nice. Wonder of wonders, we did become friends of sorts. Not in any permanent or deep way; we were too different for that. But I learned a lot about the value in making a connection with someone who is your poles-apart opposite. And having her onside made all the difference in the project we worked on. We still keep in touch.

As for ‘Je t’aime moi non plus’ the words of the song took on their own meaning for me. As I disliked Gainsbourg and the song, I took them to mean ‘I don’t like you either’. But what they actually mean is ‘I love you me neither’. Which makes little sense to poor literal old me but to the French is a subtle statement about the impossibility of love. All against a backdrop of erotic innuendo. Go figure.

How do you handle people you don’t like? Avoid, ignore, befriend?

Embracing imperfection

When I was a child, I was a creative spirit. I liked to draw and paint, and also enjoyed acting and singing. My artwork wasn’t bad and I had a pretty good voice but I had a fatal flaw: frustrated perfectionism. Every time I drew or painted something, I tore it up as soon as the flaws became apparent. Later it got to the point where I froze whenever I faced a blank canvas. It was the same with the performance arts: I couldn’t bear to watch or listen to myself without dissolving into a puddle of shame.

Thankfully I grew up and became a writer. It is far less degrading than other forms of prostitution. And while some client revisions make me want to tear my hair out, I’ve learned to take satisfaction in making the best of each writing assignment. There is always an opportunity to bring creative flair to copy, even if I sometimes think of myself as a ‘silk purse maker’ (transforming the proverbial sow’s ear). It’s easier to be a closet perfectionist as a writer than as an artist, even if death by editing is a thing. Word processing technology lets us draft and redraft in blink of an eye and ensures that the worst of our spelling and grammar mistakes are hidden from view. Beta readers and editors help us transform our shitty first drafts into stories that people actually want to read.

Each new year brings with it the chance to start again, whether in writing or in life, with a blank page. Like every year, I am setting myself, if not firm goals, a mantra or two. This year I’ve decided it is all about embracing imperfection. It may not be perfect, but it is my life and I love it. Each day, no matter the weather, the time available or whatever else is happening, I will do something that makes me truly happy. Just for me. Creatively speaking, I will not throw out the baby with the bathwater when my work falls short. I will believe in my star and, if something needs work, then I won’t back away from it. No shortcuts. The only failure is the failure to keep trying.

We live such curated lives. I post pictures of this beautiful place where I live and enjoy hearing from people who appreciate them. We are indeed blessed to live here. But sometimes it feels like those photos are completely unreal. Days with no shareable moments, when life’s problems and challenges feel overwhelming. When everything feels like a shitty first draft and you just want to crumple it up and start over.

But I’m learning that the imperfections are what make things interesting. I’ve always found beauty to be like that: flawed is better than perfect. I’d rather look at an interesting face than one which is boringly beautiful. I recently had a revelation about my work-in-progress novel: my main character needs more flaws in order to reveal his arc in the story.

On a side note, I made these vanilla ‘kipferl’ cookies, a local specialty, at Christmas. They were supposed to look like crescent moons but their appearance was far less than perfect. The bright side? They tasted absolutely delicious!

So I’ll be embracing imperfection this year. What about you?

Comfort and joy

Do you remember the television special, ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’? The Vince Guaraldi soundtrack made it into something truly special. And as I get ready to celebrate another holiday all these years later, listening to ‘Christmas Time is Here’, I feel nostalgic. Not sad but melancholy.

Christmas feels bittersweet to me now. The feeling grows with each year that passes. As if the weight of all those Yuletides past, the joys and the sorrows, good times and bad, cast a shadow on the present, no matter how happy.

Last year was a sad Christmas. Recovering from Covid, my husband and I spent it without any family other than each other. Food had lost its taste but the dog’s farts still made my eyes water (how is that?), I had no energy and little appetite for any of the usual things. But it was oddly relaxing. The pressure was off. Zero expectations meant that any joy that did come along was unexpected. Oddly, it was sort of fun, or at least memorable.

Two years ago, pre-pandemic, in another lifetime, we were all together for Christmas in Canada. Family, friends, childhood holiday traditions revisited. It was joyful but exhausting. Yet, especially in hindsight, I am so glad we went ‘home’ for Christmas in 2019 because life is short and who knows when we will do it again?

This year, if the French trains cooperate, we will celebrate Christmas together at home here in Switzerland with our children and their grandfather. No matter how bittersweet, I will raise a cup of cheer and savour every last drop.

Tidings to you, dear blog friends! May your fondest wishes come true as we ring out this crazy old year. Bring on 2022!

Der Schnee

One of the things I love about living here in Central Switzerland is that we get a real winter. Something about the snow — der Schnee — always raises my Canadian spirits, especially in the run up to Christmas.

Even a sprinkling of the white stuff on the mountains casts everything in a new light. You see all kinds of details that you never noticed before.

There are twinkling lights on the balconies and across the valley, making it feel like a winter wonderland. Even the fog has it charms!

Part of the fun here is knowing that no matter how much snow falls, they are up to the job. Our town has a veritable army of snow removal trucks waiting in the wings with their engines revving. By November, they’ve installed bright orange poles all along the edges of the roads to clearly demarcate where the plows need to go. Even our small street is already plowed by the time I take the dogs out at first light.

Oh, the marvel of Swiss efficiency! (I do miss things about France, but snow removal is not one of them).

And when the sun comes out and bounces off the mountain tops it’s just, well…soul-satisfying.

At this time of year, as we head towards the winter solstice, you have to get out early in the afternoon to catch the sun’s last hurrah before it slips between the mountains. Then you get to huddle indoors as darkness creeps and even pour yourself a glass of something to enjoy from the warmth of cozy indoors.

If you are really blessed, you may even have a furry foot warmer or two.

What’s your favourite part of winter?

Redemption

I have been remiss in posting here of late. There are no excuses other than life taking up a lot of room in my head. Plus, a new computer distracting me, a work-in-progress I’m trying to finalize and a bunch of other (fairly major) things worthy of their own posts. More to come soon, juré, crâché. (That’s French for ‘I swear’…)

Plus, most importantly, November. My most-detested month is now behind us. It was mercifully short due to everything else going on. Now, December has come in with a bang in Central Switzerland as it has in much of the northern hemisphere. With a mood-boosting ton of snow. Schnee! Neige!

For us November ended on a rather astonishing event. You may remember that we moved last year from a house in France to an apartment in Switzerland. At that time we decided to downsize the pet population. I did not post much about this at the time as I wasn’t particularly proud of it. Basically, we decided to rehome our two cats as we were moving into a space with no direct access to the outside. My excuse was that they were outdoor cats and that surely we would find loving homes for two sweet, if senior, cats? The real reason was that I couldn’t face the idea of all that hair and being a full-time cat caretaker. Mea culpa.

A very kind friend who lives in a neighbouring town offered to have the cats at her place for the interim. Within weeks, we had found an adoptive family for the elder male cat and other other, a female, had run away. Guilt-racked, we posted notices all around the village, called the local animal shelters and went out looking. But as anyone who has ever known a feline will attest, cats do not come when called. And when they’ve decided to go into hiding, they cannot be found.

The winter was cold last year with a ton of snow. I sometimes pictured Bianca having graced herself into a new home, or alternatively I imagined her hanging out in a barn with a whole herd of cats. At worst I assumed she’d been hit by a car. Sometimes I dreamed about her, feeling like I’d abandoned a child. After several months, I gave up worrying. We got rid of all the cat accoutrements.

You feel it coming, right? Out of the blue last week I got a call from a German-speaking woman, who fortunately also spoke English.

“Mrs. Lewis? This is the Tierheim Allenwinden. We found your cat.”

Shock. Silence. Brain scrambles. “Which one?”

“You do have a cat?”

“Yes. I mean no. That is, I did have a cat, two in fact. The female ran away over a year ago.”

“A year? That’s amazing. When are you coming to get her?”

I went that afternoon. She was dirty and matted but in pretty good shape, all things considered. We decided somebody in the area must have been feeding her. She had been turned in by a woman who apparently found her just a block away from where she disappeared.

The vet shaved a big wide stripe down her back to remove the worst of the mats. They were amazed at how well she had survived as a feral cat all those 14 months.

She has forgiven us and we have decided she deserves to stay. How’s that for redemption?

Happy December!

Update January 2022: We ended up contacting the woman who had turned in Bianca to the shelter to thank her. It turned out she was the granddaughter of a 90-year-old woman who had been feeding our cat for the better part of last year. As the grandmother had to move into a nursing home, she had not wanted to just abandon Bianca. We sent her a bouquet of white roses and a photo of Bianca just before Christmas. Yesterday we heard that the grandmother sadly passed away. 💔