Thursday, February 28, 2013

A screech from my 1950s telephone rouses me from deep concentration. Today is a day of beginnings. 

I take a cardboard box from the shelf behind my desk and flip off the lid. Inside is a plethora of antique pens and replicas of instruments used by writers of yesterday - I hesitate. There was a time when I would have wielded one of these, or just opted for a freshly sharpened No 2 pencil to shape my reverie - but today is different. And while my Parker comforts the would-be writer in me, it's this tragic Logitech that will ultimately type out my words. I've had to face it, plastic's just plain faster, not to mention virtually-effective.

I stare out the window as a friend chats with me across the line, picking at the old sticker on my phone:


The number used to be a six digit one with no prefix, and like my antique friends I must leave it behind for now. I hang up and return to the screen; this is the moment I've waited for. How many articles have I written in my lifetime and saved in some random folder on my computer? A bazillion? But now, when someone is actually waiting for one...

There is no romance in the presence; there is nothing glorious. That comes once the work is done. So I struggle to shed the cloak of reverie from my mind and clear it out like so many busy housekeepers. 

This is the moment of truth. And so I begin.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The thing about you is that you've got all that frigid snow piled on top of your head; it doesn't do you any good, you know. Underneath, you are all color and shape and form; underneath you wield the power to stand tall and strong just by relying on who you already are.

Why do you call your ragged edges flaws? Such a word. 

 The mirror on my wall is very wise.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

It was high time for a party - what with spring on the way.

When we moved last December, there was so much work to do in so little time that my world very nearly spun out of control - everything got neglected. Not only did I still have 10+ hours of painting to do, I had to sift through and pack eighteen years of belongings for six people, clean a newly renovated house, and scrub down the former apartment. All this in about two weeks' time. I hardly ate and I hardly slept, and those extra two or three kilos that had been hanging on to my behind melted away (I am definitely not complaining about that).

Every morning I wondered how I would get things done plus cook for and tend to four kids, not to mention hold a job; I could have been a case study in stress management. I felt alone, and a little hopeless since I knew there was no way in * that I was going to get it all done. And then...

...every day or so

...a phone call.

"I have a few hours to give you on Monday, is there something you need done?"

And another, and another. Every day there were strong, efficient lady-hands to help me along the way. I couldn't believe it, truth be told, and wondered why they would bother helping me when they had plenty of things to do themselves. I was moved; but also exhausted so I always said yes. Yes, please come. That became my mantra, and all I had to give back was simple gratitude, which at that time seemed vastly inadequate.

My 84 year old mother-in-law came to clean the old kitchen. I politely urged her to reconsider, inwardly acknowledging that as housekeepers go, she cleans for two. I knew I needed her, but urged her to stay home and rest at her age. She shook her head and shooed my words away with her hand, "I'm perfectly healthy and strong. If I get to the point where I need meds to continue, I promise I'll slow down." There are so many things wrong with this picture!

But in the end the truth is very simple: women know how to get the job done, and they do not rest until it is.

So all day Sunday I baked. And early Monday morning, as the freezing air crept up the windows and a fire crackled in the fireplace to chase it away, I prepared the morning feast. And then they came!

My deepest gratitude.

p.s. the artist asks, "why am I not invited to the party?"  

Did you help me paint? Pack? Clean? Could you help me move boxes with your pianist arms?? 

"Yes, yes! I helped you, darling! I helped your morale with all my happy messages!" 

And so he did. :)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Minutes before the recital, we were in the green room waiting while he kept his fingers and arms warm playing on a regular piano. By this time he was in a world all his own, fright and elation dancing in his eyes like drops of rain on water. I went in search of a vending machine for the bottled water we forgot to bring along. "Do you have any Euro, darling?" Drat. I just used my last one on a key chain for my daughter. I rummage through my purse, I rummage through his. I check his coat pockets, pants pockets, and finally find a single one clanging around at the bottom of my briefcase. 

The long halls draping La Fenice seem labyrinthian now, and I locate a very well-stocked machine in a most unusual place. I drop in my Euro and bring the bottle back to my artist. On the piano is a banana. This is the food of the music gods - bottled water and a banana. Don't be fooled - that's all you need to be world-class.

At five minutes to eight, the usher came to call us.

"No, darling, I think I won't play tonight," he says as his fingers continue to string out notes. "Please be so kind as to inform the guests that I won't be playing. Oh! You can play! Just play that little bit of Mozart I taught you. Don't you remember? Da-da-da-da-da-da----da-. Remember? Just go play -- you. Thank you, darling."

This is the kind of thing that happens two minutes before the brilliant come on stage. I gently wrap my fingers around his arm (you can't pull on the arms of pianists like you do your kids ... this makes things more challenging). I push him gently from behind. The usher watches on in amusement. We nearly force him to the door.

The clock struck 8:00.

"Darling... I need you to turn my pages. In fact, I need you to manage my scores between pieces. As I speak to the audience, you find the next piece and get it ready for me, ok? Thank you, darling."

I don't know which pieces are in which book! What are you talking about! How will I find them? It's a little late to be telling me this, don't you think?

He motioned to the usher to bring a program while a room full of people waited for the recital to begin, scribbling "Blue book, page 3" - "Yellow book, page ?" beside each piece. I could feel the blood draining from my face - visualizing myself picking the wrong one, losing my place and not turning the page on time (this is million-mile-a-minute playing), or worse, dropping the book on his fingers.

He entered the great hall as I stood by the door, primed to take my place beside him at just the right time. My face must have been a nice shade of sheet white, for two lady ushers came beside me, muttering Italian words of encouragement as only women can, soothing in a way that is common to every female alive.

And then it began. And when it begins, well, I have no words for what happens then. Faster than the speed of light he plays - my eyes follow the notes, holding on to each one for dear life as if I'm being thrown off a cliff. Do - not - lose - your - place - Allison! There is no room for distraction. If I lose my place, well, there's no elegant way to say it - I'm screwed. I mean, what other words could I possibly say? As the first piece rolled to a breathtaking end, as he bent over his hands in a final gesture of musical intent, his eyes met mine for a brief second. A smile. And then he was standing before his audience again. 

La Fenice is that memory to me. It is not Vivaldi or the great mecca of operatic culture. It is not history or elegance or prestige. It is the moment his eyes met mine; the moment a smile burst from his soul. Bliss.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I did not pass through the green door - but I did enter across the way.

Gran Teatro La Fenice is one of the most famous theaters in Europe - constructed at the very heart of Italian Baroque music. 

We entered the doors and ascended the lavish staircase. I felt my artist take hold of my coat sleeve as he paused halfway up. "I can't play here - it's the FENICE and that's my name on the playbill!"

Having four kids is an asset to me in this line of work - you learn how to power through the impossible.

"Rubbish! Of course you can, and will! Oh, looky at all the gold!"

I am a lucky manager for my pianist is darling in the extreme, and easy to encourage. I took his coat and scores in my hands as he mounted the stage in the Sala Appolinee to practice. I sat down and listened as the spirits of Vivaldi and Bach entered the room and took their places along the upper banister, waiting to hear how he would interpret their timeless notes. He struck just one, and the tears began to fall.

These are my favorite moments with him. I sit, I snap a few pictures, I walk the room and observe. Sometimes I will catch his eye and feel the very soul of him - a soul which is most evident when he plays.

Growing up a simple girl in Los Angeles, never did I dream that I would be there, in that place, on that day. Come to think of it, I did not think I would be in this place, on this day, either.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

In Venice there was a door.

It faced Teatro La Fenice directly and creeped me out deliciously. Will you not join me inside?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Little hands build Snow Family before Spring decides to stay.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Eagles are skilled at seeing small detail from a great distance. They fly up high with an unparalleled view, but see only the tiniest things.

But they see you - hidden among the green stems and winter branches, ready to burst. Never doubt it. You are seen by someone, and admired for your loveliness.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Stools filled with sweet feet are even better.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The bar stools have arrived!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Ce qui fait qu'on désire et qu'on aime, c'est une force douce et terrible, plus puissante que la beauté.

-- Anatole France

Happy Valentine's Day to all those who dare to love.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

In this new house, I actually keep the home fires burning.

It's -1° outside and this is how we keep warm!

I translate a little at my desk, and then get up to stretch my legs; I poke up the fire, add a log, meander to the kitchen to get a glass of water with crushed ice, stop by great-grandmother's clock and listen to the peaceful tick tocking, and then translate some more. 

Sigh of happiness.
When all the lights go out within, there is a stillness to be sought. I feel them go out and struggle against it, worrying and sweating to resist.

And someone says: just hold still. And I do that.

I choose a passionate life, it's true, and I choose an inner calm.

Letting the darkness overcome when it will is the only way to make it take its leave again. And so I wait.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Jura region is one of the most exceptional landscapes I've seen in Switzerland; it is also one of the most under-promoted, internationally speaking. If you want to step into a Currier & Ives Christmas card, this is the place to come.

It occurred to me on Saturday morning that we might actually be able to do a real sleigh ride in this area after my daughter asked if we could take her friends horseback riding for a birthday party. Not sure I wanted to take the risk of having inexperienced eleven year olds fall off some of the strongest animals in the world, I googled sleigh rides in the Franches Montagnes, and came up with this:

I called. Can you do it? For 180 CHF, Mr Boichat will give you an hour ride through the most natural of landscapes. The expert horse breeder actually takes his tractor out to pack down the path before you arrive, only this time too much snow made it impossible to level. The brave beasts had to jump and heave on the harness to get us down the "Champs Elysées", as he so proudly calls it.

"I've been to Paris," confides Boichat, "Nothing there but a bunch of people piled together. I'm happy out here, on my land. Couldn't live anywhere else." Adding with the first smile I'd seen since I met him: "I'll sleep well tonight!".

He took us out for 90 minutes in all, me and five little girls having the time of their lives. Who says young people are all about technology?

Across the way is the Peu-Péquignot Inn, where I'm told you can eat the best rösti in these parts. And they're open for Valentine's Day... I checked.

 Maybe my Russian is reading this and taking the hint?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Yes, that is an Ikea plant. They're the only ones I can keep alive. 

I have tried so many kinds, narrowing my range down to succulent plants only, since they are more tolerant of my forgetfulness, but no water for two months will stretch any living thing's patience no matter how apologetic you may be.

Beside it is my favorite Swiss newspaper and the beloved clock my sister gave me. Neither of those go untended - the words are read and the battery is always fresh. But the plants, well, they die.

Hence, the ikea-miracle-specimen. And as I sit down with my cup of coffee here in my favorite place, that plant smiles success back at me. It reminds me of how efficient I am and never offers up a reproach. Bless its little plastic soul...

Sunday, February 10, 2013

It's Sunday, and the sun is shining!

Anyone who lives in Bernese Jura knows that grey skies have hovered their dreariness over us for weeks - and today light has come.

We squint. We recoil at first like hibernating animals crawling from their dark dens. And then we gather close beside the window and let it touch our skin with its bright fingers.

It's -10°C outside... and I'm off to walk along the creek. I will lay my cough down on its soft banks and leave it there to be washed away. The sun is shining! And all will finally be well.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Friday, February 8, 2013

I've been so sick that I made this for breakfast.

Forget about hot tea - cool berries are so much better.

Don't strap onions to my chest or garlic to my feet; I will not have a scarf tied round my neck while I sleep or gel slathered across my back. 

But I will throw the window open and let the freezing air disinfect my lungs, suck on cold ice chips to soothe the burning furnace that is my throat, and warm back up in front of hubby's cozy fire.

I'm a bad patient, yes. A bad, bad, bad bad bad bad patient.

Where'd that smoothie go?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

"....the next time you look out your window and feel full of love for the view, remember that folk like that cannot see what you see...sad, isn't it?"

I poured out my heart to this seventy-six year old friend recently in an unexpected gush of honesty. It was that kind of pouring where even as you are speaking and hearing the words come up and out of you, you feel ashamed hearing them. It is the kind of pouring when you think, "Is it possible that these feelings still exist in the grown-up world?"

But it turns out that it is possible - even in this grown-up world.

There are people roaming about in broad daylight who no matter how hard you try to please them, no matter how you alter your lifestyle to accommodate them, will just never be appeased. They masquerade as friends who love to look upon their success, their superiority, their wisdom, beauty or skill at navigating life flawlessly ... and are perfectly willing to punch you in the gut when you are not looking.

And what do you do with that - when the shame and constant surprise will not be shaken? What do you do when you are repeatedly too naive?

"I don't do crazy"

And that's that.

I've been reasoning myself out of reason for forty-two years - but the answer to the question is really very simple. I don't do crazy. I won't do crazy.

I don't do it.


The end.

Thank God.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Not yet spring in Switzerland ...

Monday, February 4, 2013

I asked the Silence to quicken my heart this morning - to help me love the family better - to help me love the daily grind.

The Silence answered: Why not make some Buckwheat Cranberry Pecan Muffins for starters?

And then a stranger knocked at my door.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

I tried to understand you, define you, get a clear picture of who you are. But pattern and shadow are all I see - and quite frankly you rather resist being quantified.

But let that be. I would not have you clearer for a thousand understandings; your evasiveness is your beauty. 

I see you just fine.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

One of the greatest benefits of having open walls in the kitchen is how utterly close you are to all that moves and flits outdoors.

Today this robin came to nibble her little seeds - and watch us nibble ours. I'm beginning to feel like texwisgirl...

Friday, February 1, 2013

In the cold slice of winter, she sits in trees and dreams of mysteries.