26 February, 2008

M is back!

Life is good!

25 February, 2008

Flashback 6: Moscow

(Excerpt from a letter to a friend)
April, 1994

Dear L:

I am having a strange day. One of those chain reaction kind of things, and the key to the whole story is my knee. It hurts like hell.

Because I fell on the ice.

Because I was running to catch a cab.

Because I missed my ride this morning.

Because George couldn't call me to tell me that they were on their way to pick me up.

Because the firemen had cut down our phone lines and electricity in the stairwell.

So that they could chop down the front doors of my apartment building.

Because it was on fire...

That's just par for the course, though. What stressful week would be complete, though, without the old "Baby on the Doorstep" trick?

No, unfortunately I'm serious. A couple of nights ago I hear a lot of commotion out in stairwell and when I stepped outside an elderly neighbor started shouting:

Don't step on the baby!

And there, on the landing right below mine, is an infant who's swaddled up and lying on the cold stone steps. The neighbors had just called the police, who took at least 30 minutes to arrive. We had been warned not to touch the baby lest we destroy any evidence that had been left.

Now there's a test of wills for you: how long can 5 women stand around a newborn infant lying on filthy stone steps in a stairwell that couldn't have been more than 45 degrees?!

When the police finally did show up one was wearing a bulletproof camouflage flack jacket, one carried a semiautomatic machine gun and the third looked like he was about 19. Apparently he was part of the children's home division, because even though he was dressed up in fatigues he handled the baby as tenderly as if it was his own.

He unwrapped it, checked to see that it was still breathing, and then whisked it away while we were questioned by the police.

I assume the baby belonged to one of the homeless people who's been living in our basement. I've never seen them personally, but the smell that emanates up the stairwell in warm weather is so bad it's almost tangible. It seems they've disappeared now; moved on to greener pastures.

What a fucked up world we live in.....

(Move on to Flashback 7:  Michael Jackson in Moscow)

23 February, 2008

Flashback 5: Moscow

(excerpt from a letter to friends)
Tuesday, October 5, 1993

"Things have been insane around here-- even more ridiculous than normal! Apparently more turbulence is expected because of all the semi-automatic weapons that anti-Yeltsin forces passed out to bystanders at the White House like so many door prizes at a church bingo game.

All of these tensions between Yeltsin and the Parliament have been building for a while, but it was still a surprise when it all finally came to a head.

Two weeks ago Yeltsin dissolved Parliament after an altercation with Khasbulatov and his party. And in retaliation Parliament turned right around and absolved Yeltsin of his power.

For two weeks we had two opposing groups leading the country. Yeltsin's team would work out a 1994 budget with deficits of 10 trillion rubles, and Khasbulatov's economic "experts" would override the decision and implement their own budget with a 26 trillion ruble deficit. It's been completely absurd!

Last Sunday I was headed for the gym when I came upon a huge crowd of people. They were carrying communist flags, anti-Yeltsin banners and climbing all over the huge statue of Lenin that graces the middle of the square. Amidst the angry protesters, however, you also saw families out for a stroll, their children painted up like clowns and clutching balloons with sticky fingers. It was so surreal!

I left quickly-- I feared for my safety because I really stood out in my western clothing. As it turns out I narrowly missed the beginnings of the coup by about 25 minutes!

For the last two weeks the gym has been my barometer as to the mounting political tension because it's located directly behind the Central Bank of Moscow. The Yeltsin-backed news programs are stating that everything is under control, but I know it's not.

Each day I see them amassing arms and supplies in the bank parking lot. At first it was just a few armored trucks and listening devices. Then troops in bulletproof vests appeared. The next day they were all carrying riot shields, and their numbers had doubled. By Sunday there were too many armored personnel carriers to fit in the bank parking lot and they spilled over into the lot next door.

To get to the gym I had to pass down a human corridor of soldiers on either side. They were stationed 2 - 3 meters apart and were staring at me stonily and clutching their Kalashnikovs.

I was just finishing my workout when an attendant came up and whispered worriedly that Yeltsin had declared the city in a state of emergency, and that I needed to leave immediately.

"Go straight home and stick to the subways, because the roads are on fire and are being blockaded!"

The bank parking lot was full of tanks and other armored vehicles, and a fresh battalion of soldiers had just arrived. I ducked into a side street and slunk into the metro.

When I got home and turned on the tv to check the news I was greeted by test patterns on all of the government stations and a dubbed American movie, "Death Flight", on the only other one. I called a friend who had a radio and received the latest news-- The riot had moved on to the White House where they had set some floors on fire. Then anti-Yeltsin troops rammed an armed personnel carrier through the first floor of the television station, took over the building and then burned it down.

Monday morning I snuck into my office down the street and notified all employees and our head office in Geneva that we are closed down indefinitely until the emergency finally passes.

Walking back home I could hear the explosions from the tanks still firing on the White House and huge helicopters kept circling overhead. I stuffed my cat and a change of clothes into a duffel bag and left to go ride out the storm with a friend who lives on the outskirts of the city..."

(Move on to Flashback 6:  Moscow)

22 February, 2008

Prank calls

This week has been pretty draining, so you can imagine how annoyed I was yesterday when I started receiving crank calls. We had two or three hangups, and then, suddenly, blaring frenetic music-- some sort of yowling vocals with Asian stringed instruments in the background.

I figured it was the hyenas. It was only a matter of time. And so I considered using an old trick my mom used to play with crank callers. She'd keep a whistle in the drawer by the phone, and when they called she'd blow it into the receiver as hard as she could. It was surprisingly effective-- and I used to wonder when I showed up at school if anyone in my classes would exhibit any signs of deafness.

M is still in China, and when he called yesterday evening I started enumerating all of the day's petty annoyances. When I got to the crank caller he started to snicker sheepishly. Seems he'd been at a business dinner with an impressive floor show. Under the influence of Chinese beer he decided that I would probably enjoy the cultural highlight-- he called me, and without a word, set the phone on the table and left it there until he noticed I'd hung up. ???

Yep. I actually got crank called by my own husband. It's probably a good thing I couldn't find that whistle after all...

*(the hangups were apparently M as well, but the problem was due to our crappy 1&1 modem and not Chinese beer.)

21 February, 2008

Self portrait

Actually I didn't take this picture, I borrowed it from one of my recent stumble diversions, this guy, who posted it without any attribution. Want to know what I think of that? Again, see photo...

20 February, 2008

Hello from down here on the floor...

I tell you, when it rains it pours.

D the wonderdog has been having some problems with her elbow and needs to be operated on sometime in the next couple of weeks. There is one positive aspect, though, because apparently it's not elbow dysplasia, which is degenerative, and her prognosis for a full recovery should be good. I'll only know that for sure, though, after I've shelled out close to a thousand euros for a doggy specialist in the Black Forest. (Personally I would prefer another visit to the camel farm...)

And, of course, in a moment when I could really use a big hug M is in China. Naturally...

We were on the way home from our 2,5 hour odyssey at the vet when B piped up: "I'm glad Mama doesn't have to have an operation. Then we would be hungry because there wouldn't be anyone around to cook for us!"

At least the kid knows where his priorities lay. Darwin would be proud...

19 February, 2008

Informed consent

Hey mom, I know how you get eggs without any chicks in them!

Oh really? How?

If the rooster and the hen agree that they don't want to have a baby then when the egg comes out there's no chick inside!

18 February, 2008

This mortal coil

Am reeling from the news that one of M's second cousins, a bright, vibrant 25 year old, has been diagnosed with advanced stage cancer. The cancer doesn't appear to be an aggressive form, but it has metastised into his lungs, body cavity and back. He will start chemotherapy immediately and faces at least one operation. His chances of survival at the moment are rated as 50% - 90%. I'm very busy trying to see the glass as half full....

17 February, 2008

Ships of the desert

Yesterday we visited a camel farm in the Black Forest. I've always heard about how ornery camels can be, but was pleasantly surprised by their placid, curious nature.

In fact, the camels at this particular farm are so laid back that they're used as therapy animals for children with personality disorders!

15 February, 2008

Probably only if they're late for the funeral...

I was walking S and B home after school today when we came upon a group of second graders in a heated discussion. One of them stopped me:

"Can I ask you a question?!"


As the resident American around town I often get asked to translate phrases that the kids get from tv and pop music, but he kind of ambushed me with the question:

"Does a hearse have a siren or not?!"

I'd love to spend an afternoon in the mind of a 7 year old...

14 February, 2008

Your favorite ski bunny is back!

I'm back! Thanks so much for your nice comments!

We had a really nice vacation-- we were so busy it seems like we've been gone for ages!

We spent the first few days skiing in Oberstdorf. They had a really great 2.5 km blue piste which was exactly what we needed. Just enough steep parts to keep S interested and just enough scenic gentle inclines to keep me sane.

A storm front came through on tuesday afternoon, so we decided to pull up stakes and drive to Garmisch, where the slopes are several hundred meters higher. We got a great tip on a campground in Krün. This place was fabulous-- extremely clean, gorgeous surroundings and friendly staff.

We skiied in three different areas near Garmisch, and although I enjoyed most of it, I also had moments which provided powerful insight into my character: although I enjoy challenges in some fields I am an absolute chickenshit when it comes to hurtling down icy slopes.

Of course it didn't help matters to see the emergency sled droning past every hour with an endless supply of wounded wintersport enthusiasts. In the end I returned with relatively insignificant souvenirs: an array of pewter-colored bruises on my legs and a knot on my head. I was so grateful to have my knees intact that I almost kissed the laminate floors when we returned home!

The area around Garmisch is gorgeous! The mountains are majestic and snow-covered and resemble a movie-set panorama! I would not have been surprised if we had bumped into the Von Trapp family anywhere along the way! We took a couple of long hikes and really enjoyed soaking up the scenery and the local culture.

In fact, we liked it all so much that I'm thinking of going back with the kids to camp for a week during their Easter break... For now, though, I'm just glad to be back. The weather here today is gorgeous, I no longer have to shower with shoes on and the faucets aren't frozen shut when I wake up in the mornings. Life is good!

02 February, 2008


We're off for a week's vacation in the Allgaeu. Hope you all have a nice week ahead of you. See you next weekend!