They Speak French in Geneva - BON!
Late November 2001

 
There's web site called "jump the shark". The phrase comes from the moment that "Happy Days" became an utterly ridiculous show, the moment when Fonzie water skied over the shark. The site is all about when television shows "jump the shark."

Kendra sent me the first two episodes of The X-Files. And after viewing them, I hereby declare that The X-Files has now jumped the shark. Not sure if it says so on the web site, but I'm saying it. I am hereby no longer watching it.

I'm not sure how to feel about the Cats losing to Western Kentucky University, as I went to WKU... I read the players' profiles on the Herald Leader site. Adam Chiles may be my pick this year, 'cause he loves his dog, Pepper... anyway, here is my mom's analysis of the UK/UKU game:

"Western Kentucky Hilltoppers absolutely took the wildcats apart last night. We have too many All Americans. Each one individually played his own game. Western's team is primarily made up of young men from KENTUCKY who were not even looked at by UK. We did not have Blevins playing, he is injured, but nevertheless, we looked awful........and it was in Rupp Arena. Marvin Stone played well, but that's about all I can say. Again, we can't hit free throws and we had a lot of attempts. I believe they only practice on three pointers."

Mom should coach, don't you think?

What in the heck has happened to Ralph Fiennes? Where's he gone? What is he doing? I'm watching him in a movie right now dubbed in German (that weird bird movie -- I tried to watch it in English once; maybe it will make more sense in Germany). I am so out of the movie news scene. I did go see "Harry Potter." I'm a huge fan of the books. I enjoyed it because of how visually rich it was, how much it looked like the book, how much I love Alan Richman (Grrrrrrrrr), and so forth. I loved the actors playing Ron and Hermione, but particularly Ron -- that little boy had all the sweetness and depth of the character in the book. And I loved, loved, loved the pictures on the wall. I couldn't stop looking at them. I'd like to see it again and just stare at those. I'll never look at pictures in a museum the same way again. But I think there was a spark missing in the movie, overall. There was only one scene I got really emotionally involved in. For the whole movie, I was like, oh, that's a pretty scene. Oh, and this is a pretty scene. But after a scene, I didn't feel like I'd experienced the activity as well. Am I making sense? I also think it could have been tightened up by at least 15 minutes, maybe even 30.

Erica says, "Yer disqualified!!!" From jury duty, that is. I finally got called in Austin, Texas. I'm so sad... so very sad... I wanted to compare the Texas judicial system with that of California.

For the first time in my life, I missed Thanksgiving. It's my favorite holiday. I was in Geneva until midnight the night before, and there was just no way I could throw something together with all the traveling and what not. So, please email me turkey and fellowship soon. Well, actually, I had a make-up Thanksgiving the following weekend -- Turkey, stuffing, green beans and biscuits (the bread kind, not the cookie kind). Very happy now.

All those times I've written about Petersberg on my web site, who knew it would end up on the International news? That's where representatives from various Afghan factions met to discuss a post-Taliban government. There was a noticiable increase in the number of young male joggers in my neighborhood during the conference...

I finally went to the Godesberg, the fortress ruins, dominated by a tower, over the village where I live. I have never managed to wander up to it before. Co-workers had said it was really boring, but I found it interesting -- I guess I am just an easy audience. There's an old cemetary up there, a small church that was originally built in the 1200s and was destroyed and then rebuilt in the 1500s, and the Godesberg itself, which was built on the remains of a Roman fortress. I didn't know it, but there's a small hotel, a restaurant and a special events hall up there as well.

Okay, now for the highlight of late November:

Once upon a time, a housewife named Laurie, mother of two, signed up to volunteer online with an organization in Uganda. And just over a year later, a very kind organization with which I'm associated arranged to send her to Uganda, to see the people she and the more than 150 other online volunteers had helped. And then she came to Bonn.

I went to the airport to welcome her to Europe -- I decided it would be best to just have her stay with me, since I know that, personally, I wouldn't want to stay in a hotel with no friends whatsoever and not understand the language on my very first night ever outside North America (which was in London back in 1987 -- can't believe it was so long ago). I took the bus to the airport (which I like so much better than a cab, because it's almost always empty and you can see so much more and it's 1/6 of the price). I got there early and the flight was delayed a bit. So I had a beer in the bar, changing some dollars to Deutschmarks for a guy from Tanzania who really, really wanted a beer too.

Her flight arrived, and I waited outside customs. And waited. The glass leading from customs is frosted, so I couldn't see anything except when the automatic doors would open. I finally figured out that if I looked up at the glass on the ceiling that I could see the reflections of people at the baggage carousel back behind customs. Laurie was the last person through because, ofcourse, they lost one of her bags -- the bag with all her clothes and toiletries. But, at last, she got out and I took her and her four suitcases (one inside an empty one) in a cab back to my place.

She had so many bags because she had brought more than 100 books for a new library at the Ugandan NGO. And by library, I mean a tiny room at the organization, which is surrounded by jungle, a room that the parents had cleaned out and put a few chairs in. She showed pictures of this simple room with its one collapsible plastic bookshelf (that Laurie also brought) of books. All the books were donated by other online volunteers. I wanted to cry -- so little that means so very, very much.

Thursday night I took her to Bastei, the restaurant just down the street from my home, the one that overlooks the Rhein (including Petersberg, where the Afghans are now). Friday, she gave a great presentation at work and hung out with me and my co-workers. That night, we went to Manuel and Sandra's and they served a great meal and Laurie got her baby fix (she was really missing her boys). I left at the crack of dawn on Saturday for Geneva, so Laurie got to hang out in Bonn and Cologne all day, so she could shop and just kinda "be."

I got to Geneva very early in the morning. The flights were lovely -- both very short, on Cross Air, which means you get champagne and chocolates on board! We flew over a thick cloud cover, and the Alps jutted up out of the "sea", surrounded by all the thick foam. It was such an awesome sight. Ofcourse, now, watching TV and seeing this Cross Air flight that crashed in Zurich, I'm not looking forward to a future flight.

I had wanted to see Geneva on Saturday, since I was getting in so early -- see that thar big water main break, as well as the Palais de Nations, take a tour of the big United Nations offices in Geneva, see the International Museum of the Red Cross, etc. Instead, I spent the entire day at the conference center, trying to do something -- anything -- to make things ready for the opening of the pre-conference, so my company wouldn't look utterly stupid in light of the massive failure on the part of those that were hired to put the thing together. Stress levels were through the roof. I went out that first night with my co-workers who'd come to Geneva as well to a Lebanese restaurant. I was in an awful mood until I'd eaten -- I had slept only four hours the night before, and had eaten only breakfast. I just don't do well under such conditions. Food was AWESOME!!

This conference center was a trip into the past: orange vinyl walls, green velour table covers, beige leather chairs, plenty of overhead projectors but no beamers for lap tops... the only cool thing about it was that there were booths in every room for translators to sit, and headphones at each table so you could listen to translators (if there were any -- the conference organizers FORGOT to get some until the week before). It felt like being in a Communist government building behind the Iron Curtain (so I took a moment to recreate a vote). Or a place Mike Brady built and decorated. Brian and I kept making Brady Bunch jokes that no one else got ("Someone call Alice and tell her to clean up this MESS.").

Every day, I'd walk to the conference center from my hotel and pass a building that housed a pizza parlor, a place to get your nails done, and the consulates of the United Kingdom and some Latin American country. There was always a guard outside with a machine gun, and there were all sorts of barriers that were ready to be put in place at a moment's notice. There was a biological warfare conference going on in Geneva as well, which stole all publicity for our event (frown) and made these guys terribly nervous.

As for Geneva... well, it didn't live up to its reputation as being this incredibly beautiful, fun city but, then again, it's hard for me to be impressed by big cities any more, having lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. I just don't think I'll ever be in a better city. Also, I'm old. I'm cranky. Anyway, Geneva wasn't bad by any stretch -- and THE FOOD WAS TO DIE FOR. I was so, so, so happy to finally get to EAT WELL. The waterfront is pretty, even with all the big bank buildings lining the shore, and the streets are filled with so many international souls. I had no idea the city was really French. I loved listening to people talk. Bon!

The people are soooo nice in Geneva. Sweet and helpful as can be. Well, except for the woman that spit at Laurie and me. Laurie arrived on Sunday, and she, Fatima and I all went out for dinner. We went to an ATM first, and we walked out and were talking -- not loudly, nothing political -- and this woman behind us started to walk a little faster than us, got about five steps in front of us, turned back to spit where we would walk, and then turned around, flipping her hair up as she went. And, well, for some reason, I laughed. I thought it was absolutely idiotic. Fatima was ready to go after her and take her down. She was furious. I guess I should have been as well. Normally, I would have. But, well, being from the U.S., I know some people hate me. They rarely come out and say it, but it's there. Little things happen that remind me that there are people that detest me because of my nationality. Let no one say the U.S. has a monopoly on prejudice.

Anyway... there would be these gorgeous two story houses here and there -- it reminded me of New Orleans, in a way -- but they would be surrounded by the ugliest 60's and 70's style apartment buildings you have ever seen in your life. You can find some lovely old apartment buildings, and some really nice, funky new ones in Geneva, but the city, to me, seems to have made some big architectural mistakes for about a 20 year period that it obviously hasn't recovered from.

Our hotel was not modern by any stretch -- and only three people could fit comfortably in the elevator -- but I liked it a lot. It had a lot of character. When Laurie arrived at the hotel, I had to put all of her luggage in the elevator, then try to get in myself, while she ran up the steps to meet me on the fifth floor. The TV had cable, and when they showed this Walt Disney Goofy toy saying things in French, Laurie and I roared.

Sunday night, Laurie, Fatima and I went to this incredibly expensive French restaurant. The price was worth it, just to be treated like Queens. Laurie took French in high school and, at 27, remembers a lot of it still. Fatima speaks some as well, so it was really easy to navigate (i.e., we didn't accidentally order steamed leather shoes for supper). The second night, Laurie and I ditched everyone and went out for Ethiopian food (as soon as I saw it, I knew we HAD to eat there -- I haven't had it since the last time I was in D.C., probably two years ago). Then we walked all the way to the waterfront and went looking for a bar. We kept getting the giggles -- it felt so good to be with a Texas gal! I love everyone here, but I needed someone to run around with that would get everything I wanted to say. And she did. We tried to use this on-the-street currency-exchange machine, and got absolutely hysterical -- she just sat down on the sidewalk laughing. Then we found this largely-empty bar and closed the place -- got our picture taken with the owner (he asked me if I was "Italiana?").

All of our presentations and meetings and what not went well. I got to see the Prince of Spain make a speech -- WHAT A BABE!!! Cesar said he saw Spanish TV that night and that the camera at one point showed him, me, Laurie and some others sitting together listening. Over the four days of the conference, I talked and listened and talked and listened and, because I was appointed a "reporter" for four sessions, I wrote and wrote and wrote. At one point, I was sitting there, having a meeting with a guy from Iran, and thinking, gee, this would go over well in Henderson, Kentucky.

One of the sessions was really interesting in that the guy who ran it is a kind of Buddhist Indian. He would ring this little bowl after each person spoke and we'd all sit quietly for 30 seconds so we could "let the words sink in." It was really cool, actually. One thing that bothered about the conference attendees -- there was not ONE Muslim woman there. Not one that we could tell, anyway. We talked about that late... it was troubling...

I won't go into everything that went wrong, the tension, the stress, etc. I just don't feel like re-living it. We made the best after an awful situation, and that's all that matters. One night, when the conference center was deserted except for our staff, I did an interpretive dance of the event and had everyone laughing -- so glad to do my part.

The last night, there was a party for everyone at a near by University. The meal was decent, and there was a LOT of wine. The organizers ofcourse didn't have enough tables for everyone (I know you are shocked) but we did get a place. I took a ton of pictures, we danced to bad music, I cried when the mariachis played and everyone thought something bad had happened to me, and a guy claimed I'd made the Canadian delegate cry because I took him to task when he said that online volunteering takes the "human" out of volunteering (he didn't cry, really). At one point, we were all around this table and everyone is talking and laughing -- Laurie's between and Indian and a guy from Pakistan, I'm in between a guy from Hong Kong and some European woman, and a guy at the end of our table is from Great Britain. And she looks over at me and mouths, "I love this." She got a degree in International Relations (or some such) from Boston University, but got married and started having kids and subsequently had never stepped out of North America. This trip was her dream come true. I was so happy to make it possible.

And then we all got lost walking home.

Laurie left early the next morning; I went to the conference for most of the final day's activities and talked and listened and talked some more. Then I got on my flight home, and was mortified to discover that I had a three hour layover in Basel, which was longer than the entire two flights to get me home. I was livid when I realized it, but there wasn't a whole heck of a lot I could do. So I spent the time reading my book (The Red Tent) and trying to figure out if I was in Switzerland, France or Germany.

Now I'm reading Frankenstein. Yes, the original. I started it the day I got back from Geneva, having no idea that the story was conceived in Geneva, nor that a lot of the story takes place there, nor that part of the story takes place in Southern Germany, and includes a trip by Dr. Frank down the Rhein, through many of the places I've been writing about. I'm on a kick to read books that have been made into movies so many times that no one reads them anymore. I read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Treasure Island last year.

November was quite a month. December should prove equally exciting: I'm spending Christmas in SPAIN, Barcelona to be exact. To say I'm excited would be such an understatement. No plans to travel in January or February, however; I've got too much to do, and I would like to give the dogs a long break from the Hunde Hotel.

And since then, what's been giving me hours of pleasure lately? A scene from "Monty Python & the Holy Grail" re-done using Lego figurines (also try this URL if you have Quicktime.

Also, this web site freaks me out.

NOTE: I rarely correct URLs on my personal essays/blogs. If you click on a link above and it no longer works, visit archive.org and you can probably find an archive of the site you are looking for.

More soon...


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