Sunday, 19 December 2010

Another Christmas Another Cancellation

Global warming, global shwarming bah!  It has been an INSANELY emotional week of tear-filled goodbyes, farewells, stay-in-touches, and we'll miss yous.  Leaving Murphy with Marc and Nat was wrenching and I feel like I left a part of myself behind.

I have been frantically watching weather forecasts all week with one eye on anticipated heavy snow all over Europe.  We have been down this road before with cancelled Christmas plans thanks to snow and I was not eager to repeat the experience particularly since this will be a unique holiday as we head directly to Australia in early January to begin the next chaper of our lives.

Sure enough on Friday, Geneva airport closed for snow, Saturday, Heathrow airport closed for snow and British Airways subsequently cancelled our Sunday flights to Vancouver.  After spending hours on hold with agents to rebook our flights along with thousands of others, we are going nowhere until Tuesday morning on KLM through Amsterdam and even then must overnight in Calgary.  Maybe that will be a slight silver lining since we can spend the night with our great friends Jeff and Jen.

Oh but with more snow in the forecast, C2 is ready to bail and head straight to Bali.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Everyone's a Critic

It was the end of a busy Thursday.  C2 and I had spent the day at our house helping the movers identify, inventory and pack all our wordly possessions, manage our freaked-out dog, and move 9 suitcases plus groceries to our temporary Geneva apartment.  J had a full-day of school, Judo including a test to move up on his belt, and a 7:00pm public piano recital.

At 8:30, we hauled our tired selves to Da Paolo's for a meal.  J was so tired, he almost fell asleep in his plate.  Driving the short distance home after eating, the following conversation took place as we passed a 'happening' Geneva nightclub.

J:   "Mummy" what is the V-e-l-v-e-t   N-i-g-h-t   C-l-u-b

Me: "A nightclub is where people in their 20s and sometimes older go to have a few drinks, meet new people, have a good time, dance a lot and then hopefully make a new girlfriend or boyfriend".


J: "Mummy, you must have been a better dancer back then."

For the record, I dance like nobody is watching.  Guess it was a good thing my first date with C2 was for coffee.

Monday, 22 November 2010

An Epic Goodbye

I am not good at goodbye's.  I studiously avoid them.  I run out the door or drop at the airport with an over-the-shoulder quick "call you soon, e-mail me!"  My feelings run deep for the people that matter to me and to let my welling feelings show as I take leave of someone I love risks some epic emotion so instead I do my best to suppress those feelings until alone.  My friends and family know this about me...the more quiet or removed I get, the more they know something is amiss.

This past weekend, my oldest friend in the world, Sheila, and I met in Paris for a 48-hour meeting of our minds and hearts in an effort to minimize that inevitable goodbye.  We have been so blessed in the last five years to have seen each other as often as we have and for our children to have bonded.  For the previous 18 years, we had lived oceans apart, so these last few years have felt like we were 14 all over again.  With our move to Australia, however, the oceans will separate us once more.

I took a morning TGV from Geneva and Sheila a morning Eurostar from London, and we met at a small hotel in the Latin Quarter on the left bank.  We spent the rest of that day wandering St. Germain and stopping on boulevard Mouffetard for a coupe de Champagne before discovering a charming little resto behind St-Germain-des-Prés, the oldest church in Paris for dinner.

After dinner, Sheila indulged my desire to sit at the nearby Café de Flore which like its' neighbour the Café des Deux Magots, was the favorite haunt of intellectuals and ecrivains like Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Ernest Hemingway immediately after World War II.  Being intoxicated on friendship, laughter, and the kinds of conversations that only people who have know each other for 30 years can have, we barely blinked at the 32euro charge for two coffees and two glasses of warm grog (warmed rum sweetened with sugar and lemon).

The next day, we explored the alleys and charming squares of the Le Marais district pausing for steaming cups of café au lait whenever we felt like it; perched on straw chairs at round tables at typical Parisian cafés watching the impeccable Parisian world wander by.  We later followed some locals into a small Brasserie for a wonderful late lunch of an omelette and a glass of chilled Pouilly-Fume.

After our meal, we strolled through the grounds of the Louvre to the Musee d'Orsay, home of the bulk of impressionist art in Paris.  I had been before but had wanted to revisit many of the Monets after just completing the beautiful novel Claude and Camille. Unfortunately, most were on loan to the Grand Palais for a special Monet exhibit, and I had been unable to secure tickets. 

We ventured out late in the evening for a wander around the circuitous alleys of busy and boisterous St. Germain, stopping for a glass of wine before finally settling on a charming Brasserie for dinner where I indulged in a perfect entrecôte à point, and we shared a bottle of Nouveau Beaujolais whose season is currently being celebrated in Paris.

Sunday dawned grey and wet, so we opened our umbrellas and wandered to the Pantheon, final resting place of great and honoured French, such as Pierre and Marie Curie, Louis Braille, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Voltaire, and Rousseau.  We made our way into the Luxembourg gardens, and around it's great palace before again stopping for hot fragrant coffee and croissants to warm our chilled bodies.

All too soon, came the time I had been dreading.  On Friday afternoon, I had tried to cling to the anticipation of two delicious days ahead to swap enough stories, share enough soul, and store enough memories to last until our families meet again.  You know what, it wasn't enough, it never would be, but I'll take what I got and feel blessed for it.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Long Time No Talk but Much to Tell

I really need to get back to blogging more regularly.  I am out of practice, rusty, pre-occupied and other-wise distracted.  Why you ask?  Well, for those of you not part of my Facebook world, Swiss Family Hendricks is moving...and for added Australia.

Ok, first things first.  What in the heck am I going to rename my blog???  I need help and suggestions.  Hendricks Down Under?, Kangaroo Hendricks?, bah too pithy, I need something a little more clever.  So throw your ideas my way.

I must confess when the word first came down, I didn't deal so well.  The two reasons I had been opposed started with my aging beloved dog Murphy and ended with my aging beloved mum in Alberta, a long way from Melbourne.  However, with the benefit of some perspective, and a house-finding, school-finding trip in October to Melbourne, I am reminded that with the beauty of rapid air travel, the world is indeed a shrinking place.  Also, did you know that there are International Pet Relocation Companies? And for the price of a second-hand car, they will do their darndest to get Murphy successfully to Australia and through 30 days of quarantine.

So not to bore you with the minutia of details invested in a move of this magnitude, let me summarize our current state.  We have rented a house in Malvern East, a leafy south-east Melbourne suburb, and a few minutes drive to J's new school, l'Ecole Francaise de Melbourne.  That was a VERY big deal, J sat on the EFM's wait list for a couple of months, but a bagful of Swiss chocolate and many many pleading phone calls, and personal visits later, he's in!  Poor C2, however, faces a brutal and long commute to north Melbourne.  He hasn't commuted more than 15 minutes in his entire life.  Still, in general, this part is all good.

The icky part, however, is the exit from our house in Geneva, with all the fun that is wrapped up in a system that gives all rights to the owner and virtually none to the renter.  Suffice it to say, it will cost us the price of another second-hand car to vacate this property in a state that will satisfy our impossible owners.  Then there is the selling of two cars, outdoor play equipment, excess furniture, electronics.  C2 straddling two stressful jobs and travelling during 2.5 weeks of our remaining 4 weeks here.

The even ickier part, of course, are the good-byes.  Ick Ick double Ick!  I have already bid farewell to dear friends who have moved on with their own lives (Melissa, Jawahara, Elin, Lavi) but still had the comfort of remaining meaningful friends.  Leaving my remarkable writers group, Katie, Sher, Tima, Sharon, Paula, and Moyette (Jawahara relocated to Boston last week); my book group, Kathy, Kathy, Helen, Barbara, Barbara, and Lula; my fantabulous neighbours, Ioli, Marlys, and Amelia; my dog walking posse; and my only remaining fellow expat soulmates, Nat and Cindy will be wrenching.  The ripping out of tender roots hurts.  Extremely difficult will be the renewed physical separation between Sheila and I and our very-attached children; so used are we to the quick journey between Geneva and London.

I am torn between the wanderlust inside of me, and the desire for a moment of permanence.  Still as long as I have my immediate family beside me, my Canadian family supporting me, and my far-flung network of friends and fellow wanderers to talk to,  I hope all will be good in my world.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Adieu Angus

Sad day for Swiss Family Hendricks.  This animal-loving, animal-centric, animal-focused family lost one of our clan today.  My lovely 15-year old cat Angus.

Angus was picked up off of the rough streets of Montreal's south shore in 1995.  C2 actually chose him  at the SPCA, intrigued because this small grey and orange kitten insisted on boxing with him through the wires of his cage as if saying "pick me, pick me!".  Once home, that small grey and orange kitten stretched out his legs, had a bath and presented himself as a snow white and orange full-grown cat.  He's kept us laughing and loving ever since.  He loved to walk on the balcony flower boxes of our 2nd floor apartment in Snowdon systematically chewing the tops off of my Pansies.

In 1998, he and his cat, Cobie (he's never been our cat, always Angus's) made the move to Calgary with us where I worried about our busy street and they lived their lives largely as reluctant indoor cats, perched in the kitchen window, secretly pushing out the screen and seeking escape at all opportunities.  It was in Calgary, that Angus met Murphy, our yellow Labrador.  Murphy has always viewed Angus as her surrogate mother and higher on the Swiss Family Hendricks food chain.  He also welcomed J, whom he viewed with considerable more suspicion.

In late 2005, Angus, Cobie, and Murphy made the move with us to Geneva.  I spent an anxious, sleepless night, awaiting their arrival.  The only comment made by customs upon receiving the 3 animals was"'Quel beau chat, ce Angus!".  In Geneva, Angus lived the best years of his life.  The doors to our garden were open 9 months of the year.  He loved to chase butterflies, stretch out under our enormous Rosemary bush or behind a terracotta flower pot and watch the world go by on the other side of the fence.  He adored prowling around late into the evening, blatantly ignoring my whistles and calls until it suited him and then slept every night curled up on some part of me purring like a runaway motor.

I am relieved that at his age, he does not have to be subjected to another move, that he was able to finish his life in the place where he was happiest.  As painful as today was watching him die in my arms, it was both peaceful, and beautiful.  My voice was the last he heard and my face the last he saw.  It was a gift to both of us.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Thanksgiving Reflection

I have been silent of late.  Much going on but complicated to summarize at the moment.  Instead in the spirit of Canadian Thanksgiving in two weeks, I am reflecting...

1.  Melancholy at finally acknowledging that beloved family pets are in their sunset years.

2.  Being ok with the realization that some friends enter your life for a reason and a season.

3.  Savoring every precious minute from an evening with Jawahara and Bijoy spent on a coupe de champagne at the Cafe de la Poste in our Swiss village and then walking across the street to the Cheval Blanc for the best Italian meal this side of Rome.

4.  Loving the soul mates in my writers' group despite my lack of meaningful writing.

5.  Amazement at my rock solid family in Canada who rise to every challenge and are with me every step of the way.

6.  Gratitude for my really really good man.

7.  Crisp Fall mornings where sunflowers still bloom madly in sun-drenched pockets of the garden.

8.  Mix of melancholy, delight and horror that my 7-year old almost reaches my shoulder, is still afraid to watch Indiana Jones and has discovered the f*** word.

9.  The pleasures of a good book: 'Suite Francaise' by Irene Nemirovsky, a horrifying book: 'Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People' by Tim Reiterman, and a beautifully written but otherwise average book: 'Tinkers' by Paul Harding but who am I to pass judgment on the Pulitzer committee.

10.  The dog walking posse in my lovely Swiss village.  We are all bonded by our canine attachments and we all get it.  No judgment.

11.  Running and its' emboldening freedom.

12.  Wishing I could be a part of the Rally to Restore Sanity in D.C. on October 30.

13.  Flabbergasted at the rise of the Tea Party and wishing that those who are indignant at the thought of government standing between them and their doctor would realize that their insurance company or HMO already stands between them - if they're lucky enough to have one of course.

14.  Missing Canada but still embracing all the possibilities.

Monday, 2 August 2010

My Levanto, Redux V

I am sitting at my MacBook beside my open dining room door watching a mid-summer Geneva rain gently water my thirsty coral geraniums.  A lovely breeze cools my cheeks.  I am pondering how to justify with words the beauty, peace and attachment that our fifth (yes fifth!) visit to Levanto brought us last week.

My Levanto, for that is how I feel  now.  I intimately know its' glowing colours, the smiles that greet my ernest attempts at Italian conversation, the smells of garlic and rising dough mixed with salt air, the tastes of prosecco and pesto, the crunch of the sand that inhabits every part of our apartment and which I sweep out of my bed before falling pleasantly exhausted into it every night.

Lucky us spent our beach holiday this year again with our wonderful friends Marc, Nat and their Labrador Ben.  Joining us this year were her beyond-charming parents whom we all referred to as Mamie and Papie.  J was particularly charmed by them (attached as he is to grandparents).  Their attachment was cemented when they insisted on keeping him for an evening all to themselves.  While Marc, Nat, C2 and I had an evening of Morettis and Margaritas, they had an evening of brioche con gelato for dinner followed by a dessert of gelato.  Seriously what kid wouldn't be in love?

You reveal a lot when you holiday with friends.  Either you get each other or you don't.  This week was not the easiest parenting week.  I continue to find age seven a wondrous journey down a bumpy road.  Marc and Nat don't judge, they just get on with it and love us in spite of our efforts or because of our failings.  Friends doesn't come close to covering it, Marc and Nat are the family we got to pick.

Did an amazing 3 hour hike from Levanto to Cinque Terre village #1, Monterrosso al Mare.  Absolutely stunning gnarly, hot coastal walk - unforgettable!  Particularly the self-made entrepreneur about an hour and a half into our hike who beckoned with "mineral water and organic lemons".  Translation: reused plastic cups filled with tap water and a half a lemon for 2 euros a cup.  We paid for the privilege of repeating this story in perpetuity.

J discovered cliff jumping this still my heart.  He watched with fascination teenagers climbing the large pile of hardened lava on our beach and launching themselves into space.  He immediately determined this was the thing for him.  No beach football or volleyball for my boy, nope it's extreme sports all the way.  Everyday, he ventured a little higher.  C2 kept watching that he could clear the rocks below while I covered my eyes.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Under the (Scorching) Tuscan Sun

It has been long on my list of places to experience.  Just the imagery conjured up by the name...TUSCANY...  In my mind's eye, I envisioned sweeping vistas of rolling Tuscan hills dotted with Cypress trees, vineyards, and olive groves.  I imagined classic Etruscan architecture, the simple grandeur of organic structures born of naturally hewn stone, terra cotta, travertine glowing an ochre coloured light.

We rented a villa with Canadian friends outside of the village of Anghiari about a half-hour from Arezzo bordering Tuscany and Umbria.  It was at the very top of one of my imagined Tuscan hills.  About 10 minutes, straight up a dusty, winding, hot trail ending at our villa with the dreamed-of spectacular view south over Umbria. 

I had also imagined that it would be hot and boy was that an understatement.  The temperature hovered between 37 and 40 degrees celsius everyday, phew.  Thank goodness for the beautiful pool at our villa.  We couldn't keep Murphy out of it,  she was the first in everyday and swam laps around us for hours.

It was too steamy to daytrip much or venture too far afield.  Instead we lounged poolside reading, swimming with the kids, wandering the surrounding olive and fig groves looking for Scorpions and Lizards.  Late in the afternoon, we would sit under the Wisteria and Jasmine pergola drinking ice cold white wine, eating pears and parmesan, and melon and prosciutto.

C2 and I left J happily with our friends and their son Tomas one day and took a train north to Florence.  We had an adult-only culture date and we revelled in the beauty of this lovely renaissance city.  We wandered over the Ponte Vecchio to the Pitti Palace, marvelled at the wonder of the Duomo, and stared in amazement at the open air sculptures of the Palazzo Vecchio.

We discovered a little out of the way restaurant near the Uffizi Museum populated by locals and had a wonderful lunch of braesola, fresh crisp salad, strachietelli mozzarella (the result of the first skimming of the cheese and unlike anything we had ever tasted before), and a gorgeous glass of Chianti.  We drooped with the heat by the time we returned anxious to plunge into our delicious pool.

Most evenings, we lingered either on the sun-drenched kitchen terrace or under the cooler pergola eating pizza made in our own pizza oven, or taking pleasure in C2's or Jon's wonderful cooking.  Long evenings spent in the laughter of our children, listening to the Cigales (Cicadas) song, drinking Super Tuscans or rich Chiantis, and talking and talking.

We explored the medieval village of Anghiari thoroughly, letting the kids lead us through the old castle walls, seeking out secret passages where they could find them, and rewarding them with granita or gelato.  We wondered at the lives of the people living behind the colourful shutters or in the tiny houses up the winding stairs.  Our imaginations and curiousity were on full alert.

We also wandered the Tuscan jewel that is Arezzo sitting high on a hill rising up from the Arno River valley.  Arezzo was empty of tourists perhaps kept away by the killer heat or by the killer economic climate. A shame, since it's medieval core was an unexpected delight and its' cathedral or duomo, the most stunning I have seen outside of St. Peter's in Rome.

Our children had a wondrous adventure, our empty tanks got filled, our curiosity satiated, and our palates more than pleased.   We reluctantly bid arrivederci to Tuscany and returned home for a few days.  Happily, we head back to our beloved Italia shortly when we make our annual pilgramage to the beach town of Levanto.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Dog Day Afternoon

When does the subtle childhood shift happen, at what uncertain point in time does the magic emit a little less light.  On what inevitable future day does real life trump imagination?  I don't know but I  long to hold on to the innocence and delight of participating in an evening birthday party for one of J's favorite tou-tou's (stuffed animals), Schnitzel, the Saint-Bernard. 

Schnitzel apparently just turned seven, even though he only arrived four years ago.  An interesting coincidence that J is also seven.  I noticed in this picture that J's beloved Little Murphy seems eager for cake.  Real Murphy's also looks like she might be tempted too.   We sang 'Happy Birthday' in English, French, and Italian.  J helped Schniz blow out the candles.

It was a tou-tou free-for-all for lemon cake with lemon glaze.  No chocolate chips, J instructed during the baking process, since chocolate is not good for dogs.  Dogs tussled with cats while koalas, pandas, panthers and giraffes jockeyed for position.

What's a birthday party without gifts??  Lucky Schnitzel received among other things, a roll of toilet paper, 4 dog cookies, an empty Lego container, a travel toothbrush (J informs me that he has dog breath), a sponge J used to clean my bathtub after he took a bath with my mascara a few days ago, and a small Panda bear.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Heading to Tuscany

To a villa outside of Arezzo "looking south over Umbria" with my man, my babe, my dog and meeting up with friends from Canada.  Hope it's as great as it sounds.

Let's get serious...I don't really look like this a bikini, but I can dream...  Look for the details in a week or so.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Promotion in Puplinge 2010

 It's hard to believe but this is the 5th time that we've experienced Promotion in our village of Puplinge.  From 2 years of pre-school through 1ere and 2ieme Enfantine and now 1ere Primaire (1st grade), scary!  I think that with the exception of Christmas morning, Promotion is J's most anticipated day of the year.
Adam and J, best mates, on their way to the parade rendez-vous

Promotion is a really unique event, and something yet undiscovered in North America.  The entire village, where almost everyone knows everyone, celebrates the end of another school year, the efforts of our children and their parents.  We let loose with a heck of a party complete with carnival,  dinner, free-flowing wine (from the local Chateau, of course), and a live band with dancing.

The village sapeurs-pompiers lead the way
 The kids are incredibly proud to participate in the parade, and take it all very seriously.  The parade, though, is just a precursor to the 2 hours of free carnival rides upon arrival back at the main celebration site.  
J follows his 1ere primaire class in the parade through the village streets

Jawahara, Bijoy and I "enjoying" an apero of green barbapapa
Now that J is seven, he disappears with his mates within the Promotion grounds until around midnight.  He checks in every once in a while when he's hungry or needs money for rides and games.  Could you imagine that happening in North America...I think not!

J on the monster bouncy slide

All of this freedom allows us parents to chill out, visit, drink some wine, and discuss summer plans.  While we are friendly with many of the Swiss families in our village, we tended to visit mostly with the expat community in our village made up of Canadians, Americans, South Africans, and Scandinavians. I guess, it's always slightly easier to make merry in your own language.

Dinner under the tent
It was a very hot afternoon and evening with temperatures topping 30c, but the kids didn't seem to mind.  They sprinted between bumper cars, the bouncy slide, the mini roller coaster, the games stands, and the dance floor.

Adam and J mesmerized in their quest for plastic toys at the carnival

 By midnight, a little too much fun was being had on the dancefloor by me and Cindy