Sunday, January 31, 2010

The lack of dozens of photos showing our new room being built this week means -yes, you guessed it- the new room was NOT built this week.
At all.
Which is sad, but not at all unexpected. The French building contractor is a rare, shy creature and you really can't expect one to show up according to any kind of predetermined schedule. Wild and free as the wind itself, and all that.
It's a bit tiresome, but that's how it is.

So, this week, instead of watching the addition to the house go up, I kept busy with other stuff. "Other stuff" included taking Severin on a shopping trip to buy badly-needed winter boots. His old ones were worn to shreds and about a month ago started getting actual holes in them, which is not really what a person looks for in winter footwear. But Severin hates shopping so much that he'd rather have snow melting all over his socks all day long than set foot in a store. In fact, he'd probably rather have his entrails torn out by rabid hyenas- but I didn't give him that option (so messy and painful, don't you think?) Cleverly bribing him with promises of a lunch at McDonald's, I managed to get him into a sporting goods shop. We found him a pair of Columbia boots that he liked and, at 40% off, they were a complete win.

What was not so "win" was the moment, right after we left the shop, when I realised that my key card was NOT in my purse any longer.
I dumped everything out of my purse, but it wasn't there. We all (I actually had all four of the kids with me) went out to the mall parking garage, just to make sure I hadn't somehow left it in the car.
It wasn't there.
And to make things worse, I could see our housekey sitting on the armrest inside the car. This meant that if I couldn't find the key card and needed to go home and get the spare, I wouldn't even be able to get into my house. Unless I broke a window....
But no need to borrow trouble. I was sure (kind of) that I'd be able to find my key card somewhere in the mall. It had just fallen out of my purse somewhere.
Or had it?
(This is where you get a small insight into the workings of my tiny mind. And let me tell you, they are some strange workings indeed...)
Right then, I looked around the crowded parking garage and this thought flashed through my brain: "Maybe it was stolen! A clever car thief took my key card and is watching us right now! He's followed us in order to find which car is mine and the minute I take the kids and go search the mall, he'll click the door open, start her up and drive away. OMG!"
Yes, I am insane. Thank you for asking.
I told Sev (my six foot tall son) and Tya (5'9" and quite capable) "Guard the car". Mallory stayed with them and Alexa came with me to help search. Luckily, we hadn't gone to very many places that afternoon. There weren't too many places to cover.
First, we searched the McDonald's. My purse had fallen on the floor at one point as I'd fussed over my salad, so I had a strong hope that the black plastic card would be found on the floor under our table.
No such luck.
I talked to the manager, but nothing had been turned in. So, we walked to Go Sport, looking at the ground the whole way. The store manager there was super-helpful. "I lost my keys at McDo once. I'd put them on the tray and then got distracted by the kids. Threw them right in the garbage! " she told me. Her previous experience (which ended happily after she searched the trash bin) made her very sympatheitic and she helped us look through the whole store.
Disappointed, I left her my name and cell phone number and trudged back down to the fast food place. I was just lifting one of the tables so Alexa could look under it, when my phone rang. It was the Go Sport manager...someone had turned in my key card! It had been found wedged under the bottom edge of the front counter where the cash registers sit.
So, it turns out I was NOT the target of fiendishly clever car thieves.
Imagine that...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Most of the criticism I’ve heard about « Avatar » boils down to this: we’ve seen it all before.
Not the special effects- most people seem to agree that the film looks great, especially in 3D. What they are referring to is the story - how every scene seems to echo something from « Dances with Wolves« , « Pocahontas« , « The Last of the Mohicans » and a score of other films that deal with colonists vs. natives.

In short, the film is not « original ».

And original is good, right? I love to hear a new story just as well as the next person.
But here’s the thing: people all over the world (and throughout all of human history, probably) also love hearing the same stories over and over and over again. But not just any stories- special ones, with particular themes and character types that we never seem to grow tired of. These stories/myths/legends deal with archetypal events (birth, initiation, etc) and archetypal figures (hero, trickster, mother, etc).

You could, as I heard one recent reviewer on NPR do, call « Avatar » a montage of tired old tropes . (In fact, she used the word « trope » so many times in her five minute review that it made me suspect that she’d gotten a word-a-day calendar for Christmas). But if you know the work of , say, Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell or James Frazer, you might instead call the film an archetypal narrative.

I have a master’s degree in anthropology and that background heavily influences me when I see a film like « Star Wars » or « Avatar » . Calling myths and fairy tales « unoriginal » isn’t very interesting or useful to me. What’s really fascinating is finding the common cross-cultural themes. What are the stories/themes that get repeated for generations? What’s in them that’s true and holds lessons for every new generation?

« Avatar » features a hero that must go through initiation and rebirth, two of the most basic ancient archetypal events. He’s the outsider that transforms himself by passing through trials and becomes an insider.

And then there’s the Tree of Souls. You ever read a big old book called « The Bible »? No? Then please find one and just read the first few pages. Done? Good. Did you notice that there’s kind of an important tree in it? That’s one good clue that the « sacred tree » is an archetypal concept. And if even ONE more person says or writes « There’s a ‘tree of life’ in Pocahontas and a ‘tree of souls’ in « Avatar »! COPYCATS! GAH! » I may just have to whomp him/her on the head with a large, heavy sacred tree branch.
(For extra credit, look in the second half of the Bible. It features a character that sacrifices his earthly body to save an entire race…)

I’m not saying the film is explicitly Christian. What I’m saying is that both this film and the Bible tap into much older archetypes- ancient templates that help humans understand the world. And at some deep level, most of us understand this, because most of us seem willing to listen to/read/watch these primal narratives over and over again. « Original » and « new and improved » as desirable attributes are relatively modern inventions. When someone sits down to hear about how her culture says the world began, she doesn’t want to hear something different every time. That desire children have to hear the same story repeated every night is deeply ingrained and there's a reason for it.

Is « Avatar » unoriginal?
Well…yeah, it is. But that's not what we need to be asking.
How about let's ask: Did it tell a story you want to hear? Do you want to hear it again? Did you find it satisfying at some deep level? Did you find it emotionally involving?

I’d have to say « yes » to all those questions. Even though I «knew» the story, I found it very touching and the 161 minutes of running time seemed to fly by. Even better, I liked the discussion it provoked among my children. It provided a framework for talking about greed, ecology, colonialism and racism (sometimes I was uncomfortable with how it portrayed the « noble savages ». And also: Why does the future have no black people, Mr. Cameron ?)

I liked "Avatar" very much, just as I liked "Star Wars" and "LOTR", two other symbolically rich, archetype-laden films. And instead of ignorantly picking at it, I wish the critics would go read something first- something like Campbell's "The Hero With a Thousand Faces", a very fine old book on comparative mythology and archetypes. Then we'll talk.

Also: I think Michelle Rodriguez is a very fine actress. Why does she always have to play the tough-Latina-with-a-heart-of-gold-who-gets-killed-off-before-the -film-is-even-over ?
Just asking.

Plus, someone should tell Leona Lewis that « Titanic » called and it wants it’s theme-song back.

Monday, January 25, 2010

It’s nearly 3pm now and I’ve lost all hope that work will start today on the addition to the house. When the builder told me « Monday » , he must have meant »Monday-ish » - a day similar to a Monday, but having a different name, such as Tuesday, Wednesday or even Friday. He might have even meant a Saturday in late 2011.
I really don’t know….

To distract myself from my disappointment, I’ll tell you all about our outing to see « Avatar » yesterday.
I bought our tickets online on Friday night and it was none too soon. The late afternoon show was already sold out again, and it was just sheer luck that there were still tickets for 1pm.
We left about an hour and a half before the show, as the cinema was in a shopping mall on the far side of Geneva. It’s actually not all that far from us, but I knew I’d have to allow time to buy a « vignette » at the French/Swiss border. That’s the little sticker that allows you to use Swiss highways all year long and I hadn’t yet gotten mine for 2010. And it was no use thinking we’d slide by vignette-less and undetected . The Swiss police LIVE to make foreigners cough up 30 euros for a vignette (and they all secretly hope you are just passing through and will use it just once). I actually don’t mind paying it, as we do use it throughout the year, but I do feel sorry for the tourists just trying to get back home to Austria (for example) without making a honking huge detour through northern Italy…

When we got to the border, my suspicions were confirmed. Even though it was lunch time on a nice Sunday, there were Swiss police out in force at the customs checkpoints, all diligently inspecting every vehicle. I was very glad I’d allowed myself the extra time to go wait in line and pay up.

Our final destination was the Balexert shopping mall. I vaguely remember when it was first built back in the early 90’s and was very cutting-edge- for Switzerland, anyway. Now the whole thing looks a bit tired and dated , but it was still good enough to thrill the twins.
« Wow! » said Mallory « This is like Paris, or maybe America! » (Those two places are her standards for greatness) « It even SMELLS like America! » she exclaimed.
When she says that, it generally means that the place smells: a.) clean, and b.) like popcorn.

It did smell USA-ish, I guess, but it was sure small and decrepit. If you set it down in the middle of Lincoln, Nebraska, people would just peek in and say « Well that’s just SAD. » and go right on their way. But I digress…

I was happy to have the printout in hand and just walk right by the hoards of people in line to buy tickets to the shows on the other 12 screens. We even had time to wait in the snack line. As is true everywhere, the snacks were so expensive that you’d think they’d been produced on Mars and shipped back to Earth. But the kids had to have a popcorn box to share, FTW. The twins were sweet and said they’d share a drink, so that helped. (I didn’t get anything, which was kind of a mistake, as I’d forgotten to eat that day . By the end of the three hour long film, it was 4pm and I was ready to eat a roasted Na’vi )

As we filed into the theater, we were each given a pair of funky red sunglasses. When we sat down (Yes, we found four seats together! Win!) Mallory found that hers were bent and the foam around earpieces was completely shredded. As I’d seen the writing on our tickets that said any missing or damaged glasses would cost us 100 Swiss Francs, this was a concern.
« Good grief », I told her, « Hand that over. It looks like a rabid badger’s been chewing on it .»
I left Mal and Al inventing wild stories about crazed badgers going to see « Avatar » and went to deny any responsibility for wanton eyewear destruction, plus ask for a new pair.

Then, the film started.

I have a lot to say about it- far too much to tack on to the end of this already long post. So, I’ll go into the particulars of the film next time…

Friday, January 22, 2010

I seem to be posting a lot about music lately, which is odd. It's actually our house that occupies most of my brain space and time these days. The constant cleaning, repairs and renovations keep me scurrying around like a hyperactive, peculiarly tidy squirrel.
Today, as I scubbed the copper tea kettle with salt and lemon, I realised that I hadn't yet even posted a single photo of our new driveway or our new carport.

So, for your edification and entertainment, here's a pic of the guys putting the tarmac on. It was taken on Nov.17. As you can see, we really lucked out with the weather that day; They were able to finish it all in just a couple of hours:

In early December, the team arrived to put up our new carport. Maybe "team" is a big word- it was just two guys. But they were impressively fast. They started the job on a Thursday afternoon, rather late, and worked until nearly 7pm, using floodlights. Then they came back and worked all the next day and it was done by evening.

This picture was taken just before Christmas. It's the view from my kitchen window (I LOVE the view from my window, btw) and you can see the twins a friend just to the right of the carport, playing in the snow. Below is a photo I just took today. As you can see, we've had more snow and I've had quite a bit of shovelling to keep up with.

It may not look like much, but the carport makes a huge difference in our daily lives. I never have to dig the car out of drifts or scrape ice off the windows. That makes leaving in the morning so much more quick and comfortable...

Also, in the lower right corner, you can see the cement foundation for the new room/entryway/veranda we are having built! Work is supposed to begin on Monday and I have have high hopes that it actually will. The builder just now called to ask a question about the door (Why yes, I would like insulated glass in it. We live 2624 feet above sea level and I'd prefer not to freeze all year long. Thank you for asking.), and he said "See you soon" at the end of the exchange. So, it's a good bet that he's planning to show up as scheduled.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

As I've mentioned about eleventy-billion times already, my parents sent us Rock Band 2 for Christmas. And even though I don't have much time to actually play it myself, I still get a lot of entertainment value from it. Walking into the living room to find Severin serenading his youngest sister with the Billy Idol song "White Wedding", for example, was fairly LOL-worthy. There was poor Alexa, curled up in an armchair, intent on her Nintendo DS game of Harvest Moon, when all of a sudden she looked up to find Severin kneeling in front of her and singing into his mic "HEY little sister , what have YOU done!?"
And then there was the time I was in the kitchen and heard a strange sound coming from the living room. It sounded kind of like a cat being repeatedly kicked -an elderly, alcoholic, hillbilly cat with a speech impediment.

I HAD to abandon my cooking and go see what was going on.

It turned out to be Severin trying to imitate Bob Dyan singing "Tangled up in Blue".

As the 'song' ended, the kids turned to me and started in with a list of incredulous complaints along the lines of: What the heck WAS that? Why does that guy sing in that creepy voice ? Have you ever heard of him? Why does that freaking song go on forever?, etc

Valentine said "Whoever he is, he has to DIE. Please tell me he's dead."
Sadly, I had no words of comfort for her. "Au contraire, my child". In fact, he recently released a Christmas album."

Nobody believed me, but I assured them that it was true.
"I wouldn't lie about something like this. You haven't truly suffered until you've heard his version of 'The Little Drummer Boy'. "
Let's get this straight:
Bing Crosby can sing "The Little Drummer Boy"
David Bowie can sing "The Little Drummer Boy"
They can even sing it together on an uber-corny Christmas tv show.
But Bob Dylan cannot and in fact should never try to sing "The Little Drummer Boy".
Did anybody actually buy that album? I hope not. It just encourages him....

Dear Santa,

How are you? I'm fine.
How are your reindeer? Tired out after the recent holiday season, I bet. Did they like the carrots?
Anyway, down to business: If , by next Christmas, they put out a Rock Band Track Pack of Bob Dylan songs, I do NOT want to find one in my stocking.
I'd rather have coal.


Monday, January 18, 2010

The weekend was both very busy and very quiet. Saturday was the crazy bit- I took the twins up for some skiing , had a couple of English lessons to teach and just generally kept going all day.
Then on Sunday, I was up early (5:30am!) and took JP to the Geneva airport. (He's now in Ouagadougou- he'll attend a conference and then get some fieldwork in. He'll be back in a month).

After that, the day quieted right down. My Big Plan was to go see 'Avatar'. We'd tried to go last week, but had arrived only to find it was completely sold out, even though it was playing on two big screens at the multiplex! I ended up watching "Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard" with the twins and their friend we'd brought along. The movie was not All That, as you can guess just from the title. And I'm thinking of sending the following letter to the director:
Dear Luc Besson,
Contrary to what you may believe, that was not a 'cliffhanger'. It was just half a mediocre film.
As a result, I'd like a refund of 50% of my ticket.
On second thought, I'd like a full refund. Hearing "Poker Face" interpreted by the Minimoys Band gave me a bad, bad headache.

I thought we'd have better luck this week, as I cleverly went online Sunday morning to buy our tickets for "Avatar" (in 3-D and in English! ) online. But all of the English language showings were sold out. Every one of them all day long. We ended up cleaning the house a bit, which was NOT a satisfactory substitute. I'm afraid it ended up being a rather dull day...

So, that was the weekend. Now it's Monday and I've been doing laundry and the house some more. It's the day I usually change all the sheets and clean the bathrooms. And today I did so while singing "Walk This Way" the whole time.
I don't even like that song.
In fact, I think I've cordially hated it since it was played 24/7 on the radio when it came out in 1976 . That's how it seemed to my 10 year old ears, anyway. I think they may have also occasionally played "Afternoon Delight", a song which actually makes me vomit a little. (Watch out when you click the link, btw- the song exerpt starts up right away and it's NOT for the fainthearted.)

Anyway, WTW is a song that, like it or hate it, everyone has heard. You, dear reader, can most likely hum the opening bars, as they make up the second most recognised guitar riff in history. (First place must go to "Smoke on the Water", of course)
But do you know the words?
I do.
All of them, I'm sorry to report.
This is due to the fact that, as a result of intense lobbying by the guitarists, my kids' rock band (which still doesn't have a name, btw) is covering the song. They are all really much more into alt rock /pop punk, but that famous riff, plus the long guitar solo at the end thoroughly won over Antoine (lead guitar) and Max (subordinate follower guitar). They carried the day and now Valentine is busy learning the rapid-fire lyrics. She's had to change them around a bit to make them girl-appropriate and less obscene and has done quite a bit of work. Which means I've heard the song over and over and over and over again as she plays it and struggles with the words.

Me? I'm really much more of a "Sound of Music" kind of person..... lyrics like "raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens" just seem to suit me much better than ones that proclaim that "you ain't seen nothin till you're down on a muffin". ..

Thursday, January 14, 2010

You know the computer problems that I mentioned in my last post? The problems turned out to be beyond my capacity to fix. I blamed myself, of course- figuring that my rudimentary skills just weren't up to the task of repairing what was no doubt a very tiny problem.

In fact, it was not my fault at all. The computer genius that I called in to rescue me informed us that my computer was infected by 42 different viruses, one of which completely deactivated my security program.
Very grim.
But all's well that ends well and it all got cleaned out this afternoon.

Result: expect to see more posts from now on!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Here is my list (and I do so love lists) entitled: "Why I Like 2010, So Far".
I know I'm tempting fate by posting this, but here it is:

1. I finally found my fave pair of gloves. It's COLD and I need them! They were lurking at the bottom of a drawer that they had no business being in. Naughty!

2. The holiday rush is over and I'm getting the house back in order. I HATE it when my regular cleaning schedule is interrupted. (And yes, as a matter of fact I am a Virgo. Why do you ask?)

3. The departure of my MIL and the kids going back to school mean that I am no longer surrounded by people 24/7. I need at least some solitude on a daily basis or I get very cranky. It's not pretty.

4. My parents bought the kids "Rock Band 2" for the Wii and it....well...ROCKS! I don't actually have much time to play it lately , but I enjoy watching the kids go at it when I have a spare moment. They're so cute and some of the older songs really puzzle them, ex: 'Spirit in the Sky' (provokes hysterical laughter every time) and 'American Woman' (Mallory: "Why does he hate that poor lady so much? Geez!)

5. I suddenly remembered that I used to make risotto quite often (about 10 years ago!) I dug out an old recipe and it was an instant, huge hit with everyone. And a new menu item is no small thing, as all of us who cook for families well know.

6. This is the month that work begins on the addition to our house! I'd given up all hope that it would happen in my lifetime, but our buildrr actually came by last night to go over last minute details of the plan. He's preparing the wood right now (perhaps as I write this! Squeeee!) and will definitely start by the end of this month. By the end of February, we should have 20 more square meters of living space. Hooray!

7. I just got done watching season 2 of 'Heroes' and am looking forward to borrowing season 3 from a good friend that just got it for Christmas. as soon as she's seen it, the kids and I are going to enjoy catching up with Hiro, Claire and even the oh-so-annoying Peter.
You don't watch 'Heroes"?
Well, you really should. Really.

8. I'm going to see "Avatar" soon, somehow. I tried to go on Sunday, but both showings were full. But I'll try again next weekend. I've been looking forward to it for quite a while. (PS- If you've seen it and it disappointed you, PLEASE do not rain on my cinematic parade and tell me so. I plan to enjoy it and will not be dissuaded)

9. I've got several good book to read all lined up and waiting for me (Thanks, mom!). I'm just now (today!) going to start on a new fantasy series by Mercedes Lackey.

10. Mallory finally got glasses and wore them to school for the first time on January 4, 2010. She'd been complaining that she couldn't see well and, after some procrastination on my part, we took her to the local optician to get her eyes checked in early December. It turned out that she's sudden become very nearsighted- as blind as a tiny, blonde, adorable bat.
But I couldn't just get a prescription for her, as children under age 16 in France have to be examined by an opthamologist. So, I wrangled an emergency appointment for her with a doctor at the hospital clinic. We got in just before Christmas and got the glasses ordered asap.
When they arrived, Mallory was thrilled to see the world through them. "The grass has blades! It's not just green, fuzzy clumps!" was one of her first remarks.
So, Mallory has started out 2010 able to see correctly. Plus she looks cute. Win!
(side note: As JP works in Switzerland, we don't have the French public health insurance. We pay for private coverage. Usually, we have to pay the bills and then are reimbursed afterwards-
but it's not as bad as you might think. To pay for an opthamological exam at the hospital, for example, I gave a mere 20 Euros. Total. No lie.)

So, that's it- my first post of 2010 and my first list of the year. Sorry I've been offline so long. I've been having computer issues and a severe lack of time to deal with them. But I hope things will be better now....