Transient Beauty

“If you have nothing to say, don’t speak.” 

Actually, I’ve had plenty to say but nothing of any value or interest to my blog readers, hence my relatively long silence over the past few weeks.  A bright spot this month – typifying golden October – is a tree that I have been observing throughout the summer and autumn. It’s a kaki or persimmon tree growing in my friend’s garden, its dense foliage providing welcome shade on the hottest days of summer and now, as the leaves turn and the fruit ripens, glowing like a beacon in the autumn sun. 

This variety bears a fruit – actually a large berry – that has to be completely ripe and squishy to be enjoyed. You can’t eat it like an apple or cut it into neat wedges. As it ripens, it bursts slightly and develops black areas around the edges that have to be cut off. The outer skin is tough and needs to be removed, so it’s quite a messy job involving plenty of finger-licking but the resulting pulpy flesh tastes delicious. 

We took some of the kakis before they were ripe and placed them on the windowsill in the sunshine – appropriately for Hallowe’en, as they bear a strong resemblance to miniature pumpkins.

And as I swept up the fallen leaves, I rescued a few that struck me as particularly colourful just for the sake of a photo. So let me share my pleasure in this lovely tree with you.

Also a treat for the blackbirds. A wonderful example of the exuberant abundance of nature. I’m reminded of Gerard Manley Hopkin’s poem “Pied beauty”:

Glory be to God for dappled things—
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
       For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
       And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
       With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                     Praise Him.

September Song – More Like A Lament

So much has been happening lately. The month of September was intense: at each momentous event I thought I should write about how deeply it struck me and then something else happened. So my reflections on the death of our beloved Queen and the accession of Charles III, the ruthless and pointless narcissism of Putin as he drives his hapless conscripts to wreak havoc in Ukraine, and now the devastation caused by hurricane Ian, particularly where it made landfall on the beautiful island of Sanibel which I know so well – all were overtaken by the subsequent events before I could even start to sort my emotions into words. Other people have expressed similar sentiments to mine, so I’ll spare you.

Behind my house – mountains and mist and blue sky

Here at home in Eastern Switzerland the weather seems to be attuned to all this. Autumn has most definitely arrived with pouring rain and a noticeable drop in temperatures, the mountain peaks are white with snow, the forests on the lower slopes are changing colour, and I have reluctantly taken in the cushions from my garden furniture as I acknowledge that from now on I’ll have to eat my lunch inside and not on my patio.

Breakfast on 1 September

Can we expect a golden October? Fingers crossed!

It isn’t all doom and gloom, though. Retaining the rhyme, here’s Noom: and I’m pleased to report that I have lost five and a half kilos (about 12 lb) since mid-July. Not a spectacular loss, but a loss nevertheless, roughly equivalent to a pound per week, but it will still be a while before it’s noticeable to others. Counting my steps (with an app on my phone) means I’m moving more and that gives me more energy – enough to have given my apartment a thorough clean and shifted some of my furniture around so that I have a slightly different perspective as I sit on my sofa. I think my clothes fit better and that gives me more self-confidence. Can I touch my toes again? Almost! 

I’m not sponsored by Noom, so this is a genuine recommendation for the programme which I find just as effective as Weight Watchers or Slimming World without having to attend regular meetings. Instead, there are daily “lessons” that upload themselves onto my phone – informative, instructive, amusing and encouraging. The app also logs my steps and analyses my food intake, making it easy to keep track and balance out the odd splurge on chocolate, desserts or cheese, and tells me how many calories I’ve burned when I exercise.

Before the almost incessant rain started, I was honoured by daily visits from a sweet little feline who decided to annex my apartment for the afternoon. She made her first appearance here at the end of February when she was still a kitten, and made sporadic forays into our garden during the spring, but from July onwards she ventured through the French windows and into my apartment, which apparently received her seal of approval. Once or twice I heard some brief caterwauling from a neighbour’s garden and presume that she had trespassed onto Queen Ayesha’s territory (Ayesha’s coat has now grown back even more luxuriantly than before, I’m pleased to say).

Mimi baby

I privately nicknamed my little tricolour friend “la Coquette” as that sums up her behaviour: if she were human, she’d be a dainty soubrette or a Gigi as incarnated in the famous film of the fifties. Once I’d determined which of the neighbouring houses she belonged to, I discovered she was called Mimi, which suits her down to the ground.

“This is MY bed!”

She always announced her arrival with a series of mews, winding herself around my feet, then after receiving the requisite amount of stroking and fuss, she’d settle herself comfortably for a long nap. I haven’t seen her lately, so I assume she doesn’t like getting her feet wet. 

J’y suis, j’y reste.

Mimi is one of the prettiest little cats I know, with very bright contrasting colours. Tortoiseshell cat in the UK, calico cat in the US – I have often wondered why “calico”, as this is a rough, unbleached fabric and I can see no resemblance whatsoever to Mimi’s gorgeous silky coat. Perhaps one of my readers across the pond can enlighten me?

Reasons To Be Thankful

Hohenklingen Castle rises above a cottage in Stein am Rhein. 1 August, Swiss National Day

After endless weeks of wonderful sunshine, it’s finally raining – and like the plants and trees all around me, I am filled with gratitude. It makes a change to sit outside on my little terrace sheltered by the balcony above me, and enjoy breathing in this fresh, damp air, seeing the grass, leaves and flowers reviving, and listening to the soothing sound of the falling rain. Nature, too, is grateful.

Evening on Lake Walensee

Prior to this, I have been away: visiting my daughter and son-in-law at the end of July and beginning of August, and my best friend for the following two weeks. With the fantastic weather I felt I was on holiday, so my thankfulness also extends to my hosts/hostesses:  I have been pampered and cossetted like royalty! It was also an opportunity to meet and catch up with my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who are all growing apace and even starting to overtake me in height. It also brought another instalment of assorted cheeses from my middle granddaughter and her husband as they continue to fulfil their promise to me on my 80th birthday, to give me 80 different sorts of cheese!

With my daughter and son-in-law, I was also able to see a little more of Switzerland, places I know but haven’t visited for a long time  – the picturesque little town of Frauenfeld, the pretty marina at Steckborn on Lake Constance, 

Steckborn marina

the quaint village of Stein am Rhein 

Village Square, Stein am Rhein

and the magnificent scenery around Lake Lucerne. 

Lake Lucerne from Hergiswil
Steamer on Lake Lucerne

The current President of Switzerland, Alain Berset, happened to be visiting Stein am Rhein on the same day we were there, and it was heartening to see with what little fuss and bother he is able to move around the country. Yes, there was a very unobtrusive bodyguard, but Mr Berset stepped from his car on the public carpark, a rucksack slung over his shoulder, strolled to the helicopter waiting in a neighbouring field and flew off to his next appointment as casually as if he were catching a bus. A few people who happened to be walking by the river stopped to watch, their attention caught by the helicopter, but it was really no big deal. That says a lot about the security of this country.

Helicopter waiting for the President of Switzerland to board – not exactly Airforce1

Many of you responded to my last post, so thanks for your insightful comments. I’m relieved to report that the gentleman in question messaged my friend with an apology and assurance of his enduring friendship. I now know quite a lot more about the lady’s background and I think I understand where her low self-esteem is coming from. We shouldn’t be over-hasty in judging these two; they live in a milieu that really does put accomplishments above character, which I think is very sad. 

Super Sturgeon Moon

I am particularly grateful to my hostesses for their kind understanding of my “Noom needs”: support for my dietary requirements and encouragement to exercise. My best friend has a swimming pool, so I was able to do my 50 lengths (600m) each morning before breakfasting at the side of the pool. In fact, we spent most daylight hours in and by the pool. Just like a super luxury hotel! A very blessed time indeed. Happiness, I am convinced, is a side-effect of an attitude of gratitude.

Morning swim

And having mentioned Noom, I suppose I should give a quick update. Yes, I can recommend this programme. The diet is very sensible and healthy, easy to implement even when I’m eating out or at someone else’s house, and the frequent little prompts and cues – which would be annoying if it were a person nagging – are actually quite helpful and encouraging. I have managed to reach my target number of daily steps and to exercise a bit (especially the swimming) and I can report that since 16 July I have lost 3 ½ kg, which is 7lbs or (for my British readers) half a stone. Something else that I can be grateful for. I seem to have hit a plateau this week, but Noom is reassuring about that, too. So onwards and – downwards! 

Snub or Snob?

Recently, I was at a friend’s house when another old friend, David*, arrived with his partner Margaret.* I had already met David a couple of times, but I wasn’t acquainted with his lady. The four of us  enjoyed an animated conversation over dinner, ranging over a number of different topics. Alone with Margaret – who I knew had taught at a university and therefore had publications to her name – I innocently inquired what her field was, and what her speciality. She informed me very briefly, then continued telling me about her grandchild and the time they had just spent together.

A little later, however, David turned to our hostess and asked in a most accusatory tone, “How come you didn’t tell Cat about Margaret?” Nonplussed, my friend said that she had told me about her. “No, you didn’t,” he replied, ”she didn’t know that Margaret is a highly distinguished scholar and a world authority on her speciality.” 

Margaret nodded “Yes,” she said sourly, “I wonder what exactly you did tell her about me, since you didn’t mention the most important thing!”

My friend explained that as I didn’t yet know Margaret she had simply told me that she was David’s partner, and a university professor. She may indeed have mentioned Margaret’s field of study but I hadn’t registered that fact. This explanation only added fuel to the fire: Margaret felt that her status had been greatly reduced, if all I had been told about her was that she was an appendage to David. Alas, she most definitely felt snubbed. Feathers were very ruffled. I also tried to defuse the atmosphere by saying that in my opinion, what matters is not so much what a person does but rather who the person is. In addition, we are all well past retiring age so you can’t really assume that we are all still working– although  as it turned out, we are.

No, no, no! David and Margaret were both very adamant that what you do professionally defines who you are: your achievements and social standing are primordial, your identity is shaped by your work. There was no budging them on that, and Margaret’s wounded pride may sadly mark the end of a very long friendship between my friend and David, although I fervently hope not

However, the question raised has occupied my thoughts since this event. 

I agree that we probably choose our career path as a function of our tastes and talents as well as whatever opportunities come our way. Personally, I could never have had a career in medicine or engineering, for instance. But over the years, I’ve filled a multitude of roles both personally and professionally, and not all in the same field, interacting with people at many different levels of the social and academic scale, and making friends with people from all walks of life. It seems snobbish to me to put a higher value on a person because he or she has a title – be it academic or noble – than one who is equally faithful, fun and sincere but at the bottom of the class system. Prince or pauper, for me it’s character that counts. 

I put this same question to my readers, and would really be very interested to know where you stand on this issue.

Are our accomplishments more important than our character? 

Am I the person I am because of my professional success or failure? 

And does that set the criteria for my personal worth?

Do you value yourself for what you do or for what you are? 

And do you value your friends for what they do or for what they are? 

*Names changed to protect the innocent!

My YouTube Debut

Back in April, I took part in a virtual conference and wrote about it here. This made an interesting change to my normal routine, and I have been looking forward to sharing the video of the presentation / interview with all of you. Now at last Montgomery College, who hosted the Confluence Translation Conference in Maryland, have uploaded all the video-recordings from the conference onto their website at https://www.montgomerycollege.edu/events/confluence/past-conferences.html.

If this also piques your interest, and you want to see me discussing my translations of Nelly Sachs’ poems, scroll down to Videos and click on Session 1 (where you can see an image of my Nelly Sachs blog). It’s quite a long session, so feel free to fast forward if you find it boring. Anyway, I just thought that after reading my waffling here in print and seeing my uploaded photos, it might make a change to actually see and hear me “live” too. You might also find some fascinating insights and information in the other videos.

My thanks are due to my interviewer, dear Elly Sullivan, and Montgomery College Confluence organisers – or should I spell that organizers – for this opportunity to share with a lot more people than I would otherwise have reached. This seems to be bearing fruit: since the conference, my site has received over 3,000 hits so somebody must have been motivated! I’d love to know who – not a single one of those visitors has left a comment. I really do appreciate feedback and can take constructive criticism (I ignore any other kind).

So follow the link above, and let me know what you think – at least I might get some comments on this site!

Going down!

Thanks to my readers for their comments to my post about losing weight (I won’t say “slimming”, that’s too ambitious!). In response, I should point out that I am my own worst enemy owing to my double deadly sins of greed and sloth (laziness). All I really need is self-discipline and a kick in the butt. Hopefully, Noom will provide the latter. Yes, I know that what I lose in pounds I will inevitably gain in wrinkles, but I’m putting health before beauty. Here’s my starting point (I have shrunk in height by 3 cm since I was 40)

Here I am at eighty,
Shorter, but no less weighty
When my horizontal matches my vertical
Soon I shall be spherical.

I come from a long line of hardworking peasants, domestics, labourers and miners whose bodies learnt to make good use of every calorie they could get, so my inherited metabolism tends to be slow. Moreover, I also have an under-active thyroid which probably also affects my tendency to hold onto fat. Excuses, excuses! 

I’m combining Noom with intermittent fasting, that is, I’m only eating between the hours of 10 am and 6 pm, with nothing but water in the “fasting” hours. My guru Andrew Huberman has a good podcast explanation of the value of this at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tRohh0gErM, in case you need evidence. 

I am also really grateful to Aunty Uta, who posted a delightful YouTube video of Les Plus Belles Chansons Françaises at https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/7160824/posts/4138891250   This transported me back to a happy-go-lucky time of my youth, so I hopped, wiggled and danced around to these nostalgic melodies for a good half hour, and as I collapsed at the end I discovered I had completed over one thousand steps already and it was only half-past nine! No need to drag myself out for a trot around the block in the blazing heat: this is a much more pleasurable way of getting my steps in! In the privacy of my own home, nobody is going to grin at my clumsy attempts to repeat the moves I used to perform so gracefully!

One of my difficulties with this American program was gauging food quantities in terms of cups rather than grams and litres. Happily, I have found a set of US measuring cups and spoons lurking at the back of my saucepan drawer, brought back goodness knows when, never used but now coming in useful. I’m pleasantly surprised to find that a cup is actually quite a lot more than I thought, so my portions can be a bit larger. I was also delighted to find that, as individuals can add food items and there are obviously other Swiss people following this program, some of our brands and typical foodstuffs are already in the food list. 

And if you are waiting for a progress report, I’m happy to say that in the past week I have lost just over a kilo. Not much, but better than nothing, and motivating. Why couldn’t I do it by myself, you ask? I can only say that Noom provides me with 3 incentives I didn’t have before, in spite of my best friend’s encouragement: constant nagging, food and step tracking, and calorie control. I think twice before I reach for the cheese – yes, it’s allowed, but only a quarter of what I was permitting myself up to now: and how much more I appreciate that creamy, stinky, mature Epoisses when it’s rationed!

(And by the way, my fingernails are looking decent again – no coloured polish this time! – and I’m going to tackle my feet today. )

I need a manicure …

As I was eating my breakfast, I noticed that my nailpolish was chipped so I decided that I’d remove it immediately after I’d washed up the dishes. My manicure stuff is in my bathroom cabinet but I can’t enter the bathroom without my bladder clamouring for attention. Sitting on the loo, I noticed that my bathroom floor wasn’t as clean as it should be, so I got out my Swiffer mop and other relevant cleaning materials  and gave the bathroom a thorough clean. 

Mop in hand, I moved to the only other room with a tiled floor, the kitchen, and there also left every surface sparkling – at least, as far as I could reach up on the cabinet doors. Tall people might notice a tide mark at the 6 ft level. Cleaning the kitchen, I noticed that behind the door there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in Horatio’s philosophy – but Horatio was a man, so he wouldn’t have needed to dream of ironing boards, aprons and recycling. There was also a fair amount of sorting out needed among my cleaning products and utensils, but now that job is done too.

As I bent down, the waist button popped off my shorts (yes, this is a sweaty job, shorts and a suntop are my indoors Mrs Mop gear) and without it, the zip kept coming undone so that button had to be sewn back on and my sewing things reorganised. 

With bathroom and kitchen gleaming, the carpet in the other rooms looked in need of attention so out came the vacuum cleaner. I love my vacuum cleaner. It’s small and easy to use and takes up very little room, unlike those I have had before with long hoses that refuse to wrap into a neat little parcel and hide behind doors or curtains (my apartment is small and short on storage). I had covered about two square metres when the battery died. 

Oh well, it’s actually recommended that you should dust before you hoover, so while the battery on my vacuum cleaner was recharging I dusted all the surfaces in my living room, including all the picture frames and little knick-knacks (yes, I did pick each item up and dusted under it, unlike the last cleaning lady I had, even though she was Swiss!), polished the mirrors (I have several, not because I like looking at myself but to reflect the light and make the room look bigger) and other glass surfaces – but resisted the windows this time.

After this some  pictures were hanging crooked, so I tried to straighten them but the nails holding two of them fell out; my walls are concrete, and it’s a devil of a job to get a nail to hold without drilling but if the picture isn’t heavy and nobody breathes within a metre of it, the nail will usually hold. When the nail falls out, though, it tends to leave quite a large hole. Out came the mastic and as I was smoothing it into the holes with my finger, I noticed that my nail polish looked really bad …

Well, the vacuum cleaner battery is fully charged now, so I’ll just finish off the living room and start on the bedroom before I do my nails, otherwise the polish will get chipped again before it’s dry … And anyway, it’s almost lunchtime, so I’ll just remove the polish and come back to the rest later … I think …

Thirty grams down, 15 kg to go …

On taking stock of what two years of Covid restrictions have done in my life, I conclude that I’m one of the lucky ones. Firstly, I haven’t yet had Covid-19 (though I shouldn’t say that too loudly, I don’t want to tempt fate) and secondly I didn’t have to miss going out to work as I’m retired and what work I do, I do from home anyway. On the other hand, there are two consequences that I’m not so happy about: the first is that I’ve become a social recluse, almost a hermit, and the second that I have gained at least 10 kilos. 

I’ve been muttering about my weight for a while, but my attempts to lose any were pretty half-hearted and my addiction to cheese triumphed over my willpower. A week or so ago, I responded to an ad that popped up on Facebook for Noom. Have any of you tried this? 

They have some pretty aggressive marketing which I tried to ignore, but finally I gave in when they offered me six months free on an annual subscription that – they say – can be cancelled any time. Immediately I was inundated with encouraging messages and e-mails, and an app that allows me to log almost every minute of my day one way or another. If Big Brother is interested in my antics, he will have no trouble whatsoever in tracking me down.

I haven’t actually learned anything I didn’t already know about nutrition and exercise, but I must say there’s no lack of positive feedback and encouragement from the second I wake up until the moment I tap “Finish the day”. And some tempting recipes – even though, as they are American, I’m not always sure what this or that ingredient is or how many grams of a certain item make up a cup. For instance, how many cups are two sticks of celery or five leaves of an iceberg lettuce? How heavy is an American slice of bacon? (Ours is cut very thin, 8 slices weigh 100g)

One of the things I signed up for was a “customized workout program” downloaded onto my computer. When I saw the photos, I laughed out loud. I can do all these things in my head, and certainly was physically capable of them 30 or 40 years ago, but can I do a plank, crunch or push-ups now? No way! I can’t jump or jog, let alone do power-walking or running, and as for some of the bending and stretching – let’s just say, my elastic has perished! No use saying “Just try, it will come with practice” – it won’t. If I sit or lie down on the floor, it’s a cardio session just getting up again. I can walk at a leisurely pace and I can swim, and that’s about it. 

However, what did impress me was that as soon as I informed Noom of my incapacity – I am, after all, now 81 years old and pretty well spherical – they instantly refunded the cost of that workout sheet. Somewhere on the Internet I saw some exercises you can do on or with a chair so maybe I’ll give those a try. 

“Stand on one leg while you’re cleaning your teeth,” I’ve been told. 

OK, as long as I can hold onto the washbasin with the other hand, but I’m wobbly even then. 

“Walk up and down stairs without using the handrail,” is another one that isn’t as easy as it sounds. I’ve tripped UP the stairs in my house a couple of times, and am not eager to fall DOWN them, seeing as they are stone.

Well, I can still do most of my housework unaided, including cleaning the windows, emptying the dishwasher and hanging up my washing, so I reckon that will have to count as a workout for me. And walking to the shops with my little trolley gives me a couple of thousand steps, as does going to my local park to watch the squirrels and ducks. I just need to get over that Covid-induced reluctance to step over the threshold into public space … 

Perennial Problem

Temperatures are now between 25 and 30°C, so high time to re-arrange my daily wear, putting winter clothes in the basement and summer clothes in my day-to-day wardrobe. The road to hell is paved with garments – especially trousers – that left in the dark have shrunk several sizes since last summer or the summer before last.

This sounds like an echo of a post from about a year ago: no progress made, I’m afraid. It’s easy to blame Covid for my extra kilos, gained while sitting around on the sofa, but if I’m honest I know it’s all my own fault. Too many carbs, too few steps.

This begs the question of what to do with things that looked OK on me 3 or 4 years ago but are too truthful for my present much rounder shape. Last year and the year before, they were carefully put away in the hope that miraculously some of this too, too solid flesh would melt. It hasn’t. In fact it’s even more solid. Consolidated, I might say. At least 10 kilos extra. And the mirror tells me that trousers, whether long, short or mid-calf, are definitely OUT. As is anything fitted. Bell tents are IN. Alack and alas! Shoes still fit, thank goodness – but can I walk in them? Goodbye heels!

Most things in my wardrobe are still wearable, not noticeably dated and of decent quality. I’m sure someone the right size would be glad of them but charity shops are very fussy nowadays. I think I’m going to shove everything into a big suitcase and drop it off at the refugee centre. 

And make myself a toga.

Family heirloom: Alvis hare

When I pop my clogs, my daughter and granddaughters will inherit a few things that they may not be terribly enthusiastic about – but woe betide them if they dump them, because then I shall surely come back to haunt them! Be warned, my sweet Swiss Rose, and your equally sweet rosebuds!

Alvis hare radiator mascot

Here is one of them: one of my earliest playthings, this brass hare served as a doorstop in my parents’ house for as long as I can remember – how they acquired it, I have no idea. My father had a habit of picking things up “that might come in useful” or that took his fancy, so he could have found it anywhere. It originally came from an Alvis car, made in Coventry, England, around a hundred years ago.

I discovered that there had been at least four different versions of the hare mascot and they are still being manufactured today by the Louis Lejeune mascot company. I can vouch for the fact that mine is even older than me, and indeed it’s one of the earliest, known as the “big paws” model. From 1928 onwards they were chrome-plated and carried the signature of their maker AEL (for AE Lejeune). Mine, however, is brass, has never been chromed, and has no signature, making it pre-1928. Its age was verified by Mr Dave Rees of Red Triangle Customer Service who told me:

There were many different versions of Hares used to embellish the radiator caps of various Alvis cars, the one depicted in your photo I have seen on a 10/30 from 1922. There are only 2 10/30 cars known to exist still, one of which is in restored condition and the other has not been restored and I couldn’t tell you the condition of that one.

Whilst your hare may not have originally come from a 10/30, it most certainly would have been from a very early Alvis car made in all likelihood before 1923.

The mascot that was similar to yours that I have seen in use was not chromed and the owner is very thorough about his restorations, so I believe that having it the finish yours is in would be correct.

The 10/30 was a beautiful car so I ordered a print of a coloured drawing showing a 1921 10/30 Alvis with my hare sitting proudly atop the radiator. That’s probably the nearest I’ll ever come to reuniting him with his original vehicle. 

If you want to know more about Alvis cars, follow this link: https://www.youtube.com/embed/ieqGgY349RI?list=PL9YdRRejyRzn72ydzc1ZsqUxx6RlkaCix