Sunday, September 30, 2007

No rose withouth thorns?

Having technical difficulties again. ( See post: I am not a total idiot)
This time with blogger: no life support here, I see, extremely difficult to post to a group help. I moved around html code - knowing nothing about it - in order to position pictures the way I want it and must have done something wrong, because now I get an error message, that my code can't be accepted because ending something something lacks corresponding something something at the beginning.

Great, looks like customer friendliness of blog sites is everywhere in the dark ages - if not one way than another.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Malmo botanical garden

Scania, or Skane, the southernmost province of Sweden, has a relatively mild climate, rich soil and a large variety of beautiful gardens: from general botanical, park and palace gardens to various specialised ones, like a pharmacist's garden, displaying all sorts of medical herbs, a green roof experimental garden and a test and idea garden.

Malmo's botanical garden is located in the capital of Scania province, its largest city, Malmo.
The garden is large, surrounded by buildings of such different architectural styles like the modern glass house of Malmo library:

and a traditional building of a regional administration, Landstingshus:

Strolling through the various parts of the garden it I enjoyed its water and bog garden:

and its traditional Skane cultivation garden:

Many of these plants were cultivated for dried flowers bouquets, to be enjoyed during the long, dark months of winter.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Shark, kitties and the hurricane Rita

Two years ago I lived on the north end of Padre Island, an over hundred miles long, and mostly still undeveloped barrier island stretching from across the Corpus Christi Bay to the border with Mexico. It is a nice place, if you like wide, long stretches of sand, a decent surf, fishing and can live without forests, as the vegetation there is sparse. My apartment building was facing the dunes, the beach and the sea behind them. I have a cat, Rascal, a huge black and white "tuxedo":

Rascal loved the sunny dune- level balcony and frequently ate, drank and lounged there. Soon I noticed that a small, skinny cat was visiting him there and helping herself generously to his food, yogurt and his fresh, cold water. Rascal did no object, so I figured the visitor must have been a feline. She was very shy and ran away in panic as soon as she seen me coming, but I developed a habit of leaving her a generous helping of food on the balcony every evening.

A few weeks passed and I noticed that she started gaining weight and became less shy: now she would come also when I was sitting on the balcony, and a few times even ventured inside, helping herself to more of Rascal's food.

At the end of August I went on a couple of weeks long trip and asked my pet sitter to feed both Rascal and the stray, who now practically lived partially on the balcony and partially in the sand under it.

I came home one evening with a dengue-like symptoms, fever, headache, body ache, not really able to care that a hurricane Rita was approaching Texas coast - even though both Emilia and then Katrina taught us not to be too complacent about the possible danger. But I was too sick to care. I fed Rascal and the stray and collapsed onto my bed.

I woke up next morning still sick like a dog, barely able to open the balcony door for Rascal to go out, and just before I fell asleep again I heard that the evacuation of the entire north Padre Island was ordered by the city of Corpus Christi by 2 pm the next day, when the bridge to the fast land would be closed. Oh, good, I have 30 more hours, I thought while falling asleep again.

A couple of hours later I woke up to some strange noises coming from behind the iron-work headboard of my bed, which was placed in a corner of the bedroom, on the diagonal, to assure the best view from the bed. I lifted my very heavy and very achy head a little, looked through the iron lattice of my headboard.... and could hardly believe my eyes. There, in the triangle was the stray from the balcony and four tiny, apparently quite newborn kittens, still blind and barely crawling.

I looked through the window and saw that the sea had already swallawed the entire beach and the waves were already rising above the dunes. No wonder this cat mama sought shelter for herself and her offspring. But now I was responsible for evacuating not only myself and Rascal, but this new family addition, too. Oh my, oh, my.

I willed myself - it wasn't easy in my condition - to get up and prepare my car for the trip across the bridge. I managed to lug over some hard to replace documents and necessary supplies (mainly water and cat food) to the car... and fainted after the second or third trip.

No, I decided. That would not do. I need to get stronger to be able to drive myself and the cats off the island and to the safety of the Texas Hill Country where my friends still lived, since shelters refused to take pets and all the hotels in the 250 mile radius were already booked.

My daughter called and asked if I was about to evacuate and whether I've taken the family albums with me. OK, I promised not to leave the family albums behind and told her I would be evacuating tomorrow, just well before the bridge closed. I did not tell her I was sick and I did not tell her that I have now been appointed a guardian to a stray cat - which I named Shark, since she came from the sea (well, almost) and had very sharp little teeth - and her four off springs. Daughter was too far away to be able to help, so stressing her out would be pointless. I ate some consomme, took some pills, slept most of the afternoon and all evening, fed the cats, ate some more consomme and slept all night to the melody of Shark's and Rascal's content purring and tiny noises made by the kittens behind my bed. When I woke up the next morning, I was feeling better, the island was almost deserted, there was not a single bottle of water and not much gas left at the only still opened gas station, and the water level in the sea was as high as the day before. I ventured as far as to the bridge leading to the fast land and saw that the water level in the bay was also terrifyingly high, almost touching the bridge's driveway at lower levels.
But the sun was shining and the sky was as blue as it could be. It didn't look like an approaching hurricane at all. And then I heard an announcement that the hurricane Rita moved towards Texas-Louisiana border and the evacuation of Padre Island and Corpus Christi was called off, because we were no longer in danger.

And Shark's kitties could now grow and prosper in safety. cared for by both Shark and Rascal, who gladly - or at least patiently - assumed a role of a daddy .

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Experiments in minimalist living: Simrishamn

Three years ago when I started my early retirement, I decided to go to Scania (Skaane), the southernmost province in Sweden, where I lived about a decade ago (see post A place with a view on Although during most of my time in Sweden I lived in Stockholm, and loved it, after I discovered Scania, I fell in love with it, too.

Simrishamn, a picturesque fishing village turned tourist mecca, seemed like a right place to spend a summer in - may be even as a permanent base from which to travel. I was lucky to be able to rent a small townhouse (row house) in a quaint, less touristy and much smaller village near Simrishamn; white brick, red roof and two tiny gardens, one in front and one behind the house. Part of the garden was already planted. A plum tree,
a small lawn, and a hedge of red currant bushes.
And I could instantly enjoy most welcome guests in the garden: flowers planted by my neighbor several years ago, that threaded itself to my side of fence:

But the inside of the row house was empty. Initially I had no furniture - just my clothes, books, laptop and a few " making me feel instantly at home" accessories.

So the day I moved in I bought a camping bed and bed linens, a lamp and a phone. I hanged a painting by a Costa Rican artist friend, put a cardboard box I found to a good use... and voila: a stark, minimalistic bedroom

But with a living room I hesitated. My brother offered to bring from Stockholm my furniture that he stored for me, so I decided to wait a week or two.

Just happened to read somewhere about some music celebrity, who was into a minimalistic design big time and in the living room of his vacation cottage he had only a big rock and a Bose stereo.

OK, I am neither that young - or that macho - to enjoy reclining on a rock, nor a musician, so I decided on an armchair and a TV as my minimalist requirements.

But before I managed to go to town to shop for those pieces, one of my new neighbors dropped in for a visit, to see who I was, how I was settling in and if I need anything. Her gesture delighted me, but also surprised. Swedes are usually shy, do not initiate contacts with strangers, but are usually polite and helpful at heart behind that facade of standoffishness.

This woman from Scania, Carina, was just the opposite: welcoming immediately, trying to be helpful without being asked, not shy at all and not a slightest hint of standoffishness.
Her attitude was that of an instant friend.

And as an instant friend, after seeing my empty apartment and hearing about my plans, she took charge: put me in her car and drove to a country flea market of sorts, where she quickly pointed me to a rustic fall leaf table and a couple of chairs for the breakfast nook in my kitchen and for my living room: an armchair ( an early IKEA design circa 1950? ), a side table, a small puff to serve as an ottoman, a TV, a lamp, curtains matching the chair etc.
When we brought home these purchases, she left me to arrange them, and returned soon after with a couple of plants for my windowsill. And voila again: an instant living room in a grandmotherly-minimalistic? cottagy-minimalistic? style? You be the judge :-)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Where is the service in service economy?

Today I was looking for a different kind of help than yesterday. For simple, manual labor: a move-out apartment cleaning, carpet cleaning, window washing, loading and unloading those belongings I decided to store and those that will go to a charity, but are too bulky/heavy for me to handle on my own.
Until now, whenever and wherever I moved withing the USA, I had no trouble finding that kind of services as I needed them and at acceptable prices. No such luck today.
Well, yes, I found 10 firms offering cleaning services in town and 12 more around town. So far so good. But here the "good" part of the story ends. Most of those firms did not answer their phones or did not return my call. Out of the remaining firms I got three bids. One cleaning service wanted $100/hr for two cleaning ladies with a two hour minimum, the second wanted $225 firm price and the third did not really know how much they were going to charge, but they assured me that the price would "certainly be reasonable"!!! I kid you not!
And no, this is NOT a typo: the service firm wanted $ 100 an hour for sending two cleaning ladies. The cleaning ladies would, most probably be Latino immigrants, who would be lucky to get paid $7.50 an hour each - if that much.
Thus the service firm's direct labor cost for these ladies would be $15 = 15% of the quoted fee!
OK, let's be fair and add to that some indirect labor costs (though I doubt they carry much, if any, of them) supplies, equipment, transportation (if they pay for it, which I also doubt), liability insurance, overhead, administration, advertising, taxes. Let's be generous (well, they might be less than efficient) and assume that the total cost of the service they provide is 25%-30% of the fee they demand. That comes out to a 70%-75% of pure profit! Talk about US still being a land of opportunities!
This pattern repeated itself concerning moving help: similar prices, similar assumed profits.
Where, on earth is any serious, willing to get business competition? Is there no unemployment, no beginning of a recession? Is this situation now typical for the USA at large or just for this particular corner of the Bible belt? And why? Questions, questions.
Ah, well, since I can't get any service from the service firms at a price I am willing to accept, I guess the only thing I can do is to go tomorrow early morning to a place in town where day laborers gather, talk to them - luckily I speak enough Spanish - and hire myself cleaning and moving helpers for about $15 an hour.
I'll have to do my own recruiting, hiring and supervising - but at least the profit will be all mine.
USA has a well developed service sector - I'm sure you heard that time and time again. It was once true, but does no longer seem to be, even as unemployment is rising. Sad and unbelievable!

Monday, September 24, 2007

I am not a total idiot

... I'd like to think, although, I admit, I sometimes behave like one... (Don't we all ?)
I am just not interested in technological details, which, I think, I should not need to know in order to use technology to do what I want it to do.
What??? you ask. OK, I shall explain: do you think that it is necessary to know how the car's engine works in order to be able to drive a car?
No, I did not think you did, because most people, most drivers in fact, would just laugh at such a demand. (And I bet that most drivers - me included - do not even want to know how and when to change gears - particularly Americans, since they had it so good for so long. Everything that can be automated, should.) Yet, when I was a young girl in the then communist Poland I was expected to pass the written exam proving I knew how a car's engine worked and how it was built, before I could actually start to learn driving the car with an instructor and get a license to drive it on my own.
The - ridiculous - explanation for that requirement was that Poland at that time had almost no car service stations, so car drivers were supposed to be self sufficient if anything happened to their vehicles. The incredible naivety of the car techies, who imagined that anybody, without a technical background, would be able (even if he or she was willing and had appropriate tools) to fix his/her broken engine at the side of the road, just after a few theoretical lessons on the inner secrets of car engines, still makes me laugh.
Today I feel in the same situation trying to upload my pictures to my wordpress blog.
Not that i am a total novice at uploading pictures. No, I uploaded tons of images to various power point presentations, email letters, etc. But not to a blog...
During the weekend I wanted to write a post about Scania's gardens and to do that I needed to upload some photos, but no matter how hard I tried, I could either post thumbnails or - when I tried full size images, they came out so huge, as to show only tiny, totally inconsequential fragment of the image on screen... even though one photo somehow accidentally "uploaded itself" (?) to a category (???) ... and ... lo and behold... there it showed in its desired size. Aah, the miracles of technology!
OK, I DID try not to be totally tech-arrogant, so I read - rather carefully - wordpress's faq posts about uploading images, and the forum discussions and did not find what I needed to find, because
1) the information I needed was not there
2) whatever information was there was written by geeks to geeks in Geeklish (= geek English), not for non geeks in English, so, not being conversant in Geeklish, I did not understand most of it.
Thus today I contacted technical support at wordpress to get some help and Mark responded very promptly (I have to admit, giving the credit where the credit is due), that wordpress has no autoresizing ... and referred me to a faq question: how big can my images be..... which I previously read and had no idea how to follow. Sigh....
This reminds me of another technology dilemma, which was faced by one of my former clients, a small, but international manufacturer of a highly specialized, technologically cutting edge product, who hired me several years ago to solve some serious problems they were having with their instruction manual and product training.
The instruction manual was written in an extreme Geeklish ( actually in geek-German and translated to Geeklish and geek-Japanese), by the company's tech aficionados, so proud with the cutting edge technology they developed and used in their product, that..... the manual they have written enabled their most advanced competitors to copy their technology and bridge the gap from their to my client's technological advancement level in almost no time at all, which, of course, was not exactly what the company's management and shareholders had in mind business wise.
But the same manual - and the tech-repair loaded training - was a constant subject of complaints of their clients, because, although their maintenance staff could fix the product if it malfunctioned with the help of the manual, their operators - the very people to which the manual was ostensibly being addressed - lacked enough technical background to be able to use the product on the basis of those waaay too geeky instructions.
It took me no time at all to convince company management to stop the manual asap and withdraw as many already distributed copies of it from circulation as possible, as not to give away all of their secrets to their competitors.... but it took me a lot longer to convince those tech-geniuses to help me as SMEs (= subject matter experts) to completely redesign it and publish in several interactive versions (on line, on DVDs, in different languages, not only those of the company owners, but those of the majority of clients) able to accommodate every kind of user with every level of technical background from - if need be - a practically illiterate (they did happen, particularly in Malaysia and Brazil) operator of a machine, in which this technological marvel of a product, critical to the quality of production, was installed, to a PH.D in physics at any manufacturer of a machine using this product as one of its components - without either boring to death the PhD in physics and similar or going over the heads of any of the end users
Immediately after we were able to get these recommendations implemented, and the new interactive instruction tools were distributed, clients started calling with praise how pleased they were with the improvements and soon after the company got a public endorsement - at the largest relevant technology fair in the world - from several largest manufacturers of those machines that used my client's product as a component, not only for the technological advancement of their product, but for "extraordinary customer friendliness" of their product training and interactive instruction tools. The sales' levels and company's profits shot up and stayed up for almost three years.... until their techies - left again to their own devices - managed to ruin the "extraordinary customer friendliness" of the company's new and improved products' instruction tools, once again reducing them to - incomprehensible for most end users - techno-gobbledygook. And the sales responded accordingly: they fell.
Geeesh, will they ever learn????

Saturday, September 22, 2007

How do you like your cantaloupe?

I admit, I have some problems with bland tasting fruit, like cantaloupe or papaya and, unless they are served mixed with more assertive tasting fruit in a salad, I am inclined to.... add salt to them.
Thus my favorite summer desert is a fresh cantaloupe, cubed and lightly marinated in lemon juice (with or without a bit of rum or tequila) and fresh orange mint leaves ( I love orange mint, it is so fragrant, good also with Cuba Libre ) and sprinkled more or less generously (more if with tequila, less if with rum) with coarse Mediterranean sea salt. Help yourselves, please.
A culinary crime of the century, you say? Naah, just my everyday culinary transgression, perhaps. :-)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Being bilingual makes you faster... and younger

That’s the conclusion researchers (though I’d call them “researchers”, which I’ll explain later) from the York University in Canada apparently (I haven’t read the original study report, only press reports) arrived at in their study of 104 people in ages from 30 to 88.
Among the people of the study, those who were bilingual were apparently mentally sharper, had faster reaction time and lost less of their mental acuity with age than people who spoke only one language.
It might have been a reason to congratulate bilingual people and hit those language books for the monolingual, if not the remarkable composition of the population that was studied.
Half of the study group were namely English speaking Canadians and the other half…. no, not the French and English speaking Canadians ( or English and any other language speaking Canadians, otherwise similar to the monolingual group) as you might - logically - try to conclude (bilingual and mentally sharp as you are!), the other half….. were people from India, speaking both English and Tamil!
Reading of such a composition of the “research” population, made me almost choke on my morning coffee. This is against the most elementary rules of studies: compare comparables, not incomparables, or - as the saying goes - you put garbage in, you get garbage out!
I am so disappointed…. and can’t squash the suspicion that a - sufficiently influential ?- member of the research team ?- or sponsor of the “research” in question?, wanted a free trip to India? or to show off people from India as smarter than Canadians? The plot thickens…

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Stay away.... or PAY !

There are countries ( like Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Malaysia, Singapore - to name just a few) that welcome immigrants, particularly those, who, like retirees or investors, will bring their money with them, without competing for the jobs with the locals. Those countries try to lure those desirable immigrants by allowing them a host of privileges, of which most common is a right to bring their possessions like cars, furnishing and other household items duty free.

Not Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is rarely a retirement destination for Americans, other than Nyoricans (= New York Puertoricans) although it could for most Americans be a “living overseas light” destination, a primer in the pleasures and perils of living in another climate, another culture, yet with many aspects of life similar to those in the USA.

For starters US citizens do not need to jump though legal hoops to gain residency - Puerto Rico is a US territory and - at least in theory - every US citizen - or resident - is entitled to living - and even working - in Puerto Rico.

Yes, there is a high unemployment in Puerto Rico and the income levels are much lower than in the USA:- according to official statistic the unemployment rate is over 12%, while median wage in Puerto Rico is only about 1/3 of the median wage in the lowest median-wage state in the USA - Mississippi. And the cost of living in Puerto Rico is higher than anywhere else in the Caribbean or Latin America, with San Juan supposedly the most expensive city in the Caribbean - but - legally - there are no restrictions on a US immigrants’ right to live and work there.
There are, however, economic restrictions: Puerto Rico tried hard to restrict the influx of immigrants - any kind of immigrants - by imposing excise duties on any and all goods brought to the island by practically anybody.
This is no longer the case, at least for Americans, except for cars.
Even its tourist board, while welcoming vacationers, is doing its best to discourage potential immigrants: on its discussion board, experts on Puerto Rico try hard to actively discourage anybody whose questions suggest a willingness to become a Puerto Rican resident.

They point to island’s overcrowding ( which, statistically, is undoubtedly true: Puerto Rico has a population density much higher than most other places in the world), on its low income levels ( also, judging by statistics - true), lack of public transportation, which is at least one of the causes of the horrific amount of cars on the island, judging both by its size and by a cars per capita ratio.

Somehow you don’t find them discussing positives, like a much better access to affordable health care - far, far more affordable and far more accessible than in the US proper.

Positives like the island's bilingual status, which, at least in theory, should allow you to conduct at least government business in English - though I have as yet no information on how well does it actually work in practice.

Positives like similarity of laws and jurisprudence, which - although tinged with Spanish traditions - appears to be pretty Americanised. No, I am not a - blind - fan of American legal system or its jurisprudence - far from it. I simply think that to an average US citizen similarity of jurisprudence is a plus, a fact that makes assimilation easier.

Positives like an abundance of American stores with goods a US citizen is familiar with. Etc. Etc.

Add to it a rich culture, a - save for transportation - well developed infrastructure, an abundance of natural diversity: beaches galore, mountains galore, and all kinds of forests, from dry forest (Guanica) to rain forest (El Yunque); interesting food, pleasant climate through most of the year, etc.

Finally, consider proximity to the United States and ease of reaching it thanks to a well developed network of flights.

But…. if you decide to not stay away …. be prepared to pay at least exaggerated shipping fees for everything you bring there. And if you decide to bring a car - which you can hardly live without on a relatively large island with no transportation - you’ll pay through the nose.

The newer and more fancy car, the more you’ll pay in excise taxes: nominally up to 40% of your car’s value ….but with shipping costs added to the value, to make the tax even higher.

It may not be a sufficient deterrent to someone who knows Puerto Rico, knows that he/she likes living there and plans on staying there a long time. But for someone who is moving there on a temporary basis - who, like me, was offered a job, a contract or an assignment there with a possibility to end it after 6 months, a year, two years, but with an option to stay there as long as one likes, it becomes a guessing game, an exercise in figuring out how to balance cost and comfort.

Is it worth while bringing my car over if I decide to stay there only six months? Or will I be better off buying - or renting/leasing a car there, even though cars cost considerably more over there? What if I stay a year, or two, or indefinitely? The calculation will change in each and every case, so you have to factor different scenarios, assign probabilities, etc.

Still, life seldom follows the logical patterns and the probabilities assigned by our mind are vulnerable to the havoc our irrational emotions - or even fleeting moods of estrangement and loneliness - might at any time wreck on them. Why, or why can’t we be more lice Vulcans (= from Star Trek)???

Or Puerto Rico more immigrant friendly?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Yesterday (9/11) my laptop crashed. For the second time in a month, and since last time I lost all data from it - and most of the programs, and busy with moving to Puerto Rico, I barely started uploading everything again, I think it might be time to buy a new one. :-((
But back to crashes. For most Americans 9/11 is about crashes into World Trade Center Towers in New York, about crashes of vastly different ideas of what a desirable civilization, a desirable society is or should be, and about different ways of trying to impose your idea - and/or will - on everybody else.
I had my own personal crash of ideas and wills on September 11…. some 40 years ago.
I was 17 and in seventh heaven, since everything seemed to turn up roses for me that year. At the beginning of June, even before I managed to take my final high school exam ( In Poland, my home country,we called the final exam”matura” - a symbol of maturity? - and the high school - lyceum), I already went through a grueling week -long entry exam to Polish Film, TV and Theatre Academy in Lodz, Wajda’s, Polanski’s and Skolimowski’s alma mater - to name just a few famous Polish film directors.

Now I was accepted there, to study film, to become a film director myself in the future. I hardly believed my good luck, since I was one of only 22 accepted as students that year out of over 240 candidates! In addition, I was also the youngest (by three years) and the only female!
No wonder I was proud as a peacock and had a feeling of floating over the earth…. :-).

I was so totally self-absorbed that I must have missed any and all signals from my boyfriend Jacek (Jack) of how he felt about the situation. I accepted as the most natural thing in the world that he proposed marriage ( a day after I got the acceptance letter), despite the fact that we have only dated since February of that year, that I was only 17 ( he was 20), and about to leave town for at least four years (I lived and he studied in Poznan, while my school to be was in Lodz, 240 km away) and we got officially engaged on the day of my high school graduation.

My mother let me spend summer vacations with him (after all we were engaged), and we spent one month at the seaside, and another in the Bieszczady mountains, where he was born and his parents lived. I had a time of my life and did not pay the slightest attention to the fact that all through the summer he made frequent mentions of our future marital bliss - hey, I liked him, I liked being with him, being adored and having all the sex I wanted without too much restrictions (Poland was a communist country, true, but also a staunchly, conservatively catholic one, and even in the era of flower children in the West, in Poland premarital sex was not considered acceptable… unless you were engaged to be married, which made the society give you somewhat of a blind eye - and a pretty wide berth), I loved spending a summer vacation with him and feeling aah, so grown up.

But my dreamy next step was to study film directing, not being married, scrambling financially and having to do without a maid - because as students we would not be able to afford one, while I had neither experience in - or the slightest inclination towards housekeeping, and the thought of possibly having a baby (brrr) caused me considerable nightmares. So marriage - other than as a years away possibility - had no allure for me.

Yes, I would miss him, I answered his inquiries, but I would be busy learning, experiencing the world I so far only dreamt about, and, anyway, we could see each other twice a months on weekends, alternating my trips to Poznan and his to Lodz (train tickets in Poland at that time were cheap and trains frequent), and he, too, could concentrate on his studies ( he studied engineering and his grades weren’t as stellar as in my opinion they should be, if he truly wanted to be worthy of me… well, yes, I already admitted that at 17 I was not yet a woman, but already a peacock). He countered that he would try to transfer to a technical university in Lodz, which was fine with me. Alas, he did not get a permission to transfer.

September 11 was his nameday (for uninitiated: a birthday of his patron saint or el dia de su santo, which in the catholic Poland - and not only Poland - was celebrated instead of the person’s own birthday. Please don’t ask me why you would get presents and a party on your poor patron saint’s birthday - I grew up in this culture and never gave it a thought at that time - only now it strikes me as ridiculous).

So Jacek had his nameday party on that September 11 and when he walked me home after the party ( it was communist Poland, we had no cars, nor dared to dream of them - but, influenced by Italian movies we dreamed of scooters, Lambrettas, when we dared to dream big) he suddenly gave me an ultimatum: either I stayed in Poznan (he “generously” offered that I could study visual arts, instead of film directing, since I was studying both visual and performing arts during the last three years of high school on a customized gifted and talented program and did not even have to take entry exams to the Visual Arts Academy in Poznan) and we got married right away or the engagement was off - right there and then.

I was stunned, walked in silence not really believing that he said what he did and waiting for him to recant, to laugh and said it was a - bad - joke. He did not, so finally, in front of my house I asked him if he really meant what he said. He said yes. I took off my engagement ring and gave it to him - and he took it, turned around and left, without a word, a hug, a kiss.

I waited a week, thinking that surely he must come to his senses, he can’t expect me to forgo my exhilarating dream for the sake of something so bland and mundane as a premature marriage, but he did not call, did not drop by. Nothing. I was devastated and only the thought of film school kept me going. So I packed my bags and left for Lodz two weeks before the school started in October. My first school ID picture shows not only how very young I was, but also how dreadfully sad.

Yet, with time, the school worked its magic and before I went home to Poznan for Christmas I once again was a happy-go-lucky myself and …. already had a new boyfriend. In Poznan, after holidays I met Jacek when I was visiting my best friend. ( She later admitted that she arranged the meeting on his request). He offered to walk me home and I agreed. He begged me to forgive him and take him back, offered to wait patiently until I was good and ready to marry him on my terms and asked me to a New Year’s Eve ball, so that all our friends could see that we were back together again.

I was tempted, but decided that it would not be fair to my new boyfriend and declined. Jacek called every day hoping he could persuade me, but when my new boyfriend showed up on New Year’s Eve and I went to a ball with him, Jacek - as I learned the next day - attempted to commit suicide. He was lucky, though -his roommate returned early from the celebration after a quarrel with his girlfriend, found Jacek and called an ambulance. I decided not to visit him in the hospital and left with my new boyfriend to visit his parents instead.
There are large and tragic crashes - like New York’s 9/11 - and there are small, tragicomically silly ones - like my personal one all those years ago. …. Yet I still remember it well….. and a few years after that crash, when I heard about Jacek getting married - I cried all night.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Stagflation??? Tsunami???

I happened to look up a Puerto Rico Herald and got goose bumps. Turns out there is a terrible stagflation (rapidly rising cost of living with low pay and high unemployment) in Puerto Rico and scientists warn against a very dangerous tsunami likely to hit Puerto Rico as well.

Why, o why am I going there???????????????

On top of everything the PR government wants to introduce vacation and other benefits for part-timers!!!!
Horror of horrors ......for a crude American style anti-employee-rights demagogue. But I am an enlightened European ;-) and despise heaping benefits on the rich and super-rich and stealing even the crumbs of prosperity - or semi prosperity - from the population at large.

And in the same breath that Herald grosses over benefits for part-timers it also suggest Finland - with its economy at the top of worldwide competitiveness - as a model for Puerto Rico's salvation.

Herald apparently did not study Finlands economic model too comprehensively, since it pointed out Finland's high outlays on R&D (3% of BNP versus Puerto Rico's less than 1%), but forgot to mention about Finland's extensive benefits for workers of all kind: blue and pink collar to professional and managerial, fulltimers and all kinds of parttimers. There is no mention either that in Finland (like generally in Europe) the pay scale is much, much flatter than in the USA. So may be paying attention to all kind of employees instead of grossly overpaying CEO's, hedge-fund managers and a few other privileged categories could be a model to follow for PR... in addition to increasing investment in R&D?

Oh, well, the news happened to be two years old, and I can't wait until I can see the dangers of stagflation, tsunami and the benefits for part-timers with my own very eyes in only about a month! :-)

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Crayfish party and bacon pancakes

Friday night Daughter and I went to the SACC/SWEA ( Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce, Swedish Women Educational Association) sponsored typical Swedish crayfish party held at the IKEA store in midtown Atlanta.

We were squeezed too tight (table rows were too close together, round tables in rows only added to sitting an moving discomfort) but the party was a typical kraeftskiva (crayfish party in Swedish) : noisy, rowdy, fun! An opportunity to meet local Swedes, speak Swedish, and sing Swedish “snaps-visor” (=alcohol praising songs) while eating tons of crayfish cooked in a dill-spiced water.

Eating whole crayfish without proper crayfish utensils is pretty difficult, but Daughter had a stroke of genius and initiated use of a heavy water glass to smash crayfish claws with in order to get to the meat inside them. Found followers soon, since it beats risking your teeth: less troublesome and a lot less expensive, should a crayfish prove too tough for either teeth or glass.

It was already a second crayfish party this year for me. Last weekend we had a “family” crayfish party on the huge balcony of my mountain place. “Family” and not family, since the “crowd” was a tad dysfunctional (?) or at least unusual: Daughter, me and my Ex-son-in-law. Yet we had a good time. It is always nice when a divorced couple can be friends and socialize with each other.
We ate crayfish (purchased from IKEA), with good Swedish cheese and even better - not Swedish - red wine (but we also had Swedish Elderberry Aquavit for the sake of tradition. I usually avoid such strong alcohol in an undiluted form, but Elderberry Aquavit tastes surprisingly mild, so I had a whole shot), watched a beautiful sunset over the lake, and later the fireworks from a couple of marinas around it - since it happened to be the Labor Day weekend. Very festive.
The Jake-o- Lantern, in Sweden called a full moon lantern and used to lit crayfish parties is still hanging over my terrace table. I wonder what my American neighbors are thinking seeing it hanging there at the beginning of September, since for them it is a Halloween decoration. They might think, that I, an immigrant, somehow got the American traditions wrong.

Yesterday, after getting up late ( at Daughter’s condo in Atlanta) after the crayfish party, we scrambled to make our reserved time for breakfast at the Original Pancake House.

Daughter wanted me to try the southern specialty of bacon pancakes. We have both been living - off and on - in the US for the last 25 years and always avoided the combination of bacon or sausage with pancakes, eating - if we indulged in a typical American breakfast - separately eggs and bacon and then pancakes. But a few months ago Daughter went for a retreat and there the only available breakfast food was bacon pancakes, so she decided to brave it… and fell for them. I do have to admit: surprisingly good, too good in fact, so I am lucky I am moving away in a month's time to a place where, hopefully, no one will serve them, so I might avoid gaining a ton of weight. ;-) To tell the full truth, we weren’t brave enough to smear our pancakes with eggs before pouring maple syrup over them, so - smart as we are ;-) - we ordered those pancakes without eggs.

I am moving in a month, sort of overseas, and, anyway, to an island, which poses a special sort of challenges, you might think, so what am I doing starting a blog and blogging about crayfish and bacon pancakes? Ah, well, today I was supposed to sort my study - things to take, things to throw away, things to leave with Daughter…. so I decided to distract myself from that mundane and oh so boring duty by starting a blog… until it was time to go see Benjamin Franklin exhibition at Atlanta History Museum