Paris Under Siege New Tactics of Terrorism

Charlie 1Within minutes of one of the worst terrorist attacks in Paris, I skimmed a French newspaper while on layover at Charles de Gaulle Airport, en route to my home in Switzerland.

While I enjoyed the freedom to travel between borders, AK-47 toting terrorists gunned down Charlie Hebdo journalists at an editorial planning session in the heart of Paris.

While France mourned, democracies around the world chanted, “I am Charlie” in solidarity. I know from my own family that the French love satire and the freedom of expression. Charlie Hebdo, born out of the student protests in 1968s, reflects the French tradition of ‘esprit critique’ (critical spirit) and a place where journalists can speak their minds.

Since 2006 Charlie Hebdo received terrorist threats for having published caricatures of Prophet Mohammed. Stephen Charbonnier, the editor in chief, one of 12 victims of the attack, was under police protection. But bodyguards and officers stationed outside the door, also slaughtered, offered little protection against terrorism.

Charlie Hebdo poked fun at all, including the Pope and Jesus Christ, as well as political class leaders including extreme right wing Marine Le Pen and other prominent personalities. Though it often ruffled feathers, it also provoked thought and symbolized the right for freedom of expression.Charlie

Charbonnier said his job was not to defend freedom of speech. “But without freedom of speech we are dead. We can’t live in a country without freedom of speech. I prefer to die than live like a rat

As an American living abroad, I will never forget the impact of 9/11; now January 7/15 stains my soul. Like 9/11, the attack sent ripples of anxiety and outrage across national borders, racial divides and among the traditional French Catholic as well as the 5 million Muslims across the nation.

As the story unfolded live on national TV, the horror escalated. Less than 24 hours later, police were shot on the street in another attack. While the public froze, the government mobilized 90,000 police officers to search for the two terrorists who fled taking refuge in a printing company in a village near Charles deGaulle Airport. Meanwhile the other gunman encamped in a kosher grocery store at the Porte de Vincennes and killed several hostages. Nearby students cowered in lockdown, shoppers hid in garages, homeowners were confined, the peripherique (highway circling Paris) shut down, the nation held its breath.

I waited and watched as experts explain a new era of terrorism, a terror that reigns within. French citizens target their own country in an attempt to disrupt and paralyze society with fear.

President Holland attempted to calm his nervous nation with powerful speeches defending human rights. In spite of the Franco- American differences, our fundamental ideologies remain the same. Liberty, Equality and Fraternity — the bedrock of French values – are also the pillars upon which America was built.

“Each and every American stands with you today,” President Obama said as he offered support to our oldest ally. “The universal belief in freedom of expression is something that can’t be silenced because of senseless violence.”

As an American writer married to a French printer, intellectual freedom has been part of my family’s foundation. My children, born and raised in Paris in early years, were educated in Geneva as global, international citizens.

Over this past winter holiday, feeling discouraged, I contemplated stopping my blog and quitting writing. Yet with a heavy heart, as we embark on a new year, I am compelled to put my pen to paper.

Today I mourn for mankind, for the vulnerability in each of us against the faceless enemy of terrorism that threatens our existence. Like so many people, I want to do something, anything, to stop the madness. Helpless and hopeless I wring my hands and scrawl until my fingers bleed.

I must write.

Because I can.

And I will!

King James Introduces Kate and William to his Court

LeBronWhat is it about the Royal Union and their heirs? At the risk of offending my colleagues and friends, I can’t help but roll my eyes at the British medias’ insinuation about those blundering Big Kids, the so called Americans. Apparently « we » made another faux pas when LeBron James innocently put his arm around The Duchess of Cambridge for the photo shoot after the December 8th game between the New York Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers.

Now what could be more natural when cheesing it for the camera than to offer an arm slung over a shoulder and a big smile especially at a good ol’ American ball game?

The British tabloids were even more offended when Our First Lady breached protocol and hugged the Queen in 2009. But hugs are as much a part of our culture as tea is a part of theirs. When in the USA, especially the Midwest, it is considered good manners, part of our warm hospitality, to welcome visitors with a hug or extra long hand shake.

However, LeBron inadvertently broke rules of royal etiquette. Who speaks first, what to say, how to stand and when to sit have been divinely ordained but aren’t they a little outmoded for the 21st century?

Apparently not. An insider, who worked for the British royal family or Her Majesty’s Household, offers these tips when encountering royalty.

  1. Do not speak unless spoken to or ask inappropriate questions.
  2. Never touch a royal. A handshake is the only exception and only when royalty initiate it. For heaven’s sake don’t dare keep holding on.
  3. Address the Queen, as “Your Majesty,” then “Ma’am” and the Duke and Duchess, as “Your Royal Highness,” then “Ma’am” or “Sir.”
  4. Stand when royalty enters a room. Men should bow and women should curtsy on introduction. Are you kidding me ? Curtsy ? In this day and age ?
  5. When the most senior royal in attendance finishes the meal, so do all the guests. Huh. What if you are still hungry ?

“From medieval times, monarchs were divinely appointed to rule by God, so they demanded to be treated as gods,” Dr Kate Williams, a historian at London’s Royal Holloway University explained.”They are treated as people set apart from the rest of us, creating distance and grandeur.”

Ironically, Americans really do like Kate and William, but oh, if only they could buck those pompous traditions.

Get over it already. Remember the bloody Revolution of 1812? We are the ones who dumped your tea in the harbor and refused to bow down to the British crown in sovereignty. The French beheaded their King and Queen.

I am not suggesting anything so radical, but I’d like to offer insight on how to behave in the ‘hood. If you hang out in our playground –what’s more American than a basketball game in Brooklyn– learn to play by our rules. A bit of down-to-earth, genuine appreciation for the common folk can go a long way in smoothing public relations.Prince William and_Kate_Middleton_Wedding_Pictures 2

People on the other side of the Atlantic wonder if it is time that royalty stopped putting on airs and stepped out of that glass castle. To make a difference, you have to relate to the downtrodden. To commiserate with the working class, it’s time to take off the white gloves, get down on the ground and roll in the dirt. Take a tip from our King James; human touch speaks louder than words. Put protocol aside, learn from the kids across the Pond, be real and hug.

Technologically Impaired

P7100476I am so far behind the times it isn’t funny. Case in point. Computer skills. I know how to push the button to turn on the machine and open Word to a blank page. I have absolutely no trouble filling that page with ruminations. I can touch type standing on my head on an American, French and German keyboard, but organizing a filing system and using PowerPoint, Excel, Access, Entourage, Firefox, Google +, Google.docs, Google anything, Presi, Outlook Express, and American Express leaves me baffled.

I’ve lost countless emails in cyberspace and have folders full of columns floating over the Atlantic. I have thousands of pages of articles, letters, and journal entries that I can no longer locate. My computer is a wild beast that eats my words for breakfast.

My husband has a computer brain, wired with its own set of megas and watts.

My brain has no wires. He tells me, “Use logic!”

Logic? I am perpetually lost. I was born directionally handicapped, devoid of reasoning skill. I am computer illiterate.

“Create a filing system to organize your work,” he insists.

“I do.”

“Everything you’ve written in the last quarter of century is filed under the heading LETTER,” he laments. “No wonder you can’t find anything.”

He clicks on LETTER. Up pops the heading– TOOTHPASTE.

“You need to keep a note written to Colgate for a rebate on a purchase that you made back in 1985?”

“I liked the way it was worded.”

“Think of your computer as a storage closet. Would you keep old clothes forever?”

Yes! Yes! Yes! My closet, like my computer, is jam-packed with memories. I have cupboards filled with t-shirts collected over the past half century. To throw one out would be like discarding an old friend

I have even more trouble tossing out word. Alas, words pile up faster than clothes. I cannot process day-to-day events unless I write it down. Like a photographer, I capture events, feelings and people in word pictures freezing time. I am memory maker, a dream catcher for soul.

It breaks my heart to know that after hours of searching for the perfect combination of words, my a blog will be read in a rush over coffee and then deleted before the day is over. I can no more pitch my columns into the trash bin at the bottom of my page than I could discard the drawing my son made in 1st grade.

I am a historian, a time collector. To throw out parts of my past would be sacrilege.   Consequently, I spend even more hours perusing my files with the FIND button than I do digging through my closet for my favorite old Illinois State University T-shirt.

To make matters worse, every second, a new electronic device is created. Computers are outdated as soon as they roll off the assembly line. Every time I turn around, my husband insists its time to upgrade and get the latest mega watt machine arguing that the old one is no longer powerful enough to hold all my musings.

The nightmare begins again. I struggle to learn codes wired to male model brains. Logic? If a female mind created the computer the delete button would be a blinking red light with a siren, so nothing would be trashed by accident.

I ‘ve mastered one maneuver. SAVE. SAVE. SAVE.

Beware. Any reader who discards this message within the next century may be subject to unforeseen catastrophe. Abracadabra. Cyberspace voodoo on you!

Social Media Wears Me Out

social mediaI am tired of the rat race. Unfortunately modern life allows for little down time and if we do take a break, we feel like we are getting behind. Where are we running to anyway? Social media only increases the pace and makes it feel like we are always missing out on something, somewhere.

Everybody has been to or is going to Paris, London, Cancun or Maui and have posted photos about every step of their glorious vacation. Their grand kids are the cutest, their beaus handsomest, their marriage the longest lasting, their children are merit scholars and championship athletes. Gosh, even their pets win prizes.

Oh yes, everyone on Facebook also possesses the culinary expertise of five star chefs. They post pictures of the gourmet meals they whipped up while speed reading novels and writing bestselling books. And they lose weight to boot. All while garnering the highest awards in their field and looking dazzling. Even on holiday, they keep winning. They always caught the biggest fish in the Atlantic, hit the greatest jackpot at Vegas, or captured the most gorgeous sunset in the world. They swim with dolphins in the Bahamas, ride the waves on Bondi Beach and sip champagne on the Champs Elysées.

The biggest problem with social media is that it makes me feel like my life sucks.

If I were to post the truth on social media, this is what it would look like

S.O.S. All alert bulletin! HELP lost my glasses again. And I can’t see to find them.

Yikes, while checking out at the grocery store, I couldn’t remember my credit card code for the life of me, so I walked out empty handed and we went hungry for the night.

I wore my shirt inside out to work; no one told me until 9th period.band wagon

I’d tweet stuff like, uh oh, stepped in dog doo on my way to school.

Major meltdown. Locked out of house. Lost keys.

19:00 hours. S*** burnt the steaks AGAIN.

I want to slow down, sip a glass of wine and enjoy the view of the Alps from my backyard, but no, no, no… my phone is beeping, a message dinged, no time to be idle. I have to Tweet, blog, check my stats, recommend a book on Goodreads, update on FB, edit my profile, contact my Google+ circles, post on in interest, text message my friend, answer 91 emails for work, and check in with 10,987 virtual friends.

As I try to measure up, against the ever-changing, impossible standards of super woman in cyber-world, I have to stop to remind myself that I am NOT what I do,

I am. Full stop.

Instead of going on-line, this week I am going retro. I will meet a friend for coffee, go for a walk with ze Frenchman and read an old-fashioned paper book.IMG_4375

I will turn off the electronics, tune out social media and tune into my own reality show.

And Live.

Life. Be. In. It.

What do you think? Is social media taking its toll on your well-being?

How was your Summer Holiday?

IMG_4546Every September the favorite back to school topic is how was your summer holidays? Holiday? I spent my summer at our family cabin in Wisconsin running a resort and preparing meals for a dozens of hungry “campers” who thought they were at the Club Med of the Northwoods. It seemed like when we weren’t hiking, swimming, sailing, skiing, and eating we were recovering from hiking, swimming, sailing, skiing and eating.

We never saw the bear, but we sure had lots of other excitement: one sever allergic reaction, an episode of vertigo, a tick bite, an acute lumbar spine injury, a broken toe, 2 herniated disks, plantar fasciitis, tendinitis elbow, and an infected bite from an unidentified creature. Thankfully these ailments did not befall the same person.

We were so lucky to have access to free medical advice. When in doubt call Dr. Nat.

“I am a pediatrician,” she repeated, “and I hate to break it you, but you are all over the age of 18.”

Ah, the blessing of having a doc in the family. “I’ll tell you what I told you the last time you called. Go to urgent care or check with your general practitioner!”

So we learned that if you call 911 on one of those old-fashioned land phones, the rescue squad could locate a cabin hidden back in the woods with only a fire lane number.

Ze Frenchman, the only one who ignored the doctor’s advice, waited to seek treatment until the bite on his shoulder morphed into an abscess the size of a turnip requiring minor surgery and major antibiotic intervention.

We also had a lot of back injuries. Fortunately, we are blessed with a first rate chiropractor, Dr.Dave. Unfortunately, he moved his practice 50 miles further north to Eagle River.

It seemed like every day someone had a chiro appointment, so we switched in names of patients depending on whose pain was greatest.

“I twinged my back,” Nic said, “but right now my toe hurts worse. I dropped a weight on it.”

Dr. Dave was surprised to see our son, who lives in Minneapolis, limp through the door.

“Doc, you always know we’ll be bringing a bus load from Summit Lake,” I said. “You just never know who’ll be on the bus.”

In between our ambulance rides, urgent care visits and doctors appointments, we had a blast.

We had birthday celebrations for my dad, my sister, and my niece. We threw a wonderful party for my mom’s 80th. We toasted my sister’s retirement, my siblings wedding anniversaries and our daughter’s first official day on the job.

You know those Frenchman; they never pass up an opportunity to raise a glass in good cheer.

And surprisingly, on the coldest summer on record, we ran out of ice every day because we were nursing so many injuries.

But hey, no one is complaining. When friends and colleagues asked about our summer holidays we tell them, “It was great!”

When we look back on our Summit Lake summer, we forget the aches and pains; all we remember is the love and laughter.

So, do tell, how was your summer holiday?

Viva La French Diet- Live to Eat and Lose Weight

15999751-french-iconssetAmerican women have long envied svelte, sophisticated French women who indulge in forbidden culinary pleasures yet remain slender. The French, who savor high fat chocolates, high cholesterol cheeses and high priced wine, to boot, should be role models for the rest of the world. Ironically, the society that lives to eat could set health trends. French focus wholeheartedly on food.

A French dinner party conversation is a lesson in verb conjugation. The discussion revolves around what is being eaten in present tense, what was eaten in the past and what will be eaten at the next millennium. Mealtime is still sacred. So much emphasis on food makes one less likely to eat anything, any time of day. Snacking is limited to once a day at 4 pm sharp. La gouter, which means taste, not gobble, not gorge, gives one permission to sample a sweet or savory treat.

French females remain lean by running the country, flitting from one chore to another, while balancing precariously on high heels. Not only do they work full-time, they collect the children from school, buy baguettes daily, and pick up fresh produce in open markets. They take time to fondle tomatoes, pummel melons, and squeeze nectarines testing for ripeness. They wait in line to order fresh cut chops, but butchers beware. No wrath is greater than that of a French woman’s who has been sold poor quality cuts of meat. French women are never more demanding than during transactions dealing with food.

The French savor foods with full flavor that pack a punch, pungent cheese that singe nose hair, Dijon mustard that puts hair on the chest, and coffee, so strong, that hair spikes straight up.10127676-cheese-composition

It is not so much what the French eat, but what they don’t eat. Deep-fried meats and fish, chips and crackers and our beloved sandwich are taboo overseas. Serving size does matter. Crackers, sold in tiny, palm-sized mini boxes are nibbled, but only at the aperitif. Petit fours, pinky sized tarts, éclairs and cakes are served in bite-sized pieces for dessert.

Petit aptly describes the French and their serving sizes. Food is served in mini courses on plates ascending in size from doll-sized saucers to starters to entries on full size dinnerware. Then the plates shrink again up to the grand finale, a sculpted dessert that leaves most of the plate empty for artistic effect.

Serving food in courses forces the diner to slow down. The traditional French meal lasts hours. A dozen plates will have been used for each place setting. By the time the first courses have been eaten, the brain will have hit the snooze button and no longer send those subliminal messages calling for cookies, cakes and ice cream.

The French are also major producers and consumers of yogurt and milk based products. Laitage is a standard dessert and there are 100 different varieties of puddings and yogurt products. The French got it right again. Recent studies prove calcium consumption reduces weight.

Chocolate, too, has gotten a bum rap in the past. Now the propensities of chocolate are being tooted for health benefits. The darker the chocolate, the fewer calories and more of those mood-boosting endorphins. French women adore chocolate, but rather than devouring the whole bar, they only indulge in one piece of rich, high calorie, ultra dark chocolate from a fancy box that costs more than my mortgage.

Another anomaly, whereas beer-guzzling Americans put on beer bellies, French wine drinkers remain lean and studies show that imbibing improves health. Red wine is beneficial for the heart, helps lower cholesterol and aids digestion.7992041-assortment-of-baked-bread-on-wood-table

Darned if those cultivated, French connoisseurs haven’t gotten the best of us of again.

Their savoir-faire and appetite for pleasure “à une bonne table” created a lifestyle where wellness is assured by living to eat right.