Thursday, April 6, 2023

Curating vs creating

One of the many writing projects I work on in fits and starts is my general autobiography (working title: “My extraordinary ordinary life”… and honestly, I think the title falls more into the category of “accurate” rather than “pretentious”). Anyway, one major impediment to making progress on this thing — and by extension, on every other writing project I have — is that I like to futz around with the things I’ve already written, rather than compose something new.

I have written quite a bit over the years, to say the very least. And I’ve saved most of what I’ve written, from a few theoretically poetic lines to long essays, comment series, and so on. But most of those writings happened well over a decade ago, and sometimes multiple decades ago. Yes, whether formal and already published pieces or simple transcriptions of random handwritten scribblings, all such material does provide snapshots into my thinking or frame of mind and/or feelings at particular points in time; as ever, however, it’s easy to let the details drown out the broader strokes and themes — or, rather, it’s easier to concentrate on the damned trees rather than spend time working on the missing forest.

The outline of the forest(s) exists. Part of me wonders if I’ll manage to fill in the outline before time and age end up permanently clear-cutting the trees of memory, despite the leaves and branches of words from years past. A lot of trees are already gone.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Heading back to France tonight… er, no, but soon

 I was originally going to fly back to France from Seattle tonight in order to start dealing with our house and our stuff, but my flight on Condor was supposed to land in Frankfurt tomorrow (Friday the 17th) — and due to a massive strike of German airport personnel (not to mention the continued ripple effects of Lufthansa’s massive IT failure the other day), the flight is going to be landing in Düsseldorf instead.

There are no easy connections at all from Düsseldorf to Marseille (au contraire!), so I have rebooked for next week.

We have been in Seattle for six weeks now, and in our apartment for about four weeks. Seattle continues to fascinate. Carless as we are, we have walked to many different parts of the central downtown area, walked along the waterfront, hoofed it over to Queen Anne and South Lake Union; we’ve hopped on light rail and numerous buses to go farther afield, and we’ve taken a water taxi over to West Seattle. We’ve found ethnic grocery stores nearby and in Seattle’s international district (a.k.a. Chinatown). We’ve found some good restaurants. (Most recently, we randomly went into a taquería that was serving brunch and discovered that brunch would be accompanied by a drag show featuring the “Belltown Babes” — very fun.)

Living beside busy thoroughfares (though thank God, not close to the I-5!) has taken some getting used to. Multi-paned windows help block the noise, but sirens and ferry horns come through. (As does the noise of hot-rodding assholes gunning the engines of their muffler-free cars while zooming past in the wee hours, rrrrrr.)

Seattle also continues to break my heart every time I step out of our building. Food prices (well, pretty much all prices) are truly astronomical here. I see (for example) some cheese listed at $12.99, and I think to myself that that isn’t too bad — the numbers look about the same price I’d pay in France… but then I realize that the price is per pound, not per kilogram (2.2 lbs), so the cost is more than twice as much as I’m used to. Who could help but wonder how people are managing to pay for food and clothes and shelter? Far too many clearly are not. I can’t live here without trying to do something. I will sign up to help when I return from France in a few weeks.

The other evening, building management invited residents to a “roses and rosé” event. (Yes, such a vast gulf between what I experience inside the building and outside of it! Staggering.) As I was too late with my RSVP, I finagled my way into the event by reaching out and offering to talk about the region featured in the invitation, as Mr Mo and I have lived there for the past 16 years. I prepared a brief slide show, and going through those photos of our village and the surrounding areas, of the vineyards and the olive groves, of the lavender … phew. We’ve been so busy trying to get settled here that I hadn’t really come to grips with how much I am going to miss living in SE France,  living in our tiny village and all, but that realization is starting to dawn on me now.

To be continued.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

A new home amid the unhoused in Seattle

Although partially occluded by the tall buildings across the street, the view of the Seattle harbor area from our apartment in the Belltown neighborhood is a source of endless fascination, especially at night, what with ferries and water taxis coming and going, the colorful Seattle Great Wheel turning, and the reflection of lights on the water. Through a combination of online ordering and going all over Seattle by foot or by public transport, we are slowly acquiring the basic things we need to live “normally” here. 

We have discovered Pike Place Market and its warren of shops, we have tried several different kinds of new-to-us cuisines (Laotian, Filipino), we’ve been taken aback by the high prices of just about everything, we’ve been forced to remember that the prices on stickers and signs for non-grocery items don’t include sales tax (as price tags do in Europe), and… we are daily reminded of the disparities in fortune, of rampant economic and social inequality, of classism and racism, every time we step out of our building.

Much of downtown Seattle’s unhoused population used to subsist in a large encampment right at City Hall, several blocks away. From what I’ve read, continuous, destructive police sweeps during 2022 have driven the people into other parts of the city — and in particular, into Belltown. Small tents and sleeping bags, repurposed umbrellas, blankets, shopping carts dot the various entryways all along Third Avenue — particularly the entryways of vacant buildings marked for demolition to make way for even more high-rise office and apartment buildings. (In other words, buildings like ours.)

I know that France and Germany both have large numbers of unhoused people, but there were none in our tiny village and very few in Grenoble. Even in Berlin, the unhoused population was some 6,500 out of 3.5M, versus 11,700 out of 2.5M for Seattle, so we did not see as many “rough sleepers” there as we do here. 

I have a lot to learn about what Seattle and the state of Washington are doing, and what charities and non-profits are doing to try to address the needs of the people on the streets, and how I can meaningfully help. That so many people — including veterans, the disabled, and the mentally ill — in one of the world’s wealthiest countries are without a safe place to live and to shelter from the elements isn’t something I can comfortably ignore anymore. And for some reason, this problem did not figure among the many other reservations I had when thinking about moving back to America. How naive and wildly overprivileged of me.

Friday, January 13, 2023

A sudden move back Stateside

 In February 2001, our Boston-based family took a trip to Turkey and stopped in Grenoble on the way back so Mr. Mo could interview for a job there in the vallée du Grésivaudan — France’s equivalent of Silicon Valley at the time. Mr. Mo and I had been toying with the idea of possibly moving to France — perhaps a joint mid-life crisis for us in combination with our then-fresh disaffection with the Mormon church: we had both served as full-time missionaries in France in the late 1970s. We’d loved living in France even under such unusual circumstances, and we wondered what it would be like to live there as “civilians.”

Though the February interview went well, the company had a hiring freeze, so by the time summer rolled around, we’d given up on the idea. What was our surprise when a job offer came through on August 1st! Mr. Mo ended up going over with our younger two daughters at the end of August so they could begin school on time; oldest was in college, but couldn’t bear the thought of being left behind, so she joined them in Grenoble about a week after Boston-Logan airport reopened after 9/11. I was in charge of dealing with movers, putting our house on the market, and transporting two very unhappy cats when I finally joined the family in mid-October.

We spent five years in Grenoble, during which time I became the “accidental principal” of the American School of Grenoble (then called the Marshall McLuhan American School, and yes, McLuhan was Canadian, and no, I was not the one who picked the name). For a variety of reasons, we ended up moving to a very small (pop. ~450) village about 1.25 hours NNE of Aix-en-Provence, almost exactly three hours due south of Grenoble by car, and that’s where we have lived since fall of 2006. 

…Until a bit more than a week ago, when suddenly (very suddenly) we find ourselves living in Seattle. The German company for which Mr. Mo had been working was swiftly acquired by an American company, and part of the deal was a pair of handcuffs that was simply too golden to pass up. Mr. Mo is now employed by the acquiring company and as most of his new team is on this side of the Atlantic, it made sense to come back.

We’d been thinking that eventually we’d move back, since our children and all other close family members live here, but that idea was simply part of our nebulous, foot-dragging future. After all, we (dual-nationals — we became French citizens in the late 00s) would be giving up France’s fabulous health care, among so many other things. Plus we’d be returning to a country whose political landscape has shifted so radically to the right that it frankly scares us.

(Yes, France is likewise shifting scarily rightward, but its basic center is so far to the left of the USA’s that it seems unlikely to achieve Crazyland status. And yes, more and more French people are being influenced by QAnon-style assholery, but conspiracy theories — and behaviors based thereon — are not as widespread there.)

Despite the challenges of dealing with companies that apparently have never considered how to handle people like us who are moving (back) from a foreign country, who are homeowners instead of prior renters (etc.), we have been approved for an apartment here and are trying to purchase a few very basic things (mattress! bedding! towels! cookware! etc.) for when we move in next week.

We didn’t expect this to happen so quickly. We were supposed to have returned to France yesterday. Mr. Mo will stay here, and I have booked a return to France in mid-February to deal with … everything. For the moment, we will keep our little house in the village. Will it simply become a storage unit for the acquisitions of our entire married life? How often (and when) will we go over? What should we do with all of our stuff? What should we ship over here, if anything? What about our thousands of (English-language) books?

Am I now retired? What about Medicare? How does all this work? I finally get used to metric, and I’m now back dealing with pounds and miles and Fahrenheit! Hmm.

There is a lot to process, and I will likely do so here. Stay tuned.