Mes Amis

Hot chocolate:

Hot Chocolate, Mes Amis, Beckington. [Photo by me, 2015.]
Hot Chocolate, Mes Amis, Beckington. [Photo by me, 2015.]
I had that yesterday afternoon, at Mes Amis. It’s in Beckington (which sounds like a great surname for a fictional English character in a novel), Somerset.

And, yes, it was delicious. :-)

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Reviewing The Reviewers

As any author knows, reader reviews can’t be ignored nowadays. Amazon is central in that change. Readers may praise, but authors now also need a skin as tough as iron too.

Authors aren’t alone. A business owner we know got an appalling review a few months ago on a non-Amazon site from a customer who’d – we were told – had a personal ax to grind. It was “1 star” followed by a single, vitriolic sentence. (How classy.)

I recall a B&B owner where we stayed some years ago in Canada telling us of a recent guest (and she said she suspected who it was) who’d given her a poor review on TripAdvisor because he didn’t like the breakfast. She told us that he got exactly what everyone else got (which was exactly what was promised), and never complained to her in person which, she said, would have at least allowed her to have addressed what he didn’t like. Instead he left having said nothing and scribbled something negative online, which she thought was unfair and even nasty of him.

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Americans Make The Movies (And At Times, We’re Really Sorry)

I’ve spent much of the last 25 years often as the (only) American in the room – be it with family, friends, or workplace colleagues. As you know if you visit here regularly, I’ve now also spent several years writing novels in which I’ve created characters sourced from some of my (especially early) “travel” and “expat” experiences. They are full of types of people I’ve encountered, and even cherished, and what I’ve seen here in Europe.

I can’t begin to list the nationalities I’ve met in just London: nearly every European country; Africans from Egypt and Morocco all the way to South Africa; Afro-Caribbeans; Middle Easterners; Indians; Chinese; other Asians; Canadians; Australians; New Zealanders; Brazilians; even a few other South Americans. And all the religions: not only Christians of course, but Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims. It feels like a far more “diverse” city than even New York.

I will always remember a Pakistani student, right after 9/11. He offered me personal condolences. He flat out called the attackers “terrorists”: no qualifications, no hesitation.

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More Late 20th Century Paris Photos

I’m glad a bunch of you liked yesterday’s post.

I’ve now about finished going through those 1990s 35mm photographs – sifting through them for any that might serve as cover art for the 3rd novel. Of course I won’t use nearly all of them: they may be good shots, but aren’t appropriate for the books. And sometimes I just plain can’t use them: that’s usually when they contain (non-public figures’) easily recognizable faces, and in a couple of instances that’s seriously frustrating stuff because I think they might work well. Ah, c’est la vie.

Regardless I converted a few into .jpg files. I figured just in case I do find I can use them, or even parts of them, I don’t have to go digging them up again later in the year. I thought I’d put up a few more today:

Bastille Day parade, Paris, July 1995. I don't recall which unit this was, but there are women in it. [Photo by me, 1995.]
Bastille Day parade, Paris, July 1995. [Photo by me.]
I don’t recall which unit that was. Look closely: there are women in it.

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From The Travel Photo Archive

In scoping out potential cover photos for the 3rd book, I paused yesterday to have a dig through old 35mm prints. Remember those (if you’re old enough)? It was called F-I-L-M.

I’d almost forgotten about this one. I can’t believe this is now approaching nineteen years ago. Almost TWO decades!

A famous landmark. In the foreground, a singer of some unidentified nationality was shooting a music video. [Photo by me, 1996.]
The Eiffel Tower (of course). [Photo by me, 1996.]
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The Most Attractive Accent In The World?

The U.K.’s Independent newspaper reports a poll of “11,000 people” surveyed in “24 cities around the world” found that “a British accent is the most attractive accent in the world”:

More than a quarter of respondents preferred a UK accent with people in Paris, New York and Sydney the most keen, The Time Out Global Dating Survey found.

My wife has regularly joked to me that when we are in the U.S., she gets the feeling many people are not actually listening to the content of what she is saying, but are instead just listening to her saying it. ;-)

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Genève Aéroport

On Saturday, our ski week in France sadly ended. As all good things do. :-( We flew back to London from Geneva, Switzerland – which is about an hour’s drive from where we’d stayed in La Clusaz.

View from our chalet, La Clusaz, France. [Photo by me, 2015.]
View from our chalet, La Clusaz, France. [Photo by me, 2015.]
Geneva Airport isn’t huge. It feels rather “dated” as well. However, it also has corridors covered with wall ads for the likes of wealth management companies, astronomically expensive watches, Dubai, and stuff George Clooney’s hired to endorse; but before we got to any of that, we were in a mob scene at check-in.

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Connections

In having posted back on Wednesday about those “ghosts” in our lives, one aspect of remembering deserves expanding: it is, we know, music. It stays with us. In many respects, our lives’ passage is marked by a “soundtrack.”

I had one of those experiences sitting in a small restaurant at lunchtime. During our meal, a “background music” radio station blurted out part of Jean-Jacques Goldman’s Quand La Musique Est Bonne. Released in 1982, it was an “oldie” even two decades ago:

I could have dropped my fork. It’s one song that marks, for me, “two decades” ago and especially hereabouts in France. We subsciously associate music with places, people and events to the point that we often barely realize the connection.

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Last evening over dinner, our chalet “host with the most” sought to bring together a roughly 10 year old French boy, and two English sisters, who we figure are between about 7 and 10.

Mid-morning today, from our La Clusaz chalet. [Photo by me, 2015.]
Mid-morning today, from our La Clusaz chalet. [Photo by me, 2015.]
They were sitting with their respective parents at tables opposite each other. He gave it his best shot at coaxing them together. The kids did lots of giggling, but that was about all.

Finally he shrugged and declared in his friendly voice loud enough that everyone eating overheard, “I see it all the time. They become friends their last day. That’s sad. It should be from the first day.”

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Had a slew of About.me views and new connections in the last few days. I’m still trying to understand what prompts its ebb and flow. Some days so many, others many fewer.

Always intriguing regardless. Some people put A LOT of effort into their profile pages. Makes me feel kinda inferior. ;-)

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Actually have time for some writing today. Going to try to take advantage of it. Have a good Friday, wherever you are in the world. :-)

In Our Chalet

Insofar as writing for the third volume is concerned, this ski holiday has been nearly a disaster. This week, I’ve gotten barely a couple of pages done: honestly less than one decent regular day’s work. However, we’re also having a great time – and, in a sense, I’m getting LOTS of new material I can use once home in England and comfortably at my desk.

The chalet owner is a Belgian, well-spoken in English, and reminds us of something of a cross between a pleasant Gerard Depardieu and my (mischievous glint in the eye) novelist uncle. As you don’t know my uncle, that comparison’s incomplete, but naturally I’ll explain more. ;-)

At breakfast, the owner confirms dinner is acceptable each night. (If anyone objects, the chef will do something else for them.) This morning, as her similarly aged English half was sitting at their table, he asked the 30ish, Scottish, female half who was at the bar getting coffee for herself, “Are you okay with the menu for tonight?” She approved quietly. He followed up by asking playfully, “And your lover? Does he approve it too?”

Her husband at their table next to us turned around to me, embarrassed, smiling, shaking his head. Seeing her expression as she walked back to their table, my wife told me afterwards that her face was bright red as she too embarrassingly grinned.

I'm taking pics of food now. A dessert. [Photo by me, 2015.]
I’m taking pics of food now. A dessert. [Photo by me, 2015.]
The owner has told me he used to own an art gallery in Belgium. In the last decade, he has redone what had been a shabby, old chalet. His booming, friendly voice can easily be heard singing or laughing during the day. (We even heard him outside while we were taking a walk our first day.) When I asked him if his chef was French, he joked, “French? No! He’s Belgian too.”

Evenings, they’re assisted by a Polish woman in her early twenties. She speaks French very well (at first we thought she was French until she told us her background), and English passably. The owner clearly relies heavily on her, but she also admits, though, to being a bit accident-prone. “I’ve broken so many wine glasses,” she once laughed to us from behind the bar.

Yes, welcome to France.

The church in the center of La Clusaz. Note the distant skiers on the slope to the left of the steeple, and the gondolas to the right. [Photo by me, 2015.]
The church in the center of La Clusaz. Note the distant skiers on the slope to the left of the steeple, and the gondolas to the right. [Photo by me, 2015.]
The chalet has 14 rooms. The guests so far have been mostly French. But there have been of course some other English-speakers besides ourselves and that English/Scottish couple.

Another, older, Scottish woman, unfortunately took quite a tumble skiing her first day and badly damaged a knee. That ended her skiing week. The other night (her last night), just before dinner, the owner concocted her a drink on the house.

“It’s terrible, she fall on her first day,” he remarked seriously to us. He then winked as he strolled off carrying the sympathetic, surprise glass to her table. “I try to make her feel a bit better.”

Hope you’ve been having a good Thursday, wherever you are. :-)

The Ghosts In Our Lives

I got an email yesterday from our former neighbo(u)r in Christchurch, Dorset. Sad news. Another neighbo(u)r, a widowed, later 80s-something Swiss woman we’d all known, died quietly in her sleep at home the other night.

She had been ill for some time, so her death wasn’t a huge surprise. But her passing prompted me into certain thoughts. As you may know, that’s usually dangerous territory.

Entry roundabout, La Clusaz, France. [Photo by me, 2015.]
Entry roundabout, La Clusaz, France. [Photo by me, 2015.]
Another roundabout, La Clusaz. [Photo by me, 2015.]
Another roundabout, La Clusaz. [Photo by me, 2015.]

I was last here in La Clusaz in 2003. Long before that, I knew nearby Grenoble. And Chambery. And Annecy.

We accumulate so much mental “baggage” over the years, don’t we? And we never really entirely forget, do we? Again in a vicnity, much comes rushing back. When one hears, sees, or even scents, we’re struck by a familiarity. You know what I mean? It’s that feeling of visiting an old haunt.

Yet if no one you knew there is around any longer, how does it also feel? Sort of disconcerting. The scenery and towns remain, but all of the people are strangers.

You think back on those you used to know, perhaps pondering on where they are now, and how they are. You may even stop and wonder indeed if they are all still alive? If decades have passed, it’s quite possible some aren’t any longer.

By now you had also already decided to try your hand at writing some novels and infusing them with certain memories of happenings from that old haunt and with those people. And when you find yourself back on that familiar turf, memories may become all the more vivid. In a way, you keep seeing “ghosts.”

If it all gets to be too much, sometimes the best thing we can do, though, is to stop with all of the wondering and introspection….

Me, snapped the other evening unexpectedly by my Mrs. and dinner companion. [Photo by Mrs. Nello, 2015.]
Me, snapped the other evening unexpectedly by my Mrs. and dinner companion. [Photo by Mrs. Nello, 2015.]

….and just enjoy dinner. :-)