Dear Luxembourg,

It wasn’t you, it was me…

We were together six years and 17 days, though it started as a 2 year commitment–typical, you know, for a relationship that began the way ours did.

In the beginning I worried about our communication—as if language itself wasn’t hard, your rules for driving, your lack of giving me space for parking…You were unavailable to me, failing me with what I needed when I needed it most–like after eight o’clock in the evening and on Sundays. You forcibly stamped every paper in sight! Building our relationship was a procedure or policy to you. Every year from November to March you were gloomy and walked around in a fog. But I fell in love anyway…

The sight of you, Luxembourg, took my breath away–you were so different from everything I knew, and you opened new doors to me. Through you I learned to love travel, see places through different eyes, experience unfamiliar cultures. From you I learned to love not only the small towns along the way, but the big hitters–London and Paris, Berlin and Vienna, Strasbourg, Salzburg, Amsterdam and Rome, Bucharest, Provence and Puglia, La Côte d’Azur, and even Dubai. But I always came home to you.

You introduced me to delicious and reasonable wines, though I’m not sure how reasonable I was after enjoying them. Through you I met Bernard Massad and the Kox, Schmit-Fohl and St. Martin families, and my bubbly new best friend Alice Hartmann. With them, I enjoyed delicious cheeses like reblochon, epoisse, gruyère, comté, gouda, Neufchâtel, and the curly petals of tête de Moins, along with a slice of saucisse and a hunk of fresh baguette or a board of flammkuchen.

Oh, dear Luxembourg, you helped me soar! I was and am more confident than ever! I tried new things–leading book clubs and Bible studies, taking trips with my friends, practicing yoga, cooking new dishes, teaching English to those whose mother tongue was Italian or French or Azerbaijani or Romanian. My friendships with people you introduced were more than special–true and sweet, meaningful and lasting (except for those few that weren’t)…

And I do miss you, little Grand Duchy, even more than I dreamed. I rethink that decision to end our relationship, but you knew there was third party involved. You also knew I’d choose Mr. Wonderful over you, always. After all, he enjoyed you nearly 30 years before I met you, and I sat home resentful–of his time you stole from me, the tales he told of you, the food and wine he shared with you. He introduced you to me, and I was smitten–by your character and your culture and your culinary delights. You are a jewel.

Those 6 years and 17 days with you, Luxembourg, are threaded in the tapestry of my little life, and I see no warrant to give up my moniker. I earned the title European Trophy Wife, though it takes little effort to be unemployed and the wife of a successful technical leader on another continent. I pretend Mr. Wonderful is the recipient of a status symbol in his betrothed, but in reality, I was the winner. I am the winner–of a life of excitement and exploration and fulfillment, no matter where I live.

Brick by Brick [or how to build a life]

We’ve known him for about five years now, but the first things we noticed about our friend Simon Kennedy besides his rakish good looks (he will read this) and his Scottish burr and humor, are his love for his beautiful wife and sweet pups, and his passion for people and service. We now know he’s an expert in lighting and sound for large events, he’s creative, he’s a musician, he’s authentic.

Simon Kennedy

One thing we didn’t know about Simon until the ten minutes it took him to loosen up around us, is that he’s a self-proclaimed and family-sanctioned LEGO collector-builder-hoarder-expert (LEGO geek for short). When I asked Simon “how did your fascination with LEGOs begin?” I was gently chided for adding an “s,” as LEGO is an adjective–acceptable plurals are: LEGO bricks or LEGO sets. He told the story of the humble beginning of the carpenter who made the interlocking blocks and named them using the Danish phrase leg godt, meaning “play well,” which sounds very sweet and endearing until you step on one in your bare feet and call it something entirely different…

It’s wonderful to have all the facts of the LEGO company and its evolution, and hear Simon reciting his mother’s memory of the sound of her sons raking through the boxes of bricks, but the most fascinating thing about the Scotsman’s love of LEGO is how he connected it (ba-dum-chh!) to his love of Luxembourg. When the pandemic arrived on the scene and life slowed down for us all, Simon found relaxation in his love of building with LEGO. Though he had recreated other buildings around the Grand Duchy, like Ready?! Coffee in Limpertsberg, his “crowning” achievement is his replica of the Grand Ducal Palace in Luxembourg. He took pictures of the palace, studied it, and collected soooo many bricks. With its turrets, windows, and ornate balconies, it was a special challenge to recreate the grandeur and stately character of this standout landmark in the little city of Luxembourg.

Making a model of the beloved official residence of the Grand Duke and tourist hotspot (especially viewed from The Chocolate House across the walkway, avec an coupe de crémant ou de café et croissant au chocolat, of course) is a meticulous process that is not for the impatient and hurried souls. When asked how many bricks were necessary for the LEGO model, Simon answers, “I’ve no idea, but even one window took 70 bricks.” It’s not exactly built to scale, because, as our LEGO architect explained, it would be difficult, if not impossible–due to the sizing of bricks– but the replica is balanced and true to its in-person image. Understand, however, the building required hundreds and hundreds (and waaay more hundreds) of yellowish, buff-colored bricks, not to mention six months of time.

The LEGO rendition of the Grand Ducal Palace of Luxembourg, photo by Simon Kennedy

The turrets of the palace were borrowed from some Harry Potter LEGO collections, and the spires on the turrets are actually steering wheels from LEGO vehicles.

The true Palace, showcasing the turrets
Follow Simon on Instagram @luxlegogeek

In addition to the hours of collecting bricks, studying photos, constructing the palace, and loving his hobby, Simon connects with the traditions and history of his adopted land in real life, not just LEGO life. He has demonstrated that by serving at Croix Rouge–helping organize the donations of clothing, serving meals to residents, organizing volunteers in both of those ministries, and building relationships with those he serves and those he serves alongside. His involvement with All Nations Church of Luxembourg and the people he encounters there is a blessing and a joy. The Scotsman speaks French and continues to improve in using the language. He speaks well of the countryside and its beauty, the country and its leaders, the Luxembourgish people and their character.

Simon is one of those people who mold and conform to an environment, not just as a consumer of his space, but as a contributor to the community. He’s definitely one of those people who makes you think that you simply cannot imagine that place without him.

My friend Simon and me

Night sky in Luxembourg

When we found this apartment 5 years ago, I was excited about the proximity to city centre—an easy walk, convenient bus stops, shopping near. My dear husband was NOT excited about the proximity of civilization—he preferred the circa 1500 farmhouse in the Belgian countryside, complete with…nothing.

Operating under cover of darkness is his modus operandi—one of the many conditions necessary for his hobby. And no, Mr. Wonderful is not a serial killer, unless snuffing our social life for his clear nights of stargazing counts. My dear (self-proclaimed and family-sanctioned) geeky husband is an amateur astrophotographer, maker of telescopes and mirrors, teacher of the night sky.

He fits black felt inside the telescope tube to remove light reflection in the wrong direction. He cuts cardboard extensions, laminated with my reusable-no-more shopping bags for the tube to eliminate dew collection on the mirror. While he McGyvers his instrument (yes, I’m referring to the telescope), I watch British detective shows or grab a book from the growing pile. I’ve learned not to ask what he’s working on, because he’ll actually explain it.

Problem-solving
Felt liner on the inside of a tub of cardboard, grocery bag on the outside. This provides an extension on the tube on the telescope in order to prevent dew from building up on the mirror

Our travels have taken us to places of famous astronomers…to Greenwich to see the Royal Observatory, home of the Prime Meridian and William Herschel’s 40 foot reflecting telescope with which he discovered my favorite planet–Uranus.

Is this a big telescope? You bet Uranus it is!
One side is east, one is west…
We took a boat down the Thames River to Greenwich

In 2015, we were so happy to visit Paris (though my dear husband had, of course, been before). We walked and walked, practically ran through the Louvre to see all we wanted to see. As we gave up on our blistered feet and French-exhausted brains, we purchased tickets for those hop-on hop-off buses to maximum our views and rest on our grateful butts. At one stop, near the Pantheon, Mr. Wonderful suggested we limp off the bus in search of lunch. Though I saw some delightful terraced cafés in one direction, he suggested the other way. The neighborhood seemed somewhat sketchy to my suburban eye, but we explored on, grateful to find an air-conditioned pizzeria on the 99 degree day. As we rested, my travel buddy scoured the map, then looked at me sheepishly, “the Paris Observatory is only a 15 minute walk from here.” A thirty minute walk brought us to the observatory, authorized by King Louis XIV in 1666, where Saturn’s moon lapetus was discovered in 1671 and in 1676, the staff concluded that light was travelling at a finite speed. Sadly, the institution was open for tours only by appointments on Sundays (and is now closed due to renovations, not to mention the pandemic), but my star-gazing husband was thrilled to see a statue of Urbain Jean Joseph Le Verrier, who used mathematics to predict the existence and position of Neptune.

I’m sure someone would love to explain to you all of this astronomer’s many achievements…

We look forward to traveling to Denmark some day (hopefully soon?)–I would love to see Tivoli Garden and the colorful harbor of Nyhavn, the Little Mermaid, and Kronborg Castle. Someone is fascinated with Tycho Brahe, a 16th-century Danish astronomer who developed instruments for calculating and fixing the positions of the stars. My only attraction with the famous astronomer is that he lost his nose in a duel, and he may have been killed by king Christian IV because Brahe allegedly had an affair with his wife. My favorite part, besides hearing our Danish friend try to teach my dear husband the proper pronunciation of the name, is the myth that his death was the result of an exploding bladder…which makes me so sad he had nothing to do with the discovery of Uranus…what a fine pairing that would have been!

Though my level of scientific intellect differs greatly from that of my spouse, there are, beyond question, lessons learned. I now know that certain filters for a camera can assist in eliminating some light pollution; the light of a full moon makes it difficult to capture sharp images of stars or galaxies; globular clusters are dense collections of stars, nebulae are interstellar clouds of dust, and galaxies come in many shapes and sizes (spiral, elliptical and irregular). I know it’s better to watch a meteor shower with the bare eye, and I can (sometimes) locate Venus and Saturn in the sky. I know that when an amateur astronomer receives a delivery of new instruments for his or her hobby, there will automatically be 3 weeks of clouds and gloom.

One thing I know for sure: the look of joy on this man’s face when he opened the gift of a starter telescope nearly 20 years ago is one I’ll never forget. Nor will I forget the studious look on his face when he devoured (over and over) a book, written in 1947, given to him by our octogenarian friend Phil, along with a kit for making a 6 inch telescope mirror, and the satisfaction as he measured and re-measured, shaping the piece of glass into the perfect parabola before buffing and polishing. All this science and math and building and calibrating and measuring and adjusting leads, not only to an artillery battery of different sized telescopes, but to the amazement in his eyes when he looks into the night sky.

He determines the number of the stars, and calls them each by name. Psalm 147:4

Orion Nebula (M42) 1,400 light years from the Earth (photo by M. Lockhart)
Rosette Nebula 5,500 light years away (photo by M. Lockhart)
Veil Nebula (western veil), with bright star 52 Cygni (photo by M. Lockhart)
Ummm…it’s the moon, from our terrace in Luxembourg (photo by M. Lockhart)
Globular Cluster (M15) 34,000 light years away (photo by M. Lockhart)
Lagoon Nebula (M8) 4,300 light years away

Cloistered from Covid19

The first week of lockdown was (almost) fun. While Mr. Wonderful worked from home and I was free from obligations, it felt like a chance to step back and recharge. I started reading The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, a Pulitzer Prize winning novel. I was sure I would use this two week lockdown to nourish my intellect, strengthen my physique with online yoga, and settle my faith.

I listened (by proximity rather than choice) to meetings about film and polypropylene and resins and recycling and customers and engineers and business cases.  I had video chats with friends from long ago,  nearly daily FaceTime with the kids/grandkids or sisters and mother. I cleaned the top of my cabinets, scrubbed my floors by hand, and posted non-stop on Facebook and Instagram.

The second week, I continued to read about the ‘rona and follow the directions of the Prime Minister, worried about my cough, grew exasperated when my husband said I needed to cut Facetime short because the WIFI for his WebEX meeting was breaking up. I defrosted my freezer and cleaned my oven. I waited for 6 pm, or 7 when work was finished for my great provider. I video messaged my gal pals, got excited when it was my turn to go to the store, prayed for my 3 friends who had positive tests for Covid19, and wondered if my non-stop headache and little cough could be from exposure at the dinner party at my sick friends’ house. I was interviewed for a podcast at our church. I was still reading The Goldfinch.

The third week, normal schedule resumed, though it was virtual. I was grateful for online church, Zoom Bible study and small group, Messenger chats with my friends. I celebrated a friend’s birthday with a group crémant toast on Zoom. I grew tired of trying to schedule running the vacuum around my husband’s meetings, hearing conversations about production runs and business cases and intellectual property. Our Zoom happy hour with longtime friends was a pleasure, and family Zoom meetin’ time with our kids a lifeline and a blessing. We signed up to help with grocery shopping and delivery with church, since we’d already been helping our elderly downstairs neighbors and our positive Covid19 friends. The Goldfinch dragged on and I grew so tired of the stupid mistakes the main character made, while continuing to love the character Hobie. I found out someone I love in the US had passed away and I can’t be there, to honor his life or the commitment of my sister, who loved him more.

Week four–ugh! In all honesty, I’m a bit pissed off at this stupid tiny virus that wreaks havoc in the life of the WORLD!

It’s so exciting when Mr. Wonderful takes his turn to grocery shop so I’m actually ALONE for a short time. On the other hand, as he passes for a snack between meetings and phone conversations, I annoy him with my, “honey, are you glad to be locked down with me?” and “will you still love me when they let us out?” queries. Yet, as my dear husband plays the guitar and sings in his beautiful tenor, I hum along in my serviceable alto. He puts his telescope on the patio and takes beautiful photos of the moon and the stars and galaxies and globular clusters. We’ve been married for 36 years…I’m sure we’ll stand strong in this and through this. And I finished The Goldfinch–FINALLY.

The amount of coffee we’re drinking is staggering, as is the amount of wine (not really–okay REALLY).  As my dear husband finishes a meeting and grabs for a snack, I cringe, dreading the sound of the pistachios and their shells in the little glass bowl–I’m just sure we have a rodent in a cage somewhere in the house. The amount of laundry is much less than usual, as my husband has his nice shirt only for video meetings, and I hang out in a tank and yoga pants. I cook, and cook, and cook some more. I might actually get good at it.

We head to the terrace every night at 8 to join the clapping and cheering for our healthcare workers. And every night, it brings a tear to my eye. We’re grateful for our health. We’re more than grateful for technology. I’m incredibly thankful for social media (well, some of it) and the diversion it provides, and the laughter at silly memes, and the feeling that we’re not alone.

I’m appreciative of those dear people who work in the grocery store, still smiling, despite enforcing the social distancing regulations. I’m grateful for full shelves in the grocery–for coffee and wine and chocolate and toilet paper, and beautiful fruit and vegetables. I’m thankful for the Post deliveries, and the Amazon deliveries. I’m grateful my little Chinese restaurant is open for takeaway once every couple weeks, and we’ve found some good pizza to grab. I’m grounded by my faith.

As this changed life continues, we pray for those directly affected by the disease, for jobs lost because of the lockdown, for milestones celebrated differently, for relationships and love and the joy of living. We look forward to a time of loosening of restriction. We pray for healing.

The Lord bless you and keep you, and make His face to shine upon you.

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This Thursday

Thanksgiving is all about the T‘s: giving thanks on a Thursday, eating a turkey named Tom with mashed and sweet ‘taters, and embracing traditions. We added another T to our holiday hoopla some years back, and since we moved to Luxembourg, it has become a big player in our November festivities…

When we were the young parents of toddler and baby boys, and we had an opportunity to save money toward buying a house, saving on rent by moving into a business and doing an odd job or two. And just like that, we lived in a funeral home.

Planning parties was tricky, knowing that if calling hours or a funeral were scheduled, we’d need to vacate the upstairs apartment, lest the rattling of the chandeliers downstairs rattle those expressing their grief. So when we invited Mr. Wonderful’s sister and her family for Thanksgiving, we knew our plans could go topsy-turvy. On Wednesday, we shopped and planned and cleaned and prepped and welcomed our visitors for the festivities. As the kids played and the men talked (American) football, my dear sister-in-law and I prepared a batch of brownies and threw them in the oven, knowing the picky little eaters in the other room would much prefer chocolate over pumpkin. We waited for the finished product, but realized there was no pleasing aroma of Betty Crocker wafting from the kitchen, because….the oven was not hot, not warm, not baking.

The appliance was antiquated, a huge monstrosity of enamel and iron, with a heating element that simply wasn’t working. Despite the men pulling and poking and plugging and un(plugging), calling every repair shop in the area, and driving to parts of the city no one should ever see, the oven remained broken, cold, unuseable. Our menu for the next day changed dramatically, as we needed a meal that could be prepared using only the stovetop and microwave. The solution was simple…tacos for Thanksgiving. The dinner was delicious and festive, the story funny for years to come (as if living in a funeral home wasn’t funny enough)!

And here we are for our fourth non-Thanksgiving in a country far away from family. The turkeys are tiny yet cost a wing and a drumstick. There is no Thursday closing of the office, no gathering of family and friends on a weekday for a midday meal, with the Macy’s Parade and football and the whir of a mixer and the mixture of laughter amidst the games. Of course I live in a different country and it’s unfair, and probably childish, to expect things to be THE SAME. So yes, I miss my kids desperately, and my mom and all the sisters. I miss making a meal for 10 people or more while my sons ask if there’s anything they can do to help and my daughters decorate the table. I miss the smells, and the heat of the kitchen, and the fully belly and exhaustion when the day is done.

As always, I am thankful, that our kids are with people who love them, that they are healthy, that they’re people who are kind and generous and funny. I’m thankful that I still have my mother, and that she Facetimes with me from her always rocking chair while I look for Dramamine. I’m thankful for my sisters and their husbands and how we love and support one another. I’m thankful for my dear husband’s sisters, whom I love and admire and enjoy so very much. And I’m thankful  for friends both here and around the world who become our family.

Tomorrow, the Thursday I’ve been dreading, we’ll give thanks for a God who loves us and desires the best for us. We’ll give thanks for Mr. Wonderful’s job, even when it’s difficult. We’ll give thanks for food on the table and and for all we’ve seen and done. And before we Facetime, we’ll have tacos for dinner and toast the technology that connects us with those we love.

 

 

The Day I Broke Yoga

I’m not physically fit.

Some might call me curvy, the politically word correct for “chubby.” I’m more flexible in my politics than my torso, but my very fleshly posture is not rigid enough in the correct way. I decided, with great encouragement and enthusiasm from a dear friend, it was time to do something about it.

For the first time in my sedentary life, I went to a yoga class.

Now, in all honesty, I had a fear of yoga for 3 reasons:

  • I am not athletic at all. My dad always told me, “Diner (his nickname for me),  if you can’t be an athlete, you can always be an athletic supporter.”  BA DUM CHHH
  • That rigidity I mentioned came into play in thinking if I participated in yoga, I’d become Hindu.
  • And, I was just sure that, upon doing the downward dog with my buttocks in the air like I just didn’t care, I would toot–having four children loosened my resolve in many areas, especially the nether regions…

So I put on my big girl yoga pants, took an imodium, prayed for strength and dignity and went to yoga class–senior yoga. Upon arrival, I was greeted by the very petite and kind teacher. And then I learned that, not only would I have strange-to-me vocabulary and movements, BUT THE CLASS WOULD BE IN FRENCH!! I understood a few words here and there, but mostly I just mimicked the other attendees, some of whom had taken more trips around the sun than I, some of whom were nattily dressed in yoga garb, some of whom were older men in t-shirts and shorts. I chose a spot waaay in the back next to the wall, unfurled my pink Nike yoga mat Mr. Wonderful had bought me many years ago for my birthday, folded a wool blanket of some kind, and sat on that: criss-cross-applesauce-hands-in-my-lap.

I was unprepared for the singing part of yoga–the not quite matching pitch of the humming drove my somewhat musical ear to prayer. The equipment that helps maintain poses also surprised me–the belt, the blocks, the foam blocks, bolsters, and  chairs. The bolster was nice and cozy until I scooched off the end as instructed, felt something pop, and drown in a tsunami of buckwheat. My friend, who shall remain nameless (Martha), looked at me with eyes wide and we both bent to scoop, sweep and hide away kernels of stuffing while the teacher paused and focused on us. There was no point in hiding the carnage at that point…

Here’s the good news: I made it through 90 minutes of yoga en francais. I felt strong, accomplished, sore as can be. And I went back the next week. And the next. I’ve found myself doing stretches when I’ve spent too much time bending over my computer or a book, or when my back starts to ache when I’ve walked a lot. I remind myself to pull my shoulders together, raise my chest, and take a deep breath. It’s easier for me to reach and bend. I appreciate the functional benefits. I feel proud that I tried something new, that I pushed myself a bit.

I will always be an athletic supporter–but a strong one!

I prayed for strength and perseverance during poses–I’m still a one God gal.

And when I google “farting in yoga class?” –there are 23,400,000 results, including YouTube videos…just sayin’…

 

 

 

 

 

Foraging for Friends

We brought only four place settings with us when we moved to Luxembourg. After all, we didn’t know anyone here, save our delightful relocation agent who was paid to spend time with us. We thought it would be just us for dinner, just us for drinks on the terrace, just us laughing at each others’ corny jokes.

For a short while, it was just us.

But then, the vacation, or “holiday” mood for you Europeans, with our new surroundings began to wane as we uncovered limited language comprehension, limited shopping hours, and even more limited parking spaces. With the dawning realization this funny, sweet little country was actually our new home came the discovery that we needed a plan–the same plan that had worked for us in our trailer in West Virginia, our funeral home and apartments in New York, our home in deep South Georgia, and back to our home in dear Fairport, NY. It was time to roll up our sleeves and get down to business about LIVING in this new place and making friends!

And now, in the present I question, “how did we make friends? where did I meet people?”  And I don’t think women are alone in the need for comrades. Not counting my delightful and enduring/endearing alliances with work friends, or friends I’ve made through my dear husband, here are some ways I (or we) have recently made new acquaintances/friendships:

  • Clubs–Though hardly all Americans (and who moves to another country just to be friends with their own kind?), the American Women’s Club of Luxembourg is an excellent introduction to life here. There are welcome coffees and book clubs, travel talks and hiking groups, moms’ outings and crafting hours and cooking classes and wine tastings, and wine tastings, and wine tastings! Opportunities to meet people and get involved abound. I’m so happy joining this cohort was one of my first steps to social sanity in Luxembourg!
  • Church–Attending church has been important to my dear husband and me, not only for the spiritual benefits, but for the social aspect as well. All Nations Church of Luxembourg is an English-speaking church with people from, you guessed it, all around the world. The people are welcoming and kind,  the friendships are rich in both challenge and encouragement. There are worship services and small groups, and here’s something you won’t see in America…wine at a church potluck!
  • Service–When I reach out to others, It helps me put aside my loneliness and loosen the grip on the idea that I’m the center of the universe. Volunteering to serve meals at Croix Rouge was some of the most meaningful time I’ve spent in Luxembourg. I made a very dear friend as we passed dishes and dished stories together. Though I stopped volunteering in this way because my poor old back couldn’t withstand the standing, it’s a pleasure to see my sidekick on a regular basis AND spot a few of the patrons around town!
  • Classes–Limping along in English only was not an option for us here in Luxembourg, so Mr. Wonderful and I signed up for French classes. The group at Prolingua was small, the teacher encouraging and challenging and humorous–at least we thought she was funny, but who knows? She spoke French exclusively! Though we were “we-could-be-your-parents” older than the rest of the students, we bonded over butchering the beautiful language in our different accents: Polish, Romanian, Norwegian, Greek, and American…and dined and laughed and festivaled together. We’re due for another meet up–I’ll be in contact, Dagmara!!
  • Restaurants–In European restaurants, tables are close to one another, often abutting one another so this big-butted woman worries about being able to maneuver to the table without…butting into someone. In such close proximity at our neighborhood Italian canteen, a couple at the adjacent table heard us speaking English…we began a conversation that finished with the exchanging of contact info and planning a next meal together. We’ve now shared many meals, a weekend away, and hours and hours of conversations!

Making new connections is certainly not easy, but what a richness in being able to share meals, life experiences, laughter, and heartache with someone. And making new pals doesn’t mean we forget the old or vintage relationships. At the risk of planting an earworm, “Make new friends, but keep the old: one is silver but the other’s gold.”

 

 

 

The Best People

The Crown, S2:E4 “Beryl”

TONY: You’ve probably never been on a bus, have you?

PRINCESS MARGARET: (puffs on her cigarette) No.

TONY: Pity. You really do meet the best people.

I don’t mind riding the bus. When the temperature is crisp and precipitation is less than predictable, it’s worth a good hair day to check the schedule, validate that ticket on my phone, and hop on the number 28 to some of my familiar, if not favorite, places.

I’d had a wonderful morning with some friends and needed to scurry to the grocery store to grab a few (ha!) things for upcoming festivities at our apartment. The bus would be another 5 minutes and since I was most likely the oldest person waiting, I parked my tired boo-hiney (West Virginian for buttocks) on the not-so-clean wooden bench to await my extra long limo. A woman, most likely near my age, joined me on the seat then began speaking to me en francais.

“J’aime tes chaussures.” I smiled, and immediately told her, in French, that I spoke only a little of the language. She was not deterred from pursuing conversation, so I tried in my best bad French to tell her I walk a lot in these shoes, because I couldn’t remember the French word for “comfortable” (which is, of course, confortable— almost the same word with a French accent!!). She spoke a bit of English, I spoke a bit of French, as she told me her sister had a bad foot and footwear like mine would be good for her. (Was that a compliment? I hadn’t thought of my sandals as orthopaedic).

My bus arrived, and it was, of course, her bus, too. I boarded and sat against the window, and as she approached I realized she was going to sit with me, so I patted the seat and smiled at her. She introduced herself: Marianne had lived in Luxembourg for a very long time, though she was originally from Cameroon. Her skin was beautiful brown, as she pointed to her hand and said her children were the same color, though her husband is Luxembourgish. We talked about how Luxembourg is a country of peace and the people are nice. We chatted about window shopping at La Belle Etoile and cooking. She swore the prepared chicken wings at that Cactus were better than any other Cactus store in the country. She told me her husband is a good man, and asked if I had a good man, too. When I answered, she smiled broadly and we both nodded.

As we parted ways, she squeezed my hand, and I told her I hoped to see her again.

It was no random occurrence, the encounter with Marianne, in my heart or in my mind. In this place, so foreign and far from home, I’m finding a human touch, a smile, a word goes a long way in making me feel like I belong or matter or make a difference.

Have you been on a bus in Luxembourg? You really do meet the best people…

Back in the Saddle Again!

Who likes to go to the gynecologist? Wave those stirruped  feet in the air! Last week, this breast cancer survivor who, because of changed health insurance and fear of foreign francophone “female” physicians (but fondness for alliteration), FINALLY  had a rendezvous with medicine. Making the appointment was simple…keeping it was challenging.

Rather than using the telephone to make my appointment, I decided, because of my anxiety in speaking French over the phone, to simply go in to the gynecology practice and make the appointment in person. I had checked my calendar first, practicing the days of the week (in French) and reminding myself of the reverse order of month and day in Europe. Those things, combined with the math involved in converting military time to “normal,” gave me the confidence to march through that door, up to the counter and say swiftly, “Anglais, s’il vous plait?” The receptionist was gracious, her English good, and I walked away with an appointment card for the next week. I had repeated, “Tuesday,” with the woman, cementing that day and the 16:00 time in my head.

Next week Tuesday arrived, and we were in the midst of that hateful heat wave–90 degrees for several days in a row.  I did my chores and errands early, knowing I’d like to shower off the evidence of said heat wave before my appointment. All nice and fresh, bolstered with courage, I kept my appointment, only to have the receptionist tell me my appointment was the next day. Sigh…Tuesday had been lost in translation…Wednesday, I did my morning chores and errands, rushed home to shower off the heat wave before my appointment, and while toweling off, answer a call from the doctor’s office: she’s not in today, would I please come same time tomorrow. Thursday (still 90 degrees), I keep my morning obligations, do my chores, run my errands, and rush home to freshen up in the shower before my appointment. I arrive two minutes early, thinking there will be much paperwork to fill out since this is my first time at the doctor, but there is no paperwork, no peeing in a cup, no prior histories, just “please take a seat.”

When I’m called back to see the doctor (I only had to wait about 15 minutes), she asks me some questions about my medical history. When she asks me how tall I am in centimeters, I grin and say, “Yikes–I don’t know. We don’t use the metric system in the United States.” She looks at me sternly, asking if I have a calculator. I do indeed make that calculation on my iPhone (but okay, really I just Googled “how many centimeters is 5 foot 8 inches”). The doctor typed in the information I gave her. Next question: how much do you weigh in kilograms? Now, I’ve always been sensitive about my weight, always ashamed of being chubby. Her answer to my Googled number in kilograms was, “wow, that’s a lot.” The doctor then, in her less than warm and fuzzy bedside manner, asked, “Why haven’t you gotten your mammogram on time now that you’re in this country where you can get any medical test done and it’s paid for?” At that point, my eyes are tearing up as I relay to her that I have terrible global  insurance, not my host country’s social security assurance. She nods gruffly, then escorts me to the examining room, where I undressed behind a small screen. My only comments about the exam are:

  • There is no paper drape given for modesty
  • The examining “chair” is much for comfortable than the table in the U.S.
  • An internal ultrasound is routine
  • No blood pressure was taken, no listening to the heart, no breast exam

In the end (no pun intended!), this all-business doctor actually had a tender heart. As I was leaving, she patted me on the arm as she assured me I would get the tests I needed and I could contact her if I needed any further information or help getting my mammogram and MRI.  I paid for my visit, and made my appointment for next year–on a Tuesday, I’m sure!

MYTH #1: Air conditioning is not necessary in Europe. Today the apartment is in full “cave” mode–the outside electric shutters are down all the way, the windows are closed. It’s an almost-blistering 30 degrees outside. Celius. For those of us who have difficulty calculating 1.8 times the temperature Celsius plus 32, it’s 86 degrees, and the sun is beating down on the southern exposure terrace with the huge windows and beautiful views I can’t even see right now. In order to keep my cool, which is nearing depletion, I return to the apartment after my walk, let my eyes adjust to the darkness, and pray for relief from my compulsion about (not) using artificial lumination during daylight hours. This is day 3 of heat, with 3 more warmer days to come. And it’s only June.

When we were asked over a year ago by my husband’s company to provide a list of items we would like in our Luxembourg home, air conditioning was not at the top of the list, but it was more than halfway up (reminding me how grateful I am for the elevator!). The person who had requested the list scoffed in her French accent, “We don’t have air conditioning in Europe–we don’t need it.” Guess what, Valerie? When the estrogen runs screaming from your body faster than the cool air from your apartment and you have your own personal tropical climate raging with vasomotor instability (translation: HOT FLASH), the ability to cool the air is more than a luxury–just ask my husband!

MYTH #2: Ice in beverages is unusual in Europe. That much is true, however, when you’re hot and thirsty and desperate after a marathon through IKEA, you can claim ignorance on your premier trip through the McDonald’s drive-thru, requesting “trop de glace dans un grande Coke Zero.” You think you’ve excelled at using a foreign language until the voice over the speaker says, in static-laden English, “you want ice cream in your Coke????”

MYTH #3: There is no speed limit on the autobahn. Not true. That’s all I’m saying.

MYTH #4: All stores are closed on Sunday.  That’s not true at all! The mini convenience stores attached to petrol stations are open on Sunday. In fact, you can fill your tank with diesel, purchase a delicious sandwich on a baguette, and buy hard liquor and a bouquet of flowers for your mom!

MYTH #5: All European beers are delicious. Aw geez–that one’s true!

MYTH #6: Europeans don’t like Americans.  I am so grateful that’s (generally) not true! The easiest, quickest, most honest relationships I’ve formed in the past almost year have been with my Dutch, French, German, Scottish, Luxembourgish, Irish, Romanian, Polish and Norwegian friends and classmates. Our cultural differences lend texture to my world, causing me to accept as well as give grace, spurring me to learn as well as educate. Here in this place, in this country, these are the kinds of relationships I covet, lest I tuck away in this dark apartment rather than experience the refreshing breeze of interaction before me.