Category Archives: Europe

A Royal Flush

It’s hard to think of Switzerland without thinking about money.

After all, that’s where I personally hide my ill-gotten gains; isn’t it where you stored yours?  Zurich is flush with cash — but it’s nothing to Geneva, home to private banking with a twist.

Beau-Rivages

Above is a picture of my favorite Geneva hotel.  Oh, no, I never stayed there.  But it is conveniently located on the waterfront in Geneva, and it has the most delightful bathrooms in the lobby.   It’s like hitting the jackpot of potties.

But in all of the times I slipped in there to use the facilities, I never once got any money there.  After the article I just read, I gotta say, I was gypped.  Cheated. Scammed.

Maybe I should have gone to a restaurant for my pitt stop.

Because three different restaurants in the financial district of Geneva had their toilets stopped up with €500 notes, each of which is worth about $600.  Yup.  It’s true.

Geneva toilets flush with cash

It seems that they were flushed down a toilet and, well, what came up would make Jed Clampett happy.

Me?  I would have loved to get something back for my years of running to the bathroom.  I didn’t.  So I’m pissed.

 

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Tic Tacs are the Mint of All Evil

Yesterday, Tic Tac USA condemned Donald Trump’s use of their products to “score” with women.

tic-tacs

Today, I have my own Tic Tac crime to report.  I firmly believe that without Tic Tacs, Donald Trump would not be the scumbag he is today.

*****

An International Life of Crime

When we got Cooper in 1998, we owned a Toyota Picnic, a little six seat van not available in the U.S.  It was kind of a vomit van, actually, because it was well known to induce vomiting by anyone who traveled with us.  We kept a large supply of cleaning supplies with us at all times.

Anyway, I read an article about how, if you stop suddenly, while traveling at 60 mph, a 50 lb Springer Spaniel dog — exactly MY DOG will travel significantly faster as he flies through the car.  He will, in fact, become a projectile and might end up killing your kid.

Now I liked the dog a lot even at that early stage.  But I didn’t really relish the idea of the dog killing my kid to whom I was quite attached.  So, to scorn and jeers from John, I bought Cooper a special doggie seat belt that attached to the seatbelt of the seat behind the driver’s.

Cooper, however, did not approve.  I presume I hadn’t adequately educated him on the importance of self-restraint.  Because he ate his restraint.  In fact, he had started eating the seatbelt too when I realized what was happening and released the rebel.  He then happily sat wherever he wanted in the back of the vomit van.

Fortunately, Cooper hadn’t really done much damage to the seatbelt.  There were only a few bites taken out of it; it worked perfectly well and was not a safety hazard.

But when we moved across the border into France a couple of years later, well, we had to have the car inspected.  And the French car inspectors are famous for flunking Americans.  According to my husband, anyway.  I faced the villains alone.

Now, before you jump all over my husband for sending me into the lion’s den, well there is something you should know.  My husband cannot lie.  He cannot stretch the truth.  He cannot exaggerate.  Worse in this case, he would not have been able to restrain himself from explaining to the inspector that it really was not a safety issue.

Me, well, I’m different.  I grew up getting away with high crimes and misdemeanors.  I rarely got caught, and when I did, well, I got out of it. I’ve had practice.

So whenever we needed to deal with the French government, well, it was all up to me.

I drove to wherever it was, produced my paperwork, and waited my turn.  Truthfully, I was nervous.  I didn’t want to have to spend $1 zillion replacing a seat belt (car repairs in Switzerland/France are tres cher).  So I fidgeted with the container of mints in my pocket.  Tic Tacs.

When my turn came, I was outside with the inspector, chatting to him.  He was a young guy, and was nice and helpful as I tried to have a chatty conversation with him in my pigeon French. In fact, he couldn’t have been nicer to me.

Plus, the car was in great shape, clean and nearly perfectly maintained.  He found nothing wrong on the outside.  Then he opened the front passenger side, and tested the seat belt.  He closed the door and went to the rear passenger seat, and tested that one.

I started to sweat.  The chewed one was next.

He went around and opened the rear driver’s side door.  And that’s when I did it.

“Tic Tac?” I asked him, holding out the container.

“Oui, merci, madame,” he responded, closing that door without looking at the damaged seat belt.  He took a Tic Tac, and proceeded to inspect the driver’s seat belt.

My car passed inspection with flying colors.

And I continued to live a life of crime in France, just outside of Geneva for two more years.

*****

This is a replay of an old story. But How could I resist in light of the news about Donald Trump and how he was forced to be a cad and a boor and a truly disgusting human being.

Because of Tic Tacs.

tic-tacs-2Google Image

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Relax! It’ll all work out just fine.

Really.  I just read that you don’t have to worry about the Orange Peril* having the nuclear codes!

Honest!

Long-Term Health Effects of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Atomic Bombs Not as Dire as Public Perceives

The detonation of atomic bombs over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 resulted in horrific casualties and devastation. The long-term effects of radiation exposure also increased cancer rates in the survivors. But public perception of the rates of cancer and birth defects among survivors and their children is in fact greatly exaggerated when compared to the reality revealed by comprehensive follow-up studies. The reasons for this mismatch and its implications are discussed in a Perspectives review of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki survivor studies published in the August issue of the journal GENETICS, a publication of the Genetics Society of America. [My bad and my bold.]

I mean you and I will probably die, and our surviving children and grandchildren will have high rates of cancer and birth defects, but not nearly as bad as we thought, though.

You’re welcome.

 

*Credit for the perfect Trumpian moniker goes to Barb Taub.

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Howard and Sainte-Mère-Église

This story kind of haunts me.  I change my mind about it all the time.  I try to work it out in my mind, but I can never be certain of what really happened.  So now I’ll let you think about it, too.

******

In late June 1998, John, Jacob and I took my Dad, then aged 81, to Normandy, France, to visit the D-Day landing beaches, museums, the works.  Dad was a WWII vet – he was in the U.S. Navy during the War, stationed on two different aircraft carriers in the Pacific.  He fought in some of the big battles in the Pacific, as a gunner on an SBD Dauntless, a seriously cool little plane.

Dad was always fascinated by the D-Day landings, and he’d always wanted to visit Normandy.  The planning, the strategy.  The very real possibility that it could have failed.  And he had lost friends there.  Two of Dad’s closest childhood friends died there, they’d gone ashore at Omaha Beach.  So when he came to visit us in Switzerland, we took a road trip.

The folks in Normandy, well, they love Americans.  We stayed in Sainte-Mère-Église at a lovely farmhouse on the outskirts of town.  The owner of the farm treated Dad like royalty, even though he told her he was fighting in the Pacific.  The trip was, my Dad said forever afterwards, one of the highlights of his life.

Now, you know what happened on D-Day.  The invasion began when the Allies sent paratroopers into some of the strategic areas slightly inland from the Normandy Beaches they would invade later on that day, on the morning of June 6th.  There were many problems with the drops of these paratroopers.  Some of the most dramatic stories came from survivors  who dropped into Ste. Mère-Église.

You see, that night, June 5/6, there was a fire in the town hall.  All the townspeople were out, along with the German occupiers, trying to put out the fire.  It spread to several nearby buildings.

Ste Mere Eglise on fire

Ste Mere Eglise on fire, June 6, 1944.  Photo credit:  Normandie44canalblog.com\archives

Into the midst of this chaos, American paratroopers fell.  Many of them were shot by German troops as they dropped, butchered.  Others were caught on trees, on buildings –including John Steele.  Steele had parachuted into the middle of town, and his parachute was caught on the church steeple.  Steele played dead for many hours, with the church bell ringing in his ear, watching many of his fellow paratroopers die.  Steele was memorably portrayed by Red Buttons in the movie The Longest Day.

There are still parachutes on many of the buildings commemorating the landings.

Things changed, the Allies won, the day/night.  Ste. Mère-Église was the first town liberated by the Allies on June 6, 1944.  D-Day.  It was a vital victory for the Allies, for the French, and for the world.

John Steele survived and returned to Ste. Mère-Église after the war.  He opened up a restaurant that became a huge draw for tourists, including us.  Our first night in town, we had reservations.  But we were early, and the restaurant wasn’t yet open.  So we went to a cafe/bar around the corner to get a drink while we waited for half an hour.

John, Dad, Jacob and I sat at a table, excitedly talking about our tour of the town.  Ste. Mère-Église is seriously cool for all ages.  There are still parachutes hanging in trees, on buildings.  It is still a real town, but it is also a memorial to the men who fought and died there, and a place that welcomes veterans with affection and gratitude.  Unlike much of France, the folks in Normandy remember.  They made us feel very welcome

So sitting there at the table having a drink, we enthusiastically recounted what we’d seen so far.  With two history buffs in the group, Jacob and I learned a lot from John and Dad.  Placards explain the events of the night so that it is easily followed.  We  chatted about the history, explaining more to Jacob.  We had seen so much already, and it was only our first night!  The next day, we would visit the beaches.  We were excited.

A man standing at the bar behind us was pretty excited too.  Quite animated, in fact.  But perhaps that was just because he had had three or four drinks too many.

“Damn, if I had it to do over again,” blared the drunk American at the bar.  He followed it up with a string of obscenities that made my Dad, the sailor, blush.  Then the drunk caught sight of me and 7-year-old Jacob.  He wandered over to us and offered us his apologies.  We politely accepted them.  But he didn’t seem to take “no problem” as an answer.  He introduced himself as Howard Something-or-other, and stood talking with us about how he had retired to Normandy.

Stupidly, I asked “What brought you to Normandy?”

“Well,” he said with a twinkle in his eye, “I happened to drop into town one night…”

“Oh, uhh, wow,” I said, looking skeptically between John and Dad.  They didn’t seem to believe the guy either.

But Howard proceeded to tell his story:

“Yup,” he said, “I dropped in here one night.  I landed in the cemetery over back by the Town Hall, which, as you know, was on fire.”

He continued:  “First, I crapped my pants,” he announced, looking straight at my 7-year-old son who was mortified.  I was pretty sure we didn’t need to hear that.

“Actually,” he said, “I really lucked out.  The cemetery had a tall stone wall around it.  And the Germans were occupied with the fire and then with the guys who were dropping into the middle of the town square.  Me, I hid behind some gravestones until I realized that, hell, a cemetery is no place to die.  So I made my way out, and linked up with my buddies.”

We didn’t believe a word of it.  For one thing, the guy looked way too young.  Remember, it was 1998, fifty-four years after the Normandy Invasion.  Looking at him, I could see Howard couldn’t then have been more than 60 or 65.  That put him in grammar school during the War.  Besides, there was just something about him.  None of us believed him.

Howard was meeting someone, and we had a dinner reservation.  So we didn’t pursue his story.

But the next day when we went to buy postcards to send back home, well, we saw something rather surprising:  A postcard of Howard Manoian.

Howard Manoian

Our Howard from the night before.  The drunk.  The faker.  The guy whose heroic WWII story we didn’t believe, and to which we only listened to a bit of, and then only out of politeness.

We felt really stupid at not having tackled the guy and listened to the rest of his story.  Peppered him with questions.  What a horrible lost opportunity.  Imagine, to hear a first-hand account of what happened that night.  June 6, 1944.

“Well,” said Dad sadly, “he was a bit of a weirdo.”

*   *   *

Fast forward to May/June 2009.  The Sixty-fifth Anniversary of the Normandy Landings.

A few days before the 65th Anniversary of the D-Day landings, John sent me an interesting email.  It was a link to a Boston Herald article that exposed “an American fraud.”

Yup, you guessed it.  Our Howard was revealed in the article to have not “dropped into” Ste. Mère-Église, after all.  The article claimed that military records stated that instead, Howard was part of the invasion force that landed at Utah Beach.

Even though I hadn’t believed him when he was standing next to me, I was really sad to read the story.  Imagine living a lie for all that time.  For sixty years.  Howard had lived, part-time, in Ste. Mère-Église for decades.  He had attended many D-Day ceremonies over those sixty-five years.  He had been telling his story, albeit often under the influence, for many, many years.

And so I was sad.  Yes, the guy had been “a bit of a weirdo” to quote Dad.  And yes, he had been rather inebriated.  But was he a fraud?  Could “Weird Howard” have been living a lie for all those years?  If so, how sad, how pitiful.  But how could that happen, I wondered, to tell this lie in a place where veterans of D-Day flock?  In a place where, I thought, sooner or later, someone would recognize him?

*   *   *

In traveling about, and especially visiting many battlefields with John, the history buff, I am often astonished at the images of what soldiers and sailors face in battle.  But I have never been anywhere like Normandy.

When you stand on the beaches, you crane your neck to look up the cliffs to  and look up at where the troops had to go, the price of what we often take for granted looms out of the ghosts.  The cliffs are high, ragged.  With no climbing skills at all, I can’t imagine trying to get to the top, much less with guns pointed and firing in my direction. And yet they did.  Many died.  Many were wounded.  Many are still there, buried at the top of the cliffs, overlooking Omaha Beach.  I felt an almost religious appreciation for the Greatest Generation‘s sacrifices.  There is no physical place that to me represents the ancient struggle of good versus evil.  It is awe-inspiring.

And really, it all started in and around Ste. Mère-Église.

*     *     *

In researching this post, I found conflicting information about Howard.  Some folks say Howard was a fraud.

Others, including the French Government believe his story.  And at the 65th Anniversary of D-Day, in 2009, the French Government awarded Howard their highest medal, the Legion of Honor for exemplary valor and service, even after the Boston Herald article “exposed him” as a fraud.

Howard in the center at the 65th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings (Google Image)

For the longest time, including when I originally wrote and posted this piece four years ago, I didn’t know what to think.

But today I find it hard to believe that anyone could live such a lie for over 60 years and not be exposed much, much earlier.  He told his story over and over, like Mr. Bojangles, for drinks and tips.  If he had gone ashore at Utah Beach, he would still qualify as a hero.  Was “dropping into” Ste Mere Eglise somehow more heroic?

The folks who fought at Normandy, who fought in Europe and in the Pacific, regardless of in what capacity, division or from which country, well, they are all heroes.  They all deserve our thanks. 

More practically, the likelihood that Howard would have run into someone who recognized him from that day was pretty high.  Folks return.  Folks remember.  I’m pretty sure at least some would have clear memories of who stood next to them on the landing craft or on a glider soaring silently above Ste. Mère-Église.  Of whom they linked up with on the ground.

So in the intervening years, I have thought about Howard quite a bit.  I wish we had heard more of his story.  I wish, at a minimum, that we had bought him a beer (although he didn’t really need another one).  I wish that Howard, who died in 2011, didn’t pass with a cloud over his head.

Howard Manoian obituary.

Stars and Stripes:  A jump from the truth

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This Really Gets My Goat

Do you ever want to pack it all in?  Shed these mortal coils?  Have an out of body experience?  Do you get so bored that you fantasize foreign travel, hanging out with a group of friends who won’t pester you with questions, eating a steady diet of fresh picked food, and drinking water from a mountain stream?

My inability to do that for a whole host of reasons, well, it really gets my goat.

But I think I can honestly say that when I consider having out of body experiences, when I think of packing it in, and when I contemplate shedding these mortal coils, I can’t even approach, neigh, fathom what Thomas Thwaite did.

Part of me sees the attraction.  After all, remember, I spent five years living in Switzerland.  And when you climb those mountains, your heart and soul expand.  You have what I dubbed Julie Andrews Moments where you want to sing with joy.  I can honestly say that I’d love to go back and spend some time there in those mountains.

But there are limits to how I’d like to go.  With whom I’d like to spend time.  And what I would like to wear when I get there.

For example, I do not want to imitate Thomas Thwaites.  He became a goat hung out on a mountainside.  With a herd of goats.  Eating grass.

There’s an article in the Washington Post about Thomas the Goat Man.  How he developed a prosthesis that enabled him to walk like a goat.  The challenges he faced.  The cold.  How he felt that human kind was progressing towards robotics, and he wanted to go a different way.  So he became a goat.

This video, read by a robo-caller, tells the rest of the story.  You can watch it and hear the story for yourself.  Or you can mute it, and watch a man in weird costume eat grass.  Your choice.

 

I can’t help wondering if the little goats used to laugh and call him names.  Did they let poor Thomas play in any goatherd games?

 

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Ancient Shit

It seems that while there is nothing new under the sun, there’s a lot of new stuff in bogs.  New-ish stuff.  New-to-me-and-you stuff.

Sometimes it’s just horse shit.

But sometimes it’s special.  Special horse shit.  That, apparently, is a thing.

You see, some folks dug up some old shit and decided they know who put it there.

Hannibal!

In a study published Monday in the journal Archaeometry, researchers argue that new evidence in the form of some very old poop might hold the key to solving this mystery once and for all.

Yup!  Using ancient horse shit, scientists are pretty sure they’ve figured out Hannibal’s route over the Alps.

They say that microbial evidence suggests a “mass animal deposition” (a.k.a. poop) occurred in the Col de Traversette pass in 218 B.C. — just when Hannibal was making his journey to Rome. By digging around in a peaty bog along the pass, the researchers found what they think are microbes usually associated with horse manure.

“Over 70% of the microbes in horse dung are from a group known as Clostridia and we found these microbes in very high numbers in the bed of excrement,” study author  of Queens University wrote in an article for the Conversation.

Hannibal and poop

I’m afraid I don’t know these guys personally, But Fox News tells me they are from Queens University in Belfast.  And who am I to doubt Fox?  This may be a FoxNews photo, too.  But I got it from Google.  I love you Google.  Fox?  Not so much.  I do love the Alps, though.  Does that help?

Now, you might ask, where are those legendary elephants?  I don’t know.

Here’s what they say:

Horses trudging through the Alps are suspicious, but solid evidence of elephants in their company might close this case for good. Until then, Allen and his colleagues will have to keep probing the poop and surrounding areas for more clues.

There are also reports of horsey tape worms.  But I do believe that that is a subject for another fake medical expert’s blog.  It’s bad enough that I did two poop posts in a row.  This is becoming a pattern.

Oh, and I personally have experience with horse poop of the European variety.  See:  https://fiftyfourandahalf.com/2012/05/24/me-and-julie/

Sometimes, a woman just has to accept her fate.  Shitty though it may be.

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Mansplainin’ 101

I’m still without a computer, but thought I’d share this clip.

UPDATE!!!

Because I love you, I am adding a picture I forgot about.  The real reason why men fear vaginas.

SteckengebliebenBecause they get stuck in them.

[This is from a post of a while back — happily recalled when Lisa (Tops) from Life in the Top Down commented.

Life, and blogging, can be so damn much fun!

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