East 63rd Street

A man is leaning on a wall talking on his cell. He’s dressed head to toe in gangsta style with the giant hoody,big droopy pants and gargantuan sneakers with the laces and tongue exploding out everywhere.

Nico who is trotting down the street stops suddenly, points at the man’s enormous shoes and exclaims “Nico’s gonna ‘tep on dat man’s SHOES!” Before I can stop him, he has darted over to the man, wrapped his arms around his legs and stepped up on top of his sneakers.

As my friend Jen said when I told her the story later, “Well, that’s what you get for wearing big puffy shoes”.

Leaving Switzerland

Our leaving of Switzerland took place in a flurry of cardboard boxes and cleansing powder as I struggled to get the place in shape for the next tenants. This was rather a new chore for me since when I lived in NYC, the only thing you did when moving out of an apartment was make sure you didn’t leave any frozen burritos behind. In Switzerland however, one must leave their apartment SPOTLESS and if you don’t, you’ll be charged a hefty fee of around $1000 to cover the cleaning costs. Most people decide to just hire a professional crew for the job but wanting to save a bit of money, I decided to do it myself. I can honestly say that I have never cleaned so hard or well in my life and that by the time I was finished, it looked so good that I wanted to move back into the apartment myself.

My final step was to fill up all the nail holes in the walls that we’d made when hanging pictures since I’d heard that we’d be charged about $5 per unfilled hole. Every Swiss person I’d talked to had told me that I should just get a tube of white toothpaste and stick a bit in each hole.

Thus I found myself standing in the toothpaste aisle at my local supermarket, attempting to determine which toothpaste to buy. The problem was that I had no idea which ones were white and there was no way of checking inside the tubes without ripping off the tops (I tried). I asked a few people but nobody knew and even stranger, nobody seemed to have ever even heard of filling holes with toothpaste. Considering that at least 5 people OUTSIDE of the supermarket had told me that this was the thing to do, I found it strange that nobody within the supermarket knew what I was talking about.  I thought that maybe, as is often the case when I’m trying to speak a foreign language, I just wasn’t explaining myself correctly. Maybe instead of telling people that I wanted to fill in holes in the wall with toothpaste, I was actually telling them that I wanted to paint on the wall with toothpaste or whip up a tasty toothpaste goulash. Maybe that’s why everyone was looking at me in that perplexed fashion with which I’m so familiar by now. But then I realized that I had been making sense when one chic lady with violet tinted hair and alligator pumps marched up to me and told me that what people actually did with the holes in their walls, was to chew up little bits of bread and then use the wet crumbs to fill up the holes. I’d never heard of this technique before but she had an air of authority about her and seemed to know what she was talking about. As she steered me toward the bread aisle, I reflected that perhaps her method might be my best option unless I wanted to head home with a lifetime supply of Swiss toothpaste.  I then pictured Alex coming home to find me running around the apartment with a baguette, frantically biting off chunks and then stuffing the glutinous mass of crumbs and saliva into the wall. I left the supermarket empty handed and headed for the nearest hardware store where I invested in a tube of costly white spackle which I plan to hold onto for the rest of my apartment living life.


French is definitely an easier language to get a handle on than Japanese but this doesn’t mean we don’t suffer from the occasional misunderstanding. This morning a sobbing Nico was told several times by nursery school personnel that his stuffed doggy (who I had forgotten to leave with him) had taken the car and gone off to work. This was an unfortunate result of a communication breakdown which occurred when his non-English speaking teachers misunderstood his cries for his “doggy” to be cries for his “daddy.” Sadly Nico isn’t the only one in the family who has suffered from an inability to speak and understand French correctly. In my French class last week our teacher asked us to come up with some examples of “Vaudois” (the region of Switzerland where we live) French. Misunderstanding, I thought she was asking us to give examples of “Boudoir”  (bedroom) French. Although I was confused about how a discussion on regional dialects had verged into one on talking dirty, I gamely chipped in with a new bit of slang I’d recently picked up on how to express the action of making love. The response was a roomful of confused stares and several requests for me to repeat myself. Sadly, by the time I realized my faux pas, the conversation had awkwardly stumbled off in another direction- Haitian cooking terminology I believe it was.

Nico will undoubtedly be the first in our family to get a real grip on the language and I’m sure that he’ll be translating for us at the city office before his 4th birthday. Just the other night when we put him to bed he gave a cheerful little wave and shouted out “Merci! Au revoir!” from his crib as I closed the door. “Um, your welcome…” I responded. I think that this, along with his hardcore addiction to Nutella, definitely means that he’s fast on his way to being culturally adjusted.

Can you say Lausanne? I can’t.

Yesterday I was invited over to my Swiss friend Susana’s house. Sadly, due to lack of good communication (in other words, my crappy French), I didn’t realize that the she was in fact, hosting a big brunch with several other couples and mountains of food contributed by all. Because of this, I brought nothing. Not even Mr. D who I hadn’t realized was invited as well. “As usual I’m two steps behind,” I sighed ruefully. Later I figured out that I’d said something more akin to “As usual, I’m two staircases behind” which is in fact, a much more accurate description of where I stand these days.

For one thing, I still can’t manage to pronounce Lausanne while speaking French in a way that anyone understands what I’m talking about. I remember going through this in the early days of Japan. Specifically I remember one day when Mr. D and I were looking for the Muji store in Shibuya. We must have asked about 10

people where it was and no one could understand what we were saying. Mooooo-ji. How hard is that to say? Later on we learned to say in in a way that people could understand although I still feel that we said it in exactly the same way as in the beginning. It’s one thing however, to not be able to pronounce the name of a store correctly and quite another to not be able to pronounce the name of the city you live in.

Life in Switzerland is something that Istill haven’t really adjusted to. Basically I’ve realized that I’ve moved from one rule-obsessed country to another. The only problem is that the rules here are completely different. Like in Japan, they didn’t give a damn when you did your laundry but here, you can only do it on certain days of the week and NEVER on Sundays. In Japan if you tried to kiss someone as a way of greeting, they would react as though you’d just poured acid all over their faces. Here, you’re supposed to do it not once, not twice, but THREE times. Totally overkill if you ask me and I’m really missing the awkward bowing of the days of yore. I definitely wouldn’t say that I’ve fallen in love with Switzerland and it’s culture (although the chocolate and fondue are seductive indeed), but I am enjoying several aspects of the lifestyle here. I’ve met some nice people and I sort of enjoy the slower pace of life. There are annoying things as well. The fact that everything is closed between 12 and 2pm, after 6pm and on Sundays can be trying. I thought I would have gotten used to the whole city shuts down on Sundays thing from growing up in Utah. I now realize however, that Salt Lake City is a veritable Mardi Gras on Sundays compared to Switzerland. In Lausanne there is literally only one pharmacy open in the entire city that day and naturally the diapers they sell there are about 15 times more expensive than anywhere else in the city. I know this from personal experience. As for bookstores, restaurants, etc. Forget it. Stay home. But don’t do your laundry.


Never before have I noticed how many paintings of naked people and various forms of transportation there are hanging in the MoMa. Cars, trains and naked ladies- they’re everywhere! Yesterday as Nico and I wandered around the museum, he insisted on stopping in front of each painting that depicted a nude or semi-nude person. “Ahhhh, bap” he’d say knowingly. “Oh you think they’re about to take a bath?” I’d ask. “Bap” he’d say again with authority and then march on to the next naked person. Sometimes the nude figure would be about to get in the “showa” in which case Nico tended to state it more as a question; “Showa?” he’d ask and look up at me for affirmation. “Hmmm yes, I think you might be right. Definitely on their way to the shower” I’d reply. The cars, bus and train paintings were a bit more tricky because Nico insisted on standing in front of each of them for a minimum of 10 minutes each, all the while making a running commentary of everything he saw. “Car. Car. Car. Car. Bup (bus). Bup! Banana. Choo choo? Car. Bup! Kuck (truck). Kuck? Car! Chugga chugga choo choo!”

I’ve decided that I’m really not fond of transportation themes in art.

While at MoMa we saw my old friend and roommate John.  I met John through an ad in the Voice and we lived in the same apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn for about 6 months- a time during which I consumed enough alcohol to pickle all of South America. We shared the apartment with a guy named Jason. Jason is rather difficult to describe but for lack of a better comparison, imagine Austin Scarlett from Project Runway. Now, imagine a much more annoying, much less endearing Austin Scarlett. Now take that Austin Scarlett and make him psychotic and that would be the closest approximation of Jason that I can give you.

I can no longer remember many details about Jason. He was milky white and thin as a rail. He was very effeminate but claimed to be straight and spent a great deal of time applying nail polish while lamenting his inability to find a good woman. I would feel badly talking about him this way except for the fact that one time he referred to my complexion as being “doughy” and I’m not sure about you, but I think that once someone says that you’re doughy, all’s fair.

Life with Jason started out normally enough. I didn’t see him all that often and when I did he was usually busy pursuing his twin goals of becoming either a showtune singer and/or personal assistant. He never seemed to get very far with either ambition but he had enough to pay the rent which was all that concerned me. As time went on however, things began to change. We started seeing less and less of Jason and although we’d often hear the strains of Judy Garland emerging from the crack under his door, days began to go by when we wouldn’t see his face at all. We began to worry. Not because of Jason’s disappearance but rather because over time, our dishes and silverware began to disappear as well. There was a day when things came to a head. Upon going to get a fork with which to eat his pineapple upside down cake, John discovered that there was not a single fork or spoon left in the entire kitchen. Jason had made a rare public appearance that morning when he announced that he was going into Manhattan in order to meet his boss’s cat (???) Neither John nor I knew he had a boss in the first place but that didn’t matter. The important thing was that Jason was not at home which meant that we could do a bit of investigating.

As soon as we opened the door to Jason’s room we knew that things had gone terribly terribly awry. The room stank of cat shit and it was obvious that he hadn’t emptied a litter box in weeks. In addition, there were plates of rotting food all over the floor. We were disgusted but not nearly as much so as when we opened the door to Jason’s bathroom, where much to our horror, we saw all of our dishes sitting in a bathtub filled with brown water. I screamed and then screamed even more when in the next instant, John grabbed a sword that was leaning on the wall (again- ???) and smashed the full length mirror on Jason’s wall to bits.

Oddly enough I have no memory at all of what happened after that. I don’t remember if Jason came home or never came home or what. As for me, I moved shortly afterwards to a different apartment with a different set of crazy roommates. These days I am a mother and John is married. We can stand together in Barnes and Noble while enjoying a coffee and watching Nico rearrange all the books and we can laugh about that insanity that we once shared. I really don’t miss it at all except for sometimes…

L.A. Stories

I was picked up at the airport in L.A. by an Armenian car service driver who managed to find out within 5 minutes that my husband is traveling alone in India for a month and that I felt perfectly at ease with that fact. In addition, that I had a 19 month old son who I’d left at home with my parents while I visited my brother and best friend in California for an entire week. Upon further probing he also gleaned that I believed that it was acceptable for a mother to work or even go out for the occasional glass of wine at Appleby’s (this was the Armenian man’s hypothetical location, not mine) after work with friends and WITHOUT HER HUSBAND!!! I don’t think I can quite convey to you how much this information horrified the man. I felt like Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Hillary Clinton all rolled into one Big Bad American Feminist. “Mutter mutter American women mutter alone mutter mutter trust mutter” came the displeased noises from the front seat.

When I arrived at my brother’s little house in the Hollywood Hills I was pleasantly surprised to find that his decorating style has progressed quite a bit since the days when he found it chic to use a stop sign as his bedside table. His house is really very cute and he’s fixed it up nicely. Within minutes of arriving, we headed off to Beverly Hills where he dropped me off at “Book Soup” while he went to the Tom Cruise mansion to do Katie Holmes’s make-up for their L.A. wedding party (can you believe the life this man leads??). In the meantime, I spent about 2 hours discussing the various merits of the Harry Potter books with a chatty 10 year old boy. He seemed to be visiting the bookstore with his frizzy haired alcoholic aunt- a skinny woman who was swigging wine from the book signing table and occasionally staggering over to slur things like “Hey kid, how old ARE you anyway?” as though he’d tricked her into taking him out for a night of underage drinking rather than an afternoon book signing.

That night we went and had dinner with a bunch of my brother’s friends who were all a lot of fun. Present at the table were a make-up artist, a personal chef, a Tokyo housewife, a facialist and a stylist. Can you guess who didn’t belong? It was all verrrrrry L.A. my dears. After dinner I stayed up until 1am reading “My Way of Life” by Joan Crawford. This little gem (which is sadly out of print) was published in 1973. In it, Joan Crawford writes about how, with the help of her German maid who she refers to as “Mamacita” (don’t ask, I don’t know) she lives a life of glamorous perfection. It is chockful of useful tidbits such as:

-“Women are lucky because with a little bit of organization a woman can excel as wife, homemaker, mother, career woman, and gracious hostess, be lovely to look at and be with- and still have time left over to be a good friend to a lot of people. And a happy friend.” Yes, aren’t we all so LUCKY?

-That when my husband comes home I should be “well-groomed, fragrant and feminine.” Oops.

-That before my husband comes home from work at night, I should “examine the contents of my head” in order to make sure that I have something scintillating to discuss with him. Ideally it should be something about his line of work. I don’t have to worry about this as the field of electrical engineering is scintillating indeed and can be discussed by myself and Mr. D for just hours, simply hours!

My Armenian driver would have gotten along well with Ms. Crawford.

That night when I finally dozed off to sleep, it was under the most deliciously comfortable, pink 100% cashmere blanket. My brother informed me that in the morning I was to fold it up carefully and hide it under a pillow. He explained that this was actually pink cashmere blanket #2. The first was eaten by his dog Lester after he had mistakenly left it spread out on the couch. “For weeks after I was finding clumps of pink cashmere all over the backyard.” Lester is also known for having once regurgitated an intact fifty dollar bill. “I just rinsed it off and put it in my pocket.” A dog that spits up money and shits and eats pink cashmere. So Hollywood!

The next day my brother again had to work so I headed to Melrose to do a bit of shopping. My goal was to find the perfect denim skirt. I went to the flea market and several secondhand clothing stores and although I did find a nice reproduction of one of Botero’s fat lady paintings for our bathroom, there were no denim skirts to my taste. In the end I found myself sitting dejectedly in Starbucks with that failed shopping expedition feeling of torpor which we all know. It was sort of a “I came all the way to L.A. and all I got was this lousy fake fat lady painting and an empty Starbuck’s cup” sort of feeling. You know what I’m talking about.

Luckily there were good times ahead. That night we played Pictionary with some of my brother’s other friends and had a blast. I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard in years! You know that you’re playing Pictionary with a gay make-up artist if when faced with the clue “Barney,” he attempts to draw Barney’s department store rather than a purple dinosaur.


Life can be so surreal sometimes. One minute you’re trying not to step on ostrich poop on a farm in Colombia and the next minute you find yourself sitting in a car in the corner of the Joanne’s fabric and craft store parking lot in Salt Lake City, Utah. You’re singing along to the 1983 Stayin’ Alive soundtrack CD which you ordered from Amazon and in between songs you’re thinking to yourself, “Wow. This really isn’t cool. This isn’t even ironically cool or cool in a sort of so not cool it’s cool sort of way.” I’m getting old.

Colombia was fun and aside from bowing to everyone I laid eyes on, a tendency to walk on the left, rather than the right side, and the uncontrollable tic of saying “sorry” and “it’s okay” in Japanese all the time, I’d say that I fit right in down there. Oh but wait… There was also my habit of consistently confusing the words “drunk” and “cheap” in Spanish* (“Look how drunk those knitting needles are!”) as well as the fact that I’m so pale that in certain lighting, I’m pretty sure that you can see right through me. Yeah, I was totally local, totally down with the natives if you know what I mean. Actually, Colombia was a bit of a challenge, mainly due to having to adjust to a culture where the people haven’t quite figured out that clocks really are more than just decorative objects.

Taking someone who has lived in Japan for several years to Colombia is like forcing an obsessive compulsive to spend their vacation at Chucky Cheese. A typical afternoon might go as follows:

Noon- We are told that we are going to eat lunch in a famous local restaurant and that we should get ready to go.

12:20pm- I am ready to go and sitting on the couch waiting for the rest of the family to arrive.

2 pm- I am still sitting on the couch and waiting. Mr. D’s father shows up, stands around for a bit and then announces that he has to pay a bill and walks back out of the door. Nobody has called the people we were meeting for lunch to tell them we’d be late. Nobody seems concerned about that.

2:15pm- A large argument occurs between Mr. D and his brother about how many cars we should take to the restaurant. Nothing is resolved.

2:25pm- Mr. D’s father returns bearing boxes full of chicken and rice. Thinking that our restaurant lunch must have been canceled, I eat large quantities.

2:45pm- Everyone heads out the door to go to the restaurant. When we get there, half the people have not arrived and the other half don’t seem at all surprised to see us walk in 3 hours late.

I won’t continue but you get the picture. Other cultural observations- People are utterly obsessed with the weather, in particular with “el frio” and discussions about how one might avoid catching cold are frequent.  Mr. D’s family met us at the airport with a snowsuit and two blankets in which to wrap Nico. When I turned them down, explaining that it was colder on the airplane than it was outside, they looked at me in shock. Who was this radical gringa who’d been thrown into their midst? What sort of mother turns down a snowsuit for their child in 55 degree weather?? The other thing about Colombians is that they love to eat A LOT. Unfortunately this trip coincided with my new decision to eat like a french woman. I picked up  “French Women Don’t Get Fat” in a used bookstore the week before and decided that from that point on I would eat only what a French woman might eat. This lasted about a week. Now I’m writing a book entitled “How To Eat Like a Colombian Truck Driver Until You’re So Bloated That You Can Never Stand Up Again.” I think it’ll be a bestseller.

Let’s see… what else about Colombia? Great food, great music, great people, and a passion for covering every inch of every space in their homes with minuscule knickknacks. Yep, I’d say that about sums it up. In Nico News, the little one started walking while we were in Colombia which is exciting indeed! The first week was the best because for some reason he felt that it was necessary to do jazz hands whenever he walked which made him resemble a tiny little drunk Miss America contestant. Now that he’s a  veteran walker of 3 weeks, he no longer feels the need to include this affectation.

The Baby is Dirty

A disheveled foreign woman walks into a Japanese nursery half an hour late with her screaming baby in tow. Actually, the baby is riding in a giant sized American bought SUV type stroller that’s wheels alone are about the same size as the average Japanese stroller. This stroller was bought by a naive pregnant woman who had no concept of what it would mean to carry such a stroller up 5 flights of stairs during Tokyo rush hour. This stroller was a big giant mistake. However, should the big one hit Tokyo, I’m convinced that this stroller will be the only thing left standing and that counts for something I suppose.

Anyway, back to the screaming baby. (All conversations have been translated into English)

Nursery teacher: Oh hello! We didn’t think you were coming.

Woman: Yes I’m sorry. The baby is dirty. I’m sorry. (Woman is trying to apologize for the baby’s dirty feet and knees which she had no time to clean but this is as far as she can manage in her crappy Japanese.

Nursery teacher: Oh! Why are you crying baby ?

Woman: He is not happy. I cleaned his face off with mosquito repellent tissues. It was an accident. I’m sorry. (Understandably, the woman had gotten mosquito repellent wipes confused with regular facial wipes, a mistake that anyone could make.)

Nursery teacher: (while casting a quick quizzical glance in the direction of the foreign woman). Oooh… that’s too bad. By the way, we noticed you hadn’t paid yet for last month…

Woman: Oh yes, the paper (referring to the fee statement)  you gave me was dropped while I was walking. I do not have it. The place that is was dropped, I do not know it. I’m sorry.

Nursery teacher: Oh, well I can give you another.

Woman: Yes thank you. I’m sorry

This could go on for quite a while longer so I’ll just cut it off here. You get the picture.

When You Are With Romans

Well I’ve finally gone and done it. I’ve gone and done the thing that I said I’d never ever do. “What??” you ask. “But what have you done!? Have you…

-eaten an entire box of baby cookies by yourself in the dark at 3am?

-called your baby (in a cloying high-pitched voice) “my little boyfriend”?

-marched out of the front door and gotten halfway down the street before realizing that you were still wearing your slippers?

-allowed your son to press his nose up against the television screen for a good 5 minutes before moving him just because it was so damn peaceful?

-*glued your baby to a piece of cardboard?

-watched all 5 and a half seasons of America’s Next Top Model in less than 30 days?

Before I continue the list and become so depressed that I just curl up under this computer table and die, I’ll tell you that the answers to these questions are yes, yes, yes, yes, maaaaybe and… yes. BUT that’s not even what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is buying a brand new baby seat for my bicycle and a helmet for Nico. When I first moved to Japan and saw all the mothers riding around on their bikes along with their babies, I thought it was crazy and when I became pregant I said that I’d never do it, that is was just too dangerous. This is especially because most of these babies aren’t even wearing helmets and more often than not, the mother also has second child riding along in a another seat, an umbrella up, a cell phone conversation going, etc, etc, etc.

A few weeks ago I changed my mind though and decided that as long as I never rode in traffic (it’s legal to ride on the sidewalk here), and made sure that Nico always wore his helmet, I’d give it a go. As a Japanese friend of mine said to me recently, “When you are with Romans, you must copy them. Or something like that..”