No fly zone

I breathed a sigh of relief today when I read that Trump et al. have decided not to go ahead with an all-out laptop ban on flights landing in the USA. Heightened security measures and extra screening, those I can live with [even if the logic behind singling out those particular six countries for special treatment is also beyond me…]. But not letting me take my laptop on board? That is one sure way to put me on a train or make the USA a no-fly zone for me going forward.

I can count on one hand the number of times my baggage has gone astray. But I could fill telephone books with the names and addresses of others who have lost theirs – for days, weeks, and even months at a time. Add to this list, stories of opened luggage and missing items, and it certainly wouldn’t entice me to pack my laptop into my checked luggage and hope for the best.

No doubt there’s a whole generation of people coming up behind me who store all their information in the cloud and don’t need a personal laptop to access it. Any laptop or iPad or whatever will do. More still will be accessing emails and such on their watches. Me, I’m old school. My fingers are used to my keyboard, my laptop. I don’t want to have to retrain them every trip to navigate someone else’s machine. But I can see the way the bytes are falling and no doubt, any day now, I’ll run out of options and simply have to conform.

Jon Russell wrote up his experiences of travelling without devices on Emirates back in May for TechCrunch. It cleared up a lot for me. I had wondered whether laptops, tablets, kindles, and cameras would be seized at random and disposed of (like offending liquids or sharp objects), or whether they’d be boxed, checked and delivered once you land. It’s the latter, apparently.

But when was it decided that laptops and tablets were the bad guys? What happened to shoes and large tubes of toothpaste? Who decides this stuff? Is there an anti-Apple lobbyist at the back of it all? And would it really matter whether the laptop was in the cabin or in the hold?  [Think Lockerbie and Pan Am flight 103.] If it’s going to blow, it’ll blow. I’m not getting it. I simply don’t understand how rational minds can reason this. Didn’t anyone do a cost-benefit analysis?

And how would these rules be universally applied? I can bring a penknife on board a flight leaving from Budapest Liszt Ferenc Airport (as long as the blade is no more than 3 cm in length) but I can’t bring a set of tweezers out of Havana. I can’t bring a knitting needle on board, but I can bring an umbrella, with its myriad spokes that could be sharpened to lethal ends. And don’t get me started on liquids. I am all for security. I’m all for screening. I’m all for making the airways safer to travel. But honestly, lads, can’t we rethink some of this?

So, as long as airlines comply with the new rules, then the laptop ban won’t be expanded. And those countries where the laptop ban currently applies, they’ll have a chance to get off the list, if they comply. It’ll mean tagging on an extra hour to your flight for more extensive pre-boarding security checks, but hey… that’s the price of flying these days.

But it’s time to start working on my bagging-handling trust issues and on curbing my separation anxiety – just in case.









I’ve been bitten. I’ve a bit of Cyclops thing going on, on my forehead: a raised white bump with a red pinhole dot in the middle. Thankfully, it’s not bang in the centre but more off to the side. It looks weird. I have a few more scattered in various places around my bod, but they’re hidden from the public eye.

In trying to figure out what exactly bit me, I remembered something I’d heard recently at the World Health Organization (WHO): insect transmitted diseases are our future. Bad news for me.

In chatting to a friend from the Cook Islands after the talk, I discovered more about mozzies that I’d known. Each year, Malaria infects some 247 million people worldwide and kills nearly a million. And there’s more. Close to 60 000 more people around the world die from other diseases transmitted by the blighters. I’d heard of yellow fever, and of dengue, but I’d not heard of the third leg of the deadly triad: chikungunya.

I did some reading and learned even more:

  • Mozzies suck blood when they need to lay eggs so it’s only the females that do the damage. How right Kipling was when he said that the female of the species is more deadly than the male.
  • Back in 2015, scientists figured out a way to turn female mozzies into males. That sounded good to me, if it meant fewer bites, but apparently, one of the scientists has figured out a glitch, commenting that ‘the whole system would be cheaper and more efficient if you could produce only males.‘ That made me smile. A world without women eh?
  • Mozzies have been around for more than 100 million years so it would seem they have squatters’ rights and killing them off would be a little mad.
  • Apparently fish find mozzies very tasty – and if they were to disappear (or be disappeared),  ‘hundreds of species of fish would have to change their diet to survive.’ And fish aren’t the only ones that enjoy these tasty morsels: insects, spiders, salamanders, lizards, and frogs are quite fond of mozzies, too.
  • Of the 3,500 named species of mosquito, only 200 or so bite humans – and I think I’ve met a representative of each of the bothersome species personally.

The bad news for me is that mozzies love the Kis Balaton – it’s like a vacation spot for them. I’m not looking forward to being fed on this summer. I’ve been doing my research. I’ve planted the basil and the lavender, and other plants that are supposed to keep them away – but so far no luck. AndI’ve been pulling up Ageratum, thinking it was a weed. Damn.

As a repellent, I’ve a number of things on my list to try:
  • A headband made of marigolds and geraniums – could start a new fashion trend
  • Homemade citronella body scrub – beats reeking of garlic (another option)
  • Mint-infused body lotion – prefer my mint on lamb or with rum, but hey
  • A natural lemon eucalyptus spray – if I can find one, or make one
  • Dr T’s mosquito-repelling granules – this is  US solution but the EU search is on
  • Add some BTI briquettes to my bird bath, killing them off before they can breathe  – ouch
And if I’m too late, then rubbing a slice of lemon on a bite will apparently reduce the swelling and take away the itch. Garlic does the same but I think lemon might smell a tad better.
My Hare Krishna friends would be horrified at the thoughts of this wanton killing of living creatures. If we could negotiate a truce, I’d be happy. But them mozzies ain’t listening. They won’t leave me alone. And I’ve tried talking… honestly.




Mystery solved

I mentioned before that our new garden is full of surprises. As the trees, plants, and bushes bloom, we’re gradually getting to know what we’re living with. We’re still undecided whether we have apricots or peaches, but time will tell.

Our new domain, the Kis Balaton, has its own surprises. I’m not great at naming the various crops planted and unless they’re potatoes flowering or are already in bloom (like oil seed rape), I’m wrong more times than I’m right. And that, my friends, is taking some getting used to.

Right outside the village, I’ve watched a field of somethings grow taller and tried though I might, I was unable to put a name to what was growing there. This week, the mystery was solved. And I’m delira and excira to see a field of glorious sunflowers.

Many years ago, on one of my first forays out of Budapest, I saw fields and fields of these yellow beauties in all their glory. No matter how bad my mood, they’re guaranteed to make me smile. With temperatures soaring, and storms turning the power feed into a staccato-like chorus of on-again, off-again, bad humor is not infrequent, but not nearly as long-lasting as it might be in the city. I think I may becoming a nicer person. #lovinglifeinthevillage 🙂

I went in search of  a poem by William Blake that I vaguely remembered, and it says it all for me…

Ah! Sunflower

Ah! sunflower, weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the sun,
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller’s journey is done;

Where the youth pined away with desire,
And the pale virgin shrouded in snow,
Arise from their graves and aspire;
Where my sunflower wishes to go.

Like Blake, I, too, am a little tired of the if onlys, and wish that more people (of all ages) would seize life by the petals and feel it, and live it, and be it. Sunflowers are planted, striving to reach a place they’ll never get to. Humans are not. We can move. We can follow the sun. We can turn our faces sunward and be positive. If we are fortunate enough to have a choice and not live under regimes who make our choices for us, we can choose where we go, what we do, and how we want to spend the short time we have on this Earth. By all means sunflower it – look at the sun and aspire to where and what you might want to be. But for Blake’s sake – move!


2017 Grateful 26

Philadelphia. 7 June. 1753. Benjamin Franklin sat down to write a letter to George Whitefield, an English clergyman who was taking America by storm. Billed as the ‘Grand Itinerant’, he called no church home, preferring to travel around the colonies preaching to the masses. For more than 30 years, he held his audiences in the palm of his hand, leading them to penitence and reigniting their souls with a passion for God in what was known as the Great Awakening.

I came across an excerpt from this letter recently and went in search of the  full text.  The more I read, the more I realised that BJ could have been writing today. June 2017.  And I wondered how much better the world might be, were we to heed his words. I read it through a number of times and the same line kept jumping out at me.

I wish [faith] were more productive of good works than I have generally seen it; I mean real good works; works of kindness, charity, mercy and public spirit; not holiday-keeping, sermon-reading or hearing; performing church ceremonies, or making long prayers filled with flatteries and compliments…

How relevant this is. My mind began to draw all sorts of connections between dots that weren’t there back in the 1700s. We have so many friends today. Thanks to social media, many of us have friends we’ve never met, people with whom we might interact on a daily basis through a litany of likes and hashtags but couldn’t pick out of a crowd. Have we reduced active support to sharing posts and reacting to photos? Are we drowning in a sea of good intentions, blaming our shortcomings as friends and neighbours on a lack of time? Are our leaders more intent on replaying their soundbites than actually getting anything done, building foundations for the future on shaky rhetoric?

In sharp contrast to city life, in the village if you need something done, you simply ask. We needed to borrow scaffolding from friends in the village. 1 km door to door. It was too heavy to hand carry and too heavy for a roofrack. But a neighbour two doors up, to whom we’ve spoken to maybe three times, has a trailer and his wife has a car with a trailer hitch. We asked, he delivered.

My néni-next-door popped her head through the trees to say hi. She was curious to know what laundry detergent I was using, as the sheets I had air drying outside smelled wonderful. I had doubts at first that I was understanding her correctly but yes, I was. She disappeared and came back with money, asking me to bring some for her from Budapest next time I was down. She asked, I’ll deliver.

There’s hardly a day that goes buy without some ask being delivered on, in some form, shape, or fashion. Perhaps it’s still a few decades behind the times. Perhaps its the absence of distractions. Perhaps its simply a community at work. It feels good though. And is nice to be part of it. I’m grateful.

BJ captured it nicely in his letter to Whitefield…

For I do not think that thanks and compliments, though repeated weekly, can discharge our real obligations to each other …

We ask, they do, and we do in return. Practical living at its best.

Morphing into my mother

My mother trained as a nurse but gave it all up when us kids came along. She has spent the better part of her life making a home and keeping it together. I used to marvel at how she always seemed so busy. Volunteering. Playing golf. Baking. Cleaning. Cooking. And to my shame, I secretly wondered if she was afflicted by some sort of mania that made her go – non-stop. But she was (and is) simply doing. Now I think I finally get it.

Take yesterday as an example. Up at the crack of dawn (the sun in my world rises about 7.30),  First job of the day, even before breakfast, was to help move furniture down to the barn. It had already spent a night outside and I didn’t want the neighbour-lady giving me grief for wanton destruction of property – even if it was my property. It’s a village. Everyone has an opinion. Last time I was down she told me that I was letting myself go – I used to be so smartly dressed and now…well… enough said. It’s a village.

The previous evening, we’d cleaned out the living room so himself could varnish the floor. But there was a problem with the sofa. I have no idea how it got in there as there was no way in God’s earthly world that it would fit through the doorway. So we were up till midnight, him doing the technical stuff like removing bolts, me gleefully taking a knife to the shockingly ugly purple patterned velour, removing the padding and tearing away the fabric with little hope (or care) of ever putting it back together. And we didn’t find as much as a forint. The hidden treasure amounted to a collection of antique mice droppings. That done, I had an editing job to start and another to finish. I was emailing clients in Spain and Serbia, going back on forth regarding meaning and substance. Then I had some blogs to finish for a client in India. And whatever inroad that made on my to-do list was very minor indeed.

I am picking my way around the house as the hall is crammed with furniture. My office is the same. But the floor should be finished this evening and tomorrow we can move the bed downstairs. I’ve gone Hungarian. The room is the brightest and the coolest in the house and the nicest energy-wise. So we’re moving in. But it’s big enough to have a seating area as well as a bed so it will be used during the day as well. Is it only a Hungarian thing, that reluctance to devote one room solely to sleeping when it could be used during the day? Do older houses in Poland and Romania have  the same proliferation of daybeds in multi-purpose rooms? I wonder.

I somehow skipped lunch – I didn’t have time to eat, which is no bad thing. But there was laundry to be done. And builders supplies to be taken down to the barn. And stuff to be cleared from underneath the stairs because I need to find room for a small freezer.

The afternoon was closing in and the sun had dropped just enough to make it bearable to be outside. So I got to weeding the path. The sweat was pouring out of me like a tap on half-flow. Despite being covered in bug spray, I got two significant bites and now know that I need to garden in socks and to hell with the tan lines. Oh, how quickly we change our priorities. [I’m still getting over the shock that I went out into a garden to work … voluntarily. And I did it without thinking because it has to be done.] I weeded till I began to lose the will to live, all the time wondering how my mother does it. The weeds are winning. I fear there’s more path left than motivation.

Then it was time to make dinner. A simple fare of Chinese duck, new potatoes, and broccoli. I’m working on perfecting my salsa but so far all it always turns out an unappetizing shade of pink. It’ll take time.

After dinner, we did a crossword. And this is when it hit me. I am morphing into my mother. Mind you, it’d be no bad thing as she’s one amazing woman. I had a couple of papers to finish before I finally crashed to be woken this morning by a call to say the plasterer was on his way to check out the repairs that need doing to the windows. As I went out to unlock the gate, I tripped over a weed. Yep – it’s going to be another long day…



Around the table

I spent 10 days recently with a group of people from 17 different countries – 22 if you add in the facilitators and organisers. There was no hassle, no misunderstandings, no grief. We weathered the inevitable communication issues (minor), adjusted well to the various cultural differences, and we got along.

Read any newspaper, turn to any TV channel, switch on social media and you’ll immediately see instances where people are not getting on. And increasingly, it seems to be perceived polarities between Christians and Muslims, between nationals and non-nationals, between politics A and politics B, that are consuming an inordinate amount of energy today. Needlessly consuming. Needlessly consuming valuable energy.

There is no quick fix. No grand solution. No magic bullet. With people come prejudices. We’re conditioned to creating barriers, giving reasons why we can’t do X instead of looking for solutions and finding reasons why we can do Y. Sad to say, it seems to be the nature of the rather nasty beast that man is morphing into.

But occasionally, I get days when what I read or watch or listen to replaces despair with hope and I take solace in the fact that in every corner of the world, someone is working hard to make a change.

Some examples:

What struck me in both videos is how food played an integral part in the harmonious relationship. And I recalled an inspirational Post-it that said: When you have more than you need, build a bigger table. And then I remembered, a great Canadian video I saw a while back:

Two years ago, in November, in Seoul, Korea, ‘food as both as an instigator of unrest as well as its symbolic role in forging peace was the topic of a conference at the Slow Food Asia Pacific Festival’. A report speaks to various initiatives around the world that show the power of food. But on a simpler, more personal note, perhaps we could make the world a better place if we spent more time around the table with each other, talking, eating, appreciating our differences rather than finding fault.

As the Heineken ad asks: Is there more than unites us than divides us…

I’m cooking for six tomorrow evening – six people, five nationalities. Not a personal best, but not bad.



2017 Grateful 27

I googled my dad yesterday, it being Fathers Day and all. I can’t think why I haven’t done it before now. And I was surprised. Surprised at so many old photos of him from back in the day when I used to watch him on the TV, or read about him in the paper. A retired Chief Superintendent, he’s had a case or two in his day – famous cases that are still resurrected every now and then, especially Shergar. The horse that was stolen. The horse that disappeared. The horse that the world will never let rest.

But reading the texts didn’t sit well with me. While remnants of the man they described peaked through, accounts of that case in particular made him out to be ‘the most richly comic copper since Inspector Clouseau’. Sure – he has a sense of humor but comic? mmmm. The rest of the articles made for depressing reading and I wondered at the innate cruelty of journalism, when ad hominem attacks are commonplace.

The New York Times reported the facts, just the facts – but that was back in 1983… am not so sure they’d do the same today. The Independent ran an article in February 2013, marking the 30-year anniversary of the disappearance with a picture of the hat my dad supposedly bought in a shop in Newbridge. It looks nothing like what he’d wear and I really can’t see him taking time out to go shopping – even on a good day. As for the UK papers – I won’t even go there.

I have vague recollections of a journalist coming to call and then later writing a book in which my dad featured heavily. I read the book years later. The dialogue is so far removed from how he talks that I laughed out loud and wondered where they’d gotten this character from. Even the smallest details we incorrect – like how far we lived from Newbridge, what his rank was, and how much he’d paid for the damn hat.

I meant to post this yesterday, but I got a tad involved in reading through the annals of history and then had to lie down. My heart goes out to children everywhere who have to read about their parents in the press. I can’t even begin to imagine what Trump Jnr is going through. I hope he has the good sense to steer clear of the media because it ain’t sweet.  Me, I got off lightly.

That said, if those journalists ever actually met my dad and got to know him, they’d change their tune. The man lives by his principles. Words like honesty, integrity, and fairness come to mind. I remember playing poker with a chap in Alaska many lifetimes ago. My dad had put two of his uncles inside. He told me that they said that there was never a fairer cop in Dublin than the Jazzer. And if they had to go down, at least he was the one to do it. It was one of those mad evenings.

Bearing in mind that paper will take any print, I’m choosing to ignore the naysayers. I’m grateful that for the last 50 years, the Jazzer Murphy has been a steadfast part of my life, unfailing in his love and support. As dads go, I lucked out.







Guilty till proven innocent

Confirmation bias: the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories. Am I guilty? Sure. I have to restrain myself from reposting articles and links that contain information that strengthens my argument, whatever it is. First, I have to check and make sure that it’s true.

Gone are the days where information is innocent until proven guilty, true till proven false. The situation has turned on its head and now, I need confirmation that something is true before I take it seriously. And this upsets me. It upsets me that my innate trusting nature is slowly being choked by tendrils of suspicion. It upsets me because this, I fear, will seep into other aspects of my life. Trust, or the lack thereof, is pervasive.

Fake news: the role of confirmation bias in a post-truth world was the title of a seminar I attended in Geneva, an optional event offered as part of CD Multi, a DiploFoundation programme gathering 26 participants from 17 African, Pacific, and Caribbean countries and immersing them in what is known as International Geneva – the policy-making hub of the world. They say that policy dishes are prepared in Geneva and served in New York.

Speaker Rolf Olsen teaches in the Executive Certificate on Advocacy in International Affairs at the Graduate Institute, Geneva. He opening by asking, what if we’d left Planet Earth on 14 June 2016 and come back today. Would we believe:

  • The UK is leaving the EU
  • Boris Johnson is UK Foreign Minster
  • Donald Trump is President of the USA
  • France has a new president, someone we’d never heard of
  • The Tories are going in to coalition with the DUP

With real news like that, he asked, who needs fake news.

Olsen went on to talk about what he calls Defensive advocacy – that ability to respond to unforeseen events. Unless we are prepared for all possible unforeseen events, the certainty of success will remain out of reach. Politicians and leaders are no longer in control of their message. Unplanned events are the new norm.

Journalism was built on a foundation of pride in ethics. The Society of Journalists, in the preamble to its Code of Ethics, states:

Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility. Members of the Society share a dedication to ethical behavior and adopt this code to declare the Society’s principles and standards of practice.

The most powerful enemy of fake news is a strong press corps. But today, so much of our content is created by those untrained in such ethics. Bloggers proliferate. Fact-checking. Confirmation of sources. Independent verification. These no longer feature in so much of what we read. The three principles of good communication have fallen:

  1. The sender/source is known.
  2. The information has been verified.
  3. The receiver can independently make a decision without fear or undue influence.

But confirmation bias, the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories, is far from being a new phenomenon. Take news outlets in the UK, the USA, and France as cases in point – all have biased points of view, from the right-wing Murdoch stable to the left-wing Guardian and CNN. Media outlets have become politicised. The Washington Post did a study of 21981 articles mentioning Clinton and Trump and concluded the same.

Fake news wasn’t born yesterday. Go back five hundred years to the advent of the printing press and you’ll see examples of sensationalism, aimed at inflaming passions and prejudices. More recently, in 1844, the Anti-Catholic movement in Philadelphia falsely accused Irish Catholic men of stealing bibles from public schools. Riots ensued. So what’s new about fake news? Technology. Its an enabler.

With the oligopoly of traditional media broken, journalists are under increasing financial pressure to report quickly and sensationally. Monetary returns for clicks encourage dramatic headlines. Data collection and use of Big Data facilitate bias and allow specific targeting of the converted.

It’s been said that we are living in an echo chamber. We read what reinforces what we already believe. We connect with people who agree with us. We are not being challenged. The critical thinkers among us are often mocked or labelled conspiracy theorists when they offer a dissenting opinion.

But is the situation out of control? Can we make a difference? Olsen argues that yes, we can. By…

  • Rebutting fake news at every opportunity
  • Supporting free press by paying for our news – taking out subscriptions to credible outlets
  • Participating in dialogue and in elections

We also need more transparency. Do we really want to waste time reading advertorial press that is clearly biased? Or would we prefer objective, impartial accounts of what’s going on in the world? We need to start asking – cui bono – who benefits.

A chap from Sweden wondered at the connection between the decline in respect for authority and established institutions and the rise of fake news. He suggested that the blame cannot be laid squarely at technology’s door – but that it’s rather a symptom of a broader malaise.

Someone from Jordan raised the issue of false flags – real reporting on fake events. Where are the investigative journalists who reveal those fake events for what they are? But what is true and what is fake? Just yesterday, when I first read new so of the Baseball shooting in DC, I had to check it before I believed it. That upset me. Simple fact-checking for my blog has become difficult. Simple facts like what year, how high, how big …. I can no longer accept the first source I find and the more I check the more variations of the truth I find. And these are measurable facts. I despair. A participant from Malawi wondered at the time we waste checking whether something is true or not. Lots of time … too much time, I say.
My issue now will be to find a media outlet that I can trust, knowing, as a Brazilian journalist in the audience commented: neutrality is a goal, but complete impartiality is utopia.

My take-away came from Kenya:

He who knows how is always at the mercy of he who knows why.

Speaker Rolf Olsen is CEO and strategic counsel at Leidar, which he founded in 2009. He spends his time helping clients set their course, and some of Europe´s largest and most successful companies have had their vision, mission and stories developed with Rolf´s assistance. Rolf has more than 35 years’ experience in communications, the last 25 at a top tier international level. Before setting up Leidar, he was CEO Continental Europe of Weber Shandwick, a global public relations firm. Prior to this he held executive positions at both European and global level for two American Fortune 50 companies; firstly 13 years with Digital Equipment Corporation and then five years with Motorola. Rolf teaches in the Executive Certificate on Advocacy in International Affairs at the Graduate Institute, Geneva.

Over-the-counter pot

I did a double take. I didn’t trust what I was seeing. I certainly didn’t trust my French. I stopped. I asked. And yes, I was right. It’s now legal to buy cannabis in a shop in Geneva. And not just a head shop, a shop that sells other stuff, too. Stuff like newspapers and chocolate.

That said, the THC content is pretty low in what you can buy legally. High Times has an interesting article on the topic. But the CBD content is pretty high. And there’s a difference. In Switzerland, you can now buy cannabis with low-grade THC and high-grade CBD… not such good news for recreational users looking for a high, but good news for those wanting to use CBD to treat, say anxiety or pain.

There is an argument for what’s called the entourage effect, i.e., using both THC and CBD together, as the latter ‘has calming and uplifting properties that can reduce the mental effects’ of the former.

I hadn’t figured Switzerland for being that liberal, but perhaps it’s not liberalism that’s in question here. I was surprised. I’m still surprised. But hey, it’s been a few years since I’ve been here. [I was proposed to when I visited for the second time back in 2010 – fond memories.] I knew it was legalised in some form or fashion but it wasn’t so blatantly on sale. Things were bound to change.

What hasn’t changed is the lake view. I love the idea of having a massive lake (224 sq miles/580 sq km) in the middle of a city. Who needs pot when you have that sort of calm on your doorstep. An interesting fact for the trivia heads among you is that 60% of Lake Geneva is in Switzerland with the rest being in France. And while it’s always been Lake Geneva to me, the French might know it as Lac Léman or Lac de Genève; the Germans as Genfersee; and the Italians as Lago Lemano or Lago di Ginevra.

Perhaps the focal point of the lake from the city-side, is Jet d’Eau – the tallest fountain in the world. Built back in 1886 to release excess pressure from the a hydraulic plant at La Coulouvrenière, it pumps 500 litres of water per second to a height of 140 meters (460 feet). It’s impressive. And it hasn’t changed.

The shops are still epicentres of designer brand names. While shoppers in Dublin might get to sport a shopping bag from M&S or BTs, here it’s serious labels. There appears to be no shortage of money to spend and prices are steep. I paid the equivalent of €10 for a coffee and a water in a streetside café that was nothing to write home about. I’m still reeling. But with 10% of the working population involved in International Geneva – diplomats, NGO, international organisations – per diems help keep the retailers happy. [And an aside – if you’re in the city, visit the UN – take the tour.]

It’s that transience that would turn me off living here. It’s beautiful. The food is great. The choice expansive. It’s the seat of movers and shakers who steer a course for the world via policy and politics. There’s a vibe, a sense that things are happening, that people are doing, that stuff is getting done. But yet there’s a transience that says that so many people, while here physically, are still at home mentally. For me, that sense of ordinary, everyday presence is missing.

But take a train and travel just 15 minutes outside the city, to the villages and towns that form the ‘burbs, and you can find that sense of community, albeit multinational. The municipality of Versoix is the last in the Canton of Geneva, on the road to Lausanne. It consists of a series of villages and I think I was in Versoix-Bourg or maybe it was Versoix – lac – I couldn’t swear to it. It was whichever is home to the fab town all, Mairie de Versoix – a stately home that I wouldn’t mind at all having as an address.

But more of note that the crazy painted apartment buildings, or the strange cut-outs in windows, is the cooperative sailing club. Some 250 members pay an annual membership fee and get to sail the club’s 15 boats. They have to certify to sail and courses are provided. They can then book time on one of the various boats the cost of which is covered by their annual 300 CHF subscription (about the same in dollars and euro). Maintenance is carried out by members who work on keeping the boats in good shape. You can sail and socialise or just do one or the others. A brilliant idea for sailing enthusiasts who don’t have rich friends with boats or the wherewithal to rent a craft for a day elsewhere.

With the lake to the front and well-established forest to the rear, the village is one place in Geneva I might just consider living. Were I in the money….






2017 Grateful 28

I was born asking questions. Seconds after I popped into the world, I opened my mouth and screamed whhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhyyyyyyyyyyyyyy! Nothing much has changed in the intervening years. I particularly like when I get to meet people from countries I’ve never been to and (almost embarrassingly) places I know very little about.  My geography is atrocious. I went to Costa Rica last month thinking I was going to South America. I was utterly confused when, driving in to Istanbul from the airport a few years ago, I saw a sign welcoming me to Europe. And sure didn’t I move to Hungary thinking it was by the sea. The mind boggles. I’ve long since come to terms with this failing and have accepted that I’m missing the geolocation gene that might just help me figure out where I am and where I’m going.

In Geneva this week as part of DiploFoundation’s CD Multi programme, I’ve met people from 17 countries I’ve yet to visit: Mauritius, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Malawi, Benin, Cameroon, Uganda, Cabo Verde, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Guyana, St Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, Suriname, Fiji, and Cook Islands. I’ve met people before from everywhere except Cabo Verde and Benin, so of these two countries I know even less than usual, if nothing at all. Apart from a vague notion that they’re in Africa, somewhere, I was clueless.

In conversation one evening, I got to ask about Cabo Verde.

I was right in thinking we were talking about what I knew of as Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony about 500 km off the west coast of Africa. But what I hadn’t realised is that it’s not one land mass but a series of 10 small islands  with the main airport in Praia on Sao Tiago (Santiago). All but Santa Luzia are populated. The islands don’t have much going for them in terms of natural resources. What land there is not suitable for crops, and drought is a challenge. In the last century, 200 000 people died as a result of droughts which gave rise to mass emigration so that today, more Cabo Verdeans live outside the country than inside, with a sizeable diaspora in Portugal, the USA, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and Luxembourg. Reminiscent of Ireland in the famine days, and indeed countries like Romania today, emigrant remittances play a huge role in the local economy.

Back in 1975, when the country achieved independence, there was talk of unifying with Guinea-Bissau, but a coup in G-B put paid to that idea. Classified as an LDC (least developed country, i.e., a country that exhibits the lowest indicators of socioeconomic development, with the lowest Human Development Index ratings of all countries in the world) it was upgraded by the UN in 2008. A poster child for political and economic stability, this upgrade seems to me to be something of a poisoned chalice. Once out of the LDC bracket, many sources of funding dry up. Better off countries who actively support LDCs in their efforts to develop divert their funding to those still in the group. There is (and I could be wrong) a three-year transition period, a weaning off, after which the stabilisers are removed and the country is left to its own devices. But is that long enough? I wonder.

Cabo Verde, now classified as a SIDS (a small island developing state), is feeling the pinch and the pressure of going it it alone. Yet increased efforts to attract the tourist dollar and develop the infrastructure that goes with this are slowly paying off. In reading various reports, it would seem  that there is huge potential for start-ups, for young entrepreneurs who have a vision for the future. With an 87% literacy rate (considerably higher that of sub-Saharan Africa at 61%), there is cause for optimism. And as a tourist destination, something tells me that I’d like to see it before it makes the popular list of places to go and is overrun, swallowed up by sameness.

Black sand beaches. White sand beaches. Volcanoes. Great creole food. And the music…. I’m a few years too late to see the great Cesaria Evora live, but the national music genre, Morna, is something I could listen to. It’s a fusion of Portuguese, African, Brazilian, and Cuban – a form of blues. Nick Mayes did a great piece in The Guardian on it a few years back. Worth a read.

I’ve been trolling the Net, looking at pictures, reading blogs and articles – a first for me. I don’t plan. I go. But now, I’m planning. And to show I’m serious, I’ve done the unthinkable and added a travel category to this blog before visiting. What a great start it would be to 2018.

It’s been a busy week. Lots happening. I’m grateful for the education, the conversation, and the inspiration. And to anyone who would limit travel, curb immigration, or advocate a stay-at-home policy, to you I say stop – and think. Don’t deny me the opportunity to meet, to learn, to experience. So much of the world’s attraction lies in its diversity; we just need to get out a little more.