Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A bend in the river

I spend part of almost every day in a city so lovely, so old and well-preserved, that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The streets of my city are 800 years old; they are paved in cobblestone and bisected by a culvert that carries away the water from the five fountains of the Old Town. The fountains are over 400 years old and on summer days people fill their bottles from their springs. The sidewalks are covered by arched arcades - the Lauben - so that on a rainy day one can walk the length of the Old Town without an umbrella. To the south of the main street lies the Münster, the old cathedral that was stripped bare duing the iconoclasm of the Reformation; to the north the Kornhaus and the French Church with its Huguenot past. I walk these streets almost daily, the compact and almost perfectly preserved streets of the Old Town of Bern, paying no attention to the fountains, the Zytglogge, the Münster, until I suddenly catch an inscription, a date, 1526, 1602, and then I stop and look at the bend in the river, the protective U of the Aare curling around the extended finger of the Old Town, the bend in the river that made this a good place to found a settlement, the defensive bend in the river that hugs the city on three sides, and I think: this place has been inhabited for 800 years. This city has nestled up to the river like a child in the protective curve of a mother's arm for 800 years. My feet walk streets that have been walked for 800 years. The river made this city possible, made it defensible, made it livable. The river makes this city beautiful, makes it joyful. From above, from the Rose Garden, the river tucks the city in to bed, wraps it like a ribbon.

From a bend in the river, a defensive bend in the river, came this city, this city that is my home.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Why I'd rather be a work-horse than a Wunderkind

I have a friend who used to live in the heart of the Old Town. (She's since moved back to California - one of the pitfalls of expat life.) She and her husband lived on the second floor (that's the American third) and their living room and bedroom windows looked down onto the cobblestones of Gerechtigkeitsgasse (justice street). They had front row seats to all the interesting goings-on in Bern - everything worth mentioning comes up Gerechtigkeitsgasse: Fasnacht parades, the Grand Prix, the victory parade when our hockey team won the national championship, demonstrations, they all made their way beneath my friend's window.

Last year the final stage of the Tour de Suisse - a time trial - ended in the Old Town. From my friend's living room we could look down on the riders as they made their way to the finish line just two blocks west of us; if we looked right we could watch live coverage on the large screen and keep track of the action on other parts of the course and see the times and rankings as riders crossed the finish line without ever having to leave the window. If we leaned out far enough and looked left, we could see the finish line itself. We leaned perilously far out the window when home-town boy Fabian Cancellara passed by, taking, but not holding, the best time. I leaned even further out to cheer on Jan Ullrich as he powered up the slight incline to the finish. He did hold the best time and the overall victory.

It turns out that was Ullrich's final professional performance.

Jan Ullrich always frustrated the hell out of the cyclist in me. He could have been, he should have been, the best cyclist of his generation, Lance Armstrong notwithstanding. At least one of Lance's seven Tours should have been Ullrich's - 2003, at least, should have been Ullrich's. Ullrich was brilliant, the real deal; but he was the guy who seemed to think that being the real deal was enough. In a world where guys like Lance Armstrong go on training rides on Christmas day and count their calories in the off-season, where Ivan Basso spends the winter in a wind tunnel breaking down his time-trial form and putting it back together again, being the real deal wasn't enough. Natural talent was never going to be enough when you have Lance Armstrong redesigning his water bottles to shave off an extra ounce. Ullrich was a Wunderkind, he really was. He could time trial like nobody's business. He could climb, he could tear mountains apart. (And as the Tour de France wore on and he popped out in freckles across the bridge of his nose and into his sun- and wind-reddened cheeks he was cute as a button, to boot.) When he won the Tour de France in 1997 everybody - including Lance Armstrong - assumed it was just the first of many Tours in Ullrich's future. But it didn't work out that way. Partly because Lance Armstrong recovered from his cancer and Lance is, well, Lance. But also because Ullrich had been a Wunderkind and it took him too long to catch on to the fact that that just wasn't going to cut it in the new world forged by Lance Armstrong's iron will.

When I cycled in college, I was quite good. I had a certain level of athletic ability, but nobody would have confused me with a natural talent. But I was stubborn. I put in the hours and the miles. I rearranged my academic schedule to maximize track time. I took every tip my coach ever gave me, did everything he said, and he won me races that I wouldn't have won on strength alone. I was never great, but I was really good. And I got as good as I did precisely because I was willing to accept how very far from great I was. Had I been better naturally, I suspect that I would have turned out marginally less successful. But the gap between me and the top girls was just visible enough to me to drive home the need for a little extra effort on my part. And the link between my effort and my results was clear; we kept training logs, after all. In autumn we'd do a ten mile time trial out on Flat Bottom Road to get a base-line and then in the spring we'd do a few more. I got faster. AJ would teach us about rolling through our gears, how to make a U-turn in the fastest possible way while still staying upright, how to dole out our energy. I got faster still. It was exhilarating, getting faster. More exhilarating was the knowlege that I was making myself faster, that all the tools for my success or failure were in my hands. I was never the very best, but the women who could beat me made up a small crowd; two of them were my own teammates who knew my tricks. For the specific event I trained for, I was top-tier. I did not start out top-tier, but I ended there. I forced my way into that circle by sheer will. And I was never the very best, but I was proud to have gotten so close.

Jan Ullrich. He stood on the very edge of greatness, of once-in-a-generation, once-in-a-lifetime larger than life greatness. Season after season he frustrated the cyclist in me so. So close, so very close, just a few calories, a few more hours on the road away from blinding greatness. But the gap between him and the small handful of guys who could beat him was too small for him to see. He was too good, far far too good, to see for himself how much harder he still needed to work and the people around him failed him by not driving home the point. For a person like me to be a step away from great (within my little universe, of course) was a tremendous success. For a person like Jan Ullrich to be a step away from great was a profound failure. He could have been, he should have been so great. Just an ounce, just an hour more effort. But Ullrich had been a Wunderkind and it took him too long to catch on to the fact that that just wasn't going to cut it in a world filled with work-horses.

Because no matter how good you are, somewhere out there lives somebody just as good. But she's trying just a little bit harder.

(Phantom blogs the academic aspects of being the Wunderkind v. the hard worker here)


Sorry, feed readers....

If you read my blog via a feed reader like Bloglines, you're probably getting some old posts popping up as new. Every now and then I find old posts that haven't been categorized yet and I slap a label on them. If I do this right nobody should notice a thing, but if I do it wrong, well, then they show up on your feed reader. Like today. Sorry!

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Third verse, same as the first

Cycle day 3 blah blah blah, Progynova 2mg/day blah blah blah, ultrasound some time next week blah blah, hopefully transfer mid-March blah blah blah.

Yeah, we're trying again. 'Cuz if I keep beating that horse, one of these days it's going to get up and run.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

A pledge

This post of Jessica's has inspired me to come out of the closet.

I write.

I write a lot more, and a lot more honestly, than appears on this blog but most of it remains locked between the black covers of my Moleskin notebooks. On occasion, in the past, I sent my writing out into the world, and on occasion the world welcomed it; usually the world failed to notice one way or another but the world wasn't completely indifferent, not all the time. But it's been a long time since I told my stories to somebody other than myself.

I believe I can use language well. I know I have a strong sense of place. I've created people out of wholecloth. But I'm afraid to share my stories; I find it hard to believe that somebody will read what I have to say. That comes from a childhood of invisibility, of not being listed to, from impatient parents who told me to hurry up and finish when I was trying to tell a story, from a mother who said to a daughter who started writing stories the day she learned to wield her first pencil, "I don't give a shit about writing." So I did what any child with a sense of self-preservation would do: I learned to hide my writing and to diminish what might have been a gift. It's a pattern so deeply ingrained that even though I blog pseudonymously I still have one (safe) personality for my blog another (riskier, more honest) for my journals, my journals that will never see the light of day.

But Jessica has inspired me. I don't know if I'm ready for a writer's contract, but I'm ready for a change. I'm ready to start exposing myself in my writing, to stop hiding, to stop listening to my mother who first of all was wrong and second of all is dead. I'm free, free like I was on those summer vacations to run wild and to play in the old barn of my imagination, to jump from the loft. I don't live in my mother's oppressive house anymore. I live in the old barn, on sagebrush hills, in an old innertube floating down Trail Creek. I live in West Yellowstone, in the Lamar Valley, at Oxbow Bend. I live at Henry's Lake with a strange stray loyal black dog who will always protect me and who will follow me anywhere. I live on the shores of Swift Current Lake with my brother valliantly hurling a piece of styrofoam into the wind. I live at the foot of the Swiss Alps, in the mineral green water of the Aare in full flow, on the cobblestone streets of the Old Town. I do not live in my mother's house anymore.

And it's time to stop writing as if I did.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Beta results

On the up-side, I can:

  • resume consumption of vast quantities of proper coffee
  • have a guilt-free Diet Coke
  • order a beer with my Indian food
  • stop eating sardines
  • take some drugs to kill the last of The Cold That Would Not Die
  • have some drinks during the upcoming Fasnacht festivities (link in Bernese Dialket - it's worth clicking through just to see how different Dialekt can be from German)

On the down-side, well, there's that whole I'm not pregnant thing.

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Midwesternerns are the new Swiss

The comment thread on this post revealed quite a few midwesterners here in Switzerland. According to this article in the IHT, we shouldn't be surprised:
"'Midwesterners tend to be pragmatic, down-to-earth people without a lot of ego; that works well with the Swiss', said Philip Ryan, a native of Indiana who has spend 22 years at Credit Suisse."

Gah! We're not midwesterners - we're Swiss!


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Adapting, adopting

A brief line in Jan Morris – “and anyway he has never been very adept with the 24-hour clock” – set me to thinking about the small ways I’ve adapted to Switzerland and all the small Swissnesses I’ve absorbed, starting with the 24-hour clock. It probably took the better part of my first full year here for the 24-hour clock to become intuitive – though turning 9:00 pm into 21:00 remains, for some reason, a sticking point – but by now I have thoroughly welcomed the 24-hour clock into my life. My date book is full of little notations: “book club @15:00” “meet P @ 09.30” “Dr. Norwegian 16:00.” When I complain in my journal about Small Boy’s early-rising tendencies I write things like “Small Boy woke at 05.30 again.” It’s clear and efficient – no need for am/pm distinctions, no potential confusion about if your train leaves at 8 am or 8 pm, no need to write both numbers and letters into your agenda. Everybody is on the same page with a 24-hour clock. I have a confession, however: midnight on a 24-hour clock troubles me. On those unfortunate occasions I find myself awake at midnight my clock shines 0:00 and I can’t help but experience a brief sensation of ceasing to exist, that it’s not today until it’s 0:01 and yesterday stopped at 23:59 and I have stepped into some anomaly, some wrinkle in time.

I’ve adopted the European dating convention of day-month-year as well, though initially less willingly than the 24-hour clock. I got tired of having letters I wrote for German assignments being marked off for using the US dating style; since I was practicing for certificate exams I took the path of least resistance. At some point it became habit. This morning I dated my journal, which nobody sees but me, Wed 21 Feb 2007; letters to my family in the States follow the same pattern. R and I chose our wedding date – 10 October – in part because it reads the same way – 10.10 – in both dating conventions. By sheer coincidence, so does my birthday (02.02). No matter what country we live in, R has no excuse for forgetting either date!

Sometimes I don’t feel all that well integrated even after all these years. In spite of reading Günter Grass in the original; in spite of being the one R asks for the name of some Swiss politician; in spite of understanding (if not speaking) the local Dialekt; in spite of knowing and employing all the expected formulaic pleasantries I can’t decide if I’m integrated. Then I think of all the small changes I’ve made around the edges, the little adaptations, the little Swissnesses, and I think I’ve done pretty well here. There are times when Swiss life still seems to carry on in some secret code, but I can negotiate life here flawlessly for days on end before inevitably put my foot in it again. And often when I make those little faux pas – feeding Small Boy before I’ve paid for the biscuits, for example – I’m aware that I’m making them and choose not to care. It’s been a long long time since I’ve felt lost, adrift, truly out of my element. Maybe I haven’t integrated but I’ve certainly adapted and adopted.

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Day 13 and all quiet on the southern front

Blood test tomorrow morning. No blood or spotting or, well, anything so far. Okay, I've got a negative HPT but we all know those things suck, right? Right?


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Tuesday, February 20, 2007


I saw something that looked suspiciously like a wee spot of blood on the Crinone applicator this morning, and then I made myself stop looking and quickly shoved it into a plastic bag and into the trash.


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Friday, February 16, 2007

Things I like to do when Small Boy is at The Farm:

  • sit on the Bundesterrace with the sun on my face and the Alps spread out before me
  • meet R for a lunch date
  • browse the bookstore
  • browse the stationary store and salivate over these notebooks
  • read on the Grosse Schanze
  • walk my neighborhood with the camera, playing with the black and white settings
  • throw open the windows and let cool fresh air fill the apartment
  • pee with the door closed.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Some days I can't believe I get to live here


Wednesday, February 14, 2007


I was leafing through some back issues of The Sun magazine looking for prose poems - for I am sure I have read prose poems in The Sun - to read for this week's Poetry Thursday, and I found a poem in the Septmber 2006 issue by Stuart Kestenbaum. It's called Litany, and you can read it here, and it ends like this:

"Bless each cell, which is its own universe, ready to divide, split in two, and make more than enough."

I napped again yesterday, and again today, and I remember that I never had a minute's morning sickness with Small Boy. The only time during that entire pregnancy I threw up was when I came down with stomach flu at 34 weeks and then I threw up so much that it triggered contractions and I spent several days in the hospital hoping not to have a baby just yet. But I did sleep. Lord did I sleep. I slept in bed, I slept on the couch, I fell asleep on the train. I slept so much that one friend of mine actually thought I had spent the month of June in the States. I slept through much of July as well, drifting off in the afternoons with the Tour de France humming in the background, slept while Lance Armstrong brought L'Alpe d'Huez to its knees. I slept through the entire first trimester, slept fourteen, sixteen hours a day.

Three naps in three days is meaningless; I'm napping during the day because I'm not sleeping at night, because Small Boy has been sick and sleeping in our bed or waking early or both, because I'm sick and worn down, because the beans in the coffee machine are decaf and oh! let us bless caffeine. Three naps in three days is meaningless, but let me grasp this straw.

And bless each cell.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Embryo pictures and informationless update

We transfered the embryo on the left. The two cells are well balanced, but you can see some fragmentation (that little cluster of bubbles at the top is something you don't really want to see). The embryo on the right has no fragmentation, but the two cells are rather unbalanced, and Herr G is of the opinion that poor balance is worse than light fragmentation, so we went with the one on the left. Today we learned that the unbalanced embryo - the one we did not transfer - did not continue to develop in the lab, so it was not re-frozen. So Herr G was right.

For those who are counting, this leaves us with one embryo on the playing field and six sitting on the bench.

I wouldn't expect to feel anything 4 days after transfer; and I don't. I did take a nap with Small Boy this afternoon, but extreme tiredness is the status quo around here, so I don't think that means anything either. So I can't even begin to guess what's going on down there. Just taking my meds and crossing my fingers.

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Best. Birthday present. Ever.

From my brother:


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Bücherregal - Updated

We finally got Small Boy a bookshelf; when you take a look at the size of his library, you can imagine the kind of chaos it was around here without a bookshelf. We found something at IKEA. I never know what to expect from put-it-together yourself furniature. Sometimes it seems like you need to be a master carpenter to do it (assuming you get all the right pieces); sometimes, why, it's like a child could put it together!

There was a dicey moment when it looked like Small Boy might not let us put any books in the shelf - he thought it made a much better car than bookself. (Boy is all about the cars these days - his imagination can transform anything from a cheese-grater to a bookshelf into a car.)

But we did get the books in (most of them - we keep a stash in the living room). At the moment I've separated the German (bottom shelf) and English (top shelf) books, but I don't expect that to last for long nor do I think it's necessary to keep his bi-lingualism straight. (Any input on this from parents of bilinguals?)

It's neat for now - I'm sure that won't last long!

UPDATE: Yeah, that lasted about as long as I thought it would.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Poetry Thursday - changes

I haven't taken part in Poetry Thursday in a few months, but today's theme of change certainly fits in with what's going on in my life today. I've been writing practice poems lately, little three minute three-liners from a Natalie Goldberg exercise, so what follows is anything but perfect and polished. The final image lacks originality, but it is exactly where I find myself today.


One embryo
two cells
poised on the knife-point of change

You can read more changes here.

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Back from the transfer

Embryo transfer was this morning. When we arrived in the lab, Herr G, Dr L's lab man, threw us a little complication. They had defrosted two embryos (to transfer one embryo you want to defrost two to make sure at least one of them survives the thaw and looks good). They did this last time, too, and one embryo looked good and one didn't. No problem. This time around, Herr G was quite pleased with both embryos and asked us if we still only wanted to transfer one or if we should transfer both. This should have been a no-brainer - R and I are both fairly terrified at the though of twins on top of the energy of Small Boy, and at 38 and knowing I wouldn't be able to take it very easy (see above, Small Boy) I'm not wildly excited about risking a twin pregnancy. So this should have been a no-brainer, but I'm feeling fairly pessimistic about this cycle - needing to extend the Progynova, being sick, not sleeping well because the Small Boy has a Big Cough, knowing that my body is really run down at the moment. Herr G let R and I talk a few minutes, and in the end we did stick with our decision to just transfer the one, but I don't have 100% confidence in this decision. The success rates on FETs are so low, we probably should have tried to boost the odds a bit. But I'm truly not prepared for twins. In the end we transferred a two-celled embryo with nicely balanced cells and light fragmentation and in two weeks we'll see how it went.

I'm spending the day on the couch catching up on blogs, reading, watching my favorite winter sport and hopefully napping a bit. Small Boy is at The Farm, R is at work, and I'm just going to lie here doing nothing. I've been needing to do this for a long time and am glad the transfer gives me the excuse to sit here and be totally unproductive. Or perhaps reproductive.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Danger, Will Robinson, danger!

Today being the first Wednesday in February, the civil defense sirens went off for a test at 13:30 precisely (which was two minutes after Small Boy finally fell went down for his nap, natch, though he amazingly slept through them). Every town in Switzerland has civil defense sirens - even back in Small Village they were tested once a year. I wish I could describe the sound of these sirens - imagine somebody practicing scales on an out-of-tune metallic piano. They scale up, they scale down, they scale up, they scale down. The sirens sounded for about a minute. Ten minutes later, they sounded again. Ten minutes later, they sounded for the third and final time.

The Swiss take their civil defense seriously. In addition to the plethora of sirens, there is an extensive network of bunkers and private shelters - in fact, Switzerland passed a law in the 1960s requiring that there be space in a nuclear fallout shelter for every resident, though this has since fallen by the wayside.Residents are still encouraged to maintain a two-week supply of emergency food rations and the government even publishes a handy pamphlet on how best to do this. These days Switzerland is gradually adapting to the end of the Cold War and closing many of these bunkers or converting them to other uses, but they continue to test the sirens. In many areas the greatest perceived threat comes from a dam bursting: Switzerland, a country roughly half the size of the state of Maine, has 195 reservoirs with 217 dams. (Realistically, if one of the largest dams burst, the sounding of the sirens would almost surely come too late to be of any good.) Other threats could come from a nuclear accident (there are five operable reactors in Switzerland) or, more unlikely, a terrorist attack.

And if the unlikely happens, Switzerland will sound the alarm.

EDITED TO ADD: Seems I'm not the only one who blogged the alarms. We even used the same metaphore to describe the sound.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Out sick

Sorry for the lack of posting, but everybody is sick over here (even the grandparents!) and I'm just trying to keep my head above water until Thursday when we do transfer. I don't feel particularly good about doing an embryo transfer when my body feels wrung out and run over, but it's not a good reason to cancel. But I have to say, it doesn't fill me with optimism. I'm just hoping that by Thursday the grandparents are well enough to take Small Boy for the day so that I can bed rest after the transfer. And I'm hoping to feel well enough to not mourn the loss of NyQuil.

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