whistlestop caboose

The view from the back.

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www.zidao.com Apprentice harmonizer, for sheer fun. Journeywoman writer, for work and pleasure. Starting point was Iowa, current stopping point on this journey is Switzerland, with frequent pauses around the world to watch and listen to the crowd, and occasionally make comments.

Tulips 2006 for Gran ellengwallace's Tulips 2006 for Gran photoset

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Travel and the strange business of pies

A lemon meringue pie for those who dream of travel, and of home

This was a very busy day, working with a designer in Zurich on a new news web site for the Lake Geneva region in Switzerland, talking to another designer in New York about possible projects for a company in Ireland and the changing attitudes of consumers, running a son with a back injury to a therapist - the stuff of which many women's lives are made.

While waiting at the doctor's office, after rushing around to buy groceries, I read an article in a Swiss architectural digest entitled something like "What women today want". I read something similar earlier this week in a Sunday supplement magazine. Many women were interviewed, the expected bits were written about how women wanted to get into the workplace, did, and now everyone wonders why there are not more women managers. And so on.

I turned the page and read with great interest a story about the Sherpas and why they are such happy people (says the reporter). I thought about a young man I met this weekend, in Ireland, who recently returned from photographing the chaos and debris in Pakistan after the massive earthquakes there in recent months.

My thought is that what goes round comes round: some of us finished school at a time when women weren't able to do much in the workplace, so that looked good. Then some of us got to the workplace and found it wasn't what it should be, so home looked good. And then again, work and home combined looked better. And only a few individuals seem to sort that one out. We like to travel when we are stuck and home and on the road we long for the comfort's of home.

Women are not more particular than men: it is just very hard to create the world where work and home and all the other bits, including travel, are happily combined. I think this is true for everyone. It is true for companies, when they do their best, and for individuals, when they try to fit in with companies' plans.

I have been a lowly employee, a manager, a company owner with employees and a self-employed person. What I want is to extend the 5 or 6 days a year when I get it all right and my life is a bundle of creativity, enthusiasm, love, affection, energy and intelligence rewarded. Well. In a good year I might get that up to 10 days. Say no more.

So this evening, after racing around and thinking the whole time that I could usefully sit down at my computer and upload some files for the designer in New York, who is trying to balance inviting distant friends for a long weekend with attending a colleague's wedding with redoing the office with getting the dogs out for a walk, this thought occurred to me:

My son will soon leave home. He flies off to China, spends a few weeks there, then flies off to Vancouver, spends a few months there. I won't see him for a while. He said the other day, as he began to realize how long he would be on the road, and how long gone from home, that a lemon meringue pie sounded good. Travel does that to us. It makes our hearts sing with the music of independence and breaking away from routine. At the same time it makes our hearts ache for those little things that call us home even before we have left.

Why, I thought this evening, don't I bake a lemon meringue pie right now?

I did. My advice to others who scrap the "to do" list and bake a pie is to start early in the day. This is especially true if you are putting a meringue on top of a hot filling and you can't find an electric beater in the house.

By the time I finished the pie I had built up muscles in both arms and the entire family was long ago in bed. The pie is done. There is no one but me to appreciate it. This kind of pie is never as good the next day.

There is really only one solution to this problem, isn't there?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Europe's highest fountain is exuberant today!

Click on photo to enlarge and see the city of Geneva, Switzerland

Geneva's jet d'eau is turned on when the weather becomes warm, and this week it has finally been shooting water and spray at a speed of 200km/hour (130mph). Weather was wild, windy and rainy, then suddenly broken by astonishing white clouds against blue skies. The fountain blew spray a good distance, so the far side of the lake was probably a more comfortable place to be.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Western Ireland reflections

The complete selection of photos for this text are posted on Flickr. They are best viewed as a slide show.

Rain in the Burren

The past weekend was one of the soggiest I can remember. Memory is kind to us: there have probably been others equally wet, but I don't remember them, so I feel free to exclaim and find drama in the sheer dampness of it all.

It was the kind of wet that people who live near oceans are familiar with - they smell and feel it in the air and see it coming on the horizon long before we do, those of us who have become used to a drier world.

I was in Ireland, on the West Coast, in a curious landscape known as the Burren. Geologists and plant people love its limestone rock face and the botanical variety this breeds.

I lived there several years ago, alone in an old farmhouse on a hill, and I loved every minute of it. Eventually, like so many others there, I had to admit that I was running out of money and I ran off to find work. I vowed I would come back often but I did not.

Things seen on a walk

I loved walking along the empty roads that trilled and thrummed with life, if only your spirit was quiet enough to hear it and you were willing to bend down and look closely. This weekend I stayed quiet and warm with a wonderful old friend and we talked, as women who have known each other for years do. We cooked and we read books and we talked again. When the rain paused long enough for a camera to record images, I went out for a long walk. I saw a new calf. I saw two. I saw masses of daffodils, bright against the flat browns and grays of the Burren rocks. There were arches branches with new currant buds hanging from them and a lonely looking donkey standing in the middle of a field, silent, unmoved by my calls. Birds sang and darted about. Woods with rich mossy carpets teased and beckoned.

People and places seen on a drive

And then we visited old friends and familiar places, Clare who has a beautiful tearoom in Kinvara; an oyster bar at the weir, on the road to Galway, where I drank a glass of tap-pulled Guinness and had garlic grilled oysters, still in season. We wandered along the beach at Fenore and were entranced by migrating geese plucking at the sand, and we tried to see what they were eating. We were caught in a funeral traffic jam, with hundreds of people pushing their way on foot along a gale-tossed narrow road. We wondered where they would stand when they made it to the church, surely not large enough to hold them.

I'm not sure what I learned from all this except that it felt as if I was learning a great deal. I think it is this: life bubbles along, no matter what you do, what you contribute or what you don't. We visited Sadie, an Irish woman who runs the perfumery. She blends native plants and the knowledge of perfumes that she learned growing up near Grasse, in southern France.

I drank tea, and more tea, in mugs I love, made by my favorite potter, Nicholas Mosse. They were hot and milky, which is just the right thing in Ireland.

The old Irish love affair

We talked more, we worked, and in the end, I fell in love all over again with the Burren. There is nowhere quite like it.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Western Ireland sojourn

County Clare is still a special place

A mossy Irish woods, County Clare, on a wet wet Sunday in March

I found myself on short notice stepping onto an airplane to Ireland last week. I lived there, on the west coast in an isolated and wild country called the Burren, several years ago. The last time I visited was 12 years ago and when I left I had every intention of returning every year, if not more often. Life became more complicated, with changes at work, a growing family and health problems in the family.

Meanwhile, Ireland moved on. It grew wealthier and more European, finally letting fall the unattractive mantle of bitterness and weak confidence that still seemed to gnaw at it for more than 70 years after freedom from British colonial government.

Irish homes are larger but do not improve the landscape

Suddenly there I was, on a business trip, seeing the new Ireland. My initial reaction was that the architecture, at least in the countryside, is not a strong point. Town planning is a little weak and the massive increase in the number of roads and industrial estates appears more chaotic than organized. That is the veneer of success.

Tiny first flowers peek out from under dripping mossy rocks and thorny briars

But it did not take long for the beauty and charm and sheer wonderfulness of County Clare and the Burren, as well as the southern end of County Galway, to win me over completely again. Work and pleasure and time with old friends were all loosely woven together and Irish time, which is some of the most flexible in Europe, took over. I don't think anyone speaks English more beautifully than the Irish. Once again I fell under the spell of lilting tongues, soft voices and words woven in colorfully poetic braids even when discussing the most ordinary of things.

The weather is no ordinary thing in the west of Ireland, however, and there was much discussion of it, as we watched the Atlantic sweep its wave up into the air and wash rain over us. I have always loved the way the weather in Clare changes every few minutes - constant rain has never been part of my image of this corner of the world. But this weekend, rain kept us company, quite steadily.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

When Geneva is more than a city

Where Lake Geneva’s best meet

The people. The minds, the debates and news and information. Events. Cultures. The spinoffs from all this: GenevaLunch can bring them together and provide a needed service to the entire community.

The community includes radio, TV, print and dozens of good web sites that were created for particular groups, slices of the community. Some reach out a little further than others. The center of this English-language buzz is the city of Geneva. It’s easy to assume this means the city is also at the center of the community, a notion that English speakers in Montreux and Lausanne and small towns up and down the lakefront find baffling. I suspect statistics bear this out.

More on that, another day.

Geneva’s English language media

Geneva, the city, has an English-speaking community, large but hard to measure, varied in age, backgrounds, interests, cultures and certainly politics.
The city needs a good strong English radio station and WRG-FM is finally, after 10 years, filling that void. Radio 74 has been around longer, but its Christian base and 1970s approach to radio has weak appeal even to some of us who were listening to radio 35 years ago.
WRG-FM can’t be heard in Saint-Prex, although streaming now makes it possible for some people to listen online. Okay while I’m at my computer working but not while I’m outside oiling my bike.

Lucy Walker is right to believe that radio is all about community and speed, just as the web is. But a radio station's web site should rightly drive traffic to the station, unless a lot of money is pumped into creating two separate, strong media outlets. Fine for big cities with big communities, but Geneva’s profile doesn’t fit. The BBC and other shareholders appear to want the radio station to focus on doing better what it does best.
A group called Sindy set up a membership organization a few years ago to make sure Geneva was a place where you could have fun, and they now have a very good beta version website. Retired gardeners might not check out the parties there, but if I were single and 30 and new to Geneva, I would. Definitely. I’d go for the services, but news is limited to what the members are up to (quite a lot).

The Tribune de Genève is a popular local newspaper in Geneva, owned by the publishing giant Edipresse, based in Lausanne at the other end of Lake Geneva, which owns several other papers. The TdeG has an English corner on its web site. I have yet to meet an English speaker who goes there regularly even though the reporting is adequate. Translations are used, and the reader feels it. The newspaper’s site hasn't found the right voice for the community, and TdeG needs to ask itself if a French language publication ever will. The English corner’s supposed community differs in too many ways from the newspaper's francophone readers. Community with one very strong tie

It all comes back to community, with emphasis on that root "comm". Most media outlets are designed to reach out to a group of people who can be clearly defined. They generally share common interests and points of view. What happens when the main thing the community shares is a language? Common starts to look like a tough word to apply. When that language is English it is a second or third language for a chunk of the community. It is nevertheless a crucial language because it is used for school, work, play and religion, key areas in our lives.GenevaLunch is a meeting place, open 24 hours, for the English-speaking community in the Lake Geneva region. The city of Geneva is one part of this, as is Lausanne and the towns around them. Students looking for research paper themes and good parties for Friday night are part of it. So are young professionals and staid middle managers and – the list is long.

“Great,” enthused journalist Ed Girardet, when I said this isn’t about the city of Geneva. He is a longtime special correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor and a reporter for National Geographic, Time, the BBC and other media. He grew up in Morges, speaking three languages, and he now lives in France, with a wife who works in Geneva. For Ed, the GenevaLunch community must mean not just Geneva to Lausanne and back, but a larger geographic area, from Bern to Lyon and over to Torino.

Switzerland, France, Italy. Why not? In the end, the community may well define itself once it has a clearer voice than it now has.

There is a long tradition of this in community newspapers in the U.S., which often began life in an attempt to provide news coverage to straggling rural communities. William J. Gilmore-Lehne, a professor (died, 1999) at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, provided a rich history of American newspapers.

For some Geneva areas journalists, including wiseman Xavier Comtesse at the Swiss think tank, Avenir Suisse, this means finding the voices of experts and knowledgeable people and great writers in the Geneva area. Bill Dowell, who recently moved to Care International in Geneva, has similar thoughts. Xavier dismisses a Craig's List type media outlet for Geneva on several grounds, including killer workload for the editor, but mainly he doesn't find it very interesting. Craig’s lists assume people have nothing in common except the need to find each other for a specific reason, such as a job seeker and a company with a job, or a house hunter and house seller.

Pierre Grosjean and Gabriel Sigrist at Largeur.com, a press agency with a strong audience for its French language web site, are interested in the concept but they are concerned that the business model for a community newspaper doesn’t guarantee enough income to keep it afloat. Advertisers like narrowly defined audiences and this is the opposite.

A newsflow tweaks the future

GenevaLunch is above all an experiment, a laboratory for testing a new form of media. Blogs are being touted as the new media, but most often for the purpose of commentary, where blogs have already proven their value. Bruno Giussani has a good piece on The Guardian’s new collection of blogs, called “Comment is Free.”

The spreading excitement and fear about old media using blogs seems to me to overlook a key point: comment will never replace news reporting. Each needs the other. Comment has found a new home on the web, but can reporting do the same, using blogs?

There are dozens of issues, many unanswered questions. We could debate and speculate endlessly, something journalists love to do. I’ve decided we should keep talking about it, but also give it a try.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

GenevaLunch ready to be born

[small formatting changes made, March 22]

Blogs, blooks and other uneasy labels

I've spent much of my time in the past six weeks discussing GenevaLunch with a large number of people. If you haven't heard of it yet, that's because the mountains that feed the stream are just starting to thaw. You will soon see a trickle flowing, and more as we gather speed.

Birth of a newsflow

http://www.genevalunch.com/ is an English language “newsflow” for the greater Lake Geneva area in Switzerland. This is its formal introduction to the world, and I've waited until today because of an absurd and thoroughly modern dilemma. It needed not just a name, but a label. "Newsflow." This is it. Read all about it – here, for now, as the URL will tell you only that the site is “parked” while we prepare it.

The idea for GenevaLunch started with Bernard Rappaz, responsible for new media at TSR, French language television in Switzerland. We were discussing the lack of a media outlet in English that really pulls all the community together. He suggested an online community newspaper, and pointed to an interesting example in a relatively isolated valley in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. For me, the emphasis was on the word community.

Journalist Bill Dowell, who has worked for a number of major media groups including NBC, ABC and Time, asked why it wasn't a magazine. He was until recently the editor of Global Beat, an online resource on international security affairs for journalists and decision makers. "What do you see as the difference?" he asked, puzzled. After all, GenevaLunch will have interviews and feature articles.

Timing, I said. To me a magazine is something that appears weekly or monthly - as a journalist, I've been partial to the way magazines give you breathing space. A daily newspaper's rhythm is traditionally faster, more frequent. GenevaLunch is closer to the speed of radio.

I contacted the editors of The Morning News, whose masthead proclaims “an online magazine published daily” in New York, for New Yorkers. Is this a contradiction I asked? They replied that they like “magazine” for a label because it gives them scope to gather together and publish a variety, from news items and headlines to longer features. And they do it every day. By the way, they added, please let them know if we come up with a better label. The same comment is heard about blogs and blog spinoffs called blooks.

GenevaLunch is not a daily, or even an hourly. It is a frequently, but no one is happy with that label.

When is a site not a site, a radio station, a TV station or a newspaper?

So what, then, would make it different from a newspaper or radio station's online web site? asked Lucy Walker, director of WRG-FM radio, who thinks GenevaLunch is an interesting proposition. WRG is the BBC’s partner in Geneva, and an English language station with growing popularity. It has a web site. There are many other good web sites about the city and about Switzerland, in English. They all reach out to part of this community.

Here is what GenevaLunch is and does. It is for the English-speaking community that has as its hub Lake Geneva and the city of Geneva - but this community fans out as far as the community that gets together at GenevaLunch. It will, in other words, define itself. GenevaLunch creates an online outlet for (or publishes, if you prefer) a steady stream of news, information, exchanges and ideas for the community. It lets all this news flow continuously.

A blog with journalism and citizen reporting

It uses blogging as its technology. It uses experienced journalists and citizen reporters.

Here is what it isn’t: online, not this week, but very soon.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Desert View from the Train

Desert View from the Train
Desert View from the Train,
originally uploaded by bridgepix.
Bridgepix posts photos of bridges from around the world to Flickr, but he makes occasional forays into other subject matter and lately he has been photographing wonderful train tracks and sometimes even wonderful trains.

But for someone who writes about "the view from the rear" this really is a special photo.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Liquid gold

Lake Geneva, Switzerland, March 17, when sky, land and water blurred into one and all shimmered in the light of late afternoon.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

On writing obituaries

Death notices offer a final burst of life

Twice in two weeks I have had to think about obituaries.

Some people - many, it seems - think about them every day, for the death notices are some of the best read pages in most newspapers. Sports, scandal and gossip, world news: all this you can get on the Internet, and people do, but newsprint still seems to be the favored medium for carrying obituaries. It could well be the only thing that keeps newspapers from crumpling under the weight of the Internet.

I live in Europe and the people whose deaths interest me tend to be in English-speaking countries, but I do read the Swiss death notices, in French, about people I don't know.

Sometimes I read French obituaries, from France, and feel I know those people even less, but I have always felt that way about the French, who remain an enigma to some of us despite spending years there.

I don't, however, read obituaries every day. This is not out of a fear of morbidity, but rather a worry that I will be pulled in too far.

The last time I read obituaries was three weeks ago, before I was obliged to think about them, and most unusually I read them on the Internet. I was doing research for my sisters, who wondered about the accuracy of my aging mother's memories of a murder in Iowa in her youth that might or might not have involved the family of the owner of my grandfather's drugstore premises. Try plugging those search terms into the Internet. Ouf! as people here say.

photo, Iowa City, 1907: University of Iowa Hospitals, Bob Hibbs, Iowa City Citizen Press

I found an obituary, not quite the right one, but interesting, from the end of the 19th century. From that I learned about a murder, again not the right one, but in Iowa a few years before my mother's birth in 1912. I read the lurid newspaper reports on the murder and trial, and couldn't stop before learning about the acquittal. The wife was judged to be "not in possession of her wits", or something similar. It was stated that this problem was relatively common in women of her age, 43. So from the husband's obituary to the trial I had to find out what happened to the wife.

She lived to a ripe old age in Iowa, making rag rugs. Her offspring said that as an old lady she was a quiet person. I saw a photo of her grave, which gives no hint of a life of drama, compliments of the state web site on graveyards. I learned that one of her sons was decorated in the Spanish-American war, to which he ran off shortly after the murder and trial. He lived to invent and register the patent for a fly trap that would neatly kill your flies. Since we live too close to a Swiss farm with lovely cows that attract flies I read the details of the flytrap with great interest.

And since I was searching for murders in Iowa I was referred by search engines to dozens of obituary pages, where I learned that Iowa was a more exciting place than I had thought, growing up. I had to set up a folder on my computer desktop called "Iowa murders" to keep the threads together, in case I want to read more later. One of the useful sources is an industry publication called Grave News.

I still had not been obliged to think about writing obituaries when I found myself reading more of them. An added search to verify family sagas was based on a comment my mother let fall to one of my sisters. We wanted to learn if a cousin of my mother's had really been involved in a financial scandal, as she seemed to hint. He had apparently died years ago. In fact, the Waterloo Courier obituaries showed that he died only last September, well into his 90s. It turns out that he, too, was a decorated war hero and considered an upright and even leading citizen to his dying day.

While reading the Waterloo paper's death notices from a few months ago I turned to the current ones. There I found two women in their early thirties who had died young, from complications linked to disabilities. I have a 13 year old daughter with severe disabilities, and thinking about these families and the complicated emotions they must have been dealing with took my breath away. I paused for a while and thought about them, wondered about their lives.

I read on. I was startled to learn that a Mr. Babbitt had died in Waterloo. He, too, was in his 90s. Iowans seem to live long lives, as often as not.

I remembered my mother telling me a story about Sinclair Lewis when I was off at college studying literature and reading his books. Lewis, a journalist and novelist, did a short stint at a newspaper in Waterloo, perhaps the Courier. My mother's brother worked in Waterloo and said nobody thought much of the unpleasant redhead. At that point Lewis had made a name for himself with Main Street, published in 1920, and it's possible that Midwesterners, depicted as small-minded in his novel, did not warm to the man. In 1922 he published Babbitt, which I had always assumed was a made-up name.

To discover that there really were Babbitts in Waterloo, where he worked at some point, made me wonder if the writer had met the family of the man who died last month. Even more exciting to the newly discovered literary sleuth in me, was reading in the obituary that Mr. Babbitt spent his adult life working at the Rath meat packing plant, for which Waterloo was long famous. I thought I remembered something about the sins of the meat packing industry in his books.

Alas for the sleuth in me, what I discovered by doing basic research is that I was confounding two American writers, both of whose work I enjoyed as a student: Sinclair Lewis and Upton Sinclair. Sinclair Lewis, from the Midwest, wrote about people and towns there and changes in American society after World War I. In 1927 he published Elmer Gantry, probably the book that came out after his Waterloo days, when my uncle would have been 17. Three years later he won a Pulitzer for his novels and their contribution to American literature. Citizens of Iowa, or many of them, were not impressed.

Upton Sinclair was born into a formerly wealthy family in Balitmore. He wrote nearly 100 books, the best known of which was probably The Jungle, an expose of the Chicago meat-packing industry and a gruesome read.

The sleuth in me was quietly retired, but I am grateful to Mr. Babbitt in Waterloo for reminding me that we often remember imperfectly the things we learn in school.

Little work was done that day.

I was obliged to think about writing obituaries during a writing course that I teach to university students. They come from around the world and their English is not always strong. They are 18-20 years old. I gave them samples of writing from the Bulwer-Lytton bad writing contest and asked them to identify elements of bad writing. Someone offered this: "They use obscure words, like obituary." The others agreed. Only one person in the class knew what obituary meant and they wanted to know where the word came from. I was startled that they didn't know the word, but reminded myself that they are young and death seems like an event far in the future. I floundered, said it must come from Latin, which none of them have studied. I looked it up at home: from medieval Latin, from obitus, or death.

The second reason I have had to think about obituaries is that I have been asked to write one. My sisters have asked me to write about our mother, who is 94 and fading rapidly. As the doctor put it: she appears to be shutting down. I wish she weren't, of course, and I wish that I could discuss her obituary with her - she has always been a no-nonsense person. I wish we had written most of it together five years ago when her sharp humor would have poked holes in anything maudlin that might creep in.

My sister Mary summed up nicely why we care about obituaries. "We all think it would be great to have one that goes beyond just a dry recitation of facts and somehow captures what Mother was really all about. Sometimes I read the most wonderful obits in the paper; in fact, I've gotten kind of hooked on reading them! Now and then there's a standout that makes me wish I could have known that person."

A laudable goal in life, it seems to me (and I learned this from my mother) is to have a positive impact on others. It might be on a large scale - I am currenly reading the autobiograpy of Washington Post owner Katherine Graham, inching my way through 625 pages of Personal History that shows just how much impact one woman can have.

It is more often small scale, but equally important. Good individuals who encourage a couple other people to be good individuals strengthen the fabric of society.

My mother was a very ordinary good person who lived in a very ordinary world, and that is extraordinarily special.

To better reflect on what to say, how to capture rather than summarize a life well lived, I did a little research this morning. Here is a sampling of the obituaries I found today, two recent and two not. They make me wish I had had a chance to ask these people a few questions.
Allen Walker Read, etymologist who sought the origin of "OK"
Phyllis Benham, of Reinbeck, Iowa, older than my mother and who taught school for more than 50 years
Charles Yeschke, FBI agent, father, tree trimmer (impressivley written by a student reporter)
Hunter S. Thompson, wild man journalist.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Drawing the line at winter

Lake Geneva loves to make March ice

Streak of early sunlight reaches rock and ice. (click to enlarge for best view)

Icy shores along the edge of Lake Geneva, in Saint-Prex, March 15 2006 (view slide show)

Nature rarely gives us studio lighting conditions, but on a very cold lakefront early this morning in Switzerland, we at least had that. Otherwise, we just had cold, too much cold.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Ides of March ice treasures, Lake Geneva

Lake Geneva sends mixed signals to the shoreline

Sun-warmed lichen on one side of the rock, wind-iced waves on the other: the ides of March, when the seasons begin to turn

High winds, waves and arctic air leave icy traces on the shores of Lake Geneva, Switzerland.

It is nearly the ides of March, when Caesar moved into history and when, traditionally, the seasons begin to turn. We hope that means that tomorrow will feel like Spring.

The ides of March also follow my sister Tara's birthday, which I missed, so here is a touch of wonder for Tara, from Lake Geneva.

Hazardous Ln --->

The things we shoot
[This post has been reformatted, March 15]

Hazardous Ln --->
Hazardous Ln --->,
originally uploaded by woofer95828.

The world news, small scale, in images

Every day I visit Flickr, where I often post photos, but mainly where I see what the world is shooting. I get my news about the world, in images. It's not the world of Slobodan Milosevic and bombings in Iraq, or not often, but it is very real and constitutes a visual diary of the daily life of much of the planet.

I'm a big believe in community journalism: our view of the world starts at home and then is developed in the community we know. The bigger world of regional/national/international news only makes sense in the context of well-honed skills for following news more locally.

Too few newspapers work at helping their audiences refine their ability to absorb and reflect on news.

The blogging world chatters a good deal about citizen reporters, much of it trendy rubbish, not thought through. The link here is to a Swiss newspaper, in French, which yesterday ran a full page in its print edition about citizen reporters, calling them journalists - but the online version of the paper and its freebie spinoff, Matin Bleu, are frenetic and poorly organized, for people who don't stop moving. You can't search for the article today. This is just plain messiness, with too little foresight, which says much about where they see their audience (under age 24, which is 8 out of 10 bloggers in France).

I see little written about the role of citizen photographers. I think this is an overlooked, significant development. The visual news is odd and varied, just like people, and it stretches my view of the world, just as reading blogs does.

On the Flickr blog I just read about an exciting wildlife (whale) tracking success thanks to photos here. I also saw a stunning photo of a ghost town and I've written to the photographer to ask where in the world he found this haunting, deserted snow and ice covered main street. It feels like a lost corner of old Yugoslavia, and it brings to mind towns I saw near Sarajevo shortly after the war there end. But it might be Colorado. That's a curious mental link, which leads to reflections on what gold rushes and economic discrimination might have in common.

I saw photos from a garden in Japan, where spring flowers are up, and the photo above from Sacramento, California, where flooding has the river running amok. A Brazilian astounded me with his photos of people, which reminded me that like too many serious amateur photographers I find it easier to shoot scenes than individuals.

So far, most photographes on Flickr don't claim to be citizen reporters, as do too many bloggers who believe that it's enough to say I came, I saw, I wrote about it, without any concern for finding balance and putting the story in perspective. This has always been the hard part of a journalist's job. True, some do it better than others, but it is a defining aspect of the job.

The world of reporting is better for blogs and the strong participation of the citizen reporter, whether these people are writing or photographing. Their own initial enthusiasm is marked by euphoria at the freedom to publish. At some point soon, though, the newness will wear off and the waves of words and images hitting us will start to lose their value. The exceptions will be bloggers who develop a sense of responsibility for their reporting.

Curiously, a strong thread of that runs through the Flickr photos I see, and there is enormous respect in Flickr comments for people whose images are designed to "report."

I think something like citizen reporters happened in the Wild West and young states in the U.S. in the 19th century, with the arrival of the telegraph playing a role. What goes round comes round.

Time to check my journalism history books. And search the web, of course.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Snowy Alpine sunset, a gift for those who are stuck at home

Val d'Anniviers, Switzerland: Weisshorn, glacier, peaks looking towards Italy

For what it's worth, I was stuck at home today, too. One sick daughter, cold windy weather, and it just seemed wiser to stay indoors. I watched early morning skiers walk up the hill - the road to the ski lifts was initially closed due to fresh snow. Later on the sun came out and the snow on the road melted, but not in my driveway, and I never bothered to shovel it. Cold, wind, blowing snow: that was today in the Swiss Valaisan Alps.

But at the end we had a wonderful pink and purple sunset. Here is what it looked like near Crans-Montana, across the Rhone and at the end of the Val d'Anniviers, at 6:30 pm. Brrrrr, a good day to be in. But dream a little dream about the Alps, for they really are this beautiful.

Defining the citizen reporter

from my Flickr set "Man learns to fly, no wings"

When is a blogger a citizen reporter?

Another blog has just been born, and with it another potential citizen reporter. I hear this term bandied about, but I have yet to see a good clear definition. Bloggers who seek facts and share them: does that step make them citizen reporters rather than diarists? Bloggers who write frequently about a topic or place, seeking to provide new information each time: does providing information, rather than opinion, make them citizen reporters?

I ask for a good reason. In a couple weeks GenevaLunch goes live, an online English-language [newspaper] news shop for Geneva, Switzerland using blog technology. It is starting out quietly and small, as a laboratory experiment, with a loosely grouped advisory board that should help guide its growth and debate journalism issues as they crop up.

Is a citizen reporter a journalist?

One of the toughest issues is the role of the citizen reporter. A regional community newspaper needs these people in order to provide news and features on a broad number of topics. They make it possible to cover a geographic area that is otherwise too big for a publication designed to have low overhead and to offer the community's small businesses very inexpensive advertising space.

How do we maintain credibility using reporters who are not trained, unless the editorial team (and that is mostly me, as editor) can afford the time to doublecheck the reporting? I just added a lengthy comment to Shel Israel's blog post on this topic. Shel is co-author, with Microsoft's famous blogger Robert Scoble, of Naked Conversations (ordered, not yet read. I will review it here).

These are issues I've been debating with other journalists and people who will be part of the advisory board, but I thought about it again today because of the new blogger.

His name is Liam Bates, he is 17 and he's preparing to set off for China, where he will travel on his own this summer. It is his third summer alone there: the first two were spent mainly in Beijing working hard studying Chinese and martial arts (wushu). His blog will be a travelogue aimed at the wushu community and a small but growing international following he has, from his web site and Google wushu videos. Liam featured in a book I wrote two years ago, China on the Ground.

GenevaLunch will link to his blog as part of a series about the travel experiences of local people. We will also ask him to provide occasional reports for us and I will probably compare his experiences on the back roads of China to my own in 1985. As editor, I think I need to provide this young citizen reporter with some basic journalism training. Will older people who blog about their communities accept this or be interested in it - and is it feasible?

Claimer: I am also Liam's mother.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Swiss back roads meander

Birds were notable , on the lake and in the Alps

Saint-Prex, Lake Geneva, at 8:30 in the morning: bird party

Tara and I took back roads to the mountains today, avoiding the autoroute and other well-traveled highways. We started early in Saint-Prex, where the lake was choppy and the sun was darting in and out of clouds. Ducks dived and quarreled with gulls about fishing rights.

Near Lavey, Switzerland: special warehouse window bird perch, old snow for curtains

(enlarge to better view charming bird)

We then drove along the old roads that hug the north side of the Alps, on the thin strip of land between mountains and the Rhone River. It is an enchanted part of the world, too little visited. Here, too, birds were busy finding options for behaving as if it is Spring, despite the snow.

My favorite spot was near Fully (rightly famous for its Arvine wine, one of the Switzerland's specialties), where we found a covered bridge that is a small abode, complete with mailbox. It has set me wondering about people who live on air.

I've posted about 30 photos on Flickr, some in the set called "My town Saint-Prex" and the rest in "Swiss Alps March 06".

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Taken by cell phone

Taken by cell phone
Taken by cell phone,
originally uploaded by baron05mouth.

Japanese garden flower photo that baron05mouth posted on Flickr yesterday, taken with his cell phone. You can enlarge it until you can almost smell those flowers. Amazing. So the ads are true!

Douwe and our own travel maps

create your own visited countries map
or vertaling Duits Nederlands

Douwe Osinga works for Google in Zurich, but he also dreams up fun things on his own. One of them lets you make a map of all the places you've traveled in the world. Another is less creative, but fun: he pronounces his name, which doesn't sound at all like it looks, unless you're Dutch.

Back to maps: it takes just a minute to do and you find out what percent of the world's countries you've seen. I thought I had been nearly everywhere except India and the Middle East, but it turns out I've seen only 15% of the world. Time to book some flights!

It is slower to load than I would like, at least on Flickr, and I had to ask a Japanese Flickr friend, the mysterious Mr. Baron05mouth, how to add it to my Flickr profile. Very easy (follow Douwe's instructions, then paste the html into "Describe yourself"). It's so easy that I decided I could add it here, but then realized I had to resize it to 50% so it would fit on this page. Bingo, done.

And speaking of the Baron, yesterday he posted pictures of daffodils in his garden (I've just blogged it on this site, as well), taken with a Vodaphone cell phone. I knew the cameras in cell phones had improved - I see the ads and hear them and mostly ignore them - but it was enlarging his picture and seeing the texture of the petals that made me realize what you can really do with the newer phones. Very impressive.

We eat bread, too

The latest addition to the Flickr set called Our daily bread, Switzerland.

We eat a lot of it, in many forms. Here it is joined by an old mug from Botswana, that left the Ockavango Delta to survive many rough mornings in Switzerland.

Swiss ski slopes, best ever say the lads

Crans-Montana: exceptional snow conditions right now

Those who skipped school and went skiing report in: "Best snow I've ever seen!" So here is an update on the Swiss Alps, at least in the Valais region, or more precisely, Crans-Montana:
webcams at 9am on Violettes are covered with giant flakes and the stuff is bucketing down - the pylons are disappearing. Great new snow on top of wonderful powder from earlier this week and more coming steadily for the next three days. Spring break skiing is a definite yes now. The sled runs are nice and long and well padded (hope you are, too).

Wish I had my own camera, but that will have to wait for tomorrow.

Bad news: not much sunshine until Monday. It's a small price to pay for the best skiing and snowboarding in a long time.

The Simpsons: wildly real

Word of mouth reached me: Sky has a wonderful ad for the new Simpsons season, featuring real live human type Simpsons! I heard this through the international teenage grapevine, but hadn't seen it. Then through Scobleizer I heard about BradFitzpatrick, whose cartoons and illustrations are great, and while wandering through his blog I spotted the video. Bart, you made my day. I just wish they'd let Marge be a little funkier, with blue hair, but that's a minor gripe.

Apologies to Brad for my neophyteness, and not getting the business of feeds sorted out (next week's task), so here is the YouTube.com direct link he offered, thanks to a blogging buddy of his.

I almost wrote: The World Turns, then realized I'm speaking dinosaur TV language. Anybody else remember that ancient (one of the first?) TV show?! Right up there with Queen for a Day, which I thought was terrific stuff when I was 5, back in Iowa. You got a red cape, mink trimmed, a shiny crown, an armful of roses and Art Linkletter told you that you were wonderful. What more could a woman want?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

y = - x^2 [x>0]

y = - x^2 [x>0]
y = - x^2 [x>0],
originally uploaded by LucaP.
Another lovely shot from LucaP. I've tried to capture juggler's balls with little success, so to see that, plus the artistry in this photo, is great.

upside down

upside down
upside down,
originally uploaded by LucaP.
I've been making wonderful photo friends on Flickr, and the variety of photos they post charms me. I especially like the contemplative ones posted by people like LucaP, from Italy.

Swiss cheese, hunks

Maki just put me on to a new marketing toy that the Swiss National Tourism Office has put out. It's aimed at women. The idea is to say, okay, let your men think about the World Cup this summer - we've got another kind of guy here for you in Switzerland.

Pretty daring, really, or maybe the word is risky. I mean, would they market sexy Swiss women to men while the women are all off at the (duh, thinking hard here - where would we be?) . . . let's say Milan fashion shows? Would we women mind?

I'm disappointed that I couldn't seriously check out the cheesiness of the video, as Quick Time didn't work for me and I get a blank screen. So I'm settling for Maki's photos, where cheese doesn't look too bad, frankly. But of course this isn't about what they look like: it's about how wonderfully well these guys are going to treat us women.

So of course we wouldn't mind if men got sexy Swiss women to look at while we're off in Milan because these women are simply making sure the guys get treated right.

I just love equality. It solves so many problems.

Meanwhile, I can't work out where Maki found the photo of the man pulling the cow's teats. I signed up for the international English version of the site. Maybe you have to be local to get that treat.

Monday, March 06, 2006

10-1/2 things to do with a lemon

A lemon in Chicago, that is

Note to previous visitors/anyone with a feed: one of Blogger's shortcomings is the difficulty of changing layouts when you are working with their templates unless you go into the html. The previews show something close, but not quite reality, so I no longer bother using them.

I use this blog as a kind of experiment to see what you get for free and how easy it is for non-techies to use, and I have had real problems moving photos around and getting text into the right places. I lived with an unhappy result on this post for a few days, then couldn't stand it any longer, so I deleted the photos, replaced them all, centering them in order to avoid messing up the text. I was reminded that two would not upload because the file names were over 12 characters, information I've never seen, but experience has proven it true.

You can cross out words that you've edited, so people who've seen an earlier version of the post see what you've edited, but I can't work out any clear way of letting people know you've cleaned up your layout. Open to suggestions.

A blog shouldn't be this much work for neophytes!

The brief but illuminating life of a lemon in Chicago

1. Reflections are always sweet, never sour

A few months ago I was in Arizona, visiting a friend, when a neighbor made us fresh lemonade. We praised it so much that the next day lemons, just-plucked from a nearby tree, were delivered to the door.

2. hat rack

3. loft softener

4. room brightener

Soon after, I flew to Chicago to visit my sister, who had just moved into a new home. She and her husband were downsizing, and it was important to find a gift that would not add clutter. Something ephemeral, but eminently practical. Something that would last, but take up no space.

5. clothes freshener

6. find-the-lemon, a party game

7. warm, fuzzy: heart of gold

Here it is: the perfect lemon gift.

It brightened her home, but only briefly. She can always find it again, by coming here.

And between its brief shelf life and its longer online life, it gave enormous pleasure, for it was, after all, a freshly picked Arizona lemon.

8. Flavorer

9. Condiment

10. Refrigrator choir member

Dear Reader, we ate it.

Saving the best for last

Swiss Alps love the sun, anytime

Peaks near Leukebad (Loeche-les-bains), Switzerland

Daylight's best party trick is its ability to toss us new threads of vanishing color, then walk out the door, ever so coolly.

Rhone Valley, Switzerland

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Why we long for July in March

Perfect flowers, soft rains, warm sun - to start

Dripping with purple

I love the wonder of snow in winter, but sometimes - usually after shoveling - I get tired of it.

Today I was going through summer flowers from my garden, to see if any qualified for Flickr's best flower photo contest. I could suddenly smell the perfumes of July and feel the warmth of that sun on my face. The longing was acute and quite physical.

A very tiny dahlia, quite perfectly formed

To keep all of us going until July comes along again, with its heady rush of sensual experiences, I posted some of the summer garden photos that are special for me but that don't qualify for the contest.

Swiss ski alert!

Saturday morning news, near Crans-Montana, Switzerland

Not yet spring

There is snow, snow, snow - and it is snowing! Don't put away your skis yet. More garden views of the snow on Flickr.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

From the secret world of flowers

comes the March flamenco!

Spring unfolds, sensually and joyfully, while we get on with our daily March lives, thinking it is still winter.

See the 40-second slide show on Flickr. A plant dance for everyone.

March and the old lion theory

In with a roar . . .

It's March 1 and the lion roared today. We had cold and snow and sun and wind, never together, just one after another to taunt our sense of the seasons. The best place to view it all was inside, peeking out at human activity in the snow. Houseplants move steadily towards Spring, despite the wildness outdoors.

More images on Flickr, part of the "My town, Saint-Prex" collection.

Taupe times

Swiss Alps in February: taupe to the eye

Taupe is what the eye beholds when it sweeps down the mountainside covered in vines. The camera insists on capturing other tones and trying to hold those for us.

Three workers snip off the taupe older growth, leaving behind sharper and now more orange-tinted branches that will soon welcome the new growth.
click to enlarge

Taupe became a favorite color of mine when I was young and had just earned enough money to go out and buy my first frivolously expensive bit of clothing: silk stockings that shimmered and promised wonderful legs, in a package labeled "taupe". Impossible to resist.

From my vantage point, looking down, the legs were greatly improved by the taupe silk and it never bothered me that from a distance they might have been an odd contrast to my very white winter face. Taupe, like peach and ecru, is hard to define, but you know it when you see it. Too pale to be brown, too lacking in cream to be cafe-au-lait, yet it is rich is calm, an unusual aspect of a color.

Taupe in Italy, Alaska and South Africa

Taupe has reappeared at odd moments, in curious places, over the years. Driving through Genoa, Italy, among buildings of bright southern colors designed to return the sun's kiss, my eye was caught by one tall building in soft taupe with white shutters. It was a haven for the eye in that playground of color. In Alaska in summer, where everything is large and powerful and colors are clear in the strong light, my first glimpse of Mount Denali showed me a mountain peak piercing in its whiteness but all the more beautiful for the taupe hills around it.

Years before South Africa had thrown off apartheid I rose very early in the morning from my hut in Kruger Park to the ever so soft voices of women singing together as they swept the dust from around the huts. Their voices could barely be heard, but the music haunted, and seemed to move along a tide of particles of earth, taupe and rich, rather than brown and dusty.

I wish Pantone would give us all an online look at its colors, but I can't see taupe anywhere on the company's site. Too bad for all of us.