Category Archives: Odd Bits of Musing

Dogged Determination Followed By Patience

Honestly, patience has never been my strong suit and today (and perhaps Monday as well!) are going to be the kind of days that try me to the limit. I am maintaining the stance of this little dog that I passed on the street the other day — trying to maintain my composure, but showing just a WEE BIT of teeth in a semi-growly look.

It has been weeks since our burglary and we are still waiting for the insurance company to pay us. We’ve been reliably informed that it’s ‘in the pipeline’ and Mark will be able to purchase his replacement bikes fairly soon. We could have had all of this resolved by last week, but that would have meant accepting their replacement package of bikes that were NOT the same brand as what was stolen. But I was doggedly determined and I insisted that a replacement policy meant that they would be giving us like-for-like, not like-ish. We had to go and source another batch of quotes for ourselves, submit them, and then wait. But now we’ve been approved for the ‘real deal’ and it’s simply a matter of having the funds actually arrive.

In the meantime, I’ll join the cute little white dog and sit here (kinda-sorta) patiently as I do a HUGE batch of photo editing and send them off to my favorite agencies.

Come back soon!

 

Small white dog waits patiently for his owner to return from the cafe.

Small white dog waits patiently for his owner to return from the cafe.


 

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Permis De Conduire? (Driving License) French Bureaucracy Stuck in 19th Century!

It’s all so straightforward, everyone assured me. You simply take your old driving license into the Prefecture in Foix before the expiration date and turn it in and they’ll replace it with a French one. Right???

No — not in a million years is it straightforward! Perhaps if you are one of the million-plus Brits living here, but if you are Australian? Then it is not so easy, reliable, and speedy.

We took a day off in November to go to Foix, a lovely day out in a beautiful and historic town with the bonus of a delicious lunch. The man at the driving license desk was charming and he handled all of my paperwork pleasantly and told me that I would be receiving my new French license in the post very shortly. Days went by — then weeks. I was checking our mailbox daily and at this point my Australian license was about to expire.

But today — only today — did some bureaucratic twit woman in Foix write to me AFTER I sent a polite request for information about why the license had not arrived yet. And what she told me simply sent me over the edge into white-hot rage.

Nothing in France is digital — nothing. They are still firmly entrenched in a 19th Century brain-set about how to operate in a 21st Century world, so things never go quite right. Everything is awash in paperwork and every single government office requires photocopy after photocopy of your documents. They must have to build vast warehouses just to store all of the damned paperwork!!!

When you need to renew your license in Australia, it’s a 21st Century DIGITAL world. You walk into the VicRoads office, have them take a new digital photo right there on the spot, (no — they don’t make you bring in a 4 photos the way they do here!) hand over your payment, and out you walk with a new laminated license — period. They DO NOT ISSUE a file full of paperwork each time showing when your original license was and so forth. But apparently they do here in France — and PAPERWORK is what they want before they will issue my new license.

They could have told me that in November and it would have been here by now. Now I have to fill out online forms from VicRoads, have them signed and witnessed, and send them BACK to Australia so they can send the completed dossier BACK to France. Then and only then will the uppity woman in Foix decide that I am ‘worthy’ of a f**king French driving license.

My love affair with France is, quite justifiably, wearing off. The shopkeepers are charming, the French people are invariably polite, the everyday man and woman we deal with are very straightforward. But the nightmarish and antiquated government systems here are doing my head in and I am the one who has to deal with this over and over and over just to be able to live here. Every single month there is some sort of paperwork dragon to fight and I shouldn’t have to be doing this at my age. That’s why after 10 months of fighting with another bureaucratic office and submitting the same paperwork again and again, we still do not have a Carte Vitale for each of us (national health card) because you never talk to the same person twice.

As of now, I am unable to get a French driving license before my old one expires because bureaucrats who are paid to do a very simple job simply occupy a desk, get paid their comfortable little guaranteed government salary, don’t care one bit about the people they are supposed to be helping, don’t tell the poor suckers at the counter any information in a timely manner, and then they collect a comfortable pension at the end of their working life.

Are you thinking of moving to France? A piece of advice — unless you have some personal body slave who can go and run errands for you and do all of your paperwork for you and you never have to buy a car, drive a car, earn a living, or negotiate through the health care system — just DON’T DO IT!

It will save you a lot of gray hair and stomach aches. The way the French bureaucrats treat the foreign residents who pay their taxes and prop up this crumbling country is simply appalling.

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Temporarily Tangled and Tied Up

Temporarily Tangled — by power cords and computer cables — and Tied Up (and then some!) with migrating files, photos, and software from one computer to another.

It became apparent in the last few months that since I was now doing so much stock photography and freelance writing, my MacBook Pro was groaning under the weight of the files. Doing back-ups to passport drives and online storage sites had become scarily essential as a measure of protection against losing all of that work.
 

Apple MacBook Pro on my coffee table 'desk'


 
I’ve been looking for another MacBook Pro so that I had redundancy, and one night (when I should have been asleep!), I was online on Ebay and I saw a brand-new listing from a small company in the UK that was an authorised Applecare agency. They had an identical MacBook Pro to the one I already had, but this one that was listed had a terrabyte of memory instead of 500GB — and the RAM was also double at 8GB instead of my current 4GB. It had a brand new hard drive so I wasn’t buying someone else’s computer full of ‘fluff’ and old hidden files. They had also placed the latest version of Apple’s OS system Lion on there and it was loaded with almost every single piece of editing and office software I used on a daily basis.

I hit BUY NOW as fast as my little fingers could fly and the lovely little computer arrived yesterday. Hooray! And it was half price compared to a brand-new-from-the-Apple-store one that only had 4 GB of RAM and 500GB of memory. Can you hear me saying a huge WOO-HOO!

The only thing that I had to download new copies of were my iWatermark program for placing my copyright on my photos, another copy of Adobe Lightroom (and since I had purchased mine in Australia and registered, I just migrated the passwords & serials over), and the MacKeeper program to keep everything clean and running smoothly. I also added Skype and I thought I was ready to send my photo and document files over. Nope!

My older Macbook Pro is running on the OS Snow Leopard and the new one is on Lion. Add to that, the software for some of my other programs were all previous versions. Soooooooo — the Migration Assistance program that was running in both computers, which actually did recognise both computers this morning, would not play nice and let me transfer files. I wasn’t asking it to send Applications, Downloads, Users — just documents and media files. Nope — not cooperating.

So it looks like a huge portion of my weekend is going to be spent transferring files via my passport drives and fingers crossed that I’ll be back at the beginning of the week to put NEW PHOTOS and posts online for you. Then I have a bit of a learning curve since my new operating system is different and has new features — and so do the new versions of Lightroom and Photoshop.

Wish me luck!

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Censorship Is Alive And Well In PayPal’s Misguided Little Minds

Deviating from my normal posts about travel, history, or the issues involved in living as an expat, today I am addressing a situation that has just been brought to my attention by one of the publishers of my books.

I publish both of my books about spiritual growth, social and historical issues, and future visions in paper versions — The Dreamkeeper and the most recent book, Darkness Folding Inward, Light Emerging — at Lulu.

But I also publish both books in electronic versions at Smashwords — and I am quite concerned because Smashwords is under attack by PayPal right now.

I found it breathtaking that PayPal has decided that it was appropriate to be ‘content police’ on what is published at Smashwords. They have informed the head of Smashwords, Mark Coker, that unless all books are removed that contain what they consider to be objectionable material, they will cancel the PayPal account that enables authors like me who live in countries other than the USA to be paid our royalties.

This is simply insane on at least three fronts. (1) It would immediately bring the wonderful flow of artistic output from non-USA-writers to a halt since we would not be able to be paid for our book sales. (2) It penalises all Smashwords authors, even if we are not producing what the ‘thought police’ over at PayPal consider objectionable. (3) It sets up PayPal as the judge and jury of what the readers of the world are allowed to read. And what gives them that right???

I will begin to immediately participate in the online protests against this impending action by PayPal against Smashwords. I encourage all of my readers to read this article at Electronic Frontier Foundation and do the same.

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The Gratitude List

We are a mere few days from the end of the year, and it feels like an appropriate time to revisit some life improvement ideas that I used to share with people on a much more regular basis. This is a departure from my normal travel writing, so I hope that my readers will bear with me as I digress a bit.

In a previous chapter of my life, I gave monthly talks that, amongst other things, embraced concepts of transformation and empowerment. I would say to my audience, “Why would the Universe want to grant you all of those wishes, dreams, and gifts that you have come to expect if you forget to do something as simple as remembering to say thank you for those things? If you aren’t displaying any gratitude for what you have already received, why should the Universe continue to provide? It’s a reciprocal process!”

I have recently been tweeting this very thing to my readers on Twitter at @deborahharmes — and my online friend in London, the astrologer Shelley Von Strunckel, has been spreading the word to her readers as well after I mentioned Gratitude Lists to her.

When I was a practicing therapist, list-writing was one of the many ‘focusing tools’ that I used to employ with my clients. I saw major transformations occur in people’s lives when they began to implement this tool. The act of writing down goals or dreams caused a shift in their consciousness which put the inactive gears of their ‘manifestation engine’ into a state of movement. And when those people were open-minded and open-hearted, an even faster transformation occurred.

I have long held a bit of wrinkle-nosed disregard for the tradition of writing down New Year’s resolutions. This is a personal opinion, but I believe that it sets you up for failure and disappointment because those lists are regarded as a ‘must do’ thing that is not necessarily created with the right set of motivational factors. In many cases, there is social, familial, or peer pressure to write down what someone ELSE wants you to be or do in the coming year.

A far more gentle method of transformation is a Gratitude List. The very act of saying thank you in written form sets up a dialogue with the Universe that is softer and more authentic. In an act of self-reflection that doesn’t necessarily need to take a very long period of time, you release the need to create an artificial set of expectations/resolutions. Instead, you quietly, softly, purposefully write down a list of the things that you are thankful for.

This may seem silly or simplistic to some people, but trust me, it does improve your life. It removes or reduces the competitive edginess of resolutions, moves you beyond the negativity of complaining, and allows you to open your heart and mind to even more goodness and more blessings. In a very personal choice, I create these gratitude lists more frequently and keep the spirit of joyfulness more alive and fresh by this method.

Every month on the New Moon, I quietly sit for a few minutes and make a short list of the things that I am grateful for which have happened during the last 30 or 31 days. My husband does the same thing and then we read them aloud to one another. We repeat this in a slightly longer version at the end of the year as we sum up the events of the previous 12 months. And what I have noticed is that these episodes of list-making help to keep our attention tuned to the many types of goodness that flow into our lives from all sorts of sources.

In my own life, I am grateful for more than 12 months of travel and the amazing variety of people we have met in various countries, wonderful new career opportunities, the excellent medical care that I have received in 3 different countries that allowed potentially scary medical problems to be diffused rather quickly, the blessing (scary though it may have been at the time!) of being on-the-spot not once but twice when a fire in someone’s home could have turned into a life-altering disaster, and many other events and items that are personal and private. Your own list will reflect your own ideas of what was important along the way.

As we prepare to close out the year 2011, perhaps Gratitude Lists are an idea that you can embrace — an idea which will assist you in your own personal transformation.

Many blessings to all of you in the year ahead!

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Bombs Are Still A Serious Business in Germany

Today’s Washington Post contains an article stating that 45,000 residents of Koblenz are being evacuated from their homes as bomb disposal squads disarm one massive unexploded bomb lying alongside another, smaller unexploded bomb. Both of these war time relics were recently discovered wedged in the banks of the Rhine River when the waterline fell to a record low level.

Several months ago, we were walking through suburban Hannover when we spotted this van in the street. Since Germany was so heavily bombed by the allies during World War II, bomb inspection units still need to be called when any excavation is planned for utilities such as water lines or gas lines. And one friend in Germany told us that the basements of houses in Germany are never built until the area has been certified bomb free.
 

Munition van on the streets of Hannover. Germany searching for unexploded WW II bombs


 

I’ve mentioned in past articles that World War II is still a living, breathing fact-of-life here in Europe and friends have frequently had their own episodes of discovering remnants of that war in their own back gardens or in the walls of their homes as they began renovations. Today’s Washington Post article just reminds us yet again that the actions of our predecessors generations ago still echo solidly through our contemporary time period. Although we might be temporarily inconvenienced, it is barely fathomable in our present mindset to even try and imagine what it would be like to live a day to day life with bombs dropping on our heads.

Our parents’ and grandparents’ generations would have known those sensations of impermanence quite intimately.

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One of Those “Only In France” Kind of Stories

Seriously??? Do YOU really fancy a bit of wildlife interaction as part of your ‘retail experience’ on the weekend? This is truly one of those “only in France” stories.

Down in the Pyrenees in the south of France, a wild boar caused Saturday shoppers to flee as it raced through the packed-with-people retail district in Toulouse on Saturday frightening the shoppers. I don’t know how I would have reacted in that situation!

The link for the story is here — complete with a news video (all in French).

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