In Memory: Jane Raven Orttung

Last month, my old Piscataway neighbor passed away.  Jane Raven Orttung was the daughter of Henry Raven, a well known explorer.  Their lives were in part depicted in the fictional account, Jennie, by Robert Preston, which was reviewed New York Times some years ago.  Dr. Orttung herself was a researcher at the Alexander Library of Rutgers University, and was one of the few people who could legally travel to Cuba for research purposes.  She was a lovely neighbor, and her extraordinary children were good friends during my childhood.  For over twenty years she had a wonderful partner, who is a great man.  I wish them all peace in this difficult time.

In Memory: Malvina Douglas

My great aunt died yesterday at 1:00am localtime.  Born Malvina Simon, my aunt Mal was a force to be reckoned with.  A brilliant woman, she met her husband Kenneth at the University of Chicago, and it was love at first sight. He was a well regarded translator of books and poetry critic.

They married relatively late in life, and did not have chidren.  This turned out to be somewhat fortunate, as he was killed in a freak accident, when a curtain rod fell from an apartment in New York City, where they lived.  Even more freakish, the curtain rod belonged to former governor Averell Hariman.  (On that same day, my younger sister was running a high temperature, and my next door neighbor had just broken my brother’s arm.  It was a truly freakish day.)

My aunt settled into a 5th avenue apartment on Museum Mile, after having convalesced at the home of friends in England.  In a way, tragedy followed her life.  In the early 1980s, her younger brother had a stroke, and it fell to her to manage his care.  Even in this a story can be told.  Malvina found a caregiver who was remarkable, and dealt with my great uncle’s every need.  This woman, Priscilla, passed away from a long illness on the same day her charge died.

She too suffered from ailments.  Her life was probably shortened by contaminated drug packaging.  But even then she took the time to write about her brother and Priscilla.

Malvina is survived by a three nephews, a niece, two great nephews, two great nieces, and her older brother, my grandfather.

We will all miss her.

Happy Swiss Confederation Day

On this happy occasion, let us take a few minutes to discuss some of the benefits of living in Switzerland.  To start with, people are polite to a fault.  Our family has been treated with the utmost respect the entire time we have been here.  In our town, people greet each other in passing with Greuzi, and they say good-bye when they part.

While the trains run with well known precision, what is not so known is that you can get virtually anywhere in Switzerland through the extensive network of not only trains but also buses.  The trains are also kept clean not only by the SBB, but also by the passengers themselves.  One need look only so far as the neighboring countries to understand that it is hard to keep the transit system clean, and easy to create a mess.  The Swiss have worked hard.  Most of what we need is close at hand.  That includes two supermarkets, three bakeries, day care, two post offices, several banks, a pool.

Joanna enjoys swimming, and for a very reasonable amount she can do so nearly every day of the year.  How reasonable?  What we pay in a year here wouldn’t cover the cost of the service in California for a month.  But don’t get the impression that Switzerland is a socialist state, for it is perhaps the least socialist state in Europe.  We do not have a social healthcare system, but we do pay a very reasonable fee per month for insurance.  When we want to see a doctor, we see one.  Not a nurse, but a doctor.

While I have come to realize that there is no perfect place, Switzerland is even attempting to do away with some of the things I would think of as flaws.  Smoking here has dropped dramatically, even in the time we’ve lived here.

So here’s to you, Switzerland!  Maybe next year I’ll recite this auf Deutsch!

Oil and Us: Friedman gets it right (for once)

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times  today on the matter.  While I don’t think much of some of his other opinions I found this piece by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times very much aligned to my own thinking.  At some point or another we will have to come to terms with actually conserving energy.  In the meantime, however, there is a game going on, and the world consumer is a participant, whether we like it or not.  Things you can do to not play include these:

  • Don’t travel
  • Telecommute
  • Don’t use air conditioning
  • Live in a house or apartment with good insulation

It was about 29°C outside and 23° inside my home office as I wrote this post.  Here’s a little piece of humor I alluded to earlier: we have two gas guzzling cars, but how much does it matter if you don’t drive them?  That first bullet is hard for me and for our family, with relatives and friends so far away.  My recollection is that an efficient airplane gets you about 20-30 passenger miles per gallon of fuel.  As I travel to New Hampshire this week that will be a round trip distance of over 7,500 miles, which equates to about 250 gallons of fuel.  Put another way, I normally use about 13 gallons of fuel per month in my car, and so one plane trip to the United States is greater than my entire year’s use of gasoline.  This is one of five trips I’ll make across the pond this year, nevermind those we’ve caused relatives to make.  I’m as bad as the next person, I suppose.

An Update from Switzerland

Us in May

Distance and lack of communication takes its toll on relationships.  For those of you who see us rarely, it is as you know something that always weighs on me.  It’s over 5,800 miles, nine timezones, eleven hours and thousands of dollars by plane away from many friends, and a mere 3,500 miles, six timezones,  and thousands of dollars from most of our family. So here is a bit of an update as to what is new with us, just in case we don’t see you anytime soon.

The most important aspect of our lives is obviously our daughter, and from the picture you can see isn’t a baby any more.  The old lady is talking, walking, running, playing, counting, swimming, and doing many new things every day.  I’d like to take credit but she is doing most of the work. Joanna’s current favorite books include various illustrated adventures of Winnie the Pooh & Friends as well as Curious George.  Marcus Pfister books are also a hit.  This is the extent of my reading, generally.

Switzerland is not without its charms and benefits.  There is a functioning health care and social security system, they have world reknown public transportation systems, and perhaps most importantly a safe and healthy environment for our daughter.  She goes to the Kinderkrippe three times a week for six hours or so.  Apparently she speaks better Schwiezertütsch than both Christine and me put together.  That was the goal.  Not that my german is completely ridiculous these days.

Summer is finally here.  For those of you on the East Coast it clearly came early, but for us it really arrived yesterday, when the rain finally stopped.  Today it is partly cloudy and about 23°C (73°F) and just beautiful.  Our local town of Wetzikon has both an outdoor pool and a local lake that we can swim in, but for fear of repeating last year when it was just plain frigid, we belong to the indoor pool in nearby Uster.  Our daughter loves swimming, so much so that she has woken up from a dream crying “Swimming Nappie!”

I have had a relatively light travel schedule over the last few months but that changed on the 9th of June when I went to Heidelberg, DE for an Anti-Spam conference.  In a few days I will go for just a few days to Hanover NH.  When I take these trips it’s hard on Christine, so I try to keep them short.  This is another reason why many people haven’t seen much of me lately.  While the current plan is to be in California toward the end of September, this too is subject to change.  It’s not for lack of wanting to see friends there, though.

If you make use of Dopplr, I have started to playing around with it to update the schedule, but so far as I can tell it doesn’t do a good job of combining others’ calendars to give you a unified view of where your friends are.  Bummer.

Until next update.