Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Swiss Cows Live it Up

I love the way they use Swiss Cows in advertising. Above they are exercising. The posters are around Geneva, but I caught this one on the train to Zurich.

Here's some more examples:

They've swung through bushes

They've sung

They've danced the flamenco

They've beaten chess experts

I don't care how they advertise milk, just the idea of thinking about maybe trying to swallow a mouthful makes me want to gag unless it is doused in black, black chocolate or in a renversée.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Boxing Day

Thumbelinna, which was what we named this years turkey, came wrapped with a big red ribbon from our butcher. Strangely she took longer to cook than the turkey at Thanksgiving which was almost double the size. In frustration we shoved her into the microwave at the end or maybe she would still be roasting.

Boxing Day conjures up thoughts of English drawing rooms, sherry and mince pies. Ours was a little more mundane involving a meal with English neighbours just back from Romania where they are advising for a new business school. But then again the lively conversation when people automatically know the significance of the Treaty of Westphalia, history backwards/forwards/sideways, the politics behind the politics of many different countries, was anything but mundane.

It has been a wonderful holiday as will be the rest of the week. None of the after Christmas shopping frenzy when many stores, restaurants and shops shut for the week. Some companies totally close down as well. Not all, but some. I plan to go to Zurich to see an old friend, her St. Bernard, husband and new baby.

This Christmas like all carry the ghosts of Christmases past. I can still feel my father’s arms as he lifted me up to see Dancer’s and Prancer’s, foot prints on the sloping roof outside my window.

It’s Sam singing rum te tum tum to the “Little Drummer Boy.” Or the tree not being decorated until a 1957 Styrofoam Sputnik was added to the decorations.

As an adult each year my Dad and Step Mom, whom I call Jim and Norma, sent oranges, the size of grapefruits from Florida to my office where it was guaranteed someone would be there to receive them. The year after my Dad died, the box arrived with a note. My assistant asked me why I paled when I read the note. I handed it to him to read the message “Love Jim and Norma.” In a way I felt my Dad reached beyond the grave one more time to bring me love at Christmas.
And there were Cousin Christmases in Garmish, and our "forced hikes" that left my Japanese chins leg feathers covered with tiny snow balls while the meal cooked slowly back at their flat that ovefr looked the Olympic Ski Hill. Once we started with Apfelkuchen on a sun filled terrace before walking back down the mountain for the main meal.

There were the formal Swiss Christmases in Payerne, and the less formal in Geneva with my Syrian, Swiss, Czech and Indian friends. There was the year that we had Llara, Yara, Tara and Sara, or the year we belly danced through the holiday as storms raged outside.

This year was quieter, housemate, Sons no. 1 and 2 and Italian friends for dinner. The food from fois gras with figs to homemade cranberry sauce was appreciated. The fire in the fireplace burned warming our bodies on the outside as the champagne and food warmed our insides.

I missed having my daughter near, but Inshallah, I will be with her next week at this time not just for a few days, but for the month of January.

Happy Holidays

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Penguin Bowling

Or confessions of an accidental Penguin Collector

Did you know penguins can filter salt water through a gland for drinking? I didn't until I got a miniature penguin bowling set for Christmas that included a booklet about penguin habits, traits, jokes, etc..

I never meant to collect penguins. It started as a joke when my uncle in Florida and I were exchanging penguin items. My friends, thinking I wanted penguin items for myself, had an AHA moment and started buying them for me. Before I knew it I had penguin everything from beautiful glass blown art works to tacky penguin slippers.
In the flat I lived in on the other side of the lake, an eight-year old neighbour, who used to give tours of my apartment to her friends, always included a stop at the penguin display. That and a prism, which once belonged to my grandmother and where we would shoot rainbows at each other were considered the highlights
My daughter each year comes up with a penguin gift and her originality in finding things is a tribute to her imagination, diligence and intelligence. Likewise now my housemate has started. Thus this penguin bowling set now adorns my bookcase, the photo taken next to the CD Player where Garou's* new album is playing. I couldn't resist having only the lead penguin looking toward the approaching ball. I hope he alerts the others.

*Very different less Joe Crocker and more Bobby Short with both French and English songs. I could picture Fred Astaire dancing to his "I Love Paris."

Ellen Goodman

What a shock. After all the Chrismas festivities I slipped upstairs and checked The Boston Globe only to read the last column by the retiring Ellen Goodman.

Fridays will not be the same without her words. Sometimes it was like she was in my head. Her column on her only daughter leaving for college captured my feeling when my daughter, the same age for had left for Germany a couple of weeks before. When she talked about the passing of the ritual holiday meals from the older to generation to us, it was if she were talking to me. Her description of birds and peace on her Maine vacations match my joy in the small natural things.

As for her politics -- I felt she was saying what I wanted to say, but she had a wider audience.

The letters posted on the internet about her column equally shocked me. Of course, there was the you'll-be-missed. However, the viciousness and the hatred of others, accusing her of being a baby killer because of her pro-choice stance, of helping to destroy the country because of her feminism. She was labelled the horror of horrors, a LEFTIE.

When did the level of discourse descend to such a level? I couldn't help compare it to our Christmas conversation with me as a far leftie and a guest as a far right. So many statements began with "you probably won't agree..." Amazingly enough we often did.

Yes, I will miss Ellen's political voice. I could say Goodman's voice, but after so many years of her being part of my regular weekly reading, she seems more like Ellen. I will equally miss her insights to regular life. Unlike many male political columnists, perhaps like a Mary Cassette painting, big ideas can trickle down to the small details of daily life and up again and that is what I will miss the most.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sneaky Solstice

Usually the winter solstice is my most important and holiest of days. It represents the rebirth of the earth when the days start to get longer making way for new growth. I want to bring a real tree into the house as a reminder of life.

This year so bogged down with family problems it came and went with out me even being away. I can't say it is my busy social life, because I have gone to ground so to speak, keeping engagements to a minimum. Fortunately I have friends who understand.

On the other hand, this holiday at home will be simple and warm without the glitz but with the sharing and caring. On Dec. 31 (Inshallah) I will be in D.C. with my daughter, which is the greatest gift of all.

And maybe missing the solstice if I took the time to solve one more problem is as renewing as the earth turning towards the light.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A tale of Two Gardens

Snow from the balcony in Corsier Port overlooking the lake and the Jura
Snow through the screen taken in Long Island.

It was the best of times it was the worst of times.

Okay, maybe Charles Dickens wasn't talking about snow. Geneva had snow most of the weekend, small amounts in comparison to how the US East Coast was zonked in. The two pictures show the respective storms. If it were a contest on who has the most snow, my girl friend in Long Island would win hands and shovels down.
The worst part of a storm is the shovelling, the slippery driving, the cold.
The best part is the beauty and being snug and cozy inside. And although the storms were three thousand miles apart it was fun sharing the information about them with a friend so far away, although there were moments of fantasy about chatting and chocolate in front of a chimney fire in the same place rather than an ocean apart. On the other hand, each of us could enjoy the chocolate and chimney(s) with the chatting being by email.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Blog Challenge No. 8

This is almost cheating, because it is about people I know and care about, but the evening was so special, I am hoping it will fulfill my housemate's challenge that within four weeks I do eight blogs observing people and situations.

Snow fell softly outside the small city flat. Inside it was warm in temperature and feeling. One wall was painted terra cotta that set off the exhibition-quality enlarged photos of sunsets.

We were there, my housemate, her No.1 and No.2 sons and me for dinner and to look at the photos No. 1 son took on his recent trip to Madagascar. I felt as if I were back in my childhood avidly absorbing other worlds from the National Geographic as I looked at the red clay, the houses, the sea.

Fondue bubbled in the kitchen. The viande seche was topped with the traditional pickles and onions. The white wine was as crisp as the air outdoors. Our talk was of Christmas, who would sleep where and how the dinner would be. For the last few weeks, Santa lists have been circulated along with check backs between us to make sure that everyone is happy. The desires are modest, the gifts few but selected and wrapped with thought and caring.

At the end we broke the Escalade Marmite, Son No. 2 and me, the youngest and oldest as tradition decrees (there is an advantage to aging)

I marvel that what had been a stop gap measure to live here temporarily while awaiting my Swiss nationality and until I could find another place in this apartment-short area, has become such a joy. Over the last few years it is not only the fun things like fondue and photos, but a sharing of the mundane and sometimes the crisises, the chores and the small things that just make life richer.

As we went back into the cold, my heart was anything but cold but beat just a bit faster with happiness.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pleasures and 1 non pleasure

Today was one of those days that almost everything seemed wonderful. Passing a window full of chocolate cakes, even without buying one, is a pleasure. I know where to go when a chocolate attack hits BIG TIME:

I've always loved these tile directions on where dogs should poop. My boys never understood without help from me. It still makes me smile.
Then this was the first snow of the season in the city, not a lot, just enough to make one hum "Sleigh bells ring are you listening?" The lake was a beautiful gray and I was hit once again with the wave of gratitude and joy that this is my country.
On the bus a man probably in his mid-forties talked on his cell phone and was telling whoever was on the other hand how he caught snowflakes on his tongue. Childlikeness is charming.
Had lunch at the Château des Penthes with a writer friend as we caught up on our lives. We are seldom in the same country or city at the same time, which made it extra special. They have put a conservatory on one end of the building where we ate and watched the snow fall on the countryside around the château. The waiters were friendly and joked with us bringing tabasco in the place of artificial sweetener for my friend, saying they misunderstood. Then they brought out the packet of sweetener.
My friend said that the note I wrote to her French husband was perfectly correct--talk about a Christmas gift to hear that after all my hard work this year. Of course I will never write him again, so as not to blow my image. Also was thrilled to discover as I studied my German (my goal in 2010 and probably 2011 is to bring my German back--it is buried somewhere in a harddrive in a far away drawer of mind) that as I was reading the grammer rules for the third time in three days that the book was in French and I hadn't even been aware.
Sitting down and writing three good pages with flying fingers on my work in progress, The Experiment. I've about 109 pages and finishing it in 2010 is another goal.
The only non pleasure? The BA strike. That's what I'm booked onto to see my daughter. Like Scartlett O'Hara, I'll think about it tomorrow.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


What are soldiers doing in strange clothes and weapons outside Calvin's Church? It is the L'Escalade.
407 years ago, or so the story goes, Mère Royaume was happily adding root vegetables to her soup pot when she heard a noise. Investigating, she saw French soldiers scaling the wall of the Vielle Ville. She dumped the scalding soup, pot and all on them, raised the alarm, and the Genevois beat them back. Each year the event is celebrated in a fête that recreates some of the events. The Vielle Ville is turned back in time. Chocolate shops sell the soup pot filled with marzipan vegetables.

Vin chaud is sold everywhere as is hot vegetable soup.Usually the weather is so cold, like this year's fête and so windy (trees were dancing and white caps covered the lake) that the warm beverages are more than welcomed.

Exhibitions like this showing how the iron mongers worked with giant bellows dot the cobblestoned street. The street where the iron ongers once worked and lived is to the right.

People dress in epic clothes. Children dress in costume (although what Indians and spacemen have to do with the attack confuses me). The kids sing the Escalade song for which the listeners are expected to and do give coins. Drummers and fifers play music as they march through the streets, and Yankee Doodle Dandy even if it is an anachronism, has the right spirit.
For the only time during the year, the secret passageways are opened under the city for tours. Speeches and parades mark the event and communes around Geneva offer free vegetable soup and festivities to their citizens.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Blog Challenge No. 7

My housemate challenged me to do eight blogs about observations of people and things while I was out and about. She gave me four weeks, but I will beat her timetable.

The bus filled at Collonge and an old and young man got on. The grandson made sure his grandfather was comfortable next to me as he went to get the old man a ticket.

How did I know the relationship?

I eavesdropped, although it is impossible not to in such close quarters.
The grandfather, still with a full head of hair, was fumbling with a clear plastic folder closed on three sides, the kind that has holes to fasten in a notebook. His grandson held his passport and helped him fill in a small yellow form once he found it.

At Versanez, the bus discharged about half its passengers. I offered to change to another place so the grandson could sit with his grandfather. He smiled and said it wasn’t necessary “Mais merci beaucoup.”

For the first time I looked at the younger man. He was balding but had his head almost shaved alà Pascal Obsipo. He wore jeans, a black leather jacket and if he had been frowning he would have not been out of place with a New York Street gang. I could almost hear the beat of the music of the opposing gangs in West Side Story. His jacket was partially open and I could see the words fight and kill peeking out between the sides.

What the hell, I thought, I want to know what it says. I asked and he opened his jacket so I could read the whole thing.

“Fight Errorism
Ignorance Kills”

“It’s an English play on words,” he said in English.

Then we reverted to French. For the rest of the ride to Rive, we discussed that fear without facts was responsible for many of the ills of the world, my daughter’s bumper sticker, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance,” and how sad it was that his sweatshirt was smarter than many people.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Père Noël welcomes diners to the Café de Paris, where the only item on the menu is a steak. Even for this non-steak lover, it is a wonderful meal.

The Christmas chalets are up on Rue Mont Blanc filled with arts and crafts. Others sell hot wine, sausages and their scent along with essense perfumes the air. Nothing like the Christmas marchés in Strasbourg, Stuttgart or Montreux, but nice nevertheless.

Even my little village of Corsier has caught the spirit with a tree in the town centre. Yes, this is the town centre with the post, a tea room and across the street one clothing store. It has always amazed me that trees can be decorated and bulbs will not be stolen.
The best decorations are downtown in the English Garden and some of the shopping streets.
Ho Ho Ho!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Blog Challenge No. 6

The decorations at the edge of the stage for the Indian dance recital
Place: Auditorium at an Elementary School
Reason: An evening of Indian dance and music

The little boy's eyes lit up at each word his father, a white-haired European, spoke. His much younger Indian mother did not elicit any such joy, just calm acceptance. The chair was between his parent's and he took great pleasure in climbing up and down., up and down. When you are only two and a half, all chairs are huge obstacles and each mounting a victory that made him smile and look to his father for approval, which came quickly. When the performance still had not started and growing bored, he walked to the stairs leading to the stage three rows away.
He climbed up them, only to be joined by a little girl dressed in a jumper and matching striped tights and jersey. Her hair was more or less in two little pony tails. Together they climbed the stairs and came down on their bottoms, laughing each time.

Only when the lights dimmed and the visual feast that was to be the evening's entertainment started, did the children return to their parents. The little boy watched transfixed for about half the performance, well over an hour. Then, because he grew restless, his mother took him out. The father followed. The little girl had fallen asleep.

Blog Challenge No 5

Place: E Bus Corsier Port to Rive

Burly must be a requirement to be a controller on the Geneva bus system. At least the four that got on at Arrêt Ruth were burly in their black uniforms with the orange tpg logo on their left to their alleged hearts. They wore wide black belts on which were leather pouches for their mobiles, walkie talkies, ticket machines and although they wore no guns, it looked as if they should have guns. This was only the second time in five years, I've seen them on this route.
The bus was crowded as people headed downtown for Saturday Christmas shopping.
"Billet, abbonements," the oldest called out and all the passengers started fumbling in their bags and pockets. A teenage girl, who had been talking on the phone using a headset did not hear until one of the younger controllers stood in front of her.

She looked up and a "Oh Shit, I'm busted for riding black," crossed her face. Not only did she not have a ticket or monthly card, she did not have any identification. She started to write out her address, but two of the controllers got off with her at the next stop to finish the ticket and fine process.
Meanwhile a teenage boy was also busted for riding black, the only other passenger without proper ticketing. He signed his name to the form that will lead to a fine being sent to his house. As the controller got off he said, "Bon weekend," the contoller said as he dismounted the bus.
"Vous aussi," the boy responded more by rote than sincerity I am sure. I don't think he really cared if the controller had a good weekend or not.

Friday, December 04, 2009

As I was taking the photo

My daughter was sending me this link from I am reducing the story a bit. However, Munchkin proves the point of the story.

LOS ANGELES - What do cats do when their owners are away? There was one way to find out — "cat cams."
Fifty house cats were given collar cameras that took a photo every 15 minutes. The results put a digital dent in some human theories about catnapping.
Based on the photos
22 percent of the cats' time was spent looking out of windows
12 percent was used to interact with other family pets
8 percent was spent climbing on chairs or kitty condos.
Just 6 percent of their hours were spent sleeping.

The 777 photos studied by Villarreal showed the cats looking at a television, computer, DVDs or other media 6 percent of the time and hiding under tables 6 percent of the time.