8: The Fate of Literature

Good-bye little books. See you sometime this summer, way across the ocean.

For months we have agonized over what to do with the little Swiss library we have amassed. Our dedication to this matter is all out of proportion to its long-ranging consequences.

We could leave Alice, Tom and Irene (Munro, Boyle and Nemirovsky) here in our hotel library and they would live quiet purposeful lives entertaining the hotel’s English-reading guests for years to come. That is the altruistic thing to do, but we have not done it.

Our attachment to our books is inexplicable even to us, and so while we have whittled away at the lesser authors – who shall remain nameless just in case we should ever meet – Alice, Tom, Irene and the rest of our favored tribe are at this moment heading for Canada via Swiss Post’s slow-boat system. We love our books, but we’re still careful financial managers so they travel economy class, the same as us.

The cost is only 58 Swiss Francs – quite a bit less than the courier bill that was estimated at almost 500 Francs (although that included our full pre-pared-down library so it is not an apples-to-oranges measure). And sadly, if Swiss Post cannot find our little cottage in Ontario, the destination for the books, we left instructions to treat them as ‘abandoned.’ Even checking that box on the Swiss Post export form depressed me a little bit.

Why is it so hard to part with books?

 

Advertisements

42: Nuclear Nixed

Switzerland already uses solar power the old-fashioned way – with clotheslines. This rooftop clothesline is in the city core.

Switzerland derives 40 per cent of its electric power from six nuclear reactors* – all of which are slated for shutdown by 2030 as decided in a recent plebiscite. That gives the Swiss 18 years to figure out where to make up that considerable energy shortfall, and so they are looking into amping up their hydro-electric options.

A Swiss neighbourhood of row houses has multiple dedicated spaces for communal clotheslines. As a fan of sun-dried linens, I love this.

We tend to think of the frugal Swiss as energy-efficient what with their affection for public transport, train travel and these confounded greyish lightbulbs, but they’re not. On a global scale, they are 21st out of 217 countries in electricity consumption on a per capita basis. Canada is #4. Yes, we beat the Swiss in the hockey world championships this year and now they must deal with this added humiliation.

Before environmentalists jump on Canada for this, the reference point is for electrical consumption only, and that Canada is such a high consumer is related to its world-class hydro-electric infrastructure. Energy consumption correlates to national development, stability, industrialization and affluence, with the world’s saddest nations consuming the least power. I am waiting for David Suzuki to stand up and applaud Somalia for its “green” economy.

In the meantime, expect the Swiss to come up with something inventive to cope with their energy diet. They know how to make the most out of very little. They turned a landlocked, mountainous scrap of land into a world economic leader by selling things that can fit in your pocket: Drugs, watches and chocolate. ***

* Swiss media sources sometimes report the number of reactors at seven. The European Nuclear Society reports only five.

** Pharmaceuticals, not illegal drugs. This isn’t Mexico.

*** There is more to it than these three, of course. There’s also Swiss banking, cheese, ski resorts and the Red Cross. For such a small place, this country has a huge cultural footprint.

45: Switzerland’s vacation vaccination

Yesterday, after elbowing my way through three grocery stores packed with shoppers on the verge of taking up sniper posts atop the shelves, it seemed a good idea to inquire what was going on, just in case the Swiss were stocking up in light of a pending nuclear meltdown.

The hotel staff informed me today is a holiday “bigger than Christmas.” They were uncertain whether this is the day of Ascension or Pentecost, but they were sure it was a day off. Nice to see the Swiss, a secular bunch,  so scrupulously devoted to the religious calendar and any vacation days it might afford.

I worked in a newspaper. I’m pretty sure the protesters complained the media was deliberately casting them in a bad light when they ran this photo, but then, if the protesters didn’t want to look like Nazis, why did they engage in this salute? Of course, if they had actually been in class, they might have learned this was not a good idea, symbolism-wise. Source: Montreal Gazette

So we have been outside in the sun, strolling along the canals, not sure if we are marking the coming of Holy Spirit or the day Jesus hightailed it for heaven, but enjoying God’s goodness either way. The swans are nesting in giant wickerish mounds and the fishers are out with their extended poles, standing on metal platforms the size of diving boards. It’s lovely and yet the Swiss have said they have enough, no more vacation days for us, thanks.

In this season of mass protests against austerity measures, the Swiss voted down a proposal to expand their minimum annual paid vacation from four to six weeks. The Swiss can vote for crazy things like prostitute garages and keeping women from voting (until the 1980s), but sometimes their poll results reveal an intelligent electorate mature in its understanding of economics.

In the meantime, back home in Canada, Quebec’s premier Jean Charest cratered to protesters who stormed university classrooms this week and used belligerence to empty the rooms. Quebec is the only province where a masked man bursting into a room and shouting is usually the overture to gunfire, so it was an odd choice by the protesters, but then they have not been in school in weeks, so maybe they missed the history class covering the slayings at L’Ecole Polytechnique (1989), Concordia University (1992) and Dawson College (2006).

The premier shut down the spring sessions. I don’t get it, although in his defense Quebec’s opposition party is gleefully taking advantage of the unrest and throwing more fuel on the fire.

None of that for Geneva where voters approved tougher penalties for pushy protesters. Quebeckers are fond of referendums. Maybe they’ll take a tip from the Swiss and use one to restore order to their streets and campuses. If they don’t do it, it doesn’t look like anyone will, least of all their leaders.

55: The Importance of Being in a Crosswalk

Swiss woman makes power play over transit authority.

When a mother pushing a stroller challenges a bus on a Swiss street, you have to wonder if she’s hit the nadir of a post-partum-induced depression, because street-crossing in Switzerland has rigidly observed rules, one of which is, don’t mess with bus drivers. They see a pedestrian on the pavement as a challenge to their might and will push down on the pedal to make their point.

Nonetheless, the mother won, because just as rock crushes scissors, mother-and-baby beats buses. Street-crossing is, in my view, a sociological and psychological indicator of many things. Every time you cross the street, you are saying something about yourself, your culture and your country.

For example, a former work colleague hailing from Canada’s easterly region routinely plunged into downtown traffic as though she were made of impermeable titanium, not squishy skin-sheathed fluids. At first, I assumed this was part of her eastern provincial culture.

Then I observed she was very much the same off the road, plunging into rants that shredded her colleagues into confetti, not giving a thought for the reputations she raked over. Once, a colleague challenged her and she delivered a soliloquy so far removed from the truth that it can be said that she regarded people the same way she regarded cars – mere objects that were destined to get out of her way.

This is not to say that street-crossing methodology is an indication of sociopathic tendencies, but maybe it is a warning sign.

We see many people with crutches, canes and casts on Swiss streets, including young adults with twisted limbs and hobbled gaits. Other foreigners have observed the same thing, yet when we ask the Swiss about the multitude of injured on the streets, they don’t see anything unusual. We don’t know whether these are the ski or street-crossing wounded, but we sure wonder.

In Canada, jaywalkers crossing the street at any point might peeve a few, but overall society takes a benign view of the practice and  drivers will veer away should a pedestrian stride inside their trajectory. Still, something seethes under the surface: When city police in Victoria, British Columbia hold a ticketing-binge on jaywalkers it attracts heated and furious debate in the local media. But a ticket and maybe a tongue-scalding is the worst a Canadian will get for taking a shortcut.

No such luck in Australia. There, street-crossing can be suicidal, because the streets belong to bus-drivers who slingshot their multi-tonne vehicles as though they are warheads. Death could very quickly follow every time one crosses the curb. This is why Aussies drink so much. They know every hour could be their last.

I cannot speak for the dangers of street-crossing the world over, but I know that Spanish crosswalks are not to be trusted. While the Swiss abide by the rules, Spanish drivers are a hurried and opportunistic bunch, possibly because they are probably on their way home for a siesta, which might explain their current economic woes. I wish I was joking about this. Many a time at a Madrid crosswalk, I’ve seen the first car stop only to see cars two, three and even four pull up behind the first car, then pop out into the opposing lane and speed through the crosswalk. The first time I saw this, I nearly got hit. Having seen an x-ray of some Spanish orthopedic bone-mending with what looked like twist-ties, I vowed to never trust the Spanish medical establishment with my life, so I learned to never cross a crosswalk until all cars had passed.

Here in Switzerland, street-crossing is a sign of social order. Crosswalks are everywhere, and even though Swiss drivers could likely outpace those Australian bus-drivers, they show a lot of respect for people inside the crosswalk, but not so much for jaywalkers who venture beyond the yellow-striped lines.

More than once, I’ve seen vehicles speed up at the sight of a pedestrian attempting to strike out against the state-sanctioned road-crossings. Last week, a very swank looking gentleman driving a very expensive vehicle almost tapped a young man who dared cross the street against the light, and the motorist did not look one bit worried about grinding the man under his treads. The Swiss are ardent capitalists when it comes to money, but where street-crossing is concerned, they will push individualistic expression under the water every time.

As is the case in almost all areas of life, the exception to all rules across the board belongs to females between the ages of 16 to 30. These  stiletto-heeled women in their tight jeans, leather jackets and flowing manes do not even look before crossing the street. They just go without a hiccup in their pace because they know the world will stop for them. It looks like a wonderful world to be in, except for the day of reckoning that will occur sometime after they turn 30 when their toe the curb, and a car whips past without a glance at the gal. Then she will know she has passed her apex and is staring down into the nadir of middle-age. True, that is still a long ways off, but having to look before crossing a street is a sign that it will come.

 

 

 

57: Stats-urday

Our Swiss town is in bloom from the ground all the way up to the treetops. The air is delicious.

Everyone complains about McDonalds food, but does anyone appreciate its value as an economic indicator?

Believe it or not, the price of a Big Mac tops the list of economic indicators at an international statistics website, which makes perfect sense to us because at some point, we all have to rely on a Big MacAttack to raise our blood sugar levels when overseas and surrounded by local cuisine aka unidentifiable food.

NationMaster.com reports that in Canada a Big Mac costs $3.01 while in Switzerland it costs $4.93. I don’t want to cast aspersions on NationMaster.com, but hamburgers here cost more than that. Dave estimates we pay $6 (Cdn) for a Big Mac, or $12.50 if we decide to live it up and order the Big Mac Meal. To be fair, NationMaster sources this particular piece of data back to 2006.

Nonetheless, Canadians will be thrilled to know that according to IMB International, while the Swiss are renowned for their fidelity to modelling to the world how to stay on-time and fiscally sound, Canada still ranks higher for business efficiency at 5th place. Switzerland was 8th. This data is seven years old, but it makes my homeland look good so I’m not going to search for more recent figures.

Our GDP per capita is six per cent higher, too. That’s another figure I’m not going to update.  And our gross national income is a whopping 146% higher – take that Switzerland! Canada rules.

On a more personal financial note: Dave’s Swiss salary is on par with his Canadian salary, but our cost-of-living is significantly higher here. I should emphasize significantly (the triple-threat of emphasis – bolded, italicized and underlined!), all the more so because we are living a very green, pared-back lifestyle here compared to our lives in Canada.

In Canada, we have a 2400-square-foot four-bedroom house; here we have a 400-square-foot single room bachelor suite. There, we have two cars in our garage. Here, we walk everywhere we go and rely on trains for out-of-town trips. There, we eat restaurant food probably once a week, more when we were both working. Here, we dine out about once every three months (this excludes sandwich and hamburger joints where we fill up while touring). By all counts, we should be spending less money here, but we actually spend more. A lot more.

And now for less painful statistics …

BlogBits

This week on Hobonotes stats page:

  • Top three countries: Canada, U.S. and Switzerland. Oddly for some reason, Canada pounds out everyone else with over 200 hits while the U.S. logged only 60. I know Americans will not take this sitting down.
  • Bottom three countries: Greece, Denmark and Austria
  • Readers from Japan: Two.
  • Oddest search term: “Loads of people riding elephants in India.” As this blog covers neither crowd issues, pachyderms or India, I am at a loss to explain how Google brought this reader to this site.
  • Blogoddity: This week is the first when the topic of Paris food did not make it to the top ten of most read posts. I know the French will not take this sitting down.

61: Cantons and Canada

Switzerland, the land of many cobblestones and cantons.

Today is Labour Day, making it a public holiday in 10 of Switzerland’s 26 cantons. My husband’s work is in a canton that does not designate this a holiday, while some of his coworkers live in cantons that do, and so the question is: Do you take a holiday based on the address of your workplace or your home?

Even the Swiss seem uncertain.  When asked if staff should come in to work, a Swiss executive referred the question to the Human Resources Department, but based on past experience, my guess is that the head of HR is on holiday. One fellow lives and works in different cantons that both call today a regular work day, but he comes from a former communist-ruled country where Labour Day was practically a holy day so based on that criteria, he is staying home.  No one seems fussed about this.

If you live in the right canton, such as Zürich, you will enjoy 15 paid public holidays. If you live in the wrong one, like Appenzell, you  only get eight.

Coming from Canada, a land of 13 provinces and territories combined, we often see the nation is somewhat uneven in its application of rights, responsibilities and privileges. For example, in Ontario, medically necessary travel is funded through the government, while in British Columbia, residents have to go to a registered charity for help.

And while the federal government appears to be overseeing a  national health care system, the fact is that British Columbia demands monthly fees from its citizens (just like a private insurance company, gasp), while Manitoba only asks that you live inside its borders to qualify. How B.C. politicians get away with this and why voters put up with it is beyond me.

But to get back to public holidays, some Canadians get more, others not so much. Nationally, workers get nine paid days off; provinces add to that, but not at the same rate. British Columbians only get one extra day while at the other end of the country, Newfoundland/Labradorites enjoy as many as seven provincial holidays.

The rest of Canada says nothing about this because it seems reasonable compensation for having to live in Newfoundland/Labrador.

But to get back to the question about whether my hubby should go to work today, the answer is yes. He is contractor. He only gets paid if he shows up.

Public holidays in Switzerland

Public holidays in Canadian provinces by federal dates and provincial dates. 

78: Stats-urday or What the Heck does Цюрих архитектура Mean?

This is why Dave is not allowed to shop alone.

It’s Saturday, or as I have decided to call it Staturday. In this week’s exciting world of blog stats:

  • Most page views came from Canada.
  • Least page views came from Sweden.
  • I have at least one faithful reader in Japan. Thank you, faithful reader.
  • The weirdest and fourth-highest search term that landed a reader at this site was Цюрих архитектура. I have no idea what that means.
  • At least two web searches were for Fuhlrich Restaurant in Vienna on which I wrote two reviews of two visits, one that was sublime, the other catastrophic. My reviews reflect both. I am nothing if not fair. If either of those two readers want to know whether to try out this restaurant, I say do. The food is always good, even if the service is somewhat uneven.
  • “What to say to hobo” was one search term that I can answer: Say hello, and keep walking. Hobos can be sketchy.
  • Second weird search term: Does Angelina Jolie have asthma? This site will not definitively answer that question but I will hazard a guess that she does not.
  • Whereas Paris food is usually the most popular search term of the year, it has just this week been edged out by Lucerne.
  • Hobonotes.com has 12,358 hits.
  • I like to think that I just whip these posts out in a flash, but the truth is a I am a serial-self-editor. WordPress lets me see how many times I’ve tweaked a post, and those lists show some get tinkered with as many as 20 times before I hit the publish button.
  • Even with that, I often see a gaff after publication, so I end up republishing some after corrections one to three times.
  • No one is perfect.

87: Dum dee dum dum dumb at the drugstore

Switzerland: Land where Nyquil & Melatonin users viewed with suspicion. Heroin-addicts and alcoholics are okay.

“Hola! Buenos dias! No! Er, hello. No, bonjour! Gruetzi! Dang! What country am I in?!”

This is what happens to me when I spend a protracted amount of time in a linguistic stew. I stumble over four languages in a nanosecond, which is what happened when I greeted the pharmacist at the local apotheke (pharmacy) yesterday.

“Why did you start in a language you can’t even speak,” my beloved asked. Why indeed. The pharmacist had Iberian skin tones and black hair, a visual cue that sprung the floodgates on the little reservoir of Spanish my brain has boxed up since our days in Madrid. The pharmacist’s responding look of incomprehension then caused the linguistic data to disperse at the synaptic cleft between my neurons, form into a ball and ping pong around my brain, hitting as many languages as possible. Given enough time, I might have recalled the Japanese that Mrs. Kirbyson tried to teach me in 1975.

I wonder if time-zone-trader Angelina Jolie has trouble sleeping.

It turns out the gentleman spoke English, but by then I had forgotten how to manage even that and so I persisted in my usual muddled melange. Dave just stood back and watched the show.

I am always in a slightly peeved mood when I go to a pharmacy in Europe, which is something like visiting a North American drug store in 1952 when everything was kept behind the counter and a conversation with the druggist was mandatory. I’m actually not sure about that being the case in 1952, but Hollywood tells me this is so and I’m too linguistically hungover to investigate further.

In Switzerland, something as mundane as NyQuil (called Medinait here, for those who need to know) can only be purchased after assuring a pharmacist that the buyer does not have asthma, glaucoma, a family history of glaucoma, neurofibromatosis, halitosis, a tendency to crack knuckles, arthritis, phlebitis, elephantitis or a cough that has lingered for over a week. Who would think a cold medication would come under such strict controls?

Costco's Melatonin: There's the good stuff.

But there’s more. Even the non-drug Metamucil (a non-medicinal soluble fibre product that does wonders for cholesterol counts, by the way) requires conversational counter-time with the drug-store staff.

Last week, I learned that melatonin* – a rather innocuous hormone that flits about in the pineal gland governing our sleep cycles – is only available in Switzerland by prescription. Melatonin has been an on-the-shelf product in the U.S. since the 1990s and in Canada it can be bought in comforting large containers at Costco stores, yet when I asked for it, the Swiss druggist gave me the studious stare associated with searching for signs of drug addiction – that is, my drug addiction. But then, considering how I opened our conversation in  a multiplicity of languages that I don’t actually speak, who can blame him?

I find this fascinating in a country where heroin and other narcotics are legal, and if I wanted such I could probably just drop in at the local injection clinic and load up my veins.

Alternatively, if I’m having trouble sleeping and can’t access my usual supply of melatonin, a cheap and ready source of alcohol of all sorts can be purchased at any food store. I looked down my nose at the men lining up at a nearby convenience store with their beer and booze during the supper hour, but now I realize they may just be fellow-insomniacs whose melatonin-prescriptions have run out.

Blogbits

On Hobonotes’ most recent daily report:

  • Most hits come from the U.S.
  • Least hits come from the Russian Federation
  • Weirdest search term that landed a reader at this site was “Paris restaurant Winnipeg”
  • Readers from Japan did not even register in my country list. I cannot break into that readership. Dang. 

DO NOT USE THIS WEBSITE FOR MEDICAL INFORMATION: To learn more about melatonin, go to legitimate medical websites, such as mayoclinic.com. 

The countdown continuation …

On March 23, this blog celebrates its first birthday. Since then:

250 posts have been tapped out, of which 221 made it to publication.

350 comments were submitted of which 345 were approved. That puzzles me – what were the five unapproved comments that I deigned not fit for readers’ eyes? I will do a search on those later.

1,203 spam comments were filtered out, thank you to WordPress’s gatekeepers

815 tags were attached to the posts, proving that I am a lazy blog-tagger.

10,972 people have visited HoboNotes

67 nations visited (it’s getting crowded in here)

10 Top Countries to visit are:

  1. United States
  2. Canada
  3. Switzerland
  4. Mexico
  5. United Kingdom
  6. Australia
  7. Indonesia
  8. Morocco
  9. Italy
  10. Slovakia

10 most infrequent country visitors are:

  1. Ireland
  2. Hong Kong
  3. Moldova
  4. Sri Lanka
  5. Syrian Arab Republic
  6. Viet Nam
  7. Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
  8. United Arab Emirates
  9. Lithuania
  10. Georgia

The most popular post of all time is (drum roll please)(click on titles to read): Paris food – Can you eat lamb’s kidney without having to sell one of your own? At 405 hits, it outpaces the second most popular post by a whopping 145 hits. The second was Switzerland’s “Toronto” (260 hits).

This surprises me, but if I learned anything in my tenure as a reporter, it is that boredom has no correlative factors between the writer and the reader. I once wrote a story on the social ramifications of high winds sweeping through our neighborhood on the day we put out our recycling bins. I didn’t think anyone would read it, but it turns out that having one’s neighbor’s personal mail getting snagged in the shrubs is a topic of endless fascination to Canadians.

But I drift from my numbers game here.

The least read post was Swiss air quality not as pure as the government says, which garnered only two hits. I guess only two other people are as repulsed by the copious cloud cover of cigarette smoke on Switzerland’s streets as I am.

104 is the number that most fascinates me today. It is the number of days we have left here in Switzerland, and in the spirit of writing anything that comes my way, no matter how boring, I am going to post something every one of those 104 days, even if it is just a photograph. It is not that great an accomplishment – I wrote almost daily for most of our time here up to January 2012 even while writing a novel.

This will be of interest only to writers, but whipping out pages of fiction did nothing to slow down my blog-posting, however, the minute I turned to editing and then agent-searching, finding something to blog about became more challenging, likely because those are very inward mental tasks focused entirely on the novel and how to present it, whereas fiction-writing is at once all about memory, interpretation and observation – very outward-looking brain functions.

And so 104 days, here we come. Or as they say in Japan where my readership numbers are weak:  104日は、ここでは来る

A Countdown Queen + Her Calendars

Blame Christmas. I am a Countdown Queen.

Growing up, we didn’t have much money, which meant we didn’t have many toys, at least not compared to the other kids on the street, but what my brothers and I lacked in material possessions, we made up for with a hyperactive state of anticipation ratcheted up by our countdown vigilance toward Christmas day – our once-a-year toy haul. This may have been responsible for my mother hanging the phone receiver upside down for months at a time. No one knows for sure why she did this, but I think she was experimenting with it before twisting it around our necks.

As soon as Christmas rolled over we sprinted the countdown to New Years dinner at Grandma’s house, an unembarrassed snatch for hot homemade apple pies and tourtieres.

Then the marathon countdown to Easter was on, when we counted 100 days and more to the morning we would each get one chocolate rabbit. One. That was okay, because as soon as Easter was finished, the count was on to summer holidays. Lent? We didn’t need Lent. Deprivation was our natural state.

I was a somewhat above-average distance runner in my youth and here too, counting was the thing. Bouncing on my toes at the start line, I counted the racers who historically had been faster than me, counted those slower, counted down to the starting gun shot, counted the number of runners ahead of me, the number I passed, the number who passed me, the number of meters/yards we had raced, the number yet to come, and the magical final 300 metres/yards, my favorite part of the race when I passed as many on the track as I could (I have no ‘sprint’ in me so I had to drive hard over a longer distance at the end to come in the top three). Naturally, I counted down as I went. Racing was simply a living mathematical equation. It was lovely.

Catch me at any moment and I am counting down to something. I counted down the days to get to Switzerland, and as soon as I arrived, I started counting down the days to my return to Canada. This is only a microcosm of an entire life dedicated to countdowns.

Oprah counselled people to “live in the moment,” but what is the point of that? It can only be lived in once, and then it is done, but the moments ahead that can be looked forward to for ages, those moments are the ones stretched out. Why deprive myself of this joy?

And now, I’m at it again, counting down the days to our return to Canada, the land that I love, where I have half a clue what is being said to me, where I can afford to buy whole straps of beef tenderloin, where there is the best ice cream on earth, endless prairies, boundless skies, unfettered rivers and creeks, untamed ocean shorelines, lakes barely touched, and people who say sorry when they accidentally bump into you. I might just count them all.

This is not to say there is anything wrong with Switzerland, despite the fact it is a tad overpriced. It is a lovely country with wonderful, kind people, eye-busting vistas, and possibly the most punctual train service in the world, best expressed by the horror the Swiss display when a train is two minutes late. Two minutes. Maybe that’s why I like these people so much. They like to count, too.

Eeny, meeny, miny moe

Mitt Romney, going for the gusto.

A special beauty is attached to living overseas, and that beauty is the avoidance of regularly repeating national outrages, namely elections and occasionally referendums.

We were happy to abscond to the Deep South during Quebec’s separation referendum from the mother ship Canada. It was a riveting time, covered in-depth in the Atlanta Journal Constitution in a three-line story buried deep in the world news section. That was exactly enough coverage to suit us.

Harper knocks the Liberals right off their high chair.

America was not fussed about any Canadian fissures, partly because they were obsessed with Cochrane, Kardashian and Simpson, and I don’t mean the musician, the gown-sheathed Kardashian descendants or the hapless but lovable cartoon Simpsons.

Romney likes to point.

Being down south, where there was some secessionist flavor in the earlier century, led our American friends to puzzle over our nation’s leaders’ lax attitude toward the separatists. Why does Canada put up with it? they wondered.

Here is why: It is endlessly amusing, especially when the northern natives volunteered to lop off the top two-thirds of Quebec in their own separating-from-the-separatists bid. Quebec roared, but the rest of Canada sat back smugly, trying not to say, “So, how do you like it?”

And now that the U.S. is deep in primary season, the usual grumblings are burbling about leaving the country should (insert political candidate name here) get (re)elected.  I can assure them that it is fun to leave the country in a snit, but the problem is who will take them.

I did not know my own country's official opposition leader until I looked it up just now. Ignorance is bliss. This is not to diss the NDP. This woman, whoever she is, looks like a very nice person.

This is why it is good to not be around during election/primary season. TMZ posted this 'topless' photo of Newt Gingrich asserting it was reason enough to not vote for him. It is reason enough to not pay attention to TMZ, and its adolescent (albeit lucrative) version of election coverage. It is not the politicians that annoy us. It is the media. Okay - some politicians do annoy us, but not as much as TMZ and Sean Penn.

It surprises some people to learn this, but showing up at another country with the intention to stay past their regular tourist-trap allowance can attract the attention of bureaucrats, the world’s version of bullies-with-briefcases.

This comes up now, because tomorrow Dave and I head down to renew our visas, and if there should be any hiccup, we could end up with an escort to the airport, which would be kind of nice as I’m sure the helpful Swiss officers would lend a hand with the luggage.

That is okay with us. We have already missed Canada’s federal election and as far as I can tell, there won’t be another for four years.

*Note: I do not own the rights on any of these photos. Relax vigilant editors, I am not making any money off of them.

Not THIS Kardashian.

THIS Kardashian.

Paris food – can you eat lamb’s kidney without having to sell your own?

Sweet treats and good rib-sticking eats all in one shopping spot at French bakeries and patisseries.

This post dating back to the Easter weekend 2011 repeatedly floats to the top of this blog’s hits (scroll down).

Staring at the text in the file listings, it made no sense to me, but now that I’ve opened the post and seen that it comes with a photo of a lovely pastry display case on top, the world has once again fallen into its correct order.

In the meantime, our little plateau in Switzerland is experiencing the spring-like joys of the Canadian prairies, that is to say the sidewalks are ankle-deep in grey ice and slush.

Yesterday, I met another writer for the literary version of a jam session, and uncharacteristically, the Swiss railway system failed, so she had to complete the last part of her journey by bus. That was okay, until she landed in our little slush-ville.

As it happens, both she and I are from Winnipeg, although we met here, not there.

This is another oddity of Winnipeggers – they/we are everywhere, and strangely, we all recognize one another. I think it’s because we smile so much.

Why do we smile? Because we’re not in Winnipeg, the hometown everyone loves to hate but will die defending.

And so, the two of us pretended the weather was just fine, even though we both had slipped into some decline by the time we connected at the train station with our moppy hair and weather-mashed countenances.

We entered into the Women of Winnipeg pact, which is that it was a ‘given’ that we both had started our day with fabulous hair and in the most beautiful of states, regardless of all the evidence to the contrary. She shared that while waiting for the bus she had met another Winnipegger. Neither of us is surprised by this.

Then we marched through the slushy streets, pushing against the wind and pelting snow, feeling the slush ride up our pant legs and ooze ice particles into our shoes. Actually, I’m speaking for myself here, but I have to assume she was experiencing similar discomfort, but, of course she did not complain because she is from … Winnipeg, and by all bio-bred Winnipeg-weather standards, this was still a fine day weather-wise, although a little too warm for cross-country skiing. Pity. If only the temperature had dropped another eight degrees, it would have been a perfect day.

By the time we arrived at Starbucks, my jeans were soaked up to my knees and I couldn’t feel my ankles.  We were both in high spirits, and not just because of our proximity to caffeinated products and cheesecake, but because there’s nothing like an ice-dousing to make a prairie gal feel alive, or at least so numb that the absence of pain makes us feel alive.

It took me about six  hours to bring my core body temperature back up to normal. I should point out that in Winnipeg, it would have taken me six days.

But enough of that. Here is one of Hobonotes’ top five postings – actually, it is usually in third spot, but I just can’t believe it.

Dining in Paris: Can you eat lamb’s kidney without having to sell your own?

The first question is why would you want to eat a lamb’s kidney anyway? Gross.  That aside, French food enjoys a reputation that tops all others, but do they deserve it?

It’s easy to trot into France’s finest restaurants and emerge satisfied that the nation’s cuisine is all that is claimed. But what about those of us who blanche at $75 lunches? What is French food like for the mid-to-low range diner? Does Paris even have a mid-to-low-range dining echelon?

We-the-cheap conducted an in-depth 48-hour study on this topic. Here is what we found.

Patisseries/boulangeries, that is, combination pastry and bakery shops, are great sources for not-so-expensive, but still delicious, day-time meals, and these shops are everywhere.

Aux Armes de Niel, the  boulangerie (photo above)  at the corner down from our hotel sold soup-bowl-sized take-out quiches and other sustaining  foods (mini-pizzas, although I don’t know if they called them that) for under $10 each.  The alternative was our hotel breakfast at 20 Euros, that is,  over $30 Cdn. each. No thanks.

400-year-old French cafe. No one was there. We're not saying this suggests that its age corresponded to the length of time customers waited for a meal, but you have to wonder.

It also sold fabulous overfilled cream pastries, if such can be said to be truly over-filled. After all, this is whipped cream. There’s never too much of it, so the French seem to think and, after sampling the goods, we agree.  The pastries themselves were heavenly- flakey, light, everything Pilsbury dough-boy claims, but is not. French pastry is a perfect jacket for French fillings and toppings.

If you’re deciding between French ice cream and French pastries as your guilt-food for the day, pick the pastries. The ice cream is good, but ice cream tops out at a certain point anywhere in the globe and I can prove it by producing homemade ice cream at my Ontario cottage that could stand up alongside the French’s. Note to cottage guests: But I won’t do that, because summer is the time to laze on the dock – not a good place for churning ice cream.  Note to those searching for the greatest scoop of ice cream: Head to Atlanta, Georgia. Break into any home-kitchen and demand the contents of their churn. Seriously. You will not be disappointed.

San Remo Pizzeria in Paris; artichoke, olive and pepper pizzaBut I digress.

We scoured the streets for under-$30/person fare and found a few places, such as the San Remo’s Pizzeria near the Place de Marechal Juin roundabout and Pereire metro station.  There, I had a delicious vegetarian pizza with artichokes that did not appear to have ever graced the insides of a jar.

Dave had the grilled salmon and spaghetti alla chitarra, a substantial thick spaghetti noodle cooked to just the right degree of resistance and subtly seasoned.

With a glass of the house wine and a beer, the total came to $36.90. Shocking, all the more so for having been so delicious.  The atmosphere on this Paris sidewalk cafe was great, too. The staff (probably Italians) were nowhere near as snooty as French servers’ reputation suggests.


Spectacular ice show

Have a seat. It's ice outside.

Switzerland’s cold snap drags on, but a “deep freeze” that hovers around -15 C does not exactly excite terror in this former Winnipegonian to whom -15 C is a perfect temperature for all-day cross-country skiing. Seriously, Europe, wake up and build a better infrastructure for winter. It does come around every year.

There is one thing, however, that is hard to beat and it is ice-cladding, which frankly, scares the daylights out of me.  Not much to do about this but break out the blowdryers and chisels. Here’s a photo from a photo-fan website. Click here to see more. 

NOTE: I’m having trouble with the ice-links, however, here’s another go at it. Hope these come through. 

Switzerland's ice storm: Showing New York that a "boot" is not the worse thing that can happen to your car.

Lake Geneva transformed into frozen landscape, literally, by blustery winds and freezing temps.

Switzerland's deep freeze.

Snow and ice and everything nice is what Canadians are made of …

A fountain's spray freeze-frames the greenery around a park pond.

Europe is in a deep freeze, with temperatures dropping to minus 18, a number that our hotel staff speak of in hushed tones, and then only with a shudder of horror. Horror indeed. The average February low is -1.3 C. What is happening now is something along the lines of an advancing ice age.

Even when it is cold, Swiss swans maintain order (it had not snowed yet when this photo was taken, but aren't the swans pretty?)

We would huddle inside our little hotel room but now is the time for action. Canada’s national security depends on it. Everyday, we bundle up and head outside for a seemingly relaxing stroll. I say “seemingly,” to conceal the serious business that is afoot: The business of perpetuating our greatest national myth – That Canada is a barely inhabitable fortress of ice.

Canadians don’t walk; we skate, ski or snowshoe. We don’t have cars; we have snowmobiles and sled-teams. We don’t have central heating: We have bonfires that we dance around to keep ourselves warm. We don’t live in buildings, we live in igloos, although thanks to one Quebec hotel, some think we live in ice palaces. That is okay. They still look really cold and uncomfortable.

It is this myth of enduring winter that keeps Canada safe from invasion and foreign aggression.

If you disagree, consider this: The only country to make a real land grab from Canada lately is Denmark, a nation that doesn’t mind a little snow now and then.

This photo doesn't really have anything to do with Europe's cold snap. We just think this is Little Red Riding Hood, and look! She's made friends with the wolf, who also sports a red collar.

Even terrorists, the most unevenly tempered lot of the global bully bunch, work primarily outside of the arctic, subarctic and boreal climate zones.

Invade Canada? Who would want to?

And so, to keep the rumours alive, everyday we put on a big show of going outside to ‘enjoy’ the cold, brisk air. We return to the hotel exclaiming about the mild weather, and regale the Swiss with stories of horseback riding at minus-20 (true), jogging at minus-25 (also true) and cross-country skiing for hours in just about any temperature.

We keep it secret that we’re out for such long stretches because our brains have been rendered senseless by frostbite such that we can’t find our way back home.

Canadian ex-pats: Keeping Canada safe from afar.

Rain

Rain, rain please do stay. I can't take another hot day.

In non-news, yesterday we watched a never-seen-anywhere-else-we’ve-lived  weather-induced phenomenon (I am trying to break a hyphenated-sentence record).

While out on our evening stroll through downtown, heavy rain started pouring, driving many shoppers to line up execution-style, their backs pressed tight against the buildings for shelter in that miniscule 18-inch ribbon of dry pavement next to the wall.

Witnessing this led me to reflect on what this unique behavior would lead to in other parts of the world.

Do this in the Pacific Northwest and you’ll be waiting for the weather to clear from November til April. Try it in Manitoba or North Dakota and soon a sheath of ice will form over you, rendering you immobile until spring.

Lining up in this fashion in a giant American metropolis will lead criminals to assume you are volunteering to be relieved of your wallet or purse, getting you mugged within two minutes. The good news is that ambulance attendants will arrive to get you out of the rain, although you will be in a prone position, likely for quite some time. If you are single, this is even better as you are about meet a lot of doctors, just as your mother always hoped. You might not look your best, but the doctors will be too busy checking your intubation tube to notice. See how a little rain can change your life?

In Victoria, British Columbia, muggers are more polite and will ask for your money instead. Many would-be robberies are aborted in this way as the prospective victim is often unaware he has a role to play. And in true Victoria form, the mugger will be too polite to point out this faux pas to the victim, and let it pass. This happens dozens of times a day there.

In Australia, line up against a wall and someone will hand you a beer. Do this in Spain’s Plaza Mayor and locals will assume you’ve had too much beer,  search you for it and take it away.

Our view: Not very attractive, but not so bad. The buildings absorb the sound of ambulances screaming down our street. I'm not joking. We rarely hear them from inside our courtyard-flat.

I did wonder how long the Swiss would stand there, but as it turned out, the locals knew what they were doing. Within a few minutes, the rain paused in an orderly polite Swiss manner (just  as it started, quickly and on time) and the crowds meandered back onto the roadway. I should point out, this area is a no-car zone, so no tremendous traffic excitement ensued.  In the meantime, the Swiss had a sociable time chattering with their fellow rain-refugees,  presumably about the weather.

In other news that matters to no one in particular, yesterday I was told twice that I speak French very well, proving that you can get by in a foreign language on only two sentences, as long as you pronounce them very well.

And finally, I’ve been told I am living a rich-lady-life, which sounds pretty glamorous, but in the interest of truth, allow me to dispel that myth by sharing the view outside of our flat.

Plants that I plan to neglect.