85: Swiss Saturday Shopping

Biel's thriving Saturday farmers market is a good place to shop.

It is Saturday on the Easter four-day weekend, which in Switzerland means it is time to jam the shops to load up on food.

Tulips on the steps of the Biel old-town Church (we think it is Catholic-turned-Dutch-Reformed). This congregation was listed in Lausanne's register in 1228. The current church building dates back to the late 1300s.

Not that we can load up on much, what with our miniscule camping-cooler-sized fridge, but we will do what we can, because the shops were all closed yesterday and will be closed for the next two days.  Today is the retail oasis in the sandy desert of commerce in our little town.

People also leave garbage on the church steps. It must be a pick-up zone.

It takes some effort to adapt to Switzerland’s restrictive shopping hours. Back home, the horror of two non-shopping days would be soothed by a full-freezer, amply stocked kitchen shelves and a refrigerator happily humming as it cools buckets of produce, deli meats and other foodstuffs.

There in North America, on any given day, 20 people could drop in unannounced and we would be ready to put on a spread that based on the usual contents of our larder could include: Barbecue meatballs, meatloaf, mesquite chicken, spaghetti, pizza, lasagna, quiche, chili dogs, Kraft Dinner, homemade soup, hot rolls, and ice cream.

The Swiss carry their flower bouquets upside down. Also, Swiss men carry pink plaid shopping bags and seem wholly unaware that in a North American school ground, this would get them beat up.

Here in Europe, they would get three Ritz crackers and a thin slice of Brie.

Once, when our Canadian mountainside home was cut off from civilization by a sudden and deep snowfall, locking us in with our adult son and his three friends – young men with corresponding elephantine appetites, we were able to keep everyone fed for three days and still have slabs of frozen pizza in the freezer should the snowfall extend their stay even longer.

Were that to happen here with our tiny food stores, the result might a lesson in how swiftly companions can turn to cannibalism. The horror.

On one of Biel's main thoroughfares, edging onto the medieval town district.

Biel's medieval village is relatively small but we still got lost in it while trying to find a particular clothing/coffee shop. Getting lost is good: It brings us to charming little vignettes like this tumble-down hidden courtyard.

The Swiss love shutters.

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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.