97: A town with its own water cannon truck

Now that's a water cannon!

Our town may only house 60,000 souls or so, but that doesn’t mean its police force can’t have cool equipment, like armored water cannon trucks.

We were out for our Sunday stroll when we noticed all access points to our town square were covered by police vehicles and uniformed officers. Poised at the brink of the square was what looked like a Canada-style recycling truck. On closer inspection, we found the police logo on the door, which led to questions about whether police were branching out into the refuse and recycling collection biz.

Water cannons are abhorred in North America for their historical use in the race riots of the 1960s, but they are still made and sold in Europe (U.K.-manufactured), and come in handy to remind soccer rioters to keep their game-enthused vandalism confined to the arena.

Dave voted we just keep walking and not let our eyes meet any of the officers’ gazes, but my reporter sensibilities drove me on to the nearest armed police officers. Dave kept a distance so that after my arrest he would still be available to file a report to Amnesty International and call our U.N. -connected friends to see if they could shake me loose from the clutches of the Swiss authorities.

The officers were friendly and said that they were readying for a soccer riot, which is just about the best thing I’ve heard all year. European soccer riots are the stuff of legend and seeing one up close would be memorable. This view is why, by the way, Dave would like to put a leash and muzzle on me when we go out for a stroll.

“So, when should I stay clear of the square,” I asked the officer, but as any cop will tell you, when a reporter asks when to stay away, she is really saying, “When does the party start and what should I wear?”

Sadly, he said there was no need to stay clear. None of the officers wore that tense ‘don’t mess with me I have guns, billy clubs, a stun gun and I am ready to play Star Trek/Star Wars/Battlestar Galatica  on your head’ expression. The armored water cannon vehicle, the haul-you-off-to-jail vans and police were all a show of hands and in our mostly unassuming quiet little watchmaking town, that is enough to keep the peace.

Tear gas used to protect pro-life protesters.

As a side note: Although the police told me there was water in the cannon truck, Swiss police do sometimes use the trucks to shoot tear gas into crowds. It is reported they did exactly that last year when a peaceful march of about 1,000 people favoring protection for unborn children was threatened by people favoring unrestricted abortion access.

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Can we get out of here?

Thank you Wikipedia for this photo. This is an F-15 Eagle. This is not the bird anyone wants to see soaring overhead.

Our trip to the “police’s stranger population” office as it is word-for-word translated, passed without incident, except for the part where they took our residency cards away.

I am not normally alarmed by this, except that the last time I took a flight out of Switzerland, the border control officer scowled at me until I produced that same card. I understand Switzerland’s insistence on seeing my residency card on the way in, but why on the way out? Can I leave here without that cute little pink-and-powder-blue plastic-coated card?

I am genetically tuned to flight. While one side of my family engaged in a slow migration across Canada, taking over 400 years to get from the St. Lawrence Seaway to the prairies, the other side wears the motto, “Let’s get the heck out of here now!” or as my father once described it “Run!” He was a man of few words, but that was because he was saving his breath for the big sprint out of Eastern Europe.

But I digress a little. Exit visas are a little-known dirty secret of some countries. I do not believe this will really be a problem in Switzerland, although if it is I will happily skip across the border into France, even if I have to walk the Jura Mountains to do it.

We hope these guys aren't waiting for us.

A friend of ours discovered the importance of exit visas when he and his young family landed in one of those little-known Middle-Eastern nations that form a mere fingernail on the map. Unfortunately, in his wake came the U.S. Army and they were ticked.

Now that I think about it, I can’t remember if he and his wife had children yet. No matter.

So while Saddam was getting kicked around the block by his mom for inciting the infamous “mother of all battles,” (at least, I hope she was kicking him around), our friend, let’s call him Sam, decided there really was no place like home, especially as home did not have any  Combat F-15 Eagles soaring overhead.

That’s when Sam found out he had an entry  visa, but not an exit  visa. Even though both begin with the letter “e,” they are very different, especially in the minds of border agents.

How long would it take to get an exit visa? Well, all the bureaucrats were busy hiding under desks, so visa processing was somewhat slowed down.

Sam, who happens to be a published author, does not realize this is his best story ever, mostly because he is emotionally incapacitated while retelling it. How he escaped remains sketchy, although he does recall an embassy official chiding him for not bringing two passports with him so that he could use the one without an entry visa stamp to flee the country.

We do not see much of Sam any more. Our lives have gently diverted away from each other, but I still count him among my friends, because it is very cool to know someone who has once sincerely uttered these words: “I want the next flight out of here. I don’t care where it’s going.” *

Which leads us to the important question: How do we get two Canadian passports, and is it too late to ask?

On the other hand, if we are stuck in Switzerland, which I’m sure we’re not, at least we will have plenty of chocolate to calm our nerves.

*He ended up in Greece, which at the time of the Kuwait invasion was okay, but today would not be so much fun, so I hope we don’t run into similar problems.

 

Teddy Bears: The Swiss’s Secret Weapon in the Event of a Nuclear Disaster

That teddy bear will teach that nuclear monster a thing or two.

A somewhat shaky grasp on the management of natural gas leaks isn’t all that excites us about Switzerland. There’s also the threat of a nuclear disaster.

We get a good view of a nuclear silo on the train ride between Zürich and Biel, but I talked myself into believing it’s just a grain silo, a very wide and somewhat oddly shaped one, but still one that would be good place to store wheat, or perhaps, nuclear stuff.

That little personal myth melted away this week. In the mail, among all the usual sales brochures was a German, French and Italian  square blue and white packet from our Canton police, military, population protection and sports – yes sports – branches.

This Czech Republic nuclear plant is ready for disaster - see, it's next to a chapel, cause if it blows, there will be a prayer meeting like the Czechs have never seen before.

It was the sports part that got me nervous – were they suggesting only the athletic would survive whatever warnings were coming from the police, military and sports divisions?

A quick run through Google Translate revealed that we are within 20 km of a nuclear power plant. The opening line, intended to have a calming effect, declares that nuclear technology is very safe, but the authorities want to minimize any “risk of prejudice in an accident.” What does that mean? In the event of a nuclear meltdown, a little bit of prejudice might be a good thing, seeing as prejudice means to “pre-judge,” and if pre-judgment means I’ll be stocked up on food, water and iodine pills, well, I’m all for that.

The brochure details the rules of behavior in “an increase of radioactivity.” I don’t need the Swiss to tell me that. My rule of behavior will be to run madly in circles, screaming “Oh no, oh no oh no!!!” It may be ineffective, but it’s straightforward and simple to follow.

Swiss authorities to nuclear-fall-out residents: Grab your teddy bears. This is going to get a lot worse before it gets better!

According to the pamphlet, the first thing to do is to listen to the radio and follow the authority’s instructions. The second thing to do is – and I’m not kidding about this, it is in the brochure – is to continue to listen to the radio and continue to follow the authority’s instructions. 

This suggests that the authorities don’t really have any other bright ideas to follow up their first recommendation.

There’s also advice to not let pets outside and to head for your cave or abri. I’m not sure what an abri is, but the accompanying illustration suggests it is a reinforced subterranean bunker, as depicted by a very thick black line that is about 6 times the width of the black lines depicting the house or regular basement. Obviously, it should have no ventilation, but heck, who wants to breathe when the air is full of isotopes or other deadly nano-particles.

But it will be a fun time down in the bunker as the Swiss authorities mandate that we should all bring toys for children. It’s going to be a regular play-date. Yes, a teddy bear will get us through a nuclear meltdown.

Now we are in Switzerland, not Russia, so I don’t really worry about a nuclear disaster, but if I had been in Japan, I would have said exactly the same thing, and I would have been wrong. Cue nervous jitters.

A Paris riot – or just random running?

 

As we crossed the Pont d’lena bridge on the northwest side of the Eiffel Tower, we heard a loud jingling noise. Was it Christmas?

The noise grew.  Young men with Middle-Eastern complexions were racing around us in what looked like the start of a riot. Oh good. Something to write home about.

It was actually Dave the Alert who noticed that only dark-skinned men were running, their rings of souvenirs filling the air with their musical jingling. It was a very contrary scene.  On the one hand, we felt the pressure of herd-behavior and wanted to run. On the other, the jingling made me reach for my wallet and look around for a Salvation Army kettle.

I did not notice the runners’ ethnicity right away, but I was cognizant of the fact that France’s controversial new prohibitions on face-concealing burqas had just come into effect.

Joanne, perspiring from recurrent hot flashes, not from near-almost-mob-trampling. Seriously, hot flashes are more scary.

Yes, I’m writing it just like that. It’s politically incorrect to notice anyone’s race/ethnic-origin these days, but as a retired reporter, I just say it like it is, and it is like this: Recent ethnic-group-targeted-law + Middle-Eastern males in flight = Get the Heck Out of There.

I could take the oblique route and say no blond middle-aged women were seen fleeing the scene, but that’s only because I (blond middle-aged woman) have 1. a bad Achilles tendon, and 2. am too dense to realize when something is happening, even if something is Middle-Eastern males running at high speeds through a city famous for Muslim-youth riots only a few years ago.

Soldiers, arms at the ready, patrol Paris's streets.

Within seconds, we found ourselves standing alone on a broad swath of pavement that moments earlier had been packed with people. This could not be good, and then we saw the reason for the running. His strut drew attention even from across the street – a Paris police officer. We quickly ascertained that those fleeing from him were unlicensed vendors, and maybe even illegal aliens. Who knows?

The police made no attempt to chase down the vendors, who actually raced through a line of armed soldiers, who also made no move to apprehend. It was clear this was just business as usual, although for the remainder of the time we were at the Eiffel Tower, the vendors kept a watchful and anxious eye out on the crowds.

Sadly, the police officer and soldiers refused my request to take their photo. I did not argue. This will surprise police officers in Victoria who know me, but it may have been because of the assault rifles and Glocks in full view, and the fact that I was a guest in a foreign country, and so on my best behavior.

Tomorrow: Thieves in Paris – cute, adorable, efficient.

Day Two in Switzerland

I studied French for three months to get ready for living in Switzerland. Apparently, I made a mistake.

Things are looking up. Early this morning as we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast in the Hotel Elite’s posh dining room, a waiter with a heavy accent asked if we would like him to take our photograph together.

I said yes, thinking that he had asked if I wanted a whole pot of coffee at our table. As I said, his accent was heavy. I was pretty enthusiastic about the pot of coffee, which did not materialize. Not so enthusiastic about the picture, which accurately records the previous day’s trauma on my face.

And then I lost the digital photos – some how. Some way. It was wonderful.

After breakfast we trundled down to the Hotel Mercure to meet a representative who would walk us through our setting-up day. We waited around for an apartment rental agent who showed up fashionably attired and fashionably late. As per usual, she forgot to bring the right key to show us the apartment, but then we lucked out and discovered the cleaning staff were inside and the door was open.

Having seen  plans that took months to build fail at a rate of one-per-hour over the course of a single day, we took a run at the apartment as though we were hipsters. We didn’t ask all the important questions, paid almost no attention to any details because hanging over our heads was the biggest question of all: Why bother? If we learned anything this week, it is to be reckless.

Evidence of a parallel universe: Coke Light instead of Diet Coke.

Next came our visit to the police station for our residency papers where a genetically linked version of Attila the Hun in menopausal-woman-form handled our file. I’m not insulting her when I say “menopausal,” because I’m in that state myself, but she looked really bitter about her hormone depletion. Me, I’m too sleep-deprived to be bitter.

As one would expect, she grimly informed us that there were not enough signatures on our apartment lease. She said this in French but I understood her perfectly owing to our parallel menopausal status. I almost congratulated her on the way out. You have to respect a woman who can glance at a bundle of officious documents and pick a needle out of that haystack to make our introduction to Biel just a little more cumbersome.

We walked to the rental office where everyone told us in French that the signature was unattainable because the

Strange little garden-shed villages line the rails between Zurich and Biel.

manager was away. Again, I understood every word. There is something about rejection that I am growing to recognize.

After some verbal rough-housing with our representative, the papers were signed and we went back to the police station where we had a non-menopausal young woman process our application, and things went much better. Nevertheless, while we were told we’d get our permits today, turns out it could take another week or two. Naturally.

On a more personal note, without the benefit of my hair “toolkit,” my hairstyle grows more exciting everyday. Pictures will not be posted.