Friday, February 29, 2008

Swiss Ms. 1, Zürich 0

As I very well may have mentioned before, I have recently had something of a Zurich complex. Ever since paying nearly 20 CHF for two bretzels and a coke in the train station there this fall, the mere idea of visiting the city has brought me waves of panic (not to mention phantom pains in my wallet). It was a low-grade trauma which is, along with the cost of milk, one of the few things we can't stop talking about – catch us during waking hours and chances are we'll be talking about American TV or that damn 20 CHF snack in Zurich.

As the dollar continues its free-fall, I suppose the list of cities that makes me feel like hyperventilating will grow longer and longer until it includes the likes of Toronto, but for now this mental list is short with locales such as London, Oslo, and Tokyo. (All these cities have two O's, I feel compelled to point out, pointlessly.) And after visiting Zurich this week, I officially report that it is no longer on this list.  

It's not on the list because it doesn't deserve to be – oh, it does – but rather because LorkBK and I defeated it. It's something of a feat to get a good deal anywhere around here, so I won't be shy in claiming our victory. The fight was fair and square -- the city put up an impressive effort -- but in the end, we manhandled that sucker like it was Kalamazoo, MI.

We won the accommodations battle handily, finding a clean and stylish shabby-chic pension/coffee-bar complete with Swiss hipsters for about 45 CHF each, including a respectable breakfast. The food war was a bit trickier, but I think the expensive bierhalle dinner was pretty much blown out of the water by the 10 CHF red curry meal, the bigger-than-a-large-head 7 CHF bretzel, and the 15 CHF lunch in the very cafe where Lenin, Mussolini, Einstein, and Mata Hari once sat (but not together). We lost some ground in the chocolate shops, but that was inevitable. Lose the battle, win the war.

I am trying not to gloat.  It was a close fight and it's possible that it was luck not cunning which pushed us over the edge to victory. Also, I really did like the city and don't want any hard feeling between us. I look forward to our next encounter, but I have to say, I have a feeling the real war between us is over.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Domenica pomeriggio a Como

I realized yesterday that there's nothing like an accordion-player on the sidewalk to make you really feel you are in old world Italy. It totally compensated for the nonnas shaking rugs over balconies, men in bars watching football, and children chasing chickens down the street that we didn't see as we were shuffling down the cobblestone streets with the highly fashionable comaschi (that is, people from Como) out to see and be seen on a pretty Sunday afternoon. 

Friday, February 22, 2008

The globalization of "the people's sausage"

In what will no doubt further prove my so-called "strange relationship with cased meats," I must share some disturbing news: Cervelas, the national sausage of Switzerland, is on the brink of demise.

How could this happen to such a dear, dear meat at such an inopportune time? Hadn't they taken out the brains out of the recipe long ago? Hadn't it fed the urban proletariate for generations? Hadn't it been for the nation everything a sausage should?  Yes, yes, of course. 

So how did this sausage end up on the endangered species list? The answer to this question is the answer to so many others: globalization. A few years ago, when the Swiss finally got tired of cleaning out cow intestines, they switched to zebu intestine so the Brazilians could do it for them. (The zebu, I can save you a few moments' searching on Wikipedia, is a big old water buffalo-like animal with a hump, found in warm climates with, apparently, strong intestines.) 

Surely the Swiss Sausage Board wouldn't have made this decision, had they known of its tragic implications, that these very intestines would end up on the EU's list of banned animal parts and put cervelas on death row just a few years later. No doubt they are retracing their steps, wondering if they are to blame, if they missed the warning signs, what else they could have done. Will they will be held responsible for the downfall of a national tradition? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, cervelas rests uneasily on the (figurative) chopping block, as the diplomats debate zebu importation and the Sausage Board seeks alternative casing options. Will this proud sausage become another unintended victim of globalization or will some sort of compromise be made? I'll keep you posted if they come to a conclusion or should Noam Chomsky weigh in at some point.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Save the budget, save the world

In a savvy budget-saving move, I am preparing myself an elegant leftovers brunch today. The goat sausages will go nicely alongside the mini-baguettes with reduced-fat cheese spread and very ripe kiwi-fruits. And there's some coffee I didn't even make myself. It's like brunch at the Four Seasons minus the butter boy.  

After this leisurely meal, I must prepare for our Italian class, which begins today. We skipped the first session for beginners so we have to make sure that we don't look foolishly self-confident about our abilities. I can't shake the feeling that we represent an entire nation sometimes; real or imagined, this is an extra little weight to bear, a little something else to think about at each moment. I'm so excellent at attaching meaning to mundane decisions. If there were an award for that, I'd be a finalist. Too bad the prize is just more to think about.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Virtual tour of the world

Okay, the next time you have that I'm-too-tired-to-read-or work-but-not-tired-enough-or-not-supposed-to-sleep-now feeling, kill some time at flickrvision. I happen to love looking at anyone's pictures of anything, but I think "even anyone" would be fascinated to see what the rest of the world is posting on their Flickr accounts. If you watch long enough, you can figure out who just got back from India and who is posting old family photos and who just had a baby and who is obsessed with their cat.  It's mesmerizing.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bern 4, Lugano 3

Lugano HC put up a decent fight, but in the end, they were no match for the Bern Bears this weekend. I'm not sure who won in the fight between the Lugano fans and the Bern fans. I found their passions to be equally matched. (Bern had huge flags and made a big mess of their section, but I think Lugano gestured more profusely and threw more items on the ice.) Maybe one of the policeman in riot gear could give a final verdict as to how it ended on the street.

 Post-game riot photo courtesy of Frau B.

In any case, it's clear to me now that what everyone is doing sealed up in their apartments on the weekends is practicing chants, stockpiling flares, and plotting general treachery against the fans of visiting hockey teams. Can't wait for football season!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Is it raw or are we just paranoid?

In a nice bit of groupthink at a market in Bellinzona this weekend, Frau B., Swiss Mr., and I decided to purchase some goat sausage. Actually, we decided to purchase sausage which turned out to be goat, so the goat really didn't play into the decision at all. Our camera is still kaput so you'll have to imagine the long strings of sausages hanging in the stand which worked their old world charm on us.

The first bite revealed that this grandpa of a sausage was not at all what it seemed. Its contents were a lively pink. Its consistency was softish. It smelled young. And it tasted a little fresh. We found this apparent rawness confusing. How could this rustic old meat be unfinished? We stood alone in a medieval courtyard contemplating this importunate question and many others such as: If it was raw, how would one cook it? What would that bit in my stomach do later in the day? Could the color possibly be just from the curing?

These questions went unanswered and the sausages went forgotten in my bag for the rest of the day as we went off to explore castles and get lost on a long and winding road flanked by goats and the meanest dogs in existence. But now that they are at the forefront of my refrigerator and my mind, I am again seeking answers about these slender sausages. I am hoping a knowledgeable sausage fairy will visit my blog to tell me how I can eat the rest of these. Or that there is some Muenchener or Midwesterner out there with sausage savvy who has some advice. To assist, here is a computer-shot of said sausages:

Exhibit A: A rare find?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

"Bon journo mi amore"

I thought about writing a romantic ballad today but the Black Hills Country Band seems to have beaten me to the punch....

Red Moon Over Lugano
I got a postcard from someone I met in Salvatore
He said the weather was great he'd been out on the lake
And sunning beside it quaint shore
When are you coming back, you need to come and relax
Share some stories at our sidewalk cafe
Shaved chocolate steamed-creamo on your cappuccino
Please write me back right away
Oh the red moon over Lugano
Is in my memory, I can't seem to let it go
On the cobblestone streets
Where lovers would meet
I fell in love heart and soul
'Neath the red moon over Lugano
If I had any sense I'd pack up my bags and just leave
Fly over the ocean right into the arms of a romance
That was waiting for me
Ride the funicular to the top of the stars
Gaze at Milano as it winked back our way
Try to have conversation in English Italiano
Or just kiss when we've nothing to say
So I picked up my pen and started writing these words back to him
"Bon journo mi amore" you're so far away
And the chance of a visit is slim
That moonlit evening had us both believin'
Nothing could keep us apart
Some day we'll start over 'neath the red moon in Lugano
'Till then keep me there in your arms

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Su Nuraxi di Barumini

Except for a few crumpled maps, these postcard-tickets are the only physical proof of our visit to Sardinia. And of course, this grainy picture does not really reflect how impressive the nuraghe at Barumini actually was.  (If I may play tour guide: Nuraghi are prehistoric architectural rock structures found all over Sardinia, unique to the island.  At the center of this particular nuraghe is a tall fortified tower, to which additional towers and later house-like dwellings were added, circling out from the center.)  

Knowing the structures were about 3500 years old, we weren't expecting much to remain. However, we were delighted to find the fortress settlement quite well-preserved. With a guide carefully leading us, explaining how it was built and where to duck our heads, we were actually able to enter the central tower and climb up and down its spiral staircases, into its dark chambers, and around its thick walls. It wasn't difficult to imagine a council of elders sitting in a circle on stone benches, discussing who the next invader might be, where to build the well, hide the food.

We spent a long while wandering around the outer rings, walking through houses, checking out the built-in cubby holes and shelves, imagining. Places like this always remind me of the times during my childhood when my younger sister and I would chalk out floorplans on the sidewalk, build houses out of lawn chairs and towels, imagine the docks out at the lake were our elegant homes. I was swept away by my memories and imagination, struck by how much we share, how we are part of the same history.

In addition to being a magical sort of place, this nuraghe is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site: "The nuraghi of Sardinia, of which Su Nuraxi is the pre-eminent example, represent an exceptional response to political and social conditions, making an imaginative and innovative use of the materials and techniques available to a prehistoric island community." Nice work, Nuragic peoples!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Lezioni en route

1.  When traveling, the best order for things is: listen + translate + think + get on train.  Any other sequence may become problematic. 
2.  Your instincts probably work just fine when you are traveling, so don't stifle them.
3.  Though for many reasons it may seem like it, the word soppresso does not mean "surprise," but "cancelled."
4.  Monza, Italy has a very nice döner shop.
5.  Although you may at first feel a bit naked and pointless sans camera, you will adjust and eventually come to enjoy the freedom of not having to figure out the best angle for that statue or if the sun will make you squint and look like a chipmunk or whether it is even possible for you to photographically capture the essence of a place anyway. 
6.  Having no seat assignments on a plane is annoying, but worth the inconvenience just to see grown adults running across the tarmac in a frenzy.
7.  Honey counts as a liquid. 
8.  A winter high of 60 F/16 C is not that warm.
9.  If you repeatedly think there is something funky about the scale of your map, stop using it.
10. 1 LED flashlight + 3 pairs of striped socks + free parking space = 10€ well spent.

Hello, world!

We have made our way back from the intriguing isle of Sardinia. Though we return purchase-less, photo-less, and tired, we are exhilarated and content... and perhaps even a bit wiser.

Thursday, February 7, 2008


Okay, there is no Swiss anecdote, adventure, or nugget of information here. Since hearing the word recently, I just wanted to think about it some more, as I think "Pastabilities" is a truly brilliant combination of things that people truly love: pasta and choice. I also thought it would be interesting to imagine together how horrified Italians would be at the idea of mixing pastas and sauces so haphazardly. But mostly I just want to think about it some more because it makes me nostalgic for my college days.

At my dear college, and perhaps every college, there was a rumor that the cafeteria employed ex-convicts from the local prison. But no matter, we all loved our tattooed friends in the checkered pants the way we loved everything about our little college and its odd little culture. We embraced them – even the crazy one at the entrance zealously enforcing the "one piece of fruit" rule – learned their names, happily spotted them off campus, wrote them comment cards.... And on "Pastabilities" night, when the carbohydrate-enhanced euphoria was at its highest, all seemed right with the world.

Do I need to explain what "Pastabilities" night is? Maybe I still have that one Italian reader who can weigh in on the subject. It would be impastable to imagine on your own the sublimity of "Pastabilities" night, so I will explain. Imagine every kind of affordable pasta (tri-color fusilli, penne, farfalle), not one, not two, but THREE sauces, and a wide array of impeccably chopped fresh vegetables. Choose any combination of pasta, sauce, and vegetables and watch it cooked right before your eyes. It's the closest a college student will come to having a personal chef.

I have forgotten the most important part, which was the mysterious garlic oil used in startling proportion to sauté the vegetables, add extra flavor, and in general keep everything from sticking to anything else. If I could just get some of that magic oil sauce, I just know my cooking complex would disappear.

The "Pastabilities" line was unbearably long; I only rarely had the stomach for it. But still, I looked forward to the enthusiasm, the pure joy, brought to the cafeteria on that night. We were united together in our love of choice, our longing for control, our desire for the breadsticks available exclusively to those in the "Pastabilities" line.... Who cannot love this fusion of food and freedom into a meal event?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

It's all about the Burckhardts

This post is not just to show you all how rich we are. It is also to show how pretty Swiss money is.

(It doesn't look as great here as it does in person, but I have to say I am relieved that there's no chance of unknowingly being party to any shady business. Swiss banks already do their own share of shady business.) 

I suppose everyone has his or her own opinion about currency -- whether it should be of the same size, big or small, paper only, brightly colored or monochromatic, etc. -- but I think we can all agree that Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897) looks good in pastel purple. 

Who is this serious looking fellow? Politician? Philanthropist? Musician? No. Historian! A Swiss historian of the Renaissance, the "Father of Cultural History," in fact! He was an ahead-of-his-times kind of guy, innovative and detailed, but a pessimist who turned out to be more appealing to those cranky cynical types who came just a bit later. Thus ends the amateur biography.

It is not for you to know why I have 1000 franc notes all over my desk. But I can say I like having them. You can walk around with a month's salary in your pocket, win friends and influence people with a browse through your wallet, buy a round of drinks for the entire bar...and many other things I haven't yet tried. It's surprising, but they accept these 1000 franc bills at the grocery store without batting an eye. I've never even laid eyes on a real $1000 bill (do they even exist?) but I'm not sure where they could be useful; in the US you get dirty looks for trying to use a $50.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

In honor of Fat Tuesday...

I present to you our slightly washed-out-looking chili dog dinner.

"Still Life with Chili", c. 2008

Happy Mardi Gras! Fasching! Carnival! Pancake Day! Shrove Tuesday! Super Tuesday! (Let me know if I've missed anything.)

Monday, February 4, 2008

What to do with lemons

We were stuck inside with chest colds this weekend, so I spent a lot of time cooking and contemplating my sour blogging mood. I'm not sure I came to any any real conclusions, but I found a nice recipe for olive oil cake.

Fragrant Olive Oil Cake with Fresh Thyme

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon each grated orange and lemon zests
1-1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat eggs, zests, thyme, and sugar until light and frothy. Whisk in the flour mixture until almost incorporated, then whisk in buttermilk and olive oil. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool the cake on a rack for 5 minutes, then invert to cool completely. Top with confectioners' sugar.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Accidenti! A stroll around The Internet reveals Swiss Ms. is not actually very clever at all

Blogging is admittedly a weird phenomenon. Although I am generally a big fan of technology in theory, I find that there are certain technological things for which I have limited patience. Among these are: small home appliances, digital photos, online accounts, tv remotes, cords, camera accessories, computer updates, and music players.  Oh, and printers. What I mean by "limited patience" is that, once (or if) the extreme amount of activation energy required to start using one of these things is obtained, the working relationship established is fragile at best; it takes very little for me to stop using it and/or throw it across the room. (I think this is the definition of volatile.)  But, to the point, until I stumbled upon this special trove of additional free time in my life, blogs used to be on this list. 

I still can't say that I am sure what I am doing is of any more value than passing notes in class, but I can say that I now get the fascination with blogs. Once you start peering into other people's lives, you start seeing yourself there, if only in the most remote way.  And it's a step toward recording the cultural history that most people generally agree has been lost along the way in our official histories (the inane content notwithstanding). For as much heat as Wikipedia takes, it has done something similar, something important. But more on my fascination with the idea of Wikipedia another time.  Back to the matter at hand.  

So recently I noticed a considerable number of blogs I had come by have "adventure" somewhere in or near their title.  Which led me to search for "Swiss adventure," and to realize that this little Swiss Ms. is just one among many.  

There's the famous Swiss Miss who is a real designer I probably should have known about before I started this blog and there's the Not-So-Swiss-Miss and the Un-Swiss Miss and SwissMissNOT! (are you detecting a trend?).  I won't even go into the number of college students who have blogs about their adventures abroad (even in Lugano) or of expatriated families having every kind of adventure. (Maybe someone should write something about cultural identity and social performance in the travel writing of Americans. Hmm....)

So I'm having some blogger identity problems. One of the downsides, I suppose, to open source cultural history. Perhaps I shall crawl back into the black hole of technological ignorance whence I came. I think it's the most dignified solution.