Friday, October 24, 2008

Off to the Emerald Isle!

This weekend we are headed to Dublin for the Dublin Marathon. It seems nearly certain it will rain on us. I hope they give out whiskey to the spectators.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Unidentified Watery Object

Anyone have an idea what this is? We found it in a little spring on our hike last weekend. Or some of "we" found it. Mostly I stood to the side thinking about lunch while Darwin and friends enthusiastically coaxed this little guy out of his hole and onto a knife via a hiking pole for some light scientific analysis. I thought it was a bit mean of "us" to de-habitat him like that, but there's really no arguing with a pack of scientists. In any case, if you know what this is, we'd all be much obliged to know. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

“If I sleep for three hours, I still have enough energy to make love for another three. I hope that when you hit 70, you’re in as good shape as I am.”

–Silvio Berlusconi

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Strange goings-on

After finishing my laundry yesterday, I dutifully cleaned the laundry room. As instructed, to the best of my abilities. It's now clean enough to give birth in. My id wanted me to be at least slightly rebellious but was eventually overruled by my superego: the curse of being a good girl. Anyway, as I polished and wiped and imagined all the snappy things I could say in the face of more critique, my irritation morphed into anger but eventually became pity. It really must be endlessly frustrating to find no one is able to meet your standards unless you persecute them.

Still, on the way up the stairs I felt the urge to learn the name of my Swiss nemesis. I had an obscure hope that knowing her name would somehow help me recognize her around the building, which would allow me to punish her with some special combination of mad face and cold shoulder in the future. I felt sneaky and silly creeping up to her buzzer to read the name, but extra precaution seemed necessary. She was just the type to frequently utilize a peephole. 

Another kind of trouble, it seems, had already found my nemesis. The door was banged up and broken. It appeared to have been forced open at some point. A residue of police tape spanned the doorway. POLIZIA POLIZIA POLIZIA. I crept out of peephole range and down the stairs.

I spend the rest of the evening having all the thoughts and hypotheses you are having right now. What can it all mean? Where are you, Encyclopedia Brown, when I need you most?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The siren call of Starbucks

The subject of Starbucks is one of lively debate among our Italian friends, as it is among most everyone. Seems most people make a point of either carefully defending it or denouncing it thoroughly: it's either a malevolent corporate giant that hyperbrews coffee to addict its clients or an upstanding company that provides really good benefits; an expanding evil empire running independent coffeehouses into the ground (hehe) or a socially conscious organization that sells fair grade and helps the community; a cookie cutter chain with tired wallpaper or a nice place for a consistent cup of coffee; a cup-wasting, garbage-generating consumer den or an ecological leader. Pick your side.

Italians are overwhelmingly enthusiastic coffee drinkers. Admittedly biased toward all things Italian, most avoid coffee outside of Italy at all cost. The Germans, you know, put cream on cappuccino. The Swiss add cocoa. The Americans actually drip their coffee. For shame.

So the debate is not really about whether Starbucks is real coffee, it's about whether a) there is, or ever could be, a Starbucks in Italy, b) who would go there, and c) whether the atmosphere and "other drinks" at Starbucks are good. As far as I can tell, and I've heard this discussion many times now, "other drinks" are any drinks that do not seem like Italian coffee in name or appearance. This really opens the door to a lot of specialty drinks. We know many Italian "other drink" fans.

I don't have much to add to this conversation except to share my hypothesis that the "venti" size at Starbucks is so called because it's twenty (venti) ounces. (This naming system, by the way, is my least favorite thing about Starbucks. Yes, it is worse than those compilation CDs. It is unnecessarily pretentious. It doesn't make sense. And is foisted upon us. Try ordering a "small" next time you are at Starbucks and see if the cashier does not correct your terminology and then look at you like you just fell off the turnip truck. Those clever Starbucks marketers are changing the way we speak and think.) I have not verified my "venti" idea, just as I have not checked whether there is actually a tourist Starbucks in Rome, but I think I won't. Sometimes it's more fun not knowing. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Q: Which country outside of Italy do Italians like the most?
A: Italy.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Aus is! Oktoberfest 2008 in numbers

Beer consumed: 6.6 million liters
Number of visitors: 6 million
Mulled wine drunk: 2,000 liters
Number of oxen present: 104
Number of liter glasses confiscated from would-be thieves: 200,000
Lost IDs and passports: 680
Lost wallets: 410
Lost keys: 360
Lost glasses: 265
Lost phones: 280
Lost cameras 80
Lost wedding rings: 4
Lost angel wings: 1
Lost Superman suits: 1
Lost dentures: 0

The numbers indicate a good time was had by most.

(Statistics from Munich government via Der Spiegel)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Dirty American

Dirty is always relative; it depends on your system. My family, for example, thinks I am ridiculous in maintaining one sponge for the dishes and another for the counter. I, in turn, and despite not having read any hygiene news in my support, find it equally ridiculous to put counter dirt near my dishes like that. But still I eat at their houses.

Our upstairs neighbor, on the other hand, though perhaps it is more appropriate to say on the other planet (or maybe just country), has her own special set of cleaning standards which she has irritatingly chosen not to keep to her idiosyncratic self. She has, apparently, been complaining to the building manager about our (my) inept cleaning of the laundry room for a while now. I was quite surprised to finally hear this this week, having been schooled on the finer details of cleaning the laundry room once soon after moving in, and having never really recovered from the blow to my pride that this represented, and thus having kept rather tidy ever since

The rules that this woman thinks I should keep made make my eyeballs ache. The dials must be turned in the same direction (up). The lint trap must be washed out. The soap drawer must be cleaned, of course, but should be taken out entirely and washed thoroughly. Inside should be checked for drips. (Apparently she puts her face up to the hole to check for fabric softener residue.) The rubber part on the dryer door must be inspected for lint. And these are in addition to the already crazy house rules. All doors and drawers should be cleaned thoroughly and left open, but only slightly. The floors around the machines should be mopped. The sink and the top of the machines should be polished. Oh, and our assigned laundry period is Wednesday afternoon. No other laundering without special permission.

A meditation on dirt

Here is the truth: the more time you have had at home, the more, shall I say, idiosyncratic you may become in your definition of clean. As I see it, this is because the more you are around the house, the more attentive you become, and the closer you get to actually seeing the dirt being created. I feel like I might actually catch the smears appearing on the counter. I hear the grains of litter roll across the floor. I sense particles in the air, looking for a place to land. It feels like a battle and the dirt is always winning. 

As I write this, the dust is gathering subversively beneath my feet, ready at any moment to gather into an small fluff just large enough to be eye-catching. The more time you have to think about these things, the more annoying they become. I should be able to prevail here, I am always thinking. I have the time. I have the resources. I have the training. 

But life itself is entropic. Cookies will always crumble, flowers will wilt, hairs will fall, fingers will leave a shadow of themselves behind. The struggle against dirt is indeed a continual one, a microcosm of our struggle to put matter in its place, uphold categorizations we've carefully constructed, impose order on the impending chaos. What happens if we do not clean? No one knows exactly – and that's frightening.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Number of the Notary register: 4629

Lugano, October 3th 2008

I, the untersigned, "Swiss Notary Guy," Public Notary in Lugano, Canton Ticino, Switzerland, do hereby certify the authenticity of the signature of "Swiss Mr." american citizen, born on August 2sd 1979, married, residing in Massagno (Switzerland), who is known to me and who has executed him personally in my front and view. 

In witness whereof I hereunto set my hand and official seal.


"Swiss Notary Guy," Notary in Lugano

Autumn fever

At the Festa d'Autunno this year, we had an experience of pure delight and took a crappy video of it. 

I hope that the video somehow captures the moment there on the street. There was something special about this man in the leather jacket, something touching in his earnest impromptu performance. For the entire (very long) song, he danced a goofy, happy dance just, apparently, because he felt like it. When it finished, he ignored the applause and slipped out of the crowd. I saw him jauntily link arms with his companion and walk away.

Next life, this is the kind of person I want to be. This is the kind of person I would like to be in this life too, but I sadly feel incapable of such an act of pure, unedited joy.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Country shopping

Just in case you have been thinking lately you might want try citizenship in a new country, here are some handy reference tools for evaluating your preparedness:

Getting Swiss citizenship, by the way, is a difficult endeavor. Not only must you have lived in the country for twelve years (no matter if you were born here), you must also take a test in a Swiss language, pay fees, and be approved by your local community. But on the bright side, even Paul Klee couldn't get citizenship while he was alive, so you're in good company.

Image: from the Swiss People's Party's (failed) summer '08 campaign to pass a referendum reestablishing the secret ballot system for local votes on citizenship requests.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

I interrupt the theme of my blog today because I have been fuming to myself for about an hour now and still find myself with anger overflowing. I am like a lava monster who needs somewhere to vent. Such as into cyberspace.

As you may have observed, there are certain kinds of people who get parking tickets more than others. I admit to being one of them. I am okay with it. I pay my tickets and move on. What I cannot abide, however, is PAYING FOR THE SAME PARKING TICKET TWICE. And that is what the City of Evanston is effectively forcing us to do by sending us a recent collection notice THREE YEARS AFTER THE FACT. Actually, the collection notice wasn't even from the City of Evanston, it was from some account management service up in Milwaukee. What do they mean to communicate, outsourcing like that? It really doesn't say "Illinois is a really great place to live and work," I will tell you that. Bastards.

As I mentioned, they are collecting for a THREE YEAR OLD ticket. It is actually an infraction I recall clearly. I had found a nice convenient spot close to our friends' house, but it turned out, upon later inspection, to be in front of some guy's driveway. No running out for Obama signs that night for him! Anyway, getting a ticket is humiliating enough, but when it is so well deserved and, on top of that, discovered in the company of dear friends and a husband, you are mortified, but you pay the ticket happily, glad just to have something to do other than contemplate your own folly. So I know I paid this ticket. (Secretly I usually enjoy the transaction; it's cleansing, like going to confession, except not in front a line of old ladies. Or like an indulgence.)

So, on top of it all, this afternoon I read that the appeal period lapsed while my mail made its rounds to through US addresses to Switzerland. Blast! Ah, but maybe, I thought, I can call, talk to a real person, see what this is all about, explain my predicament. You know, play the ex-pat card. But when I tried this, I found that the Milwaukee people do not talk to spouses of car owners (never mind that it was my parking ticket). Parking ticket history, you know, is just like medical history. So this is great. My nice husband will come home to make the call, put on his polite voice, and by the end of the conversation will be paying the fee with a credit card, trying to add on a tip for the great help. Of course they give pleasant service, they live in a city with a parking spot-car ratio of 3:1.

Sigh. It does not matter anyway. I know they will want the proof that we paid it, proof that is not easily accessible to us at the moment, having abandoned our former bank, and being the kind of people to only half-heartedly save bank statements. So, you Evanston people, I hope you appreciate the extra $50 I will be donating to your fair city. Go hug an elm for me or something.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


We arrived at Oktoberfest last weekend around 11 a.m. and found it already too crowded to get into any of the tents without waiting in long lines. We also found that it had been taken over by Italians. Somehow they get a whole weekend of "die Wiesn" dedicated especially to them every year. This translated into our trading beers with, being squished up against, waiting in line with, being kissed, fed, and spilled on by Italians rather than Germans... somewhat disappointing. We suspected we might have had more fun lifting up tables with the Germans, but we couldn't know for sure. Best to return next year to find out.

Happy Oktober!