Thursday, December 18, 2008

What rhymes with tan swan?

Well, many things. But the one I was thinking of is San Juan. Because that is where I am headed tomorrow at 6 a.m., provided the snow holds off long enough. Adios and merry holidays!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Day 8: Will Amtrak snaffle my holiday spirit?

Only a few more hours before I get to experience regional American transportation at its finest. I am optimistic but bringing a lot of books.

The buzz on Main Street, USA, is all about the shoe insult. I learned about this incident the old-fashioned way yesterday, by word of mouth. (One up side to being an uninformed and out-of-touch traveller is that it grants people the special pleasure of breaking news to you. It is nice when your ignorance serves a purpose.) I love how everyone dramatically adds the detail about the shoe being a moral insult in Iraq. I suppose the idea of dirt as matter out of place is especially appropriate for this particular insult. 

According to the NYT op-ed contributor who wrote "The Shoe Heard Round the World," a recent article on international insult hurling, supreme insult is expressed variously across the world, usually, it seems, by throwing things. It's waffles in France, pants in Chad, tanks in the former Soviet Union, tissue paper in Bhutan, and, my personal favorite, the voice in Peru. "Peruvians say that throwing your voice is the ultimate insult because the intended victim doesn’t know where it came from." ahahahaha.

I think I shall pack some rotten tomatoes with me on the train.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Monday, December 15, 2008

Day 6: Too cold

Car doors frozen shut.

Day 5: Alone with the Elf-Gnome

friend or foe?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Day 3

I thought it was Friday the 13th, but sure enough, it's not.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Day 2: American celebrity

Three people have "recognized" me since I arrived in the US. A British guy in the airport was convinced I flew out of Bristol with him ("You have a twin!"); some dude in a flannel shirt honked and waved at me enthusiastically from his car; and a woman at the mall approached me excitedly, "Do I know you? Hi!" [Exchange of questioning looks.] "Wait... No, I guess I don't." I told her about the other two people. "Well, I guess you just have that look!" Generic, I guess is what she meant.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Day 1

Double nice: Taking my suitcase AND helping Lugano Public Works with snow problem

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

USA or bust!

Tomorrow I leave for my grand tour of the American Midwest: four states, three cities, two towns, four beds, three flights, a ride on Amtrak, and a drive across Michigan. Besides seeing family, friends, and my hairstylist, one of the things I am most looking forward to is, oddly enough, some friendly small talk. I generally hate and strenuously avoid exchanging meaningless pleasantries with complete strangers (or anyone, really), but after feeling mute, dumb, and ignored so often during my travels lately, I am actually looking forward to some unnecessary chatter. It's both a linguistic luxury and something special about the US that I've come to appreciate. Sometimes you just want something more than "buona domenica."  

So, chatty seatmate, gregarious salesperson, friendly flight attendant, neighbor at the mailbox, direct some prattle at me: I have some newfound patience to spare. I promise to listen and smile and comment blandly but kindly, without wishing you would let me read my book or wondering whether you are ignored at home. I will look at your pictures, discuss the weather, tell you where I live, show you what I'm reading, answer your questions, and generally be nice. In perfect English. 

Monday, December 8, 2008

Monaco di Bavaria or Milano di Lombardia?

In a few years, even we won't be able to tell.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The seedy side of heaven

In the evenhanded journalistic spirit of Fox News, I present from recent trips the other, less-photographed side of Europe:

Believe it or not: Paris, Lugano, Dublin; Prague, Florence, Munich

Thursday, December 4, 2008

No way to curry favor

Just a short post today, as I am feeling nicht so gut today. (I would in fact still be in bed, if not for the compulsiveness of the housemistress who couldn't help but ring the bell outside our apartment door repeatedly (6 times in 10 minutes), until finally I dragged myself up to answer in my pajamas, prepared for 1. another lecture on cleanliness, or 2. news of some impending life-threatening building disaster. Thankfully, I guess, it was neither: just dropping by to ask a quick question about our lease!)

Check out this sign from the Munich Christkindlesmarkt:

Translation must be obvious, but here it is (with some interpretive punctuation): Attention: extremely spicy curry wurst, from 18 years.

At first I thought this might mean that the peppers might be at least 18 years old, but after consideration I'm pretty sure the pepper imagery is just intended to be decorative and/or extra-threatening. So, ironic but true: A minimum age to eat curry, but no (real) minimum drinking age.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What I did on my Thanksgiving vacation

20 small but important events:

1. Accidentally arranged to have my new bath towel gift wrapped.
2. Got outsmarted by a savvy Paris thief.
3. Ate granola bars for dinner (see #2).
4. Contemplated the countryside while drinking a huge mug of free yet good coffee.
5. Finally got around to reading "The Namesake."
6. Settled for a spoon for my quiche after repeated failed attempts to procure a fork.
7. Realized my "oui" sounds rather "stupide."
8. Giggled with a Brazilian artist during a Wagner opera.
9. Ate too many pains au chocolat.
10. Drank pots and pots of tea with a kindred soul.
11. Tricked baby N. into sleeping all day.
12. Paid 4 euros for canned pumpkin.
13. Struck my undercooked apple galette in anger while serving it to guests.
14. Ate spicy food and didn't even have to make it myself.
15. Had free drinks on the smoker who dropped 35 euros in front of a cigarette machine.
16. Arranged day around a pickle.
17. Gained at least a kilo (#9?).
18. Ran myself out of Lactaid.
19. Watched "Luther" for the first or second time.
20. Wondered if perhaps "Munich really is the place to be."

Be nice to foreigners

"For being a foreigner... is sort of lifelong pregnancy – a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts. It is an ongoing responsibility, a parenthesis in what had once been ordinary life, only to discover that the previous life has vanished, replaced by something more complicated and demanding. Like pregnancy, being a foreigner... is something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect."

–Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What have I done?

I am sitting in a house full of sad, wilted plants, feeling depressed by what I've done to them. I didn't feel sadistic when I gave them a long drink, closed all the windows and blinds, and left for two weeks, but now I have to wonder about myself. Am I very, very cruel or just very, very stupid?

The apartment was a dry sauna upon my return last night, our building's over-zealous heating system having cooked every ounce of moisture out of the place. I should have remembered how these wussy Swisstalians super-heat their places in winter. (We have not yet turned on a radiator ourselves!) For a moment before I opened the window I actually thought my skin might split. Poor little planties.

Each one coped with the neglect in its own special bruise-colored way. The kalanchoe (in fact the very same one that died last year but that I left on the porch for a while because Li's dad said it might come back and that eventually did, but kind of ug-ily), now rather street smart, put all effort into preserving its top leaves. The rest turned a soggy yellow and fell off.  The round leaves of my evidently not-impossible-to-kill plant from Germany slowly and evenly shriveled and turned brown. Live together, die together – you have to admire that spirit of camaraderie. But I love the most how my IKEA plant responded, holding onto all of its leaves, dead or alive, staying green, waiting patiently. Nothing going on here, it seemed to say; just a spot of water, please, and I'll be fine. Nary a brown leaf to be seen. Such a hopeful plant. (The lemon tree still taunts me with half-ripe fruit; I have nothing to say about that son of a gun.)

I can't help but think of this struggle for survival metaphorically and feel inspired (though only if I leave myself out of the metaphor). I mean, these plants had no reason to believe they would be rescued anytime soon, but still they did all they could to stay alive. Each struggled for life in its own way, in the dignified manner of a Jack London character or Anne Frank or that kid in "Hatchet." There is something to wonder at here (and it's not that I have the literacy of a 12-year-old). The plants, like the characters in most survival books and movies, it seems to me, are just as likely to live as they are to die. I suppose it will be both moving and my fault in either case.

More on all the other less heartless things I have done lately later in the week.