Friday, February 20, 2009

I'm afraid we'll be in for some sporadic posting over the next few weeks as I run a few life errands on various sides of the pond. Rest assured if something halfway interesting happens to me, I will let you know. You should let me know, too.

In the meantime, please ponder the following fact: The Swiss canton Appenzell (yes, the nudist haters) allowed women to vote in federal elections starting in 1971.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

In Sardinia they eat a special cheese called Casu Marzu. Its distinctive flavor (and texture, I'm guessing) comes compliments of the maggots which are allowed (nay, encouraged) to breed there. Unfortunately the cheese is seasonal, so we didn't have the opportunity to not eat it while in Sardinia last year. And I think it might be banned on the mainland.

I'd never seen a picture of it, so I just looked it up. Looks innocuous enough....

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Even more annoying than NPR pledge time....

Taking us by surprise this week, after nearly two years of living here, was the discovery that we will need to pay taxes on our media equipment. The fees are about 15 CHF per radio (or computer, which counts because of online radio) and 25 CHF per television. Per month. For some reason we didn't have to pay last year, so we are hoping (most likely in vain) we don't have to pay retroactively.

How did we escape knowledge of these taxes? Or, more exactly, why did we think this fate was limited to the nation of Germany? It is purely the unexpectedness of these taxes that makes them irritating. So much for our cultural competence. I wonder what other things are we missing out on.

It is easy to take knowledge of your own culture for granted; this is a realization I will take home with me. Ignorance is not really very blissful for foreigners. It's disorienting. And occasionally infuriating. 

Monday, February 16, 2009

My visual aid for this story is lamer than usual; I apologize for that. But I hope you are able to get the gist of the advertisement (surreptitiously captured at this pathetic resolution by cell phone on the bus), for it encapsulates well a bit of European culture. 

The ad is for some sort of cold medicine. The man in the photo is Native American – not sure whence he hails, but Peruvian Indians seem to be a special favorite around here – he is wearing a leather vest and large shell necklace. He holds a box of medicine next to his face and stares ahead stolidly. The text above his head reads "The Indian does not know sickness." 

As a cultural outsider, I very well may be missing something here, because I don't really understand. If Indians don't even know sickness, why do we trust their judgment on cold medicine? Or are they saying Indians don't know sickness because they are always taking this medicine? (Did I just uncover a large medical conspiracy?) A third option, I suppose, is that the drug company stole the idea for this treatment from some Indians and are now using its origin to promote the product. In any case, "the Indian" is evidently a cultural authority here. 

I do not employ the term "European culture" (as if there was one) lightly, but I feel it might be appropriate in this instance. I think it is safe to say that Indians (and their friends, the cowboys) occupy an special place in the imagination of Western Europe at least. Someone's putting them in special museum exhibits, in photo galleries, and on TV.  Someone's using them to sell products and political ideas. Someone's listening to all those Native American bands on the streets across Europe. And (especially in the last case) it isn't us. 

Friday, February 13, 2009

Dutch City Fears Loss of Pornography Archive

AMSTERDAM (AP) --The municipal pornography archive in the Dutch city of Leeuwarden is missing and officials fear it may be gone for good.

Spokesman Erik Krikke of the city's historical center said the archive -- which contained photos, drawings and erotic texts with a connection to the city -- may have been taken home ''accidentally'' by an employee or visitor.

''We're hoping that someone will say 'Hey, I have that in my attic' and bring it back,'' he said Thursday. ''No questions asked.''

Krikke said the collection was small enough to have fit in a moving box.

Mayor Ferd Crone of Leeuwarden, 87 miles (140 kilometers) north of Amsterdam, told local media he had been unaware of the collection's existence and was surprised it was gone.

Asked whether he thought it was unusual for the town to have a pornography collection, Krikke said ''yes'' -- and that made the loss greater.

''Actually, we don't have one anymore,'' he said.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

All living between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., please

Our apartment building is out of control! Just listen to some of the offenses of the building "maleducati" (as enumerated in a recent manifesto from our management company): not leaving the laundry room clean after use, using the laundry room outside of the established schedule, intentionally leaving the elevator dirty, leaving finger prints on the elevator walls, listening to TV/radio too loudly during quiet hours (8 p.m. - 8 a.m. and during lunchtime), leaving unauthorized velocipedes in the garage....

Clearly the thing to be done to shape us all up is to provide some additional incentive for us to behave, or more exactly, some disincentive to keep us from misbehaving. The "denounce your misbehavin' comrade" strategy for keeping order has failed. Enter authoritarian regime willing to take draconian measures. 

Starting today, those who do not follow the rules exactly will be assessed a fee. How willing to sneak a load of laundry in after dinner will we be if we have to pony up some franchi to do so? (Personal answer: not very.) We must be kept in line or the chaos will seep out of our building and poison the sweet and disciplined Swiss earth.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Just got invited to our neighborhood's Carnival party. 
To be served: "Risotto e Wienerli."
How very Ticinese!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Chancellor Barbie

Truly you have arrived (somewhere) in the world when they make you into a Barbie. Can you even imagine the fun? (Don't worry, I can.) –Don't cut me off, Mr. Sarkozy, I wasn't finished! [Fist bang on conference table.] –I think I'll wear the gray pantsuit today for my visit with Helmut. –Someone tell me if it's too showy to drive my pink BMW to meet with the pope. –Midge, I must have that dirndl for my Bavaria trip! –Have all the members of the G8 summit arrived here in Malibu? 

Monday, February 9, 2009

Enthusiasm limited

Oh yeah, I've got a blog. I sometimes forget this, especially after long breaks away. In this case, I've been mentally away for about two weeks now, addressing a wicked chest cold. And I do mean wicked. Until yesterday, my days consisted almost exclusively of tissue, soup, podcasts, orange juice, staring into space, and blankets. 

In an effort to avoid the doctor, I recently visited the pharmacist. This is an event for a do-it-yourself kind of healthcare-taker such as myself. (Tell me, what American is not?) I was wary of asking for help but sick enough that I felt I must in order to avoid a worse fate. So, clutching my credit card, I crudely described my symptoms (polite phlegm-related vocabulary comes late in the game) to the nice lady in the professional white coat. 

My skepticism was really not allayed by her opening suggestion of a suppository for my sore throat. Even in my stupor I made sure to decline that one. I folded on the nasal spray, however; her enthusiasm was just too much (but not unwarranted, I later learned). As she made a stack of boxes just for me, I felt a bit like I had my own personal, homeopathically-aware shopper. This would have been fun if it weren't expensive and, well, just not fun. Spending nearly $50 at the pharmacy may fill your cabinet with drugs, but it doesn't get you any sympathy. Enthusiasm strictly limited to pharmaceutical products. (But I got better anyway.)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Dimitri the Clown

Dimitri is an "eternal searcher continually in pursuit of happiness, joy and innocence, a figure who, if the truth were a flower, would strongly resemble a collector of herbs" (Dimitri on Dimitri, on Dimitri's web site). Sadly, Swiss Mr. won't pay out the franchi for me to see Ticino's most famous son, so I can only look at the posters around town and wistfully imagine how happy, joyful, and innocent I would feel at his show.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Monday, February 2, 2009

If you know your Latin roots (or a romance language) (oh, or English), you know why I had a moment of panic in the grocery store recently. I was dubious of finding this sausage in a Western country, but its position in the meat section (see below) and a quick check of the word "felino" in my pocket dictionary made me doubt my sure doubt. 

I inspected the ingredient list of the Salame Felino carefully, though, and there was no sign of feline components. Had I the internet on hand, I would have learned immediately that Felino is a city in Emilia-Romagna near Parma, and saved myself a few moments of concern. (I also would have realized this if they had included a di on the label between Salame and Felino, but perhaps that is too loquacious for the deli section.) Salame di Felino, it turns out, is a soft and delicately-flavored sausage, made of pork, fat, pepper, and a bit of pepper and garlic dissolved in white wine, which is added right before encasing. "Gatticus" and I are feeling much better about this.