Rusty Rides Again

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Thanks be to Jaysus my husband is home. I met him at the train station last Friday afternoon and he looked a little less than fresh, but who wouldn’t after that mess? A delayed midnight flight from Halifax, Nova Scotia to London, hours of hanging about in Heathrow, followed by a flight to Geneva, although the view from that leg of the journey can’t be beat—”Ladies and gentlemen, we will be landing shortly, please put your chairs in the upright position and your eyes in the open position. The Alps welcome you.”

Then through Swiss customs, a train to Lausanne and finally another train to Vevey. All that on top of two very busy weeks of work. Poor man, I’m exhausted just typing it out. But never mind him, unbridled narcissism is the theme here, so in fine Finding Me fashion, it’s all about me. Continue reading “Rusty Rides Again” »

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The Sausage Summit

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The more I see of Switzerland, the more I like it. I made it to Zurich sans escort (applause please), a place I’ve always wanted to see and a place my husband has yet to see, which means I now have the upper hand in the relationship. I love it when my life makes sense.

I arrived on a snowy Friday evening and as soon as I stepped off the train into the beautiful station, I could smell something in the air. Ah yes, ’twas the scent of money. Zurich is one of the most expensive cities in the world and believe me, it shows. It’s not flashy or ostentatious, it’s just somehow always there, in the pristinely clean streets, the state of the art buses, the luxury shops, the finely presented locals (note to my sister: you’re right, they are the best dressed men on the planet) and stately bank buildings.

But you know me, I’m more impressed by Swiss Alps than mountains of cash. There are no snow-capped peaks in this part of the country, but the river is fabulous…

And, thanks to my gracious host, husband-induced starvation was held off. We started at Zeughauskeller which began its life as an armoury in 1469, then functioned as a grain storage loft, later as a warehouse and office building and now, naturally, serves up beer and sausage and wienerschnitzel that I can only describe as divine. Continue reading “The Sausage Summit” »

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Internal Compass

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You know, it always catches me off guard when people assume I love to travel. I most definitely do not. In fact, I’d rank it alongside any situation that necessitates the use of a cold speculum. It’s entirely possible that I am the worst traveller on the planet. Don’t misunderstand, I love seeing new places and experiencing new cultures, it’s just that my preferred method of arriving at any destination would involve the phrase “Beam me up Scotty.”

First, there are the practical issues. I have too many back and neck issues to count, so hauling and dragging loads of luggage about is a significant pain, literally. Usually I have the services of Big Red Porters International and I manage quite well despite the enormous tip he expects.

Second, I have directional … shall we say … challenges. I’m capable of thinking only in terms of left and right. I mean what is this east, west nonsense of which people speak? Mystifying. Unlike my better two-thirds who appears to be part Bedouin (he can find his way anywhere using the North star, a twig and strong sniff of the air), I am confined to the repeated idiot circle, a hapless giraffe constantly chasing her own tail.

Finally, because I can, I spend my travel time rubber necking, oohing and aahing over the sights, which means I haven’t the foggiest idea how we actually get anywhere. I’ve become de-skilled in the art of getting from A to B. And not once have I ever travelled in Europe on my own, so you can imagine my delight over the prospect of getting myself to Zurich and back in one long piece.

It did not begin well. I decided to book train tickets online, so clever me. How hard could it be, right? Between Swiss internet credit card security and printer woes (again, the domain of He of the Great Absence), it took 3 hours to hold the tickets in my hand, longer than it actually takes to get from Vevey to Zurich.

I don’t mind saying that I was a little nervous as I set off. What if I fell asleep and missed the stop? I had 6 minutes to make my connection in Lausanne, so what if there was running with heavy luggage required? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, somedays I wish I had servants.

Anyway, there are many things to love about Switzerland and the famous transit system is just one of them. They make it very difficult for anyone, even me, to get lost and they offer wonderful scenery to soothe the skittish passenger…

I know you’re waiting for the latest installment in my humiliation chronicles—a tale of how I wound up in Berlin not realizing for 2 days that I wasn’t in Zurich, but too bad suckers. I made it, safe and sound.

Oh of course I did. While there’s no doubt my navigational needle points toward daffy, I’m not a complete fool. I may not always know exactly where I’m going, and I admit I need guidance from time to time, but one thing I know for sure: I’m on the right path—north of the expected and just south of greatness.

 

 

 

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Walking on Water

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I’m not sure how bottled water ever caught on in the world but I do know the first bottle I saw had “Evian” written on it. I must’ve been an impressionable teenager because I remember thinking it was somehow a better class of eau than the cold, clear stuff flowing freely out of the Newfoundland taps.

Now I’m old and jaded so I just assumed Evian was actually tap water from Shanghai packaged and pushed into the hands of hapless suckers. Mais non! And I can tell you that with a fair degree of accuracy. See, I live just across the lake from Évian-les-Bains and last weekend I took a little detour back to France.

That might possibly be the swankiest town hall I’ve ever seen and why not? I mean if you live in place where Evian water fills your toilet bowl, you’d expect nothing less. I expected a sleepy off-season experience but instead I stumbled upon the last day of an annual event that has nothing to do with water and everything to do with wood. Continue reading “Walking on Water” »

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Girl Talk

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Last time there was a lot of big talk about living the dream. And god knows there’s a lot about this life that is decidedly dreamy, like looking at this every evening…

But there are sacrifices to be made if one wants to live as I do. And I’m not just talking about going without Miracle Whip. Continue reading “Girl Talk” »

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Wring Out the Old

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Cripes, I’m old. Well, old-ish. Oh, don’t try to tell me otherwise, I have too much evidence on my side. I’m not talking about that grey hair nonsense because my hair’s been grey since my late 20’s, hidden by frantically applied chemicals for decades. No, the knowledge of my getting on in years comes from the perceived effort required to do anything these days beyond turning the page of a book and lifting a wine glass.

Take New Year’s Eve. I used to be the queen of Auld Lang Syne. I don’t know how many times I’ve stood on a snowy waterfront in Newfoundland, half (or wholly) in the bag, braving frigid temperatures in a skimpy dress and nylons (see, I still call them nylons, sure proof of my long in the tooth status) waiting for a countdown and mediocre fireworks display.

This year I was invited to Zurich to partake in the big city festivities, but with the dust on the apartment move barely settled, I was too wrung out for anything more than putting on a coat and hat. The good news is my husband had the same level of motivation this year. He too is in a state of rapid decline, thanks be to Jaysus. Imagine if he was good to go all the time. I’d have to resort to slipping Valium in his coffee and he hates when I do that.

Drawing upon the last energy reserves, we bundled up and hit the Vevey main square at 11:00 on New Year’s Eve. I do enjoy a town that has 3 champagne bars, especially one that lights up…

This was just my speed—a small but festive group, all kinds of folks from all kinds of places. Certainly, the whippersnappers were well represented. There were the Swiss kids, easily identifiable by the casual way they poured champagne for one another into crystal flutes and sipped like they were toasting their latest corporate merger. You just don’t see that in Canada. Continue reading “Wring Out the Old” »

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You Can Take the Girl Out of the Water…

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One of the main reasons I moved here was to be near water again. Living in Burgundy was divine, two words: wine country. But I am coming to learn that this woman cannot live on wine alone, no matter how hard I try. Hailing from the land of the Newfound, an island in the North Atlantic, my blood is two-thirds seawater. Plus, I’m a Pisces, so there’s hard scientific proof of my affinity for all things wet and wavy.

Now I’m not saying living on the shores of Lac Léman (who knew that was what Lake Geneva is really called?) is remotely comparable to life near a stormy sea. If I even hinted as much every Newfoundlander I know would vote me off the island, regardless of how long I’ve been away. My heritage bestows reverence and respect for the ocean. We know its pleasures and its power. It’s hard to explain to landlubbers.

While I miss the romance of the sea—standing on jagged cliffs in flowing gowns, waiting for my lover’s pirate ship to emerge from the thick bank of fog and all that crap—I think the best of both worlds is found not far from my door.

And while the lake is filled with elegant swans and sculptures, there’s the steady swooping and shrieking of gulls for that added reminder of the homeland, as well as the odd heron.

It’s like a kinder, gentler version of the ocean. For all intents and purposes I would never know I wasn’t gazing upon the Atlantic, yet it seems safer than the depths that have swallowed so many of my ancestors over the centuries. Continue reading “You Can Take the Girl Out of the Water…” »

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Where the Streets are Paved with Poultry

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Oh dear Finders I hope the holiday was kind to you. I took my own advice and ate all kinds of things I say are good for me (medical expertise aside)…

But the tale today is about what I didn’t eat: poultry. Neil and I planned a very quiet Christmas at home, lots of lounging in fleece and flannel, biding our time until the Downton Abbey Christmas special aired. And can I just say the DA writers are trying to kill me, talk about thickening the plot. I’ll say no more for fear of the collective screaming and covering of eyes that have yet to see Season 3.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand—birds. We thought while a turkey was overkill for dinner for deux, a roast chicken seemed just the thing for our first Swissmas. We set off to the grocery store, and, as with every purchase here in the land of luxury, we carefully checked the prices before making any commitments. Continue reading “Where the Streets are Paved with Poultry” »

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A Womb with a View

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Well mes amis, I am reborn, delivered from the depths into this new life. No heels at ungodly hours. No parents hootin’ and hollerin’ at youngsters all hours of the day. No hipster crashing about the apartment next door like an inebriated elephant. While certainly we have some stompers above us, the situation is markedly improved. Be advised, these are early days, so I reserve the right to freak out at the slightest deterioration.

I fit in the shower (trust me, not always has this been the case), the washer and dryer fit in the bathroom, the kitchen feels enormous (by European standards) and the heating is sufficient to defrost the icy pontoons found at the end of each of my legs.

We even have this intercom/phone/buzzer thingy—how it works is anyone’s guess. I do know that it functions not only as the ringer for the main door of the building, but also as our apartment doorbell. Well, I know that now. Continue reading “A Womb with a View” »

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Total Net Birth

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So, a little while ago, something called The Economist Intelligence Unit (don’t ask me) revealed the “best” countries for a child to be born in next year. Number 1? Switzerland. Sweet Jaysus, not only do I have to move again, now I have to have a baby sometime in 2013. Canada was #9, so my fellow Canucks, you all better get yourselves knocked up ASAP.

The analysis was based on a quality of life index that includes factors like crime, job security and, of course, wealth. And there’s no denying it: the Swiss are rich. The cost of living is as high as the Alps, but so are the salaries. The tax structure here is kind to the super-rich, which probably explains why Shania Twain lives up the street from us (no, I haven’t seen her taking out the trash yet). Continue reading “Total Net Birth” »

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A Clean Slate

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Incredibly (or maybe predictably is the right word), I find myself packing up my belongings yet again. I’m up to my very high arse with all things moving this week, so if I were you I wouldn’t expect the usual level of brilliance you find here three times a week.

Ah yes, a fresh start to this Switzerland stage of my mid-life mayhem, that’s just what the doctor ordered. Bring it on I say. I’m tired of being tired and it’s time to get back to bitching and moaning about French grammar instead of my unruly voisins.

And, just as I suspected, I am indeed the centre of the universe. Taking a cue from me, Mother Nature herself has decided to start anew with the first snowfall of the year here. She blustered into town, a giant windbag motivated solely by her own selfish needs. Hmm, reminds me of someone.

On the whole, I am not a lover of winter. The perpetually cold hands and feet, the slip-sliding around, the down-filled layers, plus, I look ridiculous in a wool toque. But there’s something magical about a sparkling white world, especially in this corner of it.

I was trudging home from the gym when I paused to take in this scene. It’s the same walk I always take, but it was so silent and serene; the light was different, the smell was different, anything unsightly was hidden from view. To me, it was a perfect moment.

Looks peaceful doesn’t it? Maybe it’s a sign of things to come. I hope so. I’m counting on this being the storm before the calm.

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Laughing My Ass Off

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A while back I asked you to send me photos of the blook from wherever it happened to find itself. I had a grand time watching it travel around the world like that garden gnome on TV, everywhere from St. Pierre et Miquelon to Paris to Memphis to Morocco. And now I have yet another exotic locale to add to the list: Corsica!

Folks who have read the book will know that I love asses, by that I mean donkeys, and that I used to live across the street from a lively character named Jean-Claude. And here now are two of my favourite creatures, together at last…

JC and Anouch, the Corsican donkey. She’s taking a well-deserved break from her job as head wood carrier for the village.

Clearly, she thinks it hilaaaarious, a right hee-haw. I’ve never been to Corsica, but now I might have to head out there to greet my devoted fan. Gotta love that JC. Anyone else got one for me?

And speaking of books and hilarity, here’s a website for a bookseller that must be seen. It’s a one-stop shopping place for the wackiest books you’ve never heard of, like How to Live in Your Van and Love It, How to Make Love While Conscious and the classic C is for Chafing. Someday I’ll find myself there, I just know it.

 

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Checks and Balances

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Obviously, there’s a lot to love about putting a book in the world that has your name on it. No matter how simple it is or how few copies are sold, it endures (at least until it goes out of print). But probably what I love best are the emails I receive from kind souls who take the time to tell me how much they liked it. Well, that and an email from my publisher that includes the words “royalty cheque.” Perhaps the best part of that discussion was asking if she could wire the money to my Swiss bank account. All I need is an archenemy, a gun and some missing microfilm.

Yes, apparently the time has come for me to finally, finally see some green from this whole debacle. And not a moment too soon. There’s a long Swiss winter coming and my 8 year old boots are not up to the task, plus there’s that bill for 2 tons of sour cream and chocolate . Continue reading “Checks and Balances” »

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Meat and Greet—Part Deux

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Well, it appears that Saint Martin really is a saint after all. Without the festival that bears his name, I’d actually have to write something clever today. Finders, I’m just too tired. I’ve been averaging about 4 hours sleep a night for over 9 weeks straight. So, if it’s a clever story you’re after, you’re shit out of luck. But if it’s cultural exchange you’re seeking, well, today’s your lucky jour. Without further delay, more from the Foire de Saint-Martin.

As I told you, giant slabs of meat were not the only points of deliciousness …

And while marinated olives, specialty nougats (Mom, I know you’re drooling), spicy gingerbreads and sugared honey cakes called Nonnettes (words cannot describe) are, as almost everyone will agree, reason enough to give thanks to any saint, what I really love about these fairs are the people.

A young woman making tartes—tattoos meet tradition …

Vevey’s revered Chicken Man who speaks any language you like, has raised roasting poulet to high art, makes a porc Chinoise to die for and, on occasions like this, tosses plates of sticky ribs and frites …

And then there’s the oyster guy, for those who like to eat on the wild side …

I tend to get stuck on the food at these events, but there is always something for every taste, from jewelry to books to every kind of knick-knack and bric-a-brac. The one thing that always grabs me are les foulards.

Oh if only I had a paycheck, every one of those would have been draped around my ridiculously long neck. But who has time to be distracted by pretty scarves when there are “T-Shirts Americains” to be had …

Don’t laugh, these babies were selling at 49 bucks a pop. To whom remains a mystery. Americans, I weep for you.

What a time this was and what a way to fall in love with a town. It’s less about the goods on display and more about experiencing something wonderful and unexpected. Like haphazardly pointing your phone at a crowd and not realizing until days later what was inadvertently captured …

Whoever you are, you two, my sentiments exactly.

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Meat and Greet

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Like most market towns in Europe, Vevey has its share of traditional celebrations and I’m hoping to see every one of them. First up, the 543rd (!) annual Foire de Saint-Martin. Okay, all you végétariens out there, brace yourselves and maybe even avert your eyes.

It all started, as does any respectable party, with the roasting of a whole ox in the town square.

They stoked the fire and turned the beast all night in anticipation of feeding the masses the next day. Of course the masses were in no danger of going hungry while they waited. Behind the rotisserie, giant vats of pea soup were stirred and endless links of Swiss sausages were grilled, all just a prelude to the main event. I imagine the barrels of red wine balanced out any ill effects of this festival of cholesterol. All things in moderation I say, especially moderation.

The next day was an absolute jewel of autumn—brilliant sunshine streaming through red and gold leaves, crisp mountain air and a soft breeze that could only be described as, well, beefy. Nothing like a giant BBQ to bring folks together …

The town bells clanged the chow chime and fancy soldiers marched through the square, hoisted their guns and fired, heralding the arrival of the first wave of plates.

A giant slab of meat and a whack of potatoes au gratin. What could be finer on such a glorious Fall day. These market festivals are one of my favourite things about living in this part of the world. For over 500 years the residents of Vevey have been doing this and it was a fantastic introduction to my new town.

But it wasn’t all guns and grizzle and next week I’ll show you more. For now, I’m back to conducting elaborate imaginary tirades against my well-heeled neighbour, waiting for the powers that be to put a stop to her demonic behaviour. Bon weekend mes amis.

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