Saturday, April 19, 2014

P is for Pâques

What's up Doc?  Bugs would be thrilled to learn that the bunny - symbol of fertility- is alive and kicking in Swiss Pâques decor. Le lupin even is reppin in the cathedral.

Oeufs de Pâques are abundant as well. Precolored and decorated they are on display in grocery stores and farmers markets. Chocolatiers have plenty of bunnies and eggs. And everything. Even a liberty bell. Why?

Some are works of art, and some downright terrifying. I'm not sure how meringue ties into Easter but they are really pushing it. Huge nests of meringue with chocolate drizzle. 

These diverse bunny couples look a little concerned. The chickens (below) as well. A lot of work went into those facial expressions. Chocolatiers here don't rely on foil to do their job.

Bonne Pâques! �� ��

Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for Om

Sometimes you just have to chill the F out. 

Walking around Coppet this afternoon with my daughter and sister we skirted a tiny vineyard, the leaves just beginning to bud. My daughter commented on the gnarled wood all pruned to the same shape and leaning the same direction with the new tender green and rust vines beginning to train. It looked like dancers waiting their cue. 

My sister pointed out the brown grass that was chemically scorched down each row contrasting the green grass between rows. Herbicide spraying is routine agricultural practice in Switzerland. They're anti-GMO but they do love their pesticides and herbicides. I've seen several spray trucks in the neighborhood this week. Beautiful as the local farmers market was, organic was not an option. 

The fields all around the lake are bright yellow with rapeseed in flower.  This is the basis for canola oil. There are many vineyards in between and lots of small dairy farms. Cows eat the grass right next to sprayed fields. Cheese is kinda a big deal in Switzerland and the chocolate? Same cows. 

In other news, the local market had an American section with various BBQ sauces, a full display of Old El Paso Mexican fixin's ($7 package of tortillas & $5 can of frijoles) but I was stumped by American Sauce, a peachy-yellow color with bits of pickle or pimiento. Good news: haven't seen truck nuts, Uggs or a single Tesla. Ommmm.


N is for Neighbor

When I was nine, I moved with my mom and little sister from a townhouse to an apartment that was around the corner.  This involved filling the back of my mom's orange Datsun station wagon with our stuff and my sixteen year old cousin learning to drive a stick shift. She was visiting from Texas and would we would swim in the townhouse pool at night, after the 10 PM curfew.

The apartment was several rungs down the ladder from where we were in the townhouse, though the two carports shared a cinderblock wall.  I would climb over, scraping my palms and walk by my old bedroom window, peeking through the manicured bottle brush bushes to see who was in there.  My dad's black Lincoln was long gone. 

The apartment was dark and my new bedroom window faced an unpainted wood fence. The sliding kitchen door faced the pool, cloudy with too much chlorine and tended by a long haired man in cut offs. I had an odd assortment of new neighbors: a girl I knew from school who became my best friend, a weekend dad whose son was a year ahead of me and I still know, a man who was college roommates with my future father in law.  When I was a student at UCLA, I had dinner with my former neighbor and his visiting three year old son. He spoke only Italian and sat on my lap and we drew hand turkeys with the crayons on the table. 

Twenty seven years later I spent yesterday with his adult son, touring Bern Switzerland and the Paul Klee museum and eating gelato. My niece rode on his shoulders and my teenaged daughter shared music with him on his iPhone and my nephew played Uno with him on the trian. When I was a girl I went to baseball games with his dad and as a teen I crashed at his North Beach apt with my best friend from the same apartment complex. It was a crap apartment by any measurement.  But the collection of neighbors became my ecosystem and evolved into my life. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for Memories

'Hooray for today!'

The first time I heard this was when my then three yr old nephew asked to be the one to return the blessing before dinner. This responsibility is always performed by my uncle or eldest male cousin. I've never heard my aunt or any woman or kid in our family say the blessing before a meal. I've only experienced such churchiness as a visitor in my uncle's Texas home, so I roll with it.  

Last night we held hands around the table and my four yr old niece announced 'Hooray for Today!' And then told us her favorite memory of the day, her play date with a friend and then announced that she was cheating and adding watching Sleeping Beauty on the computer. Then she passed to my daughter, who told hers and passed the torch around the table. We had a great day, visiting Rolle and going to an amazing and unexpected tea shop (my daughter's favorite memory) walking along the lake edged with gardens and every imaginable tulip, visiting a playground right at the lake edge and getting ice cream. 

My favorite memory was spending time with my daughter and family, exploring a new culture and the technology that allows me to keep in touch with family and friends back home.  And I'm going to cheat and add curling up with my iPad at the end of the day to write this and then finish season 4 of The Walking Dead.  

Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for Lamb

Dispatch from Switzerland.  One week til Easter. Both here and across the border in France, every street intercsection and most every shop window is decorated with painted wood, paper mâché or plastic bunnies, chicks, eggs and lambs. Boulangerie windows are filled with chocolate rabbits wrapped in cellophane and pastel colors dominate the boutiques. But as one window features an image of a fleecy lamb, the charcuterie next door is promoting their deal on leg of lamb. With the hoof still attached.

Jesus was the lamb of god, the sacrifical lamb; I know this because one of the metal bands my sons used to like is called Lamb of God.  They were the opener for Metallica the time I escorted three middle school metal heads to the mosh pit, to set up our post-show rendezvous spot. I wasn't taken to Sunday school as a kid, so I've had to pick things up later, like while folding my sons' laundry pile of black metal band shirts. 

How do we leap from frolicking fuzzy cuteness to Easter dinner? Eggs represent rebirth, the bunny fertility and the leg of lamb - the sacrifice on special at the charcuterie -the edible essence of spring? 

K is for Kiosque

Nyon Switzerland today with my sister, her two kids and my daughter, cousins with a five year break between each. Thirteen (Game of Thrones on kindle; wants that totally cute dress in the Naf Naf boutique), nine (blew his wad of 60 Swiss francs on Star Wars Legos; must jump off every bench), and four (will deny needing pee until end of time; gave Naf Naf boutique lady a heart attack by touching everything with her face).

Julius Ceasar hung out here. The original angry young punk. Lots of anti fascist graffiti plus some evidence that a Marin County punk swung through. Possibly last summer?  Amazing that there would be the same tags in Nyon as Mill Valley.

I can't get enough of the shutters or the lake view framed by the alps. Sitting outside in a cafe enjoying a cafe au lait while 2/3 of our kids soak in the culture of Tom 'n Jerry on their mom's iPhone and my daughter pulls out her kindle, I appreciate that the breeze off the lake is blowing the cigar smoke from our neighbors the opposite direction. Next to the cafe is a news kiosque selling every imaginable size Swiss Army knife, international news papers, post cards and chocolate. Perfection.

Friday, April 11, 2014

J is for Jura

I’m going to know a lot more about the Jura Mountains after I’ve been in Switzerland for a few days, but what I know now is this: The Jura Mountains border western Canton Vaud.  Canton means ‘district’ and a canton is a member state of the Federal States of Switzerland. The capitol of Vaud is Lausanne. The French pronunciation of Vaud is ‘vo’. I don’t speak French. Lausanne is a major producer of white wine.  This is a plus.

My son visited my sister’s family in Switzerland last summer and he gave me a list of a few not to miss items:

Visit the H.R. Giger Bar and Museum.  He didn’t go and really regrets it.  This is at the very top of my list, not because it is so metal and beyond cool, but it’s in the town of Gruyeres, and that means cheese, n’est pas?

He's requested that I bring back these cool French white-out pens.  I know this is a bad idea, because he not going to be using them for appropriate purposes, but I am curious why America can’t even dominate the white-out pen niche. 

There’s this Parmesan cheese with crunchy crystally bits they sell at the farmer’s market …  Ok, now we’re talking.  This is my child after all. Cheeeeeese.

The Jura Mountains will be there too, but will take a back seat to tagging pens, Alien bar and the beloved cheese.  For the record though:

The name "Jura" is derived from juria, a Latinized form of a Celtic stem jor- "forest". The mountain range gives its name to the Jurassic period of the geologic timescale.

Is that really a copper cauldron of melted gruyere?
this could be a problem

Mary Allison Tierney's essay The Gingerdreadman is included in the anthology Mamas Write, available at Amazon, or your local independent bookshop.