Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Waves, Wind and Wine

So I am on my fourth wave or so of visitors at the moment. My friend Rosey and her boyfriend Tony stopped in about 2 weeks ago for a day of fondue and bike riding along the lake. Of course, if you read my post from a while back, you should know that this bike riding doesn't actually come for free. We wasted a while trying to get the thing fixed which was a huge pain.

Most recently my friend Marie stopped by on her way back from India en route to Chicago. I just so happen to be near a lot of major hubs, so I frequently "profit" as they say from my location. I try to do things a little differently with each different guest, since everyone has varied interests (and so I don't get bored). Fall in Switzerland is really beautiful, so I suggested we go wine tasting out in the countryside. Who doesn't want to do that??

My friends Dave and Lisa (and their famous dog, Java) live about 20 minutes from Geneva in a town of 2,000 people with 12 different "caves," or wine makers. They picked us up around 1030 in the morning on Saturday and whisked us off to the first cave to taste some reds. Now Switzerland has the bold French and smooth Italian neighbors to compete with, so while the reds are definitely delicious, they can often be overlooked. I certainly enjoy them but when I am at the store, admittedly I usually gravitate towards one of the "foreign" wines.

There is a very cool red they make here called "Espirit de Geneve." It's produced by 13 caves in the Geneva area, and they start with 50% gamay grape. The remaining 50% is a blend of whatever the vitner chooses, so each one is just a little bit different.

Even better though than Swiss reds are Swiss whites! For some reason, they are very flavorful and fruity without being sweet and gross. I used to be a red wine snob, but when I moved here I started trying some of the local whites. They are so delicious and refreshing and really difficult to find in the U.S. So I make everyone else try them. Plus, they are the best accompaniment to fondue and raclette.

Anyway Marie and I very much enjoyed the wine tasting...8 bottles purchased later (and who knows how many drank), we ate a big lunch and then headed on a walk with Dave, Lisa and Java through the same vineyards. Unfortunately, while it was a sunny day, Geneva is also suffering from cold winds at the moment (see photo of hair being violently whipped across my face). The wind which is absolutely bitter and horrible (and probably only Chicagoans can sympathasize) is called "La Bise" (the kiss). At times I felt like I was about to get blown over. It was so windy that even the jet d'eau was turned off all weekend. If that's what the Swiss consider a kiss...

So why have you never had a Swiss wine before? Almost every bottle is drunk right here within our neutral little borders; less than 2% is exported outside of the country. Luckily for me (and you if you come here), the Geneva canton and surrounding cantons are perfect for wine cultivation. Probably the biggest "wino" of them all is the Valais canton, which is also famous for something else a little bit better known outside of Switzerland...the Matterhorn!

"Java, red or white?"

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Fitness

So I have been here for almost a year now (seems weird) and let's just say that almost a year's worth of fondue, wine, cheese, chocolate, sitting around, etc etc, have caught up with me. And because I am a total foodie, I can't just say no to all of that stuff and restrict myself to eating lettuce while I am in the land of cheese. I have put on the "fondue 15."

So I finally joined the gym. And I have already gone 4 times...in one wee! Seriously I have not done that since my triathlon days! I mean I do like working out and exercising, but I'm just very busy, and very lazy, and I have a hard time getting motivated. I even bought a scale last week, and I have never owned one before. Apparently I have already lost 1.9 kilos since last week! However I think that 1.0-1.5 of those kilos was alcohol because I was out a lot this weekend (more on that later). I will keep you posted on my fitness...it's a good way to make me accountable!

The gym is connected to my office (like everything else), so it's very convenient. Observations in my first week at the "fitness:"

1) The machines are all really really nice! And they all have cable tv which is so exciting for me since I don't have tv. That alone is going to motivate me to go. The weight machines are all nice too, but I find it odd that the machines are called like "Leg Press" because the instructions are in French. Why isn't it called "Press de Jambe" or something like that?

2) They don't give you towels, which sucks. However everyone brings their own and naturally, being Swiss, they keep the machines scrupulously clean and always wipe off the sweat and clean them and etc etc. Very courteous.

3) Fitness Fashonistas: You know who I'm talking about. The people who go to the gym to see and be seen but not really work out. Well I will say that most of the people so far actually DO seem to work out, but being europeans, they wear some weird outfits. Examples:

- a guy wearing denim Keds with no socks

-a guy wearing an all white tracksuit with a "Texas" bandanna tied around his head like a cleaning lady

-a guy wearing super short shorts which showed his somewhat longer but still short, shorts tan line

-several guys wearing polo shirts

-a woman wearing flip flops - like the crappy shower sandal kind

-finally a guy wearing the tightest spandex shorts I have ever seen which also (brace yourselves) were so tight that you could see his little thong underwear underneath. Ewww!!

4) Another pro - everyone is very polite. Same with everywhere you go in Switzerland, you "bonjour" and "bonsoir" and "au revoir" people until you're blue in the face. Even at the gym this is true - when leaving the locker room a lot of women say bye (now read the part about the locker rooms...)

5) Finally, the locker rooms. You've been in one with some of those people who just LOVE to be naked. And as you may have heard, Europeans also LOVE to be naked (this stereotype is 100% justified). So, the locker room in a European gym is a complete nudefest. A free for all of bare breasts and buttocks and people just unabashedly struttin their stuff.

The showers for example - the towel rack (and there is only 1) is outside of the shower stalls. So you have to leave it there and stroll in. While there are dividers between the stalls, there is no curtain and no door. So if you and someone else turn around at the same time, it's full frontal nudity. I'm not the most comfortable with my body (hence the reason I joined the gym), but it would be so much weirder to NOT walk around naked that you have no choice but to just follow (birthday) suit. So far I haven't really minded. But some of my co-workers are threatening to come with me. People who normally see me clothed I would really prefer NOT see me naked. At least not like so naked that I have to walk 100 feet before I can get clothes on naked. Anyway it's kind of funny. A bunch of ladies standing around totally naked talking in French. That's my life.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Important: Somone Else's Blog

Hi loyal readers!

I'm coming to you today with an important and easy request - to go someone else's blog.

My sister Aimee is friends with a woman in her law school class named Kim Klein. Last spring, Kim was diagnosed with breast cancer and has been very bravely sharing her story online. Her blog has been selected as a national finalist, and she is eligible to win a $10,000 scholarship if her blog receives the most votes out of the 20 finalists. Please take two minutes right now and go to her blog and then when you see "vote for me, national blogging contest" enter a vote for Kim Klein. This is a very nice, outgoing woman who is balancing a husband and two kids with chemo and law school.

Honestly, in my opinion, this woman deserves more than $10,000, she deserves a medal or sainthood!

I have read her blog and it is great. I encourage you to vote for her, and please pass this along to anyone else you know via a message on your blog or via a simple e-mail. The voting ends on October 28 at midnight.

Thanks everyone! And special thanks to Karee for telling me the link to Kim's blog wasn't working :)

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Swiss Facts

Well after two rants about the Cubs, I decided to write a short post about what this blog is really about - my life in Switzerland.

As much as I miss home sometimes, I have to say that Switzerland is one of the most interesting and unique countries in the world (in my opinion). I found out two facts about my current home over the weekend that I thought were pretty cool and wanted to share.

1) Politics in Switzerland

Switzerland is the purest form of "direct democracy." My interpretation of this (feel free to make your own) based on reading up on Wikipedia is that this is total bad-ass democracy that really has the people directly involved, and also cuts out a lot of the garbage seen with officials who are just representative of the people but push their own agendas too. The U.S. is also a direct democracy, but not to the extent that Switzerland is (e.g., at the federal level).

-Any citizen can challenge a law that has been passed by Parliament after getting 50,000 signatures in 100 days;

- Any citizen can seek an amendment to the constitution after getting 100,000 signatures in 18 months.

These two things, while pretty cool, can also fall under the subheading "Things that will work in Switzerland and no where else in the world."

-The government is headed up by this federal council of 7 people. Anyone can be elected to it or run for it if they are eligible to be elected to the National Council (basically the Swiss Parliament/Senate). The council together makes decisions and serves as the executive branch and collective presidency. The council is elected collectively to a 4 year term, and the presidency and vice presidency (largely figureheads only), rotate each year. Right now the President of Switzerland is a woman, Micheline Calmy-Rey. Yeah!

2) Swissies and the Environment

Ok, I have become somewhat freakishly environmentally conscious over here. But it's so easy that you feel guilty if you don't. Recycling is a breeze and there are containers all over the place to recycle. They pick up paper and cardboard once a week. I also compost my food because they pick that up too; there is a compost bin outside right next to the trash bins. It's actually very easy and it makes your garbage not smell disgusting, so you only take out little bitty compost bags instead of huge ass garbage bags. Anyway, there is a big incentive to recycle. Why? Because it is free. Garbage on the other hand, I have to buy special bags for (supposedly they WILL go through your trash if it's not in one of those and can fine you up to CHF 1,000).

On average over 76% of things that can be recycled in Switzerland, are recycled.

Finally, Switzerland runs on roughly 40% nuclear power and 60% hydroelectric power...therefore producing carbon emissions of a big fat zero.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

It's been one week...

Let's just get this out of the way.

First of all, it's 3:30 in the morning here for me.

Secondly, that was one of the WORST baseball games I have ever seen. Can we all agree on that? Was there anything positive about the Cubs performance in that game? I honestly can't think of a single thing.

Third - things I have a problem with:

1) Grounding into 4 double plays (I know for sure 2 were inning ending, I was asleep for one of them so potentially 3),

2) O for 9 with runners in scoring position. I think the stat was something like 25 men left on base overall in the series? Does that even happen to normal teams in the playoffs? Or ever in a 3 game series?

3) My supposed Cub hero, Aramis Ramirez, batted a whopping .000. The only player as bad as that is A-Rod.

4) Former Cub Augie Ojeda batted .500 and former Cub Juan "Lose" Cruz was lights out in relief.

5) You don't strike out looking in the playoffs!!! Swing the freaking bat!!!

The Cubs had about 100 opportunities to not only take the lead, but just to SCORE A RUN and they wasted every single one. It was really really disappointing. I know I haven't been a Cubs fan for very long considering how long some people have been going through this, but really, this was ridiculous. At least in 2003, even though that was a horrible horrible loss, they fought hard against the Braves and advanced and then they lost in 7 games to the Marlins. They tried. I don't think they ever gave themselves a chance to win. And it really pissed me off that most of the time the players were sitting on the bench instead of up against the dugout fence all excited. It's the playoffs!! Not some meaningless late season game!

Finally, does anyone else think it's complete crap that expansion teams like the stupid ass Diamondbacks and Marlins are winning in the playoffs. I just don't think it's fair that these teams that have been around for 10-15 years already have championships and in some cases more, when you have teams like the Cubs and Phillies that have been suffering for a looooong time. I am rooting for the Indians at this point.

This is a real tough one to stomach. And where a week ago, I was wishing I was catching this all from my front deck or smashed into a Wrigley bar, I am really really glad that I am in the Friendly Confines of Geneva, as it will make it a little easier.

The only question that still remains is...Lou, do you believe us now about the Curse?!