Thursday, February 28, 2008

C'est le comble!!

I learned a good expression in French class tonight - "c'est le comble," which translates roughly to "that really takes the biscuit" or some other equivalent of, a lot of stupid things happened, and that's just the cherry on top. So I ask you, what would be more sad than having to do your laundry at 11pm at the laundromat?


I have to go to the laundro even though there is a washer and dryer in my building. Why, you ask? Because to use the washer and dryer in the building, you have to have a time slot. Between 9am and 6pm. No Sundays. Oh, and it's like YOUR slot after you sign up, so if you get 3-6pm on Tuesday, you better damn well get your washing done in that time because all the other times belong to someone else. So, since my available laundry slots are oh so conveniently located during the time that 99% of people WORK, I have to go to the laundro down the street.

I used to go on the weekends but it's a total fight to the teeth for the dryers and too many randoms going in and out with annoying children. So now I go after work or French, which can be a bit dangerous because it closes at midnight. And there is no attendant - it's video survellianced. Last time I made it out around 1150 and there was one poor sap still in there. I didn't know what was going to happen at 12 and didn't care to find out. Would all the washing machines turn into white horses and the giant industrial dryer which is 1 extra franc turn into a pumpkin?

I should have stuck around.

Tonight I was on a mission to re-gortex my ski clothes for the weekend and also wash my work clothes, as my personal responsibilities to anything but studying had been put completely on hold the past 2 weeks (and the efforts did pay off, thank you very much). The re-gortex required 1 wash to get the clothes clean with some special stuff and then another with the actual waterproofing crap in the wash. So about 1145, cycle 2 is still rinsing and my other clothes are in the dryer. I speed through one rinse cycle in order to get it onto the spin, so I can take them out around 1155. At 1155, I am over at the dryers pulling out my clothes, and thinking that I should probably open the door in case it automatically locks or something. HA! Technology techschmology. I walk back over to the dryer and was just about to then get out my ski clothes when

the lights go out.

I yelp.

A light flashes.

I freeze.

the lights go out again.

Now I am panicking, in the dark, trying to get all my clothes out of the dryer. I lose socks between taking them out of my drawer and getting over to my shoes, so I am not too pleased that I am now trying to retrieve all those little guys with only the streetlight from outside and this freaky ass light in the laundro blinking on and off like some kind of beacon on LOST.

Then it hits me. No electricity can't mean that my clothes are stuck in the washer, can it? Oh YES. What the hell?!!?! Who designed these things or triggered them so they would all LOCK at midnight. I mean what am I going to do, put a shirt in there and spin it around all night? I pulled and kicked and yelled and swore but I could not open that washer door!!! So, I wrote a terse note en francais (I realize now I conjugated 1 verb wrong), and left my poor ski clothes in the washer for the night.

I guess this is what happens when you live in a country where things always run on time. When they say closed, they mean....ferme.And now that I think about it, sitting in a wet washer for 7 hours probably totally ruins the 2 hours I spent trying to waterproof them.

C'est le comble!!!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Swiss Meteo

One of my favorite things about Switzerland is the seasons. And when you come from Chicago, where you have two seasons - winter and construction - it is nice to have four long, kinda meandering ones. I'm noticing this today because it is sunny and gorgeous, and I decided to head to the store in just a t shirt and fleece. And I was pleasantly surprised that the sun was not deceiving me - you know those days when it LOOKS nice outside, and you get outside and its not. This happens to me all the time in Chicago, most notably when I went to Cubs games two days in a row, and the first day I was hot in a t shirt and jeans, and the second day looked the same so I wore the same thing, but I was so cold that my friend Marisa and I had to buy children's sweatshirts and hot chocolate. Anyway today I stepped outside fearing deception, but it was like a nice warm hug.
Like anything in Switzerland, the change in the weather doesn't happen overnight. It kind of teases you at first and then slowly transforms itself. I always say the winter is cold, not too cold. Cold enough to ski, cold enough to get views of snow-capped mountains when walking to work, cold enough to enjoy a fondue and a vin chaud and not feel the least bit guilty. Not cold enough that your face hurts, the pipes freeze, your snot freezes, school is canceled and you can't leave the house, but can only snuggle under a blanket with a big warm Zaza (this part about Chicago winter is not too bad).

Last summer in Geneva was weird. It rained almost every day. Fine for me, bad for my unemployed boyfriend who didn't speak french and had no tv. You read a lot of books and watch movies. For whatever reason though the weekends were gorgeous (god's way of telling us to work hard during the week?) and the summer was again, hot but not too hot. Hot enough to take nice walks on the lake and get two scoops of ice cream. Hot enough to go to a water park with a slide and feel like you are nine years old, until a real nine year old slams into you going down the slide and you remember you're not. Hot enough to enjoy a crisp white wine and a fondue under a cool August sky. (who says you can only have fondue in the winter)? Not so hot that the only way to cool off is to shower in freezing cold water, your old style is warm before you even get it back from the vendor, you're about to pass out on the El platform too hot.

The days in winter get so very short, and I really noticed this when I first arrived. The sun was rising at 8:30. No joke. And it was dark by 5. But again, this didn't last long. Now coming out of my second winter, already the sun is up now when I am and sets about 20 past 6. In the summer the days are wonderfully long, lounging out in front of you and never seeming to end, just like the comically big shadows you cast walking in the late afternoon sunshine.

And spring and fall, which barely exist in Chicago? I am spoiled to have such nice even seasons. Fall is when the grapes are all harvested in the vineyards and if you recall my post about wine tasting, you know how beautiful it is out there. And there is always this smell in the air!! Like fresh fruit. I think it's the vineyards. It is powerful and delicious, and I really can't describe it other than that. You just have to visit and hope the wind is blowing the right way. Spring is definitely coming now, I can tell by the lengthening days, and by the ridiculously large Easter candy display at the grocery store (I will have to somehow take a picture of this, it is really just...a sight to see). Today as I was walking home a group of 3 little boys was skipping along the sidewalk and suddenly stopped, peering into a neighbor's garden. "Regarde, les fleurs!! Wowwow!!" I peeked in to see sure enough, some little white flowers were just beginning to emerge. Maybe I'm just romanticizing it because it's a nice sunny day but's pretty darn good.

One other tiny little benefit...I have seen more rainbows (arc-en-ciel) here than I have the rest of my life put together. Especially at work I can see huge ones, going from end to end over the airport. I'm sure there's a good scientific explanation for it. This one is from my apartment balcony after a rainstorm last summer.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Swiss Neighbors

Ok, I love Switzerland, let me make this clear. It is pretty, the weather is moderate to wonderful 365 days per year, the food is excellent, things just WORK and run ON TIME and people are generally polite and nice. Generally. But people are stereotyped as not neighborly and keeping to themselves and someone just proved em all right this morning!

This morning, when I walked out of my apartment building, for whatever reason, I fell. Completely stumbled and fell on the ground like an idiot. And this woman who was passing and was no more than 5 feet away when I fell didn't even flinch!! She just kept on walking. Now I am not sure how you do not hear a human being fall over onto the sidewalk but maybe she was deaf. Anyway, this is just an example of how "neighborly" some of the Swiss residents can be.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

I am a bad ass

Exhibit A.

For those of you who didn't already hear about this, a few weeks ago I went ice climbing. 2008 brought some kind of bee with it for me, a bee which jumped in my bonnet and said "last year in Switzerland! You gotta do EVERYTHING!!" So I have gone snowboarding taken ski lessons, did the balloon thing, also went snowshoeing (super fun, I loved it, and at least I can do that in Chicago) and last weekend snow toboganning which is in huge inner tubes down enormous chutes in Leysin, Switzerland. I screamed going down all of them like an idiot, but it was fun.

A few weeks ago, I tried ice climbing with a guide who had taken me on the snowshoeing trip. The guide, Roger Fleming, is a super cool laid back guy who is also just a teensy bit obsessed with safety and caution to your surroundings in everything you do. So after meeting him snowshoeing and hearing he did an ice climbing course, I signed up.

You may know that from time to time (de temps en temps, I learned in French last week, and it is IMPOSSIBLE for me to make the "liaison") I have done my fair share of above-average sporty things. I did the Chicago Triathlon. I have done winter backpacking, rock climbing. I snowboard fairly regularly. I also complain a lot!! So while I will mentally want to push myself, sometimes my lazy body, which I think is just an average sporty body, not above average, will cry "why are you doing this to me???" Then it goes downhill. However having done these things means I can do other things, so usually I try them.

The day of ice climbing was after a particularly bad snowboarding outing - we were in big powder all day, fun for about one long run and then I was dead tired (and my legs complained a LOT). Another girl was in the ice climbing course with me, which was in Chamonix. We geared up in our 4 layers of clothes (seriously), boots, gaiters, harness, helmet. Then Roger says "we are going to hike about 15 minutes to the spot, now try not to get warm, because if you perspire, you will be cold, and you do not want to be cold when ice climbing." Of course, the hike was like a 85 degree angle uphill in ice and snow, and I was immediately sweating. And my legs were burning. I was thinking um, what the heck are you doing you idiot??!!! I was thinking about how much I did not really like rock climbing and maybe this was a bad idea. I tried to ignore it and be thinking instead on not sliding off the side of the mountain, which given the icy trek, would not have been that difficult to do. We pressed on and got to the spot, where I practically took off all my clothes, then froze and threw them all back on.

During the day, Roger and the other guide, Kursten, taught us a lot about ice and its strength and weaknesses, what makes good ice, etc. For obvious reasons, ice climbing is done in the shade, and you do spend a fair amount of time standing around, so when that was happening, I was getting pretty cold. We wore crampons and had these big ice picks as seen in the photo (both SHARP). First we learned how to use the picks in the ice. You have to really swing your arm and use the leverage to THUNK it in there. You can definitely feel when it is in good and not. At first we were just swinging like a bunch of monkeys with tools and ice was flying off everywhere! But after about 10 min, we had the hang of it.

Then we practiced going up the ice just using our feet, no arm tools. Crampons are pretty bad ass. They are like detachable cleats of destruction. Roger kept telling us to watch out for the rope or we could easily cut them. You have to just kick in your foot, then the next, and walk up like you are going up a ladder. If the ice was more soft, this was easy, but on the hard ice, it was quite difficult. You also need to not waste energy kicking and kicking at the damn thing. Maybe you just get one of the little diggers in there good, and you need to trust yourself that this is enough. I did find it a little easier than rock climbing, or maybe I just trusted my body more with all these additional claw-like appendages I had.

Finally we scaled up the thing twice (once half way and once all the way up) using the picks and crampons, and on a rope of course. The vertical ascent was like climbing a ladder against a house - not 90 degrees, in some parts a bit, but mostly I would say more like 75 or 80. The climb was very challenging, and partly because my hands were FREEZING cold. I think they just kind of formed around the picks and froze like that. Your hands are constantly for the most part above your head, so all the blood is draining away from them. And they are in snow and ice. BRRR!! But I found I was able to concentrate and get in a good rhythm and just go up, moving left arm, left leg, right arm, right leg, up up up. Hey I was doing it!! By the top I was exhausted, but feeling good and happy. We rappelled down which was fun, also really cool because Roger built an anchor my drilling a hole in the ice!!

Here was what we climbed up (that is Roger at the top, rappelling down)

I am going ice climbing again March 1, probably the last weekend of the season it will be possible, and quite possibly the last time in my life. But I am really looking forward to it.

Our group:
Me at the top of our climb!

By the way, the crazy bee is beginning to suggest I should climb the Mont Blanc this summer...more in the future if I decide to do this...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bella Svizzera

Ciao. Most people don't klnow this about Switzerland, but it is actually like 4 mini countries in 1 country. There is the French region, with lots of cigarettes and discotecs. There is the German region, with lots of manufacturing and sausages. There is the Romansch region, which is small and I don't really know about (apparently the language is a "bastardized Latin" that is a QUOTE, not my opinion).

And then there is the Italian region, which I had been dying to get to, and finally, I am here. Buona sera.

I was fortunate enough to get whisked on a last minute work trip to Lugano. When it comes to business trips, if someone said to me "do you want to go to Iraq?," I would probably say yes. This gives you a good indication of the extent of travel fever and my willingness to go wherever. So when I heard Lugano, a place that I had actually been wanting to go for some time, in my Swss country, I was ecstatic.

Of course, it doesn't hurt to stay in a 5 star hotel on the lake. Bellisimo! I can say that the Hotel Eden is one of the nicest places I have stayed in my life. And since it is offseason, we got upgraded to a lake view with no charge. I am here with my colleague Dave. Today I spent working in our Lugano office, had pizza for lunch, and then worked more in the afternoon while watching the sunset over the mountains outside. Then we had dinner at the hotel, in a tranquil restaurant overlooking the lake. Yes, sometimes living in Switzerland is a REAL hardship.

I just finished a fantastic dinner of raviolis, sea bass and vegetables with herbs, wine and prosecco, and a dessert called "harmony." Indeed, I have to say this is a very rare occassion in my crazy job where I am immensely happy I am involved with a particular project! My advice - Lugano is beautiful. Come here if you can. In fact, it is so beautiful, and the food is so good, skip visiting me in Geneva if you have to just so you can come here.

Off to bed...ciao gentle reader.