A Mouse in the Chuchichäschtli

Well, you can’t go away for five minutes without all hell breaking loose.

Battling the usual post-trip miasma of fragility (brought on by the airplane-induced cough and cold, the suitcase full of dampish clothes smelling vaguely of fish, and the towering heaps of unlovely mail) there is a new and unwanted twist to the tale. A mouse family has moved into the kitchen.

Understandable as this may be in the coolish days of late September, it will not do at all.

There is a definite moral dimension to having a mouse in a Swiss house. It implies bad housekeeping, slatternly ways, possible plague, and total chaos. It is a matter only discussed amongst family and with closest friends. It is a sign of domestic defeat.

There are several stages that lead to mouse awareness and acceptance. The first is denial: that rustling sound is just the onions resettling themselves in their basket. The second is terror: this usually involves the actual sighting of a small rodent scurrying along the edge of the counter. The third is victory through death.

The mice have been living in the kitchen cupboard. This is the most sacrosanct of places. As a matter of fact, in WWII if a suspected German was claiming to be Swiss they made him say “Chuchichäschtli” (gargle it right at the back of your throat). The word means kitchen cupboard in Swiss German dialect and if the accent and inflection were wrong some sort of giant mouse-trap was presumably used on the culprit.


There are different ways of managing a mouse problem. A traumatized French-Swiss friend came across a mouse in her upstairs bedroom. She methodically removed every piece of furniture and clothing from the room; examined, cleaned, washed and ironed every object; then replaced them all carefully. It took weeks, but the mouse had been cleaned out of existence. I like to think of it reduced to a wafer-thin shadow-mouse folded somewhere in her underwear drawer.

A bachelor buddy of my husband’s, living in an old manor house near Zurich, was tolerant of mice if they stayed INSIDE the bread box. Guests who thought they had been eating seeded bread for breakfast quickly changed to yogurt.

And then there is my brother-in-law’s famous mouse tale. Many decades back, Stanley came down to make his breakfast in a Southern Ontario hippie haze. He put eggs on to boil, and toast in the toaster. A mouse, obviously cleaning up the crumbs at the bottom of the toaster ran out, hit the gas flame and jumped into the pan of boiling water. Told with brio (and sometimes with several additional steps) this has become a family mouse mantra passed down through the generations.

With a battery of traps, I have captured three, and Elena (the cat-minder) two. The plastic Swiss traps were craftily named Power Cat. Henry, the real cat of the house, is pathologically frightened of mice, and makes huge, exaggerated, scaredy-cat steps through the kitchen when there are mice in residence. The Canadian traps were called Victor. Peanut butter was the bait of choice.
The kitchen is now a mouse-free zone.

I think.

Out of Station — Sicily

I’m off! We perpetual tourists (PTs, as we like to call ourselves) sometimes even leave home. Mozart balls in my pocket (don’t ask) we’re going to Sicily, and I’m completely prepared.

I have read entire books on Palermo and Syracuse; I have toured the island with Laurence Durrell; I have taken short courses on Greek history with Edith Hall and Norman Douglas. I have made notes. I am classically red-hot.

I have learned about sieges and marshes and malaria. I have been captivated by invasions and conquests and tyrants. I know about boat battles in harbors and cavalry attacks and looting and pillage and ruin. I have learned of the double wall of Syracuse built by the attacking Athenians to keep the enemy in.

I know that Constans II was killed with a soap dish in his bathtub by Andrew in 668 and that Cicero means chickpea. I have read of Santa Lucia and Santa Rosa and their miracles and bones and catacombs and caves.
Solidus of the bearded Constans II
I have been told that Palermo is named after a purple dye made from mollusk shells, and that “harena” is the Latin word for sand as it was used to soak up the blood at the public Roman games. “Odeon,” more cheerfully, means song house.

I have found The Book of Roger (1154) with maps of the world-as-it-was-known-then with Sicily right smack in the middle. I know about Frederick and falconry and Goths and Vandals and Punic Wars and Saracens and Marsala.

I know that earthquakes destroyed everything many times and Baroque was built.

In fact, I am factually full up and completely exhausted. My brain is melting into Byzantine butter. I fear that I am losing threads fast, and historical holes are popping up all over the place.

A hospital-sized (2 glasses a day) bottle of Marsala.

Fortunately, my husband has bought an illustrated pop-up guide to the whole island. The “must see” items are clearly listed, illustrated, and explained. We will take that slim volume with us, and all will be well.

Heidi & Hyde

I am Swiss: but wasn’t to begin with. There is no doubt whatsoever about that. Swiss as a piece of Gruyère cheese. Swiss as a tub of marmot fat (yes, you can buy this at a drug store in Altdorf—the town where William Tell shot the apple off his son’s head.) I am Swiss.

blog1heidi Before we progress it is important to establish this. I have spent my entire adult life in Geneva—the real one. I have a fistful of defunct red passports filled with stamps and visas and now punctured with Swiss-cross holes through them. I speak French (with a slight accent, I like to think) and I can swear like a trooper in Swiss German.
In addition to the shocking vocabulary, I also have a Swiss-German washing machine, salad swinger, iron, alp-horn, and husband. These things last forever.

I, and many of my possessions, have survived three St Bernards and a Great Swiss Mountain Dog. I even like Cenovis. I eat muesli for breakfast soaking in big, fat, Swiss cow bio-milk and take turns shopping at the Migros and the COOP. I make a delicious roesti. How much more Swiss can a girl possibly be? (I don’t often talk about it, but I do draw the line at dried green beans and blood sausages, but I’m thinking of working these in as well.)

Miss Canada in her much-admired hockey dress

However, there are moments when an inner un-Heidi rather Hyde-like creature emerges: a marshmallow-eating, pop-drinking, potato-chip crunching, peanut-butter smearing, chain-sawing, canoeing, gum-chewing, hockey-cheering Canadian throwback to earlier, easier times. Spaghetti in tins and rice in puddings: that’s where a piece of me still belongs.
And so welcome to my world: the world of the perpetual tourist at home and abroad.