Curling Broom Controversy

Curling is a very very old game and was invented by bored Scottish weavers throwing their loom stones down frozen lochs in the 16th century. One can only assume alcohol was involved.

Today it is a serious sport with important championships, a place at the Olympics, and a miasma of rules and regulations. Not as sexy as hockey, it is its laconic little brother. As I write, the World Curling Federation ranks Canada first in both teams. Not to worry: Switzerland holds a totally respectable 2nd place (women) and 5th place (men). This is entirely due to the lack of Scottish roots in Switzerland.

One memorable winter I was skip of my high school curling team. I wore my stretchy nylon ski-pants, snow boots with lots of socks, and a thick woolen sweater knit by my grandmother back in the Old Country. It even had a maple-leaf motif. Training took place at the local skating rink. The ice was smooth–chipped here and there from a previous hockey match or free-skating session.
Men Curling in Toronto 1909
The broom back then was not the straw broom of pioneer days, but a special curling broom made with a bunch of long stiff hairs. For me, it was entirely a fashion accessory, as everyone knew that it did absolutely nothing except get bits of powdered ice or the occasional cigarette butt or bottle cap out of the way of the majestically moving unstoppable stone.

Years later the broom was replaced by the legendary Rink Rat, and then a sort of floor scrubber, and now, as I’m sure you are aware, high technology has invaded the pitch, and controversy is swirling in the curling world.

This concerns the new-fangled specialized IcePad broom being made by two Canadian companies. It contains directional fabric, and really helps control the path of the stone. The players who dislike it (or are jealous of it) say that it takes away from the skill of the thrower and the athletic brushing techniques of the conventional sweepers.

As the winter 2016 curling season begins, the World Curling Federation has been asked to take a stand and has recently brought in a few tough new rules concerning championship curling brooms: They cannot be waterproof, they cannot contain stiffening inserts, and you have to be able to buy them at your local hardware store.

At the moment it’s Rocket Science 0 / The Luddites 1.

Fondue Weather

Well, the cold winds of the north are with us, finally, and it’s time to dust out the fondue pot, locate the matches, and glue the fondue forks back together. Much like BBQs, Swiss fondues seem to be a man’s job. This must have something to do with a genetic throw-back to the Stone Age Alpine cave, a dead mammoth, and a roaring fire.

Sadly, today’s fondue fire has been reduced to a little aluminum cupcake tin filled with blue jelly. The exciting potential for burning down the house is much reduced.

A fondue outside Switzerland is just not the same. Whether it is the cheese, the wine, the bread, the stirring spatula, or the weather, it is a weak imitation of its big Swiss sister. I have an English cookbook that lists milk as one of the key ingredients. Say no more.

A fondue is all about attitude and ritual. It is considered a highly nutritious, celebratory dish. There are no guilty qualms concerning gluten, cholesterol, dairy fats, or alcohol. The event is embraced with gusto and the white Swiss wine, Fendant, flows freely. Kirsch is actually a medical necessity to avoid the formation of the dreaded cheese-ball.
Losing your piece of bread in the pot is a cause for hilarity, and getting a bit of the burnt cheese at the bottom is a solemn honour. It takes years to learn all this, and get the fondue patter smooth.

There is the first fondue of the year and the last. There are the small personal touches concerning the cheeses involved, the use of binding / fluffing agents, the amount of kirsch, the (highly controversial) offering of pickles and/or dried meat.

My own personal fondue tip involves a St Bernard dog’s licking out the pot at the end which cuts down almost completely on the washing-up process. And in this house the bread (pain bis) is carefully cut into perfectly mouth-sized morsels. Plus, the very idea of adding mushrooms or dried tomatoes is greeted with cries of derision and revulsion. Our fondues are pure.

Our grand-daughter, normally Swissly constituted in every other way, has not yet developed a taste for fondue. Last Christmas we found a miniature fondue set specially conceived for that most radical of fondues – the chocolate fondue. Carefully wrapped, it was presented to her grandfather and has been peacefully been slumbering in its wrapping ever since.

I have yet to find the miniature marshmallows.


A young Canadian enjoying a fondue on Grouse Mountain, British Colombia. Note the too-large bread pieces, the boiled potatoes, the pickles, and that glass that looks suspiciously like root beer.

The Tooth Tourist

I’ve just been to a Singapore dentist. I sure hope my Geneva dentist is not reading this as I’m hoping to surprise and impress him with my new improved tooth-brushing techniques.

Anyway, it wasn’t my fault that I ended up in a totally foreign dental chair; others are entirely to blame.

The first seed was germinated by a Malaysian friend of a friend who airily declared some years back that she always goes to Singapore to have her teeth seen to. I found this quite sophisticated—a bit like flying to New York for the weekend to go to the opera, getting over to the camel auction in Abu Dhabi, or attending the fall ice-cream weekend in Palermo.

Then there’s my husband who travels regularly and hasn’t seen a Geneva dentist for decades – Bangkok is his normal root-canal/scraping and polishing destination-of-choice; but when in Singapore…

Then there’s my “new” dentist himself, who, after my former (real) one retired, declared that all my nice shiny silver fillings needed to be changed into boring white ones.

What’s a girl to do?

dentistLet me be perfectly clear about this. I hate dentists. I hate the smell, the gloves, the mirrors, the chair, the little metal picks, the drill, the needle, the blue mouth rinse, the blue flame, the bib, the essence of cloves, the x-rays, the spit extractor, the grand-father clock in the waiting room. All of it. No. That’s not true: there is the excellent bit of actually staggering out – light-headed, sore-mouthed, dry-lipped.

Dental tourism is big in Singapore. You get an appointment the same or the next day at clinics cheerfully called Toofdoctor, Glittzsmile, or Tooth Angels. After a morning’s visit to the Bird Park where we saw a mighty American eagle land on a skinny girl’s wrist and parrots fly through increasingly smaller hoops until they reached the grand finale of their show which involved counting to ten in Chinese and singing Happy Birthday in English, we made our way to the All Smiles Dental Clinic.

The tiny hole-in-the-wall clinic was in the midst of a densely Chinese section of town. Normal dentist smells were not an issue as the scents of the orient wafted in and out of the door. In our fish-bowl holding tank we were a bit of a local attraction and even an old grey-faced man in a wheel chair puffing on an oxygen bottle stopped to consider us. His look was possibly that of pity.

The dentist didn’t want to change my last two old mercury-fillings as he said they were way stronger than the fragile white ones (ephemeral and surely dissolved within three years) that he could easily replace them with. This is toothily confusing. The Geneva line is that the new-fangled resin fillings are greatly superior to their old grey grandparents.

Sigh. In my next life I would like to be a toucan, a horn-bill or even a vulture. And as I whistle and sing songs and rip dead hyenas apart I will revel in the complete happiness of having not one single solitary tooth in my bird-brained head to worry about.

Grime and Punishment–a note from the future

On Friday November 13th a few hours before the Paris massacre a more innocent me wrote the text that follows. Then, I had thought Singapore’s social fears and archaic laws to be both naïve and ludicrous.
As the world weeps for Paris, a shift has occurred, and this little island’s formula for order – extreme cultural and religious tolerance combined with outlandishly draconian laws – now strikes me as considerably less foolish than it did two days ago.

Diwali began a few days back in Singapore. What a lovely surprise. Who would have thought that the Indian Festival of Lights would be a national holiday here? I’ve checked and Buddha’s birthday, Christmas, Good Friday, the end of Ramadan and the end of the Hajj are also official days off work. Chinese New Year gets two days off, normal New Year one, and there is Labour Day, National Day, Election Day and any other days the President wants. How lovely that a panoply of gods is appeased.

However, on such loose and unshaped days other rules apply, and one must be very very careful out and about in public places.

False urban legends abound. For example, it is commonly thought that the act of chewing gum is prohibited in Singapore. This is not true. Smuggling gum into the country gets you a year in jail and a $5,500 fine. If you can fashion your own gum in situ, then, in theory, you can chew away.

Vandalism is another no-no. And thank goodness. No graffiti, no litter, no cigarette butts, no unsightly signs on public property. However, if your cat wanders off and in sentimental shock you post his photo, an explanation, and your telephone number in your local park, you are looking at a potential $2,000-fine, 3-8 strokes of the cane and three years in prison. Fortunately, those of us over-50s are exempt from the flogging bit.

And then there’s the public transportation system with its no-drinking, no-eating, no breast-feeding rules. This is so no one slips and hurts themselves on spilled victuals. Probably best to keep the very young and the very old at home as spitting, vomiting, and forgetting to flush the toilet are also punishable public blunders.

n-CAKE-largeIn a popular restaurant at the tail-end of the Diwali holiday I overheard a conversation somehow connecting Singapore and North Korea. At that specific moment the man had in front of him a giant Häagen Dazs concoction—a tower of crêpes, ice-cream balls, whipped cream, sticky sauces, and sprinkles.

What a silly pudding! Everyone knows that they don’t have fancy ice cream parlours in North Korea. And if the Treason Police had overheard him he could have been detained without trial indefinitely.

I really do love this brave new world that is Singapore. With nary a cop in sight, I have a feeling that the dramatic laws are there to keep any potential tourist louts in line and to add a frisson of excitement for the rest of us. My Swiss half is in thrall at the litter-less streets, the spic-and-span sidewalks, and the graffiti-free walls. It was truly shocked when a very small dog on a rhinestone leash publicly peed in the botanical garden under the canna leaves.

My Canadian half, on the other hand, has a bit of a hankering after a spot of j-walking over to the 7/11 with a chewing tobacco chunk in my cheek. In this orderly, prosperous, utopic city state I have a small theory that John Savage might be lurking somewhere in the lilies.

The Sitting Tourist Duck

In theory, the perpetual tourist business sounds great: out and about, on the move, seeing the world foot loose and fancy free.

In reality, I’m sure that it is a state perched precariously in one of Dante’s lower levels of the Inferno.

My sister has helpfully passed along her husband’s 3-P rule for travel: Passport, Pills, and Plastic (money). All the rest can be dismissed as “just fluff”. There is a certain truth in this, of course, until you find yourself, having forgotten your underwear and the one pair of black slacks that goes with everything else in your suitcase in a country full of skinny child-sized people.

Generalized anxiety is the default tourist state. Even waiting for a plane that has a 5-hour delay, you are worried that it will somehow sneakily materialize and silently leave without you. Suitcases and possessions take on lives of their own and mentally locating each item of your paraphernalia fills many hours. This results in the ultimate tourist worry-state which is that worry is actually curtailing the good time that you should be having.

Your self-respect also takes a constant beating. Dignity is impossible as you jump onto and crawl off of a bobbing outrigger in the local harbour (even other tourists, who seem to have transport that has taken them to sedate steps, regard your unlovely contortions with expressions of dismay and disgust); climb the concrete stairs through the crowd of garrulous young men in front of the empty ATM machine; or mistake the price for vanilla pods in the market by a factor of a thousand. You are a sitting tourist duck.ChineseChopstick-

My theory is that most of the above is brought about by a state of acute sleep deprivation. Jet lag takes its toll, but your room (inevitably located in the vicinity of an elevator or a garbage chute) allows jolly laughter and animated conversation to leak under your door at 3 a.m. These other tourists (who are somehow managing to have a rollicking good time) rouse you out of your fitful sleep in your too hot/too cold room on your too hard/too soft bed and you go back to a few fruitless hours of trying to think where your finger-nail file (that you haven’t seen for the past two days) could possibly be.

Add to this the terror of having a taxi driver with the DT’s, a map in Chinese of possibly the wrong city, a mysterious rash on your stomach, curiously stained foot soles, and the threat of a black hairy crab dinner followed by a Chinese Chopstick Massage, then you have to pull yourself together to keep visions of death at bay.
So, you look up at the unusually blue sky and forget about your finger-nail file for a moment. You consider the nameless tropical trees and their flowering canopies and their parasite orchids and their miniscule birds. You plan a trip down the road to the 7/11 for a bucket of green tea ice cream.

And then you start worrying about where the folder could possibly be that contains details of your flight back home. You haven’t seen it for days.

Volcanic Activity

I find myself on the Indonesian island of Flores. There is an airport here, but its only flights are to and from Bali and everything is at an ashy standstill due to the eruption of Mt Rinjani’s baby mountain in Lombok.

Here at the Blue Parrot in Labuan Bajo we are busy killing time and waiting. Well, the ones who are left are.

Brice (the Frenchman who runs the lounge bar and restaurant down the road) left yesterday on the 36-hour ferry to Denpasar. Angela (the lady who owns the B&B where we’re staying) has left the country for a couple of months to admire the autumn leaves in Canada. Thomas (the man-about-the-house to whom we are to pay our rent) has not been seen since we arrived. And Enid, the breakfast cook and bed-maker, spends her spare time in affectionate encounters with her boyfriend in the breakfast room. (She is also Suspect #1 in yesterday’s beer crisis.)

All the rest of us are struggling on, being greeted with endless “Selamat pagis” and wicked sunny smiles. We are also being constantly bombarded with offers of land or sea transport—any destination, any duration—to take our minds off the closed airport.

rinjani explosion 1994The health spa is also doing a roaring trade. I, foolishly, tried a foot reflexology session which revealed several sore points and activated the kidney foot button with predictable results. If things don’t smarten up, candle waxing is next on my list.

We have even been to visit the local field office of Swiss Connect (SECO) run through a partnership with the Swiss Foreign Affairs Department. A nice young Swiss-German woman there is in charge of trying to reduce the amount of plastic used on the island. In essence, this garbage-strewn town of stinking fires, rotting fish-guts, dead rats, shiny-black liquid grunge, and squished frogs is as organic as the Garden of Eden. The attempt to wipe out all vestiges of ugly modern times is a highly romantic and very clean Swiss mission.

Stop the presses! A rumour has it that a plane is landing. We’re almost saved, and our worries are over. We can finally relax and let life get back to normal.