Mother Nature on my Very Last Nerve

Summer in the Geneva countryside can be glorious, but there are dangers dangling under every leaf. And not just for the plants.

For example, there is the revolting tick situation. Ticks of all shapes and sizes find me attractive and alluring.  Hats, socks, sprays, elastic bands and duct tape cannot keep them away. Just yesterday a pin-head-sized mountain tick came with me to visit the lowlands. It was a one-way trip.

Successfully removed in an operation requiring husband, flashlight, magnifying glass and tweezers—tricky as he only has two hands—I did a tour of several drug stores this morning seeking medical advice.

Microscopic view of a deer tick (Ixodes dammini) magnified about 90 times.
Microscopic view of a deer tick (Ixodes dammini) magnified about 90 times.

My home-base pharmacy where I regularly line up for hours and spend hundreds of francs, told me in no uncertain terms to go away and phone my doctor. This was not successful as the phone was not answered and there was no helpful message. Obviously, she has run away for her summer holidays and is jet-skiing and kite surfing in some tick-free part of the world.

Crawling reluctantly towards of the local emergency health clinic, I thought I’d get a second opinion. Fortunately, here in the Geneva outskirts, drug stores are ubiquitous. They are like 7-Eleven convenience stores in Sweden or Japan. There is one on every corner.

This turned out to be much more satisfactory, and the nice lady told me to do nothing, but keep a close eye on the situation and seek medical help if the bite-site got bigger and/or turned into the famous tick bull’s eye which is a sign of long-lasting complications, multitudinous painful symptoms, and eventual death-by-tick.

Buoyed up no end, I thought I’d chance a third opinion. This was better than ever. The amazingly friendly and intelligent drug store lady put on her spectacles and examined the red blotch. She gave it a poke. She called over a colleague and they had a little conference which included the idea of photographing the site to keep as comparative evidence. She asked if I had the body of the perp (for a post-mortem, one assumes). I was ready for DNA testing myself. She then sold me a nifty product – a roll-on disinfectant and anti-inflammatory especially designed for bug-victims.

Back at home, after a delightful festive tick-free lunch with the cat, my rational mind was formulating plans for an afternoon under a tree with a book when the neighbours’ unsightly bamboo poking through the lawn brought out the inner Wimbledon-Grass-Cutting-Maniac in me.

Now hot, sweaty, and happy, I’m revelling in the knowledge that a well-tended garden should be entirely tick-free.

We’ll see.

The Hole and the Horror

Well, on April 12, 2016 at 15:36 a 28-metre, 4-ton log smashed its way through the back wall of my mountain house (fondly known as The Shack.) Having slid down from a considerable height, it was moving at speed and went on to pierce the upper floor, the middle wall, and the front stone wall. There it came to a halt and that was that. There was an uninvited log in the house.

Being a polite log, it had just barely missed all supporting beams and its discreet exit was underneath the living room window and above the basement door. Damage was considerable, nevertheless, and the shock-value was tremendous.

To remove the log was dramatic and dangerous. More damage was inevitable, but total disaster (house collapse) was miraculously avoided.

The new open gashing wounds were again boarded up, pulverized furniture dragged out into the rain, the stones from the old walls gathered up, and unrecognizable debris shovelled into industrial-strength garbage bags.

tree in shack

Meetings were held to discuss insurance claims and counter-claims. The youngest man on the wood-cutting team was held responsible. Adjusters were called in, photographs were taken, and the site examined and re-examined. Estimates were submitted, convocations sent out, contracts signed, and the repair work has finally begun.

For example, there is a cheery orange cement mixer in the filthy, yet breezy, living room.

Yesterday, on June 23, 2016, by a majority of 52%, the U.K. voted to leave the European Union. England was always a renegade log ready to slip down the mountain on a rainy day.  And, sure enough, it has pierced the house that is Europe.

But, like The Shack, old Europe has not fallen. Its beams have not taken a direct hit; its foundations are holding.

Neither accident seems to have been either an act of God or a natural disaster. Any insurance company worth its salt would easily blame the cocky young woodcutter, David Cameron, who has now suddenly discovered that being prime minister can be an extremely dangerous job. He has decided to quit. Lumberjacks on the same team (Northern Ireland and Scotland) claim their complete innocence.

But now is the moment when serious attention must be paid. Removing the British log will be difficult and dangerous. If it’s successfully removed new rents and fissures will appear, more stones will fall, and more glass will be shattered. If it’s pulled out too fast or too hard or too carelessly, beams will give way, the roof will cave in, and Europe will fall down.

It will, of course, take years to clean up the mess, to shift through the rubble, to try to find things that can be saved, and to not cut oneself on the broken crockery.

So, Europe, on this shocking day after the Brexit vote, take heart. It’s a huge mess, but with hard work, honesty, and a lot of luck, perhaps you, too, will have an orange cement mixer in your miraculously-saved living room one day.

Tourist Tips for a Wet Week in Geneva

The upside (sometimes the downside) of living in Geneva is that you get many many visitors. These people are known as Temporary Tourists and are usually delighted by our little city.

Normally they pop off into the sunny streets, enjoying the lake (Bains des Paquis), the views (Mont Blanc), and the al fresco sophisticated city-sidewalk dining. They gather back in the countryside for an evening BBQ, stories, and reminiscences. It’s lovely.

However, this June in Geneva the swimming pools have been cold and depressing, Mont Blanc foggily lugubrious, and the sidewalk cafés damp and dismal. Alternative plans have had to be made; here are the results.

  1. First of all, find a hole in the clouds and go up the Salève. Delightful (perhaps fleeting) views of Geneva and the lake surprise and delight. Note: the Mont Blanc massif will be completely invisible, but you can ask your tourists to stand very still and see if they can hear the glaciers cracking. saleve
  2. Find a lakeside restaurant, and, in the pouring rain, ply them with perch fillets and white wine. This is a game-changer as they are so grateful to be inside rather than out, and dry rather than wet, they begin coo-ing at the subtle manifestations of the colour grey over the lake and the motionful multi-layered clouds.
  1. Go to a Sunday market and buy one of every sort of cheese and mountain sausage that you can find. If you take umbrellas with you, it usually does not rain during this activity. Come home and enjoy a cheesy lunch on the sheltered back porch with delicious unpasteurized products that they moan that they just cannot get “back home”.
  1. Drive over to Lavaux on the way to the Chateau de Chillon. At one point, the fog will possibly blow away and the sight over the grape fields in their little stone encasements tumbling down to the lake (a UNESCO world heritage site) will seduce them completely and they will immediately forget their Burger King Lunch with its complementary Whoop Swiss red cardboard crown.
  1. Next day is serious shopping day. In bad weather Manor is the ultimate one-stop place for this: watches, knives and chocolate all under one big solid dry roof. Note: don’t even mention the Geneva Fountain as it’s been turned off.
  1. Then comes Geneva History Day—Maison Tavel (the model of the city) and St Peter’s Cathedral (the tower climb and the Chapel of the Maccabees). This can include such delightful impromptu events as two Geneva policemen herding a mother duck with her four little ducklings down the Grand Rue towards the lake, or a trio of swarthy Spanish troubadours singing their hearts out on the tram.
  1. The last day is when the faulty watches have to be returned, last minute Swiss army knife purchases made, and the mountain chalet with its smashed walls (don’t ask) thoroughly examined and marvelled over.

My muddy-but-happy tourists have left with their wet shoes packed in plastic bags. They report to be safely back home in Canada, but, unfortunately, it’s far too hot and sunny for a cheese fondue.







Bad-Ass Bikers

Old folks on electric bikes are sure getting some very bad press these days. A report just out illustrates the close relationship between seniors, their electric bikes, and the hospital (or even the morgue). They’re reported to be going down like flies.

This does not surprise me at all, as all the seniors I know were born in the 40’s and 50’s and were die-hard rebels. They know they are going to live forever or die trying. They are also greenies when it suits them, on a fixed income, and, considering their pre-death status, have no time to waste.

e-bikeThe dangerous e-bike reports are also a tad irrational. As more e-bikes are being sold, there will of course be more accidents. Logically, as well, the more elderly segment of society is buying them. We already have to deal with bad knees, replaced hips, dodgey backs and reduced lung capacity. Who needs a hill?

One old lady I know (several years my senior) has gleefully been riding a souped-up e-bike since the day they were invented. Several others are constantly looking into the matter of getting their speeds up on flat runs.

From my point of view the problem is not with electronic bikes and seniors it’s with everyone else—especially cars and their attitude of complete entitlement to anything paved.

Youngsters with cool traditional bikes are just plain jealous that they are being passed all the time by casual, un-sweaty, mechanically-enhanced oldies humming Beatles songs. That this geriatric segment of society can neither hear nor see very well and have almost no reflexes left is entirely beside the point.

Car drivers cannot stand them as e-bikes can approach unnervingly quickly from various directions and cannot be completely ignored (like classic bikes can) and are often spotted too late. E-bikes can get up to the speeds of scooters, but are less visible as they have no headlight or big-blobby helmet filling up the rear view mirrors. We are the stealth riders.

Of course accidents can happen. A most embarrassing incident comes to mind from a year ago in Münster—the bike capital of Europe. Stopping at an intersection (on a normal city bike) I applied simultaneously the back-pedal brake and the hand brake. I came to a complete stop and then, gracefully, I like to think, tilted sideways and the line-up of bikers to my right went down like a house of cards.

So, fellow-e-bike riders, soldier on. Be courageous, be swift, be careful, take the back roads, and stay forever young.

French Hot Spots

I don’t really want to say this, but sometimes life in Geneva can be a bit slow. I mean I, personally, really like watching the hedgehog do her long-legged stroll through the garden in the evenings. And I am thrilled by the redstarts teaching their children to fly. (Henry, the cat, shares both these interests.)  The snails gathered around the newly sprouting dahlias protected by their blue chemical circles are a constant source of suspense and worry; and the neighbour’s bamboo shoots pushing up vigorously through my newly-mowed lawn arouse feelings of vague disquiet.

Despite all this, there are moments when you just need a little more action, and so you cross the border into France.  Now life in the French countryside is not exactly Niagara Falls either. For example, there is no waxworks museum starring Justin Bieber or fire alarms going off in your hotel at the crack of dawn; but there are casinos, outdoor markets, water parks, strikes, and malls.

stock carA Sunday or two back, for example, I awoke to an unfamiliar noise. It wasn’t a bird. It wasn’t a plane. It was a Mothers’ Day Stock Car Race. Taking place on a patch of wasteland down by the Rhône River it buzzed its way through the day. I don’t know if mothers were driving or watching or at home with pillows over their heads, but it was loud and cheerful and a complete anathema to our Swiss Sunday rule that we cannot disturb the neighbours by cutting the grass.

French Sunday morning markets are also completely charming. Shunning the supermarket, and with pockets full of euros one approaches with an open, friendly, giving, attitude. This is rewarded by the Candy Man, the Vegetable Man, the Bread Man, the Roast Chicken Man all awaiting you with open arms.

The Cheese Man is an especial favourite as he saws you off great chunks of ancient Beaufort and brébis and cheerfully philosophises that for a produce that tastes so good, money is entirely irrelevant.

The Fish Man explains how his trout are stocked in a pure mountain stream that comes from a tinkling mountain spring, and the fish swim to his door in the morning happy for their filets to be taken to the market.

The Pirate-Gypsy Provencal Man in his fedora and golden earring behind his mounds of olives and tapernades looks way more wicked than any waxworks Johnny Depp pirate.

Bags full and pockets empty, you start to leave, but are hailed by Swiss-village acquaintances who are refreshing themselves on benches under a shady tree with local wine – the light bubbly sort suitable for breakfast. So you join them for a glass.

You finally make it home—completely satisfied and exhausted with your delicious purchases and all the social excitement.

You prepare a plate of bread, cheese, and paté forestière; pull up a lawn chair: put in your earplugs; and settle in to see what the redstart chicks and the bamboo shoots are up to.





The World’s Belly-Button

This morning, it seems, Switzerland is at the very centre of things. BBC World Service radio news has featured three Swiss stories: the triumphal inauguration of the Gothard base tunnel (two tubes of 57 km—longest, deepest and best in the world), the lady who walked 900 kilometres to Geneva collecting peace-in-Syria messages, and the Swiss-German village that has voted to pay rather than take in nine refugees.

The tunnel success story I regard as my own personal triumph. My federal taxes over the past 17 years have paid for the technology, the machines, the workers, and even the ribbon-cutting politicians.

gothardSo, Europe, you’re welcome! May you put your Gouda cheese on the train in Rotterdam, and send it straight as a non-polluting arrow down to Genoa. There may it be unloaded, and replaced with Parmesan cheese to be sent right back to Holland. This is the Europe that we have come to know and love.

The second story was about a lady called Katherine Davies who has just completed a walk from London to Geneva to tell diplomats at the UN to stop the war in Syria.  To help her in this quest, she has collected messages—both real and electronic—from people she has met along the way to tell the diplomats to stop the war in Syria. She feels that if enough people do this, then the diplomats will stop the war in Syria. She was interviewed, and she feels very optimistic.

I wish her the very best of luck.

So far, so good. However, every belly-button, no matter how well-kept, has a bit of lint at the bottom. And so it was with story number three.

This concerns an unpleasant situation in a small pleasant village called Oberwil-Lieli which is near Zurich.  The unfortunate set of circumstances includes: a right-wing mayor, a homogeneous population (only 10% foreigners), wealth (10% of the inhabitants are millionaires), and a crime-free population of 2,200 people.

Last year the mayor refused to take in a handful of refugees (“Le Village Suisse qui Choque l’Europe”le Matin 25.09.2015) and a recent village vote has given the no-refugee crowd a very small majority.

The BBC interviewed a reasonable-sounding young woman from the village, and she explained that it was the “old people” who were responsible for the “bad vote” as they didn’t want crime, rape, bedlam, or having non-German speakers about. Taxpayers and individuals are ready to cough up the 290,000 Swiss franc fine instead.

So, Katherine, you’ve come to the right place.  I don’t think you should stop in Geneva (we have lots of refugees and asylum seekers here) but keep on walking over Oberwil-Lieli way. It’s not that far (248 km / 52 hours) and it sure sounds like they need all the help they can get.