The Switzerland of Central America

Well, it is certainly expensive enough here in Costa Rica. An avocado costs twice as much as in Geneva. And like its Swiss cousin it is always half rotten when you cut it in half.

There are hot springs up around the Arenal volcano. Watery pools of steaming brown nutritious liquid. Much like Loeche-les-Bains or Yverdon, you sit up to your neck in the warm wet and look through the steam at the misty mountains. The air is cold at 1500m, but here broad-leaved vegetation blots out the grey scuttling sky. The occasional agouti, a sleek rodent with jacked-up back legs, rushes away when it sees that its own private pool is already occupied.

There are no trains here, so communal travel between towns—and even between hotels—is by little white shuttle buses. Within a system of mind-numbing complexity, they pick you up, transfer you, give you free delicious coffee at rest stops and drop you off. You are like a lunch-time tiffin box in the streets of Mumbai. Your shuttle driver is the dabbawala and gets you safely to your destination. Your fellow tiffin cans have usually been picked up before you, and so you find yourself in the worst possible tiffin position and arrive cramped, bent, and shaken.

There is also much animal spotting to be done. Unlike the rarefied Swiss high mountain eyries of the aigle royal, chamois or marmot, here we have the toucan, the sloth and the Capuchin monkey. Instead of the village rooster, the howler monkey greets the dawn as the first exhaustless motorcycle roars past.

You stumble across smaller things when you least expect it. A lizard blowing its throat into a yellow bubble-gum balloon, or a turquoise and black poison dart frog, or an orange iguana proudly showing off its colours in a tree.

There are expensive restaurants too! Not the utterly magnificent snobby-as-hell Swiss sort with the fancy internationally renowned chef, the handful of stars, white tablecloths, amuse-gueules  and pre-desserts; but a class up from the Costa Rican “soda” (the family-run joint with mom sweating it out in the kitchen with her empanadas and her pot full of beans and rice).

You have the noble pizzeria.

These attract the more moneyed customer. They drive up in their sparking monster pick-up trucks with oversized, jet-black, deeply-treaded tires. The man descends first: fortyish, iPhone in hand, brilliant blue wife-beater tucked into stretchy black shorts with racer stripes, flip-flops. The woman follows: thirtyish, iPhone in hand, golden chinking bracelets, see-through high heeled shoes, and a dress made of yellow ribbons. She, too, is fat, but mesmerized as you are by the intricacy of the golden bands, the rolls of flesh fascinate rather than revolt.

They sit at the wobbly wooden table and, without saying a word, cutlery, soft drinks and pizzas appear. The man puts his phone on loudspeaker and has animated Spanish conversations about deliveries and times. The woman sips her coke and looks at her screen. The uneaten cold pizzas are boxed up and taken with them into the now-dark early evening.

No money has changed hands.





A Surfeit of Fun

I found an abandoned fairy yesterday across the road. In a highly unfairylike fashion, she was hollering at the top of her lungs for her Mom and Dad. Her costume included red lipstick, blue eyeshadow and translucent wings attached to the back of a sleeveless gossamer dress. Shivering in the freezing cold, I gave her my gardening jacket and we settled down to a sobbing conversation.

My five-year-old fairy was locked outside alone. Everyone else was having great fun at a costume Escalade party in an upstairs apartment. No one had realized there was a fairy missing.

There is a frantic craving for fun at the moment — not just here in the Geneva countryside, but all over the place. A recent trip to Madeira found us in the middle of a packed early-morning November flight out of Zurich. The passengers were excited and eager.

The flight into Funchal, the world’s most dangerous airport, went well (no turning back to Porto this time), and no medical incidents on board either.  But the fully-booked Edelweiss/Swiss flight must have got tangled up in so much fun, and I was electronically eliminated from having taken the flight.

They then, secretly, cancelled my flight back.

In the tourist world, ignorance is not exactly bliss, but it can help. For six days the weather was perfect in Madeira–sunny and just warm enough to leave the window open at night (necessary to avoid dust-related asthma attacks.)

The hotel had a tropical garden and a glorious view, and once upon a time must have merited its five stars. However, parallel to the world of fun-seekers, there has to be a world of fun-providers.  Sinks, toilets, towels, beds, and carpets do not clean themselves. Supper does not cook itself.  Drinks do not pour themselves.

There was almost no staff, BUT there was a grocery store nearby and a working television. Lunch was often the local specialty – swordfish with a fried banana on top.

However, the great pleasure of Madeira are the famous levadas which are man-made water courses coming gradually down the volcanic mountain sides. You do great circuits through the laurel forests, and if your walk is long enough there will be no tour bus crowds.

Yes, the thousands of cruise ship passengers coming into Funchal daily now have changed the atmosphere of the island. Flip-flopped people come ashore and board big black buses to take a tour of the island. They clog up the narrow steep roads and scenic view spots.

I have a theory that all of the people who once worked in the tourist industry of Madeira now work on the cruise ships.  They, too, have taken up the concept of fun. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. You’ve got a job, food and a bed. The tips are better and you’re going somewhere.

Concerning my flight back, I was much like my little fairy from over the road: out in the cold with gossamer wings.  





A Victim of my Family and Other Animals

They are all on my case. They are all filthily smug about my short trip to Canada last week. It is a case of Schadenfreude at its very worst. They want the world to see my shame and feel GOOD. They think I normally lack sufficiently exciting blog material.

For the record, I love going to Canada and staying at my sister’s place in Stratford. I am spoiled and cuddled and no one gets mad at me. It is bliss as I sink back into a dreamy fantasy childhood of hot breakfasts and constant entertainment.

We go to visit Barb at the liquor store, Whitey in his little shop of horrors, see some of the best theatre in the world at the Stratford Festival, visit family members and eat yellow perch on the shores of Lake Erie. We go to the Antiques Warehouse (before it burned down), and stroll the streets of Justin Bieber’s childhood (my sister has fed him cookies…she claims.) Mr Kim makes us the best sushi in the world outside of Japan.

This time it was the same but different.

Instead of being wrapped in clean crisp sheets in a cosy historic house, we found ourselves in the tired sheets of the Festival Inn. Instead of short exciting walks to the theatre, we were located on the “strip” — miles out of town on Hwy 8, a major freeway. Taxi drivers looked after us.

The original trip was booked for October, 2020 when I would take my grand-daughter to see Canada. We would go during the Potato Holidays in October! We would see plays! We might even hit Hallowe’en if we were lucky! But the whole thing was doomed…some Greek god was playing with us.

COVID came, and the trip was postponed until October 2022. My grand-daughter was no longer in junior high school with long brown hair, but in “college” with short blue hair.  But, COVID had not finished with us, and the evening before our flight I received word that my sister’s house was COVID-infested. They had all tested positive and were as sick as dogs.

There was exactly one room left in all of Stratford, Ontario (last theatre week of the season.) No room at the inn… except, the Festival Inn!

This turned out to be an establishment more suited to a mining town north of Lake Superior. There was a complimentary fly strip hanging in the corner. The net curtains were torn and the windows filthy. The beds were spongey and lush. There was free parking! Hot water! And toilet paper and towels (on demand)! A neighbouring establishment offered an early 2-hour breakfast window and it was a 3 km walk into town. We had to prepay the six nights and sign a legal document that the hotel was not responsible for stolen items.

Our motel neighbours lived out of the back of their pick-up trucks and kept their hotel room doors open for friendly exchanges.

It was sad and glorious at the same time. We depended on the kindness of family: the niece, the nephew, the other sister. You were all great! I bow to you and applaud you all.  Encore!!!!




And the Ladies Come and Go, Buying their Bloomers in the Veneto

Sometimes you just get lucky. It can be cold and wet on the northern side of the Alps and the sun shines in the south. Last week I found myself on the sunny side of the Alpine street.

Thank goodness. Due to a numerically traumatic birthday, I was taken away to pretend to be young  and rich. We took the train to Stresa on the Lago Maggiore – a town which strikes horror in the heart of a true juvenile. It is staid. It is calm. It is quiet and refined. It is full of old palazzos and old fogies. As one matures, one appreciates these very qualities. Plus, there is the bonus that you can always easily spot someone older than yourself.

The grand hotel is a splendid specimen of European opulence. Its new spa jetted us full of exciting bubbles and gave the illusion of exercise as we gazed mindlessly into the pink of the evening.  Dinner was as elegant as a cut diamond and so empty (the chocolate and pear dessert was a smear of chocolate on the plate, and a possibly homeopathic drop of pear essence on a miniscule cream rosette) we talked about ordering a pizza as we walked along the painting-lined corridor back to our room-with-a-view.

Things came down to earth the next day as we struggled to reach our final destination, the fishing town of Chioggia. We had to catch the bus from an obscure site in the urban chaos of Padova and squeeze our suitcases between teenage bodies that were spread and clinging like octopuses to the seats.

The next day, travelling along the Lido into Venice, bus seats were again at a premium. You were supposed to have a crutch or be about to give birth to merit one.  Fleet-footed passengers snapped them up and immediately studied their phones as though hypnotized, ignoring the white-haired hunched-over people groaning all around them.

When that particular bus unexpectedly rolled onto a ferry, we clutched our day ticket even tighter as the elements were suddenly mixed. At that moment a true holiday was achieved. Perhaps lost, we had the wealth of time and transport to find our way back home.

As the days slipped past, meals and walks and boat rides relaxed into the quotidian. We learned that John Cabot–bumping into Newfoundland in 1497, but thinking he was in Asia–had lived here. Then there was the Chinese-run restaurant down by the clam boats:  the way to the washroom was lined with slot machines and the players wished you “Buongiorno!” as you went past.

And the surprise of the Thursday market along the Corso Popolo was absolute—the mountains of leather, clothes, shells, bicycle horns, shoes, culminated in the ladies’ underwear section. No trying-on was necessary or attempted. The saleslady sized you up, held articles against the appropriate body part, and extolled the merits of a strong hefty article that was fit for purpose.

She brought golden optimism to her bras and bloomers and her customers all left smiling. They had been sold luck.

Making Ice Cubes from the Sun

Just in case you’ve had the misfortune to have spent your summer holidays kite-surfing in Costa Rica, parachuting in La Reunion, at the cottage on the shores of Lake Huron or glamping in San Tropez, here in the mountains we have been fully, and even startlingly, entertained.

As it has been a hot and dry summer, there has not been the usual daily (and nightly) occupation of catching mice. All traps have remained disturbingly empty despite the miniature peanut butter sandwiches that have been lovingly prepared and placed in the little bait-holes. It turns out that is because of Sandy, the viper-in-residence who lives in the wood pile over by the compost heap. Our rational mind quite likes Sandy. The rest, and much bigger, part of our mind is horrified.

Sandy, however, has given us a lot of free time to read, to build a Walden-type cabin in the woods and to learn how to play Wordle, which, by the way, works much better if you read (and understand) the rules before you take it up. For example, the difference between the green and the yellow letters is crucial.

The new solar lithium batteries also mean that we now produce ice-cubes from the sun in the little ice cube tray in the fridge, so cocktail hour has become an elaborate, ecologically sustainable ritual.  As the sun slips behind the larch trees to the west, we can be heard tinkling up the path to the top look-out to admire Mont Blanc and the Vallée du Giffre.

I have also discovered that some activities work better if there is an audience. Take painting, for example. I was called out one recent morning to put stain on the cabin’s roof lattes before they became the roof. I dressed in my blue workers overalls and found stain, paint brushes, saw-horses, Swiss army knife and gloves. By the time all this had been gathered together, Dawn’s rose-red fingers had popped up over the pine trees to the east. The luxuriously easy job suddenly took on a whole new dimension in the searing heat.

Tom Sawyer’s punishment of whitewashing Aunt Polly’s picket fence came to mind. I had a sore back, and I wasn’t feeling too hot due to a five-course, 3-hour lunch in a fancy French restaurant the day before (okay, yes, there are a few downsides to mountain holidays). Placing the lattes on the saw horses, slathering one side, turning them over, slathering again, taking the sticky things off, leaning them against the fence, the bushes, the trees, all became a hot hideous chore.

There were 58 of them.

Just before 10 am, the first tourist family arrived, toiling up the steep path to the Chapelle Jacquicourt– sweaty, panting and red-faced. Instantly my back straightened and my attitude sharpened. I stopped moaning. My latte painting became an activity of interest and industry. We chatted a few minutes and off they went—the kids looking back wistfully as I gracefully wielded my brush.

They would have given anything to stay and help.


The Five-Star Excesses of Estepona

The best hotel reviews are the worst reviews. Who needs to know about the deep delightful calm, the friendly helpful staff, the gorgeous breakfast buffet, the unbelievable sleep-filled mattress, or the view to die for?

No one.

We arrived in Estepona on June 4th, an auspicious date, by following the rental’s trusty hen through the spaghetti ring roads of the Costa del Sol. We had stopped at the world’s biggest supermarket on the outskirts of this once Phoenician/Roman/Christian/Moorish fishing village. A pedestrian foot-bridge spanned the motorway from the hotel to a Lidl and a Burger King.

Rooms with a sea view on an upper floor had been requested, and this is sort-of what we got. The room was slightly warmer than the outside (heat wave) air temperature, and the coldest water from the tap was more than tepid. Neither soap nor drinking water was supplied.

Upon enquiry as to whether a room with a more straightforward view of the sea was to be had (Fawlty Towers came to mind), the Manager (who had a disturbing penchant for openly groping his female employees’ tightly pantaloned bottoms) said such affairs were entirely out of his hands.

Yes, he was busy. It was first-come, first-served. Mala suerte for you, loser! His hotel was FULL.

Lunch did not materialise as the snack bar worked on a QR code-reader-only policy and we didn’t have our phones. The staff did not know what sort of food they served. We were told to go downstairs and ask at the kitchen if someone knew.

The only other guests at the snack bar were a small family group. They had come across from the pool area and their various gigantic water floats were too big to fit through the door. Fortunately, they did not require any restauration as they proceeded on with their mattresses and crocodiles and sea monsters.

In one of the two gardens of the hotel, a blow-up plastic castle had been installed as a Saturday afternoon Confirmation was being celebrated. This meant that the adults disappeared for hours into the dark dining area while screaming children bounced themselves silly. Affairs reached a climax when about half the kids split off, regrouped on an upper walkway and threw their shoes at the bouncers.

Hectic live music followed, amplified to the point of distortion. It was loudly Latin in tone and rhythm. Hotel guests (previously hiding in their rooms to avoid the children) started to appear on their balconies looking tired and headachy. A couple of fellows who might have been at the naturalist beach earlier and suffering from heat stroke, wandered out starkers to see what the racket was about. That was the highlight of the afternoon.

Dinner followed as the Confirmation fiesta wound down. Birds were busy at the buffet, and fresh, multi-coloured, liquidy sparrow poop adorned the 5-star table cloths and napkins.

Our Andalusia road trip lasted two glorious weeks and the sloppy 5-star hotel served a real purpose in that, by contrast, its noisy, careless, dirty mess turned much humbler abodes into places of great wonder, beauty and stately tranquillity.


Waiting Rooms

Waiting rooms are not nearly as much fun as they used to be. Back in pre-pandemic times they were places of energy and human interest. Doctors would over-book with abandon, and you’d find yourself cheek by jowl with organized / harassed women phoning in supermarket orders and making arrangements.

The ophthalmologist’s was a very thoughtful place, as most printed matter was banished. Glossy vacation and architectural magazines ruled.  It was there that the old lady from the Valais was heard loudly complaining about the shocking smell of papist fish in the air on a Friday.

At the dentist’s I was treated to the sight of my normally-terrifying high school principal reduced to a trembling wreck as the grandfather clock ticked. I was never scared of him again.

There used to be reading matter—tattered and torn magazines with the crosswords filled in and the recipes ripped out.  If you were lucky, a grubby copy of today’s paper. Sometimes a little heap of free samples—skin creams and tooth whitening brochures. Boxes of paper tissues.

At the emergency room of the nearest clinic, there was a small wall-mounted TV with hyenas chasing, catching and eating a wildebeest. This ran on a 20-minute loop. I think the title was Magnificent Mother Natureobviously some sort of medical in-joke.  We the sickies were always captivated and our problems were reduced.  I’m sure some people, ashamed of their insignificant severed finger(s), even left.

With one thing and another, I have visited quite a few waiting rooms over the past few months, and I shake my head with sadness.

There are the hospital business visits where you fill in forms, sit on every second white plastic chair, get tested or vaccinated, and pay on the spot. (This is very Japanese-style where the waiting-room is arranged with church-pews all facing the same direction. In case of death, this can suddenly turn into a highly emotional public wake.)

There are new, fancy state-of-the-art waiting rooms. At the dermatologist’s there is a huge screen which gives “before” and “after” shots of various skin and wellness procedures. This becomes confusing, as often you cannot tell which is which. The weights around your waist to reduce belly fat, and the dancing sewing-machine-like needles on the face have both resulted in lasting mental damage.

I can confidently report that dentist, gynecologist, and GP waiting rooms are now socially dead. You occupy the room alone due to the well-spaced appointment schedule. Nothing to read. Nothing to watch. No one to listen to. Nothing to be learned. No tubes to squeeze.

So I look back fondly to last month when I found myself in a second-level parking lot in the once-raucous Thai tourist town of Patong. There were crowds of tourists needing their COVID tests.  In the breezy open concrete space there were line-ups, jostling, mistakes, laughter, shouting and confusion. The lady doing the tests was in a hermetically-sealed box and her gloved hands stretched into the voids of our waiting nostrils.

It was magic.















A Really BAD Case of Cabin Fever

Winter in Canada is not for wimps. This year in Ontario the cold and snow have been particularly vicious.  I have received personal reports of unending digging out driveways, cars being completely snowed in, ingloriously having to walk to work, having to start the car half an hour before you want to go shopping, icy sidewalks, and killer squirrels.

Yesterday the adjective “balmy” modified the day’s high of -6C.

Historically, we all know this. Canadian childhoods were spent battling to schools through snowstorms and farm kids showing up whimpering with frozen-white ears. You were dared to put your tongue on the metal of the frozen water pump in the playground and the top layer of skin ripped right off when you pulled away. Everyone laughed. Grit in a barrel with a shovel to help you get your car up the hills on the country roads. Those seasonal sore red rings around your wrists where mittens stopped and before your coat sleeves began. Emptying clumps of hard-packed snow from inside your galoshes.

Of course, it could all be mitigated by a sunny blue-sky day and the rhinestone twinkle of the snowscape. A toboggan or a pair of skates. You built snow forts. There was always Christmas, Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, and finally the almost-release of Easter.

A lot of time was spent indoors and the days were short. At school you memorized the kings of England and the official flowers of the provinces. With scissors, mucilage, construction paper and doilies you made creations of great beauty. The never-ending patterns of snowflakes.

At home you coloured with wax crayons. You melted your plasticine on the hot air holes from the furnace. Sometimes it melted down the chute and the house smelled like the colour brown. You played blocks and dress-up with the little’uns. You caught measles and chickenpox. You broke your elbow sliding down the banister. You watched TV when allowed…there were Santa Claus Parades and Hockey Nights in Canada.

There used to be people. You went to church and sang in choirs and poured hot toffee onto snow in a bowl and had nosebleeds when you got hit on the face with an ice snowball.  You survived.

Fast forward sixty years to the truckers’ hullaballoo in Ottawa and the exciting wintertime mix of radical politics, sedition, nut-cases, anti-vaxxers, maple-leaf flag-capes, and the True North strong and free. It is wintertime, and Cabin Fever is rife. After two years of social isolation, deaths, and rules in general, skating to work along the Rideau Canal is not cutting it.

We are mesmerized and revolted, but we UNDERSTAND. Instead of walking out naked into a blizzard and dying 2 yards from your own front door (a classic symptom of Cabin Fever), blast your horns! You will be fed and watered. People will supply you with gas to keep your engines running.

We are Canadians, and we are wise to the thrills of winter.






The Magic Palm Tree

Recovering from a bad attack of “upset stomach” (a small Thai restaurant on the Andaman Sea has perhaps forgotten the recipe for bottled-water-ice-cubes over the past couple of tourist-free years), I was lying prone contemplating what I have come to regard as my personal palm tree.

My medical classification was “comfortable misery”. I was frustrated by losing time (to do what, exactly?) and knew it would be unwise to stroll on the endless empty shell-strewn beach away from my friendly little wooden commode. Too exhausted to read, my thoughts somehow drifted to the white snows of Switzerland, to the Schatzalp, to The Magic Mountain.

Thomas Mann’s novel, written almost exactly 100 years ago, features the genial (and healthy) Hans Castorp who goes to visit his cousin in the Berghof Sanatorium above Davos for three weeks. While there, he is found to have symptoms of TB and stays for the next seven years. During that time the patients and their visitors fill Hans in on the current political, cultural, and philosophical state of a muddled Europe.

Along with Hans, we the readers are educated, illuminated, bored and mesmerized by the countess, the Jew-Jesuit-Marxist, the scientists and dozens of other characters that people the 700+ pages. I read the novel about half a century ago and my memory of detail is somewhat fuzzy, but I believe that the gist remains firmly intact. The novel is a statement against bourgeois constipation. Escape can be found through illness (or war). In other words, death is a solution.

Time disappears at the Berghof … much like it should on any good vacation. Hans abandons his pocket watch, and at one point forgets his own age. Time become cyclical rather than linear and the day’s activities are the essential measure of temporal importance. There are the rest cures, the temperature-measuring sessions, and the lectures.  One learns how to swaddle oneself in camel hair blankets to be comfortable on the frigid balcony. The inhabitants carry around miniature copies of their lung x-rays in their wallets to show their colleagues. Hypochondria is rife.

The mountain inhabitants are different from the low-landers. Those living down in the valley are normal healthy people, preoccupied with the uncontrollable events of the quotidian. The Berghof population is “talented” and considered special in their contemplation of and insight into higher concepts. They see things in a bright way and do not follow the rules of the valley. They do not have to wear hats! They are allowed to slam doors! They are discouraged from amorous conquest! (as the expending of calories in sexual energy could be detrimental to their cure.)

And so it is under my palm tree. I arrived healthy and am now recovering with a “cure” of bananas and toast.  I am weary. I have discarded my swatch. I show my QR certificates for all matters of health. I swaddle myself in towels and take rest cures in the shade. I apply lotions. I pay attention to the sunset and the singing of cicadas at dawn and dusk.

Europe is still muddled

The hotel manager has brought an arrangement of flowers to the room with her “brightest wishes.” I think the cure is working.






A William Tell State of Mind

There are startling similarities between Alberta and Switzerland. There are the mountains—the new Rockies and the old Alps; the scenic vistas with turquoise lakes—Banff and Interlaken; unsettling wildlife—grizzlies (eating campers) and wolves (eating sheep); and, back in the day, trainloads of quiet and moneyed Japanese tourists paying big bucks to soak it all up

There is wealth—oil and gas in Alberta, watches and banks in Switzerland. There are dues to be paid—to Canada and to Europe. And there is an attitude against aristocratic rule, whether it be the 14th-century House of Habsburg or the 21st-century Houses of Parliament. A vocal slice of both populations (Alberta has exactly half of Switzerland’s 8.6 million people) are busy on weekends claiming their rights to individual freedom.

Of course, the William Tell legend raises its apple-coiffed head here. There is no pole with Albrecht Gessler’s hat on it to be bowed to in either Edmonton or Bern, but instead there are provincial and federal rules to be followed. Or not.

The question, of course, is covid19-related. Masks or no masks? Vaccines or no vaccines? Who do we listen to? Who do we believe? Who do we obey? Who do we trust? Who do we bow to?

In both places the vaccination rate has frozen. Today’s data tell me that in Alberta it is at 64.7% and in Switzerland it is 62.5%. In both places there have been financial incentives to persuade the hesitant to do the right thing. It seems that not even money is working.

Metaphoric crossbows abound, and quivers are filled with slotted arrows.

Stuck in this impasse, it is of immense interest that my trusty stringer in Calgary has asked that I aid and advise him in choosing his city’s next mayor. As the election is tomorrow, there’s no time to lose.

I have received the list of 27 candidates (5 have no campaign page) and the choice reflects the citizens current preoccupations – much of it anti-authoritarian and pro-small business. If we kick out the obvious nut-cases (covid shots are implanting microchips in your body as part of an international conspiracy led by Justin Trudeau) and crooks (assault charges, anti-mask agitation and hate crimes) we get to the very heart of doughty civic concerns.:

  • James who proposes to abolish the mayoral title of “Your Worship.”
  • Zaheed who wants to plant fruit trees in the city’s parks so the children can be “nourished while playing.”
  • Virginia whose political neutrality is rock solid: “ …neither left or right, or central for that matter.”
  • Will who wants quicker snow removal in the winter.
  • Ian who proposes that recent university graduates volunteer as inspectors to improve the safety of patios.

We see the Tell themes displayed to perfection … the abolition of authority, healthy food (apples) for the children, total tolerance, practical improvements, and unpaid jobs for university graduates.

The strong man of the mountains would have approved.