Robotic Underpants and other matters

A few weeks back, I read an article about how a third of accidents that happen to the over-60 crowd are due to falls brought on by lack of balance. To remedy this, Yoga and/or Tai Chi were highly recommended.

I have started Tai Chi. Well, I ordered the book (Classical Yang Style) and am working on the basic stance. The big fat tome is open to the correct page and placed in a Zen manner on the corner of the kitchen table. Every time I pass, I hold the Ma Bu (Horse Stance) pose for 20 seconds.

After just a few short days, I have quickly learned to not pass that particular corner of the table anymore and I am instead busy working on my inner yin and yang.

Lying flat on the living room sofa, breathing properly, I have just read three weeks’ worth of newspapers, and before dozing off, made the most remarkable discoveries.

For example, the “gig economy” was mentioned twice. I had somehow missed this expression. It means that no one has a proper job anymore. You just work short gigs (driving cars and making deliveries or videos seem to be the most popular choices) and then carry on with living. Legal clarity has resulted in the possibility that even zero-hour contract workers could have the right to vacation pay, daily work breaks, and redundancy payments.

This granted me a huge epiphany moment which solved the recent media flap about whether robots should pay taxes. Well, they’re going to HAVE to, as everyone else is going to be getting money for taking tea-breaks while not working.

Then there was the article about not showering as it seems that this daily ritual just wrecks your microbiome. It apparently takes about six months to completely give up this bad habit, but is well worth it as you save water and can avoid all those dastardly beauty products that are polluting the planet. Your bacteria proliferates and is extremely happy.

Obviously the man who is promoting this (a senior editor at The Atlantic) has not recently had to look after a one-year-old with a gastro. Anyone who has ever been covered with curdled milk vomit combined with liquid yellow poop will never, ever, turn their backs on a good hot shower with bubbles and perfume galore.

However, the very best item was the London Design Museum’s recent show which included a military invention to help soldiers carrying heavy loads in the battlefield: power underpants. Little sensor-packed pods and miniature motors pull strings in the fabric that give you extra support and help in sitting down or standing up. This makes so much sense, I’m sure it was a closely-guarded military secret for many decades before finally being leaked to the general public.

I am asking for a pair for my next birthday, and only then will move around to the deserted Tai Chi corner of my kitchen table and attempt stance two, Deng Shan Bu.

 

 

 

They Eat Thistles for Christmas

Well, shopping this morning was a complete nightmare. This was because I got there too early.

It was not my usual shopping crowd—the single women, sometimes men, whizzing around with their self-scanning devices, with a purposeful glint in their eye, placing items surely and steadily in the jaws of their organized shopping bags in preparation for an instant departure to other, better, places.

No these were seriously old people. Not normally old like us, but ancient.

It seems that most of them had forgotten they had ever been to a supermarket before. They also forgot their shopping trollies and much merriment was had by placing items in strangers’ baskets. They worked the store in couples and often lost each other in the aisles. Most of them had forgotten how the fruit and vegetable weighing machine worked and then stuck the ticket onto the wrong item. I saw one old gentleman take off his hat in the yoghurt section and leave it there.

As they were the vintage, traditional crowd, many of them were buying their Christmas cardoons—not the prepared-for-wimps sort in the glass jars, but the real sort full of strange dye and nasty prickles. All these old folks are now doing culinary battle with this most obstreperous of vegetables. Only the quince, I feel, is a plant that has a greater reluctance be eaten.

The cardoon is brother to the artichoke and it originates from the south of France. Its first seeds came north to Geneva in 1685 with the Protestants fleeing persecution at home.

Our Thorny Silver Cardoon of Plainpalais is difficult to handle. The idea of using a soft brush to remove the thorns and white outer skin is outrageous. You need gardening gloves, a good Japanese housewife’s kitchen knife and lots of verve. If you touch the stem with your bare hands, your skin turns black.

Here is the nec plus ultra recipe for Cardoons in Cream[1] by Mme Joseph Dumonthay of Geneva.

Tip! First find your gardening gloves.

  • Prepare your spiny cardoon by removing thorns and outer skin.
  • Cut into pieces that you immediately soak in 2l of cold water mixed with 2tbls of flour.
  • To cook, prepare the same as above, adding salt and 1dcl of milk.
  • Add cardoon pieces when the water boils and boil for 30-40 min. Drain.
  • In shallow oven-proof dish place your cooked cardoon pieces cut quite small. (Max 2 layers.)
  • Sprinkle generously with grated parmesan or gruyere cheese. Pour over lots of fresh cream and top with pats of butter.
  • Bake at the top of a very hot oven 10-20 min until golden. The cream must not boil.
  • Serve hot.

So, this one’s for you, my shopping companions of this morning. Thank you all for being the living memory of old Geneva. Who cares where your hat is, when you’re looking at a cardoon gratin for supper?

 

 [1] Revue du Vieux Genève, 1978. Pierre Blondin, Les fameux cardons genevois, pp 66-67.

Photo:  Yvonne Borloz

Solar Panel Politics

It is not easy to get solar panels onto your Geneva village house roof. In fact, so far it has been elusive and coincided perfectly with the family motto (“Pay More, Get Less!”): we have paid money and our roof is buck-naked.

It all began in the spring with a telemarketing phone call. A well-spoken person asked to speak to the man of the house, and as he pronounced the family name correctly and there were no conversations buzzing in the background, I was fooled into believing he was someone real. The next thing I knew, he was sitting at the kitchen table with binders full of illustrated solar information.

He was not quite the real McCoy, of course, and in serious solar panel buying, you should contact at least three people on the Official Swiss Solar Panel List. (Our telemarketing man’s company did not feature.)  Three more men came and explained their wares.

Surprisingly, it turned out that our village is “classified” – which means that it contains architectural jewels that have to be protected from ugly technology. I am not sure where they are located, except for the one old farmhouse whose roof is caving in and things are growing out of at the same time. This, I agree, is not solar panel material.

Anyway, for the rest of us, we need permission from the village mayor to have solar panels placed on our roofs. And for this quest to be successful care, precision and money are essential. First of all you have to give your solar panel company CHF 1’000.00 to open a file. Then you have to have your house (roof) resurveyed to make sure that it has not expanded or contracted since it was first built. This costs another CHF 1’500.00

And then you wait. This, more than half a year later, is our current stage.

Many new buildings (such as the apartment monstrosity across the road built in post-modern 21st-century Gulag-style) feature a small strip of solar panels on their roofs. This is little more than decoration to show the sustainable, durable, ecological nature of the building project. They do very little on a practical level.

What one needs is a correctly-exposed roof covered with photovoltaic panels that can produce enough electricity for all domestic needs. At the moment, excess energy is fed back into the Geneva electricity grid, but in the near future when Elon Musk’s huge batteries become affordable, all the energy will go into in these storage batteries and the system becomes integrated and independent.

Very simply, we will get all our electricity from light.

According to Leonardo DiCaprio, President Obama, and the Pope, (Before the Flood) if ALL buildings do this and ALL countries stop burning fossil fuels we MIGHT be able to draw back from the edge of the natural holocaust that has already begun.

We will all be judged by what we leave behind, and what I would really like to leave behind is a roof-full of solar panels.

BIG Trouble

The Geneva jail is hideously overcrowded, and I have a theory that this has to do with many poor innocent people who are unaware of Geneva’s strict Sunday rules. In our village, for example, we are periodically reminded of them via a perky newsletter.

As a public service/stay-out-of-jail announcement here is a brief summary of the most important forbidden things.

First of all, shops are shut on Sundays. In our village we have a small rogue corner store that opens on Sunday mornings and sells delicious fresh bread along with everything else. So far it hasn’t been busted, but I figure it’s only a matter of one rotten tomato and of time.

Then there is the great concept of public tranquillity. Sundays and public holidays are the most important moments, when a deep undisturbed peace is supposed to fall upon the land. No lawn cutting, no chain-sawing, no power tools. Flushing toilets and taking showers are decidedly grey areas. Hanging out laundry—even the quietest of discreetly-patterned textiles—is frowned upon. Washing your car is a no-no.

roosterLegal quiet time is ordained daily from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m. Also between 12 noon and 1:30 p.m. so the breadwinner can eat a nice home-cooked meal, listen to the Swiss radio news, and have a refreshing siesta before getting back to the office. Loud music and live music are also not allowed (i.e., the drummer or the alp-horn blower in the apartment next door are strictly verboten.)

Fires will ALWAYS get you into trouble. I once tested the wind and when I was sure the smoke would blow straight into the fields, lit a very modest garden stick & leaf fire. The mayor’s wife was at my side in a flash and offered the helpful political suggestion that I should take all the combustible matter inside the house and burn it in the fireplace instead of outside. Ah-ha: A secret fire.

In Geneva in the old days before cars and planes and vacuum cleaners tore through the city, there were serious rules concerning carpet beating and roosters in the Old Town.

All of this is again in the news, as our next popular vote is entitled “Don’t Touch my Sundays” and concerns the reversal of a ruling that shopping malls within hailing distance of international tourists’ requirements can, possibly, offer shopping hours on Sundays.  There is the much more reliable second option of shops being allowed to open three Sundays per year.

But none of this really matters, of course. Here in the Geneva countryside if we want to Sunday-shop we can go to the markets or the supermarkets in France. If the rooster crows we can turn it into coq-au-vin. We will not starve.

Quaint Geneva will prevail and I am quite sure that we will have at least 49 Sundays a year of total peace and quiet.

 

 

 

 

Breaking Bad — Geneva Style

Yesterday morning, I found myself considering smashed flattened automobiles being hoisted high into the sky, swinging around a bit, then being dropped onto a huge heap of other rusty pancaked cars below.

Underneath this exciting live show was a huge TV screen with a colourful 9-minute video clip on a loop extolling the virtues of tires being mounted and wheels zippily screwed manfully into place.

To my left was a glass wall of windows that overlooked the peaceful bird-filled banks of the Rhone River. And straight ahead were the inner workings of Geneva’s biggest tire emporium, Pneus Claude.

car-demolitionYes. I had declared it a “service day”, and to complement an afternoon session in the dentist’s chair, chose 10:30 a.m. as the ideal moment to change summer tires for their winter siblings. It was the great bi-annual visit to Claude’s Tire Garage.

I used to dislike this chore, but over the years have begun to enjoy it. It is a bit like playing golf—you compete against yourself: the brevity of waiting time being the main goal. You succeed (as I did yesterday) by being out in under 30 minutes. Your car is the first in line. You have speedy friendly chaps—both at the check-in & pay desk and the rinsed-car return. Your tires are quickly deemed legally correct for at least another year. Your mechanic doesn’t stop for a smoke break after the first two tires.

And the waiting room has been greatly improved. Along with all the windows to keep a person entertained with the outside world, there is now heatingtables and chairs, a complete collection of all of Geneva’s free newspapers, a clean washroom, and, if you walk up to the fourth floor a fascinating showcase room of over 300 different models of wheel hubs.

Five vending machines hum importantly in the back corner. The queen is the panini machine which brings you hot flattened sandwiches 24 hours a day. This poetic choice exactly mirrors what’s happening at the demolition site next door as you wait excitedly for your number to be called out.

It is, primarily, a man’s world. A world of work boots, blue jeans, black t-shirts, and bellies-over-belts. It is invigorating and active with people and cars and taxis and trucks and vans and ambulances all busily coming and going.

Of course, there is no wicked crystal meth lab under the floor of Pneus Claude, but there COULD be as no one would ever notice. And Jesse Pinkman would look right at home in the red Pneus Claude jumpsuit driving their Mobile Tire Garage helpfully and hopefully through the Geneva countryside.

 

 

 

 

 

Re-entry Hicccups

The full force of the rentrée is with us. The roads are filled with cars, the schools are filled with kids, tanned doctors are back in their offices, exam sessions are underway, the usual French fall strikes have begun, and parking places in town have become rarer than hens’ teeth.

On the political scene here in Geneva a major story has just broken concerning the brilliant invention of the green plastic garbage can. The person in charge (the guy who brought us the concept of letting nature go wild along our public roads) has come up with the startling idea of having a compost bin handily situated right in your very own kitchen. This is to avoid putting heavy things such as corn cobs and nasty inedible sweet potato muffins in your main garbage can. This will, in turn, save money at the cantonal incinerator.

Fortunately, I don’t need a new garbage can, as I still have one that was given out by the Geneva government some 30+ years ago. In those old days of generosity, every household was given 2 garbage cans—a small one of green plastic and a bigger brown brother.  They were meant to stand side by side under the sink.  My retro green James-Bond-era plastic garbage can is virginal as buying the cute little plastic bags that fit inside, and then storing rotting organic waste near a hot kitchen sink somehow struck me as a stinky waste of money.

Agonizing over the circularity, unoriginality, and expense (1.6 million Swiss francs) of green plastic cantonal thought; my politically incorrect garbage can habits; and Geneva’s ever-growing green plastic garbage can mountain, I was struck by a conversation coming from the backseat of the car. The two passengers were discussing the origins of hiccups.

drinking glass of water upside downIt was hypothesized that hiccups result from stress, the proof being that the hiccup victim got an exceptionally bad case right after a small scholastic exercise concerning the multiplication tables. She had completely forgotten some of the trickier calculations (8×7 was a real bummer) due to the summer holidays.

The conversation went on to conclude that either the summer holidays should be shortened to two weeks (so that such lapses and distressing medical episodes could be avoided) or that, like bears, we humans should be able to hibernate all winter and, thus, avoid school entirely.

The average age in the back seat was 9 ½.

Perhaps Canada has got it right.  I’ve not heard anything about free political garbage cans. And there primary school teachers are simply cancelling repetitive and useless activities.

For example, cursive writing is no longer taught. Students learn to print in block capitals – much like the Romans. The curlicues and flying fantasies of penmanship are no longer skills deemed necessary. Stringing things together, like pinning clothes on an outdoor line, is simply a tiresome and irrelevant task.

MAYBENOONEINCANADACANSIGNTHEIRNAMEANYMOREBUTPROBABLYNOONEGETSTHEHICCUPSEITHER.

 

 

 

 

Warning! Geneva-Government-Sponsored Aliens Could be Hiding in Plain Sight

Well, I’ve finally got to the bottom of the matter. On a minding-my-own-business drive through the Geneva countryside recently, I noted many new signposts planted by the side of the road. Slowing down to see what was up, they all read:  Ici la nature s’épanouit grâce à moins d’entretien. Now, this can either be translated as: Here nature flourishes due to less care; or, perhaps, more to the point: Here nature will run amok if you let it.

panneau_bords_routeIt seems that a few weeks back Geneva’s Environment Minister (interestingly, he is also the Transport and Agriculture Minister) made the sustainable, durable, biodiverse decision to not cut the grass along the verges of some 257 kilometres of Geneva cantonal roads.

In these areas of High Ecological Value, the flora will be studied (by whom?) and will be treated in a bespoke, tender, individual manner. There are even some places where there will be no weed-whacking at all, so as to protect innocent animals living beside the road.

I don’t know about you, but this seems the epitome of heartlessness, as the poor little frogs will not even be able to look both ways to see clearly before they try to cross the road.

As a tax-payer, you will be pleased to learn that this non-cutting of the weeds beside the road will NOT result in an increased budget for the department.

This is all most confusing, as a few years back there were cantonal ordinances out against certain plants. There were urgent news alerts about rag-weed and thistles. I recall an inspector coming to visit my garden to make sure I wasn’t sheltering any leafy criminals. (He didn’t find them, as they hid down in the bomb shelter until he left.)

In Ontario there are still mandates out against many sorts of unwanted, invasive, exotic, adventurous, poisonous plants—Purple Loosestrife, Giant Hogweed, Garlic Mustard, the Great Scottish Thistle. If you encounter any of these monsters, you should drop everything and report the sighting to the Invading Species Hotline at an important 0-800 number.

My own little biodiverse world (my garden) is chock-a-block full of nasty invasive species: three kinds of bamboo, the box tree moth caterpillar (Glyphodes perspectalis), and many species of triffid-like strangling vines that look like they have come straight out of Ankor Wat.

Swiss universities list almost 900 non-native wild plants and animals living in Switzerland, and I’m sure they’re not ALL living at my place. So if any of these rammy foreigners try to take over the happy hippy Heidi weed campsites beside the long-haired gentle Geneva roads I do hope someone spots them and just calls Tom at: +41 (0)79 417 09 69.

He is officially there to answer all questions, and should know how to politically process a cluster of hooligan Japanese Knotweed or some perky euphorbia lathyris poking out through a cloud of fragile Swiss buttercups.

The Queen of Switzerland

There is a canton in Switzerland called the Valais. I once had a female colleague who came from there, and she went back to “her country” every single Friday afternoon. Having just spent a weekend in the Val d’Hérens, I am thinking of emigrating myself.

It’s all about attitude, of course. The real people of the Valais have perfected a potent mixture somewhere between a cowgirl and a Hummer: courage, independence, pride, strength, a grouchy exterior, an ironic interior and, often, a glass of génépi define a true Valaisan.

The landscape of the Valais is mixture of the Himalayas (now that there are yaks and this summer’s huge outdoor walking path photo exposition of Zanskar*) and The Sound of Music. You snuggle into the wild and the gentle, the rough and the soft and, amazingly, feel right at home.

You’re scared to leave a crumb on your plate of steak and cheese-rösti (with rinds), as the chignoned-madam-owner of the Vieux Mazot would be sure to openly disparage your finicky appetite and picky town ways. Packed tight into her Valaisan dress you’re greeted with a hauteur bordering on disgust. Having proved your appetite and your manners, you are given a handshake anCowDSC_0036d a half-smile on the way out.

You want to belong to the Valais. You want to be part of them. But you need credentials. Being a city slicker foreigner does not endear you to the crusty old men with morning wine-breath and sturdy cow-sticks.

You explain your presence at the foggy Inalp (the early-summer migration of the cows up to the high alpine pasturages) by telling the story that you once, some 35 years back, tended a herd of cows up in the Val de Réchy. It snowed in July. Food had to be helicoptered in. There were holes between the stones of the hut where you stayed. The cat caught and ate a mountain rabbit. It left the ears. The child had to be rescued from a mountain stream. Another ear (with identification tag) had to lopped off a cow who had fallen off the rocks to her death.

This cinches matters, of course, and once your Canadian identity is established you’re part of the gang of pipes and caps and canes. An ancient one pulls out his list of cow owners and points out #2 who is Queen of the fighting cows. Proud, and strong, and still, and black. Much like a Hummer with horns. You don’t want to look her in the eye.

In the evening from the hotel balcony you view the night-lit church steeple across the road. The doors are not locked, and the pub-girl waters the flowers. There is a single village shop which the hotel lady calls a souk. She says you can buy anything there: rumour has it, even a bride.

We bought a corkscrew and a bottle of Heida. Next time I’m going to buy a Valais passport because I want to live next door to the Queen of Switzerland and keep a baby yak in my garden.

*check it all out at www.rigzen-zanskar.org/  or  www.evolene-region.ch

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good News for Fat People Who Can’t Sleep

If you’re a skinny person who sleeps like a baby for a solid 8 hours every night, then don’t even bother to read this. You don’t need my handy health tips and medical reassurance. At least, not at the moment.

In this house, watching evening TV is a normally-pleasant communal activity. The ritual of the Swiss news, the French news, the international news, the weather, more weather, a movie, a series or two usually keeps us going until the sun has long gone down. The big friendly TV is our window on the world and all the lights are blazing. We are alive and active. Sort of.

Dragging our sorry asses up to bed at about 11:00 (I’ve usually already fallen asleep on the couch) I am told not to snore, and then sleep overwhelms me until about 2:30 a.m.

 And then comes then comes that terrible bit.

Unless seriously jet-lagged, I have always taken this next hour or two of wakefulness as a physical and psychological failure. Tossing and turning, trying to read, worrying about the state of my sock drawer, anxious about being awake, hoping I manage to nod off before the sun comes up—I had thought was unnatural and seriously unhealthy.

I have now learned that I am the victim of light bulbs. Prehistoric, and even preindustrial, humans went to bed shortly after the sun went down or the candles ran out (depending on your wealth), you then slept for a bit. Then you indulged in a spot of dorveille. During the “watch” praying, interpreting your dreams, sex, writing, singing, meditation, visiting neighbours and burglary were popular activities. You then crawled back under the feathers until the sun came up. This, it seems, was healthy and natural.

dorveille

So, that’s my first spot of good news. Lying awake in the middle of the night is GOOD for you.

And then it just gets better and better. In today’s paper a very large, lengthy and serious Danish study published in the JAMA has shown that people who have a body mass index of 27 (which means pleasantly plump in laymen’s terms) live longer than everyone else. They actually die less from everything!

Now this is cheerful information indeed. My two helpings of potatoes I had for supper and the banana cream ice-cream I’m now considering suddenly seem like healthy life-style choices.

Dusk is settling. I will prepare my Alpine herbal infusion and hit the sack. I will revel in my dorveille, and awake refreshed and relaxed for a day filled with bread and butter, pickled herring, frikadeller (meat balls), and leverpostej (liver paste). I’ve even put akvavit on my shopping list.

We all know the next study is going to show that the BMI number is completely irrelevant and it is their Viking food that is keeping the Danes all going forever. I’m one step ahead of them on this.