Bucket, the Rescue Dog

Well, it seems that a new craze has taken hold in Canada – the muddled concept of the “rescue dog”.

This phrase first floated into my world some months back, when my sister wrote a startling message describing her encounter with elderly friends’ new family member, the Great Dane Rescue Dog.

From what I recall, the howling dog tore through the restraining door, and its rolling eyes accidentally met hers. After some skirmishes, she found herself pinned to the floor with the dog slashing its teeth, making a nasty throat-noise, and drooling above her.

I replied that the animal seemed quite spontaneous and undisciplined for a rescue dog. I know my dogs. We have had St Bernards in the family for decades, and though we’ve never been able to teach them anything, the concept of their plodding stalwartly through the snowdrifts in the Alps looking for people always made perfect sense to me.

And when not snoring and eating, they did always look out for children and guests in many gentle and thoughtful ways. Locking their teeth on a sweater sleeve when not wanting a person to leave the room, or a playful paw in the face to wake you up from an afternoon snooze on the couch come immediately to mind.

But no. These Canadian canines are not REAL rescue dogs. In the new politically correct language of double-think, the human is the rescuer and the dog is the rescuee.

These are the dogs you get from the pound. They are often young, energetic, and very big. Their reasons for being in the animal shelters are many, I am sure. They are advertised as being “pre-loved”. Many might have been “pre-hated”.

It is a moral status symbol to own such a dog. The onus is on the human to keep these dogs alive no matter what. As they age and their hips fail, you carry them up and down steps. As their kidneys fail, you inject them with liquids. As their hearing and sight fail, you walk them carefully on long strings and soft paths so they don’t get lost. You attach a bell to their collar.

It becomes a moral human failure to have a dog put down because of age and/or illness.

You have no responsibility for having dealt with dubious breeders and/or puppy mills.

You are pure, and as you are walking through a virgin forest and you spot a dastardly villain lowering a large-eyed puppy down into a bottomless well in a bucket. You shout out and save it. You name the dog Bucket to remind yourself of a momentary shining white knight part of your personality. You take lessons in “behoming”.

From then on, you are a happy martyr to your lucky lucky dog. And you tell everyone that you are the saviour of Bucket, the Rescue Dog.

 

 

 

 

The Pâté Pot

A blade needed sharpening, and a few weeks back I found myself in a good old-fashioned French hardware shop.

While waiting for the skinny guy in overalls with morning-cognac breath to take the gory chain-saw details, a simple earthenware pâté pot caught my eye and I had a sudden fantasy of myself in a flowing floral dress.  There were no cobwebs in my hair or green aphids crawling on my skin.

I was surrounded by a lovingly well-behaved and appreciative family in the dappled sunny shade under the linden trees eating a neat little home-made pâté served with a cool and crisply acidic Cumberland jelly. There was heavy condensation on the crystal glasses filled with ice-cold sauterne. They all toasted my health.

The image was so perfect and powerful I bought the pot, and have been in a state of agitation ever since.

I know two actually-alive people who have made pâtés in their own kitchens (or so they claim) for me. Both (one rabbit and one foie gras) were delightful and delicious. Both were made in the winter months. Served with pickles and gooseberries, both were the centres of astonishing social events.

My trusty Larousse cookbook was a bit of a disappointment. The Country Foie Gras Pâté recipe is simplicity itself and calls for a huge (750g) goose liver which you chop up together with fresh fat belly of pork, pork suet and a piece of larding bacon. Truffles are optional—to be tossed in at will if you’re in the mood.

Apart from finding all the fatty ingredients, this seemed too straightforward, so I delved further into the dark and complex web world of liver pâtés.

I discovered to my horror that livers have veins that must be taken out. Somehow you have to butterfly-open the liver with your fingertips to present it with your herbs and spices. At some point you should soak it in salted water for a few hours to remove “impurities”. It is better to buy frozen rather than fresh foie gras, as it is “fresher”. After cooking you must press the concoction into a firm block using a precisely-cut piece of wood or cardboard and place weights on top. You must cool it for a day or two.

The “torchon method” is even more impressive and involves lengths of cheese cloth, twine, and several fridge hangings and alternative hot water / ice water dunkings.

The Larousse cookbook mentions strictly none of the above information. As the French Bible of cookery it is assumed that you have a genetic knowledge of the nitty-gritty underworld of pâté production.

My summertime pâté-idyll is fading fast in the actual sweltering heat. The family comes and goes–happily eating left-overs and drinking pop.

The pâté pot sits on the kitchen table gathering dust as I suck on an orange popsicle and consider it. I think there might be just the place for it in an upper kitchen cupboard somewhere north of the pasta machine.

 

 

Salt: Worth its Weight in Gold

Well, the conversation took place over the regular Tuesday lunch of macaroni and (cheddar) cheese. As we put a grind of pretty pink rock salt on top, the question of salt came up (again).

In our house there is an on-going polemic about the reality of salt. The scientific contingent is adamant that salt is simply NaCl—preferably from the Swiss salt mines of Bex. And that is that.

The rest of us disagree. We know that licking the Himalayan rock-salt lamp in the living room is a completely different experience from dipping your wet finger into the kitchen salt pot.

And now I have proof. A recent cookbook defines the developed world’s three types of salt—common table, kosher, and sea—and proclaims them to be very different in taste, texture and use.

Conversation then turned to the iodine content of normal table salt.

The mention of iodine brought up the subject of hypothyroidism and goiters and my dining companion (10 years old) asked if I had ever seen pictures of people with goiters. I said, of course! I have a lovely one of Geneva market ladies in the 19th century in my book.

The mention of “my” book, brought about dessert amnesia, and we headed upstairs in search of the living proof that grandma wasn’t the big fat liar that she is usually (unfairly) made out to be, but is, instead, a real living rock and roll “écrivaine”.

The chapter on medicine was found, as was the picture. It was observed that the ladies looked quite rich so should have been able to afford salt. It was pointed out that iodine, not salt, was the problem. It was then gigglingly observed that the ladies looked like they had two sets of breasts.

One of my few remaining copies of Ils ont découvert Genève was dedicated to my new fan and she took it with her. In the car back to school she abandoned her usual heap of Lucky Luke and Yoko Tsuno reading material and concentrated on Chapter 1 – Le Lac. Out loud, I was regaled with my very own true facts about the origins of the names Geneva and Leman.  After the 20-minute drive, I was heartily congratulated on my newly-discovered brilliance and expertise.

The book itself was a huge failure and a roaring success. It is a segment of a much larger (unpublished) work and was brought out as a commercial anniversary present for the “big M” and distributed throughout the canton of Geneva. You just might have it on your bookshelf. It took years of work, and ended in disappointment and frustration.

Under-rated and none-paid, Travellers to Geneva[1] has been more or less forgotten. But today it was excitingly revived, hailed and admired.

Nothing you do is worth nothing. Not even a pinch of salt.

 

 

 

 

[1] Published by Editions Tricorne, Genève 2009. (In English: Travellers to Geneva. Part 1 Sensations and Reflections.)

Ultimate Confusion

In these confusing times when true facts are as rare as hens’ teeth and everything seems to be going backwards, I am suddenly confronted with the blossoming of a new commercial celebration: International Women’s Day.

Begun as International Working Women’s Day in 1917 in Russia, it grew out of various brave demonstrations in many countries led by socialist labour movements striving to stop the degrading exploitation of female factory workers. This got broadened into the suffrage movement which (eventually) worked. Even in Switzerland.

In 1977 the U.N. voted March 8th as the International Day of Women’s Rights. It is still an official national holiday in several ex-communist countries. My favourites are Nepal and China where it is a women-only holiday.

The day has laudable historic credentials, but it is being side-swiped and undermined in many alarming ways.

Yesterday our Swiss daily, Le Temps, put out a special edition “dedicated to women”.  Women associated with the Geneva School of Art and Design put together the paper and posted 52 photos of themselves and other important Swiss ladies. There were laudable interviews and analyses of successful women taking themselves and their roles seriously.

There were accounts of films by women, soccer by women, and (on the recipe page) the astute observation that women really can appreciate the finesse and romanticism of red wines—especially the gentle Swiss pinot noir.

Apart from the date being shifted to the 6th (I cynically attribute this to the fact that Monday is traditionally a “light” news day and so less important than the real day, Wednesday, when something more interesting might actually be happening) the full-page ads give us some very stale—possible rancid—food for thought.

The first is for a top-end Swiss watch. It features the chest of a famous American model in a low black bathing suit foxily biting the thumb of a boxing glove. The watch is diamond-studded and is claimed to have been especially created for dominant women.

The second ad lures us to the tropical island of Mauritius and invites us to live timelessly by buying an exclusive luxurious golfing property. And the third (on the back page) is a spread of three pale and ethereal young women’s faces. It offers a Japanese anti-ageing cream that lifts and firms us into the future.

Prices are not mentioned in this lure of diamonds, paradise villas, and everlasting youth. Women’s wishes, one presumes, are far beyond the crass vulgarity of money.

For the more modest consumer, the local supermarket is offering vaguely funereal floral arrangements (does one buy them for oneself?) and the local drug store has 40% off a Swiss wrinkle reduction cream (would you dare buy some for your mother?)

Sigh. It’s so hard to know how to celebrate properly.

Oh yes. I almost forgot. There was one page of “real” news (the election in the Valais) in Monday’s feminine Le Temps. Both articles were written by a man.

The Secret Feast

Several important Canadian celebrations have been hijacked into Swiss public life over the past few decades. When I came to Switzerland in the late 1970s, for example, neither Valentine’s Day nor Hallowe’en existed.

Culturally craving a jack o’ lantern one year, I paid a fortune to buy an entire thick-shelled eating pumpkin. It weighed about 10 kg and was placed in the baby stroller to be wheeled home.  I do not recall what I did with the baby.

Curious about this unusual purchase, the farmer’s wife asked what I was going to do with the huge pumpkin.  When I described the necessity of carving an ugly face, placing a candle inside, and the banishing of evil spirits I’m sure word went around that a wasteful witch from the New World had taken up extremely dubious residence in the Geneva countryside.

Luckily, terrorism did not exist back then.

Similarly, if you wished for a spot of cheap-and-cheerful Valentine’s Day sentiment you had to cut your own pink hearts from construction paper as you had done as a child, and have found, somewhere, some unrelated chocolate hearts wrapped in red tin-foil to glue onto them.

Now both these events have been taken care of by a healthier more worldly-wise agricultural economic outlook, and these days the farmer’s barn (much expanded) has picturesque hay wagons full of different-sized “Jack-O-Lanterns” in the fall, and on February 14th is open for a full 12 hours of frenzied bouquet-selling.  The farmer’s wife has retired.

There are, however, a few small intimate events that have not yet been taken over by the entire global economy, and one of them has been celebrated in our house today – the great day of pancakes—Pancake Day!

Just as Pancake Day is not to be confused on any level with Mardi Gras (that they occur on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday is a startling coincidence), the Canadian pancake is not be confused on any level with the French “crêpe.”

A pancake is fat and robust not thin and ephemeral. It is short and stout and has miraculous little holes on one side that are to be filled with butter and maple syrup and a squeeze of lemon.

A pancake can never be eaten with leeks or ham. It cannot be folded, it has to be rolled. Like a golden bullet casing, it is more than itself. It is a concept.

When we were growing up, our mother made pancakes exclusively on Pancake Day. It was glorious. The great black cast-iron frying pan was cleared of its bacon dripping and heated. The pancakes I recall as delightfully slightly rubbery, and the melted margarine and golden corn syrup were runny and decadently delicious. The squeeze of an orange wedge turned it all into an event of grace and distinction—far above ordinary fare.

In our society of affluence and over-abundance it is not so easy to re-create the magic of a simple pancake. It is, however, important to try.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.