Thursday, March 31, 2011

Facebook versus Blog

I know that there many of you who read this blog that are not friends with me on Facebook or who haven’t “liked” the Facebook site “Trailing Spouse Blog”, (which refers you right back to this blog), so I am going to catch you non-Facebook people up to date.

First, let me give a quick shout out to my new Favorite Couple and the United States Military.  Mr. Favorite Couple works with Mr. Big here in Switzerland.  Favorite Couple also reads this blog, hence, they are well aware that I need some bleach.  Well, yesterday, Monday, Mr. Big goes into the office and there, sitting on his desk, is a gallon bucket of Clorox.  Honest-to-God Clorox.  With a no-spill spout.  Like it just grew up out of his desktop by magic.

After some astute detective work, Mr. Big works out that Mr. Favorite Couple was visiting his brother-in-law at his (the brother’s) US military base in Germany this past weekend.  Favorite Couple went on a frenzied shopping spree at the base PX on their family visit.  Um, sorry, Bro, it’s nice to see you an’ all, but can we go to the grocery store now?

Running giddily through the aisles, Favorite Couple were tossing things in their basket willy-nilly like kids in a candy store.  US PX’s are like Wal-Marts.  They have everything.  Favorite Couple were salivating over the Kraft Mac N Cheese, the Domino brown sugar (both light and dark!), the Lucky Charms, the Oscar Meyer wieners, the Armour bacon, the individually wrapped Kraft singles.  Lawd, it boggles the mind.  They loaded up the van, floor to ceiling, sent the 2.2 kids home on a plane and drove home to Switzerland.

Oh, wait, no, that is what I would have done.  My children would have been immediately displaced by cases of Quaker Instant Grits and Swanson’s Chicken Broth.  Favorite Couple actually let their kids ride home (i.e. take up valuable space) in the van.  Favorite Couple are much nicer than I.  But, they did bequeath me one gallon of treasured bleach and, for that, I am forever in their debt.

Let’s return to Facebook.  Last weekend, Mr. Big and I went to Barcelona.  We have been to Spain many, many times, but never Barcelona.  This is a very popular tourist spot so I’m sure many of you have been there.  I will try to link here the picture album on FB so you can see the pix, which were fabulous.  I really don’t know how to do this, so I will probably have to enlist the help of my sister and, hopefully, she will be able to figure out this link stuff.   Barcelona is a large, large city (4 million people!) on the Mediterranean with really good shopping and stunning architecture by a man named Antoni Gaudi.  Everywhere you turn is another Kodak moment.  But, it is full of tourists and all that that entails, so beware.

We stayed at a very nice hotel, the ME Barcelona (which stands for the hotel chain, Melia)  It was nice.  No complaints.  It certainly wasn’t jaw-dropping, but, remember, this was a work-related trip, so I was just glad it was not attached to the airport, which is where Mr. Big usually stays on work-related trips.

It’s about 15 minutes outside the city center, but only two minutes from the Metro, so, it was cool.  As long as I have public transport, I am good.  While we were there we did all of the typical touristy things like walking up and down La Rambla (an ultra-tacky street filled with African vendors and “painted” mimes), La Saguarda Familia church which you should not miss, Gaudi’s Parc  Guell which was just breathtaking (and healthy, because it’s a lot of walking), and the marina/seaport.

Let’s talk about the marina.  Most tourists walk down to the marina because there is an aquarium, restaurants, and, let’s face it, the Mediterranean Sea, a mall WHICH IS OPEN ON SUNDAYS, etc.  Us, no.  We walked down to the marina because Mr. Big thought he spied, from MANY, MANY blocks away, a really big yacht.  OK.  I don’t know squat about yachts.  To me, they are just really big boats.  As a matter of fact, I really didn’t know that Mr. Big knew anything about yachts until last weekend.  Y’know, you can be married to someone for 25 years and still not know the little things that are swirling around inside their crazy heads.

Anyway, we walk down to the marina and we get a half-bottle of wine and two glasses and go outside on the terrace so that, you guessed it, Mr. Big can sit and stare at this stupid boat.  I’m not even looking at the boat, mind you, I’m looking out over the city and admiring the view and soaking up the sun.  Meanwhile, Mr. Big whips out his Blackberry and is Googling on THE LIST OF THE BIGGEST YACHTS IN THE WORLD, this particular yacht.  Ten nanoseconds later, he knows everything there is to know about this boat.  Do I care?  No.  I do not.  Does he care?  Well, apparently so.

This is the 44th biggest yacht in the world, previously owned by some Russian Mafia dude and now owned by some Indian guy.  Go ahead, Google it.  It is called the Anastasia.  Apparently, me, being just a dumb Trailing Spouse, I was not aware that the top 200 yachts built in the world are ranked by size and all this information is available to the general public and that SOME PEOPLE actually care about it. Y’all, he was fascinated by this stupid boat.  He even called Domestic Son and Small Son right there from the marina to, I don’t know, I guess, enlighten them that he was basking in the shadow of this yacht.  Of course, Domestic Son answered his phone like a good boy and yammered on with his dad about this tremendous boat and Small Son’s phone went right to voice mail, which is par for the course.

Reluctantly, we left the marina when the sun went down and it got cold without spying a single soul on this boat.  It was locked up tighter than a drum.  But, truthfully?  I don’t think Mr. Big cared.  He just wanted to stare at the boat.  Weird, I tell you.  Weird.  I did ask him, as we were walking back to the Metro stop, if Tiger Woods had a big yacht.  Mr. Big looked at me like I had just stripped naked on the street.  “Honey.  Tiger Wood’s yacht is one-tenth the size of that boat.  Tiger Woods’ yacht could fit inside one of the restrooms of that yacht.”

I said, well maybe that is why Tiger can only pick up hookers.  His yacht is tiny.  Mr. Big said, “Girl, you know the only difference between men and boys. . .”

UPDATE, CHALET GOO GAW:  We have another showing this coming Saturday.  We have specified that we must be able to see ALL rooms, all the way around the entire building, and that Madame will not be in attendance.  We’ll see how this goes.  I’m not holding my breath.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Chalet Goo Gaw

There are no words to describe the chalet we looked at yesterday.  Even the realtor was speechless and realtors have pretty much seen everything.  I’m at a loss where to begin so I will just start with the owner.

Picture a Hoarding, Crazy-Cat-Lady who looks exactly like Zsa Zsa Gabor in a velour track suit.  Her hair was tall.  Her makeup was thick.  And she was VERY, VERY proud of her decorating skills.  She fancied herself to be quite the “artiste”, which explained the craziness that we encountered at every turn.  
My ZSA ZSA on a hunger strike on TV!

First, I have to explain that there are really only two normal ways to go when decorating a chalet:  contemporary/modern or traditional.  By traditional, I mean chunky wood furniture, comfy sofas, mountain-type accents, etc.  Well, Zsa Zsa was having none of that.  This place was decorated like it was Versailles and the Sun King himself was expected for tea.  I’m sure she thought our mouths were hanging open because we were in awe of the majesty we were beholding all around us.   Y’all, we couldn’t even look at one another for fear of collapsing into helpless laughter.

Crazy began in the driveway.  Yes, that structure you see to your right is indeed a two-car garage but, sorry, no one is allowed to go in because it is my “studio” and it is full of my things.  Little did we know that this was only Room Number One which we wouldn’t be allowed to see.  On top of the garage, (remember, this is March), was perched a life-sized sled and a 4-foot wire reindeer.

The outdoor patio wall was covered with one of her handpainted murals.  We were ushered into the kitchen door because the front door AND ALL OTHER DOORS AND WINDOWS in the chalet were barricaded with giant, custom-made iron gates.  To keep out the massive hordes of burglars and rapists just waiting to come attack Zsa Zsa.  This is where my eyebrows went up into my forehead where they remained for the duration.  This is a very rural chalet.  The neighbors on either side are farmers.  The village itself, I’m sure, has never experienced Crime One, but this place was prepared should Hannibal decide to return to the French Alps for a rematch.

So, into the kitchen we troop after Madame.  My eye is immediately drawn to the La Cornue stove which almost makes me swoon.  After having a moment of severe oven-envy, my gaze broadens to include the rest of the room.   Every cabinet door, every backsplash and every wall was covered with more of her artwork.  You know those old oil paintings of dead rabbits and pheasants hanging upside down?  That was her motif of choice in the kitchen.  A different dead animal painted directly on each individual cabinet door.  Scary!

  In the middle of the kitchen was a huge glass-topped dining table completely set up with service for 8.  Oh, I thought, this house must not have a dining room.  Why else would she pack this mammoth table into the kitchen?  We had to turn sideways to skirt around it to get to the next room.

Did I say the next room?  I meant the next room that Zsa Zsa would allow us to go in.  She would point out a door and say “and that is a pantry. . .and that leads to the cave. . .and this is another bedroom. . .BUT YOU CAN”T GO IN THERE because it is either a) my studio or b) full of my things.  After the fourth mystery room, Mr. Big had had enough of Zsa Zsa’s censorship.  He was 4th in the single file line after Zsa Zsa, the realtor and me.  I heard him behind me crack open a forbidden door.  Y’all.

It wouldn’t open more than six inches.  I quickly ran back to peer inside.  You could just make out a stone fireplace on the far wall and ANOTHER door leading somewhere beyond that but there was so much CRAP piled up in the space, it was impossible to tell where it lead to.

Later, over coffee at a café downtown, we estimated that there were at least 5 rooms that we weren’t allowed to see.  Hence the reason Zsa Zsa’s chalet has been on the market for over 18 months and while the others in the area sell in a matter of days.  On a brighter note, I had, by this time, christened the funhouse “Chalet Goo Gaw” and even the realtor, who hails from the UK and didn’t even know what a “goo gaw” was,  was calling it that.

I was so scared of Zsa Zsa that I didn’t even take any photos because I thought she might bite me or something.  You will have to be content with pictures from the realtor’s website which have blocked out most of the craziness, unfortunately.  You do get a feel for the over-the-top decorating, however.  There were places where she had three, four and five rugs laid out one on top of the other.  And there IS an official dining room, again set for a complete dinner service.  Perhaps for her imaginary friends, I don’t know.

Yet, in spite of the craziness, we were intrigued by the bones of the chalet.  It would sort of be like buying one of those “mystery grab bags” where you just make a leap of faith and take your chances.  Even the landscaping was adding to the mysterious allure.  It was overgrown to the point where you could only see the peak of part of the roofline from the street, so I really don’t even know what the outside looks like.  The hedge along the front was at least 10 feet tall and there was a massive pine tree dead center in front of the house blocking over 50% of the view.

Perhaps we will make an offer contingent upon actually being able to see the WHOLE house, (imagine her horror!), and then I will be brave enough to take pictures right in front of her to send to y’all.  I will get her to pose next to the 6-foot leopard painting she did in the living room.  Anyway, little does she know, that she had me at the La Cornue.  Mr. Big, however, is another kettle of fish entirely.  Leap of faith is not even in his vocabulary.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Fasnacht: Mardi Gras a la Suisse

I’ve been hearing for two years now about the giant party in Basel that lasts 72 hours straight starting in the middle of the night on Shrove Tuesday.  Evidently, the parades, the masks, the costumes, the floats, etc. are just something to behold.  The crowds are reputedly enormous and the people all stay drunk on copious amounts of beer for three days and don’t go to sleep. Here’s the link to the Basler Fasnacht in English:  Intrigued by the possibility of witnessing Swiss People Gone Wild but much too old to party for 72 hours like a twentysomething, I began searching for an alternative.  Fasnacht Lite, if you will.

We don’t have Fasnacht down here in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, so I started looking in the towns and villages along the Rostigraben, the imaginary line that divides the German speakers from the French speakers.  Apparently, these villages stagger their Fasnacht festivals throughout the month of March so that, if one were so inclined, one could pretty much attend a parade every day and night for a whole month.  I was just interested in finding something to do on a Sunday besides watching taped episodes of American Idol with Mr. Big.

All the towns along the Rostigraben have two names—one German and one French, like Basel (German) and Bale (French) or Biel (G)/Bienne (F) or Visp (G)/Vierge (F).  The town that I picked was called Murten/Morat.  Their website promised a parade that was “small but very nice”.  I mean, Murten only has a population of around 6,000 people, so how crazy could it be, right?  It sounded like it was right up two old farts’ alley.  Sorry, Mr. Big, you are going to have to put Ryan Seacrest on pause because we are going out to soak up some Swiss culture.  Get your German on and let’s go.

We have been to Murten before.  It is very charming and medieval.  You can’t go inside the castle but the rest of the village is picture-worthy and you can still walk all along the ramparts of the 13th century castle walls.  The parade was scheduled to start at 15:03.  Not 15:02 or 15:04.  15:03.  We caught the train out of Lausanne around 11:00, giving us plenty of time to have a nice lunch in Murten before the “cortege” or parade started.

About two train stops before we reached Murten, we noticed people boarding the train wearing costumes.  OK, at least I didn’t have the date wrong and there was definitely SOMETHING going on in Murten that day.  While walking the block between the train station and the old village inside the ramparts, we noticed a rather large sign that said “Village Ferme” or Village Closed.  Of course, Mr. Big, who does not trust my French, immediately thinks that I have translated the website wrong and he is ready to turn around and go back to Lausanne.  Dude!  It’s closed for TRAFFIC, not people.  C’mon, it’ll be alright, just follow me.

Right outside the gates there are a number of official-looking people with money boxes.  I thought it was free, but apparently not.  I ask, in my abysmal German, if the parade is free and the guy with the money box says yes and waves us in.  Only later do I find out that they were selling “blaggedde” or pins/badges for 10 franc each.  So, because we are stupid Americans, we go inside Murten with no blaggedde pinned to our jackets.  Here’s a hint Fasnacht Committee:  put up a sign saying “Blaggedde 10 Fr” or something so that complete neophytes like us will not be caught unawares without our blaggedde.

We ate lunch here:,_Morat/Freiburger_Falle_-_Fr_-_HOME.html  This is a fabulous “keller” or cellar or wine cave underground on the main street inside the village.  The proprietors had it all decorated with streamers and clown masks.  Most of the people looked like locals, slurping up their fondue and most were in costume, except for us and this other table that held a Chinese couple.  How do I know they were not locals?  (I mean besides the fact that they were Chinese, duh.)

In the time it took for us to sit down, take off our outerwear and decide on a wine, these two had ordered, received and eaten half of their ONE COURSE meal.  They drank water and ordered no coffee.  They were in and out in about 30 minutes.  Aren’t Mr. Big and I getting quite smug and didn’t we just feel like a normal, Swiss couple compared to those meal-inhaling tourists?  Just wait.  Our big smackdown was coming.

Halfway through lunch, I reach inside my bag for my camera to take pictures of the décor and the restaurant for this blog.  To my horror, my camera battery is dead.  I would now have to rely on pictures for the blog from Mr. Big’s phone.  Aaaak!  Mr. Big is known for his lousy head-chopped-off or, conversely, tops-of-heads-only-the-rest-sky-and-clouds pictures.  I’m panicking at the table and trying to give him Photography 101 tips over the dessert course before we venture out onto the street.  Close-ups, Mr. Big, I need close-ups!   He begins damage control, (also known as CYA—Cover Your Ass) before even taking Picture One by trying to tell me that his phone does not have a zoom.  Liar!  His phone does everything but wipe his butt!  I’m sure there is a zoom function in there somewhere but it is not worth fighting about.  You pick your battles, you know?  So, people, be forewarned, all of the pictures herewith were taken by Mr. Big with his mobile.


1.        The babies wear Bose headphones.  OK, when we saw the first one, I thought it was an anomaly.  Oh, how cute, I thought, that little guy is rockin’ out, doin’ his own thing.  No.  It appears that there is a certain lime green brand of headphone here emblazoned with the word “kidz” which is plunked on all the heads of the littlest Swiss to SAVE THEIR HEARING.  Remember, this is the land of quiet.  A parade, by definition, is noisy.  It’s those piercing drums and fifes, you know.  So, the mamas pop these lime green headphones on the little ones’ ears so THEY WILL NOT BE SUBJECTED TO TOO MANY DECIBELS.  Swear to God.  I saw one mama, apparently a Forgetful Mama, who, realizing she did not have her “kidz” headphones, HELD HER HANDS OVER HER BABY’S EARS whenever a band went by.  I am not kidding.

2.        There are NO cartoon character children’s costumes, save, inexplicably, Spiderman.  First of all, understand that 99% of the children in the crowd, including teenagers, are dressed up.  There are princesses, but no Disney princesses.  No Transformers.  No Power Rangers.  No Sponge Bob.  Sooooo disconcerting.  Instead, there are generic witches, pirates and, incredibly, an inordinate amount of American cowboys and Indians.  Outfits that American children would sneer at are a hot ticket item here.  Go, Geronimo!  Go, Johnny Cash!  I saw a teenager dressed as a Secret Service man doing crowd control.  He had on a suit, tie, ear plug and a gun (no kidding) on his hip.  He was workin’ it, too!  He was walking up and down the line of spectators, talking into his shirt cuff.  There was another teenager, with a fake mustache, dressed as the President of UBS (a big Swiss bank), wearing a suit and tie and looking smug.  ONLY in Switzerland do the teenagers dress up like their favorite bankers.  Mind boggling.

3.       The floats are, literally, inches away from the spectators.  This goes back to the issue of personal responsibility, i.e. if you are so stupid that you can’t get out of the way of a towering, two-story structure which was built in 48 hours by a bunch of drunk people that is balanced precariously on top of a John Deere tractor, well, then, you probably are too stupid to live.  Or, you need to move back to Eastern Europe or Northern Africa or wherever you snuck in from.  Period.  Believe me, there is no such thing here as Political Correctness.  You people just need to go.  Now.  Unless you are rich.  Then, we will make an exception.  ANYWAY, the floats are directly next to the crowd.

Which brings me to my final observation.  It is from these floats that confetti is thrown.  No, wait.  Thrown is not the right word.  Projected.  Hurled with abandon.  Copious amounts.  Directed at, you guessed it, people who are not wearing a blaggedde.  Y’ALL!!!  When we were on the train platform leaving to go home, Mr. Big and I had to give each other a rub down to get the bulk of it off.  It was ridiculous!  It was impacted in Mr. Big’s ears!

We were annihilated by billions of tons of small paper bits.  By the end of the parade, I was like, ENOUGH!  Enough, already!.  Point your high-design Swiss airhose at someone else!  Surely, Mr. Big and I cannot be the only two people in the crowd who are not wearing a stupid pin!  Where is that lovely Chinese couple from the restaurant?  Surely they don’t have a pin!  Go get ‘em!

It is now Tuesday and I have vacuumed our apartment twice.  There is so much confetti everywhere, you would think the parade was inside our apartment.  Days later, it keeps coming out of every orifice.  It was inside my bra.  It was inside my socks.  Don’t even talk about the confetti still embedded in my hair that is laughing at my feeble shampoo regimen.   Lesson learned, Swiss Fasnachters!  Bring on Basel, we are ready!