Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Chalet Shenanigans - Chapter 10

"The Help" is not just a movie.

I have been back in South Carolina for a week.

The Good Things:
I got to see all three of my children, their spouses/significant others, and two grandchildren for a whopping total of 18 hours.
I was able to play bridge with 20 of my nearest and dearest for 5 hours.
I went out for dinner/drinks with my friends for 4 out of 7 nights.
I bought mothballs to bring back to the chalet to combat the stone martens.  I found them in the very first store I went in.  Imagine that.  No one questioned me.  No one told me that mothballs were a controlled substance.  They just rung up my mothballs.  That’s how we roll in America.
I was able to watch my favorite TV shows in real-time, not in “taped time”.
I basked in the hot sunshine on my porch and saw nary a drop of snow for seven days.

The Bad Things:
18 hours of Kid Face-Time is not long enough.
3 rounds of bridge is not enough.
I will have a hangover that lasts until March because my friends are like Energizer Bunnies with booze bottles.
I think I am going to have a problem at Customs because I am bringing 2 end tables, one mounted antelope skull with 2-foot long horns, 6 Swedish glass bottles, 1 extremely large wine carafe, 6 cartons of Newports and 2 ceramic laughing goat heads in my luggage.  Oh, and an oil painting
I gained my normal “American Five” (pounds) which I will have to lose when I get home, but this doesn’t panic me like it did in the beginning.

This blog entry is going to be kind of screwy, in that it will try to explain to my ex-pat friends why I am soooo not normal and to my American friends why I am getting a little weird.  Does that make any sense?  Unfortunately, it does in my mind, but nobody lives here in my mind except me and my crazy self.

The other day, I was having coffee in Lausanne with some friends and trying to explain the concept to them of organizing a bridge game for 20 women in my home in South Carolina with a caterer, a bartender and bridge prizes.  The logistics of such an undertaking were just beyond them.
1)       WHERE WOULD THEY PARK?  Well, um, they park in the driveway.  Or, if there’s not enough room, on the side of the house.  Or on the grass.  This comment was met by a wall of silence as they each tried to picture in their mind a driveway that would accommodate 10 or 12 cars.  Or, God forbid, parking on grass.
2)      WHAT DO THE LANDLORDS SAY?  There are no landlords.
3)      WHAT DO THE NEIGHBORS SAY ABOUT THE NOISE?  My noise is not the neighbors’ business.
4)      WHAT DO YOU DO IF THE POLICE COME?  First of all, no self-respecting police officer is going to come up on my property for a measly ol’ bridge party.  We are a bunch of old ladies.  Second of all, the police officer’s mother is sitting at Table 4 bidding Three No Trump.  What?  Is he going to arrest his own mother?  No, I don’t think so.
5)      DON’T YOU WORRY ABOUT DRINKING AND DRIVING?  Well, actually, yes we do.  That is why some of the women enlist their children to come pick them up.  Consequently, around midnight, my house is the place to be if you want to hook up with some friends that you knew from High School, because you can come on in, eat up the fabulous left-over food, laugh at your crazy mothers and arrange to meet up later at somebody’s house.

As I said to my European friends, picture the movie The Help.  Fast forward the hairstyles and the clothes a few decades and you have got Modern Day South Carolina.   Yes, we still have Black women who raise our babies and wash our clothes.  But, we pay them very well.  And, we know their names and consider them our friends.  But, they don’t play bridge with us.  Not because we wouldn’t want them to play bridge with us, but because they have much better things to do than sit around with a bunch of old, white ladies comparing chicken salad recipes and playing a game where no money exchanges hands.  But really, the movie “The Help” is not that far-fetched.  It’s still kind-of like that, where I’m from.

Does that make me a horrible person?  I don’t think so.  Which brings me to trying to explain to my South Carolina girlfriends what my life is like in Switzerland.  Tit-for-Tat, right?

On Mondays, before French class, I meet my girlfriends in Lausanne for coffee.  I’m going to try to explain this little get-together to my South Carolina girlfriends:
1)      WHERE DO Y’ALL PARK, BEIN’ AS IT’S A BIG CITY AN’ ALL?  Well, most of us don’t park.  We take public transport.  Me, personally, I walk to the #9 bus stop down below my house and take it up the hill to where the coffee shop is located.  EVEN THOUGH IT IS BELOW ZERO AND I’M WEARING APPROXIMATELY 25 POUNDS OF CLOTHING.
2)      WHAT DO Y’ALL TALK ABOUT?  OK, I might possibly one of the oldest living ex-pats.  Most women “of a certain age” don’t agree to do the ex-pat thing because it’s really hard and stressful and they are completely settled in their lives at home.  Me, I’m just a weirdo.  Therefore, most of my ex-pat friends are in their 30’s and early 40’s.  We talk about the merits of Full-On Swiss-Schools versus Bi-lingual Schools versus English-Only International Schools.   We talk about where to find our favorite food ingredients.  We talk about which new restaurants we tried.  We talk about where we went skiing over the weekend.  We try to “Out-Switzerland” each other, i.e. who had to pay the most outrageous price for something trivial during the week.  (The week that Mr. Big paid 99 Swiss franc for a dimmer switch still holds the all-time record.)
3)      ARE THEY NICE?   Yes, they’re nice!  Their problems are not the same as y’all’s problems but they are (sometimes) even more serious because, without each other, we have no support group, right?  So, even a problem as seemingly easy as finding an English-speaking gynecologist can become a major thing.
4)      WHAT IF YOU DON’T LIKE WINE OR COFFEE?  The hot chocolate is wonderful.  You can live a full, complete life in Europe without wine or coffee.  Order Jus d’orange.  Or “un verre d’eau”(ahn-fair-doh) which is a fancy way of saying a glass of tap water.

Even after three years away, it is gut-wrenching when I have to leave America.  I hate to leave, but I can’t wait to get back.  I swear, if I didn’t have the Mothball War to look forward to, I would be wanting to stay right here in this warm sunshine!

Here is a perfect example of why I love where I’m from.  I just went out to the mailbox, here in SC, to post a Thank You Note to Charming Daughter’s boyfriend, who bought us a lovely house-warming gift for the chalet.  As I’m reaching into the mailbox which is located down by the road, the UPS driver coming up the opposite way screeches across 2 lanes of traffic, stops his big ol’ brown truck next to the curb just to hug me because he hasn’t seen me in a year.  Y’all, only in America are people on a first-name, huggin’, cheek-kissin’ basis with their UPS driver.  (Hi, Joel!  I hope your boss reads this and you get a raise.  What can Brown do for you?  Well, they can make you feel at home!)

OK, fast forward a week later.  It’s Sunday night, I’m in the chalet, I just spent all day at an auction (my favorite thing in the world) in Martigny, Switzerland, I bought a GIANT set of antlers for the wall in the dining room, and I have coffee and French class to look forward to tomorrow.

Count your blessings, people.  Appreciate those things that make you happy.  Me?  I don’t have enough fingers and toes.  I’m two-continents-full-of-happy.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Chalet Shenanigans - Chapter 9

 Cows Are One Thing, But Stone Martens are Something Else Entirely

The chalet continues to present me with one little surprise after another.  Not long after the cow episode, I was awoken in the night by a terrible racket somewhere up in the rafters.  I stumbled out of bed in my tights, sweat pants, two pairs of socks, camisole and sweat shirt, which is what I wear to bed here in the Alps because it is freakin’ freezing, and went exploring to see what fresh, new Hell had invaded the homestead.

OK, walk along with me here.  It’s dark.  It’s like, 2 a.m.  The noises are outside, thank God, because me and all of my nighttime attire, to which I had added a cozy pair of slippers and a down jacket, are inside.  Really, it sounds like something is gallivanting around and around the house, up above the level of my 5 foot 4 inch head.  It actually sounds like WHATEVER THE HECK THIS THING OR THINGS IS/ARE are using the decorative woodwork as a racetrack.

Quick like a bunny, I scamper back into the bedroom to wake Mr. Big.

Me:  Dude!  Wake up!  Chalet Ruisselet is under attack!

Mr. Big:  Hhhrrrmph.

Me:  Seriously, you need to get up.

Mr. Big:  Have these alleged attackers actually breached the ramparts?

Me:  Well, no.  But disaster is imminent!

He never even opened his eyes.  Knight in Shining Armor, indeed.  More like Knight in Snuggly Bedding.

I then proceeded to stalk the nocturnal intruders from window to window, but my only actual sighting was a bushy tail when it flashed around the kitchen window.

Ah, I thought to myself.  They are just squirrels.  Big, noisy, Alpine squirrels.  So, I went back to bed.

At first light, I was outside in the snow looking for tracks.  Of which there were many.  An alarming number.  And, they were kind of big.  Bigger than say, squirrels.  I pointed them out to Mr. Big but he was not impressed.  Trailing Spouse, he said, you live in the mountains where there is, by nature, a wide variety of flora and fauna.  Apparently you saw some fauna.  Get over it.

I made eye contact three nights later.  Directly outside the glass bedroom doors, playing around like they were at Chuck E. Cheese, were two weasel-like creatures with long, bushy tails.  I screamed like a girl and jumped up on the bed.

Y’all.  You know your husband is completely immune to your charms when you are jumping on his head and carrying on about vermin and he does not even roll over.  I guess we know who will end up defending whom if a serial killer ever breaks in.

Eventually, after my hissy fit, I climbed off the bed and ran into the dining room to consult The God of All Wisdom, i.e. Google.  I typed in “weasel-like Alpine native mammal”.  The very first link had an image of MY thing.  I screamed again.  Aaaaak!  That’s it!  What is that thing!

Mind you, it’s 3 a.m., I’m sitting at my dining room table and I’m talking to myself.  Y’all, I have a Stone Marten infestation.  And, get this, they are living down under the house where I made them a nice, cozy habitat of imploded fireplace stones!  Remember?!  Yeah, I did this to my own self.  Apparently, unbeknownst to me, I inadvertently constructed the Taj Mahal for Stone Martens.

Just now, at 9:17 p.m., I can hear them.  They come out at dusk and play around for about 5 hours and eat random birds, mice, small French children, whatever.  They skip around my rafters and run along my balconies and romp through my yard and then they crawl back up under my house and go to bed.  Yes.  That is what they do.  Google it.

I took some pictures yesterday of their tracks on my deck and of what I like to call The Stone Marten SuperHighway, which is the area of my yard right outside the Stone Marten Taj Mahal.  However.  Their days are numbered.  The God of All Wisdom has told me that mothballs work a treat for an infestation of “Le Martre”.  Now I just have to memorize the word for mothballs in French so I can go to the store,  buy some and annihilate these suckers.  Mr. Big owes me, uh, big.

Update:  After checking every home improvement/hardware/general store in two countries for my “boules de naphtaline”, I was finally told by some kind soul in the pesticide aisle, that my “boules” are only available in, wait for it, the Pharmacie.  Well, of course they are.  Why didn’t I think of that?  If full-strength bleach is a controlled substance, it makes sense that mothballs are considered a weapon of mass destruction and are not safe to be just left sitting around on any old shelf where the general public can easily get their hands on them.

I wonder if I will need a prescription to buy my little balls-o’-death?  We will soon find out because I was going to the Pharmacie today anyway for something for my HEADACHE which continues to worsen because I am on my THIRD DAY without running water.

Yes, the pipes at the chalet are frozen.  We are having a freak cold spell.  The temperature hasn’t risen above zero in two weeks.  I have been carrying big buckets of snow inside the house to melt so I can flush the toilets.  Just this morning, I inadvertently filled the coffeemaker with the bottle of water that has gas in it, (which actually tastes kind of good—I may be onto something here).

Anyway, I called Mr. Big in Jedda two days ago to tell him of my dilemma and to solicit solution ideas.

ME:  Hi, Mr. Big.  Whatcha doin’?

BIG:  I’m having dinner with the Sheik at his palace watching his harem dance and feed me grapes by hand.

ME:  That’s nice, honey.  My pipes are frozen.

BIG:  I do not think there is a safe answer to that remark.

Long story short, he recommended that I follow the water pipe from the furnace room into the crawl space, find the frozen section under the house and blow-dry it.  Apparently the dancing girls had befuddled Mr. Big’s brain because he forgot completely that the CRAWL SPACE is also known as THE STONE MARTEN TAJ MAHAL.

Like there was a chance in Hell that I was going up under the house armed with nothing but a blow dryer.  I will flush toilets with snow water until the spring thaw before I will go into that crawl space.

A call to the plumber in the valley resulted in a smug, French chuckle and a “we’ll put you on the list” sort of attitude because, apparently, everyone in a vast swath across Europe is in the same dilemma.  There are no showers happening in Europe right now, people.  Can you imagine what everyone will smell like by Sunday?  Oh, wait. . .