Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Chalet Shenanigans - Chapter 19

Summertime in the Alps, aka Who Knew Burkas Had Found Us

We had to hurry home from our Venice trip because I was expecting around 25 people at the chalet for “La Fete du Quatorze Juillet”, also known as July 14th, the French day of independence where they celebrate cutting off Marie Antoinette’s and various other royals’ heads.  Unlike America’s  independence which was won via a legitimate war with uniforms and troops and everything, the French just got up one morning after a nice cafĂ© au lait and croissant and said “today, we kill the king.  Oh, and his snooty-assed wife, too”.

Really, you can’t blame them.  I’ve been to Versailles.  I’ve seen Marie Antoinette’s bathroom.  If I was a French peasant, I would’ve revolted, as well.  I mean, she had people whose job it was to wash her pits and wipe her ass and change her in and out of her outfits 10 times a day.  I should admit, though, that, at one time, I had people who did this for me, too.  Their name was “Mom”.

So, my experience with Independence Day parties of any nature involves a lot of outdoor cooking, a lot of beer and fireworks.  As usual, there’s always a dilemma in Europe over bagged ice, i.e. it doesn’t exist.  (I need to insert here for the locals that the Coop in Ouchy has installed an ice chest with bagged ice.  Now, don’t all go at once!  Chill!  Ha!) I’ve discussed my normal plan of attack before in this blog where I start making ice in ice cube trays a week ahead of time and store it in zip-locs in the freezer.  Even using that method, however, one is severely limited because our freezers over here are so little, one can only store and make so much.

For this party, I had bought a really cool, old galvanized tin baby bathtub at a brocante fair that I was going to use as the beer cooler.  I began making ice two days ahead of time and then, in a HUGE stroke of serendipity, one of my Facebook friends posted a picture of a baby shower where the hostess had filled some pink and blue balloons with water, frozen them and used them to chill down her champagne.

Well, I copied that idea in about a New York minute.  Mind you, I couldn’t find just red, white and blue balloons, (conveniently, the colors of both the American and French flags), so I had to buy bags and bags of multi-colored balloons and sort out all the pinks, purples and yellows to fill my needs.  (P.S., if anybody in Lausanne needs some green, pink and purple balloons—call me.)

I filled them with water out of the tap and put them in the freezer and on party day, I surrounded my beers in my baby bathtub with my frozen red, white and blue balloons.  GENIUS!  I made about 100 cupcakes decorated with marzipan French flags and Eiffel Towers that came out looking like erect penises but what are you going to do?  Is it my fault that La Tour Eiffel looks like a phallic symbol?  I don’t think so.

We have an outdoor firepit on our deck which burns real wood which gave me an epiphany.  Bonfire = hot dogs and marshmallows cooked on sticks over an open flame, right?  So, I made a “kid’s table” with little Cokes in glass bottles, hot dogs, marshmallows and a new paddle ball set.  The paddle ball, itself, was lost somewhere on the mountain after about 3 minutes, but they (read all the kids, but mostly the little French kids) LOVED the hot dogs and marshmallows.  So much so that one of the 4-year-olds puked all over the deck around 9 p.m. but, you know, that just means the party is a success when the guests start projectile vomiting.

In preparation for the July 14th festivities, Mr. Big and I did manage to finish the powder room renovation at the chalet before they arrived. 

All except for the actual glass shower door, which had to be special ordered from the hardware store in Switzerland.  We are currently running a pool on when, exactly, this shower door will arrive. 

Someone took February, 2013, already, which was going to be my bet, so I am not participating in the pool.   Let me just say to those of you who are new to Europe, and to Switzerland, in particular, that if you need something “a mesure” or made to measure, in English, that you had better be the kind of person who plans ahead.  Years ahead.  Yeah.

Okay, fair warning, to Domestic Son and his wife.  DO NOT LET GRAND ONE AND GRAND TWO see the following pictures.  Seriously.  Our family is a “winter vacation” kind of family.  We are a SKIING family, i.e. we only ever used to go to the Alps when there was sufficient snow.  Now that Mr. Big and I have bought this chalet, we are here all the time.  Here’s news:  these mountains and these stars and this weather and this lighting and all of the outdoor activities are FREAKIN’ AWESOME in the summer.  It is MAGICAL, people, and you know I am not easily impressed.

Just outside our back door, the village of Chatel has just installed a mini-zipline, a mini-rock climbing wall and one of those bouncy/bungee/trampoline things.  8 feet from our house.  If one of you tells my grandson, I will never speak to you again.  BTW, Small Son, if the whole college thing doesn’t work out, this bungee guy’s job is awesome.  He doesn’t start work until 2 p.m.  Now, granted all he does for five hours is strap kids into a harness and re-start them if they just don’t get the whole process, but, hey, it’s a living and you don’t have to get out of bed until 1:48 p.m.

I went on a walk this morning at 1600 meters, yes, I am fifty, but Europe makes you into a crazy person wherein you find yourself doing silly things like walking up giant mountains, and, I tell you, it was AMAZING.  The view over my village, walking across ski slopes that I’ve skied down all winter, sharing my walking trail with daredevil mountain bikers covered in mud (that I felt superior over because they were going DOWN while I was walking UP),  and finally reaching the top where I enjoyed watching the people partaking of the Fantasticable.

What is the Fantasticable, you may ask?  Oh, my dear friends.  Let me tell you.  All during the winter, whilst riding the cablecar up the mountains to ski, one sees banners for the “Fantasticable”.  It runs only in the summer.  I assumed, (wrongly), that is was like some 50-meter long cheesy zip-line half-way up the mountain.  No, madame, you were so beyond wrong.  

The Fantasticable in Pre-le-Joux is not for the faint-hearted.  It is not for pregnant women or people under the age of 15.  It is not for people who smoke, faint at the sight of blood or those who want to live to see the next day.  It is SERIOUS flying, folks, like up where the airplanes go.  One takes 2 cable cars up to 1900 meters, lies flat on their belly hovering a few feet above a platform, and then some stoner (aka a mountain employee) UNCLIPS you from all that is holy and good OUT INTO SPACE BETWEEN TWO MOUNTAIN TOPS approximately 1.5 miles above the earth.   I actually have a really fancy camera, but even my awesome camera would not take a good picture of these brave souls because they were just too high.  It, (my camera), thought I was trying to take a picture of an airplane.  Truly.

Upon seeing the Fantasticable the first time, Mr. Big said, “No, ma’am.  My body will never be seen lying prone upon that apparatus.”  Fine.  Whatever.  I CANNOT wait until I can entice one of my three children here and then I will be posting the MOST AWESOME PICTURES EVER SEEN on Facebook of a 50 year old woman flying above the earth on the Fantasticable.  I’m just saying’.

Anyway, my 5 hour hike today above my village, dodging mountain-mud bikers all the while was the stuff of which dreams are made.  Oh, before I forget the best part, (which, probably, only my daughter will think is funny), apparently, the Arabs have discovered Chatel.   Yes, Charming Daughter, today I saw Burkas on the Bob-Luges.  I tried to take a picture for you but I was inside the bus at the time and the window made it all fuzzy.  Bummer.  You will have to come see for yourself.  (But don’t tell my grandkids because they have no idea how fun it is here in the summer!)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Chalet Shenanigans - Chapter 18

 My Stunning Venetian Toilet Brush

It’s 10:30 p.m. here at the chalet on a Sunday night and Mr. Big is totally engrossed in his Olympics, even though it is taped and he already knows the results of every event.  I thought I’d finish the last little bits about the Venice vacation and then we will move on to other things.

Y’all know the saying that “it’s a small world”, right?  Well, one of the gals in my bridge group back in the US has a dear, old college friend who currently lives in Venice.  I had promised my bridge group pal that, if I ever went to Venice, I would look up her friend and say “hey”.  Not only did I say “hey”, I ended up staying in this friend’s apartment, meeting her husband, going out to her house for cocktails and proceeding onto dinner in their little neighborhood resto.

This Venice connection friend, whom we shall call She With No Filter, was fabulous.  She originally hailed from Charlotte, North Carolina, but she has lived in Venice for 30 years.  She met a local yokel there 8 years ago and married him.  After she married Charming Italian Guy, she moved out of her apartment and into his because he had more square footage and a better view over the Grand Canal.

Keep in mind that she did not know either me or Mr. Big from Adam.  I just emailed her out of the blue and named-dropped my bridge gal’s moniker and told her we were coming to Venice and would like to meet for drinks.  Y’all.  It was ridiculous.  From the very first email, I could tell that we were going to be fast friends.  She was CRAAAAZY.  She With No Filter was firing email questions at me like it was her job.  When are you coming?  Where are you staying?  Where?  Oh, God, no, don’t stay there.  It’s full of tourists.  Park here.  Take a vaporetti there.  Eat here.  Drink there.

We ended up staying in her Bachelorette Apartment because she coerced me into cancelling our hotel reservation.  She scared me and y’all know I don’t scare easily.  If you could have heard that phone call to Mr. Big, y’all would have cracked up.

Me:  Hi, honey.  Whatcha doin’?

Him:  Um, working.  What are YOU doing?

Me:  I’m finalizing our plans for Venice.  By the way, you need to cancel the reservation at that hotel downtown.

Him:  Huh?  No way!  I was the last guy to book it on booking-dot-com!  It was recommended by 834 other people!  It was like neck and neck between me and some dude from Sweden just to get the last room!

Me:  Sorry, bub.  It’s gone.  Just let it go.  We are staying in a private apartment, nowhere near downtown, in a place with no air conditioning and we are going to love it.  I am being a good friend here and you just have to go with the flow.

Him:  WAAAAAH!  Why do you do these things to me?  Who are these friends of whom you speak and why do I always agree to this shit that I really don’t want to do?  Why, why, why, blah, blah, blah. . .

You get the picture.  Anyway, we show up in Venice at She Who Has No Filter’s apartment fully expecting to meet, greet, exchange keys and money and be on our merry way.  No.  We were there 8 seconds and our hostess had dropped the “F” bomb twice, invited us to dinner at her favorite local restaurant and charmed us thoroughly.  I am trying to find someone to compare her to.  Y’all remember the swimmer on the Poseidon Adventure, Shelley Winters?  Well, she was an Italian Shelley Winters.

We met at her and Charming Italian Guy’s  apartment for a drink (or three) and walked to their neighborhood restaurant.  Unbeknownst to us, she had arranged earlier in the day for a table directly across from the TV because Italy was playing in the World Cup (soccer tournament) and she knew her husband would not agree to go out of their apartment if he could not watch the game.  So, the boys sat on one side of the table and watched the game and the girls sat on the other and chatted.

There were no menus involved.  She Who Has No Filter told us what she was going to order for the table and we all agreed to try everything.  I ate a whole plate of sardines.  It was delicious.  In between courses and conveniently timed with the football/soccer time-outs, the restaurant owners came out onto the patio and played live music.  A magical, magical night.

Turns out, Charming Italian Guy is retired from. . .wait for it. . .one of the Murano glass factories.  Remember, I was an antique dealer for 20 years.  I was swooning, swooning, I tell you, when I found out this factoid.  But, here’s a clue to my level of ignorance.  I thought “Murano” glass was from ONE factory in Murano, Italy.  No.

You must, if you go to Venice, take the vaporetti out to the island of Murano, where you will find, about 12 “fornaci” or furnaces or, in layman’s terms, factories where they fire the glass.  We spent an entire day out there on the island.  It was not tacky, it was not cheesy, it was just cool.  Back on the mainland, every gift store sells “Murano” glass but it is not the real thing.  It is made in China.  BEWARE!  Go, instead, out to the island and buy the real thing.  It is pricey, but it is cool.

Us, we didn’t buy a durned thing.  Ha!.  No, really.  Over our living room coffee table in Lausanne, we have a Murano glass chandelier that we found at an antique market for 80 euros.   Mr. Big was like, um, no, Trailing Spouse, we will not be paying retail for our Murano glass.  We will continue to buy our odd bits and pieces as we stumble upon them at random, out there in the wild.  I wholeheartedly agreed, but that did not stop me from drooling over the things that OTHER people were buying.  Here’s the cool part.  If, you, you North American person you, buy something on the island of Murano, they are well-versed in how to get it to your house in Des Moines.  The UPS boat, yes, boat, pulls up in front of the showrooms every day and takes your well-wrapped vase to the Venice airport across the bay and deposits it on a plane.  I had never seen a UPS boat before and I was like, well, that’s friggin’ cool.

We did buy an awesome toilet brush.  We stumbled upon a tiny store, back in the main part of Venice, called MEE, (www.meevenizia.com).  As you know, we are redoing the powder room at the chalet.  Lo and behold, there before my eyes was the coolest toilet brush I had ever seen.  “Toilet brush” was actually on my list of things to buy, but never, in my wildest dreams, did I think I would find it in Venice!  I thought I would find it in Home Depot, ya know?

Also, in MEE, I found a ceramic cow riding an ice cream soda dairy cart.  Well, you know I bought that puppy, right?  Mr. Big was like, why do we need this cow?  And I was like, we need to buy this artsy cow to sit on the bar as an art statement BECAUSE WE LIVE IN THE ALPS WHERE THERE A LOT OF COWS.  Duh.

While we are in this shopping vein, let me caution you about the ubiquitous Venetian masks that you will see in every gift shop made of plaster of Paris.  DON’T BUY THEM!!! THEY ARE MADE IN CHINA!!!  Go a few blocks off the beaten path and find the studios of the actual theatrical maskmakers and buy your masks there.  Here’s the clue:  real masks are made of paper mache.  They are light and they don’t weigh a thing.  We bought a big one to hang on the wall in the bathroom.  It makes me happy every time I go in to pee.  Actually, She Who Has No Filter informed me that even my mask is a fake.  If you want the real, real thing, i.e. a mask that would actually be worn in a theater, it can only be black or white.  No paint.  No color.  No decoration.  I didn’t say anything to her (because I am still kind of scared of her), but that is just boring, right?  I wasn’t actually planning on performing on a Venetian stage; I just wanted something to hang in the bathroom.  No offense, SWHNF.

In a nutshell, go to Venice, but try not to go in summer.  Even though it is surrounded by water, it’s still hot.  Oh, and if you have a Venetian connection, run with it, because there is nothing like an authentic Venetian meal in a non-touristy area.  And, definitely, definitely, go out to Murano.

You remember that I started this epistle with a reference to “it’s a small world” because one of my bridge friends in Camden, South Carolina had an old college friend who lived in Venice now, right?  Yeah, well, I can beat that.  On the way home to Switzerland from Venice, we stayed the night on Lake Como, in Italy.  We took a ferry to the little village of Bellagio, which sits out in the middle of the lake.  Some of you may know the name because George Clooney used to own a house there and, also, I believe, there is a rather large casino in Las Vegas named after it.

Anyway, I was waiting at the pier in Bellagio to get my ferry back to the town where we over-nighting, and I hear, out of the blue, “Trailing Spouse!  Trailing Spouse!”  (You understand, this person was not actually yelling Trailing Spouse, right?  She was yelling my actual first and last name, get it?)

It was yet another person from Camden, South Carolina, population 7,500.  What are the odds?  Everybody has one of these stories, right, where you happen upon a person in some random place?  I swear, it makes your brain go crazy.  I was like, Random Friend from South Carolina, what THE HELL are you doing here on this dock in Bellagio?  Are you looking for George?  Or what?  Because he is long gone.

No.  Silly me.  She was shopping.  Of course.  It’s how we roll, we Americans.  Toilet brushes, leather shoes, Venetian masks, whatever.  Nothing, nothing, however, beats the purchase we just made in St. Petersburg two days ago for the grandkids.  But that is still two blog posts away, so you just have to wait!