Thursday, February 26, 2009

Supermarket Swept

After completing a respectable amount of work Wednesday morning, Trofie Wife set out to partake in some afternoon marketing. After realizing to my dismay that the bakery with the good whole wheat rolls was now closed on Wednesday afternoons (random), I visited the smaller grocery store in centro. As I walked in, I noticed an uncomfortable emptiness. Each aisle appeared as a minor ghost town, with markedly fewer items on the shelves than usual. Was it inventory day, I wondered? (I’ve definitely been at Trader Joe’s on 14th Street on the day prior to delivery day when the food is nearly all gone, but this occurrence in Arenzano seemed eerily different.) Were rationings kicking in due to the world credit crisis? Cuts in production or ordering? (Even so, my favorite cereal was still on the shelves, so that was at least a relief.) Or was the supermarket closing?? I didn’t notice any formal indication of such a travesty posted at the entryway, but given that my Italian is not up to snuff, perhaps I missed it. Would we now be forced to trek to the huge grocery store on the highway to pick up essentials? What was going on??

After a careful inspection of all aisles (including a long lingering at the unhealthy snack section—sue me), I figured it out. They were installing new shelving throughout the store! All of the missing goods had been dumped in shopping carts and staff members were now slowly arranging them on the shiny yellow shelves, which do appear cleaner and wider, perhaps with room for more interesting food stuffs (yet I still needed to ask for help reaching the lightbulbs...). With my ready access to food and paper goods intact, I paid my bill and headed to the bakery with the good foccacia (yes, it is essential to visit different bakeries for different bready and dolce items).

On another note, yesterday was Ash Wednesday (mercoledì delle Ceneri). Now, we live in Italy and there are a lot of ladies of a certain age around here who one suspects would be into this kind of faith display. But during my outing, I saw not one forehead dabbed with ash or the residue of ashes placed during the morning; there was one false alarm, a middle aged guy whose “ash” turned out to be stubble from his closely-shaved-yet-still-balding head. Trofie Wife is trying to make sense of this seemingly large omission. On the streets and in the schools and offices of New York City, it’s hard to miss the holiday. My Catholic friends would either attend an early mass prior to class/work or if unable to do so then, hit up the church at lunchtime. Maybe the Ligurians are more of an after work crowd? (Though these are the same folks that Martello and I saw duck in and out of Midnight Mass within the space of five minutes... .) Or maybe it’s yet another example of America proving that it is the most fervently religious country in the world, leaving even the hosts of major pilgrimage sites in the dust.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife 

 

Monday, February 23, 2009

In Memoriam

Since Trofie Wife was bereft of her usual Oscar viewing this year, it seems only appropriate to commemorate the occasion with her own “dead persons of cinema” tribute. (I have always found this portion of the show intriguing, yet uncomfortable. Clap the loudest, hoot and holler for the dead person you love the most! I’m guessing Paul Newman was the big winner last night? Pair that reaction with the polite, tentative applause for the obscure character actors, writers, and lighting designers. Follow with awkward segue to a catchy number or semi-funny joke.)

So, back to the matter at hand. Trofie Wife has yet to see a Woody Allen film in Italy (we didn’t quite make it to the Vicky Christina Barcelona screening), but it still saddens me to learn that Woody’s voce italiana, Oreste Lionello, has passed, and I’m now really curious to find out how this Roman native channeled and successfully pulled off New York Jewish neurosis. (Maybe we’ll make it to the video store between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. one of these days… .) For the full story, see http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hODxMvDYOYkd6opT9Dn1bXZVAY3wD96ELQJO0

Trofie Wife is also wondering how Woody is coping with news of his double’s demise, being that he’s already so preoccupied with his own mortality and this event must come as a real psychic blow.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife  

Friday, February 20, 2009

Mother Christmas

On the last day before Martello had to return to the daily grind, we took the opportunity to sleep and start the post-vacation catch up on mail, e-mail, laundry, etc. January 6th is the day of the Epiphany (when the wise men came to Jesus bearing gifts), or locally, La Befana.  Befana is a feminine take on Santa Claus (and they say that Italy's all about machismo!). This character (who may possibly be pagan or Celtic in origin) actually makes a lot more sense than Santa Claus. She’s a witch carrying a broom and she’s covered with soot, since she’s been going up and down chimneys all night. (It’s also a nice touch that instead of milk and cookies, she gets wine and local cuisine; you just gotta love the Italians! Plus, she’s low maintenance. No reindeer.)

Trofie Wife was eager to check out this Befana character for herself, so I attempted to get to centro in time for the celebration (this little town celebrates everything in that square!), which was vaguely scheduled for the “afternoon.” Well, it was uncharacteristically cold, so I dawdled in leaving the apartment, and by the time I arrived, it was clear that the celebration was over. I did, however, catch two Befanas at the end of their shift and saw some evidence of animal balloon art.

Here’s a little ditty about La Befana:

http://video.libero.it/app/play?id=a9fe96587d4130cc6855931ae5c41190

To cap off our vacation, Martello and I ordered some pizza d’asporto (take out!), which we verily enjoyed in the comfort of our casa. We then set the alarm and got ready to return to the new normal.  

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Casa Dolce Casa!

The Lausanne métro has a characteristic that the MTA should consider importing. Each stop on the line has its own tune associated with the neighborhood; drum trills at one; horse clop clops at another. The sound effects could prove very helpful should you doze off; you’ll be startled to wakefulness by the tone of your stop! (Let's see, a jingle from "42nd Street" when you hit Times Square, a "cha-ching" (or maybe not so much anymore) on Wall Street, bongo drumming at 7th Avenue in Park Slope... .)


If you include the metro, it took us SIX trains to return to Arenzano. Apparently all the Italians were travelling on January 5th since the 6th was another holiday, Epiphany (more on that soon). The train we desired to take from Lausanne to Milan was already sold out when we arrived at the ticket booth, so we camped out in the station for several hours, getting in a bunch of reading and shivering, since the Lausanne station is mostly exposed to the elements, save for some on-track waiting alcoves. We took the first train from Lausanne to Brig (a big transfer spot) and noted the French once again giving way to German and the passengers loading on their ski gear as mountains appeared in the background. From Brig we headed towards the Italian border town of Domodossola. The scenery along the way was spectacular.





We thought that comfy and not-so-crowded train would take us all the way to Milan, but unfortunately, we had to disembark and hop on an overcrowded regionale. We luckily found seats and a place for our luggage, but many travelers were stuck standing. Nevertheless, it was heartening to hear all of the passengers complaining in Italian. We finally arrived in Milan and transferred to a gorgeous, brand spanking new Genoa-bound train. Midway through the ride, the woman sitting next to us struck up a conversation; she’s an oncologist that had at one point considered moving to the States, but for the time being is practicing in Milan. She gave us lots of great pointers for traveling around Italy and recommended a great local swimming spot for when summer arrives. Arriving in Genoa, we had to wait a bit for our last train of the evening. But when we disembarked in Arenzano 35 minutes after finally boarding, we were delighted. Vacations (even from your year-long vacation) are wonderful and we were thrilled to take this one. But after a while, you miss your own bed. More than anything, our journey into and out of Svizzera made clear that our apartment in Arenzano has really started to become our home, and we were so glad to return to it!

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Sunday, February 15, 2009

All Along the Clocktower

Martello aptly noted that the theme of our first full day in the Francophone portion of La Suisse was “cold and closed.” Granted, it was Sunday—that dreaded, dead day in Switzerland—and for many, it was also the last day of the long holiday. Nevertheless, we hopped an hour-long train to Geneva so we could see the sights. Martello charged Trofie Wife with the walking tour, so with numb toes, we headed to the horloge fleurie, or flower clock, by the lake. Wouldn’t ya know it, there were no flowers in bloom in early January! The clock face still worked, but it didn’t quite pull off the intended effect.



Along the quai we noted the, uh, interesting public art on display. Apparently, a curator determined that it would be “inventive” to charge different artists with putting random stuff in trees all over the city. Perhaps the whole exhibit just went over our heads… . Instead of looking at more chairs suspended from tree branches, we decided to hunt down an elusive clock (those Swiss really do love their timepieces!) that supposedly displayed dancing figurines on the hour. After wandering in circles and nearly giving up, we finally found it in a slightly desolate shopping arcade. The mechanisms possibly were frozen, as the doors opened, but the figurines didn’t parade out as promised. There were lots of bells, though.  


We continued to stroll through the old part of the city, walking by various important sites of the Reformation (Calvinism happened here) and Rousseau’s house. We had a lovely crêpe lunch (savory and sweet) and were delighted to attempt to eavesdrop on an Italian family at the table next to us (yup, we were starting to get “homesick”).



We then took a tram to the Carouge neighborhood, which the guidebook touted as Geneva’s Greenwich Village. The streets and buildings definitely lived up to their reputed cuteness, but, malheureusement, tous les magasins sont fermé (see, I can write much better than I speak! By the way, that meant that all the stores were closed).

On our way back to the train station, we stopped by the synagogue (and Holocaust memorial plaque), which appeared to be under construction.


We also had zilch success in seeking out an ice cream shop with reputedly weird flavors (carrot!); it was closed for the season (please, ice cream IS NOT a seasonal treat!). To add insult to injury, our final supper in Switzerland was a total disaster. The only place open on Sunday night was a fondue shop. Since we had had our fill of cheese in Zurich, we tried to find other menu items that would accommodate us. Trofie Wife read that menu very, very slowly while Martello ran back into the cold to track down an ATM, since this place with its old school waiters (think Peter Lugar gruffness) had some beef with credit. Our combination of a salad with tuna on top and saffron risotto was pitiful; luckily, we found some more chocolate in our bags upon return (well, at least Trofie Wife did. Martello ate his real food, the tuna.)

We went to bed eager to begin our morning trek. Our vacation had been long and it was now time to go home.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Friday, February 13, 2009

Leaving Deutsch, Entering Français

So, back to Basel...

Just a few minutes before 10 a.m., there was an assertive knock on the door. Apparently the Easyhotel management is quite serious about checkout time. Luckily, we were eager to get on with the day’s adventures, so our bags were already packed and ready to be stored at the front desk. First on our agenda was the Fondation Beyler (http://www.beyeler.com/fondation/e/html_01start/01_sta__main.php). This beautiful museum filled up quickly, owning to not only the lovely location and permanent collection but also the special exhibit on Venice (Impressionists=large crowd). Martello and I were happy that we had visited Venice prior to seeing this exhibit, a fact that endowed us with some contextual knowledge (and at least in Trofie Wife's case, an ability to skim). 

After we finished touring the grounds, we took a tram back to the town center and went our separate ways—Martello to the Swiss Architecture Museum (http://www.sam-basel.org/) and Trofie Wife to the Puppenhausmuseum (featuring dolls and teddy bears; http://www.puppenhausmuseum.ch/Startpage.1+M59607b34d43.0.html).  Aside from having an awesome name, the Puppenhaus houses a wonderful collection. It contains four floors of historic bears, dolls, and related paraphernalia, including charming period postcards and birthday cards in each stairwell. Each floor is equipped with a digital library; just enter the teddy’s or doll’s item number into the computer and you get its back story (the computer determined that I was particularly drawn to 1930s Steiff bears). Also of note were some great Americana scenes (including a whole section on Teddy Roosevelt) and some amazing Tinguely-worthy mechanical toys, including an entire carnival scene with moving rides!

I still had some time before Martello and I were set to rendezvous, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I scouted out the bakery and cookie shops. Unfortunately, Basel’s treats are no match for Zurich’s. I had some lackluster Läckerli cookies (Basel originals; I’m not sure if the ones I purchased were slightly stale, or if that’s just how they taste) and sub-par macaroon cookies that it would be an insult to compare to the vaunted Luxemburgerli. Upon finding Martello, he led me to the Tinguely sculpture garden. Here’s what we saw:

video

Pretty cool, huh? Sadly, adjacent to the garden was a Richard Serra sculpture that had been covered almost entirely with graffiti. The graffiti in Switzerland is another unexpected shocker. We saw it on the Grossmünster (A CHURCH) in Zurich and would continue to encounter it throughout the rest of our time in Svizzera. Zurich Brother-in-Law told us that it appeared to be the one “vice” in which otherwise straight-and-narrow Swiss kids could partake, since many other activities, verboten in the States, are openly accepted/decriminalized there. (I’m just still smarting from the open acceptance of tagging on a church. The paint didn’t even seem fresh… .)

As the sun went down, Martello led us to some other architectural monuments, including a train switch tower, biological sciences building, and apartment complex all by Herzog & de Meuron; we also passed the synagogue, which was staffed with two security guards (we weren’t sure if people were actually inside or not; the community just might have been taking extra precautions with the Gaza ground incursion underway). Trofie Wife’s patience was wearing a bit thin due to the cold and her anxiousness to get to the French-speaking part of the country (enough with the German already!). We finally got our luggage from the Easyhotel front desk and boarded a train. Thankfully, Trofie Wife was able to piece together a sentence in French in order to figure out our transfer at Biel to a train to Lausanne (you’d think after all those years of French I’d be a little bit better in the speaking department, but alas…).

Arriving in Lausanne, we found ourselves hiking up a steep, cobblestone hill in order to reach our hotel, which was adjacent to the famed cathedral. (Of course, the next day we discovered that our hotel abutted a Métro stop…).



Lausanne is definitely picturesque, but due to our late arrival, we ended up in a less-than-lovely portion of the city. We had decent pizza at a food court and watched imitation MTV featuring bad American music. We returned to the hotel to watch CNN International (given the ground incursion) and ponder the room’s décor; the pink leopard carpet definitely raised our suspicions that the hotel might have had a colorful past… Nevertheless, Trofie Wife was pleased to finally visit a French-speaking place and eager to be able to (at least slightly) understand street signs and the world around her.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife 

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Un Giorno Triste for Culinary Peace and Harmony

Trofie Wife was appalled and embarrassed to learn that the so-called cosmopolitan Milan along with Lucca (in Tuscany) have banned any new “foreign” eateries from opening within city limits. Of course these eateries are of the kebab, chow mein, and shumai variety; hamburgers and escargot are exempt from exile.

Martello is especially homesick for falafel and other Middle Eastern veggie delights and dines on them whenever the opportunity arises (as it yummily did in Torino). This article points out that Italy’s vaunted cuisine was built on imports from Peru (the tomato) and likely China (spaghetti):

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/food_and_drink/article5622156.ece

Trofie Wife will be sure to keep readers informed as this story develops. She believes it would be unlikely for the ban to wind its way down to Liguria, but apparently anything is possible in Italy!

Baci e gelato (and in solidarity with falafel, sushi, and lo mein),

Martello e Trofie Wife 

Can You Tell Me How to Get…How to Get to…

…Hammerstrasse?  Apparently, you first have to leave Zurich and head to Basel, which is what we, in fact, did. After bidding “so long” and “farewell” to the fam, we hopped on a train that Trofie Wife believed was way too luxurious given the small price we had paid for tickets. I was convinced that we would be tossed off prior to reaching Basel. By the time I had finally convinced Martello of our error and we had collected our things, the train doors had already been sealed and we were thus stuck, forced to sheepishly turn around and find new seats. Luckily, the conductor found no fault with our tickets (and if he did, he forgave us our ignorance and Martello forgave me my freaking out), and in less than two hours, we found ourselves in Basel.

At the suggestion of the guidebook, Martello booked a room at the Easyhotel, which is owned by the same folks behind Easyjet (a company with which I wasn’t familiar, but apparently runs very cheap, groovy flights throughout Europe). The staff at this bright orange hotel (!) bent the rules and granted us entrée to our teensy, but totally adequate (and very fairly priced for Switzerland) room prior to official check-in time. After a full inspection, we headed to a transit depot (with Trofie Wife spotting the Hammerstrasse sign en route) to find a bus to Germany. Yes, Germany. A local bus runs just over the border to Weil Am Rhein, where the Vitra Design Museum is located (annoyingly, you have to pay in Swiss francs on the way in to Germany and Euros on the way out). With Switzerland now part of the Schengen Agreement that allows for free movement between countries party to the treaty, the borders have been dismantled, adding an aura of economic distress to the businesses that used to thrive on their positions along them—various truck stops, fast food spots, and, um, adult entertainment establishments. Nevertheless, there is a decent amount of tourist traffic headed to the Vitra Museum, so this is one border area that shouldn’t be too greatly affected by the change.

Vitra is renowned for its ultra sleek furnishings. In recent decades they have opened their factory grounds to a museum housing their multitudinous designs and commissioned buildings and structures from some of the biggest names in architecture—Frank Gehry, Tadao Ando, Zaha Hadid, Grimshaw Architects. (For more information, see http://www.design-museum.de/index.php?language=en&noselection). 

Clearly, Martello was going to have a snap happy afternoon. Although the architecture tour is normally given in German, the guide (who was also the ticket cashier) was fluent in English and took pity on us, briefly translating into English after finishing lengthy explanations in German. The two-hour tour was almost entirely outside, and it was a frigid, German day (granted, it was also pretty cold back over in Switzerland). Most of the participants were clearly design professionals/students, oohing, ahing, and pointing their flashes at every corner and angle; Martello had found his people. Given the participants' passion, our guide stressed the importance of staying together, and Trofie Wife reminded Martello of this point several times. Yet even bereft of his trusty shoe bike, Martello still managed to wander far afield from the rest of the group, leaving the guide to either ask where he was, or, when she noted my concern, say that he was on his way (I guess she had figured out that she could trust him and that he wasn’t going to walk away with any souvenir tiles or lighting fixtures).



After crossing back over to Switzerland, Martello and I spent an hour or so before closing time at the Museum Tinguely (http://www.tinguely.ch/en/museum/index.html), devoted to the work of the Basel-born kinetic (and anarchic) sculptor, Jean Tinguely. Tinguely’s works are amazingly whimsical and fun to play with/watch unfold. However, Martello and I do have great sympathy for the museum’s guards; they must go insane listening for hours on end to the creaking, beeping, and crashing noises made by these practically living sculptures. 


Post-museum, we returned to a pan-Asian place we had spotted near the transit depot. Given its reputation for cleanliness, it’s bizarre that Switzerland does not have a public smoking ban in place while smoke-obsessed (and less clean) countries like France and Italy do. It was quite bizarre to be dining so close to smoke with no exit strategy. When we finally did exit, we decided to walk around the town center for a bit. We stumbled upon the Rathaus (well, it's actually pretty hard to miss), which has been Basel’s seat of government for nearly 500 years. It is a gorgeous shade of red with exquisite details (see frog below) and has undergone extensive renovations in recent years.



Following our evening stroll, we returned to our orange room and broke out the Swiss chocolate. Yum!

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife 

Friday, February 6, 2009

Name That Canzone

Now I don’t mean to compete with “Dave’s Song of the Day,” (http://www.davessongoftheday.com/ , which is possibly on hiatus?), but allow me this one opportunity. You see Trofie Wife has been going slightly insane for the past few months, trying to figure out the artist of a certain Italian song that she seems to hear EVERYWHERE (particularly the grocery store, on every visit). It’s a catchy tune with the one recognizable word (seemingly the title) being Novembre (my favorite month!). Well, I finally got cut some slack on this matter via another song of hers (which was properly identified) and managed to track it down—Novembre by Giusy Ferreri. Turns out that she placed second on the Italian version of “American Idol.” (Don’t the runners up always end up having more talent than the winners? Though I’m not really sure, as I usually only watch that show during the hilariously awful auditions, and I’ve yet to see an international version).  According to Ferreri’s Wikipedia page, she bears a vocal resemblance to Amy Winehouse (though as far as I know, no similar religious affiliation).

Unfortunately, the American iTunes doesn’t yet sell her stuff, but you can check out Giusy and Novembre here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnSmouEfEPE

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

 

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Freezer Berne


On the last day of 2008, Martello and Trofie Wife set their sights beyond Zurich, opting to spend the day in Berne, just about an hour away by train. Our first stop was a Merkur chocolate store, where Trofie Wife fully recovered her chocolate sense and sensibility (and even threw in a packet of pink marzipan; more on that later). As we headed outside post chocolate binge, the weather gods seemingly sensed our presence (and lack of boots), and thus immediately sent down snow. Despite the slippery cold, Martello led us on a lovely Lonely Planet walking tour, which included such stops as the Müenster and its adjacent park, where Trofie Wife inspected the playground equipment, as well as Berne's famous fountains (the ogre-eating-children one is a fan fave).


We next paid our respects to the famous Berne bear pits (bears are the city’s symbol; don’t expect to find Stephen Colbert nearby anytime soon). However, instead of two bears (one in each pit), we were surprised to find only one—Pedro the Barcelonan bear. Apparently, the city is in the process of building a new, spacious grazing area for the bears; Pedro will have at least one additional companion following the park’s opening. Zurich Sister warned us that the whole thing was depressing (a veritable bear prison), but Pedro seemed to be in fairly good spirits given his surroundings. He really enjoyed the food that another tourist proffered (you can actually purchase “bear food” to throw down to him!).


Our main destination for the day was, surprise, surprise, design related. Through the snow, we trudged to the Zentrum Paul Klee (for some reason the bus route was stopping short of its termination point—the Zentrum Paul Klee). Prior to exploring the two featured exhibits—one focused on Klee’s various work spaces and the other on a prominent Japanese collector’s Klee collection—we had an absolutely amazing lunch of pumpkin soup and panini; if we ever make it back to Berne, I will have to enjoy a sit-down dinner in the adjacent restaurant (Restaurants Schöngrün, can we interest you in opening up shop in Arenzano or New York?). Our bellies sated, Martello relished the museum’s architecture (and once she had hit art overload, Trofie Wife was grateful for the little hot chocolate machine and comfy bench). With the end of the year nigh, the rest of the stops on our list were shuttering for the holiday, so we decided to head back to Zurich; the train was filled with champagne-sipping revelers prepping for a night out.

Upon returning to Freiestrasse, Martello and I commenced a pig off (yes, I will explain).  See in Switzerland, pigs (so cute and dear to Trofie Wife’s heart) are symbols of good luck. Neighbors and friends gift each other with little pig candies, toys, and cards to symbolize their best wishes for the New Year. But instead of purchasing ready-made marzipan pigs in honor of ’09, Trofie Wife thought it would be more fun to make her own out of pink marzipan paste. Apparently Martello, with his “professional training,” believed he could craft a better pig than Trofie Wife, despite the fact that he abhors (hee, hee) them. Here’s how they turned out; you can judge for yourself:


Yes, Martello’s might be more “realistic,” but mine looks friendlier.

With the kids put to bed for the last time that year, the grown-ups had a lovely New Year’s Eve dinner, followed by firework viewing on the roof at midnightish. Martello and I had considered viewing the fireworks lakeside with all the other young'uns, but we decided it was just too cold. The ragazzi then turned in so they could rise early for another day of skiing, sans Trofie Wife. Instead, I spent the first day of 2009 with my sister and the kiddies, encountering a series of unfortunate household events involving the marzipan pigs, wine bottles, chicken grease, and the resulting trauma of washing pants before checking pockets (luckily, all of these issues were eventually resolved).






auf Wiedersehen, 2008!


Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Where Was That Saint Bernard When We Needed Him???

Prior to leaving Italy, Zurich Sister bandied about the possibility of our husbands taking a day-long ski trip during the course of our visit. Having some ski experience myself (and not really foreseeing another opportunity to hit the Alps following the end of our Italian adventure), I invited myself along. We three intrepid explorers left the warmth of Freiestrasse behind in order to make an early (but not the earliest) train out to the mountains on the second-to-last day of 2008.

While Zurich Brother-in-Law had schussed at several of the area’s convenient ski and ride locations, he had not yet been to Flumserberg. Together we discovered that it’s the Hunter Mountain of Zurich—very, very close to the city and thus very, very crowded. We took a train from Zurich’s central station to a gondola line where I believe we waited for nearly two hours in order to trade our paper tickets for electronic passes that skiers carry instead of lift tickets (if you keep the pass in your ski jacket pocket, readers scan it as you enter the gondolas and lifts). While waiting on this incredibly disorganized line based on a slippery staircase, it became clear to Trofie Wife that Switzerland’s reputation for efficiency is a total croc. Plus, for all you lawyers (past, present, and future) out there, according to Zurich Brother-in-Law, tort law is virtually non-existent in Switzerland, so they take stupid risks with people’s lives (like not salting stairs), since they won’t ultimately bear responsibility for falls, trips, slips, etc.  

After we finally got through that line and took the initial gondola to the mountain base, we waited another hour or so for skis and then entered another long line on an even more treacherous set of cement steps (with skis, poles, and snowboards dangling and flailing all over the place; I was especially leery of the snowboard grrrl in front of me, easily sipping from her glass beer bottle before noon, making it ever more possible that she could hit me with some of her equipment as she lost her equilibrium—this of course didn’t happen; she displayed greater balance with an elevated blood-alcohol level than I did totally sober). We finally loaded into the gondola and went up, up, up (with Trofie Wife’s stomach going down, down, down) in order to reach the top of the mountain and head down a bunny slope (importantly, there had been no rope tow area at the base where we could practice; I hadn’t been on skis in three Januaries).

Well, when we reached the peak, Martello and Zurich Brother-in-Law looked left and right, but neither way down was an easy slope. And there was no other way off the mountain, no ski patrol (or Saint Bernard) to be found. It was not a pretty sight watching me try to descend this atrocious mountain for the next hour. I first tried to take off my skis and just walk. That worked for a minute or two, but such an act would not get me all the way down an increasingly steep and slippery slope. The raggazi offered to pull/carry me, but I was even too scared for that. Eventually, through a painful combination of walking, sidestepping, sliding, and whining, I made it to a flatter surface. I thank Zurich Brother-in-Law and Martello for not abandoning me while I struggled with gravity. Upon arriving at the turnoff to an easier trail, Martello and I paused for a quick lunch while Zurich Brother-in-Law skied off  to conquer even harder trails (understandably, he didn’t think that he would be dealing with whining or crying on a day off from diaper duty). But he did admit on the way home that the initial descent was the hardest (or second hardest) slope of the day. On the easier slopes (we got in two more runs), Martello and I could enjoy the exquisite scenery, and I could actually enjoy skiing!

Of course my greatest disappointment during this whole ordeal was that there was no brandy-barreled Saint Bernard coming to my rescue (according to Zurich Brother-in-Law, you only find these gentle giants on the slopes of the Berner Oberland; what, folks from Zurich don’t deserve a cuddly rescue?)

We didn’t take a camera along (I know how much readers would have enjoyed seeing my expressions of horror throughout that dreadful hour), but you can visit this site to get a sense of the awe, beauty, and fear: http://www.flumserberg.ch/winter/en/fun/galerie/Winter+Impressions/Ski-Snowboard.htm

Upon arriving home, we were able to enjoy yummy kosher brisket that Zurich Sister and Brother-in-Law specially acquired for our visit; Zurich Brother-in-Law could throw down with Flay; he’s quite the chef! It was a warm and hearty way to end a frightful (yet, ultimately fun) day.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Monday, February 2, 2009

BREAKING NEWS

February 1 - Arenzano, Italy

On a casual stroll about town this afternoon, I stepped into heavy fire--of silly string and shaving cream. Today was Carnevale, and young teenagers and pre-teens, some masked and costumed, others plainclothed, engaged in spruzzo combat. Informal, unorganized guerilla tactics prevailed as these young, primarily male fighters charged in packs through the alleys and piazzas of the historic Centro, ruthlessly covering each other in white, soapy foam. Shrieks and Italian curses rang loud. Excited conversation and intermittent quiet were also prevalent at times, especially in a designated parental safe zone down below. Rumors swirled about a preliminary procession through Arenzano, participants flaunting their attire. Caught in the crossfire, intrepid Martello set up a civilian outpost, whipped out his reporters notebook, and observed the events from a bench in Piazza David Chiossone. Details remain sketchy at this point; while not equipped with a camera, Martello did manage to capture some sense of the scene in the quick sketch posted below. However, more questions than answers remain--timeline, motivations, alliances, spruzzo suppliers, etc. As the story unfolds, look to this blog for more in-depth coverage.

Wandering Around Zurich Town

We awoke on our second full day in Zurich eager to tour historic sights. Our first scheduled stop was the Kunsthaus, which Trofie Wife had toured at length (after being scolded in German for not putting my coat in a locker) last January but which Martello was curious to see. Unfortunately, it’s closed on Mondays (and we thought it was just Sunday that was the problem in this place!). So instead we headed to the two major churches in town, the Fraumünster (featuring stained-glass windows by Chagall and Giacometti; see photo of outside of church below; sorry, no cameras allowed inside, but here are some links: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/switzerland/images/zurich/fraumunster/resized/chagall-windows-cc-al-lanni.jpg; http://www.pbase.com/emi_fiend/image/39213313) and the Grossmünster (http://www.sacred-destinations.com/switzerland/zurich-grossmunster.htm). We hiked up the creaky, narrow, wooden stairs of the Grossmünster tower (which would certainly be viewed as way too dangerous for two-way traffic in the United States) so that Martello could capture a lovely view of the city, while Trofie Wife stood far away from the edge and clung to the railings.

Fraumunster clocktower (those Swiss and their clocks!)


We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the Niederdorf neighborhood (the older part of the city, too much of which has receded into a cheesy, overpriced, tourist-attracting, bar-laden area) and weaving back and forth across the many footbridges, taking in one picturesque site after another.





With two trips to Zurich already behind her, Trofie Wife had still not tasted a proper fondue or raclette meal, so although I am lactose intolerant, I believed this was a necessary undertaking in order to fully understand Swiss culture. On my first visit in late 2006, Zurich Sister and I had nearly gone to Adler’s Swiss Chuchi on the advice of a friend, so I decided it was the best place in Zurich for Martello and me to have an authentic fondue/raclette experience. I really didn’t know, however, what the difference was between these two cheese delivery apparati prior to that meal (and I bet most readers don’t either). Fondue involves strangely-pronged, mutant forks and the fairly easy task of dipping bread or whole mini potatoes from a fairly large sack into a cauldron of bubbling cheese. Raclette, on the other hand, involves way more work. The waiter plugs a cheese grill into the wall and the diner then places her cheese (in my case, gouda) on the grill. When it seems melted enough, you use a spatula-like instrument to scrape it off the grill and onto your plate. I was given a whole assortment of things to throw the cheese on in addition to the potatoes and bread—onions, pickles, pears. (This is at least how we ate the raclette; it could be the totally wrong way to do it, which wouldn’t surprise me.) This meal was, of course, accompanied by a healthy dose of Lactaid® (that one’s for you, Johnson & Johnson Supplier). Yet there are some meals that even super duper fast-acting, enzyme replacing Lactaid® can’t handle—a risk that I was willing to take in order to check this culinary experience off my list. I just wasn’t ready for the ensuing results.

There are moments in one’s life where your actions can lead you to question your entire purpose for being. Changes in behavior so vast that you can’t look yourself in the mirror. Well, just an hour or so later, Trofie Wife had one of those (actually, it was two, which compounded the breakdown). First, while I had been eager to show Martello around Globus, the beautiful Swiss department store with a stunning basement-level gourmet food shop, I could not muster the energy, my stomach still weakened. While this turn of events disappointed me, Martello wasn’t similarly bummed, so it wasn’t a huge deal (since I had already made a dent in my savings there twice before). But what happened next gave me metaphysical whiplash. We made our way to the Sprungli flagship (remember, the one I couldn’t wait to visit?), and I could not motivate myself to select chocolate. Yes, you heard me correctly. I just couldn’t do it. I tried to find the year’s vintage chocolate bar but it didn’t seem to have been released yet, and I had no energy to select truffles. I grabbed one box of assorted carrés (dark chocolate squares filled with flavored nougat) and asked Martello if it was okay if we left. Let me repeat that in case you misunderstood: I ASKED MARTELLO IF IT WAS OKAY TO VOLUNTARILY EXIT A CHOCOLATE STORE!!! When we did go, I had to sit for a few minutes in order to compose myself. I was out of sorts. I believed that I had lost the essence of myself if I was incapable of gravitating towards dark chocolate. I was afraid that we’d have to use our health insurance for emergency choco-therapy sessions. Yet, thankfully, after some reassuring words from Martello, I felt better. Later that evening following dinner, I opened the carré box and just to make sure the problem was solved, I had two.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Swiss Underground (Wait, Aren’t They Neutral?)


On our first full day in Zurich, Martello and I slept in as late as our hosts (especially our mini hosts) would allow. We finally mustered ourselves to the Pain Quotidien around the corner where Zurich Sister eventually met us (after being relieved from duty) and then lead the way up the Dolderbahn (they just throw these funiculars all over the place in Europe!) and gave us a tour of the sporting facilities and newly-refurbished Dolder Grand Hotel (Foster and Partners=multiple photos; the place is rumored to charge over $800 a night—and I just verified that rumor; eek!).

After our descent, we parted from Zurich Sister and took a quick tram ride to the Stadelhofen train station. While it previously had only been known to me as the embarkation point for the airport train, it turns out that it was designed (with great fanfare) by Santiago Calatrava, which calls for lots of photographs (sorry, I didn't download those, but if you're really interested, visit http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/Stadelhofen_Railway_Stati.html). Trofie Wife stood in the cold while Martello shot every angle, nut, and bolt. She was rewarded for her patience with a hot pretzel with mustard from the ubiquitous chain, Bretzel Konig (sadly, no plain pretzel baguettes were available).

Much like the county of my youth (dreaded Bergen), Zurich runs on stiff Blue Laws that keep much of everything closed on Sunday. Italy—of Mass on Sunday— is actually a bit looser on these matters; some stores are open on Sunday, but the catch is that you have to wake up and get there before they close at noon (except for the grocery store in Voltri, blissfully open until 9 p.m. every night). Strangely, there is an exception in Svizzera for stores located beneath the earth, so many train stations are equipped with underground shopping malls. After the photo session ended, we descended to the station’s Sprungli chocolate store, a member of the chain that I had not yet visited. Sprungli, for those of you not in the know, is most likely the absolute best chocolate store in the world (and those of you who know me and my chocolate habit well clearly understand that I don’t throw around such a designation lightly). It’s a pristine monument to not only chocolate but pastries of every kind, particularly the delicate Luxemburgerli buttercream-filled macaroons (in such flavors as chocolate, mocha, and raspberry and which, Martello beware (and Zurich Brother-in-Law also be joyous!), I just found out can be shipped internationally…). Since I didn’t consider this small Sprungli to be a “real Sprungli” (like the flagship in the city center), I stuck to ordering only a small chocolate cake and a selection of Luxemburgerli (and saved the heavy-duty chocolate shopping for later in the week). Trofie Wife will have you all know that these purchases were shared amongst everyone with working teeth in the Freiestrasse apartment.



We arrived home just in time for pre-bedtime playtime. Martello and Frank Lloyd “I Don’t Yet Know My Left From My Right” got to work on the schematic for a new wooden structure, further proving that if people just learn to work together, we can overcome the greatest of differences (those being, allegiances to the Yankees in the former’s case and the Red Sox (note below actual red socks) in the latter).



After the kiddies (don't worry, we'll post shots of the other one in the coming days) were again tucked in, Zurich Brother-in-Law introduced us to the pleasures (especially when you have surround-sound speakers) of renting movies via iTunes. Zurich Sister and I went to bed with nightmares courtesy of The Dark Knight (clearly some fantastic acting from Heath Ledger, who actually died the last time I was in Switzerland). Stay tuned for news about “tomorrow” (which was really 12/29/08, but who’s really keeping track...).

Senf und bretzels,

Martello e Trofie Wife