Saturday, 28 April 2007


I have discovered the best pizza in the whole world. There's this dude with a van and he turns up sometimes and parks in the middle of town, and suddenly his van thing is transformed into a pizza shop. He has all his toppings and his pre-made dough there, and he takes orders from customers (up to 10 or so at a time, which is all his oven and table space allows), and you watch him make the pizzas there in front of you. He shapes the dough out into pizza shapes, and he puts all the ingredients on all the different pizzas, and he puts all the pizzas in his oven, and he cooks them all to perfection, and he takes everyone's money, and he cleans up his table space ready for the next lot, and he takes all the pizzas out of the oven and garnishes them up and slices them and distributes them, and it all happens in the space of 10 minutes or so. And he never has to confirm anything or ask people again what they have ordered, and really, the end result is fantastically delicious.

Aah, pizza man, how I love you.

Friday, 27 April 2007

UnHappy Hour

The other night Reto and I went to the pub. Typically, this would involve getting there in time for happy hour, fighting to find a seat, doing abysmally badly at the quiz, complaining about all the smoke and then going home. This time it was slightly different.

We got there and I went to the bar. I ordered two beers. The bartender gave them to me, and he said "that'll be 17.40". I said "but isn't it happy hour?", and he said "no, it's been cancelled". And so I handed over a 20, he gave me 2 francs back and I was outraged. I mean, I know how much beer costs here, but I was expecting it to be half that price, and for him to assume the rest of my change was a tip without even giving me the option of handing it back to him after he had handed it back to me seems a bit presumptuous. And for those of you who don't know, 18 francs over here equals about $18 over there, give or take. And for those of you who have no grip on reality whatsoever, that's a lot for two beers. And how can happy hour be cancelled??

Happily, though, no happy hour meant fewer patrons, which mean that the dart board was free, which meant that Reto and I had the chance to try to play a game of Round The World With Morten Dingstad (a ridiculously confusing version of "round the world" that Reto and I invented a few years ago, and have consequently kind of forgotten the finer details of. Incidentally, wikipedia tells me that "round the world" is actually called "round the clock". Hmm). It also meant that we had fewer people to beat in trivia, but sadly we failed to win that when Reto let us down abysmally in the sport round (as if I can be expected to know who won some mysterious Swiss soccer competition last year, or where some hockey thing is being held next year. As if I even know to assume that "hockey" means ice hockey).

I would end on a high note and say "better luck next time" or something to that effect, but apparently trivia is a seasonal sport here, and it's not coming back until autumn. Weirdos.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Maybe I'll Just Grow It Instead

I really need a haircut. Happily, Aarau is the town for this, because with a population of something like 15 000, it has a grand total of 52 (!) hairdressing salons! So really the only thing standing in my way is how to say "yeah, just kind of shorter and less messy, but not too short, and really low maintenance so I don't have to do anything much to it, and ... oh, whatever" in german.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Sandwich Conspiracy

From time to time I go out for lunch with Reto. We usually meet at 12.30pm. If it's a nice day and we decide to have a sandwich in the park, by the time we get there (which is about 5 minutes later) it's almost impossible to actually find a shop that still has any sandwiches left (except the dodgy looking mystery-salami ones which no one in their right mind would eat). What is going on? Does everyone have lunch at noon or something? Isn't this ridiculously early?

Back in the olden days when I was a usefully employed member of society I used to have lunch at about 1.30pm, if not later. I was having breakfast by about 7am, and dinner probably at about 7pm, so lunch at 1ish made sense, and even later made even more sense because it made the afternoon seem that much shorter. What is going on with all these crazy Swiss, then? Do they start work that early (my poll of one, Reto, says no. He usually manages to get there by 8am, but even then he doesn't ever have breakfast before 7am)? Do they not eat breakfast at all (poll of one says no again)? Is it some sort of race to get the best sandwiches? Do organised people sneak out at morning tea time and buy up all the delicious ones, and then sensibly go to the park to eat them at 1.30pm when the crowds have thinned?

Sunday, 22 April 2007


In an effort to combine the admirable features of being a little bit more civilised and of drinking more, Reto and I have added the excellent feature of cocktail hour to our household. After a few practice runs on the previous weekend, we had our official inaugural drinking frenzy, I mean civilised drink on the balcony, last Friday evening. We had excellent heavy glasses, we had gin, we had tonic, as had slices of lemon, we had ice cubes (no small thing in this country, where as it turns out it’s hard to buy an ice cube tray. After a long and fruitless search of Aarau for this very thing though, I got home and realised we already had one, in the freezer, full of ice). Not only this, we had the pleasantly setting afternoon sun, we had the strains of the accordion as played by the woman over the road who seems to like to sit in her garden and practice (which might seem as though it should be horrible, but I really enjoy it. Think more Amelie soundtrack than lunatics and Germans), and we had blini with smoked salmon, crème fraiche and dill.

It was all ridiculously upmarket and fancy until we got a bit carried away, finished half the bottle of gin and ended up sprawled all over the place like a couple of drunks. Aah, the fun of being a sporadic drinker.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

A Grisly Hello To Summer

Yesterday, in an abysmal display of apathy and hopelessness, I failed to go to Zürich to watch a snowman be set on fire.

Yes, it's sechseläuten time of year, which means that Zürich goes on holiday, there is much parading and dressing up, and then a snowman effigy is set alight and watched eagerly until his head explodes. This snowman bit is the focal point of it all, and it involves a huge bonfire, a pretend snowman (called the böögg, and described in Wikipedia as a "rag doll", but it seems a lot more slow-burning than that) perched atop the bonfire and stuffed full of explosives, and a stopwatch. The idea is that the time from when the böögg's pyre is lit and when his head explodes is taken as some indication of what the coming summer will be like (a quick time means a long, hot, dry summer, a long time means a rainy short summer).

Happily, for slackers such as myself, it's all shown on telly. It took 12 minutes or so for the böögg's head to explode, which apparently bodes an average sort of summer (although Reto tells me that he read something recently which said that research shows there is no correlation between the time taken for the head to explode and the quality of the summer, which is too bad, because I like a nice ordinary, non-hot summer).

My impression of it all, possibly because I was in a bad sort of mood while I was watching it, is that it was a bit much like some sort of public burning-at-the-stake for my liking (although apparently a fairly historically inaccurate attempt). The crowd of people gathered around, the smoke and flames creeping ever higher, the enthusiasm with which we all watched and waited for the grisly end. If only I had brought some knitting.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Everyone's A Critic

You know how they occasionally make school kiddies participate in projects aimed at making the local area more "beautiful"? Yesterday Reto and I went to his sister's place, which is in the general vicinity of one of Reto's former schools. There is an unattractive tunnel near the train station that apparently Reto and his school colleagues were each allocated a section of to paint. Having seen the section that Reto painted, I don't think it is unreasonable to say that art might not be his one true talent, but I also think that the graffitist who wrote "Alles ist Scheisse" over the top of it was probably being a bit harsh.

Saturday, 14 April 2007

Spring Has Sprung

These crazy sun-starved Europeans are really into summery weather. I first noticed this in Norway, when it seemed the entire population would leave work in the afternoon, go to parks, take most of their clothes off and then lie around in the sun until it went away (which in the height of summer was never. Which may go some way towards explaining why Norwegians have such serious tans). One of the more wackily appealing traits of Norwegies is that they are really into these little portable barbeque things, and so they would all be there in parks in the summer, semi-naked and eating sausages until the small hours. Interestingly, I once read somewhere that Norwegians eat more hot dogs than anyone else in the world, which doesn't seem at all surprising when you stroll around Frogner Park on a summer's evening. And apparently It's Canadians who eat all the doughnuts.

Anyway, spring has sprung and even though there is a dearth of Scandies with sausages, it is really noticeable that winter has gone. There are flowers galore (and I do mean galore), and I keep getting sunburnt, and people are wearing sandals and shorts and no coats (actually, today I went outside without a jacket for the first time since I arrived here), and all the restaurants and cafes in Aarau have now got their outdoor seating in full swing. Actually, it's quite nice because the streets in the main part of town are car-free and so there are tables in the streets and flowerpots and people dawdling around, and it's all really summery and pleasant.

All of this outdoor loveliness means that you can't walk through the town at busy times without running into someone you know (which is really something, considering I hardly know anyone here), and everyone seems somehow friendlier. Every time I go out for lunch with Reto we spot at least a handful of his colleagues, all smiling and waving and wishing us en guete, and people are sharing park benches and throwing bits of their sandwiches to the birds that flock around and so on. Even the waitress in the cafe that we usually have coffee at has become far friendlier in the last week or so.

More interesting is that whenever I am wandering around town without Reto, stray men inevitably flirt with me. I suspect this might be weather-related, because it didn't happened so much before last week. The charm of it all is that because they are always speaking in german or swiss german or whatever, I have no idea what is going on and can therefore convince myself that it is something charming and witty and excellent, instead of being sadly shown that they are oiks yelling "oi love, show us yer tits then", as oiks so often do.

Of course maybe I am just flattering myself and they are not flirting with me at all. Maybe they are smiling and winking suggestively, but yelling "get out of our country, you messy-haired, laundry-rule-flouting foreigner". Hmm.

Friday, 13 April 2007

Black Holes And Quark

It seems that the building where Reto and I live is just too good a place to leave. Ever.

Yesterday, as I was angrily doing some laundry, I was accosted by an aging neighbour. I like to discourage conversation in the laundry room because there's no escape, and it's inevitably confusing and scary and heavily garbled (because it's in german, people. Do try to keep up), but this woman would not take no for an answer (not that I actually said "no" at any point; I just looked like a startled bunny the whole time). Anyway, once the conversation progressed to the point where she realised I speak abysmal german and it was all going to be a huge struggle for us both (which incidentally was a very small distance from the initial "grüezi"), I had hoped she would leave me alone with my laundry and my silent solitude (god, how depressing) but no, her interest was piqued and suddenly she wanted to know all about me. This included where I am from, who I live with, what floor we live on, how many rooms we have and how long we have been living here. If she had been younger I might have suspected her of being some sort of undercover immigration officer there to grill me and throw me out of the country, but I think her point might have been that she wanted to tell me that she had been living in her flat (5th floor, 3 rooms) for 25 years. Which struck me as strange conversation. And also as a long time. Actually, I was surprised that the building was that old.

Later in the day I was in the lift with Reto when another elderly neighbour got in with us. Interestingly, but not relevantly, he was very, very short. Anyway, he and Reto made a bit of polite chitchat while I smiled inanely, and apparently (I later discovered) he told Reto that he has been living in his flat (10th floor, undisclosed number of rooms) for 40 years. Lordy.

Why do people keep telling me this stuff? Are they trying to warn me that we have inadvertently moved into some sort of bizarro vortex thing that we will never get out of? Am I going to live here forever? I mean, Aarau is okay, and our flat has some amount of charm, but 25 years? 40? Really?

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Catch Of The Day

The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, my sunburn is receding and I am sick.

Somehow, it seems, all the (semi-)relentless holidaying I have done for the last 2 weeks has left me weak and vulnerable, and now I am getting my revolting revenge on Reto for making me put up with his recent-ish bout of incessant coughing and spluttering and nose-blowing. Yes, I have a cold, and now I am the one creating seas of snotty tissues, I am the one waking up in the night to cough and snort and whinge, I am the one who lolls in bed all day and is waited on hand and foot.

Possibly surprisingly, Reto is doing quite a good job of the nurse-maiding. He came home especially at lunch time yesterday to drop off an emergency delivery of Vicks, he made chicken noodle soup last night (admittedly from a packet, but whatever), he has been force-feeding me oranges, and aside from the odd bout of yawning, he hardly complains at all about the constant interruptions to his sleep that come from me waking up every half hour or so to blow my nose and cough up phlegm. What a sweetheart.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Olivia - Wackily Endearing. Or Possibly Just Wacky

Reto and I headed to Montreux over the Easter long weekend, hoping for a relaxing time and some pleasant scenery. We stayed with my friend Olivia who I know from the bad old days in Australia when I was employed and therefore wasn't free to sleep in until lunch time every day, and then spend the afternoons wasting time on the internet.

As it turns out, Olivia's 'sensibly employed' Australian persona was all a bit of a con and in fact she is kind of bonkers. One of the first people we met (and I use that term loosely) was Foster the pig:
Foster isn't just some garden-variety Swiss pig. He was brought, deliberately, all the way from Australia as hand luggage. Admittedly he is extremely squashable, and Olivia likes to pretend that he doubles as a pillow on aeroplanes, but frankly I suspect that Fostie would never have to suffer the indignity of having a tired head smush him into the shoulder of a stranger in economy class. Actually, I think that Fostie is to Olivia what my parents' cat Sammy is to my parents. Sometime I think my parents treat Sammy better than they treat me (for example - no one ever gets me a birthday present any more, but Sammy routinely gets prawns on his birthday).
Fosty may be adorable but he is not particularly self sufficient, so one afternoon when Olivia was busy carousing around town, Reto and I forced her to let us babysit him (which I suspect she didn't really want us to do because she didn't think we would keep him out of trouble):
Apart from assorted Fosty-related fun and revelling in all the english-speaking with someone who is doing practically the same sort of stuff I am doing, we mainly spent the weekend walking around the shore of Lake Geneva and eating ice cream. Olivia and I had a brief adventure on a pedalo (a pedal-powered boaty thing) on the lake.We made a small attempt to go to the Olympic museum in Lausanne, which ended up only really involving walking around the gardens and the shop there and not actually going into the museum itself (I might like the Olympics, but really, I'm not that interested in sport that I am willing to pay to find out about it). We all ate a huge amount of scary looking easter eggs, we loafed around a lot, we slept in a lot, and we all managed to avoind being killed by the ceiling in Olivia's flat (which is kind of falling down). We were entertained by the excellent garden-based statues in Montreux (Montreux being home to the well known jazz festival, hence the musical garden sculpture theme). I made two attempts to steal books from youth hostels, only to be met with failure both times (there was nothing on offer at all in Vevey, and the best I could find in Montreux was christian propaganda about a Chinese communist who found Jesus, but not even at Easter was that particularly appealing).
All in all it was a really lovely weekend, but be warned, people. If you ever find yourself in possession of small children, think twice before you let Olivia be in charge of them because she may well entrust them to other (untrustworthy) people to look after, use them as pillows on planes, or coerce them into potentially dangerous (yet entertaining) photo opportunities.

(No animals were harmed during the making of this post. None that are actually alive, anyway. Fosty survived mostly unmangled)

Friday, 6 April 2007

Good (Boring) Friday

Who would have thought that Boring Wednesday would be so controversial? As it turns out I was persuaded by the enthusiasm of everyone's comments to look into it myself (through minimal google-based research), with the outcome that I have decided to thumb my nose at this European snobbery for washing clothes in warm water. Frankly, the only advantages of that method that I can see are that germs might be killed if the water is hot enough (which it won't be, and really, as if I care about germs anyway. As if I haven't survived, nay flourished, for almost 30 years swaddled daily in apparently germ-coated clothes), that greasy stains are more readily removed in hot water, and that your clothes might all shrink and fade and generally be ruined (which might be an advantage if you want to make space in your closet for a bunch of new clothes. Since I'm an unemployed quasi-shop-a-phobic, I can't see how this might be an advantage for me).

And so I have decided to henceforth re-dedicate myself to the cold water approach. It's more environmentally friendly, apparently no worse in terms of making your clothes clean or getting the stains out (as long as you haven't been rolling around in grease or butter, which as far as I am aware I haven't), and it doesn't make anything fade or the colours run.

The only thing that stands in my way now is the fact that apparently the washing machines here won't let me fulfill my laundering dreams of environmental consciousness. It seems that on a normal wash, the lowest temperature I can get is 30 degrees. Sigh.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

We Couldn't Be Heroes

When Reto and I were in Nice we saw a woman have her handbag stolen. Well, we didn't actually see it, but we saw her thief for the evening running down the street towards us (and also towards his getaway accomplice lurking on an idling motorbike just behind us), and then we saw her running after him yelling "Stop him! He's got my handbag!".

Reto and I stood and goggled.

The woman whose handbag it was (elderly-ish English tourist and female friend of similar age) caught up in time to see the motorbike sputter off, and to make stiff-upper-lip type comments within our hearing about how it was only money. She and her friend walked off and Reto and I were left to contemplate.

I've always thought of myself as the useful type who would stick a leg out or give a well-timed shove at the crucial moment and trip the thief/assailant, thus preventing his getaway and saving the day (I'm sure in this little scene there are always other useful types around who can then restrain said assailant and save me from having to rely on my own strength or agility), but apparently I am not that type after all. I'm sure we have all the usual excuses of how quickly it all happened, and how it took a moment to realise what was going on and by then it was too late, and those are legitimate excuses, but I still felt a bit crap about my total lack of assistance.

The strap of the handbag was flailing out to the side as he ran, and I was close enough that I could have easily reached it. The thief himself was within arm's reach of me. I could have easily done something, and the fact that I am not really sure what that might have been, nor what the consequences of that might have been, is not really much consolation.

Contemplating on what could have happened differently occupied most of our conversation for the rest of the night. We both felt bad for not doing anything. Was the woman disappointed that we didn't help? Was she surprised? Would she have been more annoyed or less if we had apologised for not helping (maybe she excused our inaction because she thought we didn't understand what she was yelling)? Why didn't we do anything? What could we have done? Would the thief's interests have been more in fighting back and keeping the bag (if we had tried to grab it back from him) or in getting away? Would he have retaliated against us if we had have done anything? What was he stealing it for anyway? How would we have felt if we were the ones robbed (Reto had already lost his credit card by that point so he would have had less to lose than me, grr)? Would it have made it worse if two able-bodied bystanders had stood around watching and not helping?

I don't know what any of the answers are, but I did give my handbag more thought after that. I just hope I don't one day turn into one of those people who wears a money belt.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

[Insert Moronic "Nice" Pun Here]

Reto and I spent the last four days on holiday in Nice. We were planning to go somewhere, and, after much arguing, we decided to go to wherever we could get the cheapest flight. Nice won with a ludicrously low price, but we were both secretly disappointed that we didn't get to go to Madrid instead.

Nice was nice, though. Assorted high/low/interesting points follow, in no particular order, illustrated with photos of dubious relevance:
  • Owing to a very early flight on Saturday morning we stayed with my friend Cecile in Basel on Friday night. This involved, among other things, eating lots of excellent raclette, which is always entertaining. Aah, cheese;

  • I was the only person on the entire flight who had any difficulty at the airport! I had to fill in customs forms and then re-queue and be asked questions and be quizzed on whether I live in Norway or not! Damn those Australian passports;

  • Reto lost his bank card thing within about half an hour of getting off the plane in France. Really, it was a Saturday morning and the bank in question apparently didn't open again until Tuesday morning, the day we were coming home, so guess who had to pay for everything? It all seems a little bit too convenient, if you ask me;

  • We had bad luck with buses. We missed them, we caught the wrong ones, we were kidnapped by an angry bus driver with an ipod who wouldn't let us out until we got to the airport (which was about 15 minutes past where we wanted to go). On the up side, I suppose we saw more stuff than we would have otherwise, and without the bother of having to walk too far;

  • I was verbally assaulted by mean waiters. Sigh;

  • The whole of Nice seems to be currently under construction. Around every corner was more scaffolding, more machinery, more noise of digging and building and destruction, more of whatever noise putting down new tram tracks makes, more repaving and painting and so on. All of which made for a lot of noise and a lot of piles of dirt and a lot of taking of detours;

  • Nice and surrounding areas seem to be the other home of Australian flora. I haven't seen so many gum trees in ages;

  • I discovered that I have less moral fortitude than I imagined (see another post, possibly tomorrow's), or possibly just that I am a bit of a wimp;

  • Monaco is excellent. There is really something to be said for these ludicrously rich tax-haven countries in terms of the loveliness of the surroundings. The beaches there have a far better quality of stones on them (not sand, but not the enormous rocks that you find in boring downmarket Nice either. In Monaco it's more like gravel, but pleasant rounded wave-worn gravel). The streets are pleasantly free of dog poo (also in contrast to downmarket Nice). The boats and the cars are ludicrously fancy (I don't care at all, but even I was happy to stand around gawking. It was also interesting to see how many smart cars and minis there were among the ferraris and lamborghinis outside the casino, which I suppose may have been a stab at environmental friendliness, or possibly people admitting that it's impossible to keep up with the Monaco Jonses).People who don't seem to be working wear suits, or at least blazers and nice shoes with their jeans*. I didn't witness any crime in Monaco, and no one yelled at me. Sadly I got sunburnt there, and kind of exhausted from walking up and down all the ridiculously steep hills, and worn out from following all the rules (don't walk on the grass! Don't have picnics! Don't litter! Don't touch anything!) but it was sooo much fancier than Nice. Kind of like Switzerland, actually, but in a far better way, hahah;

  • I saw Australians for the first time in months. They (we) were everywhere, although not as much as English people were;

  • I ate some unbearably delicious food. The description of which is hardly likely to do it justice, so you can just take my word for it; and

  • Also interesting was my discovery that apparently salade niçoise isn't supposed to have boiled potatoes in it. Weird, because I have never before seen it without them. Also, apparently it has celery in it.

* This "blazers with jeans" look was endearingly reminiscent of my former boss who, on many occasions when he has to dress up, favours the nautical blazer look. You'd fit right in in Monaco, Bob!


I was reading one of those crappy free newspapers that you get on trains yesterday and there was a small article about Australia's abysmal stance on climate change. The article featured a quote from Australia's prime minister, John Harvard. hee hee.