Saturday, 29 September 2007

Apple Day

Yesterday was apparently Apple Day, which meant that farmers (or possibly not really, because I imagine they have better things to do. Strapping outdoorsy-looking and kinda hairy young men, in Aarau's case) were giving away apples at the train stations and on buses* and so on. The apple I had was the most delicious apple I have had in a long time**, so crispy and crunchy and not too sweet. Yum.

* The strapping/outdoorsy/hairy men weren't on the buses, actually. I saw only unmanned boxes of apples on the buses. The men were at the train station.
** With the possible exception of an apple I had at lunchtime yesterday, actually, which was in this weird salad that seemed to involve little except slices of Granny Smith and a bunch of mushed up avocado. Possibly some lemon juice or something as well, I suppose, because it hadn't browned at all. It was absolutely delicious, and kind of odd.

Not Very Blokey

Reto has taken to ordering lattes lately whenever we go out for coffee (which is all the time. And incidentally, a cafe latte is called a schale here), whereas I am sticking with my tried and true favourite, and formerly his as well, the kaffee creme (which is like a long espresso, I suppose, with an excellent little container of this thin cream stuff, or possibly really fatty milk if you want to look at it that way. The best thing is that the cream container always has some dorky picture on it, and it's always a bit exciting to see what you will get. The pictures come in themes that seem to hang around for a while before the next one appears. My favourite cafe here, Gossip, has had nothing but boring pictures of old-fangled coffee bean grinders for the last few months, but the art gallery cafe, which used to have the coffee grinders too, has moved on to pictures of dogs, so I am hoping that Gossip will also soon drag itself into a new age of cream as well. Because I go there far more than I go to the art gallery cafe). Practically without fail, I am given his coffee and he is given mine.

Apparently I am wearing the (coffee) pants in out relationship, and he's hopelessly girly.

Zurich Film Fest

Last night Reto and I inadvertently went to the Zurich Film Festival. I hadn't realised it had started yet or I'm sure we would have gone deliberately, but we had actually gone to Zurich to see another movie (and to waste time, because Reto has this exam of his on Monday and he is looking around for excuses not to study any more). Anyway, the film we had meant to see was only on dubbed into german, blahblahblah, so when we happened upon a ZFF programme we decided to go to the next thing that was on at that instead, which was (the world premiere of) this Austrian movie called Freundschaft. It was about a father and son discussing family and national politics relentlessly for an hour and a half (based on a play, which you could really tell from the intense wordiness of it all, the absence of other characters and action, and the total lack of importance of scenery), and which was all quite charming (although possibly better if you know more about Austrian politics).

Several things are worth noting. Firstly, the tickets were ludicrously expensive (21 francs each!), which is not really surprising but still worth being horrified by. Secondly, english really seems to be the main language of the ZFF, which I appreciate but I am still sort of outraged on behalf of Switzies. Freundschaft was obviously in german (with english subtitles), but the short film before it (which was this extremely explicit and funny cartoon about one girl's sexual (mis)adventures) was in english and had no subtitles. Reto saw a few things at the Fest last year and he says that one of the features he saw (as opposed to the short film before it) then was also in english and had no subtitles at all. Which, as I said, is appalling. And speaking of appalling, the subtitles were weird. The word "snafu" featured, as did "perdu". Pardon?

Thirdly, the movie theatre we were in had a flat floor (which has nothing to do with the Fest, but still). The seats were absolutely enormous (so much so that you couldn't really see the head of the person in front of you) and the screen was a fair way up in the air, so it was no problem seeing the screen, but it was still peculiar to be in a flat movie theatre. The only other times I can think of this happening were in places that aren't really movie theatres (such as the State Theatre in Sydney (although only if you sit in the Stalls, and even then the floor is gently slopy), or at the Inverell town hall when I was a kiddy and they used to show movies there once a fortnight because there was no movie theatre in town. Although, archaically enough, there was a drive-in. Which also had a flat floor). Weird.

There was no intermission (hurray). We did still have allocated seats, and ticket prices that depend on which seats you want, which I totally disapprove of, but the lack of intermission was good.

Possibly the funniest thing that happened was the entry of the festival jury (who were all sitting in the row in front of us), which involved them all turning up a bit late and the last one, who was sort of old and a bit unsteady on his feet, and who was still walking in as they turned the lights down so he probably couldn't see anything, inadvertently sitting on Dieter Meier (who seems to have done everything, including being a member of Yello, the only Swiss band you have ever heard of). Fortunately it seemed they had already been introduced and so it wasn't as awkward as it could have been, and the man took his own seat, not on top of Dieter Meier.

It was a nice evening. The film wasn't so great (Reto liked it far more than I did. I like the fact that I had no idea what it was going to be about before we went and saw it. Oh, and the short film was excellent) but I always enjoy a film fest experience, and this one didn't let me down. I think there will definitely be more of it next week...

Thursday, 27 September 2007

More Supermarket Adventures

As I was wasting time at Migros yesterday* I happened across a development in the chocolate section. It's dark chocolate (although only 55%) with lemon and pepper. "Hmm", I thought to myself, "that could be absolutely disgusting or it could be the most delicious thing ever". As it turns out it's pretty delicious, and really lemony, and it has little crunchy shards of something in it. It has inspired me to try the vanilla chocolate that is also new. And also to be a little bit sad that there isn't more innovation in the use of lavender as a flavouring agent. Sigh.

* Actually buying 3 different types of cheese. Honestly, our fridge is tiny tiny tiny (smaller than a bar fridge!) and there is hardly room for anything in it except cheese. And capsicums and zucchinis and grapes, all of which I am scoffing mountains of lately.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

On The Hustings

All the electioneering that is going on in Switz at the moment is kind of interesting. The blurbs we get in the mail are reliably entertaining (usually as a result of the funny photos of politicians trying to prove what normal people they are by being photographed with their binoculars (because they are such birdwatching fans, or because they are peeping toms?) or while cooking vast quantities of hearty Swiss fare (because they want to nourish the nation, or because they want us all to die of roesti-induced heart attacks?). Sometimes because of the rage-inducing racism, apparently, but we haven't got any of those here. Yet). People are enthusiastically embracing the poster vandalism, which I will probably bring you some photographic evidence of one day.

Now I hear that a website has been set up so that foreigners living here can (unofficially) vote in the elections too. Which I think is a great idea. Come on, everyone! Cast your pretend vote!

Tuesday, 25 September 2007


Unfair Assumptions Brought To Us By The World Of Swiss Cinema

Today I watched Nachbeben, a movie actually from this century (2006!) and it told me that Switzies are morally bankrupt, cruel and dishonest, but they are all rich and have really nice stuff.

It was about a bloke (HP) and his wife (Karin) and HPs best pal and business partner (Phillip) and his wife (Sue) and Phillip's business protégé (Toni) and the son of HP and Karin (Max) and Max's hot Danish nanny (Birthe. Although why Max needed a nanny was a bit of a mystery because he was at least 14 or so). They all got together for a barbeque at HP and Karin's super-fancy house, and then, in the manner of all those movies where a bunch of people go to someone's house, have a bit too much to drink and watch their lives fall apart, they all, unsurprisingly, had a bit too much to drink and watched their lives fall apart.

Nachbeben was an okay movie. I didn't like any of the characters much, and I thought that they sometimes did fairly inexplicable things, but their problems, although ludicrously predictable (who thinks someone was having an affair with the hot Scandy nanny? Anyone?), were interesting enough. I like these movies where all the action is contained within a certain space and time (like Peter's Friends, The Anniversary Party, The Big Chill etc. Or Festen, which I have somehow never seen. Incidentally, Nachbeben had a bit of a Dogma feel to it. The lighting was funny and the sound seemed to be a bit distant at times (although maybe that was just my computer) and the camera was quite wibbly occasionally. None of it in a bad way, more of a grainy realism kind of thing) and where, by the end of the party (or whatever) everything is out in the open but nothing is really fully resolved.

As it turns out, though, apparently no one else much cared for this movie (or possibly they had just seen it too many times already, because it really has been made a lot in the past). Reto had never even heard of it, and let's face it, if a Switzy who is reasonably interested in movies hasn't heard of it, then chances are that no one else in the world has either.

Die Schweizermacher

Carrying on my series of

Unfair Assumptions Brought To Us By The World Of Swiss Cinema

welcome to Die Schweizermacher.

Die Schweizermacher ("Swiss-makers") is about these two men whose job it is to interview and investigate people who have applied for Swiss citizenship (and in case you don't know, the Swiss are not really very enthusiastic about handing out passports willy nilly). The two main characters are Bodmer, who has been doing his job for years and is all grizzled and diligent and humourless, and his new young sidekick, Fischer, who has yet to learn to be quite as thorough and anal as Bodmer. Together they investigate an Italian man with a Swiss wife and children (and a wacky fondness for William Tell), a german psychiatrist and his wife, and a dancer of eastern-European origin who has lived in Switzerland all her life.

Die Schweizermacher is allegedly a satire, but as we all know, the Swiss have no sense of humour*, and so I shall consider the film as a documentary. Bearing that in mind, I'm not sure that we really learn anything new and surprising about Switzies. They are all nosy busybody types (like the neighbour of the dancer, Malena, who is only too pleased to report at length on Malena's fondness for distinguishing herself by using a brown garbage bag when everyone else in the building uses black), they are obsessively punctual, they expect the worst of foreigners (Bodmer looks through Malena's handbag when she is out of the room and steals from it what he suspects are drugs that she bought from her Turkish colleague but in reality is some sort of foot powder), they have appalling double standards (Bodmer tells Malena that she really should be married because Swiss life is all about family and children, but the middle aged Bodmer is single and lives with his mother). Oh, and once again we learn that the Swiss are not to be trusted with their guns and that they will probably do something insane with them (like the lunatic neighbour of Malena who shoots pigeons from his apartment window).

I really enjoyed Die Schweizermacher. Apparently it's one of the few Swiss movies that non-Swiss people have ever heard of (although it was made in 1978, so if you haven't heard of it you don't need to worry too much. I think it's heyday was a long time ago), and obviously when you watch it you realise that it is not a documentary. That being said, though, I do wonder how much truth there is behind it all, and I am inclined to suspect that a lot of the movie is more of an exaggeration of the truth rather than total fiction. It sort of reminds me of The Castle, actually, but obviously all the characters in The Castle were far nicer people than all the characters in Die Schweizermacher**. As you would expect.

* I am not only making Unfair Assumptions based on movies.
** I don't necessarily agree with this point, actually. I just felt obliged as a patriotic Australian to say it.

Friday, 21 September 2007

The Mysterious Julia

Something strange is going on (and I don't just mean me posting three posts in one day). This morning I noticed that someone else who lives on our floor had left a big tree branch outside their door. Not only this, but the branch had a piece of tape wrapped around the end of it, and on the tape was written "Julia". Hmm.

This afternoon I was out throwing away our old tins and things (oh, okay, empty wine and gin bottles) when I saw a woman and a little girl walking along, and the woman was carrying a big branch not unlike Julia. Then when I was coming back into our building I saw an oldish man trying to affix a huge branch to his bicycle, and then try to cycle off while maintaining some sort of dignity (which it's apparantly impossible to do).

UPDATE: I went out again later in the evening and was practically swamped by people lugging huge branches around, and home-made lanterns. As it turns out it was this, not just a bunch of crazies and tree-huggers out roaming the streets in a disorganised fashion, and then later on there were fireworks too.


Because I am a big fan of both movies and lame generalisations, welcome to the first exciting installment of

Unfair Assumptions Brought To Us By The World Of Swiss Cinema*

Yesterday I watched Höhenfeuer, a (Swiss) movie about a family living in an isolated house on a mountain. The parents are quite old, the mother has a bit of a religious mania, the daughter left for a while to go to school and study to be a teacher, but then she was brought back to teach the son, who is deaf. They never really see anyone, apart from the parents of the mother who live in a similarly isolated house on the next mountain, and who they can see only with the use of binoculars. This movie was two solid hours of dramatic scenery and meaningful looks, and very little dialogue. Actually, it was a lot better than I have made it sound, being chockablock full of complex personal relationships, wild scenery and claustrophobic atmosphere (which is a bit ironic given all the bracing open air and space to be found on an isolated mountainside).

To what unfair assumptions about the Swiss does Höhenfeuer lead us? Unfortunately, I think a lot of the potential lessons are not really Switzy-specific. There are things like "don't raise your children in weird isolation on top of a mountain and then be all surprised when they turn to each other for love and solace" and "being judgemental isn't really beneficial for anyone", but I don't know that you really need movies to tell you these things.

Perhaps the most (potentially) useful lesson that we can fandangle from the movie is "be careful what you say to a Switzy, because if it sends him into a mad rage he's probably only a few steps away from his gun which he keeps conveniently stashed behind the door/under the bed and which he would be perfectly content to use in order to satisfy his seething inner turmoil". And possibly also something about how being a family of semi-hermitty and potentially nuts mountain-dweller types isn't necessarily as "Heidi" as it's cracked up to be.

* Incidentally, because I am quite the movie buff and was for seemingly ever in a pesky international relationship with a Switzy, for a long time I looked all over the place for some Swiss movies to watch. The only one I ever found was this weird movie about a mad girl and some sort of big castley house and an inept assasin who was trying to kill her but kept on failing. I think there might have been some philosophising policement involved too, and a lot of fog, but I am not really sure any more. Happily the local library here seems to have a clutch of arty and aging Switzy movies (complete with english subtitles, yay) for my generalising pleasure. Oh, and I also realise that it's not really "world" of cinema if it's only Swiss, but quit your nitpicking, I say. Plus a "world of Swiss cinema" sounds much more statistically valid than "the three or four Swiss movies to be found at the Aargauische Kantonsbibliothek".

Hello Autumn

Finally it's autumn. It even feels like autumn. I saw a squirrel frolicking in a tree the other day, trying to hide what seemed to be an discarded sandwich crust. Reto was attacked by some walnuts that were blown out of their tree by a gust of wind (he then brought them home and gave to me and I ate them. Aah, sweet revenge). I saw a father/daughter team grubbing around in some shrubbery. Reto suggested they might have been collecting chestnuts. This is all very topsy-turvy-Enid-Blyton-style alterno-world, but I'm sure they are all good solid signs of autumn. In this backward hemisphere, anyway. Plus leaves are turning funny colours and/or falling off trees, and it was all cold and foggy this morning, and I have recently been considering turning the heating on in our flat because it's starting to get quite cold at night. Although possibly that is because I always insist on having all the windows open. Anyway, hello autumn.

My official aims for the season are to 1) eat a whole lot of fondue on the balcony (I am going to wait until it is properly cold before I do this. For some reason being freezing seems to help the cheese-digesting process), and 2) come up with the perfect gluhwein recipe. Happily, both of these aims seem extremely achievable.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Happy Birthday Annette!

Happy birthday, Annette! I hope your party was excellent!

Friday, 14 September 2007

Assorted Thoughts From Today

1. I really like paprika chips. I don't like any chips at all, but I absolutely love paprika chips. I could eat them all day. Oh, and corn chips too, but only really in a nacho-related setting.

2. I have some magical psychological link with F. Murray Abraham. I borrowed some movies from the library the other day, and, coincidentally, the two english-languagey ones both had F. Murray Abraham as the baddie. Spooky.

3. No, that's all.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Not Summer

Well, because these crazy Europeans don't know their arses from their elbows (sorry, Europeans, but you can't deny it) it's still summer (until the 20th), but it's kind of freezing outside (in the sense that when I go outside these days I tend to wear socks and a jumper as well as all the rest of it), Migros is full of pre-packaged fondue cheese (mmm, cheese) and the autumn seasonal yoghurt (wildberry, grape and something else which I think is apricot. That is three separate yoghurts, by the way) and I am constantly tempted to spend all my time in a nice warm bath.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

No Wonder It's Hard To Find Jeans That Are Long Enough

As it turns out I am far taller than I used to be (and when I say that I mean taller than I was when I was 18, not taller than I was when I was a baby). I think that the last time I actually checked how tall I was was in the dwindling days of high school and now, a decade or so later, I find that I am 3cm taller (which I suspect may be due solely to improvements in posture rather than any sort of belated growth). Well, given that I measured myself by putting a packet of blu-tack on my head (to make a straight line to the wall so I could draw a mark on it) and then measuring the distance with a 10cm-long set square (apparently the only measuring device we have) it probably wasn't as accurate as it could have been, but it feels right. By which I mean it feels as though Reto is getting shorter and shorter. Sigh.

Howard Out (of switzerland)

Oh, and then there's this version of the SVP poster (one of many that I found while googling idly the other day). I presume the dude is supposed to be Christoph Blocher from the SVP, but don't you think he bears a striking resemblance to our own proud leader*?

* I mean John Howard, for those of you who are UnAustralian.

My Two Cents

I've decided to get on the wagon that was quite popular a little while ago among foreign people in Switz with blogs (and which is now becoming more popular in the international press) and complain about politics. I realise that this is really repetitive and behind the times for everyone in Switz, but I think that basically everyone who reads my blog is Australian (plus you, Danish Nick, but you may perhaps consider yourself Australian for the purposes of this post), so prepare yourself for something shiny and new and unheard-of.

The SVP is a popular right-wing political party here (they hold more seats than any other party in the lower house of parliament, apparently. I don't know how it all works here though, so I can't really tell you what that means except that lots of people vote for them. Although not really that many. Apparently about 25% of voters vote for the SVP). Earlier in the year they caused a bit of a brouhaha when they, along with some other party here, tried to have minarets banned, apparently on the grounds that building them diminished people's freedom of religion. Hmm. So perhaps it should not have come as too much of a shock when, a month or two ago, the SVP posted out a pamphlet with this image on it:
and a blurb about how foreigners in Switzerland who commit crimes (like murder, rape, drug-related crime, ripping off the social security system etc) should be kicked out of the country (which on its own doesn't seem entirely unreasonable), and if they are under 18 then any family members of theirs who live in Switz should be given the boot too (!).

In case these ideas are too complex or boring for you to bother thinking about, or if you don't like to vote on something before you have had a chance to really absorb the details via the medium of computer gaming, the SVP has a website that helps you to understand the heart of the issue. Yes, why not play a game where you (Zottel the slightly deranged-looking goat who is apparently the mascot of the SVP) have to simultaneously catch the Swiss passports before they fall into the wrong (=foreign) hands, kick the pesky judge out of the way when he appears (because his evil aim is apparently to make all the dastardly foreigners Swiss) and headbutt the loopy greenie who is just throwing passports out willy-nilly out of the way? Not so much to your taste? Well why not try the one where you have to headbutt the black sheep that are trying to sneak across the border (aided once again by the greens, as you will note from the writing on the buses) back to whatever Loser Country they came from? Fun for the whole family!

Happily it seems that this campaign has been poorly recieved by just about everyone, and whenever you see one of these posters they have usually been heavily defaced
(which says something along the lines of "nazis choose the SVP"). A vegetarian restaurant in Zurich also apparently made an alteration to their menu (in cartoon form only, but it's the thought that counts. And that is Zottel the SVP goat, in case you are confused)
More recently I saw this poster

in the train station in Aarau (it's a campaign poster for some local SVP candidate). Happily it was also graffitied into illegibility and then taken down (and is apparently now the subject of an investigation into the possible breach of anti-racism laws).

So there you go. Switzerland. It's not just cows and watches and idyllic countryside.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Flooding And Not

As I said I would some time in the far distant past, I am putting up some comparative shots of the river here (the Aare), when it was in flood (in August) and now (when it seems to be lower than normal, but if I don't mention that it will make it all the more dramatic).

(looking upstream towards the footbridge to bird island. Incidentally, that's not the real name of the island, and I'm only putting these captions in to break up the photos in a sensible manner)

(standing on bird island and looking down the river)

(the overflow from the electricity station)

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Mysteries At Migros

Why is it that checkout chicks here all seem to be obsessed with tying knots in my little plastic bags of fruit and veg, and with putting a piece of sticky tape on my receipt? Sometimes they don't even stick the sticky-taped receipt onto anything else! They just chuck it on my pile of stuff and then it sticks randomly to everything/nothing/itself in my environmentally sustainable cloth bag that I always take with me to the shops. What is the purpose of the sticky tape? Do they think I need it so I can keep the receipt carefully attached to my carton of milk for tax purposes? What's going on?

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Blatant Un-Swissiness

The non-Swissiest place in all of Switzerland (for I have searched far and wide, people. You'll just have to take my word for it) is the local secondhand bookshop in Aarau. They have signs up saying how much things cost, but these signs are not to be believed. They just make things up as they feel like it. Recently when I was there I bought 2 paperbacks for something like 5 francs in total. Then yesterday I went again and I bought 4 paperbacks and a hardcover (which, according to the sign, should cost about 1 franc more than a paperback) and it came to a grand total of 6 francs. These people are reckless!

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Surprising Aarau

Something funny was going on in Aarau yesterday. I wandered down into the town and found that in addition to the markets (fruit and veg and flowers) that are there every Saturday, and the flea markets that are on once a month or so, there were also several streets blocked off to allow shops to set up outdoor stalls to sell stuff, there were at least two lots of organised musical performance, there were people everywhere, and there was a skateboardy type shop that seemed to be having its grand opening and was giving away glasses of champagne. Reto and I went to the cigar shop to have a coffee (!strange, but it has nice outdoor seating) and shortly after we sat down these dudes started breakdancing on the footpath across the street (which was really, really impressive), which then sort of turned into breakdancing in the street and holding up traffic (which was also great).

On the way home some woman who seemed to be doing something promotional with these cigarette/cigar combo things offered us a free sample. Surely that sort of thing should be illegal (as in giving away free samples of addictive/lethal items)? I was outraged. Reto didn't seem to care.