Saturday, 29 December 2007

Best Christmas Cracker Joke

What does an auctioneer need to know?

Ha! My future brother-in-law, who is English, managed to procure some ludicrously expensive Christmas crackers. Apparently Switzies are generally not familiar with them, so it was really lovely to see how long people wore the hats for and how seriously everyone took the jokes.

Friday, 28 December 2007

Far Out

Reto and I went on a sentimental trip down memory lane today (back to Aarau to return all our library books before we zip off to Aus) and while we were there we discovered that the library has turned into a spaceship! It has been being revamped since early November or so, and has just reopened with it's new spacey look. It's all whiteness and windows and wacky lighting (that leaves excellent patterns on the floor) and the seats are like puddles of mercury or something (red ones, but still. Maybe just puddles, actually) and the bookshelves are .. well, they're just bookshelves, but they're round and kinda spacey too. And there's a designated eating type room and I went in there and even though I didn't actually eat anything, if I had it would have been like EATING IN SPACE (minus the zero gravity floating stuff). It was super.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

More Of An Authority Than I Realised

I feel bad about it (it seems vaguely like spying), but as you may recall I have one of those stat counter things on my blog and every now and then I have a squiz at what it's doing. The most interesting thing about it, as far as I can tell, is to see what words people used to find my blog.

Lately, it seems, I am popular with people searching for information on "naked stretching" (two separate searches from different search engines on different days. Interestingly, naked yoga came up in the book I am reading at the moment but that is the extent to which I consider myself an expert on the subject. Or even remotely informed, actually), with people who want to know how to pronounce things (specifically löwe, bräu, gesundheit and philistine) and with someone who looked up "swiss whips lenzberg". Hmm.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Christmas Review

Well, apart from this having been the Worst Christmas Ever for reasons I don't particuarly wish to go into here, it was actually quite an okay Christmas. We ate a bunch (apparently the Switzies choose meat wrapped in pastry at this time of year. My Switzies do, anyway), we drank a bunch, we sat around a bunch, we slept in a bunch. Reto and I got up strangely early one morning and went to church, which was strange*, and then today, a day late, it snowed.

It was all quite nice, but it seems to me that unless we are all sitting around and eating a lot of stone fruit (peaches and cherries, mmm) and peeling prawns and making about 18 types of salad and complaining about the heat, it's just not very Christmassy.

* I come from a non-churchgoing background and didn't know what to expect. Reto was explaining it all to me a bit before the service started, and at the very last second (just as the curtain went up or the dude came out or whatever it is that signifies the start of these things) he said to me "oh, and there might be some hand-shaking at some point". I goggled at him and whispered "hand shaking??", picturing some sort of wacky rural Swiss catholic-shaker crossover cult thing, but as it turned out all he meant was that I might have to shake hands with some people. Which was far less exciting and bloggable than it could have been.

He's So Furry

What a furry little cutie he is with his paunchy bottom and his innocent expression.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Christmas Disagreement

In spite of my total lack of religious knowledge, tonight I had an argument with someone (several people, actually) about the alleged date of Jesus' birth. I don't think I have ever heard anyone suggest it was any time other than the 25th of December, but now apparently the 24th of Dec has been thrown into the ring, and now that I look at Wikipedia I see that any time between October and January, or maybe May or August, is also arguable.

Did anyone else know that this is controversial?

No Snow, But ...

... look what it looks like here! Grimly grey and depressing, yes, but for the last few days there has been relentless frost that never melts and just gets frostier every day. It's really lovely, actually, because it's so much more delicate and interesting-looking than snow.

It also means that it's ridiculously freezing, to the extent that I might not go outside again until it becomes absolutely essential (which really means for a week and a half, which is when I leave for Australia! Hello summer!). I'm pretty sure there's enough food in the house to sustain me..

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Year In Review

Well, that's that practically over, and what to show for it?

2007 was my year of the Grand Romantic Gesture (or GRG as I used to enjoy saying), and I suppose that part worked out quite nicely. I flung away the trappings of my old life in a ridiculously cavalier gesture and rushed off to some loopy country on the other side of the world to live with my pretend boyfriend. And then he proposed to me on the Eiffel Tower and now we spend our time arguing romantically about where we should get married and whose surname (if anyone's) is prettier*.

I read a bunch. And I also kept a list of everything I read, which it is surprisingly interesting to look back on. Sadly I only managed to read one more book from the Angus and Robertson top 100 books list thingy (The Book Thief, which was super), but an extremely impressive two from the Waterstone's list (The Book Thief again, plus The Shipping News, plus I saw Atonement at the movies and The Name of The Rose on DVD and I bought The God of Small Things (but haven't read it yet) and I gave Vernon God Little and Cloud Atlas a good try, so really I feel almost smug).

I failed to be particularly integratey. I do do my laundry at 40 degrees these days**, I enjoy kissing everyone all the time, and I no longer think 7 CHF ($7) is an outrageous price to pay for a newspaper***, but I'm not sure that really cuts the mustard. Happily too much integrating would have been a bit of a waste anyway since we are off to be semi-french next year anyway.

I ate some cheese. I think I had a pretty high rate of cheese consumption before I came here, but this year it has really skyrocketed. Meals composed of almost nothing but cheese don't even cause me to raise an eyebrow any more. My main change has been in my staple cheeses - possibly as a consequence of Reto being Swiss and therefore automatically strangely patriotic about such things, we spend most of our time eating gruyere, whereas in the past I had much more international flavour. Sadly I can find havarti for neither love nor money in this country****.

I embraced (and this is where you should turn away briefly if you have any sort of squeamishness about the wonders of the female body and all its glorious tendencies) relatively environmentally friendly menstrual accessories, in the form of a menstrual cup. I think maybe they talk it up more than it deserves on the website, but I am nonetheless relentlessly enthusiastic in recommending this as a far superior alternative to tampons and so on. Just encourage me a bit and I'll rant all day about menstrual cups. Or at least for 5 minutes or so, because people tend to get a bit awkward after even that long.

I made some shiny new friends. I realise that shiny new friends should really come before my menstrual cup, and in the everyday process of life they definitely do. I realise that they also warrant a longer paragraph, but in the spirit of being a bit paranoid about people's privacy, this is all I am going to say. They're great people and I am glad to have them.

I also maintained some shiny old friendships. There's nothing like moving to the other side of the world and never seeing people any more to separate the chaff from the cream. It becomes quite apparent (as if I didn't know already) who my really great friends are who I am bound to stay in touch with no matter where I live.

I lived in a tiny wee town for the first time in more than a decade and I really enjoyed it. Aarau is charming. It has enough of everything (movies, cafes, general vibrance) to not feel like I was missing out, it is only 20 minutes or so from Zurich and Basel, I could walk absolutely everywhere (which was my favourite feature by far). That being said, I am definitely looking forward to moving somewhere bigger and more exciting next year (and yet still somewhere eminently walking-friendly).

I also embraced total unemployment for the first time in a long time. It took surprisingly little getting used to, and apart from sporadic bursts of boredom I enjoyed it enormously. The worst thing about it was all those people who ask "but what do you do all day?" and then look at you as though you must be the sort of person who finds staring at leaves really really interesting or who can't function in normal society*****. Or perhaps that's just me being paranoid.

So that's 2007 pretty much over, and far more interesting is the question of what next year might hold. Employment? French-speaking? Cat-owning? Marriage? Strange.

* I think the answer is no one's. Well, his certainly isn't and I doubt he would ever agree mine is.
** Because I don't have a choice
*** That's not for any newspaper, but it is the price for the Guardian International, my paper of choice
**** I haven't actually looked very far at all, and I doubt that I would go so far as to pay for it with love.
***** Not that I'm saying I can function in normal society here. It would be easier if I had any idea what people are saying.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Congratulations, You Two!

Congratulations to my cousin and his girlfriend (who I am deliberately not naming because people can be weird about that on blogs), who just got engaged! I seriously doubt that they even know of the existence of this blog, but since I also don't know their non-work email addresses and they are somewhere mysterious in Copenhagen (ie. also unphonable) this is really the best I can do.

I have heard from numerous sources that being engaged and getting married makes you want to harrass other people into joining up too. As far as I can tell this hasn't happened to me (I like my friends. I don't see why I should like them more if they are married) but I do nonetheless feel a certain sense of excitement about the fact that other people are engaged. Possibly because my cousin and his fiancee are in a similar situation to Reto and I (Australians and Crazy Foreigners with visa difficulties!), possibly because I now know how to have conversations about engagement rings and wedding reception venues and so on (only with very little useful advice to give but plenty of powers of complaining and empathising). Possibly I am just filled full of the joy of love and togetherness and all that stuff.

Whatever it is, congratulations! It's great news!

Freezing In Fribourg

Reto and I spent yesterday complaining bitterly in Fribourg. Complaining firstly because it took us two long hours to get there (which I admit is not a long time at all. We had to change trains 5 times, though, which was extremely annoying), then complaining because it was so cold (-6 according to a thermometer we saw, and that was at lunch time), and then complaining because the ground was so icy and slippery (why make pedestrian crossings out of stuff that is treacherous at the first sign of anything inclement?), and then complaining because we ate too much cheese at lunchtime (we had a fondue aux herbes, which was sort of delicious and sort of oppressively herby, and all together too cheesy. We didn't even eat all of it, so we didn't get to really appreciate the yummy burnt bit on the bottom!) and then complaining because it was cold again.

Otherwise, it was actually a really great day. We met up with my friend Olivia, who is always wacky and fun and full of unexpected stories about the strange things she does. We went and looked at flats we might want to live in next year (and, totally unexpectedly, we actually found one that would be sort of perfect! It's big but not too big, cheap but not too cheap, it's got lots of nice big windows, it's in a building with a reasonable laundry system (just do it whenever there's a free machine, none of this relentless signing up for things and being yelled at for the terrible crime of washing outside your allocated time), the kitchen looks functional (and the fridge is only moderately tiny instead of tiny tiny), the view is entertainingly excellent (although we only saw the entertaining part, because the allegedly excellent bit (mountains) was hidden by fog and clouds), and the building is close to everything), we ate lots of cheese and drank lots of coffee and broke it all up with short periods spent walking around in the freezing.

I like Fribourg. I am really looking forward to moving there next year, and although the language thing is a bit on the annoying side (having spent quite some time learning german, it's not really ideal to have to start again from scratch in french) it will at least be good to live in a place where the language I learn is the language they speak (none of this swiss german gobbledegook). Not that learning french really solves many of my problems, since we don't plan on staying in Fribourg (or in french-speaking areas in general, I think) for more than a few years at most, and since none of Reto's rellies speak french at all, but I still think it's a positive move. There's nothing more annoying than every single Swiss person you ever meet saying "No one ever learns swiss german. You'll never learn it, ever. Ever" to make a girl not feel at home. Good riddance miserable germans, I say.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Seeing The Light

This seems to happen here a lot.

It's the sun coming through the clouds, which I realise isn't all that remarkable, but here at HOT you see it allllll the time. Occasionally I feel a bit like I am being forced into thinking I am having a religious experience. At other times it just seems pretty.

My Boyfriend (Fiance) The SmartyPants

Congratulations to Reto, who has just passed the bar exam! No more studying, no more whinging, no more procrastinating, no more unemployment*!

* Unless you count the next 3 months, of course, with regards to unemployment. And there will probably be some wedding-associated whinging and procrastinating, too. Definitely no studying, though!

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Today In The News

Switzerland-wise, there is the exciting news that Christoph Blocher is gone from the federal council, and has been replaced by Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf* (or rather will be replaced at the beginning next year, when it all takes effect, apparently).

The federal council is a group of 7 people, representing the 4 main political parties here, and each councillor is sort of like a minister in Australian politics, I suppose, but they do more than just that (read about it here instead. I don't really know what I am talking about) and they take it in turns to be the president (or whatever it's called) for a year each. Normally federal councillors are re-elected forever and ever (until they retire or die**) but during these elections Blocher was beaten by another candidate from his party when a bunch of centre and lefty types banded together to get him out. Blocher, as you might have gathered, is a bit on the hardcore-right side and is unpopular with many people, and is widely associated with the whole black sheep thing earlier in the year.

Widmer-Schlumpf won the election thing yesterday, and then she took until 8am this morning to decide whether she would accept the position or not (time she no doubt spent being harrassed by various factions within her party. Frankly given the fact that being a federal councillor is the pinnacle of Swiss political achievement and practically guaranteed for as long as you care to do it - as long as you aren't too controversial or too much of a trouble-maker - she would have presumably needed some pretty impressive persuasion to decline). She did accept the role, and consequently the SVP announced that they do not recognise Widmer-Schlumpf and the other SVP person in the federal council as representatives of them (ie. sort of kicked them out of the party), which means that the SVP, the party that got most of the vote at the last election***, is essentially unrepresented in the federal council, and so there is bound to be all sorts of infighting and disagreement and probable splitting (?) of various SVP factions.

In other shiny and exciting news, Marcus Einfeld, former Australian Federal court judge, will be off to trial next year for allegedly perjuring himself and perverting the course of justice when he submitted sworn statements saying that it was, among other people, a woman who was dead at the time, and not he himself, who was driving his car when it got a speeding tickets or ran red lights at various points over the last few years. Ha, I say. And I also say, what's the point in saying it was other people? Yes, you can avoid the fines (a few hundred bucks?) and you can avoid losing the points on your license (it only happened 4 times. Had he lost lots of other points? Was the car going really fast? I don't really remember anything about how many points you have on your license or how quickly you can get them back but it strikes me as reasonably unlikely that he would have lost his license for long, if at all. And what would have been so bad about forcing other people to drive him around for a while? Or taking taxis?), but now maybe he will go to jail for 14 years****. Hah.

* Apparently Schlumpf is the word for "smurf" in german, and, as you would imagine, leads to everyone making boring and predictable jokes about her.
** Wikipedia tells me that 4 federal councillors have been voted out, Blocher now, another dude in 2003 (when Blocher took his place) and two men in the 1800s, so this really is comparable to John Howard and his Bennelong debacle.
*** By which I mean a bigger percentage of the vote than any other party, not an actual majority of the vote. And let's not forget that the proportion of people who actually bother to vote is only half-ish.
**** I believe this is the maximum sentence for everything he is being charged with.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007


Doesn't he look regal? Even with his semi-ludicrous name tag.

Thoughts For The Day

The idea of doing things (like going to work) when it is still dark* strikes me as uncivilised. I got up at 7.30 this morning (unheard of, frankly) and it was pitch black (sort of), snowing and miserable. Reto turned on the TV and we watched all this political brouhaha (voting in Berne leading to the potential chucking out of the most controversial of the federal councillors, which is really very exciting and unheard of, not dissimilar to John Howard losing Bennelong. We won't know what the outcome of it all is until tomorrow, though) and there were all these politicians loitering around and arriving and being interviewed and it was still pitch black (sort of). Shouldn't everyone still be all warm and toasty in bed?

In other news, I was just looking at and I saw the headline "Laws to protect Pope"**. "That's a strange turn for a retired septugenarian", I thought to myself, but as it turns out the truth was much less amusing.

* Obvious exceptions: people whose jobs require them to work at night. Shiftworkers.
** That link takes you to a page that says "Tough laws to protect Pope", which is much less funny, but the shortened version for the home page of the site left out the "tough".

Friday, 7 December 2007

Christmas - Coming Along Nicely

The christmas trees/lights/decorations are up (not ours, but the ones in the streets. Actually, the HOT gets into the Christmas spirit too, so there are actually decorations all over the place), Santa-substitute has come and gone (which involves having fruit put in your shoes if you have been nice, or apparently being kidnapped and possibly thrown in a river if you have been naughty), Christmas markets have begun (well, the local one here started last night and Reto and I had the best of intentions of going but then it started raining so we stayed at home and scoffed mountains of pfeffernusse instead (at least I did. Reto, weirdo that he is, doesn't really like them). Happily the market goes all weekend so we are in no danger of actually missing out on going or of eating lots of roasted chestnuts.

The interesting thing about this Christmas (apart from it being all backwards and northern hemispherey) is the volume of shopping that I don't have to do. Reto's family don't really give Christmas presents to each other, and the vast bulk of my friends and family are all miles away frolicking in the non-freezing weather (and I will see them in Jan, so any Christmas present shopping for them is non-urgent). I only really have Reto to worry about, and now that he has been fandangled into marrying me and he can't make an easy getaway, I'm sure I can give him any old tat and it won't matter. Hurrah!

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Aarau's Top Five - Our Window

We had such a nice window in our flat in Aarau. We lived in the tallest building for miles around (10 floors!), so every day you had a nice view over the town, on clear days you could see the castle in Lenzburg (well, not enough to know it was actually a castle, but had you come over I would have pointed it out and told you it was a castle so you wouldn't have been mistaken) and whenever it was foggy you could stand at the window and exclaim about how little you could see. The window was at its best when it was snowing and you could lie on the bed and look out the window, able only to see upwards into the cloudy grey sky and the snowflakes falling towards you, and you could imagine you were living in a snow dome.
Happily the HOT has an excellent view of some mountains (like the Eiger, my favourite of the Swiss mountains. Not only is the Matterhorn a bit too much of a show pony, I don't really like Toblerone and it (the Matterhorn) doesn't have a train track running through it. Incidentally, did you know that Toblerone is apparently doing a fruit and nut version at the moment? And have I mentioned the dark chocolate Lindt balls that are around, too? Only 60%, but a step in the right direction!), and conveniently you can't really see the mountains most of the time (because of all the fog/cloud) which makes it all the more special when you can see them. And they also do a nice line in sunset here, too.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Recycling - Fun For The Whole Family

Something sort of excellent that we have discovered here in our new home is the way in which PET bottles are recycled. You take them to your local supermarket (as we did in Aarau) and put them in this hole in the wall, but the novelty of the recycling method here is that the holes in the wall for the different types of containers are surrounded by paintings of alieny type monster-people, and the recycling holes are the mouths of said people. Anyway, you put your plastic bottle in the monster mouth and then something in there shreds the bottle, making this entertaining mechanical munching sound as though the monster is eating the bottle.

It's not much, but it's what we've got.

UPDATE: I have just been to Migros again and as it turns out the bulk of what I wrote up there is a total lie. The alien-monster-people are actually kids and plastic bottles (not even morphed into hideous bottle children, just normal kids and bottles), and the kids faces aren't painted around the holes to make them into mouths. The shredder thing still exists though, and it's wacky.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Aarau's Top Five - Thai House

Aah Aarau, how I will (do) miss thee.

On Thursday as a reward for all the ridiculous rash-inducing cleaning, we went out for lunch at the Thai House, which has a lunchtime buffet thing for a mere 25 CHF (a snip, all things considered, and a real novelty given the general dearth of Asian food in this country). We scoffed mountains of mysterious curries and stir fries and then I had a really excellent plate of mysterious tropical fruits (some of which I didn't even recognise, which was exciting) and some absolutely excellent banana icecream, and then Reto almost fell asleep in his chair. For some odd reason this was only the second time that I had been to the Thai House, and the first time I had actually eaten there. The other time I went was in February or so when Reto and I decided to have a drink at the bar there, and that occasion definitely makes it onto my list of Top 5 Memorable Aarau Moments.

The bar looks bizarrely colonial, all heavily-stuffed leather couches and dark brown wood and pictures of royalty (Thai royalty, but still). The night we went there the entertainment was a man with a keyboard, a shiny, spangly outfit, a microphone (totally unnecessary given that the entire bar was even smaller than our flat, ie. very very small) and a wide repertoire of cheesy songs that he would sing in an entertaining mixture of english, german and mumble (at one point he made a short and slightly discomfiting speech about how he wanted to dedicate the next song to the queen of Thailand, and he respectfully indicated a portrait on the wall, and then he launched into "Sex Bomb", which was great). Anyway, he was quite the entertainer, and encouraged the clearly awkward audience (about 10 of us, who filled the bar to capacity) to join in, to dance, to request songs and to generally stop being so shy. As it turned out, the drinks Reto and I ordered were more successful at achieving this than the keyboard man was, and not as a consequence of their high alcohol content or anything like that. No, our drinks were entertaining because they posed a significant risk to everyone's safety.

We had ordered liqueur coffees. Not controversial at all, you would imagine, but then the waitress came out with a tray full of bottles and jugs and glasses and things, plonked it all down in front of us and then proceeded to set things on fire all over the place (really only sugary boozy liquid that she was caramelising in some gigantic glasses, but the way she twirled things around made it look like the whole place was ablaze). Everyone stopped looking at the singing man and started looking at our fireball drinks, and the whole thing went on for such a long time and was such a production that we were all totally awestruck and gave her a round of applause when she was finished. It seemed a shame to have to drink them in the end, but drink them we did and by that stage everyone had such a sense of camaraderie that there was much more singing and dancing and chatting and applauding and requesting of songs going on. Aah, the Thai House.