Monday, December 24, 2012

Santa in Switzerland

Well, truth be told there isn’t one. Well at least not the roly poly ho ho ho ing Santa from the north pole that slides down chimneys on Christmas eve. There is of course, Samichlaus who comes in from the forest on December the 6th and rings the doorbell. He is really St. Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra and the patron saint of Children. His presents are always small : chocolates, nuts, oranges. He is sometimes accompanied by his friend; a soot covered figure called Schmutzli who it is said chastises kids who have been bad. Well, actually it is assumed that all children will have been a little good and a little bad and this is the time of the year they are rewarded for the good, take stock of their not so good and promise to try harder the next year.  Santa decorations are not seen often, and the ones I saw, the Santa was always lean, carries a backpack rather than a sac and is clambering in through a balcony or window rather than a chimney. 

Santa making somewhat precarious attempts to get in through the windows
Montreaux Christmas market

What is perhaps most striking is the relative absence of a commercial Christmas. Here it is not about  mega malls outdoing each other with the largest and brightest and fanciest glitz, not about retail frenzy, but about street markets selling local goods and lots of food.

It’s less about over the top celebrations and extravaganza and more about people retreating into family mode. It’s more about carols, mulled wine (always plenty of that), cookies, communities and Christmas traditions.

nativity scene at our local library
Muted, mellow ……………and as you sit in picture postcard Montreaux with the ethereal lake framed by snow capped mountains, the smell of cinnamon cookies wafting by, faint strains of church bells in the distance and as you chance upon a mother sitting with a glass of mulled wine huddled up to a toddler eating roasted chestnuts both listening to a grandfatherly man narrating a French Christmas story, the mellifluous French not needing to be understood to grasp its meaning……………….. you do not need to be Swiss, you do not need to be religious, you do not need to be Christian, you do not need to be a child ……….for those few moments, despite the incredibly troubled world we live in, you cannot but believe in magic, in humanity, in hope.  The hope that perhaps the Samichlaus in us can take precedence over the Schmutzli. 

Season's Greetings to all. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Inducted into cooking

I discovered the day we moved into our new house some months ago, that I could not cook.

Actually, I could not even put on the stove. The gleaming black 4 plate surface looked like the one I had in my old apartment but no matter what I did, I could not get the plates to become hot. Handyman husband (self proclaimed) was called in, all he could come up with was 'you must be doing something wrong'. 

I began to harbour visions of a conspiracy between owner, previous tenants and the Regie (agent).......... but given that we had signed off on the house inspection and faced with the possibility of being reprimanded for our carelessness, not to mention the thought of several thousand Swiss francs evaporating before my eyes, I duly squashed such uncharitable thoughts.   

But two days into the house, six hours of google translate with the French and Italian instruction booklet, three cereal for breakfast, three cereal for lunch and three cereal for dinner meals later, it was time for action.  

I called the previous tenants. No doubt taken aback, the lady politely offers to take me through the steps. You press the button on your left, you wait for the red light, then you select a number from 1 to 9 ………
No, this does not work. She assure me it does. I assure her it does not; biting back the urge to ask if it ever did. Back and forth. Frustration rises on both sides. Finally she asks ‘Are you sure you have the right vessels?’ . Wondering whether to take offence, I answer “What do you mean?” I have a perfectly good frying pan. Its Swiss I might add. 25 years guarantee”. She persists: Yes, but is it the right kind?
And so I am initiated into the hitherto unknown to me wonders of induction cooking. Cooking which works through direct transmission of heat from the hob to the pot through magnetic waves. Its becoming increasingly the norm in newer houses and apartments in Switzerland. Its as precise as gas cooking, more energy efficient and safer. The only drawback is that it works only if the cookware is ferromagentic. 
Not all vessels are. Pan after pan, pot after pot, beautiful cookware inherited from my mother, my 25 year guarantee Swiss pan, my cheap  new to Switzerland collection from IKEA, my specially brought pressure cooker from India ………none worked. I had a modern kitchen and nothing to cook with!

But after the initial shock, it was excitement all the way. How often in life can one indulge in a guilt free, husband endorsed revamp of all the cookware one owns?? 

I love this type of cooking now and find it easier to use than the gas stoves I have grown up with. Whats more, I discovered a great fact: if you put a paper between the stove and the pan, the pan gets hot, not the paper!. So i often cook with a newspaper spread under my pots and save myself cleaning up my messy spills. Whats more, I never fail to start a most amazing dinner conversation by showing off this trick ...............

the water boils 80 francs are unharmed!

Information tip : For those of you in Switzerland, the Swiss Government has a fact sheet and a list of rules, dos and donts (is there anything for which there are no rules in Switzerland?) for induction stoves at this link : Induction Hobs 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Autumn walk in Aubonne

Every expat in the Lake Geneva area has heard of Aubonne. Every expat in the Lake Geneva area has been to Aubonne. It is after all, home to the ultimate expat pilgrimage center ......IKEA. The store that unifies the diversity of our expat origins and homogenizes our homes with an unmistakable stamp that cries "hey, look I am new to Switzerland".

But Aubonne, nestled between the lake and the Juras is more than IKEA!

The Aubonne River just beyond the hydroelectric plant

A pretty town, beautiful rolling hillsides (walking along which a certain Monsieur Mestral found inspiration in the burrs that became attached to his clothes and went on to invent Velcro), the river Aubonne and a large arboretum (the first in Switzerland).  

Aubonne castle framing the mountain peaks with the fresh snowfall
This weekend as we had our first December snowfall (which vanished almost as soon as it fell) we gave IKEA a miss and went walking around near the outskirts of Aubonne besides the Aubonne river.  A few pictures. 
Autumn turning to winter

Aubonne is largely an agricultural community