whistlestop caboose

The view from the back.

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www.zidao.com Apprentice harmonizer, for sheer fun. Journeywoman writer, for work and pleasure. Starting point was Iowa, current stopping point on this journey is Switzerland, with frequent pauses around the world to watch and listen to the crowd, and occasionally make comments.

Tulips 2006 for Gran ellengwallace's Tulips 2006 for Gran photoset

Thursday, November 30, 2006

For thirsty people

I was visiting shops to start a Christmas shopping list for GenevaLunch, and had great fun taking pictures. The owner of Le T in Gland, a little town on Lake Geneva, offered me tea, too, so it was a relaxing shopping trip.

Monday, November 27, 2006

A snowy Vancouver-Ghana connection

The world appears to me to be made of invisible threads that cross and crisscross the planet. You could describe the web that way but I think there is another set of threads that some of us travel along, same places and similar goals, at different times.

Hunting for Vancouver photos I came across one I loved, tried to blog it here, but the system failed - time for me to upgrade to the new Blogger.

Meanwhile, I went to the photographer's page, had a look at Doug Murray's many wonderful photos, discovered he's moving to Ghana, a place my family and I are fond of and have spent time in, so I went to his blog and discovered he's a journalist, about to move to Ghana to work as media trainer.

Winter here, winter there (anywhere?)

Here is what winter in Switzerland looks like right now:

This is F├ęchy, a wine village near Lake Geneva, or rather the fields around the village. The French Alps in the distance have little snow on them and the same is true in the Swiss Alps. We had a weekend of wild foehn winds, the kind that bang shutters open and closed almost as fast as you can relatch them. Roof tiles rattle and trees bend as far as they can then jump back. I find myself wondering if they can suffer from whiplash.

The foehn is a warm wind and it was 12-16 degrees C this weekend, 52-60 F or so. What snow was on the peaks started to melt.

Meanwhile, over there, half a world away in Vancouver, Canada, we have an excited lad who went snowboarding at Blackrock, near Whistler mountain, where they have had nearly 4 m of snow.

Jen, a blogger in Vancouver, who loves Switzerland, wrote about the snow coming, but judging by her photos the big storm had not yet hit. She's just finished a photo course, so her images are great to view, snow or not. I went hunting for other photos of Vancouver in the snow and came across this one, four years old but really beautiful, so I hope the city looks this lovely again.

I decided to roam around Flickr looking for Vancouver+snow and came up with so many lovely photos! I'm getting homesick for snow.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Warm up to the World Championship Pie Eating contest!

Here, in case you haven't yet eaten one, is the start to a pumpkin pie, in honor of the US Thanksgiving celebration (Canadians had theirs in October). The pumpkin is from the garden, has a wonderfully nutty taste and was steamed for 30 minutes. Later today it will serve as the heart of the pie.

And here, if you can face it after your Thanksgiving feast, is a story about the new rules for the World Championship Pie Eating contest. You have a month to prepare yourself, and I suspect today's main meal might be just the start you need. Good luck, all future contestants. I'd go for pumpkin pie.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The world as seen 336 year ago

I visted the Alexis Forel Museum 10 minutes down the road from me. It was renovated earlier this year and the entire house, built in 1670, can be visited. On a damp, getting-colder November day the deep rich colors and dark wood inside feel warm while the golden light of the courtyard and its stone walls brighten the world.

For those who had the luxury of living in homes like this November must have been a month of some appeal.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Natural wood frame for Evian

I like the way the newly trimmed plane tree frames the lakescape. In summer I never notice the bark on these trees and when they get their dramatic winter haircuts I suddenly want to touch the smoothness and admire the strange colors and tones. That's Evian, France, on the other side of the lake. The trees are in my village, St. Prex, Switzerland. The leaves are actually part of the mass of branches on the ground after the village gardeners chopped them off the trees. It takes a day for them to pick up and haul away all the leaves, which are then ground into compost and used on the flower beds around town.

Friday, November 17, 2006

A little nibble to keep us going

I went to a food fair called Gastronomia a few days ago, where people in the French and Swiss food, hotel, catering and related businesses come together. I was working but felt a bit like an undercover agent since I was there as a journalist rather than official nibbler. Nevertheless, I was polite and sampled some of the things on offer.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

This is not an old Kodacolor shot

What makes this look like a 1959 Kodacolor shot? I remember the photos we used to take in the 1950s and 1960s, the way the colors looked. They seemed very true to life at the time, and then color printing improved. Those old pictures have blue oceans and lakes and skies of a particular hue, and the greens also have a strange falseness today.

I took several photos of the plane trees being cut back for the winter, in my town of St. Prex, and then turned in the other direction to take a photo of these leaves congregating and floating out to the middle of the lake. I was very surprised by the old-fashioned colors. I played with the image in Photoshop, increasing and decreasing contrast and lighting and so on, but it still looked like an old photo. I think we have November humidity to blame, but I'm not sure.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Does the US have dollars?

An odd thing happened today, the kind of thing that makes it hard to explain the US to the rest of the world, as if that were possible. I received a check from a bank - a banker's check, mind you - in the US, closing out an account. I took it to a Swiss bank, which sounds terribly exotic unless you live in Switzerland and that means your local bank and forget the silly nonsense of numbered accounts, a kind of James Bond myth. The man studied and studied the check and finally asked what currency I thought it was in. Dollars, of course, I said. It's a US bank. But it doesn't say dollars, he pointed out. It doeesn't give any currency.

Sure enough. Several minutes and some phone call later we all agreed that it must be a check in dollars, but the bank staff drew round to see this odd specimen, a check drawn on - no currency at all. "I've never seen that before, " said the young man, and bankers in Switzerland routinely see money from several countries. "As if they didn't know there are other currencies," someone else said.

The cows and the raspberries

I can barely sit in front of the computer today, thanks to forking back aches. Translation: I used a pitchfork for too long yesterday to put some order into the summer party gone on too long that is our raspberry patch. In the spring the patch looked like it was enjoying itself and we fretted slightly, but like most parents felt it reflected badly on us to complain. The berries were rich and red and made great jam. We attempted to keep the weeds under control, but most days it was an either/or: pick the berries or pull the weeds.

Guess which one we did and how we are now paying the price. The weeds are well entrenched, the raspberry babies shooting up on the slope below the patch are out of control, and there are just too many stalks. The garden books show lovely images of the old stalks, which you cut, versus the new, which you leave for next year's berries. In my garden they are hrd to distinguish and anyway I'm sure we have 3 or 4 generations a year, not just 2.

So I took the pitchfork to the patch and it looks tidier. The raspberries are laughing at me now, though.

I nearly forgot the cows! All of a sudden two days ago our place stank of cow poo. Odd because it normally doesn't even though we're next to a barn. But for three days last week the cows did a terrific job of chomping down the grass in the fields around us, which they do just once a year. And then, November cold hits and the cows go into the barn for the winter. And their poo flows out. For two days we have a potent combination of fresh grass + cow pies not left in fields but gathered indoors and shunted to the poo pile. Pong! After that, they eat hay and the smell and the cows settle down to a long, cold but cozy winter in the barn.

Meanwhile, I have to admire the neatly chomped-down field next door. And while I fight raspberry roots the cows, just a few metres away in their barn, low gently as the afternoon turns into evening. It is a contented sound.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Crayola and the virgin's colors

Crayola was a company that could do no wrong when I was little. They were responsible for the box of 64 magnificent crayons that was perhaps the best present my parents ever gave me. They gave each one oohlala names like cornflower, burnt sienna and magenta.

They missed the mark on one key pair of colors, but I have to admit I feel a little wobbly on this point as it would not be very PC to give colors religious names. I routinely drew pictures with flowing pink and blue robes which I would have lovingly labeled bvm blue and bvm pink. If you are scratching your head, chances are you didn't go to Catholic schools as a child. I did, and tales of the BVM, short for Blessed Virgin Mary, were intertwined with art lessons where I could use my favorite colors, and princess tales from library books and angel paintings that floated around the ceilings of the church and other places we frequented.

Now I fret slightly about the impressionable minds of the young and how religions like to impress their world views upon such little minds. I thought about this earlier today as I followed the saga of evangelist Haggard, founder of a mega-church and last week when the anti-devil antics of evangelist churches at Halloween were in the news (you might have worked out by now that I'm not a fan of evangelism).

The one thing that works in the favor of at least some children, allowing them to grow into sensible adults, is that they take all the interesting bits adults hand them and weave them together in a way that suits them.

I took Crayolas and the BVM stories and perhaps a bit of Greek mythology and science lessons about weather and clouds, and I stirred them around.

To this day when I see wispy day-end clouds like these I can't help but see the swirling skirts of the BVM as she swishes along the streets of heaven, an efficient way to clean house for that son of hers who was always out talking to people. I itch to rummage around in the crayon box and pull out magenta and cornflower.

The BVM and angels and even the color names are now far in my past, but they've left a trace in the sky that I'm always happy to see.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

I'm up, you're down

Which place would you rather be in, with leaves falling and crunching underfoot in the Swiss Alps? I'm in the vineyards above Sierre, in Valais. The Val d'Anniviers lies across from us.

The point at which the Swiss Alps touch Burgundy

Evelyn Ralph, potter from Glasgow and Geneva, calls Burgundy, France home. She made this lovely vase, part of her blue collection. Saturday night a full moon rose behind it.

This week it is welcoming grasses and herbs from the Swiss Alps, drying for winter bouquests. We had our first frosts, not hard, but enough to wilt all the flowers. The grasses and herbs carry on standing straight and tall, but now is the time to bring in bunches of them. The rosemary, sorrel and oregano leave a wonderful scent drifting through the house.

This morning a clear mountain sky lit up behind it as the sun prepared to rise.

Meanwhile, I managed to snip off the very little, very short-stemmed mums that remained hidden while the taller flowers were hit by frost. I put them in a pretty little bucket for another week of color since they were too short and perky for any of the vases.

Now we wait for winter.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

How to smoke a skull

On a fancy street in Geneva, Switzerland, wedged between one of the world's top private bankers to the rich and oriental carpets of dimensions and prices that make you dizzy, I spotted this little window display in a tiny shop. They sell things to do with smoking. Put a few cigarettes around one of these and you'd really have a smoking skull. An honest approach.

Blog 1st anniversary: swans fall from sky and other oddities

I just wrote a blog on the Tribune de Geneve saying that it is the first anniversary of my first blog, which was right here ("What's it all about, Alfie"). I had planned to write a series of posts this week about the blogging business, the do's and don'ts, the fun and less fun sides of it and so on. However, I had such a strange, strange day yesterday that I wrote about some of it there. I wrote about a swan falling out of the sky next to me and the ambulance driver saving it and the fire department rescuing it.

And on my blog for GenevaLunch I wrote about the oddity of seeing an old steam train come toodling into Morges station, on the extremely busy high-speed train line that connects Switzerland's major cities. I have no idea what it was doing there and can find no information on it!

The day was odd from beginning to end, but the end included this lovely moment. I had just met a woman I've been talking with about sharing some of the GenevaLunch work. We'd had a wonderful cup of tea in a teashop owned by two Dutch women who serve great cake and have hundreds of books, many in English lying around. I don't know how they get anyone to leave.

But we did leave at 5pm when they closed. We walked past a flower truck about to unload and I shot a photo. "Come in!" they shouted, so I climbed up the ladder and into the flower truck, heavy with roses and freesias and other scents that the first cold November evening didn't carry outside. It was a small but rich moment of magic.

An odd day all around.