Du piment dans la vie

Variety may be the spice of life but I am a creature of habit.

While I enjoy many different flavours, I am addicted to one particular spice: freshly ground pepper. Defying all rules of gastronomy, I cannot begin a meal without a few turns of the mill over my plate. Recently I added salt to the grind, a far more unhealthy habit. But how I love those little salt bombs!

I am also cursed with bad luck when it comes to pepper grinders. Over my lifetime I have gone through half a dozen of the things. All start well enough but end in the same way: spewing chunks of pepper rather than producing finely ground flakes. Is it simply because they get so much use? Or is it in the quality of the mechanism?

Now that our last combined S&P mill by Bodum has ‘rendu l’âme’ (given up the ghost) we have procured the king and queen of salt and pepper mills: Peugeot. I was vaguely aware that the French name most famous for automobiles also made mills. But I was surprised to learn that they began by making coffee mills and all kinds of steel implements, from saws to watch springs. The ‘moulin à poivre’ was introduced by Peugeot in 1874, way before they got around to making their first motor vehicle.

Now I see why they chose the lion for their logo: sharp teeth!

Only time will tell if these new beauties will live up to that reputation. For now, they work like wonders on both salt and pepper, with varying choices of grind size to boot.

Speaking of grinds, we are still struggling to figure out the future of our new home project. No news, I suspect, is not good news. Nonetheless, next week will see us taking off for Japan (fingers crossed I get a negative PCR test) and by the time we return in December I hope there will be more clarity as to when (or if) we will be able to plan our move next year. In the meantime, I will be trying very hard not to think about it.

How do you spice up your life?

Folle-Dingue

There have always been crazies in my life and, as much as I dislike the stereotype, they are almost always female.

When we moved to our first apartment in Lyon years ago there was a folle-dingue on the top floor who took an instant dislike to us. Was it the dogs (our first two Frenchies, the dynamic duo Edouard and Dorothée) or the fact that I was foreign? We never knew and it didn’t matter. She sprewed insults whenever she got the chance, and once when we left our groceries by the elevator for a few minutes, we found the top of a baguette ripped off. Other than that, she was harmless enough. But her gratuitous meanness felt like a personal assault.

Our next-door neighbour back in Chens-sur-Léman was not quite up there in the crazy category but she was close enough to qualify. She walked around her yard starkers and frequently screamed like a banshee at her husband and son, along with anyone else who got in her way. (I say that in all humility, being known to be no shrinking violet myself.) I avoided her as much as possible.

It seems we have a new folle-dingue in our lives. She lives in the house just above our future (hopefully) residence and is at least part of the reason construction is still stalled. She is the one behind all the complaints to the town, backed by another neighbour who is known to object to everything. The crazy-eyes in question has a swimming pool and is trying to pass off cracks in the foundation to the work on our building (she should check her own cracks if you ask me). Apparently they had an expert come to her place to assess the situation, and he confirmed that the cracks in her pool predated any work on our property; however, she is persisting in her ‘démarche’ to try and get more money from the developers (not the first time she’s done this).

Now the architects have submitted new plans (lowering the roof angle to correct the 72 cm error in the building height) and have a meeting with the authorities at the end of the month. After that we should know whether the project will be stalled for further inquiries (which could go on for some time) or whether it will be able to start up again and hopefully meet the new date for next May. If not, we have the option to bail and get our money back, which we’re not keen to do given how much time we’ve invested so far and how much we want to live there. But if means years of delay, we will cut our losses. I have no doubt that we will find something else.

Preferably without a folle-dingue as a neighbour.

Do you have any nutbars in your life?

Up in the air

Disclaimer: Not me.

I have been horribly remiss in posting here. No real excuse, other than the fact that I’ve felt sort of…en suspens, hanging, or up in the air. I don’t know about you but I need to feel grounded, to know where I stand in my life, in order to get things done.

One of the reasons I’ve been feeling that way is our future home. It’s a new build, and we’ve been waiting for a confirmation on the delivery date. Initially it was supposed to be sometime this fall, end of the year at the latest. But that’s delayed now, unsurprisingly given everything that’s been going on. Supply shortages of building materials are one of the the consequences of the war in Ukraine (some of which were already happening with Covid, and the energy crisis hasn’t helped). But in addition to that, there have been difficulties with the project itself.

Last week we learned that one of our future neighbours had filed a complaint. I’m not sure why, as their view will not be at all impacted. But it seems this is a very Swiss thing to do and almost to be expected. It ended up costing a few weeks while work was halted to investigate. The building was found to be set 72 cm too high on the terrain compared to the initial building permit. Additionally, there have been complications due to fact that the site is built into a steep slope, with extra reinforcements needed on the retaining wall behind it.

Long story short: our move-in date is now not until the end of May 2023. Which sounds like a long time but at least we will be able to make plans. And I will be able to post about our new place now knowing that it’s really happening (because until now it felt like a dream).

Another reason I’ve been feeling up in the air is that we’ve been planning a big trip in November and haven’t known whether or where travel would be a possibility. But now that Biden has said the pandemic is over (I mean if a US president says something, it must be true, right? 😉) we’re making plans.

The timing has to do with my husband’s work as he is entitled to a sabbatical month but it has to be taken this year. He is a Japanophile (is that a word?), has been there twice, and is learning Japanese. So while we considered different destinations, I knew in my heart that if Japan ever opened its borders, that would be where we were going. Now it’s looking like that is likely, and we have taken the bold step of booking flights. We should find out this week if the rules will be loosened enough to create our own trip or have to use a tour company. I am not a huge fan of international travel but I’m starting to get excited. So far we’re planning on Tokyo, Kyoto, Okayama, Hiroshima and Okinawa. Fingers crossed!

I took the above photos on Sunday, a beautiful late-summer, early-fall day. My favourite kind. When the air, suddenly several degrees cooler, makes you want to wear a jacket but the sun is still warm enough to make you peel it off. It was a clear day and I watched the paragliders circle down from the mountain above. It is incredibly relaxing to watch them. Feeling perfectly grounded from the safety of terra firma.

What’s up with you? Am I the only one who’s not been good at blogging lately? News, please!

The Proust Questionnaire

For years I was an avid reader of Vanity Fair magazine. As is/was my habit with print magazines, those near-dinosaurs of modern publishing, I would flip to the last page. And the reward was worth it: the Proust questionnaire. In which a celeb of some ilk would answer the 35 questions immortalized by the French novelist and critic in 1890.

What fun to read about Ricky Gervais’ idea of perfect happiness! Or to know what Joan Didion regarded as the lowest depth of misery. The answers to these questions give you a glimpse inside a famous head that I always find fascinating.

Why Proust? I found the following explanation here.

In the late nineteenth century, the confession book was all the rage in England. It asked readers to answer a series of personal questions designed to reveal their inner characters. In 1890, Proust, still a teenager, took this questionnaire, answering the questions with frank sincerity. The original manuscript was uncovered in 1924, two years after Proust’s death, and in 2003, it was auctioned off for roughly $130,000. (Credit: Open Culture)

That Marcel Proust went on to become one of the most influential lights of French literature and thinking probably explains why the questionnaire bears his name. Interestingly, it provides the basis for many modern media interviews. And writers are encouraged to use it as a way of getting to know their characters.

A year ago I bought a copy of Proust’s most famous work, À la recherche du temps perdu, or Remembrance of Things Past, as part of a project to do the reading list of a self-driven MFA. That project remains, ahem, in development, but I still intend to read the original text in French. In the meantime, I have decided to seize the opportunity to interview myself. Here you go with my answers to the Proust questionnaire.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
An empty morning.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Impatience.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Unkindness.

What is your favourite journey?
Anywhere on a boat in Switzerland.

On what occasion do you lie?
To make someone less uncomfortable. Mostly about little things.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
WTF, c’est pas possible, merde, hurry up, sorry (like a good Canadian).

What is your greatest regret?
Older self: loss of hearing in my left ear; younger self: not learning to read music.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Language, my family, beer (not necessarily in that order).

When and where were you happiest?
Alone, as a child, talking to nature.

Which talent would you most like to have?
To be able to multitask.

What is your current state of mind?
Time is running out.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Not killing anyone.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Constipation (physical or otherwise).

Where would you like to live?
Right here in Switzerland (yet, in a twist of magic realism, minutes from my family around the world).

What do you most value in your friends?
Listening and loving me anyway.

What is your most marked characteristic?
An opinion on most things.

Who are your favorite writers?
Barbara Pym, Anita Brookman, John Kennedy Toole, Carole Shields, Alice Munro, David Sedaris, Andrew Sean Greer, Patrick Dewitt, to name a few.

Who are your heroes in real life?
I don’t believe in heroes but Volodomir Zelensky comes close.

What is it that you most dislike?
Cruelty of any kind.

How would you like to die?
I wouldn’t.

What is your motto?
Keep it real.

Faits divers

Summer is in full swing here in Central Switzerland. It feels like our first real summer since moving here two years ago. People are back to pre-pandemic life and the lake is buzzing with tourists and locals. Compared to last summer, the weather is heiss. Hot, hot, hot!

We are fortunate to enjoy a bit of cooler air in the evenings with temperatures that are generally a couple of degrees lower than many of our neighbouring cities and countries. My father-in-law in Lyon, France, reports temps topping 39 degrees Celsius, while we are sweltering at only 30-32. Fortunately Raymond has air conditioning in his apartment, although like most French people he uses it sparingly. But at least he can keep cool through the worst hours of the day.

I took the boys out for a walk this morning just after six a.m., when it was still cool enough for them to enjoy sniffing around. They are coming up to 10 years old and, like many seniors, suffer from health problems. Even younger, Frenchies do not do well in the heat so we are careful to keep them as cool as possible.

Not a lot happens in our postcard of a Swiss town. But a couple of Sundays ago a fait divers* saw Brunnen in the news. As we relaxed by the lake, variously known as the Vierwaldstättersee, the Lake of 4 Cantons or Lake Uri, a helicopter cut across the sky to a mountain top and hovered there before taking what looked like a suspicious plunge towards the other side of the lake. In the meantime, we heard the ‘pam pom’ of sirens. Nothing so unusual in that as choppers often bring people who are injured or ill to waiting ambulances.

It turned out that while we were lounging around on our beach towels, a car had gone off the road that runs alongside a rocky cliff on the road to Brunnen and plunged 50 metres into the lake. For several days it remained introuvable, until a week later it was found by a camera boat at nearly 200 metres depth. Needless to say there were no survivors. The wreckage was impressive.

*Fait divers: ‘Brief news stories, as those typically found in some French newspapers, that are sensational, lurid, etc.’

We were treated to some spectacular fireworks off our terrace on August 1st, the Swiss national holiday. I was spoiled, as it also happens to be my birthday. Especially as it was accompanied for the first time by a visit from our grandson. Which called for champagne. And cake!

Happy brithday, old girl!

We are soaking up as much of ‘Sommer’ here in Brunnen as we can. Sadly, it will be our last. I mentioned in an earlier post that we will be moving next year, but I’ve been waiting to have the official date in writing before sharing more. As with most construction projects these days, there have been delays due to the pandemic and supply shortages related to the war in Ukraine. Our builder has assured us we will have the schedule in writing by mid-month but I’m not holding my breath. Best guess is we’ll be moving by early March. Hard to believe as this is what it looks like now:

I will be sad to leave our current location but there are a few things I won’t regret. Our beautiful view here is offset by the noise from a road just below. And my inability to speak the local lingo is definitely not fun (I’d finally started to get a little momentum going last year but when we decided we’d be moving, my motivation to learn German went AWOL).

Our new home will be located in a small town above Lake Geneva in the Lavaux wine-growing region above Vevey, just a short drive from Montreux with its famous ‘smoke on the water’ jazz festival. Also known as the Vaud Riviera, it is famous for its terraced vineyards, which have been classified as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Best of all, we will be close to family on both the Swiss and French sides of the lake.

A suivre…