Wednesday, July 26, 2006

26 July 2006

We're having a heat wave like nothing I've seen in Switzerland in the past two summers, with temperatures consistently reaching 95 F (35 C), and before you scoff and say that the temperature goes higher wherever you live, stop and consider for a moment the fact that we are walking to work, sitting in offices, cooking meals, doing laundry, carrying groceries, running errands, and sleeping in these temperatures without the benefit of air conditioning. I believe in global warming, especially in the vicinity of my apartment, and if I were a country, I would sign the Kyoto Protocol.

Conditions like these drive people to seek out ways to cool down. Late night walks, wet towels, fans, cold drinks, hanging out in the freezer aisle at lunchtime, you name it, and someone in Zurich is doing it. I've spent a couple nights watching movies at the outdoor cinema by the lake, eating ice cream and catching the breeze. One movie had a lot of Ukrainian dialogue, which was fine, as it also had English, German, and French subtitles, but the other was mostly in French, and they only added German subtitles, so I had to listen to the French and read the German to get the full meaning.

I decided to eat a cold dinner on the terrace one day after work, and so I went to the (air-conditioned) grocery store to get some supplies. I took my time browsing, no sense in rushing back out into the heat, and while I was in the juice aisle, debating between the relative refreshment potentials of pineapple and pear, I saw a bottle that I had never noticed before. I picked it up, read the label, translated in my head, decided I must have missed some other meaning of the words, and asked my friend, "Is this really a bottle of sauerkraut juice?" Yes. "And people drink this?" Yes. Yum, nothing is more refreshing than a tall glass of fresh sauerkraut juice! Except, perhaps, a shot of chilled mustard.

I even considered making a trip to Ikea on Saturday (which is really the worst day to visit Ikea, since everyone and their evil twin goes to Ikea on Saturdays). I ended up not going because: 1) it seemed a bit ludicrous to go all the way to Ikea just for a few picture frames, 2) I wasn't certain that Ikea had air conditioning, and the only thing worse than fighting your way through Ikea on a hot Saturday would be fighting your way through Ikea on a hot Saturday without air conditioning, and 3) I was pretty much paralyzed by the heat, and couldn't drag myself out to go anywhere while the sun was up, anyways.

A few rooms in our office have air conditioners, which were apparently installed by the previous tenant without the proper permits, so the authorities are removing them at some point in the near future. Since we open all of our doors and use them keep the office from turning into saunas, the pending removal hangs over our heads like an executioner's ax. A very hot, sweaty executioner's ax. But in the mean time, I've actually semi-seriously contemplated bringing stuff into the office and sleeping in one of the air-conditioned rooms. Hey, that way I could get some real sleep, and I could even sleep in, since I wouldn't have to worry about getting to work!

This coming weekend is a long weekend for Swiss National Day (their version of July 4th), so a few of us are going to Dublin, where it is supposedly in the 60s. I may get to wear, what are they called, jeans? And what were those other things… oh, right, sweaters. Imagine that. Next update will probably be on Thursday, and the following weekend is my birthday (the annual hijinks are already being planned), and the weekend after that is Street Parade. And now we return to the regularly scheduled programming of sitting around and trying not to sweat…

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

18 July 2006

Another weekend, another trip. I spent the weekend in Berlin, to check out the city and Love Parade. On Friday, I mistimed my departure and got to the airport 65 minutes prior to departure, instead of the recommended (in Switzerland) 40 minutes, and was rather annoyed at myself for having wasted an extra 25 minutes that I could have spent, er, checking email or something.

This is the first time I've been to Germany, besides a few layovers in the Frankfurt airport, and one venture across the border shortly after I arrived. It was interesting to try out Angela German, which is sort of a high German/Swiss-German/pidgin hybrid. The German they speak in Germany and the German they speak in Switzerland are extremely different, to the point that many Germans can't understand Swiss German. The grammar is different, the pronunciation is different, and even the vocabulary is different. The Germans (who were amazingly friendly and helpful) humored me, and I managed to get by without having to lapse into English too often.

Berlin was not what I expected, although I suppose if I had thought about it, I would have been less surprised. Most European cities are a mix of quaint and modern, with central areas having a heavy emphasis on old architecture and urban planning: cobblestones, steeples, funny little buildings, and narrow streets. Berlin, on the other hand, sometimes feels like a city that was built in the 1960s. After noticing the difference and thinking about it for two seconds, I realized, "Duh, the city was pounded during WWII, so a lot of the old stuff is gone," but I hadn't thought about it in advance. Things you don't think about when you come from a country that hasn't fought any home-turf battles in over 140 years… Also, Germans like wearing socks with sandals. I didn't expect that one, either.

Love Parade, a Berlin institution for fifteen years, came back this year after a two-year hiatus. Perhaps because it lost some momentum in that time, Love Parade wasn't the crazy spectacle I had been expecting, especially after having heard that it was like Zurich's Street Parade, only bigger and crazier. Comparing this year's Love Parade to Street Parade from the last two years, I think that Street Parade (at least now) has a higher percentage of people willing to make a spectacle of themselves. That said, however, there were still people in costume (including my friends and me), or not in costume (barring thongs and some tape over their nipples), techno music, and rowdy mob behavior. Germans apparently like to climb things: every streetlight had partygoers perched rather precariously on top, some jumping up and down in time to the music, despite being about fifteen feet above the ground.

The surprise hit of the weekend? Big sunglasses. One of my friends hadn't come up with a costume, so we stopped in a novelty shop and he bought a pair of gigantic sunglasses. Between the three of us, we also had a women's tank top (on a man), a feather boa, fake eyelashes, a red-white-and-blue (for France) wig, and so on, but it was the sunglasses that got constant comments, pictures, and thumbs-up signs. Who knew that Germans liked big sunglasses so much?

A relic of the days of East and West Germany and the quartering of Berlin is that they have more airports and train stations than really necessary, since you couldn't very well expect the Soviets and the Allies to share back then. So Sunday evening, we split up and took cabs to our respective airports (too early again, I'm losing my touch when it comes to planning travel down to the minute). And life is back to normal, at least for now. With "normal" meaning hot days without air conditioning, evenings with friends, and weekends by the lake. Pictures coming soon, I promise.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

11 July 2006

Last weekend saw the end of the World Cup, so I watched the final game with a few friends at a bar in the red light district. There was the game, then overtime, then the infamous head-butt by France's star player (which was all the talk the next day around the proverbial water cooler, although we don't have a water cooler, since Swiss offices stock bottled water, both flat and fizzy, that workers keep at their desks), and then the penalty shootout. As soon as Italy won, the French fans slunk away to lick their wounds, and the Italian fans (Zurich has a sizable Italian population, supplemented by the Swiss who hail from the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland) poured out into the streets, converging on the red light district, which is the area that has the largest ethnic and immigrant populations. Incidentally, it also happens to be the area that is least patrolled by the police, which may in part explain what happened after the game.

Soccer fans are insane. They painted their cars in red, green and white, just so that they could drive them through the streets while honking and hanging out of windows and sunroofs, waving huge flags and banners (if Italy had lost, or if they had been eliminated earlier in the World Cup, I'm not sure what they would have done with their cars. I'm not sure what they're doing with their cars now that it's over). Those who didn't have cars painted their faces and bodies, and they brought their flags, banners, bullhorns, air horns, confetti cannons, flares, and fireworks into the crowded squares. It was like a grade school Fourth of July warning video, with people lighting Roman candles, rockets, and flares in the middle of the crowd with little regard for safety.

Anything that was elevated above street level was fair game for climbing. There were fans perched on top of awnings, cars, ticket machines, bus stop shelters, traffic lights, and street signs (the street signs here, unlike in the States, are load-bearing, so every street sign had a soccer fan or two balanced precariously on top, waving a flag, spraying champagne, or shooting rockets in the air). Although it was past midnight, parents had brought their infants and toddlers to come celebrate with the drunks amidst the broken bottles and hissing flares. To the American eye, the whole place was a hundred accidents waiting to happen. Or a battle scene from a movie about some sort of Italian revolution, what with the smoke, explosions, flashes of light, and Italian flags as far as the eye could see.

And the noise! Switzerland is such a quiet country that when there is noise, it's quite a shock to realize that these people do indeed know how to be loud. Car horns are rarely used in normal driving in Zurich (which isn't something you could say about New York or Boston), but are apparently reserved for liberal use after soccer games. People brought two or three air horns each (you can't expect one air horn to last through an entire evening!) Bars blared techno music in the street. Whistles, bullhorns, and yelling supplemented the noise, since car horns, air horns, and ground-shaking techno were clearly not enough.

I don't think there is a single international sporting event that would inspire so much excitement among Americans. Our biggest events are the World Series and the Superbowl, but those are national sports, and even they don't create the same crazed fervor that the World Cup incites (and if mild, reserved Switzerland went this crazy, I can't even imagine what it was like in Italy). Also, they don't go in for the hardcore marketing and advertising that go hand in hand with big sports in the States. After the Superbowl, people talk about the commercials more than the game, but there were hardly any commercials during the World Cup games. It seems that they watch sports for the sake of watching sports? Crazy Europeans.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

5 July 2006

How was your Fourth of July? I did absolutely nothing to observe it. This was not due to a lack of national pride (although I must admit that I feel a healthy dose of shame on that front these days); it was partly because I was horrifically tired, and partly because in Switzerland, the 4th is just the day that comes between the 3rd and the 5th. I arrived in Zurich Sunday afternoon, went to work Monday, went to Montreux after work, saw Sigur Ros in concert, then caught a bus at 2:45 in the morning. And then a train at 4:45. And another train at 6:20. And a tram at 6:40. Showered, changed, and still made it into the office by 8:30. So after working all day, I considered going out to celebrate, then thought I'd stay in and watch TV, a low-key, one-(wo)man celebration. And then I realized that I couldn't even watch TV without falling asleep, so I was in bed by 9 p.m. But I thought about going out to celebrate. And I thought about staying in and celebrating. And it's the thought that counts, right?

Lesson learned: taking five flights with long layovers, spending time in three time zones in ten days, running countless errands in between trying to see everyone you know, jumping back into work, then staying up all night to go to a concert does not leave you well-rested and ready to celebrate a holiday that is not observed in your country of residence.

California was great. My grandfather was quite pleased that his six surviving children, seventeen grandkids (and thirteen spouses), fourteen great-grandkids (with two more in the works), and other assorted relatives made it to Monterey for his 100th birthday. I met several new family members (mostly great-grandkids) for the first time, and none of them puked on me (not even my newly-married cousin's husband). Reunions in the old days included Yeye (my grandfather), the "grown-ups" (his kids), and the "kids" (his grandkids, my generation). Now that there's another generation added, we've started labeling ourselves like iPods. Yeye is G1, my parents are G2, the grandkids are G3, and the great-grandkids are G4. These are actually used. In the schedule that was handed out (yes, there was one), I had to check and see where I showed up, as Angela, G3, or #5 family (my dad is sibling #5), to make sure I was where I needed to be.

You may have gathered this, but my family is a little bit insane when it comes to organization and planning (if you think I'm anal, you will be shocked to find out that I am one of the most scatter-brained members of my family). Reunions are planned by committee, with copious input via our family email group. People are appointed Food Czar, Transportation Czar, Accommodation Czar, Gear Czar (over the years, we have collected family sweatshirts, jerseys, t-shirts, key chains, mouse pads, fleeces, pens, and mugs), Photo Czar, and Activities Czar. Seriously. G4, you may be carefree, puking, and potty-training now, but one day your Anal Gene will kick in and you will be telling G5 that they need to be ready for a group photo at 3:35, no exceptions.

New York was also great, although going back always awakens feelings of nostalgia. There really is no other place like New York, for better or worse. The sunglasses-shielded speed-walk down a squashed-gum sidewalk with an MP3 soundtrack. Dribbles of air conditioner spit coming from above. Grown-up hippies sitting on park benches next to sullen hipsters. Business casual-clad white-collar slaves gulping their drinks down in between furious bouts of Blackberry-ing. Strange(rs) sending drinks from across the bar and then making awkward conversation. Incomprehensible garbled announcements on the subway. The doorman who remembers your name two years later. The ear pop near the end of the elevator ride that means you're finally home.