40.

28 01 2011

This weekend a dear, dear old friend of mine turns 40. And when she turns 40, we will have known each other for just about half of our lives.

Where exactly we met is no longer relevant. What’s more interesting is when and where we became friends: on my last day at university, in a bar over numerous ales and too much high-cholesterol pub grub, our then-boyfriends at our sides. Thankfully, we both had the sense to jettison the boyfriends within a useful timeframe, and get on with our lives.

Full speed ahead.

Like all women on the cusp of middle age, I will assume she too has gotten her fair share of suggestions, tips, tricks, ideas and junk mail advertising on how to try to stop the clock, at least in terms of physical appearance. Numerous flyers promoting beauty treatments, magic fountain-of-youth serums, liposuction and plastic surgery have probably found their way into her snail and electronic mailboxes. For some people apparently, only drugs and a little “snip snip” here and there can soothe that sudden, tragic, sinking feeling of officially “getting old”.

Yesterday, another (under-40) girlfriend said to me, “You know, I need just a little teeny touch of Botox just… here,” pointing to a spot above the bridge of her nose. Unless I developed a sudden and catastrophic case of glaucoma, the spot she pointed to was pretty much invisible. There was nothing there, not even the first meager sign of a wrinkle-in-waiting.

So I was somewhat insecure the next time I looked in the mirror myself. Do I maybe need a little teeny touch of Botox too? Or perhaps a whole gallon?

Of course I don’t, don’t be silly. And I firmly believe that a woman who can’t stand the sight of her natural 40-year-old face urgently needs some kind of professional psychological help.

My 40th birthday last year came and went – it was a wonderfully warm Spring day – and I eased into my exciting new decade with grace and cool and panache. Someone once told me that turning 40 is like turning 20, except you can afford to wear nicer clothes and drink more expensive wine. I am not the partying type, but I did take the opportunity to dress up (high heels and all) and R. helped me throw a damn good one with a few close friends. We feasted on sushi and antipasti platters in celebration. One doesn’t turn 40 every day, after all.

So, dear IronicMom, Wordbitch, teacher, wife, daughter, sister, mommy, auntie and Best Woman, on the morning you turn 40, simply remember this: You are the same person, a day older, a day wiser and a day longer my friend. And please ditch that mail like you ditched that boyfriend. You look fabulous. Happy birthday, Leanne.

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Kindle vs. I-stuff

24 01 2011

A few months ago I became the proud owner of a KINDLE DX graphite, latest generation. I had been a fan for a while, and the first time I held it I was truly in love. A fantastic toy, an ingenious product – exactly the piece of electronic equipment that my collection (laptop, blackberry, cell phone, digital camera) has been missing. I’m still trying to figure out all the functions, but that hasn’t stopped me from taking it pretty much everywhere with me, safe and snug in its sky-blue leather carrying case.

Save a tree, buy a Kindle.

Perhaps part of the reason I’m so obsessed with my new toy is that the first books I downloaded were real page-turners (or rather page-clickers). I did my bestseller-duty and soaked up last summer’s oh-so-popular Stieg Larson Millennium Trilogy  that was all the rage on beaches across the country and around the world. Light, yet gruesome Swedish murder-mysteries – the perfect way to while away long lazy afternoons.

A friend asked me why I (or rather my brother – it was a birthday gift to me) bothered to spend several hundred bucks for a product that displays in black and white, and whose functions are severely limited compared to what else is out on the market these days. And this friend promptly tried to lure me over to the dark side: the I-cosmos.

No thanks.

To understand my decision, you must understand that I am a decidedly un-“I”-person (a.k.a. a Luddite). It was only with reluctance and great reserve that I accepted a first generation I-Pod Nano as a gift five years ago. (Some younger colleagues thought it was time I moved forward into the 21st century.)

Since then, I have not paid the slightest attention as one after the other, I-products of all shapes, sizes and capabilities were released to great fanfare. It seems that every time a new I-thing is launched, the media stands open-mouthed and awestruck as the I-community  kneels and praises the I-God in an effort of ridiculous I-dolatry.

The only I-product in my posession.

Camping out in front of the Apple store for days just to be the first to hand over your credit card and shell out wads of hard-earned cash for an overpriced piece of plastic and LED screen? Are you serious? Get a life!! I-phones leave me cold (and I hear they’re not that great to make calls with), and the I-pad does nothing for me. I don’t watch a lot of movies and I don’t care for apps. And besides, the day only has 24 hours! Where do you people get the time to occupy yourselves with this stuff?

For those who will assume I never held an I-pad – you are wrong. I have, and I maintain my aversion to the I-craze. Sorry. I’m totally the girl in the legendary Kindle ad. (The sunglasses are next on my shopping list…)

In the meantime, my Kindle has flown quite the number of miles already and my collection of electronic books is growing almost daily.  And it’s amazing to see how much space I have in my luggage for all sorts of other goodies from foreign places – space that used to be occupied by a bunch of dead trees.





Lufthansa1echoromeoholdingshort28.

19 01 2011

A few weeks ago, I moved offices within our aquarium. I slid down a floor and over to the opposite side of the building – airside. On my Facebook profile I wrote: “Moved offices today…and am very pleasantly surprised at where I ended up. Not only can I sit here and watch airplanes all day, I can also listen to all the aviation radio communications on my ICOM (without static or interference)!!”

To which one smart-ass FB friend wrote back: “remember my dear, it is called ‘work.’”

Really? And all this time I honestly thought I was being paid to look out the window.

Nevertheless, there are times when one must just find ways to entertain oneself around here before one dies of a bore-out. So, I finally fired up my ICOM the other day just to listen in on what was going on out there… To attach real world information to the choreography of aircraft down below.

Zurich airport: home, sweet home.

And this is just a snippet of the radio communications I heard over the course of ten minutes around the busy lunch hour. On a disturbing note: all but two of the voices were male, which speaks volumes about the unfortunate state of gender diversity in the commercial airline cockpit in the second decade of the 21st century.

Hotel alpha whiskey, wind one zero zero, three knots, runway one-four clear to land, proceeding seven three seven ahead about to vacate.

Hotel zulu yankee, wind calm, QNH 1027 depart on discretion heliport.

Departing on discretion zulu yankee.

Swiss six-five heavy wind zero niner zero degrees, two knots, QNH 1027, runway one-four clear to land.

One-oh-niner charlie cross runway two-eight, on the other side contact apron one two one decimal seven five zero, goodday.

Twenty-one x-ray contact apron twenty-one decimal seven five.

Swiss one two six seven holding short runway two-eight on juliet.

One two six seven, cross runway two-eight, contact apron one two one decimal seven five.

Lufthansa six echo november expedite on fourteen you have traffic behind. If you can keep taxi speed vacate on hotel two, if not, hotel one please.

Two two five yankee grüezi.

Hotel charlie whisky, clear to land, QNH 1027 for heliport.

Singapore three four five wind zero eight zero three knots clear for take off runway one-six. Singapore three four five connect departure, byebye.

Speedbird seven one one, line up and wait runway two-eight.

One one seven seven wind zero seven zero degrees, four knots, clear to land runway one-four.

One one seven seven to land, hotel two clear?

Affirm, hotel two clear.

Hotel kilo golf enter control zone via sierra, QNH 1027 expect landing runway two-eight.

Hotel hotel x-ray, enter via sierra, QNH 1027, expect landing runway two-eight.

Golf romeo sierra contact departure.

Hotel kilo golf, are you able to hold short of runway one six after landing?

Hotel hotel x-ray proceed downwind runway two-eight, number two behind another Cessna.

Iberia three four six one on foxtrot, hold short of runway two-eight, landing traffic.

Swiss five six three hold position.

Hotel hotel x-ray wind calm runway two-eight, clear to land, expedite.

**********************

Ahhh. Music to my ears.

I have been called many things in my lifetime, but the name I wear like a badge of honor is “Flight Geek”. (Thanks, my friend – you know who you are.)





Fresh powder, Ahoy!

15 01 2011

This weekend’s ski races in one of Switzerland’s biggest resorts at Wengen in the Bernese Oberland are classics, for those who are interested. The downhill is legendary and the crashes spectacular. Four helicopters and an armada of medical personnel are on hand to scrape any damage off the piste. Amazingly, most of the athletes walk away from their horrific-looking accidents.

Please DON'T try this at home.

I enjoy watching world cup ski racing on television because I always think I can learn something from the professionals. I first got acquainted with sport in the Pocono “Mountains” (hahaha), when I was 17. But my first real instruction on a real mountain of any caliber was fourteen years after that, in the French Alps.

And that instruction was superb – to this day, my ski teacher’s mantras still go through my head every time I step into the bindings. In the intervening years and with a move to Switzerland, skiing rapidly slid up the list of favorite outdoor pastimes. Because it would be a crime, would it not, to live half an hour’s drive away from the nearest Alpine ski resort, and NOT go there.

I totally enjoy the sport despite my pathetic style. Learning to ski on the wrong side of thirty, one just does not have the grace, elegance and bravado to fling oneself down the side of a mountain like someone who learned to ski when she was, say, three.  I am not totally risk-averse (I am a super action heroine, after all…), just… cautious.

Hearing about friend’s ski accident over Christmas once again gave me pause… Nothing like a shattered tibia to help one reassess one’s priorities.

Even though we have the Alps at our doorstep, last winter, R. and I travelled 7,000 miles to my favorite ski region in the whole wide world: Canada’s Lake Louise, in the Rocky Mountains of Banff National Park. Everything is just so totally perfect in Louise – starting from the dry climate, the well-prepared runs, the nice people, the spaghetti bar in the Lodge of the Ten Peaks, right down to the fact that you can park your car within spitting distance of Grizzly Express Gondola.

Lake Louise also hosts World Cup ski races, and the big black signs that mark the “Men’s Downhill” course seem to have an invisible subtitle that says to every wannabe ski jock: “If you dare.” And – who would have guessed – R. and I could not resist the bait. Fresh powder, ahoy!!!

Evelynn, trying to look the part....

The narrow, steep piste that takes the professionals about two minutes to master took us a solid half hour. And after sliding down what was nothing more than an icy canal (All four knees intact? Hips? Shoulders? Fingers?), we retired to the bar to silence our nerves, come off our adrenaline high and regain some of our strength. It was, as the Swiss say, simply mega.

It was SO mega, that it’s already January and we have not bothered to suit up and head to the local hills this winter yet – rendering us guilty of the above-mentioned crime. And I think the best place for me this weekend is not on the slopes but rather in front of the TV, studying the experts as they ski circles around each other.





My best friend: My gun

12 01 2011

The tragic weekend shootings in Tucson have given me a good lead-in to today’s blog topic: Guns. There are lots of them, and they are everywhere. Legal and illegal, they rest in the hands of competitive sportsmen and -women, the military, the police and gun freaks of all colors. Gangsters have them in their toolbox, and regular folks have them in their desk drawers. And hell, what’s the harm in shooting off a couple of rounds after a miserable day, right?

Of course in the U.S. we are used to the right-wing wackos from the NRA and the Tea Party claiming their Second Amendment rights as if their lives depended on it. And last weekend we saw what happens when one of those wackos, likely influenced by an Alaskan pitbull in lipstick, short circuits. (And believe it or not, since the shooting, Arizona sales of Glocks have exploded…)

Here in Switzerland, 3,500 miles away and living among peaceful-looking alpine meadows with happy cows, an overly-efficient train network and mostly mild-mannered mountain folk, I only found out quite recently that this country has one of the highest militia gun ownership rates in the world.

The Swiss military’s standard-issue automatic weapons are very present in everyday public life, on public transport and in the public consciousness. In Zurich, men carry around their army rifles like women carry around their Louis Vuitton handbags. Last Sunday’s newspaper even featured photographs of prominent Swiss politicians sitting on their sofas – in stinky socks, no less – and cradling their firearms.

Criticize him for the weapon around his neck or just his God-awful taste in living room furniture?

On February 13th the Swiss voters – who are, as we know, professionals at direct democracy – will decide on an initiative that would ban all military weapons from private homes and require them to be stored in a local armory.

At the moment, more than 420,000 of these automatic weapons (NOT counting firearms that have been privately purchased, you know, for fun) populate closets and attics, sheds and garages across this seemingly gentle, neutral country. Why? Because two generations ago, while Adolf Hitler steamrolled across Europe, the Swiss thought it prudent that its citizen-soldiers keep their guns at home so that in case of an invasion, they could engage in urban warfare and shoot their way to their military unit.

Today, 80 years later, this law is still on the books and the majority of these lethal toys still live in private homes. Behind winter coats, under the bed, in on the ski rack – free for any child to pick up and play with, for any adult to threaten (and kill) his spouse with, for any individual to end their own life with.

What seemed thoroughly logical and sensible in the 1930’s is equally ludicrous and superfluous today. Especially considering Switzerland has Europe’s highest rate of suicides by firearms, and an alarming number of homicides are committed with army weapons, too. On average, they are responsible for one death every single day.

The perfect Swiss family

The public debate ahead of the referendum is emotional as it is gruesome. While the supporters of the ban are appealing to simple common sense, the ultra-right wing Swiss nutcases (though they lack a Second Amendment to ride around on) have proven so far they don’t have any. Their irksome habit of fanning the fires of collective panic, claiming law-abiding citizens will be “castrated of their rights” should the initiative pass is getting really old, but may just prove effective in the end.

And once again, any virtues of direct democracy aside, I come to the conclusion that sometimes governments have a moral obligation to protect citizens from their own stupidity.





Happy holidays from our orchid

8 01 2011

Now that the holidays are well behind us, I took a final look at all the greeting notes I received before packing them away in a shoebox.

In the age of at-home, three-step, do-it-yourself printing and publishing, there seems to be a strong trend towards arts & crafts for grown-ups. And don’t get me wrong – I do appreciate the thought and effort that goes into making a home-made card. Something like that is quite special, for both the sender and the recipient.

But I’m finding more and more of these greetings are plastered with photos of the sender’s children – in the snow, on the beach, playing with pets – with warm greetings from them, too.

 

The 2010 Xmas card harvest (sans kiddos in order to protect their identities).

I do find it rather odd that not my friends, but their kids are wishing me – someone they probably don’t know from Adam and couldn’t give two shits about – a Merry Christmas.

The most egregious example of this was a card with a photo of a 4-month-old infant. The caption: “(Name of Infant A) wishes you happy holidays.” Does Infant A even know what a holiday is? And is Infant A consciously aware of “happy”? (Beyond sleeping and suckling, that is.) And don’t you think he might also ask himself someday: who the hell are these people he is allegedly wishing happy holidays to?

And all these proud parents think they are doing something totally unique. Infant A’s parents probably honestly thought their card was the most ingenious and cutest thing on earth, because of course Infant A is the smartest and cutest kid on earth.

But I received three of these this year, featuring Children A, B, C , D and E, all under the age of 4, in an assortment of poses (sitting, eating, crawling, looking out the window) and all with similar wording.

So parents, imagine your child-free adult friends receiving their 27th holiday greeting card with nothing in it but kid photos. A typical reaction would be: “Wow. More pictures of… babies. Yay.”

One couple I know sent me a whole 2011 desk calendar with photos of their kids! (OK, the kids are teenagers and the calendar itself is actually very beautiful and well done, but it was the last holiday greeting I unpacked, and the final straw that prompted me to write this post.)

So, fine, whatever – send me pictures of your kids for Christmas if you must – but it would make a real difference, at least to me, if you sent pictures of YOURSELVES, too! The adults in the family! In most cases you and I have known each other and were friends loooooong before your offspring was a twinkle in your eye, and a human on the planet.

YOU are the people I have a history with, not your kids – they came later. YOU are the people I love and cherish. YOU are the folks who have accompanied me on this long and winding road. YOU are the people who have helped make me who I am.

After receiving all these photo-cards of kids we hardly know (and one or two from kids we do), R. and I got to thinking about what motif we should put on our own Christmas cards next year. We really value our DVD player, and our skiing equipment, and our cars, and our sofa, and our dining room table. Or how about that potted plant we love so much? It’s the only other living thing in our apartment, after all.

"A dormant orchid wishes you a Merry Christmas!"

You’re right, our friends with kids would probably take offense. So I guess I will stick with sending greeting cards bought at the After-Xmas-Sale on December 26th the year before (70% off!) as I have done for the past two decades or so. Less work and more politically correct than pretending a plant can talk like a baby.





When to hold ’em and when to fold ’em

4 01 2011

On a transatlantic flight recently, I decided to test the aircraft entertainment system’s electronic poker game. Within about 20 minutes, I turned 200 units (call them dollars, francs, dirhams or rupees) into 12,100 units. Not much thinking and equally little effort and I was rich.

So…Why doesn’t this ever happen in real life?

In a real casino two days later, I burned through $300 (real dollars) in the same amount of time.

And here I always thought I was perfect. I don’t smoke, I drink in moderation only and I exercise regularly. But unfortunately, I do have one vice – Black Jack. I blame my husband though, he is a casino fiend himself, and the one who encourages this demonic recessive trait of mine out into the open.

R. has all the accouterments at home – purchased in a casino supply store in Fabulous Las Vegas: His own green Black Jack table layout, semi-professional chips of various denominations, and a shoe full of used (real) casino playing cards. I think our current set is from Circus Circus, after we played five decks from Caesar’s Palace into the ground.

What is wrong with this picture?* (Answer below.)

Though technically illegal in this country, we hold regular Black Jack tournaments in our home behind closed doors and curtains, for money. Little money, but still. We are hoping that someday the bank will have collected enough winnings to sponsor a nice meal out for the two of us.

Someday. Because in the meantime our customers have actually been doing quite well at the table. On every game night in the last couple of weeks the amount in the pot has shrunk ever so slightly. Call it beginners’ luck or shrewd gambling. Or maybe R. and I just haven’t stacked the deck(s) well enough in our favor.

One recent gaming round over the holidays included friends of ours who will travel with us to Sin City next May to make their debut at the Luxor. We are teaching them how to play the game by the book, so that they will hopefully make a decent impression, and won’t be run out of town. In a best-case scenario they’ll be able to finance their hotel stay with the winnings. That means following a strategy which mathematically increases one’s probability of beating the house by as little as 0.1 percent – even if the book’s “rules” are occasionally rather counter-intuitive. This is the part that’s sometimes tough to wrap one’s head around.

Contrary to popular opinion, there really is a lot the beginner can do (“wrong”) that will attract the consternation of seasoned gamblers. Fortunately though, there are also enough tables in Las Vegas to accommodate the greenhorn just out having fun as well as the hardened desperado focused on making enough to pay next month’s rent.

Only practice makes perfect, and we have just five more short months to practice. Knowing when to hold ‘em and knowing when to fold ‘em is certainly integral. But any player will tell you that knowing when to walk away is the toughest part of the game.

************************

* It took six cards for the dealer  (top) to hit 21 – against every probablilty calculation in Black Jack. That means all four players (bottom) lose the hand, despite themselves holding cards that would be considered pretty good under normal circumstances.