Thanksgiving on the wrong side of the pond

23 11 2011

It’s Thanksgiving week and I am, once again, for yet another Thanksgiving, stuck in Europe. I came here after finishing my Master’s degree expecting to be away from the U.S. for one or two Thanksgivings. I have been away for nineteen, and counting.

Here in Europe, there is no such thing as Thanksgiving, and I must say it is the one day of the year I am physically sick with longing and blind with homesickness. And my European friends, all lovely people for whom I am eternally thankful, just don’t understand.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of all time because there are no expectations attached to it. There is no gift-giving and therefore no disappointment and no fake joy. The joy is (usually) real, and it’s all about just having a great meal together. Food that reminds me of where I come from and who I am. Food that reminds me of my good fortune in this life, so far. Comfort food.

When my father was still alive, he would come visit me at the end of the year. Every September we would have the same phone conversation – should he come at Thanksgiving? Or four weeks later, for Christmas? We always decided on Christmas because then he could hang around for New Year’s Eve too. And he loved being part of a traditional European Christmas over here… it reminded him of his childhood in Germany, a long time ago.

We would turn our Christmas dinner into an “end-of-year” dinner, so that we could celebrate all the holidays we had missed and the ones that were to come in the first part of the new year as well. The centerpiece of our culinary extravaganza was his Thanksgiving turkey. He had been the Master Of The Bird at home since as far back as I can remember, and was always eager to commandeer my mini-kitchen for a whole day, along with all of its tools and appliances.

I would pre-order the turkey from a local supermarket and he would directly import the stuffing and the cranberries in his suitcase.

The Bird, 2002 edition.

Since the amount of food on the table was usually far greater than the two of us could possibly consume in any useful period of time, and the standard European freezer is the size of a shoebox, I invited friends and colleagues over to partake in the gluttonous, succulent feast. Our rallying cry was always: “EAT MORE!” One year we had guests from six different countries, including Palestine, the U.K. and Germany, to name just a few. It was a real United Nations around the table in my little Berlin apartment.

Those were good times with my father, and old and new friends. Those evenings are past and long gone, now, but no one can take the memories away from us.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  Be thankful, and eat well.

Advertisements




Something this girl has just got to do

18 11 2011

There are some days when a girl’s just gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

Like today, for example. Today, I just had to go fly.

Not because I had to get from point A to point B, and not because I had to quickly get some more flight time under my belt (or in my logbook) because my license or my rating expires next week. None of that. I just had to go fly, well, for the love of flying.

A little snippet of heaven.

The ocean of fog that envelops Zurich for most of every autumn lifted briefly this morning, and for the first time in what seems like a month, crystal-clear blue skies dominated from horizon to horizon. Wow! The sun! It’s still up there! Let’s go touch it, why don’t we?

I decided to trek up to the airfield for probably the last time this year, before the first winter storm puts the grass strip under 2 meters (6 feet) of snow.

HB-CFF is a trusty old bird who has accompanied me across this country and back already. She’s small and snug, has just two seats and is about the same age as I am, but handles like she just came off the Cessna production line. I wasn’t planning on going far, I just wanted to test my landing skills… I wanted to train, to practice, alone. To be aware of every rote task I perform in the cockpit as if I had never done it before – but with the self-assurance of a pilot who has done it a million times already. I would fly a few circuits around the airport and the region while enjoying the sunset and the Alps in the distance.

My ride had enough fuel and oil on board to take me over the mountains to Italy if I had wanted her to.

I took off to the north, and as I climbed into the open sky, I saw in the distance a fresh wall of fog, getting ready to roll back in my direction. The sun perched precariously on the peaks to the west, as color slowly bled out of the scenery below me. The blue hour was approaching fast.

The special thing about today’s flight was that there was absolutely nothing special about it – except for the spectacular view. It was routine, uneventful and safe. There was no weather or crosswind to speak of, just one or two others using the runway, and the visibility stretched clear across the central Swiss lowlands. It was simply magical.

Every time I fly I am reminded that there is no place I would rather be than in the cockpit, looking at the world from above.

After five gentle touch-and-gos, my confidence in my landings reinforced, I taxied back to the hangars and shut her down. It was quiet up at the field, already completely in shadow, with only the deep clanging of cow’s bells echoing across the valley. Six aircraft, finished with their duty for the day, were lined up in two neat rows.

Waiting for tomorrow’s adventures.





ES fails the baking test.

15 11 2011

So I thought I would regale you with my latest kitchen/baking fail.

“Baking,” you ask? “Evelynn Starr in the… kitchen? You have got to be kidding me. I had no idea she was so… so… domesticated.”

Well, dear fans, not to burst your bubble, but I do, occasionally, venture into our tiny little kitchen. It is usually R.’s kingdom, and we have a demarcation line which under normal circumstances I am loathe (and sometimes forbidden) to cross. Because every time I do, something bad happens.

However, we had a few guests coming over last Saturday evening, so I had this great idea that I would also try my hand at creating something edible. Dessert. Couldn’t be too hard.

But often, like last Saturday night, it fails.

I tried an old reliable… something I have successfully produced in the past, (once, a while ago) and didn’t taste half bad then, either. Something safe. Something that you can’t really screw up. I decided that lemon-poppy-seed muffins were as safe as I could get.

Everything went well, considering. The batter was absolutely heavenly, I could have (and probably should have) eaten it all right then and there, unbaked, with a spoon. And I didn’t even make a mess about it. The little guys (for they were, indeed, little, especially when you compare them to, say, Starbucks muffins) baked well, and looked like they were nice and fluffy and lemony-poppy-seedy inside. They were golden brown and not burnt.  (Wow!)

Careful, don't bite into your computer screen, now.

I had to try one right away, while it was still warm – because the fragrance of freshly-baked muffins right out of the oven is utterly irresistible.

And then, the shock. I discovered that when I tried to peel the paper cupcake cup off, it wouldn’t. The dough was so stuck to the paper that in order to eat my muffin, I pretty much would have to eat the paper too because the paper just refused to unstick itself from my muffin.

I was crushed. My masterpieces. My babies. Stuck to the cupcake cup. WHY? It’s the third time this has happened and I have no idea what I am doing wrong.

My mouth watered as I proceeded to pick microscopic-sized bits of paper from my fabulous little home-made muffin. It wash sheer torture.

“Oooohhhhh Evelynn,” you say. “Dear, dear Evelynn, leave the kitchen stuff to your husband. He can do it so much better than you.”

Yes he can.

So instead of proudly serving up my home-made lemon-poppy-seed muffins to our dinner guests that evening, I hid them in a sideboard.  We raced out to the supermarket before it closed at 5pm to get a vat of the old reliable (vanilla ice cream) to go with the chocolate sauce we have had in our cupboard since, like, forever. For emergencies just like this one.

Fortunately, when we opened the can we discovered it was still fit for human consumption, even though it was way past its “sell by” date.

So this is a blatant, unabashed call for help. If anyone can tell me the secret to perfect lemon-poppy-seed muffins, I would really appreciate it. Because my husband and I are pretty sick and tired of eating lemon-poppy-seed-flavored cupcake cup paper.





Smart women, dumb circumstances

10 11 2011

During my recently-relaunched job search I have been confronted by an attitude that I had no idea was still a serious a problem in early 21st century corporate life. Women have had the right to vote in most countries for more than a generation, in some countries more than two generations, and have been an integral part of the workforce for much longer than that. That the glass ceiling still exists at all is a crime in itself.

But here is a little more food for thought.

Twice within a short period of time I have been rejected for jobs on a premise and for a reason that for me is quite simply unbelievable. I was always told to work hard, and that there will be rewards. “You can do whatever you want in life,” was the refrain I always heard from elders and teachers.

Well, apparently, if you are a woman, and you work too hard, and do too much, and want too much and you are tall and blonde and strong and intelligent and outspoken, all these factors will conspire to work against you because managers are downright scared of you.

And if you wear heels, by God, you are in for it.

My favorite heels of all time. These boots were made for walking, but not only.

Earlier this year, I interviewed at a company that has a record of treating smart women well. I saw a TV feature on the company’s CEO, a rare bird indeed in a tough, manipulative and mildly corrupt industry. I saw myself learning a great deal from this person. Especially tactical things like getting ahead in territory that is generally dominated by men.

The rejection surprised me because I had the feeling from my interviewer (the person who would be my direct superior) that I was just what he was looking for. He seemed confident that I could do the job well, fit into the team and could offer me a perspective to expand my abilities and skills to benefit both the company and myself.

I ran into this person in a completely different context months later. Somehow, the topic came up as to what the real reasons were for why I was not offered the job. He said flatly, “You were too strong for my CEO. You would have scared her to death.”

A second incident happened shortly thereafter. The feedback from my interview, passed on to me by HR: “The department head felt threatened by you. He felt like you could do his job, and not the one you applied for.”

Well of course I could do his job, but the question that nobody bothered to ask me is: would I even want to? (Uh… no.)

So how do I get my message across in a non-threatening way? I have no idea. I don’t want to be the boss, I don’t want to have to deal with personnel management, and I could care less about the perks and the big bucks that go along with it. (I just left a job to which I was lured by money and status, and it didn’t make me happy.)

I just want to be left alone to my own devices, work as a member of a team, deliver my deliverables, and go home. I have no desire to have to pick up my phone in the middle of the night on the weekend to solve a problem for some impatient person who can’t wait till Monday morning. Been there, done there, got the stupid T-shirt. And a burnout.

In the meantime I have the feeling that I have to dumb-down my CV and my story to make it look like I am less qualified than I really am.

For real? Isn’t that just so… wrong?





Swiss small-mindedness extraordinaire

2 11 2011

It’s time for me to make fun of the Swiss again. Point out another trait that is not exactly endearing.

It is also NaNoWriMo and I need to produce 50,000 words in 30 days. Let the month of marathon writing begin.

Yesterday morning I was amused to read in the newspaper about a conflict in our fair city of Zurich. An old building which looks like it was built in, say, the 16th century or so, was recently renovated, and new lettering went up advertising for the café in the ground floor – its name: “Haus zum Rüden / Restaurant und Bar”. Those are the white-colored words you see in the photograph below, just above the arches.

The freshly renovated building in downtown Zurich.

Now, the city administration took offense at this new lettering. Even more so when it found out that the letters extended beyond the façade of the building by a whole three centimeters (1½ inches). The lettering was placed upon the building without a permit, and thus the city imposed a fine for this offense. The owner of the building is now required to pay 214 Swiss francs (about $190) per year in order to have this writing stay where it is.

Wow. Infringing upon Zurich air is expensive.

As you can tell from the picture, the lettering does not, however, stick out from the façade as far as the flower boxes with geraniums do, or the actual building wall on the third floor and the roof. So why this lettering is offensive to anyone at all remains a mystery to me.

The newspaper article answers this question with the explanation that rules are rules, and rules are not to be broken, not here in Switzerland. Nonononono.

A few years ago we too experienced the wrath of a dictatorial city administration more focused on following building code rules than dealing with reality. We had bought an apartment in a building that had been completely gutted and renovated a year prior, including having two new roof windows installed, bathing the top floor in warmth and light. We were ecstatic to have found our perfect love nest.

Sixteen days after we moved in, we received a letter from the city stating that an observant neighbor had watched us put in two roof windows without a permit, and that said windows were to be immediately removed, the holes sealed up and the roof returned to its original state. (Oh, and by the way, the entire top floor of the apartment – our guest room and a very cool bathroom – was to be torn out and returned to the state of an unfinished, unheated attic.) This superfluous (de-)construction would cost us and reduce the value of the place by about one-third.

A nerve-wracking, unhappy year later, the previous owner – who was responsible for this mess in the first place – agreed to buy it back only after we threatened him with a million-dollar lawsuit. The city was not willing to budge, even after we had offered to pay a fine for the building code transgression that we did not even commit.

A few months after we moved out, he actually tore out the windows and returned the roof and the attic to their original state.

Three morals of the story: 1) There are con-artists everywhere, even in nice, orderly Switzerland. 2) Watch out for your neighbors… every single one of them is a spy with an overactive imagination. 3) Swiss civil servants have too much time on their hands, and a small-mindedness that could drive all the rest of us to jump off a bridge.