Snowbird City

27 01 2012

The Canadians have landed.

The annual exodus from winter to warmer climes began about Thanksgiving (American Thanksgiving, that is…) and usually lasts until Easter. That means, we here in Hollywood, Florida, are currently in the thick of it.

A caravan of vehicles bearing the license plate “Je me souviens” begins moving south down I-95 just as Florida’s hurricane season is ending, and Quebec’s deep freeze is beginning. The colony grows by the day until South Florida is saturated.

Bienvenue! And spend some money here, you Lexus driver, you!

And they really are ALL French Canadians. In all my years of coming to Hollywood between November and April, I have never seen a Canadian license plate from west of Laval. I have no idea why.

One telltale indication that the snowbirds are back in town are the signs in the stores that say “On parle français” and…I walk by this one every day….

Yuck.

For those of you unfamiliar with this culinary delight from north of the border, it is truly disgusting. A heart attack on a plate if there ever was one. Fries drowned in cheese and gravy, basically. I had the honor of making its acquaintance once while at university in Canada, many, many years ago. My cholesterol level has not yet recovered.

R. and I have started playing a drinking game when we are out in one of the bars downtown or at the beach. It’s called “Identify the French Canadian”. I can’t say what it is about them, but we are generally 98% right (and therefore drink a lot). French Canadians just have this look, and they all seem to look the same.

But despite the invasion of les Français, we are thankful for their cash, which they toss around liberally, as every vacationer should.

To keep our French Canadian friends and neighbo(u)rs happy and entertained during their annual sojourn to Florida, Hollywood offers Claude, the two-step king.

Monsieur "MC et DJ prof." in action at "Disco-Karaoké".

He is out a few times a week in the bandshell on the beach, crooning old favorites from the 60’s and 70’s. Hundreds of retired Canucks spend their afternoons in the sunshine, tapping their feet to Claude’s rendition of “Mustang Sally” and other favorites I never new had French subtitles or translations. His finale today was what seemed to be some kind of folk song that had everyone joining in in a sing-a-long.

It’s fun for the whole family, as Claude’s elderly line-dancing groupies – also out for every afternoon performance – will attest.

The ladies doing their thing for Claude.

We Floridians just sit there and gape at the crazy tourists.

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Monday in the Swiss mountains

19 01 2012

I live in Switzerland, so that means the Alps are not far. In fact, if I walk up the street from where I live, I can even see them, every day. And that means, in winter, there is some serious skiing to be done.

First though, the photographic evidence, to prove that I actually went and returned, to tell the tale:

Monday afternoon. Lovely, isn't it?

Every time I see a photo like this, it makes me want to jump in the car and head for the hills. I admit, I don’t get out enough. And in the last few weeks, the northern side of the Alps has gotten more snow than it knows what to do with so it really is a crime not to take advantage.

The main deterrent is when I start thinking about all the stuff I have to take. First I have to find it all, and then I have to either put it on or take it with me in the car. Long underwear, turtleneck sweater, ski pants, ski jacket, ski gloves, goggles, a furry hat, my balaclava – for particularly frigid days. Then come the ski boots, poles and the actual skis themselves.

For the moment, I draw the line at a helmet. I know helmets are all the rage… safety arguments, setting a good example for kids, and all that… yadayadaya… Yes, okay, maybe someday I will go buy myself a ski helmet. But for now I will stick with my furry hat.

I love my hat. It's so much more fun than any helmet.

I also usually take along a hot tea for the drive out, and a snack of some sort and a sports bottle of flavored water as an ice-cold refreshment for the drive home.

The most important piece of skiing equipment, at least here in Switzerland, is a credit card and/or a wad of cash because one will, inevitably, be paying large sums of money for the privilege of waiting in a crowd for the gondola to the top of the mountain. (On a weekday! Don’t these people have to work?)

And it really is exhausting. I mean seriously… I consider myself pretty physically fit. After all, I have been skating marathons for 13 years. But when it comes to schlepping my ski stuff across an icy parking lot, cloding along in clunky ski boots, dressed for a day in the sub-freezing outdoors and feeling like the Michelin woman, all that junk is unbelievably cumbersome. I always forget how much work it is. And I hate sweating underneath all those layers, especially before I have actually done anything heroic at all.

The temperature was minus 12 degrees Celcius (10 degrees F) in the valley when I headed out last Monday morning. When I finally got to the top, at 2200 meters (7260 feet) above sea level it was, of course, wonderful. I snapped into my bindings and started swishing down the pistes like a pro. (Okay, no, not really…)

By venturing into the great outdoors, not only am I doing my body something good, I’m also reliving a lot of really great memories. Like last winter, going skiing in St. Moritz with my friend Pascale, before she died in a tragic hiking accident this past summer.

So sure I was glad I went – the life-affirming, glorious sunshine and the crisp clear air makes it all worthwhile in the end. But… ugh, the effort that it takes… every time.





I Amsterdam

13 01 2012

So my big brother, S., and I decided to give ourselves (or each other) a Christmas gift: We went to Amsterdam for a long weekend.

It has been more than 15 years since I was last in the city, but it made an impression enough to make it on my “Top 10” list. (Along with, in no particular order:  San Francisco, Berlin, Helsinki, Sydney, Philadelphia Vancouver, Singapore, Toronto and Boston.)

In the meantime, the city has given itself a very catchy advertising slogan: “I amsterdam”.

Nice.

And here I thought “Be Berlin” was pretty cool.

S. is on the meatmarket again, after a failed 10-year relationship-that-turned-into-marriage, which is in its final throes. (The entire Starr family will throw a three-day celebration when all THAT is done and dusted. Stay tuned.)

And what better place to test your self-marketing skills than Amsterdam.

He has been a few times, and on his last visit he discovered a special, secret, by-invitation-and-with-reservation-only bar. It was the highlight of his trip, at which he took the opportunity to tweak his flirting skills. So of course the experience had to be repeated, with his kid sister. (Even though the mere presence of something that looked like a “date” – me – would be insurance enough against scoring any action at all.)

The club is located in an inconspicuous row house on a non-descript street, tucked between a sex shop and kebab kiosk. I walked by it twice without realizing anything was there – to his amusement. The windows are blacked out, and all that distinguishes it from any other abandoned storefront is a single tiny doorbell.

We arrived fashionably late for our 930pm reservation. The staff remembered my big bro and greeted him very warmly, like he was a regular, or an old friend. The two bartenders, already hard at work, stopped to chat with us and offered a round of bourbon on the house. And the Singapore Slings were truly the best I have had in a very long time.

I think this was what was left of the second sling. But it could have been the third.

I have rediscovered evenings out ever since Europe went smoke-free. Thankfully, I no longer come home from a restaurant or a bar smelling like I washed my hair in cigarette ash. So my still-smoker-brother had to occasionally abandon me step outside to get his nicotine fix.

During one of these absences, a man sidled up to a beautiful tall Dutch woman standing at the bar next to me and I overheard his feeble pickup line: “I noticed you since the moment you walked in the door.”

Obviously, a raw beginner. Or someone trying to get back on his dating feet after a looooooooooonnng time. Kind of like my brother. Too bad he wasn’t around to witness the poor fellow crash and burn.

Her eyes opened wide and she said something to the effect of, “Uh, gee, I think I have to go now,” high-tailing it back to her date, a balding banker-type in a monogrammed shirt sucking down his fourth cocktail.

I categorized the performance in the column: “Most spectacular strikeout”.

When my brother returned and I told him the story, he didn’t understand what the big deal was.

Damn…. I’m just hoping his pickup lines are way better than that.





The almost-United States

2 01 2012

In the last couple of days I have been having fitful bouts of insomnia again. Nothing like last summer, but still. Lying in bed, looking at the ceiling is no fun, no matter if its for 30 minutes or 3 hours.

So to make the time pass quicker, I devised a couple of concentration games for myself, one of which is a challenge to name all the 50 states in alphabetical order in less than 2 minutes. It’s not as easy as you think.

For the first twenty or so times I tried this, I always came up with 47 or 48, once I even made it up to 49. But that darn 50th state eluded me. Over and over and over again, I always seemed to be one or two short.

This is so true. (From the website: http://www.funnyordie.com)

In the meantime I have a system and I know exactly how many states there are per letter. The last couple of times I played this game with myself, I have got to 50 pretty regularly. Let me demonstrate.

First the four A’s. Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas and Arizona. Followed by 3 C’s: Connecticut, Colorado and Chicago. No, hang on. California.

Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii.

The four I’s come next: Iowa, Idaho, Illinois and Indiana.

Kansas & Kentucky.

Louisiana.

This is where it gets interesting. There are SO MANY states that begin with M and N! I’m so sure that this is where I always lose one.

Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Mississippi, Missouri.

New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, Nevada.

Whew. Think that’s it.

Then there’s Oklahoma and Oregon, followed by my home state of Pennsylvania.

Rhode Island, and the Souths… Carolina and Dakota.

Texas and Tennessee followed by Utah.

Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Yay!

Uh oh. That’s 49.  Lost one again. Do let me know if you find it.

(And no – Washington DC is not a state!!! It’s a District!)