O Fare Thee Well, Sweet

Winter in Switzerland
Up here in the mountains, with no proper internet connection to speak of, we are left to humour ourselves as best we can with what will amuse us, no matter how trivial. Such as the little white dog who chased his master-on-skis all the way down the slope, barking incessantly at his heels. Or the black dog on the side of the road, another Jennifer incarnate, pulling its owner to the side to make little doggie angels in the snow. Or Markus, who, after sticking his head out of the tele-cabine, sneezed loudly, causing the people passing just at that moment to jump in their seats as if hit by a blistering gale.

Ah, yes, mountain life. I will miss it here. The coziness, the delicious exhaustion after a long day of skiing, the ruddy cheeks, the evident irresolution in our faces when faced with the prospect of re-dressing for the slopes after lunch, the hot coffee and fruit cake on a sun-drenched balcony, the long dinners among one’s beloved..

Tomorrow night, I will be back in Saarbrücken, but at least I can look forward to next year.

UPDATE: I have just uploaded pictures from the trip, which you can see here.

Happy Birthday in Swedish

Ja må hon leva,
ja må hon leva.
ja må hon leva uti hundrade år!
Ja visst ska hon leva,
ja visst ska hon leva,
ja visst ska hon leva uti hundrade år

Och när du har levat,
och när du har levat,
och när du har levat uti hundrade år,
ja då ska du skjutas,
ja då ska du skjutas,
ja då ska du skjutas på en skottkärra fram.

Ett fyrfaligt leve! Hon leve
Hurra! Hurra! Hurra! Hurra!

Yes, may she live
yes, may she live
yes, may she live for a hundred years!
yes, surely she will live
Yes, surely she will live
Yes, surely she will live a hundred years.

And when you’ve lived,
and when you’ve lived,
and when you’ve lived,
Yes, then you’ll be shot,
yes, then you’ll be shot,
yes, then you’ll be shot forth in a wheelbarrow.

A fourfold hurray! May she live
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!

First Snowfall

After twelve days of blue sky, shining sun and green mountains (not to mention the grassy ski runs), my birthday present this year is a miracle of white, fluffy, delectable snow.

Verbier has turned into a winter wonderland, just as it was the first time I arrived here. When it first started, we couldn’t ski due to bad visibility and the wetness of the snow, but the swirling flakes were just calling out to me and I had to follow.

The Swedes, being used to miserable Swedish winters, had no desire to go out on such a day. But the Californian just could not stay cooped up inside when it was so lovely out there. I went for a walk, reveling in the whiteness and the soft flakes falling on my lashes and tongue. There is something liberating about walks in a light snowfall. The turbulence, the frenzy, the delicious cold. Oh, how I love the snow!

New Year’s in Verbier

This is another of my favorite parts during our holidays in Switzerland.

It begins with another fabulous dinner by John’s father, Per Erik, whose former lives were as famous imperial chefs. This year he made us pan-seared fois gras, served with toasted brioche and baked apples. Followed by braised duck legs in a delicious red wine sauce, potatoes au gratin, and a green salad, ending with slices of brie and reblochon. We finished everything off with one of my own creations: a real New York cheesecake. Two and a half pounds of cream cheese, eight eggs, cherries on the top … the works. We would have had coffee with it, but no decaf was to be found.

Then the fun starts. Actually, it starts much early on. There are no laws in Switzerland against individuals setting off fireworks. That means that anybody and everybody does it. And since Verbier is situated on the top of the mountain in the Alps, overlooking the valley and facing the mountains on the other side, and since our cabin is likewise situated above all the other buildings, and downtown included, we had a view of the entire show. All during dinner, all across the valley, fireworks went off in different directions and provided us with a nice backdrop.

Midnight, however, is when the show-offs emerge. As Verbier is a ski resort town, there are many very wealthy people. These many wealthy people then spend hundreds of thousands of francs on pyrotechnics to give the best firework displays. There are usually several such shows set off from different places, such that it is sometimes difficult to choose where to look.

There seems to be someone only a few doors down from us who gives us a show every year sometime after midnight, and this year was exceptionally good. The sparks just rained down on us and were magical. They were perfectly coordinated, amazing and big. With glasses of champagne, we toasted the new year and kissed, then went to bed with the curtains wide open to the mountains where the boom of fireworks lulled us to sleep.

A Swedish Christmas

Even though we are in Switzerland (which is easy for us Americans to confuse with Sweden), we nevertheless uphold proper Swedish traditions during Christmas. So what does that mean?

First of all, Swedes, like much of the rest of Europe, celebrate Christmas on the 24th, Christmas eve. This is a fairly strange custom for me, although I am used to it now. My family, of course, always celebrates on Christmas day (i.e. opening presents, eating a big dinner, etc).

Christmas eve here is quite nice, however, and begins with a traditional Swedish dinner. As a starter, we have smoked salmon on tunnbröd, a kind of large, round cracker made from flour, and topped with a tangy dijon-dill sauce. This is also accompanied (for those who can stomach it) pickled herring with a small glass of beer (Swiss, in our case). Next we have cold, sliced ham with mustard (very traditional), savoykål which is chopped cabbage baked in crème fraîche, different kinds of cheese along with fresh-baked bread, and homemade apple sauce. Finally, we end the dinner with hot Swedish meatballs, which are absolutely wonderful. For dessert this year, we had figs and cracked walnuts.

After the dinner, comes the gift-giving part of the evening. This is my favorite part. The Swedish tradition is to write a short poem for each gift that hints at what’s inside. Usually, one leaves out the last word which rhymes with the last word from the line before, and which gives away the gift. Some examples of the evening were:

A cd of Xavier Naidoo for Anna:

Top of the crop,
Best in German ___.

An ipod shuffle for John’s mother, Britten:

Small and hip with a convenient clip.

And the accompanying flashlight keychain:

When you shuffle around at night, use this little ___.

For the French novel by Balsac, Illusions Perdues:

Weeks in Verbier with no frost,
Talk about illusions lost.

And my favorite, for a book on evolution called The Ant and the Peacock:

How a roll of the dice,
And the fight against lice
Can get you stuck in a rut
And give you eyes on your butt.

I think Marcus got a kick out of the last one, although you’d have to read the book for it to make sense. Something about how lice messes up the symmetry of the eyes on a peacock’s tail, which makes it harder to find mates…etc.

Finally, after the excitement of the day and despite the early hour, it’s off to bed in preparation for another long day of skiing.

Actually, the days haven’t really been long of skiing due to the lack of snow, but that’s another story.