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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Fall

Now that I am once again living in the Northern Hemisphere I am reminded of something. 

I hate fall.

Hate is a strong word to use when describing a season. Usually the word hate is reserved for discussing something vile like terrorists or cancer. However I've hated fall for years. My hate dates back to the 80's when the back to school issue of Seventeen Magazine would arrive in the mail mid July ruining my fun summer and reminding what was to come. 

Fortunately for me for the past few years I've had the chance to skip fall entirely. That's one of the beauties of living in Joburg. Sure, there was a fall, sometime in May or June, but it lasted maybe a few hours. One day it was summer and the next it was winter. That was it. No messing around.

I can hear all of you now collectively asking "but how can you hate fall?" Don't you just love...
- cooler nights?
- pretty leaves?
- apples?
- pumpkins?

My answers...no, no, no and no. Okay I do like apples but let's be honest in this day and age we can all buy apples anytime and anywhere even if it's not fall. And while I have gone apple picking a few times I did not find it enjoyable at all because we paid one price to fill up a bag and then Mr. Deep spent the whole time voicing complaints that I was overfilling the bag and that it was going to break, which I think it actually did one year. Of course I like pumpkins, in a pie, but it doesn't need to be fall to enjoy pumpkin pie thanks to the canned pie filling that most Americans use. And on that note I do love Thanksgiving but only because I love eating, not because it's fall. 

I find fall very sad and I find Labor Day to be the crown jewel of the saddest holidays only to be challenged by New Years Day, which in the Northern Hemisphere is usually a cold day spent with a hangover. If you're lucky, in the Northern Hemisphere on New Years Day, the sun will peak through the darkness for 15 minutes to disturb the otherwise hazy twilight. Sure you can spend the day watching the Rose Bowl parade, perhaps the most boring TV known to man, while being jealous of the people in California who are there live and enjoying bright sun. You can also spend the day thinking about how fat you got over the holidays while simultaneously munching on left over candy canes and chocolate Santa's. You can spend the day pondering the fact that you have to go back to work tomorrow and won't see any kind of a break until Martin Luther King Day which thankfully is just a mere two weeks away although that two weeks will feel like a thousand years. Believe me.

Like New Years Day, Labor Day means the party is over. The minute September begins in places like New York and I am learning, Geneva, the weather changes. While Spring takes its slow sweet time to arrive in these places, fall seems to move in quickly overnight putting a chill in the air and leaves on the ground. The days become noticeably shorter and suddenly you can no longer wear shorts or flip flops even though you were wearing them with no problem just the week prior. 

What's strange is I dislike fall more than I dislike winter. Winter is what it is. Winter doesn't pretend to be pretty or nice. Winter doesn't play games. Winter is like hey I'm cold, I'm dark and I'm icy and I'm here for the duration people so settle in. Fall is a drawn out painful power play. Fall thinks that it can divert our attention by showing us pretty leaves so maybe we will forget what's to come. Well I don't "fall" for fall's games. 

What I'm really trying to say for the 9,999th time but using a different format is that I miss South Africa. I love that winter is summer and summer is winter in South Africa. I love that my birthday falls in the spring instead of the fall. I miss the fact that in South Africa it's still green, sunny and warm all winter long and that flowers can bloom in the winter. South Africans find the winter weather to be painful and horrible and they will complain about it endlessly but if you've experienced a real winter then you know it's not so bad. In fact, I think winter in South Africa is the same as summer in Canada. 

Yes, during the winter in South Africa it's cold inside and you may have to sit in your house wearing your winter coat, gloves and a hat while still freezing your ass off as cold air sneaks through the cracks in your poorly constructed concrete cave house that doesn't have heat or insulation. BUT you can go outside and stand in the sun and look at palm trees and realize it's 70/21 degrees and that it's really not so bad. And winter in South Africa is short, it's June, July and August and then suddenly, one day, it's summer again. 







Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Pig's Ear

On Saturday night Mr. Deep and I were invited out to dinner. We declined the invite at first because we were feeling tired and it was raining but my friend insisted we join her and her husband at a Portuguese restaurant in Plainpalais, an area of Geneva. I would love to tell you the name of the restaurant but when I tried to google it or find it on a map it seems not to exist at all.  And when I asked my friend said she also doesn't know the name of it.


Similar to grocery shopping, going out for a meal in Geneva can be a bit of a downer as the prices are ridiculously expensive. But my friend promised that the Portuguese restaurant was priced reasonably, had a great vibe and good wine. What more does a person need to know? I should add that my friend's husband is Portuguese. So if he thinks the food is good then it must be.

The restaurant is small with football (soccer) scarves from various teams covering the walls and the ceiling throughout. There are only a few tables, a bar and some kind of large orange gambling machines. I'm not exactly how they work but they were quite popular. As soon as one person would leave a machine another would come up and begin to use it. 

When we arrived and were seated the food began coming out immediately. From what I could tell we didn't order anything except drinks. Later my friend told me that the servers just bring food based on the number of people at the table and that there is no menu. First there were various starters such as fish croquettes and some kind of fried, half moon shaped meat pies. Next, a huge salad followed by three large platters of food served family style. The staff treated us like we had been there a bunch of times, and I do think my friend and her husband are regulars but it seemed like the kind of place that you might be treated that way regardless. 


Soccer scarves line the walls and ceiling. 

Not a great photo but you can see the size of the platter and also the large orange gambling machines in the background.



Pig's ear

Another not great photo, I think because the light was so low in the restaurant. These are the gambling machines. 


Much of the food was delicious but the pig platter definitely contained some parts of the animal that we are not used to eating. Including the hoof (complete with nails) and ears. I know firsthand about the ears because when I asked Mr. Deep to put some meat on my plate he chose something that looked very strange, almost like a fish fin. When I protested he got annoyed and told me that I had requested a piece of meat and now I had to eat the one that he gave me. It was then that I was informed that the piece on my plate was an ear. I didn't want to taste it but by now everyone was watching and encouraging me to try it. So I did. I didn't like it and I don't recommend it. It was chewy and a little slimy just like you would imagine, but remember I'm brave so I wanted to give it a chance. After my one bite I gave it to someone else to eat. 

In true European form the meal the meal lasted well after the food had been eaten. After we had been digesting a while, the waiter brought out a large metal "silo" and some shot glasses. The beverage was meant to be sipped. It tasted very strong so I only had a sip or two. I love how there is a ladder on the "silo" almost like a miniature person climbs up to the stop to stir the contents. 


I'm still not sure what the name of this place is but if you are in Geneva and looking for a fun, relaxed atmosphere and don't mind eating some unusual pig parts, then check this place out, it's right near the Lady Godiva pub. Look for the scarves. 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Border Crossing

Located on the edge of Switzerland, Geneva is surrounded by France. French influence permeates the city evident in food, language and culture. Geneva is also notoriously expensive, listed at number seven on Mercer's 2017 list of top ten costliest cities for expats.  New York City is number nine by way of reference. 

Going to the grocery store was something I enjoyed when I lived in the U.S. and South Africa but in Geneva I find it unpleasant as everything is ridiculously pricey. Often, I stop myself from purchasing certain things based on principal. For example how can it be that a tiny package of chicken costs 6 Swiss Francs (CHF) which is about $6/ZAR81? Upon seeing the price I am no longer in the mood for chicken. The outrageous prices are not limited to meat and chicken. Everything, every item in the grocery store, costs much more than it should. Yes, I am coming from South Africa where prices are cheap for expats being paid in foreign currency but prior to that I was happily shopping at Whole Foods in New York and those prices never shocked me as much as the ones I find here. 


In my local grocery store in Geneva less than half a kg of chicken costs 6CHF which equals $6.00. I was reminded of the fact that in Diepsloot one can buy a whole chicken for just ZAR50 ($3.87)

Thursday, my friend (no need to specify which one as I only have one friend in Geneva) asked me if I'd like to go with her to France and go grocery shopping as the prices are much lower there. She has a car and offered to drive. 

You might think of grocery shopping in France as a delightful excursion. You may imagine an overload of fancy sights and smells as happy voices speaking French language drift through the air. You might imagine lovely items for sale such as bundles of lavender from Provence, the finest mustard from Dijon, crunchy perfect baguettes just waiting to be put in a bike basket and driven home to a chateau as well as cheese to die for and of course endless wine. These things may be true in some cases but the store we visited was no fancy market. Instead I would compare it to a Makro for the South African readers and to a Target Superstore for the the American readers. It seems that even France is full of regular people who like a good deal on pork chops and want to buy their toilet paper in bulk.


The grocery store we visited in France, just outside of Geneva.
The trip to the store was a quick 20 minutes from home. I brought my passport knowing we'd have to cross the border but there was no need as there was no one at the border crossing and we didn't even stop. There was nothing more than an unmanned booth there. I find it funny that it's easier to get into France from Switzerland than it was to go and visit a friend in Joburg. In Joburg a visit to a friend almost always involved a guard, a gate, a checking of the boot (trunk), a call to said friend to confirm entry, and a showing of ID. But we just glided into France without any problem. 

Thursday was a holiday in Geneva and I think all of Geneva had the idea to head to France and pick up some less expensive goods. The place was mobbed with shoppers. 



Have you seen this? The trolley carts are all locked together and to release you must insert a coin. Then, when you return the cart and re-lock it the coin is returned to you. So basically, you can steal a grocery cart for the cost of a coin if you are so inclined.






I ended up spending 113 Euro for three large reusable size bags of groceries and a 12 pack of beer. As France uses Euros and Switzerland CHF, and as my mathematical skills are underwhelming at best, there was no way that I could convert on the spot the cost of each item to ensure I was getting a good deal. I could have used my phone and currency converter but as I was in France I would have had to turn on my data roaming so instead I hoped for the best. I think in Geneva the same groceries would have been three times the amount I spent in France but that is just an estimate. For those of you counting at home 113 Euro equals $136, ZAR1758 and 128CHF. 


For anyone who has wondered what a rabbit without its fur and skin looks like here you go. 

Cheese
This was in the section featuring American products. No, I didn't buy any.





My haul



Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Quirks

Over the course of the one month that I've lived in Geneva I've observed a few things which I find unique and unusual. Maybe what I've noticed is common place in Europe? I'm not sure.

As I mentioned in my last post, living in safe, condensed city allows me the opportunity to walk quite a bit. We don't own a car, I'm still figuring out the buses and trams and it's summer which all equate to me walking a lot. This brings me to my first observation. It seems the Swiss won't or don't walk across a street unless they have a green indication that it's safe to do so. Even if there is no oncoming traffic in sight pedestrians will patiently wait until they have been given the "green light" to cross. 



You could chalk my first observation up to a culture of rule following but the second thing I've noticed seems to indicate a lack of order and adherence to rules and makes my Virgo self shudder. It appears drivers have no problem parking on the street with their cars facing any way they choose. This is especially concerning if like me you have just moved here from a country where people drive on the left and you are never quite sure which way traffic will be coming from. Normally, I would check to see which way the parked cars were facing to remind myself but when they are parked like this that strategy doesn't work. 



How is this o.k.? 


And back to crosswalks for a moment....often times I will come across an intersection that has three cross walks but four directions from which it is possible to cross. Why is there no cross walk the fourth way? Am I expected to cross three ways when I could easily cross one? And while I'm on the subject many cross walks have a button for pedestrians to push indicating they wish to cross but some do not and instead have a box for blind people to touch which vibrates when it is safe to walk. Why do some cross walks have the button and why others the box? What's the logic? 


Why can I only cross 3 out of 4 ways?



And my final observation which is really a complaint very poorly masked as an observation is when ordering a glass of wine in this country what is the story with the minuscule amount of wine that is poured into the glass? Are bartenders using eyedroppers? When I get my glass of wine my first thought is where is the rest of it? To prove my point visually, I went out at 2:00 p.m. today to order a glass of wine so I could include a picture with this post. The things I won't do for my readers. Sadly, this glass didn't really prove my point as it was fairly full. It cost 6 Swiss Francs which equals $6.00 and ZAR80 and the glass itself is tiny so... 





Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Inked

It has been two months and two days since I published my last blog post. Many times during the hiatus I have considered writing but I always quickly seemed to find an excuse not to. The excuses ranged from being too busy handling the many tasks involved with leaving Joburg to being too sad to put into words the pain that leaving was causing me. Then, as with anything you haven't done in a while (think working out) it just became easier not to, than to take the plunge and start again. 

I've now been living in Geneva for 22 days which feels more like forever. As full as my life was in Joburg with my various activities, groups and friendships, it is now pretty empty. The optimist in me would prefer to describe life in Geneva as a blank canvas rather than a vast wasteland of never ending boredom and so in the short time I've been here I've made great efforts to try to create a life. I've joined a boxing gym, begun French lessons, started running in the park and joined the International Women's Club. I even made a new friend who I have met several times for coffee and wine. Mr. Deep and I have made weekend trips to Lyon, France and Zurich and we have another trip planned for this coming weekend. On paper I have done all the right things so I wonder when will I actually start being happy living here? When will I stop missing South Africa? What if I never do? 

Geneva could not be more different than Joburg. If my life were high school, Geneva is a size 00 French speaking prom queen who remains a size zero even though she eats a chocolate croissant every morning and drinks French wine every night. She has an extremely rich father, drives a Porsche and her hair is shinier, blonder and more beautiful than Marsha Brady on her best day. Joburg on the other hand is the handsome guy who dropped out of school six months ago but still hangs out near the bleachers smoking cigarettes. 

Geneva is French, clean, safe, refined and fancy. It is full of old architecture, parks adorned with sculptures and streets named for famous dead Swiss people. It has a large beautiful lake with a giant fountain in the middle spewing water 140 meters into the air, two rivers and lots of big, old trees. Joburg is strewn with litter and the streets are gutted with potholes, there is no body of water to be found anywhere and many people don't even have running water in their homes. Nothing in Joburg is old unless you count the Cradle of Humankind. In Geneva you can walk around at all hours without fear of taking a wrong turn and being robbed at gunpoint. In Joburg white people generally don't walk anywhere and walking around aimlessly exploring is definitely discouraged due to the aforementioned chance of being robbed at gunpoint or worse.   

Another blogger whom I admire greatly named Joburg Expat, recently published a link to the post that I wrote questioning the lack of an expat departure handbook. Her Facebook post received numerous comments from readers who wrote such things as "South Africa does get in your blood" and "in my blood and soul forever."  In my blood, under my skin and in my soul are interesting ways to describe a place. I've lived many places that I enjoyed and retain special memories of but South Africa is the place that will remain in my blood, under my skin and in my soul. 

Now, South Africa will remain in my blood both literally and figuratively forever. On 23 June I got a special tattoo to remind me of my time here. 

No it's not backwards, it's just the photo taken in the mirror.

My tattoo wasn't a drunken whim. Instead it was a premeditated, carefully considered and deliberate decision. I talked about my plans for the tattoo for months before actually proceeding. I asked Justice to create a design for me on which my tattoo is based. 



Original Justice design

Despite all of this, Mr. Deep and other friends were shocked when I scheduled the appointment to get the tattoo. Side note, I wonder why people don't take me seriously sometimes? 


I was compelled to get the tattoo because I need to have a piece of Africa with me at all times. My hope is that the image, now permanently a part of my body, will keep me calm and grounded. It's a similar gesture as putting a photo of your favorite beach or mountain retreat on your desk at work to help remind you there is more to life than the office problem or problems of the day. I needed something permanent as my time in Africa was only temporary and far too short. I never want to forget my many varied and rich experiences, from my charmed expat life of luxury, my mansion, the numerous ridiculous and frustrating tests of patience, the constant view of a heartbreaking reality of lives filled with real suffering and struggle, the stunning sunsets and breathtaking wildlife sightings, the sounds of varied languages being spoken none of which I could understand at all, the bright Joburg sunshine and all of the smiling people. I carry these memories with me as my inked body and I aimlessly and freely walk the clean streets of Geneva. 



About Me

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Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have just moved to Geneva, Switzerland for a few months following a few years of living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two places could not be more different. I'm excited to share our adventures, challenges and insights with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.