The Fondue Conspiracy

This episode of Planet Money about the history of fondue popped up on my NPR One app this morning. I had no clue that fondue was a modern construct! “The popularity of fondue wasn’t an accident. It was planned by a cartel of Swiss cheese makers, which ruled the Swiss economy for 80 years.”

Admittedly, I haven’t put a lot of effort into learning how to make fondue, but we do have it at home occasionally. More often, we gather a group of friends and make a night of it out at a fondue restaurant or our local “chalet”.

For the record, our favourite place for fondue is Baracca Zermatt, a wintertime pop up place whose truffle fondue is absolutely divine. Their Toblerone mousse is pretty tasty too.

Source: Episode 575: The Fondue Conspiracy : Planet Money : NPR

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Cooking the Clocks

After you live in Switzerland for a while, a sense of orderliness and timeliness begins to creep into your psyche. You’ll know it has happened when you realise that the smallest things being out of order annoy you. Here’s the latest….

I have a microwave and oven set above each other in my kitchen. Most of the time, the clocks are in sync. Occasionally they are off by a minute, and when I notice that, I wait and watch to see how long it takes before they display the same time. If it’s just a few seconds, that’s close enough and I let it slide. But if it takes TOO LONG, I check the time on my phone and then adjust the errant appliance as needed.

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The offending appliances, with a 2-minute(!) time differential

The other day, however, I noticed that the clocks not only were not in sync, they were off by three minutes. This, of course, is unacceptable to my acquired Swiss mentality. How do I know what time it really is when I am getting such conflicting information? If the kitchen clocks aren’t correct, it means I will not leave on time, which means I will be either early or late for the tram I want to catch. This cannot be. So I dutifully checked the time on my phone and set both clocks to that time and thought nothing more of it. Continue reading

Faces of Fasnacht

This week Basel celebrates Fasnacht, known elsewhere in the world as Carnival and in Basel as “the three most beautiful days of the year”. The cortege Monday afternoon is a somewhat organized parade of floats, bands playing guggenmusik, and cliques playing drums and piccolos. Every year each clique selects a “sujet”; their costumes, lantern and the ironic verses they write all reflect that theme. The sujets generally comment on a social or political issue. Some of them are readily apparent (Korean missles, anyone?) while others are a bit more obscure unless you live in Basel and, more importantly, follow local news.

Here are just a few of the many photos I took, which in turn are just a few of the great many masks that clique members spent months making in preparation for their three most beautiful days.

 

Busy Town Basel

When I started this post, I don’t know for sure, but I had every reason to suspect that Richard Scarry got his inspiration for Busy Town from a Swiss city like Basel.

I loved Richard Scarry’s books—as a child, teen and parent. Remember Lowly Worm, with his little hat that, now that I think about is, definitely has a Germanic air to it, appearing on each page? In Busy Town, everyone is busy. And in Basel, people are busy in the same way.

Men at Work

Men at Work

On any given day you’ll come across mail carriers, bus drivers, painters, masons, plasterers, police officers, tram drivers, road workers, etc. etc., all working to keep the city running smoothly.

There are even work crews that clean the the bulbs in the street lights!

Another parallel to to Scarry’s characters is that all, Scarry’s pigs, cats and foxes and Basel’s people alike, wear uniforms appropriate to their task and occupation. The painters, gardeners, construction workers and sanitation crews have specific uniforms with special pockets and reflective tape. They also sport whatever protective gear is needed for the job at hand.

Swiss cities have special vehicles and machines for specific tasks, too: mini trucks that creep along walking trails for garbage crews, vacuum trucks to clean the tram lines, mail motorbikes, and so. Given that Swiss chocolate is so famous not because of the cocoa beans but because of the conching machines developed here, these specialized machine should come as no surprise. The machines and the people all work to keep Basel working like, well, clockwork.

Upon doing a bit more research into Richard Scarry, I discovered that he bought a chalet in Gstaad, Switzerland, in the 1970s and lived and worked there until his death in 1994. So there just may be something to those lederhosen-wearing cats after all!