Archive for July, 2010

It’s been an interesting couple of days around here.

A new series of ads in Basel…

No. No you're not.

And then Tasha and I went to Lörrach, Germany (just over the border) to a small music festival to hear a friend of ours. After the show we found out that none other than Norah Jones was going to hit the stage. A few euros later, and we were enjoying stage-front spots in a crowd.

Lone Star

Norah is very talented, moving smoothly from piano to electric guitar, to the Rhodes keyboard. Her voice is captivating, and she has a lot of charm, even learning a bit of Deutsch to properly chat with the crowd.



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I hope your inoculations are up to date.

Because I am about to expose you to the fashion epidemic that is running rampant in every European clothing store. Dear God, please don’t let it be contagious.

First off, let’s just get this party started by saying that “everything old becomes new again” because you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything in our stores that doesn’t bring back vivid memories of 1988. I suddenly understand why my mother cringed when I would rock a 70’s-inspired outfit because Lord help me if I had a daughter wearing these…


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Go Local

Some days I feel more European than others. Today was such a day.

After a quiet day at the office (many people don’t work on Fridays), in humid 36C weather with no air conditioning (it’s not permitted in offices), I walked to the grocery store and came home with this:

  1. Re-usable shopping bag? of course
  2. Greek Feta cheese? check
  3. Baguettes? two please!
  4. Dutch beer? ja!
  5. Ridiculously overpriced meat? naturally

Any guesses what this picture will look like after a typical grocery shop in California? I’ll make a follow up post in a few months.

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And the winner is…

I’ve watched more soccer in the past five weeks than I have in my entire life. You can’t avoid it here in Europe, and it dwarfs any sort of sports fanaticism for Lord Stanley’s Cup, the World Series (which does not involve even a fraction of the world), or the Superbowl (which is not actually a bowl) combined.

And my wealth of knowledge and keen sense of the “beautiful game” paid off in my office pool…

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I love history, especially ancient history. I can spend hours reading about the military expeditions of Roman emperors, the organization of Greek phalanxes under Alexander, or the mythology of the Egyptian Pharaohs.

One of the significant factors that attracts me to Europe is the rich history of western civilization that is cradled here. I still get excited when walking through the streets of towns and cities here, thinking about the history of the land. The Rhine river, in particular, is fascinating to me.

The Rhine – possibly the most important and influential river in Europe – flows 1,200 km from Switzerland into the North Sea. In fact, Basel is where the river bends northwards into Rhineland (a German province that has been at the frontline of conflicts for centuries), and flows all the way to the Netherlands and out into the sea.

This river was a major natural barrier for Cold War military strategic planners. It was a dividing line in both World Wars. If we go way back in time, the Rhine (and the Danube) provided a natural defensive border for the northernmost reaches of the Roman empire.

So you can imagine my excitement at the chance to swim in the Rhine!

Apparently, this is the thing to do in Basel during the hot and humid summer weather. The temperatures lately have risen to 34C and the humidity from the river valley makes everyone shine with a little sweat. Offices and homes are not air-conditioned either (I have heard that there is a law against it!), so taking a dip in the river is really the only relief.

After work on Friday, I hopped on my bike and headed to the river with a few of my friends to cool down. In classic European style, there were plenty of speedos, and more than a few people on the banks of the river with no swimsuits at all (although this was only in the more sparse areas).

The whole trip was a refreshing and fun way to spend a Friday evening.

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Maybe it’s because it only happens every four years and it’s beyond my toddlers-on-the-brain memory, but I don’t recall the World Cup being such a big deal in Canada last time around.  I guess it could also be attributed to the fact that we don’t have a contending team and in fact have only graced the World Cup stage once in the history of the Cup (Mexico, 1986, left totally shame-faced).

Well that is certainly not the case here, where people are going crazy loco for everything football.  At the grocery store, you can buy hard-boiled eggs in your fave team’s national colors. At the department store, you pass mannequins in head-to-toe Italia and España velour track suit, complete with matching panties. It seems as if every merchant window has at one time, in the last few weeks, included some sort of elaborate World Cup display.

Part of me thinks it’s great, seeing everyone get so excited about something. The other part of me wonders if they take it just a bit too far.  For instance, this ad. I mean, really?!

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There are many, many aspects of European and Swiss daily life that I dearly love.

And there are many, many aspects of European and Swiss daily life that I find cute/frustrating/confusing/awesome.

I often wish that some of these things could be ported over to North America, but I know that the social and historical differences make such a transplant impossible.

One interesting thing here in Basel is garbage. Rather, the garbage collection is interesting.

Twice a week there is a garbage day, and the big orange trucks* cruise through the cramped streets to collect the “Abfall”. But they only collect your garbage if it is in a special blue bag called a Bebbi Sagg that you purchase from the grocery stores.

I believe that Bebbi is a sort of term for a local Basler. And Sagg is a Swiss-German word for sac. They come in various sizes – 17L, 35L and 60L – and I think that you buy a roll of them for 20- or more. This is the only type of garbage bag that will be collected on the street!
*on a side note, I think that the garbage trucks here don’t smell as badly as those back home, but maybe that’s just in my head…

And that’s the interesting part – I don’t know what would happen if I put out my trash in a non-Bebbi Sagg. Would such a trash-infrigement bring serious legal penalties? Would I become a social pariah? I don’t know. But the Swiss don’t seem to make such challenges, and this is probably why their country runs with such efficiency.

Edit: a comment from Rahel reminded me of one of the points I wanted to make. Back in Victoria, Canada, the cost of garbage collection is paid from city taxes, and you are typically allowed two large cans or bags. Here in Basel, you can put as much trash out as you like, but you pay for every bag. I like that. And just like Victoria, recycling pick-up is free. 🙂

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