Saturday, December 27, 2008

Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit!

That's the name of the calendar that Santa Claus left in my stocking. I can't wait to see what other pearls of wisdom it has to dispense throughout the new year...

Anyway, the expression captures the sentiment I felt when riding the tram yesterday. The little screens were posting all the changes to the TPG schedule, and what do you know -- they actually decided to send buses to the airport and train station in time for people to catch the first plane or train out of Geneva in the morning. Isn't that positively ingenious?

No more walking 45 minutes to the station because I can't afford a cab...

Friday, December 26, 2008

Swiss consumerism

After-Christmas sales started here today, much like in the US. Today was a bit special in Geneva, though, because the stores stayed open until (drumroll please)... 7:30 or 8:00 at night! How convenient to have late-night shopping!

I bought three tops and a cute bag at Promod today, all for 50% off. I deliberated awhile over whether to get the bag -- it was cute, but never in my life have I come anywhere close to paying 45 francs for a purse -- but I'm glad I did in the end, since it was the second-to-last one left and it rang up for only 22 francs. Nice to have little surprises like that!

I was hoping to get a sweater or two at H&M, too, but they had close to zero selection and zero sales, so I walked out empty-handed. I guess a lot of people were as disappointed as I was, since there was no line at the register and it was the emptiest store on the street (usually it's the busiest).

Happy shopping day!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

I am staying in bed today, and it feels wonderful! Santa Claus gave me seasons 1 - 3 of The Closer, so I'm going to curl up with a bag of popcorn and a Coke and turn my bed into my own personal cinema.

Hope y'all are all having a great day!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I should have known better...

...than to wear eyeliner to church tonight. I always cry during the Christmas Eve service. I get teary-eyed during the sermon. I get teary-eyed during Communion. And I really start to lose it when we sing Silent Night by candlelight and then O Come, All Ye Faithful at the very end of the service, with the last verse about Jesus being born coming right after midnight and the church being flooded with light...

I love Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It's not Christmas without Tuna

This is one of my favorite shows in the whole world:

Welcome to Christmas in Texas' third smallest town, where the Lion's Club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never dies! It's 24 hours before Christmas and all comic hell is about to break loose as the town attempts to cope with seasonal traumas such as a disaster prone little theatre production of A Christmas Carol, and a yard decorating contest that is being sabotaged by a mysterious Christmas phantom...

(I couldn't embed the videos, but if you click on the links, the clips will open in Windows Media Player.)

Bertha and Charlene

Helen and Inita

The Tasty Creme

Vera Carp

Monday, December 22, 2008

Anybody remember this?

From the Claymation Christmas special that aired a few years in a row in the late 80s:

I think I saw the show for the first time when I was just shy of five. I had never heard "We Three Kings" before, and I thought that the Wise Men and the camels were actually singing two different songs. I thought that it was so rude of the camels to keep interrupting the Wise Men...

I know. I was a strange child.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

My poor toes

I've had black nail polish on my toes for several weeks now. I didn't realize how used to it I had gotten until I took the polish off today... now my poor little toes look like naked mole rats!

I think I'd better repaint them...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

O Christmas Tree

Santa Claus sent me a cute little Christmas tree in the mail because he knew that I was bummed out about spending the holidays alone. Small problem: Santa didn't pack the tree in the box as well as he might have, so when the tree arrived, its plastic base was shattered.

Tonight I tried to superglue the base back together, but all I really managed to do was glue my fingers to one another. I was bound and determined to get the tree up, though, so it was time to make use of my creative spirit and scavenge around my room for useful items.

After a certain amount of thought, here's what I came up with (don't laugh):

Thankfully, the the tree came with a tree skirt:

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Back by popular demand

This is one of their updated performances from this year. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find the original, but this one's good, too.

Straight No Chaser -- The Twelve Days of Christmas

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Changeling

Good movie. Incredibly disturbing, though. And hard to believe that such a thing actually happened. (I looked it up after I got home to see if they were lying when they said "Based on a true story". They weren't. Seriously creepy.)

If you can handle disturbing true stories, go see it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


My roommate has an unnatural obsession with Brussels sprouts. I swear she cooks them every single day for lunch. The problem is that she's a bit of a forgetful klutz in the kitchen... While I was standing in the doorway talking to her, she took the (glass) top half of the double boiler off of the bottom half and put it down on an adjacent burner. A few minutes later...


The top half of the double boiler exploded. Luckily, I was out in the hall, but my roommate got showered in glass. There was glass all over the stove, in the sink, in the recycling bin, on the table, on the chairs, and all across the floor...

Closer inspection revealed, of course, that the burner in question was on. What remained of the base of the double boiler was scorched black, and huge bubbles had formed in the glass. Fortunately, the glass didn't melt to the burner.

In the midst of all this excitement, my roommate's first concern was for her Brussels sprouts. Unfortunately for her, they, too, had been showered with glass and were entirely inedible. She picked through them quite thoroughly, but not a single one had been spared.

Maybe next time she should buy a double boiler that's not made out of glass...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Naughty software

Today I read some documents that had been changed from PDF to html format using character-recognition software. As was to be expected, there were a few character-recognition errors -- places where the software saw one character (such as "I") but thought it saw another (such as "1"). These weren't too big of a problem, since they didn't happen very often and didn't affect the reader's understanding of the document.

Until, that is, I came across a place where the software mistook "P" for "F". This error led to a list that read as follows:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Fart 4

Who knew that character-recognition software had such a juvenile sense of humor?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Meet my new feet

Aren't they precious?! I saw them at the store a few weeks ago but didn't bother to stop and look... after all, stores almost never have my shoe size, and I didn't want to be disappointed. I saw them again this weekend, though, and since I've been looking for slippers for 3 years now (I'm picky!) I decided to risk a peek. And what do you know... there was a pair that fit!

(I'm lucky I bought them when I did... I went back by the same store a few days later, and they were all gone! Not surprising, since they were only 15 francs -- that's a really good deal in Switzerland!)

Merry early Christmas to me!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Parade night

Today was the last day of the Escalade festivities. It was so cold that the city was able to make a skating rink and a cross-country ski course for kids in the Parc des Bastions and a downhill ski slope on the steep road that goes from Place Neuve up into the Old Town. All made out of real snow packed down by an army of mini snowplows parked along the side of the street.

The last night of Escalade is the most fun. Starting at dusk, the Compagnie de 1602 puts on a historical parade that stops at strategic locations throughout the Old Town and the surrounding area to read the proclamation that Geneva sent to King Henry IV of France and the governors of Berne, Dauphiné and Lyon upon the victory over the Savoyards. The proclamation briefly describes the attack against the city and requests celebration of the Genevan victory.

Shortly before the parade starts, vin chaud (for the adults) and lanterns (for the kids) are sold up and down the streets.

It gets dark quickly in the winter, so by 5pm, it's time for the parade to start. First the Genevan flag comes by:

Then come the town officials:

(Yes, that is fire -- the parade is mostly lit by firelight.)

(I love the purple stockings!)

And then the musicians:

It's cold at night in December -- I don't know how they keep their fingers nimble!

Next we have an army of townspeople:

And little kids:

Carrying whatever might be useful in a fight:

And here is la Mère Royaume with her pot of soup:

And, finally, the soldiers:

By this point it was too smoky from all the torches and burning hay to take any more pictures. Once the parade has made its way around the Old Town, an enormous bonfire is lit in the square in front of the cathedral. (The Swiss are rather enamored of bonfires. Any time there's a holiday, there's bound to be a bonfire.)

That's all until next year...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

On weapons, soup and church bells

During Escalade weekend, the city of Geneva and the Compagnie de 1602 put on a wide range of activities in the Old Town. The loudest is, without a doubt, the firing of the cannon Falco from the street overlooking the Parc des Bastions. The cannon is a reproduction based on contemporary descriptions of those used in 17th-century warfare in the region. Members of the Compagnie de 1602 explain and demonstrate the workings of the cannon: how to load, clean and fire it.

Once you get up in the Old Town proper, there are little stands selling soup and mulled wine on nearly every corner. And you're bound to run across these guys sooner or later:

They're members of the city's drum and fife corps. The fife players must have awesome lungs... they walk up and down the hilly streets all afternoon as they play!

Near the cathedral there are demonstrations of street defense. First, soldiers carrying muskets and pikes take formation behind a rolling barricade.

See those two holes cut out in the barricade? Here's what they're for:

After each shot is fired, the barricade is pushed farther up the street. The pikemen keep the enemy at bay while the musketeers fire.

Hm. There must not be much danger coming our way at the moment.

See how long the pikes are? They weigh 14 pounds each.

Pikemen also defended the cannons of the city. This is one of their defense formations:

See all the spectators in the background? The Old Town is full to bursting of people during Escalade.

While all these demonstrations are going on, there are tons of little stands all over the Old Town selling vegetable soup, vin chaud, and plenty of little Escalade souvenirs. A major hub of activity is the courtyard in front of the cathedral:

I don't think the churchbells quit ringing today!

All in all, a fun way to spend a Saturday.

PS. Remember how "Escalade" comes from the French verb "escalader", or "to climb"? Here's a depiction of l'Escalade under the eaves of a building on the street where the old armory used to be:

Friday, December 12, 2008

Happy Escalade!

Wait. You don't know what Escalade is?

Once upon a time, there was a man named Charles-Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy. He was a very greedy man, and he wanted to conquer Geneva. At the time, Geneva was a prosperous city of about 12,000 people, and the Duke of Savoy wanted to make it his capital (and crush Protestantism while he was at it). So he organized an army of 2,000 men, and in the middle of the night from the 11th to the 12th of December 1602, they began their invasion.

Now, the word "escalade" comes from the French verb "escalader", which means "to climb". The reason this night is called l'Escalade is because the Savoyard soldiers set up ladders all around the ramparts protecting Geneva so that they could climb the wall and get into the city. About 200 soldiers managed to get into Geneva before two Genevan soldiers heard them and sounded the alarm. The warning bells at the cathedral began to ring, and the people of the city poured out into the streets in their nightshirts to fight the invaders.

Legend has it that a woman called la Mère Royaume (Mother Kingdom) had an enormous cauldron of vegetable soup cooking over the fire and threw it out the window at the invaders in the street below, killing one and injuring many more. Thanks to her, the Genevans won the battle, which is why we buy chocolate cauldrons (called "marmites") full of marzipan vegetables to eat at Escalade.

Here are some marmites on display at some of the chocolate shops around town:

The candy medallion with the crow and the key on the front of each marmite is Geneva's coat of arms. Most marmites also have the date 1602 written across the top in chocolate covered in gold leaf. When it comes time to eat the marmite and the candies inside, the oldest and youngest member of the family join hands, proclaim Ainsi périssent les ennemis de la République! and bring their fists down on it to shatter it. Way too much fun.

Lots of festivities going on over the weekend... I'll be back with a full report!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Poor little fire extinguisher

About a month ago, I was proofreading a document about a poor little fire extinguisher that must have been going through a certain amount of angst. As part of a list of instructions, the document said to "hear" the fire extinguisher.

I wrote in a correction to change "hear" to "heat" and then passed the document on.

Well, the document came back to me this week. The poor little fire extinguisher must still be having a really hard time... now the instructions say to "heart" it.

Hopefully someone will come along to adopt and take care of the little guy so that he can get back to feeling like this:

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Come again?

Ai, aie, aies, aient, ais, ait, aits, é, ée, ées, er, ers, es, és, et, ets, ex, ey, eys, ez.

French is a pretty tricky language to write. Lots of letter combinations (like the ones above) sound exactly the same. Combine that with all the silent letters that crop up in every other word, and you can get tons of words that sound alike but are spelled differently and mean different things.

This can often lead to very unfortunate mixups of homonyms -- one of which lead to this set of instructions, seen earlier this week:

"Pas de pretraitement jus ce que la page 1."

Which means:

"No pretreatment juice that page 1."

Somehow, I don't think that's the message the writer wanted to convey...

PS. "A". That's what all those bizarre letters up at the top sound like. The letter A.

PPS. For everyone who wanted to know what kind of hot chocolate Mom was so desperate to rescue from Osker, here it is (on the left):

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I'm not lying

...when I say that it would take World War III to wake me up.

My roommate invited several friends over last night. They all got very drunk and had a very loud karaoke session into the wee hours of the morning. They were so loud that even in our no-noise-restrictions student residence, people from all the other apartments on the floor came and knocked repeatedly on our front door to tell them to shut up.

And I slept through it all.

Monday, December 8, 2008


The grocery stores here sell "Asco" brand of dog food and dog treats.

Small problem. "Asco" means "disgusting".

Who buys their dog "Disgusting" brand food and treats?

Hmmm. Come to think of it, maybe my mother should. Meet Osker. He's on the right.

(Lucy's on the left. She's Osker's better half.)

Osker is my mother's dog. He's exceptionally smart, which means that he can also be exceptionally naughty!

As I was talking to my mom on the phone on Saturday morning, I heard her let out a despairing wail. She had discovered Osker drinking her hot chocolate. And not just any hot chocolate... the special hot chocolate that my stepdad buys for her at Christmas and only at Christmas.

I couldn't help but giggle. Sorry, Mom.

Apparently he had really been going at it, because the hot chocolate was all over his face, the end table and the arm of the sofa (upon which he was standing as he committed the crime).

My mom was bound and determined to salvage what remained of her hot chocolate. After all, it was the very last glass of last year's chocolate, and she would have to wait until Christmas day to get a new batch. So she picked up her mug and inspected it...

...and found lots of dog fur floating around inside.

At this point in the conversation, I couldn't help myself. I was seriously cracking up. "Hey, Mom," I said jokingly, "why don't you strain the fur out?"

"Oooh! Good idea! I do have a strainer!"

She actually strained her hot chocolate to get the dog hair out. And then she heated it back up in the microwave to kill any dog-related germs that may have been left behind. Desperation makes people do crazy things. Meanwhile, Osker ran over to his bowl to get a long drink of water.

So, anyway, Osker had better watch out... otherwise he might get this in his stocking on Christmas morning:

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Couldn't help but laugh...

...when this song came on the radio this morning while I was slaving away over my thesis. Nice to have a distraction!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

What a day for a race

The weather this morning was terrible. Dark, grey, very rainy, wind... I was mighty glad that I didn't have to do anything but stay inside and work on my thesis. (Yes, I am actually working on it!)

Except that I forgot that I didn't have anything to eat in the fridge. So I had to go buy groceries.

The first thing that I noticed was a bit off was that one of the big, shiny new buses came to pick us up at the bus stop. We've never had one of the big, shiny new buses on our route before. We always get the old orange ones (because they can be attached to the overhead electrical lines).

I didn't really think much about it, though. I mean, after all, there's no law that says that the new buses can't run on our route. But then we started a wide detour around the downtown stops, it hit me... duh, today is the Escalade race. Ugh. Who would want to run all over the Old Town in such horrible weather?

Anyway, so our bus was making a wide detour around the race area. As part of this detour, we had to turn up a narrow road where the buses don't normally go. And what do you know...

Some idiot had parked in the middle of the road. And since the buses can't back up, we were well and truly stuck. Halfway across town from where I wanted to be, so getting off the bus would have been futile. We sat there for 15 minutes or so until the idiot came and moved his car (at which time he got a lecture from the bus driver and the parking police about why we don't park our cars in non-designated areas, much to the delight of the bus passengers).

At any rate, I eventually made it to (and back home from) the grocery store and got four pages written on my thesis. It's nice to finally be making some solid progress. Hopefully the chapter I'm working on will be done tomorrow...

Friday, December 5, 2008


If it's been said once, it's been said a hundred times: don't use foreign expressions in your speech or your writing unless you're 100% sure that you're using them properly. English speakers just can't get enough of using "fancy" borrowed expressions... but they're not the only ones.

Seen on giant posters that have been plastered all over town:


Nice try, y'all.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Wind and rain...

...and darkness and cold and more wind and rain. We are having absolutely rotten weather this week. Luckily for me, I've only had to go out during lulls in the rain -- I got home from the post office today just in the nick of time. It started pouring about three minutes after I got back to my room.

I miss sunshine.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I love the New York Times!

When it comes to grammar, I'm a prescriptivist. Which is a good thing, given that I correct people's grammar for a living.

Confusion between "that" and "which" in restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses is one of my biggest pet peeves, and I was just over the moon to see it addressed in the New York Times' grammar blog.

After Deadline -- That? Which? Or What?

that, which. Use that, not which, in a restrictive clause — a clause necessary to the reader’s understanding of the sentence: The town that the pitcher calls home is tiny Hawley, Pa. (The sentence serves no purpose without that the pitcher calls home.) Note that there are no commas around the clause. In a nonrestrictive clause — one providing added information, not essential to understand the sentence — use which, preceded by a comma: Hawley, Pa., which the pitcher calls home, is tiny. (The sentence is understandable without which the pitcher calls home.)

This rule is often neglected in speech and colloquial writing, and some usage manuals take a laissez-faire approach (see, for example, the American Heritage Book of English Usage, which offers a good explanation but no firm guidance).

But preserving the distinction adds polish and helps to clarify the desired emphasis in a sentence.
(Restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses also show up in the practice tests for the UN editor exams, which, unfortunately, was the only way that I managed to convince some of my classmates that I didn't make this particular rule up out of thin air... So I love UN editors, too.)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Well, I didn't mean to, but...

I just ate a dinner consisting solely of cheese, chocolate and kirsch.

Monday, December 1, 2008

My mom would be so proud

I saw a dad with his two boys in my bus today. One of the boys (probably nine or so years old) was showing off to his dad, singing a song he had learned in class up in his head voice just as pretty as you please.