28 May 2016

Food Truck Traffic

OK, now we know it's really definitely officially summer in Geneva.

The second annual Street Food Fest is just finishing up this weekend, a pop-up caravanserai of delicious street dishes from all over, including Japan, Venezuela, Mexico, Bulgaria, Palestine, India, Italy, Spain, Vietnam, Thailand, the U.K., the U.S., and even Switzerland (fresh perch -- the longest line we saw was at that truck!). Plus fresh juices, beer, wine and completely out-of-place techno music, which was at a blessedly low volume, so could be easily ignored.

Not to be ignored were the food trucks (and carts and wagons).

But we wouldn't come just to gawk at the cool trucks.

I tasted two dishes. My crispy-juicy, chicken tacos were made by DeliMex. Their truck pops up all around Geneva.

Then there was this wonderfully sloppy wonder from an Austrian truck, Fische Futter ("futter" means "fodder") -- salmon with salad and caramelized onions with a teriyaki honey mustard sauce on a black bun that I'd really not know too much about.

MF had Palestinian hummus from Hummus & Friends, and Bulgarian pastry from Poushe.

Then we waddled toward home through Old Town.

Where we spied one last marvelous "truck."

22 May 2016

The Night of Museums

Tonight and tomorrow, Geneva is taking part in La Nuit des Musées, like many other cities and towns around Europe this weekend. Museums around the city are open into the night, some with special exhibitions. Like Le Musée d'Ethnographie.

There were three concerts back to back -- a Moroccan band of men sitting, singing and clanging hand cymbals, a Haitian Voodoo percussion band, and a Syrian group with Whirling Dervish dancers. 

We didn't even need our passports.

17 May 2016

Steampunk Fantasy in Nantes

Sometimes the extraordinary suddenly appears to prickle our imaginations. Like in Nantes, France last week when we visited (and rode on) the league of extraordinary machines at the permanent exhibition, Les Machines de l’île

The enormous elephant and other yesterday-tomorrow steampunk mechanical animals are a revelation.

And to think that in a few years, these amazing animals will all live under, around and above a stupendous mechanical-botanical tree. For now they wait, not always patiently, in their home, the exhibition halls and workshop where they were born.

02 May 2016

Elixirs of Lithuania

During a recent short visit to Vilnius, Lithuania, I did not taste the local wines because I'm suspicious of wines made from fruits other than grapes. I did taste 6 or 7 Lithuanian beers... Moving on, I bought a sample of three Lithuanian liquors.

In the Vilnius airport on the way home, I asked the guy at Duty Free if he drank the liquors he was selling. He said yes, of course, without being condescending, and recommended this 3-pack of traditional Lithuanian liquors.

 The packaging describes each liquor.

Starka "in the days of old, used to be made on the occasion of the birth of the first son." It's made from apple extracts, pear leaves and secret ingredients.

Malunininku "has a slightly burning, savory taste with a touch of rye-bread flavor." That's it almost exactly -- also a little sweet and thick.

Devynerios has secrets that "run back to the depths of ages." This elixir contains 17 ingredients, including bark and roots and probably magic spells. It's my favorite for now.

A scientifically conducted comparative tasting yesterday by three judges reached no common conclusions, yet remained civil. Two of us thought all three liquors were delicious. One of us didn't like Malunininku so much. One of us liked it the most. The three-pack costs €10 in Duty Free at the Vilnius airport. If you're going, pick me up one and I'll pay you back.

28 April 2016

Of Currencies and Concepts

It’s hard for expats to resist comparing our home country with our current home. Sometimes events conspire to make that impossible.

The U.S. has just announced that the new $20 bill will replace 19th century president and slave owner Andrew Jackson (in office 1829 - 1837) with escaped slave, abolitionist and Civil War spy Harriet Tubman (1822 - 1913). She will be the first woman, the first black person and the first non-President to appear on the front of a U.S. monetary note (except for the brief appearance of Martha Washington in the 19th century). Other great American women will soon be ensconced on the back of other U.S. bills.

Bravo U.S.A. But gosh, if only we had an image of dear Harriet that is less, uh, glum.
Though goodness knows she had plenty to be glum about.

If she were alive today she might even be glum about the old-fashion design of her new $20 bill. It will look like every other U.S. dollar bill has looked for many years now, drab blue and green, with few sophisticated safeguards against counterfeiting. It will also still have on it the laughably unconstitutional statement, “In God We Trust.”

Coincidentally, my new home country of Switzerland is also unfolding a new monetary note, the first of a full series to come. The design is the exact opposite of the U.S. approach.

The new recently released 50-franc note, doesn’t have anyone’s face on it at all. Until now, the currency notes in circulation have featured, not dead presidents as is mostly the habit in the U.S., but an architect (Le Corbusier), a composer (Arthur Honegger), artists (Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Alberto Giocometti), a writer (Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz), and a historian (JacobBurckardt). The new 50-franc note is a colorful collage featuring not a personage, but a theme: wind. There are images of mountains, a paraglider, dandelion seeds being blown by a breeze and our planet covered with arrows indicating wind directions – innovative yet still in that lithographic style that says money. Also intriguing to graphic design nerds: the designs for both sides are vertical, not the horizontal normally seen on paper currency. The beautiful note, suitable for framing if only you didn’t need the whole thing to pay for the kilogram of scallops you just bought, also includes many sophisticated safeguards against counterfeiting, which I could disclose, but then I’d have to …. However, I can reveal one thing: The note is heavy, made from layers of materials that might even possibly include an embedded interactive holographic disclaimer against formerly vaunted Swiss banking secrecy guarantees now null and void. Nevertheless, the note feels as solid as the swiss franc itself.

But it’s only money. 

22 April 2016

Book Sale Feast for Anglophones in Geneva

Today is the first of three days of book-buying joy at the twice-annual book sale by the Library in English in Geneva. The books range from CHF 2 to 6 francs. You'll find fiction, history, biography, cooking, humor, journalism, travel narratives -- and tea and pastries at the bookside café where you can start tasting your new books.

I scored five promising novels for 20 francs. The one on bottom you can't see: Playback, a classic by Raymond Chandler.

The sale continues through Sunday, with new books being put out continually. The Library in English is a private library on rue de Monthoux near the lake in the Paquis quarter. The library smells exactly how book lovers would hope. Memberships are being offered during the book sale for a 50% discount.

If you're in Geneva and you like to read, you'll love that you went. The next sale: Nov. 4 - 6. 

18 April 2016

Vilnius and Us

The first surprise Vilnius gave us was that we were there at all. 

No offense Lithuania, but you aren't exactly on most people's bucket list. I found myself there last weekend thanks to an invitation from Time Out Switzerland, which I write for sometimes. I went with a small, mostly well-behaved herd of travel writers on a trip offered by the Swiss branch of Germania airlines, which will start direct flights from Zürich to the Lithuanian capital in June.

More surprises soon followed. 

Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, which is not much recompense for having been invaded and controlled by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union (twice). Lithuania is now a member of the European Union; your euros will go a lot further here than in some other Eurozone countries.

We met a tour guide who is an ultra-marathon runner, and gives, not walking tours around the city, but running tours. Clearly, the runners do not stop for a traditional Lithuanian lunch, which typically includes meat-filled dumplings and potatoes in countless forms, even "sausages" of mashed potato wrapped in a casing you probably don't want to know too much about.

But Vilnius also boasts some fine modern restaurants. At Dublis, its 27-year-old owner-chef, Deivydas Praspaliauskas, is always putting together new menus based on what fresh ingredients are available at local markets and his Berlin purveyors. He also designed the waiters' shirts. And went to Italy to choose his flatware.

And he collaborates with Grafo, the modern art gallery in the restaurant's cellar.

Even the winding cobblestone lanes of the city's Old Town are home to modern art -- and a tattoo parlor or two.

Other Old Town art is millions of years old, as you can see in the Amber Museum-Gallery. Lithuania's pine forests are a treasure trove of the fossilized sap that sometimes becomes a perpetual prison to unlucky insects (but no dinosaurs).

Near Old Town is "The Other Republic," Uzupio, a few ramshackle cobblestone blocks where artists, political activists, satirists and surrealists have declared their own "republic." You can even get your passport stamped in a bar there.

Along one street, the republic's constitution is engraved on metal plaques in 23 languages. The inalienable rights of the citizens of the Republic of Uzupio include: "Everyone has the right to appreciate their unimportance," and "A dog has the right to be a dog."

Aimless wandering through the quarter reveals more of its psyche.

Such communal creativity is thriving in Vilnius, even as many young people here and in the rest of the country are drawn to the bright lights and better job prospects around the European Union. But some of the economic émigrés eventually return, never quite content away from their homeland. Many others never consider leaving, far too attached to Lithuania's yesterdays and tomorrows.