26 May 2015

Pit stop

​08:40h - wheels down. 

As the plane taxies to the gate, I run through the plan once again: Get off as the first passenger, breeze through immigration, down the stairs and out through baggage claim, across the bridge into the airport mall and straight into Migros. This should be about 10 minutes.

Pile chocolates, crackers, candy, cookies and, yes, toothpaste, into the trolley and pay. Stuff it all into the expandable bag in my hand. 15 minutes if things go well.

Stop by a mailbox and an ATM on the way to the Sprüngli store. Get the dark Truffes du jour and a few bars of gianduja for special occasions. Pack them away as well. 15 minutes.

Backtrack to the departures level, locate the check-in counter with the shortest line, have the bag tagged and sent on its way to Montréal. While waiting, call mum and arrange for rendez-vous. 10 minutes.

Time check: There are now 200 minutes left prior to scheduled take-off, 155 to boarding.

Meet & greet with mum and aunt, present Mother's Day gifts, find a sunny spot on the terrace and have coffee with Gipfeli. Chit-chat, and say thank you for coming out to the airport this morning. Promise to spend more time with them soon and discuss plans for next month's return to the home country. Emphasize that it will be for more than a week and correlate with annual vacation allowance in Canada. Decline second coffee and resist second Gipfeli in consideration of a long-haul flight's worth of catering coming up. 120 minutes.

With casual glance on wristwatch and random reference to time zones, get the group on its feet again. Walk mum and aunt back towards parking garage, hug and kiss them good-bye. 5 minutes, 10 with emotional reserve.

Race back to security screening and use priority lane. Ignore duty free selection of Swiss wine, whine about poor exchange rates instead. Proceed directly to airline lounge and stock up on magazines. 10 minutes.

Clear immigration again, get into airline limo to departure gate and board aircraft. 15 minutes. 

Settle in, sit back, accept a glass of champagne from flight attendant. Breathe. Reflect on the merits of getting up at the crack of dawn and routing the return of the business trip via Zurich. As the plane pushes back from the gate, remember hugging mum. And buying chocolates. Smile as the engines come alive.
12:50h - take-off.

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6 May 2015


"Eat your vegetables", said the voice in my head as I looked at the dinner menu. So I forced my eyes to the salad section again. It looked predictably dreary, until I suddenly caught something: The arugula and mushroom salad came with parmigiano. Once again, cheese saved the day.

While other notions about the Swiss may just be cliches, their fondness for dairy products is definitely real. Cow juice and its derivatives are a staple on any table, no matter which part of the country you're in. Ovaltine with milk for breakfast, creamy pasta sauces at lunch and Gschwellti for dinner; dairy is everywhere. Both old (government-assured prices for any quantity of milk farmers produced) and new (liberalized European markets and removal of quotas) agricultural policies have ensured that dairy is abundant and affordable - something that cannot be said for Canada.

But tastes don't change, and so I find myself spending inordinate amounts of loonies on milk products in Québec, despite the reservations I have about the treatment of cows. As a local dairy farmer recently confirmed to me, the province's farmers keep their cows indoors all year long so that they can squeeze more of the precious white liquid from their udders. "We have no choice", he lamented in a well-rehearsed speech about the unfairness of the markets. And yet he did not find it strange that in Canada, a kilo of beef costs less than a kilo of cheese. Silly me; I had always believed in the old business saw that has cows involved in producing milk, but committed to making steaks.

It may even be a mild addiction: When travelling to Asia, I often have milk cravings after a few days of local cuisine - no matter how much I appreciate Asian fare. Little surprise, then, that an Indian friend once candidly told me how to him, we northern Europeans all smelled like sour milk.

I am not ashamed, since I consider myself in excellent company. And I keep an open mouth mind - trying out local milk products from Morocco to Macedonia.  Charles de Gaulle may have wondered how one can govern a country of 246 cheeses, but there is no question on how one can love it.

So yes, this tale has many holes in it. But it nonetheless has a happy ending. For no matter how hard the times are, there is one word that will always put a smile on my face: Cheese!


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