Monday, December 12, 2005

A Tale of Five Kitties

Ok, I know it isn't a food story...but I did mention a glass of Mosel!

"Five cats!" I said "You have five cats?" My disapproval was tactlessly revealed. She looked at me as if to say "I thought you were a really nice guy up to this point!" "I can't believe anyone would have five cats!" There was a pause while she looked at the ground. In a stronger voice she said "We like cats!"...We? Oh, now she was bringing her mother into this picture, I suppose she thought her mother's age and wisdom would lend some validity to this folly. As I looked at this beautiful young girl I began to realize the cold truth: if I had any chance of getting to know this delightful creature I was going to have to inventory five cats into the deal. My God, five cats! It might as well have been couple of children as far as I was concerned. I thought having five cats was something old spinsters did to keep themselves company, or perhaps used by witches for casting spells, not girls like this. From all other angles she was quite normal...but five cats!

"How do you remember all their names?" I asked, like a moron. She smiled with the look of a mother teaching something to a small child. Clearly I had a lot to learn about cats. "You will meet them," she said "don't worry."

Then it happened, my first introduction to "the family". We had to round them up, they were all over the house. First I was greeted by Halley named after the comet. She was a calico and the most sociable by far. The second was Pretty, an enormous cream-colored Persian male. "My mother's favorite" she said proudly. As I looked at him, I invisioned shedded hair all over the house, but, I kept my blasphemous thoughts to myself. As we searched the house for the others, we saw a quick flash as another furry goblin darted from underneath one bed to another. "That's Wally, he's anti-social." she said in a very matter-of-fact way. Great, five cats and at least one of them needs a psychiatrist. I could scarcely imagine how many hours a day this woman vacuumed up cat hair, but I'm sure the task was a formidable one. Something told me this was not going to be a very long relationship.

Ok, three down and two to go. "Let's look outside!" she said as if it were an Easter egg hunt. In the neighbor's yard I spotted a tail-less orange cat stretched out in the shade and sound asleep. "There he is...that's Studebaker or Studly for short". He was quite the specimen, strong as an ox and very lazy. Perhaps his tail-lessness caused him some insecurity and therefore he compensated for it by doing kitty body building. He was the Dolf Lungren of cats.

"Where is Rusty?" she said as she looked around the yard "he must be here somewhere." She called and called but "Herr Russelmeier" apparently had another engagement. We decided that it was time for a glass of Mosel on the patio, so we sat and chatted as we sipped. I was making every effort not to bring up the subject of cats, but that didn't last long!

The last of the clan finally decided to make an appearance...I say "an appearance" because it definitely could not be described as a grand entrance. Here before me stood the saddest example of a cat I had ever seen. He was boney and a washed-out looking orange, his face had several scars and there were notches in his ears where bits were missing altogether! Good God, what's that? I leered. "That's Rusty, he is MY cat!" she said proudly. Her taste in men was beginning to worry me, suddenly I wondered if she felt sorry for me too!

What have I walked into? Of the five cats, there was a big, fat, furry Pasha, a psychotic recluse, a vainglorious macho man, and a beaten up sack of bones, the only one that held any promise was the calico. What in the world could her criteria for picking cats possibly be? Something akin to the Charlie Brown Christmas tree syndrome?

"Ok, (the sound of a needle scratching a record) hold everything!" I know what you are thinking... I am going to end up loving every one of these cats like adopted children and everything I have written up to this point is an elaborate and brilliant feint to make you think I don't like cats...right? Well, I only have one thing to say.... you are right....but it wasn't my fault. You see, my original astute observation about old ladies and witches was correct.

Melanie is a witch...not a wicked witch (though she has her moments). Melanie is a good witch, like Glenda in the Wizard of Oz, she is even from Kansas which proves my point. She used the cats to cast a spell over me, I'm sure of it. She fed them stinky magic potions that came in little tin cans which made the cats inordinately happy and agreeable to me. She also gave me a magic wand with feathers on the end, that when waved in the air, had magical powers that made the cats dance and play, then fall fast asleep in my arms. It was magic, I'm sure.

But the biggest spell was cast by the most unlikely of the cats. I was trapped and there was no way out...the ugliest, scrawniest, boniest cat loved me. He didn't just love me, there was something magical in it, and I was powerless to defend myself, Melanie's spell was too strong. He slept with me, he followed me, he talked to me, and I loved having him around. We became best friends, and as soon as I sat down he was in my lap. If we left him for more than a day he would pout and not talk to me for a day or two, then after he felt that he had punished me enough, everything was normal again. He caught squirrels and mice and proudly delivered them to me, and I repaid him with constant attention. I called him dozens of different names and he came to everyone of them.

All of this began 20 years ago, and as perfect of a witch as Melanie is, she couldn't bestow immortality on her little accomplices. One by one we lost them...Studly and Wally were the first to go, then Halley and Pretty, and finally that wonderful old sack of bones that had made me so happy for so long, could go no further. Each one died in my arms, and I would have gladly sold my soul to a real witch to bring them back.

I guess that's the trouble with magic spells...they don't last.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Dining in Interlaken and the Berner Oberland

We lived in Interlaken for 4 years and I suggest:

Gasthof Alte Post
3764 Weissenburg
Tel. +41 (0)33 783 15 15
Fax +41 (0)33 783 15 78
On the road from Interlaken to Gstaad. Old coach stop. Very charming dining room. Very good food, served table side and you get seconds. Prices are moderate.

In Interlaken there is a good wine bar near the "West" train station:
Vineria Grapperia "Per Bacco"
Rugenparkstrasse 2
3800 Interlaken

Have had many very fine meals at the beautiful
Grand Hotel Beau Rivage
Höheweg 211
3800 Interlaken
Tel +41 (0)33 826 70 07
Fax: +41 (0)33 826 70 08

The best wood-fired pizza in Interlaken is definitely:
Pizzeria Horn
3800 Interlaken
Tel. ++41 33 822 92 92
Fax ++41 33 823 50 80
A bit off the beaten path, but worth it. Be sure to order the antipasti.

A must is:
Restaurant Bären
Seestrasse 2
3800 Unterseen (by Interlaken)
Telefon: 033 822 75 26
Fax: 033 822 75 28
Traditional Swiss food in a tiny ancient chalet.

Another must is the Restaurant Hirschen
Hauptstrasse 11
3800 Matten (by Interlaken)
Tel. ++41 (0)33 822 15 45
Fax ++41 (0)33 823 37 45
They grow most of their own meat and veg and source everything locally.

One tip in Interlaken...skip all the restaurants on the main strip in the center of town. They are expensive and packed with tourists...except McDonalds which is full of locals. You probably already knew that though.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Every year the local bakeries in the German part of Switzerland make Grittibänz to be eaten on St. Nicholas Day (December 6th) . They are made from a very lightly sweetened brioche dough and taste delicious. Usually they are pretty simple but some of the finer bakeries can make some that are much too pretty to eat.
He originally came from the German-speaking central plain, the Basel and Neuchatel area. “Gritti” refers to the figure’s legs being apart and Bänz is the short form for Benedikt. There is some dispute about how far he dates back, but he has definitely been known since the 16th century. The widely held view is that the figure represents Santa Claus in a very simplified form.

A Basel recipe for Grittibänz
500 g flour
1 tablespoon salt
70 g sugar
70 g butter
2 dl milk
1 egg
25 g yeast
1 egg for coating
For the decoration: raisins, shelled almonds, candied fruit, possibly coarse granulated sugar.

Cream the yeast with a little sugar in a cup. Place the flour in a bowl and mix it with salt, sugar, slightly warmed butter, lukewarm milk, the egg and the yeast to a dough. Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic. Cover and leave to rise to twice the amount in a warm place. Knead the dough again, use a knife to cut off pieces of dough in the desired size and roll out to an oval shape. Mark the head by pressing the dough together slightly and turn the head to the back to make the neck. Cut out the arms and legs with scissors and place them in the required position. Decorate the figures with raisins, shelled almonds and candied fruit and trim the hat with remnants of dough. Leave to rise and put in a cold place for 20 to 30 minutes. Before baking, brush with egg and possibly sprinkle with coarse granulated sugar. In a preheated oven, bake for 20 to 30 minutes at medium temperature.
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