Chronicles of a writer abroad


A few fall festivals

September brings a number of interesting events to this fair country. There is, of course, the cow parade, which I want to make a point of seeing next year (assuming we’re still living here then). Then there is the lesser-known Kurbisregatta, in which farmers race across a lake using a hollowed-out pumpkin as a vessel. Sadly I did not see this in person either, but a look through the images on that page is rather rewarding.

Stelian and I did, however, manage to take part in the film festival happening here in Zurich; last weekend we saw the film Sleepwalk with Me, written by and starring comedian Mike Birbiglia. I was familiar with Birbiglia as an occasional contributor to This American Life,  so I knew I enjoyed his sense of humour. Sleepwalking is also a topic that I relate to on a personal level. While I have (repeatedly) experienced it, Birbiglia, on the other hand, can really be said to have suffered from it…the movie tells his story in excruciating and hilarious detail. I liked the film — it certainly made us laugh, even if it seemed to lack focus at times. If it’s not playing in a theatre near you, I recommend in its stead this episode of This American Life, in which Birbiglia tells his story, which if you’re like me, will have you laughing until you can’t breathe. Good times.

Anything interesting happening near you this month? 



Apartment pics redux

We’re all moved in to our new apartment. Note that I said moved in, not settled. There’s a lot more to be done in terms of unpacking and arranging things. But we’re enjoying living here so far. Here is a look at one of my favourite rooms in the apartment:

It’s our office, and there is a tree that fills the picture window here. An amazing thing is that the large window actually is on a hinge, and opens. But we’ll probably not open it often, because it’s pretty scary to see such a big piece of glass swinging free. In case you can’t see in the picture, the tree is a maple — appropriate for us occasionally homesick Canadians.

And here is a look at two other great features of the apartment, in the living room: a fireplace, and a stairway to…a roof terrace. I’ll show you soon. But shhh — the cats don’t know about it yet.


Insurance against soapy disaster

In preparation for our move this coming weekend, I’ve been packing and taking care of some administrative details. Amid all the address changes and transfer-of-services, I got to thinking about insurance. When we moved here, several people told us that we should get household and private liability insurance. Since this wasn’t mandatory, however (unlike health insurance, which the government continues to hound you about until you have signed up), we let the issue slide and become buried underneath more pressing matters in our new life.

Now that we have a new apartment and a second chance to do things right, I started looking into it again. I quickly decided that I was not interested in household (or contents) insurance, since nothing among my apartment’s furnishings is of high value. Some things have sentimental value, of course, but insurance can’t do much about that if these things were to be ruined.

I moved on to private liability insurance, or, to use the elegant German word, Privathaftpflichtversicherung. This at first sounded like it could be useful, insofar as it would cover us for damage that we might do to our new apartment. But then it seemed that this didn’t really cover accidental damage, or damage due to negligence…or anything much at all, except maybe a broken windowpane here or there, which is something I’ve never dealt with in any of my previous four apartments.

Nevertheless, I decided to get a quote from an insurance company, thinking that if they sent me an offer, I could read through all of the terms before deciding whether or not to sign up. But surprise, surprise: the person on the phone told me that they couldn’t approve us due to our L-permit. He told me to try calling another company who might underwrite the policy, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to reply, “Oh, that’s okay. If your company [Zürich Insurance] doesn’t want to give it to us, it can’t be that important.”

“Oh, but it is!” he protested. “You might hit someone on your bicycle.”

Right…but somehow I lived with this possibility my entire life in Canada, without having insurance against it.

After hanging up, and before putting the issue completely to bed, I decided to check the expat bible, a book called Living and Working in Switzerland. This book is known for its useful advice, its occasionally histrionic tone, and its warning that expats will have to get used to not flushing the toilet after 10pm. I thought it might be able to scare me into trying harder to get this insurance. But here’s what it had to say about private liability:

To take an everyday example, if your soap slips out of your hand and flies out of the window while you’re taking a shower, and your neighbour slips on it and breaks his neck, he (or his widow) will sue you for millions of francs.

Well, I just can’t count the number of times my soap has gone flying out the window. But since my new washroom doesn’t even have a window, I guess I no longer have to worry about living on the edge of soapy disaster here in Switzerland.

Anyone have further insights into private liability insurance and its importance?


Under pressure

The other night I had a dream in which the sun went out — inexplicably, in the middle of the morning, it became dark as night again. My first thought about this, in the dream, was “This’ll make for a great blog post!”

You see, the widening chasm between posts weighs on me in both my conscious and unconscious hours. And I am not someone who performs well under pressure. I am, instead, someone who chokes under pressure. You know that moment when you’re playing Tetris and the pieces are coming too fast and you can’t find appropriate spaces for them, so you just give up and let them pile up in crazy fashion? That’s a pretty good analogy for the way I live my life at times. I am also physically crippled by pressure — many times it has caused me, as it did a few days ago, to wake up with a neck so stiff I can barely move my head.

Life is unusually hectic for us at the moment because we’ve decided to move apartments within the city this month. Like many things in Switzerland, the moving process is fussy and stressful…to the point that you begin to wonder whether it’s worth the trouble. But we’re hoping it is. And I think I’ll feel much more willing to blog about it once it’s all over.

I hope, dear readers, that you’re all settling nicely into your fall routines. We’re certainly looking forward to things being a little more settled chez nous.

A view of our soon-to-be-old apartment