Chateau de Chillon

The Chateau de Chillon is a gorgeous castle outside Montreaux, Switzerland on Lake Geneva. Disney used it as inspiration for the castle in The Little Mermaid. I mean, look at this:

The day was both beautiful and hot – it was a good day to spend inside a cool stone castle.

There were loads of courtyards. I mean, how else do you get windows that let in light? This was the days before electricity.

The tour starts in the castle keep, a place that was used as both a storage area and a place to hold prisoners, depending on who was in charge and what was happening. This is the original castle, and was built largely in the 1100s.

The keep was also an escape hatch – this was the door the Duke of Savoy’s man escaped out of when the Bernese took the castle. (Lake Geneva is an incredible color.)

When people started visiting the castle in the 1800s, Lord Byron showed up. He wrote a poem about one of the castle’s religious prisoners, Francis Bonivard.

There are lots of picturesque courtyards at Chateau de Chillon. It is lovely.

The building is lovely, and it’s set up for amazing views. These are window seats for sitting and talking or sitting and reading or sitting and thinking.

In addition to there being lots of courtyards, there were also lots of dining rooms. This is one of at least three grand dining rooms that we saw.

Views and defensive towers coexist.

Some of the tile and decoration that was used throughout the castle. This is a high level of pattern matching.

It’s a passageway at the top of the castle, to get you from one tower to another. There are lots of these, too. They were fun because the day was hot and sunny, but I can see how on a rainy winters day, not having these enclosed would not be fun.

It’s another courtyard! This one a little quieter. If I lived here, this might be the one to go hide in with a book.

That was it! Lots of courtyards, views, and dining rooms. I would recommend spending a day at the Chateau if you’re on Lake Geneva. We took a boat ride – also a great thing on a hot day – to get there and back.

Death and surrealism

A French Exit is the fine art of leaving a party without saying goodbye. French Exit, the book, is about a woman who is trying to leave the party of life without saying goodbye to anyone, except maybe her son. It only works to a particular degree.

It starts with Frances (the woman, notorious for finding her husband’s body, closing the door, and going skiing for the weekend instead of reporting it) and Malcolm (her adult son, whose main life ambition seems to be to do as little as humanly possible) leaving a party early because they can, with Malcolm having stolen a framed picture from the wealthy household. You shortly find out that Frances has almost spent all of the money she inherited from her very wealthy husband; she and her son, who leaves behind a fiancée, soon leave for Paris along with their cat.

Their lives get weirder, more absurdist, once they’re in Paris. They collect people around them, ranging from a private detective who only speaks barely-passible English to an unemployed American woman who can see when people are about to die. Weird, in French Exit, is good.

I won’t spoil the ending, but the entire book is death-obsessed and nihilistic in that way that only wealthy upper-class people can be nihilistic. It is funny, and I would recommend it, but only if you’re in the mood for something that most people would consider to be a little bit off.

A walking tour of old Lausanne

I mentioned in an earlier post that old Lausanne is partway up the hill/mountain – that when the Roman Empire collapsed, the remaining people moved up the hill for safety. So the old town, which is very picturesque, is also very hilly. Be prepared for a walk.

This is the view outside the Cathedral, looking back down towards Lake Geneva.

The Cathedral itself is very plain on the inside. When the Calvinists took over in Lausanne, they destroyed the decoration inside the Cathedral. Which isn’t to say it isn’t still lovely. Just lovely in a different way.

After we visited the Cathedral, we walked down a covered stairway (that is part of an official pilgrimage path) that had this little park off to the side about halfway down the hill. It was a little gem that we just stumbled across.

This was a square that we came across, very colorful. It’s near City Hall, and this was the neighborhood fountain, where you would come to collect the water you would need for the day. It was hot the day we were there and I filled up my water bottle at this fountain.

Durig Chocolatier has delicious, yummy chocolate. Would recommend.

All in all, this was a good, albeit short day. We rounded it out with a good long lunch, and it was a relaxing vacation tour.

Memory and nostalgia

Daisy Jones & The Six is a novel written as an oral history about a band (The Six) from the 1970s that ends up collaborating with a singer (Daisy Jones). It’s a lovely story with women who are all strong and navigating a very male-dominated scene – rock n roll in the 1970s. The story and the characters are solid and rich and I enjoyed it.

I especially love the fact that it’s told as an oral history. Personally, the 1970s are a decade that it takes a certain amount of editing to make seem romantic in any way. I mean, the 1973 oil crisis, the 1979 oil crisis, the Iran hostage crisis (apparently everything was a crisis in the 1970s), the Nixon impeachment, the Me Generation… I was very young in the 1970s, but my general impression was always that they were a hot mess. Nostalgia for the 1970s has always felt very ironic to me.

But “nostalgia… is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts & recycling it for more than it’s worth.” Just like the song says.

An oral history might, in fact, have been the only way Daisy Jones and the Six works. You need that separation-through-time factor, as well as the fact that people’s memories are faulty to make a drug-fueled rise of a rock band seem appealing in what is otherwise a disaster of a decade. The distance is the way you remember only the good bits: the songs you love, your youth, your friends, what it was like to be riding a wave of success, falling in love, marriage, learning how to stand up for yourself, the birth of your first child…

And aren’t those the important things anyway? The oral history format allowed me to focus on those things and forget the general miasma that the 1970s always conjures for me.

Recommended.

The International Olympic Museum

I enjoyed The International Olympic Museum more than I expected to. Lausanne is where the IOC is headquartered; ergo, the museum makes sense. (Lausanne in general is a very sporty town, we found.)

This is one of two olympic flames that never goes out. The other is in Greece.

This is the entrance to the museum; it’s also the current high jump world record. That is, someone has jumped over this bar (that most people can easily walk under) without anything like a pole or trampoline to help them along. It’s 8′ 0.25″, and the record hasn’t changed since 1993, according to Wikipedia.

There is a lot to the museum, like the history of the Olympics and what its goals are, the torches that have been used – the design retrospective through the years is fascinating, how different body types are good at different sports, but my favorite is the costumes. These are the costumes that Torvill & Dean wore for their famous Bolero routine.

This is Jim Craig’s sweater from the Miracle on Ice in 1980. (This is when a team of college kids from the US beat the all-professional team of Soviet hockey players in the 1980 Olympics. You can assign all the Cold War significance to this event that you want.)

Usain Bolt’s jersey if for no other reason than he is fast.

A basketball that every member of the 1992 Dream Team signed. That’s the year that the US finally sent its professional basketball players to the olympics – the team that included Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson – and won their games by an average of 44 points. (Dream Team was a fun book to read about their journey, but the narrative arc – the golden team that stayed golden – isn’t the most interesting.)

Jessie Owens‘ shoes from the 1936 Olympics, when he definitively proved that Hitler was a racist asshole. (I mean, didn’t everyone already know that? But still, keep shouting down racist assholes.)

The gardens outside the museum were full of statues (as well as Olympic sports to try, including a 100m dash course), mainly of sports. But there was this tribute to abs, which I found amusing. Yes, it’s all about power and performance. But also: abs.

This was the most out-of-place sculpture – it’s a gentleman holding an umbrella that’s made of water. It is whimsical, if a bit out of place in a place that is a tribute to sports.

The Olympic Museum is a bit on the expensive side, as is most of Lausanne, but it was totally worth it. I really enjoyed the visit. But then: the Olympics has so many good stories, and I am a sucker for a good story. Recommended.

Salad Niçoise is yummy

I ate a LOT of salad niçoise in Europe, both in Switzerland and France. It seems to be having something of a moment (plus, it also feels very summery to me, salad for dinner). I love the veggie-protein mix, and it’s easy to make vegetarian. When there was a skeleton recipe in the latest Bon Appetit, it seemed like a godsend.

Any Way Niçoise
6-8 servings; Switch this up to suit your preferences, but try to always include a mix of cooked and raw veggies for the best textures.

0.75c extra-virgin olive oil
0.25c fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon, in my world)
2T dijon mustard
1t honey
1t each salt + pepper
6 large eggs
1lb green beans, trimmed; asparagus, trimmed; and/or small waxy potatoes, halved or quartered
4c halved or sliced radishes, cucumbers, fennel, and/or tomatoes
3c shredded rotisserie chicken, oil packed tuna, cooked salmon or steak, cooked lentils, or canned white beans or chickpeas
olives, capers, peperoncini, pickles, or other pickled-briny ingredients

Whisk oil, lemon juice, mustard, honey, pepper and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Bring a medium pot of water to boil. Add eggs and cook for seven minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer eggs to a bowl of ice water (keep pot over high heat). Peel eggs after ~5 minutes.

Meanwhile add green beans, asparagus, or potatoes to the same pot of boiling water and cook until just tender (cook each vegetable separately, in sequence), 2-4 minutes for green beans & asparagus, 10-15 minutes for potatoes. Transfer to bowl of ice water; let sit until cold, about 3 minutes. Remove, gently pat dry.

To serve, slice eggs in half & arrange on platter with cooked & raw veggies and protein. Top with pickled-briny ingredients, sprinkle with salt, and drizzle dressing over the top.

(You can cook the eggs and veggies up to 2 days ahead of time.)

Take your food seriously and you will be happier

When we got back from our Europe trip, my daughter was disappointed in all of the food. Just all of it. There was nothing in particular that stood out to her while we were there (except maybe the bread and Carambars), but all of the food was disappointing when she got back.

My personal theory? People in Europe take their food so much more seriously, from the quality of the ingredients to the way to cook to making sure your eating experience is a good one. In America, food is fuel: no more, no less. The farm is a factory.

A Taste of Paris is a well-researched history of food in Paris. There are crazy menus from various royal celebrations, full of meat and designed to show power through eating. This was the era of overweight wealthy people. Getting enough calories was a power move.

Also, much of the food that we think of as French is actually from other places; e.g. the croissant is of Austrian origin. But the French claim it and make it better; no one thinks of croissants and Austria together now.

Downie is up front about his main prejudice: old-school French is best, where old-school is how the restaurants were when he first came to Paris. This is understandable; nostalgia for how things were in your youth is part of growing older. Even if it did occasionally make me roll my eyes.

If you are interested in foodie history and Paris, I would recommend A Taste of Paris.

Switzerland is pretty, aka, an introduction to Lausanne

The early morning, jet-lagged view from our apartment in Lausanne/Ouchy.

We went to Europe! Our family (me, my husband, our daughter) traveled in Europe for two weeks. First, we went to Lausanne, where it was hot and we had a lovely 4th floor apartment near Lake Geneva. The view was great, and being near the water kept things a little cooler than they might otherwise have been.

The first morning there, while my husband and I were up and ready to go and our teenaged daughter, um, wasn’t, we went for a walk to see a bit of the city. We actually mostly stuck to the shoreline. It was lovely.

I personally enjoyed this fountain of three horses fighting over who has the best access to the water.

This is apparently the hotel you stay at in Lausanne if you are royalty, rich, and/or famous. We did not stay there.

There were lots of wild swans. I chose not to get to close. Swans are dangerous.

There is a lot happening on the shoreline at Lausanne. When the Romans founded the town, this is where they started things. But after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 400s CE, the people remaining moved up into the mountains. (Lausanne is incredibly hilly. Being in the Alps will do that.) So the Old Town isn’t here, and there was plenty of room for development when the time came around.

I’ll be spacing out posts from our trip, with a different thing to do on different days. I’ll post restaurant recommendations as I come across them. Enjoy!

Homemade Tomato Salsa

a bowl of homemade tomato salsa, with tomatoes, onions, jalapeño, and cilantro.

You know what tastes like summertime? Fresh tomatoes from the farmers’ market. The best way I know to use some of them up is homemade salsa. It’s easy to make and we have been known to go through a batch a week.

Homemade tomato salsa

12 small-ish tomatoes (I like early girl, Roma will do in a pinch)
1 onion, quartered
1 jalapeño, remove seeds if you don’t like it spicy
2 cloves of garlic
juice from 0.5 lemon
1T-ish of Lawry’s Seasoning Salt
cilantro to taste

Core the tomatoes, put them, the onion, the jalapeño, and the garlic in your food processor. Run it until everything is as pureed as you like it. move to bowl. Add the lemon juice and seasoning salt. Mix. Chop about 2T of cilantro. Taste, adjusting seasoning to your liking. Once satisfied, let it sit in the fridge for at least an hour before serving. Salsa, like soup, tastes better when the flavors have a chance to blend.

Dear world, please learn from your mistakes

Book Cover of Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

As I read Bad Blood by John Carreyrou, I kept thinking: didn’t anyone learn from the first dot com boom?

Bad Blood is the story of Elizabeth Holmes and her now former company, Theranos. Her idea was to start a company – after only one year of college – that could perform a range of tests on just a drop of blood. Not the whole vial, or vials, that sometimes need to be taken. The problem, of course, was that it didn’t work; it never came close to working. Nonetheless she managed to hire more than 800 employees and at one point the company had a paper value of over $9 billion. How?

Good question. Her board had big names – Rupert Murdoch, George Schultz – but no one who knew anything about biochemistry. VC funds who normally invest in health care technology wouldn’t go near it, but other VC firms were more interested, maybe partially because of the names on the board?

Also because, as far as I can tell, Elizabeth Holmes was a really, really good salesperson. She used her own fear of needles as inspiration to investors and potential customers – likening getting blood taken to torture. And she apparently had a way of making people around her believe – really believe – that she and her company could do it.

But the tales of working at Theranos, the culture of fear, the spying on employees, the close watch over information and how it was shared was what really got me. People like Rupert Murdoch and George Schultz do know how to run large organizations and manage people and there was no indication that there was any board oversight of Elizabeth Holmes at all. Even George Schultz’ grandson, who worked at the company and tried to raise flags with his grandfather, was ignored because Mr Schultz trusted Ms Holmes so much.

Bad Blood is a thriller of bad corporate management and charisma trumping all. It should be a staple of MBA courses in the future.