Morning encounters with noisy goblins

There are times when you are stuck between the devil and the deep sea. On a hot summer day this choice is easy to make. I would take the sea over the devil any day. Sipping a cool drink on beach while the waves of the sea gently lap at your heels,  is a much pleasant alternative to the red skinned, two horned devil pricking you with a pitchfork.

But the choice between pink goblins or noisy ones is a slightly more tricky one…sometimes even a non-choice, as you cannot really avoid any of them. You see, both of them invade into your early morning slumber. The slumber tastes especially sweet on a cold winter morning when it’s -10 degrees outside and just the thought of stepping down from the bed sends a chill down your bones. If you have a daughter, you are bound to run into the pink goblins sooner or later (famously elaborated in my last post). And if you live in Switzerland, then on every last school day of the year before the christmas holidays there is no escape from the noisy ones. Try what you may, they will track you down faster and more accurately than a heat seeking missile.

Switzerland and noise are like chalk and cheese … hardly to be spoken about in the same breath. Yet once a year at precisely 6 AM in the morning, the streets of practically every town in Switzerland turn into a cacophonous orgy of noise, clang and din. Rumor has it that Martians and other funny looking bug-eyed aliens routinely bypass earth on this day for the fear of their delicate spaceship controls being fried off by the high-pitched noises emerging from an otherwise calm alpine nation.

Some of you must be wondering what could the possible source of this noise be? Fret not, as you are not alone. Many theories have been put forward to explain this phenomena over the last few years. Some of the common misconceptions that typically do the rounds are as follows :

  • All the Swiss cows fart in unison on that day
  • The millions of cheese factories have their annual cheese cauldron cleaning day
  • A secret chip implanted in all the cuckoo clocks gets activated and they go off simultaneously
  • The funkily named subatomic particles have a head on colliding party inside the Large Hadron Collider
  • All the swiss watchmakers throwing down their delicate tools with a relief that over the upcoming holidays they will not have to work on those darned minuscule watch parts
  • All the bankers count their gold coins together trying to prove off that ‘My pile is higher than yours’

But as you have guessed by now, these theories as interesting as they may sound, are nowhere near the truth. The real reason that yours truly has discovered is as follows. On the last school day of the year before christmas holidays, the swiss school kids get a license to shock the hell out of poor souls peacefully slumbering in their beds. A typical street scene on that morning looks like this.

All the kids dress up in their warmest clothes, bring out the noisiest substance in their home (which is often themselves) and run to their school in the wee hours in the morning when all is still dark. There they are greeted by the teachers who wait for this day eagerly every year. On this day the teachers, who have suffered all year round at the hands of the kids, have the possibility to give it back to their parents, using their own kids as a means. Carl Jung called this syndrome ‘You oughtta know!‘. Alanis Morissette then famously plagiarized the words of his theory and conjured up a smash hit.

And smash and hit is what the kids have a license for that morning. The otherwise docile kids walk around all the streets banging away at their metallic instruments and screaming at the top of their voices. The louder they clang, the more appreciation they get from their teachers and other kids. The wackier the instruments they use the produce the sounds, the higher up the kids move up on the ‘Cool wall’. If you want to make it big on that day and be a star, old pots and pans banged together will not do. If your dad happens to be a heavy beer drinker or your mom an obsessive tomato sauce freak, the byproducts of their passion can come in very handy that morning as well.

Drunk on the motley sounds gleefully produced by their noisy orchestra, they march on. The procession continues till the time the kids either grow ravenously hungry or their instruments break or every single person in town is woken up and comes out begging and pleading for some peace and quiet. The kids are then rounded up by the teachers and led back to the schools for a hearty breakfast before they are unleashed on their parents for the rest of the vacation.

This tradition has been apparently going on for a few hundred years is lovingly called ‘Schulsilvester’. The intent being to welcome the new year and drive away the old one.  How far that is true is anyone’s guess, but the streets are surely a lively place to be on that morning.

Here’s to a smashing 2012 !


Crash like a Swissgyptian

3 days to go from an Skiing novice to effortlessly gliding down the slopes and crashing into any conceivable object in sight is quite an achievement .. or not, depends on how you look at it. But before we get too far ahead with passing judgement let me share with you some revelations i have had in the last 3 days, since i started my skiing lessons.

1. Those Skis aren’t evil : While they may look so to a novice with all those sharp edges, dangerously curved sides, scary inscriptions like ‘Speed demon’, ‘Race carving’ complete with fiery and devilish motifs etc…. i can assure you in this case looks are deceptive. The scary clicking sound the bindings make as they clamp onto your ski boots – which sound very close to the devil smacking his lips as he waits for his prey to slide into his open mouth is purely a coincidence. The way they will automatically start to move towards a direction unintended by you as you stand on a slope with an incline greater than 0.5 degrees is completely down to your lack of control rather than them answering to their master’s call and pulling you into the dungeons lurking below the pretty alpine slopes.

2. The T-bars on the Ski lifts are not fishing hooks laid down by the devil: Yes at first glance the ski-lift, with its never-ending rows of contraptions that look like two-sided fishing hooks tied to a giant fishing line laid down by the devil himself, can be a bit intimidating. The slight smirk given to you by the man handing you the T-bar at the beginning of the ski-lift is not a sign that you are done for – It’s just that the poor man stands there everyday for 6-8 hours every day in sub-zero temperatures, and his features have permanently frozen into that look. The huge tug that the T-bar will give occasionally as it pulls you upward is not the devil yanking his catch off the snow – it’s to keep you focussed on the job at hand, rather than you drifting off and enjoying the views of the pretty alpine vistas or the swiss beauties gliding down the slopes in their bright ensembles.

the devilish ski lift T-bars

3. The ski instructors are not devil’s assistants : Again the classic case of looks being deceptive. They do dress up in red from head to toe – but that’s just their uniform as ordained by the ski school. The helmets they wear is not to hide the horns on their head – it’s just for safety. Their eyes look every shade of orange, purple and blue – it’s only because of your and their ski goggles playing tricks on your vision (being partially colour blind like me doesn’t make it easier). When they encourage you to slide down a slope that looks gentle to them but like deathly hallows to you – they are not trying to cripple you. They are trying to get you to grips with the concept that skiing means gliding down slopes, not just standing there on top of the slope and shivering with a mixture of cold and fear. (BTW .. Don’t tell my wife I even had these unkind thoughts about them, she finds all of them very cool and good-looking)

4. The orange cones placed on the slope are not targets to be knocked over : This is difficult one to grasp, but worth a shot anyway. Those bright little orange cones placed on the slope are meant for little kids to do a slalom run around them. It is great fun and very tempting to whizz over the snow at full speed straight like an arrow and watching every single one of them fly in different directions. But think of the hapless kids who are now standing there confused not knowing what to do and the poor and heartbroken ski instructor who painstakingly placed them with unerring swiss precision watching his hard work being destroyed.

5. It is more fun to be standing-up rather than lying face down on the snow: While this may conjure up all kinds of unwarranted images and ideas in your head, the point is simple – You paid a fortune for the skis, boots, lessons etc.  Now show some courage and ability to master a new skill. Learn to stay upright on the snow for a few seconds, make use of all the technology gone into your gear and enjoy the sensation of being able to gracefully glide over the perfectly frozen snow, leaving tracks that the whole world will follow …. before a sharp turn beckons, gravity and panic take over, you forget all the techniques and land face down on the snow, only to watch 4 yr olds speed past you while grinning and waving at you!

…. Now having read a fascinating discourse about the secrets of skiing, I am sure a question must have popped into some of your inquisitive brains – Why am I not utilizing my newly acquired knowledge and skills and enjoying wafting down the sun-kissed slopes rather than typing into this GRS? Well the answer is quite simple …. I did master the mythical art in a short span of two days, made numerous practice runs, turns, stops, traverses etc (don’t believe me? ask my wife). But on my first run down a real blue ski slope, having negotiated the most difficult parts, a pole standing in the middle of the slope wanted to make an acquaintance with me. I obliged and met it head on, and resulted with a sprained/mild hairline fracture on the little finger on my right hand :-( So here i am sitting at home listening to Buddy Guy belting out his blues on my Cadence Amayas.

But fret not, in a week i shall be back on the slopes… till then, a happy new year to all.