I’ve Been Hanging Around The Mistletoe. Want Proof? Here’s A Top 10 List.

We’ve noticed these balls of leaves in the trees since we moved to Switzerland.  It’s all over the place here.  Only after a year did I lean what they were… mistletoe!   With Christmas fast approaching, I thought it was the perfect time to talk about these strange green balls.

The top ten things you may not have know Mistletoe (Phoradendron flavescens or Viscum album):

1.  It is a parasitic plant whose roots invade a tree’s bark, allowing the mistletoe to absorb the tree’s nutrients.   Sometimes, it harms a tree and causing deformities in the branches, but it’s not in the mistletoe’s interest to kill its host.  If its tree dies, it dies.

2.  Mistletoe isn’t a complete drain on the host tree (usually oak, apple, hawthorn, or poplar).  Its small green leaves give the host plant with energy through photosynthesis.

3.  Mistletoe is aggressive.  A mistletoe plant to grow on top of another mistletoe plant.  It’s also “aggressive” to your digestive system so don’t eat the berries…regardless of how many glasses of Egg Nog you’ve consumed.

4.  Birds, however, eat Mistletoe’s berries and well, everybody poops.  Eventually, they eventually leave their droppings where they hang out, on tree branches.  Their droppings contain the seeds (which have a sticky coating), which sprout their roots into the tree branch.

5.  Although it’s a European plant, birds travel.  It grows down the eastern Atlantic  coast of the United States, from New Jersey to Florida.

6.   You can grow your own.  Click on this link if you want to indulge your inner Martha Stewart.

7.  Kissing.  Smooching.  Tonsil Hockey.  Snogging.  While it’s got as much credibility as an urban myth, why tempt fate?  Legend has it that couples who kiss underneath the mistletoe will have good luck (for the traditionally minded marriage and a long, happy life together), but standing underneath it and not doing so is bad luck.  In any case, it’s the perfect excuse for a little PDA…and to invite George Clooney to your holiday festivities.

8.  Although American’s know Mistletoe from Christmas Carols, other cultures saw it as a much more powerful symbol.  Ancient Druids used it for performing miracles (perhaps I should climb a tree and get myself some), providing fertility, to healing diseases and protecting people from witchcraft.  Yep.  I definitely need to get me some. especially since…

9.  Britain’s Druids weren’t the only ones who were hip to  its powers.   Vikings believed mistletoe had the power to raise humans from the dead!   When the Zombie apocalypse starts, you know the cause…

10.  Oh yeah, and the Bieb’s like’s it so much that he sings about it.  Here’s a link to Justin Bieber’s song Mistletoe on YouTube.  Happy Holidays!

Justin Bieber at the 2010 White House Easter E...

Justin Bieber at the 2010 White House Easter Egg roll. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Like Most Swiss Cuisine, The Valaisian Plate Is Definitely Not Vegan,

Visitors to Switzerland probably want to taste some authentic Swiss food.  For many, this means fondue.   It’s a great cold weather dish, but a bit harder to eat in the middle of summer.  The Valaisian Plate (Assiette Valaisanne in French and Bündnerfleisch  in German) is great in summer, but perfect when the weather turns. It is a savory plate of charcuterie and good choice year round.  Consisting of paper-thin slices of local dried meats such as salami, bacon, and/or dried beef it isn’t a vegetarian dish.  People order it as an appetizer or side.  Since it usually comes with bread on the side, I’ll order it as my main course (as it is usually an affordable option) in more casual restaurants.

Be Thankful For Your Friends But Avoid The Friendship Cup

The object above isn’t the holy grail, an objet d’art, vase, fancy pipe or some kind of crazy teapot, it’s a friendship cup.  As Thanksgiving approaches, one of the things we are most grateful for this year is all of the friends we’ve made in Switzerland.

A friendship cup (also known as Coppa dell’amicizia, grolla or grolle ) is a round container with a lid and multiple spouts made of turned wood.  It is used for drinking special hot adult beverages with friends.  There’s a saying, “he who drinks it alone, will choke.”  Here’s how it works.

Gather your friends, or nearby people you want to become friends (because after you finish one of these you will be.  Traditionally you have at least one more person than the number of spouts on the cup.  Why?   You end up sharing and drinking from a different spout as the cup gets passed around the table.  People don’t worry about the germs for two reasons.  First, it’s your friends.  Secondly, what they put in the cup is strong enough that it could probably be classified as some sort of disinfectant.   You pass the cup around your group, not setting it down until it’s empty.  Trust me when I tell you that this is easier said than done.

We first encountered it when we visited the Aosta Valley in Italy.  Thank goodness no one whipped out a camera that night…  The friendship cup is an after dinner (or later) tradition in Lombardy and the rest of the Italian Alps.  It comes from the “Soldats de la Neige” (which translates into Soldiers of the Snow) who acted as guides to travelers in this rough terrain.   They needed extra “energy” to survive in the cold.   Having had some, it does seem to warm you up.  The drink’s popularity spread to include everyone who needed a little pick me up to brave the cold.

What’s in a Friendship Cup?  Valdostana coffee, a liquor ( usually Génépy, but it can be plain or fruit grappa, cognac, Cointreau, red wine or cum), sugar and spices.  Sometimes people add butter and orange peels.  Just make sure you have friends around to drink it with you.  It sounds delightful.  It’s not.  It’s Trouble.  That’s right, trouble with a capital “t.”

So as Thanksgiving approaches, thanks guys, we’re raising our glasses (or beers from the snow) to you and giving thanks, just don’t expect us to bust out the friendship cup.   Here’s to you, Cheers!  Kippis!  Chin Chin!  Santé!  Prost!  Slàinte!  Skål!  L’Chaim!  Na zdrowie!

The Malgre Nous, Forced To Fight Against Their Country Of Birth During WWII

Malgré-Nous is a French phrase  (at the bottom of the above monument) that means “despite us” or “in spite of us.”  It refers to inhabitants of the Alsace and Moselle (part of Lorraine) areas of France who were conscripted into the German armed forces during the WWII.   We first noticed it on monuments and memorials when we visited Alsace (Belgians and Luxembourouise were also conscripted).

France and Germany repeatedly fought over the territory.  In 1639, the French conquered Alsace to keep it from the Habsburgs.  In 1871, Alsace (and Lorraine) fell under German control when France lost the Franco-Prussian War.  With Germany’s defeat in the First World War, the area became French once again and Germans who had settled in Alsace were expelled.  When Germany invaded and annexed the area on October 18, 1940, the departments fell under German control.  By 1942, service had become compulsory and French inhabitants became part of the Wehrmacht (the German army), the Luftwaffe (the air force),  the Kriegsmarine (the German Navy) or the SS.   Others were sent to the Eastern Front to fight Stalin, many ended up in interned in Axis Soviet prison camps (like the one in Tambow, Russia). Others fought in more local battles in Normandy such as Das Reich in the Falaise pocket.

Others deserted.  They were shocked when the U.S. military treated them as deserters, not as the liberators of France wanting to fight for their homeland they believed themselves to be.  Many were sent to camps in the west of France, alongside German prisoners who didn’t look too kindly on people they viewed as traitors.  Those who defected to the Soviets were also seen as deserters or spies and shot.  Still others deserted to join the Resistance or fled to Switzerland, but their families were deported to labor or concentration camps.   This policy effectively forced conscripts to remain in the German Army.

Malgré-Nous who survived the war were considered by some as traitors or Nazi sympathizers after its end.   An amnesty law enacted on February 20, 1953, forgave crimes committed by Malgré-Nous.   Of the 130,000 men who were conscripted Third Reich in the Second World War, 32,000 were killed, 30,000 wounded and 10,500 missing and presumed dead.

The last phrase of the plaque above says “Alsace is the region of France who paid the heaviest price for the madness of Nazisme.”

War Memorials On Armistice Day, Also Known As Veteran’s Day

We’ve done our fair share of traveling in France lately.  We’ve noticed virtually every town there has monuments to local citizens who died in service of their country.  The lists of names, often including those deported and killed locally, are a touching remembrance.

Veterans Day annually falls on November 11, but to make it a bank holiday/federal holiday it is observed on Monday, November 12 in the United States .   Why November 11?   On November 11, 1918, the armistice ending World War I was signed.   On that day, hostilities between the Allied countries and Germany officially ended.  Germany

Technical innovations like the machine gun, poison gas, tanks, and aircraft appeared in battle for the first time in World War I.  Scientific advances and industrialization joined to create enormous death tolls.  Germany lost 1,800,000; the Soviet Union lost 1,700,000; France lost 1,385,000; Austria lost 1,200,000;  Great Britain lost 947,000.  While that may seem small in comparison to some of the other countries listed, about 1/3 of Great Britain’s male population died in The Great War!   Extrapolating, it’s difficult to imagine the devastating effects on  experienced by some of the other countries listed, especially those who had the war fought on their soil.

Although we haven’t seen quite as many such monuments in Germany, we did see a few there too.  We came across the one below in Bad Munster, near Bad Kreuznach in Germany.

After WWII, the holiday was expanded to remember those who served in that war.  In the US, we’ve had a significant number of wars over the last century  Veterans Day honors and thanks veterans for their service to their country.

War requires sacrifices and troops bear more of them than most.  It is important to remember those sacrifices and the people who made them.  War isn’t a triviality.  It’s important to remember that it carries with it a human cost.  Whether you call it Armistice Day or Veterans Day, it is a time to remember the price paid, the sacrifices of those that have served and honor those that did.