Neither Newly Wed, Nor Nearly Dead

I can't go there.

I can’t go there.

Over the past few months we’ve received a number of brochures in the mail sent by companies who assume that we are either very old and/or very wealthy. Has anyone else had this problem?

Many of these mailings are glossy brochures advertising Viking river cruises to Prague, Budapest and other exotic and far-off places, with costs for two exceeding the cost of a patio or used car. A few cruises are sponsored by the alumni association of our alma mater, which has no doubt assumed that everybody in the Class of ’76 is now flush with cash – even those of us who studied journalism. What bothers me, beyond the assumption that we have all this cash, is that cruises have always been for “the newly wed or the nearly dead.” Since we’ve been married almost 15 years I can only assume the worst.

Because my husband has his own business, development officers from our alma mater over the past few years have contacted him about meeting personally. “I’m going to be in Boston next (date),” bubbled one in a friendly note. “Would love to have the chance to meet with you and talk about all the great things our school is doing.”  Moreover, other mailings that we’ve received have suggested that we leave a “lasting legacy” to their organization in our estates.  Quoting a childhood neighbor, we’d just like to have enough to pay the guy who shovels the last shovel of dirt.

I wonder if somewhere in cyberspace, some evil trolls are combing through our emails and clicks and cross-referencing them with data about the jobs we’ve had, the organizations we’ve supported and the magazines that we’ve ordered – then divine that we are millionaire empty-nesters with money to burn.

Here is what these trolls would see on the surface: a couple in their late 50s, who are part of AARP and who’ve given money to public television, living in a Zip Code with a lot of high-net-worth individuals. A home-based business that is doing well; an Expedia account; an AKC-registered dog, an online subscription to the Wall Street Journal. Bingo! The type of family that would plunk down a Honda-sized chunk of cash to cruise the Rhine.

Here is what they don’t see: our biggest and most successful investments have been in six big accounts – five of them have now matured and are doing just great. The remaining one is just 14. The reason we’ve sent money to PBS is because I received in return a free DVD set of Ken Burns’ documentary of the Civil War for Bob for Christmas. Our Expedia account is used mainly to book the cheapest flights to places where we can mooch off relatives. While our town includes a lot of private wine cellars and humidors, we store our wine on a few wrought-iron racks from Pier One, and our after-party ritual is sprawling on the couch and watching a football game.

So there you have it. Please stop sending us this travel porn. We’d love to cruise the Danube, but we have a patio and replacement windows in our future.

The Bliss of Being Swiss

Gruyere is a village that time forgot, but it makes some of the world's most unforgettable cheese!

A paddleboat takes visitors from city to city along Lake Geneva. Every inch of the antique boat is pristinely restored.

Just returned from a trip to Switzerland, where we are lucky to have family members.  Despite a forecast of rain, we enjoyed a glorious five days there, most of them blessed by blue skies and vistas of the Alps unimpeded by clouds or mist.

Switzerland routinely turns up on all the lists of the world’s most expensive places to live, and after I visited I realized why so many wealthy people want to live there.  Its picturesque villages, clean air and central European location are only part of the appeal.  It’s also a place that values quiet, tradition and the older, slower ways of doing things.  You can’t help but slow down there. In fact, after returning home a few days ago I canceled a few appointments in gratitude to Switzerland.

For example:

Switzerland still makes watches with hands.

Chocolate, cheese, croissants and wine are basic food groups. Can’t get much better than that.

You can walk from town to town along Lake Geneva, which has many picturesque pathways along its shores.  Great for burning off the chocolate, cheese and wine.

Gruyere, made in gruyere, is the big wheel of cheese.

One of hundreds of drawers holding fanciful type for projects created one letter at a time at Le Cadratin, in downtown Vevey.

Gruyere, a cheese-making mecca, is located near the top of a mountain there.  It’s a beautiful old city, built around a real castle, with cobblestone streets.

Switzerland never stopped serving fondue (we ate at a wonderful restaurant where waiters brought out the Swiss flag and played the Swiss national anthem with every serving of fondue.)

Downtown Vevey, an hour from Geneva, is home to Le Cadratin, a print shop that still makes the printing plates by hand.  It has hundreds of drawers of tiny metal plugs, each with a single letter, all organized by type face and size.  It uses antique printing presses for a textural richness that digital printing can’t match.

In Switzerland if you make a restaurant reservation, they give you the table for the entire night.  This was a godsend when we were late for our reservation at a mountaintop restaurant because we took a wrong turn and drove up the wrong mountain.

Switzerland loves great music and musicians.  Branford Marsalis played at a jazz festival last week in the tiny town of Cully. Sting has stayed at the chalet of a jazz impresario in Switzerland, and Queen’s Freddie Mercury made Montreaux his final home when he was dying of AIDS.

A restaurant in downtown La Tour de Peilz serves fondue with a flourish...waiters bring out the Swiss flag and a three-foot pepper grinder, and the sound system plays the Swiss national anthem.

Nestle, headquartered in Vevey, saved the great Caillers chocolate company from financial ruin in the 1920s…thus enabling Caillers to save future generations of chocolate lovers from their own great depressions through chocolate’s restorative qualities.

The Swiss like to air-kiss three times (which means one cheek gets shortchanged, but who cares?)

A proper Swiss toast includes champagne or Swiss wine, the word “santé!” (meaning “health”) and serious eye contact with each fellow reveler/toaster.

Finally, and this is no small point…the Swiss love their dogs and well-behaved pets are welcome anywhere.

Of course, Switzerland is not perfect.  You can’t find Crest toothpaste, Arm & Hammer baking soda and canned pumpkin there, as our family members there will lament.   But it’s a small price to pay!

God save the Queen, and Freddie Mercury, whose statue is displayed in downtown Montreaux.