Monthly Archives: November 2011


When I turned eight my grandfather gave me, as a present, hundreds of used train tickets. I watched, astonished, how he tenderly rummaged the collection, recalling the purpose of various journeys. The tickets were clearly of great value to him.

My grandfather was a hoarder: he collected and was unable to discard stuff even if it were worthless things other people would throw away. His five sons have the same tendency. I remember visiting one uncle’s house: small lanes meandered between mountains of stuff. My mother prevented clutter in our house by throwing stuff out when my father wasn’t around. Only one uncle, who went into therapy, managed to rid himself of the disorder.

It’s hard to pinpoint the difference between compulsive hoarding and owning a lot of stuff. My father couldn’t pass an open trash container without taking a peek inside, and would often take out things that he thought he could use. He would also pick up things from the street like rubber bands and lost gloves. My father had great excuses for keeping stuff, like a broken pencil that was a bit like the one of his late mother. He sometimes tried to organize, but would get lost in his boxes and suitcases filled with paper. Processing information seemed to be a challenge. Maybe that’s why my father wrote down everything – names, book titles, phone numbers, ideas, summaries of conversations. He had tens of thousands of these notes: too many to be of use, but he couldn’t part with them.

My father’s passion for collecting stuff frightened and embarrassed me when I was young. Only later I realized that the disorder was much stronger than him. To understand the way he gave meaning to things, I used the 74 gloves he had collected in a project for art school. Since his death I sometimes pick up things from the street in his remembrance, like a nice chestnut or a button. But once I get home, I throw them away. Just to make sure they won’t turn into weird birthday presents.

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Swiss street sign

Behold this street sign I spotted every ten meters in a residential area in Switzerland. Apparently, dogs and cats in Switzerland are expected to read street signs. To me, the sign is a fine specimen of, what is called in psychoanalysis, anal retentiveness.

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Killing with cleanliness

My in-laws suffer from a genetic disorder called laundryphilia. This abnormal love for doing laundry seems incurable and is passed on from generation to generation. Spouse’s grandmother rubbed her fingers into oblivion on the washing board. My mother-in-law takes pleasure in washing particular garments on particular days of the week. One daughter gets a kick out of washing weird things, like toothbrushes. The other  goes for quantity rather than quality: she managed to kill her machine in a few years by using it four to six times a day.

Occasionally, the disorder wreaks havoc. I was enjoying a coffee on a quiet Saturday morning when I heard the sound of a waterfall coming from my study. I ran upstairs and found that the room’s basin was overflowing. There was a distinct smell of detergent and I saw bits of purple fluff in the puddles on the floor. Something was blocking the drain of the washing machine: its wastewater was looking for a way out.

It appeared that Spouse had decided to wash our doormat. “Did you look at its washing instructions?” I asked. Yes, she did. “Did it say you could wash the doormat?” No, it didn’t. But Spouse had decided she knew better than Ikea. “There are other ways to clean a doormat,” I ventured while we mopped the floor, “like using a brush”. Obviously, I had no idea what I was talking about.

In the week that followed, Spouse spent her evenings either in the DIY shop or crouched behind the washing machine. She poured soda into the drain and poked it with  rods and knitting needles. To no avail. Occasionally, I parked our garbage container next to the washing machine. After each washing, I rolled 45 liters of rinse water to our bathroom, which I  emptied in the tub.

Spouse finally unblocked the drain it by sawing most of the pipes away. Apart from a small leak, our washing machine seems to be working properly again. The doormat is less lucky: what’s left of it will have to go. It will be the cleanest object in the garbage dump.

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Spouse diving in Raja Ampat, Papua Indonesia, where marine life diversity is the highest on earth.

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Holiday fun

“Hi honey! I was just about to do yoga. Making sure I’ll be relaxed as the Indians when we’re in Delhi next month, haha! Oh, you’re calling about our holiday! What, visa…? Of course we need a visa. That should be easy, we’re leaving for India in 7 weeks, plenty of time. Let’s go to the Indian embassy in Geneva. What do you mean, we can only apply in France? We have to apply in bloody Paris?! Yes, yes, I’m looking at the website of the Indian embassy there right now. Easy as pie, we can apply online! Oh no, you have to apply online, then print the form and submit it with a copy of our electricity bill. Well slap me sideways with a chainsaw. Listen to this: they want two photographs conforming to Indian Government norms. That’ll be an extra 20 euros for some ugly special-sized photos. But isn’t it a bit extravagant to spend 200 euros on travel to Paris just to pick up two passports?! What about applying by post? 119 Euros?! Well smack my ass and call me Judy. And how long will it take before they’re sending our passports back? THREE WEEKS?! Why the hell does it take so long? Guru Nanak’s Birthday? Who was Guru Nanak and why is the embassy closed for his birthday? Nevermind. Well, three weeks is not good enough, because you’re leaving for Hong Kong in two weeks and I’m going to the Netherlands. So what about applying for a visa in the Netherlands? Yes, yes, I’m looking at the website of the embassy there right now. They want a letter from our employers saying we won’t work in India. Dios mio. So I’ll apply in the Netherlands after my second trip, you’ll apply there when you come back from Hong Kong and we’ll have the passports sent from the Netherlands to Geneva. Which leaves me no time to apply for a visa for that trip to Ethiopia. No, I’m not going to worry about that right now. I’ll first do yoga. I feel a bit tense.”

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