It is known that a morphism of schemes $f\colon X \to S$ is smooth at a point $x \in X$ if and only if there is an open neighborhood $U$ of $x$ and an étale map $g \colon U \to \mathbb A^n_S$ such that $g \circ p=f_{|U}$, where $p \colon \mathbb A^n_S \to S$ is the natural projection.

I'm looking for a similar characterization for semistable curves $f \colon X \to S$. I'm interested in the case $S=Spec(k)$, with $k$ a field, and in the case $S=Spec(V)$, with $V$ a discrete valuation ring, where now $X$ is generically smooth.

In particular my question is: in the second case it is true that we can find $\lbrace Spec(R_i)\rbrace _{i \in I}$, an affine open covering of $X$, such that for each $i$, there is an étale map $V[x,y]/(xy-\pi) \to R_i$, where $\pi$ is a uniformizer of $V$?

Thanks.

Ricky

always$k$-etale). – BCnrd Jul 30 '10 at 2:29