Tuesday, October 14, 2008

...inspired by Swiss-provided educator freebies...

...but first, I feel obligated to backtrack a bit, to our few days in Seattle at the end of last month...
before that, though, this cell-phone-camera-shot from Sunday evening:

It had been a while since we'd been to Sabino Canyon--just a ten-minute drive from home! Ahh...a sunny reminder of why we enjoy living in Tucson; good to remind ourselves of that as our few days in Seattle did tug at our hearts a little...

...while up there a couple of weeks ago, we squeezed in time to have an espresso at my old grad-school favorite: Café Allegro, a half-alley-block away from the University of Washington. "Friends don't let friends go to Starbucks," proclaim a few bumperstickers in Seattle...And this coffeeshop does indeed date from the indepedently-owned pre-$4-latte-era.

Our running around included a stop at H-mart, where my cell-phone allowed me to capture this charming example of 'engrish:'
...feeling 'snacky snacky,' anyone? Asian junk-food, marketed to children, to go-go...(I do miss the pan-Asian presence in Puget Sound...)

Of course, the primary reason for our trip was to attend my wife's brother's wedding. And my wife's sister, K--, did the flowers, so we were volunteered (seriously, we did volunteer) as flower-laborers. I was drafted to become boutonnière-boy. (Now there's a skill I never thought I'd pick up.) We were up until 2 a.m. the night before the wedding. K-- did a wonderful job on the bride's bouquet; what do you think?

The wedding was held at a lakeside community center/lodge. September weather in the Pacific Northwest is never a sure thing, so we all felt particularly smiled upon to have a sunny Satuday in the 70's for the wedding--uncommonly perfect, with fog lifting off Mt. Rainier's glaciers in the lake-and-evergreen-framed distance. A visual cliché, perhaps, but no less beautiful.

It was one of those days that Seattlites live for, one of those days that makes the months and months of a low grey ceiling worth it...(right?...and, I have to include a little bit of Tucson-pride here--it was one of those days that is as common in Tucson as it is rare in Seattle...of course, we have no glaciers and no lakes here...trivial detail...)

And so that brings me around to the 'subject line' of this entry--'inspired by Swiss-provided-educator-freebies.' Yes, teachers love pedagogically-useful freebies, and the cultural service of the Swiss Embassy recently made an offer to teachers to provide a packet of information, including DVD, CD, maps, booklets, etc...So I sent off for it, and it arrived today...After dinner, S-- and I watched the DVD--the obligatory fly-over panoramic sweeps of impossibly picturesque alpine meadows--more visual clichés, but it is almost impossible to overrate the scenicality (?) of Switzerland. It got me all nostalgic for the summer I spent in Switzerland on a study-abroad program--wow, I just realized it's been twelve years ago...

During the years that I lived in WA, I loved hiking the Cascades, and the northern section of it was often called "The Switzerland of North America." (Interesting how places in Europe are always the touchstone for places elsewhere--Beirut, the Paris of the Middle East; Korea, the Switzerland of East Asia; Bangkok, the Venice of Asia; Buenos Aires, the Paris of South America: etc. etc...) Well, here are a few scanned photos from the 'original' Switzerland.

The immensity of the Eiger-Mönch-Jungfrau massif is impossible to convey in a photograph. The verticality is overwhelming. Coming into the Lauterbrunnen valley from Interlaken (1864 ft. above sea level), you round a bend, and then immediately, you have to crane your neck to look to the top of the 13,025 ft-high peak of the Eiger; over eleven-thousand feet almost directly skyward, in your face. The setting is, forgive the unimaginative travel-writer-ese, seriously, one of the most beautiful spots on Earth:

(alas, the above photo is not mine; it is courtesy of this link.)

My 'home-base' during that summer was in the French-speaking city of Neuchâtel, built of butter-colored stone, stretched out for miles between the Jura mountains and Lake Neuchâtel, with the Alps off to the south. The lake actually produces a microclimate, so that vineyards and even the occasional palm tree line the shore, while just over the hills to the NW, the Jura valleys experience the coldest winters in Western Europe.

I remember very clearly, sitting on this stretch of lakeshore, writing a letter to my parents. It was heady to be a young American college student in Europe, studying languages, soaking up the architecture and the sun, traveling on scholarship-funds...heady, but bittersweet, while my father was undergoing chemotherapy across the Atlantic. My parents had insisted that I go--staying home wouldn't have really changed anything, they said; the chemo would end up being as good and as bad as it would be no matter where I might be. Fortunately, my father pulled through and would live another year...


Here's a postcard I scanned:
--the southern Swiss town of Sion, the medieval bastion garding the Rhône-valley. Two outcroppings topped with the two powers of the Middle Ages--temporal, a castle on the left; ecclesiastical, a church on the right. Climbing to the top of the rocky hill on the left, I got this view of the fields to the east, where the language changes to German a few miles upriver:

and this view to the west, through the gate, to another hill, covered in vineyards. This valley's northern slopes are known for their white-wines...

Several miles to the south of the town is the huge Grande-Dixence dam, built at about 8000 feet, above the tree-line. It contains more concrete in volume than the stones in the Great Pyramid in Giza; itis one of the tallest dams in the world, about the height of a 100-story building. Living downstream from it must be surreal...but the Swiss confidence in Swiss engineering is pretty high...

Tunnels, bridges...the metaphor of 'swiss cheese' is inevitable. And yes, you can set your watch by the train.

The city of Lausanne is famous for several things--headquarters of the Olympics being one of them. But the doorway of its gothic cathedral is also well-known for this statue of Moses:Note carefully his head. It's one of many depictions of Moses in European art based on a mistranslation of the Bible. When Moses came down from Sinai, it is said that 'face emitted rays' from having been in the divine presence. Up until the Renaissance, that passage was translated more or less as 'his head sprouted horns.' Oops.

Several centuries older is the Église Collégiale in Neuchâtel, with this Romanesque portal:

That's Paul the Apostle, being poked in his side by a demon-like figure. Recall how Paul writes of being tormented by a 'thorn in flesh'. Here's an ancient 3-D comic-book-representation of it. Many church façades in the Medieval period would have been painted in bright colors--truly comic-book-esque...

One Sunday, I found myself waiting to change trains in the town of Martigny, in the SW corner of the country. It was founded as a city by the Romans in the First Century A.D., to guard the road over the Great St. Bernard Pass, which was the main route from Italy over the Alps to the northern parts of the Roman Empire. I had a couple of hours to wait, so I decided to walk around a bit. Midsummer Sunday mornings in Switzerland are absolutely quiet. Perfect warm stillness. I didn't realize the Roman ruins were so close to the train station--I ended up walking on restored sections of the forum road, lined with apricot trees, heavy with ripe fruit--distilled sugary sunshine, juice dripping down my elbow...and then, unexpectedly, I ended up at the amphitheater, where a troupe of alphorn-players were rehearsing:

It's hard to top that, for a Sunday morning...I've tried, since...

Not far from Neuchâtel is Gruyère. Yes, as in the cheese. Gruyère is a village and a region, and all the Gruyère cheese in the world (if it's authentic) comes from these slopes and fields just beyond this castle garden:

...and finally, tonight: you can't look at images of Switzerland without thinking of cows. They are ever present in this mountain-bastion of dairy production. Hiking on trails above treeline, you'll hear their bells tinkling below you...and every morning with your black black black coffee there'll be freshly heated vollmilch to make your café au lait.

In the spring of the year I lived in Paris, my mother came to visit, and I was able to take her to Switzerland--one of her lifelong dreams. We paid the requisite visit to Heidiland, the region near the Austrian border where the famous stories are set. And here, on newly green pasture, were two happy cows.

Happy cows. Happy meadow. Alles gute...


Some local minutiae, now. The weather's cooled down enough to plant cilantro again. It actually got below 40 degrees the other morning. But warm afternoons...Sunrise is too late now for me to go on my morning jog--too dark. Hello gym. And my Saturday-morning bike rides will have to wait until next spring, when it's light at 5:30 again...This weekend a couple of childhood friends--who've been married to each other for ten years now--are coming for a visit, their first time to AZ...Looking forward to introducing them to the local joys of 'cheese crisp' and the Arizona-Sonora-Desert Museum, which was recently designated one of the best zoos/botanical gardens in the country...

1 comment:

  1. Hey now, Amber, you're just about to go have a Mexican fantasy--Puebla and Oaxaca! Come on! hehe...--J. (I'll be expecting blog posts from those places, you realize...ahh, the silver cities, colonial splendor, highland sunshine...Try eating some 'huitlacoche,' ok?)