Sonntag, 27. Dezember 2009

I am a scardy cat.

When I was chaperoning a camping trip this spring, we went to a rope park. Having never been to a rope park, I got the group of children who were most afraid. This meant that we would start at the absolute easiest level and see how far we could get. By the 5th rope, 3 of my group members had needed to climb down a ladder, so frightened were they of the, so-called, yellow-course. In truth, I too was terrified, but my legs ceased to shake when any of the teenagers looked my way. "Isn't this fun?!" I would call, and it was.
I remembered how my mother had hidden her fear of dogs from us when we were children. The first time (of a plethora) a dog's bark left my mother clinging to my arm chanting her unconvincing "Nice doggy. Good Doggy. Go away." I was shocked. I had not an inkling that she had this fear. It turns out that she had purposefully hidden it, so as not to pass it on to us. When we were small my mother would stand still and not react. When we would be excited by the dog she would remind us of the etiquette of not approaching the dog without first asking the owner. I am forever grateful for this. I continue to follow those rules (made easier by German, in which "can I pet HIM?" is always correct, regardless of the dog's gender) and have met some lovely dogs as a result.
In this spirit I pushed fear aside and swung from rope to rope, "flew" with the clamp sliding down a wire and had a tremendously good time. Likewise, after the rope park I cheered my new group on as we "mountain-scootered" (like those push-scooters on steroids) down a mountain back to camp. One of my kids was lightly-injured but remained in good spirits, held aloft by the excitement of the group, and trusted me and my bad french when we reached the first-Aid station at the bottom of the mountain.
In summer, when Ivo and I found ourselves in a part of Schwarzwald popular among old-fogies, we thrilled to find that there was a rope park by Titisee. "It's so much fun Ivo! I can't wait!" I truly meant this. I was not acting excited to assuage Ivo's fears. We were both looking forward. Ivo, with curious excitement and I, with memories of the fun in Charmay. It was raining and the ropes were slick and our park guide told us that we would need to start on the easy course and progress from there. Sadly, the super-difficult course could not be done in the rain.
I couldn't finish the easy course.
I was paralyzed at one point. My legs simply wouldn't move. I focused all of my energy on one foot "You can do this!" I reminded the foot. It didn't budge. Without a pubescent audience to convince I succumbed to the knowledge that falling is painful and probable and I am mortal. I was crushed. So disappointed. Ivo and I have since made plans to visit the rope park in Luczern. This time we'll bring his god-daughter so that I can enjoy the whole park.

This week I was back in snowboarding class and I my other class-members were teens. One of the boys was a natural but the other was terrified. Thanks to him, I was able to curve and break and slide and traverse. Then he broke his wrist. My teacher said that it was self-fulfilling prophecy. In truth the boy wasn't going fast or anything. He'd completed a turn, stopped his board and then toppled onto his own wrist. Snap. In the time that remained of that class, as he was happily drinking Ovalmaltine and having his cast wrapped I was motionless on a mountain unable to put my weight on my front leg and drive. When I did it felt too fast and I would instantly curve and stop parallel to the mountain. The next day there was a new scared student and I was again able to move.
Luckily there are always enough new folks on the mountain. Yesterday when boarding alone I drew inspiration from the teeny children being yelled instruction from their parents in a number of various languages (ah Christmas time). I only wish that there were another way.

Meanwhile it's almost New Year. There are things that I want for myself, ways that I'd like to do things, things that I would like to leave behind. If it's only by example that I am able to challenge myself, I think that I have that motivation. Curled up on my chest is a little warm bundle named Anouk and I am in love with her. She's begun to smile and shares it with me when I dance with her or in front of her to James Brown. She soaks in my English as I whisper stories to her. The language of her Tata Jessy is just as much gibberish as the Swiss German of the rest of her family, but I hope that it all gets organized in her brain at a similar pace. I look at her sweet face and multiple chins and want so many good things for her. The world has bad things in it, like falling from a rope or breaking a wrist, but I plan to be a big ol' good thing in her world. I will leave behind the things I want to leave behind and do things the ways that I want to do them and my niece will never suspect that it was an effort, I hope. I want to be one of the women who show her that things can be done.

Freitag, 18. Dezember 2009

clean water

When I was living in Philadelphia I helped a nice fella make a commercial. While we were filming (with a crazy old WWI-era camera) the camera man got word that, due to rain, the sewers in Brooklyn backes up and that his friend's cat was covered in poo as a result.

I recently learned more about this from New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg. He's also got a new bit about "clean" water in the US. It's shocking and upsetting and instantly reminded me of an incident in the Kindergarten where I worked:

I believe in not scaring children with environmental knowledge, but teach conservation as I would everything else. We don't hit, toilet words belong in the toilet and we don't waste water or leave on lights when we're not in the room.
"Please turn off the water while you're brushing your teeth." I told the children. On one afternoon a child asked "why not?" and I said "we don't want to use more than our fare share of water." Then came another teacher, ready to undermine me "Oh, in Switzerland, we've plenty of water."

Ugh. I start to get very scared and nervous and I don't want to push that on children, but I do want them to understand the gravity of small choices and that they don't wind up like this lovely woman who I respect but who may not be an environmental expert. Until then, I meditate on a day in the woods outside Philadelphia strolling through a super cold brook.

Sonntag, 13. Dezember 2009

excuse me if I am confused.

Let me just set down my Bügeleisen from my Bügeln and hang the Bügelwäsche up on the Bügel. Oh, I need to adjust my glasses as well, better move the Bügel. And I'll put my saw down using the Bügel.........
There are times when I chuckle to myself thinking about the dance that one does in a new language. Pick up a word put it in your mind, later on fit a similar word nearby, later still slap yourself on the head for having known the word, but not all of the applications.

Now that I have met my niece Anoushka which means that she has now met the English language (she did not hear it in Utero, except maybe when her mama was watching films). While I speak softly in her ear, I ramble on in my Language: The curse of the great bambino, the stories of Halloween and Thanksgiving, etc, and her mother pats her head and says "Was sait si für Sheiss? Huh? Was ist das für Unsinn? Komisch Englisch." (What kind of shit is she talking? Huh? What kind of nonsense is that? Crazy English)

I likewise would like to speak German or Swiss geman with any children that my siblings may have, but it isn't my mother-tongue and would be unwise. Perhaps Ivo will. Our children will be able to speak both languages but the mothers of any future nieces or nephews I might have, will not be able to understand the languages that I (or Ivo) would be using to tell them stories.

This Thanksgiving while playing with a young boy and some cars, I explained that Ivo would call the green car's color "grün". This made total sense to him. "What is red for him?" I told him. Children and language is nothing new for me, but I've never considered families in different continents and language.
This must be why I dreamt last night that I was trying to convince my sister and brother-in-law, as well as my brother and sister, to learn the language of Esperanto, that all of our children may speak the same language. I awoke feeling dumb and selfish. I'm sure that this is all a far smaller molehill than my subconcious would have me believe.

Mittwoch, 2. Dezember 2009

I am grateful.

I'm so darned grateful. How appropriate that it was just Thanksgiving.

We had a terrific time in the States and I like to think that I didn't revert back into the immature youngest sister that I was time and time again when visiting my mom and sibs. Though Ivo pointed out that I said "I'm sorry" more than was necessary. But a-hah! Because the way one says "Thank you" in Japanese is "I am sorry". Where is, in German, the word "danke" is from the word for thinking. "(Ich) danke schön" literally: I think pretty. I love that.

When I say that I've been to visit my family, there is a typical exchange that follows:
conversation partner: Oh? Do you have brothers and sisters?
(conversation partner is attentive)
me: I have. A brother and sister.
cp: older or younger?
me: older sister. twin brother.
cp: Twins?!?! Do you feel his pain or have a secret language?
me: ummm, not really.

Lucas and I have never had a secret language, but we had a special way of starting a conversation for a while. Sadly, no longer. It used to be, that Ivo and I would greet Lucas with a friendly "How's your tree?"
You see a tree grew in Brooklyn, just outside my brother's apartment. It was planted there a few summers ago. Ivo and I came into town when it was still new. We arrived with Lucas, who'd been out of town for the weekend. We approached his building and heard him groan "Oooh noo. The tree!" It seems that it had been planted too shallow and that the city wasn't giving it enough water. Lucas made short work of that. Or rather, long, stair climbing work. He put down his bags and brought down the milk jugs filled with tap water that he had for this purpose. For a few years this went on. Asking him "How's your tree?" has proved to be a great conversation-starter. You see, no matter what else might be negative in his life, it appears less so in comparison. After the gloomy tree report, everything else seems a little less bad. The tree is no officially dead as is our perfect conversation-starter.

This isn't necessarily a twin-communication, though. After all, Ivo used it too and he and Lucas aren't twins. Plus the fact that Kendra and I had a similar opener a few years ago. "How's your guts?" is not unlike "How's your tree?"

Dienstag, 17. November 2009

looking up

I reached the age of 21 having never seen a shooting star. This isn't because I was a poor lil' city girl with too much light pollution. No; summer trips to Maine provided ample opportunity and my brother and sister both took advantage. Though I heard many breathless "there goes one!"s, I never saw one myself. I've concluded that it was a lack of patience.
I was an impatient child and nervous in general. I used to have these weird imaginings that I now describe as vertigo-like. I recently learned that vertigo is not just a fear of heights with accompanying dizziness and what not, but that it often affects people with a feeling that they may just jump. The feeling that I used to happen was a "what-if". I would run quickly across a street and see a flash in my mind of the "what if a truck had come barreling-down the road at that moment?" scenario. Add an untied shoe and the vision would entail skinned hands, faces, knees, etc. The severity of the "what if" was dependent on how nervous I'd been. This is the sort of girl who does not watch clouds pass and does not catch sight of shooting stars.
The first time that I DID see a shooting star was the first time I was living "alone". That is, it was the first time that I was not living with family or a boyfriend. I was living with one of those typical nightmare housemates. She had a proper job and stuck memos on my door concerning frozen waffels and I was in heaven. That summer my sister was getting married and as if she'd planned it, there was a meteor shower. She was living far away and had rented a beach house with a load of friends and the house was lively and full in the days before and after the wedding. Luckily we had some sisterly alone time, some of which took place in a life-gaurd chair with faces sky-word, our catching-up interrupted by "there's another one!"s.
I'm a bit nervous about my up-coming trip to the States. Sunday, I had a number of old familiar "what-if" flashes. I was crossing a train track with my husband and saw of a flash of Ivo alone as a train rushed by and me with it. Running down the steep staircase in the train station later I saw the trip and fall that could be my death .
Monday I had yoga and have not had a what-if since. Monday night there was a meteor shower and on my walk home I craned my neck and looked skyward. When crossing the street I looked left and right, but anything that might have made me trip on my path home went ignored as I searched through the light polution and high fog. I didn't see any meteors, but I know for certain that it wasn't for lack of patience and my mind isn't even wondering how it would be if I'd seen one.

Samstag, 14. November 2009

any day now, there will be fist-shaking

At the risk of sounding like a crotchety old lady, I wish that there was less spitting. There is a 60 Franc fine for it, but I don't think that it's strictly enforced, because in front of any bus bench or spot where teen aged boys are hanging out, the ground is slick with loogies.
I don't think that I'm a total stick-in-the-mud. I have a modicum of understanding. I side step vomit deftly on weekend mornings and shake my head "I've been there"-style. My real beef is the double-standard. Swiss children are being told not to kiss one another, in the traditional way of greeting, yet spitting goes unnoticed.
I agree that children should always be taught to wash their hands, not obsessively or excessively, but after using the toilet or more often when they're sick. I even know how to say "wash your hands" in Mandarin, thanks to the tri-lingual Kindergarten I worked at last year. But I love the kissing. I love friendly greetings. I love the Swiss culture of needing a half-hour to say hello or goodbye.
So here is what I think should happen: no more sidewalk-spitting, normal amount of kissing and good ol' fashioned hand-washing and sneezing in the elbow. 60 Francs may seem like a lot of money, but it helped with the plague.

Dienstag, 3. November 2009

train no go sorry.

In ASL, there is a saying "Train Go Sorry". I'm told that it's sort of like the equivalent of having "missed the boat", but it's especially used when a Deaf person has missed an announcement or something that a hearing person would take for granted.
When I learned sign, I used to use it now and again with my friend Marcus. He's a fantastic lip-reader and speaks beautifully, but I would use it to spell things he may have wanted clarify and when it was too loud for him to adjust his volume. I never translated for him in any sense of the word, but I certainly reinforce or acted as a back up now and again when I could or when he wanted. The first time that I ever did need to use sign to explain auditory things for a Deaf person was on a train.
I was headed home (to Philly) from DC and the train stopped. It stopped a long time. Eventually an announcement came through telling us that the stop was due to a suicide victim. A number of announcements followed and the delay dragged on. After using the WC I emerged to find a man gesticulating wildly with a notebook and being ignored by a train attendant. I realized that he was Deaf and told him "I sign". He was relieved and asked me to ask questions of the attendant for him. (Note: he did not ask me what I know, but to ask the questions for him.)
Now, I would be remiss not to explain that I was very upset at this point. I was in the WC splashing water on my face after having a good cry from feeling so helpless on this train which was ultimately usurped as an instrument of death. I was new to train travel at that point and had never had this experience before and I was shaken.
Translating provided a much needed distraction and I was glad for it. "How long will we be stopped for?" I asked, prompted by his signs.
"No one knows" I signed for him as the attendant spoke.
"Why are we stopped? What is the problem?" I asked with him.
"Someone jumped in front of the train and is stuck under the wheels." This had not been the announcement over the loudspeakers. This was far more disturbing. I didn't want to sign this. It was at this point that I realized that I had the power to protect him from this information. He would never need to know and would never be worse-off for not having known. I could spare this man from whatever guilt that I was feeling.
The thing about the people who are Deaf whom I know, (and what they confirm about other people who are Deaf) is that there is no mincing of words (or signs, I suppose). There is not the "compliment sandwich" or "talking out both sides of their mouths" of the hearing world. Clear communication is so important that there is probably no sign for "tact". I remember having a huge scratch on my nose, how my hearing friends would glance at it and look away and say nothing, how Marco saw it first thing and said "What happened?! Are you ok?" Or one of the MANY pregnant-teens who are Deaf who would be asked "Is it happy pregnant?" and would be expected to answer this honest (to a hearing person, probably offensive) question honestly.
I signed exactly what was said. Her explanation and his following (brutally honest) question of the status of the person.
"The person is stuck and dead or stuck and still alive?"
I translated until the translating was done and then went to my seat and wept until the next announcement. Another train had come for us and we would be exiting our train and entering the next train. We were to be careful to exit the first train, set both feet on the ground and only then, step up to the next train. Under no circumstances were we to touch both trains simultaneously. It would result in electrocution. Appropriately I was jolted from my seat and began searching the train for the man who is Deaf. I had my renewed purpose and was cursing the audio announcements and lack of visual cues. I found the man and clearly explained the announcement and had finished my first ever work of translation.
I think about this story a lot now while I'm doing my translation thing but I think of it as well when I'm commuting to my translation school. I commute with the train 4 times a week. I love it, actually. I know where my favorite cars are, I know which train I like best, I know how long I have between stations to use the loo if I need to. What I don't love is the far too frequent announcement that my train is delayed due to "Personenunfall" ("personal misfortune or accident"). I've never again been on a train that has actually caused a persons death, but the bong-bong-bong (there is an accompanying blue light to indicate that an announcement is being made) and following recorded message announcing the far too regular occurrence (Switzerland has the 19th highest suicide rate annually) is always jarring and I hope that it always remains jarring. I don't want to get used to pointless death. My train stops at the airport and I often hope that those people sighing in frustration at the announcement don't understand the German and they are not Swiss people feeling inconvenienced and nothing else. While all other announcements are made in German, French and English (Italian in the trains headed south) this announcement goes untranslated.

Donnerstag, 22. Oktober 2009

an open letter to hip-hop artists

(translated from German blog Jessica Sagt)
Dear Hip-hop artists,
Look out! It could be that you are not prepared for the swiss public. When you say "put your hands up!", Swiss people (perhaps people in all German-speaking nations) will only "put up" a finger. Try as you might, they will not show you their palms. It's also this way in schools. Americans may think that Swiss children mean "we're number one". It's probably something to do with nazis, or perhaps one finger reaches higher than I hand. I don't know.

Instructions in general are dangerous. Although the majority of the audience understand english, it's difficult to understand, perhaps it's the stage or a dialekt thing. "Are y'all ready?!" is more or less understandable. "We gonna need an Ambu-LANCE" is more difficult, especially with a haitian/New Jersey accent (Wyclef Jean, I'm looking in your direction). Instructions should be short, sweet and to the point.

Speaking of understanding, at least half of your audience can barely understand your lyrics. Additional commentary (especially culturally-specific commentary) will not be understood. If you say something about chains, the audience will raise their chains. It's not that they don't care but that they don't understand that you've just said something negative about chains.

Lastly, I want to warn you. Don't be afrain, but be prepared: At the end of your set the assembled crowd will make a strange noise - a groan really. In addition to that, they'll stamp their feet. Surprisingly then they open their hands, so that they can wiggle their fingers at the ends of their forward-reaching arms. This is not evil. They are not trying to put a curse on you. It's not some strange helvetian MoJo. That's just the way they request an encore.

I'm always glad to see my favorite musicians. I hope that this info is helpful and that you'll come again soon.

Your fan

Home is not only where one hangs one's hat

(translated from German Blog Jessica Sagt)
The Switzerland of my childhood was made up of clichés. The ingredients were Ricola advertisements, the film "Sound of Music" and a misunderstaniding of current events. The image was one of green medows, massive Alpenhorns, and a gigantic mountain on which a log-cabin full of politicians was perched.

I've lived in Switzerland since 2006. That's longer than Athens, San Diego, Groton, Fairfax and Philadelphia. When I return to places I've lived before, I notice that a part of my heart still belongs there. Of course, Zürich is much differeint. I remain a foreigner and certain things are still foreign to me, but I've still slowly begun to feel at home. Which means of course that it is time to move again.

2009 will be our last year in Switzerland for a while. Perhaps that is why we've been finding ourselves in the company of tourists recently. This summer we saw a Alpenhorn concert and were present at the Alpabzug (the decent of the cows from the Alps)This winter I will properly snowboard and maybe even return to the Zwieblemärt (Onion Festival) in Bern, or visit Luzern's Basel's Fasching for the first time. I want to take every opportunity to enjoy our home.

For most of my friends and some of my family, Switzerland is San Galen. We married there and that's where they spent most of their time. Zürichers find that entertaining and so do I. What's really funny, however, is when my half-siblings tell me something about Switzerland that I've never experienced. They spent a couple of days in Luzern, a city that the day before yesterday, I'd never seen. I'll never know all of Switzerland, but I look forward to learning more and more about it.

When I've ridden through Washington DC, I still feel bound there somehow. That's actually why there is no question that Ivo and I will return to Switzerland. A few people have voiced their concerns. They should know that our hearts are big enough. We have room enough for new cities and new friends without pushing Zürich into second place.

Mittwoch, 21. Oktober 2009

more mulling from Switzerland

I've begun my translation courses and am continuing my language courses and have never heard the words "One-language Dictionary" so often in my life. When it comes to French, I still very much require a two-language dictionary for French, but neither of the two languages are my native language, so that must be good. One thing that I dislike from my courses at ZHAW, is the term "Neue Deutsch". I don't care how tounge-in-cheek it is, that isn't ANY kind of Deutsch! That's ENGLISH!!

So, I'm here in Switzerland and I'm a foreigner and am unable to vote. Ivo totally empowers my opinions when I have them on all things votable, so I feel represented, but I have no legal vote. Meanwhile in the states (until next year) I have a very limited voice in politics. I have no congress person to whom to write. I imagine that when we are raising young children I will be able to be more civicly involved. I'll be operating as a foreigner, however, even if I should become more enfranchised. I come from a country where my mother's was not the first generation to get the vote. I've had some experience breaking news to kids about the imperfections of the world with which we live, but I don't know how I will feel when it is not immediately my world in which they live.
I have become more acutely aware of this problem very recently. I'm all about being supportive of equal rights in the states. I'm excited about politically active in the states while I'm there. I'd love to be more actively supportive in marriage rights. Here in Switzerland everyone's got the same rights to the same marriage statue. Know what I just discovered? The concession that was made in order to get same-sex marriage was giving up on the right to adopt. This is killing me. I'd never heard about this before and am beside myself. I don't know what to do. How does one get politically active in a country where she has no poliical clout? As I get excited about starting a family in the future with the person that I love, how can I not want to be involved in equal rights?

Freitag, 16. Oktober 2009

'ow do you say......nervous?

I'm headed to my first translation class and I'm a bit nervous. Partly because it's a whole new environment, new things to learn, new people. I've never been in a Hochschulekurs in Switzerland before and have nothing to compare it to . Something else that is nervous-making, though is the actual translation. Last night at dinner with my in-laws I was again reminded how individualistic translation actually is.
"I would describe the charachter as dispeptic. How would someone say dispeptic in German?"
There was a back and forth and 'round and 'round that lasted 15 minutes. Everyone had more than two cents to contribute. Instead of listening to the word I wanted to use, Ivo and his dad began throwing in their own adjecties, which they thought better described the Chrachter I would be describing. "Pitbull", "Bitchy"....
One thing that is comforting is that when I heard the word that I will use, it was a gut reaction. That was right. That felt good. "sauerlich" like a sour stomach. Like a dispeptic personality.
Alright, so that felt good. But what about the words like Järzorn? Words where the translation is a few words to describe the one German word. I can't help but feel that that is inadequate. I don't know if my course will teach how not to feel inadequate. I don't even know what I want exactly from this course. I guess that I want it to make me feel confident in my translations.
The innuit don't really have 100 words for "snow" they just have a 100 words for the 100 types of snow that there is: slushy snow, wet snow, dry snow, fluffy snow....... I guess that we need adjectives isn't a bad thing. Just a different thing. I guess the key is knowing which one fits where. Like Konicki's "snizzle", for flurry. I think that I can trust having a good feel for German now and knowing what feeling I want to create with it's English translation. Is that what it is? A feeling? So then what are they going to teach us in translation?
I'm nervous

Dienstag, 22. September 2009


When we arrived in Zürich after leaving the pristine autumn of Finland, our city was warm and muggy and "oh, yeah....I forgot" foggy. Ah, the fog. When I first moved here, Ivo feared that I would hate it because of the fog. It rolled in that first autumn and after day 12 I thought I might lose it. Ivo was apologetic, as if it had been fault personally. It was too sweet. Then he took me up a hill or a mountain something, above the fog and showed me where to find sun and that became one of my new favorite things about Autumn. I love autumn and I love that in autumn in Zürich the sun needs to be found.
When riding my bike I need to dodge the chestnuts and their prickly coverings in the street. Other chestnuts will be being cooked on stands on the street. The farmer's market is full and colorful and fit to burst. The Mövenpick icecream stand in front of the supermarket switches to a Brezelkönig stand. And now, I'm back to school which is also very autumnal.
I even played a game of shadow-tag with my husband and in laws in the too-early-setting sun. Inspired, like many good things, by the wisdom of Kendra.

Montag, 21. September 2009

from the mouths of other babes

On my birthday in Finland, I woke up before everyone and had a shower and washed my hair and started thinking about my half-siblings. I was thinking about them back when there were themed birthday parties (construction and princess, respectively) and the playing of "Good Guys and Naughties" (someone miss-heard the groups in World War 2) and "Mommy Daddy". These same creative minds discovered the most evil of all insults. It came at the end of every major tussle: "You're OLD!" "NO! You're OLD!" Ah, but they were sweet little things. When their nearly constant companion asked me how old I was, I answered "Twenty." He looked startled and said softly and hesitantly "Twenty? That's.......old." My half-siblings jumped to my defense, though it seemed half-hearted. I could see that to them 20 did, indeed, sound old.
Now I'm 28. If 20 was old, what would those children think now? Luckily they're a bit older, so maybe there is a bit of a different perspective. I began wondering what my child self would think about me at 28. What accomplishments I would have achieved. I thought back to games of MASH and plans with my best friend of running a candy/wooden toy shop on Prince Edward Island. I thought of how near I am to 30.
I dried and dressed and emerged from the steamy bathroom and there in front of me stood Ivo's 83 year old grandmother. Had Ivo not been asleep she may very well have sung "Happy Bitrthday to you" with the childish line "Aprikose in de' Hose". The woman hikes with speed, makes silly faces and jokes and sees without glasses. Then I realized that calling myself "OLD" was an insult to her. I accepted my birthday kisses and ate too many sweets and had a fantastic birthday.

Montag, 31. August 2009

It's not just me.

I think that I may like commuting.

Yesterday I was at ZHAW, where I will attend classes starting September, in Winterthur. On the train trip home I instinctively grabbed the Blick Am Abend laying on the nearby seat and read the front page story. (Blick am Abend is one of the trashier of the free newspapers offered to commuters.) The story was about Caster Semenya and wether or not she is male or female. The choice of words in the headline turned my stomach. As one of the teenaged girls picked up the paper Ivo and my repetitive conversation about misinformation with the illusion of information due to these free newspapers. The girl who'd begun reading the paper guffawed at the "manly woman: when is a man a man?" headline and then started talking to her friend about women who walk around with short hair "-shorthair is cute what's your point?" her friend interrupted. The friend tried to explain that she meant those women who walk around in sports clothes. Before I could internaly groan her friend said "I have trouble understanding other people's styles too. Like, wearing tons of make up and tripping around on high heels, that's not for me." I was so relieved. I was preparing myself internally for hatefull ideas sprung up from the trashy newspaper but instead found myself being excited about all of the usefull things that I can learn eavesdropping on my daily commute. That, or I could just read my purchased newspaper, I suppose.

Dienstag, 16. Juni 2009

Those were the days

"This diner was built over FIFTY years ago!!" joked Eddie Izzard about the lack of history in America. I get it and it's funny, but I don't believe that it's simply that people in the US don't revere historical buildings or history in general. The US is a young nation, we couldn't possibly have buildings as old as Europe's, because we've not been around as long. When I met my mother-in-law, she seemed to share Eddie Izzard's views, when it came to American cities. To be fair, she'd mostly spent her time in LA and NY. When my husband graduated from college, he and his folks came down to see me in Philadelphia. There, my mother-in-law was able to see some of the oldest buildings in the states and was reminded that, in Boston, she had seen evidence of historical buildings. I enjoyed Philadelphia and it's history. Though I felt sad and embarrassed for the portly fellows who had to stroll through humid summers in Ben Franklin costumes, I liked seeing the birthplace of my nation every day.To get to my favorite sushi place, I passed by the Liberty bell and Independence Hall.

Now I'm in Europe, "where the history comes from" (or so said Eddie Izzard) and I appreciate the historical preservation of buildings. More important than my location, my age has changed my appreciation of history. This year is the 20th anniversary of the Berlin wall and the 15th anniversary of Tianman Square. I have lived through both of those occasions. I remember them, on some level. Three years ago was the 20th anniversary of the Challenger falling from the sky and I remembered being a four year when it happened. I experience a different feeling on these anniversaries, compared to those that I did not live through. On the anniversaries of Hiroshima, I was able to call to mind the melted statue at the UN in New York, but it was still something distant for me. On anniversaries like D-day or JFK's assassination, I like to hear the stories, but have absolutely no personal connection. If anything, I feel quite critical, considering what I know what came next, instead of what it meant for the people living through it.

I am almost 28 and it seems that I am now better able to understand the historical marking of time through events, because I've begun to personally mark time through events. I am now old enough to look back and see that it is 13 years since I had my lower-intestine removed, I will celebrate my second wedding anniversary, it is 10 years since I moved out of my mother's house. I understand the difference of a 5 year anniversary, compared to a 10 year anniversary, when remembering something painful. When California postponed the announcement of the decision of whether or not to overturn proposition 8 (banning gay marriage), it was in recognition of the power that a day can have for the collective conscience. Who knows how such an announcement would have been received on the anniversary of the White Night riots. (The riots in 1979 in response to the sentenceing of the man who killed an important gay activist.) Sitting in a cinema in Switzerland over two years ago, watching a preview for the World Trade Center, I whispered "It's too soon". Words that I never quite understood before.

I wonder what our generation's impact will have on the commemoration of significant days. I, myself, have been known to celebrate silly anniversaries. Trying to find a fun way to celebrate my husband's 26th birthday, I arranged it as an anniversary of his 6th birthday. We went to a dinosaur museum, as he had done 20 years before, and had pizza with his friends. As gifts, he received Lego's and an RC airplane (he'd wanted to be a pilot when he was 6). Others in my age group are wearing The Berlin Wall fashion line, celebrating the anniversary of the Berlin wall in spray-painted 80's style T-shirts. That makes me nervous. I understand that the fall of the wall was a positive thing and that a certain amount of levity is appropriate, but I wonder how my peers will affect the tradition of paying tribute in the future. We who cover songs and adapt classic literature, we who think that Regan coined the phrase "city on a hill", we who buy new models of electronics as often as possible, we will dictate the method of remembering for the next generation. "Where were you?" is a phrase often used when looking back to a historic event, but it is typically only part of it. I fear that my young adults, who remember where they were on September 11th 2001 and on the day a black man became president of the US, will focus on that aspect and not the change in the world that each global event has had.

Freitag, 29. Mai 2009

don't judge a book by it's something nice about a person don't say anything at all

There was an advertisement for Hannah Montana on the back of 20 Minuten Freitag today. I've never seen the show or heard her music, but understand that she's a pop icon for tweens, but I'd never realized that the only characteristic making her one personality different from the other is her hair color.
My first reaction was "give me a break", but then I thought about Clark Kent and Superman and that was just a hair style and a pair of glasses. I suppose that one must suspend disbelief for that sort of entertainment. But then I got to thinking about my old favorite cartoon Jem.
Jem had two different identities that involved more than hair color and glasses. As Jem, she was a rockstar and, if I remember correctly, maybe she fought crime? I dunno, there was another band and they were the bad guys and they were called the Misfits. Her mild-mannered identity was some sort of philanthropist who had a mansion that was an orphanage and there was a big computer and magic earrings and an episode about the dangers of drugs.
What's truly important is that both of her identities had the SAME BOYFRIEND. Jem's identities were secret to him, but she knew that she was two-timing her, because she was her girl on the side. This upset me as a kid. For some reason I understood that we were meant to suspend disbelief for things like Clark Kent and Superman but Jem never jived with me.

Freitag, 22. Mai 2009

Coming this July

The new Harry Potter film is coming soon and I am just so darn excited. I am reminded of the summer the 6th book came out. It was the day that I was to be flying to Switzerland. The UPENN bookstore was selling them at midnight to a limited amount of customers and I intended to be in that limited amount. The evening began with a viewing of Charlie and the Chocolate factory with a bag of sweeties. Then I waltzed down the street to the bookstore ready to claim my book.
The line was fantastic. Some people in costumes, some not, some Sorority girls selling adult beverages to we waiters, it was a hoot. That is, until I was three people from the door and the booksellers announced that they were closing. I was crushed.
So I scooted on home, checked my luggage and went to sleep. The next morning I headed to JFK airport and tah-dah!!!! there was a whole stand of harry potter's books right in the entry way. It was marvelous. Fantastic. I was so excited that I read the whole flight. I'd never done that before. I read the whole flight and that, mixed with going straight from the airport straight up into the mountains resulted in the worst jet-lag-inspired insomnia I've ever experienced. By day three I was so out of it it was insane. In the mountains in Austria Ivo wanted to try to help me to sleep and offered to read to me.
"Ok" I sobbed, absolutely beside myself from exhaustion and inability to sleep.
"Are you good and comfy?"
"*sniff* yes"
"Alright 'Snape rushed down the tower stairs. Beneath red and green curses were flying. The wolf.....' Jessy, I don't think that this is very soothing reading."
It was definitely not. Lucily Ivo switched to Der Schwarm and I dropped right off.

Later that summer Lucas joined us on the Lake of Constance after a stint in London. He'd been there with a theater school and escorted the teenagers to a bookshop in London at midnight to be the first to buy their books (As far as I know, Lucas still resolutely refuses to read any Harry Potter book). He waited with them "chapperoning" them and fending off skeezy men from hitting on the naive young women.
At one point a group of drunke guys came to the end of the line and said "What club is that then?"
an excited 16 year old cheerfully answered "It's a bookstore! We're waiting for the new Harry Potter!"
"Cuing up for a fucing book? Can you be seriuos?"
That was a great summer.

Meanwhile I arrived back to the states to find the boy I babysat for completely destroyed. Without spoinling anything, the book was a bit too musch reality for a fantasy series.

Dienstag, 19. Mai 2009

prevention or pretty

Here in Switzerland there are large mountain boulders in front of some jewelry stores and banks as a measure of prevention. There are also metal poles that are raised by a security guard's key but that is not what is important right now (it's just really neat to watch). You see, in Switzerland, boulders are handy and being useful there in the street. In America, big huge planters are used to prevent truck bombs and the like, instead of boulders. I wonder which has a more calming effect. The boulders, which one can imagine rolled down the nearby mountains conveniently in the path of any vehicles that would wish to do harm or a massive pot of plants and litter.
This question is fresh on my mind because I have arrived home in Zürich from Geneva to be startled by MASSIVE plant pots all throughout the city. Sunday afternoon, my first thought was "What is that massive ugly pot protecting?"
It is not protecting anything. Apparently it is part of a tourism coup. They are huge and garishly painted and decorated (In front of a shoe store, there are shoe-soles plastered on, some how) and distributed throughout the city in seemingly non-sensical arrangements.
When I first came to Zürich there were Bears, also garishly painted but slightly more sporadically dispersed. I believe that there was an even earlier campaign of cows or lions or something. In Providence, we had the Mr. Potato-heads, which I guess are similar, but I liked them and the fact that they were often stolen led to a level of intrigue that these planters will probably never attain.
Along with the soled pot, there are pots that match their location. That is similar to the bears, which would often confuse people by trying to inspire them to visit whichever nearby business had sponsored them. However, some of them seem not to fit at all. On Paradeplatz in front of two HUGE bank buildings there seems to be an oddly urban themes. Some of the pots have concrete high rises painted on them while others are covered in purposeful hot-pink spray-paint in a faux-graffiti style.
The Zürich tourism website calls this campaign "Invasion of the giant pots" and the president says "During the summer of 2009 the Gartencity Zürich will enrapture our Swiss and foreign guests and leave a lasting memory. This is how we love presenting Zurich."
I wonder how many Americans visiting will not only not be enraptured, but like myself, be reminded of post September 11th American protection pots.

Freitag, 17. April 2009

old people and poop sense

I notice that throughout Paris there is a popular pairing of young folks and old. It is more then once per day that I see a young person escorting an older person through the street, listening and engaged. I don't know what this is about but I like it in a really big way. I dunno if they're related, volunteers, if they're good friends or golf buddies, if they're just walking together for that one quick moment that I see them, exchanging less than 20 words and then moving along, or waiting to steal their purses and run off quickly.
Also, when walking in the street in Paris, I keep my eyes to the ground to look out for dog doody. Often, on my way, I see dog doody in the ways of others. The thought creeps up that maybe I should shout out a warning and then the Parisians (seemingly without ever having looked down) avoid the poop with ease and suavity. Neat.

Dienstag, 14. April 2009

You are sooooo good looking

When I was learning sign language, I asked a Deaf person "what do you say when someone sneezes?" He looked at me askance. "I mean, what do you sign when someone sneezes?" His look was equally confused. "Nothing." He signed. "We don't do anything when someone sneezes, unless it's gross and they need a tissue."

When I was learning German, it was easy and automatic to say "Gesundheit" when someone sneezed. It was actually a bit embarrassing. One day, some one sneezed, I said "Gesundheit" and then "Oooooooh!" as I often did when using a word like that or "Kindergarten" or "schadenfreude" or any other word that I had taken ownership of through my learning and collecting of the german language.
In fact, I said gesundheit so naturally that it put off a fellow teacher in the kindergarten where I worked. She and I were the English teachers and, me being the native speaker, she deferred to me often in questions of more casual speech. "Jessica, we're meant to only speak english in front of the children." Of this, I was aware. Absolutely none of the children at school knew that this teacher is actually Swiss and simply speaks flawless English without an accent. "I know. That's what I say in the states, too." This teacher said "God bless you", something that I had not said in years and years.

In class, my french teacher was terribly polite and impressed upon us the importance of certain niceties while we are here in Paris. Answering and initiating pleasantries and the inclusion of Madame or Monsieur whenever possible, and so on. She taught us that someone sneezes we say "A tes sohuait." I asked what we say in the polite form and she told me not to worry about it. I pressed her again and she seemed please and told me.
The other day, when in a sparsely populated metro I was sitting next to a stressed-looking man, when he sneezed. "A ves Souhait", I said quietly while wearing my ipod. He was so pleased that he lightly tapped the inside of my elbow while saying thank you.
I liked that teacher.

Samstag, 11. April 2009

ack! kinderphobia

I was in the park today and it was gorgeous.
It's the Saturday before Easter and all sorts of families were dressed up for all sorts of religious services. They were lovely. Flowers were in bloom and they air was beautifully perfumed. An old man played hop scotch where a small girl had drawn a hop-scotch field (?) in chalk. I don't know why they make them retire early here. The man seemed plain ol' youthful.
I sat on a bench writing postcards when three young children started toward me. The young girl rolled toward me slowly and wobbly on roller blades. "Madame!" She had a flower for me. It was crazy. "pour moi?" I asked, terrified that she would require more french than I am capable of.
She confirmed that it was for me and while thanking her I put it in my hair. "It looks lovely!" She said and I thanked her again. Then child two came rolling down and as he tottered behind my bench he slipped and fell down. "D'accord?" I lamely asked searching my brain for any sort of comforting french phrases I may have in my brain. "Pas mal! Pas mal!" he repeated over and over again. At first I thought that he was saying "s'par Mal". Like he'd fallen a few times already. Then I realized that he was french and not swiss and that he was saying that it didn't hurt.
"C'est vrai?" I asked still feeling terribly dumb.
"Pas mal, madame, merci, pas mal."
Then came the third. He had no roller blades but some sort of helicopter that launches when one pulls a string and pushes a trigger. He demonstrated it for me and launched it over a small wall. Then he wanted to clamber over the wall and get it. I helped him and tried my best to express my absolute admiration for his helicopter, but I don't even know the damn word for helicopter. Grrr. Yet again, the little one didn't seem to notice that I was incapable of more than monosyllabic speech. Go figure!

Freitag, 3. April 2009

bad weather

I'm not complaing. For almost an entire week it has been gorgeous and sunny and warm, but I'm a bit dissappointed.
Every afternoon my brain is fried from foreign languages and that, in combination with being in love with the 19th and 20th, I stay around my house walking and reading in the parks. My mantra has always been "at the weekend, at the weekend, at the weekend....." I imagined myself waking at a decent hour and going to investigate the heart of the city at the weekend. Now it seems that the weather had not heard my plans or had plans of it's own. I remain hopeful.
I spent this afternoon in the 6th. I had lunch, had a stroll and had a lovely time chatting to the owner of the Tea and Torn Pages bookshop. The "tea house" part of the shop looks like the kitchen of an apartment and has one seat entirely covered by a verly large ginger cat. There is a large sign in the book shop portion which says "Untended Children will be sold into slavery." The owner of the shop was terribly interesting. She was born in South Amercan, spent her teens in the states and moved to Paris because she thought "it might be nice".
Tonight I will actually venture outside the city to have dinner with folks I met at the Unitarian church.

Donnerstag, 2. April 2009


I am most definitely an immigrant. Being in Paris and saying/feeling "I'm only here for a month" has a decidedly different feel for myself and others. For me, I don't have to find a level of sustainable homeyness. For others, I will be spending money here and then leaving.
After I was in Zürich for about 4 months, I visited Berlin, Germany. The vibe there was wonderful and when I saw the RISD originated Andre the giant sprayed all around, I though "This place is far more like the US than Switzerland is."
Almost one year living in Zürich, I visited Vienna, Austria. The Viennesse love of American Football, burgers, and large portions of greasy foods made me think "this place is a lot more like the States than Zürich is."
My time in Italy last spring left me free of any comparissons, so uique was the Tuscany.
Now I am in Paris and while the presence of GAP and Unitarian churches makes me chuckle, it's the reminders of Zürich that give me comfort. The "maccaroons" that look like big ol' Luxemburgerlis (they come in foie gras flavor), the "Mövenpick Switzerland" ice cream in the shops (Ben and Jerry's is more represented here than in Zürich, mind), the plentiful German labels and signs in the organic health food store. They all say home to me.
Home; a word that is difficult to define with each new language I learn.
Meanwhile in my french class a woman describes herself as German-croat and says that she lives in Paris, because she's got a 3 month lease here. I think that she may actually be more american than I.

Mittwoch, 1. April 2009

the city of lights

It's spring and the daylight is incredible. It reminds me of the first time of the year when the children would be picked up from the kindergarten and get home before the sun. Nevertheless, I've been spending my evenings at home so far. Never out later than 7, in fact. I may have a walk after dinner, but for the most time it's been early to bed and early to rise with a lot of walking in between.
Today is a week since my last operation and I'm thinking less and less like a patient. I was meant to meet up with a bunch of folks for an aperitif tonight, but it's been postponed until next week so my agenda is empty. I think that I should explore outside my neighborhood. I have plans to do touristy things with my classmates in the days to come and I'm in the heart of the city in the early morning and early afternoon, but I think that I am too in love with my quarter and need to go out and see more. In the interest of baby steps, I will go to the north west part of the city. I live in the northeast end and up to now have been no further west than tuillerie. I dipped my toe in the west bank area (not literally) to go to church last Sunday, but most of my time is spent in the 19tt, 18th and 10th. Time to get a bit adventurous, no?
Today is April fools day,which apparently is Poisson d'Avril. This answers the question that I had yesterday "what do sardine shaped chocolates in silver foil have to do with April 1st?" Apparently when one plays a trick on someone else, it is called une poisson, thus the fish. For example, my teacher tapped one shoulder but she was on the other side and I turned the wrong direction to investigate the tap "Poisson!" she said and giggled. Now, my teacher is a total dear and terribly enthusiastic and spends her days talking to adults as if they were children because our language is the equivalent of a year old. Nevertheless it was a pretty lame trick. Apparently in Australia, April fools day is only valid until noon. No tricks after noon. That seems about right for a country who have to celebrate Christmas in summer.
Today we did some tongue twisters or "les Virelangues"
par Example:
Un chausseur sachant chasser sans son chien est un bon chausseur

Le chausettes de l'archiduchesse sont-elles séches ou archiséches?

Being the big loser nerd who answers too many questions in class I'm going to practise these tonight and kick some ass doing them tomorrow. That's right, I'm lame. Monday evening I used a mirror to practise my mouth positions for "e", "u" "o" "eu" "on". I gotta get outta this neighborhood.

Dienstag, 31. März 2009

the other park in my hood

It is the anniversary of the Eiffel Tower which is a big deal for tourists. This is because the tower is a big deal for tourists. The festival, like the tower, seems to only elicit sighs and eye rolls from Parisian residents. Today there is a festival of comedy and that seems way more popular. And I don't know if this is normal, but there are a bunch of stores who have chocolates in the shape of sardines wrapped in silver foil for April fools day.
I've been to see the other park in my area. I've not done much of the big touristy things (Though I have plans to do those things with my classmates a couple afternoons a week.) but am really enjoying being in small out of the way streets seeing the day to day things, finding the areas I prefer and cataloging things to try and figure out what is typical/atypical or touristy.
"The other park" was lovely, huge, green, lush and fragrant. I anticipate being able to watch spring slowly develop in the park this month. It's called Butte something-something and all the things around it are called Butte, which I began pronouncing in my head as "Boo-tay!" This was very comical to me as there seemed to be a strange behavior which was popular in the parks surrounds. You see, the streets and street corners have these posts of varying heights all over, to block traffic. I imagine that this is to discourage any future Bourne movies with their European car chase scenes. Throughout the area around Butte, there was an odd number of young men perched on the bulb tops of these posts. I don't know if this is because it was the first time I've been in a neighborhood during school dismissal or if the young men of "Boot-ay" have particularly sensitive G-spots, but it just seemed strange to me.

As I said the park was lovely and children and old folks were sunning themselves. Balls were kicked and pigeons were fed. It was utopian for a moment until I wound down a particular path to find two boys chucking stones at pigeons heads. Not simply chucking, but searching out the bigger "better" stones and carefully aiming. Utopie gibt es nicht but I'm having a lovely time nonetheless. And I found a store that sells salt, so.....

good times.

It's day two of school and this means that it's day one of feeling routine.
Not so fast, though! Monday we began at 8:15 for testing, which means that my commute was decidedly different. As all commuters know, a Metro (or other public transport vehicle, or even street, for that matter) is FAR more full at 8:15 than at 7:30 a.m. Yesterday I had my pick of seats, today I made like a sardine and crammed into the Metro and pretended not to have a good time, like a good metro rider. Then, something else unique happened! A man in a pink pullover and charcoal grey trench coat (a real together-looking guy) entered the train balancing a droopy waffle on his fingertips. Huh! A droopy waffle. Contained in the waffles little pockets, which for me typically contain syrup or jam (not transport friendly), was refined sugar (lots of it. This was no dusting)
This is on par with the sale of cold pancakes at starbucks. Something familiar in an unfamiliar way. I like it.

Last night I went shopping for food stuffs for dinner. I've heard a million times from a million people that one should not shop hungry, but I've not typically had a problem with this. I bought proper amounts of what I needed and nary an impulse purchase entered my basket. I felt a bit proud about this as I shouldered my backpack and walked out on the street to be attacked(!) by the scent of sweet crepes at a stand right upwind from the supermarket door . Hungry food shopping I can do but being confronted with such splendid temptation while hungry? Luckily the weight on my back was a helpful reminder that dinner was set. I know that that crepe would result in having no interest in dinner and a grumpy woman in the morning. So I passed it by with the promise that there will be yummy crepes in my future. After all, there is a crepe stand round the corner from my school and another at my metro transfer point.
Tomorrow night I'm trying an internet meet-up and am feeling quite curious. So far I've been really lucky meeting pretty nice folks here. Even my neighbors seem nice. In fact, yesterday afternoon when I was stopping in to drop something in my room, I saw a woman from my language school in the building's office signing her lease. I'm hoping to ask her to dinner sometime as I'm not very good at cooking for one.
Now to video chat and then back to the city for a stroll and a fresh market search.
Abientost! (I don' have the circumflex)

Montag, 30. März 2009

After 48 hours

"Vite!" was just shouted by a small child in my hallway. I wonder if he is hungry and ready for dinner. I'm not sure, though as the hallway is also full of cooking smells. My tiny apartment smells of the cloves that I'm simmering on the stove. There is only one window and it's on the other side of the apartment and the stove has no vent, so I've bought cloves to eliminate the cooking smells that I produce. Tonight those smells were fried egg which I put on bread with a bit of cheese, some leeks and (of course) chives. My lonely planet told me that the french eat a large lunch and a small dinner so I had some vegetable lasagna at lunch.
Yesterday, en route to church I got lost twice. When I'd finally found me way, I was pleasantly surprised that my route went past the opera and the Obelisk. I then passed the house of assembly and went to the church which shares a wall with the ministry of defense. After church (which strangely began at 2:30 pm. The "young people" were retiring to a cafe and I came along. The group was of varying nationalities and we had a great time drinking the french equivalent of Glühwein. (Warm red wine with oranges and cinnamon.) Turns out that two of the 'young people' live near me and we made plans to meet up Easter. (The Parisian UUs meet for service only once a month.)
Today, I went to school for the first time. During the grading of our placement exams and the various oral exams the teacher who offers theater activities in the afternoon (for language acquisition) put us in groups and we did a sort of pub trivia. My teacher and her assistant are lovely and a bit overly-dramatic and very enthusiastic.
Today was proof that I do learn better in a group. Thanks to a rather meek and quiet student, I learned various ways to tell someone to speak louder. Thanks to a super talented woman, for whom french is her 6 language, I was super careful about my pronunciation, attempting to get more "lovely"s and "good jobs" (whatever works, right?). I'm especially happy that I finally learned how to say "have a good day" and "have a good night" etc. I'm becoming more polite everyday and that thrills me.
Evidence that I'm super chill despite being alone in a foreign city is the fact that I missed my metro stop this afternoon while talking to my classmate and simply looked for the next possible connection and continued chatting.
I did some exploring in a new direction in my neighborhood and found the Parc de Villette. It's going to be great for reading in the sunshine ala my Rittenhouse Square days in Philly. One half is taken up with theaters, musical venues and a ton of fun things for children. So there will be sunning and reading as french children scamper by. C'est Super!

Dienstag, 17. März 2009

Foreigner - Stranger

It is summer time. In a small community center decorated with paper hearts, a group of Americans and Swiss learn tradtitional folk dancing with the aid of champagne and a teacher with a lot of patience.
"Mmm, wie sagt Man 'jemand fremd'?" The dance instructor's english up to this point has been understandable and sweetly accented. Proud that she had turned to me to translate, I promptly answer: Foreigner or Stranger.
Were we doing this dance in america, the leader would probably call out "turn to you partner, turn to your own". At least, this is my understanging, based on Bugs Bunny cartoons. Our leader, possibly overwhelmed by the new additions to her vocabularly looks to her partner and says "foreigner" then to the person on her other side "stranger". The Americans who were already laughing in surprise at the two synonyms, chuckle all the more. The rest of the night, simply saying "foreigner - stranger - foreigner - stranger" would elicit giggles.

When I first moved to Switzerland and needed to organize my foreigner ID, I had the same reaction. I was to go to the neighborhood police and was confused by the use of the word "Fremd". Apparently I had only heard that word as "stranger" before and the ID of regitering myself as a "stranger" made me a bit sad. I thought back to the answer my half brother gave when I asked him what a "stranger" looks like. "He's a man with a black mask and has all black and wants to take you away."
Months later, the reaction of my american friends to "foreigner - stranger" made me laugh from my belly with relief. Their shock showed that they found it absurd that a foreigner would be a stranger. Of course our use of the word "alien" does not seem that much more friendly, but they had likely never been called an alien and here in Switzerland they were foreigners; strangers. Though I've been a stranger here for 3 years, I still feel a very deep relief when someone else is surprised by culture or language in the same way I was, at first. When a German or American in Switzerland first hears "Hana wasser" or "gksi". I laugh and nod my head. That's right. You weren't expecting that, were you? I feell a relief at the evidence that, though I do not understand everything, I know to order tap water and that I am a stranger.

Freitag, 6. März 2009

all that glitters

I've never thought of myself as superfical, at least not so much more than the average human animal. When I walk down the street, my mind always plays at the notions of what depths the surrounding strangers contain.

Last week, my neighbor asked what was wrong. I was simply walking home from the pharmacy. He knew that something was wrong because of the way I was walking. I hadn't even noticed a hitch in my step.

"Skiing accident?" he asked. I laughed so hard. "Something like that" I said. Here he was, trusting his eyes, judging by appearances and had NO idea that I was limping along with fistulas and draining abscesses.

Today, as I was walking down the street I couldn't play my usual game of creating lives for the fleeting faces in trams or the strolling strangers. No guesses at families, happiness, loves of hand-knit sweaters. All I could do was imagine callouses on a beautiful woman in expensive shoes. Diaper rash on an adorable baby. Hemorrhoids on the hairdresser in the salon.

No one knows my medical history when they see me walking down the street. I apparently resemble a skiier. (ha! I snowboard when not healing from surgery)

Yesterday I visited my old Kindergarten , I was teaching for a year and a half until December. I came for a visit and came bearing Easter chocolate and sang "little bunny foo foo". The whole time I was there, I had one or two children wrapped around one or both of my legs. I visited during circle time and said that I would love to hear any stories that they had for me, or answer any questions that they had for me.

Guess how many questions they asked? none. I heard about Christmas and Hanukkah, who lost a tooth, what they built, what number they can write.

When I was their teacher, these little guys who would remove my glasses the three times that I wore them when hungover, because they were unusual to them. The rugrats who would surreptitiously change stroke my hair so that it was parted on the "normal" side, should I ever dare to switch it, these gorgeous, healthy balls of energy looked at me and saw me. Not Chron's or sick or fistulas, just me.

Montag, 2. März 2009 on my side

When I was younger I used to stay at over night in Ashland Massachusetts before hospital visits. It was closer to my Boston hospital and a good excuse to hang with my dad, step-mom and half-brother. One particular morning (there musn't have been surgery or scopes on the books), I was breakfasting with my half-brother and he asked "What is time?"
He was a little guy. He liked my shaved head and I sprayed his mom's hairspray under the bed (monster spray) when I would sit for him. I gave him a big stupid smile and his mother gasped.
"Oh my goodness! He wants to know what time is?"
It could have been my age, my recent babysitting or my perspective (I was watching his face as it swung toward the clock when he asked), but I was untroubled by the question.
"Well, time is what tells us what it's time to do. Time tells us when we go to playgroup, when we go to bed and when the train comes."
He was quickly and easily pacified and I felt like a good big sister.

Yesterday, Ivo and I were walking in the cemetery and stopped to admire one of the buildings. A woman who was passing commented on the fineness of the day and we agreed.
"If only the people with computers weren't messing with the time." , she added.
"Mmmmmm." we said.
Then we wished her a lovely day.
"What day is it?" she asked
"Sunday." we said.
"I'm sorry but it's not. I've just been to the shops and the shops aren't open on Sundays. So it isn't Sunday then, is it?"
I was at a loss. How does one prove time to someone? Especially someone who believes that people with computers are manipulating time? "Oh," I said "I just heard a lot of bells this morning. That made me think that it was Sunday. "
"Well, I've been to the shops. ....and you know the weird thing? I arrived home at the same time that I left. I left and went shopping and came home and it was the same time that it'd been when I'd gone."
"Go figure" is pretty much what Ivo and I were about to say. "Well, whichever day it is, I hope that it is a good one for you."

When I was preparing dinner, I began listening to the Radio lab podcast about Time. It was a freaky coincidence. I learned about how trains made a synchronised time in one place more necessary. I learned about England taking control of their empire and declaring their own time, Greenwich Mean Time, as the one true time. It was enlightening. When I'd left that woman I shuffled my feet and thought "It's all relative" but after hearing that podcast I thought on my baby brother and was reminded the importance of respecting people and listening better to the things that they say and the ways in which they intend it.

Sonntag, 25. Januar 2009


My husband edited my letter of intent.

Do you see? My expression of desire for a job and my qualities for that job were read and corrected by my husband.
I have to go to an interview and present a self to a perspective employer.

I've been mistaken for other people. I've reminded people of someone who they used to know. I can translate words on paper but have trouble doing simultaneous translation. I interpret what I am feeling to my husband. I presented my understanding of things to small children for over a year.

One day in a train, a Deaf man was trying to get information for why we had stopped. The conductor was not able to explain it to him. She was busy. She needed to inform the car that we were going to need to switch to another train. I turned to the man and asked if I should sign to him what was going on. I wished that I would be asked to interpret for the conductor. I didn't want to simply answer his questions myself. I was afraid that I would be tempted to lie or not tell the full truth. I couldn't, though. I had a friend who was Deaf and I knew the importance that I give him the most accurate information I had. So I didn't say that there was a technical problem. I signed. "She has informed us that someone has jumped from the bridge. She said that the person is on the track and that Police and Ambulance are here. She's just made an announcement that we will need to transfer to another train, which is coming." I found the man later when the conductors were telling us to fully step down from one train before stepping onto the next. That we were not to touch both trains at the same time.

I've been going to a meditation class that is in four parts. I want to have the honesty of interpreting for a Deaf man on a train when I am interpreting what my body is capable of and what my reality is right now.
I want to be that clear when I am at an interview. I want to present the facts. But my husband has edited my intentions.

Montag, 5. Januar 2009

that one time

When I was in the states this winter it snowed. It snowed and snowed and that snow coincided with a car trip, which was scary. I held my breath when we slowly crested hills with the car downshifted. (I say we, but I mean my brother-in-law, who volunteered to hold all of our lives in his hands so that my sister and I could make it to a yoga retreat.) I kept thining about the one big accident that I had had. My car slid down a snowy slope and underneath a schoolbus. I thought of it ALOT!
I thought mostly about the still weirdness that happens before the crash, the blood rushing in my ears, I thought about the fear and the futility.

Just now, not in a car, not in the snow, I thought of the other, the better, parts of crashing. Let me tell you now that this was a bloodless affair and everyone was fine. One part  was the great cheer the children in the bus let out when the hood of my car slid under the bus' rump and shattered in a fun way (it was a saturn). The best part, however, was the part that I wanted to share:
I got on my cell phone (a new addition to my previously analogue life)  and called my good friend and neighbor, a woman with whom I was apartment-hunting, Dacia. Her boyfriend answered her phone.
"Tyler, I had a crash!" I screamed
"I know! We watched you through the window!" (the crash happened when I tried to not crest a hill ; hoping instead to slide into my road before momentum built up)
"Look behind you!"
I did. Luckily it wasn't another car coming to hit my car, which was next to two smashed cars and under a bus which had crushed a car into a telephone pole. It was Dacia, sliding down the hill on her  toward my car; propelling herself forward on mittened hands. I would have an incredible and essential relationship with this woman. We would live together and support one another and care for one another. Before moving in with her, I lived with a cold woman who was my complete opposite. After living with her I was a better woman and could give myself more of what I needed. And the moment that most clearly defines that wonderful experience is watching this caring, loving grown woman, paddle herself down a hill on her ass to come and sit in my broken ass car and drink my travel mug coffee and hold me while I laughed and on to the time when I would need  to have a big scream - when the adrenaline wore off.)

We watched the cops slip and fall on their bums, we watched a cop car and a snow plow spin down the hill - one after the other - the snowplow spinning down and landing on my back-bumper and unloading sand all over it.

better memory, I think

Sonntag, 4. Januar 2009

New Year

It is a New Year!
Like the last 5 years, I rang in 2009 in on a mountaintop with a small group and with Churches chiming (the church in the next town over always a bit prematurely), pretending that I am not afraid of my brother-in-law setting off fireworks.
Crashes and booms meant to scare off the baddies of last year were not enough, so Ivo and I turned ourselves around to 2008 and screamed at the tops of our lungs. Very cathartic. I screamed at the bad parts of the growing pains in our marriage this year. I screamed at anything medical. I screamed at all the frustrations and stumbling blocks. And yet.......

When I look in the future and imagine myself an old lady, I wonder what I will think of this time in my life. What will I tell my grandchildren? Will I be jealous of them? WHO STARTS THEIR MARRIED LIFE AS AN ABSOLUTE BEGINNER AT ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING?!?!?! German, Swiss German, Swiss culture, Accordian, being a daughter-in-law, Kick-boxing, Snowboarding, Eating meals with other people, Yoga.....

So, the past couple of years I have been a beginner and not so good at things. I've needed to be patient, I've needed to be humble, I've needed to be be an adult learner. What are my plans for the New Year? More of the God damned SAME!
I guess I wasn't shouting at being a beginner, cuz I've got beginner-plans for 2009. Adult swim classes, French lessons and french school in Paris, leaving the confidence that comes from working a job that I know how to do and have done for more than a decade for a job that I have studied for but never actually done, jumping in the adult pool metaphorically as well and gettin' me a hearing aid.

I'm all about figuring out how I want to identify myself. I guess I never figured that I would be a beginner, that I would CHOOSE to.