30 April 2007


The bulk of what I have been doing at my volunteer position is translating text from German into English. *See note below.

Earlier today I was working on a document that had been partially translated by someone else. I noticed some small errors and phrasing issues and corrected them. The slight mistakes didn't make the text unreadable, but it wasn't quite how you would normally say it in English. It didn't flow naturally.

Shortly thereafter I discovered that those sections had been written by a native English speaker. Although the individual was born, raised and educated in an English language country, s/he has lived and taught at university level in Germany for many years. It seems to have impacted his/her English language skills. Some of the phrasing sounded more "germanic." And the grammar and punctuation was not always quite right. Because this individual has achieved a Ph.D. at one of the top universities in the English-Speaking World, I have to assume that s/he was making small mistakes on things s/he once knew.

I had heard of this phenomenon before today -- an individual who has lived and worked in a second language for so long that they start to lose some of their ability to speak and write in their native language. But this is the first I have personally come across it.

I find it rather fascinating. In essence, they are caught in-between the two languages. On the one hand, unless they learned the second language as a child and from a native speaker, they likely do not sound exactly right. There are many levels of fluency, but the most difficult to achieve in a second language is the level of "Mother Tongue."

But on the other hand they are slowly losing their ability to articulate fully in their native language. Perhaps when speaking they occasionally struggle to find the right word. Likely a word they know, but just cannot bring to mind.

I cannot imagine how this must feel.

What is the impact on cultural identity? Are they caught not only between two languages, but between two worlds?

Along a similar vein, what happens with children who are raised bilingual? Do they belong in both worlds and both languages? Or not fully in either?

Odds are its some in-between. But what determines where on this cultural sliding scale you fall?

I must review the research on this topic.

And I would love to hear from individuals who are experiencing it personally.

I know. My German language skills are not great and there are certainly other native English speakers who could translate faster. But my ability to read German is at the intermediate level, so I am not horrendous at translating. And I not only speak English, but I also speak "Librarian." As with most professions, there is a glossary of terms that only someone who is a member of that profession knows. Plus, I work for free. Always a plus!

29 April 2007

Experience the Past at Ballenberg

Yesterday GLH and I journeyed into the past. And it was only about an hour away!

We went to the Ballenberg Freilicht Museum (Ballenberg Open Air Museum), a collection of rural Swiss architecture spread across 200 acres in a beautiful, wooded setting. Near Brienz in the Aare River Valley, Ballenberg is truly a worthwhile experience. It is easily accessible by car or public transportation (trains from Luzern and Interlaken several times a day). Situated near Interlaken and completely surrounded by the Alps, the views are stunning.

Heck, even the view from parking lot is amazing!

The Ballenberg's collection is comprised of traditional Swiss rural architecture from the different regions of Switzerland. The approximately 100 buildings exhibited here were in danger of being demolished. Instead, they were painstakingly taken apart and the pieces carefully numbered before being transported to the museum grounds, put together again and restored after extensive research on their historical significance.

The buildings are grouped by region into one of thirteen "villages" with paths leading through the woods to connect the areas. I highly recommend you bring your walking shoes as the museum's grounds stretch more than 3 kilometers from the east to the west entrances. And this being Switzerland, there are always hills to climb!

Although a number of the paths are wheelchair accessible and a map is provided to lead visitors with disabilities through the more accessible areas.

Any preceived notions about all traditional Swiss architecture looking like a Swiss Chalet are dispelled. After all, Switzerland was influenced by multiple cultures and what we think of as a Swiss Chalet is typical only in Central Switzerland (in the alps around Interlaken). And architecture from the French and Italian areas is extremely different from what is found in the German areas.

Farmhouse from Ostermundigen, Canton Bern

In addition, Ballenberg is not just about the buildings. Inside the buildings you will not only examples of traditional crafts, but individuals who still create those items hard at work. Most of those we saw were multi-lingual and more than happy to explain what they are doing. Visitors can even sign up for classes on everything from pottery to lace making to woodwork with classes taught in multiple languages and intended for all age groups.

And as this showcases Rural Switzerland, there are more than 250 animals living on the grounds...

And a few that are no longer living, such as this Bernese Mountain dog...
Although the dogs are still extremely popular throughout Switzerland and the museum regularly has events showcasing their talents.
We were at the museum for nearly three hours and we only saw a segment of it.

We fully intend to go again and enter the museum from the other entrance. In addition, we have found a fascinating and engaging museum which we can take visitors. It is even relatively inexpensive. Inexpensive compared to other Swiss attractions, of course!

Here are a few more photos:

Close Up of New Shingles

Dining area of large farmhouse from Villars-Bremard, Canton Vaud

Courtyard of Farmstead from Novazzano, Canton Ticino

Collection of Cow Bells:

Tourist Central: Interlaken

After leaving Ballenberg, we decided we were so close to Interlaken (about 20 minutes) that it would be a shame to not stop for a quick look-see.

Interlaken is Tourist Central in Switzerland. The streets are crowded. There are shops selling everything from t-shirts that say "My Grandparents went to Switzerland and all I got was this stupid t-shirt" to 75,000 CHF diamond-encrusted designer watches.

As well as unique taxi services...

Not to mention more garbage littering the streets and green-spaces than I have ever seen in any other Swiss city.

But let us not forget why Interlaken became the Tourist Trap of Switzerland -- the breathtaking beauty of the mountains and the lakes!

27 April 2007

From the Other Side

Earlier this week as we finished dinner we realized we had just enough time to get to the other side of the lake and watch the sunset.

As we had been wondering how much the car ferry (between Horgen and Meilen) costs and how long it takes, we decided to head for Horgen and hop on.

When we got on the ferry, we saw the ticket guy working his way down the four rows of cars. He nearly completed the first row, and then he disappeared into the office. We kept waiting for him to reappear, but he never did. Perhaps he ran out of change? Perhaps he had to use the restroom? Perhaps it was time for his break.

We will never know, but when the ferry docked the majority of cars had not paid. And no one seemed to concerned about it. It seemed like a terribly Un-Swiss situation.

Therefore we cannot tell you how much the ferry costs, but we can tell you that it takes 10-15 minutes to cross the lake.

Once on the other side we picked a random street and headed up the hill. We went as quickly as we could, because the sun was on the verge of setting.

We stopped on this small road...

Next to some cows...

And beside a field of grape seed...

The sun soon set with a final splash of color across the sky.

And we had a leisurely night drive across the Seedamm Causeway between Rapperswil and Pfäffikon, back to our home.

26 April 2007

Reason #27

Why I Will Never Fit-In In Switzerland: Reason #27

Today I happened to glance at the care instructions on the shower curtain in the guest bath:

After showering rinse with warm water.
Wash and iron monthly.

Excuse me? "Wash and iron MONTHLY?" Are they serious?

Washing I can see. Especially since it's the guest bathroom and it's nice to have a fresh, clean space for guests to come. So each time we have an overnight guest, I'll go ahead and stick it through the washer.

But I absolutely refuse to iron a shower curtain.

24 April 2007

Die Rechnung

We received the bill (Die Rechnung) from Max's Most Recent Incident.

At least the incident that required the care of the vet, as opposed to the incident in which he ate the chocolate truffle. Or the incident in which he jumped behind the clothes dryer and got stuck. Or the incident in which I happened upon him eating as much dryer lint as he could before I caught him. Or even the incident...

Well, you get the point.

When I opened up the bill I started to laugh and handed it to GLH, who immediately shouted with laughter so loud I was concerned our Swiss neighbors would call the Kantonal Polizei.

Our new vet definitely has a sense of humor. As evidenced by the fact that he slightly changed Max's name:

Yep, Max can make quite an impression.

Bizarre in Basel

Last Friday I took the train to Basel with my friend, Laurie. At the train station we meet up with Un-Swiss Miss. (We were also supposed to meet Jessica, but unfortunately she was not feeling well.)

The purpose of the trip was to go to the Tinguely Museum. So after a walk around the old city and lunch at a former prison, now hotel and restaurant, we headed for the museum.

Jean Tinguely (1925 - 1991) was a Swiss sculptor and painter. He is best known for his strange machines, such as the water fountain that stands in front of the museum. Taking reclaimed items, he turns them into pieces of whimsy.

The interior of the museum invites you to touch, climb and explore the different works. This carrousel horse is part of a much larger sculpture with moving pieces and clanking noises. There are steps to climb up and through it. Tinguely often designed for children and the children that were there responded with shrieks of laughter as they raced up the stairs.

And much of the museum is a space that would delight any child. In many ways his art is like a Dr. Seuss illustration come to life. At times bizarre, but usually fun and carefree.

Although there was an area that I found, well, just plain creepy...

The small museum provided a pleasant afternoon. For me the only disappointment was the building itself. While I can imagine that designing a space that reflects Tinguely's art is a challenge, I thought they could do better than a building oddly reminscient of a mediocre community college from the mid-80's.

22 April 2007

Baroque Painted Ladies of Aarau

On Thursday afternoon I caught the train from Zürich to Aarau in Canton Aargau. I had been invited to visit the Kantonalbibliothek (Canton Library) to discuss Swiss public libraries and share information about US public libraries.

I decided to go early to have a look about the city and get a bite of lunch.

Aarau is situated in the foothills of the Jura mountains. As is typical of Switzerland, there are beautiful vistas every direction you look.

Again, you find the typical old town. Very charming and, of course, clean. It could be any other smallish Swiss city we have visited. The architecture is mostly Baroque and is well-maintained. Indeed, there is absolutely nothing remarkable about the city.

Until you look up...

And you see row after row of beautifully and intricately painted gable roofs. Once you see them, you tend to stare directly up.

Which can be a bit dangerous as unlike many Swiss towns, cars are allowed to drive throughout the Old City and drivers perhaps are not expecting strange tourists to stand in the middle of the road and stare!

Aarau is unique for one other reason as well. They have the most complicated intersection in all of Switzerland. I'm not certain how many roads converge at that point. But when I walked through it appeared to be at least 6, perhaps more.

In fact, the intersection is so complicated that it does not have traffic lights. Instead, a police officer is in a tall stand in the middle of the intersection directing traffic.

Unfortunately it didn't occur to me to take a picture until it was too late and I had to run to catch the train. But I stood and watched him for a while. His movements were as graceful as a Orchestra Director.

21 April 2007

Summer. Again.

It's that time of year once again. The time of year when my hibernation begins. The time of year when I do not want to move and I groan at the thought of any activity, especially one that may take place in the sun.

I do not like summer.

Indeed, I would go so far as to say that I hate it.

This is true for two reasons:

1. I am really, really white. I have lived upon this Earth for nearly 37 years and I have never had a tan. My skin simply does not do it. I am given the choice between white and red. Since sunburns hurt and itch, I tend to go with white. I wear sunscreen every day. When I know I will be outside for any length of time, I even bump it up to 60 spf. And yet I burn.

2. During the cooler months people are always amazed at how I can stroll about in a jacket while they are wrapped up in a winter wool coat, hat, scarf and mittens. They always ask "Aren't you cold?" And while I do feel the cold, I do not mind it. During the summer, others likely feel just as hot as I do, but they do not mind feeling hot. Well, I mind it. Quite a lot, actually.

If my world would just remain at a constant 60 degrees (15 degrees Celsius) I would be a very happy camper indeed.

Well, actually not. Because "camping" tends to be an activity that involves heat and bugs. But you know what I mean.

Back in the United States I would deal with summer by going from my air conditioned house to my air conditioned car to my air conditioned work...

Well, you get the picture.

That is not an option for me. See, because Europeans do not "do air conditioning." It is not needed here. It never gets too hot. Well, occasionally there is a bit of a hot spell, but it's rare and goes away quickly.

At least that is what we hear over and over again.

Here's a question? At what stage do people acknowledge that "rare and unusual" heat waves that occur every summer and last for longer periods of time each year may actually have become the norm?

Today we went shopping to prepare for the upcoming summer. We purchased some heavy duty fans and (dare I type the words? Yes, I do...) two window air conditioners to be used when we simply cannot stand it anymore and the air refuses to cool at night.

There, I said it.

And I refuse to feel ashamed.

19 April 2007

Yes, Virginia...

...there is such a thing as Swiss wine.

Pictured Above: Vineyards on the hill opposite our apartment.

And some of it is quite good!

Some of you may remember the first not-terribly-successful attempt to attend the "Introduction to Swiss Wines" class taught by Jack and Silvia at the Laughing Lemon.

Wednesday night was the Make-Up Class. As GLH was busy with a Work Event, to which wives were not invited, I took along Laurie, a fellow abandoned wife. This time I made certain to study a map before I left and to leave by the correct exit at the Oerlikon train station. It worked much better and we arrived at the class with no further difficulties.

The class was not only a wine tasting, but an overview of the history of wine in Switzerland, climactic and geographic considerations and the types of grapes grown and the characteristics of said wine.

GLH and I had experimented some with Swiss wines, and while we found some whites that were nice, overall we had been disappointed. But I am happy to say that Laurie and I found some wines that we truly enjoyed.

Here are my top three:

1. Pinot Noir Barrique Nr. 562 (2002), a red produced by Zweiful & CO AG, a winery based in the Zürich area.

2. Grand Cru De la Tour (2003), a Chasselas produced by Domaine des Frères Dubois, Cully in Canton Waadt.

3. Federweisser (2005), a Blauburgunder produced by Weingut, Oberhallau in Canton Schaffhausen.

Laurie and I both enjoyed this class quite a lot. I am eager to sign up for another class. Perhaps even one at which GLH can join me!

17 April 2007

I Am Artist

A few months ago I saw an article regarding an interesting exhibit that would be happening at Musée de l'Elysee in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Entitled We Are All Photographers Now: The Rapid Mutation of Amateur Photography in the Digital Age, the exhibit focuses on the advancement of photographic technology and how it has enabled people from all over the world to easily capture and display those images.

The museum curators put out a call to amateur photographers everywhere to send images of other amateur photographers taking photos of major events or well-known locations. These photos would be randomly selected for display in the exhibit. Selected photos would be displayed for one week during the exhibit, which runs from February 8th through May 20th. At the end of each week, new photos are selected for display.

At the time I heard of the exhibit we had recently returned from a weekend in Paris. During our trip I had been routinely frustrated by other photographers getting in the way of my own photos. In the end I decided to experiment and see if I could find ways to incorporate them into the photos rather then stew about their very existence on this earth.

Therefore, I happened to have some photographs that fit the theme and I sent in this one...

This photograph was taken in the Music Library of the Paris Opera House.

After I sent it, I promptly forgot all about it.

Yesterday I received an e-mail informing me that my photograph was currently on display and would remain for the rest of this week. They even included a picture of my photograph displayed in the museum.

Sadly, I am unable to go to Lausanne to see it before it is replaced by the new batch of photos.

But I am still oddly pleased that it was selected.

According to the museum's website they have now received 28,923 photographs from 7,707 photographers in 128 countries.

If you would like to send in your own photograph, click here.

16 April 2007

Ritual Sacrifice in Zürich

Today was the day. The biggest annual event in Zürich. The Ritual Sacrifice of the Böögg, an enormous snowman made of straw and cotton who is packed with explosives and set on a large bonfire.

It began with the parade of the 26 Guilds of Zürich. I simply give you the pictures because my knowledge of Swiss culture generally, and Zürich culture specifically, is too limited to explain what is happening.

The parade ended in Sechseläutenplatz and all of the spectators gathered to witness the Death of the Böögg.

We slowly worked our way through the massive crowd, craning our necks for a glimpse of the Böögg. We heard the church bells ring 6 o'clock and a shout rose up from the crowd. As we could see nothing but the backs of heads, we could only assume that the bonfire had been lit.

Soon a thick smoke filled the sky.

And still we worked through the crowd until, at last, we had our first glimpse of the giant snowman. Flames were already creeping up around him.

Soon he was completely engulfed and a series of rapid explosions began.

Until finally one enormous explosion ripped through the air...

The head came off and the Böögg was no more...

By my watch, the head came off at approximately 12 past the hour. This was confirmed by SwissInfo.org, which stated the time was 12 minutes and 9 seconds.

Apparently we are in for a moderately hot summer.

That is if you believe that an enormous snowman can predict the weather based upon how long he takes to die.

15 April 2007

Children's Parade for Sechseläuten

Part of the fun of living in a new country is watching all the new customs and traditions.

Sechseläuten (Translation: Ringing of the 6 O'Clock Bell) is a long-standing tradition in Zürich. It is a festival that celebrates the end of winter and generally takes place on the third Monday of April, although it may be moved if it conflicts with Easter or the school holidays.

The festival centers around the Böögg, a gigantic snowman-esque figure that represents winter. The traditional Guilds of Zürich first hold a parade. The parade ends in Sechseläutenplatz and guild members on horseback ride around the Böögg, placed on a bonfire in the center of the square. At exactly 6 pm, while the bells of St. Peterskirche ring in the hour, the bonfire is lit. Then everyone waits for the Böögg's head to explode.

How quickly the head explodes is a predictor of the weather for the summer. If it explodes quickly, summer will come quickly and will be very hot. The longer it takes, the shorter and cooler the summer will be. Kind of a violent version of Groundhog Day. Sorta.

The day before the main event is the Children's Parade. Any child aged 12 and under is welcome to march in historic costume. The costumes are from different periods in Switzerland's history, from the medieval age through to the 1950's. In addition, there are costumes that represent cultures from around the world.

Today we went to experience the Children's Parade. Here are my favorite photos...