Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Things I Love This Week

So the beauty of TILTW (though clearly not the acronym) is that I can post it on Tuesday and it's totally legit. 

Note to self: in the future, try to avoid the word 'legit'. 

(1) Vitamin String Quartet cover of Switchfoot's "Dare You To Move"
I know I totally already used VSQ in a previous TiLT post but I am continually amazed at their covers. Listen to this one and you'll forgive me for a repeat.


(2) Chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting sprinkled with a pinch of sea salt. Sounds strange but the salt is like a flavor elevator for the chocolate. Your tastebuds are like, "Going up? Yes, please!"
My host mom is too good to me.

(3) Really excellent potential film plot - It was recently suggested that my time here in Switzerland is rife with potential for writing a screenplay. It involves two quirky but awesome crime fighters chasing a man on a crime spree of Swiss banks. There's a talking goat named Fitz in there too. Naturally, unintentional but hilarious hijinks ensue.*  I love it so much, I would actually pursue this for my own amusement, if I knew anything at all about writing a screenplay. Thanks for the inspiration. Feel free to leave comments with other potential plot elements. 

*Screenplay is a work of fiction and not based on real events from my life in Switzerland. Maybe.

(4) This photo of Nana and Papa
I wish I could call them up right now just to hear their voices. I also really wish they had Internet...

Points of Interest
  • Words the Dog Knows by J.R. Carpenter. Extremely well-written, entertaining book.
  • Managing to get past the language barrier to make some kids laugh by making a giraffe out of chestnuts and toothpicks. Wish I had a picture. It is the saddest most heartwarming piece of arts and crafts you ever did see. 
  • Getting real mail. I haven't actually received any but I hear it's nice....hint hint....
  • Meeting more awesome new people in one afternoon than I have in the previous weeks combined.
  • The way a horse looks when it runs
  • Plain white dinnerware. Makes the food look brighter, more interesting.
  • Having a clock on my desk specifically so I can always know what time it is back in the States
  • Plaid
  • Blog comments - means so much more than IP address footprints on my feed, thanks for all the responses last post!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Day 26 - Lonely

Today was rainy and cold but I spent a pleasant afternoon walking the streets of Lausanne, taking pictures of cheerful sunflowers and shopping for shoes. I made good on my promise and purchased a pair of faux-oxfords so my feet don't have to shuffle in the shame of clunky American shoes.  In reality, I went shoe shopping because I literally forgot to bring any practical, flat dress shoes with me.  Now I am the owner of two brand new pairs for less than 60 CHF.
You dig them. Don't deny.

But this is not about shoes. I had a nice relaxing day but I couldn't shake this nagging sense of loneliness. It's been following me around like a hungry cat. (Odd simile but my host family's cat circles my feet the minute I come downstairs, no matter what time of day it is, and I nearly always trip over it.)  It sneaks up and takes a little bit of the shine out of what are otherwise pleasant moments.

I've always been the kind of person who is happy to disappear and spend hours by myself.  In fact, if I go too long surrounded by other people, I grumpy and just a little twitchy.

The problem here is that I've gone from having friends everywhere I go (or at least ones I can pick up the phone and call at any time) to having two in a 600 mile radius.  And visiting them involves train/plane tickets, a passport, and exchanging currency.

Now, before I draw a picture of myself walking the moors alone by day, sobbing into my keyboard by night, I must clarify that love my host family and all the people I've met so far. And I'm really eager to make new friends but patience is not one of my greatest virtues.  In the world of instant communication, it's been really difficult to get used to only having a few hours in a day where I can talk to friends and family.  And while Skype is probably my favorite invention after electricity and indoor plumbing, there's still something missing. I firmly believe the most meaningful interactions between people happen when you're face to face.

I miss running into you at lunch and spontaneously eating together (Windsor...sob).  I miss when I'm talking and you finish the story because you remember when it happened. I miss having inside jokes. I miss you handing me a quarter when I don't have the right change. I miss laughing with you about something that isn't really all that funny. I miss passing you the salt and pepper. I miss you making fun of my taste in shoes when we're shopping. I miss making fun of your taste in music when we're driving. I miss your hugs. I miss drinking in the view with you.  I miss companionable silence.

That got really depressing. Not sure if I'll post this....
I don't mean to sound whiny. I've been away just shy of a month so I feel like the sheer force of how new it still feels should keep me happy. This is an unexpected side effect. One I'm not sure how to deal with. Do I sit online for hours every night and wait to talk to people or do I run around hugging strangers?  Neither sounds very appealing.  One day at a time, they say.

So here's a photo of me from today, smiling like a loon from Loonville just so you know I mean it when I say I'm not Debbie Downer all the time.
In real life I have a neck. Just not in this awkward self-portrait.

In the meantime, be sure to leave a comment because clearly I'm desperate for attention!
But seriously.....

Friday, September 24, 2010

Weekend Adventures - Part 1

And now for a new segment I like to call "Weekend Adventures", since I will be doing most of my travelling on the weekends. On Facebook I have a photo album with the same name since loading pictures on here is a little bit tedious.

Ok, so this adventure happened two weekends ago but I really have to tell you about it. Really.

Below is a map of where I went:

As you can see, I focused my travels in the southwest part of Switzerland. A couple from Pully (a suburb of Lausanne) were kind enough to be my hosts/chauffeurs for the weekend. The events of the weekend were prearranged by this couple and my host family so I didn't know much about what was going to happen beforehand. Our activities can be broken down into the following categories:

1) Eating
2) Driving

Look for those buzzwords as you continue to read.

I arrived in Pully at lunch time (Point B on the map). The host couple, two other couples and I sat at a table on the veranda and it began. Three courses and three hours later, we got up from the table. SO MUCH FOOD. It was all amazing, of course. But I was pretty much done in. We got in the car (here comes some of the driving part) and drove an hour to Vouvry (Point C), where we attended a tent mission. For those of you who know what I'm talking about, it's a gospel service in a tent open to the public. Very different but really good experience.
After that, we drove to Vevey (Point D). I could devote a whole post to this place and probably will some day. It's an upscale but artsy village on the lake. What we ran across however, was not upscale or artsy. It was an American-style car show, complete with American-style music and redneck dress. If you've never heard Lynyrd Skynyrd sung by a bunch of French people, well, you're not missing much. It was a very interesting clash of cultures. I laughed at the ridiculousness of it but then realized no one else found it funny when I received a few glares.

The sunset over the lake, however, was no laughing matter.
Afterwards, we drove back to Pully and sat down for another enormous meal of tuna spaghetti. I nearly wept at the table. I could not believe we were eating again.
That night I did not sleep very well in my tiny cupboard-like room.

The traditional Swiss breakfast is tartines, or toast with jam, using the traditional tresse au beurre (butter braid bread). After the previous day's feasting, I was pleased to munch on a simple piece of toast. My hosts, however, did not stop until they had put away a loaf and a half of bread between the two of them.  I watched in awe, nervously nibbling a crust, as both of them (fit as oxen!) plowed through a week's worth of carbohydrates. 
After meeting, we drove a long ways to Yverdon (Point E) for lunch on Lake Neuchatel at the brother of one of my hosts. This time I was prepared for the multiple courses and ate sparingly at each one. This time we managed to sit at the table for four hours and I was nearly crying with boredom by the time we got up. It was pleasant company but they spoke mostly French and talked about important grown-up things like mortgages and salaries. At this point I would like to note that I was younger than everyone we met the entire weekend by at least 5 years. 
When everything under the sun had been discussed (which after four hours should have been literally everything), it was time to go to the next stop. The trip from Yverdon to Gimel (Point F) was by far the longest but also the most beautiful. Located in the Jura Mountains, Gimel is a scenic, windy place where another couple lives. We walked in and sat down for another three course meal. At this point, I'm pretty sure a little hysterical giggle escaped but I managed to cover it with a tiny coughing fit. Again, the food was fantastic but I ate the tiniest portions. I may have slightly offended the cooks with how little I ate. I tried to explain how full I was already but they didn't seem to understand. Over and over I heard,
"Eat, eat! This is what we do here. We enjoy our food and our conversation!" 
Dessert. Usually the best part. 

I'm not complaining, I had a really great weekend. Met a lot of really awesome people and saw what this corner of the country has to offer. And I really appreciate this culture. There's no hurry to get up from the table and no stigma attached to second and third helpings. In America we have a tendency to put everything on the table, eat in 30 minutes or less, and then go do something. In Europe, they eat slowly and they eat a lot. There's no pressure to get up from the table and go on a hike. I really think I can get used to this. It's just going to take a lot of patience and a hip flask of Pepto Bismol.

Things I Love This Week

...hey guys.
sorry I'm late. 
like REALLY late. 
I was, uh, you know....doing stuff.

Like spending the last two weekends travelling.
[insert shrugs and awkward face]

The truth, I haven't been in the right mood to update for awhile. But my conscience has stricken me and I have a feeling that my massive following of 6 people is hungry for some new witticisms/brilliant life observations/endless drivel. So here you are. BEGIN!

(1) Getting by without knowing very much French - This is not an ideal situation. It makes for awkward silences when I don't realize that the person I'm talking to has just asked me a question. However, it is manageable. I can make it through entire conversations without giving away that I don't know what we're talking about. I know enough to know whether the correct response is yes/no, maybe, or I don't know. As a result I usually give the general impression that I am the world's least-informed person. But until my French class starts, that is how it's going to work.  On the plus side, it makes for some really hilarious moments I can laugh about later.

(2) Pumpkins - I've been resisting the onset of fall this year like nobody's business but if it means I can use the cheerful gourds as decorations and in recipes freely, well BRING IT ON. The farm down the road grows pumpkins of alllll kinds. I never even knew there was more than one kind. Turns out there are green, white, yellow, AND orange ones. And they all taste different. mmm...can you smell the pumpkin pancakes?

(3) Oxford shoes, or "European sneakers" as I call them. Like the "saddle shoes" of the 50's but more subtle in color and in pleasant fall material like soft leather or suede. Urban Outfitters has an entire section devoted to them on their website. Let's be honest, my grungy Converse sneakers aren't cutting it over here in the mother land. Hattie, you'll be so proud. I may or may not be going into the city tomorrow to buy myself a pair. 

(4) Animal music.

Short Stack
  • Eating grapefruit with maple syrup 
  • My new blog header/title....maybe. Thoughts?
  • Having a double bed for the first time in my life. The unnecessary, excessive space means I can lie spread eagle at night and not a single digit is hanging off the edge.  I feel oddly powerful. If I were rich and famous, I'd have a bed so big they'd have to invent a new name for the size. i.e. Twin, Double, Queen, King, and Small Plot of Land. 
  • Watching episodes of The Mentalist in English with my host mom
  • Friday afternoons
  • A freshly cleaned bathroom: the subtle glint from the faucet, a lemony scent in the air
  • Taking a 35 minute nap and feeling 8 times better 
  • Getting my very own French hymnbook to keep!
  • Apple Corer/Slicer/Peeler Machines. Honestly the only reason some kids will eat an apple is so they can use one of these things:

So this doesn't have as much gusto as usual, but I have a few other posts up my sleeve that I've been meaning to pound out before the weekend. 
Anyway, hope you smiled at the little things this week.

That was so cheesy. Clearly I'm rusty without my regular blogs...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Day 12 - Good Morning

Run through the Swiss countryside followed by breakfast on my windowsill.

It is indeed.

You can do more than just breathing. Enjoy the morning. Enjoy the clean slate of a new day in front of you. And if you can't do that, go back to bed and sleep until you can.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Things I Love THIS WEEK

Did you catch that? Yes, I decided it's now "Things I Love This Week" because let's be honest, Thursdays are just not working out for me. It's the same idea but now I have the freedom to post on Tuesday or Friday, etc.

Speaking of irregularity, the first thing I'm loving are (1) PRUNES. Or as we in the States call them, plums. We call dried plums prunes but here it's all prunes, fresh or dried. In Switzerland, I am in an area where fresh produce flows in abundance so I have been eating like a queen every day.  We pop over to somebody's farm at least every other day and come back with armloads of prunes, raspberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, potatoes, etc. There's so much fresh produce, people just leave it on your doorstep. I kid you not, one day we came back from an outing to two plump zucchini propped against the door. Three days later, a man left us a pumpkin. I love these people.

Anyway, prunes. They're not just for old folks anymore. Go get some fresh ones. Just make sure you spit out the stones (or, the pit). And yes, you'll be as regular as the daily mail.

(2) Raspberries - I promise I will not make this about my favorite fruits. Maybe. But today we went raspberry picking today and I just love it. The prickly leaves, finding the plump ripe ones, and fingers stained with bright crimson juice. Feast your eyes:
Ok now stop that. You're drooling on the keyboard.

(3) Lausanne - I talked a little about Lausanne in my last post but this city is so cool. It's not a huge city but large enough to get lost in and large enough to have stores devoted to really specific things like Swedish fireplaces. (Wish I had a picture, that store was really strange.) But it's also small enough to be pretty quiet and pretty clean.  It has strong flavors of France, like the Laduree macaron shop and little corner patisseries, but it's very vibrant with its own unique culture as well. Lausanne is home to the best design school in the world, Ecal, and it shows. Beautiful architecture and really neat design shops all over town. And it's on the lake. It just keeps getting better.
In a few weeks, I will be going into the city at least twice a week for French class. 


(4) Antiques - Because I am secret hipster, I love all things old and vintage-y. What's better than vintage? European vintage, of course! Last weekend we went to a giant antiques fair in L'Isle. It was a good thing I left all my ChF (Swiss Francs) at home because otherwise I would have left with three vintage suitcases, a telephone, some spice jars, picture frames, and a samurai sword. Cool, but arguably unnecessary to my life. 
Nevertheless, I pine when I look at the pictures I took.

Short List
  • Getting my train/bus pass - hopefully many weekend trips around Switzerland to come!
  • Beautiful sunny days with no humidity (jealous yet?)
  • Finally figuring out how to tell time in a country where they don't use am/pm
  • Getting a French Bible and Hymn book - sure makes singing easier to have the right words...
  • The kind and patient nature of the Swiss - really helps that they aren't as frustrated as me with my slow and incorrect French
  • Taking the children to the park
  • Poketo for Target - love their pouch collection, perfect for travelling
  • Having a phone
  • Having friends in the same time zone
  • Handmade soap
  • The way Swiss bank notes are pretty enough to be art
  • Making chocolate chip cookies and thinking of home. 
What do you love this week?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Day 5 - Ridiculous

Today's pictures are brought to you from my first trip to Lausanne, the big city closest to my little home in Bournens (pronounced Bor-no).  Every Saturday, the farmers come to the city and sell fresh produce, flowers, and spices on the city streets until noon.  My Swiss family is a huge fan of all things fresh (yay!) so we went to the market.  What a beautiful, pleasant day.

Yesterday's post got me thinking about expectations. I was expecting Lausanne to be beautiful, I am expecting to enjoy my time here, and I am expecting there to be uncomfortable moments. But I'm glad for the unexpected - the things that are popping up that I was not prepared for. These are the times when I'm learning the most and sometimes having the most fun.

Today was full of unexpected silliness. For example, I was not at all prepared for a headless, bodiless mannequin to appear in my path only wearing a pair of jeans. The picture is made perfect by the woman framed by the pants, walking away in the distance wearing only leggings, as though she up and left her jeans in the street. And there they stand all by themselves, as if to say "so what? I don't need a person to look like great jeans. whatever, it's fine."

I was also not expecting to look up and see this pompous orange tabby glaring down at me from her balcony. "Hey, you in the scarf. Yeah, you hanging out with the Swiss family.  Nobody's fooled, you are totally American. Go home and eat a cheeseburger. This is MY city."

Do I have mental conversations with cats? Yes, all the time.  And we're moving on.

My favorite unexpected moment was the dinner I had with the father of my Swiss family. The mother went out for the evening so after the children were in bed, it was just him and I and some excellent Thai food. I was a little nervous because he only speaks a little English and I speak even less French and I have this unbecoming tendency to chatter to fill awkward silences.  Well, I needn't have worried. He speaks English far better than he gives himself credit for and he tells the most interesting stories. Before I knew it, an hour had passed and I was falling over laughing about the time he went to California with a friend and they dyed their hair blonde to pass as American surfers so they could surf on a pros-only beach.

Ah. Hipster and intellectual tendencies aside, anyone who has talked to me for five minutes knows I'm quite silly. I can take a rather stupid joke and make it last for way longer than necessary.  The moral of the story here is that though Mensa is rejecting my application as we speak, I'm glad that my grand European adventure is not affecting my love of the ridiculous.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Day 4 - Reality Check

This is from the banks of Lac Leman (again, Lake Geneva for all you non-Swiss). So peaceful and so calm, the Alps in the distance shrouded in haze. Today was a beautiful warm day and we went to a small local park in Bournens (the village where I live) this morning and then to the lake shore in the afternoon in Lausanne.  My eyes could not get enough of this sight.

It was nice to sit and stare into the water.  I haven't been here long but in this short time, I'm reevaluating the year set before me.  I really had no idea what I was getting myself into.  This is not bad, I am simply coming to terms with the situation.  I've been telling people for months that this was my plan but somewhere along the line, I stopped thinking about the implications.

I guess I forgot how new everything would be.

For all of my 22 years, I have never been without familiarity. Even when I went away to college, that wasn't very far from home and I was surrounded by things similar.  Here, it is all different. The food, the landscape, the people, the language (big, big difference), everything.  I packed three suitcases full of America but it is not the same.  Even my familiar clothes look different hanging in my new closet. Also, I feel very oddly dressed and out of place, but that's another story entirely. One that potentially ends in me rushing out to the stores for a new wardrobe....

Of course it could be worse. It's not like I'm in the African bush country, drinking goats milk out of an elephant tusk and fighting off lions. But let's get real. I'm a college grad from the Midwest who goes to Chicago for a weekend calls that a grand adventure. I'm totally out of my element here.

But then I sit by the lake and remember that I am not here to feel comfortable, to fit in.  I'm here to try things like ham and sage pork fillet and I might even like it. Which I totally do...pretty much changed the way I view meat. And gâteau a la creme... Ok that is also another story, one that definitely ends in me rushing out for new clothes...
Note to future Swiss travelers: the food = très très BIEN. Also très très rich. I've had a stomach ache for 3 days now....

Anyway, I'm glad for the quiet moments, glad to remember why I'm here. So even though this jet lag seems to never end and even though I will continue to wake up in a cold sweat because I've had a nightmare that I've forgotten all my French AND English and EVEN THOUGH I miss my family like crazy, I will keep on.  There are many more beautiful moments ahead like the one today and I can't wait to experience that.

So bring on the awkward, poorly worded, and uncomfortable situations. It will make for some entertaining stories anyway.

On the plus side, I'm signed up for a French course at the local university. Did you hear that? Yeah, that was the collective sound of Bournen's 250 residents breathing a sigh of relief.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Day 3 - Morning

This is what I woke up to:
(well, many hours ago, but it is morning for all you back at home)

A rooster crow, children's laughter, and somewhere there's a bell that clangs out the hour. Oh, and this view. That break in the horizon beyond the houses, yeah that's where Lac Leman is (Lake Geneva, as it is incorrectly called by us Americans).

Pain au chocolat: Nutella on bread. This better not become a habit or I will have to buy two seats for the plane ride home.

A pleasing array of thé (tea)

Aside from the continuing jet lag, yes Mom, I'm doing just fine. :)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Day 2 - In...somnia

Sunrise over Amsterdam

My seatmate raised the window shade an hour prior to touchdown this morning in Amsterdam and this is what we saw:

As we sunk into the clouds, the sun was beginning to illuminate the northern coast of Holland.

And then we got below the clouds.  The city looked so young and fresh bathed in morning gold.

What a beautiful end to a sleepless night. 

I have arrived safe in Switzerland. I adore it and I haven't even been here for 24 hours. The family, the house, the surroundings, all lovely. I'm beginning to think I've bitten off more than I can chew with the language barrier but I have a patient and understanding translator. 

And jet lag is hitting me like a ton of bricks. Thanks for all the well wishes/thoughts/prayers. More later...

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