19 August 2014

Swiss Playgrounds

Why am I not surprised? Swiss playgrounds with practical equipment that's totally fun.

Hand-eye-fun coordination at a lakeside park in Bienne.
In Burgdorf a boy pulls up sand from chain, 
pulley and bucket. Later, wild ride on the 
spring scooter shall ensue.

01 August 2014

Bonfires Signal Switzerland's 723rd Birthday

Last night at the annual party our neighbors, the Leuba family, threw in celebration of Switzerland's birthday on August 1st, there was the usual huge bonfire and fireworks. Didier Leuba explained to me that the bonfires that are still lit around the country on Swiss National Day hearken back to the ones that burned on the mountain tops back in the 13th and 14th centuries when the powerful Hapsburgs were the overlords of the loose network of communities that would eventually form the federation that would become Switzerland.

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According to Didier, whose family with its sprawling properties spread across our patch of farmland and forest, is more or less our beneficent châtelain, the mountain-top bonfires were a way for the future Swiss to give the finger to the Hapsburgers. "We're still up here," was the message of the bonfires. "Come clanking up our mountain trails in your heavy armor if you dare, and see how you like our avalanche of stones!" According to legend, in 1291, the warlords of three communes, Uri, Unterwalden and Schwyz, swore an oath to band together and form a confederacy to fight the Hapsburgs. It took a couple hundred years, but now the Hapsburgs are gone and the bonfires remain.

15 July 2014

The Castle Gates are Open

On the edge of Canton Vaud, halfway between history and legend, there lies a castle.


 Last weekend and next (19-20 July), le Chateau d’Aigle takes you back to a colorful, idealized vision of medieval life, complete with comely inviting wenches.


 Actually, these three beauties were beckoning the king to a bath. He had merely watched the clash of swords and pikes that had just occurred on the field below …




… but the king was nevertheless sweaty and odiferous, and in need of a refreshing bath.

 Some of the king’s subjects received less cordial treatment.
 

 Others continued with their daily labors, whether it was making metal, music or 
magic.




All the while, we modern-day time travelers could walk along those lanes that led between history and our imaginations.








But there is more than make-believe to the Chateau d’Aigle. Its earliest enclosure was built in the 12th century by the Savoyards ...


... and periodically enlarged. In 1475 the castle was taken by soldiers fighting for the Republic of Berne, and later further expanded.


 

Today, surrounded by vineyards of chasselas grapes...
... in the heart of the Chablais wine region, the chateau is home to an excellent museum of wine-making with exhibits ranging from interactive computer displays to historical artifacts.


 Entry to the wine museum is included with the Fête Médiévale ticket (Adults: CHF 15, kids: CHF 5; families CHF 35, students: CHF 12.)


Well worth it for such blessings from the past. 

08 July 2014

Prague Art Nouveau

Part of Prague's magic is its Art Nouveau treasures. I wrote about this for the Cathay Pacific Airlines' magazine, Discovery, if you're interested.


24 June 2014

Cherry Season

Suddenly, the hard green berries that were hanging from my mother-in-law's cherry tree in Neuchâtel have become plump and red, the ripest ones almost black.

My father-in-law's family name is Cerison. In French, "cerises" are cherries, and a "cerisier" is a cherry tree. That means my father-in-law, Jean-Pierre Cerison, is irrevocably grafted to cherries. He is 87. I love this guy. Jean-Pierre doesn't speak often -- often because my amazing mother-in-law is holding forth -- but when he does speak up, it's often a five or six word zinger, most of which goes over my head because it's in rapid French carroming off cultural knowledge.

Jean-Pierre and I went on a wine-buying trip to Beaujolais three years ago.

The agreement was that I'd drive his lovely old Audi all the way, and he'd buy the wine for both of us. Leaving Neuchâtel, after some small-talk about the weather and beautiful countryside, we settled into comfortable periods of silence. He understands English but refuses to speak it to me. As we curved along the two-lane highways between the wooded hills and rolling pastures and vineyards of Burgundy, I asked him questions about the French language. He tried to explain the nuances between savoir
and connaître -- to know and to know (which I still don't and don't).

My mother-in-law, my wife and I just visited Jean-Pierre in the beautiful old-folks home he's living in now. It's right next door to his former home, where my mother-in-law still lives, so she can visit him every day. Sitting in the shady garden with him and other residents and attendants, we shared cherries I'd just picked from the tree in their yard. Jean-Pierre devoured the ones before him, one by one.

27 May 2014

Without Them the United Nations Would be a Tower of Babel

Without its multilingual interpreters, the United Nations’ work would come to a screeching halt. 


You can read about their work in my new article on swissinfo.com

Here are some additional photos from my morning in the English language interpreters booth in Geneva with Rebecca Edgington and Dan Harrison.


Interpreters prefer to receive written text of a
delegate's statement, even if it's only minutes
before he or she speaks, so they can familiarize
themselves with phraseology and technical jargon.



Dan Harrison translating from Spanish into English. He also translates
from French.

Smartphone multi-lingual dictionaries help
interpreters make sure they've got exactly the
right word. Rebecca Edgington translates from
Russian, German or French into English.
Edgington says she loves the second-by-second, word-by-word challenge 
of interpreting on the fly.

04 May 2014

Free in Neuchâtel

Another reason I love my little town of Neuchâtel. This amazing musician also plays and sings and composes jazz and pop.





And many of you girls (and guys) will agree with my wife that Nicolas Bamberger isn't too hard to look at either. Hear more of his work at his intriguingly named website, Garden Portal.