Month: July 2014

Zurich on a Sunday

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It’s very quiet in central Zurich on a Sunday. Especially if you’re out early, as I was this weekend. Around the lake, there’s a bit of activity. A few tourist buses, people catching ferries, joggers, dog walkers and a few people fishing.

I had a wander around the top of the lake on the Enge side – the West side of the Zurichsee, also known as the Silver Coast. I haven’t really been over there before. It’s a bit quieter and more residential than the opposite bank – the Gold Coast. But there’s Seebads (lake swimming areas) and rowing clubs on both sides. And nice looking restaurants / sail club type places too.

I didn’t go very far though, because I had spotted something interesting to explore at the top of the lake. A little estuary that weaves its way through central Zurich. It’s called the Schanzengraben – and a quick bout of internet research tells me it’s actually an ancient moat – part of the city’s fortifications dating from 1642.

Nowadays it’s a very quiet spot – a clear green stream rushing smoothly through town. Walkways on both sides (mostly) that dip down to below water-level underneath some of the bridges, so you’re walking shoulder to shoulder with the flow. Some bits have a wooden boardwalk or smooth stone walkway that’s almost at the same level as the water. Because it’s Switzerland, there’s no fence or anything.

I didn’t see many other people – a few dog walkers and a couple of lost-looking Japanese toursists. All the shops in Zurich are closed on Sundays, which means Bahnhofstrasse goes from one of the most expensive retail strips in the world to a ghost town. As for foliage-clad 17th century moats nearby… they’re even emptier.

I didn’t really know where I was going but I knew the general direction. And I’ve seen the top of the river Sihl from the train so I guessed I’d come out somewhere familiar. And I did, one block away from the Hauptbahnhof.

A very pleasant morning’s walk.

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So long slackers!

My homemade cupcakes

Today was the last lesson in my “slacker” German class before Sommerferien (Summer Hols). I was planning to write a short profile of my fellow students anyway, and today we had a little farewell party where we brought food and sat around chatting. I found out more about most of them than I had in the previous six months!

I think I’ve mentioned what an international group it is. We started off with about 18 students but have dwindled to about ten… so, not meaning to be offensive in any way… here goes!

Ms Bulgaria – Looks like a cliche “eastern European” with stripper shoes, tight sparkly jeans, loads of makeup, big hair, fake nails with designs and diamantes (I’m jealous), possibly a boob job. I actually wondered if she was a prostitute for a while, but I don’t think that now. She is a singer – not sure if professionally or not (must look out for her on future Eurovisions!). Speaks v decent English and is pretty diligent with the German. Not a slacker.

Ms Croatia – Sits next to me. Scrappy and a bit tough. A real talker, if not much of a written-word sort of lady. She reminds me of some people I’ve known through the years, seems like she’d be fun to get drunk with. Has a son around P’s age and another one who’s much older (in his teens). Works in a shop I think. I like her. Although she sometimes seems slightly insane and Ms Somalia inferred/asked me once if I thought Ms Croatia had a drinking problem?! A bit of a slacker.

Ms England – Nice girl from Nottingham. She rides horses and is quite sporty with pilates classes, walking up mountains etc. on weekends. Works as a nanny for a Swiss family with two girls aged 6 and 8 (who she says “hate her speaking German” and ask her not to do it in front of their friends because it’s so embarrassing!) I targeted her early as a native English speaker and we exchange homework/notes if one of us misses class. Not a slacker.

Ms Algeria – I always thought she was a bit snippy. She’s one of the younger ones in the class (22?) and doesn’t speak English, which must be a bit difficult (she speaks good French and Arabic). But today she said her husband has told her “no babies until you learn Deutsch!” which made me angry and sorry for her. Also that she’s doing school/uni here studying mathematics and all sorts, which is impressive. Not a slacker.

Ms Sri Lanka – This lady is really lovely. And pretty good at German. She has young kids and wears a headscarf. I asked her if she was not eating today for Ramadan but she said there’s no fasting when you’re menstrurating. Good timing! Not a slacker.

Ms India – Don’t know much about her, she’s pretty good at the Deutsch. Is Hindu so doesn’t eat meat (Ms Sri Lanka made vegi samosas for this reason, sweet). She said she’s not continuing the class because she’s going back to Bangalore for 2 months for her brother’s wedding and then her husband says no more classes. Didn’t quite get the full story on this – if it’s financial, or he doesn’t want her to study, or to learn elsewhere or what. Not a slacker.

Ms Eritrea – I really like this girl. She’s also pretty young – early 20s I would say – and has children (one at least, more? not sure). She’s savvy and a bit gangsta in that she wears mull-leaf leggings, Lady Gaga T-shirts and a leather jacket (fake, I think, but who am I to talk with my Topshop model?!) I thought she was one of the queen slackers, but today she revealed that her husband laughs at her whenever she attempts to speak German or even gets out her homework book at home so she “gets nervous” and doesn’t do it. Fucking hell. What’s with these husbands?! A slacker, but with extenuating circumstances.

Ms Somalia – Sits near me. Didn’t know how to tell time on an analogue watch/clock – I said “dude, you’re in Switzerland!” Next class, she had a watch and asked me to set it for her and show her the ropes. She also took great interest in my German-English dictionary. Surely she has seen a dictionary before? I dunno. Plus there’s a funny relationship going on between her and Ms Croatia that I can’t quite work out. Not quite sure what to make of her. A bit of a slacker.

Ms Switzerland (the teacher) – She’s a funny lady with a somewhat whiney tone of voice that does her no favours. She is actually quite nice and friendly but I find her a bit small minded somehow. Eg: she gives us these needlessly fiddly little games to play, that I’m not sure really help us learn. Oh well…

Ms Australia – That’s me.

Absent today:

Ms Turkey – Reserved mum of three (or was it four?!). I don’t know her that well. One class she had to bring her 4 year old son and he was quite sweet. Might be a slacker, more likely just a busy parent.

Ms Indonesia – Tiny powerhouse with 2 kids who completely mangles all German words when she speaks. It can’t be easy – there’s surely no correlation between Deutsch and Indonesian (Portugese?!) at all. She has perfect English though. Might be a slacker.

Ms Peru – Used to sit next to me but hasn’t been seen for a while. I think she’s pregnant. Really struggled with the Deutsch. I think it’s a much bigger leap from Spanish to German than English to German. Plus most of us speak some English and can discuss/explain stuff to each other so she was pretty isolated. A slacker due to circmustance.

Ms Cuba – I almost wasn’t going to mention her as I think she’s attended about 7 classes in total. Was very friendly and smiley and always made an effort to chat for a while to Ms Peru. Slacker? Or is she doing another class? Very odd…

Ms Nigeria – Sits on my row. I’ve had some good convos with her in the breaks. She’s got 2 kids similar age to P. Has been in Switzerland 3 years and bought a house here (points! She said it was difficult because it’s difficult AND because having dark skin). She is a beautiful lady with a large diamond ring. She wants to go back to work (in HR) but says it’s nigh impossible with the language barrier and skin colour a bit too (her words). She’s a slacker, but blames the class.

I was thinking that now I’ve started my new faster-paced German classes that I might not go back to finish the module in the slacker class (we have 5 weeks off, then another 3 weeks to finish up). But actually I’ve grown quite fond of these women, although I don’t know if I’d quite call them “friends”. And now I’ve written all this, I realise most of them aren’t really slackers after all. Funny how your assumptions catch you out sometimes.

PS: My cupcakes were a roaring success, even the Ramadan-ers took one home for later 🙂

CLAIRETHICAL? part 1

Totally radical man! Near Zurich HB

I’ve been thinking quite a bit recently about trying to live a more “ethical” life. By this I mean, walking the walk, acting more in accordance with some of my views and principles. This is in no way a manifesto. I just thought if I could do the occasional blog about it, it might help me clarify things.

So: What the f&ck do I mean by living a More Ethical Lifestyle? It’s about the choices I make when it comes to buying goods, recycling & environmental stuff and the things I support by engaging with them (or not), actively or passively. This still sounds a bit academic, so let me give some examples…

Buying stuff.  This is probably easiest to define. In terms of food, it’s about buying stuff that’s been ethically produced – no battery farmed stuff, preferably organic fruit & veg etc (although I admit I’m a bit sceptical about “organic” as the labelling is not always regulated, and it’s often an excuse to print money). Furniture that’s been made well and to last (eg: not Ikea!), from sustainable or eco-friendly sources, clothes that aren’t sweatshop or near enough. etc. I’m in a good spot food-wise here, because Switzerland loves “bio” stuff and is very strong on local produce, most of which is excellent, although you do pay more for it – oftentimes A LOT more. Oh well.

When it comes to other products though, it also gets harder. Cosmetics are a big issue that I would rather ignore but I can’t. For want of a better word, the “un-ethicalness” of being a vain woman is kinda scary. Hair dye. Makeup. Plastic containers of goop for hands, face, hair etc. Contact lenses (not gender specific of course, but when I think of the hypothetical pile of used and discarded contact lenses that would build up throughout a regular CL-wearer’s lifetime, it’s pretty gross).

Then there’s sanitary products, the waste/discards from hair removal/waxing, nails (I had acrylic nails for 5 years – lemme tell you, that shit ain’t organic!), junk jewellery. Old handbags. Shoes that you don’t wear because they were good in the shop but they’re actually hideously uncomfortable. Throw-away fashion. Unfortunately on the clothing front – I’m a bit fickle. I like cheap, fun stuff a lot of the time and I generally prefer quantity over quality. So that’s a bit of an issue for me. It’s depressing. Of course, I always put old clothes in the charity bin I’d really prefer not to encourage/support so much cheap tat being produced in the first place.

Problem is, I just can’t see myself going out tomorrow to start seeking biodegradable hair dye, organic makeup or vegetable nail polish. But maybe now I’ve written this, I will try a bit harder. And, again, the expense of pretty much everything in Switzerland is a deterrent to impulse buying for cheap thrills.

Recycling. Luckily for me, this is a no-brainer in Zurich because the city is really well set up for all kinds of recycling. In fact, Stadt Zurich actively encourages you to put out less “landfill” waste by taxing the garbage bags (Zuri Sacks) you have to use and, I believe, even the “landfill” rubbish goes to a biomass recycling plant rather than to actual landfill (Oh and I see there’s even a recycling tram to collect bulky items!). Plus there are paper and card collections every other week, there are bottle banks everywhere and there’s even a separate bin for bioabfall, which includes all kinds of kitchen and garden waste.

Environmental stuff. This is a biggie. For all the horrendous human rights abuses that are going on around the globe, the damage we’re doing to the natural world is just criminal. Policies that involve people can be changed, our behaviour towards others can be changed. If we destroy the environment, there’s no takebacks. I’m not saying I don’t believe in addressing human issues: of course I do. But the environmental stuff is so urgent and crucial right now. It’s a cliche but there’s no point creating a wonderful society of human beings if there’s no planet for us to dwell on, right!? And it’s so often sidelined. I would like to do more to help.

Things I engage with. This is the trickiest one and perhaps what kicked me into thinking about this whole “ethical lifestyle” thing in the first place. And it’s a lot more insidious. Example: The World Cup is on at the moment and Fifa is well-documented as being corrupt, so part of me would like to not engage with anything World Cup related on principle. Especially as Fifa is based just up the road… But, assuming I did that, would it make one jot of difference to Fifa? And I quite enjoy watching some of the matches. So who am I hurting with this highly-principled response? Only myself. And this one is relatively easy, because I don’t enjoy football that much. What about when it comes to giving up something I really love because it’s produced by a corrupt Big Business?

Because, ideally, I would “boycott” all companies and their output that I deem corrupt and/or essentially evil. But that’s almost all of them! I’d have to change my bank accounts in three countries, stop buying most of those cosmetics and vanity products listed above, never eat takeaway food from a global chain, never buy another piece of clothing from Topshop. As well as encouraging my husband to quit his job at one of the Global Big 4 auditing firms etc. Again, it comes down to – how much does acting “ethically”  impinge on my lifestyle? It always strikes me how it’s so easy for people to scream against Monsanto, while happily guzzling down a Diet Coke. I can’t believe that on a world scale Coke is much better than Monsanto. All big companies are essentially corrupt – you can’t make shitloads of money without doing some dodgy deals somewhere and screwing the little guy/s somehow.

I don’t have any answers for this. I am probably being too idealistic too think there are any. And, ultimately, I’m a bit too lazy, vain and complacent to change things. But I’ve been thinking about it… and it does bother me.

I suppose an obvious answer is to fight the good fight more – be part of the solution, sign petitions, write letters, give to charity, raise awareness (whatever that means?! I am reluctant to start posting loads of preachy/guilt-inducing articles on Facebook!) Yeah, I’m sceptical about slacktivism – in some ways I think it’s worse than doing nothing because you feel all self-satisfied but what do petitions really achieve? Perhaps I am wrong. I probably need to do some more research.

Anyway – if you have some ideas of (ideally easy) changes that can be made (or petitions to sign ;)) … let me know!

 

 

Milanosmith

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Thought I’d better write a more cheerful entry after my latest doom-and-gloom posts.

I recently took a trip to Milan to see one of my favourite bands: Aerosmith. The train trip from Zurich-Milan is excellent: easy, relatively cheap and with some stunning scenery.

For this reason I set off just after 9am in the morning from Zurich HB. The journey is four hours taking in stunning views of the Swiss alps as well as some hugely impressive feats of engineering. All those rail and vehicle tunnels, the tracks and roads themselves, as well as power lines and cable cars snagging their flimsy way up the mountains is seriously cool.

Milan itself was interesting to visit. It’s not the most stunning Italian city there is – and in some ways reminded me a bit of Zurich – you can almost smell the money and the business that’s done there. Plus: trams. However the Duomo is spectacular and prices were cheap compared to Switzerland. It was also pretty cool to see big glitzy shops of Versace and Prada, Missoni etc and know that it’s the “home of…”

The Aerosmith show was at RHO Fiera Milano – a large stadium complex on the outskirts of town. I think we expected a stadium – I was thinking it would be a bit like Homebush in Sydney (where I saw AC/DC) or perhaps London’s O2. But it was more like the carpark of the MCG. In 1988. Very oldskool – a concrete carpark with a cruelly low stage (we only had about 15% visibility, especially as the catwalk seemed to slope down!) and only about 50 portaloos for what must have been 10,000 punters(? 20,000?). I have to say, after Switzerland the UK and Australia even, this venue was a bit wanting!

Transport to and from the place was also somewhat confusing although we made it there OK (Metro track works meant a rail replacement bus for the last 2 stops out there, which was spookily uncrowded considering how many people we thought would be making their way to this stadium show). And when we left, we completely missed the non-signposted entrance (via underpass) to the overland train station that would take us back to Milan. As for the rail replacement bus back, they sent a single one, which about 500 people crammed on to so fast and so full they couldn’t even close the doors! I think by the time the show finished, the Metro would have stopped running anyway so who knows where it was taking the people if/when they ever managed to get going.

Anyway, after following the crowd for a bit, then doubling back after a conversation with two Irish Aerofans who were even more confused than us, we found the concealed station entrance and caught the train back to Central-ish Milan. Unfortunately the stop it went to was the opposite end of town to our hotel. Once again, nothing was organised or clear with buses or taxis (and huge queues) so we walked it – about a 45 min trek – luckily it was a lovely, balmy evening and the Milanese seem to stay out late so there were plenty of people around. Plus we got to see a bit more of the city. But it meant heads didn’t hit pillows until 2.30am after standing/walking for 5+ hours!

It was all worth it though – the show was awesome. They played for 2 hours including encore (Here’s the setlist). Sound was excellent. Joe Perry has a sense of humour and I liked the old fashioned touches like bothering to introduce the whole band at the end (even if ST did forget one guy’s name). But I really couldn’t see, even with Steven Tyler STANDING ON THE PIANO. Oh well…

Next day and a half, we spent doing tourist stuff – the Last Supper, Duomo and a lot of time sitting in cafes and watching the world go by. Milan is a really nice little side-trip from Zurich : )

Dark thoughts

Hokusai: The Great Wave off Kanagawa. Source: http://blackburnmuseum.org.uk

Depression is like dark water seeping into the crevices of my brain. It drips into the small cracks and faultlines, widening and deepening them through a process of erosion. I shake it out and think I’m free for a moment, an hour, a day, but the liquid is just taking its time to settle elsewhere, sometimes almost without my noticing. It always finds the lowest point. Oh you’re here now?

It can be an evil sea, a cruelly happy tide rushing into a familiar harbour, finding those same rocks and outcrops to smash against like welcoming arms. Wearing them a little lower, a little smoother, offering less resistance.

The waves crash and buffet old and new defences. Some sea walls have crumbled with age and a lack of use, thinking they were no longer required. The viscous, vicious tide smacks into them, immediately finding holes, flowing right through to whet old fears and replenish ancient anxieties.

There are some barriers more recently constructed that I thought were strong. But the dark water finds chinks or merely surges up and over. I should have made them higher, better, stronger. I was an arrogant fool to build them at all.

Some shores it hits are bad habits. It almost feels like a relief to bathe in them once again, to have the bubbling tide race over and across them, caressing them, reinvigorating. The comfort of familiarity, even if in its wrongness. I know this, I have experienced it before, let me just enjoy it for a while before I have to stop again…

A king tide comes, deceitful in its slow buildup. Those gentle waves, at first almost a reassurance – I expected this – suddenly become overwhelming. I’m trapped by the water, I can barely see back to land. My boat is so old, it’s an effort to even think about sailing it. And I’m sure it leaks. I consider swimming but the water: I’m afraid of it. Afraid of its violence, its killing cold, the unfathomable menacing power (which also fascinates). I’m afraid of the effort. I’m scared of drowning. I don’t want to start swimming unless I can be sure I’ll succeed. And what if the tide is still rising?

It’s a trickster, a manipulator, an arch procrastinator. Endless distractions, a monkey splashing in the shallows. It doesn’t want me to sit still, it doesn’t want to be solved. Moments of beauty, boredom, terror, interest, never the main game. Or is it? What is that sunny green field so far yonder but a Fool’s Paradise? Surely the Real World lies in the intelligent complexities, the excitement and the drama of my dark waves? See the truth! The water of life! The drowning stuff! It erodes while it builds, weeping the rocks away to form the stalactites and stalagmites of new structures. Oh it’s clever.

Then when it has gone: how absurd! There was no oily liquid darkness here. What pretty rocks the receding tide exposes, the few small, inky pools left behind just provide important contrast… no lessons? Just a new stretch of terrain to explore.