expat living

A Day In The Life

 

And don’t forget the joker! – Lemmy Kilmister

 

My irritability keeps me alive and kicking…
– Magazine, Song from under the Floorboards

 

Sometimes when you’re having a bad day, you have a good day. I have often noted that I seem to do better when I have a small inconvenience or minor annoyance to overcome. Case in point – I quite appreciate having a small cold when I’ve got a job interview. It somehow stops me stressing as much. Maybe it makes me live more “in the moment”.

This happened today. I was tired from being up late-ish with my toddler, then I couldn’t sleep because of monkey-mind worrying about money and how to save it, planning a potential trip to Australia, work stuff etcetera. This morning I woke with a scratchy throat after weird dreams.

So you know what? I gave myself permission just get on with it and I was actually really efficient. I dropped the kids at kindergarten and daycare, I went to Migros supermarket to spend obscene amounts of money because it was the Farmmania Jokertag and I wanted to get one for each kid (for the non-Swiss residents: Migros is the national supermarket, which has an annual game of figurines to collect. You get a ‘lucky dip’ packet containing a figurine when you spend a certain amount and on special days they have an extra-special “Joker” figurine that you have to spend even MORe to get. This year the game is farm-themed and today’s Joker was a crappy plastic tractor, but I digress). Anyway, I was home by 9.30am, ready to help Himself start building his website. But he didn’t really need me so I took myself off up to our newly created attic writing space for a couple of hours.

And managed to do some decent plotting, as well as writing a few thousand words on my novel. Oh, did I mention I’m writing a novel? Early days… early days. Mustn’t say too much.

Anyway, then I came back downstairs, paid some bills and we went to lunch. Had a good chat that somewhat allayed my fears about the possibly impending Australia trip (also early days, no more can be said yet!)

Then we went along to the local optician to get my new specs sorted. This is something that’s been hanging over my head for AAAGGEEES. I bought new frames online a while back and since then I have literally stood outside the optician at least three times hesitating… only to decide “nup, can’t face this today” so it was kind of major to cross this threshold. And then, wouldn’tcha know it, the optician RUINED my old glasses. OK so they were on the way out, but she did some funky cleaning thing to the lenses and they’re all peeling and fucked up now! OK so they were already a bit fuzzy, due to being pretty scratched and losing their UV coating or whatever, plus of course I’ve given birth in them – almost twice (I remembered to take them off the second time. Top tip: one does not need to see to give birth!) Anyway, I almost cried when she wrecked them (then did the Swiss thing of saying “it’s not my fault, it’s just something that happened” – yeah but on your watch, lady!). But I managed to turn it around by getting a free express service for the new ones by calling her out. I mean, I didn’t ask her to use her funky cleaning machine on my old faithfuls and they really are wrecked now. Annnyway, so expect a new-look Claire from tomorrow.

Then, because I had to wear my weird “other” glasses (an ill-advised purchase when I was trying to look like Kathleen Robertson in Boss) and I had a story to tell about why I was wearing them, it actually sparked a pretty decent convo in German with the Hort Frau – another win!

Plus, in the midst of all this, I somehow managed to change our internet package to one that’s almost half the price per month (er… let’s hope I don’t experience a crazy slowdown when I go to publish this blog and end up kicking myself). Something that’s been on my to-do list officially for about 2 months. Unofficially for about two years.

Anyway, so the takeaway is – sometimes if you’re feeling a bit crap, it can unexpectedly result in a sweet spot where you give no fucks and just crack on with stuff. I’m sure a psychologist could give a more scientific explanation of this phenomenon, but I’m just chuffed to have kicked some goals today.

And now I’ve written a blog post too. Tchüss !

 

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Paranoia, old pals and Pokemon Go

BFF

Last week I said goodbye to one of my best friends in the world. It wasn’t goodbye forever. Don’t panic, no one has died. But Goodbye physically, for probably quite a while. We live on opposite sides of the world and have 5 kids between us. It’s amazing we could even spend a week together, really. But we did, and it was magical. Not fakey, stupid glitter-princess Disney magical. But the real shit. The kind of contentment and coming home feeling you get from spending actual quality time with a true friend.

My friend is one of the cleverest people I know and does not suffer fools. She is frightening, powerful, wickedly funny and capable of extreme good. We talked a bit about our respective struggles with anxiety, workloads, kids, mothers and all that. Maybe unloaded a bit of baggage. We didn’t talk about everything ever, that would have taken another lifetime. But we got through a fair bit and, well. I don’t even know how to talk about how great it felt seeing her every day without just sounding hokey and ridiculous.

Our friendship always felt important. It was one of those where it seemed like we knew something – even many things – that others didn’t (and isn’t that the hallmark of all great love affairs?). As someone who struggles a lot with self-doubt, occasionally tipping over into self-loathing, I think having my friend here helped make me feel important. Like I mattered.

It got me thinking about real connections versus the internet. Then Pokemon Go happened and I feel kind of disturbed by it. I’m not much into video games myself and I’ll readily admit I’m paranoid about these opiate-for-the-masses type things. Hey: don’t sit still and quiet and think of things, don’t have real conversations, don’t make trouble – just play this inane game that will take up All. Your. Time. It would be horrible to be bored or unoccupied for even one moment, right? Or to just walk around the world without being plugged into a super-reality, or music or a portal to your mates’ current statuses? In a time when we’re all gnashing and screaming about gun violence and rape culture, how is anyone not making the connection between that and an augmented reality game where it’s fine to capture and/or battle any random creature you come across on the street? I can only shudder to think how this will escalate once the Grand Theft Auto augmented reality version comes out. Maybe I’m living in the past, but isn’t GTA the one where you can steal cars, bash hookers and waste passers by? As long as they’re the superimposed game characters, not people in real life of course… because no one will ever confuse the two. Ever.

Oh and then there’s the thing I heard that all the photos and videos you take with your phone in PokeGo are sent back to Google / internets HQ. So now they’ve got Google Maps and images and video of inside your house and all your stuff, and a nice little record of your daily routes as you go about your usual business as well. I’ve got friends saying they’ll ban other friends from playing it in their home. But my mate visited me in Zurich recently and played Ingress (basically the same game, but with aliens) almost constantly so I guess our place is already on the servers. Whachagonnado?

It terrifies me though, and makes me sad. I worry that, as a society, we’ve all cashed in our warm, living, breathing life-giving cows for handfuls of magic smartphone beans. Sure the beans might give us access to a fantasy world in the clouds of unimagined wonders. But it’s a dangerous place up there and, ultimately, does it help us live well when we spend all that time out of the real world, listening to magical harps on Spotify and hoping to steal a goose that lays golden Pokeballs?

I just finished an excellent book, Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko.  It was set in and around the eponymous town near Byron Bay on the north east coast of New South Wales. My brother, his wife and their kids live there so I know the area reasonably well. The book was from a modern aboriginal woman’s perspective and I loved the connection to the land, this idea of sitting still – meditating in a way —  to really hear what nature and the universe is telling you. Pretty much the opposite of Pokemon Go. Don’t get me wrong, I’m addicted to my smartphone. But I do yearn for a less connected/more connected life. And that Byron Bay hinterland area is so special – last time I was there, I sat by the Brunswick River and cried and cried all over my wonderful sister in law. She helped me feel better, but so did just being there on that sandy, scrubby ground by the water. I’m not aboriginal but, even for me, that feels like a sacred place. And I think that can be found almost everywhere if you pay attention to really observe and absorb – probably not via the medium of a little glowing screen.

Back to spending time with real people and hanging out with old mates visiting Zurich (two so far this summer…) . Spending time with them was wonderful and soul-satisfying in a way I don’t really get from social media. Seeing my friends in the flesh, it’s obvious to me that physically being with someone must light up a bazillion more brain synapses than just talking on Skype, Facebook interactions, letters or emails does. Don’t get me wrong. I totally rate these methods of communication and would be all the more lonely without them. But it’s not the same. It’s. Not. The. Same. Just feeling the breeze on your face, then seeing it touch your friend’s hair… feeling the same air temperature… even subconsciously, this must say “we’re here, we’re experiencing the same things” and that’s so important. Humans’ ability to quickly travel so far from (and back to) their childhood home, friends and family has surely evolved far faster than our lizard brains’ capacity to have relationships with people. I guess that’s why we invented social media in the first place: to somehow bridge that yawning gap.

I feel like I need a grand conclusion to this but I don’t know what else to say. I don’t want to preach to anyone. I don’t have any answers. I’m a smartphone-addicted sad old goth who wants to feel connected to my friends and is miffed by Pokemon Go. Tomorrow we welcome another old friend to visit us Zurich. Can’t wait.

In Deep

Museum Neuchâtel. Exposition "ABYSSES". http://www.museum-neuchatel.ch/index.php/presse

Museum Neuchâtel. Exposition “ABYSSES”. http://www.museum-neuchatel.ch/index.php/presse

I just finished reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara and I feel compelled to write about it for several reasons. One is that I’m reading novels all the time and it’s one of my single greatest pleasures in life, yet I rarely mention it here. Two is that the book rather moved me. And three is that I saw this exhibition that resonated with the book. I’m sure there’s other reasons but let’s get moving.

A Little Life is a devastating, epic chronicle of one man’s life and that of his friends (Plotspoiler warning). The main character is an orphan who suffers horrific abuse at the hands of various tormentors throughout his childhood, then spends the rest of his life wrestling with the demons — both mental and physical — that the abuse leaves behind. This is juxtaposed with the fact that, in his adulthood, he forms some of the most beautiful relationships with friends, parental figures, mentors, caregivers and romantically.

I think I’d be almost wholehartedly endorsing this book as one of the best I’d read recently, except for the fact that a person whose opinion I respect in these matters was not a big fan, calling it “teen angst for grown ups” and “pain porn”. And, you know what? He’s kind of right.

The main character in A Little Life is addicted to cutting himself and is a mass of injuries and scars — internal and external — due to his self-abuse and that inflicted upon him by others. It’s a visceral depiction of the way, as human beings, we’re all to some extent concealed and revealed by our scars and neuroses. And about how we’re all works-in-progress throughout our little, petty lives. I thought of my own addictions (however minor), my rituals, my patterns of thought and behaviour — some well worn, other forged anew. These behaviours trap us and yet anchor us to our lives, to the people that we are.

Coincidentally, I went to a fascinating exhibition called Abysses at the Natural History Museum in Neuchâtel. The exhibition showed rare photos and taxidermy models of the creatures of the Deep Sea: angler fish, dumbo octopus, lantern sharks, etc. Due to my inadvertent consumption of Octonauts cartoons, I actually knew of the existence of many of these beings (as did my delighted nearly-5yo son, who could identify most of them without referring to the guidebook). But it was incredible to see real photos and, particularly, the physical forms in taxidermy (is it called that when it’s fish?).

I was struck by how the creatures of the deep sea look unfinished. Scarred. Darkness is their final layer of skin. They are a mass of unpigmented flesh and they are not pretty. After all, what need have they of looks? Down there where it’s dark, it’s cold, it’s quiet and it’s hungry… (a quote from the exhibition). Seeing this while reading A Little Life, it seemed poignant as a reference to the way in which everyone hovers on the edge of their own madness, the edge of their own personal abyss; flirting with the danger, sometimes diving further down, other times swimming out into the light…

The book depicted friendship — the love, trust and deep knowledge you get with people you’ve known a long time — heartbreakingly well, while also showing the way we cover ourselves and lie to each other and self-deceive and self-harm and try and try as we might, how we never truly know one another. Unanswerable questions were asked about where the line lies in helping someone who does not want to be helped (or do they?): at what point do you become an enabler? A source of further harm?

I guess, in the end, we’re all just snatching at fragments of luminescence and scraps of food that float down from above. Most of it apparently already digested and shat out several times by those who dwell further up in the light. Of course the creatures of the Deep Sea are also beautiful in an otherworldly way – some are inky-clear to avoid being seen in the dark, others exist in shades of darkroom red, and there’s the flashes of bright to lure prey and/or repel predators as they float in the dark. In this respect, our strangeness is often our beauty. Our ugly parts what make us stong.

The final thing I will say about the book was the conspicuous absence of any mother character. In fact every female in the novel was peripheral. The book discussed parenting and indeed nurturing from a father’s perspective but this lack of The Mother was a bit perplexing. Maybe I’m taking it too personally. And maybe this absence was yet another abuse heaped upon the main character to show a person who truly had been fucked around by fate. It didn’t pass the Bechdel test (if that can be applied to novels) but, to me, the depictions of love and friendship rang true as universal. However, I still have to pull up and question that use of men as the ‘control’ – the neutral ground on which to lay all those other Big Topics.

Of course, in the dark of the Deep Sea, there’s not much nurturing either. Not for those alien-creatures the happy parenting of the whales or the dugongs, oh no. Starve, freeze and sink or swim.

Next week – something fun, I promise.  😛

 

When the lights go out…

See the city's ripped backsides

See the city’s ripped backsides

My mother often lies awake at night dreaming of winning the lottery and what she’d do with the money. She’s got it all worked out. How she would only tell a select few people, how she would quietly deposit an equal amount in all three of us kids’ bank accounts, give some to charity (anonymously) and then her and dad would disappear off on an amazing round-the-world-trip (1st class all the way, natch). Or something. I forget the details; I think she’s constantly refining it anyway. For myself, I seem to spend those sleepless moments lately worrying about what I’ll do when the lights go out. Hardly compares, does it?

What’s lights out?

Another day, another end-of-world scenario…  I’ve read a couple of novels recently that were a bit too close to the bone about this “lights out” situation (slight plot-spoiler ahead…) Station Eleven was one and another was the final part of The Bone Clocks. In my own summation – Lights Out is what happens when we reach the tipping point – when we’ve used up most of the oil and the generators (be they coal-fired, nuclear, solar, wind, hydro or whatever) can no longer cope with the increasing demands of our “always on” society. There’s trouble from the constant streams of refugees, who are mostly fleeing political or environmental situations the rest of us have in some way contributed to… The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good wo/men to do nothing… as they say.  The environment’s fucked because we didn’t try hard enough and we’re all too fond of our comfortable lives – leave it for the next generation to deal with, I worked hard for this. We’re flying everywhere, we’ve got disposable everything, mascara has batteries and half the world’s turning into a dustbowl to support it. While we lucky few live lives of incredible wealth and ease, whole chunks of the population live in shantytowns and pick over rubbish heaps – forced into an existence as human-size carrion cockroaches.

So the lights go out. The internet falls over. Chaos ensues. You know the situation. Roving gangs of martial-law or anarchist heavies start roaming around looting, raping, killing… You’re either with them or against them and even that probably won’t do you much good if you’re in the wrong place at the right time.

So what am I doing about it? Well… a big fat nothing. I feel like instead of writing about hot tubs with Matterhorn views, I should probably be taking courses in survival skills. I would love to know how to kill and pluck a chicken, milk a cow, make cheese from scratch and light a fire MacGyver-style. But it all seems so unlikely. And yet, as though it could happen at any moment.

The thing is, we’d be pretty sweet in Switzerland… for a while. Most of the power is hydro, which (I assume, without knowing very much) won’t fail immediately. The country is surrounded by mountains and is pretty inaccessible. The society is fairly stable. There are lots of cows to eat.

But then, part of me doesn’t want to be trapped in Switzerland when the lights go out. I’d rather be back “home” in Australia. Because once the planes stop flying and the telephones no longer work. I’ll be cut off. Forever. My old friends. My family. I don’t know if I can face that. So, I’ve told Himself that at the first sign of the apocalypse (is that a white horse or something?) we need to get on a plane and get out of here. Uh, Happy Australia Day – I hope you’ll be pleased to have four extra “refugee” mouths to feed!

Maybe it’s already happening. When I heard about the Zika virus in Brazil recently, it seemed like an end-of-days harbinger to me. (Why don’t we press pause on a whole generation in a BRIC country? Even better, why don’t we also make sure half the educated, parent-age people who DO have kids end up having to focus on those children’s special needs for the next xxx years rather than building a better world and solving some endemic problems?). OK, maybe I’m getting too paranoid. But that doesn’t mean it ain’t happening. (And we’re all conspiracy theorists to some degree, apparently)

Anyway – that’s my cheerful and (hopefully) lunatic fantasy for the day. What’s yours?

The Moon and the Stars

Another Australian Women's Weekly special birthday cake

Another Australian Women’s Weekly special birthday cake

We’re into the swing of 2016 now. Although, in some areas of Switzerland, there’s an oldskool New Year’s Eve – Silvesterchlausen – today!  So I think it’s still appropriate to discuss my New Year plans (they’re not really resolutions), which involve some incremental changes that will (hopefully) make a significant difference to our lives here. Don’t get me wrong, things are pretty good. But I think they could be great. And I’ve given myself a 12-month window to achieve this.

So far I’ve made steps to do three new things – one involving work, more German lessons (finally!), and some exercise – so I think that’s a pretty good start. Now I just have to put in the hours and wait for the payoff. In the way that things suddenly become clear: after all that time last year agonising over work vs. German classes, I just kinda realised that what I really wanted was to do both, so I need to make that happen.

In other news, wir machen party… We had a little party on the weekend because it’s my birthday and the baby’s birthday soon. Plus the two daughters of a friend also had their birthdays around this time. It was so lovely! My local mummy mates surprised me with a present and it kinda pulled me up short. I’ve been bemoaning my loneliness and yet I have made some good pals here already. Not that the two necessarily cancel each other out but I do want to take a moment for gratitude and to say that I know I’m very lucky (or do you make your own luck when you make your own friends? A blog for another time maybe!). They sang me Happy Birthday in German, which felt like a small victory, and we all tucked into the cakes.

Back on the theme of Ch-ch-changes (Ok so Bowie died this week)…. At the end of last year, I read a post by this self-help dude Mark Manson that made a lot of sense to me. It basically says that, rather than pursing an idea of generic “happiness” to achieve your goals, you should instead ask yourself: What kind of pain do I choose to endure to get me where I need to go? Or, as he puts it: What flavour of shit sandwich do you want to eat? Because everything good involves sacrifice. And it got me thinking  that maybe one of the pains I’ve chosen is that of loneliness. It’s the tradeoff for living somewhere exotic that’s away from what you knew. There’s advantages to my path, of course. But the downside is being away from old friends and family. The people who know who I am and have forgiven me. The people who know I used to be this girl:

I used to be the organiser, you see. The eye of the storm, the centre of the wagon wheel. I got people together and I made stuff happen. Not entirely of course. But I was a little star, with my own gravitational pull. Here’s the thing, though: I actively stopped myself from doing that when I moved to London. Because why? The pressure got too much? It started causing more anxiety than it was providing enjoyment? It got too boring to be the one everyone would call to ask: “what time does the party start again? What’s the address?” Read the invite, lazybones! Or maybe life just got in the way? Once you’re no longer a self-absorbed twentysomething uni student, you actually have other shit to do than organise everyone’s social life. Anyway… who’s to say I could have recreated that sort of influence in a new country anyway, especially somewhere as full of Alpha Centauris as London. Who’s to say I would have even retained that status if I’d stayed in Sydney, as everyone got on with their own lives, wives and families.

Today I was stuck at home with a sick child (again!!!) and I spent a while looking through old photos of all the fun I had back in my 20s. I really did have ALL. THE. FUN. So much dressing up, so many parties, goofing off around the house or down at the pub with my mates. Soo many good times with all the wonderful creatures I called my friends, most of whom, I’m pleased to say, would still answer to that description. I even lived with the late, great David Bowie for a time during this period. He was on our wall. And he came to a few of our parties, dressed up as my pals.

David Bowie died on Monday.  End of an era – he was the (Goblin) king, an inspiration and a permission to all us misfits to let our freak flags fly. Showing us that you might even be hugely successful by exploiting your own special brand of weirdness. I do feel a lot of nostalgia for my Golden Years… But, just as Bowie’s not really gone, neither is that part of me, because that kind of magic endures.

And after this weekend’s party and feeling the love from my local buddies, as well as seeing my plans for 2016 start to creak into action… Well, maybe I am starting to create my own universe over here in Switzerland. These are also golden years.  Let all the children boogie…

 

Dancing

Mountains: I think I finally get it

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New year ahoy! I approached the start of 2016 full of plans for the new year. I figured now that my baby is nearly a toddler and we’ve been in Switzerland for two years, I could get stuck into a few projects as well as getting out and about a bit more with friends and such. However 2016 has also heralded an unwelcome return of those black and yellow dogs – depression and anxiety. Not quite sure why – something about overhyped expectations maybe? Or the fact I still seem to feel lonely no matter how much socialising I do (OK so it’s not THAT much but still…) But let’s stop right here, that was just a little segue in case you wondered why I’d been quiet of late (oh, you didn’t? Oh… okay…). And I don’t really want to talk about that.  I would prefer to talk about mountains.

I may have mentioned in the past that Switzerland is quite an outdoorsy country that’s full of outdoorsy people and and since I’m not, I do wonder if I’ll ever truly gel with this place. Himself loves The Nature and in the past year has started doing regular mountain hikes, which he finds is an enjoyable “me time” break from the everyday. Oh wait, I had some “me time” right before Christmas, do you know how I spent it? Catching a train for 1 hour to meet another parent to buy 5kg of secondhand Duplo off them. Then I caught a train for an hour back home. I also had Burger King. Wooh. Rock and roll!

But I digress – mountain climbing – as well as getting away from it all, you’re seeing stunning scenery, plus a healthy dose of fresh air and exercise etc, what’s not to like? Well… I’ve recently realised that for me, who spends way too much time alone already due to working from home, or with only young children for company, the ideal “me time” – actually, can we ban this term now – the ultimate Good Time is preferably spent with other adults – it’s just the way I am: an extrovert who needs to bounce off people. I’m OK on my own but my best times are with people I love, and/or who make me laugh and/or who I can have an interesting conversation with and/or who are champion drinkers. A combination of all these is the ultimate, obvs.

Anyway – so we had our niece and nephew staying and we went up this mountain (Mount Titlis) and I was blown away. It was a bit of a faff to get to, involving three trains, a walk and two cable cars but… wow. I think now I see how this can be addictive. It was funny because to get on the cable cars, there’s a bit of a crowd, right? Most people clomping along in their ski boots (to this non-skier, they looked very uncomfortable to walk in, but I guess it’s worth it). Anyway, I felt a bit guilty, as I always do, being in the way of civilians with our giant buggy and travelling up to the ski fields as mere “pedestrians” (as we overheard some guy in the queue grumpily calling us – he was Australian of course!)

But as we crowded onto the second cable car to begin the final descent, everyone’s faces suddenly got happy. We were looking out over this incredible vista of mountain peaks and the sun was shining off the sparkling snow, the sky was blue and everyone was grinning from ear to ear – like we were lovers who shared a secret: How good is this?

We had such a wonderful day up there above 3,000m (or 3 kilometres, as my nephew was tickled to note) where the sun always shines (I guess – it’s above the clouds, right?). I think I finally get why people are so fanatical about mountains. Maybe Himself is onto something. He’s usually right about these things, damn him. So, while I may be dogged by loneliness even when I’m among friends; clawed by anxiety over my “hands-off” 1970s parenting style (it’s all cocktails and swingers’ parties… yeah right) and beset by depression over where the f*ck my life is going, maybe it’s not so bad after all. I’m here, you’re here, there be mountains… Happy New Year.

 

Things I do miss about London

Love London

Love London

I was in London over the weekend for just 24 hours and I think I’m finally ready to talk about some of the stuff I do miss about the auld town. I wrote quite a long time back on the Things I Don’t Miss About London. And, to be honest, I don’t spend a lot of time pining over the place.

Now, there’s no point in me talking about gherkins, bridges, royal palaces or the London Eye. You can read about all that stuff at my old stomping ground  www.visitlondon.com. I’m talking about the real, nitty gritty things you miss about a place you lived in for several years. The stuff that gets under your skin (or under your fingernails and up your nose, if we’re talking about Tube-grime). So anyway, without further ado, here’s

What I miss about London:

The energy there’s an undeniable buzz to London, that’s somehow enhanced by

The grittiness  the sand in the oyster? I don’t know. There’s something romantic about a bit of grubbiness and peeling around the edges, something “real”. Or is that just me? Particularly on

The houses streets and streets and miles and miles of terraced homes. Some are immaculate. Most aren’t. Oh the humanity, and

People – people everywhere. You’re never really alone in London. It can be claustrophobic. It can feel safe and comforting. And fun. Also

Conversations I forget about the vicarious thrill of overhearing conversations. Even the inane ones as some geezer quizzes a shop owner on the merits of a certain firework. “So how long does it larst?” “Fifteen seconds eh? Not vewy long then… Wot about this one?” I think I just enjoyed being able to understand the language. You also get good chat at

The pub – London pubs are so great. They can be like a big loungeroom full of all your mates. Because everyone has small houses or flats, these are the meeting spots, the melting pots. There’s nothing quite like it in Zurich. Or Sydney for that matter.

Uber wow – what a revelation. Cheap(ish) cab rides got even cheaper and easier. Can I miss something that didn’t exist when I lived there? Also falls into the category of

Cheap shit – London is cheap compared to Zurich. Believe it. Food, toiletries, taxis (see above), clothes, the list goes on.

North London – in all its ridiculous so-crappy-but-everyone-thinks-it’s-great glory. Some bits are lovely, some bits are astoundingly nasty. But… kid-friendly shops, cute cafes, pubs, restaurants, parks and streets full of families and Hot Young Things and gangstas and dogs and bikes all just muddling along with such diversity but somehow a cohesive community and it works. Or doesn’t. I don’t really know how to explain it.

Anything, Anywhere, Anytime – The Goodies‘ motto works well for London. Once Himself said he liked Joaquin Phoenix because he “looks like you could take him to bed and he’d do whatever you wanted”. London is the Joquin Phoenix of cities: ugly-beautiful and up for it. Which brings me nicely to my final point 😉

My friends – nuff said.

 

PS: Just realised I also wrote a preemptive post about What I’ll Miss as one of my earliest entries! I see Cheap Stuff and My Friends make both lists, ha ha.

 

 

 

 

 

Räbeliechti

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Yesterday was our first participation in Räbeliechti. This Swiss Halloween-ish tradition involving turnips (Räben) seems kind of like what *Halloween should be, or maybe was back in the good old days before crazy over-Americanisation and ridiculous amounts of sweets and horror-masks and people dressing as the victims or perps of gruesome crimes because that’s so funny! (Er, OK so I have a bit of a problem with some of this stuff – but I guess that’s a blog post for another time).

But I digress – Räbeliechti- involves children carving turnip lanterns and then going on a procession with them through the streets in the Räbeliechtiumzug, while singing songs. It’s mostly for kids but of course the adults troop along too and belt out the choons (assuming they know the words!) The biggest Räbeliechtiumzug in Switzerland happens in the town of Richterswil about halfway down Lake Zurich at Richterswil Raben Chibli with up to 20,000 visitors attending and 30,000kg turnips used! We had our local version last night.

It started with the Räben schnitzen (turnip carving) at my son’s Kindergarten. Parents, grandparents or a family friend were invited to come along for an hour in the morning and given instructions on how to do it. We were told to BYO spitziges Messer (sharp knife), Ausstechförmli (cookie cutter shapes) and Aushöler (melon baller to scoop out the turnip flesh).

Turnips for carving at the Kindergarten

I went along and slightly messed up the carving due to realising too late that you’re not meant to carve all the way through the turnip, like with a jack-o-lantern, but rather carve the shapes and leave a thin film of turnip flesh on those sections so the light shines through prettily but is protected from wind etc. Oh well – I paid close attention to the Schweizer Grossvater (Swiss grandad) at our table doing a very profesh job and will nail it next year! Anyway, our Räbe didn’t look half bad, if I do say so myself.

Our carved turnip

Our carved turnip

Now, for the Räbeliechtiumzug – the parade. This was really sweet. The kids (and parents) met at the Kindergarten at 6.15pm to light the candles in their turnips. Then the Kindergarten teacher led the procession (kids in pairs, holding their Räbeliechti) to the local school ground where we met up with about a dozen other groups of kids from all the Kindergartens nearby.

Räbeliechtiumzug

Räbeliechtiumzug

Once the groups had gathered, we all paraded en masse to the area’s forest park, singing the Räbeliechti songs all the way. I have literally never seen our local streets so packed with people! It was so lovely to see all the differently carved Räbeli lighting up the darkness with the kids so serious about holding them and singing away. Once we got to the park, there was a huge bonfire (they love making fires outdoors in Switzerland, big time). Everybody gathered around and sang the songs again (there were 3 or 4 official ones).

The bonfire in the woods

The bonfire in the woods

Finally, Kürbissuppe (pumpkin soup) was served (BYO mug) and everyone stood around chatting and/or playing in the heaps of autumn leaves on the ground, then we headed for home (around 8pm). Not sure why it was pumpkin soup rather than turnip – although I guess turnip soup is pretty gak.  So there you have it: sweet songs**, community spirit, home-made turnip candle holders with pretty, flickering lights, and not a scary mask in sight. I love this Swiss tradition!

Love Räbeliechti!

Love Räbeliechti!

 

*In fact, we also enjoyed Halloween last week because, as a sad old goth, I love making costumes and dressing up (and probably should enjoy the dark stuff a bit more and yet, and yet… it’s often done in such a non-thinking way… anyway, leave it).

**I should also add that I get that Halloween / Samhain (and probably Räbeliechti) is not really meant to be sweet. As a celebration embracing (or warding off) the impending winter and the time of year when the gap between the world of the living and that of the dead is narrowest, this occasion reminds us of our mere mortality and is about bringing our feeble human light to the darkness and feasting against the cold and hunger that possibly lies ahead.  But also: abundant food, heaters and penicillin Mofos so… yeah enough with the lollies already!

The Fall

Autumn in Zurich Feeling a bit sad lately for various reasons. But not depressed. It’s full-blown autumn now and I’m finding myself slightly dreading the winter months of cold and dark weather and being stuck indoors. Which is kind of crazy because last year’s winter was actually pretty magical with all the snow. And this year, I’m not even pregnant, which basically sucked last winter. There were lots of blue skies too, although people have told me that’s quite unusual for Zurich.

A freelance job ended recently and it was a bit of a shock. I’m mostly relieved, because the work really wasn’t compatible with my family commitments. But still, it was a rather abrupt and unexpected finish that left me flailing a bit.

It was also a bit annoying because after my recent post musing on work v. German classes had helped me decide I should focus on the German, it turned out the classes I was interested in were booked solid! And then I thought even more about it and figured starting childcare and German all at once would put too much pressure on not just me but the family so I’d decided to leave it for a few months and focus on work. Luckily I have other bits and pieces to do.

My baby is 9 months this week and I’ve just this morning dropped him off at a casual daycare, which should give me a bit of a breather… I thought it would be easier leaving the second child. And it is, in a way. On the other hand, it’s somehow more devastating.

I’m also sad because October is the month I’m usually off to Australia – for the past four years I’ve visited my homeland in October-November. I may have slightly talked myself into this one but it doesn’t stop the fact that… ARrrgghhh!!! I could-should-would be getting on a plane right now!! Instead of golden leaves and crisp breezes, I would have a lilac sea of Jacaranda in soft Sydney springtime. Not to mention the sea itself – that sparkling blue-green ocean, set off by tawny beaches and buff cliffs of Sydney sandstone. And now Facebook is showing memories of me out on the town with my two besties/bridesmaids… Oh, my heart.

Besties

Homesickness can take some funny forms though. Out of the blue recently, I got a craving for Iku macroburgers. These meatless mofos were a delicious treat, best eaten when one was hungover or equally ravenous! Anyway, after a bit of frantic googling, I decided to have a crack at making my own. The Iku website lists the ingredients for the tofu fritters, but has no recipes – however I found this approximation on Billie Bites and, with a few modifcations it came up a treat (couldn’t find Aussie-style brown rice, and wanted to include umeboshi vinegar, not that I could find the stuff in Zurich!) I also found a recipe for the steamed buns but since I am not a breadmaker and it would involve purchasing special equipment (ie: steamer) they will have to wait for another day. If ever. My homemade Iku-style tofu fritters and tahini sauce, on a bun and with salad, while not a dead-match, is close enough to quite vividly recall the real thing. Yumm. I was going to post pics but a) They don’t look that amazing and b) I didn’t take any – too busy eating.

Plus there was a mystic ipod moment – while eating them, my ipod on shuffle threw out Crowded House (Weather With You), Cat Power and AC/DC… I dunno, sometimes things just come together.

Now I’m also wondering if it’s time to really have a crack at that novel? There’s so many ideas floating around in my head. My biggest problem is picking one to stick to and then fleshing it out with, hey, actual story, plot, characters (rather than just fancy turns of phrase). I guess now we’ve started this childcare, I might even have time for that too…

Sometimes, I think Autumn is my favourite time of year. The turn of season and the bite of the wind feels like there’s so many exciting possibilities, with that all-so-important dash of melancholy or nostalgia that seems to produce the best art – stir the creative juices. I hope I can capture that feeling and not be too sad as the days close in this year. Maybe I need to also book a plane ticket for Sydney at some point. I don’t know if I can wait until 2017!

 

 

St Gallen

Another day, another day trip. I took my in-laws up to St Gallen this week and it was simply stunning. Autumn in Switzerland can deliver these crisp, sunny days with amazing dark blue skies. It was warm in the sunshine but cool in the shade – perfect weather for sightseeing, really!

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We visited the Stiftsbibliothek – where no photos are allowed. I don’t quite know how to convey how awed I was by this place. Having studied Medieval History and medieval manuscripts at university, I felt quite moved to visit this ancient library. They had texts there from Charlemagne and the Bishop of Wurms – stuff I’d read about and written essays on! Seeing the illuminated scripts (under glass) in this environment really gave a wonderful impression of how it might have been as a monk back in the day in the presence of all these incredible books. I think I’m actually still processing what I saw and the enormity of it. Texts dating back to 800-900 – those early middle ages are such a fascinating time. Wow.

St Gallen is a small(ish) town in the mountains with a beautifully preserved medieval main square (Gallusplatz) encompassing a UNESCO world heritage site. In the old town centre, many buildings feature ornate oriel windows dating back to the late middle ages (shades of The Name of the Rose – a book I also read while at uni, thankfully at the time I knew the most Latin!). Apparently the oriel windows were a sign of wealth and St Gallen has some of the best/most examples of them around.

We also visited the cathedral/ the Dom. I’m always taken with just how different the impression you get of a church is from the outside compared to how it “feels” when you step in. This place was a serene, baroque fancy, all decked out in soft green-painted plasterwork and gold leaf. You get the feeling there’s still no shortage of cash in and around St Gallen! The green colour was reminiscent of copper roofs (which many churches have) or tree moss, so gave a lovely sense of the outdoors inside. And it was so light. Just beautiful.

I really enjoyed our trip to St Gallen (1.5hr by train from Oerlikon).