On the Road Again

I’m on my way back to Italy with the family, we leave in T-minus 1.5 hours. We are once again headed to the Dad’s parent’s home in the northern part of the country. The house is cozily situated on a vineyard, surrounded by hundreds of others–literally. When I walked up to the neighboring town last time I was afforded a spectacular view and all I could see in the near vicinity were grapes. Far, far off in the distance you can see the Italian Alps. It truly is other-worldly.

Now that I know what to expect while we’re there I think I will be able to enjoy myself. The weather should be warmer than here and we will have plenty of outdoor time. It feels a bit like falling off the face of the earth as my contact with others sharply diminishes. Everything slows down considerably and there’s a significant amount of “downtime.” The family will stay there for the next two weeks, while I will leave after 9 days. It’s a long time with them. They’re nice people, of course. But being on a family holiday when you’re not actually a member of the family is an awkward experience (image: me sitting and watching the kids play with their grandparents and generally feeling uncomfortable for intruding). A case of cabin fever is imminent.

Why am I leaving before the rest of the crew? Well, well, well, perhaps because a little visitor will be making her way over. And maybe I’m so crazy psyched out of my mind to see her I can hardly contain myself. You guessed it, COURTNEY IS COMING!!! It’s impossible to put into words what it’s like when we are together under normal circumstances. Compound this extreme insanity/social awkwardness/constantly running inside joke into 8 months and that’s what the week of October 11-17th is going to look like. I’ve mapped out an itinerary, one that includes a quick jaunt to Istanbul, Turkey to visit Jill and many other hot must-dos whilst in der Schweiz–many food-related. I can’t emphasize this enough: I’m so excited. Man, I’ve missed her.

So, I’ll be gone for a while. Never one to leave you down and out I have provided some entertainment. Pei Wen gave me The Encyclopedia of Useless Information by William Hartston before she left last week and I have been scanning it this past week. Below are a few tidbits I thought intriguing (by randomly opening the book). Feel free to use them at your next dinner party, water-cooler exchange, or random interjection in conversation. Tschüss! Bis Später!

DANCING: On August 21, 1923, the city of Kalamazoo, Michigan, passed a law forbidding dancers to stare into each other’s eyes.

GOSSIP: Researchers in Michigan in 1995 reported that American children aged nine to twelve gossip on average eighteen times an hour.

NEPAL: The Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal is the only country that does not have a rectangular flag. Its flag is shaped like two slightly overlapping triangles.

BIRTH: Every seventeen seconds, an American is born

SANDWICHES: IF you eat a sandwich for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it will take 168 days to get through the amount of bread produced from one bushel of wheat.

GOLD: One-third of all gold ever mined on earth comes from the Witwatersand Basin in South Africa.

LETTUCE: On August, 28, 1988 the Yantlee Polyclinic in Bangkok published a claim that you can get rid of hunger by pressing lettuce seeds into your ears ten times before meals.

KANSAS: Kansas has the largest population of wild grouse (or Prairie Chickens as the Americans call it) of any state in America.

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Too Wild

This week I had a chance to catch up with mom, dad, and Courtney– all three at different times. Each one told me about the spectacular weekend spent in Manhattan in each others company. The football game was great (GO CATS!), the required Little Apple Brewery dinner was fantastic, and everyone had a solid time. Minus one little intruder, Mother Nature. Apparently a behemoth storm blew through Kansas and postponed the game and put people in a mild state of panic. Why? This was a most intense looking storm. Dad said it was nuts and he hadn’t seen anything like it. Mom said it was a big one, but she was napping during the game, so who really knows. Courtney said she had “never seen the sky like that in my whole life.” This one sounded fierce. I was obviously intrigued. Courtney then sent me a link to the Kansas City Star so I could check out a photo of this sucker. Sure enough, the sky looked as if the world was going to end.

Cut to later in the evening when I am on the train headed into town for a concert. I’m flipping through the Blick am Abend, a daily paper that features stories of interest as well as important truths like horoscopes and Singles adverts. Naturally this paper is written in German but I still like to flip through it as I can decipher about every sixth word and, more accurately, like to look like I fit in with my Deutsch sprachen comrades. The best part about this paper is the photo spread in the middle. It always features extreme or wild and crazy pictures from around the world. Since photos conveniently speak every language I can understand them. I think you can guess where this story is headed…

I flip the paper open to the photo spread and there it is!!!

The caption for the photo likens it to a scence in "Independence Day"

My university town made the news in Switzerland! I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to run around the train and tell everyone that that was where I went to school. Of course, I would probably be immediately deported due to insanity, but still. This is was so cool. Obvious Nerd Alert: I cut out the photo just so I could show it to you. And the Kansans who read this little blog can be proud that we are making world news, one wall cloud at a time.

As for the concert, it was tipp topp super. We saw Junip, a three-person band from Sweden. They’ve been together for over ten years, but took a little hiatus, during which time lead singer, José González, completed a couple solo albums on his own. It was a great show. The venue, Exil was perfect– small, intimate, and listener friendly. And the band was excellent. They worked so well as a unit and managed to sound clean and put-together, which are sometimes absent in a live show. One could tell they’ve spent a great deal of time together perfecting their craft. It’s an indie-rock sound with none of the pretense that sometimes follows such bands. I would definitely recommend checking them out.

I went to another concert last Friday that was just as great, but a completely different experience. Joanna Newsom passed through Zurich as a Switzerland exclusive. Any chance to see someone play the harp and I’m going to take it. It’s such an impressive instrument, especially in this case as Joanna is a tiny, elfish girl. Her sound is completely unique and defies what it means to be a 20-something singer in the 21st century. Accompanied by five other members playing varying instruments from the violin to the banjo to the drums, Joanna and company performed what felt like more of a recital than a concert. Still, the control required for her to manipulate her voice in her special way as well as handle the harp with such grace was wonderful to witness. I had only heard one song of hers (the one noted below) before going, and now I am definitely a fan. A peculiar sound indeed, but again, worth a listen or two or nine…

Beer Guzzling

Let the festivities begin!

Perhaps you can guess by the title and the picture above ( if not, then we should really talk about your observational skills), but this weekend I ventured to Munich for Oktoberfest– the worlds biggest party. The only other “Oktoberfest” I’ve attended was one in Manhattan two years ago. I would show you a picture of what I looked like, but it’s honestly too frightening. Let’s just say it involves me wearing a bleach-blond, ratty wig and a plastic, bloody hand (?!) stuffed inside my sleeve. Not pretty in any way. You would immediately question my qualification for taking care of children.

This year was much more sane and overall a greater experience. Adam, Nick and I hopped on a train at 7:16 in the morning on Saturday and arrived as everyone was well into the festivities. When we got to the grounds it was a bit of a sensory overload. I didn’t expect it to be so massive. Tents, vendors, rides, games, food stalls, and people surrounded us on all sides. It truly was a sight like I’d never seen, and I’ve even been to the Missouri State Fair. We walked down the main drag and made our first mission getting food. After a bratwurst and roll accompanied by some of the greatest fries of all time, we carried on to obtain our first beer.

At first it didn’t look promising The lines outside the tents were rather long and the weather was adverse, at best. We settled on waiting outside one joint, assuming we had to do our time before we were going to get in anywhere. A waitress came by and took our order and within minutes we were in possession of the elixir of life. Our first beers of the day, and man, they were delicious. Oh, and they only come in one liter steins. God speed.

Guzzling in action. The mugs are literally bigger than my head.

At about this time Adam received a text from an acquaintance that loosely translated to: Come to the tent across the way and say you are with the McKinsley party. Sounded easy enough. We slammed our beers and walked over to the next tent. When we told the kind gentlesir at the front that we had a reservation we were directed to a side door. At this side door Adam said, “We have a reservation under the name McKinsley.” “Oh, of course, come right inside.” Boom! Just like that we were in. No one ever bothered to consult a list or check any kind of ticket. Maybe “McKinsley” is some sort of special code. Or more likely, getting in is just easier than we thought.

We finally arrived inside! Could there be any more joy on his face?

Super party machen

Again, we were hit by waves of sound, smells, and body heat. Inside the tent I found myself overwhelmed. It was just so much bigger than I thought. We wandered around for quite a while, taking in the sights and eventually happened upon the friend that initially invited us. In order to get any beer you must be sitting down at a table. Seeing as we were quite clearly sans table we made friends quickly with a table of young German gentlemen, a few of whom were taking a wee nap at the table (they started drinking at 7 a.m., you see, and by this time it was 2 p.m.). Our first round of beers led to several more and the afternoon passed tremendously. Apparently this is one of the most popular tents, with the greatest atmosphere and overall ambiance. I couldn’t tell you any different as we stayed in this one location for the next 7 hours.

This is the band in the middle of the tent that led us in rousing renditions of traditional German tunes.

Beer, Beer, Beer. One for each of us.

There’s not much more to say about the event. We sat, we drank; we stood, we drank; we danced; we drank. It sounds like an enormous amount of beer drinking, which in some (re:many) ways it was. But, just to ease your angsty about the day, I managed to keep myself respectably composed. I contented myself with about 3.5 liters of beer in the course of the day. When I shared this total with Jill she informed me that “German babies drink more than that for breakfast!” But, for me, it was just the right amount. And the beer was delicious. The Germans certainly know how to make a tasty brew. Overall, the day was s super success. Although it was a short trip, it was definitely worth it. I mean, who doesn’t want to attend the Biggest Party in the World?

I love everything about this picture. It captures the spirit of how fun and festive the day was.

Nature

Fall is amongst us; I fear it is about to take over and drive away the idyllic, mid-70s temperatures. Today’s weather was perfect for a walk and I knew just what to do with my free time this afternoon– this was also a way to continue to “get my fitness on.” After a special Skype sesh with Courtney (who arrives in 18 days, not that I’m almost wetting myself with excitement) I caught the PostAuto bus to take me to the base of a trail leading to Etzel. I had been told recently by my new friend Crystal, also an au pair in my village, that this was a must-see location. Etzel sits 1,098 meters above sea level, which is roughly 400 meters above my house. I set off this afternoon with my ever-increasing sense of adventure and almost Lewis-and-Clark-level enthusiasm.

The peak in the distance is my final destination

Currently, I am sitting at the table in the dining room, drinking a Hell Quöllfrisch Appenzeller Bier (Hell means “light”– get your mind out of the gutter), and feeling my muscles get progressively sorer. I feel my pictures can do a much better job, at this point, telling you about my afternoon.

On the road again...

Getting started on the trail

The trail quickly turned into an "off-roading" experience

Must be sure to follow the yellow diamond road... Doesn't have the same ring, does it?

Hopp Schwiiz! Cool flag along the trail

Upon reaching the summit (can I even call it that? I might be exercising my poetic license here) I turned around and much to my Shock and Horror, uttered an expletive. One that often follows “Holy,” which it most surely isn’t. I was just completely blown away by the scenery. I had been hiking for an hour at this point with only my playlist to keep me company. I had been stuck in the trees, and as cool as it was there, I didn’t have much chance to look around. “Wildcat” by Ratatat was playing as I reached the top (could there have been a more perfect song? I think not.) and I was truly amazed at how beautiful it was. I knew I would be able to see a great chunk of the Alps from here, but I was still taken aback. I kept snapping pictures in the hope of capturing what I was seeing, but as is the problem with landscape shots, they just never seem to turn out right. The visibility wasn’t 100%, so this also lent to the problem. Below are a few samples of what I saw, but just know they don’t do the view justice. It was just an absolutely perfect afternoon.

The joyous reception at the top.

Aerial view of Rapperswil

The reason the picture looks completely manipulated is because it is. I had to adjust it like crazy for you to see the awesome mountains in the background.

Ditto on the manipulation bit.

This is my village, settled in the mountain.

Check out the Hot Air Balloon in the corner.

On a completely unrelated note, my friend Pei Wen left Switzerland today and returned home to Canada. I met Pei Wen at my first meeting, and to say it was strange would be an understatement. She had just finished purchasing an absurd amount of candy for a party for one her charges and had (smartly) filled a bag for herself. She then proceeded to give away the pieces of candy to the little kids at the meeting in exchange for a kiss on the cheek. She was essentially paying for friendship… from three-year-olds. I knew this girl was one to keep my eye on. From then on, however, I found her to be an amazingly great friend. She is one of the most open-minded and adventurous people I know. She knows no boundaries and lives to explore– waaaaay more than I do. She has a great, infectious laugh, and one can’t help but feel at ease in her presence. I never tire of her travel stories and always have a good time hanging out with her. I will miss her tremendously. Looking forward to seeing you soon, Pei Wen, as I am positive our paths will cross again.

Growing Up is Hard To Do

Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best.

Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

Except when you don’t,

Because, sometimes, you won’t.


I’m so sorry to say so

but, sadly, it’s true

that Bang-ups

and Hang-ups

can happen to you.

You can get all hung up

in a prickle-y perch.

And your gang will fly on.

You’ll be left in a lurch.

-Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss

Forget breaking up, it’s the growing up that’s really hard to do. Why didn’t anyone tell me it would be like this? People speak of graduation being the beginning of “the rest of my life.” Well, to steal sentiments from my own graduation speech, what the heck have I been doing for the last 23 years? It may be the start of a new chapter in my life, but it certainly doesn’t come with a manual like everyone promised. And this whole making decisions thing? Yeah, well, it should only be done with serious supervision and a seat belt. Puh-lease! I can barely decide what I want to wear in the morning, and who sees me? A two year old! How in tarnation am I supposed to make “major life choices” that could (read: definitely will) set me on a path toward my elusive future?

This all probably sounds a little drama. It is. I will be the first to admit it. I sat on my high horse last year at this time, thanking my lucky stars that I was not one of the millions of people looking for a job in an economy that looked about as pleasant as a jug of sour milk. I thought, I’m so glad that’s not me. Cut to one calender year later when I have to figure out what comes after this year of adventure and general slacking off. So far I’ve made one major step in my walk toward What I Want to Be When I Grow Up. I’ve scheduled myself to take the GRE in Geneva in November. Yes, I’m not going to go into teaching after all. At least not yet. Oddly enough, in fact, I want to go back to being a student.

What to do with these test scores, you ask? A mighty fine question indeed! I don’t know. I’ve begun the painful (literally, my eyeballs were starting to twitch and burn from looking at my computer screen this morning) search for a school. How does one decide? There are so many considerations, one can’t help but feel battered by them. Are you my school? Are you my school? I feel like that little bird, hopping around, hoping someone will claim me. The process is ridiculous. It’s hard to be removed from the school scene, not to mention the country. I wish I would have begun this process whilst still in college. But hindsight is 20/20. At this point all I can do is throw on my suit of armor and head into the fight. You want my transcript(s)? Fine. Letters of recommendation? OK, then. A writing sample (or two)? Well, I’ll see what I can do. $50. Now you’re just getting greedy.

I’m trying to take baby steps. There’s no sense in trying to tackle it all at once. Today I was just feeling hypersensitive. At one point I yelled at Little Bean for crying because her food was too hot. I was the one who put it in the microwave! It was completely my fault. What is my malfunction?

Tonight the kiddos asked for a story before bed and Oh, the Places You’ll Go! was the book Taz chose. The little guy can’t even read English, yet this was the old piece of wisdom his paws landed on. I kid you not, when I got to the middle about times getting tough, I actually started crying. Right there on the sofa, little tears just cruising down my face. I pulled it together to finish the story and send them to bed. I think what hit me was this: Yes, this is tough. It’s hard work, but it’s meant to be that way. If it was easy, then would it really be worth it? Isn’t all the hard stuff at the beginning part of the reward at the end?

But on you will go

though the weather be foul.

On you will go

though your enemies prowl.

On you will go

though the Hakken-Kraks howl.

Onward up many

a frightening creek,

though your arms may get sore

and your sneakers may leak.


On and on you will hike.

And I know you’ll hike far

and face up to your problems

whatever they are.

You’ll get mixed up, of course,

as you already know.

You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go.

So be sure when you step.

Step with care and great tact

and remember that Life’s

a Great Balancing Act.


And will you succeed?

Yes! Yes, you will indeed!

(98 and 3/4 per cent guaranteed.)

KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!

Classy Lady

Last night I had a chance to do yet another thing I have been wanting to do in Zürich. I feel like lately I have been all over crossing things off my au pair Bucket List (too morbid?) and it’s making me feel quite satisfied. A recent au pair arrival, Rachel, has super special contacts at the Zürich Opernhaus. Her host mom is the first chair violinist and Concert Director at the Opera House (Rachel, if this is wrong, please correct me!). Therefore, she has an “in” to most shows. I jumped at the opportunity when she mentioned Wednesday night that there was a show for the following evening. A night out? Getting dressed up? Acting like an adult? Count me in!

The Opernhaus is said to be one of the most beautiful in Europe. After seeing it last night I can understand how it got such a prestigious declaration. A small, intimate space, the opera house has beautiful red velvet chairs, gold carvings, and Romantic paintings covering many facades. I was immediately impressed when I walked in. It’s simply a space that demands attention.

Incredible sound radiating from the pit.

Adam, Rachel, and I had seats in our very own box on the right side of the theater. The birds-eye view of the orchestra was spectacular and being so close to the stage was a treat as well. The show was Der Freischütz, and while I can’t say I know much about classical music, I thought it was a great performance. It was the experience that meant the most, though. Anything that involves me having champagne ranks pretty high on my list– I tell you, I’m not tricky to please. I’m looking forward to hopefully attending more shows; I would especially like to see a ballet. Look at me, getting all cultured and stuff. Don’t hide it, I know you’re impressed.

Feeling swanky at the Opera. And in fancy dress!

My new friend, Rachel.

Childcare and the City

I’m on a dangerous path. Saturday night I re-discovered all six seasons of Sex and the City on DVD. I watched these back in February when my seasonal depression was in full-force and I was having trouble remembering my own name. Whilst perusing the DVDs in the workout room/body-dumping zone in the basement over the weekend I found this ultimate jackpot and settled in for an evening of watching my New York City besties. It was supposed to be just that, one night. Like an addict, I couldn’t stop with just one disc, let alone one episode. I am currently on a steady diet of two episodes a day–minimum.

Now I feel like I should be sipping cocktails and sharing my woes with my girlfriends at the local coffee shop. I want to start complaining about my apartment going co-op or the down-right madness that is attempting to hail a taxi during rush hour. All the while adjusting the straps on my Monolos and smoothing out my D&G dress. Incidentally, when I met up for drinks with a few girls last night, there were a few minor differences. First of all, I took the train in. Forget taxis. Cabbing into the city would approximately cost me the price of a small country. Rater than a trendy Cosmopolitan (which I don’t even like, anyway) I was sipping from a 1 dl clear, plastic cup. The contents? Pourings from a 6.90 Fr. bottle of wine I bought at Edi’s– a take-away bar that happens to share real-estate with an “Adult” movie theater. Needless to say the art work on the walls is quite a conversation starter. Au pairs have become so infamous at said establishment that we are not allowed to even stay on the premises to consume our happy meal. Thus, our young and hip troop found a platz under the tree outside of Grössmunster Cathedral.

To recap: SATC women drinking bazillion- dollar cocktails at waiting-list clubs and bars, talking about urban trivialities and living the “high life.” Au Pairs sipping basement-price wine, some straight from the bottle, discussing the best ways to keep our kiddos occupied with the minimal amount of effort and laughing through our purple teeth. Quite a difference between the two scenes. But for now, I’m actually quite happy where I am.