In the meantime, I'm back from Switzerland where I was the guest of author and playwright Maya Hostettler, above here at the Landesmuseum in Zurich, and her spouse Nadine Spothelfer.
I can't figure out how to insert the photos along with the text! I'm not sure where they'll go now! I guess if you want to see them, please check the photo page.
Maya and I met through theatre when she lived in Southern California.
They live in Uerikon, overlooking Lake Zürich, near the train station and across from a vineyard (where they have picked, pressed, bottled their own wine). Though Uerikon is now basically a commuter suburb, it still has some of the culture of a small agricultural town. The vineyard, for example, is family-owned and has, I think, only one employee. At harvest time, all the neighbors volunteer their time to bring in the grapes.
I thought their Nova Scotia retriever, Baboo, was the best behaved dog in the world till Maya told me in Switzerland (where pit bulls, incidentally, are banned), there is very strict dog licensing. When you get a dog, you have to go to obedience school. If you flunk, you go again. If you can't learn to manage your dog and your dog can't learn to be managed, you can't keep the dog. But having passed, dogs in Switzerland have much more freedom than here. They are welcome in restaurants, on trains, trams, buses, boats (half-fare or with an annual pass; free if they travel in an enclosed carrier), and everywhere you find dispensers with bags to clean up after them. Just about the only German I learned was for talking to dogs. I can say come here, heel, sit, lie down, stay, and good dog.
I do think it's no coincidence that the German word for "weather" is "wetter" as it rained, and rained. Which didn't keep me and sometimes us from hiking probably 5-6 hours a day. Through forests and meadows and vineyards and medieval cities along rivers and railroad tracks and around the lake. Chestnut trees in bloom, white and pink. (For some reason, almost every walk lined with pink chestnuts was at one time a drug alley. Now rehabilitated.) Many pruned as pollards, as in this from Rapperswil.
I took refuge in the crypt beneath Grossmünster (church completed in the year 1220) in Zurich to wait out a storm.
Swans on every body of water. Stäfa, Luzern.
I loved all the paintings on the medieval façades. Maya said these are the original "graffiti." Contemporary graffiti has hit Switzerland too, often in English, especially when obscene.
Construction and cranes everywhere, here in Luzern along with the centuries-old buildings.
What can you learn looking at posters and signs?
Conference debunking evolution.
Program on human rights. (A book about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was available free in German or French at the Landesmuseum in Zürich and has been distributed to schoolchildren. A declaration all but unknown here in the US and certainly not taught in Texas.)
In praise (not of folly) but stupidity.
Where Lenin lived in a very bourgeois neighboring in Neumarkt neighborhood, Zürich: (Which was the Tom Stoppard play? Travesties? Featuring Lenin and Tristan Tzara...? my first glimmer of Zürich some years back.)
I loved the capital, Berne, its river and bridges and houses and arcades.
We were there on a Saturday when there's a farmers market in front of the parliament building.
Once the stalls are taken down, the fountain operates again, shooting water up from the paving stones.
The famous clock tower failed to set its figures in motion at noon.
In LA, the green cross indicates a marijuana dispensary. In Switzerland, it's any legitimate drugstore.
Had the best Italian food of my life in a restaurant called Verdi, dedicated to and decorated with memorabilia about him.
The bear is the symbol of Berne. In statue. In the flesh.
In the fall, a deranged man jumped into the bear pit and was mauled. The police shot the bear. Both man and bear ended up in the hospital in critical condition. This was headline news for weeks and it ended well, with both man and bear surviving. Flinn, the survivor, now lives (though separated by a fence for some reason) from his mate and two cubs.
Walking along the river, we came around a turn and faced a young blonde woman with a knife. She turned to the wall. I chose not to take her picture.
Wanderweg means hiking trail. We took the wrong boat from Rapperswil but eventually found our way through a small town to the railroad to a walk along the tracks to a nature preserve and scenic area, then another boat to Meilin and from there back to Uerikon. (A single day ticket covers trains, boats, buses, trams. But it works by zone and by class (first or second) and you need to be careful. Tickets are purchased from a machine, on the honor system, but if you're caught with no ticket or the wrong ticket, there's a substantial fine.)
During a day in Zurich, I visited the zoo. As in LA, the Zurich zoo is building a new, spacious elephant habitat.
I visited the primates first. Passed an unhappy pacing rhino. The gorillas and orangs deserve better. I was getting depressed but as I explored, it's clear the zoo is improving conditions for all. Lots of space and trees and plantings for wolves, tiger, spectacle bears. The snow leopards had plenty of room to hide. (I didn't see them.)
Playgrounds for children are so imaginative, but many look like they wouldn't be allowed in the US -- net climbing ropes too dangerous?
The most amazing part of the zoo was the Masoala Rainforest (regenwald). An enclosed replica of a Madagascar rainforest complete with fauna as well as flora. (though the lemurs stay high up and are hard to spot)
It ties in with fundraising for conservation efforts in Madagascar. The gift shop sells Madagascar coffee and vanilla and other products.
I had told people I didn't know how comfortable I'd be in a cold, clean, orderly country when I'm more at home in hot chaotic places. So here I could have my jungle and orderly cleanliness, too.
If you're traveling to Switzerland, much of the info I read ahead of time said credit cards would not be accepted. Untrue, though you will need your PIN.
It's an expensive place! For us, at least. For example, Maya and I split a small pizza and a salad and each had a glass of house wine. $80. Wages there are much higher than in the US for all types of work. There's no income tax so a lot of Germans and Englishmen have established residence in Switzerland. Some have private jets and fly back to their home countries every morning to work and then return to Switzerland at night. They do complain about how much they have to pay for domestic help and gardeners.
Language: I had intended to learn some German and then didn't bother when I heard Swiss German was so different from standard. But as it turns out, all the signage and written info is in standard German as are announcements on trains, etc. People are multilingual (including in English) but signage often isn't. I thought I'd get by with French, but in the German-speaking cantons, you'll sometimes find German only and are as likely to find a sign in English as in French. In the Landesmuseum in Zürich, I relied on French descriptions of the exhibits--and these were very interesting. They recently redid the exhibitions on Swiss history to include some negative material that had been avoided in the past. The main new exhibit this time was celebrating the contributions of immigrants. Immigration being controversial right now there as well as here. It was beautiful to see, and also an exhibit done by young children who decorated white umbrellas with pictures and phrases expressing their visions of human rights.
Swiss hello is Grüezi. People are as likely to say merci as danke. Goodbye is often ciao, or ciao ciao.