Saturday, June 23, 2007

Uncle Scott and the boys

Upon returning home from Switzerland, the first thing we saw when we walked in the door was this lovely gift basket waiting for us on the kitchen table.

Uncle Scott had out done himself again. A basket of kitty toys, a bottle of wine, and two wine glasses. In his letter he let us know that~

"the three of us had a great time playing with their toys and cuddling. Both ate well too!"

That was a shock. The boys never "cuddle" with us...what exactly does Uncle Scott mean by "cuddle"?

He went on to add that he decided that this time we would get a special treat...a nice bottle of wine. He added "the kitty toys are not for you, they are for Tiggie and Hart."

I'm so glad he cleared that up...I hate it when Bernie gets rolling with the bizzy balls and catnip socks. Yesh!

Uncle Scott even included a jolly wine holder decorated with glass grapes, and taped a catnip mouse to the bottle (just in case Bernie felt an urge to bat a toy around on the sly.)

Isn't life good with our Uncle Scott looking after all of us???

You bet it is!

(And don't you just adore the fact he was able to find a nice bottle of wine with an ORANGE cat, like Tiggie, right there on the bottle? Now that's what I call the cat's meow!)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Switzerland Journal: Journey's End

Wednesday 30 May 2007
Zurich, Switzerland, Newark, New Jersey, and Home.
Wow! What a difference! Overnight the weather had cleared, it was windy and brisk out, and Zurich just sparkled in the early morning light.
You can see the orange and green striped roof on the tower now, and isn't that cute oriel window delicately charming as it juts out to provide someone with a fabulous view?
It was a really short walk to the train station. The streets were jammed with morning rush hour traffic, and the sidewalks full of office workers striding along with scarves wrapped around their neck against the morning chill.

At the train station, underneath the ever watchful Blue Traveler's Guardian Angel, we made our way to the tracks, using our final day of Swiss pass. What a lovely way it had been to travel; just flash the pass and we were on our way.

Two stops later we were at the airport. The lines were long, and we were glad we had gotten there early. I did a little window shopping as we waited for our flight....

I'd be willing to eat a chocolate bug...(no, there isn't really a bug inside, the chocolate is just shaped like a bug.) If I had had room in my suitcase, I would have sprung for a box, but I knew the box would never make it home looking as pretty as it did in the window, and besides, those extra pounds I gained on the trip are going to be hard enough to shake without adding more temptations at home!
Since we had to get to the airport early enough to check in for international travel, two hour before the flight we decided to just eat at the airport. For breakfast I got Swiss yogurt, orange juice, a glass of champagne, and this apple pastry, just because the apple trim was so fun.
It seemed unreal once we were up in the air. The snowfall had covered the Alps so thoroughly that view as we left was totally different than when we had arrived.
From the church bells of St. Gallen grabbing a cab rides in Milan, begging carp fish in Mannheim, a sunny morning in Lausanne and train trips through the Alps, our journey had been a magical time apart.
Here's to our next thirty years! Cheers!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Switzerland Journal Day 15 pt.2

So...we headed across the bridge to Grossmunster.

The iron work on the bridge over the Limmat River was pretty. Notice how the water runs right under the Haus zur Ruden guild house. The whole scene seemed so gloomy.

It does drive me batty not to know who the statue is about, when it was made and why it is important.

Um...a pretty spire with a clock face behind the statue of the man on the horse.

I've borrowed a professional shot of Grossmunster, or "Great Minister" church. It gives you a better idea of Grossmunster's size and setting. The church building was begun in 1100 AD and was completed in 1200 AD.

Once we were inside, I appreciated that it, like most historic places in Switzerland, offered free handouts in English to help visitors know what they were seeing and why it was an important place.
The problem was we were feeling so rushed that it was difficult to stop and read the handout on the spot.
Inside the church it was very gloomy and subdued. The stained glassed windows seemed to struggle to glow. The middle window showed a dominate figure of Mary, with a very minor figure of baby Jesus. To the left and right were two of the three kings, and angels with flowers. The windows were installed in 1933, the subject might be considered an unusual motif for a Protestant church.
Between the aisles is the baptismal font from 1598, it also serves as a Communion table.
The architecture style is called Romanesque. The pulpit however was from 1853.

Another pop quiz: Who is the person portrayed in this stained glass window?

I myself do not know who this saint is or what he is trying to communicated by holding a book and sword in his hand.
The only reason I know that this is probably a Saint Somebody is due to my own cultural literacy; others who grew up without attending church or studying art might wonder why the guy is wearing long robes and a big yellow hat.
Is anyone willing to make a guess as to what this stained glassed image is attempting to represent or what idea is being communicated?
The fact that I do not know what this beautiful window was trying to communicate speaks volumes to me about the importance of one facet of the Reformation itself. A key feature of the movement was the idea that individuals should read Scripture, as opposed to counting on a select few individuals within the church hierarchy to read and pass the information along.
Prior to the Reformation, the printing press, and wide spread literacy, churches were filled with statuary and iconic images which served to invoke a sense of veneration or homage to the subject of the statuary or image. Presumably the images were placed to call to remembrance key concepts of the faith; a noble intent to be sure!
I'm all for lovely art in churches, and if anything I am wondering why my generation seems inclined to limit church decor to a few silk plants plunked down by a lectern and perhaps a colorful felt banner with a word or two hanging somewhere. I think even the sternest of Reformers would agree that a bit more embellishment of worship related facilities would not be out of line.
The problems with the pre-Reformation church art were varied. Spending large sums of money for art in the midst of human need could be viewed as an off target use of church funds. The (hopefully) inadvertent veneration of the statuary itself shattered the commandment to not make a graven image for adoration. Eventually there were also misunderstanding or erroneous interpretation of the art due to shifting cultural filters over time.
The Grossmunster hand-out attempted to interpret some of the art that remain in the church from before the Reformation. To quote one passage:
"We recognize King David (or Orpheus?) with a stringed instrument on the capital of the left hand column. The two flanking lions are difficult to interpret. It is assumed that they are a reference to Christ; however , lions can also symbolize, as seen on the opposite capital, man as an unredeemed being, who bites himself in his own tail. Symbols of the Middle Ages are never so lucid; they rather tend to be suggestive of light and darkness, of healing and destructive powers."

Suggestive, but ultimately obscure to the contemporary viewer.

I have viewed books that were hand written in the year 600 AD, and scroll fragments from the first century, and even earlier. In each instance I was struck by the fact that as long as the viewer/reader was familiar with the text language in written form, communication remained clear and concise between the reader and the writer, despite the centuries which have intervened between era of the writer and the era of the reader.
I'm getting a little long winded here, but viewing the beautiful church art caused an epiphany within myself. I had struggled between creating visual art and writing. I love doing both. I had made a deliberate decision a year ago to focus on writing. I chose to work on my writing beyond answering emails and thank you notes, writing daily as an exercise to better learn the craft of composition. Sometimes I wondered about my choice.
Looking at the beautiful church windows and statues, I realized that while I enjoyed their intrinsic beauty, I was unable to fully connect with their purpose without some means of written or oral communication.
Later, as I looked at my vacation pictures I remembered seeing piles of pictures at Bernie's grandmother's house, being sorted by relatives after her funeral. No one knew much about the pictures. Occasionally someone would recognize a relative, or a place. But what was there so important about the scene in the photography that someone had picked up a camera, focused their eye, snapped the pictured, took the film for development, paid for development and then stored the picture for twenty, thirty, or forty years. We would never know what the pictures were all about.
I also remembered my grandparent's seemingly endless slide show of pictures from their trip to Europe back in the mid 1960's.. Wondering if perhaps the pictures include shots of Mannheim, and perhaps pictures of my great grandparent's home in Germany, I asked my mom about the slides. The slides had recently been recovered from storage. There were four boxes, each with one hundred slides. My mom told me the news: Each box was numbered; #1, #2, #3, #4.
There was no other information. Not a jot, not a tiddle.
If there was a slide of the town, or an area, or a view, or a house that my grandfather remembered from his childhood, or a mention during the slide show, no one remembers now. There were 400 slides! Even at 30 seconds per slide, jamming them in and out of the view at break neck speed, it would have taken over two hours to see. No, no one remembers what exactly was said about each slide, save for a heated exchanged between my grandparents over exactly where one particular picture was shot.
The epiphany ripple out through my consciousness. The commandment "Thou shalt make no graven image," was a commandment I was please to have little problem keeping; I rarely worked in sculpture, or sketched people, let alone had adoration for those less than stellar artistic attempts. The concept: "In the beginning was the Word..." I grasped readily. Librarian me embraced words and dedicated myself to professionally caring for and connecting people with "word", and the clarity that words provide that prove that while a picture is worth a thousand words, a picture without words is often worthless.
I'm probably well over a thousand words in this digression from the picture of the mysterious stained glass window that glows from the walls of a church in Zurich. It's mystery inspired me to think. Switzerland is the land of the Reformation; it was within the walls of Grossmunster that a visionary named Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531) argued that the study of the Holy Scriptures and the preaching of the Gospel were to be the focal point of the religious community. It was his arguments that lead to the more famous moment where Martin Luther posted his revolutionary 95 theses on a church door in Germany.
Zwingli's thinking inspired sweeping reforms throughout Europe that went far beyond styles of worship and church governance. As I walked through the gloomy church, with my umbrella leaving drips on the stone floor, it seemed like too silent of a place to have held such a revolutionary generation of thinkers. It seemed so aloof, so cold to have ever been the space where people became avid readers and strident enactors of a new way.
When I knew we were heading to Switzerland, the land of the key players of the Reformation, I thought I should study up on the subject. Church lessons on the Reformation always left me yawning, and the articles and books on the topic seemed littered with maps and frozen statuary. I wondered how the Reformation became so staid in modern writing.
I'll be doing more research on the subject now that I have been to Grossmunster, the "Ground Zero" of the Reformation. I'm hoping to find a historical fiction about the Reformation, and Zwingli to read. And if I don't find a good one, I might just write one myself.
And if takes another trip to Switzerland to write the book...well, I would call that a write off, wouldn't you?
If I remember correctly, this was from the 1300's. It boggles my mind to consider how many eyes have looked at this image of the Madonna and Child. I wonder who the artist was that first brushed the images into place, and chose to make Mary wear red, when later artist always chose blue.
I wondered about the generations of little girls who looked at Mary's crown and baby, and the generations of first time mothers who slung their babies on their hip, and identified a bit more with the Mother of Christ as they passed this niche.

The columns outside were lushly engraved, with a different pattern on the walls behind. One hundred years to build this, how many meetings did it take to decide which designs would be chiseled into the stone?
Grossmuster's bronze doors, created in 1950 by Otto Munch, comprise a theological lecture illustrating particular stories from the Bible. The top two rows of horizontal panels depict the 10 Commandments; the next three pay tribute to the Trinity, (Father, Son and Holy ghost), the second row from the bottom the Lord's Prayer, and underneath, the mother's of Jesus' tree of life.
Enjoy enlarging and testing your knowledge of the Bible by connecting the pictures to the proper Biblical story.
Test the idea of written vs. artistic communication by enlarging my picture of the door and asking someone you know to explain what they think the picture is about.
Directly next to the church was this little shop. Black striped top and orange lettering aside, I was slightly grieved to imagine how Zwingli would react to seeing his name used as for a clothing store of such questionable fashion imagery. I suspect he would approve of the scull motif; it was a popular motif for centuries in churches to remind people of their mortality and the importance of living a life aware of the upcoming judgement of their choices.
Bernie and I talked about how likely it would be six centuries from now for there to be a shop named after say, Billy Graham featuring clothing and no one really having any clue who Mr. Graham was in the late 1900's.
The black and white chevron stripes show up again...St. Gallen had similar shutters, but the zigzags were more regular.
Feel like Mexican food? We were half tempted, just to see how they would make Mexican food in Switzerland; Tex-Mex (yuck), Senora, Baja? Ortega or Pablano chili? Black beans or re fried? (We're all about Mexican food!)
This look has possibilities: Knee length jeans, rolled up cuffs, extremely pointy shoes and fishnet stockings. Huge handbag.
You know, I had never even once in all my fashion musing thought about fishnets stocking with turned up jeans.
I'm sure thinking about them now. (Just thinking...)

One of the current best sellers in the USA is a book called "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle", and it is about a family that decided they would only eat locally grown food to cut down on pollution that results from the fuel used to transport food worldwide.
She (the author of the book) would just hate this window.
She would be heart sick thinking of global warming and the demise of civilization because Zurich people might buy berries grown in Oregon.

I looked at the window and thought "Oregon Berries! I love Oregon! Wonder which town? Wonder who grew them?"
I'm always looking at food labels and marvelling at how many places our foods come from. What better way to foster world peace than by trading and sharing our best and most luscious foodstuffs!

Maybe I should read the book. Then instead of being happy to know that the sour cherries came from Michigan, I can feel alarmed at the pollution that was generated by having them for sale in Zurich.
Zurich, I sure, has local means of getting sour cherries.

(The writing above is yet another example of the two maxim that shapes much of my life:
Ignorance is bliss
Knowledge is power.
In every instance you must decide: Do you want to be powerful or be happy?)

After walking and window shopping, it was getting late and time for dinner. The restaurant "Swiss Chuchi" looked cute inside. Schweins-Bratwurst and noodles for me (28.50 CHF)...
Rindsgeschnetzelte (Goulash) and one last dish of the famous Swiss rosti for Bernie (36.50 CHF)
With two glasses of Valser Naturelle water, 2 decaliters of Binaco del Tici white wine and 1 decaliter (about a quarter cup) of Pankraz red wine, we got out the door for 93 CHF.
About a seventy three USD. It is true, Zurich is one of the most expensive cities in the world.
The restaurant was attached to a hotel, and clearly decorated to give a suitable "Been to Switzerland" feeling, with pictures of men blowing the long Alpine horns and other typical motifs. Even the waiter were dressed in vaguely Swiss Alpine type outfits.
Frankly I was glad to see them at least try to keep up the "traditional" icons of Switzerland for us tourists to enjoy.
It was still raining as we headed back to the hotel.
I always seem to manage to be in jeans and casual clothes when I'm in nice hotel lobbies, like this one was.

The hotel's hallways were amazingly austere. That's the door to our room on the left.
Inside was nice though. I liked the red and gold brocade piece on the bed. Made me less nervous about putting my purse and stuff on the white bedding.
We decided to explore the hotel just a little, and headed down to the lounge, to enjoy an after dinner drink and dessert.
We didn't linger too long...we needed to be out of the hotel by six am to catch our plane. Reluctantly we rode the elevator up to our room, packed our bags and settled in to sleep away our last night in Switzerland.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Switzerland Journal: Day 15 part 1

29 May 2007
Murren, Interlaken, Zurich

It's time to go. Our last breakfast at the Eiger Guesthouse. I'm looking for the word to describe Bernie's expression as he looks at me over his morning espresso. Pensive? Wistful? Contemplative?
I left him to settle the hotel bill while I walked to the other side of the little village to the Ye Old Tourist Trap Shoppe.
(Just kidding, it was actually a quaint souvenir shop. I bought three bandannas, pink, blue and yellow-orange and two hat tack pins.)
On the walk I could see more evidence of the snow storm's damage.
A fog had settled in overnight. It was dense enough that a few times I questioned whether I was on the right street on the way back to the hotel.

I hadn't seen this fire hydrant before! Adorable in the snow, it was probably hidden in grass or something earlier. Glad I decided to make that last minute jaunt.
Our hardworking innkeeper. Her husband had to be gone over the weekend so she was going full tilt the whole time we were there.
My vacation was saved by Alan, her husband, as he had the same camera that I did, and let me use his charger to recharge my camera's battery. Whew!
Across the street we trooped with our luggage to catch the little orange train down the mountain. The flags are the symbols of the cantons or states.

Our view from the train.
The fog was mixed with a light snowfall, and rather like a scene from the old movie "Brigadoon", we watched Murren fade away like a dream as the train carried us away from the magical little town.
Wegan no longer looked like a green summer idle across the valley.
I was delighted by the fog.
Unless I have to drive in fog, I love foggy weather. While I was growing up, near the beach, fog was a regular part of life. Walking in the fog has always been for me a pleasant and soothing experience.

Bernie caught my smile of delight. I've got the window down, enjoying the cold air and the view without window glare.
Occasionally the mist would lift up high and we could see the now throughly snow covered Alps.

Just below the tracks was this rustic shed. The fog lifted for a moment...

...then veiled the scene again.

Bernie was enjoying leaning out of the train to take pictures.
He shot a tiny video of part of our ride, hanging out of the train window. I told him that I thought that having your hands outside the windows would probably be against train policy.
When we got off the train Bernie got a stern and animated lecture from our train driver. The lecture had something to do with having the windows down when the train heat was going, and not leaning out of windows while the train was moving. The train driver looked pretty irritated, he had been most friendly to us on all our other train rides.
Ugly American, that's us. We'll try harder next time we visit.
From the train station we got on the arial tram. My job was to carry the hat box, a back pack and the bottles of water.

Down in Interlaken we watched a group of Japanese visitors debark. The make shift blanket cape was a nice touch.

We had a little layover. One of us would stay with the luggage while the other did some window shopping at Swiss watches and crystals. I must say I have never seen so many variations of orange faced watches.
Bernie caught me having a Nestle Fraiser (Strawberry) ice cream cone. Nestle is a Swiss company, and their frozen ice cream treats are elegant and luscious. The strawberry swirls and whipping cream puffs with a chocolate lined cone was delicious. I had bought one the first day in Murren when it was so hot, and when I saw another one at the train station I had to have it, even if it was cold outside.

Bernie had a bratwurst that smelled wonderful. To give you an idea of the cost of food in Switzerland, I took a picture of the little lunch spot's menu. CHF are worth about 15% more than USD.

Billboards in the station promoting Interlaken. You don't need to sell me; I ready to go there any time!
The marketing to India's travelers was evident.
Bernie thought these billboard ads were interesting, even if we are not sure what was being advertised.

The train trip to our last stop, Zurich, was going to take us across Switzerland, or approximately 3/4 of it. Kate said you can go end to end anywhere in Switzerland by train in four hours.
(Kate: Take the trip to Murren soon! Even if just as a day trip!)
This part of the trip we got a double-decker train. Of course we wanted to ride up top!
All the trains we rode in Switzerland were clean and comfortable. Some of the seats were configured for groups, others two by two facing forward.
A small family took up residence just down the aisle from us, and we watched wide eyed as the two year old ran down the aisle and went between the cars before the parents stood up to corral him. Cute kids, cute parents. Guess they are just more used to train travel than we were!
The view from the train was mostly farm land as we crossed central Switzerland in about two hours on our way to Zurich. No matter where we were, there usually was graffiti along side the train track on the walls. Most of it was quite colorful, and I never did learn if it was merely artistic expression or gang affiliation. I hope it was the former.

It was mid afternoon when we arrived in Zurich's huge train station...I tried to get a shot to capture the feeling of the place but failed miserably. It was clean yet old looking, with lots of people walking briskly or pulling rolling luggage. Shops with flowers and travel needs were scattered through out the station.
We were not sure where our hotel was in relation to the station so Bernie called for a cab. The cabbie was not thrilled when in turned out he only needed to haul us a short quarter mile, even if it was raining.
We checked into the Zurich Marriott, another elegant and modern hotel with lovely staff to assist us. They even called Heidelberg for me to see if they had my battery charger. (They didn't have it, I must have left it in Milan?)
We decided to take a walk around Zurich to see what could be seen within walking distance. As we headed out the doorman offered us each a large umbrella. I was so impressed; later I realized the umbrella had MARRIOTT emblazoned upon it, turning us into advertisement on the hoof. Oh well, at least we were dry.
As usual, I window shopped. Take a closer look at the gentleman's fashion display above.
The shoes. The striped pants. The fabric.
Um. No. Interesting, but no.

We didn't go far before we were looking at a colorful collection of "high rise" buildings.
From anywhere in Zurich you can easily see St. Peters Kirche with its 28 ft. wide clock face, the largest clock face in Europe. Above the clock you can see little windows; there used to be a town watch man who lived above the clock face and who would sound an alarm in case he spotted fire any where in the city.

We were headed to Fraumunster, with it's 13th century building, a nice Gothic church. In the 1970 the artist Marc Chagell had been commissioned to create windows for the presbytery. Below is one window; the windows each had a color theme-yellow, blue, green and so forth. I was not moved, and wandered the building, more taken by the angels adorning the pipe organ pipes in the rear, as seen in the picture above.
The Jewish Chagall was an interesting choice of artist, and he did a respectful job of positioning Christ in the the series of windows.
I just found his artistic sketch style made me feel restless.
Fraumunster's iron door was gorgeous though. At least two stories tall, and horse and carriage wide. Wonder where and when it was made? Anyone know a good research librarian who can find out for me?
From there we crossed the Limmat river to see Grossmunster, the twin domed church in this picture. I'm the person in the lower left, holding the Marriott umbrella as I gawk.
The building with the arches over the water is the Haus zur Ruden, a 17th century guild house. Next door to it, with the red top oriel window, was an 18th century building. Pressed for time, we didn't get to visit either bulilding.
Nor did we get to visit the Wasserkirche, built on the site where Felix and Regula were martyred in Roman times.
Now there's a story for you: Felix and Regula were said to have been members of the Thebaic Legion, a legion which because of it's Christian beliefs had been massacred in Valais towards the end of the 3rd century. Felix and Regula fled to Zurich, and suffered a martyr's death.
(Are you ready for the rest of the story?)
"After the execution they were said to have picked up their decapitated heads and to have ascended 30 yards to the place where they wished to be buried."
(Now there's grit and picky behavior all rolled into one. Like, was the view all that much better 30 yards up the hill?)
"Later, the legend has it, that Charlemagne, being on a hunting expedition, pursued a stag from Aachen (northern Germany) to Zurich. Over the graves of Regula and Felix his horse stumbled; and at this site, Charlemagne founded Grossmunster."
Grossmunster is a hugely important place. I will post the pictures and commentary about Grossmuster on Switzerland Journal: Day 15 part 2 tomorrow, or maybe even later tonight.
I want to do Grossmunster justice by giving it it's own separate post.