28 Dec 2009

Warm feelings

Burp! It seems like the time since my last post has been spent almost exclusively with eating. Christmas dinners with family, Bratwurst & Rösti with pals, coffee and cake with friends and so on - there is no doubt that the past few days were very nourishing for both my body and soul. And tonight, I finally had the pleasure of welcoming my repeat host to Montréal and her boyfriend to our place in Switzerland, and to share an authentic Swiss Fondue with them. It was great to see how my lives on both sides of the Atlantic can overlap like this.

But the warm feelings were not just limited to friendship and hot cheese caquelons. To my embarassment, Switzerland presents itself exceptionally warm and balmy for this time of the year, and unlike most Montréal residents I will have to admit not having had a white Chirstmas. More punishing even, my Québecoise friend commented today that it was even warmer than in London, where she now lives. Combine this with the typical Hochnebel, and you could be excused to think that Zurich was a rather dull place.

Yet as I walked the streets of Zurich yesterday at dusk, crossing the river Limmat and looking over Lake Zurich from Bürkliplatz, the grey cloulds broke close to the horizon to offer a sliver of a view of the alps, all snow-covered and in soft afternoon sunlight, and for just a few minutes as I was strolling up posh Bahnhofstrasse, snowflakes fell. I stopped for an espresso (beautifully served with a glass of water, a little jug of milk and a tiny brownie cube, at 3.5 times the price of a Tim Horton's Double Double), used a perfectly designed and spotlessly clean restroom before getting on an easy-entry tram with interactive displays showing next stations and connections. It was only when the tram stopped at a station and the driver made an announcement that we would be "stopping here for approximately one minute to be aligned to the timetable" that I suddenly looked up and realized that the setting was just too perfect. I had never quite appreciated this before, but at that moment it occured to me that Zurich was like a videoclip - polished into surreality!

Not that I mind at all. In fact I am grateful to have this opportunity to come and "experience" my former home in such an intensive way. And yet I am looking forward to spending a few days up in the alps very soon, where hopefully the only warmth will come from the masses of skiers squeezing into gondolas during the day, and friends sitting around the chalet's fireplace at night. If I'm lucky, I'll get to enjoy alpine bliss until next year!

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18 Dec 2009

Schlussspurt

I am not aware of an adequate translation for the title to this post. But indeed it seems as if the past few weeks went by faster than kids manage to open the little doors on their advent calendars, and now the holidays are almost here. As of today, it seems that the pre-holiday rush is at last giving way to the more laid-back atmosphere of seeing friends, wining and dining out, and generally being merry. The gifts have been bought (or ordered through the web, as you do these days), the Christmas cards sent and the candles lit. Bring out the Glühwein, please.

The falling temperatures (hovering around a cozy -18C as I write) may have encouraged pedestrians to hurry up, but at the same time they seemed to slow down the pace at work, and even those still physically present appear to be mentally away. Over lunch today, a real sit-down one at that, holiday travel plans were discussed and it occured to me that I will for the first time join the cohort of people travelling home for Christmas to see their families. It will be an interesting experience, and I am definitely eager to go, humming sugary Xmas tunes while counting the hours.

Before heading east across the big water though, one last business jaunt will take me west to the Twin Cities early next week (and no, I did not pick the destination because it's home to America's largest shopping mall). I call this my winter wonderland trip, because it will see me attempting two close connections through ORD. I am seriously wondering if I will succeed or be stranded in Chicago along with the masses of holiday travellers - in which case I guess my only hope to get to Switzerland in time for Bescherung would be hitching a ride on Santa's sledge. Unless of course he has had his own run-ins with the vagaries of air travel...

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11 Dec 2009

Spark

Have you ever tried to use your iPhone while wearing gloves? It won't work, unless of course you stitch some conductive thread into your mitten!

This remarkable insight, and many more of an equally Canadian perspective, are the fodder of Spark, a weekly radio show cum podcast cum blog produced by the CBC. It deals with technology and trends that impact the way we live, work and communicate. The hour-long show is entertaining and evocative, trendy and thorough, interactive and insightful, and it has quickly become one of my favorite pieces of "distinctively Canadian content".

The way I consume Spark, as can you, is in itself a sign of how much technology has changed the way we live. Although Spark is still broadcast at a specific time, on a specific frequency, on FM, I just listen to it whenever I feel like it. I have subscribed to its podcast through my Logitech Squeezebox, an amazingly powerful small device linked on one end to my stereo, and on the other into my home WiFi. Thanks to Squeezebox, I can listen to any streaming or podcast content in the world, and easily keep in touch with Swiss news, Argentinian tango and San Francisco Big Band swing. Yes, sometimes technology is magic!

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9 Dec 2009

Jump

It was an unexpected sight, and yet one that was instantly attractive. Shortly after having bought a pass to the vast CEPSUM sports complex I use for swimming, I decided to explore the available facilities a bit. Walking through endless corridors, filled with a sweaty odors emanating from young sporty students, I came past a variety of torture chambers with assorted instruments (treadmills, free weights, climbing walls, Jane Fonda-esque drill sergeants…) before I spotted them: Two full-size, professional trampolines, of the very same kind that I used to compete on, way back in my teenage years as a member of the TV Wislig team. In the long time since then, however, I had not set a foot on any such trampoline, as they are almost impossible to find in regular gyms or open-air sports courts. Seeing them there at CEPSUM, I knew that this would change at last.

As it turned out, you have to attend a trampoline course in order to be accredited as a certified athlete, which then enables you to use the facility at your leisure. Learning that the instructor in that particular course was actually a friend of a friend, I could no longer restrain myself and enrolled for the winter session. And so, one day in September, there I was at that gym, surrounded by nine – decidedly more athletic – students eager to try out this outer-fringe discipline. Cautiously making my first few shy jumps under the auspices of this group, I kept repeating to myself that it was merely a coincidence that most of the other participants were high board divers, ballet dancers or gymnasts…

Typing this post now, three months later, I have survived nine of the ten sessions without injury, and am already a proud holder of an “accreditation aux activités specialisées”. After a rough start, at which my body painfully reminded me of the 11 year hiatus in jumping, I have gradually been achieving my overall objective, which unlike the one of my course mates, consisted mainly of having fun re-learning the basic skills I once posessed. And as a pleasant side effect, I can now name many more body parts and postures in French! Although of course I prefer not to comprehend that “double salto” thing in any language…

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1 Dec 2009

Advent

And then, suddenly, it was December. After a mildly crazy November, with three trips to the U.S. and two friends visiting on weekends, I woke up this morning to the first day of the last month. When I opened the blinds, bleary-eyed still, and looked out over my balcony, there they were: Snowflakes dancing in the sky, gently swaying in the morning breeze on the way to the ground. After an apparently record-braking November without snow, the timing was absolutely perfect to dress the cityscape in a festive little white coat.

The instant Christmas-ification did not stop there. Various Christmas lights and decorations, some of distinctively North American colorfulness, went on around my neighborhood at dusk, and a supersized Tangerine-hued Christmas tree now adorns the lobby of our office (along with thick carpets to absorb the slush carried in from the street, but that's another story). The playlists on local radio and in stores have undergone a dramatic change, and I am still debating whether to love or to hate the fact that the inevitable Last Christmas seems to be just as popular here as it is in Europe.

When I dragged my visitor through downtown shops on the weekend, hunting for these authentic / unusual / charming / inexpensive! gifts to bring to Switzerland, I still did so in a strictly functional "lets-get-it-done" mood, vowing to do even more shopping on the web next time. But today, everything has changed: I have officially entered the 24 days of Christmas, touched my first Canadian snow, put the infamous Xmas is Olimade compilation on the home stereo, and set up my Christmas decoration (very zen, of course). The theme will continue with the corporate Christmas Holiday party on Friday, and on December 6, I am invited to dinner at Swiss friends here. Naturally, every Swiss child will recognize that date. Ho! Ho! Ho!

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