27 Jun 2010

Plan B

"Swiss time is running out", a line in Deep Purple's smash hit "Smoke on the water" goes. How true. In what seemed like a heartbeat, an intense but throughly enjoyable week in the alpine country has gone by, and I am once again typing this high above the Atlantic (it's LX86 in this direction, if you care to know). Unfortuntely, even the masters of watchmaking can't stop the time from passing, no matter how much one would sometimes like to do that. But by the same token, it won't be too long until my next visit is due. Then, I will be bearing Chirstmas gifts.

If nothing else, a lack of time serves as a great motivator to make the most of the few moments at hand. Which was part of the reason for me to invite my dear friends to a relaxed mini party at a Winterthur lounge bar the night of my birthday. What better way to celebrate than amidst people I hadn't seen in such a long time? That the venue of choice, an old favorite from my student days, is called "Plan B" only seemed appropriate under the circumstances: Not that my guests were B-list, of course. But for all I remain committed to my Plan A in Canada, it seems both fulfilling and reassuring to nurture friendships that are no longer around the corner.

As I've come to realize, time is a key ingredient in growing these social roots. Looking at the merry gathering of friends that night, it occurred to me that they represent the best and dearest of each of the past few "chapters" in my life. Some I've first met as much as 20 years ago, others only just before I left Europe. It's hard to say what exactly made each of them stick to me, but I am very grateful that they did. And I wish I would have had the time to catch up with each of them for hours on end.

Another thought also crossed my mind - and it was no less reassuring than the turnout that night: If it took 15 years to build such a strong and amicable network of friends, isn't it only logical that, after just a bit more than a year in the new world, I should not yet expect the same? Instead, I shall carefully hedge and nourish the sprouts and seedlings that there are - and a full bloom should ensue in time.

Until then, I am happy for Plan A and Plan B to overlap a bit: After taking Montreal friends to Switzerland last winter, Swiss visitors continue to book trips to Canada at an almost monthly interval. Together, they will ensure that this latest chapter in my great adventure is sufficiently intertwined with the preceding ones. And while the ending is still unplanned, I am keen to write the next page.

It's time.

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19 Jun 2010

Fly by night

A while ago, film director Marc Forster, of James Bond fame, produced a short feature as part of a PR stunt for Swiss International Air Lines. It was entitled "LX40", after the flight number between Zurich and Los Angeles, Forster's trunk route.

Well, for me it would be LX87. That's the direct flight between Montreal and Zurich, and on its mighty wings I am currently crossing the Atlantic Ocean enRoute ;-) to Switzerland. Homebound, as I am tempted to write - but then again I am not completely certain on which end of LX87 home really is. If home is where your life is happening, where your thoughts, worries and pleasures are most of the time, then I can safely say that I've just taken off from that place. But if home is where your roots are, where everything is intimataly familiar and where you can meet up in a cozy corner with old friends, then I am still 3715km away from the place. And if home is where the heart is? Then let's just say the middle of the Atlantic Ocean feels like a very turbulent and desolate place.

Not that I'd be alone up here, of course. In fact, LX87 is rather crowded once again, which is why Swiss had to change my seat assignment - duly forward. In consequence, I am typing this properly wined and dined, and relaxing in a halfway comfortable space (although, if I were to be picky, I'd complain about the decade-old seat configuration on this particular aircraft). But even if I had a fully flat First Class seat at my disposal (as was the case upon my last renconrtre with LX87), the potential for rest would be limited by my biorythm: LX87 departs Montreal around 5pm local time, and takes about 6.5 hours to reach its destination. In other words, it touches down around midnight Montreal time. Between 6pm and midnight, I am not usually asleep in my own bed, much less so on an airplane - no matter how comfortable the seat.

So I stay awake, only to arrive in Zurich wonderfully tired, merry and ready for my childhood bed. Which would be perfect, if not for a minor detail: At that point, it's 6am in Zurich, and the busy Swiss are up and awake for a new day. But no matter how excited I'll be to have arrived, if there's one thing that I've learned to appreciate in Montreal, it is the beauty of sleeping in and having a leisurely brunch around mid-day. With freshly baked Zopf, hot chocolate and Swiss yogurt, what could be a better way to start a vacation?

3256km to go...

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9 Jun 2010

Capital

It's a compliment and a condemnation at the same time. A few years ago, when a good friend and I first visited the squeaky-clean Canadian capital, we both could not help but compare the city to its Swiss counterpart. Both cities are pretty, easily walkable, well-groomed, relaxed... and just a bit boring. They also both suffer from serious lack of international awareness. (Quick! Name the Canadian and the Swiss capital!)

Crucially, they both owe their status to a 19th century compromise. In the case of Switzerland, the nascent confederation after 1848 had to pick between the candidate cities of Zurich (too big and flamboyant), Lucerne (centrally located, but small and catholic) and Berne (close to the French speaking areas and sleepy enough to suit a government ;-). Obviously, being chosen boosted the bernois self-esteem, and today's extrovert mayor frequently overlooks a small detail: In true Swiss modesty, Berne was bestowed the title of federal city, but not capital - Switzerland officially has none.

Canada, however, does. Ottawa was chosen by Queen Victoria in 1857 as the capital of the Province of Canada, and even the mighty Queen had compromise in mind. She was trying to strike a balance between the rivalling anglophone Upper and francophone Lower Canada, between which the capital had tumultously shifted back and forth. The small logging and shipping town on the Ottawa river had two added benefits: It sat at the entrance to the strategically important Rideau Canal, and was further away from the American border than Montréal, Toronto or Québec. With the war of 1812 still fresh on British minds, a safe distance from the rebellious Yankees down south was deemed a wise precaution.

Queen Victoria's pick transformed the sleepy city into... ahem, a beautiful and expensively built sleepy city, complete with it's own mini-version of Westminster. Even the bells on the parliament's tower sound like their big brothers back on the Thames, and must have been a comfort to colonial masters on their northern adventure. Visitors today, such as my German friends and I this past weekend, can marvel at lampposts ornated with golden Maple Leaves, enjoy a selection of well-appointed museums or wander through streets in the Embassy neighborhood, eventually ending up at 24 Sussex Drive, the Canadian couterpart to 10 Downing Street.

Other than lobbists, tourists and the students attending the city's two universities, it is mainly government employees that can be seen around town. Right upon the first visit, I noticed that the fashion accessory of choice during lunch break on Sparks street was the government picture ID dangling from your belt. And when I attended a wedding reception in town this weekend, a significant percentage of the other attendees were employed by the big Maple Leaf and had followed the call to Ottawa from all corners of Canada. Though technically, the happy couple does not actually live in Ottawa, Ontario, but across the bridge in adjoining Gatineau, Québec. And while the two cities are very closely linked, there is no doubt that a provincial border separates them: In Gatineau, the Maple Leaf lampposts are replaced by... typical Québec potholes!

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