19 Jun 2012

Badi

For those speaking Swiss German, Badi evokes summer like few other words. For those who don't, it is very difficult to translate. The German Freibad, English outdoor pool and even the French piscine de plein air all describe a swimming pool under the open sky. But they fall woefully short of capturing the entire concept that Badi entails.

For it is a quintessential ritual that goes far beyond taking the plunge in a public pool. In summer, the Badi is the place to be - and every semi-decent Swiss town has got one. Unlike their counterparts in other countries, Swiss outdoor baths typically come complete with large areas of lawn, where families set up camp on a few blankets, and they all inevitably include an ice cream stand. If you're lucky, your local Badi sports further attractions such as a water slide or a beach volley court. It's not just a concrete-framed pool.

As as toddler, I would frolic in the wading section while dad was patiently sitting on the edge. A few seasons later, my bright orange swimmies kept my self-esteem afloat, as I crossed the entire width of the basin before duly being rewarded with ice cream by my mum. Soon after, with joining the local swim team I learned not just to do full laps without swimmies, but also to use the washrooms. ;-) And yet, although I am certain today's kids also pee in the pool, I live to tell.

By the time I had reached high school, buddies had replaced parents in the Badi equation, and we would spend countless free afternoons lazing on the lawn, every so often venturing out to the volley courts, only to find that our chemistry textbooks had still not been stolen by the time we returned. The laws of physics, in the light of some teenage girls' bikinis, had lost all credibility anyways.

With adulthood came more responsibility, but less time, leading to frequent and widespread complaints about the fact that it was already the middle of June and we'd only made it to the Badi twice so far. Between a more rational mind and being charged full price, we had stopped buying season passes.

But yesterday, I returned to the Badi. I swam a few laps in the summer sun, laid my blanket down on the lawn, sat and surveilled the scene. I saw toddlers stumbling towards the wading pool. Kids shouting and playing as they raced down the water slide. Teenagers engaged in an applied biology lesson. Grown-ups making for the shade so they could see the screens of their iPhones. All nostalgic, I realized how much time I'd spent in the Badi, and how much I had longed to relive this summer ritual. There was only one last thing missing. I bought ice cream.

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8 Jun 2012

Vélo Rallye

It was an assault in broad daylight - and by two colleagues from our brand marketing department, no less. "We're sure you are a cyclist", they cornered me as I entered the cafeteria. Clearly, they were up to no good. So I declined: "Oh no. I only ride my Bixi". Wrong answer. The two were looking for an additional team member in our company's Bixi Ralley squad, and I had just qualified.

In the little village I grew up in, there has long been an annual family event called the Velorally. One fine day in May, friends and families get together in small teams, saddle their bikes and embark on a circuit course through the area's vales and dales. Along the way, they must stop at various posts, where fun and quirky challenges have to be tackled. The team earning the most points in these challenges, regardless of how fast they were on the circuit, is eventually proclaimed the winner, once the entire village has gathered in the schoolyard with grilled sausages and beer. The Velorally was a highlight in the town's calendar, and one of the few times yours truly joyfully got out his bike.

This year, and without any involvement on my part, the very same concept has arrived in Montréal. Appropriately corporatized, it now involves company teams raising money for a good cause. And because city dwellers cannot be expected to own their own bikes, the Rallye Montréal Inc. uses the ubiquitous Bixi bikes. For my employer, this was a welcome opportunity to raise brand awareness in our home town, and so five of us gathered one sunny afternoon in the old port. Sporting bright purple jerseys, emblazoned with our logo, we were ready to defend the company's renown.

My team mates were all serious cyclists, and their legs had visibly pedaled a lot further than mine ever will. I, however, was the only one who had been on a Bixi before, and mastery of the 20kg, three-speed, urban-proof contraption turned out to be instrumental in navigating the city's bike paths, potholes and motorized traffic along our 20km circuit. In the various challenges, from playing Twister to memorizing trivia off toilet paper rolls, each of us found opportunities to excel (and otherwise) - it felt like I was right back in our little village race. In the end, as we all gathered back in the schoolyard planetarium, there were even snacks and beer.

Once again, the Velorally made for a merry day in May. And as for our corporate reputation - well, let's just say there is now a new metric for 2013 performance improvement.

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