30 December 2014

Houses without names

"Oh, the Schmids have repainted their shutters", I thought when seeing the bright green paint on a walk through the neighborhood. To recover from the jetlag of my flight to Switzerland, I'd decided to go for a stroll through the village I grew up in, and where we still have a home.

Building on an entire childhood's worth of memories, the streets and shortcuts are intimately familiar, and so are the families living in every building. Looks like the Römers must have gotten a new car, the Langs seem to have added a shed and here is the swingset on which I used to play with the Stein sisters. I wonder why they didn't take it down in all this time?

The answer was different from what I had expected. A few days later, while sticking to the Christmas catch-up tradition of going on a hike with the two sisters, I found out that their family no longer lives in that house. After the sisters had moved out, their parents decided to get a smaller condo in a bigger town, and a new young family has since taken over their former home. My mom told me that the Lang family had also left, and we wondered if the Schmids were still there.

It is natural for things to change, and it makes perfect sense for older couples to move out of a big family home after all the kids have gone. And yet, walking through my old town with a sentimental mindset, I had taken strange comfort in the fact that I knew the names and faces attached to most of these houses, and played in their courtyards and living rooms, even had been at sleepovers in many. It was one of the distinguishing features between the village and the big city I live in now, where I barely know the names of the two families sharing my own roof, never mind the neighbors.

Now these houses have no names any more - not to me, anyways. It's not exactly like finding out that Santa isn't real, but there was some disentchantment nonetheless.

All the more soothing, then, to visit the good friend who has moved to the tiniest of alpine hamlets, in the scenic lower Engadine valley and in spitting distance from the Austrian and Italian borders. His village looks like out of a picture book, and it hosts an intact and vivid community. Not only does everyone know everything about everyone, they also get together all the time for all sorts of activities. What started as a matter of survival in a largely self-sufficient, rural alpine environment has become one of the key attractions to the people who today elect to reside in the village, instead of moving to bigger towns with more action.

A visitor from far-away lands is immediately noticed, but once the sniff test has been passed, one is free to enjoy the peace and quiet of country living, the occasional sneaky look from behind a curtain notwithstanding.

As much as my friend enjoyed visiting me in the city earlier this year, I enjoy the cozy hospitality of his town now. The liberty and ouverture d'esprit in Montréal are ultimately what I prefer. But on a snowy walk through the picturesque lanes and alleys today, I noticed that they do not come with names or numbers here. It's unnecessary. Here, the houses stil have names.

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12 December 2014

365 / 365

If you think that the frequency of posts to this blog has declined, you are not mistaken. There's a reason for that: I have had a bit of trouble keeping my head above the water. In fact, I've really gone in deep. And on purpose.

Last year's experiment with setting an athletic goal has gone rather well, so the temptation was there to have another go this year. Of course, a simple repeat of last year's quest to run 21km nonstop would have been rather dull - although it did get ticked off in 2014 as well.

Early in the year, a new challenge had to be found. I decided to think about it the way I often seek inspiration: I went swimming. And that's where it hit me: Why run around in the distance, when good things lie nearby? Like this pool at the YMCA I had just started using. I could come here more often.

Some mental math followed, and by the time that day's swim was done, an objective for 2014 was found. This year, I would swim one kilometer per day. On average, of course. But it still meant diving in frequenty, and keeping up the distance. A spreadsheet was created, and tracking started.

While I enjoy doing my laps, the new-found objective, and especially the steadily climbing target line on the time graph in my spreadsheet, certainly kept me motivated. Travel often saw me fall behind the required pace, while sunny summer weeks had me catching up quickly at parc Jean-Drapeau. Swimming out a lead over the "day of the year" line became quite satisfying. And this week, with just over 20 days in the year to go, I have reached my goal.

In 86 sessions, I've swam 365 kilometers. That's further than from Montréal to Québec or from Zurich to Milan. I prefer not to calculate how many laps it meant - but they certainly felt good.

Unlike running, which is a high impact sport and has left discernable pains in my knees in weeks of intense practice, I have yet to experience any negative effects of swimming, aside perhaps from a lingering scent of chlorine on my skin. It's relaxing, it allows me to think freely, and it is said to be good for me.

There will probably be a few more swims before the year is out, but I will allow myself a bit of a cookies-and-eggnog break for the holidays. A new year will be here soon, and with it a new challenge. I'll take the plunge!

N.B. Image for illustrative purposes only. Actual author may vary.

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