24 Sept 2009
The last party I (co-)hosted took place on the 21st of March at the CORD Estate - The Provincial in Winterthur. The mood on that occasion, while being festive, was also a bit nostalgic, for the event was the closing down of said CORD Estate, and the end of a very enjoyable chapter of my life.
It was high time then to formally open a new chapter, and last Saturday, pretty much half a year later, I finally did so by hosting my housewarming party, or pendaison de crémaillère, at the all new CORD Estate - Le Mont Royal. I wasn't quite sure what, or even whom, to expect, given that most of the people I had invited were really very "new" friends, people I had only met over the last few months here in Montréal. Would people even show up, I wondered while chilling wine and opening family-sized bags of chips and pretzels.
And then they came. Two at first, then some more, then yet even others and others more... friends, friends of friends, colleagues, people I met here and there. Before I knew it, my living room was full of laughter, joy, and spirited, trilingual discussion. Drinks flowed, nibbles were gobbled down, and a merry mood installed itself - most of all probably in myself. How I had missed the social activity, it occured to me, and how grateful I was to feel that yes, there was now a select group of people in Montréal that I had built a rapport with. With the days getting colder and shorter, and my best local friend leaving for a three year sojourn in London tomorrow, this is a very comforting thought.
It was certainly not the last party the Le Mont Royal will see, and my social agenda will be further enriched by good friends from California and Switzerland visiting over the next few weeks (the latter with the distinct honor of testing out my Sweet Swedish Sleeper sofabed...). Me, on the other hand, I'll sink into a Heavenly Bed this weekend, courtesy of a global hotel chain battling the recession. I'll just call it competitive benchmarking!
21 Sept 2009
For those of you with at least a basic understanding of Schwyzertütsch, here's a TV program worth considering: "Auf und davon" is a five part series following Swiss emigrants as they leave their native country and seek their fortune elsewhere. Once they have aired, all five episodes can be watched online.
From Australia to Venezuela and from Dubai to, yes, Canada, the portrayed families make very different experiences, to at least some of which I can now relate given my own recent relocation (although I'd like to think that I went about this with a bit less naivety than some of the TV cast). Funnily enough, the guy moving to Congo to teach journalism there happens to have been one of my professors back at university when I was studying communication sciences. It seems that his teaching style has not changed much, and I wonder if his faux jovial attitude is more successful in Africa than it was in Winterthur?
Will the golf course groundkeepers from Aargau prevail as cattle farmers in Manitoba (at least they probably wear white socks and sandals there, too)? How will the Emirates pilot's family fare in the desert Disneyland of Dubai? And can a RhB train driver really expect to have his real estate transactions honoured in Hugo Chavez' banana republic? Me, I'll stay tuned!
P.S. Did I already mention that I caved in and have added the "Uf und dervo" theme song to my repertoire, previously stricly off limits to singing Büezer Gölä?
16 Sept 2009
We had talked about it for years. No, really! From the time I first stayed with them in Montréal back in 2003, my friend Valérie and her parents kept inviting me to their country house out in the cantons de l'est, the pittoresque area southeast of Montréal with its abundance of lakes, rolling hills, open countryside and relaxed little towns. After all this time, I finally managed to accept the invitation last weekend, and when I picked up Valérie and her friend of the same name on Saturday morning, the feeling of anticipation was almost palpable. Under deep blue skies, we drove across the Pont Champlain and into the region which, over the course of its rich history, had variously been known as l'Estrie and The Eastern Townships. The latter name recalls the considerable influx of English loyalists fleeing across the border when those unruly people down south decided to break their links with the British crown. Their influence remains visible in the distinctively New England-looking villages, and the division of the lands, which follows the English township model rather than the French seigneuries in the rest of Québec.
Today, the cantons de l'est are dotted with Montrealers' country houses, or chalets, to one of which we pulled up after a ninety minute drive. My friends' chalet turned out to be a beautiful, airy two-storey house on a large and secluded plot of land, with a big garden and its own little pier on the shore of a lake. It was easily able to accomodate the five of us, and over the two days our hosts seemed to produce a never-ending stream of gourmet meals in its kitchen while the Valéries and I indulged in the dolce far' niente pleasures of boating on the lake, walking in the forrest and playing competitive Scrabble (in French, since you asked. And yes, I won the final round... ;-)
No less enjoyable were the little excursions to the neighboring towns of Knowlton, Magog, and North Hatley, which were linked by splendid and uncongested country roads, over which I piloted my oversized rental car with great pleasure. Occasional drives like these offer so much more Freude am Fahren than the daily commutes in rush-hour traffic I was subjected to in Switzerland, even if GM's gas-guzzling monstrosity was not as sporty as a neat little German roadster could have been.
One highlight no European visitor to the Eastern Townships should miss is the Abbaye St. Benoît, an abbey which was only built last century, and with its sixties' style pseudo-antique architecture easily supports all European preconceptions about these culture-less peoples overseas. The abbey's horrible website will give a good impression of what to expect. It is noteworthy though that the monks have also embraced America's entrepreneurial spirit: The abbey's large shop was teeming with people bringing out the credit cards to buy an abundance of St. Benoît-branded food items, from cheeses to maple tartlets and candy. All the little devotionals which were equally available, however, were blissfully ignored by the masses.
All in all, the weekend in the countryside was fabulous and will hopefully be repeated soon. Maybe even with some more hiking and some less feasting... ;-)
9 Sept 2009
So here I am again, 13'181 miles (ah, sorry, 21'213km in metric Canada) and many wonderful memories later. Although too short to be really relaxing, my vacation back in Switzerland was very enjoyable and refreshing. It was absolutely wonderful to see so many friends and family members again (including a recently born addition to our family - we are still trying to determine the actual degree of relatedness!) and to indulge in some Swiss culinary highlights. Most of all though, I enjoyed to just belong.
Back at the office today, I had a conversation with a coworker who had spent several years living in Germany, and he too experienced what for me was a novel aspect of live abroad: The awkward feeling of returning to your native country, which used to be the end of all trips, for a limited time "vacation" only. Indeed, the knowledge that my time in Switzerland was so limited seemed to intensify my experiences there a lot, and I'll definitely need some more time to get used to thinking of Zurich as a "destination". In fact, when (once again) I learned that my bag had not made it to Zurich at the same time I did, I initially just shrugged and thought to accept next day delivery. But after a second I came to realize that this was no longer my home, and I was consequently in need of an overnight kit from the airline! (As an aside, the nice canvas pouch Swiss provided makes for a perfect and stylish laptop bag now.)
Going back to Montréal was probably the most awkward moment of all: Never before had I boarded a flight from "home" to "home". While sad to leave Switzerland, I was also looking forward to returning to the life I have established for myself in Canada. With perfect blue skies, leaves quickly turning colorful and social life back at full throttle as universities reopen, Montréal seems to exploit these last few warm weeks before the cold rolls in. Time to go countryside then - a chalet in the Cantons de l'Est awaits me this weekend!
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