Monthly Archives: March 2012

Pierre Gianadda Museum

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I’ve dipped my toes into Life of Pi. I read a third of it today, and I’m loving it. I’m usually a little apprehensive about the books that I’m being forced to read, but it’s not bad at all. I’m liking it. I sat outside in the sun reading it today. The morning was beautiful here, in the afternoon it started to rain. It’s the first time in 4 weeks here that we’ve had rain. It’s a dry climate. Some parts of the book are SO hilarious. He starts talking about how Hindus are like hairless Christians, who are like hat-wearing Muslims, who are like bearded Hindus. You can get away with all sorts of things in fiction. I mean, that’s neither logical nor politically correct, but it made me laugh today. Good times. This is what he writes about atheists and agnostics, [peculiar lot]:

“I felt a kinship with him. It was my first clue that atheists are my brothers and sisters of a different faith, and every word they speak speaks of faith. Like me, they go as far as the legs of reason will carry them–and then they leap. I’ll be honest about it. It is not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for a while. We must all pass through the garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played with doubt, so must we. If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”    -Yann Martel Life of Pi

Today my parents took me to the Pierre Gianadda Museum in Martigny. It was awesome! My other siblings didn’t want to go, so they stayed home. [Parents all to myself! Woohoo!] It was what I would rank as a cool museum. No bones about it, there were no skeletons and zoological relics of that sort which aren’t interesting (not for me anyhow). There were ruins from the ancient Romans, and pieces of things from that era. There was the art of Picasso, Van Gogh, Cezanne, even a self-portrait by Bacon. There was also many, many paintings by important 17th century French and Italian painters whose names I really should have recognized. I felt so legit seeing all the paintings by Picasso. I’m in Europe where they keep the real stuff. You can keep the Mammoth teeth, Canada, we have paintings from the Renaissance. Then there was the outdoor part where they kept sculptures. There was a massive thumb! It was over 10 feet tall. It was intense! It was cool walking outside in the rain through the bamboo.

This is the well known sculpture by Rodin. I saw the real thing myself! C’etait tellement cool!

This is the self-portrait of Francis Bacon. Maybe he could stick to science? Darn those Renaissance men. Worse than multi-instrumentalists. I will confess to pondering the “should I/shouldn’t I” of self-portraiture.

Good old Picasso.

This is the big thumb.

Underneath the museum there were classic cars. “Classic” meaning EXACTLY like the movies. There were probably 60-70 of these. There were the different models produced in Switzerland, and a few from France, Belgium, Italy and the likes.

It was basically like one big candy store.

They don’t really celebrate St. Patrick’s day here. They have St. Joseph’s day tomorrow. Everyone has the day off school and work. Awesome. Who would have known that Christianity being the conquering religion would mean pagan holidays becoming days for Saints which would mean more holidays? This is boss! I was able to explain to my family the ins and outs of St. Patty’s with a little help of facebook pictures. So. These are my friends drunk pictures. Always priceless.

The Ball

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As I rode the bus home from school on Friday, I noticed the music store window was devoid of its ukuleles. Sigh of happiness. I miss my guitar and ukuleles so much, but I think it’s a blessing in disguise. I don’t start doing late night songwriting. I get more sleep this way, and I can pull off more courageous feats in the daytime.

My life is epic. Sometimes I have soundtrack music piling up on the inside of my ears.

Yesterday was the school ball. I almost didn’t go. I’d had a long, relatively rough day. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bad day, just long, and difficult at certain points. I hadn’t realised that 3 months exactly had passed since Becky passed away. [it feels weird to say that]. I only realised that in the afternoon, at the back of my french class. It hit me in a strange way. The French around me stopped computing itself into my brain. I felt my eyes go a little watery. Then I thought to myself, I wish I could just go into my creative writing teacher’s office and cry for 15 minutes and then I’d be good again. For the last 20 minutes of class I was wiping the corners of my eyes. I haven’t told anyone in my class what happened. It’s just one of those hard things to drop in a conversation. “Oh yeah by the way…”

I assumed that I was overtired and was full intending on not going to the Ball. Instead, I told my family I had a rough day, and took a nap. Actually the best part of my day was probably coming through the door and getting a hug from my dad, and later getting mom-consolation. She says three months is really not a lot of time. Frig. I’m so spoiled here. I love my parents here so much. I call them Papa and Maman (the equivalents of Mom and Dad) all the time. I think the kids find that a little strange, but I’m remorseless. I ended up having a nap and going to the ball anyways. From 9:00 to 12:00 I’m dancing it up in the same dress I wore to the funeral, thinking Dammit Becky you’d be proud. Grief is a many feathered bird.  These were my feathers tonight:

It was a masked ball, masks were mandatory. I bought this one at the entrance for 5 Francs. It’s different here, you don’t buy a ticket, but you do pay for stuff like masks and voting for a prom king and queen.

I had a great time. It’s fun to be jiving with the same mathy nerds who explained chemistry to you so many times when you sat there feigning comprehension. My classmates are always really nice to me. Classes are different here. When you’re in grade 9 you pick a stream which you’re in until you graduate. Your class is composed of the same 24 ish people for the whole 5 years. The only exception is when a person fails a year, then they repeat that year in the class of younger students and go from there. One of the upsides is everyone knows everyone well, and there’s no clickiness. I actually had such a great time dancing with my class. Once again I’m disappointed by the amount of North American influence on their dance music. In one song, it was French, with an accordion in the dance mix. I thought it was awesome. I’m in Europe, where’s my European trance music? There was the familiar scourge of the loathsome LMFAO. There was Coldplay, Paradise, Fix You. We even were dancing to the Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show music. It turned into a dance mix punctuated by the meepmeeps. heehee. It was awesome. They sell alcohol at their school dances here too. Beer, vodka, rum, and then another list of German things, the names of which I didn’t recognize. Because their school is 4 stories tall (5 if you count the lockers downstairs, 6 if you count the exam rooms at the very top) people can go to the second floor in order to overlook the dance floor. I guess it’s a cool thing to drop your alcohol on the people dancing below? I got a bunch of different things sprinkled on me. Each time I felt some sort of liquid sprinkling onto my arms and shoulders I would smell it. It was different each time. In some places the dance floor was sticky, and in other places there were shards of plastic cups. I had a great time. Like a nun. I had my earplugs so I was fully invested in my surroundings.

I would say the most absolutely priceless part of the night was DEFINITELY that professor who was dressed down in white with a Jester mask. He was shameless, and completely committed to his dancing. He was right in among the kids holding his own. It’s just so funny to see the same teacher who led a troop of students up and down a mountain fully involved in the dancing also. The long grey hair coming out the back of his Jester headpiece was priceless. Combine that mental image with the sort of dance moves that could only come from someone over 50. Yes you can see my amusement.

Sometimes the music that gets onto European radios here is astonishing. As I blog I’m listening to Ballerina Girl by Lionel Richie. I’ve figured it out: the songs which have done well in North America over the last 30 years or so are the ones which reappear over here. When it comes to the major artists of North America (Gaga, Bieber, Swift, Black Eyed Peas), only their overplayed songs in North America are played here.

Münster

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Yesterday when I was in Bern, the best part of the trip (for me anyways) was certainly the Münster Cathedral. It was massive, ornate, and breathtaking. We were given a few hours of free time, to go shopping, or to explore the city. I wanted to visit the Cathedral. It’s so cool to be walking around in something older than the name of your own country. It’s construction began in 1421. It was amazing. To all of you who have never stepped inside a European Cathedral, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s amazing. There was an option to climb one of the towers. My heights-afraid friends didn’t want to. They went and did some shopping and let me climb to the belfries for over an hour. It was 200 steps, I was told. The tower is 330 feet tall, and I climbed it. Oui Monsieur! I climbed her myself. It was the day after I had snowshoed up and down a mountain in 6 hours, and I still wasn’t vertically deterred. Now I can say I’ve climbed the tallest Cathedral in Switzerland! It was beautiful.

I am so glad I took European History last semester in school, it gave me a bunch of background about what I’m living in now. I went and read up on the history of Bern during the Protestant Reformation. It really intrigued me. Apparently when the bubonic plage hit Bern in 1526 it converted more and more people to the Reformation, so much so that in 1528 they threw out all the icons and stopped all masses. That didn’t last forever. Social mood is a pendulum.

It was fun climbing the stone spiral staircases, having no awareness of what altitude I was at. Once I was a few stories above every other rooftop in the city, I lost my points of reference. All I knew is I was getting higher and higher. There were windows, (without glass. literally wall-absences) which were almost the same height as me, going from ankle level to above my head. My only consolation was that they were too small for me to fit through. It’s unnerving, having open air between you and a few hundred feet. I’m getting better psychological control. I believe you can miss out on some of life’s experiences if you let fear creep into your mind. Yep, it certainly was frightening to keep going up and up the tower. I was wondering if the top would ever come, or if you’d just walk up until the walls around you stopped ascending also. It feels good to have 330 feet under my belt. (I just realised that if someone was translating that through google translate, it wouldn’t be a very smooth translation. You like the feeling of having 330 feet under your belt why?)

At the different landings, on the way up the tower, there were different things on the walls like this.

The belfries were amazing! There were two levels of belfries, the upper and lower belfries. The height in between both layers was probably the same as two floors. The bells were MASSIVE. The upper belfries had 9 bells, and the lower belfries had 3. The big white bell at the top was probably 8 feet in diameter. It’s intense. It’s no wonder why you can hear them all through the city. This one had a diameter of about two armslengths, and it was so intricate. It’s really quite stunning.

I had a great time at the Münster Cathedral. I loved it.

I rode the train back from Bern to Sion, going through a 20 minute tunnel through a mountain. My ears popped because of the air pressure difference on the inside of a mountain. It was so neat.

My dad came and picked me up from the train station on his motorcycle. As I sat on the back, my hair was flying from beneath my helmet, and we were whizzing through the little streets of Europe, and I was asking myself, “Could my life get any better right about now?” I told you my day was epic. My smile was legitimately as wide as it was the day I saw Owl City live. It’s the only time since then which has paralleled that day in it’s sheer exhilaration. I could have been getting mosquitos stuck in my teeth for all I cared, but they don’t have those here. I can still close my eyes and remember hanging on to my dad as we whizzed up the little winding roads to my house on the mountainside. My life is awesome.

We did rock-wall climbing today in gym class again. This time, I pulled my courage from the other half of the room, (by the ear) and made myself climb it again. This time, instead of only getting 5 feet up, I climbed to the very top.

Sometimes I make myself lists of things to think through. I was in the middle of doing that today when I realised the irony of it all. While it doesn’t surprise me that I’m thinking a year ahead, it’s still a little excessive.

Tonight my family lit three candles on our balcony, which will burn all through the night. Everyone here is doing that tonight, because there was a horrible bus accident in this village two days ago. Twenty-four 12 yr olds died. One candle is for the children who died. One is for the children who are in the hospital. One is for the people who are working, the caregivers, doctors and paramedics. I can’t help but wonder why life is tragic. I mean, there’s now a bunch more families dealing with what mine is. Why do that many more people have to lose a sister? A brother?

Yeah This Is Home.

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 I’ve got my memories
Always inside of me
But I can’t go back
Back to how it was
I believe you now
I’ve come too far
No I can’t go back
Back to how it was
Created for a place I’ve never known

This is home
Now I’m finally where I belong
Where I Belong
Yeah, this is home
I’ve been searching for a place of my own
Now I’ve found it
Maybe this is home
This is home

And I got my heart set on what happens next
I got my eyes wide it’s not over yet
We are miracles and we’re not alone

And now after all my searching
After all my questions
I’m gonna call it home
I’ve got a brand new mindset
I can finally see the sunset
I’m gonna call it home

Thanks to Switchfoot for speaking my mind. Yeah, this is home.

I don’t know if my day could have possibly been more epic than it was. Put on your helmet, and let me tell you all about it: Please note that this is part one of two. The majority of epicness is not covered in this episode, and rather than be like the melodramatic CSI shows which leave you hanging at the beginning of EVERY commercial, I thought I’d tell you straightforward that:

Out of the tree of life, I just picked me a plum.
You came along and everything started to hum.
Still it’s a real good bet,
The best is yet to come. -Frank Sinatra

I spent the day in Bern. It’s a beautiful city. It’s so much fun riding the Swiss trains. They take off so smoothly, you can’t even tell you’re moving. I love the feeling. A friend of mine and I had taken the wrong place inside one of the trains accidentally. We were in first class, with second class tickets. The controller-lady was so nice to us. She told us she’d make an exception today.

We went to visit the Museum Für Kommunikation. It was neat. I guess it would have been more interesting for a person who enjoys things like visiting the old-age homes for decrepit technology, veterans though they be. I took this photo because the radio here is the cousin of the radio which belonged to my grandparents. My dad INSISTED we keep it. I didn’t see the rationale behind keeping this Jurassic type radio, but I see that there’s some museum-value anyhow.

We had lunch at the Ratskeller. It was great. One of the exchange coordinators for the Swiss bureau sat at my table of four. Once my table had exhausted the airwaves with the praises of Switzerland, we started talking about future plans. When I mentioned jazz you could see the little jolly frenchman emerge from his weathered exterior. He lights up, whizzes out his iPod and begins playing some of the best french jazz for me. Then he started telling me about one of the concerts he once was at. “Do you know Herbie Hancock?”

Do I know Herbie Hancock? I PLAY Herbie Hancock. I LOVE Herbie Hancock. I love how you can feel his music. It’s personal. It’s closeup. It’s impossible to block out. It’s stunning. Clear-cut, engaging. Human, and intricately expressive.

I have to admit, it was ironic to be sitting in a restaurant in Bern, Switzerland, across from an adult whose 3rd or 4th language is your mother tongue, and listening to their iPod. It’s remarkable to witness the language, cultural, and age barriers tumble into nothing in the presence of music. I live for this.

On the train, one of the girls mentioned that she was going to buy herself an ukulele here. She and her friend were each going to get one. The blue and purple ukuleles which have resided in the storefront windows of Sion will soon be taken home and given some affection! I lit up. I was so happy! Now the little ukuleles which had lived in the back of my mind would get to start living! I told them it was one of the most important things they could ever do. They were happy for the confirmation because their exchange partners had disdained such a decision. Why would you spend 60 Franks on a ukulele when you could spend the same 60 Franks on a pair of shoes. That makes me wonder why one would even ask a question like that… I was happy. They were (gently) teasing me for being so impassionated about the fate of the ukuleles. I had known exactly the store and the ones that they had been looking at. I was happier than a Pharisee making a proselyte into twice twice son of hell as himself!

Warning: Rant zone. Please leave 15 meters of clearance.

I am beginning to DETEST travelling in groups. Why do people trust the mob? They assume that “it’s okay, everyone knows where they’re going, I’ll just follow the people.” I heard that WAY too many times today. “Oh I’m just following the people.” WHAT? WHY?

Irving Janis really addresses a MAJOR problem in my generation with his groupthink psychology:

The desire to maintain harmony in a group of people overrides the realistic assessment of a situation and its possible outcomes. Let us mourn the loss of independent thought. It’s in a better place. I would like to extend my most heartfelt condolences to all the families who are suffering loss at this tragic time.

It’s true folks. I lived through that ALL DAY LONG. Wait, is this the train we’re supposed to take? What did that guy tell us again? Hang on, what time do we have to be back? Where’s the meeting place again? If you weren’t so busy talking about the Swiss guys you’ve met here so far, or your shopping excursions, or how lovely it was getting drunk legally, and actually listened to the coordinator when he was telling you where the heck you were in the city of Bern, you might not have the same problems you’re having now. I know you have the invisible letters T O U R I S T written across your forehead, but you don’t need to augment it with D I T Z Y  T O U R I S T. It’s okay to sacrifice a bit of your neediness for long enough to look out for yourself when you’re in a foreign city. Believe it or not, it’s alright for you to know what you’re doing, where you’re going, in case no one else did. It really wouldn’t hurt. It might be a helpful skill for you to understand when is the time to elaborate about your best friends ex-boyfriend, and when’s the time to listen to the PA system on the train, so you know if you need to transfer there or not. Maybe it’d be helpful, you should try it on for size. I mean, only if the shoe fits.

I told my dad at supper, “I was a little angered by the behaviour of the other Canadian students. People get into large groups and they stop thinking. They’re being given instructions, and they don’t listen.”

They’re chatting in English about all things trite, meanwhile I feel like the group is composed of brainless amoebas. The chief is explaining, “No, in Canada, you do not have a President, you have a Prime Minister. You have a monarchy, not a republic, you’re under Queen Elizabeth the II.” I don’t even want to begin to wonder what the passersby would think of us having out government system explained to us by a foreigner.

My brother asked me at supper, if I spoke in English or French for the day. English. I had wanted to speak in French. I know my French could really make a native speaker cry at times. It’s that sad. However, my will to be conscientious of the fact that I’M NOT IN CANADA I’M IN EUROPE overrides the fact that French is difficult for me. I wanted to speak in French, but my beloved brave intrepid Canadians beseeched me to lessen the brain-work of their day by speaking in English. I know that for a native speaker, it’s easier to listen to me talk at snail speed, and for a non-native speaker, it’s a bit impractical. I’m aware of that. That’s why I acquiesced. I think it’s more polite to speak in French here, or at least, if you will speak some in English, to your amigo, DON’T BE SO LOUD. Be COURTEOUS to the people who want to catch a little nap on the train. My exchange partner assured me that it wasn’t too much of a problem, but my dad told me I was right. It’s more polite to refrain from excessive English.

I had really had it with the Canadian kids today. Is it too much to ask that we act like we’re Canadians? Can we please pull up our socks and not give us a bad name? Is it okay if we put in a little bit more effort to ensure that we make a good impression on the people around us? Do we really want to be seen as slobs? Being piled into groups REALLY taxes me. I think I could have overlooked their loud behaviour if I wasn’t affiliated with them. I just couldn’t stand being considered one of them. Hello? It wouldn’t hurt to stand up straight, or pick up your feet when you walk? You can say Bonjour to the man who punches your ticket. It’s only polite. CLUE IN.

I’m done ranting now, you can clear your goggles and check your altimeter again.

We were given a few hours of free time in the afternoon to go shopping or walk around. My buddies wanted to visit the house of Einstein, but it was closed because of water damage. C’est la vie. We also went to the Cathedral of Bern. 108 of my 202 photos taken today were of the Cathedral. I think I’ll explain my Cathedral experience in a later blog, because I am spent.

Today I also held approximately 400 dollars worth of llamas in my hands. I got my picture taken with them. They were cuties. Who would’ve known you can sell tourists stuffed llamas for 179 and 199 Franks each?