Friday, October 20, 2006
Sunday, February 12, 2006
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Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Scènes Européenes: Letter to America Part 2
Continued from Part 1...
Apart from the children, who were generally great fun, the main reason I headed to Basel was for the Herbstmäss- the autumn market which is one of the traditions of Basel. E-D is friends with the President of the Basel Church History society, (or something like that), and so he was able to get us into the opening ceremony of the Herbstmäss-,which takes place at the top of the belltower of the Martinkirche (St Martin’s Church) in the old town.
The bells of the Martinkirche are rung at midday on the first day of the Herbstmäss and at the end of the market at the end of the week. A local Basel citizen is chosen to be the bell-ringer, and as payment for his duty, he gets a pair of black gloves. BUT. But. He receives one after ringing the opening bells, and then the second one to complete the pair when he rings the bells at the end of the market. He also gets to wear a little horn-shaped trumpet around his neck for the duration of the market.
So there we were, climbing the rickety mediaeval staircase of the Martinkirche, and at the top we joined a group of guests crowded into the bell-ringer’s room at the top of the tower. (The bell-ringer used to live up here, and had the best view in the city. It’s still the best view in Basel and nobody is allowed up there normally.)
At five minutes to twelve, the bellringer was presented with one black glove. He then went over to the window and leant out, waving his glove and blowing his little trumpet to show the crowd below that he had received the first half of his salary. Then at 12:00 exactly (and remember that this IS Switzerland, so you can be sure that it was exactly the right time), the bellringer begins to ring his bells, for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, everyone in the tower looks out the window and waves at the people in the street below and looking at the view- it was a perfect day, and we could see the three mountain ranges that surround the valley of Basel and the Rhine: the Black Forest to the North-East in Germany, the Jura to the South in Switzerland and the Vosges to the North-West in Alsace.
This was the 531st time that the bells of the Martinkirche have been rung to mark the beginning of the Herbstmäss- which means that the first time it was done was in 1469- before Columbus arrived in America, before Basel was part of Switzerland, and even before Michael Jackson recorded Thriller. That, believe me, is a very long time ago.
The Herbstmäss involves lots of fairground rides in the little squares around the Old Town, and the town was full of neatly-dressed Swiss families (3-year olds in Fubu and Armani being pushed around in Audi baby buggies, that sort of thing) all earnestly munching on candyfloss (Zückerwatte/ barbe de papa) and making their way between the various attractions. There are sausage and chocolate stands everywhere, and the main market, where you can buy all sorts of things at Swiss prices. One stall just sold Advent Calendars, and they even had these really small ones, perfect for putting in envelopes (one of them is in this letter, if I remember to put it in).
Apart from exploring the Herbstmäss, I helped E-D buy materials to build a new garden fence. A Swiss DIY shop is something to be experienced, I tell you. Everything is just so NEAT and TIDY. The power drills look so shiny that you could perform brain surgery with them, the timber is neatly stacked out and there are special hydraulic-suspension trolleys on which to to carry your timber to the checkout with. At which point you must part with an amount of money which you could use as a deposit on a house in New Zealand.
However, I shouldn’t be too harsh on Switzerland- I really enjoyed the change from the dogpoo and baguettes and Peugeots that you find in my town. AND the drivers in Switzerland are polite and STOP for pedestrians. Everything works, there are no strikes (Switzerland has 1% unemplyment, and those are just the cuckoos for whom a clock has not yet been built), and the place is CLEAN. H dropped a piece of chocolate on the pavement, K picked it up straight away and H ate it without question. In France, a piece of chocolate that was dropped would probably fall into something else that is brown.
Not that I hate France at all, it’s just such an unreliable country, with funny public holidays that interrupt your travel plans and fonctionnaires who move as fast as glaciers and train companies where the drivers are constantly on strike to demand compensation for nocturnal frog attacks (or something like that). But it’s all good, really. Challenging sometimes, frustrating to the point that you want to stab administrators with a baguette, but really good. My town is so completely French and Alsatian at the same time, and even when I’m completely fed up with the place, the boulangeries suddenly sparkle in the morning sun or I find some beret-wearing old Alsatian men playing pétanque by the river or a poodle relieving itself on a postman’s bicycle and I realise how lucky I am to be here. I’m beginning to understand how the French have managed to con the whole world into thinking thay they are the absolute best at making wine, cooking and living with complete joie de vivre.
I’ve just about run out of things to say for the moment, so until I hear from you, keep safe and have fun whatever you’re doing!
Grosses Bises comme toujours
Isaac Hayes – Never Gonna Give You Up
From Black Moses: Stax SCD24 8509-2 [Buy]
Saturday, February 04, 2006
Scènes Européenes: Letter to America Part 1
«Curiouser and curiouser» said Alice as she went further down the rabbit hole. I was leaving the apartment for a few days (staying in Mulhouse and Basel, from which I have just returned), and I found a letter from NZ in my letterbox: a letter from the family, some newspaper articles and YOUR CARD were enclosed. Thus you can probably imagine the circuitous route your letter took to get to me: in a plane for over 12 hours to get to NZ from America, only to be sent onwards for another 24 hours in a plane from Auckland to Europe (at least it had some clippings from The New Zealand Herald to talk to during the journey). Then it went through the slippery and unreliable hands of «La Poste» before arriving in a far-flung corner of Alsace for me to read with delight. AND I have your new address. I also notice that it was an Anne Geddes card (was this deliberate or not?). And also thankyou for the photo, which I can add to my special people display I have constructed on top of my bookcase/ laundry cupboard/ resource storage unit. (It’s a very large series of cupboards and drawers in my dining room and there seems to be all sorts of things in it.)
You say in your card, and I quote «aujourd’hui alors la France est dans ma tête». France on the brain, is it? Consider yourself lucky: how do you think I feel? (Given that I’m actually HERE right now).
I am imagining that you will have received the letter that I sent care of your parents by now. If you haven’t, then ask whether something from France has arrived for you in C.P. scribbled by a confused kiwi. It explains sort of how I ended up here and a little bit about what I have been up to. The first month has raced by SO fast. I’m still getting used to the idea of teaching kids and still have a couple of things to do to complete all my arrival duties (apparently I have a Social Security number now, but the school hasn’t told me what it is.) No major problems and everyone continues to be very friendly and I have eaten far too much choucroute and raclette. I haven’t been able to weigh myself, but I am convinced that I have put on weight (if you can imagine that...).
I have spent a few days «on holiday» in Basel because it’s les vacances de Toussaint this week.... it was really good to get out of T. for a little while: it’s a small place and there is not a terrible lot to do here when you have holidays. I spent Friday night in Mulhouse with the host family of my NZ friend S, whom I visited in 1999 after my stay in Grenoble... That night I went out with J (S's host sister, who has spent a year in NZ) and her boyfriend and some of their friends to a concert in central Mulhouse: the main band was Strasbourgeois, a group called «Weeper’s Circus»- a mix of medieaval, celtic styles, Brel/Brassens-influenced chanson and little «coups de théâtre» which were very funny. Lyrics went way over my head but it was lots of fun anyway.
Also great to go out with some people roughly my own age (rather than 30something French profs, who are very cool too, but not the same) and learn some slang- however even then they were very much an undergrad (first and second year) student bunch, and it’s amazing what a year outside the undergrad environment plus a JOB can do to your attitude. They would talk about what their friends are up to, I would talk about the pupils in my English classes. It wasn’t the language that made me feel slightly out of place, rather the age difference between them and me (they’re 20 and I’m 22. Or am I just old before my time?)
On Saturday morning I took the train to Basel to spend some time with Mum's old boss, E-D and his wife A. My visit coincided with the visit of their daughter K and her two daughters, H and Kl (5 and 3 respectively), the ones who live in Lille. The linguistic combinations were quite frightening sometimes. The dinner table is a mixture of German and English (mostly English when I am there). BUT K and H and Kl speak French with one another (although 5 year-old H a can understand German and speak it a little). E-D and A cannot speak French, so they speak German with the grandchildren, and the grandchildren reply in French (which either I or K translated into English when appropriate). I spoke English with E-D and A, (of course) and a mixture of French and English with K and French with the children. One night I read them a story in German, which H and Kl did not understand, but we talked about the pictures in French.
H: As-tu des enfants?
M: Non, je n’en ai pas.
M: Parce que je suis pas marié
H: Tu habites donc avec ta maman?
M: Non, j’habite tout seul dans un apartement
H: T’aimes habiter tout seul?
M: Pas vraiment, mais ça va pour l’instant.
H: Tu habites à Lille?
M: Non, j’habite en Alsace. Mais moi, je viens de la Nouvelle-Zélande.
H: La, la, la Nou... la Noubelle-Zéladaire, c’est près de Lille?
M: Non, c’est l’autre bout du monde de Lille. Ecoute, si tu creusais un trou dans ton jardin chez toi et tu continuais à creuser pour des jours et des jours, on arrivera en Nouvelle-Zélande. Donc c’est très très très loin de Lille.
H: Quand nous avons les vacances à Lagette, nous roulons pendant CINQ HEURES dans la bagnole de Papa. La Noubi Zilée, c’est près de Lagette?
M: (tout à fait lessivé par la logique circulaire de l’Inspecteur H) Oui, la Nouvelle-Zélande est près de Lagette. Mais maintenant c’est l’heure de dodo, quoi?
To be continued
Weepers Circus – Le Pas de Renard – En Suivant le Renard
From L'Ombre et la Demoiselle [Buy]
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Scènes Européenes: Bullet Holes
The author of these passages was a little younger than he is now, and you can detect a few wishful stereotypes in some of the descriptions of Europe and its inhabitants! But I hope that his wide-eyed enthusiasm for foreign places is still apparent. If this project seems self-indulgent and uninteresting, I apologise in advance. Please come back again when I'm finished.
There are bullet holes in the church down the road from my apartment. While the damage seems innocuous to the casual glance, my curiosity moved me to ask a friend who is a native of this small Alsatian town, and, Beh ouais, the inch-wide craters were indeed caused during fighting in late 1944.
Before I arrived here, Alsace for me was synonymous with War. In school history lessons back in New Zealand, Alsace and Lorraine were names to be conjugated alongside such terms as Versailles, Lebensraum and reparations. Somewhere I had also picked up a few ideas about Riesling, half-timbered houses and choucroute. But I still expected evidence of occupation, resistance and collaboration to be writ large across the Alsatian landscape, a clear message for posterity.
Alsace is a region whose history has been shaped in the fulcrum of fires from outside. Squeezed between the Rhine and the undulating bulk of the Vosges, Alsace is conveniently stretched like a ragged band-aid over the centre of Western Europe- a strip 80 kilometres wide between the rival ambitions of Germany and France.