Fasnacht

It started with a bang. Make that a boom. A very loud one, like cannon fire. At 5 o’clock in the morning yesterday. Immediately followed by the wild and crazy strains of marching band music echoing through the streets.

I buried my head in my pillow and wondered, what the what? But then I remembered: it was the official start of Fasnacht, the Swiss version of carnival.

It seems that the dates of Fasnacht vary widely and the biggest carnival, in Basel, actually starts much earlier in February. But here in Brunnen we follow similar traditions to nearby Lucerne, starting on Dirty Thursday and finishing on what I always called Pancake Tuesday:

So yesterday afternoon I went to investigate. It didn’t take long to figure out that this was a very big day around here. Many smaller shops were closed for the celebrations. All through the streets I saw parades of school children and people, young and old, in crazy get ups. Green hair, full face makeup, colourful costumes of all kinds. Walking down a quiet sidestreet, a small boy dressed in a miniature police uniform and carrying a bag of confetti politely said, “Gruëtzi!”

The main street was blocked off and filled with people dancing to band music. Stands were set up and tables laid out where people sat drinking beer and snacking. Oddly, donuts seemed to be a big thing. Although I think these were closer to the apple fritters or ‘beignets’ than the donuts I grew up with.

There was confetti everywhere on the street and clouds of smoke emanated from one float where I believe they were going to burn the traditional carnival ‘bonhomme’.

It’s funny to see the normally sedate Swiss cut loose. Not being able to communicate much in the local lingo I kept a low profile; frankly, not being dressed up at all made me feel like a party pooper. But I loved watching the joyful tomfoolery of it all. And I appreciate how deeply the local traditions are embedded in the culture here.

Some people were shocked when the Swiss council last week announced the official end to pandemic restrictions, with the exception of masks on public transport, in care homes and healthcare settings. But with the Omicron variant now waning and hospitals not especially overwhelmed, it was decided that now was the time to get back to some semblance of normal. Pretty sure somebody chose the date with carnival in mind.

I know it still tough for some, and I can only hope this is the beginning of the end of this miserable virus. But for all the crowds out enjoying Fasnacht yesterday after two years of restrictions, it felt like a party in more ways than one.

How about you? Ready to celebrate?

P.S. Shout out to WordPress for the quick support in posting the video. I have a plan that lets me share video content but needed help in understanding (or remembering?) how to do it!

Comfort and joy

Do you remember the television special, ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’? The Vince Guaraldi soundtrack made it into something truly special. And as I get ready to celebrate another holiday all these years later, listening to ‘Christmas Time is Here’, I feel nostalgic. Not sad but melancholy.

Christmas feels bittersweet to me now. The feeling grows with each year that passes. As if the weight of all those Yuletides past, the joys and the sorrows, good times and bad, cast a shadow on the present, no matter how happy.

Last year was a sad Christmas. Recovering from Covid, my husband and I spent it without any family other than each other. Food had lost its taste but the dog’s farts still made my eyes water (how is that?), I had no energy and little appetite for any of the usual things. But it was oddly relaxing. The pressure was off. Zero expectations meant that any joy that did come along was unexpected. Oddly, it was sort of fun, or at least memorable.

Two years ago, pre-pandemic, in another lifetime, we were all together for Christmas in Canada. Family, friends, childhood holiday traditions revisited. It was joyful but exhausting. Yet, especially in hindsight, I am so glad we went ‘home’ for Christmas in 2019 because life is short and who knows when we will do it again?

This year, if the French trains cooperate, we will celebrate Christmas together at home here in Switzerland with our children and their grandfather. No matter how bittersweet, I will raise a cup of cheer and savour every last drop.

Tidings to you, dear blog friends! May your fondest wishes come true as we ring out this crazy old year. Bring on 2022!

Der Schnee

One of the things I love about living here in Central Switzerland is that we get a real winter. Something about the snow — der Schnee — always raises my Canadian spirits, especially in the run up to Christmas.

Even a sprinkling of the white stuff on the mountains casts everything in a new light. You see all kinds of details that you never noticed before.

There are twinkling lights on the balconies and across the valley, making it feel like a winter wonderland. Even the fog has it charms!

Part of the fun here is knowing that no matter how much snow falls, they are up to the job. Our town has a veritable army of snow removal trucks waiting in the wings with their engines revving. By November, they’ve installed bright orange poles all along the edges of the roads to clearly demarcate where the plows need to go. Even our small street is already plowed by the time I take the dogs out at first light.

Oh, the marvel of Swiss efficiency! (I do miss things about France, but snow removal is not one of them).

And when the sun comes out and bounces off the mountain tops it’s just, well…soul-satisfying.

At this time of year, as we head towards the winter solstice, you have to get out early in the afternoon to catch the sun’s last hurrah before it slips between the mountains. Then you get to huddle indoors as darkness creeps and even pour yourself a glass of something to enjoy from the warmth of cozy indoors.

If you are really blessed, you may even have a furry foot warmer or two.

What’s your favourite part of winter?

Schön

There is something magical that happens when the clocks go back. Don’t get me wrong — I’m no fan of the switch, whether to winter or summertime (although if I had to choose, it would be winter, which feels somehow more natural to me).

But since we moved here, I’ve noticed that the late fall season has something special to the light, and the time change somehow moves me to get outside just as darkness falls in all its splendour.

I experience a secret thrill in walking outside and seeing all the lit up windows. They are like tableaux vivants, welcoming frames of life seen from the street. I see a lamp or a screen or shelf with books. A coat on a hook or silhouettes of people in a kitchen. It gives me a feeling of being welcomed and warm. Perhaps it is close to the Danish idea of ‘hygge’.

So out and about I’ve strolled in our little town for an hour or so twice this week just as the sun set. The moon and the sky do some amazing things this time of year. I wish my camera could capture all the nuances.

I have a recent iPhone but haven’t really figured out how to do all the fancy stuff with the camera. I tried time lapse but that was just a blurry video. Then somehow I lucked into a night mode that worked.

There is something almost eerie about the fact that the dry leaves still cling to the trees in the light of the streetlamps. Nature hasn’t yet fully battened down its hatches; the grass is still green. I know it won’t last long. Soon it will be too bitterly cold and wet to be out for a walk at the end of the day.

Plus, there’s all the magic of living in a very Swiss town with its safe street life and painted façades. I still struggle with the language and doubt I’ll ever be fluent but I am picking up and decoding more words. One easy one inspired the title of this post: schön. Lovely, beautiful, good.

And that is how I’m feeling now. How are things with you?

Gute fahrt!

It was a very good trip.

Our daughter’s long-awaited visit from the UK finally happened in early September. We spent two weeks together and it felt like the first true vacation since the pandemic began. It was also our first family holiday in Switzerland since moving here last year, which gave me plenty of material to observe from a new perspective.

During that time, we went from our German-speaking side of the country back to the French before moving on to the Italian part. Just as this old girl was getting her brain retrained NOT to speak French in every public situation, we were navigating between all three languages plus English for the British boyfriend. But that was only one of the (admittedly enjoyable) challenges.

The Simplon car shuttle was my first experience of travelling by car on a train. A bit scary for a claustrophobic who doesn’t trust technology but a good way to cut short the long, twisty drive from French-speaking Valais to Italian-speaking Ticino.

There are two ways to do it: either you drive over the high-mountain pass or you put your car on the train and cut through. After much discussion (read: lively debate, ahem, I mean argument; that’s how we do things in this family), we decided to take the train on the way there and drive on the way back. Husband, the designated driver, will always prefer a mountain-top view. Nervous Nelly here is afraid heights and gets car sick from too many turns. So why do you live in a mountainous country, you ask? Go figure.

On a side note, the experience reminded me of a story I used to read to my daughter when she was little: We’re going on a bear hunt. It’s a wonderful tale about a family that goes through a bunch of stuff on an imaginary bear hunt. Every time the family runs into an obstacle, there’s a recurring theme: We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it. Oh, no, we’ve got to go through it!

It is a perfect metaphor for so much of life, even the good bits.

So, we managed to agree and drive ourselves to the place where you load your car onto the train in Brig. We had calculated the timing fairly well so were first in line and able to grab a coffee and do a WC run while waiting for the train. Generally they leave every hour or two in the busy periods. When the whistle blew we followed the line of cars onto the train, positioned it just behind the car in front and cut the engine. Then the fun began.

I had somehow not realized we would be in the dark during the journey. Also, I read all the emergency instructions in the brochure and tried not to think of what would happen if we got stuck. And there was a fire. Or an earthquake. Truly, having an imagination is a curse.

To nobody’s surprise but my own, twenty minutes later we emerged safely on the other side of the mountain. Then began an hour-and-a-half drive down far more narrow and twisty roads from the Domodossola, in Italy, that would take us to our holiday rental in Locarno.

When I saw the receipt from the car shuttle train I smiled. I’ve posted before about the use of funny words in French.

But somehow I’d never realized how they say ‘good trip’ in German.

More about our holiday later. Until then, good farts to all!