Tuesday, February 16, 2010

They Were Part of the Mountain Landscape

I went to Interlaken to look for my family. My ancestors that is, two of my father's grandparents were from Switzerland. My grandmother's parents. Yes, I know they are long deceased and physically looking for them will not help. But the search persists, regardless.

Just the fact that I took the car was Field Trip material enough. I don't drive here. Scott does. I bike and take public transportation, because the Swiss make it way too easy not to. At least around town anyway. I grabbed my camera, the GPS, forgot my scarf and headed out.

I have spent some time looking for info on my great grandparents online since I have been here. Some lovely family member of mine has done much of the work, so it was pretty easy to find the simple details, like who, when and how. The where part is the tricky part. The records from US Immigration are very clear. But the Swiss heritage part is not. I know that my great grandmother, GGM, came from Bern. Whether that is the Canton or the City, who knows. And I know that she lived in Interlaken and possibly Spiez. I only know this because of a 40 year old travel journal from my GM's trip to Switzerland. It says that a cousin took her to see the house her mother lived in in Interlaken. That is pretty clear. But, of course, there was no address or photo.

I know even less about my GGF. Could have been Bern, could have been Zurich, maybe both. Either way, we think that they were farmers and the family name originates in the Emmenthal region, so this all sounds right. But I know not their Heimatrecht. This is the needle in the proverbial haystack, that would potentially solve the mysteries. Or not.

As for all the random cousins mentioned in my GM's travel journal, I have no idea who they are. Yet. My days here are numbered, this time at least, so in the spirit of getting on with things, I just decided to stop looking for a needle in a haystack and just go on a Field Trip.

I have sort of done some shadowing in my GM's footsteps. I have seen some of what she visited, been some of the same places. But this particular route is where she spent a lot of time. We have been going skiing in the Bernese Oberland the last few weeks and the drive takes me past towns that sound familiar. They are mentioned in her journal.

A few weeks ago, after skiing, we stopped in Spiez. It was early evening and kind of cloudy. But I was able to snap a few photos of the town, lake and castle. Thanks Scott. I know you were tired and sore from a long weekend on the snow.

My trip to Interlaken was solo. I had time to really wander. I saw the Aare River, Interlaken Castle, churches and lots of mountains. It is a bit touristy, but still a charming town, nestled in a valley, between two lakes. I wandered up and down streets, in and out of shops, in and out of historic places. All the while I was taking photos and freezing because I forgot that scarf.

I realized after a bit that I was really looking for something, but didn't know what. Then it hit me. I was looking for them. Clearly GGF and GGM and all the random cousins, aunts, uncles and others that may still be alive were not going to walk up to me and say, "Hello. You finally made it. You belong to us. Let us fill in all the blanks for you." But I wished for that to happen, just like that.

As I was wandering, Seeing all the sights, I couldn't help but wonder. Was that the house GGM lived in? That farm looks nice and cozy and from the right time period. Maybe that was where GGF worked. Then I would notice names of businesses. Again, some were the same names that were mentioned in my GM's journal. It all gets kind of creepy, but in a good way. But at the same time, it was kind of lonely and a little sad that I don't get to know and See my GGM's house this time around.

Then I began to think about what I might have in common with these ancestors. I know nothing about them, other than their names. Do I look like them, do I have certain traits that they had? Who knows. But I did feel like I look like the people in this part of Switzerland. I saw men that look like my Dad, Santa with a tan face. I see old women that look like my GM. This I noticed the first time we went to this area. So maybe this is where they lived.

But why did they leave Switzerland? I guess I will never know that. I don't know if they lived on an Alp or down in town. I don't know if they had brown hair like me. But hopefully someday I will find some more genealogy answers and come to some conclusions. It would be pretty amazing to visit with living, distant family members here someday. Maybe I will speak better Deutsch by then.

No one jumped out and offered me my ancestry on a silver platter. So it was time to move on. Time to cross another thing off my Swiss List. I love lists. Scott says that is where my Swissness becomes evident. On to Thun, another small mountain and lake town.

GM had been to Thun, too. I was there to see an art exhibit. It was at Kunstmuseum Thun. The translation of the title of the exhibit is "Shifting Landscapes. Works from the Collection." http://www.kunstmuseum-thun.ch/index.php?id=335&L=1 It is sort of an homage to the disappearance of pristine, untouched mountain landscapes. Just like what my ancestors knew Switzerland to be, before infrastructure appeared. It was amazing. Each piece, really, had its own voice, told a different story. I had the place to myself, literally. So I lingered and looked and Saw all I could. My favorites were by Monika Ursina Jaeger and one piece called Matterhorn Project.

This stuff was right up a landscape architect's allee. Pun intended. Just the type of stuff that my eyes wander to, too regularly. The details that no one else notices, that I will spend hours photographing. But, despite the statement, I must admit that I think some infrastructure is beautiful, too. In a different way, it can be sexy.

When I was done with the exhibit, I thought about what to See next. Should I go look around Thun? Then I started getting that nagging feeling of needing to know something concrete about my ancestors again. I realized that what drew me to the Bernese Oberland in the first place, way back when we first arrived in Switzerland, was the mountains. Heck, that's what drew me to this art museum today. They are everywhere and I like that. In fact, it is as if the lake just laps right up on the mountain's feet here. My guess is that my ancestors didn't ski, but they spent lots of time in the mountains, either swimming, tending to the herd, making cheese, or picking crops. They were part of the mountain landscape. So maybe that is where I get my love of all things high and snowy. That would really explain a lot.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Let the Games Begin!

In the spirit of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, here is a little tidbit about the amazing Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland. It has an amazing park, whether you like the Games or not.

As you have probably learned by now, I love skiing and anything related to snow. On a recent Field Trip, we headed over to the Olympic Museum to check it out. I am a self-proclaimed fan of the Winter Olympics. I love to watch the skiing, boarding and those crazy luge riders. The Museum itself was a really big surprise.

They have all the usual paraphernalia related to sports icons. Lots of uniforms, shoes, skis, gear of all sorts. But it is architecturally pleasing and visually stimulating. The graphics are great, the wayfinding easy.

But it gets deeper than that. They go way back in history, showing Greek artifacts and explaining how they were used and what significance they had. That pleases the museum purists. Then, they have a really cool collection of medals. They are displayed in such a way that they easily convey all the cultural and site specific traditions that influenced the design of the medals. Something similar is done with the torches.

Basically, they start at the beginning and carry you all they way through Olympic history, keeping interest along the way. They also have a few films and photo montages that please the not-so-inclined-to-read-and-look-at-every-little-thing group.

Then I found the temporary exhibit on Vancouver. There are actually two or three exhibits. The first is an amazing collection of Canadian art including paintings, masks, sculpture and textiles. The next was a display of photographs taken by Canadian artists. And lastly, the sustainability exhibit.

I am sure that much of this exhibit was recycled and I love that. I mean that most of the material was probably used originally as presentation material when Vancouver pitched hosting the 2010 games. The exhibit systematically laid how exactly how and why the Vancouver Olympic Village and the actual Games are going to be greener than ever. I was really impressed. So much so that I really hope that they keep part of this exhibit and put it in the regular museum, as a cornerstone of the future of greener Games, greener everything. Go Team Canada!

Ever detail has been anticipated. Very little waste is produced without reuse or repurpose. The design of the village was founded on the fact that the village is not a temporary thing, but something that can add value to the community, long after the last souvenir stall closes up. A huge amount of money goes into constructing these villages, but the people of Vancouver will really benefit from the outcome. Can't wait to tune in a see how it all came together.

Then we headed outside. The Olympic Museum is situated on a hill, right next to Lake Geneva. The buildings are mostly modern and terraced. The main roof provides a gathering space and viewing platform. The roof edges are green. The transition between the buildings and architecture are obscured by placing the paths near the woodline at the edges of the park. The lower, main terrace features more Canadian art, including a totem as well as the famous Cauldron.

Pathways lead through trees, water features and sculpture, with lawn as a backdrop. A little information is given about each sculpture, but not too much. All the while, Lake Leman, shrouded in fog or not, beckons beyond. I visited on a rather rainy, dreary day, so the mountains that surround the lake were not so visible, but the vastness of the landscape didn't fail to impress.

The Olympic Museum opened in 1993. The Olympic Park was designed by Spanish landscape architect Jose Lardet. The sculptures come from all over the world. My favorite was Citius Altius Fortius by Miguel Berrocal. It is a torso which slowly opens, spins and closes, in six different pieces.

Some relics from the property's history remain onsite, integrated into the landscape, reminding the viewer of its past. Many of the trees predate the Museum. A 100 year old Oak was preserved.

At the foot of the hill, you are greeted by the Olympic Fountain and the massive lake.

This place was really well done, just like I hope the Vancouver Games will be. I can't wait to watch the Opening Ceremonies!

It's All in the Details

My mind wanders all the time. But I don't see this as a bad thing. I never really realized that other's minds don't tend to wander near as much. My mind wanders in a good way, I don't think it is a bad thing. I think it is just my strange brain's way of keeping the creative juices flowing. (Note to self: give Scott a break about having 29 things in his head at once!) And this is probably the reason I rarely get bored.

Here is one fine example of how it works. Yesterday, I had gone out on a Field Trip with the purpose of going to my favorite Basel museum, SAM, or Schweizerisches Architekturmuseum (www.sam-basel.org ). I only had a short time and I needed to be out of the apartment for that entire time. But I had a friend coming over for dinner, so I couldn't linger. This was sort of an unplanned, badly-timed Field Trip. Some days, strange things happen that are beyond the control of a Hausfrau, and one must just deal with things as they arrive. Just like my life at work.

First, I walked through the Kunsthalle Basel, which is attached to SAM. Wasn't really into that exhibit. Something about parallel universes.... Way too esoteric for me. Then I headed over to the two SAM exhibits. One was on MetroBasel, a book I have already read and loved. Basically, it is a cartoon version of one urban planning class's projects on how to improve the City of Basel. The studio is called ETH and the concept is by Herzog, De Meuron (Bejing Olympics Bird's Nest, anyone?) and Herz, whose offices happen to be across the street from our apartment. Very entertaining, great graphic presentation and a good history/geography/economic/sociology lesson about the area to me, the newcomer, for the small price of 12 Swiss Francs. So that went pretty quickly, been there, done that, loved it.

Upstairs I went, to the art exhibit. A mixture of super-crazy precise, geometric pencil and ink line drawings and some photographs taken by the artist, later in her career. I liked the photos. Then I headed into a small room way in the back of the exhibit where a slide projector was showing photos of the artist throughout her life. From childhood in India to her various studios, etc. It was pretty interesting so I stayed and watched for a bit. But here is when the mind wandering started.

The floor of the room was a sort of herringbone parquet. The wood was well used, deserved a little polish and maybe some poly, but was still in really good shape. As my mind was slowing slipping from the artist and headed to the floor, it just snowballed. Next, I am checking out how they did the edge treatment, trying to figure out if they started the pattern in the center or on the edge, and looking to see if it continued beyond the 4 walls. Maybe the room was originally bigger and for the purpose of the gallery, they put a wall up, which covered the beautiful floor pattern. This was not the case.

Next, I am cursing myself for not bringing my camera. I hate carrying it, but I hate it more when I forget it. I glanced back at the slide show for a minute, then the mind goes back to the floor. Maybe I could use the pattern to create a deck or patio someday. It would look really cool in irregular, reclaimed stone. Sort of a juxtaposition of order and disorder. I am also very fascinated by the idea of modular decking, so then my mind wanders there...

On it went. As it does most days, all day and probably in my dreams, too. Welcome to my world. It's all in the details.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Switzerland - The Land of Milk, Money and Snow

Tobogganing again! After a little too much Friday night revelry (Sri Lanken dinner party at a friend's), we got up and started to get ready to go. The car failed to start. Never a good way to begin the weekend. But after a little time, the nice man came and jump started it. We finished getting packed and it failed to start up again. I see a pattern developing. But, our car guy friend decided that all we needed to do was bump start it. This involved pushing the car while the driver pops the clutch to get it to start, or at least that is my translation of what occurred. Off we were to Melchsee-Frutt.

I picked this place, as opposed to the hundreds of other places to go, because they have an 8 km toboggan track! Nice! It was very snowy on the ride up. Thanks, Scott, again, for driving. There was about a foot of new snow and it was still snowing. So we get to the ticket booth and nice ticket lady tells me that all the sleds have already been rented. Grrrrumph. So we go to the rental store to see what nice rental boy has to say. Sure enough, no toboggans for us. But nice rental boy, being a local, tells us of another place to go, half an hour away. He is sure that they will have sleds. So off we go again, this time to Lungern-Schoenbuhl.

At the ticket counter, this time, we are told that the toboggan track is closed because of too much snow. Yes, I just said, TOO MUCH SNOW!!!!! I cannot comprehend too much snow. Ich verstehe nicht! But, I did understand that the toboggan won't make it through unless the snow is pretty packed. But, nice ticket booth lady tells us that we can just as nicely use the ski slopes to toboggan on (um, aren't they a little steeper than the track?). Up we go, on the gondola (which only runs when needed, BTW).

At the top, which is really just a bunch of Doppelmeyer lift equipment perched precariously on a steep point, we head to the rental shop to get our toboggans. Up the lift we go.

Very cold, poor visibility and we can't see if the slopes are groomed or not, from the lift. But there aren't many skiers this particular day. Despite the powder, they chose to stay home. The rest of the story involves the guys being guys and the girl being a girl. They proceeded to go down the steep head walls at full speed, crashing, burning and face-planting their way down. I am no wimpy girl when it comes to snow, but I acted with some caution and self-preservation technique. I chose the less-likely-to-bruise method of keeping my feet on the ground in some form of braking most of the time on the steeper head walls.

Trying to maneuver the toboggan through that much powder was very tricky and exhausting, but fun just the same. On flatter parts we had to walk, but the views were great. Most of the time, we were being serenaded by the sounds of helicopters and avalanche control. An occassional big BOOM coming from the shrouded hills above you is a sound I know and love from skiing.

When we got toward the end of the day, we noticed other tobogganers down near the bottom. There was a nice, even head wall that you could go down and hike back up to do it again, instead of taking the freezing cold, long, slow lift. It was here that we found the real experts.

A bunch of teenage boys and a big plastic sheet. Yup, you guessed it. They weren't having no stinkin' picnic on that sheet, but using it to sled down the hill. They put it down, climbed in, luge style, one behind the next, etc. They pulled the front and side flaps up and around themselves. Off they were, like a big, snowy caterpillar, inching its way, but fastly, through the snow. You could tell that they had done this before.

Near the end of the head wall, the veered to the left, into a very deep, untouched snow bank, to stop. This avoided a longer hike back up. Very efficient, these Swiss. But one time they had a little more speed and kept going through the snow bank and into a little gully. They were pretty much buried. But it looked like a blast. We could tell they were natives!

I learned this weekend that there are different types of toboggans. The plain wooden kind, that has cross members that stick out and really bruise the inside of my knees. Been there, done that. There are also the wonky sleds, that just won't go and if it does decide to go, it goes only in one direction. These are in need of allignment. When I got tired of bruises and veering issues, I upgraded to the Rolls Royce of sleds.

I told the rental guy I needed a faster sled. What I got was fast, very, very fast. And it had a nice comfy seat, too. But, you couldn't stop this thing and you couldn't flip it over to bail out. I had to push it out from under me, in front of me, to get myself to stop on some steep stuff. The key is that you have to tie the leash around your wrist so it doesn't fly down the hill without you.

Scott took the last trip down on that little Swiss Rolls Royce. Yes, his toboggan is still underneath him. Seeing is believing!

Here is the view from laying in a snow bank. Remember, all these snowy Field Trips are about people enjoying what nature gave them. Happy tobogganing!