40: Saint-Ursanne in Pictures + Cafes

Swiss shutters are always picturesque.

Saint-Ursanne is a lovely place to visit if no reason other than that they are kind enough to print their tourism brochures in English, as well as the usual German, French and Italian. It is refreshing to look on an historical monument and not have to make up stories about it from our rough interpretations of non-anglicized leaflets.

One of Saint-Ursanne’s town gates.

Saint-Ursanne has preserved its medievalness by holding on to a non-franchise business model – this means, there is not a McDonalds in sight. The downside of a no-franchise model is that it immediately ups the cost of visiting here. Lunch for $40 a person, anyone? The upside is that the town retains its lovely charm. The lack of neon billboards is very likely the reason the place has such a serene ambiance.

There is, however, one food-related franchise allowed in – a Swiss franchise grocery store called Coop (pronounced koh-op), that sells lovely sandwiches for under seven francs, although it is closed on Sunday. A little convenience store opens on ‘Spanish business hours’ (closes for a two-hour lunch break), where tourists can bump up their blood sugar levels with chocolate and ice cream bars. For the more cultured, a wine and cheese shop is also open on Sunday.

Best to pack a lunch.  We long ago tired of funneling endless dollars into the Swiss restaurant industry, delightful as the restaurants are here, but still enjoy Swiss dining ambiance by whiling away some time over coffee and ice cream at street cafes. This town has a particularly charming outdoor cafe with the restaurant on one side of the street and the tables on the other, shaded by a large white awning tethered to twin rows of trees. The service was good, although the servers refuse to speak any English, and prattled on at us in French and German. We didn’t mind. When it comes to ordering coffee and ice cream, we are fluent in many languages.

A lovely shaded street-side cafe by the rue de quartier sits at the far end of this church grove. It is one of the best shaded eating spots in town.

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43: Switzerland: It’s not just about mountainside chalets.

The Swiss make everything look cute.

It’s the ordinary things that offer the best information about a culture, such as a homeless man’s cardboard domicile in Tokyo that Dave saw on a business trip there. Despite its humbleness, “It was the cleanest little box,” Dave recalls. When the lowest socio-economic strata of a society observes a certain custom – such as order and cleanliness – to such a high degree, that is a sign pointing to what colors the rest of its culture.

No visual obstructions between these two townhouses.

Americans have a “fix it” attitude, Spaniards have a “leave it” one, Aussies somehow occupy the duality of both colonial and republican mindsets, and Canadians – well, that’s for another blog post.

A stroll through an unassuming neighborhood along the canal banks near here suggest the Swiss are all about getting along with one another. In a condensed pack of row houses, the only dividers between gardens are low chain-link fences. We suppose that the exposed fencing is a strata requirement, but if that were the case and the neighbours found each other irritating, they would start planting tall hedges, but we didn’t see much of that.

Things change once inside the city core where we live, however, with plenty of screens and hedges between properties, but then everyone within a few blocks of here is tightly packed in.

We consider ourselves pretty friendly people, but when we bought our current house in Canada, one of the first things we did was plant tall-growing bushes shielding our backyard from our neighbors, even though they are all lovely people. That could suggest we are unfriendly, but more likely it points to a love of wearing pajamas while sipping on my morning coffee in the garden. That is what keeps Canadian culture clicking along: A love of caffeine and comfy clothing.

 

 

Back home in Canada: A hedge hides the houses beyond our backyard.

Mugging for Coffee

Life is better with an insulated coffee mug.

In exciting Swiss news, a Canadian almost paid the equivalent of $35 Cdn for an insulated coffee mug yesterday. That Canadian was me.

I desperately miss my travel coffee mugs. Yes, desperately – coffee-drinkers will understand the all-encompassing importance of the coffee experience, including the vessel in which the coffee is cradled. That desperation drove me to spend yesterday afternoon searching for a suitable mug that would not call our financial future into question.

Such a mug was not found, driving me to our town’s new Starbuck’s coffee shop. Do I need to explain that Starbucks is a coffee shop? There I found a darling mug, but for the aforementioned $35. For a few moments, it looked like I would become the kind of person who pays that much for a cup.

Happily, my DNA kicked in and would not allow me to go through with it. Today, I went back onto the streets and shops, suddenly struck with a brilliant idea to look for coffee mugs in book stores and paper/art sections of the local department stores.

This makes no sense, of course, but that is the world of product-placement and to prove that i was not out of my mind, I found an insulated travel mug complete with twist top and handle for about $10.

It was next to some stuffed animals. I cannot explain this, but wait until I finish my first cup of coffee. Then maybe it will make sense.

Tapping out a novel in under a month and the joys of rewriting

Books, books, books, books.

FRIDAY, PART ONE – WRITE A NOVEL IN A MONTH? SURE, WHY NOT? I spent half of my day in restaurants yesterday, three hours of which was at our town’s new Starbucks for a writers meeting. The stated goal was to get as much writing done as possible while quaffing towering latte’s and downing cheesecake and other baked yummies, but I wrote exactly one word and spent the rest of the time chatting over one of the other writer’s novels.

The gal is a genius and doesn’t even know it. She has crafted a mystery thriller that was good enough to hold my attention for 40 minutes, which, because she doesn’t know me well, she does not realize she has achieved something in the order of a miracle.

I have a very short attention span. The point of this is to say that she was a little downcast at the prospect of rewriting. She has laid down the story in the sweep of Nanomo, a one-month challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in November.

At other writer meetings, I’ve heard a Manitoba gal read off a stream of her novel’s narrative that came across in a rapid-fire distinctive voice. Here is more talent that may not be aware of her own merits.

I lived in the world of hyperactive-rewrites for almost 10 years as a journalist and hope both these gals do not shelve their roughshod drafts, and keep rewriting, even if it takes a year or two, and in the meantime to look for an agent or publisher. As they say in writing classes, we’re not writers, we’re re-writers. Everything needs polishing and re-polishing. Too many writers wait for some magical moment to start looking for a publisher, missing what could be amazing formative years in a writing career.

Hold on to that day-job while doing all this rewriting, though. The publishing world is a cruel and competitive one.

I reached my 50,000-word count early on (see hyperactive-writing-comment above) and finished my novel at 72,000 words, which I will now spend at least six months editing and then we shall see where that goes.