12: Swiss Parenting Style

The scene where moments earlier, we almost participated in a group heart attack.

I raised a boy who has dislocated two joints, did an axe-head split on his elbow joint, sheared bones straight across, used an incisor as a landing device when pitched from his skateboard, received his first set of stitches at around a year old and enjoyed the experience and so kept getting more. If this isn’t a training program in how self-destructive kids can be, I don’t know what is.

Hence, my perpetual terror on the streets of Switzerland where Swiss children cavort inches from speeding traffic and blocks away from their parents. I exaggerate not a bit. We checked this out with our local Swiss friend who confirmed that the Swiss are accustomed to the notion that nothing really bad can happen here, and people are good everywhere, and so why not let a two-year-old wander a city street 40 metres from his parents?

My mother, the mother of all catastrophizers, taught me that a pre-schooler should always be within grabbing reach, because grabbing will be required. This is especially true for children who have not yet reached the age of understanding that they can die or be maimed beyond repair. In the case of my son described in the first paragraph, that age was somewhere around 28. I had no idea it was going to be such a long haul, otherwise, I would have paced myself with more care.

But I drift.

Even these swans know to keep their young within grabbing reach.

As Dave and I stood on a bridge admiring Switzerland’s swans and other waterfowl, we heard a woman shouting. To our left, a woman of about 55-65 years of age was racing toward the steep canal banks, hand stretched out to grab at something. No. Not something, but someone. As my mother would have noted immediately, she had fallen into the folly of letting a child escape the grab-zone. About 10 metres ahead of her was a boy of roughly two years of age. He was a picture of delight as he raced on chubby little legs straight for the canal edge where a direct drop into a concrete slope followed by a bounce into murky water waited for him.

The woman clearly was not going to close the gap. She was pushing an empty stroller as she ran, but as the boy neared the edge with no sign of braking, she abandoned the stroller and proceeded to run in that posture that suggests if she had wings, now is when she would spring into the air.

I was still doing the metrics on the likelihood anyone could intervene, but Dave, a man of action, was already running down the bridge and shouting. It was just enough to startle the boy into stopping, which is about what my  heart was doing at that moment. There was no question that had the boy taken a few more steps, not Dave or the grandmother would have been close enough to do anything about it.

The drop was not terribly deep, but one cranial bang on that concrete would be enough. Dave was prepared to go into the water after the boy, but having retrieved a sinking head-heavy toddler once myself, I know how quickly they plunge, and in fast-moving water that murky, it would be only a prayer that would ensure Dave would find the boy.

But that did not happen.

The grandmother scooped up the boy who was still very happy. It was all good for him, he had a good run and was the centre of attention. We hoped the grandmother, who looked otherwise like a very normal and intelligent woman, had absorbed the grab-zone rule of child-minding.

It brought to mind that old 1960s motto about never trusting someone over 30. Just drop the zero and that number would be just about right.

 

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36:Oops

Due to an accounting error, I have been counting one day extra over our actual arrival date in Canada. As of today, May 25, we are 36 days away, not 37. I blame the public school system circa 1960/70s for this. And now here’s a picture of swans having a rough day on our town’s lake. Usually, choppy waters send the swans up the canal where the water is calmer, but on this day the lake must have pushed in some treats, because the swans braved the shoreline, sometimes getting thrown back against the rocks, all the while bobbing their heads down in the water nibbling away at something.

A rough day on Lac Biel for the swans.

54: Just another beautiful spring day in Switzerland

Our little town’s Lac Biel. Yes, it is this beautiful.

 

There are so many oddities in the world and without question one of them is what defines the desirability of a location. Take our little town, for example. Mention Biel/Bienne to a Swiss national and they curl up their noses as though even the name creates a stench. And yet, it has sweeping pristinely maintained parklands, a large lake, open canals, boat rentals,  theatre, galleries, opera, swans, canyon trails and forested walks through the Jura Mountains that fence our town’s northern edge. It has a medieval quarter,

A funky fence at an outdoor cafe in Biel/Bienne

ample outdoor pedestrian malls, festivals without end, a large recreation facility, ribbons of bike trails, wonderful weather, fabulous restaurants – the list goes on and on.

And yet, when a Swiss person admits they were born and raised in Biel, the admission always comes with the comment, “It’s not so bad.” Dave reckons this is just because the rest of Switzerland is so outstanding that even a beautiful place like Biel cannot compete. Nonetheless, if this town were located anywhere in North America, tourists would flock to it and it would routinely be named in the Top 10 places to visit.

69: Laundry list

My current laundry dryer.

Tatiana Warkentin, another home-bred Canadian prairie writer living in Switzerland, is pushing her way through a blog-challenge to post a blog every single day of this month. She’s doing it with the aid of the alphabet and she’s doing great, although, she appears to be sledding through a tough virus at the moment that threatens to knock off her resolve. You can check out her funny, wrenchingly honest blog at The Dubious Hausfrau. 

One of her recent posts sought to uncover the veil on this glamorous jet-setting lifestyle by admitting she watches a lot of television. I applaud this: Wasting time is how the most important creative work gets done.

Her idea seems like a good one, and so I’m copying it so that I don’t accidentally fool anyone into thinking our lives here are spent swimming in cheese fondues, conversing in foreign languages and dining on chocolate in many forms. Here are the highlights from my normal weekday. You can skip over what follows without fear. I call it “highlights,” but if you read it, you might call them lowlights.

  1. Check emails, Facebook, read news on the web.
  2. Write/edit for two or three hours.
  3. Exercise for 30 minutes. I can’t do this any longer without lapsing into a comatose state. I get through it by watching a television serial such as Downton Abbey or The Big Bang Theory. A friend can testify how bored I am because she happened on me during a circuit weight session at my cottage where she discovered I talk to myself, counting out repetitions and cheering myself to keep going.
  4. Hang out the morning laundry, sometimes go high-tech by pointing fans at it (see above).
  5. Breakfast.
  6. Clean up the hotel room.
  7. Check the mail, which happens to be where the hotel staff go for their cigarette breaks, so I spend some time chatting with them. They are dedicated to schooling me in the ways of the Swiss; a testament to the tenacity of these people, but then, they have rebuffed the French, Germans, Austrians, Hungarians and Italians from taking over their country, so what else could we expect from them?
  8. Head out for the midday shop which almost always entails some mortifying communication problem where someone tries to speak to me in German or French. This is a daily reminder to be nice to immigrants when I return to Canada. I have, by the way, always been nice to immigrants, but once you have been an immigrant you realize that what looked like nice to you was not as nice as you could have been. Immigrants need every bit of encouragement they can get.
  9. Engage in a choppy French conversation with an eccentric old woman who likes people to admire her rum-coloured poodle named Candy.
  10. Return to hotel room. Read blog draft, remember that it has a few pre-teens reading it, gasp in horror, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, then post it.
  11. Walk down to lake and stare at swans. Take note of daily routine of town drunks and drug addicts.
  12. Surf the local stores for sales: A necessary survival skill in Switzerland where most things are priced beyond the worst nightmares of most Canadians and Americans.
  13. Go on another walk along the canal where I stare at the ducks.
  14. Take down laundry.
  15. Phone home or online chat with friends in North America who are just waking up.
  16. Write some more.
  17. Greet Dave, realize I have not made dinner again, watch him cook a prepackaged meal (I will explain this another day).
  18. Go for another walk with Dave who is very good at steering me away from drunks and drug addicts, which makes me wonder whether I pay enough attention to my surroundings. Just yesterday he pulled me away from a trajectory that would have put me too close to a man who was attempting a personal relationship with a woman featured on an advertising poster in our town’s main square.
  19. Back to the hotel where we read emails, surf the web and sometimes sneak up to the hotel fitness room to scarf more towels. We are supposed to get by on only two bath towels a week, a starvation-level allotment if ever I saw one, so we bulk  up our supply. The hotel staff know we do this, take away our extra used towels without comment, and look the other way. Bless their hearts.
  20. If I am in an obsessive writing state, I will do some more of it.

And that is our exciting life in Switzerland.

 

 

 

 

71: The Savagery of Swans + Statsurday

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

ABC News: Killer Swan Cited in Chicago Man’s Drowning Death

I’m not surprised a bit to learn a bird took an active part in a man’s death. In the late 1990s I spent some time in a cast, thanks to a ferocious rooster pursuit – the rooster was after me, not the other way around. I’ll say no more about this embarrassing episode except that he started it.*

Swans: Don't mess with them. Source: Wikipedia, Japan.

Friday was windy, sending Lac Biel swans up the town’s canals in search of calmer waters. They move almost in formation, pushing up against the current sometimes in a straight line, then ride the current back to the canal mouth into Lac Biel where they turn around and start the loop all over again.

In Canada, we read much about staying away from waterfowl lest we disturb them to the point where they fail to reproduce or thrive, but I’ve always suspected that loons, ducks, geese and all the like are more resilient than that. Switzerland’s swans bear out my hypothesis.

As I made my wind-whipped walk by the canal, the only pedestrian in sight, the swans took note of me walking high above on the canal’s banks, broke off their formation and proceeded to swim alongside me, poking their bills in my direction in the same manner my labrador retrievers used to nose my hand for treats.

Orderly Republican swans to the right, more Democrat "Frank Sinatra 'I Did It My Way" swans to the left.

Had I already learned of the U.S. man’s swan-induced drowning, the theme track to the movie “Jaws” would have run in my head, but I was blithely unaware of the dangerous flock that followed me. In that way, it as though I am living in a Hitchcock horror movie.

When I lingered over a canal bridge, they gathered round as though readying for choir. I had no food and while swan’s faces do not appear configured to convey disapproval, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that I had let them down.

I’ve never seen swans up close until we came here. I always thought they were graceful elegant creatures, but up-close they are a lot like people. There’s always one in a crowd who bullies his way about, stabbing and tearing at other swans to get to the front of the flock.  Occasionally, we’ll spy one who for some reason the flock just do not like. That sad swan lingers at the fringes, pecked and pursued every time she tries to drift in to the heart of the flock. Others hang around in the thick, but they still guard their little circle of surf with an air of menace.

Nonetheless, they are lovely to look at, fun to watch as they try to take off in flight (it takes a long time, they are heavy birds) and despite the dreaded news of the man’s drowning, gather around people like puppies here in our little town.

* I was once sent flying out of my lounge chair when a loon spiked up out of the water right next to my head, triggering me to make noises that Dave said was what he imagined a person might make while being attacked by a bear.

BlogBits

Top country hits:  Canada, U.S., and Switzerland

Bottom country hits:  Qatar, Israel and Bulgaria

Readers from Japan:  Three

Weirdest search termNabadaba dingdong

Most read post:  Paris Food – Can you eat lambs kidney without having to sell your own has once again climbed to the top after being briefly usurped by Luscious Lucernewhich has dropped to third place, nudged out by Switzerland’s Toronto. I cannot explain any of this, except that perhaps I under-rated the world’s interest in Parisian food.

Most active time of day on this blog: 3 p.m.

Yes, he got close and his feathers were up. I have no idea what that means.

Swans are beautiful no matter how you look at them.

Fascinating only to me, possibly, but this is how much churn one swan kicked up on his start to avoid a bully-swan.


94: Swelterland.

What you see below is a weather forecast for our little town of Biel from March 27 to 30.

Two days ago it was supposed to  be 13 C. It was 22 C.

Yesterday was supposed to be 15 C. I don’t know what the high was, but at around 2 p.m. it was already 20 C.

Last spring, the reported highs were hitting the high 20s, but our town’s temperature tower was showing 36 C and upward.

What does this tell us but that Biel does not have its own weather station and is drawing reports from somewhere else. I would like to know where that somewhere else is exactly, because I like the weather there better than here, wherever “there” is.

Sweltering swan. How do they always look so graceful? In unrelated news: Last night we watched some competitive kayakers race swans down our town's canal. It turns out swans are very swift. They're not above cheating, either. When they were about to be overtaken, they just flapped their wings and motored out of there.

This is not to complain, but only to say a little more accuracy in reporting would be nice. Last year, we landed here on April 1 to discover the locals were already swimming in Lac Biel. Lac Biel is a not a shallow swimming hole. It has a surface area of 39 square kilometres, and is the basin for the Jura Mountains to a range of 8,300 square kilometres. This is nowhere near as big as Lake Winnipeg (surface area 24,500 square kilometres and cachment area of almost one million square kilometres), but neither is it a pond. It is huge, and so for it to be warm enough for a dip suggests a sustained high temperature through March on par with Canada’s prairie summers, which is to say: Frying Pan Hot.

I was prepared for a cool Swiss spring, not a sizzling summer in April, so I had to ditch my clothes and buy a whole new wardrobe, which really wasn’t such a bad thing, although it did make Dave groan, a lot.

The variability in temperatures isn’t really that big a surprise in Switzerland’s varied topography. Similarly, Vancouver Island has so many ‘micro-climates’ that in some parts of Victoria, tropical gardens flourish while in other pockets, gardens grow at a glacial pace.

The oddity in this that the Swiss don’t seem to realize it is warm outside. While I attract stares when strolling around in a tank-top, capris and sandals, those around me are in leather jackets, their necks swathed in scarves and heads covered in hats. It is as though they believe the temperature forecast more than their own body’s internal temperature sensors.

Today’s forecast is for 14 C according to one weather website and 20 C on another. I’m dressing for 30 C.

 

Tue
27
after-
noon
Tue
27
night
Wed
28
morn-
ing
Wed
28
after-
noon
Wed
28
night
Thu
29
morn-
ing
Thu
29
after-
noon
Thu
29
night
Fri
30
morn-
ing
Metric
Imperial
Wind (km/h)
15
15
10
5
5
5
5
10
15
Summary
clear clear clear clear clear clear clear clear clear
Rain (mm)
Snow (cm)
Max. Temp
(C)
13 9 14 15 12 14 14 9 10
Min. Temp
(C)
11 7 11 13 11 12 12 5 8
Wind Chill
(C)
9 5 10 13 11 12 11 2 6
Freezing
Level (m)
2650 2850 2750 2750 2600 2400 2500 2050 1750
Sunrise
6:16 6:15 6:13
Sunset
18:52 18:54 18:55

So I walked into a Swiss bank with a fistful of cash …

I hope the money doesn’t get soaked.

Winter has slid off the mountains and into our valley. Snow falls in mean pellets. Slush rides up pant-legs, soaking the calves. Shoppers move along at a crabbish gait, picking their steps carefully over the ice-slicks.

At the lake, the water is chalk-green from the silt washed down from the Jura’s limestone slopes.

Mysteriously, the swans have lined up alongside the shore,  parked horizontally in rough waves only a few feet from the sharp rocks and cement bulwark, paddling madly to keep themselves from smashing aground.

Seagulls hang suspended in the air by a walking bridge, dropping down to try for the snug spots beneath, but the mallards will not allow them in.

And in the midst of all this froth, I walked to our Swiss bank with a fistful of cash, more than I think I’ve carried down a public road before. I feel like I’m in Mission Impossible, surrounded by suave German and French-speaking clients, striding across marble floors, hoping that the teller does not ask where I got all this money.

Changing money doesn’t have any real tension to it, but we’re in a foreign country where we don’t have a clue what the laws are regarding moving money around – and there are rules. We  have only the vaguest recollection of them, however, so I dive into the bank and take my chances that I won’t be arrested for some monetary misdemeanor.

Of course, no one raises a brow. This is Switzerland. They think nothing of changing large Swiss bills into a stuffed envelope full of U.S. cash.

What fun. And that’s all there is for today.

Music that needs to be explained along with the wreckless abandon of the Swiss

What is this swan thinking? Swans usually paddle languidly through calm waters, but this one must have been a teenager thrilling to the dangers of Thun's fast-moving waters.

The castle in Thun against a lovely blue sky.

Thun may not be the name that comes to mind when one thinks of wandering Swiss towns, but if you have the time, it is a lovely place with covered wooden bridges, and a sparkling clear river – the River Aar in fact, which runs through so many villages that we are suspicious that instead of one river, it is actually about 10 with the same name. It is possible the Swiss were tired of naming things. They have a lot of mountains to name, so why not just paste the same moniker on a bunch of waterways? Am I joking? See below. ***

The town has at least two dams on it, and we watched swans bobble through in the churning waters of one, not really sure they would make it. The current is seriously scary and so, of course, it attracts the human young as seen in this video clip (click here). As is customary with the Swiss, the surfers seen in this clip have no protective gear – no helmets, no life jackets.

This is the oddity with the Swiss – although they apparently strap on endless harnesses when scaling cliffs, they are otherwise unconcerned with drowning, head injuries, plummeting tremendous distances down mountainsides, ramming their bicycles into cars, and so forth.

They are a wonderful people, but I’m sure their mothers are all exceedingly nervous.

This explains the Red Cross, the Swiss organization that provides emergency response across the globe. They have developed a heightened emergency-response infrastructure, methinks, because they are a little weak on disaster-avoidance while also being  strong on adventure-seeking. No wonder they’re good at bandaging wounds.

In the meantime, I made a promise to post a video clip of Swiss street musicians that may be good, or not. I am at a loss to explain it. We came upon these men in yeti-costumes on the streets of Thun, singing in pained voices and playing wind instruments that made my ears hurt. If any Swiss person can tell us what this is (click here for a short video clip), please do

*** I make joke about many rivers being named Aar or Aare. It is actually one heck of a long river that begins and ends in Switzerland, running about 295 km (183 miles), and is the funnel through which all the water of Central Switzerland drains (17,779 square kilometres or 6,865 square miles).

Tomorrow: More Thun along with more photos