Sunday, July 08, 2007

One of the many traits I have inherited from my father is a healthy respect for heights. The serious hiking I have done in the past 36 hours has tested that, often seeming to give life to one of my reoccurring nightmares. But now, I can say that I have climbed an Alp. It all started yesterday morning, and after a two-hour car ride from Nyon I found myself at the base of an magnificently large mountain. One hour into the hike the group of about 20, of which some family members and myself were apart of, stopped for a picnic lunch in the mountains. The experience was so Swiss; it made a foreigner like me laugh. The lunches were what one would expect, lots of cheese and bread, snacky foods of multiple varieties, fresh fruit and vegetables. The surprise came when multiple wine bottles immerged from backpacks filled with fleeces, ice picks, rope and climbing harnesses. These were no novices to hiking either out for a quick hike and some wine drinking. This also seemed to be no surprise to the rest of the group who was, for the most part, all Swiss. Now, I’ve gone on many a hike and not once has anyone I have ever hiked with pulled out a wine bottle in the middle of it.

After lunch, the Swiss filled with wine and cheese and me anxious to get to the small dot high off in the mountain that I had been told was our destination for the night, we began our journey to the top. Above the tree line, the elevation was hard to ignore. Shortness of breath was quickly felt as we walked over rocks, through snow and up switchback after switchback. The large piles of snow provided for perfect opportunity to torture playful family members, in other words my cousin’s husband with whom I keep up a healthy banter of teasing and ‘correcting’. I would like to add that he started it. Snow was thrown from a distance with the thrower suddenly looking away as the victim yelled upon impact of a freezing watery mess. People were wrestled to the ground and handfuls of snow were thrown down their backs.

The far-off square dot that was our destination seemed to remain at the same distance at more and more daunting heights. Arriving about an hour or more after the main group we relished the ability to stand on flat land and sit on something other than a cold rock. Dinner was had with laughter, and exhausted sighs from some and excited congratulatory yells from others. Around 10pm the Cabin staff politely told all to go to bed. Our boisterous group climbed the stairs of the cabin and filed into the room that had been reserved for us. One side of the room was filled with mattresses lined up side by side, another row of the same on a long giant bunk above that, while the other side of the room had 4 single bunks at various levels and dozens of backpack sized cubbyholes. Little sleep was had by most and those that did sleep were not as refreshed as they would have hopep to be. The room was filled with loud whisperers, multiple snorers and two children who awoke frequently and whimpered until their surrounding parents moved out of their sleeping way.

The next morning started at 730am when I was told to pack up my things and get down stairs to eat some bread and have some tea. The descent down the mountain was far more enjoyable. Breathing was unlabored and the lower temperatures made the hiking quite pleasant. Snow piles once again provided for a quick distraction as snowballs were thrown over and at family members.

My cousin’s husband and myself hiked ahead to retrieve the car another hour and a half away. We returned just in time to rescue our remaining party from the rain and biting wind. And that is the story of how I climbed an Alp. I think I prefer to look at the Alps and hike the mountains of upstate New York.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Ive done it before. Ive spent the day not surrounded by beer drinking, hot dog eating, water balloon throwing people. Ive done it before- not ending the day by walking to the high school to watch fireworks. Ive done it before, but before, I was amongst my parents and sisters and a bunch of losers- in other words the Brits. At least amongst the British you could joke, ‘come wearing red coats’, ‘winners on this side of the water balloon fight, and losers on that side’. But today was totally different. Today I spent my 4th of July in Switzerland amongst other ex-pats and although they are family, it wasn’t quite the same. I didn’t sit on the back deck drinking a mike’s chatting with friends, family and neighbors. I didn’t walk, arms hooked with my aunt to see the fireworks. I didn’t sit next to my sisters as we watched the fireworks and they made fun of me for jumping at each explosion that filled the sky with sparkling color.

Instead my day started at 830am when I finally pulled myself out of bed and hurriedly pulled on a pair of jeans, threw my bathing suit and a few needed essentials into a bag and ran to the bathroom to brush my teeth. My Aunt, Cousin and her two kids and I packed ourselves into the car and headed to the spa on a raining, grey 4th of July in Switzerland. For the next few hours we swam in hot water, relaxed in outdoor pools and lay in a fountain of bubbles giggling as they massaged our bodies and made the kids, buoyant with floaties on each arm, float away. After a late lunch we packed ourselves back into the car and waiting for tired children to sleep through the hour long car ride home.

The day was still chilly and grey upon our return. After making myself a cup of hot tea I had the rare pleasure of talking to the author of a book I recently read. We chatted via the amazing convenience of online video chatting. I had been intrigued by the novel and relished the opportunity to go over the parts I needed clarification on and to discuss the metaphors and symbolisms that littered the pages of his work. It’s not often that one can easily sit down with an author of a book they have read to discuss it, let alone have that author in their own family.

The day ended without the usual dramatics of a color lit sky. A fun time was had none-the-less. The 4th of July has always been such a fun-filled family time for me, one that brought out patriotism often forgotten these days. Instead I, an ex-pat for the moment, think of the greatness that has been and hopefully will be again. I think of my friends and family across the U.S. I think of how this year is so different from so many years prior. I think of how I cant wait to go home to a country, my family and my home filled with love, pride and joy once again.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

After a five hour drive, a few stops and one crying baby later, three adults and two kids found themselves in another country looking into the ocean. Ah, to be in France, where the beaches are filled with topless sunbathers, each region, city and neighborhood has its own local wine, baguettes and pastries are plentiful and the sidewalks are littered with dog poop. For the past week I have been on the Cote du Azure located in Southern France.

Highlights of the week include eating delish fresh seafood, inducting myself into the European change-on-the-beach club, walks on the beach, watching the sunset each night and spending time with two adorable kids. Growing up in the cornfields of the Midwest I have a special appreciation for the sea salt air and any kind of terrain that isn’t flat for days. As my cousin’s family and myself explored the area we were constantly reminded of our favorite parts of the world, or more like the well traveled parts of the States we have fond memories of. Arizona, Florida and New York were among some of the comparisons. The smell of sunblock and the many palm trees reminded me of Florida, while the trails we walked in the shade provided for by massive evergreens brought back memories of hiking through up state New York. Every red rock and prickly pair reminded my cousin of Arizona.

Im proud to say that over the past week I have been able to start and finish two books and have obtained a ‘ring tan’. Now a tan of any sort may not seem like any kind of wondrous feat. But for one such as myself, a fry and then freckle kind of a gal, a tan of any sort is especially impressive. My three rings that are rarely found off my hands have left quite the interesting and may I add, noticeable mark. I have also gained my usual freckling of the face, shoulders, back and knees. The ever so slight but still present darkening of my skin will no doubt be short lived, but every nap taken on the beach while drowned in sunblock was well worth it and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

People keep asking me if I’ve picked up any French yet. ‘Attention kaka’, is by far my favorite phrase learned and for anyone who has visited any part of France they can understand the usefulness of such a phrase. ‘Watch out, poop’ is always a welcomed warning.

So now I return to the small town outside of Geneva to embark on my dissertation. Lots and lots of reading awaits me….in the morning.