Blue/White

Delicate yellow and pink blossoms are popping up around Zurich. Piercing through the crisp air, grey fog and the dark concrete, I am reminded of the changing season in a most gentle yet impatient sort of way. It is definitely not yet Spring here. But those tiny early flowers are definitely gracefully impatient to show their selves.

However, my heart is still in a winter sleep. Patient, it demands little of colour and form. Luxurious round piles of sparkling snow, the sun reflecting diamonds on the surface. An ever shifting sky of blue and grey, and maybe even glorious and surprising gold from a low sun. Nights spent indoors, around a table, with a candle and wine glasses, simple darks and lights. And of course, a little chocolate to make it through the cold.

Swiss mountains:

Schächental (translated, ~ shadow valley)

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Weissberg (translated, white mountain)

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Zurich

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Finland:

Lapland

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…well we didn’t always stay inside at night, when the lights and darks were happening outside in the sky.

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three

In Japan, 3 is a very auspicious number.

… and after looking auspicious up in the dictionary, I’m thinking it fits perfectly with this nostalgic post.

Auspicious: attended by good fortune, suggesting that future success is likely

I am blessed to have had the experiences to make this compilation of 3 x 3, and I’m hoping the winds of fate will bring more…

(please click the small horizontal pictures for the full effect, as these were the original design but the blog format makes them tiny)

Cat love: 
Sassy, Montreal
Rosa, Zurich
Fluffy, Calgary

Connecting over water: 
Zurich, Switzerland
Prague, Czech Republic
Takayama, Japan

(below: Prague, Zurich, Takayama)

Remembrance:
 Mont Royal, Montreal, Canada
Reipa, Norway 
Daioji Temple, Takayama, Japan

Autumn sights in Zurich

After a few last attempts to hold onto summer (see: Saturday afternoons by the lake), the bright oranges, reds and yellows around Zurich started to tell the story of cooler nights, foggy mornings, and the crisp breeze causing people to get cozy and bring out the winter comforter. It is definitely autumn!

Late summer sun at the lake

With the fog lifting up by the afternoon, the bright blue sky has been an exquisite complement to the symbols of the season: late harvest plants, lingering flowers, plump pumpkins, and the changing of the leaves. I’ve been walking around the ‘m0untain’ near my apartment and marveling at the final stages of summer blending seamlessly into one of my favourite times of year. As a self-declared jacket addict, this is a great time of year since I’m assured of the need for a great long spy trench coat and a cozy wool scarf before venturing out.

pursuing sun

gardening yoga

And as the growing season wraps up, the plot farmers are hard at work preparing their garden for the winter crops and bringing in the last of the summer’s. This, of course, means pumpkins are ready!¬†To fully embrace this I biked out of Zurich to a nearby you-pick farm called Jucker Farmart. Here they not only display the winning pumpkins in the annual ‘biggest’ competition, there are also pumpkin-made displays with a new theme every year. It just so happened that I decided to visit the farm when the theme was particularly original: Switzerland. Yep, we are talking about displays complete with a gigantic cow, Heidi, the Matterhorn, an alp horn and more made from various shapes, colours and sizes of pumpkin. You couldn’t help but smile at the fun displays, the history and symbols they chose, and the faces of the kids who were totally entranced by the pure quantity of pumpkins and all their alien forms.

700 kg winner and contenders

The three-canton vote to unite Switzerland... in pumpkin form
Pumpkin carver

And along with pumpkins, also comes apples. And in Switzerland they make a fresh pressed apple juice, mixed with pear as well, called Most (pronounced Moescht)

pouring fresh Most into bottles

And one final impression from another ‘mountain’ above Zurich (they are really more like hills but have the name of -berg, meaning mountain. Hmm… they don’t quite look like the mountains I know) looking out towards the Alps and the surrounding towns. The sun was setting and casting a glow that lit the oranges of the hill and the purple of the horizon.

Spinning lights, Jumping bodies

Happy Saturday!

I have so much to post about- trips, pumpkins, friends and music. But I couldn’t find the inspiration to bring it all together just yet. After a great dinner and a night out yestarday with the usual suspects, I ended up with a bunch of the standard crazy party pictures. These are often deemed the worst offence for facebook/blog posting, but let me make my case first before you expect a slew of flashed out faces or questionable dance moves caught on film. In any case ¬†as a group who don’t ‘get out much’ therein avoiding paying outrageous entrance fee at the Zurich clubs, I don’t know where we fall in terms of tearing up the dance floor.¬†Can’t say we fall into the group of¬†poorly coordinated young people, but we were not fox trotting on the dance floor either.

In their own raw energetic blurry way I felt that I should put these pictures out into the world. There is just something about capturing a smile within the spinning lights and jumping bodies which is a bit magical and crystallizes the joy of the moment as everyone lets go of their own inhibitions and sings at the top of their lungs finding their own groove to the music. It is also something I cherish about yoga, a bonding through using the whole physical body as a way of expressing yourself beyond the conversation around the dinner table. Communication happens through eye contact, some synchronous hip shaking, and incoherent hand signals (good thing they are only usually representing two actions- bathroom or beer).

 

Needless to say, more stories to come with a little more ‘focus’

 

Wrapping up

Back from the village markets in the dry and dusty north of Burkina, and packing my bag to head back to Switzerland! A quick turn around from the simple life to increasing degrees of luxury. In Ouaga,¬†I’m currently impressed by the abundance of things like cheese, street lights and traffic, and the lack of chickens, pigs, and shoeless children.

A few quick snaps of the markets and the Ouaga life with the family in ‘Paradise’.

Wheeling and dealing...
sun setting after a long hot day
lunch in the field provided by one of the villages
Made a few new friends- Alma, Abidjail and Maimouna
not rice! back in Ouaga
Ensemble direct from the tailors... wrong colour, wrong cut, perfect photo opportunity
some of the family in Paradise

Tourist weekend

Before taking off for the field trips, my house mates and I had an intense weekend of trying to be a little local, as well as a lot tourist .

Saturday at the big market of Ouaga-¬†my female house mate and I¬†bargained hard for some jewellery, scarfs and leather sandals. The 10 men that accompanied us were always aiming to please as they searched the far corners of the huge market to find the exact belt, design or print that we desired. It was an intense 5 hours of people calling and pulling us into their stands. We were continually brought into¬†‘confidential’ council¬†while negotiating prices. And we¬†did well not to get too flustered and remain calm and patient… A success for the 2 ‘blancs’, I feel.

Sunday was a tour out of Ouaga to the village of Tiébélé, close to the Ghana border in the south. An amazing traditional culture of house building involving unique shapes based on marital status, and painted designs on the inside and out, also with symbolic meanings. I will make a post on it all when I return, but for now a few quick glimpses of what we saw.

Lunch en route
connected to the earth
here comes trouble- they were very interested in the visitors to the village
symbolic paintings at the 'local gym' (our guide's joke)
almost ran out of fuel on the way back. good thing you can buy it from a street stand, and take a cigarette break too.

Step by step

‚ÄėAccording to the tradition of the steppes, in order to live fully, it is necessary to be in constant movement; only then can each day be different from the last. When they passed through cities, the nomads would think: The poor people who live here, for them everything is always the same. The people in the cities probably looked at the nomads and thought: Poor things, they have nowhere to live. The nomads had no past, only the present and that is why they were always happy‚Ķ‚Äô Paulo Coehlo

I say that I always have a difficult time accepting change, but something in my subconscious continues to push me there- into a new transition. The transition forces me into places where I am challenged, uncomfortable, broken down to my basic elements, and from where I can rebuild with a new orientation and understanding. At some point it ends, things become comfortable, ordered and I’ve grown a little more. I’m stricken with the difficulty in knowing where to find my peace, and discovering the balance between a mental and physical nomadic experience…

Closing in on the end of the second week, and lots has changed since the last post. I feel that I have to express the other side of life here, which I‚Äôve found this week. After a rigorous weekend of researching all the tourist sites, blogs, guidebooks etc. on Ouagadougou, I was able to get more familiar with my surroundings (at least on paper) and make a plan (see, engineering brain). Not to forget, some incredibly timely phone calls and emails provided the necessary encouragement for my first week on my own. I set up all the safety precautions for the week (drivers etc.) to suppress any (real or imaginary) dangers, and set aside any embarrassment that I had over seeming too powerless. The bottom is a good place to start, no? ūüôā

So the fun stuff:

I found some African dance classes! 3 nights a week¬†in a local theatre building. Strong powerful dancing and beautiful to watch. My class mates are all local males… I‚Äôm the uncoordinated white girl flapping around like a chicken in the back row. But they are receptive and respectful- so I take it seriously but think of Rebecca‚Äôs wise words to me last weekend, ‚ÄúBe gentle on yourself‚ÄĚ, and try to bring in some humor when I‚Äôm completely lost. The drumming is live and you can‚Äôt help but want to move with the rhythm. ¬†The guys are truly incredible to watch, and I‚Äôm very happy to get a look at this part of their culture.

Met another foreign worker at the hotel this week. A hilarious Frenchmen working on water wells and reservoirs (everyone here seems to work with access to water or electricity, for obvious reasons) who spent a year at UQAM in Montreal. So once he caught my Canadian French accent, we hit it off. He has quite a network here and Thursday evening I was fortunate enough to be invited along to the over-the-top French embassy for a reception for visiting economics students from France. Rubbed shoulders with some interesting ministry workers here, drank a few glasses of French taxes, and chatted with the students about their week in Burkina. Turns out they thought it was neat and all, but will stick to their European investment banks…

And all this set me up for my biggest challenge of the week- walking on the streets. I went to bed on Thursday night setting the intention to walk to work the next¬†morning (when the streets are pretty quiet at least). I had gotten a ride (for the 2 minute trip) all week, and¬†was not happy with this. So indeed, on Friday I walked 20 minutes to the office! I felt so liberated. I will certainly still be driving around with people but now I’ve definitely overcome this mini obstacle. Hurray!

Some other impressions of Burkina Faso:

I’m slowly starting to understanding a little more of the mentality here.¬† I get the impression that there is not much going on in general- people are just hanging around everywhere. But beyond this, the people here have developed something special. And as many foreigners keep telling me, Burkina is very different from other African countries, in a good way.

For one, there is a huge artist community! There are multiple buildings and organizations dedicated to theatre, music, film, painting, sculpture etc. Ouaga is the cultural capital of West Africa and has annual festivals that draw international performers and audiences. So I’m hoping to catch a few shows and the big artisan festival at the end of October.

There is also an amazing religious tolerance here, from what I have heard and perceived.  With about a half Muslim and quarter Catholic population living in harmony (the other quarter is traditional faith), the cathedrals and mosques are without conflict.

And even with one of the worst scores on the human development index (177 out of 182 most likely due to the low literacy rate, Canada is number 4, Switzerland 9th), the streets are peaceful, and I have not heard of any organized crime or anything of this nature.¬†It’s an interesting place, and I‚Äôm definitely beginning to enjoy it here. The journey continues‚Ķ

Highlights from June

Regular classes were finished, but we were all still busy with our short ‘block’ courses. I was finishing up the case study (see the school page) and others were on educational adventures to the forests and nature reserves in Switzerland.

It was great to be done the bulk of the year’s work, and there were certainly a few celebrations as it was well into barbecue weather. So a few photos can capture the¬†aspects of what my friends and I did in June, outside of the extra school work.

Flowers were in full bloom quite early, and the number of roses astonished me. As you walked through the streets you could catch little whiffs of floral scents from the various trees and shrubs in the city. I often saw locals collecting the wild flowers along the river to bring home. In this respect, the city has a thriving natural environment.

First signs of summer

One weekend I went up to the mountains to be with Lisa, Freddi, Nora and Mia. We went up to an old ruin near Flims (along the face of the Flims stone) for lunch. There were spectacular views over the valley which was checkered with forests, farming fields, and grazing land.

Meeting of the Rhine rivers

¬†I hadn’t been for a few months and it is amazing how this curious babe¬†can change.¬†As sweet as ever, Nora is now walking and babbling but hasn’t¬†quite grasped her¬†4¬†languages that she is hearing (German, English, French, and¬†the local language, Romansch), but it is coming. ¬†¬†

Curious

The other young lady in the house is Mia. Strong-minded, bright¬†and detail oriented, I foresee an engineer in this girl. Sigh ūüôā

Observant

The two sisters- I loved how Nora stared at Mia, with full trust that the chocolate bar would end up in her mouth.

Bonding through chocolate

Since I have known her, Nora has loved textures. She will happily sit and feel the grass and leaves. Sometimes she finds a flower and plays with the petals.

flower girl

As the weather inevitably got nicer, the get-togethers¬†were always outside. I discovered the inner courtyard of my building and the free barbecue stove. We’ve had a couple of evenings¬†there now, with kids and cats playing around us in the warm evenings as we enjoy out white wine spritzers¬†and cream cheese¬†stuffed mushrooms.

backyard barbecue

A few last photos from other days and nights.

candle light
bike by art

This final one is the old viaduct into the city centre, and is now part of the bridge for the trains entering the centre. I just catch a glimpse of it from my bedroom. I hear this is being done in other cities as well, but the space below the bridge has been renovated into retail and restaurant space- very funky and a great use of prime real estate in an area full of young people and parks. Each store is numbered, to enhance the simplicity of the concept.

viaduct stores