December distractions

Checking back through the pictures from December and finding some gems to share. Lots of cool things that pulled me forward into the holiday spirit.

(Yah, a month too late, but who doesn’t want to revisit warm candles, rainy markets, fluffy snowflakes, and decorating a Christmas tree with Nora!)

So December was a particularly rainy month. I visited no less than 4 lovely Christmas markets and was rained on through all of them. Here I visited Schaffhausen, near the border to Germany where the famous Rhine Falls tumble down. The famous Munot fortification at the top of the village has beautiful light pouring through into an open circular stone room. I can only imagine that it used to be filled with activity – people, arms, horses, fire. However, now the room is filled with an eerie green light and the walls echo with every group that walks through.

Looking for oncoming attacks, or checking up on my grapes
Within Munot

Back in Zurich, a few flakes of snow did fall and one last party in our rented room kept us dancing in the warm glow.

And for the first time (that I noticed) the Nutcracker Ballet was playing in Zurich! An old family tradition that I was able to keep up even here. The performance was lovely, and the Opera House was outstanding, just as I would imagine an old European theatre.

Opera House Zurich

And, as always, December was filled with new and touching music. The artists as young men presented ‘the mermaid’. They had previously written 6 songs specifically for the story of the Little Mermaid, and presented with professional sign language translators to perform a concert for the deaf.

Visuals and artistic translation to bring the musical soundscape into the eyes of the deaf

Benji, singer of artists as young men, also played a special Christmas concert with our friend Chregi, of the fridge, at a local organic grocery store. Amazing music in front of organic wine. Yum.

Shortly after I made a quick trip to Schluein to see Lisa, drop off gifts, and decorate the tree. I left dry, grey Zurich and entered into a strikingly white wonderland of peaceful falling snow.

I was free to be a 3-year old with Nora as we chose our favourite decorations for the tree, danced to the Nutcracker Suite, and ate Christmas cookies while watching the snow pile up. I secretly wished the snow would pile so high I would be stuck there until Spring…

But Christmas was within days, and more lights, singing and traditions were to follow…. this year in Germany!

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’


Out and about, humming a few tunes

Been travelling a lot lately. More than my usual wanderings, and to some relatively far flung locations. Typically I travel without listening to much music, thanks to the first generation Ipod cum brick that I stole from my mom before she advanced on in the technology stream. Due to this, I like to wait and see what music pops into my head while on the road. What rhythm from the city or my footsteps triggers a remembered melody in my head, or whether words or an experience pull me towards a string of lyrics wherein I spend the rest of the day trying to bring together the rest of the song as well.

Hum of the trees in Switzerland
Spiraling ascent in Toronto

I’ve been listening to Ben Howard ever since I saw him open for Xavier Rudd in Zurich in 2010. A talented young singer and songwriter from the UK, I was instantly drawn into his songs. Now, at long last, he is releasing his debut album, though there are others floating out there, with the newly released track ‘Keep your head up’. After the first listen or two, I wasn’t hooked as the song gradually builds up, and I was thoroughly distracted by the build up, as well, of the storyline in the music video. However, in the last weeks this song has come into my head, accompanying me on my last trip and providing a joyful soundtrack for the day-to-day experience seeking.

The tropical beaches of Norway

People often tell me that I routinely start humming or quietly singing when I’m working or just off on my own. I rarely notice that it even happens, but I have just become aware of where it takes root.

Just a few days ago, I was walking happily in the afternoon sun in Toronto after being mentally stimulated with the incredible collections at the Art Gallery of Ontario. And with my wonderful mommy beside me as we made our way through the busy city centre, we both settled pleasantly into the moment and began to hum our respective soundtracks for the moment. Hers was something upbeat and complex, typical considering the range of music she collects for her yoga class. I lilted along the lines of ‘all I was searching for was me/ keep your head up, keep your heart strong/ … to feel the warmth of his smile/ saying I’m happy to have you home/ I’m happy to have you home/… I’ll always remember you the same/ eyes like wildflowers with your demons of change’.

A few days prior to that sunny afternoon, I celebrated my good friend Rebecca’s wedding in Hamilton, near Toronto. Even with all the clapping, dancing, singing and love in the air, there was a sense of transition. Knowing that while Rebecca had chosen an amazing partner to spend her  life with, us her close friends had a changing role in her life as well. I was honoured to be with her throughout the many days of her Jewish wedding (some may call it a marathon) and saw for myself how strong she has truly become (needless to say this wedding required courage, stamina, persistence, and a few painkillers!)

Strong hearts in Hamilton, Ontario

A few weeks earlier I was walking in a most magical and powerful landscape in Northern Norway. Steep cliffs dropped into the murky blue Norwegian Sea, but not before flattening out just enough to allow for a few small bright red fisherman’s cabins to make a stand against the water and wind. The people who called this place home are those of the water and the mountains. These folks I met while hitch-hiking or on ferries between islands, and their precise and respectful demeanour convinced me that this combination of solid and liquid was an addictive landscape that drew the residents back. I could feel why.

Another dose of spectacular around every corner in Lofoten, Norway

Somewhere along the long walks with Andy around the islands and mountains of Lofoten, another ‘northerner’ popped into my head. Paolo Nutini recalls his homeland of Northern Scotland as he struggles with finding place.  ‘I have returned to the Northern skies/… with great sense of passing through’, and a few words on bird songs and dark greens and blues. As the sun sank into the sea late every evening, we were treated to a sense of the darkness that settles throughout the winter up there.

Still evening in Traena, Norway

And finally, one to take home and dance to- ‘Home’ by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. It’s a new one to me, but apparently it is old news in North America, but I haven’t found anyone over on this side that has heard of them. Point for me for being oh so slightly ahead of the crowd (good thing everything from North Am comes about 6 months to a year later here, except for the fashion trends clearly)

Aha, has it been a month already?

Mostly I just have a bunch of pictures that I wanted to share. But indeed it has been over a month since I have been in Zurich and tomorrow marks an entire month of school.

 What an experience it has been so far. There are certainly moments of confusion and loneliness as I get used to living in a different culture. But looking back over the last 30 days, the overwhelming feeling has been one of stepping out onto the edge to realize that I won’t fall in. It has taken some serious self-trust to believe that I’m probably not as weird as I think I am to the people around me 🙂 They don’t know my family though…  

Each day I am challenged by new opportunities to meet and connect with people, finding out what it means to be a foreigner, and work through the language barriers while trying not to lose my own English along the way. I am constantly asked to correct English and pronunciation, which I am happy to do but I hate being the bearer of bad news to say that, “No, you cannot say that you ‘stood up at 7am this morning’, it’s probably better to use ‘woke up’. ” (one of the funny direct translations from German).

But the conversations are usually enlightening for myself and the other person. And the Swiss have an expression that is used more often than you would realize, the simple: ‘Aha’ (with a sort of drawn out second syllable and light intonation on the first). It breaks down all judgements of wrongdoing and quickly leads everyone to an open mind to learn something new.  I tease my family here about it, but truthfully I have already adopted the custom as well!

Each week is full of ‘Aha’ moments that my peers fill with interesting facts about Switzerland, language, food, music and all the rest. And I am more than happy to be open to it.

Not to say there haven’t been the occasional other types of moments, but I’m happy to pass those off as culture shock and stick with what makes me happy. And speaking of culture shock, I went to an interesting workshop on it, presented especially for international students. Rather eye-opening and quite hilarious as we went through many of the typical Swiss stereotypes. One was presented as the map below which is scary how true it is. (And just in case you can’t tell, I’m in the Odd German and English spoken bit)swiss map

So to stick with being a tidy/punctual/chocolate eating Swiss student, I will get on to the pictures.

First stop, the Zurich Zoo! One lovely Sunday afternoon in the fall was spent walking around with some fellow Canadians at ETH. I certainly have a special place in my heart for the Calgary Zoo, so no zoo will quite compare, but this one had a few great moments.

Baby Galapagos Turtles. Well these ones appeared to be babies compared to the elders who were a meter in length!
Baby Galapagos Turtles. Well these ones appeared to be babies compared to the elders who were a meter in length!
I still can barely comprehend that this sign exists. It reads 'Watch out, this is where I feel at home'
I still can barely comprehend that this sign exists. It reads 'Watch out, this is where I feel at home'
Another amazing educational sign
Another amazing educational sign
Inside the tropical forest, this guy slowly turned fully green.
Inside the tropical forest, this guy slowly turned fully green.

Next up, a music show I went to with a handful of Environmental Science students. The drummer, though you can barely see him, is also in Environmental Sciences. You can check out the band here to hear their awesome electro-rock. The guy in the front was dancing from the first moment, and the rest of us joined in by the end. A really great night.

Coldeve and their biggest fan
Coldeve and their biggest fan

And finally, from where I take walks/runs. Up the hill from where I live, through the community gardens and onto the beautiful panoramic of the city and lake.

At night, walking past the garden plots
At night, walking past the garden plots
One of the numerous public fountains
One of the numerous public fountains
Lake Zurich at dusk
Lake Zurich at dusk
Zurich at dusk
Zurich at dusk


A few last words:

Thank you for all the comments and e-mails. I love hearing what you think and how you are doing!

Happy Birthday Zahra! xoxo

And if you made it this far, one more stereotype joke…

Heaven is where…

the police are British, the chefs French, the mechanics German, the lovers Italian and it is all organized by the Swiss.

Hell is where…

the police are German, the chefs British, the mechanics French, the lovers Swiss and it is all organized by the Italians.