Chain Bridge, Budapest

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Aufedersein, Switzerland.

My current time in Switzerland has come to an end. I say current time because I am almost positive that I will be back in June to finish climbing mountains, eating cheese, and looking at clocks. I am leaving tomorrow morning to take the TGV Lyria to Paris to start Phase II of spring break.

I dont think I have slept this well since I got to Europe two months ago. I cannot thank the Schlessingers enough for their hospitality in Zurich. Susan, the mom; Patrick, the dad; and Charlie, the kid all showed me around Zurich and greater Switzerland and I have seen a lot of beautiful countryside. The other two kids, Sarah and David, are busy with college in the US and A. On Sunday, Patricks parents came over for lunch. The are a really neat couple. The grandpa, Papu, is Swiss and the grandma, Mamu, is French. They have been married for sixty years and live in Papus childhood home Baden, a town a little to the north of Zurich. Conversation was conducted in French, German, Swiss German, and English. Multilingual dinner conversations would become the norm for rest of my stay in Switzerland. The country is composed of four regions, the Swiss German, French, Italian, and Romansch regions, all of which speak their own respective language. Since Switzerland is small country (you can reach just about any point with a three hour drive), a two hour drive will bring you to a different region where the language is different and the culture is different. Zurich is located in the Swiss German region, the largest, and I did not have a chance to visit any of the other regions, though I know I will on a subsequent visit.
On Monday, Susan took me past Lucerne to Engelburg, which is in the middle of the country. The town is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and we saw dozens of people carrying skis and snowboards just coming off or going up to the mountain. The town was filled with hundred-year-old houses and the greenest fields I have ever seen. A walled-in monastery sat on the edge of town and several little kids ran around the towns streets being let out of school. Many children, including those younger than ten years old, walk to school on their own protected only by a fluorescent vest to alert drivers. The entire area looked like the movie The Sound of Music. I havent seen it, but thats what Susan told me. That night I attended a Passover seder at Tal, a local college student who is helping out Charlie. His family is also very multicultural. His mom is from Atlanta, his dad is from Sweden, his step-dad is from Paris, and he has many cousins in Israel. We told the story of the Exodus in English, Hebrew, and Swiss German. About ten people attended the seder, including a fellow University of Texas graduate of 1998. He works for the recruiting department for the Zurich branch of Google, which is the main European headquarters. The other Swiss at the table were perplexed when we talked about American football, Mack Brown and Rickie Williams. I had a great time but was relieved when the seder ended at 1:45am. I ended up missing the last train home and spent the night at their house.

Tuesday morning I made it back home, still in a suit, and crashed on my bed. Later that afternoon I went into Zurich to meet up with Charlie and his friends. We hung out around town and then I took the train to the Rosens house for the second seder. The Rosens are originally from England and they all speak with an English accent and like to make jokes. Their rendition of Had Gadyah was the capstone to the night. They mimicked the sounds of the animals and objects in the song, such as: Then came the stick that beat the dog (whack!) that ate the cat (meow!) that ate the kid (baaa!) that my father bought for two zuzim (how much!), one kid, one kid. During the seder I talked to Joel, who is 19 years old and is currently serving in the Swiss military. Switzerland still conscripts every able bodied man when they are 18 years old. They serve initially for 6 months (I think) and then serve a few weekends a year for 20 years. In fact, I have reading a book I found in the Schlessingers house about Switzerland in World War 2. Did you know that Switzerland mobilized every man aged 16 to 50 and trained them to be marksmen? The Swiss had fortifications in the mountains and pledged to blow up all the bridges and tunnels in the country and wage guerrilla warfare if the Germans had invaded. Today, Joel told me, his training includes how to make IEDs and how a platoon of soldiers  (30 soldiers) can destroy an entire enemy battalion (1,500 soldiers). Hows that for neutrality?

Today, Wednesday, we visited Mamu and Papu in Baden, which is a 15 minute train ride from Zurich. They live on a hill in an old Swiss house. The house is over 90 years old and is three (or four) stories with several rooms.  The house itself is great and has an amazing view of Baden and the nearby mountains, but the things that fill the house are even more interesting. They have several dozen volumes of photo albums and thousands of books in several languages neatly stacked on shelves in every room. Papu had a European billiard table, which is different from an American pool table. This one didnt have any pockets, just a rectangular felt table. You play with only one red and two white balls, one for you and one for your opponent. The object is to hit your white ball so that it hits both the red ball and the other white ball. Each time you succeed you earn a point. The grandparents also maintain a collection of old military hats and muskets, both friendly and foe. One neat find is the 100 year old ritual handwashing basin for Shabbat that is installed on the third floor. I fully enjoyed both our spaghetti dinner and my final night in Switzerland.

Now it is very late and I have to go to bed. Tomorrow I will be in a whole nother country where the people speak a different language. Phase II, commence.

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