Crippling nostalgia and irrepressible wanderlust

Right now, I am sitting in a Starbucks in Montana with Chelsea, surrounded by people in military issued camo and young people, and completely engulfed in memories. The trees outside are bare, and the people speak in English, a langauge I am fluent in, and strangely I do not feel at home.

Even though I was only there for two years, living in Switzerland has essentially warped my ideas about “home”. Home is more people than place to many people, but I have become defined by a foreign location that I am not a native of. I do not speak fluent Italian, but I can get around, order food, ask for things, and have basic conversations. I can travel with my Binario-7 (After-7) pass to Zurich, Basel, Lausanne, etc.- all without problems. I can order food in German and French and I know how the Swiss work, because it eventually became the way I worked.  I became absorbed in a place that was so unfamiliar- expect for the landscape, which Montana possesses also. Right now all my energy is monopolized by the past, which I so painfully wish could be my present.

Please excuse my nostalgia. It surfaces with such vigor there is no point in trying to battle it. If you get sucked into a rip tide at the beach, you ride it out and then eventually swim out of it, and my nostalgia is much the same. Unexpected, but powerful.

Sunday Poem: Lugano and New Shoes

And here do I sit, with bandaged feet,

For as I walked did trouble I meet.

I set off with my camera early one morn’:

Indeed I set off for the rising sun.

The sky was pink, the water still black,

And soon I knew I couldn’t turn back.

Except in my mind, surely I thought,

That this is something that I rather ought,

Not do today, in brand new shoes.

But at the time, if you snooze, you lose.

So I kept on stepping farther away,

In brand new shoes on a brand new day.

My camera was clicking, my eyes were dazzled.

Surely by now, my feet would feel frazzled.

Sadly, my nerves didn’t react,

Quickly enough for me to turn back.

I walked another mile, perhaps even more,

I kept on stepping further towards,

Total destruction of my heels and toes,

An idiot I was, and this I now know.

Eventually, my feet did start to bleed.

And this warning did I finally heed,

And retreat like Napoleon in Russia’s winter,

But my bleeding feet did my progress hinder.

So as I pathetically limped back, as sad as could be,

I knew I was screwed for my entirety.

Alright, that’s dramatic, but you understand,

By being spontaneous and forming last minute plans,

And going on walks when one shouldn’t be walking,

Well, obviously, danger I was stalking.

So my feet are sadly covered in bandages now,

Hopefully gangrene doesn’t show up to say, “Wow!

I’ll gnaw on some dead flesh! Mmm looks so good!”

I think my feet are out of Infection Neighborhood.

They’re just ripe with blisters and painful as hell.

It’s my own silly fault, I must shrug oh well.

But I wish to bid adieu to my foolish ways,

And next time I go on a hike, perhaps I’ll be fazed,

By this tragedy of epic proportion,

And don proper footwear, a wonderful notion!

So, people, do not follow my lead.

Unless you desire for your feet to bleed,

Please, dear readers, really do heed,

My creed of begging your feet not to bleed,

So wear shoes that are comfy with cushion and bounce,

So that you can hike, step high, perhaps even flounce.

I wish you good luck in all of your fun!

Please wear good shoes next time, everyone!

I composed this poem after an almost successful attempt to walk to Gandria, a little Swiss village about 5 km away from Lugano’s downtown. I walked with my Olympus OM-20 and a couple rolls of film, in some new oxfords, without breaking them in one bit.

My feet were ripped to shreds, and I eventually took a bus back to Lugano after walking about 8 km with my feet raw and bleeding. Luckily, I think these photographs, all tinged with early morning blues and pinks, are worth it.

Let’s get away from all this and go to Lausanne.

Hillary and I got out of bed around 4:45 in the morning to go to Lausanne. One train from Lugano to Zurich, another from Zurich to Lausanne. Luckily, our trust friend Hannah helped us through Zurich HB, as I had forgotten where our connecting train would be- we got there, though! Woo! 6 or 7 hours later we found ourselves in French-speaking Switzerland starved for food and art. After going to the Collection de l’Art Brut, we made our way down to Ouchy, Lausanne, and to the Olympic park. Hillary and I basked in the sun, sat on the benches, looked at all the flowers, made war with the French language, and laughed a lot. It was one of those days where we ignored all responsibilities we had to school and homework and gave ourselves completely to this  perfect place.

I think Lausanne knew we were coming and had all the flowers bloom and had the sun shining perfectly because it was seriously the kind of gorgeous day you only get with fate.  We meandered for a few hours, but only had until about 5, because we had another 7 or so hours of transit to get back to Lugano…we stumbled home at about 1 am, having eaten candy on the train and I don’t remember what else.  It was a great day with a wonderful friend in one of those places you’ll never forget.

With yet another (I’m sorry!) trip down memory lane, I continue to be a horrible present-time blogger but a rather good nostalgic one, yes? I swear, I have three rolls of film in various cameras, and they’re almost ready to be developed!

Zurigo, how I miss thee!

On my birthday, I was miserable. I was far away from home and I was turning 20. I felt as though I had accomplished nothing, and my self esteem was non existent. I had barely any money, but I knew what I wanted to do anyway: go to Zürich. Something about getting away from Lugano, getting away from the people I loved, and getting away from the fact that at that point my future was so tremulous I got myself on a 7:00 am train and got to Zürich at early lunch.

I first went to the Kunsthaus, the art museum in Zurich with stupendous art from Mondrian to van der Weyden. They had a magnificent room devoted to Ferdinand Hodler, one of my favorite Swiss artists. I went from room to room, absorbing the energy from each work and wondering what the artists’ lives were like. I wandered around the gift shop and got some postcards with my favorite paintings on them- I do this and I collect these postcards so that I have a little miniature art collection of my own that is portable.

After the Kunsthaus left me full of artistic thoughts, I spent some time in Starbucks, listening to five or six languages being spoken simultaneously, then wandered through the Old Town, or Altstadt, walking to the Grössmunster, the two-tiered church right in the middle of the Altstadt.

The church has agate windows and draws many tourists, but I didn’t stop walking. I wandered around the Grössmunster, admiring the copper doors and the height of it all. I walked across the bridge where the Limmat River meets Lake Zurich, and saw the Ferris wheel and walked down Bahnhofstrasse, past the shop of Luxemburgerli’s. Of course, I couldn’t resist going in, fighting the crowded space and getting a box of them for the ride home.

Right off the Bahnhofstrasse on the right side as I was headed to the Bahnhof (train station) was an English book store- thank goodness! I had been craving literature and bought 3 or 4 reasonably priced books, deciding that even if I was going to broke I should have some words to salve the wounds.

On the train home I made friends with a Turkish girl studying in Milan, got off the train at about 11 at night in the dark, took the bus home, and collapsed in my bed. I didn’t feel so insignificant anymore, and it was a day well spent.

I just looked outside to the cold, familiar world outside my window and now I’m back in my seat instead of curled up in the SBB train waiting to get off and go to my apartment. It seems like a whole other world.

Pretty living things post. (Look away!)

Everything here is dead. (I mean flower/pretty plant wise).

I mean, dead. It won’t re-appear or re-animate until maybe March…but that’s a stretch. To cope with this bout of lifelessness here in Montana, I periodically post sappy photographs of pretty naturalia (natural things). Today, it’s flowers. If you can’t handle the cheesiness of them, I suggest you go play Tetris or make some hot chocolate or do something – anything- else. This is going to be pretty, it’s going to be sappy, and it’s going to be repetitive.

Also, I sadly do not know the names of a lot of these flowers. If you want to get all horticultural on me and spread your knowledge, let me know so that I can properly identify the flora! Thanks!

Lugano on the brain.

Sometimes one needs a little nostalgia. I seem to constantly relive these moments- cooking in Girasole (which means sunflower in Italian), hitting up a discoteca and dancing until 5 am, shaving Hannah’s head and making her look super convict like, roaming around little Swiss villages and drinking wine on wood floors, all while absorbing the Neo-Renaissance architecture and classic piazzas scattered around the town.

Mystery Vintage Postcards (can anybody decipher?)

Lugano has a tiny shop where vecchie cartoline are sold (antique post cards). For about 1 CHF (Swiss franc), I bought about 25 of them when I first moved. I sent them off to various friends and families, but kept a few with beautiful images and lovely script- before fountain pens became a thing of the past!

These postcards are from 1938 and…I don’t know when, perhaps a decade or two before? If anybody can speak pre-WWII German or Swiss-German, and you want to spend some quality time deciphering these, well- go ahead! Let me know if you do!

Tschüß!

Ho pensato che sarebbe meglio ormai.

Ah, heart pangs. Wanderlust. Debilitating moments where instead of being productive, I skim through the thousands and thousands of pictures I have of my two years studying and being a part of Switzerland.

A lot of people treat my two years abroad as a sort of vacation. In that I first went to travel and have fun and second study. That is very very false. Being at a small school you learn how it works, and you want to learn how to get involved. Even though my photographs rarely show the blandness of the cafeterias or the classrooms, that’s because I take them for granted and appreciate my time spent in il centro and fuori scuola (downtown and outside school).

My school had a rigorous course schedule and unrelenting amounts of papers and homework. German, British, and Italian professors  with heavy accents teach you about gender roles, the history of Italy, and how to do algebraic equations. If I earned an A, it was something I had worked my ass of for. My B’s were also hard won…a particularly brilliant and quick witted professor named Professor Pyka would give us obscure readings and ask us to make connections. His insatiable appetite for academic progress made us all cower in fear, awe, and mostly confusion.

It’s strange, because now that I’ve transferred elsewhere, I still wake up and consciously have to adjust myself to what is to being a new world. I’ve been here for seven weeks and I still think I’ll see my professors in the local bar. I see students here who look like friends back in Switzerland. I hear people speak German and I smell cigarette smoke and I am brought back to nights huddling at the tables outside the Irish pub or making my way to Club 1 in the dark alleys of Lugano. I think my professors are accessible by email at 3 am.

Honestly, Franklin is not an Ivy League institution, but I’ve been here for seven weeks and have seamlessly gotten into the level of academic rigor as befits a junior in college. My money that I have paid for an international education has paid off; in fact, I’ve been acing all my exams, and feel totally competant to face any challenges the world  holds for me. Maybe it’s because I’ve slept in train stations, been lost in foreign countries, have made friends who don’t speak English on train rides, and have ordered food in multiple languages, but something about living in Switzerland for two years has bolstered my confidence in myself and my ability to do whatever I want to.

Franklin, do not forget me. I shall never forget you!

Nostalgia post: Lugano

Right now every waking moment I’m whimsically wishing I could fly back to Lugano. Last year I lived in Paradiso (literally paradise) and while it was a warped paradise, there was a certain Utopia-ish feel to it- I had a balcony overlooking two countries and an investment banking firm across the street. So Swiss indeed.

This weekend is Blues to Bop, which involves several stages scattered among the piazze and musicians from all over playing rock, gospel, and um, blues. It’s wonderful- we always meander from stage to stage, usually ending the night with a crepe or gelato sold at 1 am by sleepy, slightly cranky vendors.

 

Andiamo a Zurigo! (The Zürich post)

If I takes the 7:12 train from Lugano to Zürich, I go knowing that I’m heading to one of my favorite cities on earth. The train will quietly usher you over the Gotthard Pass and into one of the greatest places I’ve ever had the chance to explore.

Zurich seems sleepy; it’s metropolitan area clocks in at under 400,000 people, and is cradled in the mountains and hugged by a lake. Don’t be  misled, though. Zürich is a city of quiet efficiency, of money, culture and food, but it’s not overt or obscene. The Swiss bask in a great system, but part of being Swiss is not creating envy in others. When one goes to Zürich, a feeling of contentment comes. White noise from the trams, people and cars is soft, not overbearing. I am almost lulled into taking a nap on a park bench; another added bonus is that one could actually do so and know that the bench would be clean and nobody would pickpocket you whilst in a mid-city bench slumber.

It’s also a multi-lingual town: Switzerland has four national tongues (French, German, Italian and Romansch), but toss in English, some Russian, Scandinavian and Nordic languages peppering the air of Zürich, and you’ve got a  spiced up city (oh, and Croatian is popular, too!). If you want a truly multi-lingual experience go and sit in any of the cities Starbucks. Plunk yourself on the second floor where the university students are huddled, studying, people are having conversations, others chirp into cell phones; at least six languages will be heard in under 5 minutes, I swear it.

Zürich means the Kunsthaus- a rip-roaring art nerd’s paradise. Honestly, I can’t talk about how wonderful the Kunsthaus is enough- it’s so easy to get to, the collection is fantastic and well done, and it’s never really crowded, so it’s easy to take one’s time and get close to the art and examine it from all angles. Cy Twombly, Picasso, Mondrian, lots of Swiss and German Renaissance masters, and so much more. They’ve got a massively brilliant modern and contemporary collection- right now they’re making a new part of the museum open, and adding in more works. The Kunsthaus is also walkable from the Old Town and the Bahnhof (train station), and is super close to the lake, too.

If this city means anything, it means wandering, and it means staring at the beautiful Protestant churches. The Grossmünster is a sight to see, and the Fraumünster is right up there. The Grossmünster has stained glass windows, but also windows made from agate: agate pieces welded together to form beautiful combinations of light and color. If/when you go to Zurich do not miss out on these churches. They also have amazing carved doors and lovely steps and angles.

For eating, I’m a broke college student, so restaurants are the kind that serve large amounts of food for cheap (ish). Lee’s Take Out, in the Old Town, gives you heaping plates of noodles and rice with delicious toppings- and outdoor dining (this means picnic tables leaning at an angle on the cobblestone) for about 18 CHF. It’s not classy, it’s not dainty, it’s just good. If you’re not terribly hungry but want something to eat, a hot fresh brezel from outside COOP is 5 CHF and delicious- I like mine buttered.

 

If you want dainty things, Zürich proffers the Luxembrgerli for your refined palette. Made by the Confiserie Sprüngli, they are tiny little macarons made in a dazzling array of colors and flavors- my personal favorite is Cappuccino, although Himbeer (raspberry) is a top second! Any Sprungli store will be mobbed with metropolitan madness; the Luxemburgerli are a hot item at any time of the day. Thusly, if you want a Luxemburgerli, you can get one at a quieter branch in the Bahnhof or the airport, but the most fun is earning your Luxemburgerli by patiently and doggedly creeping up from the back of the ravenous (and chic) pack at the main Sprüngli branch on Bahnhofstraße.

And with that, tschüß!

One of the doors to the Grossmünster

Switzerland + Italy = Switaly

At the moment, I’m in the midst of nostalgia. What better way to share this nostalgia than visually demonstrating where I’ve been spending the better part of two years of my life?

My college life has never been normal. After deciding to hop on a jet plane to go to school in Lugano, Switzerland, my life took every twist and turn away from normal possible. It’s reality, but it doesn’t fit what most people would call a “real” life.

Lugano is a town of about 50,000 people tucked right on- you guessed it- Lago di Lugano. It’s a wealthy enclave only about 5 miles away from Italy, and the third biggest banking city in Switzerland after Zürich and Geneva. Zürich, being close to Germany, makes tax evasion handy. Geneva is for France, and Lugano is for Italy. Woo, proximity!

My school is bizarre. About 500 students come to our campus to study degrees from Finance, International Relations, Art History, Communications, History, etc…and we have classrooms, syllabi, professors and all the usual college-like amenities, including dorms. However, being in Lugano means that college takes a surreal spin. Lugano is in Switaly: the canton of Ticino, the only Italian speaking canton (state) in Switzerland. That’s why students often call it Switaly. It’s got the Italian culture blending with Swiss culture into a weird, but wonderful mix.

Lugano is beautiful; there is a wide shopping street, piazzas scattered all over town, lovely parks and swans, adorable well dressed Swiss children, and lots of money. It’s not uncommon to see Porsche  and BMW vehicles  jostling for space with superior Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s.  Women don minks, men wear tailored suits that you know they went to Milan for, and the footwear that the Luganese sport is delightful. High heeled Salvatore Ferragamo shoes clack while double monk leather Bally shoes stand next to a pair of Gucci kicks waiting for stracciatella gelato. Chanel ballet flats and Yves Saint Laurent spiked booties, man sandals from the likes of Prada and the flip flops of eager tourists all meet together.

None of my pictures show this, of course. Instead, they show study sessions in a park near La Ghetto (no joke), windows as one walks to class, and lots of scenic beauty. I can’t help, though, to at least verbally try and demonstrate how bizarre Lugano is. Luckily, this is all in it’s favor; it’s also a hip contemporary art town with a world famous symphony and some really classic Alpine views to boot. 2.5 hours away you’re in Zürich, 1 hour to Milan. Getting to airports is quick and cheap, and the weather is temperate, although super rainy.

Right now, it’s in the 80’s outside with no humidity. Even though I know Lugano is probably reaching 37 C  (almost 100 F) and is at 100% humidity, right now I’d rather be sweating to get a nocciolo gelato and then eat it in the shade of my favorite bench al centro than be in my room typing this.