15 July 2014

The Castle Gates are Open

On the edge of Canton Vaud, halfway between history and legend, there lies a castle.

 Last weekend and next (19-20 July), le Chateau d’Aigle takes you back to a colorful, idealized vision of medieval life, complete with comely inviting wenches.

 Actually, these three beauties were beckoning the king to a bath. He had merely watched the clash of swords and pikes that had just occurred on the field below …

… but the king was nevertheless sweaty and odiferous, and in need of a refreshing bath.

 Some of the king’s subjects received less cordial treatment.

 Others continued with their daily labors, whether it was making metal, music or 

All the while, we modern-day time travelers could walk along those lanes that led between history and our imaginations.

But there is more than make-believe to the Chateau d’Aigle. Its earliest enclosure was built in the 12th century by the Savoyards ...

... and periodically enlarged. In 1475 the castle was taken by soldiers fighting for the Republic of Berne, and later further expanded.


Today, surrounded by vineyards of chasselas grapes...
... in the heart of the Chablais wine region, the chateau is home to an excellent museum of wine-making with exhibits ranging from interactive computer displays to historical artifacts.

 Entry to the wine museum is included with the Fête Médiévale ticket (Adults: CHF 15, kids: CHF 5; families CHF 35, students: CHF 12.)

Well worth it for such blessings from the past. 

08 July 2014

Prague Art Nouveau

Part of Prague's magic is its Art Nouveau treasures. I wrote about this for the Cathay Pacific Airlines' magazine, Discovery, if you're interested.

24 June 2014

Cherry Season

Suddenly, the hard green berries that were hanging from my mother-in-law's cherry tree in Neuchâtel have become plump and red, the ripest ones almost black.

My father-in-law's family name is Cerison. In French, "cerises" are cherries, and a "cerisier" is a cherry tree. That means my father-in-law, Jean-Pierre Cerison, is irrevocably grafted to cherries. He is 87. I love this guy. Jean-Pierre doesn't speak often -- often because my amazing mother-in-law is holding forth -- but when he does speak up, it's often a five or six word zinger, most of which goes over my head because it's in rapid French carroming off cultural knowledge.

Jean-Pierre and I went on a wine-buying trip to Beaujolais three years ago.

The agreement was that I'd drive his lovely old Audi all the way, and he'd buy the wine for both of us. Leaving Neuchâtel, after some small-talk about the weather and beautiful countryside, we settled into comfortable periods of silence. He understands English but refuses to speak it to me. As we curved along the two-lane highways between the wooded hills and rolling pastures and vineyards of Burgundy, I asked him questions about the French language. He tried to explain the nuances between savoir
and connaître -- to know and to know (which I still don't and don't).

My mother-in-law, my wife and I just visited Jean-Pierre in the beautiful old-folks home he's living in now. It's right next door to his former home, where my mother-in-law still lives, so she can visit him every day. Sitting in the shady garden with him and other residents and attendants, we shared cherries I'd just picked from the tree in their yard. Jean-Pierre devoured the ones before him, one by one.

27 May 2014

Without Them the United Nations Would be a Tower of Babel

Without its multilingual interpreters, the United Nations’ work would come to a screeching halt. 

You can read about their work in my new article on swissinfo.com

Here are some additional photos from my morning in the English language interpreters booth in Geneva with Rebecca Edgington and Dan Harrison.

Interpreters prefer to receive written text of a
delegate's statement, even if it's only minutes
before he or she speaks, so they can familiarize
themselves with phraseology and technical jargon.

Dan Harrison translating from Spanish into English. He also translates
from French.

Smartphone multi-lingual dictionaries help
interpreters make sure they've got exactly the
right word. Rebecca Edgington translates from
Russian, German or French into English.
Edgington says she loves the second-by-second, word-by-word challenge 
of interpreting on the fly.

04 May 2014

Free in Neuchâtel

Another reason I love my little town of Neuchâtel. This amazing musician also plays and sings and composes jazz and pop.

And many of you girls (and guys) will agree with my wife that Nicolas Bamberger isn't too hard to look at either. Hear more of his work at his intriguingly named website, Garden Portal.

24 April 2014

The Swiss Even Vote for Fighter Planes

Princeton University analysts far smarter than you or I have recently reported that the United States is no longer a true democracy.
So what does a true democracy look like? Here in Switzerland, where its famous Direct Democracy is enshrined in citizens' minds even more rigidly than all the stone-jawed statues of Jean Calvin you find in the Protestant cantons, the concept is simple: one person, one vote. Wow.

Swiss citizens put less trust than Americans in their elected representatives to make decisions for them, so here in CH there are frequent initiatives upon which the citizenry votes directly. 

A current example: On May 18th, voting citizens will point thumbs up or down on which fighter plane the country should buy next -- or to not buy any fucking warplanes at all, danke, merci and grazie. 

Every citizen gets to vote on this. 

Can you imagine such people-power in the United States?

Scary Masks

Need some new source material for your nightmares? The Musée du Quai Branly can help you out, as I discovered on a quick trip to Paris a couple weeks ago.

Included among its large permanent collection of traditional art from Oceania, Asia, Africa and the Americas are enough masks to populate a poker tournament. Some are intricately crafted with inlay of shell and bone, some are so crudely hewn from wood or stone you can almost hear their makers grunting. Some masks show a vacant expression, some are a nearly abstract map of shapes and lines leading to the soul. Others are almost goofy, though toothy.

Others still, utterly terrifying.

Does he look familiar, comic book fans?
I was glad each mask was behind thick glass.

The guy below managed to be both scary and funny. Can you read his lips? Isn't he asking for a hamburger?

Until May 18th there are even more masks at the Branly, thanks to the temporary exhibition, Bois Sacré (Sacred Wood), masks from West Africa. If you're in Paris, you gotta go. Just don't expect sweet dreams that night.