Friday, July 6, 2007

In which Preston buys Patrick a drink, Olivier some sweets, and Nicole a begonia

Well, he did it. I'm amazed, but it worked. Patrick made a friend through some online bulletin boards and, several months ago, she invited Patrick to come stay with her and her husband should he ever be traveling through Switzerland. Well, 2 days ago he sent her an email saying essentially "We're here; is the offer still good?" and incredibly it was! More details on that at the end of this post. Let's get to Fribourg, first.

Leaving Kandersteg was honestly a sad experience. We were forced to check out of the Scout Centere itself after only two nights because that's all we had requested, we thought we were just going to pass through but we met so many friends and felt so at home that we stayed two additional nights. It amused me greatly that we partied harder with the Scouts than with the college kids and hostel crowd; plus, we learned a great deal and truly had our eyes opened to the way other cultures do things. The BSA seem pretty uptight compared to scouting in the rest of the world. It's not evident until you bring them face to face, but once you see the way in which other scouting organizations are run you can see how out of touch BSA is on some of the larger principles of scouting. Some of them pity us (the Scots, for example) and many of them just hope its not coming their way. I'm also embarassed to admit that I'm still a little unclear on the Netherlands/Holland/Dutch heirarchy, but I'm relieved to NOT be the American tourist in the bar in Kandersteg who required 5 minutes of patient explanation to comprehend why the Austrian scouts didn't know much about kangaroos and boomerangs.

After 4 nights in Kandersteg it was a bit of a haul to get back on the road again Thursday morning, but we're getting good at it. We stocked up on our usual traveling food--bread, cheese, sausage, fruit, chocolate--and caught the train north to Bern, completely unsure of where we were going to sleep that night. Though we're also getting used to the idea, it continues to be a source of discomfort for me to spend large parts of my day homeless-in-fact. Fortunately, with our packs light and portable and our food already bought we're pretty flexible. As a consequence of our somewhat cavalier approach to planning we find ourselves constantly stepping off trains into the middle of the cities with NO idea whats there. We're getting it down to a science: When's the next train, where's the tourist office, how can we get a map, whats a reasonable price for internet? Patrick and his nose for bandwidth save us a lot of time on this front. It was an interesting experience, as we moved north from Kandersteg to Bern, to hear the change in the language around us. Kandersteg is clearly in the German-speaking portion of the country, but Bern is both a large city and closer to the French section, so most signs and announcements are bilingual. It's a pretty cool feeling to be as delighted to hear French as English. Any port in a storm!

Once in Bern and properly lunched we were confronted with the unappealing prospect of another night in an HI hostel which, as we'd learned in Genova, are clean, well maintained, predictable, and as depressing as a cafeteria lunch. Into this glum mood shown a single ray of light: Patrick's longshot friend in Fribourg. And believe it or not, she came through, inviting us to come join them that very night. We were overjoyed and, not forgetting our manners, asked if there was anything we could bring. She said no, it's not necessary (adding that in Switzerland, unlike in France, no actually means no) but we, being American and not Swiss, insisted. After some prodding she admitted that her husband was quite fond of L├Ąckerli [leck-early, but you have to gargle the "ck"] a hard, dense ginger spice bread somewhere between ginger coffee cake and graham crackers. (That's a terrible description, but I can be forgiven, when *I* asked what it was the woman simply offered me a taste rather than trying to explain.) We found a whole bag L├Ąckerli and a nice potted begonia and caught our train looking rather silly but proud of ourselves. It's hard to look manly holding a yellow begonia and a bag of sweets, particularly when you're standing next to a stocky Swiss soldier in fatigues.

Stepping off the train we met Nicole (aka Midori) and caught the bus to the flat in the newer section of Fribourg that she shares with her husband Olivier. Nicole and Olivier are both lifelong Swiss citizens; Nicole speaks beautifully tinted English, mindblowingly rapid French, and ein kleine deutsch, probably much more than she lets on. Olivier speaks only French, with merciful enunciation and sympathetic pauses when I glaze over halfway through what he's telling me. Olivier is a masterful modelmaker and tabletop games enthusiast who works for the nationalized Swiss Telcom; Nicole is a student finishing her (equivalent) Master's in English Philology who also finds time to play what appears to be every console RPG ever published. Geeks in the best sense of the word, both of them, and it's a delight to benefit from their knowledge of local and Swiss culture, not to mention their cooking. We ended Thursday night in fine style with a hearty local meal of fondue and white wine, whereupon Patrick and I crashed, mindful of having run ourselves down in the rain and mud at Kandersteg. I'll leave off here and continue Friday in its own post.

[Edit 1: In answer to Scott's question about petanque, it's the Southern France/Northern Italy game that is bocce's more sophisticated big brother. Each player has 3 solid steel bocce, which is merely Italian for ball. There is also a small, brightly painted cork ball about the size of a fishing bobber, called (at least in France) the bouchon. The bouchon is thrown out some disance onto a flat, crushed aggregate court (in Italy this court was spiked with strategically placed rocks to make it more difficult.) The goal is to get as many as possible of your bocce closer to the bouchon than the closest of your opponent's bocce.

Strategically, you can either pointe or chute. To pointe is to toss a gentle, high arc with a slight backspin, hoping to get it to land as close as possible to the bouchon. A riskier throw is to chute, a flat, low arc aimed at actually hitting the opponents ball in an aggressive play intended to blast the opposition's pointe ball(s) billiards style across the court. Though unpracticed American students (even former waiters instructed by a French chef) should stick to pointing, grey-haired Italian sharks can lob the bocce with such pinpoint accuracy that you can see sparks on impact.....and kiss your winning pointe goodbye.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So how were PNT tours of cheeserie and chocolate factory? I was surprised with the blog title "Preston bought Patrick a drink" and not chocolate?? We didn't hear about the drink-though based on PST e-mail saying he is sick maybe it was a hot tottie! Glad you are residented at a home -good place to be sick. Get well very fast! Love Mom