Archive | November, 2017

Bonfire Night

9 Nov

Although it might be a bit late to be blogging about Bonfire Night (it was last Sunday after all), I have just finished watching the BBC Drama Gunpowder, which is a dramatisation of the events leading up to the 5th November and the plot to kill the King of England and the politicians in the House of Parliament.

After the first installment of the three part drama, the BBC was flooded with complaints about the episode, saying that it was unnecessarily gory. I was actually quite surprised that it wasn’t gory enough. One scene showed the public executions and the camera “looked away” at the really graphic parts. You did see someone having their intestines pulled out while they were still alive, but I am sure that the guts and gore was mainly made up of sausages and other things that you might find in the bin of the local butchers. I am convinced that what went on in the Jacobian era was actually a lot more horrifying.

The drama reminded me of what a rich history we have in England. Try to explain to someone from another country that in each November we gather in a field and set fire to the effigy of a Catholic from the 17th century and they will look at you in complete dismay. In Switzerland, there is the ritual burning of a snowman in April to get rid of the winter, which has a lot more positive and much less sinister message than burning someone because of their religion.

Bonfire Night is one of the traditions that I miss. Nothing is quite so British as waiting in the freezing cold for someone to set off some fireworks. All the while complaning about how much it cost to get in and that you will not be doing this again next year. As a child I remember being so cold that I couldn’t feel my fingers or my toes. I was so glad to be back in the warmth again to thaw out. By the time the next year came round we had forgot how cold a November evening could be and we were excited about going again. It’s a shame that the torch light parade that used to happen in our village stopped because of health and safety reasons. The world has gone mad.

It was Abba who said “the history book on the shelf, it’s always repeating itself”. I wonder if Guy Fawkes would have been inclined to use the same tactics today? Back then, people were complain about how the country was being run and people are still making the same complaints today. If he had have been successful all those years ago, perhaps we would have a parade in his honour and not be burning him on a pile of old wood.fireworks-2922007__340

40 Before 40: Challenge #27

6 Nov

Reading is one of my passions in life. I could easily sit and read for the whole day if I had the time and there were no interruptions. A great way to learn another language is to read. It is surprising how much you can learn passively.

However, as it is not always easy to read in another language, this can take the fun out of one of my favourite past times. Sometimes it feels like you are taking more time looking up words than you are actually reading the text. Despite this, I decide that my Challenge #27 would be to Read 40 novels in German.

So far, this is what I have read:

1. Der Vorleser by Bernhard Schlink (The Reader)

I read this book as part of my German lessons earlier this year. I wrote about this at the time on my blog. If you didn’t see it the first time, the link is here.

2. Happy Birthday Türke! by Jakob Arjourni (Happy Birthday Turk!)

This is the story of a private detective of Turkish heritage born in Germany, who is asked to investigate the death of a man, after the police have shown their disinterest to use resources to solve the murder of a “foreigner”. The story begins on the birthday of the detective, hence the title “Happy Birthday, Turk!”

The story also explores issues, such as racial stereotypes and the tensions that exist between people who are seen as foreigners and those who consider themselves to be natives. The books ends with the detective not only discovering the truth but also uncovering a corrupt system.

Thanks to this book I now know more words for prostitute in German than I do in English. I have no idea when I will use these words though.

3. Ein Tag mit Herrn Jules by Diane Broeckhoven (A Day with Mr Jules)

This was am interesting book about a woman whose husband passes away in his armchair in the morning. She doesn’t want to accept this and carries on her day as usual. What throws a spanner in the works is when the autistic child who lives in the same building comes over. He regularly comes over to plays chess with the man who has passed away.

Being autistic, he doesn’t like changes to his routine and the wife has to let him in to play chess with her husband. The boy realises quickly that his normal chess player has passed away but he spends the day with the wife anyway. By the end of the book, the wife has come to terms with her loss and admits that she needs to contact the relevant people, including her son and daughter, to deal with the death of her husband.

4. Ein paar Leute suchen das Glück und lachen sich tot by Sibyelle Berg (A few people search for happiness and laugh themselves to death)

This was an interesting book. I mainly chose the book because the author lives in Zurich. The story has short chapters which focus on individual chapters, by the end of the book several of the individual stories have intertwined.

The book explores themes such as love, loss, the complexity of relationships and, to a certain extent, the meaning of modern life.

By the end I wasn’t sure what to make of it all. I had quite a few unanswered questions. In terms of my language learning, I did learn a lot of new words, especially colloquial terms that are perhaps not easy to pick up by formal German lessons.

Four down, 36 to go…

A long weekend in Bordeaux

3 Nov

Although it seems like a long time ago now, I spent a long weekend last weekend in Bordeaux, France. Bordeaux is where my boyfriend is currently living to improve his French. I suspect, however, that a reason that is just as important is that he likes to drink wine. For the past few weeks, all I have heard about is wine tasting and Cognac. As Easyjet fly from Basel to Bordeaux, I decided it was a good opportunity to see what all the fuss was about.

After the shock of arriving back to a cold Switzerland from Singapore, I was pleasantly surprised that the weather in France was warm. I don’t mean warm as in Barbados warm but certainly noticeably warmer than in Switzerland. We walked around the city and my personal tour guide showed me all of the major points of interest.

When in France it is a legal requirement to have a lunch of bread and cheese sat by the river. There was an artisan farmers’ market by the waterfront so we bought some bread, with olives and onions baked in it, and some lovely sheeps’ milk cheese. We watched the world go by for a bit and it was lovely to be able to sit out in October still.

Docked on the quai was a large Russian sailing ship, the Mir. Apparently the ship has been visiting Bordeaux for the past 30 years. It was an impressive ship and not something that I would have expected to see there. It also accounted for why there were so many Russian sailors milling about the place. We did say that we would go back to go on board, because there were a lot of people on it at lunchtime, but we ended up running out of time.

After some retail therapy (I wanted to get some new running shoes from Decathalon), we had some time to sit and have a drink before going to dinner. We stumbled on a local bar that was next to the Basicilica of St Michael. It was quite interesting to observe some of the locals coming and going. The best part was actually watching someone trying to park in front of the bar. That someone was a male of the species before you come to any other conclusions. He tried about eight times to squeeze into a spot that was far too small. Every time he reversed backwards, he nudged a BMW that was parked behind. The BMW physically moved every time. It was an achievement that he didn’t cause any damage to the other much more expensive car.

We ate at La Crabe Marteau, a famous seafood restaurant. There were about 3 things on the menu: crab, lobster or langustinens. We had the crab. It was pretty exciting. You get give allsorts of equipment to get into the crab. Luckily, I didn’t have to de-shell my crab by myself; the waiter took pity on me and did it for me. Markus wasn’t so lucky! The crab itself was huge and I was surprised by how much meat there was in it. I thought that it would be mainly shell but I was so wrong that I couldn’t even finish my meal, which almost never happens.

The next day it was time to head to Libourne for a Chateaux Open Day. A lot of chateaux open up to the public for free wine tastings as a way to market their wines. The first chateau was very small. It was clearly a farm that was diversifying to generate more money. We saw the cellar and how the wine was produced. They even had two shire horses to help harvest the wine. The wine itself was really good. We bought a bottle to have for later.

The next chateaux was more of a wine merchants. We weren’t able to see the cellar or see how the wine was produced but we could try some, which was the most important point. There were almost too many to try here. At the first chateau there were only three wines to try and we tried them in increasing strength. Here it was a bit of a mixture and I wasn’t always sure that I could taste the difference.

We moved on to Chateau de la Dauphine. This was a huge chateau which produces about 200,000 bottles of wine per year. The contrast between this chateau and the one that we had first visited was huge. We had a half hour tour of the whole grounds and the vineyards. Of course, my French is not very good, so I had my personal translator with me. After a late lunch and a bottle of wine at the chateau we headed back to Bordeaux.

In case you are wondering, we didn’t drive. We got the train and then walked to the chateaux. The 25km I walked that day was only just offset all of the wine that I drunk!

Later we went back to the city. I wanted to take a picture of the Miroir d’eau (Water Mirror) in the city centre at night. There is a thin layer of water directly opposite some government buildings which reflects the light perfectly at night. It is breathtaking.

The next day we did a bit more wandering around and some shopping. We bought some Canelé de Bordeaux back with us. I fell in love with this little, delicious treats, which are available everywhere and are normally served with a coffee. A sweet reminder of a lovely weekend in Bordeaux.