Total Color Overload

I just returned from a retina-burning couple of hours at the Zurich Kunsthaus, where the exhibit Feast of Color is in full, vibrant swing. The 200 or so paintings and sculptures come from the private collection of Werner and Gabrielle Merzbacher, an apparently insanely wealthy couple with a passion for intense colors and early-20ith-century European art. My favorites were a series of paintings done by Kandinsky in a small town in southern Germany.

By the end of the exhibit, we were too overstimulated to handle any more art, so my friend and I agreed to go back next week to tackle the museum’s permanent collection. This sounded like an even better plan once we realized that entrance to the permanent collection is free every Wednesday.

If you ever get a chance to see the Merzbacher-Mayer collection, I highly recommend it. It will be at the Kunsthaus Zurich through May 14. More information at their website.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to paint.

The city of Zurich’s immigration office officially blows my mind (and gets me drunk)

Becoming a legal resident in a foreign country is often about as fun as, say, having a root canal every week for months on end (ok, that’s not really fair—I’ve never had a root canal, so what do I know? The point is that it sucks.). When my husband and I moved to Milan in 2004, we had to jump through countless hoops, obtain countless documents, and visit countless government buildings to become really, really, really legal. We had to get fingerprinted and have our apartment inspected. The amount we spent on photocopying alone probably single-handedly kept Italy’s economy from collapsing. Given the decrepit state and odor of the Milanese immigration office, I never, ever want to see how Italians treat, say, criminals.

So when we moved to Zurich a few months ago, we were prepared for the worst, although crossing our fingers that Swiss efficiency applied to the immigration process as well. I received my Ausländerausweis (an ID card for legal aliens) after two quick and painless visits to a clean, well-lit Kreisbüro. A few weeks later, a letter came in the mail for me from the immigration office. Thinking it was going to be a demand that I stand in line for five hours or have my chest x-rayed by a man with cold hands, I dreaded opening it. My jaw dropped when I finally read the contents of the envelope: it was an invitation to a free walking tour of the city (in the language of my choice) followed by a cocktail at the city hall. Seriously. Dubious, I emailed them to say I couldn’t make the suggested date, but would be happy to come to a later one if they were indeed repeating the presentation. Not only was I welcome to choose a new date, but I could also bring my husband (who doesn’t understand German and thus threw his invitation away) with me. Wow.

Tonight we showed up at the city hall and were ushered into an excessively elegant conference room for a little welcome presentation, which was held in five languages, about the services that are at our disposal to help us feel welcome in our new home city. I was thoroughly amazed at how well I was understanding the French presentation when I remembered that it probably had to do with the fact that I had just heard the same presentation in the four languages that I have actually studied.

Anyways… then we were off for our free city tour in the language of our choice (we chose English). Even though we’ve been here for several months now, we did manage to learn a few things, including where to see the Roman ruins under the city and where to go for the best Züri g’schnätzlets (the typical veal and mushroom dish of Zurich).

After the tour we headed back to the City Hall for the cocktail hour, which included free-flowing wine and hot and cold appetizers. We chatted the evening away with a lovely British/Russian couple and a German student nurse. By the time we stumbled back out into the night, we were glowing with warmth for our welcoming new city.

I am never moving back to Italy. Well, at least not until I’m an EU citizen.

Dammit, spring is here

Since today was turning out to be too warm to ski, we decided to head to the other end of Lake Zurich to check out Rapperswil, a cute little medieval town complete with castle. After wandering through the town, eating lunch, and exploring said castle (and its Polish museum), we headed down to the bustling lakeside promenade. Here it was clear that spring was in full swing, with hundreds of outdoor tables full of tourists and locals soaking up the sun. We managed to snag a spot at one café, and spent the better part of the afternoon drinking Weiβbier and shielding our eyes from the omnipresent sunlight.

I’ll miss winter, but at least we discovered somewhere to ship off house guests for the day when we get tired of entertaining them. (No, not YOU, future house guest. I mean the other ones.)

The Gates in Zurich

Recently a gigantic grey box has sprung up in downtown Zurich, right next to the lake. Its bright orange signs let passersby know that it contains something that has to do with the The Gates.

The Gates was an installation in Central Park by artists Jeanne-Claude and Christo, whose famous works include the Wrapped Reichstag and giant killer umbrellas. As The Gates came to NYC shortly after we had moved away, we were excited to get a chance to see what we had missed.

In order to be allowed into the giant grey box, we had to get (free) tickets in advanced for a particular time. The exhibit starts with depictions of various proposed projects that the Christos had conceived for city of New York (mostly consisting of various wrapped buildings) that were never executed. Then it flows into the history of The Gates, a project that was conceived way back in the 1970s but not realized until 2005. The letters, photographs of meetings, and other documents presented give a sense of immense historical importance to the whole thing—the presentation seems more appropriate to the signing of a historic peace treaty than the approval of an art installation. Reasons offered up in the rejection of the project ranged from ‘Central Park is already a work of art’ to ‘the poles will cause soil compaction’.

The exhibit also contained many of Christo’s visionary drawings and collages of the project, which I easily appreciated as works of art in their own right. The main room housed countless photographs of the actual installation, as well as a couple of the actual gates (rolled up and lying down). The show concludes with images of a yet-to-be executed project entitled ‘Over the River‘.

It felt strange to me to be seeing this exhibit about NYC (the closest thing I have to a ‘home city’) in Zurich (a city I am just starting to get to know), but I am very glad I went to see it.

This exhibition will be running in Zurich until April 2.

A giant leap forward in the realm of Mariachi rights

In a shocking twist of events, the city of Zurich has reversed its no-mariachis-on-trams policy! The pictures were quietly replaced over the past few days. A little internet research revealed that the Mexican consulate complained to the city about the signs after having received many angry calls from the community. The replacement of the signs is reportedly costing the city CHF 20,000.

The replacement signs simply forbid all guitar players, regardless of nationality. Especially if they are singing.

I know, I know, you’re tired of hearing about snow. Tough.

We just got back from a glorious long weekend in Mürren, an excessively adorable little skiing village in the Swiss Alps. To get there one must take an incline railway to a cog-wheel train to the town. Once you get to the town itself, the only way to get your luggage to your hotel is to drag it through the snow (which we did), or go get a giant sled from your hotel to put it on and push (much easier). Luckily it was only about a 5-minute walk to our hotel, even though it was completely across town.

We spent the majority of the time skiing on the fluffiest snow I’ve ever seen. The lifts were a few meters away from our hotel, and we could ski all the way to the front door. Scott had a blast snowboarding off-piste in knee-deep snow, and I was delighted to have so many different long easy slopes to choose from.

On the third day we rented little wooden sleds and sledded down to Gimmelwald, a village that made Mürren feel like a bustling metropolis. The Swiss do sledding the right way—none of this trudging up a hill to ride down for all of 5 seconds. We sledded on two different groomed runs, each taking about 20 minutes, and then took efficient Swiss public transportation (a ski gondola or cog-wheel train) back to where we started.

We also ventured up the hill to Piz Gloria, a revolving restaurant 3000 meters above sea level which offered, of course, breathtaking views of the snow-covered Alps. Apparently this revolving restaurant rose to international fame in some James Bond movie. The side of the gondola, all pamphlets about the restaurant, and every item in the gift shop made sure that I was aware of this James Bond movie connection (although they weren’t diligent enough to make me remember which one).

The après-ski locales offered by Mürren did not disappoint. The best meal we ate (well, the best one that didn’t consist primarily of melted cheese) was at Alpenruh. The casual atmosphere didn’t adequately prepare us for the elegant food and service we received. The view and the white Glühwein are also not to be missed.

We aren’t usually the types to vacation in the same place twice, opting instead to explore new places, but we have already talked about going back to Mürren. I think we’re even considering going next weekend, before the ski season ends… although maybe we’ll just stay home and rent a James Bond movie. I’ve never seen one.

Zurich Fasnacht, the tamest carnival in the world

Nevermind that Lent has already started – Zurichers braved the snow by the tens this weekend to revel in the streets with a bunch of funnily-dressed marching bands. I’m guessing that Zurich celebrates carnival the weekend after the rest of the world because all the good bands are busy during the real carnival playing in other cities. There are several other towns in Switzerland that host better-known carnivals.

The trams weren’t running Sunday morning due to the snow piled up everywhere, so we had to walk to the center to watch the parade, which consisted entirely of marching bands, dance groups, and gaggles of witches. If anyone out there knows what witches have to do with carnival, please enlighten me.

I couldn’t end this post without one more gratuitous snow picture.

More WSB (Weekend Snow Blogging)

Saturday it snowed all day long…

…and into the night.

Not bad for a camera phone, eh?

So far we’re at a foot and a half, and it’s still coming down. I’ll let you know when it stops.

2:00 AM update… still snowing.

We just went out and made snow angels.


And at the top of the street we found a traffic mirror and had fun with it.

It finally stopped falling Sunday afternoon.

We are happy we don’t own a car today.

People talk funny here

Nobody warned me substantially enough about Swiss German. To call it “Swiss German” in the first place is ridiculously misleading… it implies that the language is, in the end, a kind of German. Kind of like “American English”… to get from here to British English, all you have to do is say “boot” instead of “trunk”, “loo” instead of “restroom”, throw in a couple tag questions, and before you know it, Bob’s your uncle.

Not so with Swiss German and German. Although its roots are the same, Swiss German is a language all its own. There is a German woman in my Swiss German class, and she is just as bemused as the rest of us. Swiss German and German are about as similar as Spanish and Italian. If you speak one, you can make out some of the other, but they are definitely two distinct languages.

The similarities between Swiss German and German become clearer when one sees them written side-by-side; unfortunately, this rarely occurs in nature, as Swiss German is for the most part only a spoken language. Being able to recognize the written words is not going to help me at all except if I want to read the menu at the Crazy Cow, the only restaurant I’ve found that has the menu written entirely in Swiss German.

Luckily, this Swiss German class (which is about to draw to an end) has greatly increased my understanding of spoken Swiss German, as well. While I can’t really speak it with any degree of fluency, I can at least understand what my friendly neighborhood salespeople, postal workers, little kids and old ladies are saying to me when I encounter them out in the World Outside My Apartment. And usually, they understand me if I answer back in plain old German (everyone here learns German in school). So while I’m far from assimilation into my new homeland or becoming quadrilingual, at least I won’t have to say “Ich verstehe kein Schweizerdeutsch” 20 times a day anymore.

Just in case you too have a desire to communicate with the Tüütschschwiitzer (Swiss-German-speaking Swiss) in their native language, I offer you some of my favorite (if less useful) Swiss German words:

Gigelisuppe - a person who laughs a lot
Gfröörli - a person who always feels cold
Gwunderfitz - a curious person
Fäschtnudle - a woman who parties a lot
Chrüsimüsi - all mixed up
Gwafföör - hairdresser (basically the French word “coiffeur” pronounced with a heavy Swiss-German accent)
Wältschland - the French-speaking part of Switzerland
Rööschtigrabe - the imaginary line that separates French-speaking and German-speaking Switzerland (literally ‘fried potato ditch’, named after Rösti, the fried potato dish that is eaten on the German side but not on the French side)

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