Friday, January 24, 2020

Robinson

It's almost February, which means it's the time of Fasnacht here in Switzerland - our version of Fasching (Germany), Mardi Gras or Carnivale. Clubs work for months preparing floats (often around a parade theme), while brass bands practice their Guggemusigg (parade song sets).

I had experienced Mardi Gras before, and knew about Carnivale, but until I moved here, I had no idea that similar celebrations took place in some of the Swiss cantons (only the Catholic ones - although one or two of the Reformed cantons are having parades these days). Since Fasnacht is not widely known outside of Switzerland (and perhaps, Germany), I was surprised to encounter it recently while listening to an audio book. Kim Stanley Robinson mentions it, as well as other aspects of Swiss culture, in the book "Red Mars." Apparently KSR lived in the French-speaking part of Switzerland for a time, and I'm assuming that's how Swiss people, and some Swiss customs, made their way into his book.

While I don't think he nails everything in his representations of the Swiss and their customs, his descriptions of Fasnacht rang true for me, and it was a delightful surprise to encounter Swiss characters and some aspects of Swiss culture in science fiction.

When I think of Fasnacht, in addition to Guggemusigg and parades, and the light crispy Fasnachtschueche, the other thing that comes instantly to mind is confetti. It's sold in large bags to be thrown by the spectators as the bands of musicians and parade floats pass by.

One of my favorite sayings is "Spread kindness like confetti." I love that thought. Confetti is thrown out randomly, without aim. It flutters in the air, mixing with the confetti thrown by other parade-goers, before landing on the pavement. Although the streets are always swept after the parades, some of the confetti clings stubbornly to the pavement for days and even weeks. And like its indoor cousin, glitter, confetti's superpower is getting everywhere.

For weeks after watching a parade, after you're sure you've found and thrown out every last circle of colored paper, you'll reach a hand in your pocket, or dig around in the bottom of a backpack or purse that you swear was practically hermetically sealed, only to find it: a lone piece of confetti.

I like the idea of spreading kindness like confetti. Of sending it out into the world with enthusiastic abandon, letting it mix with the kindnesses of others, and landing where it will. The world would be a better place if more of us spread kindness that generously.




Thursday, October 31, 2019

Heidi

When I was in the third grade, the teacher organized a holiday gift exchange. In that exchange, I received a copy of the book Heidi, by Johanna Spyri, and a package of a candy called Bottlecaps. Whoever wrapped the book had tucked the flat package of candy under the front cover, permanently affecting the cover and binding. This bothered my third-grade, book-loving self a great deal.

Although I was an avid reader, I am not sure I ever finished reading Heidi. It was an old story, even then, and storytelling conventions and language had evolved since it was written. I had no idea when I received that book as a third grader that eventually I would live in Heidi's homeland of Switzerland.

Recently a friend and I visited the Swiss National Museum to view their special exhibit about the making of the anime version of Heidi.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Prague

Recently I was in the Czech Republic, visiting Prague. Once I was there, I realized that the locals call the city Praha. This made me think about place names, since I too live in a place that is referred to one way by foreign visitors, and differently by those who live there: Switzerland.

Switzerland has four "short names," one in each of the four official languages: