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. My family and I are fans of many Studio Ghibli anime films, but I had no idea that more than ten years before the founding of Studio Ghibli, the studio's founders collaborated on a 52-episode series about Heidi which debuted in 1974. As part of their research, they visited Switzerland, taking photos of many locations and even Swiss children to use as references as they created Heidi, A Girl From the Alps.

The exhibit showcased photographs from the personal collections of Hiayo Miyazaki and Isao Takahata alongside sketches and actual animation cels from the production of the anime series. It was fascinating to see how Heidi's grandfather's hut in the series looks exactly like the reference photo that they took, and you can see some of the Swiss children they photographed in the anime characters, especially Clara.

The series has been dubbed in nearly twenty languages, including German, and my Swiss husband remembers seeing it on the television as a child. It's popularity endures, and it is one of the reasons that Switzerland is a must-see holiday destination for many Asian travelers. In fact, Heidi, as seen in the series, is sometimes referred to as an ambassador for Switzerland. My friend, like me, is an immigrant here. Whereas my life intersected with Heidi through the book, she first encountered Heidi through the anime series, so our visit to the museum brought back for her fond memories of coming home from school, excited to watch the next episode. Like me, she never imagined when she first encountered the story of Heidi as a schoolgirl that she would someday call Heidi's country home.

The Switzerland of today is multi-faceted. With many cities and high-tech industries, the daily life of most residents of Switzerland doesn't look anything like Heidi's. Yet, more than 100 years after the book's publication, there are still many places in Switzerland where life today is not too different from Heidi's life on a mountainside in the late 1800s.

We've visited many such places on our hikes.

A village only accessed via a privately-run gondola that operates just a few times per day, where a few families live and cows graze with the Matterhorn visible in the distance.

Lone alpine huts, clinging to steep mountainsides, where cows are milked and Alpkäse (alpine cheese) is made (and is sometimes available for purchase by passing wanderers).

A mountain ridge above the tree-line, where cows summer in alpine meadows, the sounds of their bells randomly punctuating the silence.

But those are scenes of summer.

It's autumn now.

The cows and goats have been led down from the mountainsides to the valleys in the traditional Alpabzug. The first flakes have dusted the mountaintops, which will soon be covered in a thick layer of snow. It won't be long until the skiers, snowboarders and sledders arrive, moving through the alpine landscape at a faster tempo, swooshing and zooming where summer's cows grazed and hikers lingered.

But me, I wait.

For spring and sun. For the slowly melting snow to herald the return to the slower tempo of summer. For the time when we too can make our own Alpaufzug, ascending once again to wander, and linger, under blue skies and along alpine trails.

Picture of the character Heidi at an exhibit at the Swiss National Museum in Zürich
Heidi Exhibit, Landesmuseum, Zürich
photo copyright E Norton 






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:

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Currently ...

I thought I would change gears this week and give a glimpse of what I'm currently ...


Reading

The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2018 (edited by Rich Horton)
Clarkesworld Magazine (Issue 111)
Apex Magazine (Issue 61)


Listening to

Red Planet by Kim Stanley Robinson (audiobook)
The Geek's Guide to the Galaxy (podcast)


Thursday, August 29, 2019

Pratchett

Last night after dinner, my husband and I were talking, brainstorming some world-building and scenarios related to my current writing project, and it wasn't long before we were both laughing out loud. A really good laugh, or even better, a conversation filled with laughter, always leaves me feeling lighter. I love a good laugh.

That said, I'm not the kind of person who generally laughs out loud while reading a book (or watching a film or series). I can read (or see) something that I think is absolutely hilarious, and at most I'll probably crack a smile or give a soft chuckle. But one of the writers who can make me, even me, laugh out loud is Terry Pratchett.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Morrison

I guess it's a sign of how many laps I've done around the sun that so many creators whose work and lives I've admired are dying. Leonard Cohen. Maya Angelou. Terry Pratchett. Ursula K. LeGuin. And now Toni Morrison.

When someone dies, their untold stories die with them. I wrote about that in this essay, published in Skirt! magazine in May, 2017. When a creative person dies we lose their untold stories, but their life's work remains, both a comfort and a legacy, as if they haven't left us entirely.

In 2004 Toni Morrison gave the commencement address at Wellesley College. You can read a transcription of the address in it's entirety here (there's also a link to the video). Here are some of her remarks that resonated with me.
Regarding the future, I would have to rest my case on some bromide, like the future is yours for the taking. Or, that it’s whatever you make of it. But the fact is it is not yours for the taking. And it is not whatever you make of it. The future is also what other people make of it, how other people will participate in it and impinge on your experience of it. - Toni Morrison, 2004, Wellesley College Commencement Address
And besides, contrary to what you may have heard or learned, the past is not done and it is not over, it’s still in process, which is another way of saying that when it’s critiqued, analyzed, it yields new information about itself. The past is already changing as it is being reexamined, as it is being listened to for deeper resonances. Actually it can be more liberating than any imagined future if you are willing to identify its evasions, its distortions, its lies, and are willing to unleash its secrets. - Toni Morrison, 2004, Wellesley College Commencement Address
... there is nothing, believe me, more satisfying, more gratifying than true adulthood. The adulthood that is the span of life before you. The process of becoming one is not inevitable. Its achievement is a difficult beauty, an intensely hard won glory... - Toni Morrison, 2004, Wellesley College Commencement Address
The theme you choose may change or simply elude you, but being your own story means you can always choose the tone. It also means that you can invent the language to say who you are and what you mean. But then, I am a teller of stories and therefore an optimist, a believer in the ethical bend of the human heart, a believer in the mind’s disgust with fraud and its appetite for truth, a believer in the ferocity of beauty. So, from my point of view, which is that of a storyteller, I see your life as already artful, waiting, just waiting and ready for you to make it art. - Toni Morrison, 2004, Wellesley College Commencement Address

 

Monday, August 12, 2019

Austen

I can't remember a time when I didn't know that there was a famous British author named Jane Austen, but I never encountered her work as a younger reader. As an adult, my first encounters with her work were through film adaptations, which prompted me to purchase three of her best-known novels, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma, with the intention of reading them. But life and a couple of international moves didn't support those reading goals for several years.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Twain

I first encountered the work of Mark Twain, like many American students, in high school, reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in English class. And while as an adult, I'm grateful for the many classics that I was exposed to during my education, I confess that, unlike Dickens or Poe, I was not inspired enough by what I read in school to read more of Twain's work on my own.

It wasn't until a few years ago, while on vacation near Luzern, Switzerland, that my path unexpectedly intersected that of Mr. Twain's once again. We were hiking on Mt. Rigi-Kulm when, to my surprise, a plaque informed us that we were following in the footsteps of Mark Twain. What I didn't realize at that time was how extensively Twain traveled in Switzerland, or that his chronicles of his European travels, including time spent in Switzerland, were published in A Tramp Abroad. 

Monday, July 29, 2019

Tolkien

My first encounter with the work of J.R.R. Tolkien was in junior high. It was a Saturday, and as I was cleaning my room, I was listening to a radio production of The Hobbit. One moment shines in my memory as brightly as the sun shining through my window that morning, as the story on the radio swept me out of my world and onto a journey with Bilbo Baggins. This was my first encounter with epic fantasy, and in that suspended, sun-drenched moment, a new strand was integrated into my psychological DNA.

Unexpected Intersections

unexpected | un-ex-pect-ed

Definition of unexpected

not expected; unforeseen

intersection | in-ter-sec-tion

Definition of intersection

a : the set of elements common to two or more sets

b : the operation of finding the intersection of two or more sets


Unexpected Intersections | un-ex-pect-ed   in-ter-sec-tions

Definition of unexpected intersections

a blog about the connections between my life and the books, short fiction or poetry I've read, with occasional digressions about languages and etymology.