A Travellerspoint blog

Lose Your Mind at the Ballet d'Or

An interesting performance in the rose gardens

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The self-guided architectural tour ended in the rose gardens. My sister and I noticed some activity by the fountains. Activity of the people in costume and other people setting up equipment kind. When we started watching, there was one woman in a white dress, two guys wearing tails, and one woman dressed in a button-down shirt and slacks. Later on, they were joined by another tennish people wearing the same kinds of costumes.

They appeared to be ballet dancers. Between their overall jumpy spinny movements, practically every girl wearing her hair in a bun (one of them was wearing it loose) and one person who was practicing raising her foot to be on or near her toes, I was fairly sure it was ballet.

They seemed to still be setting up, and we were hungry, so we went back to the hotel and dinner and Kinder Egg. And then my father and I went back to the rose gardens.

The performers and people setting up had gone, so we looked at the sunset over Bern (see aforementioned assessment of the city) and then watched a game. As best as we could tell, the rules were:
1. You have a court, made out of string. (I have no idea what the dimension sare, but it's two rectangles right next to each other.)
2. There are two teams
3. There are three kinds of sticks- small, medium, and large. There are 12 small sticks (six per team) 10 medium (5 per team) and 1 large stick (right in the middle.)
4. Each team sets up the medium sized sticks at the edge of the court.
5. On their turn, a team will throw the small sticks to try and knock down the medium stick. If they succeed, they then throw the medium sized sticks to where they land. They need to throw it into their opponents territory, and get two chances. If they foul both times, the stick goes back to the end line.
6. Teams trade turns.
7. When all the sticks are on one side, that team tries to hit the big stick over. If they succeed, the game ends.
(If these rules sound familiar and you know the name, please comment. I'm curious now.)

The people had just finished one game and were starting another when I glanced over and noticed a lot of people in costume. The ballerinas were back. So we went over to watch them as they had a rehearsal.

Because it was a ballet with white and black and a fountain, I was prepared to guess that it was Swan Lake and leave it at that.

Around the time I heard singing in English “I ain't got time for you baby” I realized that made no sense whatsoever.'

The ballet began with eight people lying in a pile. One of the women raised her head early, looked around, then set it down again. Then, when it was actually time to begin, they all got up and started dancing. Half of them were in white, half of them were in black. A bit later, they froze.

Behind them, the , three people moved from the sides to a platform in the center. They were completely covered and encased in tubular things. They started dancing and shrugged the tubular things off, then continued dancing and dropped their hoods. There was one woman with her hair down and a really long dress. Next to her were two women in shorter dresses and hair in buns. They danced. Then they froze.

In the front, the eight figures resumed their dancing. And then every figure in white froze, and the figures in black started dancing around them. And then the figures in black took off the white clothing from the others, hence making them black. All except for one woman, who got to remain white. Then they all unfroze, the woman in white ran offstage, and the others are started dancing around.

The woman in the long dress and her two companions danced for a bit. Then a woman in a black dress who had tried and failed to make the woman in white black had an extended dance with a man dressed in a fancy white shirt (including one of the moves I'd seen them practicing earlier, where he leans forward, she rolls onto his back and lifts up one of her legs, then they both straightened up again) and everyone who had been originally dressed in black except for the woman in the dress and the dance turned white.

And then the woman in the long dress came offstage and stood right next to where I was watching (leaving a long trail of water behind her.) She started talking with a guy who had been on the phone earlier. A bit later, her companions joined her, and she got one of them to help her loosen the straps of her dress, so that when she returned to the water, she could shed the dress in one dramatic motion and reveal the swimsuit underneath. (I missed whatever the main action on the stage was at this point, because I was watching the woman, her companions and the guy. I couldn't eavesdrop very well, because I'm pretty sure they were speaking German.)

Once she entered the water again, her only job seemed to be guiding the woman in white (who had rejoined the stage) as she walked along the backs of everyone else. Then she and the guy in the fancy white shirt danced around the fountain for a while, then she met the woman in black, and there was a lot of dancing (but no dance equivalent of a catfight like I was expecting.) At some point I noticed that everyone who was wearing white had black underneath that- for instance, the woman in white had a black strap showing, most of the other women had a black skirt under the white skirt, and guys in white shorts had black shorts underneath. And if white and black were metaphorical good and evil, does that mean that at the end of the ballet, evil would triumph?

No. At the end of the ballet, no more layers of clothing would come out and they would all end in a pile the way they began. And there would be applause, tentative at first, perhaps because the audience had the same reaction as me and wondered “is that really it?” But when the performers got up and lined up on a platform bridge and bowed, it was very clear that yes, that was it.

I'd tried to understand it. I really had. But I find it kind of difficult to understand anything that doesn't have verbal explanations. Interpreting dance isn't a strong point of mine, and the American pop music didn't help things. I left having no idea what I'd seen, except that it wasn't Swan Lake.

So the next day, I was really confused when I saw a poster advertising Swanlake with the subtitle “Tanszernerung im Berner Rosengarten.” (Dance staging in Bern Rose Gardens) The dates on the poster were July 3-13. We'd seen the rehearsal on July 2. And when I walked through the rose gardens after diner on July 3, I saw benches set up near the fountain and the same people dressed in costumes I'd watched yesterday.

So all I'm left with is that I have no idea what I saw.

Posted by Soseki 14:07 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

Thinking of a Language That the Two of Us Can Speak

A Unique Dining Experience

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So, when we arrive in Bern:
1. We are in time for lunch
2. We're hungry
3. We have an hour to kill before we can check into our hotel.

So we look for lunch. After dismissing a lot of restaurants, we see a menu that looks promising. Cafe du Parc. So we head in.

As we're walking, we pass three old women who seem to not want us to go to eat there. They're speaking in German.

My German is to my Italian what my Italian is to my Finnish: much better, but still bad enough that communication mainly requires smiling and nodding and hoping that's a valid answer. Other members of my family have studied German, however, those classes were anywhere from 6 to 20 years ago, so it's kind of iffy.

From best we could tell, the women started by informing us that this wasn't a hotel. We responded along the lines of “we know,” and named the hotel we were eventually going to. Then they tried to tell us how to get to the hotel. Again, we tried to communicate “we know, but we want to eat.” At that point, they seemed to indicate that we were a bit late for lunch. (It was about 1.)

Ignoring the women, we walked in. We tried several different ways of asking “lunch?” until the woman nodded and sat us down at a table outside Then she went back in, and we set down our luggage somewhere where it wouldn't be in the way. By this point, it was fairly clear that we weren't really at a park, we were at a retirement home. But there had been a menu, and it seemed like we could eat there.

The waitress came out a little later with an “English menu.” By which I mean “A cook who spoke very good English and had been dragged out to explain the menu.” He described each dish, then we ordered, and he translated into German for the waitress.

The food was very good. Some time into our meal, I heard a conversation between someone pushing a wheelchair and the person in the wheelchair. In French. At which point I remembered we weren't in Germany, we were in Switzerland. The waitress probably spoke French. The restaurant was called “cafe du parc,” in Switzerland, and it hadn't even occurred to us to try French earlier.

Later on, I heard her leaving another table saying “Merci.” So when she came back to our table to check how things were, we asked if she spoke French. “A little,” she responded, in typical European style. We talked a little more, then asked for the check, and she left to go get that.

Then the chef came out, with a mousse for each of us. We talked with him a little, and commented that we'd realized that we could have tried French. Then we mentioned that we'd just been in Italy, so we still kind of wanted to say “grazie” to everything.

“You could have spoken in Italian too. We're used to it. My Italian isn't as good as my English. My English is my best second language, though it's not that good...”

We assured him that it was very good and thanked him for the help and the extra dessert in both English and German. Several times.

The waitress came out with the check, at which point we realized we did not have Swiss Francs. We knew that Switzerland was one of the few European countries not on the Euro. We knew that we needed to stop in a bank before exploring Bern more. And yet we hadn't.

When we pulled out a Euro note, the waitress recalculated what the bill would be in Euros. And she apologized. We assured her that it was completely our fault. Then we payed her in Euros, and she gave us change in Franc. And then we gathered our stuff and left, thanking her profusely in all the languages we thought would help.

Posted by Soseki 06:21 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

Feel their Magic, Hear Their Call

Bern in one word- breathtaking

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Rose Garden: Breathtaking. 220 different kinds of roses. They weren't all in bloom, but enough of them were. There were dozens of colors, from the archetypical red that comes to mind when you think of “rose red” to whites and yellows and delicate pinks and rich purples and roses that had multiple colors as they were starting to bloom, and... once you got your breath back and breathed, you could smell all those roses mingling together.

The view of the old town from the rose gardens: breathtaking. The view of the old town from anywhere was breathtaking, really. Bern is what I think of when I think “fairtytale.” Between the bridges, the tallest buildings being clock towers, the domed Parliament building, the reddish-brown roofs... it would be the perfect setting for a fairytale.

I'm not sure what the moral or plot would be, apart from the fact that bears would be involved in some way. Just past the rose gardens are the bear pits. (The way it was first explained me: “you know the folklore that if all crows leave the tower of London, the city falls? It's like that in Bern, only with bears. So they have a pit to keep the bears from leaving.”)

The historic bear pit isn't that impressive. But being able to look down from where you are onto a ledge below where bears are lying on logs and walking around? That's pretty breathtaking. And then being able to walk down and look up at t he bears? (Even if a lot of them were hiding from that angle?) Even though technically they were farther away, they felt closer. Because I wasn't looking down on the bears- the bears were looking down on me.

According to the sign, there were two bears- Finn and Bjorn. I definitely saw four bears. Apparently Finn liked swimming, so if I'd seen a bear swimming, I would have assumed that was him. If I'd seen a bear swimming, it would have been only a couple meters away from me (and behind glass.) A swimming bear probably would have looked even cuter than a bear simply lying on a log or an eating bear. Both were pretty adorable, though.

Rather than climbing the stairs straight back up, my sister and I decided to follow a path for a while toe where it led. Answer: to more stunning views of the city. And then eventually to a bridge. Not one of the main bridges. A bridge that was an entire layer of the city down. We crossed that, then needed to go up to reach the main area of the city. The climb up was pretty breathtaking too.

We reached a park. It was bizarrely quiet. Like, if you left the park, you could almost instantly hear the cars and pedestrians and bicyclists and trains and trolleys. But in the park, it felt like an extension of the walk we'd been making earlier, all isolated and nature-y.

We strayed into the city far enough to buy chocolate and juice at the first grocery store we saw. Then we went back to benches near the edge of the river, where we could stare down at the city. It was so pretty... And the chocolate was delicious. So was the elderflower sparkling drink. After a short day of traveling and decent walk, it was nice.

After the chocolate and drinks, we continued walking for a bit, because we thought it was raining. After we'd gotten a few meters away, it stopped raining, so we decided to sit down outside a building that felt like a university but wasn't. It was the Swiss Parliament. It felt like a university, because there were things like giant chessboards (and pieces! I'm not used to chessboards that have pieces.)

We'd taken the scenic tour to get to the building, we took the architectural path back. Our primary directions arose from the idea “we don't want to go down. We want to go up.” We passed a lot of gorgeous buildings, mostly houses. One of them had a Jewish star in the window and a poem written on the side.

And then we were back at the rose gardens, and were finally able to go down to reach the hotel, where we could make the sandwiches with the ingredients we'd bought in Italy. And the disappointing Kinder Egg. I have found memories of peeling aluminum foil off an egg and seeing a milk chocolate shell covering a tiny capsule that would have a small toy I needed to assemble and a long strip of papers in dozens of languages inside.

This Kinder egg was already sliced into two halves. One of the halves had a toy inside. It was a small race-car with a number sticker to put on it. (This isn't just that I'm now more mature and don't take as much amusement in trivial little toys that I used to. It was an objectively disappointing toy.) The other side contained two chocolate balls in a chocolate and hazelnut pudding. It was tasty enough- no Swiss chocolate, but hazelnut and chocolate is never a bad combination. However, it wasn't a real Kinder Egg. I wanted the Kinder Egg of my childhood back.

Posted by Soseki 06:16 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

Whither Must I Wander

Train -> Milan -> Train -> Domodossola -> Train -> Brig -> Train -> Bern

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Train #1 was a high speed train. It was very uncrowded, and showed the merits of travelling first class on a train- plenty of room for luggage, comfy chairs, power outlets nearby (though I keep being surprised that we need an adapter so American electronics can fit in. I didn't in Japan...) and a beverage and snack cart that came around twice. The ingredients on the crackers were very stereotypically Italian: Flour, wine, olive oil, and extra virgin olive oil. Unstereotypically Italian, they didn't taste good.

We were in Milan for two hours. We pulled in one minute after the train to Domodossola was scheduled to leave. We'd spent about twenty minutes at a different station in Milan waiting for no reason that was ever explained, even in Italian. So we got to get sandwiches and watch for pigeons. I hate pigeons. By which I really mean "I'm scared of pigeons, but everyone laughs at me when I say that, so I'm going to claim I hate them instead." While I was in the park watching the luggage with my mother, a man threw some stale bread on the ground. The pigeons swarmed. One of them started walking closer to me, and was swayed by neither sticks being thrown at it, me hissing at it, me meowing at it, or me dropping a notebook or stomping my foot near it. Sigh.

The train to Domodossola reinforced the "isn't first class nice?" by not being that way. The luggage could not go above, and ended up needing seats to itself. Which is one way of ensuring that no one sits next to you. The train was also pretty uncrowded, which made for a much better ride than it could have been.

After Rome, Domodossola was wonderful. For the first time, I saw a significant number of children. One of them was chasing pigeons away, so I approve. We also saw a cat that was remarkably OK with a little kid petting it, then picking it up and holding it at a really awkward angle. We had gelato (Pistachio again. This time it tasted like roasted pistachio.) and looked around the town where most things were closed, so we looked around again in the morning. The post office had a sign that, as best I could tell, translated as "though officially we open at 8:20, we recommend you don't show up until at least 8:30." Which probably meant "letters brought in before 8:30 will be used as coffee filters."

The train to Brig arrived half an hour early, and left exactly on time. "Train through the Alps" sounds like a very pretty concept, until you realize that the "through" part means tunnels. Even so, there were still significant sections of time where there were pretty views of mountains and towns and other landscape.

To be honest, I didn't think Brig was that pretty. Then again, I only saw it for five minutes between when the train from Domodossola pulled in and the train to Bern pulled out. The tracks were right next to each other, so it wasn't even a rushed transfer.

The train to Bern was much the same as other trains, except that, for the first time, I saw large animals. I hadn't seen any in Italy, which surprised me because I'm used to mainly Ireland, but also England and the US, having large numbers of domesticated animals. But in Switzerland, I finally saw some. The first looked a lot like buffalo, which didn't really make any sense. Later I saw cows, which made a lot more sense.

And then we were in Bern.

Posted by Soseki 13:38 Comments (0)

This is a List of What I Should Have Seen but I'm Not Seeing

(My mother: Did you see anything famous today? Me: Does the house that Goethe lived in count?)

sunny 30 °C
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Another consequence of Rome being so full of history- it’s really easy to walk past it, even when you’re looking for it.

I set out on a walk to look for the house that Goethe lived in while he was in Rome. While walking, I also wanted to see the exterior of the place that John Keats and Percy Shelley lived (and died of turberculosis, in Keat’s case.) I managed to walk past both of them without realizing it, and needed to double back to look.

For the Keats/Shelley is right next to a sign explaining the importance of the Spanish Steps right next to them. It’s now a museum which is closed on Sundays.

The Casa di Goethe is also a museum which is open on Sundays, so I visited it. It’s on the second floor of a building. Other floors appear to contain rooms for rent, since as I was walking out I saw a medium-sized group of people with luggagge moving in.

It took the woman at the desk 10 minutes to make me pay the entrance fee. As in I was walking through the museum for ten minutes before she came over and said “entrancee- not free.” Which made me glad it was a museum I actually wanted to see, because it would have been really awkard to have gone “oh, sorry,” and left at that point. Instead I said “Oh, sorry,” paid, and continued exploring the museum.

Mostly, the museum was dedicated to pictures of Goethe. Among them was a photograph of an engraving of Goethe as an old man. The empty and self-satisfied image shrieked at me, and told me I ought never to have come.

Many of the pictures were by Heinrich Wilhem Tischbein, a friend of Goethe’s. Some of the pictures/titles were quite normal- “Study for the Portrait of J.W. Goethe.” Other’s were more familiar- “Goethe with his friends in Rome.” Others were downright stalkerish- “”Goethe in his Roman apartment, reading.”

Goethe was surprisingly OK with stalker Tishbein. “I had often noticed Tishbein scrutinizing me, and now the reason has come out; he is thinking of painting my portrait.” This addressed all of his cocnerns, and made it completely OK that Tishbein was watching Goethe reading, talking with his landlord, and making his bed.

Goethe was also an aspiring artist. Emphasis on the “aspiring” part. There were reproductions of several of his pictures. One of his line drawings looked like a schoolgirl’s notebook- all doodled hearts and lips. When he expanded to paints and color, he managed to draw some not terrible looking color wheels;. (There were a couple of landscapes that looked fairly good. Still, there’s a reason he’s remembered as a writer, not a painter.

There’s also a reason that Rome is remembered. There are actually a lot. Most of them have nothing to do with the authors who lived there temporarily. The rest of my family knows about that. They saw the Colluseum, and the Pantehon, and the Fountain of Trevi, the Italian Premiere’s Palace, the Forum...

At least I’ve been getting Italian food. Panini (which was actually just a heated up sandwich) and pizza and many different kinds of pasta. And gelato (pistachio and dark chocolate. Both were really good, though in different ways. The dark chocolate gelato was like dark chocolate in ice form, and the pistatchio gelato was to pistachios what carrot cake is to carrots.) I also had a waitress not even blink when I asked for extra artichokes, but give me a “you poor thing” look when I said I didn’t like ham. Combined with finishing dinner around 8:00, it’s made for a very Italian dining experience.

When I got back to the apartment, I sat down on the steps to stare at an araucaria plant and contemplate bourgeois cleanliness.

Posted by Soseki 05:41 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

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