Losing a Library

My daughter is graduating from high school this spring. For all the new beginnings such an event promises, for parents there is also a sense of impending loss: perhaps one less lunch to pack each day, or one less person at the dinner table. For me, there’s an additional loss:  access to the school library.

As you might have guessed, I am a big fan of libraries. In Basel, my public library has a fabulous collection—in German. Granted, each branch has a small collection in English—one even has a very nice fiction selection—but access to the school library brought me access to a complete library: fiction, non-fiction, periodicals, databases, etc., all in English.

books-642673_1280

As an international school library*, it has a broad scope, and the fiction collection features authors from a great many countries. I have discovered Canadian authors, Australian authors, and a host of other authors whose work had been translated into English.

I have a good relationship with the library staff; I probably check out more books than any other parent at the school. I could read about a book, suggest it to them, and, most of the time, they would not only order it but let me know when it had arrived. Reading a “Best of YA” list would send me to the online catalog to see what they had or to the librarians to check what was on their upcoming order list in order to get books I thought my daughter would like.They were also very nice about renewing (and re-renewing) books for me. Best of all, at the end of the school year, my daughter and I could check out an unlimited number of books for the summer. I think our record was thirty ( yes, 30).

With just seven weeks until the end of exams and thus the end of school enrollment, all that access is also coming to an end, so I am reading as fast as I can. Come mid-June, I may be signing up for my first GGG library card.

*Check out International School Library Month, celebrated each October

 

Travel Fears

We are days away from embarking on the trip of a lifetime.  It’s time to assess my major fears about this trip and my plans to deal with them.

Crossing the Drake Passage, reputed to be some of the roughest open water on the planet. Ugh. I don’t do boats. But I am willing to do this one because I want to see Antarctica. So I am fully loaded with drugs to handle the seasickness of life on board and, I hope, the roughest the seas can throw at me. (‘Cause otherwise, I’ll be throwing it right back at them…)

Next, having enough to read. This was a major quandary. But I recently learned that our ship contains the largest floating library in Antarctica and has both non-fiction, which I assumed, and fiction, which I wasn’t sure about. So now I am fairly confident that the four books I have packed will be enough for the off-ship travel portion of our almost-month-long trip.

5220534077_8d417f3bac_z

Will all the books in the library published by Penguin?

 

Taking these two biggies off the table leaves me with just one final concern: Will there be enough chocolate on board?

Photo Credit: Flickr Photo by Antartica Bound used under CC License

My Favourite Day

Basel bills fasnacht as the three most beautiful days of the year (die drei schönsten Tage). It’s colourful and great fun and all that, but one of my favourite days of the year in Basel is actually the Anglican Church Christmas Bazaar.

It’s held each year on a Saturday in late November, and for me it’s a reminder that the expat community here is not unlike small-town America at their annual Peach Festival. I see all sorts of people I know – from friends from our Montessori kindergarten days to friends I’ve only met recently.  It’s fun to check in and catch up with everyone…after I’ve visited the upper floor.

My first stop is always the book sale upstairs. This being Switzerland, the books are organized not only by general category but also, within fiction, somewhat alphabetically. Therefore, if you’re looking to read something new by Tracy Chevalier, you can head right to the C’s and cross your fingers you got there before it was snatched up by another fan.

I adore watching the older ladies and gents armed with lists of authors they like and books in a series they’re looking for. I love picking up a book I’ve read and loved and recommending it to the stranger next to me. And I absolutely buy too many books each year, but with 10 for 15 chf, how can you go wrong?!

img_6173

Okay, so maybe things are getting a bit out hand…

 

Mountain Man

Another thing to love about Switzerland: Art is everywhere. In fact, when something looks a bit out of the ordinary, I often pause and consider that I may have just stumbled across some “art”. No pause needed here!

Travel Between The Pages

saype-land-art-leysin-switzerland-designboom-03

The Swiss street artist known as Saype recently completed this enormous “land work” in the mountains outside of Leysin, Switzerland. The piece, which is composed of cut and painted grass, depicts a relaxed man stretched out on a mountainside. Who would’t want to change places with this very contented guy for an afternoon.

saype-land-art-leysin-switzerland-designboom-02

saype-land-art-leysin-switzerland-designboom-05

saype-land-art-leysin-switzerland-designboom-04

View original post

Our Lady of Chocolate

Notre Dame in chocolateParis’ Montmartre neighborhood, as I am no doubt not the first person to discover, is a wonderful place to wander. Full of cafes and shops of all kinds, it seems to me to be quintessential Paris, an area where people actually live rather than one that tourists occupy. I loved peering into the shops, both essential and quirky, that lined the road up to Sacré-Cœur.

There were even enough patisseries and chocolate shops to keep even the most afflicted chocoholic content. (Those, of course, fall into the “essential” category.) Chocolatier Maison Georges Larnicol fell into the quirky category as well. Along with its many treats and specialities, it featured exquisite chocolate sculptures, including a replica of Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris.

Winter Ephemera

IMG_4334Winter brings with it many things that pass with the season. Here in Basel, we enjoy Zermatt Bacara, a fabulous fondue restaurant that makes its appearance at the beginning of November and stays until the end of March. Those in the know request reservations at the beginning of October because, yes, the fondue is that good.

Each year the entire restaurant is assembled at the beginning of the season and disassembled at the end of the season. The first time we ate there, we looked around in disbelief. How could something so solid looking, so cozy and so warm, be temporary? But it is, down to the ball chains dangling from the the lamps and the deer skulls and old-time photos on the walls. While I have not witnessed it, I have no doubt the building is assembled and disassembled with absolute Swiss efficiency and fits very neatly into a container or two.

The menu seems to stay the same from year to year, so maybe they even pack those away to use again too!

Further afield, we checked out, or into, another temporary winter phenomenon this year, the Ice Hotel.

IMG_3149 Located in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, the Ice Hotel is constructed each year from the River Thorn. The ice, 5000 tons of it, is harvested in deep winter, stored through the summer and shaped and sculpted in the late fall. The ice is used for ornament, sculptural details and yes, the beds. The hotel’s Art Suites are, literally, works of art and change each year. Hundreds of artists from around the world submit designs for them; just a handful are chosen. The hotel also features more basic rooms of three standard designs, all magical in their own way. The hotel’s superstructure is created of “snice”, a combination of super cold snow and ice blasted over a temporary frame. Inside, it appears white. The ice, on the other hand is crystal clear, and shimmers. If you look closely, in some of the large blocks you can find the occasional bubble or leaf caught within.

The Ice Hotel offers both cold and warm rooms but the cold ones are the ones to see and ooh and ah over. Our night there was definitely a cool experience, in both senses of the word.

This year the hotel is open until 12 April. After that, it is left to melt and return from whence it came, the River Thorne.

If you go
Zermatt Bacara
The Ice Hotel

Gorgeous Gingerbread

Switzerland is home to many fine confectionary products. One crunchy—as opposed to creamy—treat comes from Kambly, a cookie company. Tucked in the small village of Trubschachen, the factory, like many in Switzerland, offers tours and programs for the public. We recently ventured there to make gingerbread houses.

IMG_3861 When we arrived, the workspace was laid out with large trays and bowls of tools. Each cookie sheet has a laminated template covered by a sheet of baking paper. There were five in our group and two other families, for a total of twelve. Our head cookie chef was was Patricia Zimmerman, who demonstrated for us. We were each brought a sheet of rolled gingerbread. Using a series of heavy duty metal templates, we cut out base, roof, gables, a door and a chimney. There was a bit of extra dough so I also cut out some extra doodad decoration using the various shaped cookie cutters. There was also enough dough to sample! Nicely spiced and flavourful!

IMG_3863We placed the pieces on the tray, in their correct places of course, removed the template and put them in the oven. (I would love to have an oven like that in my kitchen!)

While they baked, we worked on marzipan ornaments, Patricia demonstrating. Her hands fluidly produced perfectly round balls that were quickly assembled into a witch’s body and shoes. A fourth ball became her head, then she quickly acquired a crooked nose, complete with wart, and eyes. Needless to say, when it was our turn, we were a bit less skilled but nonetheless we all created something respectable. We branched out a bit beyond witches, with teddy bear (complete with bow tie), snowman, penguin, musicians, and an elf.

Patricia had obviously done this a few hundred times before. She would simply pluck, pluck at the marzipan to take a ball in each hand and Voila! produce a pair of eyeballs, then pluck, pluck again, fingers working while talking all the while and Voila!, a pair of perflectly matched pupils to pop on the eyes.

IMG_6191Armed with piping bags of delicious icing (we checked!), we commenced assembly. Piping icing onto the edges of the gables and section of roof took mere minutes; we then added the other roof piece. It created quite a stable structure – a credit no doubt to its Swiss design.  We then set the house on the base and were ready to embellish.

Patricia demonstrated varoius techniques with icing, how to mount decoration etc and then let us at it. We had a selection of cake deco items—stars, snowflakes, knobby balls, Smarties to incorporate into the finished look.When finished, we each received a special clear plastic carrier for our houses (They’d obviously done this before!)

Our creative juices depleted, we explored the factory’s retail area. The shelves were stocked with large bags of cookies—samples right alongside so you could be extra sure that what you were buying was as delicious as it looked.

IMG_3869IMG_3870

Happy bakers

Our ace gingerbread team