Thursday, 16 February 2012


London Luton Airport- Embarking on a Miss Lame Adventure

I open my book that I have been reading snippets at a time of for months now… Oh right, I’m starting into a new chapter… With my new teaching life, it’s almost impossible to have a thought for myself, especially during the week, let alone time to peer into a novel for pleasure. Other things take precedence. The moments for me involve running and exercising my ass off all for the BIG FAT endorphin release that my stressed, over tired, over-personalising brain needs desperately.  Teaching is exhausting, but the little victories, the moments that a defiant student decides they respect me  enough to give me their eye contact, the “Hello Miss Lein!” in the hallway, every little baby step, makes it count.
Assumptions. The chapter of my book, Last Chance to See (an incredibly interesting book, with a ton of character in the writing style by the way) begins with:
Assumptions are the things you don’t know you’re making, which is why it is so disorienting the first time you take the plug out of a wash basin in Australia and see the water spiralling down the hole the other way round”. 
As Douglas Adams describes his experience of being in Australia for the first time, I feel myself relating to what he is experiencing. He expresses how much of a mind-intercourse it is to have the toilet flush counter-clockwise, to dial the phone counter-clockwise (although this does not have to do with the laws of Physics, apparently the Aussies choose to match their toilet current with their telephone dials).
I reflect on my initial experiences in London that threw me for a loop.
·         The cars on the wrong side of the road (lefts and rights are already complicated enough for Miss Lame)
·         “FOOTBALL” instead of soccer
·         Being able to count out sterling change at the off-licence- the new shapes, sizes and value of each coin transforming a typically automated, assumed process into a highly conscious experience. I recall the building stress I felt as a line of shoppers accumulate behind my slow, Canadian backside.

·         Wine and beer in the parks and streets of London. In Canada we assume a big ol’ fine for open booze in public.
·         Social etiquette: The comment “you alright” not actually being a genuine question requiring a specific response.  An in-passing nicety.
These are just a few of the differences that challenged my assumptions upon moving to London England.  The incongruities with Canadian culture defied and upheaved deeply ingrained social/emotional expectations as well as the automated motor pathways.
This is all very disruptive to ones flow through life.   A new place, where our expectations of what is normal, the small little details of our regular, assumed as normal lives is disrupted by simple, what one might consider minute, altercations to what has been ingrained in our lives, our routines, even our neuromuscular memory.  In new places- little differences in mannerisms, social etiquette, physical designs stand out like Miss Lame in a crowd of non- super-dork people.
To Switzerland- Time to mess with Miss Lame’s assuptions again… Cannot wait!
Surfing in Geneva:
I plow into the petite bachelor flat with my massive ruck sac- roughly the same size as me- and my smaller but equally crammed backpack strapped to my front, protruding out- my travel baby.
Flustered, new to this couch surfing experience and the expectations of the surfer and the host, I apologise profusely for all my stuff and awkwardly, hurriedly adjust and position all my goods in what I hope is least space consuming. 
Hamdi, my host, so warm, welcoming, quiet and calm, gently invites me to place my stuff in the bedroom space. Firstly, he indicates that he always tells his couch surfing visitors to “make themselves a home”.
From the moment I stepped into Hamdi’s home, I knew that I had found a gem of a host.
Upon my arrival, I was invited to join Hamdi and his friends at a bar for a night out and drinks. Of course Miss Lame happily agreed to this adventure.
It is at the “Little Buddha” where I enjoyed my first evening of Geneva nightlife, with lovely people, lovely music and strong drinks.
Upon meeting Hamdi’s friends, I was greeted with not one… not two… but THREE kisses on my cheeks- A lovely 5-10 second exchange of affection with a stranger. The Swiss want to make sure you know you’re loved- a wonderful and most welcome discrepancy from my ingrained assumptions- a hand shake, or 1, MAX 2 kisses. I love it.
Another assumption that affected my night for the better… A double vodka soda does not equate to 2 ounces of vodka in your drink, rather, about half a glass of high quality, smooth to sip Belvedere Vodka, with about 2 ounces of soda water. A “single” drink in Switzerland may be more like what I equate to a “double” in the UK and Canada.
 Little Buddha was lounge-like, with darker furniture accents, candles and low lighting. The people were generally beautiful, dressed nicely.  A warm and classy vibe. The DJ was raised up, set slightly above the lounge and social exchanges, looking official and to be thoroughly enjoying his job.  Great music- Mr. DJ got retro and played some Miss Lame dancing favorites- Stevie Wonder, Arethra Franklin etc. Perfect. So many new experiences challenging my ingrained assumptions, whilst the music brings me comfort through familiarity and provoke my crazy lame dance moves.

My surfing post:

After the bar, Hamdi and I found our way home in the bitter cold, which “not normal for Geneva” Hamdi tells me.
Home: We reach Hamdi’s cozy little flat, consisting of a bathroom, a sweet little kitchen and a room fitting his bed, a red futon (my surfing post) in the opposite corner and a big desk at which Hamdi spends much time writing and developing his dissertation in Neuroscience on the lingering effects of different emotional experiences in the brain (an over simplification of an incredibly interesting and complicated area of research of course).
My extraordinary host offers me food, warming apple-cinnamon tea, fleece blankets and a pillow and the cozy red futon.
 Is it typical to be treated with such hospitality in the couch surfing world?” I ask, completely floored by his generosity and caring nature.
Hamdi informs me that all situations are different and that sometime the host has more/less time or availability to be your guide and to be so accommodating.  The philosophy, however, the principles behind couch surfing, is that of give and take- A communal type mindset and approach to the world of travel.  You are not expected to host, you host when your life permits, but it’s important to understand that couch surfing is a shared experience, that you are not using someone’s home as a hotel.
The couch surfing world appreciates the incredible value in travel experience, from a holistic perspective- social, experiential, shared. The absence of monetary requirement for such a beautiful gesture as opening your home to a traveller from abroad, is related to the key values of couch surfing- accessibility to and love for adventure, travel and people.
The surfing world is a community of fellow globe trotter support and appreciation. A beautiful thing.
Saturday in Geneva, Hamdi and I enjoy a lovely “lie in”- rising from our cozy sleeping posts at 11am.
Hamdi goes swimming. I go for a run along the river which cuts through Geneva, it is turquois, moving quickly, with particles of ice floating down stream. The swimming ducks make me shutter. The graffiti I pass as I run along the path is beautiful, quirky and distracting. I stop often to take photos.

Lunch- Hamdi introduces me to an authentic Swiss meal. Much like fondue- it is called “Raclette”- we heat cheese in mini trays within the special “Raclette” appliance.
Only 20 Swiss Franks!”  Hamdi informs me excitedly.

The perfectly melted cheese is scooped onto your plate and we consume it with perfectly boiled young potatoes and antipasto bites- olives and authentic dill cornichons.
Saturday night, Hamdi and I climbed the winding cobble roads inclining into the heart of the Old City.
Charming. Old. Beautiful.
It is here where Hamdi introduces me to his restaurant of choice- a quaint, casual, lovely little restaurant, in a typically expensive, classic area of town, where you can enjoy a reasonably priced chicken dinner. Following dinner, another delightful bar- “Alhambra”, which I am informed it a special Palace in Southern Spain.  Again, a fantastic new setting is combine with familiar music and Miss Lame smiles and visits with her lovely host.

Portes du Soliel- Assumptions:
I set out for the Swiss Alps, booking a bed in a 6 bedroom dorm at a lodge called Auberge Chez Nelly, moments from the “liftes” and “piste” of the segment of Portes du Soliel called Les Crosets, with expectations that this setting would bring me much social opportunity during my stay.
Online it was indicated that I was the final individual to book into this room.  Perfect.
The train, then the bus, I travelled up, up, up and into the Swiss Alps, the mountains swallowing me, the vehicle and the surreally placed chalets speckling the grand contours whole. I gaze, jaw hung open, at my surroundings, the setting sun highlighting the peaks and curves just so- A moment gone within 5 minutes as the sun continues to lower in the sky and new features are brought to focus.
The daylight nearly gone, I am dropped in front of my new lodging.  Gravity pulls exceptionally hard at my abnormally weighted body.  I am relieved to have brought my ski boots, while also hating the fact.
(Throughout my journey many have laughed at the sight of Miss Lame- a 5’3, petite woman, a big smile on  her face, enveloped by enough  luggage to move house)
As move into Chez Nelly my anticipation for social contact begins to dwindle as I pass a small family, a Mom, a Dad, a daughter, enjoying dinner in the restaurant area that could seat around 20, and as I climb the stairs to my 6 people mixed dorm and the sound of my own footsteps dominate the space. Complete silence. My room is charming, with wooden accents and features, a very cottagey feel, and 6 empty, unused beds. All for Miss Lame. So many bed options from which to choose. Goody.

The Swiss do clean WELL. My room, the toilet and shower room, all in pristine condition- this is calming.
With the Swiss, you don’t get those feelings of apprehension about setting down your things or food items on particular surfaces. The articles already existing on the surfaces, the current state of the space is reassuring, you feel confident in the purity. It’s not overly sterile. It’s comfortable.
I can very quickly get used to this anthropologic assumption.
After moving into my spacious room in Chez Nelly, I progressed downstairs to the bar/restaurant- completely ready for dinner and WINE. As I attempted to make small talk with the server and ask simple requests such as “NEED WINE”, I quickly realised a language barrier built up around Miss Lame. The only English speaking person in Chez Nelly.  This poses yet another challenge to my preconceived expectations of my trip and my stay in the Swiss Alps.  
Growing exhausted by the communication blockade, approaching inquiries and comments from a number of angles and word choice avenues, not to mention ample gesturing, I sought my laptop and good old “google translate”.  Through “google translate” I decipher the menu and decide on “Truite le amandes”- trout with almonds, which came with a small portion of vegetables and of course “frites”- they do a lot of potato in Switzerland.
The wine is good. The Swiss do wine well too.
Miss Lame had to adjust her expectations- the next few days are dedicated to skiing and outdoorsy business, it’s ok to enjoy quality solo Miss Lame time.
(skiing in the Swiss Alps = EXCEPTIONAL quality)

Portes due Soliel- The Skiing:
Monday and Tuesday. Skiing in the Swiss/French Alps. Two days of bright blue skies and perfect snow.

Enough said.

After spending 2 nights in Chez Nelly, which was lovely but potentially “lamer” than Miss Lame, and then staying 2 nights in the beautiful home of my new skiing friend, Pia and her 11 year old son, I was in grave need of socialisation with individuals approximately my age… 
Furthermore, to be around fellow travellers from all over the world, looking to connect, will be refreshing after struggling with the language barriers and the undue guilt and stress of “being Canadian and NOT able to carry on a conversation in French”… (I disappointed many).  The Swiss/French culture did not seem to do small talk attempts with someone who hadn’t come prepared to speak in their language.  The most I got was a smile and a few simple questions from sweet families staying in Chez Nelly who saw me day after day.  I found this experience fairly isolating. It was a distinct contrast to my experiences in South America, where the culture is highly expressive and communicates with you in every form- body language, dance, verbal (despite the series of smiles, laughter and over-usage of the universal symbol of “I don’t know”).
Off to Zurich, the German influenced region of Switzerland, to do city life in a hostel with other young people.

NOTE: Any words that are bolded, italicized, underlined and in red are suggested/preferred words by Mom. She doesn’t like me saying words like fuck, shit, ass (etc) on the internet… I feel these words better illustrate my feelings as times, so just imagine them in there if you will.

No comments:

Post a Comment