Thursday, July 17, 2008

Switzerland



Thanks to my gracious classmate Amalia who I met in Chinese Thought class, I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Switzerland. She is currently in Lausanne involved in a twenty-or-so person scholarship where she works in a neuroscience lab. On my way from Amsterdam, I learned that a train in Switzerland had derailed and that the train I had planned to take into Lausanne would not run until the morning, so I had to spend the night in Basil, Switzerland.

My original plan was to find a nearby hostel and then return to the station in the morning, but by the time we had arrived at the station, it was midnight, and all of the public transportation had stopped running. I found some others who were stranded – two students from Georgia Tech on an engineering program in France. We decided to sleep in the train station on the benches, agreeing to take shifts throughout the night watching each other’s belongings. The thought of splitting a taxi to the hostel occurred to us, but our early morning departures (6 and 6:15 am respectively) compelled us to stay in the area.

Sleep did not come as easily as I had hoped. Twenty minutes after lying down and teetering on the edge of consciousness, a man in an orange shirt adorned with a carrot-pin approached me holding a white box. He held it open and approached me with a look of offering. “Please, take,” he said. Scrumptious cubes of carrot cakes sat lazily next to each other crying for consumption. Behind the cake-offerer emerged a man dressed in a carrot costume. Then it made sense to me – bachelor party. In the back of my head, I vaguely remembered a motherly figure telling me to never take cake from a stranger, but the situation was to novel for me to turn away the offer.

Soon after I finished the piece of cake, an old drunk man stumbled into the station muttering broken German and French. Soon he left, and in walked a group of five fifteen year olds who at first seemed to be getting along just fine. Then one pushed another, punches began to fly, and shouts rang through the station’s high ceilings. For half an hour they beat each other until blood stained their faces and fists. When it ended, they hugged and left. I guess these kids used fighting as a way to bond.

Caught a few hours of sleep before my 6 am train to Lausanne. A very kind lady from Guatemala helped guide me from the station to Rue du Geneve where Amalia was staying. I had the opportunity to speak some Spanish with her, comprehensible enough although utterly abominable. I was happy to be in Lausanne. Very happy, in fact, because I wrote a 38 page history paper about how Armenian and Turkish interest groups in the 1920’s lobbied Congress to ratify or reject the treaty of Lausanne – which drew the borders for modern day Turkey and reversed the boundaries set by the treaty of Sevres.

Lausanne, Geneva, and Montreux all surround the second largest fresh water lake in central Europe – Lake Geneva. The surrounding lake towns are all very easily accessible by lake, and the first day we went to Geneva where some sort of dance festival was going on. The girl sitting across from us in the train in the shortest shorts I have ever seen with long legs under fishnet stockings made it clear that it would not be an ordinary day in Geneva. Actually, it was. We had a picnic with Amalia and her Brazilian roommate Estefania, and then “walked around”, taking in the city and such. That night we came back to Lausanne and went to the fete de la cite, a festival full of music and food vendors in Lausanne’s old town. I met another student from my college, Paul, one class below me who is in the same program working in a different lab. When we came back, we played ping pong for hours, and it was a great way to meet the international crowd at the residence – Kiren from Mauritius, Ibrahim from Turkey, Estefania from Brazil, the two girls from Italy whose name I can’t remember, the nice kid from Azerbaijan, united around a ping pong table, fun and games.

The next day we went to Montreux for the jazz festival. The atmosphere was fantastic, with food, instrument, and spice vendors displaying an international mix of goods. We discovered a tent of breakdancers (“bboyz” – according to Ravi from Ohio who can dance like Prabu Dehva, breakdancers want to be referred to as bboyz) before going to the Montreux young jazz guitar player’s contest. The contest’s final featured four incredible players all under the age of 25 – Mark McKnight of Ireland, Jeff Miles of the US, Alex Pinto of Bethesda, Maryland (!), and Vitalyi Zolotov of Ukraine. The judges told us that the four parameters they would use to judge the performers were 1. Originality 2. Personal Language 3. Interactiveness with ensemble and 4. Instrumental Mastery. All had absolute mastery of the instrument and it was really neat to watch them and juxtapose their styles and approaches. In my mind, Pinto satisfied these parameters the most, but it was definitely a toss up that could have gone either way.

Here are some breadancers, or "bboyz" as they like to be called, performing at the festival.

video

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