02 Septembre 2011
Over a tasty dinner of tuna steak and rice tonight, I tested my language skills by attempting an enlightening conversation with Nanda about the Swiss education system. And was so proud of myself for carrying it all out, tout en français. Nanda’s son Mike returns to university again in a month or so, and Nanda mentioned she was happy that it sounds like he’s going to get federal aid for his tuition money because he’s supporting himself now. I asked if the interest is decently low, and how long he’ll have to pay the aid back after he graduates. Nanda looked at me with her adorably Portuguese confused expression, and said Mais non, he doesn’t have to pay back any of it. Apparently, in Switzerland if you want to study, but are not necessarily rolling in the cash green (it’s not actually green here), you still get to go to school and there are pas de soucis about owing the government anything. I shocked and appalled Nanda by revealing to her how much I’m going to owe the U.S. feds by the time I graduate from UW, let alone once I’ve gone on to grad school, or gasp, law school. Although she did stress that it’s not all just a walk in the park, the amount of care policy makers have put into making sure that kids who want an education get educated is really quite magnifique. Scenario after scenario, Mike gets his education, and comes out with a degree and without a single debt.
As Switzerland’s number one natural resource, education in this country takes a back seat to no one. Even for the under-the-radar and under-documented migrants that flock to tend to the wealth in Geneva, for example, education is a topic of conversation. Primary education through the age of fifteen, including the opportunity to attend école enfantine, is compulsory for all children living in la Suisse, which therefore includes migrant children. All children enrolled in school are also required to have comprehensive health insurance. If, however, an undocumented parent of a migrant child says they cannot afford the required (but still privately supplied) insurance plans, the school in which the kid is enrolled says encore, pas de soucis, and pays for it themselves. Therein, under-documented and vastly under-privileged children become documented, in a manner of speaking. Not only are these children given health insurance and a classroom, but they also get to see classes d’accueil where they have the opportunity to learn the cantonal language. Not only does Switzerland take care of its people, but it also takes care of the children who need care, in a manner of speaking. Zut, I wish Obamacare had another thunk a comin’.
03 septembre 2011
Imagine waking up in the morning wondering what you’re going to do today, and an hour later you’re on a boat to another country, skimming across clear clean water with sailboats and swans in the distance, mountains on either side, and half a dozen languages being spoken all around you. And twenty minutes later, you’re in France! That was my morning, aujourd’hui. Yvoire, France, is one of the most picturesque (and also possibly most touristy) towns I’ve seen in the longest time. It’s all red geraniums blooming in window boxes, outdoor-seating cafés, with views from every point on the hill of the surrounding villages and the lake, and the tastiest (and cheapest!) ice cream I’ve enjoyed all summer. And everyone there seems so happy, but je fais la connection that maybe it’s because they’re all tourists, and therefore on vacation. Anyway, that was cool. Oh, yeah, and there was a travelling band of yodelers. Check that one off the bucket list.
05 septembre 2011
Two weeks into my stay here, the rhythm of life in Switzerland finally starts to pick up. The first ten days was this soft-harsh, turquoise-ORANGE blur of jetlag and honeymoon-y feelings, pure elation at being in a new place surrounded by foreign people and flowered side streets and grassy pebbled footpaths just yearning for me to explore them. Now, I’m starting to get it, and the jetlag and honeymoon happy is winding down. I wake up early these days, with the first round of morning commuter trains softly wooshing past this pretty little flat in the quiet countryside. The weather was super chaud for the first while, so hot during the day that it made it hard for me to sleep at night, and I guess there’s been a low pressure system winding its way through the mountains that’s left the air thick with moisture, and all of the Americans damp-skinned and dewy-eyed. On several occasions, the lake that first left me so speechless all I could do was write has lent me refreshing reprieve from the humid valleymountain air, but now that the weather seems to be becoming more autumnal, instead of diving into the cool lake, it’s toward those rolling hills my feet carry me.
I’m tired of writing in the first person. This whole journaling thing is kind of new for me.
So you leave the apartment and turn left at the end of the driveway, the train tracks are on the right. Across those tracks, fields, and beyond them lies a hint of lake. Some of the more superstitieux locals are convinced that lake is haunted, with demons floating beneath its crystalline surface. Apparently there have been scores of accidents on those waters, recorded since Julius Caesar’s time when people were living in some of the buildings you still see remnants of today. That’s one of the tragedies of beautiful bodies of h-two-oh: it seems to be a substance of mystery, so people are afraid of it, and they never learn how to handle it. If it were up to me, everybody would be taught to swim.
But back to where the run takes you. Fields, lake, then mountains, OH GLORIOUS MOUNTAINS, on your right. Those are the Alps, folks. And today, the ones we’re looking at are in France, and they stretch as far along your right side as you can see. Running quicker now, you’re passing manicured soccer fields and then brick-colored tennis courts, and a little restaurant, where men and women drink espresso out of impossibly tiny cups while they sit outside enjoying the air that’s been made fresh by a recent downpour, sits tucked between a patch of trees and a trickling stream. Even though we’re in the mountains so it’s a much higher altitude that sometimes makes it hardertobreath, you’re running faster now, because you can see a shining little metal gate egging you on: you’re about to get to the really pretty part. Through the metal gate and you’re set free onto a path that to the right has a field filled with consistently 8-foot-tall stalks of corn, and along your left is the remnants of sunflowers. As you turn right toward the slowly setting sun, what strikes you is not only are there church bells ringing in the distance, but everything is green. The green that Switzerland pulls off is a green that I’ve never seen before, and I’ve spent the majority of the past 2 years in the Pacific Northwest so I think I have the credentials to say that the rolling hills along your left, now, seemingly combed with those vignobles mentioned before and spotted with country houses and barns and what look like the little milk-producing vaches that make this country’s chocolate industry what it is…those hills are a green that leaves the Wizard of Oz’s stomping grounds a mere lackluster grey.
Alors, surrounded by color so alive and air so clean that it makes me want to tie myself to this earth and say I’M NEVER LEAVING AGAIN NOT EVEN IF YOU TRY TO MAKE ME, there’s an orchard filled with pommiers bearing bright crisp pink fruit on your right, and a young forest rising in front of you, and you jump right in. Small pebbles flecked with even smaller leaves make you forget that running in the States is thought of as a chore, and you feel like Dorothy wondering why there’s no Toto to keep you company. Or maybe Gretel running through the woods, minus the whole grumpy old wicked children-eating woman and the stepmom who forced your father to walk you and Hansel into the woods. So basically a happy Gretel minus those grim brothers. And for a while, at least for the duration of a run that turns into a literary exercise instead of a cardiovascular workout, Switzerland turns into all charm and fairytale-esque, pollution-free charisma.
But I have to remember I’m here studying, too. And as I’ve been studying and traveling and conversing and observing, I have come to a realization. Switzerland may be all “good social policy” and “neutrality” and “hey we make great chocolate and have good monetary safety to offer if you have enough money we can round to every six digits,” but no matter how pretty a picture is, every picture has an underbelly. And so, Arianna has found a goal, mes amis.
Underbelly of Switzerland, I hope you’re ready. I think I might have found you.
More to come on that soon. So confiance, mon public, and keep reading 🙂