May 29, 2009

Tonight is the beginning of the Pentecost long weekend. It’s also the beginning of long traffic jams in front of the Gotthard tunnel. The tunnel is the main connection to southern Switzerland with its Italian villages tucked between high mountains and narrow lakes.

An old stone village high up on the Italian side of the Swiss Alps. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

An old stone village high up on the Italian side of the Swiss Alps. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

One of the wonders of Switzerland is its diversity of cultures, languages and geography. The northern side of the Alps is mostly German in language and culture, hilly with some plains. Western Switzerland, well known for its fine wines, is French all the way down to Geneva where the UN has its headquarters. There is a small Romansch community on the east boundary, in the mountains. On the south side of the Alps is the Tessin, where palm trees and rhododendron grow, and you order ‘uno espresso con latte’.

The Alsace is a popular tourist region, here is a canal in the town of Colmar. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

The Alsace is a popular tourist region, here is a canal in the town of Colmar. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

All of this is squeezed into a country that fits into Alberta, Canada 16 times. If a tiny country like Switzerland can support four cultures and languages – every product is labeled in German, French and Italian – and live peaceably, why shouldn’t Canada be able to work with two languages and cultures? Doesn’t the ethnic diversity add richness to our country too?

We’re going to the Alsace, the northeastern corner of France, for Robert’s brother Dani’s wedding. Dani and Emma booked a hotel for the weekend and turned the wedding into a family reunion. The weather promises to be quite nice, so the Alsace should present itself in all its touristic beauty. It’s wine country, with a string of picturesque villages strung out along the Vogesen – the foothills on which the vineyards thrive.

This is the village where the Swiss Gruyere cheese comes from, in the French area of Switzerland. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

This is the village where the Swiss Gruyere cheese comes from, in the French area of Switzerland. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Robert’s mom keeps saying she’s not going. She’s 86 now, with some dementia, and the idea of staying away from home for two nights did not make her happy! I sent her off with Robert to buy some flowers and packed a suitcase for his parents. I feel bad being so sneaky about it, but she’s a lot easier to live with if she’s not upset the whole time. By tomorrow evening, she’ll be enjoying herself and hopefully forget she wanted to go home.

I can hear voices – they’re back. The closet doors are all closed again, no telltale signs anywhere, I hope! It’s not easy to be old, even in beautiful Switzerland.

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