Monthly Archives: July 2013

A Postcard from Lugano

Gandria, Switzerland

Gandria, Switzerland

Just put your feet up on the edge of the glass balcony, lean back and enjoy the breathtaking view:  straight ahead is San Salvatore – the signature mountain of Lugano, Switzerland (also known as the Rio De Janeiro of Europe) – rising out of Lake Lugano.  A sunny day will see the vast body of water dotted and streaked with lazy boats, speed boats, water skiers, and the occasional swimmer who ventures far away from the shores to swim long distance.  A sunny, windy day will see the lake bloom like a field of wild flowers with sails unfurled.  If you look straight down from the balcony you’ll see six stories of uninterrupted view, and a private swimming pool shimmering Caribbean blue in the garden below – all yours whenever you feel the urge.  Sitting there gently beckons you to breathe deep, slow down, forget time, and be as lazy as you want.  Being is the thing here, not doing, unless that doing brings pleasure.

Overhead hawks circle, coming so close to the balcony that you can watch them turn their heads to look you in the eye.  I’ve been fortunate enough to see them swoop at the lake and come up with fish, but more commonly you’ll simply see the results dangling from their talons as they fly nestward.  Birds of all shapes and sizes are there for the viewing:  Ducks that fly past squeaking as they flap furiously determined to reach their destination, always in a hurry; swans that pass each morning toward the town, and each evening toward their roost; silver-backed crows that fight for the highest tree top, chasing each other from tree to fence to roof to tree to lamppost to tree; sparrows that have learned the advantages of sharing their domain with humans; seagulls that pester hawks for their fish, pester each other for their prizes, and pester simply because they enjoy pestering.

To the right in the distance is the eponymous town, the shoreline rimmed by a walkway, boating and ferry docks, a giant fountain spraying five stories straight up – when the wind doesn’t use it to spray onlookers – and swans, coots and ducks competing with sparrows, pigeons and silver-backed crows for the bread crumbs of passersby.  Every little corner café and ristorante has a place in the sun, with tables and chairs moved out onto the sidewalk, the giant umbrellas providing welcomed shade.  Gelaterie dot the shoreline offering relief from the summer heat with generous portions of creamy Italian ice cream.

Gandria, as seen from the lake

Gandria, as seen from the lake

This first evening, let’s head down to Gandria:  A small, steep town tucked around the lake shore hidden from Lugano, it’s accessible only to those who can walk.  There is one parking lot high above the town, but I prefer the walk high above the lake shore.  For the first few minutes we walk past luxury mansions, usually veiled in the silence of loneliness as the occupants are rarely in residence.  We pass a parking area and enter a narrow stone pathway that takes us past the back door of a few stucco homes, eventually giving way to steep cliffs to our left and a steep drop to the lake below on our right.  The forest grows thick here despite the rocky cliff, but if we take this walk early enough in the evening we’ll see countless lizards sunning themselves along the stone path or cliff face; we may even glimpse a sunning snake, though they are usually quick to disappear into the underbrush knowing it’s too dense in there to be pursued.  We come at last to the village of Gandria, a labyrinth of stone houses and arched passageways, where swallows can be found nesting, and a postcard in the making at every turn with a picture perfect atmosphere.  The restaurant we choose engulfs the stone path, with the building on one side and the covered terrace on the edge of the lake (or out over the lake) on the other.  We order our meal (Italian, of course), complete with a bottle of local wine, and watch the shadows of the mountain grow steeper, swallowing the glittering lake as it climbs the forested Italian mountains across the invisible, watery border between the two countries.

Happily satisfied with a good meal and a good year we begin the walk home.  By now the dense forest is darker still, and conceals a deep ravine in the rising cliffs; at dusk out of that ravine dart tiny bats by the hundreds.  Contrasted against the sky, we watch them deftly echolocate their meal of insects that have thrived on the lakeshore all day and have risen to soak up the last rays of the setting sun.  If you hear well you’ll be able to hear their small shrieks as they swoop past – unaware that humans are there except as obstacles to be avoided in their flight path.

At last we return home.  The view from the glass balcony has now changed: The lake is a blanket of darkness surrounded by the glittering lights of the towns splashed along the winding coast.  Sometimes a bright light suddenly flashes across the lake, where a car has turned directly toward us briefly on the winding roads and streets, but it is only the size of a firefly at this distance.  The peace that settles over the lake calms any thoughts of home, responsibilities, appointments, work and schedule.  Sitting in the dark and watching the stars come out as dusk fades to a black curtain, we whisper as our tangled thoughts unravel, our minds drawn to the deeper things of life than mere living.

Another place I’d take you is to the top of our mountain, Monte Brè, to the village of Brè Paese.  It seems to be a magnet for artistic abdicators of the outside world, with every corner, every door, every window frame, stair, archway, path, woodpile and every other possible canvas artistically arranged, painted, sculptured, framed and ready to grace a postcard.  My favourite and eponymous restaurant has a garden that reflects the philosophy of the town, being the dessert for the eyes and soul.  There is a large chess board in the garden with potted plants as the pieces; a wooden bench made of barked branches winds its way around one of the large shade trees, and a swinging bench ready to receive visitors at a moment’s notice sways in the warm breeze beneath another tree.  Our table is shaded by a kiwi fruit vine laden with fruit, winding its way up the trellis and taking its sweet time to reach a nearby balcony.  Sparrows flit between the terrace tables in search of morsels, and are friendly and bold enough to even land on our table occasionally.

As night falls in Lugano, the city sparkles to rival the stars.  On a clear moonless night the mountains surrounding the lake are etched black against the sky, contrasted by the city lights reflecting along the shore.  Some of the brighter stars even cast their reflections onto the water below.  A swan drifts past, asleep with its beak nuzzled under a wing, not caring where the gentle currents carry it by morning.

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Stop Apostrophe Abuse

Okay, grammar pet peeve time:  Apostrophe abuse.  It needs to stop.  Now.apostrophe Puppy

There are only two instances in the English language in which apostrophes are used:

1) Contractions, as in:  you are = you’re, or have not = haven’t, or I am = I’m.  Just keep in mind that the apostrophe takes the place of the missing letter(s); if you take a letter out to combine (contract) two words together, place the apostrophe where the missing letter would have been written.

2) Possessives, as in:  Steve’s hat (the hat belongs to Steve), or today’s specials (specials on for today)

Apostrophe Tombstone

Alway’s there for us. Who is Alway?

Never, I repeat NEVER should an apostrophe be used to indicate a plural!!  Never, EVER.  If you see it used as a plural, it’s wrong – even if it’s on a tombstone (see the image below). Apostrophe Tombstone 2

In the illustration on the right, “Alway’s there for us,” it obviously means “Alway is there for us.”  But who is Alway?  I thought Mary was trying to rest in peace here…  It’s just wrong on so many levels, because it’s not even a plural (which they were aiming for), but an adverb.

Let’s (as in “let us”) look at another very common mistake:  1) it vs. 2) it’s vs. 3) its:

1) “It” is fairly straightforward; it is the third person singular pronoun (used in place of a noun) for objects or gender-neutral references; e.g. The chair is red = It is red.

2) “It’s” is the contracted form of “it is”, as in It’s raining or “it has”, as in It’s been a long time since we saw each other last.

3) “Its” is the possessive form of the third person singular pronoun:  “the dog’s paws” = “its paws”  REMEMBER:  You would never spell “his shirt” as “hi’s shirt”, or “her skirt” as “he’r skirt”; in the same way you should never use the contracted form as the possessive form of it.

It’s not “CD’s” or “DVD’s” as the plural form; this is actually the possessive (which therefore requires an object for that subject’s possessive form, as in the CD’s case), and I find myself asking, “CD’s what?”

If you want more examples, from tombstones to shop signs to tattoos that are embarrassingly wrong, take a look at  www.apostropheabuse.com.  Okay, pet peeve appeased.  Glad to get that off my chest.

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Canadian Tourism Q&A

This was posted by Andy over at his blog, and I just had to repost it – the questions are priceless, but I love the answers.  True sarcasm is a fine art.

Obviously the answers are a joke; but the questions were (apparently) really asked.

 

Q: I have never seen it warm on Canadian TV, so how do the plants grow? ( England )

A. We import all plants fully grown and then just sit around and watch them die.

 

Q: Will I be able to see Polar Bears in the street? ( USA ) moose-emblem-on-canadian-flag-darren-greenwood

A: Depends on how much you’ve been drinking.

 

Q: I want to walk from Vancouver to Toronto – can I follow the Railroad tracks? ( Sweden )

A: Sure, it’s only Four thousand miles, take lots of water.

 

Q: Is it safe to run around in the bushes in Canada ? ( Sweden )

A: So it’s true what they say about Swedes.

 

Q: Are there any ATM’s (cash machines) in Canada ? Can you send me a list of them in Toronto , Vancouver , Edmonton and Halifax ? ( England )

A: No, but you’d better bring a few extra furs for trading purposes.

 

Q: Can you give me some information about hippo racing in Canada ? ( USA )

A: A-fri-ca is the big triangle shaped continent south of Europe Ca-na-da is that big country to your North…oh forget it. Sure, the hippo racing is every Tuesday night in Calgary Come naked.

 

Q: Which direction is North in Canada ? ( USA )

A: Face south and then turn 180 degrees Contact us when you get here and we’ll send the rest of the directions.

 

Q: Can I bring cutlery into Canada ? ( England )

A: Why? Just use your fingers like we do.

 

Q: Can you send me the Vienna Boys’ Choir schedule? ( USA )

A: Aus-t ri-a is that quaint little country bordering Ger-man-y, which is…oh forget it. Sure, the Vienna Boys Choir plays every Tuesday night in Vancouver and in Calgary , straight after the hippo races. Come naked.

 

Q: Do you have perfume in Canada ? ( Germany )

A: No, WE don’t stink.

 

Q: I have developed a new product that is the fountain of youth. Where can I sell it in Canada ? ( USA )

A: Anywhere significant numbers of Americans gather.

 

Q: Can you tell me the regions in British Columbia where the female population is smaller than the male population? ( Italy )

A: Yes, gay nightclubs.

 

Q: Do you celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada ? ( USA )

A: Only at Thanksgiving.

 

Q: Are there supermarkets in Toronto and is milk available all year round? ( Germany )

A: No, we are a peaceful civilization of Vegan hunter/gathers. Milk is illegal.

 

Q: I have a question about a famous animal in Canada , but I forget its name. It’s a kind of big horse with horns. ( USA )

A: It’s called a Moose. They are tall and very violent, eating the brains of anyone walking close to them. You can scare them off by spraying yourself with human urine before you go out walking.

 

Q: Will I be able to speak English most places I go? ( USA )

A: Yes, but you will have to learn it first.

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All About Perspective

So much is exhibited to the eye that nothing is left to the imagination.  It sometimes seems almost possible that the modern world might be choked by its own riches, and human faculty dwindle away amid the million inventions that have been introduced to render its exercise unnecessary.  The articles in the quarterlies extend to thirty or more pages, but thirty pages is now too much. So we witness a further condensing process and, we have the fortnightly and the Contemporary which reduce thirty pages to fifteen pages so that you may read a larger number of articles in a shorter time and in a shorter form.  As if this last condensing process were not enough the condensed articles of these periodicals are further condensed by the daily papers, which will give you a summary of the summary of all that has been written about everything.  Those who are dipping into so many subjects and gathering information in a summary and superficial form lose the habit of settling down to great works.  Ephemeral literature is driving out the great classics of the present and the past… hurried reading can never be good reading.” – G.J. Goschen, First Annual Address to the Students, Toynbee Hall, London, 1894

1894.  We tend to think of such times as “the good old days,” when life was slow and time was taken to read, contemplate, and discuss topics at great length.  Compared to now of course, they did; but the time in which we live now will look slow to future generations.  We tend to think that women today tend to be more scantily dressed than 50 years ago, and it’s true; but 100 years ago they thought exactly the same thing of their own time.

Future generations will think it quaint that we had things called “CDs” or “DVDs” (that looked exactly the same but the playing devices were incompatible with one another!) that were physical discs you actually have to put into a machine to hear music or watch a film; or telephones that actually needed electricity, or computers that needed an internet cable, or batteries that needed changing.  Our miniscule cell phones will look as bulky and clumsy to them as ‘80s films’ cell phones do to us now.  Magazine ads from the late ‘60s were more wordy than some full-length newspaper articles today.  Ads today don’t even use words – they have to grab you with an image because you’ve just sped past in your car, on your bike, or in a tram or bus or train.

First passenger railway 1830, Liverpool & Manchester Railway.  Source - Wikipedia

First passenger railway 1830, Liverpool & Manchester Railway

Literature is changing too.  When was the last time you read a tome?  Do you like to enjoy slow reading, like fine cuisine, or do you prefer to read a book in a weekend, and if it will take much longer you’re not as interested?

“With the advent of cheap newspapers and superior means of locomotion… the dreamy quiet old days are over… for men now live and think and work at express speed.  They have their Mercury or Post laid on their breakfast table in the early morning, and if they are too hurried to snatch from it the news during that meal, they carry it off, to be sulkily read as they travel… leaving them no time to talk with the friend who may share the compartment with them… the hurry and bustle of modern life… lacks the quiet and repose of the period when our forefathers, they day’s work done, took their ease…” – William Smith, Morley:  Ancient and Modern, 1886

It’s all about perspective.  So the next time you get impatient, stop and think about those past generations who felt intimidated by the speed of a steam locomotive, and instead be grateful you’re stuck in traffic.

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