Sunday, February 19, 2012

Weekly Digest

Seasonal maintenance in Lausanne

All the fun and awesome adventures have gotten in the way of blogging once again.  The coldest winter in recent history has been letting up and we have found ourselves getting out more to enjoy our Swiss story.  A quick observation I've been wanting to share has to do with how much manpower the Swiss invest into proper maintenance of their urban greenery.

I am still in awe of all the systematic winter pruning that has been done all around town.  Sometimes the tree line along an entire street is speckled with crimson, as these crews busily work away.  Of course this diligence goes hand-in-hand with other forms of care-taking of public  infrastructure.  Streets sweepers constantly canvass the sidewalks for litter and street signs are carefully hand washed.

I walked past a worker not long ago carefully removing the remnants of an old sticker someone deposited above / on the hood of an ATM machine, using a razor blade.  In most places outside Switzerland, this weathered, faded old sticker would have become a familiar sight for customers, a stable fixture of the ATM.

On Sundays we have been making regular pilgrimages to the Monterux-Vevey region to take in the sites of the beautiful Swiss Riviera.  I love the atmosphere of Montreux and getting lost in the old town area.

Montreux rooftops
A few weekends ago we drove to the Neuchâtel Museum of Art and History to visit some of the oldest automata ever built by famous 18th century Swiss watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz. These three androids (The Writer, The Cartoonist, and The Musician) are also considered by some to be the oldest examples of the computer. On the first Sunday of each month, these fine historic pieces of precision technology are demonstrated to visitors at certain hours of the day. While they are on exhibit daily, available to visitors in a silent, motionless state, we went to see them in action. The demonstration revealed amazingly complex mechanisms, which, back in their time attracted world-wide attention from emperors and kings, and captivated public imagination (e.g.Andersen: The Nightingale) 

This is the mechanical hand behind the Musician.  Her chest rises and falls with breath as Jaquet-Droz also built-in subtle details such as head and eye movements. 

I recorded this brief  video for you so you don't have to go all the way to Neuchatel in order to admire this amazing talent of a watchmaker. Then again, you might just want to anyway. The Writer was out sick, but the other two worked very well:

The public fascination with automata hasn't died over the centuries.  Robots are now a fact of life, and a new Scorsese movie Hugo, based on Brian Selznick's novel also prominently features an automaton.  It was really fun taking a trip back in time when this romance with androids all began.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

C'est une catastrophe!

‎"Madame, Le matériel scolaire de Big Moose est dans un état catastrophique! Avec mes salutations,  Teacher"

There you have it.  It really is more fun receiving notes in French from the kids' teachers, even when said note is meant to be scolding.  I just love how polite written communication always is here.  

Big Moose's teacher communicates in writing, and Google Translate has been a good friend.  And actually, she is quite fun.  She even took the children to Lausanne's Circus School on a field trip.  The kids spent a morning learning all things circus.  I mean, wouldn't you have loved to have a teacher who does that? J'adore!



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