Archive for June 17th, 2009

Mennoniting Our Way to the Mediterranean

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Thursday afternoon (11th) we called the family we had found in our copy of the Mennonite Your Way book. Before the trip, David ordered the newest European edition of families willing to provide sleeping arrangements for travelers through their area. The MYW people sent the older version (2006-2008) until they could send the newest, published a month after we left. Currently, the 2009 edition is sitting in Rosedale somewhere. We had found the Wheelers from outside Lyons the most willing of the six French families listed. We made good time from Bern and arrived around 6, the time we had given them over the phone. Andre and Ruth warmly welcomed us to their home. After introductions and parking the Passat in their property, we sat and shared our backgrounds and Kefir.

None of us had heard of this drink and were fascinated by the liquid which appeared to be lemonade. Instead, it was a bi-product of a bacterial ecosystem. Kefir grains are self-contianed micro-ecosystems of bacteria living in a symbiotic relationship to process and ferment sugars. The drink is this fermented sugar water, a healthy drink as a bacterial live culture like acidophilus in yogurt and for it half a proof of alcohol. The drink is like friendship bread in that these grains are not commercially available and the growth from their fermentation can be shared to start new colonies. The Wheelers described the process, first discovered by a doctor in the Caucasus mountains, as the combination of the Kefir seed, sugar water, a lemon for flavor, and a fig. The fig, when it expands enough with water to float, signals the adequate time for the fermenting process. All four of us enjoyed the refreshing drink as we learned of their French Bretheren background.

We moved the conversation inside for a hearty meal of tomatoes, potatoes, and ham. By then the family had gathered, Jean David from the university where is was studying engineering, Jonathan from a friend’s, and Timothy, the youngest. We learned that most of the information regarding the Wheelers in the MYW book was incorrect and that they had not ever actually requested to be included. They had sent a letter of interest years earlier and we soon surprised when they found a book in the mail, containing their names and they apparently attended a French Reformed church and also spoke Spanish. They were, nevertheless, pleased we could stay with them. We explained how we met and decided to try this trip, Andre interpreting for the curious boys. After a lovely conversation, some time to unwind, a washed load of clothes, and much needed showers, we stretched in beds after weeks of sleeping in the car or on the ground. Lovely.

The next morning, I woke early (for me) and worked on catching up with email and photos on Flickr until the guys began to stir. Andre, a cook for a school, and the boys, themselves in school, had already left the house, so I worked for an hour until eating a traditional French breakfast of baguettes and delicious jams. A little after our planned 10 a.m. departure time, we each filled out the Wheelers’ guest book and hit the road.

Bears, Rampant Einstein, and the UN Building

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Thursday, June 11, we got up and drove into Bern, the capital of Switzerland. We parked on the outskirts of town and walked into the center. Along the way we found some discounted Swiss Chocolate and purchased a huge bar to split amongst the four of us. We agreed that the Swiss have rightfully earned their reputation of being superior chocolatiers. We walked to the main square in Bern and saw the government building and the main bank and noted that they are the same size. Only in Switzerland do they need as much space for a bank as their government.

Next we walked across the river to the famous Bern bear pit. Bern was supposedly named because the founder of the city killed a bear on the land and founded a city there soon after that; thus they keep bears around to impress the tourists. We approached the bear pit and heard a bunch of excited screaming and hoards of children running around the bear pit. Our interest was piqued—I thought that this may be how bad Swiss children were punished: a trip to the bear pit—but it turns out that the pit was void of bears. Now only children occupy the space, which is a smaller attraction for the four of us that the promised bear. Pedro, the last bear to inhabit the pit, died in late April and they are in the midst of building a new pit so they decided not to acclimate a new bear to this pit before moving him to the new one in October.

Although Bern does not show off any real bears currently, the symbol of the bear still dominates the city: rampant bears adorn flags throughout Bern and an armored bear stands guard over a main street.

We started walking back to our car but stopped at Einstein’s house along the way, but did not have time to enter the museum at his residence. Einstein lived in Bern from 1902-1909, during which he published his famous Annus Mirabilis papers. We all agreed that Bern should drop the rampant bear from its flag and instead have a rampant Einstein. Would any flag be better than one with a rampant Einstein? We didn’t think so either.

We left Bern and drove to Geneva, but since we were running behind schedule we saw very little of the city. We stopped by the United Nations Headquarters and looked at the building and all the flags in the courtyard before heading out of town. Along the way we passed the world headquarters of Red Cross – Red Crescent. We were running a little behind—we had made a contact with a family near Lyon, France through the Mennonite Your Way directory and told them we would be at their house by 6:00—so we had very little time in Geneva. I guess I’ll have to spend more time there the next time I am in Switzerland.

david miller