Elephants and family connections

Trip Start Feb 02, 2010
Trip End Feb 02, 2011

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Flag of Switzerland  , Zürich,
Sunday, June 6, 2010

Zurich has been very nice, a lovely city, except for the massively over the top price tag on everything. The word ‘cheap’ in Zurich is impossible.  

We arrived in Hongg, after an hour in horrible peak hour traffic that really let down Felix’s expectations of Swiss organisation and were warmly greeted my Marco and Manu. Marco is the brother of Jan, therefore also being a cousin of Felix’s father. Hongg is actually the name of the area, but in Felix’s family Hongg means the house Marco and Manu live in. This house was a really special place for Felix to visit. His great grandmother and great grandfather, Sasha and Ernst Morgenthaler had the house custom built and designed by a famous architect in the nineteen-thirties.

As Marco gave us a tour, it was wonderful for Felix to see the studios of his great grandparents, the rooms they lived in, and hear the stories of their lives there. His grandmother Barbara also lived and grew up at Hongg and his father would have also have spent time there. Throughout the days we were at Hongg, I know Felix was thinking of Barbara and David allot, because he often would say throughout the day things like, “Imagine Dad, about Clancy or Leo size running about here”.         

Thursday we spent the entire day talking on Skype to family and friends back home. The real highlight of the day though came in the evening when Marco and Manu took us out to see the Swiss National Circus.

What an entertaining night. From my little knowledge of circus history and all, they seemed to be a very traditional circus. We went into the big bright tent, past a dwarf selling programs (I was happy to see the theme of freak show had not become to politically unacceptable, I think it’s a really important theme in the circus) and found some seats.  The show began with a slightly dorky but never-the-less amazing acrobatics routine. It was all very fantastic, glittery and dramatic. It was really circus, not all arty-farty and trying to be original.

The next hour was filled with more acrobatics, animals, and clowns whom I’m sure would have been very funny if I’d understood what they were going on about. The animals were amazing. When each different act was brought in, I gasped with wonder and concern for the animal.
The elephants…I was speechless, they were so huge! I can’t believe how big they were. And they were so well behaved. One of their acts they had to line up four in a row and someone did a flip over them, another act one of them took the trainer for a ride and then her son went for a ride on it’s trunk. As they left the ring they were thrown a whole loaf of bread that disappeared in a flash.

The horses were so beautiful, perfect animals with the most wonderful long manes. There were four palominos and four black horses (like Merlin) they trotted around and with the smallest gestures from the trainers whip they would turn, line up, rest their heads on one another, stretch their legs as they trotted, and trot in different formations. It really was quite a dance routine. 
Next came in the cutest little black and white spotted pony that cantered round and round the ring at top speed, before rearing and tearing out. Right at the end, in came the star of the show. An absolutely stunning young buckskin. He cantered round the ring tossing his head a showing off his shining, long mane and moving so gracefully. He came into the middle of the ring, reared and pawed the air before jumping the gate and cantering out of the tent.

After the buckskin left there was more clowning around, then two very big white horses came cantering into the ring with a young boy, about seven, standing one foot on each horse. Each lap of the ring two more shining white horses came cantering into the ring, someone handed him their reins and they cantered on in front of him. Very soon the young boy was driving eight horses round the ring, while standing effortlessly on the two cantering draughthorses.

Next was the exotic animals act. The crowd gasped as four zebras came cantering into the ring. I’ve never seen a zebra before in real life and was super impressed by their stripes. They really dazzled my eyes the way the black and white contrasted and the way the stripes fitted together and moved over the animal. I could have watched the zebras with their stripes all day.
The crowd gasped again as four Bactrian camels entered the ring. Then the crowd gasped again as eight Llamas entered, then two African cows with huge, gracefully curved horns. All the animals moved around and did their routine which ended with the llamas jumping the cows as they exited.

The rest of the show was wonderful too but didn’t have the same wonderment effect on me as the animals. There was some great tightrope walking, two guys with no harnesses, maybe fifteen metres from the ground dancing around, standing on chairs and skipping. And the act taking my vote for best co-ordination is the boys in tight white pants and midriff tops, swinging two kind of rubber half sphere things between a piece of rope. About eight of them were throwing these things around like helicopter blades and running between them. If someone stepped out of place or made a mistake, there would have been teeth flying everywhere. It probably wouldn’t have been as gruesome as someone falling from the tight rope or getting trampled by an elephant but still very unpleasant.                                                                                                   
So the circus came to an end and I still don’t have the words to describe it properly. I think I enjoyed it so much because there was no call for emotional involvement, no story or mystery to comprehend and maybe my lack of understanding of Swiss-German left me with little to have an opinion about. For me it was purely just dada daa! My only reservations were for the wellbeing of the animals. I wonder if it is a happy enough life for them or if I am supporting a life of great unhappiness by visiting the circus.

Friday and Saturday we spent lazing around and enjoying the lovely, hot summery weather and swimming in the Limmatt River. Right behind Hongg, the clear blue and freezing cold river flows and there is a great spot to swim where you can jump in, float for a few seconds down stream in the fast current, swim to the edge climb out and start again if you have the courage to face the cold once more. Swimming in the river put a great big genuine smile on my face. 

We visited an island in the middle of the river for a picnic lunch. A very interesting place this island, right at the tip there is a small gay nudists section and there are plenty of nudies running around everywhere, even where there are more clothed people. Friends and families having BBQs and fires on the banks don’t seem to mind at all. Other than the tip of the island, there was a section of long, long grass, which seemed to be another place for men to strip down. It was really almost like an artistic installation or performance is was so odd, all these darkly tanned, older men, standing naked, scattered through the waist high grass like old tree stumps. Not a strange thing to see people nude sunbathing, but strange to see many people standing, in an open field of grass, on an island in a river, nude sunbathing. A little surreal.

We were also treated to a classical piano concert starring an old friend of Manu. He was undoubtedly a great and gifted musician but the music he played just didn’t really float my boat. The Beethoven was pleasant but I really think a blacked out, boring as bat shit hall is not the place for classical music. It is such emotional music and when it’s reduced to someone playing it in such a place there is no justice done for it. I remember the only time I have ever been really touched by music, of any genre, was when I was walking through Melbourne one very cold and windy afternoon. As I passed Bourke Street, standing by the GPO, on a small platform was a lady singing the most sad and beautiful opera. Her voice was so clear and clean and her long dress and veils floated out around her on the wind. Everyone who walked past was captivated for a moment before they remembered they were going somewhere. 

I was trying to imagine this man playing outside this hall, we were up on a hill, looking out over Zurich with the sun setting behind the city. It would have been a million times more memorable to have listened to the music with the warm summer sun on our back and the smell of the flowers in our noses.  

So that’s my thoughts on that matter. As for the two modern pieces he played… Felix managed to say all these arty-farty sounding things about it being challenging to listen to and must be hard to play and how very intellectual it was. Personally I had nothing to say because the only thing I thought was Leo could have done an equally good job of it. I couldn’t pick the difficulty or intellectualism of it. All I picked was shit. Like people dropping a bucket of paint on the floor or spilling a coffee and trying to say it’s intellectual and art. No, it’s just a shit mess.

Today we had a lovely day in the forest with Jan, Mani and Mani’s friend Max. We caught a very little train with a cog that pulled us up a toothed track to the forest just out of the city on a hill and found a really great spot for a fire and picnic. The two boys spent close to an hour exploring the forest and giving a fair effort for their size to wood collecting before Jan, Felix and I joined in and soon had a great fire going. We cooked some sausages and had a delicious picnic with tabouli salad, bread and fruit.

Felix and I planned to leave for Kaufbauren, in southern Germany this afternoon but we were having such a nice afternoon in the forest, reading, snoozing, hearing about Jan’s extensive travels and studies of the Middle East and playing with the boys – it was after four when we left the forest and after six by the time we got back to Hongg to collect and pack our things. By the time we were even close to leaving it was close to nine and absolutely bucketing down with rain. Marco and Manu cooked up another delicious dinner and convinced us to stay another night, which I think is a wise choice. 
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Maria on

Hey guys, well my comment on this entry has been a very long time coming! Mum read this one out to us a couple of weeks ago when I was extremely sick with virus, gastro and morning sickness - so about halfway through the description of the circus entertainment, I drifted into slumber. Only now am I re-reading it.

Haven't looked at the photos yet (if I do before commenting, I forget everything I want to say about what you wrote!), but I hope there's some of the men sun-bathing in the field :-) What a sight that must have been! Hilarious - had me laughing out loud - your description of the piano concert. Ahhh... when I read these blogs I really think we should turn it into a book one day! So much rich description, honesty, laughter. And the stunning photos accompanying it all. Bliss for Sunday morning reading in bed while I feel nauseous!!

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