Baby, It’s Cold Outside…or Scherenschnitte Happinesss

I can hear the wind howling just outside the window – boy, am I ever glad I’m indoors… I’ve been constantly on the road for the past few weeks, planning and implementing events as part of my day job. Quite frankly, I’m exhausted, and it’s only going to get worse in the next few weeks, with eight (yes, 8!) more events before the end of February.

Last weekend was my birthday, and unfortunately I was too tired to truly enjoy it. I had travelled extensively during that week, and was still trying to recover from the jetlag of the European trip. I still enjoyed my birthday (B. and I spent the whole day wandering stores and shopping malls, something we hadn’t done since forever), although I didn’t have any energy to do much of anything.

So today, after driving B. to the airport early this morning (he’s on his way to Mexico, lucky man!), I spent the day indulging myself. After watching several of Suzi Blu’s videos for inspiration, I did some sketching, something I hadn’t done in ages. If you’re ever stuck in a rut, visit Suzi Blu – she’ll set you on the path to artistic nirvana.

After that, I worked on a handmade photo album I’m making as a thank-you gift. I hope it turns out all right; I have a clear vision in my head of what I want it to be…

A long nap, followed by a long, hot shower, helped restore my energy enough that I could start work on my latest obsession: Scherenschnitte. What is scherenschnitte, you ask?

Scherenschnitte is the Swiss/German art of papercutting. I discovered this beautiful artform during my trip to Switzerland in December. While I vaguely recalled having seen photos of these papercuttings in the past, I had never really paid them any attention, until I saw a few hanging in a cafe in Gstaad. The intricacy and delicacy of these pieces was absolutely stunning. This is what I’m talking about. A few days later, I bought these scherenschnitte cuttings at a tiny street market in Gstaad:

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Of course, the photos don’t do the pieces justice (I really suck at taking photos). The pieces are quite small, approximately 3″X3″, because that’s all I could afford! Everything in Switzerland is expensive, and artwork is no exception…

Upon my return to Canada, I vowed to learn more about scherenschnitte, and researched it extensively on the Internet. It’s funny how when you open your eyes to something, kismet intervenes. As I explained earlier, I had never paid any attention to papercuttings until this recent trip. All of a sudden, I kept seeing papercuttings everywhere:

– Victoria Magazine has an article in their January/February 2008 edition on paper artistry

– While browsing the aisles of an Indigo bookstore last week, I came across this book and immediately bought it (although my book has a different cover)

– Yesterday, while visiting the Craft Magazine blog, I came across the work of Kako Ueda, an amazing papercutting artist

A few days ago, I even attempted my first ever papercutting piece:

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The pattern was taken from the book I recently bought, and I’m quite happy with the results… Feeling confident, today I chose another pattern from the same book, a much larger and more complex pattern this time. I spent a great amount of time copying the pattern on tracing paper. The only paper that I had on hand large enough for this particular pattern was a roll of kraft paper. Unfortunately I discovered that kraft paper doesn’t cut so easily and I was really struggling with the detail work. I soon gave up because I was tiring very quickly and was afraid I was either going to ruin the piece or hurt myself seriously with the craft knife… I may pick it up again when I’m not so tired and cranky…

I spent the rest of the day playing on my new laptop (which B. bought for me a few days ago!), watching t.v., eating pizza and taking a relaxing bubble bath. It was a day of complete, but necessary, indulgence…

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Swiss Trip, Part 2 – Bern

The city of Bern is a huge contrast to the countryside village that is Gstaad, especially considering they’re only about an hour’s drive apart. Although Gstaad certainly has its merits, Bern is immediately charming with its cobblestone streets and old-world architecture. It’s not surprising that Switzerland’s capital was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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One can easily spend days slowly wandering the streets of the Old Town (most vehicles are kept out of the area), taking in the numerous shops, restaurants and cafés. Just a few houses from where B. and I stayed, one could find the Einstein Haus – the very “apartment and workplace of the famous scientist, who developed his Theory of Relativity in 1905 while working in the Bern Patent Office…” (source) Unfortunately due to bad timing (it being Christmas week and all), the apartment wasn’t open to the public for viewing…

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 Bern also has a number of ornate fountains throughout the city, including this one representing Justice:

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 At the centre of the Old Town is the Zytglogge, or the Clock Tower, a beautiful and massive structure. Below the main face of the tower is an “intricate astronomical and astrological device, which, in one small diameter, displays a 24-hour clock, the twelve hours of daylight, the position of the sun in the zodiac, the day of the week, the date and the month, the phases of the moon and the elevation of the sun above the horizon throughout the year, everything kept accurate by linkage to the main clock mechanism.” (source)

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We were lucky enough to spend New Year’s Eve in Bern – just a few minutes before midnight, we rushed over to the Münsterplattform, a terrace adjacent to the Münster (a 15th-century gothic cathedral) and overlooking the River Aare. Many people had gathered there to launch homemade fireworks (I’m all for handcrafted items, but some of these were scary!) – with only the lights of the Münster to illuminate our surroundings, it was truly magical:

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Happy New Year!

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I was well-behaved on New Year’s Eve, as I had to get up early to take the train to Geneva in order to catch my flight back to Canada. Twenty-four hours and a major snowstorm later, I was finally home. I can’t believe I’ve been back for nearly a week already; I’m still fighting the jet lag (I’ve been waking up at 4:30 or 5 am every day since I got back, which is torture for a non-morning person such as myself).

All in all, however, I would say it was an immensely successful trip. I was thrilled to be able to speak in French everywhere, and no one seemed to have any problems understanding my accent (I’m not convinced this would be the case in France…). I was very inspired by the numerous languages I heard all around me; it seems that everyone speaks no less than two, but usually three or more, languages. I’ve therefore decided that this year I am finally going to get my butt into gear and learn a third language. My only problem is deciding which one: Spanish, Italian or German. Decisions, decisions…

Swiss Trip, Part 1 – Gstaad

Today is the first day since arriving back in Canada on January 2 that I’ve not felt overwhelmingly fatigued. Although I’m still tired, at least I finally have the energy to show and tell about this exciting trip.

After landing in Geneva on Christmas Day, I took the train straight to Gstaad, where B. awaited. After travelling approximately 24 hours, I was shaky from the lack of sleep and the nausea (did I ever mention I don’t travel well???), but happy to finally arrive at my destination. Gstaad is a beautiful village, where most of the buildings are chalet-style, and completely surrounded by mountains. It is also where the celebrities go on their ski holidays, which meant that there was a great amount of fur coats, bling bling and tiny dogs wandering about… (I didn’t see any celebrities I knew, but there were a few paparazzis hangoing out the whole time we were there – I saw them take photos, but I have no idea of who!)

B. and I stayed atop the Eggli mountain, where he was working on a project for Iglu-Dorf (which literally means “igloo village”). Iglu-Dorf builds huge igloos at various locations in Switzerland (and now Germany), and people pay big bucks to sleep inside them (sort of like the Ice Hotel concept in Finland and here in Quebec City). They have hired B. for a number of years now to carve the inside walls of the igloos – the fact that the igloos have been carved by a real-live Inuit is hugely appealing to the guests… At the Gstaad location, he carved two monumental sculptures:

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I am happy to report that I did some snow carving too! On my second day in Gstaad, while I was watching B. work on the “ice bear” (as they call polar bears in Switzerland), I noticed a few uneven spots on the bear, so I thought I’d fix them…low and behold, I ended up spending three days carving beside B. It was fantastic! He was extremely supportive, and kept saying how amazed he was that I always seemed to know what needed to be done; he barely gave me any direction. Although I’m artistic to a certain extent, I’m certainly no carver, but my experience with finishing B.’s stone carvings has given me an “eye” for finishing his snow carvings as well. I’d had one other experience carving snow before, in Winnipeg about 2 years ago, but I hadn’t done much carving at that time due to nervousness and lack of experience. I was feeling much more confident this time around…

The Iglu-Dorf concept is pretty fantastic – there is a large, main igloo which serves as the bar area. Several smaller igloos connect to the main one – these igloos are used as bedrooms, bathrooms, and even a hot tub area! There are different grades of bedrooms – the most luxurious one, the Romantik-Iglu Suite, has its own bathroom (with working electrical outlets!) and a private whirlpool! It’ll cost you, though – just under $500 per person per night…

There is also an outdoor bar area, where you can sit amongst the mountains and enjoy the warm sunlight or a cosy bonfire in the evenings – here is a photo of the tunnel leading to the inside bar, and another of the outside bar area:

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B. and I slept in a cabin at the top of the mountain, near the igloo site. This was the view from our bedroom window (the photo on the right is the same view, at dusk):

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Tough on the eyes, I know…

It was surprisingly warm at the top of the mountain – about 4-6C most sunny days, whereas the village was much cooler. One thing that struck me was the night sky as seen from the top of the mountain. It was absolutely stunning – I had never before seen so many stars in the sky. They were clear and bright, and everywhere! It was like looking at a map from an astromony book, where each and every star is depicted. We could also see Mars very clearly. It was so moving, I could have stayed outside forever just looking at the sky…

Whenever we wanted to go to the village to do some shopping, we had to go down the mountain by gondola. However, the last gondola of the day went up the mountain at 4:30 pm, so we always had to rush back – otherwise we’d be stuck, homeless, in Gstaad village (in fact, this nearly happened to me upon my arrival in Gstaad – because of my plane being delayed in Geneva, I had to rush to take the first train available in order to make it to the mountain on time. Imagine almost having to sleep in a train station on Christmas night!). The village has one main street, reserved for pedestrians. There are many small shops, but because of the clientele, everything is exorbitantly expensive. If you’re not rich, there really isn’t much you can do in Gstaad! This is one of the reasons I chose to snow carve with B.; I didn’t have much cash to do anything else… Here are a few photos taken in the village:

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As you can see, many of the buildings were exquisitely decorated. There was also on outdoor ice rink in the middle of town, as well as horse-drawn sleigh rides. Very romantic indeed.

After Gstaad, B. and I were scheduled to make our way to Zermatt, the final Iglu-Dorf location. However, there was a change in plans when B. injured himself on our last night in Gstaad… Nothing too serious, just a sprained ankle, but the doctor ordered him to stay off his foot, which meant he was unable to carve in Zermatt.

So instead we ended up in Bern (the capital of Swizterland) for the remainder of the trip, staying with B.’s friends and business partners who own an Inuit art gallery in Bern).

Stay tuned for part two of the Swiss trip…

Back in Canada…

I made it back from Switzerland yesterday, after travelling for more than 24 hours…quite the feat, considering how I really don’t travel well. (Nausea is my middle name.)

The trip was amazing, though much too short, of course. I’m still suffering from serious jetlag (I was up at 4:30 this morning, so I’m really struggling to stay away now, even though it’s only 8:30 pm). I’ll post in detail this weekend, once I catch up on my sleep and am able to put together a coherent sentence.

The return to Toronto was quite a shock – what’s with the deep freeze in the city?!! Where did all the mild weather go??? It could be worse, I guess – my dad was telling me last night that they’ve had 4 snow storms in the past 8 days in New Brunswick! Moncton got the brunt of it too. If it’s any consolation to Monctonians, at least they can celebrate this news:

Moncton earns reputation as most polite city in Canada

I can certainly vouch for that myself (Moncton was the last place I lived in before moving to Toronto) – everyone there is warm, friendly, polite, and knows how to have a great time. I’m convinced it’s due to the abundant amounts of lobster… As much as I miss all my friends in Moncton, I certainly don’t miss the snow!

I’ll be back soon with lots of photos of the Swiss trip…