Dreaming of Paris

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When I pictured my life in Geneva, it involved many many spur-of-the-moment trips to Paris since it lies just three hours away from us by train. I’m embarrassed to say we haven’t zipped off to the City of Lights as often as I thought we would, but often enough to almost satisfy me…I’m one of those people for whom Paris never gets old.

Last time we were in Paris, it was just days after we had visited the doctor and discovered that a tiny poppyseed was living inside me–our son. Being the worrier that I am, I didn’t allow myself to buy baby things in Paris. I superstitiously thought that a knit cap or tiny socks would somehow jinx the whole thing.

Fast-forward 30 weeks: That poppyseed is now five pounds and I’m getting on a train to Paris.

It is sure to be my last real trip before parenthood and it already feels different than the other times I’ve visited. I am packing some sensible walking shoes (sigh), emergency granola bars and have no plans involving lazy afternoons over glasses of Bordeaux. But I’m happy to see my favorite city one last time sans bébé.

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Is there a city that you dream of visiting again and again? For Californians, it’s San Francisco and for East Coasters, it’s the City that Never Sleeps. I get it, but they’ll never be Paris in my book. If you’re dreaming of Paris too, here are some links to fuel your sleep:

Why I’ll never become a Swiss citizen

After a few months of living in Switzerland, I quickly came to the realization that I’ll never obtain that coveted red passport, even if I go through all of the motions of becoming a Swiss citizen. I’d heard enough stories of half-Swiss families and long-distance lovers who’ve been rejected for Swiss citizenship to fill a book–these kinds of stories are practically part of the national folklore. The Swiss are a notoriously closed society. They don’t need more people. They like to do things how they like to do things and they have enough money to get it done. (For example, the Swiss have never joined the European Union so they do not have to answer to anyone but themselves.)

When I came across this story in The Atlantic of a woman who has been denied Swiss citizenship because she openly protested the size of bells hanging around cows’ necks–yes, you read that correctly–I actually wasn’t fazed. I thought “that sounds about right.”

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Nancy Holten, 42, was born in the Netherlands. At the age of 8, however, she moved with her family to Switzerland, which Holten has called home for the past 34 years. Holten currently resides, with her three daughters, in the small village of Gipf-Oberfrick, in the far north of the country, within the canton of Aargau. She speaks fluent Swiss-German. Her daughters are Swiss citizens. She has been a member of the parents’ committee of their school.

And yet Holten was recently rejected for a Swiss passport—which is also to say, effectively, for naturalized Swiss citizenship. For the second time.

The reason? In Switzerland, applications for naturalization are decided not at the federal level, but rather by the country’s cantons and municipalities—and the applicants’ peers have a say in whether naturalization gets granted. And, unfortunately for Nancy Holten, her peers are not inclined to give her the “gift” of a passport. Because, despite all the ways she is Swiss, Holten—a vegan who is extremely vocal about the life choice—has also stridently opposed one of the most beloved cultural traditions of Gipf-Oberfrick, and of Aargau, and of Switzerland itself: the practice of putting large bells around the necks of cows, for reasons both practical and ceremonial. Insert your preferred “more cowbell” joke here.

Read the rest of the article here.

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It is a strange and beautiful place we’ve chosen to call home temporarily. I hope you’re having a nice week and feeling free to protest whatever you like. Meanwhile a few links:

On tracing my Swiss roots

Have I ever mentioned that I am Swiss? Not in the passport carrying way, but in the way that Americans brag about their heritage–“I’m Irish,” “I’m French”–since we all seem to find being simply “American” so un-exotic.

At any rate, my great-great grandfather Henry Rüedi immigrated from Switzerland to California in the 1890s. He was 14 years old when he left his family’s farm with eight dollars in his pocket and boarded a ship for New York. He worked his way across the U.S. as a blacksmith, finally settling in Oakland as a hotel dishwasher. A few years later, he owned the hotel.

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I was always proud of his story and enjoyed bragging about my Swiss roots growing up. I had every intention of tracing my family once I arrived in Grandfather Rüedi’s homeland… and then…two years passed without me ever doing so.

That is, until last October.

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Two things happened last October: I felt our baby kicking for the first time and my grandfather suffered a stroke.

In the months since, he has recovered beautifully and those first, tiny kicks have become less magical, but at the time I was in crisis mode. I was flooded with emotions ranging from helplessness and homesickness to joy, but the one that surprised me the most was guilt.

I suddenly felt as though I had squandered two years in Switzerland visiting every place besides the one my family is from: Gächlingen. Here I had a living link to my relatives and my grandfather’s stories about growing up as a Swiss kid in Oakland, but I had failed to really take advantage of this gift.

I resolved to not let another week pass without finding “my people.”

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So off we went one Saturday on a three-hour train ride to the northernmost Swiss canton, Schaffhausen, where Gächlingen is located. Gächlingen is a tiny farming village outside the canton’s capital city with a population of 700 residents and one cafe.

Armed only with a photo of my great-great-grandfather’s home, we caught the bus to Gächlingen unsure of what we would find.

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This is the photo of the family home–ours is the one with the eaves jutting out over the entrance. When the bus dropped us off in Gächlingen, this is what we saw.

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Minus the modern cars, paved roads and a few renovations, the silhouette matched perfectly with the one my great-great-grandfather had left us.

Could this really be it? The family home? Did people who looked like me live here?

Around the side of the house was the entrance to the stables. The Rüedis, like most Swiss families, kept their animals on the ground floor of the home to help heat the upper floors where the family resided. A manure pile outside of a home’s entrance indicated a family’s prosperity: More animals equal a bigger manure pile. My grandfather proudly told me that when he visited our family in the 1960s, we had the biggest manure pile in town. I’m happy to report that the manure pile trend is no longer in fashion!

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We walked around town to see if we could find any other clues about what life was like for the Rüedis. From what I gathered, not much had changed since the 1890s. Gächlingen still appeared to be heavily agrarian, charming and quiet. We had run into almost no residents (besides livestock) and still had hours to go until our bus returned.

Then we spotted a major clue: Rüedi’s Market.

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We had to see if these Rüedis were my Rüedis.

Inside we met two older women, who quickly called in their English-speaking niece when they realized how poor our German-speaking skills were (very poor). Through translation we discovered that all three of the women were Rüedis. My cousins! In fact, about half of Gächlingen was populated by Rüedis. They also confirmed that the house we’d seen was Henry Rüedi’s home and that my cousin Jakob had sold it in the 1990s to move to Zürich.

Before the shop closed, we bought some local wine and honey. I was given the family rate, so I think I’m “in” with the Rüedis.

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Before catching our bus, we snooped around the graveyard behind the town’s only church. At least one-half of the graves were for Rüedis, which was strangely exiting. Obviously, my background comes from many places. My Swiss line represents maybe 20% of who I am, but finding such a great concentration of people I share blood with in Gächlingen was like finding my clan. And my future son’s. I can’t wait to share my Swiss stories with him in the years to come.

Where are you from? What is your family’s immigration story? It is especially important to keep these stories alive right now. Meanwhile, I’m wishing you a good weekend from Geneva…

On a new year

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I don’t know what is going on with you, but I’m really happy to have officially entered a new year. No matter where your political beliefs lie, 2016 was tough. More than tough. Uncomfortable. Unbearable. Almost unendurable. Well, the last nine weeks of 2016 were all of those things. Which, coincidentally, is about how long we have until our sweet, expat baby arrives in March!

Looking at the calendar in these terms helps me realize how much your world can change in nine weeks (and how unprepared we are for this baby…).

Despite staring down the longest “To Do” list I’ve ever written, I have many posts planned between now and when the baby arrives. I’m ready to write, I’m ready to share and I hope you will join me.

Happy 2017.

Meanwhile, enjoy some of the highlights from 2016:

Merry Christmas!

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“What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace.”

-Agnes M. Pharo

In search of sunshine… Portugal

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I’ve got my sunglasses packed and I’ll be out the door in one hour for a flight to Portugal! We’re spending four days in the south — the “Algarve” region — visiting family and soaking up Vitamin D. We don’t have much planned beyond activities involving sunscreen and tapas. With Geneva temperatures hovering around the 30s and 40s for the past month, I couldn’t be more excited to fly south!

To top it off, Travel + Leisure this week named Portugal their 2016 “Destination of the Year.” The magazine’s editor writes Portugal is “exhibiting a dynamism that feels fresh and distinctive.” I’m excited to discover what he means by that.

Have you been to Portugal? Have you been to Faro? I’ll take any recommendations… meanwhile, a few fun links for your Thursday:

On unfamiliar territory

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This thoughtfully-written piece in the New York Times puts into words some of what I’ve been feeling for two years and some of what I’m just coming to terms with this morning. American journalist Jim Yardley reflects on what it is like to be an expat during these strange times. Be warned, the piece is long and will break your heart. Here’s an excerpt:

I heard it often, traveling around Europe as a journalist. I even heard it from an immigration officer at Gatwick Airport outside London, who teased me as he looked at my passport. I was an American abroad, which meant being held accountable for the strange and fevered state of my homeland, which meant facing some version of the question “What is going on in the United States?” Sometimes the query had an air of schadenfreude, but just as often there was a hint of real concern. The rest of the world already seemed to be going off the rails. It couldn’t afford to have America follow.

I don’t yet have my bearings in this new, unfamiliar territory we’re entering, so I thought I’d do the lazy thing and share what another has written. I can say this much: I feel more American than ever and am hurting more deeply for my broken country than I did when I lived in the United States. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the “distance makes the heart grow fonder” syndrome or maybe I didn’t really know my homeland as well as I thought I did.

It’s snowing in Geneva as I write this and it feels both gloomy and hopeful. Maybe all of this pure, white, heaven-sent confetti will cover some of the ugly, muddy tracks we’ve left.