Lia Rumantscha / Mustér and Trun / Obersaxen / Cut it out

On Friday afternoon after class I travelled by postal bus to Chur, the capital of Graubünden canton, and visited inside the Lia Rumantscha for the first time. I visited the building last year on a Saturday as I toured the city, knowing fully well that the place was closed that day, and I was happy, finally, to set foot inside.

The entranceway was surrounded by bookshelves and they were stacked with books, CDs, cassettes and videos in all five Romansch idioms. It was a great pleasure to talk with the staff and to get a tour of the library, which houses books both written in and about Romansch. Thus, in the latter case, I saw many books that I was already familiar with, as the Lia Rumantscha also collected books written in English about their language.

I bought an introductory grammar to the Sutsilvan idiom, the rarest of all five idioms [1]. I had known about this grammar and had even seen a picture of its front cover, yet no bookstore stocks it on account of the low demand to learn this idiom. It’s mail-order only from the Lia Rumantscha. I also bought the soundtrack to the film “Onna”, the first-ever feature film made entirely in Romansch (and it is also in the Sursilvan idiom).

On Saturday I took the Rhätische Bahn, the railway in southeast Switzerland, and visited the town of Mustér, which is known in German as Disentis. I walked around for a good five hours, watched the cablecars and just meandered past town limits gazing higher and higher at the green mountains until it was time to catch the hourly train going eastward to the village of Trun. There was not a single German sign in all of Trun. This old one-road village was not very busy on a Saturday afternoon after 16.00 as all the shops had closed and the only people I saw outside were sitting at a restaurant patio. It was very exciting, coming from the position of a language freak as myself, to be in a place where no one spoke German, and Romansch was the dominating, if not only, language.

Since I first enrolled in this Romansch course I have been captivated by the extremely detailed maps which indicate the local cantonal areas where Romansch is spoken and its distribution by age groups, by use as a home language, by its use as a language of work, etc. There is a curious little island of German called Obersaxen [2] which is completely surrounded by Romansch speakers. I wanted to visit this German Insel and a friend of mine from a higher course, Ueli, and I took the postal bus to the main village of Meierhof and walked around.

Many houses in the Surselva valley have long sayings or prayers painted on the outside and I have taken
many photos of Romansch sayings. In Obersaxen, however, the houses display German sayings. The German
dialect spoken here is Valsertüütsch and the dialect is seen in print on the house sayings. It is very interesting, therefore, to see this dialect as a written language. Ueli and I were greeted by an old gentleman by the very German “Grüss Gott” as we passed him on the street. One never hears this greeting in Switzerland. The Obersaxen houses are even constructed differently from the houses occupied by Romansch speakers. One also didn’t see ornaments or other kinds of decorations and there were no overhanging flower baskets.

I seem to be quite a curiosity at mealtime at Casa Caltgera. My Swiss friends find it amusing that I cut my vegetables and meat entirely before I eat them. In Switzerland (and in Europe?) the custom is to cut off only what one eats at that time. It has happened about five times already that a neighbour at the dinner table has asked me why I cut all of my meat into pieces at the same time. I don’t know why, it’s just the way I have always done it.

I can use my transit pass for two more day trips before Saturday, however I won’t need to use it tomorrow (Tuesday) as that is the day for the group outing. We are visiting the Engadine, where two distinct idioms of Romansch are spoken (Vallader and Puter) and we will end up in Sogn Murezi (St. Moritz). I can’t wait to check out the local bookstores!

I am withholding mailing postcards until I get to Italy, or at least its minuscule exclave in Switzerland, Campione d’Italia. I will mail many Swiss cards from there. Last year I visited Büsingen, a German town completely surrounded by Switzerland in the northern canton of Schaffhausen. Next week I plan to go to Campione d’Italia, which is completely surrounded by the canton of Ticino. Since the cards are already written, all they need is stamps, and I am waiting until I set foot in my first Italian post office before I mail them.

Buna notg

[1] The five distinct idioms of Romansch are Sursilvan, Surmiran, Puter, Vallader and Sutsilvan.

[2] I swear I wrote my description of Obersaxen before I even thought about visiting its citation at Wikipedia. I did not plagiarize the Wikipedia article!

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