Lucerne / I made the papers

Grüezi from Laax, Switzerland! 

I am getting reacquainted with the Swiss keyboard while I compose this message, so it is taking me longer than it should to type. I am frequently having to backspace over the Y and Z keys since on the Swiss keyboard these two letters switch places. Early this afternoon I arrived in Laax, a village in the canton of Graubünden, where the Romansch course takes place. However my first stop when I left home on Thursday was Zürich. I spent my first few hours browsing the bookstores along Zürich’s Bahnhofstrasse, and purchased three things: a German-Sami phrasebook; a CD with dialogue in the Surselvan idiom of Romansch (the idiom I am studying) to help me in my aural comprehension; plus a multimedia set (book, four CD’s and a DVD that I hope will play on a Canadian DVD player) on learning Swiss German. After my compulsory book run I headed for the train station to Lucerne, where I was going to spend two nights. 

When I set foot in Lucerne, as I stepped out of the train station, I said to myself this was the most beautiful Swiss city I had ever seen. There are two covered bridges that span the Reuss [pronounced “Royce”] River, the Kapellbrücke and the Spreuerbrücke. Triangular paintings adorn the ceiling so it is a slow walk across these bridges if you want to look at every painting and read the text underneath. (Of course I did just that. Word of warning: don’t go to a museum with me unless you want to tag along as I look at every single artwork.) It’s an even longer trip for a non-native speaker of German as the text is in a Gothic script for a German spoken some five hundred years ago. Sadly, most of the Kapellbrücke burned down in 1993 so most of it was rebuilt. 

I climbed the ancient city wall, the Museggmauer, and had spectacular views over the city, its surrounding mountains and its lake, the Vierwaldstättersee. Three of its watchtowers were open to the public and I climbed those as well, very carefully I might add, as centuries-old staircases tend to be both narrow as well as very steep. 

The old part of town is pedestrian-only and cobblestoned and I walked up and down every street and alley, always finding a new shop or some interesting boutique window. I wrote many postcards while sitting on a pedestrian bridge next to the Spreuerbrücke. My first post office experience was a success. Much to my surprise the postal rates had not changed since my last visit two years ago, so I knew what to ask for. Usually the postal clerks look at me with utter puzzlement when they hear my stamp orders since I never ask simply for “local” or “international” stamps. I always end up making it difficult for them because I request multiple stamps in various denominations because I always like to affix lots of different stamps to my postcards. The clerk in Lucerne understood what I wanted right from the start and even had a laugh as I explained why. No one gave me the usual “Why don’t you put on a 1.80 franc stamp instead? We do sell those, you know.” reply. 

2009 marks the fortieth anniversary of the Romansch course. Read all about it, and see what Romansch looks like, here: 

One may click on German, French as well as Italian translations of all pages in the web site. Actually, since the course started in 1969, this marks the 41st year of the course but the big to-do is being held this year. It also looks better when one writes “1969-2009”. At the beginning of every year there is a big opening night and this year it was held in the Hotel Laaxerhof

There are 86 students this year. Five come from outside Switzerland: Canada (me), Germany, Netherlands and Romania. The average age of student is 53 years old. This says volumes about the present state of the language. Consider the endangered language Breton, which I will study immediately after the Romansch course. The overwhelming majority of those for whom Breton is a first language are over sixty years of age. Where will Breton and Romansch find new, younger speakers? I am hoping in courses like this, since enrolment is up from 58 last year. 

There was a full-page article about the course and its fortieth anniversary in Friday’s edition of the Romansch newspaper, La Quotidiana. I was quite surprised to read the following paragraph: 

“En connex cun quella damonda vegn endamen a mi in participont canades che tuorna adina puspei. El gira mintg’onn il mund per emprender ils lungatgs ils pli pigns e smanatschai. El ei aschidadir in collecziunader da lungatgs pigns. Pli pign e pli bugen. Quei ei denton plitost in’excepziun.” 

My translation is as follows: 

“In relationship to this question [about why people study Romansch] I think of a Canadian student who always returns. Every year he travels the world to learn the smallest and most threatened languages. He is, so to speak, a collector of small languages. The smaller the better. That, however, is at most the exception.” 

The opening night finishes with a beautiful dinner and I had such a great time reminiscing with my Swiss friends. I feel so welcome here, and although I cannot express myself as well as a native Romansch speaker can, my passion for this language and affection for those who speak it shines through. I have made some dear friends here whom I have waited two years to see again. 

Now I must get to bed. It is 00.30 and I must be awake for my first lesson in level five tomorrow. Let’s see how I do after an absence of two years. 

Buna notg!

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