Arlesheim, Basel-Landschaft (BL), Schweiz/Suisse/Svizzera/Switzerland

[1984 Nikon FE2 SLR 35-mm roll film camera, s/n 1816483, with Nikkor AI 50-mm f/1.8 lens, s/n 2336591, and 52-mm polarizing filter;
Kodak Ektar 125 (Kodak 5101 | Ektar 125-1) 36-exposure colour negative film]

© Copyright photograph by Stephan Alexander Scharnberg, November 1991

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada

Westside Saint John, winter 2007–2008.

© Copyright photographs by Cohen Isaac Scharnberg, January 2008

Saint John is a city of scrambled eggs. Its neighbourhoods and some 70,000 plus inhabitants are splattered across hills and flats made of jagged rock outcrops, stunted trees, and poor soil. It is the battered and abused survivor of monopolized industrial growth and decay, scraped with a cheap, black plastic spatula from a long simmering, rusted, black iron frying pan, its fortunes coming and going since its first incarnation as a fortification in 1631, like the Bay of Fundy ebb and flow, trying to reinvent itself, shackled in the yoke of the Irving dynasty.

She is a dirty city. And yet, she has her jewels, her pearls. If you dig a little, if you spend some time with the tired old girl, you can discern and discover her beauty. It is still apparent beneath the pale, rough, disease-ridden skin, an invisible shimmer just below the surface, sacrificed to years of toil—hints of the working girl’s simple beauty that once was.

I am visiting for the third time in four years, forced to come east just to see my son, pulled here by uncomfortable family circumstances. Other summers he returns to Vancouver to see the Scharnberg branches of the tree. My son moved east, nine and a half years old, in mid-March 2002. His mother was homesick. I spent a month here in summer 2002, ten days in January 2003, and now another three weeks.

It is the first weekend of August 2006. We walk his neighbourhood streets on the Westside, just up from the Digby ferry. A pubescent voice shouts insults from the second floor of a butterbox house. Cohen replies with a “Shut up, Jordan”, and tells me this is one of several bullies he has had to deal with at Beaconsfield Middle School. In September, he enters Grade Nine at Harbourview High School on Douglas Avenue, within days of his fourteenth birthday.

It appears inevitable: the Bay Ferries’ Princess of Acadia is to die this autumn, sinking in a sea of rising fuel costs. This is bound to have harsh consequences for the local tourism, those travelling to and from Nova Scotia for work, and students attending university in Fredericton and Saint John. Another blow to her arthritic body.

We visit the New Brunswick museum, Uptown at Market Square, appreciative of the cool retreat from the clammy, muggy heat. It is three floors of local and regional history, whale and mastodon skeletons in the natural history section, sailing ship models and artifacts. Two centuries of local artwork, predominantly paintings, of a high calibre, some famous, some less well known artists. A walk-through of the earth’s evolution in the last 65 billion years.

The museum employs young volunteer guides—young, intelligent, knowledgeable women who walk about asking visitors, “Hi, how are you?” and “Do you have any questions?” My son and I chat some twenty to thirty minutes with each of the three presently on shift. The first approaches us in the Saint John history section. Cohen asks interesting questions. He is always feeding his deep philosophical nature and fact-finding curiosity. The tall, slender, dark-haired woman brightens at our willingness and eagerness to ask and discuss. Her dark eyes sparkle, her smile ready to melt any heart. She goes by her middle name, Tatiana. She is stunningly beautiful, trying to overcome her slight shy nature. She is dressed in a lilac vee-neck t-shirt, delicate pearl necklace nestled between her perky breasts, and a light knee-length summer skirt of pale flowers. She comes from a family tree traced back to the 15th century (Dutch), cross-pollinated and grafted with Russian, Acadian, and local Irish branches. We share from our respective family trees. Her chat is the longest of the three, sidetracked by a passing supervisor reminding her to circulate, as we find ourselves standing by the wood section of ship’s ribs, scaled railway tracks and boxcars, and canoes and fishing dory. The second woman approaches us later, as we admire a Japanese wedding kimono and the long wall of glass cabinets resplendent with fine bone china and other old pottery. She is a little shorter, slim to the point of bone-protruding skinny, long red hair, pale skin and freckles, as if freshly emerged from a cool, scented bath, representative of the stereotypical Irish lass, in clean blue jeans and white short-sleeved lightly frilled cotton blouse. The third woman is the shortest, I’d say about 5’2”, short blond hair, a pert nose, deliciously plump, all the curves in the right places, her breasts sitting high under a light, pale yellow, fine-buttoned cashmere sweater, ample beauty in a tight grey skirt. As we descend the last stairs for the lobby and gift shop, the three women wave to us and say, “Good bye, come again.” They are standing together in a corner, talking quietly, smiling and nodding their heads in our direction. Cohen says to me that they were probably talking about us, comparing notes on the interesting chats they had. Sometimes the volunteers have long, lonesome shifts when few visitors are present, few questions are asked, or no one is in the mood to talk. I like to think we gave them a lift, a sunny upbeat note to match the day outside.

Some local gossip and rumours has it that Tim Hortons spikes their coffee with nicotine. Oh, great. A way to ensure repeat customers? And I already notice there are a lot more smokers here than in Vancouver, especially among the women. On my first trip here I counted twenty-two Timmies within the city limits. Possibly there are a few more since then. The women are very friendly, as customer service and people in general are around here. All part of that Maritime charm and friendliness. People actually make and have the time to slow down a little, making each experience personable and personal. People still look you in the eyes. They still have the time. Life here in Saint John is at the pace of Canada maybe 20 or 30 years ago. And they usually know when you are “from away.”

Until Irving loosens its grip on the brow-beaten region, and to a lesser degree the province, Saint John will have a difficult time building for the future, becoming a healthy, vibrant community once again. Meanwhile, the locals hang on any way they can, surviving on their tough spirit, friendliness, and charm. Resourcefulness helps too.

*   *   *

Late Saturday, July 29th, I flew the first of two flights with WestJet, flight WS 702, Vancouver–Toronto (YVR–YYZ); 2004 Boeing 737-7CT(WL), c/n 32762/1501, C-FWSY, “222”; powered by two 24,200-lbf CFM International CFM56-7B24 high-bypass turbofan engines; crew of two (pilot and co-pilot), passenger seating of Y136 (economy class), short- to medium-range, narrow-body airliner; built by The Boeing Company, Seattle, Washington, USA at Renton, Washington; first flight on April 28, 2004; delivered on May 11, 2004; winglets fitted in November 2004.

We had a scheduled departure from gate A5 at 22:50 PDT, but left 25 minutes late, sitting on the tarmac as strong tail winds would push us there early. But because Toronto has curfews—because it is a busy hub airport, and gates are at a premium?—we were not permitted to arrive before 6:13 EDT. Our original scheduled arrival was 6:22 EDT. We connected to gate C27 in Terminal 3 at 6:30 EDT. Following our flight progress on the small seatback TV screens, I saw that we reached speeds of up to 610 to 620 mph, and altitudes of about 40,700 to 40,800 feet.

Early Sunday, July 30th, I continued, flight WS 706, Toronto–Moncton (YYZ–YQM); 2005 Boeing 737-7CT(WL), c/n 34155/1772, C-GWBN, 
“235”; powered by two 24,200-lbf CFM International CFM56-7B24 high-bypass turbofan engines; crew of two (pilot and co-pilot), passenger seating of Y136 (economy class), short- to medium-range, narrow-body airliner; built by The Boeing Company, Seattle, Washington, USA at Renton, Washington; first flight on August 5, 2005; delivered on August 19, 2005.

We were scheduled to depart gate C39 at 7:30 EDT, but left ten minutes later. Our scheduled arrival was 10:32 ADT, but we were a little early with 10:20 ADT. I managed to get some shreds of sleep on this leg.

Carrying only two pieces of carry-on, no checked luggage, I was quickly out the front door after a washroom visit. The cabbie at the head of the line was standing between the two sets of automated glass sliding doors. With a “Taxi, Sir?” and my affirmative head nod, away we were to the SMT (Eastern) bus station in downtown Moncton in a burgundy Chevrolet minivan operated by AirCab. It was $19.00 plus a $3.00 tip. He had estimated $18.00 into town. I immediately purchased a one-way ticket for Saint John, at $28.50 clearly a better deal than the cab. I suspect there is no bus pick up service at the airport as the taxi companies have a transportation monopoly into town—their most profitable gig.

Acadian Lines bus 10604, a Prevost, left Moncton at 12 noon from Bay 4. I sat in seat 17 (window), right side. Our first stop was at Via Rail Moncton at 12:06 ADT. Five minutes became twenty-six, getting enroute again at 12:32 ADT, after waiting for Via Rail to locate the luggage of three boarding passengers just arrived on the train from Montréal. I slept through the quick stops at Salisbury and Petitcodiac, coming to for Sussex, 13:26 ADT for three minutes. Next was Hampton at 13:49 ADT for two minutes, and Saint John at 14:15, five minutes behind schedule, the driver having pushed to regain some lost time.

A quick, free call to Dominion Taxi got me to my son’s house on the westside for $8.00 plus a dollar tip. It was almost a quarter to three, Cohen answering my knocking and door chime with a big, warm hug, and “Dad, I’m glad you’re here.”

*   *   *

I returned home Friday, August 18th, getting up at five in the morning. Cohen got up with me—sad I was leaving. It will be one year until he visits us in Vancouver again. At 5:30 am I left him teary-eyed with a hug and handshake, and walked a block down Rodney Street to the bus stop on Ludlow Street, awaiting the first bus of the day, the 1 East, Rothesay Avenue. $2.25 got me to the stop at the commercial building Place 400 on Main Street, from where I descended Chesley Drive a block and a half, curving lightly left past the T intersection and underpass, for the Acadian bus depot. The ticket to Moncton Airport was $33.50, boarding bus 15595 for a 6:45 am departure. I sat in seat 17 (window), right side. We passed through harbour fog, rising a little above it on the Trans Canada as we rolled out past Quispamsis, shrouded on our left. The green rolling hills were bathed in the warming sun. We had the usual short, scheduled stops in Hampton, Sussex, Petitcodiac, and Salisbury. We pulled into the Moncton depot at 8:40 am, giving me just enough time to buy a large coffee, and sandwiches for the flight, before boarding Acadian bus 10602 for the short ride to Moncton Airport. I had the window seat, second row on the left.

I did not take long to be confirmed for the first leg of the flight. We were about 85% filled for flight WS 673; 2004 Boeing 737-7CT(WL), c/n 32765/1574, C-FUWS, “228”; powered by two 24,200-lbf CFM International CFM56-7B24 high-bypass turbofan engines; crew of two (pilot and co-pilot), passenger seating of Y136 (economy class), short- to medium-range, narrow-body airliner; built by The Boeing Company, Seattle, Washington, USA at Renton, Washington; first flight on September 9, 2004; delivered on September 22, 2004, test registration N1786B; winglets fitted in February 2006.

We walked the tarmac from gate 3, in bright sun, mounting stairs either at the front or rear. I had seat 10D. We reached speeds of over 510 mph, and altitudes of over 41,600 feet, arriving 25 minutes early, 11:55 EDT, in Toronto at Terminal 3’s gate C40. I got off to be confirmed for the next leg to Calgary, and was soon back aboard, this time on the the left in seat 10B. We encountered some light turbulence over the Great Lakes, and into our approach to Cowtown, flying speeds in the mid-490s, altitudes in the 38-8s to 38-9s. We arrived a quarter hour ahead of schedule, at 14:56 MDT, gate D46.

The last leg was WS 411, Calgary–Vancouver (YYC–YVR).

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Provence and Les Alpes de Haute Provence

A week later we were on the road again—Saturday, January 8, 1983—six children and six adults in Perceval’s grey Peugeot van, Dominic driving—off to Provence and Les Alpes de Haute Provence, following the southern portion of the A6 Autoroute du Soleil since Lyon, the Rhône Valley all the way down from Genève, heading east inland at Orange into the Vaucluse, on the D 950 for an overnight stopover at Isabelle’s parents, resident caretakers of l’Hermitage (le jardin provençal de l’Harmas), the hideaway house and garden of the reknowned Jean-Henri Fabre, entomologist of butterflies and dragonflies, in Sérignan-du-Comtat, not far from Carpentras.

The next morning saw us southwest down the D 942, for Avignon and its famous aquaduct, then the N 7 southeast through Aix-en-Provence and Brignoles, Fréjus, and a swim at St. Raphaël in the Mediterranean despite the blowing Mistral and the cold sea.

Only Dominic and I dared into the salt, the others all clambering the rocks for a good spot to view the sea and these two crazy swimmers. I stepped into the waves, swam several metres out, enduring the cold for a few minutes before having to return, stepping up but not seeing what was beneath me on the rocks. Suddenly a purple starfish shot from the water, latching onto my lower left arm, clinging tight. In the surprise and fright I reacted by pulling at this creature, stretching it until it released its grip, tossing it back into the sea. I was left with a bruise that lasted over a week. From this moment on I had earned the nickname “the crazy Canadian”.

Near here General Eisenhower had the Americans land at three beaches just east of the town, August 15, 1944.

Then back in the Peugeot, continuing east along the Côte d’Azur, following the winding coast road and local rail line, the N 98 through Agay, le Trayas, Miramar, Théoule, la Napoule, and Cannes, onward Golfe-Juan, Cap d’Antibes, Antibes, and into Nice, touring through the streets of the old parts of the city before following the Var inland along the N 202, passing the village of Puget-Théniers on our immediate right, and Entrevaux where we turned left at the parking lot across the river from the village, immediately up steep, narrow, tight hairpins. Soon we were high above a long, deep gorge far below the sheer drop right there on our immediate left. One wrong turn at night or in the snow, and it was your launch into oblivion. Dominique said this was a route for the Monte Carlo.

We were somewhere southeast, above and south of the Col de Toutes Aures. Here we had the use of Dominic’s family vacation home, a long, narrow stone-crafted building—slate tiled roof, earthen floors, no hallway, the five or six rooms in series, access by their dividing walls, necessitating crossing each one if one wished to go from one end to the other. The toilet was a stone outhouse, water only available from a hand pump and well with cistern out in the yard, all perched on a mountain top table about 200 metres across with a 360° view—a fantastic way to view sunrise and sunset.

Dominic told us stories of his father operating an air balloon in the late sixties and early seventies, once bringing the Rolling Stones up this way for a stay in this reclusive, rustic retreat.

I enjoyed this simple although rough living, all reminiscent in Jean Giono’s L’homme qui plantait des arbres and Un de Baumugnes (in my top ten list of favourite books) and Marcel Pagnol’s Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources (in my top ten list of favourite books and my second and third all-time favourite movies, directed by Claude Berri).

When I mentioned the Jean Giono tale, having read it with difficulty a few years earlier when my French was still poor, Dominic was sure of it’s historical truth, that some of the hills and mountain sides had been touched by Elzéard Bouffier’s caring hands.

Years later I was to hear and read of others stating that this tale was of Jean Giono’s imagination. Regardless, the good shepherd’s actions were what is important about this, my favourite story of all time.

Local hikes revealed oaks and birches but also a few abandoned villages high in the mountains. We visited one such village where the road ended a few kilometres up from our vacation residence, and Puget-Théniers and Entrevaux.

Sunday, January 16th, we returned to Perceval by way of Digne, Sisteron, Gap, and Grenoble.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Paris and Chartres

Christmas 1982 offered me the opportunity of a lifetime. It was the long-held wish to see Paris.

Four of us packed in tight in Marc’s Citroën 2 CV, the famous deux chevaux, driving through the night of Christmas Day (Saturday, December 25th), having left Perceval shortly after 21.00, Isabelle with her right leg still in a cast, in the front seat. Cisca and I stuffed into the back with luggage between and behind us and some in the small trunk. We cycled cassette after cassette through the tape deck—French chansons, Téléphone, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, the Cure, Simple Minds, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Supertramp (the live Paris album Isabelle’s favourite).

We followed the route du lac to Nyon, then inland through St-Cergue and the Col de la Givrine, and up through the Jura, crossing the border at a little outpost at la Cure. The lonely border guard gave just a quick glance at our passports—two French, one Dutch, one Canadian. Moments later, down we wound our way along the N 5 through les Rousses, Morez, Morbier, and St-Laurent-en-Grandvaux, stopping at Marc’s parents in Champagnole for late night pizza, red wine, and pear licquer, then southwest the D 471 to Lons-le-Saunier and the N 78 to Louhans and the D 978 into Chalon-sur-Saône, northwest the N 6 through Arnay-le-Duc, Saulieu, Avallon, and Vermonton into Auxerre, so far avoiding the Autoroute with its tolls. The fog was growing thicker.

Five kilometres north of Auxerre, Marc noticed the fuel gauge reading empty, the needle bottoming out in the orange zone. He remembered there was a rest stop and gas service on the A 6, the Autoroute du Soleil, just up ahead. We all prayed the last kilometre and in this peasoup could just make out the freeway entrance ahead. We sailed down the on-ramp and there was the rest stop. The 2CV sputtered about 50 metres from the pumps and died. We rolled her in, bailing for snacks and coffee inside while Marc fuelled up.

Then the unanimous decision was made to continue along the freeway, in time passing Orly to the west, our route feeding into the freeway that encircles Paris, on the southside of the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris, between Porte d’Orléans and Porte de Gentilly.

We arrived close to seven in the morning, December 26th, at Marc’s grandparents in the 5ème arrondissement, their apartment in a stereotypical Parisian classic stone block building—I seem to remember it was just one block south of the Panthéon. Situated on the southside of the street, it is possible it was the Rue de l’Estrapade as we could see the Panthéon’s dome very close by—I think they lived on the fourth floor.

We received a warm welcome with café au lait, adding the baguettes that Cisca and I purchased fresh from the oven and still warm from a bakery around the corner, slathered with butter and strawberry jam, long pieces dipped into the steaming-hot soup bowls. We all crashed, each couple a bed—Marc and Isabelle sleeping away most of the morning, Cisca and I up again a couple of hours later, eager to hit the streets.

This was a six day holiday, one I will never forget, many sights seen, many arrondissements criss-crossed on foot and by Métro, often reminded of Le Dernier Métro and Le Ballon rouge.

Here I was with my Cowichan Indian toque, W.W. II-vintage blue-grey wool RCAF flight jacket with Canada flag, knee-torn and frayed straight-leg jeans, wool work socks of the grey and white with upper red rings lumberjack variety, and well-worn logging boots, the caulking and soles worn down, the sharp metal points blunted long ago into fat rivet-like nibs.

I remember with fondness Sacré-Coeur, Montmartre, Musée-Placard d’Erik Satie, Musée du Louvre, Jardin du Luxembourg, Notre Dame, Cimetière du Père Lachaise with Jim Morrison’s gravestone, only looking up the centre of la Tour d’Eiffel as it was closed for maintenance, the adjoining Parc du Champ de Mars, the restaurants we patronized, the Champs Élysées, l’Arc de Triomphe, Jardin des Tuileries, Musée Bourdelle, Centre Pompidou, La Défense, the many Métro lines, the Seine, the bridges, the many boulevards and streets, hitting cafés and bars for an apéritif, a glass of red, or an espresso—all these memories revisited years later when I saw Amélie starring the wonderful doe-eyed Audrey Tautou, placing it at number one on my list of top ten all-time cinema favourites, and returning to Paris (my wife’s first Europe trip) for three and four days bookending visits to Höhbeck-Brünkendorf, Hamburg, Berlin, Saint-Prex, Morges, Lausanne, Venezia, Firenze, L’Aquila and the Abruzzo, Beffi, Pescara, Sulmona, Roma, Genoa, and Nice.

We also drove down to Chartres for one day, about 96 km southwest of Paris, with a quick stop enroute in a small village a couple of kilometres west of our route about half way there. Marc delivered something at a friend’s house.

Cisca and I discovered and fit in all we could—first and foremost the famous Cathédral and adjoining streets and alleys, then fanning out several blocks to feed our hunger with croques monsieurs, glasses of red wine and chasers of brandy accompanying an unfiltered Gauloise each—until Marc returned from the long drive to Angers where Isabelle would stay, returning to Perceval several weeks later sans cast.

Our return to St-Prex started off in the early afternoon, arriving late Friday evening, New Year’s Eve, an uneventful ride, few words said as we dozed most of the way—coming to for bifteck avec frites and a glass of some local red, at a little roadside eatery somewhere enroute for Chalon-sur-Saône.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Short day trip on Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Canada Goose crossing Cowley Crescent ... at home with the other birds! at 9:24 am.

1968 Hawker Siddeley HS 748-233 Series 2A, c/n 1661, C-FYDY, Air North, Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada, based at Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport (YXY), Whitehorse, Yukon; powered by two 2,190-shp Rolls-Royce Dart 7 Mk. 534-2 turboprop engines with variable-pitch four-blade Dowty Rotol propellers; crew of three (pilot, co-pilot, passenger attendant), 40 passengers, medium-range, mid-size airliner; built by Hawker Siddeley Aircraft Co., London, England; VQ-FBH, Fiji Airways, Suva, Fiji from 1968 to 1971; DQ-FBH, Air Pacific, Nadi, Fiji from 1971 to 1979, re-registered; ZK-MCJ, Mount Cook Airlines, Christchurch, New Zealand; imported in 1996; owner registered since August 29, 1996.

South Terminal, Vancouver International Airport (YVR), Sea Island, Richmond, B.C. at 9:33 am.

1950 de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver Mk. I, c/n 81, C-FGQF, 839901 Alberta Inc., Calgary, Alberta, Canada, based at South Terminal, Vancouver International Airport (YVR), Sea Island, Richmond, B.C.; powered by one 450-hp Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN-14B Wasp Junior supercharged nine-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engine with constant-speed two-blade Hamilton Standard propeller; floats; pilot, six passengers, STOL (short take-off and landing) utility transport; built by de Havilland Canada, Toronto, Ontario at Downsview, Ontario; CF-GQF, Rimouski Gulf Aviation, Rimouski, Québec on June 3, 1950; CF-GQF, Eastern Provincial Airways, Gander, Newfoundland; C-FGQF, North Coast Air Services Ltd., Prince Rupert, B.C. on October 15, 1990, cancelled on March 23, 1993; C-FGQF, Air Rainbow Ltd., Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, B.C. on March 23, 1993, cancelled on July 6, 1993; C-FGQF, Tsayta Aviation Ltd., Fort St. James, B.C. on August 6, 1993, cancelled on March 22, 1995; operated by Aero Aviation(?); C-FGQF, Castle Rock Exploration Corp., Richmond, B.C. on June 23, 1995, cancelled on December 1, 1997; C-FGQF, 598142 Alberta Ltd., Sidney, Vancouver Island, B.C. on August 7, 1998, cancelled on November 2, 1999; owner registered since August 28, 2000.

At 9:55 am.

1975 Cessna 180J Skywagon, c/n 180-52549, C-FPLR, Peter Beauchamp, Surrey, B.C., Canada and Neil Dennis, North Vancouver, B.C., based at Fort Langley Seaplane Base (CAS4), Fort Langley, B.C.; powered by one 230-hp Continental O-470-U six-cylinder, horizontally-opposed, air-cooled piston engine with constant-speed two-blade McCauley propeller; floats; pilot, five passengers, utility transport; built by Cessna Aircraft Company, Wichita, Kansas, USA; N52192 cancelled on October 22, 1990; imported in 1990; previously sole ownership by Peter Beauchamp on January 10, 1991; owner registered since June 21, 2000.

1950 de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver Mk. I, c/n 79, C-FOCY, “204”, Harbour Air Ltd., Sea Island, Richmond, B.C., Canada, based at Vancouver Harbour Water Airport (CXH), Vancouver, B.C.; powered by one 450-hp Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN-14B Wasp Junior supercharged nine-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engine with constant-speed three-blade Hartzell propeller; floats; pilot, six passengers, STOL (short take-off and landing) utility transport; built by de Havilland Canada, Toronto, Ontario at Downsview, Ontario; first flight on June 23, 1950; CF-OCY, Department of Lands and Forests, Government of Ontario on June 26, 1950; CF-OCY, North Coast Air Services Ltd.(?), Prince Rupert, B.C., crashed near Prince Rupert, B.C. on September 18, 1975(?), 3 occupants/3 fatalities, written off(?); rebuilt, rolled out in Vancouver, B.C. on November 22, 1976; CF-OCY, Burrard Air Limited, Sea Island, Richmond, B.C., part of fleet end of 1979, cancelled on April 13, 1988; C-FOCY, Harbour Air Ltd., Sea Island, Richmond, B.C. on April 13, 1988; took part in a movie as “N5886”.

1985 Apollo Sport 10 ten-speed touring bicycle, c/n 2106.

1954 de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Turbo Otter, c/n 42, C-GHAR, “308”, Harbour Air Ltd., Sea Island, Richmond, B.C., Canada, based at Vancouver Harbour Water Airport (CXH), Vancouver, B.C.; powered by one 750-hp Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-34 turboprop engine with constant-speed three-blade Hartzell propeller; floats; pilot, ten passengers, STOL (short take-off and landing) utility transport; built by de Havilland Canada, Toronto, Ontario at Downsview, Ontario; built as DHC-3 Otter, powered by one 600-hp Pratt & Whitney R-1340-S1H1-G Wasp supercharged nine-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engine with constant-speed three-blade Hamilton Standard Hydromatic propeller.

Dockside at the Harbour Air Seaplanes Passenger Terminal and Flying Beaver Bar & Grill at 10:11 am.

1958 de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver Mk. I, c/n 1249, C-FAOP, Salt Spring Island Air Ltd., Salt Spring Island, B.C., Canada; powered by one 450-hp Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN-14B Wasp Junior supercharged nine-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engine with constant-speed three-blade Hartzell propeller; floats; pilot, six passengers, STOL (short take-off and landing) utility transport; built by de Havilland Canada, Toronto, Ontario at Downsview, Ontario; CF-AOP, Algoma Steel Corporation Ltd., Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario on October 31, 1958; C-FAOP, Air BC, Sea Island, Richmond, B.C., leased until 1982; C-FAOP, Framer Aviation Ltd., Campbell River, Vancouver Island, B.C. cancelled on May 27, 1982; C-FAOP, Tyee Airways Ltd., Sechelt, B.C. cancelled on May 17, 1983; C-FAOP, Brenco Investments Ltd.; C-FAOP, Thunderbird Air (1987) Inc., Sechelt, B.C.; C-FAOP, Baxter Aviation Inc., Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, B.C. on March 8, 1990; C-FAOP, Air Rainbow(?) in early 1993(?); C-FAOP, Harbour Air Ltd., Sea Island, Richmond, B.C. on March 20, 1996; owner registered since May 28, 2004;

I saw C-FAOP on Vancouver Island at Maple Bay, B.C. in summer 2007. At Seair Seaplanes Terminal.

© Copyright photographs by Stephan Alexander Scharnberg, March 2009

Well, as it’s Spring Break this week for elementary and high schools, I only have my evening job to go to. My wife is at her job. This leaves me free in the daytime to do something for myself. It’s not often I get such an opportunity.

I still get up to feed the cats—male tabby Kitska, female tabby Sophia—make my wife’s lunch, cook our oatmeal porridge, and brew my coffee. The cats get raw turkey cut from the bone with heavy-duty scissors.

The wife left at her usual 7:45 am. I washed up the dishes, gathered together two cameras—my reliable (no repairs since new) 1984 Nikon FE2 SLR 35-mm camera, s/n 1816483, with Nikkor AI 50-mm f/1.8 lens, s/n 2336591, and 52-mm polarizing filter, and the digital Casio pocket camera. Today I didn’t take along my 1959 Kodak Retina IIIS rangefinder 35-mm camera, s/n 86125, with Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenon 50-mm f/1.9 Synchro Compur lens, s/n 6841319 (my father bought it new from the factory in Stuttgart where his sister Raphaela worked, assembling these cameras). I shot 1½ rolls of Kodak Gold 200 colour print film at 24 exposures (half a roll already exposed in the FE2) for full-frames and close ups of my favourites such as de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beavers and Cessna 180/185 Skywagons. The digital camera covered some of the same (including all the photos in this post), plus signs, buildings, and groups of aircraft.

I left our house at 8:12 am, cycling west to Fraser Street and downhill along side streets to Marine Drive. I love riding my solid, reliable, black 1985 Apollo Sport 10 ten-speed touring bicycle, c/n 2106. Father bought it new at Russ Hays Bicycle Shop, 2542 Government Street in Victoria. He only rode it two or three times before he gave it to me about 1999–2000. He can no longer ride as his Parkinson’s worsens these last twenty-plus years.

The only other items with me were a pen and a small notebook. My old Cowichan wool toque, leather gloves, moss green wool scarf, blue Gore-Tex jacket, and thermal underwear kept me warm.

I didn’t have to wait long for the 100 Airport Station bus, the Nova LFS diesel, V9672, at bus stop #52211, 8:36 am, westbound on Marine at Prince Edward Street directly across from the Dueck Chevrolet Oldsmobile Cadillac dealership in South Vancouver. I hoisted the bike on to the rack at the front and boarded.

We crossed into Richmond over the Arthur Laing Bridge. We arrived at 8:55 am and I unloaded my bike at Airport Station and rode south toward the nearby BCIT Aerospace Technology Campus, 3800 Cessna Drive. Here I commenced with the cameras, snapping a few photos through the large windows, all retired aircraft in pristine condition.

Then, onward in the direction of the South Terminal of YVR (Vancouver International Airport, Sea Island)—the old original terminal, updated since my almost six-year-old childhood memory of flying from here in the summer of 1968 to Amsterdam aboard the 1961 Douglas DC-8-43, c/n 45622/137, CF-CPI, “604”, Empress of Amsterdam, Canadian Pacific Airlines; powered by four 17,625-lbf Rolls-Royce 508-12 Conway low-bypass turbofan engines; crew of three (pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer), seven flight attendants, 132 passengers (dual F/Y class cabin), narrow-body intercontinental airliner; built by Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, California, USA; delivered on May 20, 1961; renamed from Empress of Calgary; sold to F.B. Ayer & Associates, Inc. on November 16, 1980; the Empress of Amsterdam spent 19 years with CP Air before being stored and eventually broken up at Opa-locka Airport (OPF), Miami-Dade County, Florida in 1988.

I stopped here and there, parking the bike on its bike stand kick bar, crossing ditches, ascending small hillocks of grass for the best shots I could get, over and through chain link fences, using both cameras, taking notes to be followed up and detailed later with internet research.

I devoted most of my time to Harbour Air, Seair, and the tarmac around the South Terminal. I also talked about 20 minutes with a Seair employee, discussing their fleet of Beavers, Turbo Beavers, and Cessna Caravans.

I was done a little after ten-thirty, face and fingers cold and a little numb from the constant cold wind. I packed away the cameras and cycled down the road, back to Airport Station to meet the 11:04 am 100 22nd Street Station bus, the Nova LFS diesel, V9689. I left the bus on Marine at Fraser, 11:22 am, crossing and pushing the bike a block uphill to bus stop #50820 for the Fraser Street bus, the 8 Downtown. The New Flyer E40LFR trolley, 2219, came along a few minutes later. It was a short trip up to East 45th Avenue. I was home before twelve. A lunch of beef ravioli and a cold glass of Warsteiner beer beckoned.

And I’ll end with this quote:

“When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”
Leonardo da Vinci

Monday, March 16, 2009


Looking northwest, South Vancouver, B.C., Canada at 6:18 pm, Sunday, March 8, 2009.

I love the snow. But many Vancouverites did wonder if this was the last of it. Since that Sunday we had about another two centimetres in Metro Vancouver, this past weekend. It did not last long, soon melting away again. These March snows haven’t lasted long. Scientists and weather experts say we’re at the start of another cycle of longer, colder, snowier winters. They predict twenty to twenty-three years for this one now. The last such cycle was about 1946–1973. I fondly remember more than one white Christmas in the 1960s–early 1970s, growing up in Lake Cowichan, Honeymoon Bay, and near Duncan on Vancouver Island. This is not something we’re used to anymore here in the Metro area. These last few decades we’ve usually seen a couple of good days of snow maybe every five or ten years on average. Victoria even less. Now this appears to have changed! Victoria and the east coast of Vancouver Island really got it a number of times this winter.

© Copyright photograph by Stephan Alexander Scharnberg, March 2009

Late evening

Royal Oak SkyTrain Station, Burnaby, B.C., inbound at 11:04 pm, Tuesday, February 10, 2009. The photos were taken one minute apart. Four-car train, UTDC Mark Ib, cars 137 and 138, built in 1995, Translink colour scheme (the other two cars, numbers unknown).

This is a typical weeknight commute home into Vancouver for me. Five nights a week, except holidays, I walk the dark alley and the pathway under the SkyTrain Expo/Millennium line for 1½ blocks from my Group Home job, ride SkyTrain to the next station, Royal Oak to Metrotown in Burnaby. I descend the stairs two steps at a time from the trackside platform to the concourse overpass and the escalator down to the bus loop tucked under the southwest section of the Metropolis At Metrotown mall. A few buses come and go (routes 106, 110, 129, 130, 144, and the 19 trolley bus), two or three grubby panhandlers shuffle around asking for coin. They’re all regulars. One man looks so haggard and emaciated he might be a crystal meth addict. Some of us bus riders are regulars too. They know I’m one of them. Usually the panhandlers don’t bother asking me as I’ve always quietly turned them down. One night last December a friendly young man offered the emaciated fellow a McD’s combo meal. This was angrily refused. They tend to focus on women and Asians. Some nights, but more often not, transit security or the GVTA (Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority) Police Service come by for a visit. They walk about, two or three burly cops or security friendly with the law-abiding transit users and the bus operators, on occasion boarding buses for fare checks. Friday nights the buses are busy, often filling right up with a largely younger crowd, spilling out from the movie theatres, SkyTrain from New West or Surrey, or possibly the Station Square Pub at the Holiday Inn, some with burgers, fries, and pop drinks from the A&W near the top of the escalators. Here I wait for the 11:37 pm bus, 49 Granville, home by midnight.

© Copyright photographs by Stephan Alexander Scharnberg, February 2009

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Bicycling to Champex

Mid- to late October every year, each house went away on a two-week autumn school break, renting a chalet either in Switzerland or France. Maison François was booked for a place in Champex, west of Orsières, south by southeast in the mountains above Martigny, Valais. The area around Champex is also known as le petit Canada (the little Canada).

Jean-François and I got along quite well. He expressed a desire to cycle all the way there. He had a ten-speed bicycle, I arranged to borrow a three-speed. We each packed a knapsack—mine with sourdough rye sandwiches of cervelat and emmentaler, a thermos of coffee, rain jacket, Swiss Army knife, wallet and passport, father’s Kodak Retina IIIS camera, notebook and pen, and regional map.

We left early about six o’clock, in the chill, crisp half-light, through the neighbouring vineyard and a farm field, shortcutting via a small railway underpass to meet the route du lac no 1 just east of St-Prex, onward through Morges, Saint-Sulpice, Lausanne-Ouchy, Paudex, Lutry, Villette, Grandvaux, Cully, Épesses, Rivaz, St-Saphorin, Vevey, La Tour-de-Peilz, Clarens, Montreux, Territet, and past the Château Chillon.

Morges is a beautiful town on the shore of the lake at its widest point, from the quay enjoying an excellent view stretching from the Fribourgeois Alps to Mont Salève near Genève and facing the Savoy Alps in France including the prominent Dent d’Oche and the Mont Blanc. It is an important winegrowing centre of La Côte which covers the western part of Lac Léman.

La Côte wines are considered less impressive than the Lavaux, as the majority of the vineyards are further from the lakeside. They do not sit on steep walled terraces but on gentler slopes and rolling terrain, exposed to cool north winds from which the shoreline Lavaux terraces are protected. But some of the Pinot Noir is quite good.

The port of Morges was built 1691–1696 from plans by the Baron Duquesne d’Aubonne, son of the famous French Admiral Abraham Marquis Duquesne, 1610–1688. Before the arrival of trains it saw much commercial trade between Vaud and Genève.

Today it serves as a yachting port. La Morges flows from its source, about one kilometre north of Apples, into the lake between the western end of town and the TCS (Touring Club Suisse) campground, public exercise circuit, outdoor track, and tennis courts, with the Musée Militaire Vaudois on its west bank.

In town sits another museum, the Musée du Vieux Morges, featuring many Italian, Flemish, and French etchings and engravings and other assorted historic collections by Alexis Forel, 1852–1922, chemical engineer turned engraver, a close relative of the renowned psychiatrist, neurologist, cranial anatomist, and sexologist Auguste Forel, 1848–1931. The latter was a passionate champion of the fight against alcohol, and a pacifist, denouncing three evils poisoning humanity (alcoholism, capitalism, and the military). His best known work is the book La question sexuelle, translated into seventeen languages.

A few kilometres further east is one of my local favourites—the village of Saint-Sulpice—because of its peaceful, verdant setting with a pleasant shoreline path. Here was a little restaurant with sidewalk seating that we would on occasion patronize for filets de perche avec frites and a glass of local white wine. The showpiece is the magnificient Romanesque architecture of the little Saint-Sulpice church, a close second to my favourite example—the church in Romainmôtier.

As a result, and in the next few years further reinforced by the early Romanesque example of the Dom in Trier, Westdeutschland, the 7th-century Benedictine Abbey in Echternach, and the ruins of Bourscheid castle above the medieval market town of Esch-sur-Sûre in Luxembourg, this style of architecture has become by far my preference, forever relegating the overdone ornateness, bordering on kitsch, of the many examples of Baroque and Rococo churches throughout Westdeutschland, to the bottom of my personal list of architectural styles. Standing inside the Baroques and Rococos gives me the same feeling of discordancy and chaos, overstuffed and overdone, that I lived with in childhood at home, my mother filling the house with a clash of colours and styles, thus proving a lack of understanding of both, grating on my senses, inducing regular bouts of claustrophobia.

In the landscapes surrounding the Romanesques I would narrow my eyes to slits and slightly out of focus, allowing me to then imagine and see knights on steeds in dark shapes on the forested hill ridges above, in the fading late afternoon sun. All sound would disappear, all awareness of the present, and I would float for a few cherished minutes in a long ago past. Hints of a past life? Magical thinking? These moments were the most common of a number of déjà vus and the like that I was to experience in Europe, the others appearing when I passed by certain farmsteads in the rural Vaud, and since then almost never again, and never in North America.

After these moments I would recall the Grail story, Parsifal by Wolfram von Eschenbach, also the impulse and inspiration behind Perceval, some of the houses named after some of the places and characters—Tourmaline, Chantecler, Blanchefleur, La Source.

Then we rolled into Lausanne-Ouchy, Lausanne’s lake front, a select residential area and well known hotel resort of first-class establishments, a primary steamer port serviced by the CGN’s (Compagnie Générale de Navigation) fleet of modern diesels and Belle Époque steamer and electric-diesel sidewheelers. It was once a separate hamlet of boatmen and fishermen, some today still plying their trade in dark green dorys with long oars, an outboard motor, and a long wide net still fed out and hauled in by hand.

And quickly leaving Ouchy, we cycled into the beautiful and dramatic scenery of the Lavaux, possibly the best of any winegrowing region in the world—blessed by the ideal growing conditions of Switzerland’s mildest mean temperature influenced by the warmth of the lake with the heat reflecting from the water and radiating from the terrace stone walls, a fair amount of sun, the tail end of the hot foehn winds, and the chalky limestone soils and the underlying alkaline earth—a thin strip of terrain stretching about 32 kilometers eastward from here to Villeneuve. The steep walled terraced vineyards, with as few as three or four rows of vines, descend from the hillside villages right down to the lakeshore, here and there cut by local paths and roads, now the route du lac no 9 since Ouchy, and the rail line.

Vaud is the second most important wine canton with many of Switzerland’s largest negociants based here, to this day the many whites and reds my favourites, many available at economical prices. Swiss wines are in large part not well-known elsewhere in the world as they are generally not exported except as special orders. Many were available cheaper than milk or at par with bottled spring water in the local Coop and Migros supermarkets.

Coming home to the Island in 1987, I brought back a few select bottles.

The steely white wines predominate with the large bunched, large berried Chasselas grape accounting for over 80% of plantings, most of the remainder Chardonnay and Pinot Gris, and small amounts of red wine from the Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Syrah grape. Gamay for the red wines is a specialty of La Côte region covering the area west of Lausanne.

Paudex, a hamlet since 1385, sits on the lake’s edge below the many local vineyards, as does Lutry just a little further on, originally Lustriacum as a fishermen’s village in Roman times, then its present incarnation in the 13th century. Next are the hamlets of Villette, Grandvaux, Cully, Épesses, Rivaz, and St-Saphorin.

In Vevey, the traditional capital of the Lavaux, we stopped for a second petit déjeuner, a light breakfast of coffee and a chocolate croissant each from a lakeside kiosk, devoured in short shrift as we looked at the last wisps of fog lifting from the steel grey mirror smoothness of the lake.

Becoming the cradle of the Swiss milk products, chocolate, and dietetics industry in the 19th century, Nestlé is headquartered here along with its central laboratory and an experimental factory.

On Vevey’s eastern edge, La Tour-de-Peilz took mere minutes to cycle through, renowned for its 13th-century castle of which just two round towers survive.

Next we were soon through Clarens where I knew of two famous people buried here—Oskar Kokoschka, Austrian painter in exile from the Nazis, and the writer Vladimir Nabokov, best remembered for Lolita.

Then Montreux, the heart of the Vaud Riviera with its Mediterranean-like climate, the mildest on the north side of the Alps, resplendent with palms, cypresses, magnolias, fig trees, almonds, laurels, and mulberries along the lakeshore, and the famous annual Montreux International Jazz Festival—jazz, blues, rock, reggae, and soul music—the first two weeks of July.

And Territet, a Montreux suburb, like much of this Riviera famous for its clinics and international schools.

Château Chillon sits on a rocky islet, between Territet and Villeneuve, its towers reflected in the Lac Léman waters.

Seeing it as we approached from the west, in the greyish-silvery light, reminded me of the painting of Chillon by Gustave Courbet, and as we passed by the gate, of my family’s Holland–Westdeutschland–Switzerland trip just a little over fourteen years earlier (August 1968) at the height of the Czech crisis with the Soviet tanks in the streets of Prague. I remember touring inside as a six-year-old, quite fearful of the dungeons but impressed by the toilet seats in the outer walls over the water—that people emptied their bowels in such a manner.

So, here we were at a fortress first built in the 9th century, guarding the road between Avenches and Italy by way of the Great St-Bernard, the route d’Italie, for the longest time the only route through the mountains connecting northern and southern Europe. But it was the Bishops of Sion, followed by the Counts of Savoy, that gave it its current look in the mid-13th century. And it was Lord Byron that gave the château its greatest fame, penning the lyrical poem “The Prisoner of Chillon” in Ouchy in 1816, immortalizing François de Bonivard who had spent six years of captivity in one of the vaulted underground chambers.

In the next four years I would visit and pass through the Lavaux many times, and so, I am reminded of these words by (Charles Ferdinand) C.-F. Ramuz, 1878–1947, Soleils sur le Pays de Vaud,

Le bon Dieu lui-même a décidé que ce serait en vignes, ayant orienté le mont comme il convient, se disant: “Je vais faire une belle pente tout exprès, dans l’exposition qu’il faut, avec l’inclinaison qu’il faut, et je vais mettre encore dans le bas la nappe de l’eau pour qu’il ait ainsi deux soleils sur elle, que le soleil qui vient ailleurs d’en haut seulement vienne ici d’en haut et d’en bas....”

We encountered another patch of drizzle as we rode into the Rhône Valley, the route no 9 leaving the lake at Villeneuve, running along the valley on its northeastern side.

Now we were in the Chablais wine region, the Rhône area just above the east end of the lake, not benefitting from the lake warmth or the foehn. Here the Chasselas is quite full-bodied, the sparkling wine for the most part good, the reds commonly weaker.

Somewhere between Roche and Aigle I detoured through a trucker’s pullover/rest stop, sped through a large puddle and saw money floating on the brackish water. It turned out to be a sFr. 50,00 note. What fortune! I decided to treat us both to lunch in Martigny—fortify ourselves for the long and steep ascent to the chalet—saving our packed sandwiches for tomorrow.

All this time the weather remained a little unstable—the weak sun interspersed with the occasional drizzle.

Onward past Bex on our left, we crossed the Rhône at St-Maurice, a little town on the Valais side of the river, made famous by the Abbey as one of the holy places of Christianity, from its founding in 515 by King Sigismund of Burgundy, through the 9th century earning the name of its patron saint, then in 1215 welcoming the regular canons of the Order of St-Augustine. About four weeks earlier the town held its annual September 22nd celebration commemorating the deaths of it’s martyrs.

Here we were dominated by the Dents du Midi to our right and the Dents de Morcles to our left. My bike suffered a flat rear. We spent over an hour patching it roadside. I had the foresight to pack a small kit with us.

Another fourteen kilometres and we reached Martigny for lunch. We sat outdoors on one of the main streets, a sidewalk table under a grape-endowed pergola, each enjoying a whole pizza washed down with a Sinalco for Jean-François, myself anchovies and capers as toppings with, for the first time, a Rivella—a popular sweet, fizzy, refreshing drink made with whey, a cheese-making by-product that I came to love and enjoy on many occasions in the next few years.

This is a small city. Predominant is the round Tour de La Bâtiaz emerging from among the vines from the ruins of the old fortifications. Here the route no 9 bends with the Rhône behind the freeway N 9 on its southern shore. We climbed the route no 21 through Martigny-Bourg and -Combe, first southward and then east, onto the small local mountain road at about the 5,5 km mark, turning right at les Valettes, climbing the valley, steeply winding up numerous hairpin bends, in total 11,5 kilometres, passing the Granges du Durnant and the occasional little chalet or holiday cabin, small meadows, small clusters of apple trees, mélèzes (larches) and epicéas (Norway spruces, common on northward-facing sites) outnumbering the various lower altitude deciduous species as we climb.

This was our last stretch, then Lac Champex and our chalet—the Bon Repos—catching the tail end of le souper, everyone else having arrived by train and postal bus several hours earlier, all the backpacks and suitcases delivered by our reliable Peugeot van.

In the two weeks we enjoyed numerous walks and hikes—the standouts the trail two-thirds up le Catogne peaking at 2598 metres, and up the snow-blanketed valley showcasing la Breya, 2374 metres, early enroute to our left, and at the upper horizon le Aigle du Tourat, 3540 metres, presiding over the Glacier du Touron on the back French side and the Glacier du Trent on the Swiss. We six—three teens and three adults: Dominic, deliciously bodacious and blonde-tressed Daniela, and myself—stopped in at an inn restaurant teeming with army vehicles and soldiers, ten minutes for chocolat chaud and the washroom. A good two or three hours later we reached the pass at 2671 metres, between Pointe d’Orny at 3274 metres and Dzennepi at 2891 metres, the slopes scattered with larches, where we took a stab at the footings of the glacier, soon proven to be too difficult for two of our charges.

Another hike was up through the woods at Som la Proz, due south from the eastern end of the lake, after less than a kilometre forking to the right now in steeper ascent with the stream, eventually crossing it on large stones someone had placed with great care. We were aiming to reach the foot of the glacier from between le Portalet, 3344 metres, and Pointe d’Orny, 3274 metres. We did reach it just past the C.A.S. (Club Alpine Suisse) Refuge d’Orny at 2696 metres. We were awed by the glacier and the freshly dusted and iced peaks. After turning and the first few minutes of descent, I scooped ice cold mountain water from the stream. That early evening a few hours later, I was hit with gastrointestinal pains and several bouts of diarrhea, sweating that night and the following morning. Dominic opined that the stream water must have been tainted by sheep wandering at high elevation. It was cryptosporidium or something like it.

Jean-François and I bicycled back too, the same way we had come, on this day accompanied by light but steady rain only broken through twice by short bursts of sun, necessitating rain jackets that did not vent well, steaming us up on the inside. Again, having left early, well ahead of the others again travelling by bus and train, and with the added bonus of a fast, exciting descent of the hairpin bends down to Martigny, we were the first home. By about Lausanne I started shaking and shivering, teeth chattering, and just could not keep warm regardless of how fast I pedalled. Relieved to be back at Maison François, I took a long hot soaking bath. Then we cooked up a large pot of spaghetti, flavoured by much tomato basil sauce and grated Gruyères. We were stuffed by the time everyone else arrived.

First arrival in Perceval

It was mid-August 1982. I was flying British Airways on a standby ticket—Seattle-Tacoma to Genève via London-Heathrow. I left Victoria early morning on the day’s first flight to Sea-Tac aboard the Pacific Western Airlines flight; 1980 Boeing 737-275(A), c/n 22159/684, C-GNPW, “751”. And then nine hours in standby mode in front of the British Airways counter, waiting for my name to come up on their short list.

In the last 20 minutes I was sent at a run to the subway over to Terminal 2 after fast-forwarding my blue backpack to hold at baggage until confirmation, running for the gate, then again waiting as a ticket agent kept repeating over the PA, “would Mr. and Mrs. Smith please report to the British Airways gate”, maybe a half dozen times. Then, with five minutes to spare and this couple a no-show, I was the second-to-last passenger to board the jumbo jet; 1977 Boeing 747-236B, c/n 21238/292, G-BDXA, City of Cardiff; followed by a young English woman. We were seated in the middle section between both aisles, about halfway along the economy class cabin, along with the third-to-last traveller, another young English woman.

This Speedbird (call sign) had an uneventful flight into Heathrow, a quick walk through Customs for transitting travellers, a bus to another terminal, and a two-hour wait for the final leg on another British Airways flight; 1980 Boeing 737-236(A), c/n 21807/710, G-BGDT, River Forth. I had a beer in a pub, bought a Human League music cassette, and then soon enough away.

My early evening arrival was another quick walk, through Swiss Customs in the green-lighted non déclarations line, and immediately met by two women in summer dresses and the latest in stylish Parisian sunglasses—Elisabeth Wider the older woman, Swiss-german, and Isabelle Teocchi, the younger one, tall, blond, statuesque, a French-Italian beauty from the Provence region.

We walked out to the car in the warm orange-rose sunset glow and light lake breeze, conversing in a mélange of French and English, and a few words of German, riding in a persimmon red Lada imitation of a Fiat 1400, taking the freeway eastward to Nyon, then the scenic route du lac into St-Prex, and up a narrow curving vignobles road and a right turn to the back kitchen door of Maison François.

Most children and co-workers were still away on summer vacation, but I was greeted by a young Frenchman, Marc Morin, who spoke exclusively French, forcing me to focus and concentrate despite my jet lag. But it was good to jump in with both feet into a new language, needing to rely on the rudimentaries of French to be found again in the recesses of my memory, buried away since high school’s French 11 and 12 with my poor grades but desire nonetheless to learn this particular language and master it one day.

Marc offered a chilled ripe tomato salad (the Roma variety), tarte aux courgettes, cool mint tea, and introductory conversation, lending to the warm, pleasant welcome into the Camphill experience.

After a good night’s sleep, the next morning I was straightaway pressed into service, introduced to Laurent Pittet, a twelve-year-old severely autistic boy, non-verbal, suffering from life-threatening epilepsy regulated by some strong allopathic medication. I was to follow him around all day, just observe and keep him from leaving the vast grounds or getting hurt in any way.

Laurent almost right away decided to run down to Maison Blanchfleur and sit, on his haunches and on the ground, all morning, picking through the bed of pebbles skirting the base of the house. Each chosen one he would rub once or more between upper lip and base of nose until he placed it on the cement walkway and split it clean in half with a little larger, denser stone. Laurent had the uncanny ability to discover a pebble’s weakness.

Lunch was followed by a one-hour nap for the young boy, and I retreated to my room at the west end of the attic, accessible by a ceiling trapdoor. A small window looked out in the direction of Genève.

Here I would regularly sit on the sill, legs dangling out, and survey the local farm fields, a section of the route de Villars-sous-Yens, and further afield the spires of Aubonne.

The Centre de Pédagogie Curative Perceval was founded back in 1953, having started as a curative educational home in 1951, becoming part of the Camphill Movement in 1967. It is a Trust in which both parents and co-workers are represented, officially known as Fondation Perceval.

During my time there, about fifty-five children and thirty-three adults lived in and near the community—children and adolescents in Maison François, Pestalozzi, Blanchefleur, Chantecler, and Peronnik (built during my Second Year where the gardener’s house had recently still stood), adults at Hirondelle; the three outside homes, St-Martin for adolescents, Les Quatres Coeurs in Lavigny for adults, and Les Compagnons du Bourg with their community store also for adults. There was also the family farm, the newly erected horse barn, La Grande Salle, La Source with the auto mechanic’s shop in the three-door garage, a hydrotherapy pool, woodwork and ceramics workshops, and living and therapy quarters, Tourmaline as administrative offices and Dr. Leonardo Fulgosi’s residence, Raphael as nurse’s office, kindergarten, basement workshops, therapy and music rooms, sizable conference room, and attic residences (Barbara Kauffmann).

Our mail was delivered and picked up twice a day, on business days, by a quiet, friendly, slim little uniformed postman in a yellow PTT Volkswagen Fridolin, Type 147 Sonderfahrzeug Post (PTT is the Swiss Post).

Almost everyone returned in the last week of August. Groups of two or three children or teens were teamed with each seminarist, with some importance put on matching the personalities. I was attached to a group of three adolescent males—Jean-François and David living below me on the western half of the second floor, and Patrick Stolz in a single room nearby. Dominic, a Frenchman in his late forties, oversaw them.

Throughout this school year I was to help out in several lower grade classes in the mornings, and in some adolescent workshops in the afternoons—pottery, stone carving, gardening, swim therapy, woodwork, weaving, and art class.

We each had one day off per week, free to do as we pleased, to go wherever we wanted. I always went out for the day, leaving right after the early breakfast, cycling through the countryside and into nearby towns and villages, or taking the train into Morges, Genève, or Lausanne.

In Lausanne I would fuel myself with an espresso coffee but sometimes as a chaser to a tall cool glass of Tubourg on tap at the kiosk in the cobble-stoned Place St-François up the Petit-Chêne from the SBB CFF FFS train station, then further up the narrow, winding Rue de Bourg to see two or three movies in a row, and late-night pizza and red wine at Chez Mario’s, rue de Bourg 28, an upstairs Italian pizzeria near the top of the street, the interior of once whitewashed walls covered in black permanent marker graffiti by patrons from all over the world. During one of many meals there I added my name and city too.

Other times, I would dine at the train station in the Buffet de la Gare, Place de la Gare 11, serving local specialties at a reasonable price. One of my occasional favourites here was the Papet vaudois, a dish of finely sliced leek and diced potato served with hot smoked pork sausage, accompanied by a glass of Cardinal Spéciale or Feldschlösschen Hopfenperle, a golden-yellow premium lager.

One September evening, Isabelle and I drove into Lausanne in her blue Renault 5 to see Claude Lelouch’s 1981 movie Les Uns et Les Autres. Later we walked around the corner to the Mövenpick restaurant for a huge serving each of some fancy flavoured ice cream creation, presented in tall, large glassware.

On one of my less frequent trips into Genève—I think it was mid-September—I discovered a small record shop tucked away in a shadowed side street somewhere between the train station and the Rhône. It is here I first heard of the Payolas and Leonard Cohen. I purchased two LPs and their cassette counterparts. I was a fan at the first listen.

I usually wore torn, faded jeans, white sneakers, a white t-shirt or the black Nina Hagen Band t-shirt, and my W.W. II-vintage blue-grey wool RCAF flight jacket with Canada flag.

I remember another late summer evening—Isabelle, Marianne from Aubonne, and myself in the Café de la Gare, Place de la Gare 1, in Morges, again enjoying specialty ice creams. A long military train passed by on the main line just behind the establishment—these trains fit between the first priority Intercity trains and the less urgent local trains—flat cars loaded with tanks, artillery, trucks, and jeeps (Mercedes-Benz Unimog S404 and Steyr Puch 710K, 710M, and 712M Pinzgauers), plus troop coaches, heading somewhere for their annual regimental manoeuvres. This was the first time, but not the last, I saw such a public display of the Swiss Army.

About mid-September, Elizabeth and Isabelle introduced me to Must, the freshly pressed juice of the white wine grape before fermentation sets in, which we sampled in a Lausanne-Ouchy restaurant. But I can not remember what meal accompanied this clear, pale-yellow, delicious nectar. It may have been steak tartare, more commonly accompanied by a red wine.

Sometimes in the evenings, when she had some free time from her many household and farm chores and the last year of Waldorf high school in Morges, beautiful Daniela would visit me in my room for tea, dark Lindt chocolate from her personal stash, and discussions of just about anything imaginable.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


I was sick like I haven’t been in about 40 years or so.

Two Fridays ago—February 20th in the evening—I started to feel flu-like symptoms. I came home (SkyTrain and street bus) at the usual late hour of midnight from my evening job at the Group Home.

Next morning I had my weekly one-hour phone call with my son Cohen in Saint John, New Brunswick, followed by breakfast, and then met up with three colleagues of the Britannia Writers Group. We meet every three weeks. By then I was feeling weaker—I could feel the fever rising. After lunch my wife wanted to take advantage of the sunny weather. We walked Commercial Drive for a couple of hours. I became increasingly tired and weak. Finally, we returned home.

Next followed five days of frequent fevers, especially strong in the evenings and through the nights, rampant with hallucinatory dreams and repetitive thoughts I was unable to dislodge and release, sweating until soaked, much tossing and turning. I was physically weak and dizzy. I crawled to and from the washroom. My head was spinning. My body was sore, my bones ached. Bedridden, I slept a lot. And I had a very rare lack of appetite. The deep cough was firmly lodged. The headache flared up every time I coughed. This cough had trouble breaking despite my usual regime of homeopathic medicines, hot baths to force the sweating, and Tiger Balm on my chest.

By Wednesday afternoon I decided to see a doctor as my symptoms were not improving. My family doctor is way over in North Vancouver. It is at times difficult to get in to see him. My wife was at work with our car. I couldn’t drive anyway. But, I carefully, slowly hobbled the four blocks up to the neighbourhood walk-in clinic. An hour of dizzy agony until I could see the on-call physician.

She soon determined I had a heavy case of bronchitis bordering on pneumonia. She said, “I’ll give your body the benefit of doubt that it’s not yet pneumonia. But come back tomorrow, and, if things haven’t improved, you’re going to Emergency for an IV.” She prescribed me a hardcore antibiotic (1000-mg Biaxins for seven days). I’m allergic to penicillin—that’s why this one instead. Now, I usually don’t touch antibiotics, but this was a serious case—a last resort. Things started improving the next day, Thursday.

Now, the point of this posting is: when I find myself sick, rare indeed, maybe once a year, even only once every two years, with the flu (I don’t count the seasonal colds of runny nose and stuffed sinuses that don’t keep me from work), time seems to slow down, many sensory stimuli recede somewhat into the background. I have the lights off, no TV, no radio, no CDs. I read a lot (although this time not even that was possible). Our bedroom sits at the front of the second floor, a centre dormer between the barn roof joists, under the gambrel roof (a small 1919 Dutch Colonial Revival house). I lay in bed, gazing out the window up into the sky and at the still-barren branches of the Linden tree at our sidewalk and the barren maple trees across the street. I saw one or two crow’s nests. I admired the contrast and illusion of black branches set against the clear winter-blue sky. I let my mind wander as the occasional propellor airplane or airliner hummed across the sky in the background. The first returning birds twittered and chirped. I saw many wonderful images in the intertwining black lines of twigs, branches, limbs, and trunks. An imaginary world of animals, dwarves, gnomes, faeries, sprites, sylphs, undines, salamanders, a sombreroed peasant following a mule and cart up the hill of a branch. Traffic noise became extinct (it’s fairly quiet in the side streets at the best of times). I travelled back to childhood where I had the same toned-down sensory experiences (measles, mumps, hernia operation at age four). Yet, at the same time, I experience heightened consciousness—I meditate, ponder life at a deeper level. It is always a wonderful opportunity to realign once’s life and thoughts, get back to basics. I am aware of how much I appreciate the small, beautiful, wonderful things in life. Nature at it’s complex yet simple existence. I am happy to be alive. I have an opportunity to revel in awe and veneration. “Small is beautiful.”