Hats By Katrinka

Kate Brown Pernia is a Milliner on sabbatical in Switzerland. She has been designing hats and teaching millinery under her Katrinka label since the 1980s. Kate is also the founder of Houston Hat Net. View Katrinka hats and hat patterns at www.hatsbykatrinka.com.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Fasnacht or Mardi Gras Swiss German Style

So my Sherman gets hungry and decides it’s time for us to go find dinner around 9:30 pm. We go around the corner to La Taverna where they have great thin crust pizza (among other things). It’s snowing again and they seat us in front of the big window. While we are waiting for our dinner one of the many Guggemusig bands roaming around town post-parade marches by. This group have particularly nice costumes in blue with a fish theme including one guy in a terrific fish hat! (Oh why didn’t I have my camera in my purse?) What’s fun about these costumes is that they are all home-made so quite individual within the color and theme planned. This band marches right into the restaurant and plays When the Saints Come Marching In and other favorites loudly banging the big drums. A Lhasa Apso in the restaurant nearly loses her mind and escapes under the table! After a half dozen numbers including "In the Mighty Jungle" in German (apparently "a weem a way" is the same in German) the staff of La Taverna hands out a glass of wine to each band member. What a great way to enjoy our dinner!
K Q:-)

A Trip to Venice

I took an 8 hour train trip to Venice last week through the spectacular snow covered Alps to see some of the Carnevale celebration. I'd spent time helping my new friend Starr with costumes for her and her husband and they invited me to stay with them for a few days. What a treat! I hadn’t been back to Venice in 35 years and I don’t know why I waited so long! It’s such a lovely city.

We had rainy weather except for one day but I didn’t care. Hey! I was in Venice. I ate Scampi, Rombole and Spaghetti con Vongole and another fabulous spaghetti with scampi, capers and tomatoes (whose name has slipped my mind) and filled my eyes with the costumes, Italian fashions and beautiful vistas every which way we looked. I bought a papier mache Commedia del Arte mask, Murano blown glass earrings and hatpin and also cufflinks for my Sweetie. I was accosted by a group of Roman ladies on my way out of a restaurant who wanted to buy my hat off my head but it was too large. I gave them my web address instead.

And how about these costumes!? Needless to say, I plan to go back to spend more time...and not in another 35 years!

K Q:-)

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Old Dogs and New Tricks

Well, it hasn’t been all fun and games. A few days after my arrival in St. Gallen I found myself alone for the day and tried to make my first purchase in the Farmer’s Market. A cheese vendor was nice enough to say, "English OK" and told me how to say 100 grams in German. Because he was so nice I lost it and started to cry! How was I going to get along here when I don’t speak the language?

My moment of panic subsided and I was introduced to Starr who is fluent in German. After a couple of shopping forays with my new American ex-pat friend I forged ahead on my own. I tell myself that if toddlers can babble away in German so can I. Our first attempt to register for a formal German class failed when the class did not make. So my husband and I work together every morning after breakfast with our language books, tapes and CDs. We read junk mail sale flyers with a German/English dictionary which I also carry everywhere in my purse. I’ve put Post-It notes all over our apartment with names of items in German and these are beginning to stick in our brains as well. When I ordered language software from Amazon we hit another snag. Amazon.com won’t send software to Switzerland. There may be a trade restriction of some kind that gets in the way. Oh well! Just keep going! English has some similarities to German plus my fragmentary French and Italian helps in the grocery story where everything is labeled in at least three languages (not usually English). When we go to an ‘Englisch sprachen’ movie there are subtitles in German and French.

This month we’ve started a German class where we are the only English speaking students and it’s fun! The class is held entirely in German - even the instructions. With practice we are beginning to get it. We practice every chance we get. People are generally patient while we try and it’s not so hard to learn a new language when the need to communicate is all around you. With no tv homework is actually entertainment!

Here’s the funny thing! We’re not alone. It turns out that Hoch Deutsch or High German is what is written but not spoken in Switzerland. Instead, they speak Schweizer Deutsch here which is a kind of dialect of German. Some local MBA students must take Hoch Deutsch classes to get their degree along with English which is also required.

Guten Tag! Or as they say here Grüezi!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Little Differences

Here are a few things that are a bit different from home:

My German washing machine heats its own water and uses only a tiny amount of detergent. It works very well but takes 2 hours to wash one load of laundry unless I tell it to do a short (Kurz) cycle which will halve the time. Every day at 11:30 both washing machine and dryer stop - wherever they are in their cycles - for an hour. I am told this is because school children are sent home for lunch (they don’t serve lunch in schools) and mothers should be feeding children instead of doing their wash. Well, whether or not this is really true the machines do stop everyday at this hour and resume again at 12:30. Weird!

When you grocery shop you have to put a Swiss franc in a slot to release the shopping cart from its chain. When you are finished shopping you return the cart, chain it up again, and get your coin back. The result is no shopping carts all over the parking lot. Also, you bring your own shopping bag or pay for a shopping bag and there are no bagboys. You bag it yourself. There are lots of places to recycle plastic bottles, wine and soda bottles, even grocery store receipts. You pay for trash pick up by the size of your bag so people recycle more.

Stores - even grocery stores - are closed on Sundays and evenings except for one day a week (Thursday in St. Gallen). Restaurants are open tho’. You can buy milk and cream products that are super-pasteurized so that they do not have to be refrigerated until opened. Unopened they last for months. There is a dizzying array of jams but you have to really search for peanut butter.

Smoking is permitted at age 14 and it seems that nearly everyone does. Smoking was only recently banned on trains and most restaurants do not have a non-smoking section. You have to air out your clothing after a night out! The drinking age for beer and wine is 16 and it’s 18 for the harder stuff. Dogs are permitted in restaurants, on trains and most places except for grocery stores.

People mostly use cash or debit cards here. You don’t pay your utility bills with checks. Instead, you go to the Post Office or the bank to pay. That’s also how we paid for our German classes.

You see a lot of people here walking around on two crutches. I’m guessing this is because quite a few people ski or snowboard in this area. Just looking at a snowboard makes me dizzy!

A weather phenomenon that I really love here is the cold fog that rolls in some nights. You wake up in the morning with everything coated in ice crystals! It’s called hoarfrost and is spectacularly beautiful. We have an outdoor atrium in the center of our apartment and Saturday I went out and climbed the ladder to the roof to get a better look at the crystallized fleur-de-lis fence around our roof. Above the bustle of the Saturday afternoon shopping you could hear a couple of guys playing Mack the Knife on a saxophone and an accordion. Magical!