What is a Ch’ti?

Most Americans have never heard of “Ch’ti.”  Every Frenchman and woman knows.  Most of the French speaking moviegoing public knows.  Why?  The highest grossing French film of all time is “Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’tis” which loosely translates to “Welcome to the Home of the Ch’tis.”

Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis

Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A  is someone from northeastern France,  the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region in particular.  The inhabitants are French and speak French, their regional dialect is heavily influenced by the local language Picard (a Romance language closely related to French traditionally spoken by people in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy areas of France and the Walloon part of Belgium).  As a result, their pronunciation is slightly different from the rest of France and the local slang draws heavily from Picard.   These differences were played upon to great effect in the film, with several sorts of Abbott & CostelloWho’s On First” type of interactions.

Area of the picard language

Area of the picard language (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Picard, “ch’ti” is local parlance for the language.  In southern France, they are referred to as “cheutimi.”  Ch’ti refers to both the language and people who hail from that part of France.  Now that you know what it is, we can move on to pronunciation.   It sounds like, well, um….

enseigne de café en picard, Cayeux-sur-mer (Somme)

enseigne de café en picard, Cayeux-sur-mer (Somme) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This area is stereotyped as a remount unsophisticated, cold,  and rainy place.  It’s inhabitants had traditionally been stereotyped as: alcoholic, uneducated yokel who eats disgusting (to the French palate) food, and speaks an incomprehensible version of French (which may be an unpardonable sin in France).  The genius of the film is that it exploits these stereotypes and debunks them in such a hilarious way.

Spoiler alert – the main character ends up falling in love with the area’s friendly, unpretentious, helpful inhabitants and is able to see past the grey skies to appreciate the rich local culture.  Outsiders tend to think of other countries cultures as homogenous, when they can be incredibly diverse.   It’s a good reminder that France’s culture differs dramatically within the country.  Think about the differences between New York City, New Orleans and Salt Lake City for example.

One final thought, there’s a line in the movies that says it could be worse, you could have to go to Belgium.  Anyone that reads this blog knows my love for Belgium.  If it is better than that, it must be heavenly.

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What We Learned About The Area Where There Was Mine Violence When We Visited South Africa

We were saddened to hear that at least 30 people died at the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana, South Africa this week.  When we were in South Africa (road signs, Braai, Fences in South Africa, Bongwe, Kliptown, Planes Trains and Automobiles to South Africa, Pilanesburg, We Saw Lions, Grateful) we went by that mine.  It is enormous and it was the only man-made thing of any real size for over an hour.

Driving near the mine, we were struck by the area’s poverty and lack of infrastructure.  Our guide explained to us that locals have not really profited from the mine’s success and the high price of platinum over the previous decade.  Local communities still face a lack of employment and agricultural collapse.  Sewage backs up and spills into rivers, there are squatter camps, and the locals have a myriad of health problems.  The large well lit and fortified mine, stood in stark contrast to the poverty of the surrounding area.

 

Although I couldn’t find any pictures I took of the mine itself, these were taken in the surrounding area.  For some beautiful pictures of the nearby National Park, check out our photos of Pilanesburg.

Touring The Palais des Nations, The United Nations In Geneva

You know it’s the UN because if you squint, you can see the UN flag on top

We recently had some visitors in town (yippee).  They were the perfect excuse to tour the United Nations in Geneva, the Palais des Nations.  Guides update visitors on the current activities of the United Nations, tell its history and answer loads of questions.

The United Nations in New York hosts the legislative body.  Geneva host tons of meetings.  I’m guessing it may be easier for diplomats and delegates from certain countries to get into Switzerland than in the US.  They have hundreds of meeting rooms to host over 2700 meetings they host every year.  Many of them look like the one above.   All proceedings are translated into the six official languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish) using state of the art 70’s technology like this.

Miquel Barcelò massive sculptural installation decorates the domed ceiling of the Chamber XX of Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room. Although it was controversial for its $23 million price tag footed by Spain, everyone seemed to think it looked pretty sweet.  I wanted it for our apartment.

The Assembly Hall, the largest room in the Palais des Nations.  You can watch it on TV.  You are probably still more familiar with the large hall at the United Nations in New York from television and movies.

The Council Chamber, formerly housed the League of Nations and has stunning murals by José Maria Sert.  Many important negotiations have taken place in this room.  This room was home to the League of Nations and has hosted many tense negotiations.  It has two separate entrances so antagonistic negotiants can enter and leave at the same time.  They can also move the furniture around into a “V” formation (the tables in the other rooms are bolted into the floors) so that necociants don’t have to look at each other.

Go figure. Patek Philippe is the official clock of the UN in Geneva.

The gift shop is really cool and worth a visit.  I bought a board game about Switzerland in French and English!  You can also purchase and mail post cards from there (they will go out with the official UN stamp).

Gifts presented by various countries to the United Nations Office at Geneva are on display.  They are pretty sweet.  Germany gave this Günther Uecker picture made from nails.

Out in front of the building (at the Nations TPG public transit stop) is the famous Broken Chair sculpture by Daniel Berset.  The chair’s fourth leg is broken off, leaving shards of jagged wood, yet it doesn’t tip.  The damaged leg symbolizes the suffering of land mine victims.    I run by there often.  Between the chair, the fountain and the demonstrators that are usually around, it’s always interesting.

Czechoslovakia’s History Under Communism

While we were in Prague, we visited the Communist Museum. Czechs seem to have put their post-communist energy into looking (and moving) forward and not looking back at communism. Even so, signs of their time under communist rule are unescapable.
In the 1946 elections, communists got more votes than any other party and their chairman, Klement Gottwald, became Prime Minister. He was an alcoholic, syphilitic, anti-democratic and more than happy to take orders from Stalin.
In 1948, 12 non-communist government leaders resigned as a protest, believing their resignations would not be accepted. They were.  Communists took complete control of the government and Czechoslovakia fell under the strong influence of Moscow.
There was forced collectivisation of industries and the government carried out a currency reform that rendered savings worthless.  The Czechoslovakian secret police’s repression was powerful.  People fled the country, were imprisoned and/or executed.
As you can see from the poster, Czechoslovakia supported North Korea.
This translates to “Watch Border Zone Entry Only Allowed”.
In 1968, there was a battle between hard-line communists as a group wanted liberalization to a less strict version of communism. Reforms for the end of citizen’s surveillance by the secret police, the end of censorship freedom of assembly and expression ensued.  It is known as the Prague Spring.  The Soviet Union feared the Czech Republic would leave the Communist Bloc, the spreading of liberal communism and unrest, the loss of control and an opening of borders with the West.
In 1968, the Soviet’s and other Warsaw Pact countries invaded in a large, well-executed and well-planned operation. The plastered over bullet holes are still visible on the facade of the Czech National Museum because the builders used a lighter color of plaster in their repairs.
In January 1969, student Jan Palach, set himself on fire in Wenceslas Square to protest the invasion.  His funeral turned into a major protest against the occupation.  Protests were unsuccessful and a clampdown followed.  The Communist Party was thoroughly cleansed of any liberalizing members after the Prague Spring, kicked half a million members out of the part and dissolved all organizations that had supported reform.  Censorship was strict and Czechoslovakia’s sovereignty was limited by the Soviet Union.  The cross in the pavement marks the spot where Jan Palach and others died.
Wenceslas Square filled with protesters, again for protests marking the 20th anniversary of Palach’s death criticism of the regime escalated.  This time, the Soviet Union under Gorbachev didn’t react violently.   The ensuing confrontations with police were one of the catalysts for the demonstrations that preceded the fall of the communism with the Velvet Revolution 11 months later.

The museum contained a segment of the Berlin Wall which fell not long after.
 
When we were there Wenceslas Square still contained piles of memorials to its first post-communist leader Vaclev Havel who died in December 2011.
 

 

Planes, Trains and Automobiles to South Africa

We took several modes of transportation during our journey to South Africa.  We flew Egypt Air to Cairo then on to Johannesburg.

 
On the descent, we saw pyramids silhouetted against Cairo’s lights!  It made us want to go to Egypt. He sat next to someone on the plane who was going to Cairo to retrieve their valuables because they were moving back to Germany.  The gentleman said that the situation was too problematic and unstable to stay.  Hopefully, things will improve over the coming months and years.
When we arrived in Johannesburg and picked up our rental, we were surprised by its size.  He did a wonderful job driving the big rig, but unfortunately, it was not always the easiest to park.
Cabs function as a form of inexpensive mass transit in South Africa.  People use hand signals to indicate their desired destination and vans headed in that direction stop.   Below you can see tons of them at a cab stop on Soweto.

Notice the cabs look exactly like our van.    They constantly break every conceivable traffic law.  We joked that since our big rig looked just like a cab, he could run red lights, cut people off, speed as much as he wanted and no one would think anything of it.   In case you were wondering, he did not take advantage of his apparent ability to break every traffic law known to man with no foreseeable consequences.

We saw people crammed into the giant taxis.  As there isn’t a large mass transit system, they were crammed into every vehicle, including the beds of pickups on the highway.

Our big rig turned out to be a great vehicle on the animal preserve.  I spent a fair amount of time hanging out the open door with my camera gawking at wildlife.
Oh yeah, when you arrive at Geneva’s airport, there are free regular trains to the city.  All trains go from the airport to the main train station!  From there, it’s just an easy tram or bus ride home.

 

Soweto

As a child I learned of Soweto from seeing it on the news.  It is known for its uprisings and as the home of Nelson Mandela (Winnie still lives there, but Nelson now lives in a suburb of Johannesburg).  I had always thought of it as a neighborhood or a suburb, but with a population of over 1,300,000, it could be a city in its own right.  Although Soweto is large, it is densely populated.

I couldn’t imagine going to South Africa and not seeing something that played such a pivotal role in its history. I prepared myself to see extreme poverty.  In addition to poverty, I saw a large, culturally and economically diverse community.

On June 16, 1976, students peacefully marched from schools to Orlando Stadium in Soweto.  They protested the teaching of Afrikaans in schools. South Africa has 10 official languages and Afrikaans was strongly associated with Apartheid.
Phefeni Junior Secondary School was the start for one of the routes students took on the peaceful march to Orlando Stadium (yes, like the Orlando Pirates mentioned in the Kliptown post) below.  Soweto’s schools were underfunded and of poor quality.  They were severely overcrowed with more than 60 or more students per teacher and many of the teachers had no qualifications.
Police opened fire on student protesters while they were en route.  Their shots killed 16 year old, unarmed, Hector Peterson.  Photos* of a dying Hector Peterson traveled around the world and shocked the international community.  June 16, 1976 is remembered for the police’s brutality against schoolchildren and the subsequent uprisings.
This statue depicts the schoolchildren facing off with policemen with dogs, the point just before the police opened fire.
Vilakazi Street (note the name on the curb) the street where Hector Peterson died.  It is also the only street to have given rise to two, separate nobel prize winners (Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu).

In the days after June 16, students (including whites who expressed solidarity) were imprisoned and tortured.  Police moved in with force and were met by an angry community.  Violence escalated into riots.

The massive Soweto uprisings soon spread to other parts of the city and country.  Apartheid was not abolished until 1991.

The Freedom Charter Memorial in the heart of Soweto commemorates the June 26, 1955  Freedom Charter that is the cornerstone of African National Congress policy and served as the foundation for the new constitution.
 
These are the cooling towers of the now defunct Orlando power station in Soweto.  When this was working all of the power went  on the lines out of the area.  The pollution remained.  Now, you can bungee jump from them.
*Hector Peterson was not the first child to be shot and killed by police that day.  The immediate aftermath of his shooting was, however, the first to be caught on camera.  Hastings Ndlovu was actually the first student killed.  Hundreds more students sustained injuries.
 

Congratulations Belgium! After 541 Days, You Have A Government.

English: Flanders (red) in Belgium and the Eur...

English: Flanders (red) in Belgium and the European Union (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Belgium was unable to form a government for 541 days! What?  How can they have been governmentless for so long? There was an ethnic standoff in Belgium’s parliament. The French and Flemish (Dutch) speaking communities* were divided and were not able to form a government… for about 18 consecutive months (demolishing Iraq’s record).

 

 

English: A graphical representation of the six...

English: A graphical representation of the six biggest Flemish political parties and their results for the House of Representatives (Kamer). From 1978 to 2010, in percentages for the complete ‘Kingdom’. Nederlands: Een grafische voorstelling van de 6 grootste Vlaamse partijen en hun behaalde resultaten voor de Kamer van Volksvertegenwoordigers. Van 1978 tot en met 2010, uitgedrukt in procenten voor ‘Het Rijk’. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Why didn’t they hold new elections. Few people believes calling new elections would help. The Belgians don’t have any truly national political parties, only regional (i.e., Flemish, French, etc.) parties. The Flemish-speaking separatist party (New Flemish Alliance) is quite popular and there are deep divisions between the parties. If they held new elections, the results would likely have been the same (as the one that created the stalemate) or the more extreme populist parties would have gained ground.

 

Things continued to function, more or less, on auto-pilot. Civil servants showed up to work. Governmental power was already somewhat decentralized from the national government to the French and Flemish speaking parts of the country. These separate divisions continued to function. Also, Belgium is part of the European Union which exerted power (ironically from Brussels).

Elio Di Rupo

Elio Di Rupo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was finally resolved when a Flemish separatist party left negotiations in the hope of provoking new elections. The move backfired when another party managed to cobble together a new government when Belgium’s debt was downgraded last month. Their new leader is Elio Di Rupo.

I love Belgium. It is a fantastic country. To celebrate Belgium’s new government (and aid you in your holiday beverage selections), I am declaring this coming week Belgian Beer Week. Cheers! Sante! Op uw gezondheid! Proust!

Français : Etape 19 (L'Alpe d'Huez) du Tour de...

*Cyclist Philippe Gilbert just won an award for his bravery uniting his fellow Belgians, both Flemish and French.

**Mr. Di Rupo is the country’s first openly gay leader and the second openly gay leader of a country (after Johanna Sigurdardottir of Iceland).

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I was going to post this early last week. On the way home, I heard on the radio that a gunman in Liege, Belgium opened fire on a crowd. The gunman killed six (seven including himself), and injured 121 people. Words can’t properly express the tragedy and sorrow created by this senseless act.

 

 

Bongwe – The Coolest Farm In The World

We were invited to Bongwe (which means baboon), the farm of Animal Lover and The Hostess With The Mostess.  From the balconies, we could hear but not see the baboons.
Animal Lover and The Hostess With The Mostess could not have been better hosts.
They did everything they could to acquaint us with the local culture.  Animal Lover even brought out the Vuvuzela.
They drove us around their land to see animals (with babies since it was early summer), taught us about South Africa, had a braai (barbecue), took us on a great little hike, took us to the top of a mountain to watch the sunset, to an amazing place for a lovely brunch and on a local shopping trip.
 
The even thought to show us local sights that wouldn’t appear in guidebooks, but they knew we would find interesting.  Above, you can see impala carcases dragged into a tree by a leopard.  The leopard didn’t have time to eat it before a wildfire swept through.
From zebra, to meerkats to a mama warthog with her babies, to wildebeests and giraffes, we appreciated their efforts to show us the amazing wildlife.
They have giraffes roaming their property!  We fell in love with the giraffes.  They were so curious that they actually came to check us out.
We learned that elephants remember when one of their companions is killed by a  landmine.  Their memory results in avoiding the area.  This changed migration patterns in some areas of Africa!
Impalas are also known as wildlife’s McDonald’s because of the frequency and ease with which they are eaten.  Plus, they have arches (shaped like the golden arches of the McDonald’s M) on their keisters.
They are truly wonderful people.  Our time with them was the highlight our trip and we can’t thank them enough.

We’ve Got Mail!

We got mail!  Getting the mail, however, is an entirely different matter.  To get the mail, I have to go to the post office, present both our passports and our marriage license.  Yep, you read that correctly.  They will not give me anything without proof that we are married.

I expected something from the bank and squealed when I saw it was a care package.  The nice lady at the post office thought it was interesting and asked all about my nieces who sent it.  She laughed when I told her it contained Halloween candy (I read the customs declaration on the outside of the box).  It’s not a huge holiday here like it is in the US.

WARNING!!!! If you are thinking about sending us a care package, perhaps you should consider emailing photos. I am sure the sender got a rude awakening when they saw the price at the post office (FedEx is even more expensive).
We used the cooler that evening!  This stuff rocks!

The box contained Halloween candy, Detroit Lions gear, some great books (the sender always has a good read on hand), halloween decorations and the best part pictures from our nieces (which went immediately on the fridge).

The pictures are already up on our fridge

Thank you!!!!!

I told you she had good taste in books!

 

The After

Please come visit

Sorry I didn’t post yesterday, it was a very busy day. I had my German lesson and went to Swisscom to get a phone (I waited so long that I got to watch a good part of the All Blacks-Tonga Rugby World Cup match). In the afternoon, I frantically tried to get ready because we had a housewarming party for last night. Pretty much, we invited everyone we know in Geneva outside of his work and everyone in our building. I hadn’t done enough preparation for a houseful of people so I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off.

Here are some pre-party pics of our place (otherwise known as “the after”):

We’e not vampires, but if we could make it any darker in here we would.
Want to visit us?  You will sleep here.
Another pic of your new room
Alcove in the entry – I swear I stored most of my books back in the states.
Note the fruit bowl from an earlier post (to prevent exploding bananas) 
Living Room
We can pull off the back cushions and sleep more people (it becomes a twin)
Dining room – 
Like our Swiss flag napkins?
Prepared for rain with an umbrella stand by the door
We call this our locker room (additional shoes not shown)
Bathroom
#2 gets its own room
Kitchen
My nemisis, the stove, tried to foil my baking chocolate chip cookies, but did not succeed. 
Our map board so we can find our way around