Thursday, 25 August 2011

On the sixth flight since I wrote last, going back to Basel - again. Through Heathrow - again. I've done the math and it looks like I might just barely fall short of being a frequent flyer with Star Alliance - which could have been avoided if I hadn't flown BA last trip to Canada. Oh well. Truth is, I had no idea how good frequent flyer status might be until I was bumped up to business class two weeks ago on my Montreal-London flight. The comfy chairs which reclined all the way and good food on proper dishes were pleasing - I was so excited about the whole thing that despite being able to lie down on a plane that I didn't sleep a wink. Best of all was being allowed into the airport lounge. Not just a place with free wifi and upholstered chairs, they cooked me a fresh meal before I got on the plane, and had a self-serve bar (which I approached in a disciplined manner, um, more or less). Having experienced the wonders of lounges, I'll regret ever so slightly being shy of the miles and legs needed to have constant access. A few people have asked me how I managed to be upgraded and the truth is that I don't know. But I do have a strategy, which I stuck to on this occasion, which may have worked: I select bulkhead seats with cots when I check in. That way when a mother comes with a baby, they'll bump someone in one of these seats. Of course it's worked out the other way too, and I've volunteered to be stuck in the middle of the middle as well to accommodate another, but in this case I'd say it turned out rather well.

I do love to compare clothing with British people: pants are always good for a laugh, but vests, tank-tops, jumpers and knickers are also good value for the confusion they cause in meaning completely different things. Names like trucks and lorries, tires and tyres, bank machines and cash-points also amuse me, but my ultimate favourite is the British name for bumper cars: dodgems. Aka, the exact opposite of the North American meaning. A few British friends have pointed out that though the name points to a deep cultural sense of propriety, they are also intended to bump into each other. Well, apparently not. I'm chuffed (that's tickled in North America - still not quite left sight of the UK...) to read in the paper beside me that Health and Safety regulations have come into play at Butlins holiday parks, and dodgems are banned from bumping into each other for fear of "whiplash and broken bones". Officials replied to complaints that this made them boring: "The point of our dodgems is to dodge people, not to run into people." Ha.

I had a very brief time in Basel as the weekend after I landed from Canada it was time for Caroline to cash in her 30th birthday present: a trip to the Alps. Thanks to SBB day passes, we went as far as we could, to the Munstair valley in Graubunden - as far east as one can go in Switzerland, and indeed we walked over into Italy just for the sake of it on our last day. The pictures say it all:

Practice Room

Blossom of Snow



View from the peak

Val Mustair

I thought that a time would come when I'd never want to stay in a youth hostel again, but the HI in Santa Maria Val Mustair was very nice. It's an old wooden building in the middle of the little town, the perfect setting-off point for hikes in the National Park. We booked a 3-person room to ourselves - it is nice to be able to lock the door during the day.

I only managed to begin to wind down on that weekend, which was predictable at least. The last nine days I've been in Scotland, far enough from everything that I do begin to feel refreshed. The day after I arrived, Alison and I went to pick up some sea kayaks and headed to a chalet on Loch Fyne. Again, I think I'll let pictures tell you the story.


Loch Fyne by Sunset

Proper Waves

I was properly introduced to mushroom-hunting this past week too, as this pasta sauce of fresh-picked puffball, chanterelle and larch boletus will illustrate.

Mushroom ID time


A Waxcap: Don't eat this one!

I've always been interested in mushrooms - can't get enough umami - but I've been too wary since we always got the same boring, poisonous kind on my lawn when I was growing up, and since my father cut open a puffball that I really wanted to consume, only to see that it was really a deadly amanita. It was very nice, then, to see all the different ways of telling things apart, and to learn about which species are dangerous to confuse and which not.

When we returned, Alison had a gig with Concerto Caledonia in Edinburgh, playing a half-hour set for various promoters in a showcase concert. It's always very nice to hear them live and to get to meet more of the musicians they involve. I got to chat at length with Bill Taylor, a specialist on harps and evangelist for the bray-harp, and in a live setting was able to hear a lot of what he was doing on the wire-strung harp he'd brought along too. Especially interesting was hearing some of the ornaments I'd learned about in my canntaireachd lessons with Barnaby Brown in February - the repertories are closely linked indeed. After listening to their rehearsal in the Glasgow concert hall for a bit, I went home and made this:

Cranachan Cheesecake

Yesterday I spend my last full morning in Scotland by climbing a hill near Glasgow with David McGuinness. Along the path I spotted a handful of puffballs (this time the real thing), which went into the risotto that night.

The next week and a half marks my last days as a resident of Basel. Going away party with Helen on Monday after some I Fedeli rehearsals that I'm looking forward to, and a few more performances of Saul to justify economically not having remained in Montreal over August. Otherwise the packing and flurry of administrative tasks are a bit daunting - many papers to sort out and send to appropriate places.

But I'm going to ramp up slowly, my main goal being to start my Ph.D. with some energy left. A proper holiday was a very good start indeed, but it will take some mental gymnastics not to get wiped out by the next few days as well.

Climb Every Mountain: Nuns on the Path to Italy

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