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Global Pen Pals

Letter 4 in our series.

Dear Ellen,

Summer has come at last and this morning I went swimming for the first time this year to the world's loveliest public baths by a river. - The river is the Aare, which runs through the city of Berne and flooded the lowest part of the town so badly in August 2005. I think I told you that Meret, Serge and Maxie had to leave their house in a rescue-boat and Serge's studio was completely under water. They had to live with me for a week before they could return. - There are many large old trees, a restaurant, playgrounds for children, and swimming pools for every age. I went at 9.30 a.m., my preferred time as there are hardly any people and empty parking places outside the baths. I had a swim, a cappucino, did some sunbathing while I dried and was back home by 10.30. An amazing thing is that there is no entrance-fee although the maintenance and personnel cost the town a lot of money each year. Whenever the town is short of money – which it has been in recent years for many reasons – this becomes a political issue, discussed heatedly in the media and the city parliament. But up to now the Marzili baths have remained free of charge!

Yesterday the Swiss Federal assembly elected a new member of our Federal Council (= Government, which consists of seven members) because one member had resigned. The newly elected member is a woman, which means that now two women and five men "govern" us. She is what you would call "Republican", so I am not overly enthusiastic – being a member of the "green", ecologist party! The green party has no member in the Federal Council, but 14 in the National Parliament (= your House of Representatives) and quite a number of members in executive and legislative bodies on the cantonal and communal level all over Switzerland.

Here the dominating issue is the Football World Championship that is taking place in Germany. Maxie has a sticker-album with the pictures of all the members of the 32 teams that won the pre-selections and can now take part. To begin with you have to buy stickers, and eventually the kids (and grown-ups!) start exchanging. The stickers are called "Panini pictures" and come from Italy. The aim is to get all the stickers, of course, and Maxie now has only 7 missing out of 600. Last Thursday we looked where all the teams came from on the globe (I wonder if you call it that: it is the globe the size of a large football with a lamp inside, so you can read all the names of the countries and capitals better!!). In other words: we did a bit of geography! – The US national team is also in the championship: they lost their first game against the Czechs 3:0. Switzerland and France ended their first game 0:0, which made almost the whole of Switzerland go wild with happiness and hope!!! The streets were empty during the match – I also watched it, of course!

On July 10 th I shall be going to Fontvieille in the Provence/France. Leni and I spend very relaxing holidays there. The best thing we do – besides sleeping a lot, going to the sea, and eating healthy food – is that we read aloud to each other and discuss what we have read. In the 18 years that we have spent our summer-holidays together we have read quite an amount of literature, as you can imagine. This year we are going to read a Swiss author called Robert Walser. – From Fontvieille, where Leni has a small house in the town, it takes us 10 min to get to Arles by car, 1 hour to Avignon and 1 hour to Les Saintes Maries de la Mer: we are really in the midst of the Provence! Fontvieille has only one touristic attraction which is the Moulin de Daudet, a mill where Alphonse Daudet is said to have written his famous "Les Lettres de mon Moulin". If you ever get the chance you must read them!

I am so happy about the way Maxie and Ueli, her uncle, have rebuilt their relationship. When Maxie was small Ueli's deafness and withdrawn, autistic manner was no problem for her. She used to climb on his lap and hug him and somehow this "reached" him and he responded. She even made him look at picture books with her and made him carry her about and play with her. Then, at the age of about six, when she wanted to communicate by language but didn't know any high German yet, which is the only language Ueli speaks and can lipread, their relationship became difficult. He began to withdraw, felt inadequate, and Maxie let him be. But now this has changed completely: Maxie is learning High German at school and nowadays she stands in front of Ueli, looks in his face and speaks loudly in High German and if he doesn't understand her, she repeats what she has said until he does. She tells him about things that happen at school and doesn't shy away from the fact that it is hard work for her to communicate with him. It is heart-warming to watch the two of them together. All the love and closeness is there again.

Very much love, have a lovely summer and, by the way, Anna, Ben and Madeleine are very lucky to have such doting and interested grandparents!!

Attached is a photo of Maxie (9) taken at my birthday party in October 2005

Much, much love,

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