Thursday, January 23, 2014

Short Trips Around Zurich - Part I: The Botanic Garden

 When we first moved here we visited the Zoo several times, and we see the parks & lake & hiking trail that are close to our house daily. In the spring and fall we look for snails, and roller blade, and when there is snow we sled down the many hills around here, and in the summer we swim or row an inflatable boat on the lake. Of course, Fallanden is very beautiful,  and I know I have been lucky to rent a house in such an area, but somehow when we see the same sights every day we stop appreciating their beauty and crave new things.

So, I have started a program where every few weekends we try to visit something new. Since we returned from Martinique we have been jet-lagged and sick, and hence I have midnight time to document the part of this program that is already completed and perhaps plan new things while the children are stuck in the house. I will write about one objective per post, which might mean I will never finish documenting everything.

My poster 
The last trip we made was to the Botanic Garden. You might think this is not such a good idea in winter, but in Zurich the Botanic Garden is beautiful year round. I even chose to make a poster about this in my German class - which is, of course, in German. My German is not particularly good. So, if you know German well  and think I am wrong, you are probably correct. I hope you won't mind my errors too much, though. The poster is not too good either. I felt like a first grader making it, but it was fun to speak about it. I would say it marked the most useful German class I have had so far because I was forced into conversation for more than an hour. They should do that more often.

What did we see? or more exactly what I remember from what we saw....

The botanic garden is really big with lots of room for the children to run and play. While it's beautiful in winter it must be amazingly beautiful in spring when it's full of flowers.

The Carnivorous plants.
 1. Carnivorous plants. The kids were really excited because we had
The Kaki fruits. None fell down.
done extensive reading on the subject. The children also had some seeds of Carnivorous plants with soil and instructions from a friend, but they did not grow. They were disappointed at not seeing any bugs in the carnivorous plants area. Such plants do have a dormant period lasting 3-5 months every year. Also, if they are not allowed to catch their own food, which I suppose it's common when in-doors, they need to be feed only every month or so.

2. Japanese Kaki tree. This was outside and had lots of fruits. I did not believe it was possible to grow one in the Zurich climate and produce so many fruits. They appeared ripe. Although there were none on the ground. Lisa had such a tree when I visited her in California with lots of big really tasty fruits. They called them persimmons.

3. A bee nest and lots of wasp nests. Wasps nest in almost anythings from bricks to wood, but it's impressive to see so many wasp nests all on one shelf (see picture on the bottom right side of the poster).

They also had lots of other plants in the green houses, and some ants. A friendly cat came by and allowed the children to pet it. We also saw fish in two small aquariums at the entrance. There was lots of space outside, too, which was very nice.

 Running around the Botanic Garden
Overall, it is a very beautiful place that we should visit again soon. It is large, but not so large that it makes the children so tired that they are cranky and angry by the time we get home.

Of course, I do have a few proposals to write this month, and several projects to finish. And I know this blog is becoming a bit too personal. But you will hear about my projects soon enough, i.e., as soon as the relevant papers get submitted/accepted. Besides, writing on the blog is always a way to procrastinate, which I am really good at (the procrastination, not the writing). 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Fishermen and gatherers under the palm trees

A coconut straight from the tree
Gathering coconuts
Coconut palm trees grow everywhere in Martinique, and Mihai and the children enjoy gathering coconuts. It is important to note that a freshly fallen coconut is more complicated to open than one from the store. Coconuts have a big shell of fibrous material through which the little coconut bud grows its roots before reaching the ground. The bud and the shell are removed by the time the coconut is sold.

Eating and Thinking
Mihai the coconut breaker
Mihai's way of breaking the big coconut involves letting it float on the waves and then hitting it with rocks. Nobody has been hurt yet by this procedure, and it proved to be eventually functional. Once the big coconut is taken apart,  the little coconut is hit with a machete until it reaches the right frequency, resonates, and breaks. The machete seems to be the typical device for breaking coconuts, which we borrowed from people who live here. Unfortunately, we have to return it when we leave. I suppose carrying it on the plane with us would have been a problem anyhow.

The big coconut and the little coconut.
Finding and breaking coconuts is fun for vacation. The younger and older children in the house enjoy it. However, if we were to go back in time many thousand of years and be lucky enough to live on a tropical island, we would most likely make pretty lousy gatherers. I think we would not starve, though, which would be a major achievement. We would also not only be eating coconuts! There are a number of other amazing weird fruits that grow here in addition to the ones I expected like bananas, pineapples, and mangoes. I was most impressed by the bread fruit. A whole family can eat from one, and it's more filling than rice or pasta.
The fish here are very beautiful

Furthermore, a huge number of fish and other creatures live here, too. I am not a big fan of killing & eating things, but we did eat two eels, and some fish. I believe it's important for the children to understand where the food comes from - all the food, but especially the meat.

Mihai caught the fishing bug from my father, who gives us valuable advice via skype every evening. We cheated only once by showing him the fish that we bought instead of the ones Mihai caught with the excuse that it made him happy. Growing up I remember my father fishing, and my mother
Mihai the fisherman
Assisting with fish cleaning
remembers him catching lots of fish in the Danube Delta. I only remember him fishing, and seldomly catching a few really small fish. When Mihai and I released the last two fish he caught in Romania, I was not yet in high school.

My father continued fishing occasionally without success. He went fishing every day  when he visited me in the US. By that time I was a postdoctoral scholar in Pennsylvania and I owned a house by a small river.  Despite his persistence, he never caught a fish in PA.  He then explained that his fishing was not the problem as there were no fish in that part of the river. This he said was because the fish could not climb a small waterfall, which had 3 steps, and would have apparently been difficult for any fish to climb. No being a fish, I did not venture to question his explication. However, David, who was 3 at the time, proved him wrong by catching a really big fish by hand (with my mother) in that same area after the 3-step waterfall. Its eye had be eaten by an animal. However,  even though my father did not catch many fish in the last 30some years, he still loves fishing...and going outside for an hour or so is always good for him.

Two eels
 Here in Martinique, the owner of the house we rented provided a fishing rod, and Mihai has been fishing for short periods of time every two days or so. The children watch him enthusiastically. They have seen that fish have scales, intestines, and lots of little bones that need to be spit out when they are cooked. So far we caught 9 fish out which we released 5 and still have some more to eat, and bought a few more. The big fish we bought sometimes had little eggs inside them, which I find sad because the eggs will never turn into little fish once the parent is caught. Since most little fish do not have eggs and even if they did, they would be fewer, fishermen should be releasing the big fish and eating the little ones. Also, if they plan to release a fish they should do so immediately, and not wait for it to be either dead or half-dead.

Over the holidays (Xmas & New Year) more people with scooters & motor boats showed up, and the fish avoided the shores. A lady who was on vacation and had been fishing every day blamed the phases of the Moon.

I fail to understand the fascination that some people have for speed in the water or on land. In places where there is so much fauna and especially at times when turtles are approaching the shores to lay eggs, motors should be used sparingly or not at all. It would nice if there was an effort made to use small boats with oars and pedals and motor scooters should be prohibited all together. Oars provide healthy exercise for many under-exercised and often slightly overweight tourists.

On "my" lake in Fallanden, Switzerland they prohibit motors. Only the life-guard and the ferry boat can have one. There are still plenty of boats on the lake. One might think that Switzerland is richer and they can well afford to make rules for its tourists, but I do not think that such rules will turn a significant number of tourists away especially if people are educated about the problems that motor boats cause.

Edward and the Sea
Under the trees
I wonder if David and Edward will like fishing when they grow up. Perhaps we'll only be catching virtual fish by then, and all the meat will be grown in the lab without a brain or soul. By then I would be conversing with my computer who will answer back and provide meaningful advice, and my children will be busy with beautiful women and hopefully some children of their own.