Sunday, 21 January 2018

Indoor Sunday

Another rainy day here, with two dozen people for the Sunday Eucharist. Afterwards I spoke with the elder sister of a teenager who's started singing in the choir. They're from Bulgaria. The lad is still in school, but his sister who's been here longer, has run her own restaurant in Montreux, and is now setting up a new business to import niche market food and drink products from back home, aware of the growing interest in traditional hand crafted products in Western Europe. It's good to meet a young entrepreneur in tune with contemporary interests.

After a leisurely lunch and siesta I was ready to go out for a stroll, but rain persisted, so I stayed in did some writing, and listened to a BBC local radio webcast in which the release of Kath and Anto's new Sonrisa album 'From Today' was mentioned and a track from it played for the first time. Clare has been in Kenilworth looking after Rhiannon this weekend and she returned home with the album CD. I greatly look forward to hearing this when I return in ten days time, as the track broadcasted was a beautiful piece of music. craftsmanship. It makes me very proud.

I watched another episode of McMafia, summarised in a quote I read somewhere as 'English toffs and the Russian underworld'. Oh really? Well maybe. I can't quite suspend disbelief, although I can accept how complex is the web of international financial trading within which criminal enterprises hide, and how it's possible to snoop on people, know just where they are in this interconnected world, and do nasty things to them. But surely this applies to crime fighters as well as criminals. Can crooks really do bad things, so often with impunity? Is it true that law enforcement world wide is so under-funded that it's unable to keep track, so their adversaries are always one jump ahead?

There was an interesting 'File on Four' radio programme this afternoon about criminal organisations which issue fake university degree certificates, to people who want to buy professional qualification credentials they think will do them some good in the job market. As if this isn't lucrative enough, perpetrators turn to extortion and blackmail of clients, threatening to expose them to authorities and cost them their jobs and maybe residence permits unless they pay extra. 

It makes use of thousands of websites, and uses VOIP telephone contact with enquirers which can spoof caller i/d, and ensure the real life location of the scammers is very hard for non-experts to trace. It's just like the people who ring up and tell you they're from TalkTalk, troubleshooting your compromised internet router, using real phone numbers gleaned from a hack of the company subscriber database a couple of years back. These new technologies are very capable, but have made crime and deception possible on a mass scale, and internationally, in a way few thought possible at the turn of the 21st century.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Ascending Sion

This afternoon, I took the train to Sion the capital of the Canton du Valais. It's one of Switzerland's oldest Christian centres. St Theodule, the Apostle of the Vaiais began evangelisation at Martigny, an already established Roman trading post. In 589, his episcopal successor moved the mission up the Rhone valley to settlement, subsequently called Sion, as there are two steep rocky promontories in the river plain, places for refuge from hostile tribes. 

Both promontories are surmounted by fortified buildings, the ruins of the 13th century Chateau de Tourbillon are on top of one, and on the other is the Basilica of our Lady of Valère the site of the original 12th century Cathedral and Bishop and Canons' residences. At the foot of the promontories is the well preserved 14th-15th century old town, where today's Cathedral, diocesan and episcopal headquarters are located. Next to the Cathedral is another 14-15th century church built in honour of St Theodule.

It started snowing not long after I got off the train and it snowed for the rest of my visit. It was just above freezing, so the snow was rather wet, making photography challenging. The old town is about a kilometre from the station, then there's a long steep climb to the summit of Valère. It's about 100 metres above the valley floor. I had difficulty finding the access road at first, but followed a steep unpaved footpath. When the snow began to persist underfoot, I lost my nerve and turned back. Then, I found the turning I'd missed and resumed the ascent, and reached the car park just where the rugged footpath emerged. At least I benefited from the extra exercise.

The Cathedral is enclosed by defensive walls. The out-buildings have become a museum celebrating five thousand years of human habitation in the Valais. The 11th century choir and sanctuary are out of bounds at the moment as a major restoration is under way, and just the nave is visitable. High on the west wall of the nave is the world famous organ, whose innards are said to date from 1430. The case looks as if it's more modern, however. I look forward to returning and making the climb on a future occasion, when the weather is better and the restoration completed.

The highlight of the evening again was another double episode of 'Engrenages / Spiral' on BBC Four. It never disappoints. So glad the telly here has several UK Freeview channels, having to sit through all ten episodes on catch-up TV when I return would be an emotional endurance exercise.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Another welcome guest

Last night, Clare told me a renewal notice hard arrived in the mail from the DVLA regarding my driving license. After 70 you have to renew every three years and formally register any new health issues. It's three years already since I received my photo-card license replacement. How time flies! 

So, this morning, I went on-line to the DVLA website and went through the renewal form. I am now obliged to declare my use of specs for driving. Even though I can still read a number plate correctly at the prescribed twenty metres, most of the time, I suffer from eye strain driving without them at night, and notice sometimes that my eyes are sometimes slower to focus sharply as well, so better safe than sorry, in matters of driving confidence. 

Keeping a set of specs to use in the car, as opposed to always remembering to carry them is the next thing I have to organise, when I get home. Meanwhile, with help from Owain, I need to give the DVLA feedback about the default typeface size of its registration form, which is rather small for older eyes, in contrast to mainstream web interfaces. The hunt for the right channel is under way. Getting in touch with DVLA digitally or otherwise is a rather elusive business, it seems.

Archdeacon Adele is meeting with the St John's Church Council this evening to explain and plan the recruitment process for a another Chaplain. The idea of sharing a priest with Lausanne Chaplaincy has been abandoned and understandably so. Apart from logistic issues entailed, there are bound to be recruitment difficulties, as Lausanne already works in pastoral partnership with the Old Catholic disaspora in the region, so the successful priest needs to be a fluent or bilingual French speaker. Finding a priest to match, and meet Montreux's needs as well isn't practicable.

Adele arrives early enough for us a have a meal and a chat together, so I went into town and bought some white fish to cook. This I poached in a creamy mushroom with almond sauce, and was pleased with the result. It's a long late journey home to Murten in the Canon of Fribourg for her afterwards, with train changes involved. Midnight would be the earliest she'd arrive, if not one in the morning. It's hard to imagine what it must have been like when Switzerland and Italy were one Archceaconry with the incumbent priest based in Milan. Adele took on the role in retirement, and with just eight chaplaincies, it keeps her quite busy. She has my admiration.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

News from abroad

I was delighted to welcome my friend Valdo here this morning. He'd come ready to go out a walk, but we had another wet and windy day that made the prospect unattractive, so we stayed in and we talked, drank tea and ate together for seven straight hours - church, politics, computing, and since his retirement, he's acquired a taste for bird watching, and avian photography with his new Lumix TZ DMC 101 camera. It was great to share enthusiasms again, especially as he is learning how to identify all the different aquatic birds that live or overwinter on or around the lake. He let me take a copy of a multi lingual glossary of lake bird species, an invaluable asset for talking with others out in the field, if the occasion arises. We're hoping the weather will pick up again next week and allow us to take a walk together. That would be a great delight.

Finally, a week after it was posted by Clare, a packet of Mistletoe herb tea arrive in the mailbox. It's something I've been trying out over the past month or so, to see if it has any impact on my blood pressure, which doesn't seem to be impacted by the standard regular medication I am compelled to take by my anxious doctors. Since I lost a stone in weight, I've felt generally fit and well, and my quality of life has improved, so long as I pace myself, prepare and rest well after intense activity. It is a bit of a mystery, but I don't see why I should impair my existence with unnecessary worry.

This evening, Rev Doreen, Curate of St George's Malaga phone to discuss plans she is developing for Confirmation preparation groups of adults and children, while I'm there on locum duty. Bishop David visits on Ascension Eve. It's a great opportunity to share in catechetical ministry, especially with adults. The group consists of Nigerian migrants, many of whom are from different church backgrounds and have never been confirmed, although the are regular attenders. For most of them their first language is Ibo, their second  is everyday Spanish and English is their third, and few of them are well educated. It's going to be a very special kind of challenge to work with them, and I'm looking forward to it immensely.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Weathering wnter

This last few days the weather has been unusually bad, overcast with rain and winds driving up the lake, producing white crested waves from time to time. I've walked each day into town to shop for food, but not felt inclined to spend much more time outdoors. 

Tuesday afternoon Monica invited a small group of us to her house above Fontanivet for afternoon coffee and cake, and a discussion about matters of faith and discipleship which emerge for daily life. It's meant to be a bible study, and while we refer to biblical themes, getting around to consulting scripture is a more elusive task. It seems to me that often what people need to wrestle with is clarifying the questions confronting them and need to take to a study of scripture.

This set me off remembering and telling about the Geneva adult Christian education programme established before my time as Chaplain there, and apparently still continuing today - The Atelier Oecumenique de Théologie. This two year course invites participants to set the agenda for learning and enquiry, identify together the issues of faith, and then explore them from whatever angle will help discussion and understanding. Participants develop their own expertise, as well as being helped by the course facilitators, and over the course of time, it covers everything you'd expect a course of Christian catechesis to cover, though not necessarily in any expected order. 

I think this is what reliance on the Spirit of Truth leading us into all Truth really means. I'd love to be with a group of learners for long enough to work with this experimental educational model, but as I don't settle in any community for long enough these days, the opportunities are no longer there. Inevitably, old age is full of hindsight!

This morning, none of the regulars were able to come for the midweek BCP Holy Communion, but a celebration was nevertheless possible because a lady who used to attend regularly who now lives the other side of Lausanne arrived, having come on one of the less than frequent trains which stop at Territet gare. There's something to be said for being there and available in case of the unexpected arrival of someone who wants to worship, even if this happens only very occasionally. Being a priest is about having the time to be available, opening and listening, even if most often its a matter of just being there listening to God, listening for God.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

A special calling

There were two dozen of us for the Sunday Eucharist. We learned that Natalya, the homeless young woman who found us in church last Sunday is staying in a mountain holiday chalet, and likely to stay there a while, as she still cannot decide what she wants to do next or where she wants to go. It's still unclear what more can be done to help her, until she makes up her mind. Will a time of solitude free from pressure be fruitful? Or is she too accustomed to surviving in her own company for it to make a difference? It's hard to tell. At least she's in a safe place for now, and that's what matters.

After discussion with Clare and Church Warden Jane this morning, I've accepted an invitation to return here in August. We both love being here and would like to share time with Sister-in-Law Ann who had booked to come this time, but was too sick to travel, afflicted by the horrible 'flu that's killing people currently in Britain. I feel very much at ease ministering here. 

Although it's not as big and diverse a congregation as Geneva, it has many similar qualities of openness and diversity with several native Swiss English speakers among expats and visitors. It's a special place of welcome for people passing through very occasionally, or those who come and stay periodically, as well as residents. The church now seek a permanent chaplain, but cannot any longer afford a full time priest. I hope and pray that a person is found who can really value the qualities of this community and the special role it plays in the Christian witness to the people of this region, as well as to vastly greater numbers who pass through. Being a sign of stability and consistency in this changing world is a challenging vocation, at a time when many churches are made so vulnerable by ignorance, indifference and lack of support.


Saturday, 13 January 2018

Pêcheurs du Lac Léman

Although the square next to Montreux's market hall is now entirely clear of remaining construction material following the long slow dismantling of Christmas Market temporary structures, I noticed yesterday afternoon that the Market Hall itself was still host to several temporary structures, so I went across and investigated what was there, and discovered a patinoire had been set up under cover of its permanent wrought iron structure. 

This particular skating rink was unlike one I'd ever seen before with a smooth polymer surface, on which ordinary ice skates could be used. Wearing safety gloves was an obligatory requirement to avoid unpleasant injuries. I know artificial indoor ski slopes have existed for the past half century, and I remember their polymer surface resembled a carpet of fine bristles, though that had probably become more sophisticated with the passage of time. It would certainly be cheaper to run than one with an ice surface, and especially in a milder winter lakeside climate. Towns and villages higher up in the mountains can rely on averagely lower temperatures to make maintenance of an ice surfaced rink cost effective. It's seven years or so now since I last tried ice skating with the grandchildren. I wasn't tempted to try this alternative, as I feel over protective towards my knee joints these days, and the same for skiing too, which I used to love. 

Walking into town alongside the lake, I noticed for the first time a motorboat off-shore equipped with a couple of lightweight mechanical hoisting devices. I could hear the whine of battery powered motors clearly across the water. A couple of fishermen were out inspecting nets and collecting their catch. This made me think of Valdo's son-in-law is a lake fisherman, based near Nyon. Earning a living entirely from catching lake fish is becoming increasingly difficult, due to scarcity, which has much to do with climate change. The waters down at the shallower west end of Lac Leman are warmer than they used to be, which is not so favourable for the lake fish to breed. Waters at the east end of the lake are deeper, and that much colder, in the vicinity where the Rhone flows into it. It's said to take more than eleven years for Rhone water to enter and exit the lake.

Today, I walked up the lake to Villeneuve, the small town at the end of the lake beyond the Chateau de Chillon, which developed in the 12th-13th centuries at the same time as the Chateau. It has a fine Parish Church of the same age, dedicated to St Paul, whose architecture reflects the influence and Cistercian monasticism in this region. There are a couple of long straight streets of old houses with many and varied small shops and cafes, giving it the feel of a village. New housing areas stretch up vineyard covered slopes overshadowed by Vaudois Alpine peaks. It has a lakeside beach and boating marina, plus a working railway station, and easy access to the autoroute. A very desirable place to live, with the tourism hot-spots of Montreux and Vevey a convenient distance away. I bet it's very expensive to buy a house there too!

Beyond the marina there's a short length of canal, which carries excess water from a reservoir called Lac de l'Hongrin 870 metres up in the Prealpes Vaudois. This is home to several small boats, among them, those used by lake fishermen, plus 'La Demoiselle', a distinctive traditional barque lémanique sail boat of the kind used on the lake for centuries, to ferry heavy cargo in the age before steamships. Geneva has the barque 'Neptune' similar to Villeneuve's, and Lausanne has 'La Vaudoise'. There are five altogether, two of them in France voisine. These have been restored and can be seen out and about in good weather.
Along the banks of the canal are a series of privately owned wooden holiday chalets. One of them serves as a land base for the lake fishermen. 
The cost of a locally sourced fish for a favourite regional dish is an eye-watering £46 a kilo, which reflects both real scarcity and increased demand. I understand that much of the produce consumed here is imported coming from Irish or Eastern European lakes.

The road behind the line of chalets leads into la réserve naturelle des Grangettes. It's a large wetland conservation area which stretches across the valley floor, with the Rhone running through it into the lake, and the only one of its kind hereabouts. 

This is a region where migratory species find a respite during long continental journeys, or where they over-winter and breed. I walked a short distance into the reserve and climbed the 20m high wooden observation town. In the field below was a group of half a dozen bird-watchers, with telescopes and cameras, all facing a particular corner for a while before moving on. What they were looking at, or looking for? I wondered. There wasn't much avian activity while I was in the tower, probably the wrong time of day, so I climbed down and set off to walk back to Territet. As I reached the road out of the reserve I briefly saw what I believe was a black heron in flight, said to be a visitor to the  reserve - sheer luck! Also amazing, was to see a roadside hazel tree festooned with catkins, in the middle of January. It was a splendid outing in excellent conditions, a walk of just 9km from the church. Now I've seen Villenuve, next time, I'll take the bus and walk for much longer in the nature reserve. It's bound to be rewarding.

The highlight of the evening, yet again was another double episode of Parisien crimmie 'Engrenage/ Spiral'. Full of socks, twists and turns, it never fails to hold the attention. Even if its revelations are on times distressing and sordid, this feels truthful and not overdone. In the nasty world of crooks and cops, everyone is flawed, compromised or hurting in some way, and seeing justice done is a real struggle, against oneself as well as adversaries.