Weaving at Ballenberg

By Adriana Adarve – Owner of Adarve Translations & Donnamarie Leemann – Head of Marketing at Adarve Translations

Ballenberg, Switzerland. Aerial View
Ballenberg, Switzerland. Aerial View

Ballenberg is the Swiss Open Air Museum. Specialized, period buildings have been taken apart stone by stone, moved to Ballenberg near the Brienzersee, and have been reassembled and restored in great detail, at equally great cost. The interiors are outstanding. They are historically correct down to the boots and coats in the entry way, the dishes in the kitchen, the chamber pots in the bedrooms. The furnishings and decorations are perfect.

The Swiss Confederation was created in 1291 A.D. The Swiss have a long and proud history. At the same time, many Swiss are on the cutting edge of micro-technology and information technology and do not appreciate their tax francs being “squandered” on historical reconstructions.

I have a rather different perspective. I started out in Los Angeles County, which pretty much doesn’t have any history apart from the tiny enclave of Olvera Street.

Ballenberg fascinates me.  I live in Canton Neuchâtel, most of which is a wine-growing region down on the plain. (I myself live at altitude on a Jura mountain where the economy used to be based on bees, cheese and trees, until the advent of horology). An ancient vintner’s house was moved to Ballenberg and, though the climate there isn’t conducive to viticulture, they do manage to produce some wine. There is an Apotheke (the fore-runner of a pharmacy) from the Swiss-German part of Switzerland that has a garden where the herbs used in traditional Swiss medicine are grown and processed in the Apotheke.

There are a lot of animals in Ballenberg: work horses, dairy cows, wool-producing sheep. The sheep’s wool is sheared in the traditional manner, washed, twisted, spun and woven. All the methods, all the tools, are true to ancient traditions.

Ballenberg is not a “Theme Park” in the way that Colonial Williamsburg is. It is a living continuation of old traditions, a preservation of those traditions. Products as different as lace and charcoal are made there on a daily basis. There is a smoke house that is actually filled with smoke, with sausages and hams and haunches of beef hanging from the ceiling. (If you are vegetarian or asthmatic you should avoid the smoke house.)

Perhaps my favorite place in Ballenberg is a traditional Bernese farm house. I’d seen pictures of traditional Bernese farm houses before I visited Ballenberg, and I was puzzled by them. A big room with a fire place, a cupboard (in the early sense of the term: an open piece of furniture upon which cups were hung on a board) and a basic table with primitive chairs. A lot of empty room in the room.

There’s a medium-sized centuries-old black cauldron over the fire. An old man is cooking up yellow pea soup in the big old pot. When you walk in he nods towards the long, rough table in a gruff invitation for you to sit down. He smiles as he serves you a big bowl of hot yellow pea soup. The soup is delicious. The man doesn’t speak. There is no charge. There is a small bowl in the middle of the table with a few coins in it. If you add a few coins, the old man smiles again. If you ask him just what the place is and what he is doing there, he will give you a detailed history of agriculture and family life in Canton Bern in centuries past. He is not a tour guide or a public relations representative. He just cooks pea soup in an old cauldron explains the history of what he’s doing if you bother yourself to ask him.

Walking up the hill to the next restored period structure, I don’t think of the gruff, kindly old man who gave me the hot pea soup that warmed me up, filled my belly and gave me the nourishment I needed to make it up the next hill in the enormous park that is Ballenberg.

Waeving al Ballenberg. Weaving cloth is much easier than weaving together different linguistic strings—or separating them if that’s what’s needed.
Weaving at Ballenberg

I think about linen and wool. I think about how much work it took to turn linen into lace and wool into warm clothing. The hours spent twisting little wooden thread-wound spools over pins to create gorgeous lace, the hours spent spinning and weaving the wool that protected one from the very harsh climate where that wool was worn.

The folks who work the gates at Ballenberg are multi-lingual. Once in the heart of the park, away from the ticket-takers and food-stands, you are handicapped it you don’t speak Swiss-German. Some of the labels are multi-lingual, many are not. Some of the workers and docents are multi-lingual; again, many are not.

In the end, it doesn’t matter. Once you get in tune with the place, language becomes superfluous. There is living history before your very eyes. That’s the point of the place. A little old man sitting on an antique stool restoring ancient footwear. Women sitting in front of a fountain washing and pulling wool. A young man in a barn fitting a new hand-made leather ensemble on to a beloved horse.

I love the idea of the weaving. A thread that goes this way, a shuttle that goes that way, a touch of the foot pedal—whoompf—that presses them together. Then repeat, and repeat.

Language and understanding progresses in much the same way. One has all the conventional threads on the loom. One passes the shuttle through the threads, touches the foot pedal and brings the strings together to form a beautiful and strong piece of fabric, of communication.

Weaving cloth is much easier than weaving together different linguistic strings—or separating them if that’s what’s needed. Here are some strings that don’t quite manage to tie up: (I’m supplying French strings because English and French are all I know well; and Adriana will supply some Spanish strings).

In French, a “woman” is une femme and a man is un homme. The word femme also means “wife.” How does one differentiate between “a woman” and “a wife”? The possessive pronoun is the key. “Une femme” could be the lady who serves you a coffee in a restaurant. “Ma femme” means “my woman,” or “my wife.” On the other hand, a woman never refers to her husband as “mon homme.” He is her “mari,” her husband, the person to whom she is married  That these terms are still used in the French language is a reflection of the continuing lack of equality between men and women in that language and in that culture.

In Spanish, a “woman” is una mujer and a man is un hombre. Mujer can also mean wife in certain parts of the Spanish-speaking world, though it is not necessarily used as such by all; and, the differentiation between “a woman” and “a wife” in those places which use it as both is the same as in French, that is, by use of the possessive noun, “mu mujer” meaning “my woman” or “my wife.”

There are many other, less personal, disconnects in the weaving of languages between cultures. In French, “jamais” means both “never” and ever. Tornadoes are rare in France. Recently, after a tornado tore through a French village, and elderly man said that the tornado was “la plus bizarre chose que je n’ai jamais vu.” Translated literally, the man said it was the most bizarre thing that he ever or never saw. Very confusing for a non-francophone.

Similarly, Francophones are confused when Anglophones say, “I never, ever, saw anything like that.” Know that, in English, “never” and “ever” are opposite concepts, the Francophone thinks “Which is it, Never or Ever?” The Francophone doesn’t understand that the “ever” that follows the “never” emphasizes the rarity of the event. They get even more confused when it comes to Spanish since we have “jamás,” “nunca” y “antes.” For example, in Spanish, we would say “nunca antes ví algo así” and, in the future tense, “nunca jamás volveré a ver algo así.”

Switzerland is surrounded by France, Italy, Germany and Austria (we often forget about little Lichtenstein). Unlike most of our neighbors, we Swiss don’t have a colonial or imperial past to reconcile. I freely admit that we get rather complacent about our steadfastly neutral past. We can examine that past in detail without pausing to consider any earlier colonial mistakes (except perhaps for certain aggressions committed by Canton Graubünden in what is now northern Italy, but that’s another blog).

In the end, I think it’s a good thing that the Swiss have created a place like Ballenberg in order to preserve their perspective on their past. Remember, this is me, the former California girl, speaking here. I never really had a past when I was a Californian—California’s past dates back to the Gold Rush of the 1850’s (which Gold Rush was started by a Swiss, Johann—aka John—Sutter).  I celebrate Ballenberg for preserving the past of this tiny little land, a past that dates back to 1291 A.D. and before.

I also celebrate Adarve Translations ability to comprehend archaic cultural positions, modern manifestations, and to weave the past and the present into a rational whole.

Yeah, yeah, Adriana, I know that most of the business of Adarve Translations has to do with technical and medical translations, et al, and that my musings on historical and cultural subjects might largely be beside the point to Adarve Translations bread-and-butter clients, though not so much for Adriana herself, who is a history junky and spends her free time reading as many historical accounts, in the form of excellently written novels, as she can get her hands on.

But it is important that our clients understand the breadth of our knowledge and have confidence in Adarve Translations’ perspective, and in our detailed understanding of our ability to translate the nuances of obscure and different facets in the material that is presented to us.

You GO girl, and the Adarve Translations team with you.

If I don’t send you my next blog in good time it’ll be because I’ve gone back to Ballenberg for a few days and other long walks and doses of living history.

A bientôt and all the best,

Donnamarie Leemann, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, & Adriana Adarve, Asheville, NC


Adriana Adarve is the owner of Adarve Translations and is fluent in three languages (English, Spanish & French), as well as pluri-cultural, multi-cultural, plurilingual and multilingual.
Adriana Adarve
Donnamarie Leemann is an artist and writer who has for many years contributed to the BBC and to many other public forums, and who collaborates at present with Adarve Translations as Head of Marketing.
Donnamarie Leemann

About the Authors: Adriana Adarve is the owner of Adarve Translations and is fluent in three languages (English, Spanish & French), as well as pluri-cultural, multi-cultural, plurilingual and multilingual. Donnamarie Leemann is an artist and writer who has for many years contributed to the BBC and to many other public forums, and who collaborates at present with Adarve Translations as Head of Marketing.

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Published by Adriana Adarve

I’m Adriana Adarve, a multilingual, plurilingual, multicultural and pluricultural English to Spanish freelance translator. My primary interests—besides my passion for languages—are in science, chemistry, and medicine. That is the reason why I concentrate on medical, scientific and technical translations. I am also passionate about cultural diversity, which means that my translations always take into account my clients’ culture, as well as that of the audience for which the translations are intended.

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