Tuesday, 30 April 2013


Life is funny.  Our vagabond life has blessed us with the joy of visiting many places and we have found the beauty in every one of them.  Some have been "great to visit but couldn't see us living there" (you know where you are), some are fanciful (hello Carmel where I own a book shop, and C2 and J manage a self-sustaining farm with lots of animals...), some spark the imagination (hello Paris pied-a-terre in the 1ere arrondissement...) but one, yes, one still resonates so strongly with sentimentality for me that I occasionally feel sick with longing to return.  That place was Switzerland.

When we left Geneva two and a half years ago, non-French speaking American friends of ours were in the complex throes of returning to Switzerland following a return to the U.S. for some months.  They quit their job, packed up their two small kids and just came back no-immediate-employment -opportunity be damned.  We all admired their desire to chase a dream but I never fully understood their intense and unequivocal conviction that there was no where else they would rather live.

I am sure that the benefit of perspective has dimmed some of the more challenging moments of being North American and living in the land of organisation and quiet Sundays: no shops open on Sundays, all shops close by 6:00pm, no noise on Sundays, reserved neighbours (though we had the best, hello Ioli and Gilles). 

In the few years since our arrival in Australia, we have busied ourselves here and have loved it.  We love the climate, the beaches and ocean, the palm trees, the beautiful European neighbourhoods with all of the conveniences of North America, and the very very wonderful friends we have made and who have embraced us with open arms.  So life has carried on, as it should.  We have explored our new country, and put down roots again.  Then a few weeks ago along came a little show on our wonderful Australian public television station SBS called "The Culinary Adventures of Sarah Wiener in the Alps".  And I remembered in startling detail all that my heart has been missing.

We lived in a small Swiss village on the outskirts of Geneva where I walked J across a field to school which all of the village children attended.  From school, Murphy and I strolled down a garden lane through community gardens, pumpkins patches, and sunflower fields.  Oh those sunflower fields.

I would greet whomever I met during that walk with customary 3 kisses on alternating cheeks and an exchange of pleasantries.  Most weekends, we shared an apero with friends or neighbours.  An apero usually consisted of glasses of champagne, and divine slices of Valais air-dried beef.  The beef was sliced thin that it was near translucent, and was so tender and chewy, it practically melted in my mouth.

Sometimes, especially with our neighbours, Ioli and Gilles, this would be followed by a meal of Raclette which Gilles performed with the necessary dignity afforded this traditional dish of Switzerland and the Haute-Savoie region of France we bordered.  The wheel of Raclette cheese was mounted on a special heating device which melted small amounts of cheese at a time.  Gilles would ceremoniously sweep off the melted cheese and place it on one of our plates to be consumed with potatoes, cornichons,  more Valais air-dried beef, and a fruity local Gamay red wine.  It was the most pleasure on a plate I have ever experienced. 

Often on weekends, we would drive into the Haute-Savoie to ski or hike, or into the canton de Valais for lunch, or into the countryside in our own canton de Geneve to visit friends.  In most cases, we were surrounded by the majestic Alps, with wide mountain meadows where the sound of cow bells rang loud.  Most free roaming cows in the Swiss Alps still wear those beautiful large bells and their sound is seductive. If we were really lucky, we might catch the distant sound of an Alpenhorn being blown.

 I think every mountain village in Switzerland and the Haute-Savoie must be  sprinkled with some time- and heart-stopping fairy dust.  They are as exquisite as you can possibly imagine: chalet-style architecture, window boxes spilling over with colourful geraniums, vineyards surrounding the villages, and the town center always containing the requisite boulangerie (bakery), boucherie (butcher), and fromagerie (cheese shop).  Every morsel of baguette from the thousands we consumed during our time there was perfection.  Every pain au chocolate or croissant sublime.

Each September would herald the recolte or harvest of grapes and sunflowers, and squash.  The fields all around us would fill with workers, and the wine domaines would throw open their doors for "caves ouvertes" days.  Opportunities to visit the vineyards, chat with the wine makers, wine taste, and sit down at long communal tables for wine, sausages, raclette, and conversation.

There are a thousand other details that play on my heart from making some of the most profound friendships in my life, to skiing, to church bells and markets, to gardening, to Geneva itself, to being an hour flight to London and my oldest friend, to being drunk on the beauty constantly around me; but probably it was mostly about J being small and all ours in a magical world, that I am sure contributes to my longing for that time and place.

Monday, 15 April 2013

My Island in the.....Rain

It's been a full-on couple of weeks.  The twenty-somethings trouped out and north to the Sunshine Coast to try-on living/working/travelling for a few weeks.  My trouper of a mum, trouped in from Canada trailing suitcases, smiles, and her dishwashing/laundry/dusting magic wand.

 A week or so later, we hustled her and ourselves onto a very early morning flight up to Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays region of tropical North Queensland.  It was J's Term 1 school break and we decided a beach holiday was on order.  Unfortunately, I forgot to order a side of sun with that beach.  I knew it was the end of the tropical wet season but annual charts predicted a bright and sunny week for the second week of April - ugh WRONG!

Hamilton Island is a small resort island off the coast of Mackay a little south of Cairns at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef.  It's a hot, humid, and tropical part of Australia blessed with beautiful beaches and lush rainforest.  With a permanent population of about 1,000, it's the most populated island in the chain of islands known as the Whitsundays.

Cat's Eye Beach

 In fairness, it was a beautiful hot day when we arrived at 9:30 in the morning, and we took full advantage of it.  We deposited mum in a beach chair under a Palm tree, and explored each of the island's seven pools, and wondered at the massive low-tide at Cat's Eye Beach leaving behind fascinating tide and rock pools.  We made plans to stand-up paddle-board, kayak, and snorkle off the beach when the tide returned later in the day.

Sulpher-crested Cockatoo

Golden Orb Spider

Pesky Lorikeet

There were many of Australia's most beautiful animls on the island, as the photos (gosh C2 is an awesome photog) demonstrate.  However, as with most of Australia's natural wonders, there is always a "gotcha".  In the case, the charming creature known as the "Irukandji jellyfish".  This jellyfish is about the size of my thumb nail with lethal tentacles about a meter long.  They have been increasingly wandering into the warm coastal waters of North Queensland and have been spotted recently in the Whitsundays.

A flock of Cockatoos having a go at J's coconut

The next day dawned grey and cloudy; mum and I immediately booked passage on a catamaran trip out to the far side of Whitsunday Island to Whitehaven Beach, voted the most beautiful in Australia.  By the time, we boarded our boat at 1:00pm, the rain arrived, and.it.POURED.  It bucketed down sheets of torrential rain.  Whilst bouncing through the waves, we got chatting with one of the staff who promised us that "it never rains at Whitehaven...", "ya alright" we sceptically thought.  Well, he was right, the clouds parted like some heavenly intervention and we spent a beautiful afternoon at this beach where the sand has such a high content of silica that it literally squeaks when you walk on it.

Whitehaven Beach

Hamilton Island view from One Tree Hill - the highest point on the island

Other than another half-day of intermittent sun and cloud, the weather for the remainder of our week was a steady hot downpour.  It spite of the weather, we occupied ourselves with books, food, glow-in-the-dark mini golf, food, visits to a small wildlife center, food, exploring the lovely island by golf buggy, laughing at the antics of bold Cockatoos and grumpy Lorikeets, and more food.

Doesn't  he look like a natural sailor?

On the afternoon of our final day, C2 and I researched the sailing school options out of the Whitsundays and are giving very serious consideration to doing a 5 day live-on-the-boat sailing school in the Spring (our October)...with J.  Check back in October!