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.
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.
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.