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.


Jen said...

Well, I've always looked at your life with a large dose of envy, I'll admit, but I'm also glad at times for my roots. It must be hard leaving behind such places, not just for their beauty but for the people, the rituals and the other parts that make life rich. Sending hugs!

Elizabeth said...

That's a beautiful homage to a truly wondrous country. As you know my husband is Swiss -- he would probably counter your paean with some grumbling about conformity, rigidity, etc. I often wonder what it would be like to move there myself, but I'm put off by not knowing the language and, to tell you the truth, snow! Fields of sunflowers I could take, but not the snow!

Katie Hayoz said...

Switzerland misses you, too!

DL NELSON said...

I agree with Katie...

And even though I'm sitting in Corsier at the moment I felt "homesick" looking at the photos. And I still miss Mighty Mom...by the way I was thinking of you this morning because my daughter is doing the half marathon Sunday.

Maybe someday you'll all be transferred back here...we can dream can't we????

DL NELSON said...

Hmmm did the proof wrong and message disappeared.

I agree with Katie... Sitting in Corsier and looking at the photos almost made me homesick and I'm here. One of my fantasies is the Mighty Mom et. al. will get transferred back here. I'll add you to that fantasy.

I did think of you this morning. My daughter is running the Geneva half Marathon on Sunday.

Anonymous said...

Love murphy's photo bomb! We miss you too.
Sher xx

Sheila Cook said...

Oh I am so homesick for you to be back in that lovely, lovely place you lived in Switzerland and to be back close to me. Man oh man but you have painted a perfect picture of that life and sure enough - it was pretty perfect. I feel really blessed that I got to experience some of that magical place with you. Come back anytime - we will welcome you with wide open arms!!!

Melissa Miller said...

It did have a dreamy quality, those years abroad. Glad to have shared it with good friends or I might not believe it ever happened.