Un mélange des cultures


And I thought Genève left me breathless. Nyon, built on a hill overlooking the aforementioned lake, across which one can see the shores of France (today represented by rolling green hillsides on the foot of the aforementioned mountains and dotted with small towns and their chapels’ steeples) KNOCKS THE WIND OUT OF ME. As you can see, I’ve been thinking in run-ons lately. That’s what happens when life plops me down in a place I’ve imagined a million times, and suddenly voilà, there I am, a part of the landscape of my imagination, incarnate. Today, I ate lunch on the steps of the seven hundred year-old Château de Nyon.


Whoever said the Swiss are straight-laced has another thought coming. Oui, une autre pensée viendra. This evening in the dappled shade of a grapevine-covered pergola, a beautiful group of people played their souls through the native music of their home, Capo Verde, a culturally rich but resource-desolate African island nation. While it is beautiful, Capo Verde is a home from which they left, years ago, looking for their opportunities that had fled long before they had the courage to do so. Because of their courage, the beautiful and culturally diverse inhabitants of Geneva – myself included – had the honor to hear them play this evening, amid children cavorting, some smiling women cooking, and many happy people dancing. Quel spectacle.

Thanks to my wonderful maman d’acceuil, Nanda, I am learning (and relearning) an abundance of new and old French words. Les orties, used in a soup with potatoes that I bravely took a bowl of this evening, are stinging nettles! Little did we know, not only are they edible but also very healthy…and they make a good soup! I learned from another American living in Switzerland (who saw me hesitantly eyeing la soupe aux pommes de terre et les orties) that Swiss food is never spicy, so no need to worry about unexpectedly taking a bite of something trop piquant. As Nanda and I drive along the French-Swiss border, I read the road signs to myself, and today I realized the word vignoble was on a number of the signs – it means vineyard, so I’m glad I can finally identify that which my eyes can see for miles. Finally, a word that I have always known but failed to remember this morning – la poubelle. Maybe it’s an effort to prevent disgracing the country’s beauty with something so awful, or perhaps it is because no Swiss person would ever dream of littering, but Switzerland seems to be very good at hiding its trash cans.


Et finalement, j’arrive


Lac Léman, peacefully laid between two majestic mountain ranges, rocks its city to sleep at night. The largest lake in Switzerland, and one of the deepest in the world, what Americans call Lake Geneva stretches for miles throughout one of the many fingers of Switzerland that extend themselves into southwest France. Having strung those beautifully simple patio lights that create a warm yellow glow along the length of its lakeshore, Geneva reveres the water in all of its turquoise blue glory. With the famous Jet d’Eau visible from most points in the city, the beautiful snow-water lake is omnipresent. This evening during a soft pink dusk, I swam in that lake’s grandeur.

Old churches. Heavy scents of centuries of believers and non-believers alike sitting on those creaky wooden pews, turning the pages of the same story over and over again, permeate even the echoes of feet on the cool stone floor. Upon walking into a sixteenth century cathedral, I feel as if for five hundred plus years it has been waiting to welcome me with open arms. And I’m hardly religious. While I have to believe that there’s a greater presence dictating some figment of fairness and justice throughout the universe, that we’re not all just pawns in a giant game of chess with no players, I know that religion can be a lifeboat, and lifeboats cause problems. But despite all that, I walk into a cathedral so old I can barely grasp the terms of its survival, and something makes me feel like I’ve come home again. John Calvin changed the course of history, and I sat in proof of it today, simultaneously praying to something for some sort of equity in the world, and hoping the cracked blisters on the backs of my heels will repair themselves before my next walking tour of magnificence.

Genève takes my breath away.