Heureuse comme une vache suisse!
(Happy as a Swiss Cow!)
Chateau de Gruyeres
Before you jump to conclusions, the cow reference has nothing to do with any pounds I may have put on with the increased quantities of bread, cheese and wine I've been consuming here in France since August! Rather, I'm referring to the multitude of cows I saw during my 24-hour
blur of a visit to bucolic Lausanne and environs. I don't speak Cow, of course, and I didn't get up close and personal with any of them, but as they grazed so calmly in those green, green pastures, the ubiquitous bells hung around their necks clanging gently, they gave an impression of peace and contentedness. True, they've got to submit to some farmer fondling their udders and I'm supposing that's no fun, but in the scheme of things, at least they're being raised for milk and cheese, as opposed to steak.
By the way, it's not every day a city girl like me gets to use the word bucolic, yet I can think of no better way to describe my visit to the Lausanne area. I was there, incidentally, for a very specific reason: to meet the woman who got me into all this (this being my three-month "sabbatical from life" in Paris). If you've been following my story all along, you know that Daniela, my life coach, lives in Lausanne. Given the relative proximity of Paris to Lausanne, we naturally had to meet live and in person.
So it was that last Wednesday morning I found myself on the late morning TGV hurtling toward Switzerland. The timing of the trip--one year to the day Daniela sent me her coaching proposal--was entirely coincidental, but it did feel like the universe was italicizing for emphasis. Normally, I'm not one who inclines toward the spiritual or the cosmic, but there was an instant ease and comfort between Daniela and I that she theorized may mean we already knew one another in another life. Reincarnation is not my jam, but who knows? We'd had six coaching sessions together via video, sessions that by definition dug into some of the deeper things in life, but when we met in person for the first time, it felt more like old friends seeing one another again after an extended absence.
After hugs of greeting at the train station, there was no time to lose! Daniela is a bundle of energy and she was determined to show me as much as she could of Lausanne and environs before we had to return to the station same time, next day. Off we went, then, to have a quick bite at a Vietnamese restaurant and spend a bit of time walking around downtown Lausanne. The city is located on Lake Geneva--the French-speaking part of Switzerland--though of course, the country is not part of the European Union, so I couldn't buy that emergency snack at the train station with my euros. I can assure you, this was the first time I have ever put a Snickers bar on my credit card!
In downtown Lausanne, we wandered along cobblestone pathways and through an expansive plaza as Daniela pointed out the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) and the Fountaine de la Justice at the place de la Palud. The sparsely peopled streets were dotted with high-end boutiques and cafes and everything was extremely clean! Next, we made our way up 13th century stone steps (les Escaliers du Marche), up and up, to the Cathedral of Notre Dame of Lausanne. It was at the top of that hill that my eyes got their first taste (not counting what I spied out the train windows) of the gorgeous vistas I was going to be drinking in for the next day. My iPhone camera was already getting a workout, and this turned out to be just the warmup.
Besides Daniela, a bonus treat of this visit was the opportunity to reconnect with a writer friend whom I'd met at the Sirenland Writers Conference in Italy in 2014. Nancy also lives in Lausanne and is responsible for the introduction to Daniela. We travelled down the mountain to meet Nancy for a pre-dinner glass of wine at a picturesque restaurant bar overlooking Lake Geneva. Making the scene even more stunning, we were there in time for the sunset. (A shout-out to Nancy, who loaned me her jacket when she saw me shivering!)
Next on the agenda, the three of us were off to dinner at Cafe de la Poste in Lutry (section of Lausanne), where we all ate huge pots of moules (mussels) and salad and frites, which naturally went very well with the bottle of rose Nancy ordered. What a wonderful dinner this was--not just the food and wine, but there was the rare pleasure of relaxing at a cozy table with a friend I hadn't seen in several years while feeling energized by the new connection with Daniela.
I was staying the night at Daniela's and assumed we'd soon be going to bed when we got back since it was about 11:30, but I was so very wrong about that! Daniela opened two bottles of Italian wine (not to drink both--but rather to taste them) and we made ourselves comfy on her couch and stayed up talking until 4:30 am! What did we talk about all those hours? The better question would be, what didn't we talk about, because among our continually digressing conversation threads, we touched upon wine, movies, the French language, culture (American, French, Swiss, Romanian and Canadian!), her kitten, my dog, family (the good, the bad and the ugly)--and oh, life choices snuck in there, too. When at last I was nestling under the covers of a warm bed, her four-month-old kitten curled up beside me, I really hoped Daniela was kidding when she said we'd get up at seven because there was a lot she wanted to show me.
She was kidding. Phew! Still, we only had about four hours of sleep before we were off again--this time to visit the quaint medieval village of Gruyeres. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of cows here and cheese is definitely a big thing, but again, the centuries-old stone buildings and the cobblestone staircases and the scenic views beg to be appreciated, photographed, cherished. We visited the Chateau de Gruyeres, the second most visited castle in Switzerland, and you can just imagine the wonders to be found in a castle built in the 13th century. Our visit was somewhat quick (Daniela had another activity up her sleeve), but to see the bedrooms--that of the king, that of the princess--and the hearth where elaborate dinners were cooked, and the tapestries, and the knight's armor and three magnificent robes lavishly embroidered with coats of arms felt like falling into some King Arthur movie. This wasn't fiction, though; there were real knights and treasure chests and elaborately padlocked doors to hide from marauders--and it was all incredibly well preserved for us to marvel at more than eight centuries later.
Then came the best part of the day: the cable car ride up (and back down, of course) to Moleson-son-Gruyeres, Moleson being a mountain in the "pre-Alps" (is there a post-Alps, I wonder?). Surveying the mountain above us and the landscape falling away from us as the gondola made its steep and not-as-slow-as-you-might-think ascent up the 2002 meters to the summit of Moleson was thrilling. At the peak, there was a view that would need a much better writer than I to describe. It was as if we were standing on a high altar in the center of a grass-and-sky-colored country looking down at it fanning out all around us, except we were the worshippers. Around and downwards, that is, because we were much closer to the sky than I'm accustomed and I could feel the altitude in my head. Photos, photos and more photos! At some point, though, I had to peel the phone away from my face to feast an unobstructed gaze on the panoramic landscape, to breathe it in and try to sear it into my memory--because I knew the pictures (especially taken with a phone) would never come close to real-life.
Speaking of real life (ugh, must we?), that crafty Daniela had waited till we reached this "summit" to pose the faux-offhand question: So what happens after Paris? She might have at least waited till we had our soupe de la chalet and our bottle of wine in front of us! My well considered answer: Um, I don't know. At least it was honest. Because I really have no freaking idea. While Daniela's query was more direct, it nonetheless represented a continuation of a conversation I'd been having with my friend, Domenica, during her visit to me a few weeks ago as well.
I.don't.know. Did I think some answers would magically come to me while I was here in Paris for three months? Answers to how I could change my life in a way that (1) will facilitate my ability to fulfill my potential as a writer--however great or small that potential may be, and (2) will make me feel more generally content in and invigorated by my daily life. The most fundamental way to frame it might be simply to ask how I'm going to live the life I want going forward? Stagnancy is not an option. This much I know. Yet, with exactly three weeks left in Paris, I don't feel any closer to having figured this out. No fairies have come along and waved a magic wand--or a winning lottery ticket--in my face. And the thing is, the answers are not going to come from the outside (though they could, and just for the record, I welcome that!). The answers are already inside me, except they're hiding behind a huge mountain (not a pre-Alp, but an actual Alp!), on a cold, cloudy, starless night, and they're terrified to come out lest they get stomped on or beaten or crushed and incinerated by a meteor falling from the sky.
Daniela looked like she actually expected some sort of answer from me, though, and I wanted to make light of it--because that is what I do. I imagined saying to her, "I don't know; you tell me (ha ha!)," but I only said the first part aloud and I think it's exactly what she was thought I would say. See, Daniela's a gardener. She plants seeds, administers some basic care and waits to see what will grow. Maybe those wary answers of mine will get hungry enough at some point to quell their fears long enough to tiptoe over and taste those plants.
In the meantime, we had exactly six minutes to eat giant bowls of vegetable-cheese soup meant for hale and hearty Alpine men before we caught the next gondola for our descent, which was a teensy bit scarier due to the gravity pitching our bodies forward, but every bit as exciting as the ascent had been. As we went down, my attention turned again to the cows dotting the mountainside. Something about their huge round eyes, their soft muzzles, their flicking tails just made me smile.