42. An Absence Of Squirrels / by Allie Farris

     It feels like the beginning of fall here in Lausanne. The trees around our place don't look like the kind that change color, but this morning, on our walk to brunch in the crisp, “fresh” air (C calls it fresh when a slight chill is carried in with the wind), I noticed a few piles of dry, brown leaves rolling along beside us as the cars whooshed by. For all my grand designs towards fame and notoriety, C has none of these desires; C, in his words, does not want attention, and is wholeheartedly averse to being singled out in a crowd. Therefore, it would be downright cruel for me to reveal his actual birthday. I'll only tell you that we chose to celebrate it today, a Saturday. Nothing further.
     Walking along, I thought back over the past week, the second of 6 I would be spending here before a quick stint back in the U.S. for October with FM. I tried to think of the things I already missed about America: foods, entertainment, etc., And all of the new, wonderful things that were at my disposal here in Europe.


     Apparently, squirrels aren't a thing in Switzerland. Let me repeat: there are NO squirrels, as far as I can tell, widespread over the continent like there are in North America. No skittering marmits collecting acorns for the winter; no small clumps of fur clambering up tree trunks as if their lives depended on it. There is neither chittering, nor scurrying. There aren't even chipmunks, which genuinely makes me wonder what kinds of animals Europeans must think are singing in high-pitched voices about “wanting a hula-hoop” for Christmas. But that's one thing I weirdly miss, and yet am growing more accustomed to it day by day.
     I miss the hard “R” sounds that seem to be almost exclusively North American. My ears still perk up when I hear a modern British accent, but there is nothing like an American pronunciation of “hamburger” to brighten my day. Loud, confident, searing consonants that slash through the din of smoothed-out French vowelishness catch my ear like nothing else. I was in Globus this week, performing my usual dance of “they don't have this, but what can I use that's similar”, when suddenly, over the usual bustle, the low hum of smooth jazz, and the casual sidling past the old ladies with their shawls and pull-carts; I heard the distinct sound: like the call of the wild, if by wild you mean loud American accents wafting up and over the low rows of dried pasta and charcuterie crackers. I walked right up to the American mother and her two teenage daughters, saying:

“I'm sorry, I just couldn't help myself. Where in the U.S. are you from?”

They looked at me, shocked, as if they genuinely thought they were the only ones in the vicinity that a. knew English, and/or b. were from the U.S.

“Oh, uh--California. But we lived in London and just moved here”, said one of the teenagers, her mom nodding. 

“That's great. I just moved here too!”
     We all then looked at our feet, took quiet stock of what we’d placed in our little plastique carts, and scattered, sending one another off with well-wishes and "you've got this"-isms. 

     Alternatively, I have noticed there are certain movies that just can’t make it over the pond in one piece. The Pixar hit The Incredibles, as far as the Swiss French are concerned, is called Les Indestructibles. Same posters, same characters; but for some reason the stoic French audience would not call these cartoony superheroes “incredible”: an adjective only deserved of the finest view from the top of Mount Everest, or the best dang plate of cheese of your life. I don’t know why I find that kind of stuff funny, but I do. There’s also a shop in the old part of the city that from the window display, looks like a drag queen's costume shop, simply called “The Foot”. I giggle every time I pass, without fail.


     There are, however, things I can already say I love about this place. For one, C and I have spent the last two Sundays taking long walks around Lausanne, winding up and down the crisscrossing, sloping hillsides of my new home. We pass through sunny parks; quiet suburban streets; and past large store display windows with antiques, chocolates, or second-hand vintage Louis Vuitton bags; all within the same one-mile radius. I love how my legs have stopped getting so sore from the daily strolls I take to the gym, and I’m not as out of breath as I once was when I reach the top of a steep cobblestone climb. This place is very old; we ate in a 700-year-old fondue restaurant last week, and the stones that arched above us creating a ceiling were so darkened by the years of humidity, cheese burners, and visitors since the 1300’s that it made me feel like we were dining inside a medieval painting. No joke, there is a huge cylindrical turret not far from that restaurant, also built around the same time, that I swear once saw Rapunzel letting down her hair from its highest window.

     We can talk about food, and oh, we will, but this entry is about differences. And nothing could be more drastically different of an experience from America to Switzerland than McDonald’s. Pronounced “MACKdonAHLd’s” by C, he insisted on taking me there for a mid-morning brunch last Sunday morning, just so I would stop giving him such a hard time about eating there. Not to say that I dislike McDonald’s, people, but I thoroughly dislike the way I feel after eating a beloved Big Mac in four bites, looking down at my hands, and feeling the wave of sadness wash over me when I realize that the only way to feel that good again is to order two more immediately. McDonald’s is the final boss of all good dieters. So it was for this reason I heavily resisted, and in the end relented, to paying a visit to its Swiss counterpart.
     Upon entering, I noticed a completely separate, “McCafe” counter, dedicated solely to freshly baked pastries (whole wheat multigrain croissants, pain au chocolat, artisan strawberry confections for summer) and espresso drinks. After getting a few pastries, I joined C at the touchscreen order board where we chose our sandwiches (mine, a Cajun chicken sandwich and he a “Royale with cheese” and a bbq bacon burger). All told, when we reached the clean, quiet second level of this McDonald’s in Lausanne and took our seats, for a brief moment I forgot where I was. I remembered once our order was brought to us and I saw the wrappers and cardboard containers, but then I tasted my sandwich: fresh, clean, organic chicken breast pounded and made crispy, with recently-plucked greens and veggies placed lovingly on top, along with a soft-baked bun and house Cajun mayo sauce—I forgot where I was again. If I’m ever in a pinch and need something quick on my way to or from something, and I need food: I guess I’ll be going to McDonald’s.

     There are many things beginning to draw me in that I have yet to explore and give a full report on: the fresh market on Saturday mornings, lining the streets of the old city with carts of foods from all over, ready to be experienced at their peak; the wine shops on every corner, my nearest offering Grand Cru reds from France, normally over $100 easily in America, going for a cool $25; the sleek European fashion trends, both expensive and not, each with a storefront just a mere few blocks from my door; and lastly, the people. So many different cultures, walks of life, and languages, all like a new color added to my once monochromic spectrum. This week I had 3 private training sessions for free per my new gym membership with a trainer from Greece, who joyfully taught me how to say “yes” (neh) and “no” (oh-shi) during the exercises, and a term for “bro” in Greek, the word malaka (which is also a curse word, so fair warning, but it’s basically everyone in Greece greeting each other like “hey, what’s up, bonehead?”). He’s my Malaka now.

     More to come very soon, as my first bits of hardware for my studio are in transit as I write this to you. I’m excited for what’s ahead, and the new, amazing things I still have yet to notice.