Blissful. Blissful is the word I would choose. I feel blissful here. Things run smoother, and at a slower pace, yet days seem to fly by while the nights hang in the air like disco balls, luminescent and sparkling. Last weekend, after a hearty bowl of pasta from a nearby restaurant, C and I walked arm in arm down Rue Étraz towards our apartment. I was in my long orange captain’s coat, and wearing the fuzzy black neck wrap that C had gifted me upon my return to Lausanne. Sort of a “Welcome home, it’s really cold” kind of present. We paused at different store fronts, some of which had after-hours recess lighting that spilled out onto the sleepy street, offering glimpses of what would take place there in the daytime. We stopped at our favorite Danish furniture store, gazing at a waist-high, modernist cabinet; it would be a stylish addition to our living room. In the far corner were some handcrafted wooden children’s toys and a high brimmed, low set crib. I saw those, too.
I’ve started to fall in love with this place. The people are calm and reserved, none as much so as our only next-door neighbor—we’ll call her Mrs. Krüger—whom I happened to run into as we both left our apartments. Parlez-vous anglais? (“Do you speak English?”), I asked her, a phrase I have uttered more than any other in the last two weeks. “Yes” she replied, in English.
We spoke on the tiny elevator as it traveled down to the lobby. She was cagey, but still warm. At the end of our meeting, I told her my name, and she hesitated. We were by the mailboxes now, and she lifted a finger and pointed to her mailbox, which read Krüger.
“No, I meant what’s your first name?” I asked, like it was no big deal. But Mrs. Krüger curled up in her skin like a molting hermit crab. Then, something shook loose.
“Harriet” she said. I grinned, and told her sorry, Americans can be nosy. She nodded, slightly peeved, but I could tell she didn’t mind as much as she wanted people to think she did.
Last night was my first outing alone in Lausanne since arriving. As I told you last week, Ashley from the wine subscription service had kindly answered my email, and told me about an event on the 14th in my city, for a new wine magazine called Pipette. The magazine is being launched by her peer in the natural wine business, Rachel, and would feature white wine tastings from Switzerland and nearby France, as well as a few local traditional Swiss foods.
At 18:00(6pm), I stood by the door in my captains coat and a cream cable knit sweater. Taking a deep breath as I began a daunting process, I opened up my phone and selected the TL (Transport Lausanne) app, clicking on the first bus pass option, as instructed by C earlier that day. As I selected it, the app disappeared and two seemingly random letters made up a new text message, which I was to hit ‘Send’ on. Lo and behold, my ticket appeared in my text messages, and the fare had been added to my phone plan. As someone who spent most of her younger years in a car, bounding up and down the vast highways of Dallas; to me, this was such a simple, cool way to get from point A to point B.
I locked my enormous bank vault of a front door (which seems to be standard issue for most European apartments, complete with a key with so many grooves it looks like it could launch the space shuttle) and stepped into our sleek, newly-renovated elevator, still with the smell of fresh adhesive lingering in its walls. Passing yet another new neighbor, holding her two-week old Austrailian shepherd puppy O’kelly, I patted the heart-meltingly cute animal and headed out into the brisk Wednesday night air.
Before I knew it, I was in a part of Lausanne I had never seen, crossing and re-crossing the same pedestrian walkway like a madwoman, trying to make my dumb phone recalibrate itself to show me exactly where this confusing hipster wine venue was located. I felt exposed, eyes darting around and very aware of how nervous I looked, but at no point was I in danger. The worst my journey got was a short overpass underneath the train tracks that served as my entry point into the converted factory park that housed my destination. Like a lamp in the desert, I saw a few dozen bougie wine snobs in the distance, coats on chairs and holding long stems in a clear glass cube called L’Arsenic. When I arrived, I realized how ridiculous I’d been to think I would learn much of anything that night. After buying a beautiful plate of homemade pâté en croûte (look it up), and glorious aged gruyere from a stone’s throw away from here, I settled in for a long speech from the winemaker: in French.
About a week ago, I texted my mom in a burst of excitement following a particularly brilliant outing to the grocery store. I think I’m finally starting to get this! I said. She replied, What does that mean?
Oh, speaking broken French to people, I texted back, feeling like I may have oversold my accomplishments.
That’s great honey! I’m proud of you.
From the gym, to certain cashiers at the supermarkets I frequent, I’m starting to feel like I have people I know here. That’s what’s good about being an American. I feel like good or bad, we tend to leave an impression. But maybe it’s just me. Whatever is happening, I feel like before long, there will be people that I pass on the street or along the cobblestones of the old city, who will know me by name. We bought a bottle of Mexican mezcal from a woman who owns a boutique liquor shop in the center of town, who I now wave to every time I pass. Last Saturday, I had some time alone while C got his haircut to peruse the weekly fresh market, getting my chance to wade past each of the stands and take stock of their delicious offerings. One of the last ones I passed, an Italian family-owned cheese vendor, somehow got me to walk over to their stand—I don’t even know how they did it—like I was in some sort of trance. I’ve been on stages with people calling out at me before, but this sort of coercion had never happened. Once I was close enough, they began prying thick chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano with a pocket knife from a freshly-opened wheel and handing them to me. I stood there in the late autumn mist, eating their cheese and laughing at the jokes in broken English they were telling me. I bought a large wedge and have made pasta with it every night this week.
I got a haircut. I had been noticing some split ends and was hazy about when the last time had been, so C suggested I make an appointment at Toni & Guy, where he was about 98% sure they would speak English. I arrived as the bells of the cathedral rang overhead, and was seated by a middle-aged man named Bruno, who first took my coat. We started talking—again, realizing that about three quarters or more of what I said would be misinterpreted—and before long, something different was happening. Something I hadn’t yet experienced in Switzerland. He started telling me about how he’d been born in Lausanne, but he was Italian, because it matters about blood here, not about where you were born. He told me that his middle name (middle names are fairly uncommon for French people, but I’m not sure about Italians) was Natale, because he was “made on Christmas” (and born 9 months later). I giggled, and we kept swapping more personal stories. A rare, voluntary vulnerability seemed to sweep over us both. At one point he tells me, as he gingerly cuts the edges of my hair, making sure that the line is absolutely straight; that because I’m growing it out, and because he’s taken such care to make everything even, I won’t have to come back for 10 weeks. A little sigh falls out of my lips, which he spots and says “I know! I feel the same way!”
He blow dries my hair, the passion for his art form evident in the movement of his hands, and the attention to detail he pays on how every strand is lying. Towards the end of what I now consider to be the best haircut I’ve ever gotten, he briefly stops, and looks at me as I finish my sentence.
“You’re perfect,” he says, “I like your mentality.”
When he finishes, I surprise him by saying, Molto bene, Bruno! which makes him laugh, and as he reaches to remove my neck wrap, I misinterpret his gesture, and reach up to quickly give his forearm a tiny squeeze with my finger pads, like a microhug. He does not recoil, but rather acts even nicer than before. Bruno and I, besties for life.
As I pay and leave, it’s almost awkward going. I hardly know what to say to the man I only met an hour before, even though we now feel like old friends. I tell him Buon Natale, if I don’t see him before Christmas. He just smiles and holds up a hand, as the door closes. I walk back out onto the street, my hair straight and gleaming. I feel inspired. I feel blissful. I feel perfect.