55. Just Visiting

     It’s so, so rainy in Lausanne. Sharon flew into Geneva on Sunday, met with a steady drizzle and a nip in the air. We navigated the train ticket machines together, doing our best to be on the right platform at the correct time. Somehow, we managed to make our way over to our destination of Montreux, a coastal city past Lausanne near the other end of Lac Léman, surrounded by the Alps. There, we visited Chillon castle, a vast medieval compound nestled on the calm, misty lake, with past inhabitants echoing in its chambers and hundreds of years of soot lapping the walls of the grand hearths inside every room. After visiting the castle, we headed back to Montreux, where they had their own version of the Christmas market. It consisted of much larger buildings, instead of stalls; some were sponsored by major brands and acted like additional store locations. We of course walked over to the hot wine stand, mostly due to the unfamiliar smell wafting from its steaming dispensers. We got one glass to share, and the taste was sweeter, made with a completely different wine. It had so much apple taste I wondered if in Montreux, they mix apple cider in with their hot wine. If they do, I’m not complaining.
     Most likely used as a public meeting and eating ground in the off-season, a huge pergola near the coastline had been converted into a Christmas food court and carnival. Selling similar fare to Lausanne, we perused the counters and stands before stopping short in front of a large wok on a coal fire, seemingly filled with scrambled ham and eggs. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was the famous French comfort food, tartiflette. Tartiflette is made with lardons, onions, sliced potatoes, and reblochon, a particularly stinky, melty French cheese. We got a bowl to share, but Sharon realized she was far too jet lagged to eat. I ate what I could by myself, and we headed on our way.


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     It’s interesting to view Lausanne through the eyes of another. Sharon is well traveled, having studied abroad in college and gone on many overseas trips with her parents. She had never made it down to Geneva or the other lake-adjacent cities in Switzerland, however, making this a rare new traveling experience for her. I’m sad her trip so far has been so dreary, but as she graciously put it to me yesterday, “It rains everywhere.”
     And that’s the point, I suppose. No matter where I move, whether it be into a new apartment or a whole new country, I’m still the same person, untouched by the new surroundings. Humanity is still the same. Even if I’d moved to Mars, it’s still me inside the spacesuit. And everything around me just becomes ‘where Allie lives’. 


     At Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, I studied songwriting and piano for the small amount of time I was there. I also worked for them as a piano tuner, exploring the surrounding areas of Boston, one of America’s oldest cities, on my days off from work and school. A dear friend of mine from my hometown flew up to visit me in the early fall, right around the time when the leaves of New England’s trees begin to change. Country-wide, the leaves changing up north is one of the area’s most beautiful occurrences. I was excited to experience this first-hand, and to share it with my friend. He and I woke up at 5am one morning, and set out on what would be a day-long adventure with the destination of Smolak Farms, an apple orchard in Andover, Massachusetts. My boss at Berklee, the head piano technician, threatened to fire me if I didn’t go see “thah leaves at Smolak when yah friend’s in town.”
     We rode the T (Boston’s transit system) to the commuter rail station, which could transport us to other parts of the state, as well as to Rhode Island. At the Andover station further north, we boarded a bus which took us about 15 minutes further to the base of a large wooded area. We were told that Smolak was ‘at least a few miles’ up the incline. Already exhausted (by now it was 11am) we began the long haul up the hill and onto the two-lane road, careful to watch for oncoming traffic. We might have been a quarter of the way up the hill when I saw woman, probably in her 50’s, driving up the road with a few presents wrapped in rainbow-striped paper in her back seat. A voice inside my head said she must be headed up to the orchard too, and like a vagrant in a movie, I waved her down. She looked visibly terrified. 

     I approached her car, my friend stunned into silence at what I was doing. He stood behind me, motionless.


“I’m so sorry to bother you, but are you going to Smolak Farms?” I asked her, putting on my best I’m-not-going-to-kill-you face.

“Y-yes. I’m going to my grandson’s birthday party.”


“Is there ANY way we could ride up the hill with you? We’re exhausted. We came all the way from downtown Boston starting at 5am this morning.”


She paused, and looked at us both for a long minute. If she was anything like me, she was probably deciding if she could take us both in a fight. Viewing the gangly college-aged pair who hadn’t seen sunlight in a month standing before her, she must have then decided, yes.


“Fine. Get in.”


     We stepped out at the orchard’s entrance and checked in at the gift shop before making our way through the rows, tasting various sizes and colors of apples in peak season. We were in a valley clearing with forests climbing up the hillsides all around us, the leaves in assorted golds, mustards, and crimsons in full display. It was a brisk, clear, sunny morning in New England. We drank hot apple cider and each bought a sack of freshly-made cinnamon sugar apple cider donuts.

     Throughout our journey and then during our tour of the orchard, I had the same feeling that I have this week with Sharon visiting. It is an odd sense of longing. An unexplained desire to impress those that I care about with the beautiful sounds, sights, and smells of my new home; to share the experience of living here with them. My friend in Boston seemed quiet, observing each thing silently, taking in the scenery of the city and its outskirts with a mind like a blank canvas. Sharon also quietly peruses the streets of Lausanne beside me, ducking into coffee shops or snapping pictures of a street sign, or an ornate display within Globus. I realize our disconnect only now, as I write this to you: I view Switzerland, Vaud, and this little city by the lake as a landing point; it’s where I stay. My visitors view it as a momentary destination; their homes, their beds, their favorite tv channels and reality shows saved to their DVRs are somewhere else. For all my court-jestering, my panhandling and my tartiflette-buying, my friends will not remain.


     It’s with that sad conclusion I take in a long sigh, staring out the window on a cold, dark, rainy morning in Lausanne. I’m still in my pajamas, a gray hue pouring into the windows, sliced through by the off-white glow of the little Christmas tree in our living room, already surrounded by presents. Sharon is exhausted from her journey, and I suppose I could still get some work done before she wakes up. I guess it’s time to build a new life, plant some trees, and grow some roots that aren’t visible to the passerby, only serving to keep me steady when the rain comes again.