It was looking like rain as one more week was brought to fruition; it was a Friday morning at 8am. C was in a hurry to leave, but was excited to receive his newest guitar in the mail, to be delivered that morning between 10am and noon. I had eyed him covertly scrolling through the instrument exchange website a few weeks prior, and wasn’t surprised when he handed me a colourful 20 franc note and told me that I would need exactly 10 francs more to add to the stack beside the door for the taxes upon accepting the delivery that morning. My daily gym visit would have to wait until later than usual. Instead, C suggested I head to the boulangerie with my 20 francs to break, being sure not to go over the necessary 10 I needed. Otherwise, he said, I should go crazy.
Shopping list in hand, I paced up the small incline to our corner bread store, Pouly, taking in a gulp of air and immediately forgetting all of my known French in the whoosh of the sliding glass doors. Just before the register was a pastry I’d never seen before, that somehow seemed familiar to me; it had a large muffin shape with a jagged sunburst bottom and a smooth, perfectly spherical top that had been dipped in a chocolate ganache. I mustered an “I would like one of those, please”, pointing to the pastry before me, and the cashier retrieved one for me, calling it a chocolate madeleine. I left the shop with a small, freshly squeezed orange juice, a chocolate madeleine, a 10 franc note, and some change. Upon first biting into my breakfast, I realized, happily, that the inside was filled with chocolate mousse.
One fancy guitar delivery later, I once again donned my coat and hit the streets of Lausanne, en route to my gym just before noon. The first thing I noticed was that the morning rain had let up, and the second was an uncharacteristic congestion at my closest stoplight on the Avenue Mon-Repos. A barking car horn sounded on the crest of the hill, also something I rarely hear these days in my quiet lakeside town. It seemed like people all of a sudden were cornered in their cars with no place to go, and had no idea what to do. All very strange. When I saw a car make an illegal U-turn and point back down the hill going south, I looked past it to finally register the long line of cars idling across the next three stoplights and curving up and over the hill, barring me from seeing the cause of this midday jam. Scurrying across my crosswalks and continuing on as normal in the direction of the gym, I reached the final plateau and saw what all the fuss was about.
People. So many people. All marching in an amalgamous mass made up of all ages, some carrying signs above their heads, some just filling in space. I could tell that whatever this was, it was not a city-sponsored event; rather, the unlucky traffic caught in the middle of the demonstration were in utter confusion as the lights before them blinked from red to green, and back again from green to red as pedestrians swarmed the main bridge in the shadow of the cathedral. Sipping on a protein drink from a blender bottle, I looked just as caught unawares as the others that joined me on the sidewalk, watching the throng as it passed. I began to read the signs they held:
“La Terre N’est Pas Une Marchandise”
“POUR UN CLIMAT NON-VIOLENT!”
“NON VIOLENCE CLIMATIQUE!”
“Pas de Nature, Pas De Future”
I had stumbled upon my very first climate change protest, and it just so happened to be taking place in Switzerland.
Moved, I stepped off the sidewalk and joined the procession (luckily, it was moving in the direction of my gym). I was struck by how many teenagers and young adults made up the final number, possibly as many as 70 percent. It gave me hope, a feeling of joy and peace to be around so many people who felt moved enough to come together and bring awareness to a worldwide issue. In Lausanne, we had just experienced a nearly nonexistent winter. Just a stone’s throw away in the Middle East, temperatures threaten to soar past a habitable range within the next decade. The planet’s oceans registered their all-time hottest records in 2018 following its steady trending upwards since the 1970’s. Earth’s little imaginary temperature gauge is slowly filling to the brim with red, threatening to burst, year by year, minute by minute.
Even though I couldn’t understand them all, I still stood with them. I saw the eyes of a few elderly Swiss people that marched along; none were joining in on the chants, rather just silently viewing the members of the next generation doing their best to speak up and say something impactful. For my part, as I inched across the bridge, I thought of some planet-friendly things I already do: I use all the food I buy at the supermarket (we buy organic produce) in some way or another, rather than buying too much and throwing half in the garbage like I used to do; I go to the trouble of recycling our trash, now more than ever with the different bins available to me outside our building and the existing Swiss societal norms; and we have appliances like our washer that have an eco setting. It takes three times as long for a load, but uses a fraction of the water, and I’ve got the time.
There are many things I could improve on, however: I buy too many things wrapped in plastic and don’t go to the trouble of properly recycling them, despite the abundance of dedicated bins for various plastics inside of supermarkets; I use WAY too many paper towels, and (t.m.i.) I use far too much toilet paper.
Standing on the bridge, everyone had a comfortable bubble of personal space surrounding him or her despite there being no visible open spaces of road. At no point did I feel pushed aside or crowded; when I received the few nudges here and there, they were quickly followed up with a brisk “Pardon”. At one point, the gaggle of teenagers holding the Pas future sign in the middle of the mass began a loud chant, later pointed out to me by C as a reimagining of a famous World Cup chant from 25 years ago. Being there in the middle of it, feeling this current era of our planet’s history so acutely, I was struck by how quickly the chant soon died out, lasting only about ten rounds. The teenagers then looked around sheepishly, some even staring down at the ground. Has speaking out loud has become that uncomfortable for people? Could this be a new generation that was raised to keep quiet? Or, far more likely—these are humans raised to communicate differently from before. I think that this was one of the last live demonstrations I’ll ever see. Kids won’t protest in public much longer. I believe this only because, for as many people as I saw out walking the streets of Lausanne on a Friday, spreading awareness for an issue that they believe in, there are millions more posting daily all over the internet, where boundaries of race, age, country of origin, and good old-fashioned talking face-to-face are no longer areas of import.
I stepped up onto the lip of the open doorway leading into my gym as the parade continued past me. Some receptionists and trainers had been watching the procession, marveling at the spectacle of its unprecedented size.
An hour later, I was walking home down the now emptied sidewalks, devoid of any trash or any evidence at all of the events two hours prior (way to be, Switzerland). I was enjoying the sleepy rays of midday sunlight now streaming through new holes in the dispelling clouds. I turned onto my street, listening to nothing in particular, when I realized just how quiet it actually was compared to earlier. No cars, no people, just me; and somewhere up above me, hiding inside the canopy of a small patch of trees, I heard the new song of a single bird unlike any I had heard before. With a strong voice jangling a fruity, colorful melody, I listened closely for the answer to its proclamations, one to match its particular cadence. But none came. The whole rest of my way home, I listened to that lonely bird, wondering why I had never heard its song before. I also wondered why such a beautiful song was only sung by one bird and would be so easily missed, only noticed when conditions were perfectly still, and one was in the mood to listen.
C and I awoke to a blindingly brilliant morning, and from our bed looking up at the sky, there were no clouds to speak of, like a day entirely made out of smiles. We dressed and I whipped up some blueberry ricotta pancakes with a little powdered protein in the mix, which were surprisingly easy, made us full, and gave us some sweetness without much fat. We bounded down the hill towards the train station and once again headed back to Geneva, finally to pick up C’s finished wedding ring at Harry Winston.
On the train, we sat in silence, just staring out of the window at the crystal water dotted with small boats manned by happy Swiss sailors pulling at their sails and sipping white wine. C, not one prone to exclamation, all of a sudden raised his arm and pointed out at the rolling mountainscape, floored that he could see the Mont Blanc so clearly today, and imploring me to search for it myself. I did, and was confused to find I might have missed my chance.
“I don’t see it?” I squinted.
“There,” he pointed, just as a single white peak came into view around our nearest forest green hilly mass, so faintly colored you could almost miss it in the sea of azure blue. The white peak went down, and what followed was even taller, until finally the grand point was there before me, higher and mightier than them all. It was my first time seeing the Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe, and it surely was a sight to behold. Living in Switzerland and surrounded by mountains, one forgets the relative sizes of most tall things. Every peak looks serene, yet powerful and austere, until you see the king of them all, shining like a towering beacon, so clearly the tallest I have ever seen up close. It brought me to silence as I watched it turning ever so slightly as we curved around lac Leman, its stark white reflection projected onto the mirrored pool underneath.
And just like that, the rain returned. So full of threatening, low-hanging clouds that we couldn’t see the French shoreline, and so brisk and battering the wind we had to move all the furniture on the balcony, wedging it into the corner in a tight pile. Thankfully, C made reservations in advance for a nice lunch at the 100-year-old French brasserie La Chene, and that was all we had planned to do that day, barring my inevitable and involuntary afternoon nap on our couch.
As I prepared for our lunch date, I put a little extra makeup on, and took a little longer than usual on my hair, resulting in my cutting it close to the time of our designated reservation. We had five minutes left for a fifteen minute walk to the restaurant by the time we stepped into our elevator, and C was visibly frustrated, clamping his jaw shut so as to not say something rash, or start a ping-pong bickering match in the lobby of our building. Feeling his frustration hot on my skin like the burning fumes from my straightener, I turned to him, putting both hands on his shoulders, drawing my face nearer to his, my gaze meeting his own. We stood like that in our tiny, four-man elevator as it descended to the ground floor.
“What can I do, right at this moment, to make it better?” I said, as seriously as I could muster while still reserving a hint of softness. At once, his unfocused glare thawed, and the corners of his mouth eased upward.
“It’s okay,” he replied to me, having no answer.
I’m not sure what to make of all these climate change rallies, the jarring figures, and the sheet of rain that stands between those that care and those that don’t. I don’t know what it means for me, my future husband, or our future children. Am I doing all that I can, as one single person, to help redirect the current trajectory of my species; or if at the end of the train track, will we all just be met with the same fate we hope to avoid? Whatever happens, I know a few things for sure: I wish to circumvent, at all costs, the day I would see the Mont Blanc without snow on its peak. I would also do anything to avoid the day when it would be too late to ask how I could make things better.
And I know for sure that some worthy songs, despite only being sung by one small voice, can stay in one’s memory forever; so they should continue, no matter who may or may not be listening.